Category Archives: Retronauts

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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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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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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The most interesting thing in Yuzo Koshiro’s office

Pretty much any game development studio (or publisher, or localization company) has somewhere in the public-facing portion of its offices a showcase of their projects. Depending on the company in question, this showcase may consist of a single shelf, or it can span an entire wall.

Today I was fortunate enough to interview legendary game composer Yuzo Koshiro for a second time, meeting up with him at the headquarters of his development studio Ancient. Ancient’s obligatory showcase boasts an impressive assortment of CDs (containing Koshiro’s work through the years) and a variety of games (some of which Ancient developed, and most of which Koshiro composed for). Nothing too surprising there, though my eyes did light up at the sight of The Scheme tucked away on the bottom shelf — I’d never heard of that particular work until putting together last week’s Game Boy World episode, but it caught my attention for being a PC88-based proto-Metroidvania action game. And now, here it was, in the flesh: The first game Koshiro composed for after leaving Nihon Falcom in the late ’80s.

That wasn’t the most unusual thing in Ancient’s display case, though. This was:

It’s a tape cassette case whose label claimed to contain a game… for Windows 7, 8, and 10. This was something to puzzle over while waiting for Koshiro to arrive at the interview — what could this possibly be? What kind of modern Windows software could you possibly store on a tape cassette!?

As it turns out, none whatsoever. In Koshiro’s words, this is a “small joke”: A mock-up for a physical release of a game released to Steam last year under the name of Cosmic Cavern 3671. Koshiro’s friend produced it, and he himself composed the music for it. Cavern is actually a remake of an old Japanese PC game called Chitei Saidai no Sakusen, which you can read about at Hardcore Gaming 101; despite debuting in 1980, it bears an uncanny resemblance to 1982’s Dig Dug. To commemorate the recent Steam remake for Ancient’s display case, Koshiro says a friend of his put together a fake cassette tape of the game, with a label designed to resemble what an MZ-80 tape release would look like in this day and age. It’s a pretty interesting little bit of video game ephemera!

(Of course, you can expect more about my meeting Koshiro in the coming weeks.)

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Farewell, my Conker buyin’

The retro gaming’ collector’s bubble has definitely gone global. Prices on classic games around Tokyo have gone way up since the last time I was here, back in Sept. 2015. I’m seeing retro titles that have doubled in price, some that have even tripled. So much for Japan as a last bastion for cheap, interesting, classic gaming finds…!

Of all the outlandish price explosions I’ve seen in the brief time I’ve been in Japan, though, none compares to the skyrocketing costs of game music CDs. It makes me feel a lot better about the relatively small amount of money I’ve sunk into game vinyl over the past year. Check out these CDs, which you wouldn’t think would be particularly spendy:

The yen-to-dollar exchange rate currently stands at 112:1, meaning that Donkey Kong Country 2 CD is selling for slightly more than $1400. No, I didn’t forget a decimal point. That is fourteen-hundred American dollars. These four CDs here are the costliest game music collections I saw today at the Nakano Broadway mall (which contains about half a dozen shops that sell retrogames and related goods), and they all have one thing in common: They’re all for Rare-developed games. Given the correlation between scarcity and price on collector’s goods, you have wonder if perhaps someone misunderstood these “Rare CDs” as “rare CDs” and priced them accordingly. Or it could just be that someone really likes David Wise. A lot. I mean, yeah, he’s great, but…

Anyway, the completely bonkers pricing on vintage games in my old cart-pilfering haunts means this is going to be a marvelously inexpensive trip to Japan. Most interesting games have priced themselves beyond the limits of what I consider reasonable, at least here in Tokyo.

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Retronauts episode 85: The golden days of Activision

Hi everyone, I’ve landed in Tokyo and settled in for the night after being awake for about 26 hours straight. Please forgive me if I keep this entry short and to the point, because at this point I’m not entirely certainly I’m not hallucinating everything.

This week’s episode looks back to 1979 and the birth of Activision, a company that had a profound impact on the business of video games. Without Activision, the industry would look very, very different. A perfect storm of great timing, strong financial backing, and top-flight programming and game design came together in the form of this company to prove that third-party publishing could be a viable and valuable video game business model. Steve Lin and Jaz Rignall join us to chronicle the circumstances that led to Activision’s creation, the games they produced, and the great successes they had until their business model began to fizzle… which is to say, this show covers Activision until it became Mediagenic. (For more on that, I highly recommend the Activision/Infocom/Mediagenic retrospectives at The Digitial Antiquarian — they were enormously valuable as we planned this podcast!)

Steve Lin and Jaz Rignall join Jeremy and Bob again to look back at one of the most important game creators of all time: Activision, the company that established the concept of third parties.

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

As for musical interludes this time… well, there wasn’t really much I could pull in terms of music from Activision’s Atari 2600 era. Instead, I looked to the late ’80s for some tasty FM synth tunes. This episode’s music selections come from Shanghai, Shanghai II: The Dragon’s Eye, and Ghostbusters for Genesis. Enjoy!

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Oops, an unannounced Gintendo

Yesterday afternoon we recorded the first episode of Retronauts East, which I desperately hope turns out well — there’s a lot of fine-tuning that needs to happen with our recording setup, so the sound quality could turn out to be kind of awful. I guess we’ll find out! Once we wrapped the recording session, I decided to celebrate the show’s eastward expansion by launching an impromptu and unannounced Gintendo live stream of Castlevania:

Incredibly enough, it went remarkably well. Shockingly well, actually. I aced the two big sticking-point battles on my first go (skip ahead to 16:30 if you want to see the most impressive showing I’ve ever put up versus Frankenstein’s Monster and Igor). Then… the second half of the stream consists of my nerve breaking and me failing abysmally against Dracula’s stage and the final battle, over and over again. It was a pretty solid first half, though! I guess you could blame the gin (Reisetbauer Blue, if you’re curious).

Anyway, it’s here if you’d like to watch it.

I head out of town for a week on Sunday, so I won’t be able to host a normal Gintendo while I’m abroad. Although… I guess there’s technically nothing stopping me from taking along, say, the Retro USB AVS? And an Elgato device? And maybe picking up some random retro Famicom games and playing them? Hmm. If nothing else, I might try and stream a stroll through Akihabara or something, assuming it won’t devastate my international data plan. And I definitely will be posting all throughout next week on my game-shopping and developer-interviewing exploits in Tokyo, so you can at least look forward to that.

(Promo art by Rusty Shackles)

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Come see us live at: Midwest Gaming Classic!

As you know! Part of our Patreon commitment to you, the patrons of the Retronauts podcast, is that we will attend three classic gaming events per year and present a panel in front of a live studio audience. We have officially locked down our first such event for 2017, and it will be, once again, the Midwest Gaming Classic. We had a great time at MGC 2016 and figured, “Why not go again?”

See, here we were last year, bookending our special guests:

(Photo swiped from Dylan Cornelius)

So, if you happen to be attending MGC this year (that’s April 7-9 in Milwaukee, WI), be sure to sit in for our panel. I believe we’ll be presenting on Saturday afternoon. Bob and I will be there, along with two completely different special guests whose identities we’ll announce soon. I guess I could announce them now, but where’s the mystery in that, I ask ya?

Anyway, please look forward to it. We hope to see you there. Details to follow!

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