Thursday, December 27, 2012

Final Post of the Year

Hello, everyone. I hope the Holiday season has not left you too exhausted. Here at Chrontendo HQ, we've been pretty busy -- not only with Christmas stuff, but also Chrontendo 46.

A few quick updates today: Once the excitement of obtaining the Westvlateren 12 passed, I got around to actually drinking a bottle. And it's quite good! I planning on aging a couple bottles (note to non-beer geeks: much high quality beer improves with age, just like wine.), though at some point in the future, I hope to do some sort of Westvlateren/St. Bernardus comparison. That will be a very special episode of Beertendo.

I was surprised to spot an appearance of the elusive Chronogamer in the comments recently! His own attempt on chrongaming was the original inspiration for the Chrontendo project. I hope the dude will get back in the game soon, though currently he appears to be writing about Star Trek.

So.... on top of everything else currently going on, I've had this little distraction called Skyrim. Yes, it is sucking up time that should be devoted to Chrontendo. But can you really blame me for wanting to play Skyrim over Tenkaichi Bushi Keru Nagūru?

Seriously, just look at this crap.
To make matters worse, I've started exploring the surprisingly deep world of Skyrim mods. It's been a while since I been actively involved in PC gaming. The few big PC blockbuster titles I've played in recent years have been on consoles. So, I was a little surprised at the sheer number of impressive mods for Skyrim. And there are even a few that don't involve adding naked ladies to the game! There are plenty of those, of course; in fact the second most popular mod on the main Skyrim mod site, Nexus, is something called a "female body mod - big bottom edition."  But there tons of things like high-res re-textures for the environment, improvements to the UI, some amazing lighting mods, and tons of very specific alterations such as adding insects and birds to the game world. The overall philosophy of the Skyrim modding community is pretty amusing: "We love this game! Now let's change absolutely everything about it!" Anyway, it's possible to get totally lost in this stuff, so I apologize for being so distracted this month.

To make matters even worse, I received my end-of-year bonus last week, and decided to use a little bit of those surplus funds to pick up a new graphics card.  My current system has a decent mid-range card, but it's nowhere near cutting edge. I decided to upgrade to a Radeon 7950. I currently have an AMD card, and it was a tough choice between sticking with AMD or trying out a GeForce. It's amazing how fired up people get over their choice of graphics cards manufacturers. There are some serious AMD/GeForce partisans out there who have very strong feelings about the superiority of their brand. This reminds me of Nintendo/Sega back in the day.

In the meantime, Chrontendo 46 continues to putter along. It's actually a pretty strong lineup of games this time.  We have a few lesser known, culty games that received US releases. One standout among them is Human/Bandai's horrific platfomer, Monster Party. This must be one of the weirdest damned games released for the NES. If you've never played it, expected to be a little shocked once you see some of the creepy stuff in this game.

What a cheery fellow!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

For Beer Fans, the Greatest Day

Today, something has occurred that I assumed would never happen. I actually have, in my possession, six bottles of perhaps the world's most legendary beer, Westvleteren 12. The beer went on sale this morning in the US for the first and probably last time.

If you don't know much about the world of beer,  here's the explanation of why this is a big deal: Belgium is the Mecca of the beer-producing world. It is to beer what Bordeaux is to wine. Many, many styles of beer come out of Belgium, but one certain type is held in particularly high regard. This is the ale made by Trappist monks. Belgium has six Trappist breweries, and there is another in the Netherlands. Trappist beers are some of the finest produced, and in general are not very hard to find. The largest Trappist brewery, Chimay, makes ales that are available just about anywhere that sells beer. Every Trader Joe's around here stocks it all the time. As for the others: any really decent beer shop should sell them. If I decided right now that I wanted an Orval, Westmalle or Rochefort, I could hop in my car and have a bottle in my hand within 20 minutes.

The joker in the pack of Trappist beers is Westvleteren. It is the most sought after Trappist beer, but has no official distribution in the US, or anywhere, for that matter. The only place that legally sells it is the actual monastery - or rather the brewery's visitor center. In order to obtain a Westvleteren, you would need to perform the following steps.

Go to Belgium. Proceed to the town of Vleteren.
Dial a special phone number to order a case of beer.
Drive to the visitor center to pick up the beer.
Keep in mind that the brewery is very small, and the demand for the beer is far greater than the supply, and it may take many, many phone calls before you are able to get a case. As the brewery's website wryly notes, it will take a "lot of luck" to reserve a case.

The brewery makes three styles, but the most desirable is the Westvleteren 12, the strongest of the three. The very high quality of the 12, combined with its lack of availability, gives it a certain mystique. It has been voted the best beer in the world on several occasions. Voters on the popular beer ratings sites, RateBeer and BeerAdvocate have placed it in the first and second spots, respectively, in their beer rankings.

So Westvleteren 12 has been sort of the "holy grail" of beers. Thus it was quite surprising that the monastery had cut a deal with EU and US distributors to sell a limited number of "gift packs," each containing 6 bottles of Westie 12 and two glasses. The monastery is not supposed to make a profit on the beer; the only reason they are allowing outside distribution is that their building needs a new roof. The US distribution deal was announced last year, but the release date had been pushed back couple times  - until now. Today, on 12/12/12, a select number of liquor stores in 26 states put the gift packs on sale. This momentous event was big enough to get mentions in mainstream media sources. I knew of a few local outlets that would be carrying this, so I headed out this morning to arrive before opening time.

Not pictured: the tears of joy running down my face.
There are a few nice things (but very few) about living in a large, yet uncultured town like I do. I didn't have to face down any huge lines this morning. There was a steady flow of people arriving to buy the gift packs, but no one was camping out in front of the store.  In Chicago there were reports of lines starting at 4 AM, in Philadelphia, lines "around the block," and so on. A large location in Toronto sold out in 4 minutes. Checking Ebay, I see bids already passing the $400 mark on these gift sets. Also -- sons of bitches are trying to sell the empty gift boxes. Considering that only around 15000 of these packs were available in the US, its not surprising to see that kind of price inflation.

I suppose later tonight I'll actually open up a bottle and try it. Undoubtedly the experience will be a bit anti-climatic. No beer can really live up the title of "best beer in the world." Still, as a beer fanatic, a major gap in my beer-drinking experience will have been filled.

By the way, if you are curious about this beer but don't want to spend $400, here's a little secret that beer lovers know.  There is a very close approximation of Westie 12 that is easily obtainable: St Bernardus Abt 12. The monks from Westvleteren gave their recipe to the monks at the nearby Abbey of St Bernardus. The two beers are often considered to taste very similar, though Westie 12 is usually thought to be a bit better.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Dr. Sparkle: Lootstealer

Now that the Chronsega 8 madness is over, it's time to get back to work on Chrontendo. This episode should come out in a sometime timely fashion, barring certain "delays" (more about this at the end of the post.)

For the time being however, I'd like to point out this rare intersection of two interests of mine: video games and linguistics. Recently, the fast-talking videogame personality Ben Croshaw/Yahtzee did one of his Zero Punctuation videos on EA's Medal of Honor: Warfighter. I really have no idea whether or not MOH:Warfighter is a good game. Croshaw didn't like it, but the odd thing about his review is that he spends the first couple minutes ranting about the name; or rather, the word "warfighter." Croshaw finds something inherently ridiculous about the structure of the word, comparing it to saying "numbers accountant," and claiming that it causes fits of laughter whenever he utters it.

I just hope he doesn't wear that hat in real lif-- ....   Oh.
This review managed to draw the attention of the popular linguistics blog, Language Log, which is run by Mark Liberman of the University of Pennsylvania and Geoff Pullum of the University of Edinburgh. LL often posts about notable language issues in pop culture. Liberman points out that "warfighter," rather than being a word made up by EA, is a standard term for members of the US military and has been used by the DOD since at least the 1980s. It turns up quite frequently in government documents related to military matters. The US military needs to have a general term for members of the Army, Marines, Air Force and Navy who are engaged in combat activities. Currently, the preferred term is warfighter. These kinds of games love putting military jargon into their names, so "warfighter" does not sound at all out of place.

I suppose Croshaw can be excused for not being familiar with the word, since appears to be British (or perhaps a very pretentious American.) But his insistence that the word is somehow internally redundant is a little weird. After all, you can do of things with war other than fight it: warmonger, war profiteer, etc. Likewise, people engage in all sorts of fighting; there are firefighters and prizefighters. Some people even do their fighting in the streets. Perhaps Croshaw has heard of these street fighters?  And, as one commenter on LL pointed out, other games have already used the term, such as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter.

Also: Saint's Row: Whorefighter
Croshaw's remarks fall into the larger category of a language peeve: a word, phrase or usage that upsets certain people. Often, there is a cultural, national or class bias behind these peeves. Older people get upset when new words are introduced into the language or the meanings of existing words change.  Folks who consider themselves educated (or better yet, "cultured") dislike certain popular or casual English words/phrases. Grammar Nazis haunt internet forums, trying to impose imaginary grammar rules (like "split infinitives.") Some people can't abide foreign words entering the English language -- I recall some years ago a reader's letter in my local newspaper complaining about the use of the word "tsunami." I myself peeve at times. I violently disagree with 1Up's Bob Mackey's use of "oral history" in this series (Dr. Sparkle contributed a brief and terrible entry in this article.). And if you EVER confuse "jealousy" with "envy," I WILL curb stomp you.

BTW: Language Log has a number of entertaining and informative articles on language peeves here.

In other sad news, I'm sure you are all aware that Nintendo Power has released its final issue. The cover is a nice call back to the very first Nintendo Power.

And, it yet more sad news for Chrontendo fans, a major distraction has been occupying my attention lately.  After months of letting the graphics card on my computer sit idly, I have finally broken down and bought Skyrim. Don't blame me! It was $25 on Amazon! I couldn't resist. Don't worry, I will be working on Chrontendo between sessions of slaying dragons and rooting through people's dressers and nightstands. And seriously, why does everyone is this game leave food lying around everywhere? Who keeps an apple pie on the end table next to their bed?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

To Watch this Video, You Need 4 Eyes

Why? Because of the size.*

Seriously, Chronsega 8 is huuuuge. In more ways than one. It is far and away the longest episode yet. And it's all due to one thing: Phantasy Star II. For some reason, PS II stirred up enough vitriol in me (perhaps "vitriol' is too strong) to rant and rave for an excessively long time about its shortcomings. Hell, the PS II segment is halfway between a typical Chrontendo segment and a Let's Play.

But before I get into that, yes, Chronsega 8 is available in all its mind-numbing glory, on Archive and Youtube. As an experiment, I have put a 720p High Def version on Youtube. If you plan on watching it full screen on your big-ass monitor, this is the way to go. Purists, however, will probably still want to download the 60 fps version from Archive. Also, this is the episode where we move into the new dual format for Chronsega: half Megadrive/Genesis and half Master System.

 So about Phantasy Star II: I'd never played the game before. I'd always heard it was one of the best RPGs ever - a game years ahead of its time. One that put its contemporaries to shame. A game so amazing that after completing it your life would be transformed forever.  After watching the closing credits scroll down the screen, you would step outside, notice colors in the sky you had never seen before. The sounds of children playing in the distance would fill your heart with laughter. Suddenly, nothing in the world would be impossible for you to accomplish.Women would suddenly find you irresistibly attractive. You had become a master of your destiny -- all because of Phantasy Star II!

I hope you like massive amounts of gratuitous multi-plane scrolling.
 In fact, PS II seemed a bit dumbed down compared to its predecessor and some of the better RPGs we've already seen. The combat is very simple; in fact it plays itself. You only have to hit the "fight" button at the start of each battle and your characters just attack automatically.  Enemies use virtually no status ailments or special attacks.  Battles are just "hit and heal." There are only three boss battles in the entire game: one about halfway into the game, and two more at the very end. The game world seems small and sort of empty; there are only a few NPCs of any importance. There is only one real side story, about a guy whose daughter is kidnapped by "scoundrels." The game just doesn't have any of the richness found in Dragon Quest III.

What it lacks in richness it makes up for in vivisected bunnies.
  On the other hand, the art is pretty nice - the monsters and large and the attack animations are well animated.  However, PS II is still visually tied to its 8-bit roots.  It looks like Phantasy Star with bigger sprites and slightly more detailed backgrounds. You can't really blame Sega for this; after all, that 16-bit RPG "look" wasn't developed overnight.  The music is outstanding: some of the best for the system. The character artwork is good looking, and box art by Hitoshi Yoneda is pretty sweet, though clearly derivative of the French comic artist Moebius. But mostly PS II just feels shallow and repetitive, like a grindy, continuous slog through a series of dungeons.

Though we did get some decent fantasy paperback style art in the US.
I don't want to babble on about this game anymore than I already have. Though you should check out the rather thorough series of posts over at the RPG Consoler.

We cover the Mega Drive releases from the system's launch in October 1988 to June 1989. Aside from PS II, we have the two launch titles, both based on Super Scaler arcade games: Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade. Later in the year Sega released Altered Beast, the orignal pack-in game for the Genesis in the US, and Osomatsu-kun, a Mega Drive original. Osomatsu-kun is noticeable for being the first platformer on the system, as well as the first licensed game.

Osomatsu-kun: the forgotten game from the Mega Drive's first batch of releases.
1989 brings in the disappointing Alex Kidd sequel, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, which inexplicably upped the Janken content. Also, Super League, a good looking Baseball game that plays just like every other baseball game we've seen. In the US, Sega tacked on names of real sports figures to their sports games, so Super League was released as Tommy Lasorda Baseball. There are also a couple third party developed games based on earlier computer games, Super Daisenryaku and Thunder Blade II. The latter would eventually become a popular series of shoot-em-ups on the Genesis, but this game is less successful than its sequels.

                                            A crotch shot or Tommy Lasorda's ugly mug. Not much of a choice.

On the Master System end, we have six US/Europe games from Summer 1989. Far and away the best is Westone's Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap. I discussed my love of this game in an earlier post. But let me reiterate -- it's one of the best games on the system. Other than that we have a port of the Hot-B shooter, Cloud Master, a horror themed basketball game, Basketball Nightmare, OutRun 3D, Compile's Casino Games, and for some damned reason, Parker Brothers' port of King's Quest (!)

Cloud Master AKA The game where you shoot all kinds of stupid shit.
 So this is how Chronsega will continue in the future. Episode 9 will lean more heavily on the Mega Drive, as the Master System enters its lean period. First though, we have some more Chrontendo. I sincerely hope that Chrontendo 46 will arrive in a much timelier fashion. A number of factors conspired to make Chronsega 8 so late; hopefully this won't happen again.

Until then, check out Chronsega 8 on Archive and Youtube.

* Reference (Probably NSFW)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Post Birthday Blues

At what point in your life do you officially become "out of it?" I'm certainly behind the times in the world of videogames. Yesterday at the Thanksgiving table, some younger folk were talking about the wonders of Halo 4, a game which I know very little about and have even less interest in playing. I can't stir up much interest for Angry Birds, Kinect, or any of that stuff. For a guy who specializes in old videogames, this is all perfectly acceptable. But I still am a fan on contemporary music, so it's a bit more troublesome to find myself developing grumpy old man syndrome in that department. After all, I did work for an online music retailer for a number of years, something I've mentioned on this blog before. (I believe I wrote about having spoken to Johnny Rotten on the phone - he was calling buy some Can CDs. (Incidentally, I also sent a hard-to-find CD to Steve Jones, though I never actually spoke to him directly. I'm pretty sure it was a Silverhead record, maybe this one. Before you judge Steve Jones as a pervert based on that remarkable sleazy cover, please note that Silverhead was a pretty good 70s glam band, so Mr. Jones must have decent taste is music.))

This was acceptable in the 70s.
What triggered my current state of feeling old and in the way was a trip to a local burgers and beer place that sits next door to a musical venue. I've been to that musical venue a number of times; I even wrote about seeing Mastodon there. Outside, a huge line of people were waiting to get in, stretching literally around the block. After dinner, security was still working on getting people into the venue. It was sort of an unusual crowd, with lots of young people and older folks as well. I asked one of the venue's employees what was going on that night. "Halestorm. It's a huge show. Been sold out for weeks." "Halestorm?" I thought, "I've never heard of them. They're this popular?" I should explain that I live in a town that is not exactly known for supporting the arts, and I don't often see big crowds at these sort of things. Upcoming shows at that same venue include the likes of Trapt, NOFX, Snoop Dogg (!), and Sum 41, none of which appear to have sold out. So apparently these Halestorm guys are a big deal? There were a few folks wearing Avenged Sevenfold shirts hanging around, so maybe Halestorm is a Christian band? (Avenged Sevenfold is a Christian band, right? I would assume so with a name like that.)

There's nothing objectively wrong with not knowing who some popular but probably terrible band is. But not that long ago, I at least had a passing familiarity with terrible crap like Linkin Park or Daughtry. Now, it appears this stuff is passing me by. Maybe this is a good thing, and means fewer distractions.  Or it could just be that I'm getting over the hill.

It's no coincidence that I'm writing a post of this nature the day after my birthday. Once you reach a certain age (probably some time in your 30s) birthdays become less a cause for celebration, and more a grim reminder of your mortality. However, since it was my birthday, I decided not to cook Thanksgiving dinner myself, for the first time in around 8 years or so. At least I had a day off.

Speaking of 70s glam rockers....
By the way: the final piece in the Chronsega 8 puzzle, Phantasy Star II, has been completed. I've also finished the new and sort of weird Chronsega opening title sequence. It's mostly now a matter of editing everything together over the next few days.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Chrontendo has always gotten a fair amount of spam, but there seems to have been a serious uptick in the last few weeks. Blogger has been pretty good about blocking these in the past. But in last couple days, the Blogger spam catcher seems to have shit the bed with the lights on, and all kinds of crazy stuff is getting through., despite 100% of these comments being about cheap prescription drugs.

I'm not sure what's going on, but it's with a heavy heart that I have enabled the verification word thingy. Hopefully this will be temporary. But for the time being you'll need to type in the magic word to post a comment.

Friday, November 9, 2012


The wait for Chronsega 8 has become so protracted, that this episode now has its own trailer. Yes, an actual teaser-trailer type deal has been created for this episode. As I stated a while ago, there are some big changes afoot for Chronsega, and the new episode will introduce the new Chronsega. We might call it Chronsega 2.0, or perhaps Chronsega 360, Chronsega Vista, Chronsega X, or hell, maybe we'll just call it Chronsega: The New Batch. We also roll out the stupidly fancy-looking new Chronsega logo, which will undoubtedly be improved in later episodes.

Most of Chronsega 8 is done, but one game has turned out to be long, grueling slog. But I considered this game to be "important" enough for me to finish, so I'm toughing it out. If you've watched the trailer, you can probably figure out which game I'm talking about.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Big Winner

Election Day has come and gone, and I'll admit to getting a little caught up the madness for the last couple days. I always tell myself I won't compulsively watch the election coverage on television, and this year I have once again broken my promise. Last night was a huge and total victory for a man who many people have mocked, insulted and written off as a guy who just got lucky one time. I personally had a lot of faith in him, so it was quite gratifying to see him completely and utterly vindicated. So, congratulations, Nate Silver. You were right on the money. The number crunching nerds have triumphed over the crusty old pundits.

Of all the big networks, Fox News certainly had the most entertaining coverage over the last few days. The political equivalent of the reality distortion field seemed to have engulfed the network, with various talking heads popping up on Nov 5 to explain that, yes, Romney was definitely going to win this election, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Naturally, we've been treated to all sorts of meltdowns and Twitter freakouts the last 2 days. Probably the guy who got the hardest slap on the face from reality was human carbuncle Dick Morris, a man so completely out of touch that he was predicting a huge landslide for Romney up to the last minute. Election night itself, of course, also treated us to the sad spectacle of of Karl Rove freaking out, and disputing Fox's call of Ohio for Obama. Cognitive dissonance at its saddest.

Of course, now guys like Morris are blaming Hurricane Sandy and New Jersey governor Chris Christie for creating some kind of last minute upset in the election. This seems pretty absurd, as polls indicated the likelihood of an Obama win had been steadily increasing well before Sandy. Furthermore, according to Nate Silver, the odds of Obama winning never dropped below 62%, even in the aftermath of the first debate.

Here in the crazy state of California, we still have one hotly contested US House seat in the air. Supposedly, it will be "days, or even weeks" before the final vote is decided. And, in a move that might seem pretty weird to people outside the US, we rejected a measure that required genetically modified food to be labeled as such. I guess we just don't want to know what we are eating.

Oh, yes, on my Halloween post, I thought I was being unique and special by posting that crazy "It Came in the Night" song. Surely only Kenneth Anger fans or record collector geeks know that song, right? Yet, it so happens that weirdo punk rockers The Black Lips created a Halloween mixtape for frickin' Vice Magazine. And guess what the last track was?


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Halloween Quickie

Hey folks, here's our very special, spooky Halloween post! Well, it's not really very spooky. If anything, its appalling at best. All I have for you today, is a quick preview of Chronsega 8. There just happens to be a horror-themed game (sort of) this episode: Basketball Nightmare, which was apparently released only in Europe, in mid 1989. You'll get the see the new, more SMS-appropriate title sequence, as well. Long live Alex Kidd!

Also, as a goofy Halloween bonus, here's a super obscure song by the Australian 70s band, A Raincoat. Like many people, I first encountered this song via its unauthorized usage in Kenneth Anger's short film, Rabbit's Moon. Specifically, the later re-edited Rabbit's Moon from the 1970s; Anger's original version used a selection of classic doo-wop and soul songs. I can't find a good looking transfer of the orginal film on Youtube, but you can see a kind of crummy version here, if avant garde movies from the 1950s are your thing.

Anyway, the recut version of Rabbit's Moon dropped the original soundtrack and replaced it with a totally inappropriate 70s rock song called "It Came in the Dark." In those pre-Google days, people could only hear the song and wonder what the hell it was. "It Came in the Dark" is both utterly stupid and catchy as hell. I'm sure this tune was burned into the brain of just about everyone who saw Rabbit's Moon. Here's the song:

A Raincoat also released a full-length album, the poorly titled Digalongamacs, which featured the Sparks-y I Love You For Your Mind (Not Your Body)." 

Monday, October 22, 2012

An Ode to Third Party SMS Games

Ok, I know what you're thinking. "Dr. Sparkle, you idiot, an ode is a form of poetry! And this post consists entirely of your turgid, un-poetic prose!"  And yes, I agree with you 100%.  However, I am using "ode" as  metaphor, and an unnaturally loose one, at that. I'm not here to praise third party SMS games, but to announce their demise.

Chronsega 8, when it eventually arrives - and I'd like to reiterate that, yes, Chronsega Episode 8 is a totally real thing that will be happening in the near future, despite what the unreasonably long wait may have led you to believe.  Sorry, but I had a couple really long games this episode that I'm still working on. Plus, I've been busy with other things! Did I mention last time I'm having some work done around the house? Heck, I actually took part in a charity walk for cancer yesterday, people! The new episode is almost completely recorded and I'll be editing it before too long.

As I was saying, when Chronsega 8 manifests itself, we'll be seeing the final third party game for the Master System in the US. As we know, third party games are vital to the success of a console. The PC Engine did quite well in Japan, and part of that success must be attributed to game publishers like Namco signing on early in system's lifespan.  "Lack of third party support," is often cited as a reason for the failure of the 32X and Saturn. For the Master System, the situation was even worse.

Only two games from a third party publisher were released in Japan, and both were from the mysterious Salio, a rather fake-sounding company that only published one other game, Daichikun Crisis: Do Natural for the PC Engine in 1989.

The fact that both titles were ports of Tecmo games already published on the Famicom, merely adds to the level of fishiness.  On the other hand, in the US, a full five games were published by non-Sega companies. The first two, in late 1988, wer from former console giant Activision: Rampage and Galaxy Force, both arcade ports that were already available on many other systems.  The other publisher was Parker Brothers, who contributed two games in early 1989, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego and Montezuma's Revenge, both covered in Chronsega 7. The final SMS game from Parker Brothers was King's Quest: Quest for the Crown, released sometime around Summer 1989.

Sometime in Fall 1989, Sega took over the distribution of the Sega Master System themselves, after it had been handled by the toy company Tonka for a while.  This makes perfect sense, as Sega was launching the Genesis in the US at the same time. For some reason, Sega continued to support the ailing Master System in the US well into the lifespan on the Genesis. In mid-1990 Sega released a Nintendo Fan Club type magazine called Sega Visions. Each issue devotes a considerable amount of space to Genesis news, and a handful of pages to the Master System.

With every new issue, the Master System became a slightly less visible. Sega still nominally supported the console in the US, having released the budget priced SMS II, and kept relasing cartridges at a slow trickle over the course of 1990 and 1991. Sega Visions usually threw in a single two-page review in each 48 page issue, and in one instance, reviewing a game, The Lucky Dime Caper Starring Donald Duck, that supposedly never came out in the US. The last mention the SMS received was in the late 1991 issue, when the SMS Sonic the Hedgehog was reviewed. That title was barely released in the US, and is highly collectable today. Sega Visions then went on a breif hiatus, and when it relaunched in a new format in mid 1992, all mentions of the Master System were gone.

The SMS made its unlikely revival in Europe by that time. With it finally came the rush of third party publishers that the console had always been missing. Companies like Domark, TekMagik, Codemasters, US Gold, Flying Edge, Imageworks and Virgin all generated a healthy stream of new releases.

We won't be seeing the end of the SMS in the United States in Chronsega 8, but we will see its US release schedule slowly grinding to a halt as it picks up steam in Europe and Brazil. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Primal Metroidvania

I've been away from Chrontendo for the last couple days, but now I'm back with a decent sized update. First things first: I've bought a new, larger SSD and  have installed it. As you might recall, I was having some issues with my SSD, and based on what I had been reading in the manufacturer's forum, my problems weren't that uncommon. I ended up getting a  larger SSD, a 256 GB OCZ Vertex 4, since I could use a little extra space. The thing arrived on Saturday, and, I'll admit, the packaging impressed me quite a bit.

The box was dark gray with a nice matte finish. Inside, the drive was kept in place by a thick cardboard holder with this super-sturdy foam padding. The back of the holder contained a metal mounting bracket for the drive. I didn't need this, but it was a nice touch to include mounting hardware, and it made the package feel much more substantial. There was even a little sticker included. I know it's silly to put so much stock into the packaging of a piece of hardware, but when I bought my original SDD, I was surprised how boring and crappy the box was. When you buy a fancy new piece of cutting edge technology, you want the box to suggest the wonders contained within. I actually made a short film about building the new computer, in order to get some footage to test potential new editing software on. Maybe I'll post it someday, and you can see the other SSD's lame box.

Anyhoo... Chronsega 8 is going to be a pretty big episode, with several large, "important," games, and very little that could be considered to be total crap.  There are, however, several games that I personally don't care for. One game that I do like a lot, is the one I mentioned last time, Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap AKA Monster Land II (which would have been the Japanese title, had it been released in Japan.) To make matters more confusing, there was also an arcade game called Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, which received a TG-16 and Mega-Drive port. The Dragon's Trap also received a TG-16 port, but I don't want to make the issue any more muddled than it already is. The virtues of The Dragon's Trap have been detailed elsewhere, but I'll chip in my 50 cents as well.

The prior game in the series, Wonder Boy in Monster Land, introduced RPG elements - money, shops, armor, etc - to the series. But it still had a completely linear, SMB-like structure to the game world. WBiML also had a timer feature that greatly discouraged exploration and looking for hidden items. Wonder Boy III: The Dragon's Trap ditches the timer, and requires you to do quite a bit of poking around for secrets.  Instead of having a series of self-contained linear stages, WBIII:TDT uses a simple Metroidvania style structure. The game is invariably compared to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night due to its opening sequence. Much like SOTN, you begin WBIII:TDT in the last level of the previous game, Wonder Boy in Monster Land. Your character is fully leveled up with the best weapons and armor, and you replay the final boss of Monster Land, the Meka Dragon. After defeating him, you not only lose your equipment, but your stats and lifebar get downgraded to almost nothing. It's a surprisingly familiar moment to anyone who's played SOTN. Likewise, Metroid games usually start a similar prologue in which Samus loses all her abilities.

In Mouse Man form you can walk on walls and through tiny passages.
 Fans of SOTN and the GBA/DS Castlevania games will experience a bit of deja vu when playing WBIII:TDT. While traveling though the game world you'll often encounter platforms that are just a little too high for you to reach and you requently spy areas that are unreachable from your current location. Later in the game, you gain the power to climb certain walls and eventually you'll obtain the power of flight. Another very Castlevania like area is an underground waterway. You can travel though the waterway but certain areas are off-limits until you gain enhanced swimming abilities later.  Once you've obtained these new powers, you'll not only be able to advance into new areas, but also you can revisit old areas and find hidden caches of money, special weapons, lifebar extensions and so on.  It's certainly the most advanced example of a Metroidvania type game we've seen so far. It's not perfect by any means - the controls are a bit wonky, and platforms are unnecessarily slippery, but I'd place it alongside the likes of Phantasy Star and Alex Kidd on the top tier of SMS games.

The bird form will allow you to fly to secret areas and obtain the best equipment.
 Also: regarding the chili I mentioned last time. There isn't really a recipe; it's more of a "put in what you like" kind of deal. But generally, it involves browning some meat - I used bacon (a lot!), chorizo and flat iron steak - then adding it to a liquid base. In this case the liquid was tomato sauce, tomato paste, beer and tequilla. From there add onions, garlic, diced tomatos and peppers. Obviously, the peppers depend on your personal taste and what you can find, but I used habaneros, jalapeños, Anaheims, a fancy heirloom style of pepper called a Jimmy Nardello, and some other type of locally grown pepper that I can't remember. You should also throw in a can of chopped chipotle peppers. Add any additional spices you want - I did chili powder, black pepper and fresh basil and oregano. Then add beans and simmer for a few hours. A really good trick is to add a bit of chocolate, since chocolate and chili naturally go together. This works the other way around, too: trying adding some chili power to your cafe mocha or hot chocolate!

Fianlly, as a bonus this post, I'm throwing in a bit of music. If you are a fan of Chrontendo, you must be pretty weird, so perhaps you enjoy music from off the beaten path. This is not Krautrock, but keeping with the Axis theme, here's a classic Japanese psychedelic/progressive obscurity, Flied Egg.

This is the title track from their 1972 ablum, Dr. Siegel's Flied Egg Shooting Machine, a mini epic of sorts, complete with a sing along chorus, groovy organ riffs, Zappa-esque goofiness, and sudden change in tempo and mood halfway through the song.  A stone cold classic in my opinion, though some, such as Julian Cope, disagree. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Summer's End

Things were slow around the Sparkle household today. I had the day off work so I'm cooked a big pot of chili (this is, Dr. Sparkle's patented signature super-hot chili.)  The stuff is basically a recipe for cardiac arrest, considering how much horrible, fattening stuff it has it in - like chorizo and beer - so I only cook it every once in a great while. It's also takes a few hours to cook, so its virtually an all-day project.

I'm also doing a bit of work on Chronsega 8. There will be some changes to the Chronsega series starting this episode. Just like Chronturbo, there will be a new animated introductory section. Things start getting tricky for the Master System at this point, since Sega pulled the plug on it in Japan in early 1989. Thus, every SMS game from here on out is either a US, European or Brazilian release.  The actual release dates for these things are completely unknown. Old videogame magazines provide clues, but sometimes the only hint is the copyright date on the title screen or box.  Heck, even determining the exact release date of Super Mario Bros. in the US is pretty difficult. So at times, Chronsega is going to be more like Randomsega.  Also, more older Chrontendo's will be uploaded to Youtube. I'm aiming to get a playlist for the 1987 episodes up next.

Coming soon, I think.

One last thing, before I sign off, I'd like to share with you the single greatest thing on the internet at this particular point in human history. Webcomics, as you know, are mostly terrible. There are a few exceptions; I love Whomp!, for example, but the majority of webcomics are pure crap, especially the videogame related ones. Tails Gets Trolled is a rare case of something that manages to be terrible, brilliant and baffling, all at the same time. It's an extremely elaborate piece of Sonic the Hedgehog fan-fiction, but it also functions as an example of 21th century art brut. The most obvious comparison might be to Christian Chandler's Sonichu comics, or even closer, the Sonichu parody, Asperchu. The art is often amateurish, and filled with spelling and grammatical errors, while retaining a certain level of self-awareness. Yet, over time, TGT has becoming compelling reading, with its storyline gradually expanding into a sweeping epic as more characters and subplots are folded in.

TGT began life on the author's Deviant Art account, then was discovered by the Something Awful forums. Confused at first, the SA community quickly warmed up to the series, resulting in fan art, musical tributes and video adaptations.  Much of the appeal is due to TGT's liberal use of videogame and cartoon characters, and giving them very non-canonical back stories and personalities. For example, Mario is a driven, Machiavellian schemer bent on revenge; Knuckles is a constantly-stoned idiot; Kermit the Frog and Hello Kitty are dedicated troll-fighters. The plot moves in completely unexpected directions, and there are many genuine surprises and edge-of-your-seat moments. As several SA posters have pointed out, it's far better than the recent official, canonical Sonic the Hedghog stories from Sega.

There's a few ways you can experience Tails Gets Trolled: you can watch the story unfold gradually on the Something Awful post that made TGT famous.  Or can you view every strip on the fan-curated Wordpress site.  Or you can watch the fan-made videos (with professional quality voice acting.) Prepare to be amazed.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

PC Updates

Hey folks,

I spent part of the weekend up in Lake Tahoe, so I'm just now getting a chance to turn my attention towards Chrontendo. Lake Tahoe is, of course, a beautiful place, but there are a few places along the drive that make me nervous. I've never been fond of those roads where your tires are only a few feet away from the edge of a road overlooking a precipitous drop, and accidentally moving the car a little bit to the right would equal 100% guaranteed death.  This does actually happen. Someone I know once told me a relative of theirs dropped into the ocean while driving too fast along Highway 1.

Also, last night, while browsing at a local record store, I saw they had a couple recent issues of Ugly Things, a magazine I once read religiously before the book store that used to carry it shut down. I haven't any copies on the shelves anywhere else since then. A new UT is a huge time sink, which each issue being the size of a short novel. They publish only around one issue a year, so a new one is a momentous occasion. Plowing through these things is, once again, going to take away Chrontendo time.

For those wanting to know how the computer situation is coming along: everything is more or less up and running. I had narrowed it down to either the SSD or the Windows installation.  I tried resintalling Windows on my SSD, and immediately began having the same problems. At this point, it seemed I might just have a bad SSD, though checking around on the Crucial forums, I noticed many other users were experiencing the exact same issue. It's definitely not related to the "sleep" mode issue, which I had turned off.  I installed the most recent firware for the SSD, and this did fix the freezing issue.

However, there is still a noticeable drop in performance since the reinstall. Windows takes longer to load and there are sometimes slight delays is accessing data from the SSD.  The odd thing is this: according to my BIOS, the drive is in AHCI mode. Yet when I check the device profile in Windows, it states the SSD is in IDE. I've gone into the registry, and the settings are correct for AHCI. So it's a mystery why it's stuck in IDE.

I've actually considered just getting a larger SSD. Prices have gone down considerably, and I hear the Vertex drives are really good. By the time you install Windows 7, a few programs, video editing software and a modern game or two, your SSD space is pretty much eaten up. I haven't yet done too much work on returning my drive to its original condition. Quite frankly, reinstalling an OS is a good opportunity to get your hard drives organized the way the originally wanted, but neglected to for some reason.

Also, it seems the UK is finally learning to love ninjas again!

I'll be posting some Chronsega related updates soon.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Episode 45

So here is the "official" post announcing Chrontendo Episode 45. As detailed earlier, my computer is having issues, but I was able to successfully render and upload Ep. 45 on Youtube.  The fancy 60 fps h264 version is now available on Archive.  In a day or so, I'll put up an MKV version for those of you into the kinky stuff.

I was working on my PC today and at this point, I've narrowed it down to the hard drive or the Windows install. I had Windows 7 installed on an SSD.  I'm not sure how stable SSDs are at this point. Mine is from Crucial, whom I thought was pretty reliable, but if I need to replace it, I might go with something else. For the time being, I popped in a different hard drive using the same SATA cable as the old drive and made sure everything was working normally. Then I installed the video card drivers to rule that out as an issue. At this point, everything is running smoothly.  Tomorrow, I do a fresh Windows install on the old drive, which will determine whether its the problem is in the drive itself. I'm glad there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the motherboard, since that would be the most work to replace. On the other hand, if the graphics card was the problem, that would have been a really good excuse to get a better card. Maybe I'll replace it "just in case." Skyrim at 80 fps, here I come!*

Thanks to everyone how offered advice, help, etc. I must say that I'm always amazed at the fine caliber of people who read this blog. Sometimes, after reading comments on Chrontendo, I force myself to read comments on Yahoo News, just remind myself how truly awful humanity is.

The big bonus feature this episode is a look at the tangled history of Tetris, leading up to the release of Tengen's Tetris for the NES. In case you don't know the story, Tengen, the division of Atari Games responsible for releasing NES carts, published a port of Tetris in mid 1989. They were taken to court by Nintendo, who also claimed the US rights for Tetris on the NES. The result was Tengen's version being pulled from the shelves almost immediately after it was released, and Nintendo publishing their own NES Tetris later in the year. Tetris was just one of several legal battles between Atari and Nintendo in the 80s/90s, but the results were quite devastating for Atari.

I declare Tengen's Tetris to be Episode 45's MVP game. I like it quite a bit better than Bullet Proof's Famicom Tetris (covered in episode 40), which had a weird control scheme. The Tetris cart released by NOA later in 1989 was pretty decent, but lacked some of the features of the Tengen version, such as two-player head-to-head. The Tengen game is generally regarded as the best of the three.

The other 'big' game (though not necessarily a great game) is Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or Gekikame Ninja Den in Japan, or Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, in Europe. Europe generally dislikes ninjas for some reason. This game is not based on Konami's famous arcade beat-em-up with the same title. Instead it's a side-scrolling action platformer, with bits of top-down action thrown in. It resembles Konami's earlier Getsufuu Ma Den in some ways. Konami was probably in a bit of a rush to develop this thing, and as a result, the game isn't up to the same standards set by other huge Konami hits like Contra or Castlevania. Naturally, TMNT sold like hotcakes, though it now lives in the shadow of its much better sequels.

Also in Ep. 45, we get a decent baseball game from SNK. Baseball Stars/Baseball Stars - Mezase Sankanou!! is a realistic style simulation game, in which you create teams, leagues, earn money from games, hire and fire players. There are tons of baseball games for the Famicom/NES, and I'm getting quite tired of them, but Baseball Stars is pretty impressive. A few years later it would get a sequel on the Neo-Geo.

Even Capcom is cannot resist the popularity of RPGs on the Famicom. Earlier, we saw a Japanese style adventure game from Capcom, Samurai Sword. Now we have the Dragon Quest inspired Tenchi o Kurau/Destiny of an Emperor. Instead of the typical fantasy setting, Capcom has licensed the rights to a manga based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The most unusual thing about Destiny is the amazing number of recruitable party members - around 100!  Most of them are quite worthless, and there is no attempt to give any of them any sort of back story or personality (unless you are familiar with the source material.) I can't quite call Destiny a complete success, the fact that there is really only one type of enemy (soldier dudes) makes random battles a bit dull, but it is otherwise an ambitious and forward thinking game.

Another game that I couldn't like as much as I wanted to is Culture Brain's Little Ninja Bros. The Japanese little, Super Chinese 2, reveals its status as a sequel. The first game, an arcade port known as Kung Fu Heroes in the US, was covered in Chrontendo Episode 9. The sequel takes the first game and uses it as the basis for the random battles, while building an RPG around it. Just like Culture Brain's earlier Magic of Scheherazade, Little Ninja Bros features lots of colorful characters. funny dialog and great artwork. It also has a really great musical post-credits sequence.

Quinty/Mendel Palace, or "Mendel's Palace" as I call in this episode, is notable for the being the first game developed by Game Freak, future creators of Pokemon. It's a very good action/puzzle game. The Japanese release was by Namco; over here, it was published by Hudson. Neither the Japanese nor the US name makes any sense.

The Bad:

There is really nothing too terrible in Episode 45. Or maybe I'm just feeling more generous as I get older. A few games should be singled out for being really ugly.

Meitantei Holmes: M-Kara no Chousenjou

Almost immediately after A Week of Garfield, we are treated to another Towachiki game. This is the third Sherlock Holmes from Towachiki, and the second to fit snugly into the Portopia clone genre. It's a little better looking than its predecessor, but this is still falls near the bottom of the Japanese murder mystery adventure game pile.

La Salle Ishii no Child's Quest

Released only a couple days before Quinty, this is a wacky Namco-published RPG based around a Japanese media/TV personality named La Salle Ishii. Also called Lasa-R Ishii or Rasaaru Ishii, in this game he manages a one boy, two girl pop band. In order to make it big, the band travels around a Dragon Quest style overworld and engages in random battles with innocent civilians and police officers. Well, you don't literally fight these people, but rather try to win them over to your cause. Maybe you should just check out the Quinty/Child's Quest trailer.

Other games:

Datsugoku/P.O.W.: Prisoners of War

I really wanted to like this game, a beat-em-up from SNK.  It could be described as Rush'n Attack crossed with Double Dragon.  I was not able to get past the impossible second boss, so I'm withholding judgement on this game.

Famicom Tantei Club Part II - Ushiro ni Tatsu Shoujo

Nintendo is just about the only major publisher still releasing FDS games at this point. Even so, they are now only using the FDS for their adventure games.  This is a prequel to the first Famicom Tantei Club and was popular enough to get a Super Famicom remake years later. It was produced by Gunpei Yokoi and was co-developed by Tose.

Kabushiki Doujou

Speaking of Tose, they did the artwork for this stock market simulation game from Hect. At least Hect has a sense of humor about the subject: your stock market master is a white bearded old guy who looks more appropriate for a Karate doujou than a stock market doujou.

Big Challenge! Go! Go! Bowling

The fourth and final entry in Jaleco's ill-fated "Big Challenge" series of FDS games. The first three were sort of lame as well: we had a Sumo game, a very simple shoot-em-up, and a wild west themed horizontal run-and-gun. This one is a passable bowling game.

Kaettekita! Gunjin Shogi: Nanya Sore!?

Another game with excessive punctuation in the title. "Gunjin" shogi is a variant of shogi played with the tiles upside down. It pops up in video game form in Japan from time to time. As an astute commentor pointed out, its clearly related to the game known in the west as Stratego and in China as Dou Shou Qi. Among your opponents will be a gangster wolf and a beret-wearing Hitler.

SD Gundam World: Gachapon Senshi 2 - Capsule Senki

Earlier in 1989 we saw a fake sequel to SD Gundam World, the "Map Collection" for the FDS. We finally have a real sequel, but its more of less the same game. One improvement is that its now on a cartridge and thus missing the long loading times. For those with short memories, the SD Gundam Gachapon games are irritating military tactics games.

Murder Club

We barely cover this murder mystery adventure game, since it received a fancy port to the PC Engine a little later. That version even came out in the US as JB Harold Murder Club. I will point out the game was designed by one Rika Suzuki. She's still around today, making games for Cing like Hotel Dusk: Room 215 and Trace Memory.

What's up next, you ask? Chronsega episode 7, which will see a major change to the Chronsega series. 

*Just kidding. There's no way I'll ever have time to play Skyrim.