Saturday, April 23, 2011

Chrontendo FAQ

We are currently between episodes of Chrontendo, so I'd like to take a moment to answer a couple questions that I get in the comments from time to time.  In other words, this is a literal FAQ, unlike the vast majority of so-called FAQs out there.   Which makes me wonder -- why, in the video gaming world,  do we call an unofficial, thoroughly detailed set of instructions for playing a game a "FAQ"?  A "walkthrough" I can understand; but a FAQ?  Most of these things contain no questions at all, much less frequently asked questions.  Perhaps years ago GameFaqs was started by some guy who was tired of people constantly asking him how to perform MK II fatalities or something, and it just grew from there?

Hey... anybody out there have the "nudality" code?

Every subculture has its own special terminology and nonstandard uses of common words.  Another very strange usage I see a lot in writing about video games is "franchise," as in, "Microsoft's Halo franchise."  It seems impossible to talk about Mario, Zelda or any other video game series without using the word.  I've done it myself many times.  But why do we call a game series (or the totality of games based on a certain character) a franchise?  Strictly speaking, the word franchise means a right that has been granted to someone.  Hence the phrase, "disenfranchised voters," referring to those whose right to vote has been taken away or compromised.  In the business sense of the word, it means to right to manufacture or sell a company's goods.  McDonald's is called a franchise because they will allow you open up a restaurant with their name on it and sell their sandwiches (in exchange for a $45,000 fee and a chunk of the profits.)

Microsoft certainly doesn't go around granting people the right to make Halo games.  Nintendo has occasionally allowed other companies to make Mario games (probably a bad idea,) but you can't walk up to Mr Iwata, hat in hand, and say, "I'd like to apply for a license to make my own Mario games, sir."  So why do we insist on calling these things franchises?  Other forms of mass culture do this as well (e.g. the Star Wars franchise.)  When and why did we start using this word in such a bizarre fashion?  How have "series" and "franchise" become interchangeable?

This is what happens when you let just anyone use your characters.

Anyway.... enough ranting.  On the FAQ part of this post.

Are you going to be covering unlicensed or unreleased games?

In some form or another, yes.  Probably in their own special episodes.  We are technically already covering unlicensed games from Tengen, but releases from other companies such as Color Dreams or all those weird Asian companies like Sachen are a diffferent story.   Since no one seems to know much about the release dates of those games,  it would be difficult to integrate them into the main series.  There's also too damn many of them, so I'll probably just play the more interesting titles.   But you can look forward to Dr. Sparkle talking about Cheetahmen or Bio Force Ape at some point in the future.

A totally accurate depiction of someone playing Action 52 for the first time.

Will you ever be covering handhelds such as the Game Boy?

I can't imagine myself taking another project of that magnitude.  Plus,  I don't think most Game Boy games have enough visual appeal, being in monochrome and all.  GameBoy-tendo would be really boring looking.   However... feel free to start your own chronogaming series on the Game Boy!

What's the music that plays in each episode?

The opening is UFO by ESG.

The between game music is Tin Cans (Puerto Rican Remix) by Tortoise

There is a longer version of the between game music I sometimes use.  Technically the track used is 3030 by Deltron 3030, but 90% of the music in that clip is sampled from an old classical/electronic fusion album called Lux Aeterna from William Sheller, who later went on to make a lot questionable pop music.

Seriously, does he have his tie tucked into his pants in that video?  Someone should try to bring that back into style.

Lastly, the end music is a live version of "Vitamin C" by Can.  For the longest time I couldn't remember exactly where this track was taken from, but I have finally found it again - it was from a May 1973 performance in Paris.  This version has a wild guitar part which doesn't have a counterpart on the LP version of Vitamin C, so the clip I used isn't easily identifiable.  Going forward, I'll list the music details in the credits of each episode.

Are you ever going to fix Episode 7?

Yes, I swear.  It's just that Ninja Hattori Kun is such a boring game I can't think of much to say about it.  Also, I'm biased against that game since "Ninja Hattori" is one of the top search terms that brings people to this site by accident   It's quite surprising, the sheer number of folks who come in from this picture in Google Images.  I don't think this site is quite what they were looking for, but who knows?  I'm just baffled at how many folks are looking for info on Ninja Hattori Kun.

Oh, yes... if you're wondering about Episode 38: it is coming along pretty nicely, though the massive 1988 computer game roundup will slow it down a bit.  I'll post a preview before too long.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Episode 37 Rears Its Ugly, Ugly Head

(Updated 4/9/2011)  Oh shit!  Breaking news from commenter Kendra!  Check out this here!

It's finally happened. Chrontendo Episode 37 is here, in a dizzying array of digital formats. For those of you who can stand to watch only the highest quality online videos, check out the 60 FPS versions on Archive:  you can download or stream the h.264 MP4 video or its hipsterish cousin, the MKV. You'll also find the more mundane AVI version here. If you prefer a bit more Beiber and a bit less granola in your video hosting sites, check out the semi-decent 30 FPS version on Youtube.

Now you might be wondering what I mean when I describe Episode 37 as "ugly." For starters, take a look at the following screenshot.

A long time ago, Dr. Sparkle used to be a sort of crappy painter. Therefore, I feel relatively qualified to point out the various aesthetic malfunctions occuring above. Such as the forest green/mustard yellow "explosion" word balloon in the upper left -- is it intended to depict the violence and excitement inherent in the concept of "TwoOnTwo?"  Why is the black edging on the large green characters missing from the right side of each character?  What is happened to the right side of the basketball player's face?  Why is he leaping with hands up in the air as if he were shooting a basket, yet the ball is approaching the basket from the opposite direction?.  Who the hell would design a basketball hoop that's so much smaller than a regulation sized basketball?  Or maybe the basketball itself is over-sized?  Either way, it's not going to fit in that hoop. And why was the art director thinking that this garish mishmash of graphical elements and clashing colors was acceptable to use in a commercially released product?

Aside from the Moero!! Junior Basket title screen, we also have games in which Margaret Thatcher runs for President of the USA, Takeshi Kitano guides you through a board game version of Sengoku-era Japan, you compete in a "Grand Prix" by playing rounds of pachinko, and you play the classic board game Othello by answering trivia questions. Also, we have a mahjong game based around a manga character. Yes, you heard that right: there is both a mahjong and a pachinko game this episode.  Sorry.

This all sounds pretty torturous, but luckily for you, I decided to throw in the Chrontendo 1988 Arcade Game Roundup!   So between clips of 8-bit chicks in bunny suits, you'll get to watch giant snakes made out of fire leaping out of the sun!  In not one, but two games!  Yes, one of them is Gradius II, but do you know what the other is?

Snakes + Fire + Spaceships = AWESOME

As before, the games featured in the arcade roundup are grouped by publisher, so we get a crash course in the major games of 1988 from Sega, Namco, Konami, Capcom, Taito, and Atari, as well as those from smaller publishers such as Data East, SNK, Tecmo, and so on. It's all pretty amazing and exciting, so hopefully you'll enjoy getting to watch cutting-edge graphics for once.

Every episode of Chrontendo, I select one game as the "best" game of the episode.  This time, I am going to, somewhat grudgingly, give the honor to Kemco's NES release of Deja Vu.

No one can deny that the original, Macintosh version, of Deja Vu was something of a revelation.  One of the first adventure games to use the mouse, Deja Vu did away with the clumsy text parsers found in most adventure games at that time.  Instead of typing out "move west," one could simply use the Mac's mouse to position the pointer onto the west door, and then, with simple click, move through the door.

The only NES game that requires you to literally, slap a ho.

Kemco's Deja Vu obviously couldn't make use of a mouse, so the entire control scheme was redesigned.  You now have to use the d-pad to navigate a bunch of commands, and walking through a door requires two verbs, "open" and "move",  and multiple button presses.  In other words, it took Deja Vu's main innovation, a simple and easy to use control scheme, and made it much more clunky and slow.

The game itself is still pretty good, however, especially compared to the illogical and linear Japanese adventure games we've been seeing.  I had some trouble with the DV's nested inventory system at the end of game, which kept getting me arrested.  The video goes into more detail about my problems.

Also pretty decent this episode:

Sangokushi/Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Cao Cao doesn't like it when you call him "Cow Cow."

Koei's biggest and baddest history strategy game comes late to the party.  It was originally released for the PC-88 in 1985. By November 1988, we've already seen a bunch of similar games hit the Famicom.   Hot-B's Takeda Shingen, Namco's Dokuganryu Masamune, Irem's Hototogisu, and Koei's own Nobunaga's Ambition were all modeled on Romance.  While there's nothing wrong with Romance, there's also nothing here we haven't really seen before.


You see kids, back in the 80s, not only was Pluto a real planet, it was bigger than Neptune!

Konami goes oooooold-school with this port of their 1983 arcade tube shooter.  In the fast moving world of 1980s shoot-em-ups, Gyruss seems like a relic from the neolithic age.   Still, it's a fun way to kill a few minutes.  Unlike the games listed below.

The worst of Episode 37:

Yuu Maze/Youmais

Taito once again shows their lack of ambition, Famicom-wise, with this archaic looking FDS game.  Yuu Maze is an honest-to-god maze game of the sort popular in the early 80s.  You drive your little car around picking up dots while avoiding enemy vehicles, who don't so much chase after you as just move around randomly.  Seriously, Taito, time to step up to the plate.

American Football/Touchdown Fever

Not to be confused with "White Line Fever."  Also quite popular in the 80s.

I'm not 100% sure what the actual Japanese title of this game is.  The box art has "American Football" in 100 point type, while the game's title screen just says "Touchdown Fever."  Either way, I'd call it the worst football game for the system.  Even 10 Yard Fight is better.

Family Quiz: 4-nin wa Rival

A quickie mini-game collection which incorporates trivia questions into Othello, a simple board game, and a memory game.  It's notable only for being the first game we've seen from Athena, who would later make the Dezaemon games.

Saiyuuki World

Does this look familiar?  It should if you've seen Chronturbo 1 and Chronsega 5.

The most baffling entry this episode is RPG-ish action platformer from Jaleco.  Ostensibly based on the story of Son Wokong/Son Gouku from Journey to the West, Saiyuuki World is in reality a direct clone of Wonder Boy in Monster Land.  Level design, boss battles, enemy placement -- all are taken directly from Sega's game.  Of course, this has happened once before with Bikkuriman World, covered in Chronturbo Epsiode 1.  But while that game was licensed from Monster Land's developer Westone, it's not clear that Jaleco did the same thing here.  Instead of Westone's name appearing in the credits, we see a copyright to NMK.  It doesn't seem possible that Jaleco could get away with "borrowing" the entire game, so I assume some money must have changed hands at some point?

And finally, some oddities:

United State Presidential Race: America Daitouryou Senkyo

Margaret Thatcher's wattle, rendered in all its 8 bit glory!

Yep.  That's the title.  "United State."  A 1988 US Presidential election simulation game, where one of the candidates is Margaret Thatcher?  The earlier games this most resembles are the stock market simulations; except instead of picking stocks you establish your position on various issues, and invest money in your campaign.

Gambler Jiko Chuushinha 

I hope you guys like mahjong games, because we have another 3 dozen or so to cover before Chrontendo's done.

A port of a slightly earlier computer mahjong game, based on a manga series you've probably never heard of.  Yet it was somehow popular enough to warrant a series of sequels that lasted up to the Playstation/Saturn era.  To summarize, it's a mahjong game in which the icons representing the players are borrowed from a comic book.

Kaijuu Monogatari

You're probably familiar with this game because you've already seen the Episode 37 preview.  If not: it's a Dragon Quest-y RPG from Taito that takes a great idea and ruins it through repetitiveness and blandness.  More specifically, the game begins with each party member separated in different parts of the world.  You can switch between them at will, and must level each up separately before meeting up and forming your party.  Sadly, Kaiju Monogatari is pretty dull, even by mid 80s Famicom RPG standards.

Moero!! Junior Basket Two on Two/Hoops

You might recall Jaleco's Moero!! Pro Yakyuu, released as Bases Loaded in the US.  Junior Basket is the latest in their Moero!! series, and is the first half-court basketball game we've seen.  Aside from the terrifying title screen seen above, it's not... half bad. (DYSWIDT?)

Samurai Sword

The first Famicom game in which you chat up a waitress in a bar.
Capcom does the whole menu-based adventure game thing.  While the production values are pretty good, the setting and story are not exactly inspired.  It also suffers from the same stifling linearity as other JP adventure games, since as Princess Tomato.  As a result, playing Samurai Sword feels less like puzzle solving and more like searching through menu options for the trigger actions that allows you to move forward.

Touhou Kenbun Roku

Another adventure game, Touhou Kenbun Roku is apparently the first game by Harvest Moon creators Natsume.  It's a "wacky" adventure game based on the travels of Marco Polo.  There's a brief but interesting musical digression during the segment covering this game.

Pachinko GP

AKA Pachinko Grand Prix.  Wow, "Grand Prix?"  It sounds like they took a pachinko game and tried to make it more exciting.  If that was the developer's intention, it didn't work.  Pachinko video games are still boring.

Takeshi no Sengoku Fuuunji

The third, that's right, third Famicom based on Takeshi Kitano.  And it won't be the last either.

And... that's it!  We're done for today.  I know this episode seems kind of terrible, but next time we will have a really cool and difficult game involving a ninja.  And after that we have a sequel to a popular RPG series from Square.  And then, we have a sequel to a Capcom game involving a small, blue robot boy.  So things are looking up!  Until then,  check out Chrontendo Episode 37 on Archive or YouTube.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Little Preview

Chrontendo Episode 37 will be ready in a couple days.  Until then, I've posted a preview on Youtube.  As far as I could see, there wasn't anything on Kaijuu Monogatari on Youtube, at least in English, so I've put up that segment.

One thing: Youtube's videos run at 30 FPS, so certain flicker effects, like the one I mention in the intro, don't show up. You'll have to wait for 60 FPS version on Archive for that.