Category Archives: Retronauts

Retronauts Episode 91: A survey of SEGA’s arcade work, 1980-85

It’s Monday morning, and you know what that means. Yeah, it’s time for another Retronauts episode.

Specifically, it’s time for another Retronauts East episode. Ben and Benj join me once again in my still-in-development home studio to sit and jaw for a couple of hours about a rarely explored video game topic: SEGA’s arcade games.

“But wait,” you say. “SEGA is a beloved arcade game creator and always has been! Its arcade hits are a known quantity!” And that is true indeed. However, we’re not really looking to the company’s hits; we’re digging further into its past, to the coin-op titles SEGA produced before the ones you know and love. Specifically, we’re focused on their 1980-85 lineup.

 

As you can see from the art above, we certainly do touch on some fairly famous games: Congo Bongo, Zaxxon, Pengo, and of course Space Harrier. They’re the exceptions. For the most part, SEGA’s output in the first half of the ’80s remains fairly obscure; their work from 1986 and on is far better known here in the U.S. SEGA does a better job of preserving and republishing its later games, allowing the likes of Flashgal and Super Locomotive to vanish into the realms of the unknown and unavailable-through-legitimate-means.

This unfortunately makes for a slightly dicey episode at the beginning. We’ve all played some of these games, but certainly not all of them, and a lot of what defines them is the arcade experience. Sure, you can emulate Pro Monaco GP or Zoom 909, but an emulator doesn’t include the funky LED readouts and gauges next to the screen. Stick with it, though, and you’ll find that the conversation comes into focus as we move into SEGA’s prime days. (We also concoct some pretty decent on-the-fly theories about why SEGA’s arcade output improved so significantly around 1985 or so.)

Despite some audio bugs we’re still trying to iron out of the Retronauts East setup, and the fact that we’re taking the Retronauts name seriously by exploring somewhat unfamiliar territory here, it’s a pretty solid episode overall. And a long one, coming in at more than two hours in length! We had actually planned to take this conversation up through 1987 but literally ran out of time. But that’s OK. That just gives us an excuse to reconvene again in a few months and explore SEGA’s work in the latter half of the ’80s.

Episode description: Ben Elgin and Benj Edwards reconvene with Jeremy to explore the first half of SEGA’s arcade output. Like the games we’re discussing, the episode starts off a bit shaky, but everything is awesome by 1985. Pengo! Zaxxon! Space Harrier! Hang On! And more!

MP3, 56.8 MB | 2:03:59
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

Music in this episode comes from Space Harrier (except where noted in the show), because honestly there wasn’t really all that much music worth noting in SEGA’s output from this era. That’s just a sign of the times, though. Once arcade games got to 1985 or so, their soundtracks improved exponentially. Our next SEGA arcade episode will have the opposite problem: There’ll be so much incredible music to pick from we won’t know where to begin…

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We want YOU to write for US

Retronauts is growing, and soon this very website will become something more than a mere blog. It’ll be a real website. That’s going to demand more work and upkeep than Bob and I can manage on our own, though — between all the podcasts, videos, business development work (for me), and having-a-full-time-job (for Bob) we need to deal with each day, it can be tough to find time to post much material here. And yet… nearly every day we see some sort of classic gaming-related news pop up on the wire, whether it’s the arrival of a boutique retrogaming device (a la the Analogue Nt Mini and its weekly stream of new console cores) or the announcement of highly anticipated classic game collections (a la Capcom’s newly announced compilation of NES “Disney Afternoon” games). Alas: We can’t capture them all by ourselves.

That’s where you come in.

We are looking to take on two part-time writers to help out with daily news and, in times of little news, other Retronauts-appropriate writing. These are, again, part-time freelance roles, with the pay to match. But we’re not asking for a massive commitment! An hour per weekday, basically. We just need a couple of people to help mop up classic gaming news and pen the occasional modest retrospective, should the desire and opportunity arise. In return, we will pay you a modest monthly stipend of $500 (which, at an hour of work per weekday, averages out to around $20/hour — pretty fair, we hope).

Requirements:

  • A solid writer who knows classic gaming (but isn’t ashamed to do a little research to bolster their knowledge when needed);
  • The ability to commit up to an hour each weekday to writing/posting for Retronauts;
  • Someone capable of working with a CMS backend and doing some basic-level image editing or processing as needed;
  • Access to Slack for coordinating plans with me and your fellow writer;
  • Familiarity with topics Retronauts has traditionally been weak on (which is to say, non-Nintendo matters like SEGA, PC Engine, U.S./UK/Japanese 8-bit computers, etc.) is a very big plus.

And this isn’t a requirement and won’t determine our picks, but: Bringing a perspective/background that’s different from mine and Bob’s — we’re both straight, white, American men who were born in Midwestern cities about 200 miles apart, and we cut our gaming teeth in the ’80s and ’90s —would definitely be quite welcome. Classic gaming is for everyone, and we’re glad to promote different perspectives on gaming at Retronauts, whether those differences amount to age, nationality, gender, or… well, anything, really. This call is open to everyone. (OK, everyone except racist YouTubers.)

If this sounds like a thing you would like to do, please submit an email to freelance@retronauts.com by March 24 with a brief (like, 100 words maximum) introduction/explanation of your bona fides, along with links (or scans, if you somehow only work in print) to three pieces of writing you’d like to show off as examples. And that’s it! Just follow these simple directions, and we’ll hopefully be able to sort through applications by the end of the month to get you started straightaway in April. Thanks!

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Retronauts Episode 90: Yeah, it’s about music again

Things have changed with the podcast of late (NOTE: The back catalog pay wall is now down, hooray), but what hasn’t changed is that we keep putting out rad stuff every Monday. Such as this third Retronauts Radio entry, which takes on a different form than the previous two episodes:

Namely, it’s a conversation between myself and Bob on only two topics. One is the recent release of The Legend of Zelda: 30th Anniversary Concert CD (that link leads to CDJapan, as it appears to have sold out on Amazon). The second is more of a music-themed Retronauts topic discussion; rather than tackling a recent music release, we’ve instead delved into the history of Nintendo’s incidental music.

The second topic was inspired by Bob’s recent Wii retrospective and all the fantastic music that appeared in the system’s channels, as well as my “Nintendo Power” Game Boy flash ROM Gintendo stream. Both reminded me just how much love and care Nintendo invests into menu and system music, which is an area most developers and publishers put very little effort into. So we go hunting through the history of Nintendo incidental music, including some exotic imports, and come up with our best findings. As with all of our music-themed episodes, I hope you enjoy it!

Episode description: Bob joins in for a slightly different episode of Retronauts Radio! We discuss the recent CD release of the 30th anniversary Zelda concert series and look at the history of incredible incidental music in Nintendo’s non-game apps.

MP3, 41.9 MB | 1:25:23
Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes
Retronauts at PodcastOne

Music in this episode comes from precisely where we say it does, basically. The Zelda CD, Game Boy Camera, Mario Paint, etc. etc. The one mystery track is the outro, which is the “Elegance” Hanafuda 3DS theme’s music. Which is rad, and whoever suggested it (sorry, I lost your name!) is also rad.

And be sure to save the artwork above to add to your download, since (once again) PC1 weirdly doesn’t retain individual episode artwork when we upload the files.

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Still a few bugs in the system

Hey there, loyal readers and listeners, just a quick follow-up on Monday’s announcement about our move to PodcastOne. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t been a completely smooth transition — well, unsurprisingly for anyone who’s ever dealt with podcasts, that is.

1. The feed

The decentralized nature of podcast distribution makes things like this a major pain. Our change in hosts means a change in our RSS feed. iTunes, our most popular delivery system, is run by a cranky and unresponsive corporation that is slow to make such updates, and other people have added our old feed to many other services for which we have no access (and in some cases, awareness!).

We are working to update our iTunes feed at the source rather than use the current redirect, which means that the current two-day delay on new episodes showing up with Apple should be mitigated soon. I’ve also contacted Downcast and Stitcher and have asked them to update the feed on their apps, which… hopefully happens.

If you use a different service to download Retronauts, please let us know so we can contact them! It feels weird and annoying to have our primary product so far out of our control. Podcasts, man. In the meantime, you can update your own Retronauts information to point to the following feed: http://www.podcastone.com/podcast?categoryID2=1060

2. The pay wall

As I mentioned on Monday, our older episodes on the feed have been gated behind a paywall. We were told this was optional, and I asked PodcastOne not to do it straightaway so we could give everyone several months of warning… but their system defaulted to an active paywall anyway. We requested they disable it as soon as it went up, but that still hasn’t happened. You’re not happy about this, I know, but neither are we.

We haven’t decided for certain that we’ll be using the paywall at all — that’s certainly PodcastOne’s preference, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense for a show like this, and it’s certainly a change from the way things have been over the past decade. Hopefully they’ll get that sorted out on their end soon.

In the meantime, our old Libsyn page still has all our episodes dating back to July 2013, so you can grab anything you want to listen to that way for now. I don’t know how long we’ll keep the Libsyn feed up, but it’ll be there for several months, at least. New episodes won’t appear there, but the old ones will remain.

3. Patreon

The show will continue to be supported through Patreon — I mean, PodcastOne hasn’t even started putting ads in the show, so we’re not making any money at all there just yet. The idea is to have a few different forms of income propping up the show, as I’ve been part of far too many media properties that rely on a single revenue stream and crumble when that stream dries up. So your patronage (patreonage?) is vital! And appreciated! Patrons will continue to receive:

  • Early show access
  • Higher-quality versions (in terms of bitrate) of the show
  • Full access to the entire catalog of episodes that have been posted to Patreon
  • The various goodies we send out twice a year
  • Occasional random bonuses

Which, hopefully, you’ll agree is worth your $3 per month.

4. More

This site will be launching into a proper website soon, e.g. not a blog. Please look forward to it.

The Good Nintentions and Game Boy World books I’ve been publishing on the side are also part of Retronauts now (as one of the revenue streams, you see). I’m hoping to have a new book ready in May— probably Good Nintentions 1986.

5. More?

If you have any questions about any of this, don’t be shy about asking. Things are a little bumpy at the moment, but that’s pretty much always the case when it comes to massive changes like this… give us a week or two and it should all be smooth sailing again. Thanks for bearing with us!

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Episode 89: Final Fantasy IV, plus some big news

Hello! Welcome to a new week… and, as it happens, something of a new beginning here at Retronauts. What I mean is, Retronauts is now part of the PodcastOne network. Yes: As part of our move toward making this show and site proper and profitable, I’m afraid we’ve gone legit.

This does mean you’ll soon be hearing ads in your podcasts, but the tradeoff is that the show will have much greater visibility and reach. We’ll also have more resources available to us as we go forward — financially, of course, but also in terms of facilities on occasion. This is a huge step for the show, and both Bob and I are excited (and a bit nervous) about it, but we definitely agree the benefits will make up for any hiccups we encounter along the way.

And yes, there’ll be hiccups. Since we’ve switched to a new backend and a new feed, it make take a little while longer than usual for iTunes to refresh the show this week. Thankfully you can download the episode directly from PodcastOne if you’re experiencing any troubles, or simply listen to the embedded version in this post. My hope is that any service interruptions prove to be strictly temporary.

Also, PodCastOne places back catalog episodes of their shows behind a paywall. That’s not how we’ve traditionally operated, so we’ve asked them to make the full back catalog free for a couple of months so listeners aren’t suddenly cut off from our older episodes. Those will eventually be pay-gated as is our host’s standard policy, but we’d like to ease into that and give you advance warning.

It’s also worth mentioning that this move doesn’t affect anything with Patreon! Retronauts supporters will continue to enjoy episodes a week ahead of the public feed, along with the usual plethora of goodies.

So that’s the logistical stuff, but what about the fun stuff? Namely, what’s the deal with this week’s episode?

Well, friends, this week’s episode happens to be the second in our ongoing Final Fantasy game-by-game deep dive. We kinda skipped over Final Fantasy II and III, because they’re a bit tough to love these days, and today dig right into the series’ first 16-bit outing: Final Fantasy IV for Super NES.

You know FFIV; you love FFIV; you probably don’t need much preamble about FFIV. Besides, this episode spans nearly two full hours of conversation about FFIV, so I can just let it do the heavy lifting here.

Description: We continue our Final Fantasy deep-dive series by… doing like Square did back in the day and jumping ahead from FFI to FFIV. Chris Kohler and Kat Bailey join to share their thoughts on this most influential of 16-bit role-playing games.

MP3, 56.3 MB | 1:57:19 | Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes | Retronauts at PodcastOne

Music in this episode naturally comes from Final Fantasy IV for Super NES, but also from the game’s arranged album Celtic Moon. (You can buy both albums on iTunes, and presumably on other download services as well.)

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Bonus listener mail call: Nintendo menu music

This month’s Retronauts Radio will be a little different than the past two episodes, as new-old music releases this month have been a bit thin. Instead of covering a bunch of new LPs and fan remixes, we’ll be tackling a topic inspired by a few recent episodes — our Wii retrospective, and the Game Boy “Nintendo Power” flash cart episode Gintendo.

What these two things have in common, as do quite a number of other things*, is the fact that they feature completely fantastic incidental music as accompaniment to their system menus. Bob and I will be digging through the Nintendo archives to highlight and discuss the best of these old tunes this weekend. As usual, I’d like to include your thoughts on the topic, time allowing! So please drop me a line at jparish [at] retronauts.com before Sunday. What’s your favorite Nintendo system or menu tune? Who’s your favorite composer when it comes to such things? We want to know!

*Things that aren’t Switch.

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Retronauts Episode 88: Yoshi Games

Following his debut in 1990’s Super Mario World, Yoshi quickly evolved from a glorified power-up to a star that could carry games with his name alone. And in the character’s nearly 30 years of existence, Yoshi-based experiences have taken many forms–including one that stands as possibly the greatest platformer of all time. On this episode of Retronauts, join Bob Mackey, Jeremy Parish, Ray Barnholt, and Henry Gilbert as the crew tries to pin down Yoshi’s appeal and whether or not we should worry that he suddenly grew opposable thumbs.

Libsyn (1:38:29 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

Musical Selections

  • 21:11 – “BGM 03” Yoshi
  • 30:16 – “Action Type A” Yoshi’s Cookie
  • 047:30 – “Love is in the Air” Yoshi’s Story
  • 1:01:46 – “Athletic (DS Remic)” Yoshi Touch & Go
  • 1:11:46 – “Wildlands” Yoshi’s Island DS
  • 1:28:37 – “Knotty Knotty Windmill” Yoshi’s Woolly World
  • 1:36:06 – “The End” Yoshi’s Cookie

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Summoning more listener feedback, this time about MANLY games

As we close in on our next Retronauts recording marathon weekend, I’d like to collect your thoughts on my third and final episode topic. (In case you missed it, I’m also soliciting feedback on Final Fantasy V and Link’s Awakening… although boy howdy, we have no shortage of novel-length missives about those two topics already.) This third subject may be a bit more abstruse than its companion episodes, as has become our Retronauts focus mission — that is, maintaining a mix of both crowd-pleasing and abstract topics. I’m calling this final episode “BRO-totypes.”

If that name seems a little too dated for your tastes, you can make it a bit more current and go instead with “Intoxicating Masculinity.”

In short: The theme of this episode is to explore the sudden appearance of over-muscled beefcake dudes and tall, lanky gunmen in video games circa 1986-1990. Why did they suddenly become so popular with the near-simultaneous arrival of things like Rastan Saga, Golden Axe, and Castlevania? Why did manly action shift from hitting things with short-range objects (Rygar) to shooting them with guns (Vice: Project Doom) over the course of the latter ’80s?

In short, we’ll be talking about this:

Not this:

Any platform is relevant, and any game from 1985-1990 that eschews cartoonish cuteness in favor of a more serious sensibility (even if it’s over-the-top and cartoonish in a different way) is worth discussing. Share your favorite Manly Games of the late ’80s, or feel free to speculate on the nature of that sudden trend in gaming or its long-term influences! Write in to jparish [at] retronauts.com sometime in the next few days… and be sure to flex in a mirror at least once while composing your email.

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Speaking of Zelda: Mail call

The internet’s all abuzz with everyone’s thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, including this very site. But I have a secret to share with you: I’ve been unfaithful. I’ve been spending my time with two different Zelda games.

Next weekend we’ll be recording a deep-dive episode on one of the greatest, and in my opinion most unfairly overlooked, entries in the Zelda franchise: Link’s Awakening for Game Boy. I don’t know if I’ll be able to finish my replay of the game by then, but I’ve really been enjoying this revisit for the first time in nearly 20 years (since the Game Boy Color remake).

I know Link’s Awakening has plenty of die-hard fans out there, so we’d like to hear from you folks. We’ll try and read your missives on-air. Well, if you hate Link’s Awakening, you can also write. But I can’t promise your opinions won’t be loudly booed by some of the passionate fans of the game slated to put in an appearance on that episode….

Anyway, you know the drill: Shoot me an email no later than Friday March 3 to jparish [at] retronauts.com. Share your thoughts, whether they’re gushing or merely extremely positive. (Or, OK, even if they’re super grouchy.) Thanks!

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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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