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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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:

Retronauts 16 cover

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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.

Retronauts 13 Pocket cover

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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Retronauts Vol. III Episode 10 Is 100% Duty-free

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Hey kids, it’s your ol’ pal Jeremy, back for more Retronauts fun. Today’s episode was actually recorded a couple of months ago. Remember when all the Laser Time folks showed up on an episode and I didn’t? That’s because I was in Japan, making this show happen. There’s a very good reason for the exotic locale: One of our Kickstarter backers who supported the show at the “co-host an episode” level, Dan Feit, lives in Japan. He pitched in assuming he’d never actually be able to make good on his pledge, but since I was over in Japan for Tokyo Game Show, we figured “Well, what the heck?”

Huge thanks to our friends at 8-4 Ltd. (hosts of the 8-4 Play podcast!) for lending us space, equipment, and opinions to make this happen.

So what did we discuss while we were in Japan? Well, Japan. Specifically, I put the question to everyone: What was the golden age of Japanese games? Each contributor had a different response, and the result was a pretty interesting (if overly nostalgic) conversation. Responses range from the mid ’80s to the late ’90s; sadly, no one wanted to go to bat for the past couple of console generations.

Taking part in this merry discussion was… a whole lot of people, actually. Obviously you have myself and Dan, as well as Mark MacDonald and John Ricciardi of 8-4. Also present was long-time contributor Kat Bailey as well as long-time Friend of Retronauts and all-around fashion plate Kyle McLain. And, finally, quite by surprise, former Retronauts regular Shane Bettenhausen happened to be in the office when we were recording and jumped in to share his opinions after a lengthy exile from podcasting.

Unfortunately I have to apologize up front for the uneven sound quality. We had seven people sharing three microphones, and the guy who usually does the 8-4 Play sound setup wasn’t there to get things working for us. Kat and I were also running late due to crowded trains, so we had to cut our session short. I’ve done what I can to balance out the audio, but there’s no avoiding the fact that some of the sound was clipped because I hadn’t set up the unfamiliar sound board correctly. And need I mention the crosstalk that inevitably happens with more than four people on the mike (especially when certain among us are so garrulous)? So, apologies again. Hopefully you’ll find the content of this episode sufficient to compensate for the imperfect sound quality.

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Retronauts Pocket Episode 7 May or May Not Have Died for Your Sins

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Sorry, everyone — this is a sort of hit-and-run posting, as I’m currently in the final stages of packing up my life into shipping containers to relocate to the east coast. But I still managed to find time to assemble Retronauts Pocket Episode 7, which serves as an answer to Kickstarter backer Daniel Worthington’s request to talk about Illusion of Gaia. Since one Super NES action-RPG isn’t quite enough to fill an entire episode, we delve into the overall catalog of Gaia‘s developer, Quintet. Sadly, the ambition I mentioned here (to track down and talk to some Quintet folks at TGS) didn’t pan out, though I did hear an explanation of why the studio is so elusive. However, that’s someone else’s story to tell, so I won’t talk about it here. Suffice to say… getting an inside track on Quintet is going to be tough.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this discussion. I can’t actually tell if this episode is any good or not, but that’s probably just because my entire brain is in “oh god the shippers are coming in 12 hours” panic mode. So… if I’ve led a terrible discussion, I apologize. Especially to you, Daniel Worthington. If you hate this show you paid for, I’ll make it up to you somehow. I do feel good about the episode cover art, though, so at least that’s something…?

Description: By request of backer Daniel Worthington, Bob, Ray, and Jeremy delve into the history of 16-bit RPG masters Quintet… or at least as much history as we can dig up. Those guys were pretty mysterious.

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Musical inclusions this episode:

  • 7:22 – Actraiser “Fillmore”
  • 18:01 – SoulBlazer “Dr. Leo’s Paintings”
  • 26:23 – Illusion of Gaia “Sky Gardens”
  • 37:51 – Terranigma “Zue”
  • 47:11 – Actraiser Symphonic Suite “Bloodpool/Cassandora”

Rock Out to Retronauts Episode 7

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People still talk about how much they liked the game music history episode of Retronauts we did many many years ago under the 1UP aegis and have asked many times for us to do another… and, as it happens, James Eldred of Lost Turntable put some Kickstarter backer money on the table to co-host an episode of the show. Since James specializes in music preservation with a strong interest in video games (check out some of the cool rarities on his site), it seemed natural for us to revisit the game music topic. This episode is much lengthier than the old one, exploring the evolution of music in games… and I made a conspicuous effort to avoid covering too much of the same ground as in the old show.

Retronauts backer James Eldred of LostTurntable.com joins Jeremy, Bob, and Ray to talk about the highs and lows of the history of video game music in this nearly two-hour ramblefest.

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This episode’s musical inclusions:

  • 0:05 – Retronauts Vol. III Main Theme
  • 15:01 – Snafu (MIDI arrangement)
  • 17:34 – Rally-X
  • 21:04 – Gentle Giant “Time to Kill”
  • 20:18 – Silver Surfer “Level 1″
  • 31:52 – Bionic Commando “Tune 5″ (C64 version)
  • 37:54 – Psycho Solder “Main Theme” (cassette version)
  • 45:12 – Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance “Successor of Fate”
  • 50:27 – Castlevania: Portrait of Ruin “Invitation of a Crazed Moon”
  • 54:27 – Techno Cop “Title Theme”
  • 1:14:48 – Symphony of the Night “Unused Track”
  • 1:16:28 – Vib-ribbon “Universal Dance”
  • 1:20:45 – Spyro the Dragon “Alpine Ridge”
  • 1:34:26 – Tempest 2000 “Constructive Demolition”
  • 1:38:23 – Streets of Rage 2 “Back to the Industry”
  • 1:40:27 – Chrono Trigger: The Brink of Time “Chrono Trigger”
  • 1:42:24 – Sexy Parodius “Pastoral March”
  • 1:44:53 – Evergrace “Castle of Regression”
  • 1:47:45 – Chase H.Q. “Main Theme Flexidisc Remix”
  • 1:51:20 – Castlevania: Dracula Perfect Battle Selection “Beginning”

You’ll have to excuse the sound quality of the Snafu sound embed — I wasn’t able to get original game audio, so I had to convert a MIDI recreation, which doesn’t sound authentic. The Athena song isn’t the one ripped from the game but rather the version that appeared on a cassette tape pack-in with the Japanese Famicom release of the game. And as for Gentle Giant… well, that prog rock episode happened for a reason, you know?

Retronauts Pocket Episode 4

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Hey folks, here’s today’s episode. Pardon this post’s brevity, but real life calls and I’m en route to do important day-job things in a few minutes.

Episode 4 of Retronauts Pocket brings to bear the long-awaited Kickstarter backer requests. In this case, a fine fellow by the name of Dave Epp has asked us to speak about Ultima IV. Conveniently, while neither guest Scott Sharkey nor I have played the game in a dog’s age, we’re both well aware of its innovations and importance — as are fellow co-hosts Bob Mackey and Ray Barnholt. So kick back for 45 minutes and listen to us speak about this seminal RPG and how it’s influenced so many games since its debut.

By the way, there’s no music in this episode. People sometimes complain about the use of music to break up different portions of the conversation, so I thought I’d try an episode without. Spoilers: I kind of hate it and won’t be doing it again. Sorry, haters!

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Next week: More talk of old video games! More special guests! But fortunately you won’t have to listen to me as lead host. See, there is a merciful and just god after all.

Thanks again to Dave Epp and all our Kickstarter backers!

Retronauts Vol. III Episode 4 – Atari

Brace your face for Episode 4, kids. Because it’s here.

Retronauts 4 cover

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As you can see from the fancy cover image, this week’s show revolves around the essential, world-shaking, first major console ever made: The Atari 2600. And to make sure we did the topic justice, we dragged 1UP alumnus Scott Sharkey all the way from his modest hovel in the Nevada desert, where he’s lived the past couple of decades waiting for his friend Anakin’s son to finally reach adulthood. Sharkey’s sarcastic familiarity with key Atari-era figures like Nolan Bushnell and Ralph Baer knows no equal. He was the only choice that made sense.

This episode doesn’t focus on Atari’s games so much as its overall business and history. It’s really meant to be the companion piece to Vol. III Episode 1, so you may perhaps wish to give that one a listen before diving into this episode.

This week’s host is-a me, Jeremy Parish. Bob and Ray also appear, of course, and do a fine job of providing a nice, sensible midpoint between my boringness and Sharkey’s sniping. This week’s soundtrack selections all consist of pieces from Jake “virt” Kaufman’s Shantae soundtrack for Game Boy Color, a damn fine piece of chiptuning that happens to be relevant since we spend a while this episode discussing that game’s Virtual Console release. And man, there is just no Atari 2600 music I would want to splice in for interludes. Oh, there’s also an actual song spliced in along the way, but I’ll let you get to that in the natural course of things.

Hopefully, you’ll enjoy Sharkey’s return as much as we did! We’ll try to have him on again sometime. And please let us know if there are any guest hosts you’d like for us to go after — we’re always looking for a fourth seat.

Next time: Our first backer-requested episode topic.

It’s… Retronauts Pocket Episode 1

Well, hello, there! Welcome back, my friend, to the show that never ends. Or at least won’t end for another year, anyway.

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As you may recall from a few months back, the terms of our Kickstarter venture were thus: If we could hit a certain stretch goal, we would not only record 26 biweekly episodes of Retronauts over the next year, we’d also fill in the interstices between those shows with 26 “mini” episodes. Since we blew past most of our stretch goals in very little time, well, here we are. Our very first mini episode. We’re calling the smaller shows “Retronauts Pocket” to help distinguish them from the standard episodes (credit to Ray for coming up with the name), but don’t worry: They’ll all be on the same feed, and the ID3 tags will help keep the 52 total episodes nice and sequential in your music app of choice.

Retronauts Pocket differs from the standard episode template, somewhat. Or at least that’s my intention. I’ve been interested in exploring the things that influence games, from pinball machines to Star Wars, and so the Pocket episodes I put together (or at least the ones whose topic isn’t determined by a Kickstarter backer) will not be so much about games as about the media and other concepts that influence them.

Since we had a straight-up music expert on hand for this first episode — Chrontendo‘s Dr. Sparkle, whom you may recall from last week’s episode — I decided to talk about rock music’s influence on games. Specifically, progressive rock. What follows is a 45-minute conversation that sometimes touches on games, but is really more about the nature of something that was hugely influential on a lot of key game composers, with plenty of fair-use sound clips to provide context.

Retronauts Pocket Episode 1 (July 8, 2013): Gaming Roots – Progressive Rock

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Since music plays such a key role in this episode, here’s a breakdown of the tunes you hear. In case you want to look them up, or possibly burn every copy of the album in question.

  • 5:06 – Jon & Vangelis “The Friends of Mr. Cairo”
  • 6:00 – Rick Wakeman “Catherine of Aragon”
  • 8:06 – Pink Floyd “Money”
  • 8:55 – Pink Floyd “Astronomy Domine”
  • 11:29 – Can “Halleluwah”
  • 12:59 – Mike Oldfield “Tubular Bells”
  • 15:25 – King Crimson “Discipline”
  • 17:41 – Gentle Giant “Runaway”
  • 20:45 – David Bowie “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars”
  • 22:45 – Dream Theater “Pull Me Under”
  • 27:13 – The Nice “America”
  • 31:04 – Norihiko Hibino “Metal Gear Solid 3 – Lady Luck Revisited”
  • 34:30 – Nobuo Uematsu “Final Fantasy VI – Dancing Mad”
  • 35:42 – Emerson Lake & Palmer “The Three Fates”
  • 39:10 – Genesis “Watcher of the Skies”
  • 42:35 – Yellow Magic Orchestra “Rydeen”
  • 44:25 – Gong “You Can’t Kill Me”

I realize this isn’t your typical episode of Retronauts, but that was kind of the point. If you hate it, please focus your fury on me as this is all my doing. And don’t worry, we’ll be back to the old-fashioned format next week when Bob takes the driver’s seat.

P.S. We’re still working on the iTunes thing. Apple moves at its own pace, because they’re richer than Croesus. But you can still goof around with the show’s RSS feed like you did last week.

It’s here: Retronauts Vol. III Episode 1

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You pined for it, you paid for it, you’ve waited for it, and now the fruits upon the tree of our labor have ripened at last for you to pluck and savor. What I’m saying is that the first new episode of the Retronauts podcast is here. Acquire it through the delivery method of your preference:

Libsyn (1:27:56 | MP3 | 60.4 MB) | SoundCloud | YouTube (coming soon)

We’ll have an iTunes feed soon, but since we can’t use the old feed it’s a chicken-and-egg situation: We have to have episodes before Apple will list them. In the meantime, you can add the show yourself by going to iTunes’ File menu (the Advanced menu in pre-11 versions), selecting Subscribe to Podcast… and pasting in our Libsyn URL (http://retronauts.libsyn.com/rss). But basically, we ask that you be patient on the iTunes front; it moves a bit slowly, and the system is out of our hands.

Or you could just listen to it here, I guess.

This episode’s description:

“We’re back! By the power of crowdfunding! Retronauts launches a new season by marking the 30th anniversary of three crucial Japanese consoles: Famicom, SG-1000, and MSX. Featuring the voice of Chrontendo‘s Dr. Sparkle and a lovely new musical theme.”

This episode’s breakdown:

  • 0:00 | Introduction (feat. the new Retronauts theme by Anamanaguchi)
  • 6:31 | Musical Interlude: Final Fantasy V “Ahead on Our Way” (Nobuo Uematsu)
  • 7: 07 | Virtual Console lamentations celebrations
  • 20:40 | Musical Interlude: Balloon Fight theme (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)
  • 21: 15 | Classic revivals: Jajamaru-kun and Umihara Kawase
  • 27:52 | Musical Interlude: Umihara Kawase “Sea” (Shinji Tachikawa)
  • 28:28 | July 1983: The birth of Japanese console gaming
  • 59:15 | Musical Interlude: Faxanadu “title” (Jun Chikuma)
  • 59:44 | July 1983 continued
  • 1:15:23 | Musical Interlude: Hudson’s Adventure Island “Wild Plains” (Jun Chikuma)
  • 1:15:54 | Damn kids, get off our lawns!
  • 1:27:24 | Musical Outro: Wrecking Crew “title” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

Our new season (that’s what we’re calling this year’s worth of Kickstarted episodes, because there’s no cliché like a well-worn cliché) should largely be business as usual. Four people sit in a room and talk about old video games. However, we should bring to light a few differences of note.

Probably the biggest difference — one you won’t notice until our second episode — is that the host seat is now a rotating duty. I’m the lead voice this week, but our second episode will feature the vocal talents of M.C. Bob, and the third episode will see Ray as host (etc.). We’ve already recorded episode two (as well as the first two “mini” episodes, because we’re taking our commitment to maintain a weekly release schedule very seriously; this is a benefit of having a show run by three aggressively Type-A personalities driven by a nagging sense of guilt and duty) and already I can see the difference in Bob’s extremely meticulous approach to organizing a show and my looser, more extemporaneous style. Also, as promised, our 26 biweekly “main” episodes will be 60-to-90-minute productions right in line with the old podcasts (which, I should note, can still be gathered from 1UP.com for as long as Ziff-Davis leaves it up and running), while the “mini” episodes on off weeks will be shorter and more unusual. Our hope is that you’ll like some of them, if not all.

Anyway, back to this episode: You should regard this episode as a complement to the retrospective series I’ve been running over at my new gig, USgamer.net. They both cover the same material — namely, the near-simultaneous launch of three different game systems in July of 1983. As the U.S. console market was imploding, the Japanese market was only beginning to take shape, and the machines that launched in Japan that month would make an impact whose effects we still feel to this day. The prime mover of July 1983, of course, was the Nintendo Famicom (which would come to the U.S. as the NES) — but everyone always celebrates the debut of the Famicom. For this episode (and the articles on USgamer), I wanted to paint a bigger picture and put the Famicom’s launch into the perspective of its time by looking at its contemporary competition, the state of Japanese home gaming before its arrival, and why things shook out differently in Japan than the U.S. Hopefully this podcast will help shed a little light on the way things were, even if only to better appreciate the significance of what Nintendo managed to accomplish.

And, of course, you should also look to the first few episodes of our gracious guest host’s long-running Chrontendo project to get a sense of just what gaming was like in the summer of 1983. Enjoy the show, and happy listening/reading/viewing!

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