Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Chrontendo? Hidden Secrets Revealed!

Sorry that the posting schedule has been a little light lately.  The rigors of working a full-time job have been taking their toll on me.  I must have some deeply buried aristocratic DNA somewhere within my genetic makeup, as I find having to actually work for a living to be rather bothersome. Still, I have found the time to get started on Chrontendo 37 (and Ninja Hattori Kun!), so I swear that a new episode will be up eventually.

In the meantime, I'd thought I'd take a moment to chat with you all about myself and the Chrontendo project.  Back in 2007, Chrontendo pretty much just appeared out of nowhere.  The fact that I don't have any presence in video game forums, or online at all, really (I don't even have a Facebook account), lends sort of an enigmatic air to Chrontendo.  Jeremy Parish from Gamespite/1UP recently called me "mysterious."  But it was never my intention to paint myself as some sort of shadowy, Pynchon-like recluse.

Welcome to my Presence.

The biggest question about Chrontendo is "why?"  Why would someone devote the requisite time and energy to such a laborious, pointless, profitless, foolhardy and silly task as playing every NES in chronological order... and then documenting the whole thing in video podcasts?   Maybe some of you out there have your theories.  Insanity?  Drug-induced psychological dysfunction?  Asperger's Syndrome?  Demonic possession?  Some form of über-geekery gone horribly wrong?    Honestly, I'm sometimes not sure myself why I'm doing this.  Let me give you a little background, anyway.

Back in 2007 I found myself unemployed after the company I worked for -- a long-standing business that I was fanatically devoted to -- declared bankruptcy and was liquidated.  I was unemployed for several months and feeling uprooted and untethered.  Since unemployment provides ample opportunities for wasting time, I started reading a few video game sites on a regular basis.   There were two direct inspirations for Chrontendo: a fellow on the Atari Age forums called Chronogamer, and more directly, an ongoing series by Scott Jacobi in Retrogaming  Times Monthly called Nintendo Realm (see here for the first column.), which contained brief write-ups of every Famicom game, in chronological order.  Jacobi stopped the column in 2007 after reaching September 1986, around the same time Chrontendo debuted.  There was also another, short lived attempt by someone else to do the same thing, but I lost the link a long time ago. (Update!  This is referring to a site now revealed to be Xaqar's Game Reviews.)

The thing that struck me was that old video games had gone from being poorly documented pop-culture relics (until the 2000s, how many people knew anything about the NES' Japanese doppelgänger? Or gave even a second thought to the fact that there might be bunch of video games that came out in Japan but not the US?) to being a rigorously documented cultural phenomenon.   Think about this: it wasn't that long ago that a game such as Custer's Revenge was virtually an urban legend. Supposedly it existed, but you didn't know anyone who had actually played it or ever seen a copy.  It could have been a hoax, and the very idea of a porno game for the Atari 2600 sounded pretty unlikely.  Now, of course, you can go online and in a matter of seconds turn up screenshots, scans of the box, even the ROM itself.   It was the same with the NES on a much larger scale.  Weird, old Japanese NES games?  Not only did they really exist, but you could easily find a list containing the name and exact release date of every such game.  Suddenly, all those old NES carts sitting in a shoebox in your closet became pieces in a much larger picture.  It occurred to me that a chronological list of Famicom games was not just a random collection of game titles, but a tool for telling a story.  It would be the story of how the Famicom went from simple games like Donkey Kong to epics like StarTropics II.  The story would show not only the development of the Famicom, but also the development of modern video games in general.

Am I the only one who's ever wondered what was in those barrels that causes them to ignite upon contact with oil?

Something else I found very appealing was that since every released Famicom game was documented, the story would have a certain completeness to it.  Maybe my background in mathematical logic is why the concept of completeness appeals to me.  (Roughly speaking, a formal logic theory is said to be "complete" if every statement in the theory is either provable or its negation is provable.  Some of you might have heard of Gödel's famous Incompleteness Theorem, which has penetrated into the non-mathematician consciousness through popular books like this.)  So in telling the story of the Famicom, nothing would be left out: every stone would be upturned and a light shone into every dark corner.

Much has been made about the way the internet makes it too easy to find things, thus negating the thrill of the hunt.  However, the internet sometimes works in the opposite fashion: it opens up new avenues for exploration.  We now have the possibility of discovering literally hundreds of previously unknown games, often with intriguing-sounding names, like "Bio Miracle Upa."   Or "America Daitouryou Senkyo."  What could that game possibly be about? (We'll find out in Chrontendo 37, if you're curious.)  And many of these games seemed virtually unplayed in the West.  You couldn't find much information online in English about Kyonshiizu II.

This game totally exists.

At that point in my life, I suppose I needed a new hobby.  I'd failed miserably at gardening (though I am thinking of trying tomatoes again this season.)   Golf is simply too boring.   I'd always been interested in video games, but didn't care too much for shooting other dudes in the head in Halo. So I decided to do a Famicom/NES themed podcast.  At the outset , it wasn't clear how long I'd stick with Chrontendo; possibly I would lose interest after a few episodes.  But I realized that if I had any chance of finishing the project, I'd need to pump out episodes pretty quickly.  This meant sacrificing slickness for speed.  I've tried to get a new episode out around every 2-3 weeks, and while I often don't succeed, I've managed to finish 36 + 7 episodes without burning out.   The fact that I'm able to produce a complete episode in a reasonable period of time is due to two factors:  I'm married with no children, and I don't watch television.  Often, on a quiet evening at home, my wife will want to watch some silly true crime show about husbands who murder their wives, or vice-verse (Why do women dig these things so much?  Years ago I worked in a book store, and noticed about 90% of the readership of true crimes books was female,)  so I'll often take this opportunity to work on Chrontendo for bit.  Completing a 55 minute episode in 15 days means I have to produce an average of only 3 2/3 minutes of footage a day.  It's not enormously time consuming, and doesn't require playing video games all day.

I'll let you all in on one little thing: "Dr. Sparkle" is a bit of a fictional character.  He's definitely more of a video game expert than I am in real life, and I try to instill him with a bit more confidence in talking about video games than I could ever have.  Despite the fact that I produce a gaming-themed video blog, I wouldn't consider myself to be much of a "geek" in real life.  I'm not particularly obsessed or fanatical about games, I don't read Penny Arcade, and don't have any interest in Japanese animation, Japanese pop music*, science fiction/fantasy novels, tabletop RPGs, Kevin Smith movies, or that sort of thing.  Speaking of which, does anyone out there understand the cultish devotion that so many people have towards Kevin Smith?  I've seen several of his movies, and there doesn't seem to be anything particularly distinctive about them.

I have nothing against fat people, but isn't it a little ironic that this guy is always wearing athletic-themed clothing?

The bottom line is this: I always try to finish what I start, and as long as circumstances permit me to do so, I'll continue to crank these things out.  I enjoy Chrontendo; I learn a lot from it, and hopefully you do too.   I'd like to extend a "thank you," to all the commentors on this site, for not being ignorant, misogynistic, racist idiots, unlike the internet in general.  I feel fortunate to have such an outstanding readership.

One last thing -- in case anyone's wondering about the name "Dr. Sparkle," here's where it came about.   It was inspired by a goth club in San Francisco called Dark Sparkle.  For clarification purposes: I myself am not a member of the leather and latex brigade, but I know some people who are.  I have attended various Goth-themed events, including a Goth wedding and Goth day at Disneyland.  The confused looks on so many tourists' faces made the Disneyland thing worthwhile.  Anyway... I had a theory that many great '70s rock bands had the word "Doctor" in their names. Dr. Hook, Dr. John, Dr. Feelgood, Dr. Strangely Strange, Doctors of Madness, and of course, Dr. Teeth.  Thus, Dr. Sparkle seemed like the best possible name for a really awesome glam-boogie band from the 1970s.  Since I would never be starting up a glam-boogie band, I hijacked the name for this project.

The 1980s introduced the concept of really awful bands with "Doctor" in their names.

So there you have it - Chrontendo explained.  In the near future, we should be seeing Episode 37, then a few more Chrontendos.  These will include some highly anticipated sequels from Konami, Square, and Capcom.   After that, its back to Chrontubo to finish up 1988 for the PC-Engine!

*I have a deep love of experimental/psychedelic music from Japan, however!


GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. said...

Excellent. However, as a huge Pynchon fan, can I just say: "Pynchon."

garsh said...

There is indeed a highly distinctive quality to Kevin Smith movies. It's all about the almost hyper-actively rapid delivery of very flowery, elaborate, pseudo-intellectual dialog that flirts with a sort of Dennis Miller-esque tendency toward dropping in very specific references to "insider" topics, defying any resemblance to the kind of recall or eloquence that any real person is capable of, including Dennis Miller. Also, his subject matter commonly seems to pander to the slacker crowd.

This blog post made me realize Chrontendo is finite. Now I'm sad about that.

Now for some background of mine, as a moderately long standing member of your audience.

When I first found Chrontendo, I was somehow under the false impression that the goal was to play each and every NES game -- in its entirety. That task seemed more than daunting, and I was intrigued to say the least. When I realized it was more of a documentary, merely introducing each game, and providing more in-depth content on particularly noteworthy games, I was disappointed to be honest. However, it didn't take long at all before the quality of your work far exceeded that expectation, delivering more than I'd bargained for. Really, all it's lacking is a touch more ignorance, misogyny and racism.

...Or any at all.

kendra said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

When I see "Dr. Sparkle" I always just think of the Mr. Sparkle bit from the old Simpsons, and figured it had something to do with Japanese games and a doctor somehow.


qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

When I heard about Chrontendo the first time, I wasn't very interested. I downloaded the first episodes, but let them "rust" on my hard disc. Then, when I was on a LAN with friends, and just as it turned 2 A.M. everyone went sleeping, and I thought "Hey, you're bored, you have time, lets watch that stuff." I found it extremely interesting, and I am a regular since. And for the rest of the LAN I used my second monitor to watch the first 17 Episodes...and when I got home Episode 18 was just uploaded.

Cornervizion said...

Thanks for clearing up the "Doctor Sparkle" mystery Dr S. I thought it was just the name of a soft-drink.

Anyway I was off work sick, And I Discovered Chrontendo after enjoying another Pod-cast called "Retro-Core" which is on the Segagaga Domain site, as I really wanted to enjoy more retro-gaming themed shows. I think Episode 12 was the first one I watched and got hooked. Since then, I make it my personal duty to link them on my Facebook page too as I wanted other people to watch them.

I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed all the content you've provided over the years. And look forward to future episodes as and when. Some personal highlights were the 1987 Arcade Review in Episode 24, The Adventure Special in Episodes 31&32. Another high point is when a game is on other systems and you sometimes show a version comparison. (Extra points for mentioning the Spectrum too!)

Keep up the good work and no matter how long you take, We'll all be patiently waiting.

Badoor said...

I'm enjoying Chrontendo very much. It's the perfect show to watch on the go during the many daily downtimes a person has due to how its segmented every few minutes. Waiting for the bus to the university? Watch a couple of games in Chrontendo. In between classes? Watch a single game. Boring lecture? Watch the whole episode.

xaqar said...

Hi! I don't know if I'm the short lived attempt to play all the famicom/nes games, but I'm at least an attempt to do so!

I love Chrontendo, and really appreciate the fantastic job you do with each game! Keep gaming!

Doctor Sparkle said...

Xaqar - You are exactly the guy I was referring to! Small world.

Faster - Damn! Dr. Sparkle pwned! OK, its been fixed. Good catch.

As for ignorance, misogyny and racism, maybe I can start by adding Billy the Heretic to my links:

(Warning - This is perhaps the worst webcomic ever.)

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

Oh man, Doc, the worst webcomic ever? I first thought that you put the bar very high with the link to those awful Sonichu comics, which made me want to lobotomise myself. But Billy the Heretic? This guy is so fucking nuts, I can't believe he still has a homepage, and nobody told the hosters he is a racist prick (and more). Guys, remember when Heretics were fun? Like in that Doom clone. Or in Warhammer.

plasket said...

I remember reading about that election game in Nintendo Power once (George Push! Michael Dakakis!) and I am looking forward to your take on it.

qaylIS aka Nicolas Deußer said...

There was just a new Speedrun on Super Mario Bros. 3, with no whistles...55:43, interesting to watch, lookie here: (under Warpless Run). Just to stay up to date with speedrun-times...

Crane said...

Totally off topic but please read #8 regarding ghost letters:

or more succinctly (and poignantly:

Doctor Sparkle said...

qaylis - So even a speedrun of Mario 3 where not all levels are played is remarkably long! Of course, I skipped a few levels myself when playing it for Chrontendo 37.

Jeremy - The ironic sans link is pretty awful looking, but it uses a very fat font with very little space between the letters. This blog actually uses gray letters on black (cccccc to be precise), so to my eyes, the contrast is low enough to avoid eyestrain. I find it easier to read than the black on white post editing page. A matter of personal preferences and monitor settings, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It's not hard to read and doesn't cause any eye strain. But after reading the page awhile your pupils become dilated and you see lines everywhere you look.