Tag 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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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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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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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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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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Making the sausage, part 2

Well, this is it! Beginning today, Retronauts is my life, basically. Bob will continue to be an essential half of the show, of course, but now it’s on me to turn everything around it into a legitimate business. So why don’t we kick off this now-daily website by pulling back the curtain a little more? Transparency in media, of a sort.

The Saturday before last was recording day no. 1 for our most recent recording sessions, which should provide us with enough standard Retronauts episodes to keep things going through the end of March. Agenda for the day: Portable Castlevania games, Wii’s 10th anniversary, Final Fantasy IV.

Normally we begin recording at at noon, but for this session we had to start a few hours early due to an unavoidable afternoon scheduling conflict. That means both Bob and I had to head downtown from our respective origin points at about 8:30. That honestly probably worked out just as well, as it turned out to be a somewhat chaotic day due to the Women’s March. We record in studio-like space in San Francisco’s South of Market (SOMA) area, and both of us come in from the north. SOMA is separated from the north half of the city by Market Street, which runs from the Embarcadero in the inner bay halfway through the city to Twin Peaks. Market Street is a popular venue for big events like parades and protests… such as the Women’s March.

Bob lives in Berkeley, while I ventured out from San Francisco’s North Beach district. Depending on traffic, it can actually take a lot longer for me to make it downtown from an area due north of the studio than for Bob to make it in from another city on the other side of the bay. I decided to walk the two miles downtown to the studio to avoid traffic problems… though it turned out the marching and protests hadn’t begun that early in the day, so I needn’t have been so cautious. Bob took a very early cab in from Berkeley to account for potential traffic troubles and ended up sitting around in the studio for nearly an hour killing time before I made my way there for recording. Ah well.

We had plenty of time to set up the studio proper, at least. Setup isn’t too difficult; as you can see, it’s rather, uh, makeshift. Also, this is a pretty accurate view of the studio’s size.

We’ve referenced the Retronauts “vault” from time to time, and it’s not a euphemism. We literally record in a former bank vault. It’s kind of a weird situation, but: It’s an available space for weekend recordings, doesn’t cost too much, and affords us decent privacy. Usually. We did have to interrupt one episode this time because some random jackass wandering through the building evidently saw the “do not disturb” notice on the closed vault door and decided, “Wow, I should check that out.” Aside from witless snoopers and some occasional noise-bleed from events that sometimes take place in the shared workspace on Saturdays, though, it serves us well.

The main drawback to the studio is that it lacks air conditioning or ventilation. That’s good because it means we never have to worry about the oscillating hum of an HVAC system showing up on our recordings. But it’s bad because that tiny space gets warm and stale with up to four people and a bunch of computers crowded into it, especially since the building we use is located in one of San Francisco’s rare warm and sunny zones. We have to break once and hour or so to prevent dying, basically. And we’ve long since learned to bring special guests in at the beginning of the day; when Ron Gilbert sat in a while back, he arrived at the end of a long, warm day of recording and seemed less than enthusiastic about the lingering funk of the studio space. (Then again, maybe he was just trying to live up to his “Grumpy Gamer” nom de plume to avoid disappointing his fans.)

You may have noticed that our recording studio consists of sawhorses with a temporary table set across the top. That is correct. We pride Retronauts on being a professional-sounding show produced with professional quality, but this is definitely a case of the show itself being a proverbial “face for radio.” Speaking of faces for radio…

Clockwise from front: Me, Bob, Shane Bettenhausen. Talkin’ about Castlevania games, naturally.

We block out two hours for each recording session. Of course, our episodes typically clock in at 80-90 minutes; the rest of that time block goes into fine-tuning the setup, taking oxygen/potty breaks, and pauses for on-the-spot research when an unanticipated question pops up and we can’t answer it off the top of our heads. We always try to wrap 10-15 minutes early so that we can greet (and allow building access for) our revolving cast of guests for each subsequent episode, though that doesn’t always work out as planned — sometimes we record right up until the end of the block and leave our next guest standing around in front of a building in a somewhat bedraggled part of the city.

Thankfully, these session went smoothly and Bob was able to leave in time to make his next appointment. I had dinner with one of our guests and then walked the two miles back to North Beach in the rain — not really an ideal way to get home, but it was actually faster to walk since the entire city was in a state of gridlock. For some weird reason…

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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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Retronauts Episode 82: Bubble Bobble & friends

A few months ago, we summoned Ray Barnholt into the studio to help us sort out the mad entanglement of games and names and remakes and reissues and branding confusion that is Wonder Boy. Or Adventure Island. Or The Dynastic Hero. Whatever — take your pick. It’s all the same thing.

Well, we all survived the experience without our brains exploding all Scanners-style, so we have courageously reconvened in the studio to take on the next big messy project: Taito’s Bubble Bobble.

Of course, we’re giving away the plot right there, to a certain degree. This is Taito‘s Bubble Bobble, which automatically makes it less baffling than Wonder Boy and Adventure Island, whose name and lineage splits right there at day one depending on which company’s adaptation of the concept you’re talking about. Bubble Bobble is Taito’s baby (which means it’s been Square Enix’s baby for the past decade), so it at least has a sort of internal consistency going for it. That being said, this sprawling franchise of loosely connected platform games has suffered its share of overlapping titles and contradictory names, so there’s plenty to keep track of… and plenty of opportunity for your poor host (me) to screw something up.

This episode spans a wide gamut of games: Bubble Bobble, Parasol Stars, Rainbow Islands, Bubble Memories, The New Zealand Story, Liquid Kids, Don Doko Don, Bubble Symphony, a host of remakes, a bunch of games that claim to be Bubble Bobble 2, and a bunch more that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Honestly, it would probably be less trouble for you to just give it a listen:

The original Power Trio — Bob, Ray, and Jeremy — follow up their recent look at Wonder Boy to take on the next needlessly convoluted franchise: Taito’s Bubble Bobble (et al.). Confusion guaranteed for all!

Libsyn (1:59:16 | MP3 Download | SoundCloud)

And we didn’t even get into the Puzzle Bobble games… that’ll be next week. And eventually we’ll get a Falcom expert into the studio to go over the Dragon Slayer franchise with us and bring an end to this trilogy of nonsense.

Music from this episode comes from various Bubble Bobble games. Especially that theme. You know the one… or you will, once it’s drilled its way forever into your brain after its frequent appearance here.

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Listener mail solicitation time

Hello, everyone, and happy new year. I hope!

As you’ll hear in this week’s episode of the podcast (which goes live tomorrow), I’d like to integrate a listener mail segment into my episodes of Retronauts going forward. Bob has done a few mailbag roundups as full episodes, and I don’t see any need for that to change! However, I would like to get a little of that action on the shows I host as well. The way we used to do, back a very long time ago, at 1UP.

The next episode I will be recording will be the prototype episode for Retronauts East, and that should be happening within the next week or so. The topic at hand for this session: The TI-99/4A personal computer. Of course, I have already recorded a Micro episode on the TI-99/4A:

But this time we’ll be going into much greater depth on the subject, as befits a 90-minute episode versus one that tops out at 10. And, as I’ve mentioned, we’d like to field your questions on the topic! So please, shoot me an email at jparish [at] retronauts [dot] com sometime this week and we’ll do our best to read your thoughts (and answer your questions, when relevant). Thanks!

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Thank you + video feed

First, you’ll be downright chuffed to know that this week’s early access episode (wherein Bob and Ray and I discuss the mysteries of Bubble Bobble canon) is now available through Patreon.

Secondly, I’m chuffed to say that, thanks to a surge of Yuletide enthusiasm and generosity, we crossed over our “weekly full episode” tier last night. Over the coming month, leading up to February’s big change, we’ll be developing our new publishing plan, which includes the new monthly chapter of the show, Retronauts East. Tentatively, the East show will feature Benj Edwards of vintagecomputing.com and Ben Elgin, both of whom will bring a welcome dose of knowledge regarding classic computers, Atari games, and other bits of retrogame trivia that Bob and myself (who are largely, though not exclusively, Japanese console-centric in terms of our interests) have typically been a bit weak on. I’m excited about this new addition to the family! I will definitely need to pick some extra recording gear before we can start producing the new show, though.

Of course, this does mean that Retronauts Micro will be vanishing… unless we manage to hit our next funding goal, at which point it will resume its biweekly schedule. So, to recap, we’ve gone from two full and two Micro episodes per month to four full episodes, and our next stop will be four full episodes and two Micro. Hopefully we’ll get there soon.

I’ve also added a new link to the banner across the top of the site: an iTunes feed for Retronauts Chronicles videos. I always post my video projects several days early for video backers, but the iTunes feed also gets updates a day or two ahead of the videos going public via YouTube. This week’s early video on iTunes concerns Pilotwings for Super NES; next week will probably be Mach Rider, or maybe a prototype long-form retrospective on the SEGA Master System (monthly long-form videos being the next video Patreon goal, you see).

Yeah, we’re doing the hard sell here…. but hopefully the content makes it go down smooth.

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