This week in Retronauts, you shall be as gods

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Hi everyone! It’s a little something different this week for Retronauts Micro.

A few years ago, I revisited a game I deeply hated, Xenogears, with the intention of giving it a second chance. After pouring a heck of a lot of time into it, I came away not precisely changed, but with a deeper understanding of my issues with the game along with a deeper appreciation of what director Tetsuya Takahashi and his team were trying to accomplish with it. I wrote up my findings in a lengthy essay for my side project GameSpite Journal; rather than retread the same territory, I’ve adapted that old essay here into a condensed podcast script.

Music this episode, of course, comes from Xenogears, because what kind of idiot would create a podcast about Xenogears and not use Xenogears music?

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Jeremy explores his uncomfortable mixture of admiration for and frustration with Squaresoft’s almost-classic RPG for PlayStation, Xenogears. It’s a complicated episode for a complicated game.

Relive the days when Nintendo’s handheld announcements made you happy, not angry

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Look, we could argue at length about the point at which something qualifies for discussion under the banner of Retronauts. Some people still hold fast to the idea that anything after the NES launch doesn’t really count as old, an idea that had some merit back when I first saw it being bandied about at the dawn of console emulation circa 1996 but makes much less sense in 2015.

But whatever your personal definition, I won’t lie: Talking about the Nintendo DS as a classic game system is really stretching that definition to the breaking point. Not only is the system barely a decade old — practically brand new in this, the year Home Pong turns 40! — but you can still buy DS games and systems at retail if you look hard enough. They’re easier to find these days than most Amiibos.

In our defense (or rather, my defense, since I was the idiot who decided to put this episode together), the DS began life pretty much being retro. It looked so clunky and primitive next to Sony’s PSP… and yet, as we discuss in this episode, it absolutely spanked the poor PSP in short order, despite the odds being stacked almost hilariously against it. The success of the DS seems almost poignant when contrasted against the seeming tone-deafness with which Nintendo continues to approach its sequel, the 3DS, as seen in the wake of last week’s New 3DS XL announcement. It was a heady time, when games that looked a decade old could be the best-sellers of the generation. The DS was a weird system that should have failed horribly… but it didn’t, and we love it both for its tenacity and its vast and entertaining software library.

What is “retro”? This week, we test the limits by talking about a 10-year-old system whose games you can still buy at retail. But in fairness, the Nintendo DS was pretty much retro from the moment of its conception. Featuring Games Radar‘s Henry Gilbert and USgamer’s Kat Bailey.

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Music in this episode comes from the Dragon Quest IX Symphonic Suite album, because why not?

P.S., if you enjoy Retronauts, may we recommend USgamer’s podcast From US to You!? It’s a similar mix of people to Retronauts, and a similar low-key form of discussion, but it’s focused primarily on current topics rather than game history. Give it a listen.

Hark, the herald angels bellow, “Telenet and Valis is go!”

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You can tell it truly is a season of miracles, because we somehow managed — about five years after the fact! — to pull Shane Bettenhausen (and Christian Nutt) into the studio so they could gush about the Valis series for more than an hour. Bob and I are almost ghostlike presences this week, but somehow I don’t think anyone’s going to complain. This will probably be the first episode I’ve hosted in years that no one will complain about, because it’s a work of sincere enthusiasm by two passionate fans, tackles a niche series in exhaustive detail, and above all has the authenticity of a first-person account.

We are committed to making full Retronauts episodes a biweekly (that is, fortnightly) endeavor, but we’ve made an exception this week as a seasonal gift to everyone who’s supported us over these past couple of years while we fly solo, free of the succour (and funding) of corporate interests. This episode could never have come to pass without your help. You are cool.

You can read more about this episode at USgamer, but you can listen or download here. If you like.

Yes. It actually happened.

The next few episodes will be Micros while we take it relatively easy over the holiday break (and wrangle our schedule back into proper order), but we’ll be working on finishing up the last of our Kickstarter obligations while we’re away. And when we get back, we can all sort out what everyone wants for their first round of Patreon awards. Materialism!

Download links:

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And of course, the usual begging for iTunes reviews goes here. We’re never going to be the most popular show on iTunes, but they can’t get rid of us that easily.

What a horrible night to have Retronauts Pocket Episode 25

Our current run of Retronauts is winding down, and this marks my last stint in the hosting chair for this season. After venturing out into the terrifying world of unfamiliar UK games from the ’80s last week, I felt compelled to scurry back to the comforting embrace of the familiar this time around. Yes, it’s a return to that most abused and tired of classic Retronauts topics, Castlevania.

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Since all those old episodes have long since vanished into the ether, we figured, “Why not?” We’ll almost certainly be revisiting topics from the older, now-missing seasons of Retronauts in the next phase of the show. Consider this a sort of warning shot, I suppose.

Not really much to say here except that the music is from the Akumajou Dracula MIDI Collection album, and also thanks! It’s been an interesting and sometimes challenging run fielding your various topic requests, and I hope you’ve enjoyed what we’ve put together over the past year. Thank you for your support, and I’m sure you’ll hear me stambling my way through hosting duties again in the not-too-distant future.

A buffet of download options awaits you!

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Please subscribe to and review us on the iTunes Store because, eh, why not.
You can also listen right here on this very blog post if you prefer:

Retronauts Vol. III Episode 25: (Union) Jack in for 100 minutes of ’80s games history

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In the many years we’ve been doing Retronauts (the show is almost eligible to be its own topic at this point), our one big weakness has been our coverage of ’80s UK gaming. This has made many people angry and is widely considered… well, kind of inevitable, really. The British 8-bit microcomputer scene of the ’80s was very specific to Britain; outside of the Commodore 64, all the systems that defined the decade for England never really had much availability or impact beyond the English Channel. Though it would prove to be a fertile ground for major players who remain active today (Jeff Minter! Codemasters! DMA Designs aka Rockstar North! Psygnosis aka Sony Liverpool! Peter Molyneux! Rare!), the actual games that those legendary designers and studios created rarely left the UK.

The importance of the scene has made it a crucial gap for the show, but the insularity of the scene has made it difficult to speak to it with any authority, what with us being outsiders and all. So, for my final episode of this backer-supported season of Retronauts — for which you can thank one Mike Wasson, by the way — I could think of no more appropriate scheme than to rectify Retronauts’ greatest failing at long last by tracking down someone who actually lived in the UK and followed the gaming scene.

Handily, this required almost zero effort on my part, given that Bob and I happen to work with an icon of the ’80s UK gaming press: USgamer editor-at-large Jaz Rignall, who covered the 8-bit micro scene as a feisty teenager back in Thatcher’s England. We did the research for this one, but he fills in the generalities and hearsay with experience and perspective. The result is, I think, one of our best episodes ever (despite so, so many technical issues), a whirlwind tour of a fascinating but (to us) alien facet of game history. I hope you also enjoy it!

Thanks to Jaz for joining in (despite our scheduling the recording session during the World Cup final, sorry!) and to Mike for prompting us to shore up this particular weakness.

Fill your earholes through the delivery system of your choosing:

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You can listen right here if for some reason you are so inclined:

Links, curated with love for your edification:

Retronauts Pocket 22 and the joy of superfluous keypads

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Hi everyone, sorry this episode is a little late. I’ve had a busy week, not least of all because Bob just came aboard full time at USgamer, and I’ve been trying to whip him into shape. Dude is recalcitrance personified.

This latest Pocket episode revisits a topic that I’d actually forgotten we covered at all — the ColecoVision. But someone told me we did one of those, back in the olden times. After doing 150 of these shows, they start to blend together. In any case, I’m confident that this exploration of the ColecoVision is far more entertaining than any supposed forays into this topic that may or may not have happened once long ago.

We’ve already covered the NES and Atari 2600, and if I have my druthers this episode is simply another checkmark in our journey to jabbering about every classic 8-bit console. Stay tuned.

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And this is our obligatory spot where we beg for iTunes reviews.

Daaaarliiiing, it’s Retronauts Episode 22

Actually, despite the art and blog post title, this episode really has nothing to do with Lum or Urusei Yatsura. It’s just that we got sidetracked by a tangent about anime of the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, and lacking any particular cohesive theme for this episode I decided to use that brief distraction as an excuse to draw Lum. I believe this makes for a “deal with it” kind of situation. So sorry.

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This episode’s theme ended up being… well, let’s just say we played fast and loose. Kickstarter backer Jonathan Anderson wanted us to talk about misplaced nostalgia or nostalgia for things we never experienced, and we did our best to fulfill this mandate. I’m not promising we succeeded, but by god we gave it a shot.

Also of note: Long-time Retronauts contributor Chris Kohler finally makes his Vol. III debut. Huzzah!

This episode’s soundtrack selections come from Final Fantasy V, which we discussed somewhat at length near the beginning of the show. And my apologies if the sound quality isn’t perfect this week; I edited and assembled this podcast on a cross-country plane flight, so I can’t tell if the incessant whining sound was the plane engines or something in the podcast itself.

Anyway, please enjoy. Especially you, Jonathan Anderson.

Listen and download, fleshy mortals:

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Finally, please consider leaving us a nice review on iTunes Store, because it’s an easier (and less creepy) way to express your enthusiasm for Retronauts than hunting us down and hugging us.

This week in Retronauts, we go (Captain) Commando

We’ve had a string of NES-themed episodes based on backer requests lately, but this will be the last of them (at least for a while): A look into the NES years of Capcom.

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I have more to say about this topic (courtesy of a separate backer request), so I won’t belabor the details now. But basically, Capcom started out as an arcade developer with an internal division dedicated to creating Famicom/NES ports of their coin-op titles. In time, though, the home console division took on a life of its own, creating some of the finest original (and semi-original) titles of the 8-bit era.

Or at the official episode description says:

By our powers combined! (With the backing of Larry Froncek.) We delve into Capcom’s NES years, also known as the point at which a fledgling arcade developer became a world-class console powerhouse.

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We earnestly request the courtesy of an iTunes Review

The music this episode all comes from various Mega Man games, because, hey.

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

Retronauts backer Hugh Franck requested we record an episode focused on director Yasumi Matsuno. Coincidentally, this episode (which we scheduled ages ago) turned out to be quite timely, as Matsuno’s Kickstarter project — Unsung Story — just ended successfully a few days ago. And I couldn’t help but think of Final Fantasy XII (codirected by Matsuno) as I recently reviewed Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, which presents a much smaller and frankly less compelling take on FFXII‘s open-world concept. And so, here we go, fresh from our brains to your ears:

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Apparently it’s good if you leave us positive reviews on iTunes?

This episode turned out to be a less-than-daunting task, as all three of us are pretty keen on at least some of Matsuno’s games — as is guest host Kat Bailey. In fact, the real challenge here was keeping the discussion short enough that our guest didn’t have to bail on us midway through to make a prior engagement.

We cover Matsuno’s career from his days at Quest (and in fact discuss the origins of Quest) through Unsung Story. But since he’s had a pretty small output, it’s easy to enumerate the games at hand: Conquest of the Crystal Palace, Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Final Fantasy XII, MadWorld, and Crimson Shroud. See? That wasn’t so hard. Musical selections come from Final Fantasy Tactics by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata, though I believe I only spliced in Sakimoto compositions (sorry, Mr. Iwata. Please understand).

As a small caveat about this episode’s recording process: Not only was this episode unfortunately hosted by me, this is also the first episode I’ve hosted remotely. The rest of the crew was back in San Francisco in the studio while I recorded from home on the East Coast. Despite this, I think it all turned out more or less seamless thanks to my snipping out all the awkward pauses and stumbling cross-talk. Thankfully, remote hosting won’t happen too often. When we ran our Kickstarter campaign, we couldn’t have predicted the need to fly me cross-country every few weeks, so it wasn’t budgeted… but we’re contemplating workarounds. In the meantime, please nerd out on this discussion, because good lord is it nerdy.

Retronauts Pocket 13 Takes the “Retro” Thing a Little Too Far

Apologies, citizens, as we appear to have taken our remit as “retronauts” a little too seriously this time around and set the Wayback Machine so far that we don’t even really talk about video games. Instead, in another “Retronauts roots” episode, we talk about the precursors of video games — the various electromechanical amusements that established arcades as an entity before the idea of using room-sized computers to control the movement of a dot around a tiny phosphor screen ever existed. Think of this as the Silmarillion to episode 13‘s Lord of the Rings.

As such, the conversation is a bit more dry than would be ideal. Whereas the previous episode featured us talking passionately and at length about things with which we had personal experience in our formative years, the concept of a pre-video arcade exists strictly in a museum sense for us. Because we’re not 60 years old, and therefore can’t speak about these things with the sort of intimate familiarity with which we went delved into classic video arcade games. Still, there’s some learnin’ to be had.

And my apologies if the theme sounds a little weird. I was trying to go for a cracklin’ 78rpm sound, as if “His Master’s Voice” was secretly playing Anamanaguchi, but I’m not sure it quite worked out. Oh well! Put on your carny jacket and bark at passersby as you listen to us poke and prod at video game prehistory.

Incidentally, this episode marks the halfway point of our Kickstarter-funded podcast journey. Crazy.

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It’s the most retro Retronauts ever as we look at the roots of video games in the form of pre-video arcade games. Ski-ball! Kinetoscopes! Electromechanical target galleries! Even WE aren’t this old. Sam Claiborn joins Jeremy, Ray, and Bob.

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