Ambition and Compulsory Design in Animal Crossing

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by [name redacted]

The thing about portables – and not everybody cottons to this – is that people use them differently from other game systems. You cradle them in your hands, within your personal space. You drag them around with you, pull them out of your pocket like a dime novel, then snap them closed when you step off the bus. Where console and PC games ask you to set aside blocks of your time, portables fill the cracks in your day.

All of these situational dynamics, and the psychology lurking behind them, inform the basic checklist for a portable game.

( Continue reading at Game Career Guide )

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.

The Method

  • Reading time:5 mins read


* Zelda 1 and 2.
* Dragon Quest in general.
* Riven.
* Shadow of the Colossus.
* Metroid II.
* Half-Life 2.
* Phantasy Star II.
* Metal Gear Solid 3, in particular.
* Lost in Blue.
* OutRun.

There is a common thread to all of these. It has to do with the gameworld, and the player’s method of interaction with it.

Stacking boxes to make your own path or eating the parrot in Half-Life and Metal Gear are the same as the magic wand in Zelda 1 or the structures in Wanda that serve no apparent purpose except to look at them, climb on them, stand on them, ponder about them. Building a spear in Lost in Blue is the same as gaining that level or buying that copper sword in Dragon Warrior, as finding a heart container or a boomerang in Zelda, as making that leap of logic in Riven, about that device halfway across the island.

The technique names in Phantasy Star are the same as the number system in Riven, as the clues in Zelda, as the Erdrick lore is in Dragon Warrior, as the artifacts are in Lost in Blue. And these are the same as the boxes and the parrot and the spear and the boomerang.

These are all different approaches toward the same, or similar, ideals. Player progression relies on personal growth and curiosity. Within its own laws, the gameworld is responsive to nearly all actions allowed the player. There is a strong focus on trial and error. On exploration on both the micro and macro levels. On pushing the limits of the gameworld to see what happens, and maybe being punished half the time. On intuitive leaps of reasoning, within the given laws. On patience. On innate appreciation of the intangible within a greater scheme.

The laws and structure of the gameworld are a framework filled with an open question. Rote progression is never a problem, and yet the purpose never particularly lies in the plot. Or in completion. Any story, any imposed goals are simply excuses. MacGuffins. They’re there to get you out the door. To give you an anchor, a point of reference. Maybe a path to walk down. The real joy, the really important material, comes in the unimportant treasures of providence provided by the player’s presence in the gameworld, by interfering as an outsider in a self-contained system.

The player, as Link in the first Zelda in particular, is not particularly meant to traverse Hyrule. He has no weapon. He has no defense. He has no health. There is no path specifically laid out for him, and yet there is a certain logic to be exploited — inconsistently, though consistently enough. At no point does the game call for the boomerang, or the wand. The game can probably be beaten without the sword, if the player is so inclined. Yet the tools are there to be made use of.

The world of Riven is alien to the player, and presents a barrier at every turn — and yet there is a logic behind it all; a reason why everything is where and as it is. As an outsider this lack of familiarity is an initial barrier. Later that same outside perspective and status puts the player in a rarified position. The simple joys of Riven come again from a whimsical turn of that same relationship with the gameworld — from sitting on a sun-baked stone stairwell, listening to the birds and the insects and the surf below. Imagining the coolness of the shadows and the moss on the stones. Appreciating what would go unappreciated were the player to belong here. Finding one’s own treasure in a broader system.

And yet none of these games are wholly open. Unlike Morrowind or Fallout or Baldur’s Gate, there is a clear and immediate structure. There is a limit to the options available to the player. The rules and the logic of the worlds are all simple and compact. There are only so many actions. There are only so many items. There are only so wide a world, so many levels, so many set pieces, so much of a variance in direction. There is a specific ultimate task before the player, a specific direction to move in. Save the princess. Learn about these Biomonsters. Figure out what’s going on in this world. Defeat the Metroids. Survive and maybe escape. Defeat the Colossi.

The secret to success in all cases is in understanding the reasoning of the gameworld, and the method of understanding — as in life — is experimentation. It is in the quirks, the exceptions, the trivialities — that with no clear explanation — that the searching mind finds the most wonder and curiosity. And it is in these quirks that such a mind imbues the most meaning, specifically for their lack of meaning, their lack of purpose. Their lack of structure, and all it implies about the gameworld and the player’s presence within it.

It is in these imperfections that we find beauty and we find reality. In which humanity and therefore something we identify as truth shows itself. In which we see hints of a structure or a randomness beyond our comprehension, that is greater than us, that is greater than our mission and yet that leads us to our fate. It is here that we find significance, that we find meaning, that we find verification for our continued efforts.

It is this which drives us on.

They Call Me Boldric

  • Reading time:2 mins read

I notice again that Dragon Quest VIII could easily be played on the Revolution. It’s actually mapped so 90% of the time you can just hold the Dual Shock in your left hand. Stick moves; L2 centers the camera; L3 is a dupe of the “action” button. The only major functions missing are for entering the menu or looking at the map, both of which are so minor they might as well be mapped to another button somewhere out of the way.

Something else I notice is that automating your party makes the battles play as in Phantasy Star II. This is preferable, I think — especially if you have a boomerang equipped. Which… furthers the Phantasy Star comparison, really.

What Dragon Quest is not, in any of its incarnations, I notice, is a game a normal person can watch and be entertained by. They’re very personal, introverted games. I think turning the battles into Phantasy Star battles actually aids this, for me. I’m not telling everyone what to do; I’m just doing my own thing, and this guy who happens to be with me, follows my lead.

Every fifteen minutes, my girlfriend asks me if I’m really having fun playing the game. Yes, actually. She kept asking me the same thing when I was playing Dragon Warrior 1 on the Game Boy Player a while ago. And yes, actually. I was having fun then, too. In my own special way. Which might not be “fun” in the objective sense; then, what is?

I just want to see how far I can get today, before I’m forced to turn back.


  • Reading time:2 mins read

Occurs to me that the thing The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly has definitely in common with Fellowship of the Ring (more than the other two Rings movies), and indeed with things like Lang’s Metropolis and The Third Man and Nosferatu — basically every movie I find magical and involving — is that the movie’s world is in a sense the main character. There are other characers in the movie, with their own agendas that we follow. The main conflict or relationship, though, is between those characters and the world they’re in — which in most cases is their own world; they just don’t see all of the aspects of it that we do, because they live there. The characters exist to bounce off the scenery, to ignore it, to walk us through it, to give us contrast with it..

This also describes The Legend of Zelda. And Silent Hill. And Phantasy Star II. And Dragon Warrior. And just about every videogame I find magical and involving. Hell, Riven is nothing but environment.

In a certain meta way, it also decribes more postmodern fare like Charlie Kaufman and Treasure. In MGS3, Kojima does both at the same time! Resident Evil 4 tries to as well, though it’s a little more clunky in execution.

A thread here.

Juste “Like Alucard” Belmont, indeed.

  • Reading time:9 mins read

Hell. I’m going to do a track-by-track commentary on the Harmony of Dissonance score. I’m going through the sound test here (which doesn’t always have the actual title of the piece — though I’ve mostly got them, too).

title screen – “title screen”

Adequate. Tense, symphonic. It sets the right tone, ending on something of an uncertain chord. Higher-quality samples than used in most of the score. This is part of what clued me into thinking the samples used in most of the in-game music were chosen intentionally. A couple of later pieces are of even a higher quality; they sound like they might even be digital recordings. That seems unlikely, considering how much space that would waste. Either way, it seems odd these high-res samples (or the space for them) were just sitting around, and not used.

name entry – “name entry 2k2”

Yes, this is a piece of weird genius. It’s a heavy reimaging of the name entry theme from the FDS version of Akumajou Dracula, put through a Willy Wonka hallucination. Notice the warbling instruments and strange intervals used in the intro. Add to those the flitting, spinning, up-and-down flute noise and the pedal tone in the background. Bring in the stumbling, crunchy drums, and the jagged, clashing organ chords. Leave the bass to mumble underneath, while the parts on top start to scream, whine, and argue with each other. The tension builds. What really strikes me here, and in future pieces, is how much the individual parts actually talk to each other. They’re speaking, responding, building on what came before. Sometimes misunderstanding, causing even more friction. It’s really organic stuff. Unpleasant in a sense because it brings to mind all of the really bad arguments we’ve had. All of the misunderstandings, all of the nightmares where everything seems completely out of our control. And we’re just left spinning, trying to get through it all.

Then it all drops out, and we’re back to the bass intro. We’ve made a cycle. The tension drops away. We feel relieved. Vivified. And we’re ready to go for another spin.

intro – “prologue (theme of maxim kischine)”

This is, for me, the least interesting piece in the game. And it shows up thrice in this sound test alone, with different titles. With its monotonous, off-kilter Victorian formality, it works all right in Juste’s “decorating room”. As a character theme, though? It feels out-of-place. The thing which I find most interesting about “prologue” is how stuffy it is. Musty. It makes me think of the wallpaper in an old, creepy house.

entrance – “successor of fate (theme of juste)”

One of the major centerpieces of the score. In some ways, it’s the most traditional Castlevania piece in the game. It can sit along other major game and character themes, and not seem too out of place. It’s got more going on, though. I hardly know where to begin.

The first thing I note about it is the detached introduction. After the ornamental organ intro, we get an almost proud, formal strike with those reedy chords. The entire piece is a little more aloof than usual. A little more classical. A little more structured. A little more noble-sounding, while still accessible. In other words, it’s Juste right.

After the main theme repeats a couple of times, there’s a bridge where the uncertain qualities present in most of the music here build up a little. Questions. Anxietes. Before they can get too far, though, the main theme comes back in and stomps them down with a firm, yet gentle thud. And as if to say, hey, don’t worry, Juste really knows what he’s doing, and it’ll be okay, the rest of the notes of that phrase are synchopated a bit, and a warm bass begins to bubble underneath. The corners of the tune’s mouth turn up just a little. That’s my favorite part.

marble corridor – “offense and defense”

Here’s the meat. I’ve written about this before. This is the one piece which would make the score for me, even if everything else stank. I’m not going into detail. It’s too complex. Just listen to how the parts speak to each other, particularly the highs and the lows. Listen to how they spiral. How the tensions get woven and unwoven and lead to new anxieties. This piece is pure paranoia. It’s relentless. Ruthless. It makes me shiver, it makes my eyes water, it makes me clamp my jaw, it makes me very uncomfortable. It’s possibly the most moving piece of chip music I’ve heard.

Hell, I just noticed the piece’s title. That pretty much sums it up, compositionally.

shrine of the apostates – “approach of deplore”

A nice little piece. It doesn’t stand out much, at first. It does grow on a person, though. I like its start-and-stop nature, as if it’s constantly pausing to collect its thoughts. Some interesting chords here. Some nice things going on in the background if you listen closely. One of the lighter, least offensive pieces in the game. And as with many pieces in this score, the bass work is worth noting.

luminous cavern – “luminous caverns”

This seems like an experiment in ominous chords. It’s got some potential, especially after the drums come in. It sounds like it’s building to something rather grand. Unfortunately, it never really evolves. More and more things just get layered on top, making the piece kind of monotonous in the end. That in itself is kind of effective, though, when you add in the throbbing drums. It eats away at the mind. I think I’d trade this specific flavor of torment for something a little more interesting to listen to for its own sake, though. This is maybe a bit too expressionist for me, even.

aqueduct of dragons – “aqueduct of dragons”

Almost a relief after “Luminous Caverns”. As with “Approach of Deplore”, this strikes me as more of an album track than a single. It carries on the tone well, and explores its own slight variations. The best part here is the rhythm. I kind of want it to evolve more, though. I feel like it has more to say that it never quite gets around to, leaving me with a nice little sketch.

chapel in the sky – “chapel of dissonance”

Another standout track, though not quite as multifaceted as the earlier ones. This one’s a crowd-pleaser. It kind of covers the same ground as “offense and defense”, though on less disturbing and difficult a level. It strikes me as maybe a little too obvious how the light, untroubled intro gets contrasted wth the angsty latter half.

clock tower – “clock tower”

Yet another major piece. Up until the tension takes over, the thing which most strikes me is the drum and bass work, and the way everything else feeds off that, rhythmically. Again, I wish it had more space to work with its ideas.

skeleton cave – “skeleton den”

Pure atmosphere. This is filler, really. Doesn’t even attempt to be melodic. It tries a few tonal and rhythmic experiments, particularly toward the end. Nothing exceptional, though. Strikes me as a scratch track that someone shrugged and threw into the game because it held up well enough.

castle – “to the center of the demoniac castle”

This must play more than any piece in the game. It’s the main roaming music, so it has to hold up and be kind of middle-of-the-road, while maintaining a certain tension. And that’s what it does. It’s anxious. It wants to get moving and find what it’s there for, so it can get out of this foul place. It really does help in keeping up the sensation that something is happening, or is about to happen, until you actually get where you’re going.

theme of death – “dark covenant”

I don’t know what’s up with these brooding, unmelodic themes. I don’t understand it in film scores, either. You’d think if you were to assign a theme to a character, you would want something more than just a sprawling mood piece. Something like this just doesn’t strike me as a theme, as such. It is adequate background music for slogging through text boxes, though.

boss (loop patterns a-c) – “Archenemy” (?), “Dark Door” (?), “Knight Head” (?)

I’m not sure if these titles actually goes to these pieces. These are all variants of an okay boss theme. Pretty traditional. Lets you know something is actually happening, for once. I think a boss battle is a pretty good time to kick the player in the face and wake him up. This does it, while still fitting into the general theme of the score.

epilogue 1 – “epilogue 1”

Reminds me of “Prologue”. Funny, that. Puts my mind in a fog.

game over – “game over”

I just about fell over when I heard this the first time. “HAR, HAR”, I said. And meant it. I then added a “Ho Ho!” It still makes me giggle a little, even though I know it’s there. I just forget.

theme of dracula – “incarnation of darkness”

See above comments about Death’s theme.

last battle – “last battle”

Appropriate. Reminds me a little of Phantasy Star series final boss music. There is a certain grandness to it, melodically. A feeling of earnest struggle against something way too strong. It wants to be victorious. It just can’t… quite… reach… the knife. It’s in a bad spot. And this is do or die. Etcetera. It’s satisfying.

epilogue 2 – “beloved person (variation)”

Reminds me of the opening sequence to Castle of Illusion.

credits – “successor of fate (variation)”

JESUS CHRIST HOW WHAT WHY? So, yeah. I guess the soundtrack COULD have been like this. I’m glad it’s not, though.

extra stage music 1 & 2

Boss rush music. What do you want? It’s not written like the rest of the score. That’s because Michiru Yamane did it. Or so I recall.

extra stage music 3 – “vk2k2 (vampire killer 2002)”

One of the only versions of Vampire Killer since the original that I actually like. I enjoy how it gets transposed up a notch after the first repeat. And I like how the “DUNDUNDUNDUN!” bit is handled, with everything dropping out of the background. Sort of weird how it transitions into Clockwork. It works all right, I guess — though it makes looping harder than it should be.

extra stage music 4

Cute. This didn’t surprise me as much as the Dracula Denetsu game over music, though.

theme of merchant – “seller of fine goods”

Fun! I love how low-res it is. Gives it character.

theme of maxim kischine – “prologue”


theme of lydie elranger – “beloved person”

It’s back again.

item collection room – “prologue”



  • Reading time:3 mins read

I picked up the GBC remake of the SFC remake of Dragon Warrior 1 & 2.

Gosh, the changes are nice.

Gosh, the game is easy now.

Really. I’m not sure what’s up with that. The game used to have the same syndrome as The Legend of Zelda and the first couple of Phantasy Stars, whereby the player was fenced in by impossible odds. Now one is more or less free to stroll at will. Money and experience are everywhere. Red slimes take one hit to kill at level one, where they take several in the original version. Or I seem to recall so, anyway. Not sure what to make of this quality.

However. Everything else is strangely just-right, in its tone and sensibility. I don’t recall much actual story in the original game. I don’t remember the townspeople saying much. Now they’re all miserable and scared and angry, and have halfway-interesting things to say about their own lives and problems. It’s all kind of bleak, yet strangely perfect. Then there are all of the little additions like the girl who finds the hero attractive and follows him around town for no other reason, which well illustrate the heart behind the game.

I thought I’d played this remake before. I don’t remember any of what I see, though.

This is nice.

I got it for eight dollars.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sure ends abruptly. I haven’t seen a Capra movie since I was aware enough to appreciate one. Looks like I need to go back and take another look at It’s a Wonderful Life and It Happened One Night. Again with the little details, which give the piece life — the expressions and reactions of even the minor characters or the extras.

The Trouble With Harry is gorgeous; it’s one of the few pictures that Hitchcock mostly filmed on location, and it shows. It also shows when the movie jumps to a set, although not as disconcertingly as in, say, The Birds. The cinematography is brilliant. The script is interesting. Herrman’s score — his first, for a Hitchcock picture — is above-average for him. The wardrobe, with its light New England jackets and autumn gear, feels as real and refreshing as the scenery. The acting, save Shirley MacLaine, is terrible.

The script, although interesting, demands a certain degree of shrewdness in its players. It doesn’t work on its own. In the right hands, it could seem like genius. Here, it deflates into so much awkward air. A shame. A shame in general. Maybe it would have been better as a silent film.

On that note, I am almost convinced that the Coens intended Barton Fink to be in Black and White. Just look at the choices in cinematography. The use of light and dark. Then turn down the color dial on your TV. Suddenly, the movie commands about twice the power it did a moment before. there is so much less distraction. The nightmare logic all makes sense. Where before you might furrow your brow and wonder what just happened, now you accept without question. Maybe even nod.

It’s still a perplexing movie. I think I might like it. I’m not sure. I think I have to watch it a few more times. I’m not sure if I want to. I think I might.



  • Reading time:7 mins read

Today was a nice day. I went for a walk. Although I did not intend to go that way, I once again found myself in the Electronics Botique a few blocks away. I had no reason to stop there. I am not at much liberty to squander money, at the moment. I saw little to draw me back, the last time I was in the store. Yet there I was, somehow. And the “old platforms bin”, absent entirely a few days ago, was returned.

Some of the games in it weren’t even all that bad. Mixed amongst the old sports and wrestling and licensed games, I saw almost-pristine copes of Fear Effect, both 1 and 2. Two near-mint copies of MGS. A curious PlayStation-era update to Galaga. And. Blaster Master: Blasting Again.

For $2.99.

Let’s explain, shall we.

This is one of the rarest Playstation games around. Only a few thousand copies were pressed, as far as I know. It was Sunsoft’s final game before the US branch of the company went under and the Japan branch disappeared into obscurity. From what I understand, the game was mostly produced due to incessant requests from North American fans of the original Blaster Master (much as with the contemporary Metroid resurgence) — so this was the game’s primary market.

It’s not like the game is impossible to find, or all that valuable; the demand is low, since not many people are even aware that the game exists. It got no publicity at all. Anyone who didn’t know that the game was in development probably missed it altogether. Many who were waiting for it (I included) probably didn’t realize it had been released until some while later. I was surprised that it had come out at all. I mean, it barely did.

So. Incredibly obscure game; direct sequel to a game generally considered one of the best ever made for the NES (and one of my personal favorites); $2.99.

So why, besides the obvious, was the game was so inexpensive? Yes, it was used. Closer inspection, however, revealed it as about the most used used game I had ever seen. At least, on the surface. The case seemed like it had been dropped in a bathtub. The manual and traycard were all warped and crinkly.I opened the instruction manual; the pages were all stuck together and torn. The gloss on the traycard was effectively glued to the plastic of the jewel case, meaning it could not be removed without tearing the hell out of the card.

Still. $2.99. Blaster Master. Rare.

So, all right. I took it home, and I replaced all of the elements of the jewel case save the bottom half of the tray. It doesn’t really look all that bad.

The disc itself is more or less pristine. So I put it in the drive.

Now. You know how after you spend years pining after that elusive obscure game, you usually realize there is a reason why the game was so obscure to start with? Your dreams are shattered and you become just that more bitter in your outlook toward life?

That ain’t the case here.

Shep had already described it to me in some detail. I can’t recall where he found his copy. I remember that he was fairly positive about it. I am about an hour in. I will be even more positive.

Aside from the typical camera and loading issues (which I will discuss in more detail in a moment), as yet I have no complaints about the game — in design, execution, temperment, tone, focus, or presentation. It is Blaster Master, in 3D. The adaptation is done as well as you can imagine it being done, and is in some ways far better.

While I don’t mean to overhype the game — it’s not going to change the world or anything — the most clear comparison I can make is to Metroid Prime. It’s an obvious one on the surface; the original games were near-identical in overall concept (if the details made them distinct enough to be individually memorable). Both were almost inherently two-dimensional concepts. Both involve exploring subterranian passages. Both were mostly popular in the West. Both were ignored for years by their original creators, probably in large part because, as these things go, they weren’t all that well-received in their own home countries.

And now, the ideas in the reinterpretation for 3D space are often similar — and often successful, for the same reasons in both games. I’m not going to go into the details; it would run too long. Just hold that image. It works for many of the same reasons Prime does.

Had this game received any publicity at all, and had it been produced in larger quantities, I am fairly certain that it could have made Sunsoft close to a household developer again. It’s just a damned good game, for what it is. It has a bunch of heart, and it knows what it’s doing.

The one non-camera-related frustration I have faced involves the game’s structure; unlike the original Blaster Master, which contained rather enormous levels perforated by the occasional screen change, Blasting Again (I’m growing more fond of that name, actually) takes place in a series of small rooms — perhaps the size what you’d see in Phantasy Star Online, although far more elaborate and platformy — connected by doorways. Every time you go through a doorway, you face a loading time of perhaps five to ten seconds. The loading screen itself is almost endearing to the long-time Blaster Master afficianado, as it attempts to channel the “SOPHIA zooming into the screen” image from the introduction of the NES game. The reference is successful (as are most of the other references: visual, musical, mechanical, tonal, conceptual). It’s just, you’ll be seeing about half as much of this screen as you will be seeing actual playtime.

Oh, also. The game is slightly inspired by Ocarina of Time. This has its strong elements. A less-strong one involves the sister of the hero (himself the son of Jason, from the original game). I’m not sure where she’s sitting; I want to think she’s in the guts of SOPHIA (as with the girl sidekick in Meta Fight, the less-bizarre Japanese version of Blaster Master), though that doesn’t seem to be the case. Either way, after an hour of play I am beginning to long for Navi. It doesn’t help in the least that Sister keeps demanding my attention right when I’m in the middle of some touchy action — and that I need to take my finger off the fire button, and find the Start button, to get rid of her. You think Rose has a bad sense of timing? Imagine if she were in Gradius, and ten times as talkative. Yeah. That’s kind of what it’s like.

Oh, right. This game is a little more action-oriented than the original Blaster Master. There is more shooting (and Metroid Prime-style jump-strafing) than platforming. And I have, as yet, found only one save point. It’s okay, though. It all works, so far.

Wow. I should… eat something.

EDIT: Okay. The game doesn’t save my control configuration. This is the level of minor annoyance that plagues the game. Nothing major; just the details which show what the game could have been, had there been more time or money or assistance.

However. This game is the best excuse ever for the “fast load” function of the Playstation 2. Really. As silly as it makes Silent Hill sound — that’s how much irritation it removes from the load times here. To the last, they are minimized to one or two seconds. I can deal with this.

Xbox update!

  • Reading time:1 mins read

Knights of the Old Republic is the missing single-player mode of Phantasy Star Online.

Just thought I’d point that out.

GOD, when will it get started? I’m twelve hours in, and the plot has just barely begun to crawl out of its fetal position. Although I still am running around the same town on the same planet, now I have met a Jedi! I’ve accomplished ONE THING. Hooray!

This still is more fun than JSRF, however.

I think I’m in trouble. I really like the article I’m writing. This is never a good sign.


  • Reading time:2 mins read

I just realized that most artists only really have one thing to say. If that. Everything they do is just a refinement of, or another aspect of, that single contribution that they have (that being their own selves).

I suppose this should be obvious. We’re all individuals. The more rounded individuals, perhaps, have more corners of their minds to lay bare.

All the same: Miyamoto has never really varied since his original ideas for Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. Those added up into Super Mario Bros., and then Miyamoto took things a step further to hit upon The Legend of Zelda. Since 1987, it’s all just been refinement. He doesn’t have much to say that we haven’t already heard.

Same goes for Rieko Kodama, really (as much as I enjoy her work). She’s still kind of working with the tools she devised a decade and a half ago. BioWare did a lot with their first RPG, but they haven’t done a lot since then.

Hitchcock kept whacking out variations on the same two or three themes. Most of his work involved finding people he enjoyed and allowing them to do whatever they wanted within his vague descriptions. The Beatles had a lot to say by the end, but that comes from the chemistry of five key voices (including George Martin) and all of their experiences.

Miyamoto did his part. He’s done now. Hitchcock did his part. So is he. So are the Beatles. (Really, what of great merit have any of them done since the early ’70s?) They’ve each come out of nowhere with a new perspective and pointed out untapped possibilities within their own respective contexts. And in so doing, they’ve helped the context change.

And the world keeps moving. If they don’t, they’re left as a noble milestone; as a reminder of the need for perspective. Not as a template, however. Anything else is idolatry.

And that’s where all of the problems lie.

I’ve got a headache.

Game Artists’ Manifesto

  • Reading time:10 mins read

Skies of Arcadia — there’s little I did in that game that didn’t result in something rather wondrous. And little that didn’t feel important in some way. Everything about Arcadia, it’s set up to build anticipation and wonder. Even just the dungeon and town design.

Take that ruin near the beginning; the tower where the moonstone lands, just after the intro events. There’s this long walkway, above water. The camera follows behind Vyse’s shoulders. There’s a fish-eye effect, which seems to make the path stretch on forever. And way on the other end is the dungeon. As Vyse runs toward it, his feet and elbows flail back toward the camera. He seems eager to get where he’s going. And we’re following him, seeing what he sees. It’s not really that far, but there’s this buildup of tension as you approach. And — inside, it’s one of the first real 3D dungeon environments I’d encountered in a console RPG.

That is to say: it takes its third dimension into account. As it it’s a real space, with is own logic. As you progress, you begin to understand the importance of features that you didn’t more than notice before; elements of the dungeon’s structure. And eventually, you solve it like a Rubick’s cube of sorts. You’ve unlocked its secrets, and mastered some skills, and begun to own some space.

It leads you on, but it does so by trusting you to follow your intuition. And when you do that, you’re rewarded. That is what is glorious about the game. It is built to reward curiosity, and gut instinct. And it does a great job at creating that curiosity to begin with. That is its genius. Then there’s the fact that most of the elements that are required to understand are in plain view through most of the game — it’s just that you need to play the game, to understand the significance of everything in the world well enough to put it all together. It’s a real place, and you get to know it by living there.

By the end of the game, there’s this sense of great enlightenment. So that’s why the world is the way it is. And — there’s still more left to discover. It leaves one with the feeling of possibility. Like anything could be out there, if one just were to work hard enough to find it. It’s incredibly inspirational. And this is all… intentional. Maybe not fully conscious, but it’s part of the game’s design.

Part of this comes from the protagonist, Vyse. There aren’t a lot of positive models in modern videogames. Not a lot of hope. After all of this cynical angsty Squareish teenage punk nonsense, it’s refreshing to see a lead who is actually a hero. Who has some spirit. It makes me feel like… I can do things. It’s all about attitude. That is to say, what you make of your situation. I feel that he’s the condensed center of Kodama’s message to her audience: Never give up. Never look down. Be proud. There’s always a way.

It’s not just the actual events within the game — it’s the strength of the conceptual significance behind them. I mean. It’s fiction. But fiction illustrates a lot about normal life. One of the best traits of fiction is the capacity to illustrate possibiliy. Whether this is tangible possibility, or just the emotional sense for where it comes from and what it means.

This isn’t something that you honestly get from most videogames. I’ve only gotten it from a handful. The original Zelda. Phantasy Star II. Riven. Skies of Arcadia. They all have made me look at the world differently. They’ve strengthened me, personally, in one way or another. That’s a sign of pretty good literature, I’d say.

I find it really interesting that Kodama is responsible for two of the games on that list. She… well. There’s a reason why I cite her as my favourite game creator. Shenmue has a bit of that, although its clunky (if endearing) AM2-ish edges keep it at a bit of an emotional distance.

The reason why I cite these games as amongst the best I’ve played is because they aren’t content with just being videogames, as such. They carry a deeper meaning. And not a contrived one, just for the purpose of being “deep”. They… stretch outside the boundaries of their medium and do something, emotionally. They actually speak some pretty inspiring messages to their audience, if the audience is willing to listen.

Most games are too calculated. Most games are designed by programmers. Or worse, by people who want to make videogames. Kodama and Miyamoto are both artists, foremost. Miyamoto has become… entrenched in Miyamoto in recent years, unfortunately. Still, he started as a slacker art school kid who didn’t even know that the company he was joining made videogames. Kodama didn’t exactly know what Sega did either, from what she says.

Rand and Robyn Miller, behind Myst — well. They certainly didn’t set out to be game designers. And by the time they’d gone through their first rough draft (that being Myst itself), they had amassed a pretty huge trove of mythology. They just… wanted to make their own world, with its own history and logic. And all of that work came to fruition in their second game.

This stuff, you can’t teach it. Being taught means being told “this is how to do things”. Generally speaking. Learning, on the other hand, means coming to recognize the organic patterns behind things and how to relate with them. It’s about communication. This isn’t something that can ever be pressed into you. It’s something you have to have the will to seek out on your own. The most someone can do is to set all of the right pieces before you, and to illustrate what they might mean. But it’s up to you to approach, and to add those pieces to what you’ve already collected. And to pick up the hints as to what else they might imply about you and your world.

It’s just like how you can’t tell a person how to write a novel. Or else you’ll get… a bunch of form-feed novels. The best way to learn is to simply have the right environment. To have the right materials around. To be given enough context and enough carrots to inspire you to look for meaning on your own — to care about the world, and about life. And to have someone or something you can use to reorient you, whenever you’re lost. And this is why art is so very important. That’s part of what it does — it provides some of that context. It helps to hint you in the right direction to finding your own meaning in life.

Art is actually a strange term. It’s rarely used correctly. Even I misuse it. Art is a process, more than a thing. A thing cannot Be art, in and of itself. Art comes in the process of interpretation of that thing, by the individual. It’s a way of looking at the world, really. As is science. Hamlet is not art, unto itself. It is art To Me, because I appreciate it as such. Because its meanings are strong enough, and I’m able to find something within them that has relevancy to my life. There is no objective Art. By its very nature, art is subjective. It’s when people try to put art on a pedestal that it gets… well, pretentious.

Something to think about: the only way you know the world is through your own senses, and your own understanding of the world. Whether the world really exists, you can’t know. The only basis for verification that you have is your own self. Objectivity — removal of one’s self from the picture at hand — is useful for understanding the inner workings of a system within the world that you perceive. However — whether or not thost things really exist, that you choose to be objective about, really comes down to a subjective decision. Therefore: in order to gain understanding of the world, the first step should be to search for what the world means to you. Through that, you can do anything else. You can play with your subsets of objectivity all you like. Of course — once objective understanding is established, that automatically gets kneaded back into your overall subjective understanding of life, your world, and what sense it all makes.

Science can, in a very real sense, be considered an art — inasmuch as it is a subset of the same methodology of understanding, with its own unique behaviors — just as philosophy differs from painting, differs from film direction, yet all are the same thing in the end. It’s all life, really. It’s all about understanding, and communication.

Videogames, too often, are held as objects; as important for their own sake. It’s easy to be fetishistic about them. I certainly am, at times. This is a problem of interpretation, all across the board — on the part of the “consumer” (read: the audience), as well as the critics as well as those who actually produce the games. The average videogame is no more important, artistically, than the average Hollywood explode-a-thon. Or romantic comedy, or whatever other tired formula you like. All the same.

Now. There’s something to learn from that as it is! You know what they say: there’s more to learn from bad art, than from good; from carelessness, compared to compassion. Provided that you’re willing to put in the effort to find it. However: something needs to change.

If this medium is ever going to become respectable, and to come unto its own as a form of expression — we need more people communicating through it. And using it as a medium to inspire understaning. We need to change our expectations, and stop considering videogames as important for their own sake, rather than for the the sake of the meaning they contain for us personally. And for the sake of the life which goes into them as an outlet for their creators.

Comfort is a dead end. Life is change. The moment you stop, you die. Either inside or outside. The body itself is ever changing; it’s different from one day to the next. All of the matter in your body now will be gone in seven years. You’ll technically be a completely different person. The moment that’s no longer true – it’s the same thing. It’s just the nature of life. Stasis doesn’t fit into that.

Gradually, I’m allowing more and more change into my life. And the more I let in (within my tolerance levels), the more I indeed feel that life. The more I learn to appreciate it, simply for what it is.

Videogames have the potential to convey so much meaning. And it’s not really a medium that’s been tapped well, on either end of the divide. Maybe I can help bridge the gap a bit. I don’t know. Help to give people one more outlet, to gain and express meaning for their lives. I guess… I’m pretty much doing the same thing.

Myau Mix

  • Reading time:3 mins read

So. I’ve got Phantasy Star – Generation: 1. I still have no PS2, let alone one ready for Japanese games.

However: I can make some assessments based upon the packaging.

Like, well — the packaging is rather classy.

The whole “SEGA AGES” stripe on the left makes it look like a “best of PS2” re-release of some sort. The manual is oddly thin. Aside from that, this seems… more or less real.

The book is in full-colour. Inside rests a cardboard leaflet, to stick into that SEGA AGES binder which you might recall. This contains a fair bit of rudimentary information about Phantasy Star, and a recent photo of Kodama and Naka, holding the Mark III version of the game. Naka’s head is much bigger than Kodama’s. It seems a little odd to see them together, after so long.

I wonder who’s pictured in the “creator” box for Monaco GP, or Fantasy Zone. Hm.

The front of the manual is a full-page image of the cover illustrator by that PSO artist from Sonic Team. This picture is actually larger than the version on the front cover of the DVD case, given that it doesn’t have to account for either the PS2 ID border at the top or the SEGA AGES border on the side.

It’s — well, it’s what the cover would look like if it weren’t smooshed over. And it looks very nice. The new version of the Phantasy Star logo — again, the word that comes to me is “classy”. It’s a softer and icier redraw of the original logo, with the PSO-style three-planet Algol swoop in the background and the “generation” number as a misty underline. It works well.

The disc art is typical; blue and black. Looks like a Dreamcast game. The back cover shows an illustration of Lutz without his robe. His underlying outfit looks like something that Legolas might dorn. It’s got… leaves. It’s green and blue.

The packaging points out, from every corner, that this release is the first in the SEGA-AGES series (including a stripe on the spine — meant to cause the game to stand out and match the rest of the set, if you display your DVD cases on a shelf) yet somehow this doesn’t seem obtrusive, or annoying — as undoubtedly it will, if this series comes to the West. The game retains its own identity and dignity as a self-contained entity, while it suggests a new format for both of its sequels and stands as the test case for the larger SEGA AGES line.

A lot of care seems to have gone into this, particularly for a budget release. That’s really the overall feeling that I get. This is obviously geared for the Sega aficionado, even with the casual browser price.

More impressions when I actually play the darned thing.

What does a genius need with pants?

  • Reading time:10 mins read

The Metroid 2 score really gets a bad rap. Actually, Metroid 2 seems to be the whipping child of the series in general.

I think it’s worth pointing out that when the music is good, it’s really good in this game. The main tunnel theme, the Metroid battle theme, the revamped Samus and Item themes.

Where it begins to get a little controversial is in the various ruins. Once the player wanders out of the central tunnel and into any of the larger playfields, the music switches to an atmospheric pattern of bleeps. Not a lot of melody. Not a lot of rhythm in particular.

If you’re looking for Hip Tanaka’s tuneful power-ballads, I can see how it should be easy to feel let down. But the music serves a different purpose here.

Metroid 2 is by far the creepiest, most clautrophobic game in the series. It’s lonely, unnerving, frustrating, almost trance-inducing. It has a tangible atmosphere which I think is wholly fitting to the game’s setting and general purpose. (This atmosphere is most obvious when the game is played in full black-and-white, as originally intended, rather than with the upgraded Gameboy Color palette.)

The music is an important element of that formula. It exists to create and sustain a particular mood. I feel it was composed very deliberately; Ryohji Yoshitomi could have written anything, after all. But he chose to go the avant garde route.

There is a method to the music, as you can tell if you listen closely enough. It’s not random, and it’s not careless. It’s an attempt at an unsettling ambient soundscape.

The problem that Yoshitomi faces in this instance is the limited sound capacity of the original Gameboy. Melodic fare is easy. More experimental music is a bit tricker to pull off convincingly with only a few triangle and square waves at a person’s disposal.

Whether Yoshitomi succeeds in his goal or not is up to the listener. But for what it is, I think his score works very well.

Combined with the excellent quality of the more melodic portions of the soundtrack, I’d easily rank the Metroid 2 score up there amongst my favourite original Gameboy soundtracks — somewhere in the neighborhood of Gargoyle’s Quest.

On the other hand, it’s worth noting that Yoshitomi was never asked back for the future games.

The music in Prime does something odd to my head.

It all began with the theme which plays behind the game-select screen. For whatever reason it might be, that theme moves me pretty strongly.

The last time I felt this way about a videogame theme was in 1986, when I first slotted my copy of Legend of Zelda into my NES. At the time, I was struck with a profound awe and wonder. I knew that I was seeing and hearing something important. And my whole body reacted.

The Metroid Prime theme (from it’s use later in the game, I’m assuming that this is intended as the main theme to the game) has a similar, if somewhat more muted, effect on me. And the deeper I crawl into the game proper, the more impressed I am with the music in general.

In the case of the main theme, I think a large part of it is the uncommonly synchopated rhythmic pattern. Short-long, short-long, long, long, long. Another part of it is the weird, theramin-like lead instrument. But it’s just the overall weight of decisions made in the tune’s composition, arrangement, and production that make it so strange and so captivating to me.

The rest of the score seems a bit more tame — although there are more touches of experimentation, the deeper I crawl.

In my view, Kenji Yamamoto makes some very tasteful and wise decisions in terms of references to earlier themes. I particularly like his restructured Metroid and Brinstar themes.

Some of the earlier, more traditional soundtrack fare (particularly during the pre-Tallon introduction sequence) isn’t altogether interesting. And the planet-side music does take a while to build up to anything. But I’m beginning to sense a sort of a method behind the score’s evolution.

If it keeps going where it looks to me like it’s headed, this is going to be a pretty darned sensitive and impressive work. I don’t really know that it has much comparison in terms of what else is out there at the moment.

The Prime soundtrack is, so far, perhaps the most original and generally satisfying one for my tastes.

However: as for the soundtrack which I find the most memorable, well-written for its time, and which I personally enjoy the most — I’d have to go with Hip Tanaka’s original Metroid soundtrack.

There’s not a dud in the bunch. It consists of some of the best themes ever written for any videogame. And it made the game far more interesting to play than it really should have been.

I do quite like the Metroid 2 score, for what it is. Super Metroid’s music was… functional, to my mind. It was very Metroidy. To my mind Yamamoto has improved greatly since 1994, however. I don’t have much comment on the Fusion score. It, too, was Metroidy — though in a way which fit Fusion.

Return of Samus is really what comes to mind when I think of Metroid.

The first game was a bit of a fluke; the elements which make up the game don’t really cohere as well as they might. There doesn’t seem to be much of an overall vision. It was done on a pretty low budget. It seems rather random to me that it turned out to be as memorable as it was.

Metroid II was the first game where all of the elements really came together. Samus was retooled to look more or less as she does now. Her ship was introduced. The game upped the creepiness level several notches, along with a deep sense of disorientation and paranoia.

It’s perhaps the loneliest game in the series. The grainiest. And also the most wonderful.

More so than in any of the recent games, there is a sense of nigh-unlimited possibility in Return of Samus. You just don’t know what’s out there. Anything could be important. Anything could be a threat or a relief. You just don’t know where a new item will turn up. Or where the end is. Or where you’ll unexpectedly blunder into another Metroid.

I think the most important factor in so establishing RoS in my mind has to be the spider ball. The way it’s been retooled in Prime is interesting, but the item was far more flexible in RoS. (It was also probably a nightmare for the level designers, so I can see why it’s mostly been left out since then.) The way it was implemented in that game opened up a wealth of possibilities for exploration.

Super Metroid was certainly enjoyable. But it was a bit over-polished and conservative for my tastes. It was engineered to please as wide an audience as possible, while feeding fans exactly what they wanted (rather than what they didn’t *know* they wanted). Sort of like Phantasy Star: End of the Millennium. It didn’t really do very much new; all it did was take the best of the first two games and make it all a lot more palatable.

Basically — the first game establishes the concept of Metroid. The second game begins with that template, and then goes on an introspective search for identity. The third game takes most of the new ground blazed in the second game, combines it with the charm and trappings of the first game, and puts as much shine on it as the SNES can muster.

Fusion tries to be a very different kind of a game, and I respect it for that. What’s more, I think it succeeds quite well in its attempts to reinvent Metroid as a tense action-oriented game. I feel the level design is severely lacking, though; I’m not all that fond of some of its lazy logistical constructs. The game comes off almost feeling like Super Mario World in terms of how special moves and blocks are used.

Prime, I really like a lot so far. I didn’t honestly expect it to be as good as it is. I can’t comment very well on it until I’ve finished the game, though — as it seems there’s still a lot of odd stuff coming up that could effect my evaluation.

I think it could be interesting if the next game were set somewhere after Fusion. That game sets up a ton of change for the Metroid universe, and it would be intersting to see how Retro might follow through on it.

On the other hand, I tend to see the main linear series as Intelligent Systems’ duty. If there’s to be an out-and-out Metroid 5, it would make more sense to me if it came from the original Metroid team.

What seems to be Retro’s duty is to fill in the cracks and to attempt to explain all of the peculiarities introduced in the main series. To dig deeper into the groundwork set by Intelligent Systems.

And on that note, I think a Metroid Zero of sorts (as someone mentioned above) would make a lot of sense.

In early interviews, it was suggested that Prime was going to be set before the original Metroid. I think they chose wisely, in their decision to instead make it a direct follow-up to the first game — but that still leaves the backstory concept to fulfill.

In terms of bonuses, I agree that it would be keen to include Super Metroid — and for exactly this reason:

That way, every single Metroid game would be playable on the Gamecube.

Metroid 1 is included with Prime.
Metroid 2, you can play with the Gamecube Gameboy Player.
Metroid 3 would be included with this sequel to Prime.
Metroid 4 would again work with the Gameboy Player.

Kind of keen to have everything in one place, y’know?

I would also like to see the ability to turn power-ups on and off, as in Super Metroid.

Honestly, I’d just like to be able to take the Varia suit off every now and then. Those oversized shoulderpads just keey getting more ridiculous with every game; I much prefer how her raw Power Suit looks.

Also, it would be nice to be able to combine the various beam weapons (as in the third and fourth games).

I’d like to see young Samus, somehow. As a child, in a flashback, perhaps.

I want those Chozo statues back again, for holding power-ups.

And I want Retro to feel free to try out some more radical, experimental ideas that I would probably never think of on my own. I want to be surprised, above all else.

* * *

Regarding the spiky, butch hairdo from the concept art: Yes. That impressed the hell out of me. And it seems to match my interpretation of Samus’ personality, really well.

And honestly, doesn’t it make a lot more sense to have short hair if you’re going to be wearing a suit like that? Imagine it getting caught in the helmet. Yowtch.

Cell division

  • Reading time:6 mins read

Legally, I must comment that Metroid Prime has the best music in the world.

Something weird comes over me, just sitting and listening to the theme which plays behind the game options menu (one button-press past the title screen).

Game music has done odd things with my emotions on numerous previous occasions. It has ever since the original Legend of Zelda, where the first time I placed the game into my NES I simply stared at the TV for what might have been half an hour for all I know, listening to Kondo’s lilting title theme and watching the item scroll. It does when I watch the opening FMV to the first Sonic Adventure. The Phantasy Star II score has done mountains for me.

But even in the best game scores — Jet Set Radio, Streets of Rage, Ninja Gaiden II — generally the best that happens is that they impress the hell out of me and then that’s that. And even in the cases where I’ve been struck more deeply (for one reason or another), generally it’s been a single blow — often a manipulative one — in an otherwise so-so score.

Frankly, the reason the intro to Sonic Adventure does a weird job with my chest lies more in the direction of the intro sequence and my own personal share of nostalgia than anything about the music on its own. Heck, I’m not even very fond of half of the music in that game for its own merit. What music I do like well is mostly from Kumatani Fumie’s end of the stick rather than that of Jun Senoue.

Kenji Yamamoto has done something different here. I can’t explain it rationally. But it fucks with my head. The more I listen to it, the more this becomes true.

I’m afraid I’m going to develop a nervous condition, playing this game.

A bigger one, I mean.

I find this interesting, as I’ve honestly never been as impressed with the Super Metroid score as just about everyone else on the planet. It didn’t come near to Hip Tanaka’s original vision, or even the chirpy B-ambience of Return of Samus (a soundtrack which I still contend has never gotten its proper due). Super Metroid‘s music was appropriate, well-written, and… there. It suited the game, and sounded Metroidy.

But this? Ye god.

Again, I feel more or less exactly as I felt when I was eight and Zelda was new. And this fact is all the more peculiar just because I’m no longer eight years old. Zelda isn’t new. Metroid isn’t new. I’ve played so many games. I’ve seen so many conventions. Cleverness and skill and joy and wonder are about the best I can expect. That anyone can expect who has been around as long as I have.

There just isn’t a lot out there which feels new anymore. There aren’t any more revelations. There’s no new life to discover.

But perhaps there is.

And perhaps it’s not in Japan?

Who would have thought.

It’s not that this game is anything so totally original that it should — taken as a mass of parts — be as much of a breakthrough as Zelda. We’ve seen most of the elements here in at least some form before, for years on end. Some of the incarnations perhaps aren’t even all that different.

Half-Life was a step away from its FPS roots, and toward a more evolved gaming sensibility — and look at where that got it. Metroid Prime, I suppose, a person could consider the next logical step in this direction. Except that when you pull its laces, this is something else entirely.

I guess the way one could put it is that what this game feels like is something close to a culmination of what we’ve learned over the past thirty years of game design. Someone managed to boil it down and make The Game — or something like it. After all of the struggling since the last checkpoint, suddenly we’ve got progress. And we’re allowed to move on.

I’ve not played Eternal Darkness yet, but it’s worth noting again that this game was developed by an American studio, with aid from Nintendo. I imagine it’s got its flaws, but it still sounds like that game did a hell of a lot more right than most games have been doing lately. And like it had a solid vision to it.


Nintendo has been doing a lot for the industry lately. They’ve gone through some pretty huge changes in attitude since the glory days of the NES, and now seem to be pretty much content to be Nintendo. I keep harping on that Q-fund thing of Yamauchi’s, but I feel it’s a lot more important than it looks. It fits right in with the recent “apprenticeship” system of game design that Miyamoto’s been pioneering, and what Nintendo’s been doing with second and third parties.

They’ve got the money and the expertise, so they’re investing it in the next generation. They won’t have it forever. Miyamoto won’t be around forever. Nintendo won’t be. But the art will remain, the skills will flourish. And maybe someone else will march on to victory, birthed from the seeds of that knowledge and support.

Sure, Nintendo is acting in Nintendo’s best interest — but they don’t have to do it in such an enlightened way. The fact that they are, says mountains to me and sets a tremendous example for the rest of the industry.

I think we’re closing in on a new era here. And it’s not going to come from where we expect. The old guard is starting to break down. The entire old infrastructure.

Just look at all of the shit happening in the industry right now. If you’re clinging to the old ways, it’s bad news. And it’s pretty scary. But there’s a new wind in the air, and just about everyone is clueless about it so far. If there’s any time to block one’s sails, I think this is it.

And dammit, I want a copy of this soundtrack.

Phantasy Star Collection (GBA/THQ)

  • Reading time:1 mins read

by [name redacted]

Phantasy Star II, on a Game Boy. How surreal.

Here we’ve got one of the most important videogames of all time, prohibitively expensive at release for the then-new Sega Genesis. Now the game rests on a 1-1/2″ x 2-1/4″ silicon wafer, shouldered by both its predecessor and its successor. Together, the three games now go for less than thirty dollars, and are accessible anywhere you can tote your Hello-Kitty-pink Gameboy Advance.

( Continue reading at Insert Credit )