Alex Kidd in Sega World

  • Reading time:6 mins read

In what spare time I have, I’ve been hacking away at some neglected Master System games on my Power Base Converted model-1 Sega Genesis. A brief, and perhaps obvious series of conclusions:

  • The best Alex Kidd game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
  • The best Shinobi game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
  • The best Master System game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.

This game is… not really even a satire; it’s basically an earnest attempt at a cute chibi-style revisitation of the Master System port of the original Shinobi, in the style of Mighty Final Fight or Kid Dracula or the like. It’s from that era, you know.

The game is very pretty — increasingly so as it goes along — and has a great soundtrack, which involves dramatically shifted permutations of pieces from the original Shinobi. You know how R-Type has this one motif that  keeps developing and exploring from different angles, leading to a sense of thematic depth and change as the game goes along? This isn’t like that, but it’s interesting to hear one of the most familiar pieces of jaunty Shinobi music repurposed to accompany a moment of plot-based emotional trauma for our young Mr. Kidd.

The design itself has a surprising depth to it, that slowly peels away. Each level is full of secrets, and ideal ways to tackle the puzzle-like situations that it presents, often involving abilities that you weren’t aware the character had until you were forced to try them out. Furthermore, the challenge sits at just the right level where it’s never so hard that it’s irritating to play yet it’s never so easy that you can tune out completely. It’s harder if you just charge ahead and tackle things head-on, but it becomes rather easy if you take the time to explore, find all the secrets, and come at the tough situations from an ideal position.

There should have been more of these. Cross-overs should have been Alex Kidd’s thing; it’s already right there in all his game titles. He’s already moving from one world to another, each game a different format from the last. We could have seen Alex Kidd in Golden Axe World. Alex Kidd in the OutRun Zone. Alex Kidd in Monsterland. Alex Kidd in Zillion World. Work that licence, and: Alex Kidd ‘n Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (the Western version of Alex Kidd in Demon Village).

Long-time Sega fans often muse about Alex Kidd, and what happened to him. SEGAGAGA, Hitmaker’s nostalgic if-only farewell game to the Sega of old, released more or less as an epitaph to the company’s days as a first party and to their original company culture, makes a point of this question, answering that at some point the character left Sega, feeling sidelined by all of the new characters like Sonic, and now was working in a convenience store, looking a bit sad.

I’m thinking now, now that they have nothing to lose, Sega could easily restart the franchise by doing an Alex Kidd in Sega World, incorporating everything to the present day. One section might be Alex Kidd in the House of the Dead. Another, Alex Kidd in Shenmue Land. Which would be a total piss take. You know how at the end of each level in Super Mario Bros. 2 (US), there’s that slot machine thing? Like that, but all about petting cats and getting capsule toy trinkets that you’d carry with you for the entire game but would do nothing.

Satire would be the route to take: Think of The Typing of the Dead, but an affectionate (if merciless) tour of all Sega’s biggest or most beloved franchises. Maybe Alex Kidd misunderstands their rules; maybe he understands them too well:

  • Alex the Kidd-Hogg would disable all buttons but right, down, and jump, yet keep placing things to the left that catch your attention, that it would be nice to go back and explore. (Capsule toys? Cats to pet?)
  • Alex Kidd in the OutRun Zone, he’d just turn the wheels 90 degrees and drive sideways the whole time, straining his neck and causing crashes and traffic. (This section should also be side-scrolling and should follow the Alex the Kidd-Hogg section so it can be retroactively looped back in for a further gag.)

The game would begin as Alex Kidd in Curse World (compared to the first Alex Kidd game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World), which (beyond a few Q*Bert style expletives) would involve a sort of Faustian bargain to reclaim Alex’s fame and recognition. As it turns out, that bargain forces Alex to live through the roles of all the Sega heroes he’s replaced, racing back and forth to do it all himself. Often ineptly.

Maybe along the way he’d pick up a peeved Opa-Opa (an even earlier Sega mascot; a little sentient space ship from the game Fantasy Zone), who would follow him around like Sonic’s friend Tails or an Option from Gradius, or even at times enlarge to let Alex step on-board.

As he went along, of course, Alex slowly would come to realize things weren’t great for any of the other Sega protagonists either. All of Sega World was, in fact, a bit of a mess, lost to neglect. Heroes like Joe Musashi (from Shinobi) had been missing for years, and nobody even noticed or cared. (Alex might briefly wonder if that was his doing.)

In the end there would be a massive team-up, with everyone — all the Sega heroes Alex tried to replace, and more besides — coming together to fight the curse. Presumably the embodiment or explanation for that curse would have a metaphorical value for Sega’s greater misfortune and the commercial or sociopolitical explanations behind it. They’d start off fighting a bogeyman like the Sony expy villain from SEGAGAGA, then realize things weren’t that easy, and maybe it was just time for everyone to work together and try to build something nice, regardless of any outside pressures or influences.

This is a game I want to play. And on some level, I think it could actually be the thing to elevate Sega back to its heroic status as the scrappy major developer with all the personality.

Lack of food makes you obstreperous.

  • Reading time:1 mins read

Bangai-O Spirits is like Treasure Sudoku Challenge. No structure, no context; just a smörgÃ¥sbord of random levels. It’s… kind of hard, right from immediately. And the controls and rules are both way more convoluted than the Dreamcast version.

It does, however, have the best level editor ever, and (apparently) the best means of sharing. Not seen fit to reach out yet, however. This reminds me of my NES Lode Runner days. All those “programmable series” games with their non-functional save functions, fresh and unedited off of their Famicom Disk System and jammed into a solid-state pre-battery cartridge — who needs a save function? A blackboard and colored chalk did me fine.

I always wanted one of those NES controllers for handicapped people, where you moved a D-stick with your chin and you used a straw for the buttons. Suck for A, blow for B. Imagine combining that with the Power Pad and Power Glove. Eat your heart out, Fred Savage.

(Still need to reply to a few people. Hurm.)

The Process

  • Reading time:9 mins read

Following some earlier points, a forum I frequent saw some discussion on the apparent deification of the Doctor over the last few series of Doctor Who. Someone strongly objected to what he saw as Davies’ “all-powerful, all-knowing, ‘he’s a Time Lord, he can do anything’ approach to the Doctor”. Thing is, that’s not really what’s going on.

Generally Davies tries to undermine that concept, and show that it’s just bravado. Both in and out of the fiction, that myth is just the way that people perceive him, and the image he tries to project.

There’s a long discussion of this on one of the Moffat commentaries, amongst Davies, Tennant, and Moffat himself. They talk about how, for all of the facade he puts on, all the mythology that springs up around him, some of which he encourages, there’s nothing really special about the Doctor. His only real asset is that he can (usually) talk his way into anything.

“He’s almost a charlatan,” Moffat said, “in a good way. He poses as this god-like figure, but he’s just a bloke under there.”

Man and Myth

So much of the new series is about people’s perceptions of the Doctor, counterposed with the reality of the Doctor. This is precisely what “The Girl in the Fireplace” is about. Look at the way Reinette mythologized the Doctor in her own mind, and turned him into this huge figure from her childhood, a man of magic and awe. And there he was, just bumbling around, doing his thing as best as he could. Occasionally showing off. Occasionally acting like a complete ass.

And we, as adult viewers, see both sides. We know that the Doctor is just this guy, doing the best he can, yet we also know him as a figure of myth and legend who brings us monsters and death, because that’s what he chases and that’s what we tune in for — but then he does his best to put it right, and usually succeeds.

It’s not that he’s innately special; he just operates on a different plane from what most people see as normal life. Specifically, he lives the life of the protagonist to a long-running TV fantasy adventure. In that, he sees things that most people don’t see, and does things that most people don’t do. And to be credulous and put ourselves in the weekly companion role, that allows him to introduce us to fear and wonder, and just maybe expand our perspectives, with the assurance that everything will be all right in the end. Roughly. Usually.

So basically the new series is just being postmodern, and aware of itself as a modern myth. And it toys with that. (See “Love & Monsters”, that Clive guy in “Rose”.) Granted, in execution it’s gotten a bit lazy of late… But going by the commentary, everyone still seems to be working on the same wavelength they were in 2005.

Jesus Guises

Of course, “Forest of the Dead” plays a lot with the notion of an all-powerful Doctor, from River Song’s tale of the man Tennant becomes to his apparently new ability to enter the TARDIS by snapping his fingers. As far as River Song is concerned, though, that’s her mythologizing him again. It’s just her own personal impression of the man. Assuming she’s referring to a particular event, and knowing how the Doctor does things, you can imagine the sort of circumstance in which a whole army would run from him. As much as she talks it up, the actual event was probably some bizarre and desperate slight of hand on the Doctor’s part. Yet it sounds impressive if you don’t know the details! As things do.

Everyone believes in the Wizard of Oz, but he’s just a schmuck behind a curtain.

The snap is a little different. I halfway expected that to be revealed as Donna opening the door for him, but no. Then again, you know. TARDIS. It likes him. If anything is truly special, it’s his box. With a little thought, given the Doctor’s bond with the TARDIS, the snapping really isn’t that remarkable. It’s a bit of a parlor trick, really. Consider that Rose flew the thing just by staring into its console and wishing.

Then there’s that ridiculous floaty denoument from last year, which a lot of people point to. That’s not a good example either. It really, really wasn’t executed well, but that’s supposed to be about the power of humanity and hope and faith (to contrast with the Master’s message of despair), with the Doctor as just a focal point of all of those emotions. It’s only in encouraging everyone to believe in him, in becoming a legend, that he gained his power — which is sort of the concept I’ve been talking about, except made clumsily explicit and practical.


The encyclopedic knowledge business is getting tiresome, however. “Silence in the Library” is probably the worst offender yet, on this front. As “Midnight” shows, often it’s dramatically better not to have a clue what you’re facing.

The problem, as I see it, in the Doctor already knowing what he’s facing most of the time is that it removes a sense of discovery and danger and wonder from the proceedings, and all the emotions and ideas those might conjure up, and skips right to the business of solving things — a process that the new series (rightly) considers so obligatory as to use all of these shortcuts (sonic, psychic paper) to speed it along.

It’s meaningless to hear someone name something fictional, then watch him fiddle together some random fictional nonsense to defeat it. What really gets the head and heart going is something like The Empty Child, where — although there are hints along the way, and the Doctor may have more or less figured it out by halfway through episode two — the threat largely remains undefined until the end of the story, leaving the protagonists to react the best they can to their immediate circumstances.

Which isn’t to say that every story need be a mystery; it’s just that having bottomless resources is boring, especially when all you’re conjuring up and babbling about is fictional fact. Show, don’t tell! If the Doctor has seen it all before and can defuse any situation by pulling random convenient facts out of his hat, that basically tells us that what is happening right now doesn’t actually matter; that the show is just a sequence of doors and keys, and the Doctor already has most of the keys on file. So why are we watching it?

Keys are for Doors; Heads are for Thinking

You can do a certain amount of this with a smirk and call it postmodern, but you have to be deliberate and do it well — as in “Rose” or “Aliens of London”. “Doomsday” treads a bit close, but gets away with it on the basis of sheer chutzpah. Lately, I think the handwaving has just become a smug excuse.

It’s a similar feeling to what I get with post-NES era Nintendo games — Zelda, Mario, Metroid. It’s all about hunting for the correct key to pass the appropriate tile, and moving on to the next section. Interpretation, picking away at the cracks, the sense of endless possibility you get in something like the original Zelda or Metroid — all gone, in the face of cold, arbitrary mechanics. Which ties into the whole modern fallacy of the Videogame, that assumes that doing things, simply pressing buttons, is and should be rewarding in and of itself.

Mind, this isn’t a crippling problem with the show — yet. As I said, though, it is getting a bit tiresome. And I think this year in particular, it’s starting to undermine the storytelling. As with the dismissal of killer shadows as “Vashta Nerada — the piranhas of the air!” God, what’s more interesting: shadows that can KILL you, or some kind of gestalt entity with a pretentious name, that the Doctor conveniently knows how to detect and whose canned history he can spin off at a drop of his bottomless hat?

Finding and Doing

So basically, yeah. I see the things that people are complaining about. I just think the explanation is a bit off. The Doctor isn’t particularly powerful; he’s just arrogant. The sonic screwdriver and psychic paper and occasional ironic doodad like anti-plastic work in the favor of efficient storytelling. Take away his ability to quickly solve problems and the story will become cluttered with meaningless procedure.

Take away his ability to quickly identify problems, though, and stories may become far richer. Allow him to dismiss any scenario by identifying it off the bat, and unless the writer really knows what he’s doing, the entire story is in danger of collapsing into meaningless procedure.

I’m reminded of an old review of the Dreamcast version of Ecco the Dolphin (narrated by Tom Baker, don’t you know). It’s a beautiful, atmospheric game with a clever story by David Brin. I’ve described it more than once as an underwater Shenmue. The problem is that it’s just about imposible to play. You can know exactly what you have to do (and it’s usually not that tricky to figure out), and still you need to fight with the game for half an hour, trying and dying and trying and dying and waiting for the game to reload each time, to get through a simple hazard.

I think it was an IGN review that praised the game’s difficulty, saying it was the perfect balance — you always know what you need to do, and the challenge just comes in doing it!

… What? Just, what? I mean, granted, IGN. These guys probably give extra points to a game that comes in a bigger box because it looks more impressive on the shelf. But what?!

Meaning comes from extended and nuanced exploration of a topic. Yet you have to balance the reward of any insight against the frustration involved in realizing it. You don’t want to labor too much in the exploration or in the solution; smack your hand too long on anything, and you will lose grip on the threads you’re grasping, along with any sense of perspective you might have been developing. What you want is to cover as much ground and see as many sides of the issue as you can, collecting strands and weaving them together until you’ve completed the picture as well as you may.

In all things, logic should be always a method; not an impediment, not an answer. When process becomes a barrier to development, or is mistaken for development itself, there is an inherent flaw in the system.


  • Reading time:1 mins read

Hey, the Xbox version of Ikaruga has the poetry in it — translated, even! Mind, it flashes by too quickly to read. Still, hey! It’s complete!

Except for the neat slow-mo walking dude menus in the Dreamcast version. Those are gone.

Busy busy busy

  • Reading time:3 mins read

So for the last two months I’ve been under a boulder, localizing a sort of insane Russian RPG. It’s taking way longer than it should, for a bunch of reasons (most of them out of my hands, for once!), and it’s kind of driving me batty. As if that’s not enough, last week I had GDC to contend with! So that put back the work another week, while I saddled up the BART and began to regularly drink coffee for the first time in my life, just to keep myself moving.

Most of the fruits of my labor, for what they’re worth, are now up. Pay especial attention to the content of the last one. (That’s the animation panel.) There’s a real howler coming up; I’ll amend this post when it goes live.

There was also a session on using games as tools for meditation, that I just didn’t have the time to write up. I’ll go into more detail if anyone is really curious. I thought there was some neat stuff in there, even if three-quarters of the session was an infomercial for a new agey revival of early ’90s-style multimedia starring Deepak Chopra & Company.

EDIT: I just noticed that someone switched around a few things in the animation article, such that it’s not completely accurate. (I also notice a lot of grammatial errors; this is what happens on an instananeous deadline.) Early on, the hour-long program they were discussing was literally just all the cutscenes from one game or another, edited together. They example they used was Prince of Persia: The Two Whatevers. The third game, you know, that’s got both the good and the evil Prince in it. (Or the sixth game, if you include the originals, plus that weird 3D thing for the Dreamcast.) Hi ho!

EDIT 2: All fixed! Well. As far as information goes. It could still use a copy edit.

EDIT 3: See above!

The Wii that Wasn’t

  • Reading time:6 mins read

by [name redacted]

Originally published by Next Generation.

Market analysts call the Wii a return to form after the relative flop of the GameCube. Design analysts call it a potential return to form after the relative rut of the previous fifteen years. Whatever the spin, when people look at Nintendo’s recent misadventures, generally the Gamecube sits right on top, doe-eyed and chirping. Its failure to do more than turn a profit has made its dissection an industry-wide pastime. Everything comes under the microscope, from its dainty size and handle to its purpleness to the storage capacity of its mini-DVDs. The controller, though, has perplexed all from the start.

Defining the Next Generation

  • Reading time:28 mins read

by [name redacted]

This article was originally intended as a conclusion to NextGen’s 2006 TGS coverage. Then it got held back for two months as an event piece. By the time it saw publication its window had sort of expired, so a significantly edited version went up under the title “What The New Consoles Really Mean”.

So we’re practically there. TGS is well over, the pre-orders have begun; Microsoft’s system has already been out for a year (and is now graced with a few excellent or important games). The generation is right on the verge of turning, and all those expensive electronics you’ve been monitoring for the last few years, half dreading out of thriftiness and secret knowledge that there won’t be anything good on them for a year anyway, will become the new status quo. Immediately the needle will jump and point at a new horizon, set around 2011, and everyone will start twiddling his thumbs again. By the time the drama and dreams resume, I’ll be in my early thirties, another American president will have served nearly a full term – and for the first time in my life I really can’t predict what videogames will be like.

Five That Didn’t Fall

  • Reading time:53 mins read

by [name redacted]

Part nine of my ongoing culture column for Next Generation. After the popularity of my earlier article, I pitched a companion piece about companies that had lived past their remit, yet technically were still with us. On publication we lost the framing conceit and the article was split into five pieces, each spun as a simple bottled history. In turn, some of those were picked up by BusinessWeek Online. Here’s the whole thing, in context.

A few weeks ago we published a list of five developers that made a difference, helped to shape the game industry, then, one way or another (usually at the hands of their parent companies), ceased to exist. One theme I touched on there, that I got called on by a few readers, is that although in practical terms all the listed companies were indeed defunct, several continued on in name (Atari, Sierra, and Origin), living a sort of strange afterlife as a brand detached from its body.

This was an deliberate choice; although Infogrames has been going around lately with a nametag saying “HELLO my name is Atari” – and hey, why not; it’s a good name – that doesn’t make Infogrames the historical Atari any more than the creep in the purple spandex with the bowling ball is the historical Jesus. (Not that I’m relating Infogrames to a fictional sex offender – though he is a pretty cool character.) The question arises, though – what about those companies which live on in both name and body, yet which we don’t really recognize anymore? You know who I’m talking about; the cool rebels you used to know in high school, who you see ten years later working a desk job, or in charge of a bank. You try to joke with them, and they don’t get a word you’re saying. You leave, feeling a mix of fear and relief that (as far as you know) you managed to come out of society with your personality intact.

The same thing happens in the videogame world – hey, videogames are people; all our sins are handed down. This article is a document of five great companies – that started off so well, ready to change the world – that… somehow we’ve lost, even as they trundle on through the successful afterlife of our corporate culture. And somehow that just makes us miss them all the more.

A Cosmetic Conundrum

  • Reading time:13 mins read

by [name redacted]

Part seven of my ongoing culture column; originally published by Next Generation, under a different title; something like “The Problem With Game Consoles”. People seemed to take this article more seriously than I intended.

In May I finally saw a PlayStation 3 up-close – and dear lord. Whereas the Xbox 360 at least puts on a pretense of tenability, sucking in its gut like a real man, Sony’s system sets a new standard for girth. Maybe it was the rotating display, walled behind likely-bulletproof Plexiglass – yet I swear it must be the most outrageously massive game console that’s ever been designed. And that’s on top of looking like a space ship based on the template of a waffle iron. Whereas the Sega Genesis looked like you could top-load a CD into it, the PS3 looks like you could top-load a side of bacon.

NextGen’s Top Ten Years In Gaming History

  • Reading time:30 mins read

by [name redacted]

Originally published in some form by Next Generation. I was asked not to include 1999 or 2000, because the Dreamcast was perceived as a low mark in the industry rather than a high one. I was also asked to include the previous year, to suggest that we were in the middle of an upswing. So… that explains some of the selections.

In videogames, as in life, we tend to get things right about a third of the time. There’s one decent Sonic game for every two disasters; one out of every three consoles can be considered an unqualified success; the Game Boy remake of Mother 1 + 2 was released in one out of three major territories. With the same level of scientific accuracy, one can easily say that, out of the thirty years that videogames have acted as a consumer product, there are maybe ten really excellent milestones, spaced out by your 1984s and your 1994s – years maybe we were all better off doing something out-of-doors.

It kind of makes sense, intuitively: you’ve got the new-hardware years and the innovative-software years, spaced out by years of futzing around with the new hardware introduced a few months back, or copying that amazing new game that was released last summer. We grow enthusiastic, we get bored. Just as we’re about to write off videogames forever, we get slapped in the face with a Wii, or a Sega Genesis – and then the magic starts up all over again, allowing us to coast until the next checkpoint.

This Week’s Releases (May 22-26, 2006)

  • Reading time:9 mins read

by [name redacted]

Episode forty-one of my ongoing, irreverent news column; originally posted at Next Generation

Game of the Week:

Steambot Chronicles
PlayStation 2

You have likely read, if you like to read, of a game called Bumpy Trot; this site in particular, in the hands of Japan columnist William Rogers, has taken every possible opportunity to name-check the game – resulting in a blurb on the its Atlus USA site. Here’s where I remind you of its Western name – the Haruki Murakami-esque Steambot Chronicles – and mention that it really is nifty, for what it is. For a more elaborate description you can turn to NextGen’s “Ten Best Games in Japan” column for last year; for here, suffice that it’s sort of like a Zelda game done right, thrown into a post-GTA sandbox, and produced on a shoestring budget by a sincere bunch of underdogs who aren’t used to making this kind of game. So it’s a little wonky, and a little glitchy, and it doesn’t know what it’s not supposed to do, which results in as many weird decisions as inspired ones. It’s not really made for prime time, and yet it’s got so much heart and it’s got such good ideas that it’s got the workings for a real sleeper hit. Give it some hype and some word-of-mouth, and this game will surpass expectations.

Atlus has done a pretty good job on the localization; the voices are… solid enough, and the writing is appropriately stark. Though something tells me the game might have made more of an impression with its original Japanese name, the new one maybe fits the game a little better. This is only one of maybe a half-dozen impressive new acquisitions Atlus USA had to show at E3; if Atlus can just get the word out the way it did with Trauma Center, this could be one of the company’s best years yet.

Buttoning Down

  • Reading time:14 mins read

by [name redacted]

Originally published by Next Generation, then later BusinessWeek, under the title “Revolution Pressing the Right Buttons“.

There’s only so much you can do with a button. You press it, something happens. You don’t press it, something doesn’t. If it’s an analog button, and you press it even harder, maybe that thing will happen even more: maybe you’ll run faster, or you’ll punch with more vigilance. Maybe if you hold down a second button when you press that first one, something subtly different will happen. Instead of lashing out with a whip, say, the little man on the TV screen will throw a boomerang. Either way, he still attacks; the second button just changes how he does it. Those are more or less our options: do something, do more of something, or do a different kind of something. It’s all very straightforward. So too, then, is the history of game controllers.

Still waiting for red

  • Reading time:5 mins read

aderack: Just because it’s right in front of me as I type this. I… the DS thing. The Sony guy. The DS outselling the PSP by FOUR TIMES, and furthermore selling more than every other console PUT TOGETHER. Gimmick. Limited appeal.

… Yeah. Don’t need to talk about it really. Just observing.

I’m kind of surprised, on a level, that people have started to notice the obvious. It doesn’t often happen. I mean. With the DS being the only interesting system out there now and certainly the most interesting thing since the Dreamcast, with Sony completely missing the point with the PSP, with the DS bringing in people who’d never been interested in videogames before…

I just wonder why it’s not available in more colors here.
ajutla: It’s funny as hell.
aderack: It’s… weird. They’re figuring it out on their own, and with only about half a year of lag. Maybe that says something. Like people are getting fed up.
ajutla: You can only play videogames because they are videogames for so long.
aderack: I mean. A couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d see people mocking the Sony guy the way they are now. You’d see Sony claiming the PS2 was the first Internet-compatible home console, and no one would call them on it. Even though, say, Sega had just launched Seganet. And PSO was only a few months away. And the Dreamcast wasn’t even the first, either.
ajutla: The big thing that characterized this generation for me was people noticing the rot starting to set in. Just–nothing really happened. And people realize this.
aderack: Maybe the stage is getting ripe for the Revolution. Especially since it’s supposed to be priced under $200 at launch (last I heard), compared to the 360 and PS3 — which, if you’ve not noticed, are selling in bundles that go past $1,000. And it’ll have the same DS thing going for it, it looks like, versus the PSP of the otther two systems. Also, the other two are almost indistinguishable, while the Revolution should stand out.
ajutla: To be fair, I’m pretty sure that $1,000-plus 360 bundle assumes you’re buying every launch game that will be available, even the ones no one is sure will be available yet. Still.
aderack: Yes. Still, the standard bundles are around $700.00. That’s the only way to buy the system from some retailers. It’s just — holy shit. Who wants to invest that much in a fucking game console?

…except they’ve already done that before.
aderack: But no one will use it for anything other than playing videogames and maybe watching DVDs if they don’t have any better player.
ajutla: The psp/DS thing suddenly becomes very ironic with that idea in mind.
aderack: Oh. Yeah.

I guess Kutaragi got the wrong message when, for, like, a YEAR after the PS2 was released in Japan, the best-selling application for it was The Matrix. And people used it mostly as a DVD player until around the time the other two systems came out. It’s not because that’s what people want from a game console; it’s because there weren’t any cheap DVD players in Japan at the time.
ajutla: Right.
aderack: And the PS2 filled that gap.
ajutla: The thing is. Kutagari / Allard / et al have the idea that videogames are over. In a sense. And that you can build this big box. That you put your videogames in. And your other entertainment, too, while you’re at it.
aderack: Because the market’s stagnating, so they need to lean on other things until it magically recovers.
ajutla: And the market is stagnating because they’re leaning on other things.
aderack: Or more simply because they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.
ajutla: That too.
aderack: They’re not really interested in videogames; just in being in the videogame business. And so fair weather friends and all…

Compared to people who are doing this for a business because, well, it’s what they do. So they have a vested interest. Not that Nintendo doesn’t have its own problems to address…
ajutla: It’s kind of telling that the most interesting feature about the Revolution, right now, is that you can play old games on it. Nintendo is looking forwards by looking backwards.
aderack: Making all of history current. That strikes me as important. The way that all of cinema is “current”, in a sense. Especially thanks to things like DVD and the recent restoration trends.
ajutla: Yeah. Videogames fade away. So you forget that you’ve FUCKING played most games before.
aderack: It’s a step toward, really, finally establishing just what the fuck videogames are and what they have to say.
ajutla: It solidifies things; it’s creating a critical mass–like, here, this is Videogame (1984-2005). It’s pointing that way.
aderack: Right. The first real state of the industry address.
ajutla: The design philosophy behind the psp is…sort of entirely the opposite of this. Right down to the UMD thing. The thing could have taken mini DVDs, you know. But. You should buy everything again. Always.

Smile, Apollo, Smile.

  • Reading time:4 mins read

I found a copy of Space Channel 5 Special Edition, for the PS2, for twelve dollars. The localization perplexes me a little. Of course, none of the voice actors save Apollo Smile return for Part 2 — so several flashbacks to the first game are redubbed. Yet, the title screens and packaging have been changed to both games. In no obvious place is it stated that discs 1 and 2 are supposed to be two separate games; they are just packaged as discs one and two of a single game. This makes the sudden change in (quality of) voice actors sort of peculiar.

Let’s see. Other arbitrary changes. In Part One, the Report Two boss — remember her? There’s a bit where Ulala yells: “Is that a tongue? AAH! It’s so slimy… incredibly… slimy…” — with horror changing to a weird kind of ecstacy, in her voice. That’s been replaced with something like “Ah, get yet mitts offa’ me! It’s so slimy!” In part two (though not in part one), the ability to zoom the characters around in the profile mode has been removed. Or. I think it has. I seem to recall being able to roll the character models around and look under their skirts. Can’t do that anymore. Remember the loading screens? “Now Moloading/Roboading”? No more. Just “Now Loading”. Lots of fun, these Agetec guys. In a similar vein, most of the unimportant characters in the profile section (even returning characters, like Biluba Boriskovsky) now just have generic names — Preschool Student (Green) — rather than specific names. The teacher, Mr. Joely, has been blandly called “Mr. Nervous”. No more effort than required here.

I think one of Evila’s lines was changed, and dubbed over by a wholly different actress. And then they didn’t bother to process the voice as the voice was processed before. Also, Fuse does have voice samples for the first game where he advises you to use the “X” and “O” buttons. I’m not sure whence those came, unless Sega was forward-looking enough to get Dave Nowlin to record those during the original redubbing sessions.

A lot of the charisma of the Japanese versions and of the English dub to Part One is just missing in Part Two. Even Apollo Smile does not seem to have been directed well, or to have been given all that great a script. Or to be having much fun. As superior as Part Two is in just about every way, it is harder to tell in this case. Interesting how much a bored dub can interfere with a game’s momentum and overall energy.

Some of the dubbing even makes the game harder to play. A few commands, particularly in Report 3, are ambiguous to the ear. I swore that it kept telling me to hit “left”, but it meant “chu”. Others are mumbled or a little off-time. Not helpful.

You can save multiple states in Part One, now. I notice that Part One says “Reprogrammed by United Game Artists” — I guess because the game originally was released just before UGA had become a distinct entity. The mpeg compression is now much less terrible — as you might well expect, from a DVD. A bunch of awkward subtitles keep popping up, that I don’t remember, which explain things a bit more than I remember them being explained. I think some of the obvious synchronization issues have been fixed a little.

I also now realize that a lot of items are obtained in Part Two by a scavenger hunt through the character profile section. You talk to characters you have saved, and they tell you to talk to other characters, who tell you to talk to other characters, who give you hints or spatulas.

That’s really about all there is to it. It’s still Space Channel 5 — both parts. It’s just a little more awkward. You can pick up the US Dreamcast version for five bucks, and the Japanese Dreamcast version of Part Two for about fifty still, probably. Or you can get this for maybe around ten to fifteen bucks. Not all that bad a compromise. And all things considered, this isn’t a bad localization or package. It was a great idea to bundle the games together, and it was good of Agetec to get Apollo Smile back again. It’s just. Well, you get what you pay for, to a certain extent.

So there it is.

Who shot who in the Embarcadero in August 1879?

  • Reading time:4 mins read

So. I have my Gamecube and my Dreamcast back again. I can comment a bit on my three new Gamecube games.

I do not yet quite understand P.N.03 — although I think I see what it is trying to do. If I can get into the right mindset, and respond in the way that the game seems to be hinting I should respond, the game might be rather enjoyable. It is not, yet. We shall see.

I enjoy Pikmin. Or. I enjoyed it. I am not sure that I do anymore. I have reached a level where it seems that none of the remaining challenges can be passed through anything other than force; pushing through with as many pikmin as possible, to overwhelm and, as the old Roman kids say, conquer. It’s getting too clever. The game has a great premise. It’s just. Huh. I don’t know if I want to play a lot further. Given the time limit, I am unsure that I will be able to complete the game this time through anyway. It seems clear that the whole idea is that I am supposed to play through the game multiple times, before I am proficient enough to complete it. At first, I thought this might even be something I could want to do. I am unsure now. We shall see.

Super Monkey Ball is pretty much what I expected. There is not much to say here, except that I sincerely doubt I will ever pass level fifteen in Advanced mode. It is too much of a balancing act, and I do not have the reflexes. Heck, just the wobbling brings back uncomfortable flashbacks to a series of nightmares I have had through my whole life, where I am hanging onto control of a situation by the edge of a proverbial toenail, trying my best not to fall (in whatever manner) — yet never quite succeeding. Instead, I am trapped on the edge, nearly in tears, unable to either let go or find safe ground. Just the mechanics of the level make me shudder.

After the first two sections, I had no problems with Metal Gear Solid. I barely passed the second area — almost no health, guards chasing me. Since then, roses. No setbacks. I got past Psycho Mantis on one go, then let it rest for a while. I’ll get back to it in a bit. Odd thing is, Vera came over the other day, after having suggested she teach me how to play. She threw the game in, and began to run around. She had the exact same problems I did.

I have a map, now. Jesus, San Francisco is big. I had no idea. I seem to be right in the center of the portion of town that I associate with the area. It also seems to be where Vertigo more or less took place. I guess this must be the old part. Looking at the map, my guess is that town used to extend down to Market Street and West to… oh, I don’t know. Somewhere before the Western Addition, anyway. Let’s say Russian Hill. Somewhere around Van Ness. Then I guess that all of these other big places — Haight-Ashbury, Twin Peaks, and whatfor — used to be their own little island communities, and that the city just sprawled and filled in all of the cracks.

Now I have no need to be afraid to walk more than a few blocks outside the door. Heck, I even know how to find Coit Tower! I think that speaks for itself.

All this writing puts me in the mood to gnaw on living flesh.

Yet another benefit of living in the city.