Hello again.

This site has been sadly neglected for some years now. I’ve been busy with lots of other things, but I still do find time to play video games now and then. Unfortunately, I don’t have the headspace left over to write for this site the way I used to, but if I can keep it up, I’d like to keep posting here in a more casual manner.

So! To begin, here’s my retro gaming setup.

_R001988

I live in an apartment in Brooklyn, and before this I lived in Manhattan. I moved here from Utah a few years ago and didn’t take much of my gaming stuff with me.  Between the sense of detachment I get from mobile games’ touch controls and the bloated, sluggish, on-rails experiences common to big console games these days, I was missing the kind of quick, immediate experiences I grew up with. Plus, having a stressful job and little time outside of it has made me appreciate the concentrated feeling of arcadey gameplay.

_R001993

So I sought out an easy system to get into and out of at my leisure: an AV Famicom. It’s hooked up to a 13″ Sony PVM video production monitor. I’m not using any fancy video tricks here: just composite video and the monitor’s mono speaker. Sometime or another I’ll install one of viletim’s NES RGB kits. For now, this works fine. Hiding under the storage basket is a modded PStwo.

My favorite video game shop in the city is Video Games New York, which is an enthusiast-oriented destination in the East Village. It’s dusty, crowded, and completely packed with games going back to the 2600, both import and domestic. The selection of imports is so wide-ranging that the shop reminds me of stores I visited in Akihabara and Osaka’s Den Den Town back in 2007. Last time I was there, I was slightly inebriated and raided the stacks of cart-only Famicom carts. These are a recent addition to the store, and they’re starting to show variety beyond sports and shogi titles.

_R001989

From left to right: Commando, Ninja Jajamaru-kun, and Milon’s Secret Castle.

Commando is a title that I used to play on PC in a fairly terrible CGA port. I was never good at the game, and the controls didn’t help much. The NES version is a more-than-competent arcade port for the time. I haven’t got far in it so far, but it’s interesting that the focus isn’t on killing every enemy on the screen: it’s about killing just enough that you can advance and avoiding the rest, because the bad guys never stop coming at you.

_R002016

I played Milon’s Secret Castle when I was seven or eight years old at a friend’s house. I didn’t have a NES growing up, and so I was always really excited to get to visit a friend that did have one. The game’s pretty technically excellent for a 1987 Famicom 2D platformer, though it’s heavily derivative of Super Mario Bros’ sprite design. It plays more like a relative of Metroid, though, with obscurely hidden doors and items everywhere. Key items give Milon abilities that allow you to return to areas you’ve already visited and reach new areas within them. In a manner common to free-form games released in the 80s, instead of leaning on established domain knowledge in the streamlined way more recent games in this genre do, Milon’s has its own set of internal rules that must be puzzled out on their own. And the game ain’t easy from an action perspective, either: I suck, so I haven’t got past the first boss yet.

_R002003

 

Ninja Jajamaru-kun is an arcade-style platformer that I see as being the game that basically put Jaleco on the map. A lot of people would recognize it as the title that was paid homage by the Haggleman games contained in the DS version of Game Center CX. Even though Jaleco’s programmer(s) circa 1985 apparently couldn’t manage to coax more than roughly 15 frames per second out of the engine, the game manages to be decent fun and reasonably cute. I have a soft spot for games themed around traditional Japanese folklore and horror, so I’m pretty charmed by it regardless.

This little guy looks suspiciously like a racist caricature, though:

_R002008

 

Anyway, again, hello, and hopefully there will be more informal posts like this going forward.

Carrying on the Simple Spirit: Tekkou Hohei

Since the all-but-demise of D3 Publisher’s Simple series of budget games, I’ve missed its particular blend of hooks-and-wire, no-budget ingenuity in gaming. It’s improbable for that type of development model to exist in the form of disc- or cartridge-based releases in the game industry’s current climate, and D3 hasn’t moved its business model into the downloadable realm beyond a few token releases.

Lately, however, I’ve started looking at homebrew and otherwise independently-developed games available on Xbox Live Arcade’s Indie Games section. Certainly, there’s an awful lot of underdeveloped, unplayable, undergrad-CS projects full of programmer art among the 2000-plus titles available on the service. But at the same time, there are games that show plenty of ingenuity and make excellent use of the resources available to the small teams making them.

The first of these I want to look at is Tekkou Hohei (鉄鋼歩兵, which translates as Steel Infantry), a mecha shooter made by a Japanese team of two members. You pilot a robot that’s reminiscent of Front Mission and fight other robots in arena-like stages using small arms, rocket launchers, and plain old mecha fists.

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Interview with Ken Snyder and Steven Velema — Tree of Knowledge (知恵の樹)

Ken “coda” Snyder and Steven “surasshu” Velema are freelance composers who have made a name for themselves in the chiptune and module music tracking scenes for their consistent performance in 1-hour tracking competitions: timed contests in which composers are given only an hour to compose a full song with a set of randomly chosen samples.

Their latest project is Tree of Knowledge (知恵の樹) — a lovingly crafted tribute to the sound of PC-9801 home computing platform, which played host to a vibrant game subculture in Japan throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. Its powerful FM synthesis-based sound hardware gave rise to numerous composers still working in the industry today, such as Ryu Umemoto — whose recent work includes Cave’s arcade and Xbox 360 shooting game Akai Katana and the recent Xbox Live Arcade release Nin2-Jump.

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Project Minerva

Conventional wisdom states that you need to spend some time with a videogame, really dig in there, in order to review it. Most days I’m with conventional wisdom on that one: just not today. Lately, I played Project Minerva for a few hours, and it committed so many unpardonable sins out of the gate that I was already writing the review in a corner of my mind from the first moments of the game. I couldn’t help it. My brain needed some kind of other stimulus to make the time go by faster, as the heroine plodded, hunched over, across an endless grassy plain.

Before the game has even properly started, an uncanny valley effect hits: in the opening video you’ll notice that the heroine looks much more human than everybody around her. This is a D3 Publisher joint from 2001, early in the PS2’s life. Though D3 had not yet figured out the whole “Simple Series” business that would bring them to success, the production values are certainly on the same level as that series. Bare-minimum character models dance the robot through every animation and cutscene.

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The Life Lessons of Super Adventure Island

Super Adventure Island

It’s been almost 19 years since that fateful birthday for which I received my very first video game console, a Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The pack-in game, of course, was the devastatingly great Super Mario World. But my grandmother had also sweetened the pot with the addition of Hudson’s Super Adventure Island. I’m absolutely certain she had no idea what Super Adventure Island was (or what a Super Nintendo was, as evidenced years later when she rented a copy of Double Dragon and attempted to stick it into the VCR, bless her heart). But through her gift, she inadvertently gave me an education.

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