Author Archives: Jeremy Parish

Chrontendo 51 is a real thing that has happened

I suspect anyone reading this blog probably already follows Chrontendo, but just in case: Occasional Retronauts guest Dr. Sparkle has uploaded the long-awaited new episode of the great-grandaddy of all chronological platform surveys. Even though the series’ pace has slowed to a few episodes per year, it remains far and away the most extensive and comprehensive of these little video projects (now having covered more than 750 games in total; Game Boy World should get there in the year 2035, approximately). I feel Retronauts should help promote spiritually aligned ventures, don’t you? So, you can give it a watch here, or click through to Dr. Sparkle’s YouTube channel and spend three days binge-watching the entire series:

Some pretty excellent stuff in this episode, along with some absolute trash. That’s probably inevitable at this point in the NES’s life: The Japanese side of things was hitting its sunset maturity, which meant veteran developers were squeezing the most out of the hardware while less respectable companies were churning out low-grade garbage in order to make the most of a saturated market before everyone abandoned ship for 16-bit systems. And on the Western side of things… well, they were trying, bless their hearts.

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Join me and Simon Belmont this afternoon for a Gintendo stream

Hi everyone, once you’ve savored this week’s super cool episode of the podcast, be sure to tune in for a brand new Gintendo stream. I don’t know if I’ll be able to stream daily this week, but I’ll do my best! Today I’d like to continue with my promise to celebrate Castlevania’s 30th anniversary by taking on the second Castlevania game: Simon’s Quest for NES. Or, possibly, I may try and slug my way through the Japanese version of the game, which appeared on the Famicom Disk System. As I demonstrated in last week’s Retronauts Radio episode, the Japanese “Dracula II” was essentially the same game as Simon’s Quest, all the way down to the infamous lying villagers, but it used the Disk System’s hardware for its soundtrack. It also included really annoying load times. So, if my increasingly cranky Disk System will behave long enough to keep the stream up and running, I will attempt to show off this slightly weird rendition of an old familiar favorite this afternoon… and if not, well, I’ll just play plain ol’ Simon’s Quest. In English.

Either way, the stream begins at 4:30 E.T. this afternoon (that’s 1:30 P.T.), so set some time aside and join me as I try to remember where the heck I’m supposed to go in this open-ended non-linear adventure. I may need your help for advice on where to go next, actually. And I’ll try not to slow down the adventure by grinding out levels in the mansions….

You can view the stream on my YouTube channel, or catch it here on the site once it’s archived.

“I will drink your blood like cherry pop gin and tonic!”

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Filed under Gintendo, Video

Retronauts episode 87 heads east for a look at the legendary Apple II

One of our goals with taking Retronauts weekly was to add a “Retronauts East” series to the lineup… which is basically a fancy way of saying that it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming for me to travel out to San Francisco frequently enough to record a sufficient number of full weekly episodes with Bob to run one every single week. So rather than make that impossible effort, I’ll be recording one episode each month right here in the comfort of my own home in North Carolina. Conveniently, a lot of people with extensive knowledge of and roots in video games happen to live right here in Raleigh, thanks in large part to the presence of several major tech-centric universities, as well as fixtures like a headquarters for IBM, and even some major game studios like Epic.

With this week’s episode, you can enjoy the first fruits of these labors. Retronauts episode 87 doubles as Retronauts East episode 1… and while it has a few rough edges we’ll be endeavoring to sand down in subsequent entries, I feel it makes for a pretty solid start. A big component of the Retronauts East mission statement is to tap into the potential of bringing in new contributors to the show. Bob and I have many areas of specialization about which we can speak with ease (or else this whole podcast endeavor would be moribund by now), but we also have many areas of game history in which we need to rely on our guests. Retronauts East’s fresh new contributors will allow us to expand the show’s horizons beyond the areas to which Bob, our regular San Francisco-based contributors, and I can speak.

You’ll see that in action right here as we tackle a topic that, to my recollection, has never before been covered in any Retronauts format over the past decade. The Apple II computer is essentially the foundation of PC gaming — it’s not only the original mainstream home computer, the hardware was built in part for the express purpose of being able to play games. We’ve gone far too long without tackling such a critical point of video game history, and thankfully this week’s guests — Benj Edwards of Vintage Computing and Ben Elgin of academia — have plenty of experience with and knowledge of the platform to share. It’s a fairly general overview of the system, but I feel pretty confident that we’ll be circling back to cover some of the topics we touch on here in far greater depth in due time…

Episode description: It’s the debut of Retronauts East as East Coast gaming experts Benj Edwards and Ben Elgin join Jeremy to discuss the Apple II computer platform: Its origins, its games, and its legacy.

Libsyn (1:26:12, 62 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

As I mentioned, there are some rough edges to this episode. Besides the mild awkwardness of forming a new podcast Voltron (it’s kind of like going on a first date, except without the nervous flirtation or expectations of a goodnight kiss), this new recording setup has a few quirks that need refinement. Fortunately, the most egregious audio issues — that annoying, disruptive static burst that keeps appearing, and the low fidelity of my mic — have already been attended to. Next time should go far more smoothly, so please bear with us for this pilot effort, and look forward to a second Retronauts East effort in about a month. Thanks! And thanks especially to Ben and Benj for making this show possible. You can follow Ben on Twitter at kirinn, while Benj is at benjedwards, if you’d care to see more of their thoughts on video games, and also not-video games.

And finally, this week’s musical interludes come from Wizardry Suite: We Love Wizardry, a 1987 tribute album to the Wizardry games composed by Kentaro Haneda. Seems a fitting choice for a show on the platform that served as host for the RPG franchise that helped inspire not only the dungeon-crawler genre basically the entirety of all Japanese RPGs…

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A chance to reconsider Crash, maybe

Yesterday Activision announced that their HD remaster of the PlayStation Crash Bandicoot trilogy — newly dubbed the N. Sane Trilogy, because without a name what kind of gravitas could a trilogy possibly have? — will arrive June 30, almost exactly a year after its announcement at last year’s Sony E3 press conference. Now that I’m over the cognitive dissonance of Activision publishing Crash (when I was a lad, that was a Sony franchise, thank you very much), I find myself looking forward to the N. Sane Trilogy.

I am not, to be honest, a fan of Crash… which is precisely why I’m eager to try the new HD reissue. I don’t feel I really gave the Crash games a fair shake back in the day. The original game was part of the late 1996 wave of first-party publishers attempting to take platform action games into 3D, along with Super Mario 64 from Nintendo and NiGHTs: Into Dreams from SEGA. I was on the outs with Nintendo consoles at the time and starting to develop an appreciation for the PlayStation vision, so I should have been the target audience for Naughty Dog’s platformers… but they didn’t do it for me at all. Super Mario 64 was so grand, so impressive, that the other publishers’ respective forays into that space left me cold.

I don’t think that’s unreasonable, in the context of the times. Super Mario 64 felt like the future, a fully open 3D platform game that not only pulled the genre into a new dimension, quite literally, but also did it with style and refinement. Yeah, there would be better 3D platformers, but Nintendo got so much right with Mario 64. By comparison, Crash’s linear into-the-screen design felt like playing, say, S.T.U.N. Runner compared to Mario 64‘s DOOM.

At the time, there was also a suffocating sense within the media and the tiny little online gaming community that existed in 1996 that game design was a one-way journey: Progress or nothing. If a game didn’t shatter the bounds of technology and design, it wasn’t worth your time. S.T.U.N. Runner ceased to be fun once DOOM came into being, and Super Mario 64 mooted any game that restricted action to a mere two axes. This, of course, is nonsense, but it would be a few years before I became dislodged from that way of thinking and found a happy medium between that mindset and its “hardcore” USENET opposite, which posited that the value of a given game was directly proportionate to its age.

Now that I’m older and wise enough to recognize that a game can be great without pushing any particular envelopes, I want to go back and reconsider Crash. Maybe I was wrong about it, and there’s something great there despite being relatively less ambitious than Super Mario 64. Then again, maybe not — big first-party games cause a certain degree of blindness among the first-party faithful (hence the popularity of Smash Bros.…), so maybe Crash‘s adulating fans are simply suffering from an overdose of Kool-Aid. Either way, I’m eager to see for myself.

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Virtual Console: Quality over quantity this week

The curious late-life trickle of Nintendo 64 titles arriving on Wii U continues this week with yet another worthwhile release that probably would have fared a lot better if it weren’t being overshadowed by Switch’s imminent arrival: Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. It’s the only VC release today, but it’s such a meaty game that it would seem a little churlish to complain.

OB64, of course, hails from developer Quest — though not designer Yasumi Matsuno, as it post-dates his departure for Square to head up the Final Fantasy Tactics project. Despite his absence, it nevertheless feels like a true extension of the series: It boasts a complex story, with equally intricate systems lurking beneath a seemingly simple interface. As one of the very few role-playing games released for Nintendo 64, it commands a pretty penny these days, which makes its Wii U release a welcome sight. (It previously appeared on Wii Virtual Console, so while I haven’t checked to confirm, I’m fairly certain you should get a hefty discount if you own the older release and transferred your account to the newer console.)

Nintendo hasn’t given us any information on Switch accounts or Virtual Console, so who knows if this game will show up on the new console or if you’ll be able to transfer your Wii U license? In any case, it’s one worth playing, and owning it on Wii U is a lot easier on your pocketbook than hunting it down on eBay would be.

Oh, and conveniently enough, we discussed Ogre Battle briefly a few years back in Retronauts episode 16. So please have a listen as you prepare to FIGHT IT OUT.

Let us cling together as we discuss Yasumi Matsuno in Episode 16

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Listener mail call time again: Final Fantasy V

Friends, we’re a mere two weeks out from our next Retronauts recording session weekend (we have to do them more frequently now that we’re committed to producing more episodes, you see). As with our previous sessions, I’d like to call for some listener mail to be read aloud on the show, time permitting.

The first of our March recording sessions will continue our Final Fantasy deep-dive series with the fifth game in the franchise, sneakily known by the name Final Fantasy V. This was the second one with the amazing and flexible revamped Job System, and the first to skip a U.S. release on its original platform only to show up in a later console generation. It’s also the one to have inspired the Four Job Fiesta charity fundraiser series.

There’s a lot to say about this game! So, whether you discovered it as a 16-bit import game, checked it out in Final Fantasy Anthology on PlayStation, grabbed it on Game Boy Advance, or found it through some other means (we won’t ask), drop me an email at jparish [at] retronauts-dot-com. (You can respond via comments here or Twitter if you like, but, spoiler alert: I only pull up email-based comments during recording.)

Thanks, and look forward to a few more calls to action over the coming week!

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Gintendo returns with Japanese gin and Japanese mystery games

I had hoped to stream some Gintendo videos from abroad as I traveled through Japan last week collecting interviews for Retronauts, but that didn’t happen; between jet lag, a packed schedule, and the last lingering bits of a cold, I simply wasn’t able to. Don’t worry, though, because I’m going to make up for the disruption with style. Beginning tomorrow, I will be hosting frequent Gintendo streams featuring the games I picked up while in Tokyo (mostly per Patron request).

I’ll kick things off tomorrow at 5 p.m. ET (2 p.m. PT) with a mystery stream:

I will be playing whatever this strange Game Boy cartridge contains. This is a Nintendo Power cartridge, which has nothing to do with the American magazine — rather, it’s a blank rewritable cart that you could take to a convenience store kiosk and load up with inexpensive games. The service has long since become defunct, so carts like this one exist as relics of sort, containing whatever games the last owner happened to have downloaded. There are a couple of pretty cool games on this one, according to the label, so hopefully it still works when I plug it in tomorrow. Join me tomorrow to enjoy the surprise.

Also new for this stream: I picked up the legendary Super Game Boy Commander controller for use with Game Boy World (and related streams). The controller I’ve been using has been a standard Super Famicom controller, which I picked up last time I was in Japan. It was naturally in much better condition than any vintage Super NES controller you’re likely to find here in the U.S… but the controller cable is so short that it’s difficult to use with my office setup. The Commander has a nice lengthy cable, and it’s specifically laid out for use with Game Boy software, so that should be a nice upgrade.

And finally, the gin for the evening will be the very first gin ever distilled in Japan (so far as my research can determine): The Kyoto Distillery’s Ki no Bi (as in “the beauty of seasons,” not as in Obi-wan Kenobi). It debuted back in October, and obviously, I had to acquire a bottle for Gintendo purposes. Big thanks to Retronauts friend Kyle McLain for helping me to track it down!

You can watch the stream Thursday afternoon here or on the YouTube channel.

http://www.youtube.com/c/JeremyParish/live

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Celebrate Valentine’s with gaming’s original couple (almost)

This week’s Video Chronicles feature couldn’t have been timed more fittingly, although I admit the scheduling was nothing more than a coincidence: Popeye for NES, wherein a mumbling spinach junkie attempts to rescue his lady love from the burliest of competing suitors. If things had gone as originally intended, though, this game might have been something completely different; Donkey Kong would have been a Popeye game, making Popeye and Olive Oyl gaming’s original romantic couple… and also meaning Mario would never have existed. Now there’s an alternate timeline worth contemplating.

Playing Popeye for this production gave me a better appreciation of the game. I’ve always considered it a lesser work by Nintendo, but it’s better than I’d originally given it credit for. Not a timeless great, certainly, but decently ambitious.

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Episode 86: Retronauts Radio for February 2017

Welcome to the second monthly Retronauts Radio! Last month’s trial episode went over quite marvelously, so it’s back for a return engagement and will become a regular feature unless there’s some sort of angry mass uprising against it.

I appreciate all the feedback that came in after the trial episode. For the most part, it really seems like everyone enjoyed the show. There were no real complaints of, “This is terrible and I hate it,” only minor suggestions for improvements that were balanced out by an equal number of people indicating their satisfaction with that particular aspect of the show as it was. As such, I’ve made only the most modest of tweaks to the format this time around.

First, I’ve tried to splice in a greater number of tracks for variety while giving each track more time to breathe. Hopefully you’ll find the balance between play time and monologue works more to your liking.

Secondly, I have made an effort to cover an equal mix of music releases that are available for pay and for free. This is not an ad or a paid sponsored podcast or anything, so I’m not obligated to cover any particular release. Instead, I hope to highlight recent retro game music releases for both collectors (in this case, the vinyl issues of Revenge of Shinobi and Castlevania II) as well as music available for free or for a modest fee (the Etrian Odyssey remixes, SEGA’s Spotify dump, and ZODIAC). My hope is that each episode will highlight something that will appeal to everyone, regardless of their tastes and budget.

Our second Retronauts Radio looks at notable retro-themed game music releases for February: Castlevania II, a Final Fantasy Tactics tribute, Revenge of Shinobi, Etrian Odyssey remixes, and a ton of SEGA jams! Art by Jon Stachewicz.

Libsyn (1:41:34, 70.8 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

Here’s the time breakdown of the episode, and where you can find the included tunes for your own enjoyment.

  • 0:00:25: Introduction
  • 0:01:40: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest [available via Mondo]
  • 0:11:22: SEGA on Spotify [freely available for streaming via Spotify]
    • 0:11:42: Rhythm Thief and the Emperor’s Treasure
    • 0:12:32: Out Run
    • 0:17:39: Jet Set Radio
    • 0:19:38: Sonic Rush
    • 0:21:18: Rhythm Thief redux
  • 0:24:40: Revenge of Shinobi [available via Data Discs, $]
  • 0:34:01: Etrian Odyssey FM synth remixes [freely available via Yuzo Koshiro’s Twitter account]
  • 0:39:24: ZODIAC: Final Fantasy Remixed [available for purchase via Materia Collective or on Spotify]
  • 0:56:49: Skies of Arcadia [freely available for streaming via Spotify]
  • 1:07:05: Outro — Sonic Rush

So: I hope you enjoy this second Retronauts Radio episode. Please feel free to ping me on Twitter (or wherever) over the next couple of weeks to let me know about interesting new releases that would be relevant to next month’s episode. Thank you!

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Racing time

I’ve conducted a few developer and composer interviews while I’ve been here in Tokyo; it was actually kind of the point of my coming here. You can expect to see those in in full here on the site in the near-term — probably next month, is my guess.

There was no common thread in the who of my appointments, but I did notice a common thread in our conversations. Yesterday, I met with two very talented women who used for work with Capcom, Junko Tamiya (left) and Harumi Fujita (right). (I’m the one in the middle, just so there’s no confusion.) Both of them composed music for Bionic Commando — Fujita the arcade themes, Tamiya the NES adaptations and original music — so naturally I was interested in chatting with them.

We had an interesting and fairly lengthy conversation on a variety of topics, but afterwards Ms. Fujita laughed and said she wanted to ask me some questions about video game history. They both admitted they had to wrack their brains a bit to remember specifics of games they worked on 30 years ago, which is understandable — they experience games not as finished products like we do, but as nebulous works-in-progress that don’t necessarily connect to the stories we see on the consumer side. For example, they each worked on different versions of Strider (NES and Arcade), but while they remembered that the Famicom version of Strider for NES never shipped, they had never heard about the manga that was supposedly a key part of the game’s planned multimedia blitz.

What made Ms. Fujita’s confession particularly striking was that Yuzo Koshiro had actually predicted that exact thing a few days prior. I asked him a lot of questions about his work outside of being a composer, which he rarely is interviewed about, and he had to give his responses some serious thought. The interview turned out great, but he warned me afterwards that the other composers I’d be interviewing would probably have an equally tough time answering my questions. “It’s been a long time,” he admitted, “and I’ve forgotten a lot of the details of things that happened back then. They probably will find it difficult, too.”

Which, of course, is why I want to talk to everyone I can, while I still can. My hope is that Retronauts will afford me the freedom to do more developer and composer interviews. I want for us to inquire about and write down these stories while we still can. I think about all the important game creators I will never be able to interview — the Doug Smiths, the Satoru Iwatas, the Jerry Lawsons — and the reality of the fact that these games happened 25, 30, even 40 years ago suddenly feels less like fun trivia that gives everyone an excuse to write an anniversary feature and more like a ticking clock.

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