Author Archives: Jeremy Parish

Making the sausage, day 1

I woke up at an ungodly hour this morning (4 a.m. east coast time) to fly to San Francisco (meaning I woke up at 1 a.m. for my target destination) for the next Retronauts recording weekend. We’ve talked about the recording process in oblique terms, but I don’t know that we’ve ever really laid down the full details of what goes into a Retronauts weekend. Well, here ya go.

When we first Kickstarted Retronauts — almost four years ago, frighteningly enough — Bob and Ray and I all lived here in the San Francisco bay area. Everything about the show was predicated on this fact, really. We were going to record some fun video features for the Kickstarter DVD, get together every couple of weeks to record podcast, and basically take it easy. This lasted about… two months from the debut episode, I think? We launched at the beginning of July 2013, and by the end of August I had been evicted from the apartment where my wife had been living in since 2005. San Francisco has very expensive housing and very good rent control, which means in 2013 we were paying barely more in rent than she had been paying in 2005. And to find a place anywhere close in size and quality to what we had been paying would have cost at least twice as much in 2013… so she and I moved across the country. It was a good life change, but one that was detrimental to Retronauts. Trying to lead a conversation with a room full of people from 2500 miles away on a laggy Skype connection does not make for good radio, as we discovered the hard way.

So, now I fly to SF every few months to record batches of podcasts with Bob and whomever we can coax into the studio for a few hours at a time. It’s a big request. The studio isn’t ventilated or air conditioned. People only join us out of the kindness of their hearts.

The recording process happens differently for me and for Bob, but it begins more or less the same for both of us: We figure out the topics we want to tackle, reach out to prospective guests, and begin assembling notes for everyone. These notes used to be cursory but now can run for several pages per episode and take many hours to compile. This is because Bob and I both have what you call “Type-A personalities.”

When it comes to the weekend itself, it always begins with me waking up well before sunrise to catch a flight to San Francisco. Usually this happens on the Friday before taping, but in this case… man, I don’t know what kind of chaos is going to grip the nation tomorrow. I figured I’d play it safe and fly the day before the inauguration… especially since I had a connection at Washington Dulles. There’s nothing particularly exciting about this aspect of the trip, really. I get on a plane, bleary-eyed and exhausted, spend six hours in the air half-asleep, and emerge in sunny San Francisco at the end of it. I trek out to my hotel, or else crash with a friend to save money, and proceed to spend the rest of the day working and putting together the last of my notes. I tend to stay in the North Beach area, which means lots of coffee and good pizza.

There’s a place called Golden Boy just down the block from where I’m staying — apparently no relation to the pervy anime Golden Boy! — that sells amazing Sicilian-style pies. It ain’t real pizza unless you can stick your finger into the crust up to the first knuckle. That sounds pervy, actually. Hmm.

Anyway, that… is how a recording weekend starts.

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One final mail call

I hop on a plane to San Francisco very, very early tomorrow morning for a weekend jam-packed with Retronauts stuff. Our first podcast recording session of 2017, for one… which also is our first podcast recording session of the newly independent Retronauts venture. This is very exciting, obviously.

I’ve already called for listener mail on two of my topics — portable Castlevania and Final Fantasy IV — and now here’s the solicitation for one final episode. Sunday afternoon, we’ll be talking about Activision. The early days of Activision! Say, 1979 through 1986. The Atari 2600, Intellivision, and Commodore 64 years.

So if you have any fond memories of those games — ya know, stuff like Pitfall! and Ghostbusters — give me a shout at jparish [at] retronauts [dot] com. By, say, Saturday. We cool? Cool.

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The leader of the Kong bunch: A Donkey Kong retrospective

In the course of my chronological console library video projects, there are certain Big Ones: Games that carry considerable weight, whether that’s historic or merely psychological. This week’s Good Nintentions tackles a game that possesses both kinds of weight: The original Donkey Kong.

This video is ostensibly about the NES version of the game, but in practice I barely even touch on that adaptation. There’s a great deal to be said about Donkey Kong, and I tried to say as much as I could here. The NES version analysis will have to wait until next week’s episode, I’m afraid.

I’ve written quite a lot about Donkey Kong over the years, and I’m perfectly happy to make this video retrospective a sort of final statement on the subject. It probably won’t be, but it could be, is what I’m saying. Anyway, please enjoy.

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Another listener mail call! This time for Castlevania

That’s right, it’s time for yet another listener mail call. Look, we’re going to be recording a lot of episodes this coming weekend. We gotta go in prepared.

In addition to our upcoming Final Fantasy IV deep-dive, we’ll also be wading into the thick of things with the handheld Castlevania games. Specifically, that’s Castlevania for Game Boy Advance and DS: Circle of the Moon through Order of Ecclesia, and no, we’re not counting the NES Classics release of the original Castlevania. The Game Boy and (shudder) 3DS games we’ll save for some other time.

As usual, if you have Important Thoughts or Fiery Opinions about Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, Aria of Sorrow, Dawn of Sorrow, Portrait of Ruin, or Order of Ecclesia, send ’em my way via jparish [at] retronauts [dot] com. Why do you love these games? Or hate them? What are your fondest memories of them? Can you believe there hasn’t been a portable Konami-developed Castlevania since the year two-thousand-freaking-eight? Like, what the actual hell, you know?

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Retronauts Episode 83: A trial run for “Retronauts Radio”

A bit of an experimental episode today as part of our incipient full-episodes-every-week initiative. I’m calling it “Retronauts Radio,” and that should give a pretty good indication of what you’re in for here. It’s all music, all the time.

Rather than take the same shape as previous music-centered episodes of Retronauts, however, this isn’t a themed “mix tape” or study of a single composer or company’s output. Instead, I’ve taken a more timely approach: A look at notable classic game music releases over the past month or so. This time around, that works out to be a mix of some recent game music LPs, some online-only remixes, and some classic game re-releases or remakes with tunes worth highlighting. I’d like to make this a monthly feature, drawing attention to notable recent soundtracks once a month or so. For logistical reasons, Retronauts hasn’t dealt much with timeliness since we moved to Kickstarter, but the shift to a weekly schedule and my full-time commitment to the project makes that kind of mindset a lot more feasible now, and this seems like a nice way to approach it. Time-sensitive, yet still timeless. Because when is great music not worth a listen?

If this goes over well, it’ll become a regular feature, a part of our standard monthly mix of episodes. (If not, well, back to the drawing board.) I can see where there’s room for some fine-tuning now that this episode is assembled. We’ve received plenty of positive feedback from early-access Patrons already; it sounds like most people would prefer longer samples of music, and it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to bring a second voice into the mix. I will definitely take those suggestions into consideration, along with any others you’d care to leave in the comments section below.

While we usually post Retronauts episodes in mono to keep file sizes down, I went ahead and made this one stereo. Hope that’s cool. I went to the trouble of ripping several hours’ worth of music from vinyl to include this episode and thought you might appreciate as much fidelity as an MP3 can offer.

It’s an all-music episode of Retronauts as Jeremy looks at recent classic game soundtrack releases of note. Includes looks at Panzer Dragoon, symphonic Final Fantasy, Castlevania: Dracula X, and more!

Libsyn (1:08:16, 99.6 MB) | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

This is where I typically give a quick mention to the music in the current episode, but since this episode is all music, let me break it down for you a little more thoroughly. I’ve also included links to online store fronts where you can procure these albums for yourself, should you so desire. We’re not getting a kickback here or anything — we just love sharing great game tunes. Enjoy!

  • 0:00 | Intro [just me talkin’]
  • 2:45 | Zuntata: Taito Sound Team | Taito Classics Vol. 1Night Striker [Ship to Shore Media]
  • 3:32 | Panzer Dragoon [Data Discs]
  • 23:55 | Final Symphony [Laced Records]
  • 42:05 | Scarlet Moon Christmas Album [Scarlet Moon Productions]
  • 48:35 | Metroid Resynthesized [Luminist]
  • 52:57 | Wild Guns Reloaded [PlayStation Network]
  • 55:13 | Castlevania Dracula X [Virtual Console]
  • 1:01:16 | Retro pick of the month: Double Dragon for NES [Virtual Console]
  • 1:07:38 | Zuntata: Taito Sound Team | Taito Classics Vol. 1Elevator Action Returns [Ship to Shore Media]

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Virtual Console: Peak speed

Another Nintendo 64 release for Wii U Virtual Console this week: F-Zero X. This is getting to be a trend!

I admit it feels kind of weird to be writing about Wii U when we’re just a few hours from Nintendo’s Switch debut stream. But hey, lame ducks need love, too.

Nintendo seems to recognize it, too — more than a third of the Nintendo 64 games available on Wii U Virtual Console have been published within the past two months. Gotta get ’em out while there’s still a chance, I suppose; we don’t know much about Switch quite yet, but it definitely looks as though we shouldn’t expect any kind of continuity of software from Wii U to Switch. What that means for Virtual Console is anyone’s guess… but I’ll be pretty annoyed if they expect me to pony up full price for these games again.

Anyway, if this must be Wii U’s final burst of life we’re experiencing, at least it’s going out well. While I could take or leave some of the recent N64 titles to have shown up of late (Mario Party 2, I’m looking at you), I can’t really take issue with F-Zero X. It’s arguably the pinnacle of the series. And even if you don’t agree with that claim, at least we can recognize that it feels like the first proper realization of the F-Zero concept.

The original Super NES game was fun, for sure, and it made an impressive demonstration of the console’s shiny new tech. But it only offered a single-player experience against a handful of clone racers, and there was only so much those flat Mode 7 backgrounds could do to replicate a sprawling futuristic race track. The game’s designers pulled off some impressive fakery, but ultimately elements like the parts where you had to “jump” over “gaps” in the track fell short of the designers’ goals… much the same way that I always seem to fall short of the goal whenever I get to those track gaps.

By going full-polygonal, F-Zero X could present players with even more challenging tracks in a far more convincing fashion. Racing has always been one of the few genres to truly, objectively, universally benefit from advancements in hardware technology, and F-Zero X offers a perfect demonstration of that principle in action. F-Zero was fast, but it felt shallow and somewhat unconvincing; F-Zero X was even faster, while at the same time being far more immersive than its predecessor.

I won’t lie; I’ve never made it very far in F-Zero X. The racing action moves at an insanely fast clip, and unusually a for a first-party Nintendo production, it offers no apologies for its bracing difficulty level. I sometimes wonder if that’s why F-Zero has vanished from the map these past 10 years or so. “Unrepentantly challenging” is something Nintendo doesn’t really do any more, preferring instead a more accessible and forgiving approach to game design; yet challenge defines F-Zero at the genetic level. Perhaps the contradiction there accounts for why we haven’t seen an F-Zero since the advent of the kinder, gentler Wii and DS age of Nintendo… and, who knows? Maybe today’s Virtual Console release presages something to be announced tonight.

(I kinda doubt it, though.)

Image sources: IGN.com and NeoGAF.com

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Further into the labyrinth of music

My favorite time-waster these days — in between prepping for upcoming recording sessions, reviewing upcoming games (yes, I still do that), and writing cool Castlevania think pieces for USgamer (new entry today! go read it!) — continues to be picking away at Etrian Odyssey Untold, the 3DS remake of the (gasp) 10-year-old first-person dungeon-crawler RPG for Nintendo DS. I played through the remake back when it first came out, but between my save file’s deletion and the fact that we will be recording an Etrian Odyssey Retronauts episode at some point this year, I feel totally justified in retreading familiar territory for the third time.

Of course, the thing I keep finding myself gushing about the most as I replay Etrian Odyssey is, naturally, the music. Currently, I’m in the second stratum, which means I’ve been listening to a lot of this tune:

It’s lovely, right? I admit I’m growing a little weary of it, though. Not that there’s anything wrong with the composition, mind you, but Etrian Odyssey starts to sprawl in the second stratum. You unlock several — admittedly optional — rather grueling side quests in this portion of the game, including one that requires you to spend five in-game days on a single floor of the dungeon. Even though Untold takes considerable pains to make this less burdensome than it was in the original, it’s still a heck of a chore. I’m starting to feel a little bit of shellshock whenever I hear this stratum’s theme.

I guess it’s a sign of how much I love this game, and how great Yuzo Koshiro’s soundtrack for it was, that I want to share a tune even when I’ve heard it so much lately that it kind of makes me want to barf at the moment.

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This video was not quite a Labor of love. A Patrol Labor, that is.

Game Boy World makes its 2017 debut today. I would like to say the subject at hand is inspirational and sets a great precedent for the year, but that would make me a heckin’ liar. On the contrary, this latest Game Boy release is all kinds of mundane. Not wretched, not enjoyable, just kinda there, a legacy of a publisher’s willingness to peddle a fairly popular license without giving much thought to the quality of the problem attached to it. It’s a shame, because I really like the Patlabor franchise and think it could make a heck of a game in the right hands.

To add to the sorrow: This YouTube video has unfortunately been blocked by Bandai in Japan due to my inclusion of some footage from the anime franchise being covered here. If you happen to be one of the rare few who watch Game Boy World from Japan, I apologize. You can watch via Libsyn instead:

Either way, you’re in for an 11-minute video of which about 7 concern how cool Patlabor (the anime) is, while the rest kind of offers a perfunctory critique of how tedious Patlabor (the Game Boy game) turned out to be. I scraped as much game discussion as I could out of this, but there’s a weird element to the game in which you’re given a password after completing a stage which does not function as the password for continuing the game. I had intended to take the time to translate the dialogue in an attempt to figure out what I needed to do in order to advance, but time constraints kicked in and this is as far as I made it. Patron Max Smith shared a Nico Nico link that shows footage from later in the game and… it’s all the same thing. Just dull turn-based robot fights from start to finish. So, no great loss.

Next episode concerns a game that maybe isn’t great but is definitely weird and comes from an interesting developer, so I’ll try to make up for this episode’s shortcomings there.

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Podcast: Bust-A-Move, Puzzle Bobble, or whatever you wanna call it

It’s the epic conclusion to last week’s amazing episode! Eh, well, OK, maybe I’m fudging things a bit. But I did promise after last week’s talk of Bubble Bobble that I’d follow up with a piece on sequel Puzzle Bobble, and by cracky that’s exactly what we have here. Of course, most of our listeners are based in the U.S., so you probably know this series by its inexplicable localized title, “Bust-A-Move.”

Whatever you want to call it, however, it’s good stuff. A real, weapons-grade, match-three kind of affair. It has only the most tenuous connection to Bubble Bobble, of course, which means you might occasionally come across an adaptation in which developer/publisher Taito has replaced Bub and Bob with, say, the cast of the Azumanga Daioh anime.

Or, more likely, you’ll come across shameless ripoffs in which outside developers have (without shame or apology) replaced Bub and Bob with completely unrelated characters and made a fat stack of cash by stealing Taito’s work. Such as Snood, the extraordinarily ugly clone that served as my introduction to the series thanks to the magic of Macintosh shareware.

What a world.

Even if you’ve never played legitimate Bust-A-Move or Puzzle Bobble releases, odds are pretty good that you have experienced the series’ concept in some form. Colored orbs advance toward the bottom of the screen, and you have only a pivoting launcher anchored at the center-bottom of the play field with which to fling bubbles back into the screen in an attempt to clear the encroaching threat by creating color matches. A pretty mundane description, perhaps, but the game is so terribly addicting.

Having survived the Bubble Bobble episode, Jeremy mops up the franchise with a look at its most popular (or at least most imitated) branch: The iconic color-match puzzler Bust-A-Move… more sensibly known as “Puzzle Bobble.”

Libsyn (14:39 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

Much this week comes from a panoply of Puzzle Bobble sequels. Yes, I realize it’s annoyingly upbeat, but that’s what I had to work with. When life gives you lemons, create saccharine lemon desserts. Don’t worry, next week’s episode will include much better music.

This week also marks my return to creating episode cover art after nearly a year away. You’ll be happy to know Nick Daniel will still be illustrating Bob’s episodes, though, so those of you who prefer his more vivid digital compositions to my washed-out watercolors aren’t totally out of luck.

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Retronauts listener mail call: Final Fantasy IV

Hi everyone, it’s time for another round of solicitations for listener mail. We will be talking about Final Fantasy IV during our next recording session, and naturally we welcome your feedback about the game to potentially be shared aloud on-air. That includes the original Super Famicom version, the simplified game we received here in America on Super NES as Final Fantasy II, the Game Boy Advance port, the DS remake, or (shudder) the low-rent sequel The After Years. Take your pick!

If you have thoughts, you have the right to inflict them upon us! Whereupon we can serve as the viral vector through which they shall be transmitted to the rest of the world. So, if you wish to take part in this grand tradition, shoot me an email at jparish [at] retronauts [dot] com. Thanks!

Now, I have to go subject myself to some After Years. The things we do for this show.

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