Wednesday, June 23, 2010

See! I Told You This Would Happen!

Seven posts in one month! A long time ago, I told you I was going to start posting on a more regular basis, and now I am finally doing it! And since Chronsega 5 should be ready soon, we'll probably have a total of eight posts, smashing all previous posting records.

Undoubtedly part of this is due to the whole "laid off" thing. Suddenly having an extra 9 hours, minimum, of time each day certainly opens up some new possibilities. There are definite benefits, like actually obtaining that 8 hours of sleep that all human beings are supposed to get each night. A friend of mine admitted she had quite a bit of trouble sleeping after being recently laid off; I was just the opposite. Once I was handed my walking papers, my insomnia instantly cleared up.

On the other hand, once everyone knows you're not working, you suddenly become the go-to guy for feeding pets while the owner is on vacation, picking up kids from school and so on. So everything balances out in the end.

And one last thing, Chronsega Episode 5 will be a slightly different; it will feature 17 games instead of the previously standard 15. A few of Ep. 5's games are a little bit, shall we say, lacking in "interesting qualities." There's only so much you can say about Maze Walker, so I tacked on a new extra games to beef up the length.

Oh, and I created a 1-Up profile for no particular reason, other than to occasionally comment on something. I've decided to re-post relevant Chrontendo blogs there. (But not this one. This post is a Chrontendo Blogspot exclusive!).

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Sega & the Pseudo-sequels

There seems to be a natural human instinct to want sequels. After all, if we like something, we tend to want more of it. From The Odyssey up to Iron Man 2, human culture has produced plenty of followups to successful artistic creations, so it's only natural that the video game industry would get in on the act. Since early video games were usually pretty light in the story department, sequels to 70s games tended to be refinements or enhancements rather than continuations of the original games' plots. Since you inevitably died and Earth was destroyed in Space Invaders, it would be difficult to think of a Space Invaders Part 2 taking place chronologically after the first game.

By the early 80s, little stories and characters had been inserted into electronic games. We saw Mario topple Donkey Kong from the top floor of a partially constructed building, so it's quite possible to imagine that shortly afterward, DK was locked in a cage by Mario and then rescued by one of his gorilla relatives. Around this time, genuine video game sequels, such as Donkey Kong Jr. and Pitfall II were born. Over the next few years, expectations for video game sequels became standardized: a sequel should be very similar to the first game, but also be a bit more "advanced." This might include: improved graphics, more sophisticated gameplay, perhaps the game might be a bit longer. Super Mario Bros, Zelda, Castlevania and Dragon Quest all followed this template to some degree in the period from 1986-1988.

Donkey Kong Jr. picked up right where the first game left off.

However, in early 1988, we find Sega mostly ignoring this template. The upcoming Chronsega Episode 5 will cover the first half of 1988, and we'll be seeing titles bearing the names of Fantasy Zone, Space Harrier, Wonder Boy and Alex Kidd! This is like the Chronsega All-Stars episode! Too bad these games are all somewhat disappointing. Probably the closest we get a satisfying sequel is Wonder Boy in Monster Land, which takes the original and gives it an RPG twist. Now Wonder Boy collects coins from slain monsters and can buy armor and magic from shops! Oddly, there is very little to connect Monster Land to the first game, beyond the name. Not to mention that Monster Boy was not really a new game, but one that had been in arcades for a year.

Wonder Boy + money + equipable items + magic + shops + an entirely new setting = Wonder Boy in Monster Land.

The remaining three games are less successful. Fantasy Zone: The Maze (Opa Opa in Japan) switches genres entirely, awkwardly wedging the titular hero into a Pac-Man style maze game. While not really a bad game, FZ: The Maze must have been a bit baffling for fans of the series. Space Harrier 3-D makes use of Sega's fancy Sega Scope 3-D glasses, but the game itself is virtually a rom hack of the SMS version of the first game. Essentially, it's Space Harrier with new enemy sprites -- far less ambitious that even the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2.

Really, Sega? What does this have to do with Fantasy Zone?

Then we have Alex Kidd. The first SMS game featuring Sega's would-be mascot was perhaps the best release for the console prior to Phantasy Star. While not as finely tuned as it could be, Alex Kidd showed enormous promise if a sequel was able iron out some of the kinks. Miracle World hit the shelves in late 1986, so by the standards of the era, a sequel was due approximately one year later. Unfortunately, what was finally released in March 1988 was not a true sequel to Miracle World, but instead a port of the very first Alex Kidd game, The Lost Stars - an arcade title from 1986. Again, The Lost Stars was not a bad game, but it was a step backward, not a step forward.

Not a bad game. Just not a real sequel. That was being reserved for the Mega Drive/Genesis.

So if you were a Master System owner and a fan of Alex Kidd, Fantasy Land or Space Harrier in 1988, it's easy to imagine you feeling disappointed or even a little betrayed by Sega's release schedule. To this day, people have speculated on the reasons why NES succeeded while the Master System failed. Add the inability to fully exploit their franchises to the list.*

The obvious question to ask is "why?" I assume this was not sheer obliviousness on Sega's part. More than likely, the Sega home office had simply given up on the Master System by this point, and was focusing all its energy on its soon-to-be released 16 bit console. Yes, believe it or not we are already nearing the end of the Master System's time as Sega's flagship console! When Chronsega 6 comes out a few months down the road, we'll see that a surprising number of games where developed by companies other than Sega.

*History repeated itself a decade later when Sega failed to put out a satisfactory Sonic game on the Saturn.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Hello, There!

Not that I am really planning on turning Chrontendo into an alcohol post, but I was a little surprised to walk into my local big-box liquor store and find a large display of Hello Kitty wines near the front door. Including, I believe, Pinot Noir and a Brut sparkling wine. There were maybe four different varieties on sale.

Are there any markets Sanrio has not tried to tap into yet?

In other news, I'm trying to decide which sounds more ridiculous: "Natal" or "Kinect." I am in favor of the XBox 360 slim, however. One thing I absolutely hate about the 360 is that it is without a doubt the noisiest console I've ever heard.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Episode 30 Revised

Well, Chrontendo Episode 30 has only been on the shelves for a couple days now, and already there's a new version! For reasons unknown, a brief section of the video was poorly encoded and looked a little blocky - this affected the very end of Demon Sword and the box art shot of Fleet Commander. This has now been fixed.

Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, Famicom Grand Prix II came out looking pretty weird, due to the constant use of flicker effects. Commenter Johanh asked why I didn't render it in such a way as to merge consecutive frames. To answer his question -- I'm not really that familiar with video editing/encoding software and don't know how to do that. I know that AVISynth has some tools for combining frames when changing the frame rate of a video, such an effect that will blend two frames together. But I think these sort things are mostly used to convert NTSC videos to PAL. That AVISynth tool isn't able to convert from 60 FPS to 30 FPS.

For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, take the fork in the road effect in FGP II. Here are four consecutive frames: 1/15 of a second's worth.

The Famicom isn't capable of transparencies, but developers managed to fake it using a super fast flicker. The first game I noticed to use the fake transparency effect was Getsufuu Maden; Konami seems quite fond of it.

Most video software such as Virtual Dub would convert a 60 FPS video to 30 FPS simply by removing every other frame. So the sequence above would contain only the first and third frame or the second and fourth - thus the flickering objects either won't show up at all or will look solid, with no flicker. I would assume that combining frames would cause a bit of blur, and wouldn't necessarily capture the flicker. Anyway, I'm a bit slow, so it took me a while to come up with a logical solution, which was to remove every fourth frame, and then to remove every fourth frame again. In other words - remove two consecutive frames instead of every other frame.

I re-encoded the FGP II segment using this technique and the results look pretty decent. While the flicker looks a bit more "flickery" in the 30 FPS version, the dashboard and fork in the road are visible in all their epileptic seizure inducing glory. Actually, the video isn't quite as eyeball-searing as the original game. So, if you want the corrected version, it's now up at However, for the superstitious among you, I will warn you the new video just happened to end up at 666 Megs.

Next time I encounter a game using this effect, I'll use this technique to produce a more suitable video. Unless any of you more tech-savvy folks out there know of a simple and effective way to half the frame rate while keeping such effects. So feel free to offer advice.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Of Dragons and Babies

Episode 30 is here at last, and is, by Chrontendo standards, somewhat "on time." You know the drill by now, head on over to to stream or download.

The damned military strategy/simulation invasion from Episode 29 continues here. Three games this time around, none of which were ever released outside of Japan. I have also received, from my suppliers south of the border, some of that legendary ultra-pure, "black tar" kusoge - three carts worth. Be careful with this stuff - it will mess you up good.

But aside from the usual junk, we have some legitimately good games. And... a game that I don't like at all, Battle of Olympus, which has a pretty sturdy following nowadays. I hadn't played it until recently, but was intrigued by the opinions floating around the internet that it was one of the best and most overlooked games for the NES. Having played as much as I could stand, I firmly BEG TO DIFFER. There. I said it. Disagree? You can fight me in the streets over it. Beware of my hair grab/knee to the face combo, however.

Once again, Episode 30 has splits top honors between two games:

Double Dragon

When fighting enormous bald mutants, it's considered perfectly acceptable to kick the groin.

One of the all-time NES classics, and the game that popularized the entire beat-em-up genre. Hopefully, now that we've reached the post-Double Dragon era, we won't be seeing any more of those terrible My Hero style beat-em-ups.

Perhaps one key to Double Dragon's success was the way it tapped into a peculiar fear in the 80s: gangs running wild and taking over the streets. The slightly post-apocalyptic world of DD is only a few hairs away from that of Mad Max/The Road Warrior - punks in leather, headbands and mohawks terrorizing the populace, the civil authorities powerless to stop them. Perhaps the first bit of pop culture to explicitly exploit this fear was the controversial poster art to the 1979 movie The Warriors.

This movie and poster caused a brief panic in 1979.

They outnumber the cops 5 to 1!
DD seems to take place after the gangs have taken over. Billy walks down empty streets, never encountering anyone who isn't a gang member. The illusion is somewhat shattered by the fact that the gang seems to have made their hideout in some sort of ancient underground temple. Also, you might wonder, Billy has that pimpin' Trans Am sitting in his garage. Why doesn't he just drive to the hideout?

Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa

At last! Baby vs. Demon Goat Wizard action!

The other great game this episode defies any sort of rational criticism of its plot. This Super Mario Bros. clone from Konami dishes out the typical story involving a kidnapping and some sort of evil Wizard/King. In this case, the protagonist is even less likely than a caveman or plumber - you control a baby, too young to walk, but armed with a deadly rattle! This utterly ridiculous set-up conceals what must be the best SMB style platformer since... well, since Super Mario Bros. With simple yet fantastic looking graphics and constantly creative level design, Bio Miracle Bokutte Upa never ceases to be entertaining. Unlike Battle of Olympus, this really is one of the most underrated games for the console.

But Episode 30 isn't really about good games, it's about the bad ones. And we have plenty.

Kamen Rider Black

This is like the Manos: Hands of Fate of video games. No, that's not fair, as Manos is actually a pretty entertaining movie in its own way. KRB is like a singularity of awfulness; no fun can ever escape from within its event horizon. Though we just discussed KRB is few posts ago.

Jīkiru Hakase no Hōma ga Toki/Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

The most notorious game this episode, thanks to an over-dramatically negative assessment from the Angry Video Game Nerd. I'll be upfront with my opinion: Jekyll and Hyde is not as bad as everyone says it is. However, it never explains its own rules or goals in-game. Simply picking it up and playing it without having a manual or FAQ handy will result in a quick, inexplicable death.

The point of the game is to make as much progress as possible as Dr. Jekyll before inevitably transforming into Hyde. As Hyde you'll need to kill as many enemies as possible with your "Psycho Wave" in order to turn back into Jekyll. If Hyde ever catches up to where Jekyll was on the map when he last transformed into Hyde, you'll get a game over. So the strategy is simple: try to avoid turning into Hyde, but once you do, turn back in Jekyll quickly.

Despite its bad reputation, I found it to be more playable than either Ikari II or Kamen Rider Black.

Famicom Grand Prix II - 3D Hot Rally

Sure, if this wasn't a Nintendo game I wouldn't come down on it so hard. But really Nintendo? You made an Out Run clone? One considerably inferior to Out Run or even Rad Racer? If your going to stoop to such depths as ripping off Sega, then at least try to put a bit more effort into it. As I mentioned, the game's not really that bad, but when I got to the part where the road forks, and it uses the exact same effect as Out Run - with the two paths sort of flickering in a ghostly fashion in front of you for a few moments - I hung my head in shame. By the way, because of weird flicker effects used in this game, certain things, such as the forks in the road, aren't really visible in the video.

Ikari Warriors II: The Victory Road

Another butchering of an SNK arcade game courtesy of Micronics. The first game wasn't exactly fantastic, but the sequel manages to be worse in every regard. Worse controls, worse graphics, unintelligible speech samples. Throw in some awful mini-games and - despite being a cartridge game - loading screens, and you've got one ugly mess of a top down run and gun.


Despite what this screenshot might lead you to beleive, Aspic is an old-fashioned action RPG.

Bothtec (the guys behind the weird, Metroid-like Relics) dusts the cobwebs off this antique computer RPG and ports it to the Famicom. On the RPG timeline, Aspic feels like it was developed about two minutes after Hydlide. Unfortunately, the developers responsible for this port forgot the Famicom was capable of smooth scrolling, and results are headache inducing, choppy, MSX style scrolling.

And the others:

Olympus no Tatakai/Battle of Olympus

Another bat to the face.

The most popular game this episode, outside of Double Dragon. It's also a game that I couldn't stand. Maybe it was the flat, uninspired level design and the boring backgrounds. Maybe it was the fact that the game starts out with a dozen NPCs giving you tons of advice on stuff that will make no sense to you this early in the game. Or perhaps it's that almost every single enemy you encounter attacks you either in the air, above the reach of your sword, or low to the ground, below the reach of your sword. Especially those damn bats, that swoop down and hit your face as you are jumping over bottomless pits (or salamander filled pits). As I mention in the video, Castlevania has those Medusa Heads and Igors, but at least Konami had the decency to use them sparingly.

Dokuganryu Masamune and Takeda Shingen

Two Nobunaga's Ambition clones, this time from Namco and Hot-B. Not surprisngly, Masamune is the more polished of the two, and has some cool battle scenes. Both games are based on real-life Sengoku era warlords. Masamune, known for his uber-cool moon crescent helmet, survived the Sengoku wars and held on to his land under the Tokogawa Shogunate. Takeda Shingen was the inspiration for Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, though that film is purely fictional, and only very loosely based on Takeda. If you've never seen Kagemusha, I would highly recommend it as one of the best films from the rather spotty second half of Kurosawa's career.

Fuuun Shaolin Kyo - Ankoku no Maou

Holy shit! He's doing that Karate Kid move in mid-air!

A slightly improved sequel to Jaleco's 1987 fighting game, covered back in Chrontendo 17. While the backgrounds look nicer, a weak control scheme sinks the game. You need to press A and B simultaneously to jump! Yikes! Palatte swapped enemies abound.

Fleet Commander

From ASCII, the first naval warfare simulation game for the Famicom. You control the Japanese fleet of heavy cruisers, battleships, submarines and aircraft carriers in this WWII era game. One notation I'd like to make about the video of this game: I give a baffled mention of the "Turbo File" save option on the main menu. As it turns out, the Turbo File was an add-on device for the Famicom that could be used to save games. It was manufactured by ASCII and was compatible with a number of titles.

Fudo Myouoden/Demon Sword

This screenshot makes Fudo Myouoden look way cooler than it really is.

This Tose developed/Taito published game got pretty heavily whacked for the US release, with a number of levels and power ups being cut out. Possibly this was due to size limitations - the Japanese cart was the largest cart Famicom cart released at this point; the first to break the 3 Megabit limit. (In case you're wondering, Konami's Ganbare Goemon was the first 2 Meg cart, Ganbare Goemon Gaiden from 1990 was the first 4 Meg Famicom game, and Koei's Uncharted Waters hit 5 Megs.). The game is the "spiritual successor" to Legend of Kage: you control a high-jumping sword and projectile wielding guy. Enemies constantly assail you by raining out of the sky in an annoying fashion.

Be-Bop High School: Koukousei Gokuraku Densetsu

Data East tries to break the record for hideous character design in this manga/film inspired adventure game. Oh, good lord, those horrible smiles! Stop staring at me!

Moero!! Pro Tennis/Racket Attack

The seconds game in Tose/Jaleco's Moero!! sports series. Much like the earlier Bases Loaded, this one features speech synthesis and realistically, though slightly ugly, drawn sprites.

One caveat about Episode 30 - for some reason, the video gets quite ugly and chunky looking for about a minute during the end of Demon Sword and the beginning of Fleet Commander. These sections looked fine in the original video, but when being converted to a reasonable sized AVI file, that section got a bit screwy. I encoded it twice with the exact sames results. I might try encoding it again from scratch in a day or two.

Once again, Chrontendo Episode 30, now available at

Within 24 Hours

... we should be seeing Episode 30 of Chrontendo. After that, work begins on Chronsega Ep. 5!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

ZX Spectrum Madness

Hey everybody! Chrontendo Episode 30 should out before too long. For right now, I just wanted to point out to all you fans of really horrendous computer systems that seems to have gone sort of Spectrum crazy lately. At Retronauts, they've started up a new series called "Spectrum Analyzer", with about 5 or entries so far. So if you've ever wondered why British folks of a certain age get all weak in the knees at the mention of the word "Dizzy," here's the place to find out.

And if that's not enough, there's even a gallery of the worst Spectrum box art, which is really quite eye-opening.

So, for those curious about "The Yugo of Home Computers", break out a bottle a of Carling, pop open a tin of Spotted Dick, and check it out.

In similar oddball territory, the HG101 blog has had numerous interesting posts lately, often about the international video game scene. But perhaps nothing as jaw-dropping as this write-up on the Korean Street Figther II animated movie.

I think this picture pretty much says it all.