Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Super Robot Wars Alpha.

Fat's in Seattle & called me to inform me he just dropped $100 on the Japanese import of Super Robot Wars Alpha for the Dreamcast (& the boot disk to trick his DC into thinkin' its Japanese). This is the version w/ mecha from 10 of the Gundam series &/or movies, Evangelion, Mazinger, Getter Robo, & Macross. WOW!!

I immediately started looking for screen shots & was FLOORED by the youtube snippets I found. The opening sequence, for example...

From Macross, the attacks of Roy Focker's veritech variable fighter! Yay!

The real gem. Eva units 00, 01, & 02. Check out how music, voicework, & actual cell animation from the series is worked into the game animation. Even a special joint attack derived from my fav episode: Both of You, Dance Like You Want to Win!


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Plastic Forms of Evangelion.

Stikfas is moving into the licensed figure arena. Of especial note: Neon Genesis Evangelion figures!!

I've seen the Evangelion series twice, 1st on loaned VHS tapes1, 2nd on my own set of DVDs. I sincerely doubt I will ever watch it again. By contrast I watch an occasional Patlabor episode or three quite regularly. I'm not dissing Eva but its not like you can just que up a random episode & enjoy.


1 Said VHS tapes were on loan from a compatriot who in turn had the tape on loan from someone else. If I recall, said person also was fond, back in the day, of buying japanimation VHS cassettes from Suncoast Video at the mall, copying them, putting the copy in the original box, re-shrinkwrapping it & then returning it & start the whole process over again w/ another, new tape (this is when a copy of Akira ran you $30). I envision some bookshelf in the 'burbs filled w/ anime tapes w/o boxes.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

sounds of the city all around & the music, the new licks you found

Reviewiera pulled 1 of its drunken state-of-the-NBA ad hoc committee sessions the other nite. Between eating a plate of nachos I really didn't need to ingest, & Fat consistently getting his Beam overpoured, the results were typically microcosmic & longue duree. Muse willing, Fat will be submitting the thesis he came away w/ from the evening's discourse, but my kernal of psuedo-wisdom concerned an overarching seismic shift in the League & its fandom.

The launchpad was my earlier revelation correlating the adulation of Rasheed Wallace by many Portland fans to Portland's "Little Beirut" identity tag in the late '90s & early aughties1. This realization is truthfully as close as I've ever come to actually positing a tangible correlation between a sports franchise & its fanbase in terms of a city's self-identity, a supposition usually easily proved bunk2. Fat brought up the point that starting in, say, '99 or '00, there were alot of NBA fans who basically focused thier energies around certain individual players, w/ little concern for the teams or indeed the course & saga of the season & the L as a whole. Two of those players were definitely Rasheed Wallace & Allen Iverson, both of which produced defining streches of thier careers in that period3. Chatting about the Rasheed-Little Beirut thing, & then the Rasheed-Iverson idolization years, I suddenly gleened a potentially macro-cosmic arch.

(1) Rabid homerism was essentially killed in the '90s when the Jordan Bulls won 6 championships in 8 years. Isn't there a statistic out there that something like 60% of Americans called themselves Bulls' fans in '98, or something along those lines? W/ the Bulls so dominant, I beleive that casual fans became apathetic to the plight & drudgery of thier local teams.

(2) In the post-Jordan hangover we were subjected to a bunch of Spurs & Lakers championships for 5 years, while the east was pathetically weak. Essentially, pulling for the local team remained a rather dire & depressing option. The better option, then, was to identify a handful of individual players (or, indeed, a player or two on almost every team) which you simply "liked," for whatever reason. When the Playoffs rolled around, you could peruse the bracket & say "I hope teams X, Y, & Z advance, because I like so-&-so on X," & so forth. You had little expectation of any of those teams actually achieving anything in terms of a run, since we all knew that every team was essentially a sacrificial offering to the Lakers or Spurs.

Othella Harrington!!!!
(3) Which brings us into the present-day, notably, the "trend" that kicked off in '04-'05, the year of Sonics & Suns, the class of '04. On opening night this year, Charles Barkley opined that "there are no more doormats in the NBA," & I, for one, agree w/ him. The past futility of following the local franchise hasn't so much ended, as perhaps every franchise may simply be more resplendent than they once were. Its okay to like bad teams again, because we have learned to appreciate them in different ways.4

Verily, the Empire is Fallen, Long Live the Provinces!!


1 Can Anyone Tell Me, Who is the Grand Poobah 'Round Here?
2 Especially w/ the frequency of free agent movement & trades in modern sports - its increasingly rare for a particular player, much less 12 of them, to come to "represent" thier team's city symbolically. If anything, fandom oft is little more than allegiance to a certain color scheme on a uniform. However, I'm not sure you can leave it at that, either. A sports franchise's uniform can easily be conceived of as city's flag or coat-of-arms in terms of a city's outward representation of itself to the rest of the nation. Portland fans always have & always will hate the Lakers, & honestly this might be more of a reflection of opinion about Los Angeles than about basketball. Similar currents used to be detected regarding the Jazz. By contrast no one seems to have a problem with Sacramento or Golden State.
3 In Wallace's case, playing his part in the Dunleavy Blazers reaching the Western Conf. Finals in '99 & '00, and then setting that record for techs. All the while some analysts were going so far as to call him the best PF in the L overall , in a time when the West was the Conference of the Power Forwards (Webber, Duncan, McDyess, Abdur-Rahim, Garnett). I have this distinct of memory of someone wearing a Rasheed Wallace t-shirt that featured a huge air-brushed print of 'Sheed, semi-comic book , semi-characteriture style, on the back. It was striking since it had been clearly created by someone w/ some semblance of artistic skill, produced, & sold - presumably in quantities large enough to justify the exercise. Iverson, of course, had that phenomenal lighting strike of a year in 2001, winning MVP & taking the 76ers to the Finals.
4 This point is more Fat's than mine, but this New Love owes huge tips of the hat to Simmons & Free Darko. Although neither really told me anything new, per se, both were intrumental in articulating ways of thinking about, & thusly positing different ways of watching, basketball. They have illustrated to us that its okay to love basketball, because it tells us something about ourselves, & its not completely retarded to assert that an interest in the travails of, say, Carmelo Anthony, somehow asserts something about oneself as a person. Say what you will about Simmons, but can you really deny that the dude's seeded a more vested, deeper love of the L in fans, & especially new fans, in the last five years? FreeDarko does the same, albeit at a more extrapolated level.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Clockwork Tides

We've been busy manning the pumps. I was vaguely aware the Reviewiera offices were on top of the old east-side frog pond, but we didn't know there was a mole-man-esque underground lake below the sub-basement.

Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation is done, & I did done save the entire planet. The thrwarting of an alien invasion via a massively enjoyable turn-based strategy game exclusively featuring giant mecha was mainly accomplished on a train-trip to San Francisco and back. Truthfully, I was stuck on one damn mission the entire trip down, then broke through & rolled through a fistful of missions, handing out mecha-sized servings of mashed potato ass-kicking.

Especially noteworthy is the final 3 or 4 missions, a stage-by-stage final all-out assault on the Balmarian artificial planet, the White Star. Praiseworthy, if only because, having slogged through & figured out real sticky missions (like the aforementioned Portland-to-San Francisco exercise in frustration), the final missions were at-once competitive & yet easy at the same time.1

The general knock against Taisen in the reviewing-field is that in Japan the franchise frequently features mechs from tv series such as Evangelion, Gundam, and Getter Robo. Taisen is a product of Banpresto, a subsidiary of almighty BANDAI, which in turns owns the rights to the extensive Gundam franchise, so obtaining the licensing rights to those comes as little surprise. Its perhaps a penchant of Japanese marketing that other companies seem to have little problem allowing thier products to be pitched against each other in a video game made by a third-party. Obtaining these licenses for an American release of a Taisen game proved difficlt, which is why Banpresto went w/ the Original Generation thing. Even though the mecha involved look holy-hell a lot like mecha from the Gundam franchise, it turns out every single one of them is an original creation by the Banpresto team - hence, no licensing required.

The real consequence of completing Taisen is I can move on to Pokemon: FireRed Version. This may just be the best strategy turn-based semi-RPG I've ever laid thumbs on.

I don't know where to start. From the "collect 'em all" element, to the good ol' fashioned leveling-up process, to the "I wonder what this pokemon looks like when it evolves?", to the color-coded world ("Vermillion City"), to the strange pride & puffing-out-of-the-chest I get from winning a badge from a gym leader. Good, great video game fun.

And, of course, the NBA is underway. I stick to my best-case/worst-case scenario for the TrailBlazers: at best, they're basically last year's New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, right down to the ROY in Roy & being in the playoff race (mathamatically). Worst case scenario is a record like last years, maybe 5 more wins, although the product on the floor will be infinitely more pleasant to watch.

And Zach! He really is in great shape, & I'm enjoying a summer's worth of dumbasses who called for his departure, claiming the team could go nowhere w/ him, having to suddenly & abruptly go silent (dicks).

My favorite observation thus far, however, is that in a few games the patently bullshit preseason "what to look fors" which stated this team would miss "intangible" players Blake & Khrypha were put to rest. Both those players (esp. Blake) were touted last season as guys who-don't-fill-up-a-stat-sheet-but-do-a-lot-of-little-things-on-the-floor. Sorry but don't you usually only need ONE of those guys? And aren't they usually overshadowed by the true stars of the team? Straws of postivity, these were, grasped at by the media to throw the fandom a bone.


1 And there is nothing more rewarding that laying the smacketh down on a final boss. The classic example of this is the two times I've played Final Fantasy VIII. The first time I didn't truly grasp the game's strategic system, & as a result the final boss took a gargantuan 3 hours to beat (& probably 4 or 5 tries). The second time round I'd achieved a true understanding of the game's ins & outs. The final boss was defeated in a mere 30 minutes of blissful ass-kicking limit-break assaults. Now that I think about it, this may be a particular merit of Japanese RPGs in general - an almost zen-like understanding of the game is what you're supposed to achieve, & your reward will be the summary dispatch of your greatest adversaries. Miyamoto Musashi & shit like that.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

this week in retail and rage

It was my friday night, so I was lonesome and a little depressed. So I went to the mall.(1) It was important to demonstrate to myself that there're other games than Metroid Prime: Hunters. I wandered around the GameCrease, fondling that which caught my eye, while, in the background, Greg Rucka bought an Xbox 360 and was a moderate dick to the young counter-ape who rang him up. I found noticable cravings for StarFox and (less explicably) Mario Hoops 3-on-3, but the DS was what got me into this mess, so I fought through.

Next installment of enthrallment was a swathe of newly-reduced GCN games. Fifty dollars no more! I'm enraptured by the idea of Chibi-Robo: be a little robot running housekeeping errands around a human-scaled house. A four-inch robot clambering around on caneback chairs and the like? This sounds just...fun to me, somehow. And hey, at thirty bones? That's not fifty!

Spartan: Total Warrior looks like a nifty bash-all-enemies title, and that's a genre that's woefully underrepresented in my collection.(2) The Pikmin games look like a Chibi-Robo-like experience: little critters doing things--things other than fighting, mainly--in a world that's rather large for them.(3)

These games formed a triangle around me, and prepared to unleash some sort of combination attack. I quickly modulated my emotional state from indecision to contempt (coffee helps here) and fled before the games could complete their Melting My Credit Card technique. "You're only like 10 hours long!" I bellowed. "Thirty bucks? A fucking ripoff!" I ran so hard, so fast, that I was at the CD/Game/Levi-Trouser Exchange before I had actually decided where I was going. Wandering their filthy aisles, so much like home, caressing their battered stock, I had an epiphany.

If I can continually score decent Dreamcast titles, seven years after the thing came out, these Gamecube games aren't going anywhere. There's no...rush.

Want to play as little things in a house? Toy Commander. Done. Five dollars down and that itch gets scratched, my man. (I played for like 2 minutes. The intro movie is super-cool, though.)

Emboldened by this success, I savaged a series of used stores, leaving underpaid drones staggered by the intensity and thoroughness of my...shopping. Cheap copy of Capcom vs Marvel 2? Mine! Mediocre action-RPG with awesome production values and the single stupidest intro movie in the annals of gaming? Silver, meet Fat Contradiction! StarLancer? Shit fire, son, I'd've bought BoilLancer by this point in my afternoon.

Flipping through games at PlayInsanity, one of them (shockingly!) was in its original packaging. Manual was of course lost to this world, but the cd-case inlay card was there.

I enjoy reading things written on the back of objects I might buy. In this case, I saw words like "turn-based battle system", "original Japanese voiceovers" and "dungeons".

It's strange, how specific certain urges can be. Lately, I've wanted to play a party-based game with a turn-based battle system. (A JRPG, if we need to get specific on the bitch.) And I want to play such a game on my Dreamcast. Still not clinched, I saw "St!ing"...isn't that the developer of Riviera? Evolution 2, come to freaking papa!(4)

Unfortunately I'm now in posession of everything worthwhile from the local used houses. To satisfy my Sega-lust, I must now turn to the Inter Net, like any common Englishman. Pathetic.

1. It's probable that "retail therapy" is a necessary consequence of an economy rife with commodity fetishism. The research continues.

2. I first noticed this lack when I was overwhelmed by simple longing for Dead Rising. Zombie Revenge helps a lot with managing these longings, but ZR rests heavily on multiplayer, and it's intensely rare that I can shoehorn any company into my basement hovel. And no matter what the Inter Net says, River City Ransom Ex is fucking lame.

Final Fight. The arcade version of Final Fight. Why is this so goddamned hard to equal?

3. Reminding myself that these are essentially real-time strategy games helps assuage the craving, as there has never been a genre less congenial for Kathy Contradiction's baby boy.

(4) Grandia 2. According to all the reviews, this is what daddy's got to score. In the meantime... Over to the 'Yard, they recently rejected the first Evolution game. Their review is...sorta fair. If you don't like RPGs, you won't like this one. My own quite specific needs, however, have been met most adequately through the first fiveish hours of play. If something cool doesn't happen after the third dungeon, I might quit playing: this'd be around 6, 6.5 hours, and that's not bad for a 7-dollar game. Certainly better than Chibi-Robo or Spartan's 3-bucks-an-hour mojo...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I love my dead grey console: part 2

Before I launch into today's segment, knoweth, reader, mine servitude to the Finnish Navy was completed several weeks ago. & w/ nearly six years of back pay in markaa in hand, I have granted myself a short sabbatical1.

W/ amplitudes of time, I've picked up the practice, gleened from Fat's retail binges, of popping by the closest Goodwill w/ regularity. The primary target of this exercise has obstentively been cartridges for my pink pearl GameBoyAdvance, but, as these things will go, my net has harvested many other peanuts of the sea.

Bad news first, tho. Let's talk about the one that got away. Last week Portland was in its last heaves of what can only be called a Indian Summer. W/ a bicycle sewn together from spare parts, I hit the road, making a decent 5 mile loop w/ a final stop at the Goodwill2. I'm not looking for anything particular other than aforementioned GBA cartridges. I wander the aisles 1st - selecting a few knick-knacks - before checking the glass cabinets where they keep stuff like, uh, 3 DrillDozers in thier boxes, clearly still shrinkwrapped... Okay, what else?

What's that in that bag? Oh, a Dreamcast w/ all the cables & controllers, priced for $29.99.

The sight of this, frankly, floored me. I stood there, nervously shuffling, for about 20 seconds, before retreating to the checkout line w/ my previously selected items. This clumsy response proved totally idiotic, because tho' I decided (rather quickly) I should buy the Dreamcast regardless of whether I would actually ever play it, it took me a full three days to get back to the Goodwill, by which time, of course, it was gone.

Somewhat crestfallen, I sulked into the aisles. Only to discover a PSOne for $9.99! Albeit it had no cables & the top lid seemed a little wonky. But hey, what's a Hamilton in the name of science? I've always wanted one of these! A trip to the book aisle then yields a new copy of the canonical Breaks of the Game. I round out my trifecta by grabbing one of those still-in-box DrillDozers for $9.99.

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"But D.D.," you may ask, "don't you already have a Playstation?"

I do. But the sentimental SD Ultraman-stencil-adorned grey box hath been retired to a shelf above my window, flanked by Stikfas & other plastic forms of escape.

image hosted by flickr.

Besides, the PSOne is a fourth of the size of the original Playstation, & the PSOne is just so damn SLICK3.


1 Or "practice retirement," if you will.
2 A glorious day! The kind made for errand-running. Borrowed photos returned to a comrade. A trip to Fred Meyer's for publishing supplies. A visit to the CD/Game Exchange on Hawthorne (better than EB et al.) where I scored a much needed GBA-to-GBA/Gamecube cable. From there a liesurely ride down Harrison/Lincoln to the goodwill.
3 Also of note: the PSOne has the other potentials of an optional LCD screen & a battery pack making it portable. These will cost $, but assuming this little PSOne does, in fact, work, then at least my foots in the door for a measely Hamilton.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Campaign Clear!

After two weeks and a half dozen attempts I finally put the finishing move on the Black Hole armies in Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising.1

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The wars are over!2

Turn-based strategy games are close to my heart of hearts. I vividly remember playing the computer version of Avalon Hill's Afrika Korps on a 286 with an EGA monitor. There were six or eight scenarios and since Avalon Hill's military strategy games were heavily keyed to historical accuracy, all but two were heavily weighted to one side or the other. I had made it a point to play each one with an eye towards masterminding the upset.3

But there really wasn't much masterminding to do, really. The number of units in play was preset (so there were never any reinforcements) and there was no time limit, so even the wimpy Italian's could win despite fielding a force comprised of poorly-trained, ill-equiped troops possessing lousy morale. Advance Wars 2, even though possessed of more troublesome variables like reinforcements, special CO attacks, & time limits, still remains firmly entrenched in this turn-based military strategy truism: there's always a way, you just need to figure it out. From there, its a cake-walk.


1 It dawned on me, whilst blitzing through Fat's Dreamcast collection with him for the first time, that Advanced Wars 2 was the first video game I'd beated (not called NBA Live) since the terribly lackluster Syphon Filter 3. I think I got really close to the end of Legend of Mana but was disappointed how quickly I got there and never bothered to finish it. As I recall, this is also when the Kaiju Sessions experiment launched, at which I labored for about a year and half.
2 Heyyy. Check out that metal protective case shielding that GBA SP! Nice pickup for $2, but I've since set it aside when I realized it wouldn't let me plug in the headphone adapter.
3 And is there any more grand and preposterous upset than the Italian army defeating the British?! Zounds!

So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?

Unfortunately, Fat & I not infrequent enjoy steamy helpings of schlock cinema. I'd venture that half the time we are correct in our rental selection auguries & get the gravy goodness of what passes for some decent grindhouse or exploitation movie, relatively speaking.

The rest of the time we get muddled or confused attempts at filmmaking.

Script problems from day one?

A meddling producer?

Not enough money and too many ideas?

Complete and total incompetence?

The mind spins at the possibilities, because the majority of the time, the film-maker's heart is in the right place, if nothing else (the dude wants to entertain, to make a movie, and what is wrong with that impulse)

A certain moment occurs in these misguided vessels of good will, wherein, desperate to fill in plotholes, a certain character assumes the heroic visage of Captain Exposition, & lectures the audience as to what exactly is going on here - at great lengths and many repititions. This oft more than not comes out of left field, & also tends to attempt to feed you a lot of information in a small amount of time. The sensation can be disorienting.

This disorientation leads me to borrow from Homer Simpson, as we are all apt to do from time to time. Namely, the episode in which Homer joins the "Leader Cult," wherein he is made to view a brainwashing film about the Leader. The film ends and the two cult indoctrinators asks Homer if he likes the Leader. To which Homer replies:

"Wait, I'm confused about the movie. So the cops knew that internal affairs were setting them up?"

'Cause, you see, when he gets bored, he makes up his own plot lines.

This clip below1, this is that movie!


1 Like Fat, I am not the biggest fan of linking to other stuff on the infobahn, but this clip from Demon Cop really brings that Homer quote to life. That said: Scott "Foywonder" Foy, much respect.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Of 3s as 4s.

Chatter floating around of Travis Outlaw playing some power forward this year,since Webster & Miles will probably be locked in at the 3. Kind of a strange proposition, although not entirely without precedent (see Marion, Shawn). 'Course, Trav is no Matrix, but the batting around of the idea of the Sheriff's son from Mississippi burning slower, less athletic "true" power forwards is something I've seen happen.

Albeit, these things I've seen transpired in the confines of my laptop's harddrive over the duration of last winter and five seasons of NBA Live 2005. Although touched on before1, one of the unmentioned beauties of NBA Live is the ability to exploit matchups against the AI. Since, until this summer, the Blazers had one, and only one, true PF (Zach), I chose to go "mismatch," and alternate Miles & Outlaw at the backup 4. Both tended to tire quickly from getting pushed around by bigger guys, but a general lack of talent and athleticism and endurance by the team as a whole meant that Zach and Telfair logged the heavy minutes and the rest of the team ebbed and flowed on and off the court in an endless stream of substitutions.

After two seasons of mastering the smoke and mirrors of playing (and winning) w/ a team consisting of one PF, a general retardation of talent, and no outside shooting, the Tinzeroes Blazers finally locked a playoff spot. However the Sonics & 'Wolves went on slumps at the close of the season & I found myself w/ the 3rd seed overall.

In a blending of Cinderella shit and favorable matchups (these Coach Tinzeroes' Blazers played little to no defense, making teams like Dallas and Goldenstate ideal opponents) Portland found itself in the Finals, where I was promptly and summarily SPANKED in five games by the Indiana Pacers2. Season 4 saw another trip to the playoffs and a Western Conference Finals appearance ending in defeat at the hands of the Wolves in 5 (I think the Cavs beat them in the Finals - poor KG).

Season 5's playoff run was a gamer's delight. Nuggets in the first round, Suns in the second, Mavs in the third. Note that I play 20 minute games. One Dallas series game went double overtime and the final score was in the 80s... in 30 minutes of play!! Blazers in six.

Finals appearance part II was vs. Miami, and after two real soul-crushing, fear-of-a-repeat-of-the-Pacers-series defeats, down 0-2, two things happened.

First, entering the series, James Posey was injured and would not return.

Second, in game 3 Antoine Walker & Miles were both injured and confined to the IR for the rest of the series. With few options to begin with, it was Travis Outlaw's time to shine.

And shine he did. After a tight game 3 win Outlaw became the go-to scorer whenever Randolph wasn't on the floor, and was the high scorer in games 4 and 5 (high 20s, I think). Basically Haslem wasn't talented enough to merit being the go-to guy to exploit his size over Outlaw, and Outlaw would just murder Udonis at the offensive end.

And so it was, D. Wade and U. Haslem slumped off the court, at the buzzer of Game Six.

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And thereafter the newly-anointed champeen Blazers hoisted the O'Brien aloft.

image hosted by photoBucket.

Jack and Dixon up front. Outlaw, obviously, is behind them. Sebastion's holding the O'Brien, and Ratliff, I think, is next to him trying to get his paws on it.

In conclusion, the AI in NBA Live can't handle positional mismatches, victory animation cut scenes are the shit, and after coaching last years Blazers five seasons, and then winning a championship, I feel my work with NBA Live is done. Guys, best of luck but you're on your own.

This personal milestone duly noted, I will now get back to Super Robot Taisen.


1 Mostly in the comments of this post regarding the Reviewieran tendency to play NBA Live with shitty teams.
2 The Blazers only win coming in Game 3, as I recall, perhaps 4. I do remember it was a blowout, strangely. Upon my game five defeat I discovered another unheralded bonus to NBA Live '05: the losers would sit on thier haunches and then be consoled by a teammate, whilst the winners hoisted the O'Brien above their heads. This pleases me immensely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Can anybody tell me, who is the grand poobah 'round here?

Yesterday Wayne Cooper and Clyde Drexler passed through my locale of employment. Oddly, I was more delighted with the glimpse of Cooper than Drexler.1

Drexler was getting his parking validated when I was getting on the elevator to go on break, and I patently ignored him. Once outside, the impetus for being so unimpressed w/ Drexler's presence was pondered.

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I went to the game in 2001 in which the Blazer's retired Clyde's jersey at halftime, which sucked doubly because (a) Drexler was openly, and somewhat pathetically, pandering for a front office job, and (b) he said "this year[index finder raised heavenly]… could be the year" to which the Blazers (in their first game to feature the return of Rod Strickland) promptly responded by getting pounded in the second half by the lowly Vancouver Grizzlies. They then proceeded to get pounded AGAIN by the Grizz on the road a mere two days later, followed by a a turmultous tumble to the seventh seed and a first-round 3-game sweep at the hands of the Lakers. That series included Sheed throwing his towel in Sabo's face. The faithful of this once-proud provincial franchise will have little difficultly in remembering that the 2000-2001 season was the one where where the wheels really came off, and I was there, and Clyde was there, when the scales tipped.

Now, Clyde Drexler is clearly not to be blamed for the failures of his former team nearly 8 years after he last suited up for them. But in the years between the retiring of his number and the recent rebuilding moves, I have listened to old men in bars and fair-weather fans alike wax fucking poetic about the "Rip City" Blazers, an endless recital of former play-by-play man Bill Schonelly's catch phrases and the virtues of the hard-nosed blue collar ethic of guys like Terry Porter, Jerome Kersey and Buck Williams.2

The Portland media does little to dispel this mythos, especially in regards to Drexler. Interviews are inevitably as cream-puff as they come, and he never says anything of note or substance, since he's still pining for that front-office job, in Portland or elsewhere. Instead, he talks about golf.

Portland being Portland, especially as the rest of the state slips to the right, Drexler's well-manicured golf-course nice-guy routine3 perhaps runs some what contrary to how the city perceives itself - or at least how I perceive it. I think this generational shift in city self-perception -I think older fans still do relate to the ah-shucks self-restraint of the early '90s teams4 - is why many Blazer fans still adore Rasheed Wallace, whose temper tantrums and fucking-with-system ways easily slotted into Portland's "Little Beirut" identity tag.5

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An interesting line of thought in itself, here - the projection of group identity onto that most ridiculous of mantles to bear such a load: the sports celebrity. At the same time, in smaller markets this is perhaps absolutely critical for the team's success as much as winning.

The Blazers enjoyed a nice chain of succession through Drexler-Cliff Robinson-Brian Grant-Rasheed Wallace (as I remember it), although Zach Randolph seems to be having a hard time capturing the public weal's imagination. And if not him, who?

-d.d. tinzeroes

1 Txt exchange w/ Fat:

ME: Wayne Copper just walked thru the office.
FAT [almost instantly]: Wow! The NBA's fourth-best shotblocker in 85-86! Get his 'graff, seeker of power!

2 Nothing against those guys, by the way.
3 This same self-presentation is why I don't care for Dwyane Wade.
4 I never saw the Blazers play at Memorial Colesium, but I've got to Portland Winterhawk games there, and in that glorified gym of an arena one can appreciate Portland's more blue-collaresque past and how that was stamped on the team, appropriately or not.
5 In this sense, it’s a double-whammy we lost Jermaine O'Neal, since a couple opinions from him about Bush and/or the War, and I think this city would be eating out of his hand.

Friday, September 08, 2006

a valentine for Astro Boy

I bought Astro Boy: The Omega Factor a long time ago. One of my first GBA titles, Freddy's clearance rack. I knew nothing about it. I didn't know about its ecstatic reviews. I didn't know it'd been made by the guys who made Contra, I didn't know that those guys were deified by the sort of game-players who write longwinded appreciations of video games on the internet. Alls I knew was I liked Astro Boy(1), and I figured the charm of the license would help me through a potentially mediocre game.(2)

I can't say my play experiences have been as shattering as half the internet's. I can say that the game is as engaging as the source manga, and thoroughly faithful to the license.(3) It's a great time, playing this game. A very videogamy great time. When the play mechanics change--say a stage is a side-scrolling flying shooter, or there's a level that's a pure platformer(4)--it doesn't feel like there's a story, with a character, who's just been put into a new situation. It feels like there's been a change in play mechanic, for you to play with. Play, as in fun.

Boss battles offer a similarly classical feel, with a two-part experience. First, you scramble around, trying to stay alive while you figure out the boss' pattern. Second, if you're as lame as me, there's a seriously lengthy period of struggling to execute against that pattern. Challenging and a heck of a lot of fun. I can't imagine it's like anything other than playing a video game.(5)

Even if playing the game wasn't a high-fun endeavor, I think I would've gotten $25 worth of enjoyment just out of the graphics. Falling into stage 1-1, you see a gorgeous cityscape. 10 minutes later, you get a lovely sky-and-cloud stage, and besides the backgrounds, almost all the bosses look great. The colors are incredibly appealing throughout. They add a wonderful feel to the b&w Tezuka style, which is reproduced both well and beautifully. Just pure eye candy, on a platform that's not really supposed to be able to pull that off.

Also appreciated is the game's optimization for portable play. All but one or two of the stages feel like full-fledged challenges, real chunks of both story and play. Which is surprising, since they're all well under five minutes long.

It's not all good, mind. There's a lot of slowdown, and the you-just-died music is intensely annoying. A sort of mocking death-spiral, it made me want to punt my DS more than a few times. You're beating me over and over again, Treasure, do you have to be dicks about it? You will hear this death music a bunch, too: this game is hard.

Astro Boy redefines nothing. It breaks no ground, and it won't make you think. Nevertheless, the game is a triumph. It accomplishes everything it sets out to do, with polish and precision. I like video games. That's why I like this one.


(1)At last count, I had 11 of those Dark Horse reprints. The Astro-repudiates-humanity arcs DDT mentioned earlier to-day are "Blue Knight" and "the Melanin Tribe" in 19 and 20, respectively. The cover of 20 features the shirtless, childish Astro struggling against thick metal chains. A couple summers ago, I was reading this issue on a flight to Oakland. Looked up to see some woman frowning at me. After a minute of confusion, I realized that, as far as she knew, I was reading some delicious Japanese child bondage porn. What the fuck do you say in this situation? "It's okay, he's a robot"? "Robots were built to help humans"? "Mind your own fucking business"?
(2)This works for half of a game, anyway. I'll never finish Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt or Robotech: Battlecry, but the license kept me going far longer than the mediocre games alone would've.
(3)I love the premise of the game: Astro has to meet people so that he can learn from and about them, to become more human. Lovely sentiment, for a game where you mostly shoot and punch things. All the people you meet get categorized on a matrix with two axes. These axes run between (a) justice and evil and (b) tender and brave. It's this good-natured element that I love about Tezuka, and Treasure nails it here.
(4)A tex from DDT:

How the fuck, in Mu, do you get past the rolling discs?

Answer: with prolonged, aggressive boosting. The game calls it "dashing", but that's crap.
(5)Both the gameplay and boss battle feels are similar in the more recent Drill Dozer. That title has a more standardized level design, though, with a very clear enemy-stage/platform-stage/boss-stage form throughout. One major difference is that Astro Boy has a surfeit of moves and techniques, whereas Jill's Drill Dozer has two: jumping and drilling. I vaguely remember a guy on Kotaku claiming you could beat Astro Boy using only the kick-attack. I know you can beat it without ever using the EX Dash, because I did. (Forgot it existed.) Drill Dozer, though, has many platforming sections where there is only one solution to get from point A to point B. Both games offer a different brilliant solution to one problem: how to give super-good gameplay.

speaking of retail...

There are, essentially, two types of specialty shops. One is all stuff. Wares are crammed in everywhere. The prevailing display method is the pile, and the organizing principle behind the collection is, at best, obscure. The second kind of store is sparsely outfitted. The idea there is that the store is of impeccable taste. "Trust us," they say, "all is good here. You can't go wrong...because we won't let you."

I much prefer the first type. --While I don't like buying the wrong thing, I do enjoy learning new things, and buyer's remorse offers excellent opportunities for insightful musing.

This brings us to Pink Godzilla, a videogame store in Seattle. I visited it three weeks back. It takes a little work to find something in the tiny, cluttered space, and that's rad. The rest of the experience is also terrific: the rad little Asian girl behind the counter will try to sell you a copy of Rhythm Tengoku, which is a rhythm game by the Warioware people. She will use all the tricks of the attractive retail worker. She will make you play the game, even after you admit that Space Channel 5 proves that you can't play rhythm games for shit. She will brandish her imported DS Lite, the black one, and politely not notice as you drool. While you paw clumsily at her sleek hardware, she'll say "see, you're not so bad!" She will smile charmingly as she thus reassures you. In a minute, she'll move you to her favorite stage, where you pluck hairs from an onion, and, cleverly, she'll apologize for making you play the harder part, after she has demonstrated the easy section.

Again, this is superb retailing on her part. Even before this interaction, I'd resolved to pick up an import copy of dotstream, a beautiful-looking racing game from the Japanese Bit Generations series. Her excellent work made me comfortable enough in the environment to double my expenditure and throw in a copy of Orbital as well. (Next time I'm there, I'll probably yoink a copy of Sound Voyager.)

Amusingly, it appears that two weeks later, Tycho had an almost identical purchasing experience.

Aside from the items I scored, there was some most satisfying foraging to do. Controllers of nigh-limitless variety hang from the ceiling. Small inaction figures fairly throng upon the shelves. At the time of my visit, I was around halfway through Super Robot Taisen: Original Generation, and loving it, so naturally I was enthralled by the Japanese Super Robot Taisen Alpha.(1) Then I remembered that a solid third of the SRT experience is staring at menus, customizing mechs. Then I remembered that I don't read Japanese. Sigh. I gotta get on that.

They also rocked copies of the brilliant Japan-only 'Cast fighters Marvel vs Capcom 2, Street Fighter Zero 3 and Street Figher III.(2) Now, I know I talk big about how my "Street Fighter days are over, because all that SF once did, Soul Calibur does at least as well, adding a bunch besides," but what you have to realize is that these are Street Fighter games. That are Japanese. They are Japanese Street Fighter games. And so I must buy them. That visit, I resisted the purchase, but only because they had all three, diluting my cravings amongst them. Had there been only two, I could have made a decision, and be even deeper in hock than I am.(3)

What a store. I'm no teacher, so I shouldn't be giving a grade, but the experience of shopping there gets an S.


(1)There's much more to come on this topic. For now: the SRT series in Japan is known for bringing together mechs from many different series. The box art suggested that Evas might fight Veritechs, for example. The Atlus-released American versions can't do this, for stupid legal reasons, so they stick to the NamcoBandai-owned Gundam machines. Which are awesome, but c'mon. Evas vs Veritechs! How do I not want to battle those?
(2)Or anyway, the Japanese versions are 'way easier to come by: a couple of these did see American release, as I recall, and are shocking expensive on the secondhand circut.
(3)Also I need an arcade stick for my fighting games, and they didn't have one. 6-button fighters are all but unplayable with a standard Dreamcast controller.
(4)Did I ever mention that I picked up Advance Wars for 8 bucks at Goodwill? Or the highly-regarded (and punishingly difficult) Fire Pro Wrestling for five?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Reviewieran Iconography 101.

The casual reader might suspect the occupants of the Reviewiera offices of being a bit off, and to support that inkling I submit Exhibit 1 in a series of many.

Maybe it was the five pints I imbibed, or the late, heavy meal I ate, or the level 6 mission in Advance Wars 2 I finally completed right before I went to sleep, or the shitty sleep I got thereafter since some car wrecked or something near my residence and some tow truck was making holy fucking hell noise at 3:00 a.m., or maybe it was all of those things in a punch bowl that was spiked with me swimming in the Willamette River down in Milwaukie1 the day before.

Whatever it was, something in the middle of the night x-rayed into my brain the image of AstroBoy's head imposed over the basketball part of the Larry O'Brien NBA Championship Trophy.

Since I'm not one to ignore providence, well, if you get the impression you should put the head of Astro Boy on top of the Larry O'Brien Trophy, then YOU PUT THE HEAD OF ASTROBOY ON TOP OF THE LARRY O'BRIEN TROPHY!!

image hosted by photobucket. All rights fukking reserved!!

The new crest to festoon the battle standards of the Reviewiera mecha-nized legions? A unique Reviewieran conflagration of stuff with other stuff? Either way I am powerully moved to place an order for some stickers...

The ghostly visage of Astro maliciously glares at you...2


1 Yeah, you heard right!! Me! Swimming! Willamette River!
2 And, as everyone knows, the best Astroboy story was the one where he lost his faith in mankind, and decided to fight against humanity, rather than protect it. Brrr!!!

Plastic Forms of Escape III

Probably for the better, my appetite for brightly-colored injection-molded plastic has significantly diminished, from its hoary heights three years ago to a little more than a passing yet learned interest.

Credit where credit's due, but a significant factor in this precipitous drop-off was the passing of the venerable and cluttered and charming Dr. Tongues' 3-D House of Collectible Toys up around east Burnside and 14th.1 Since Tongues fell victim to the double whammies of recession and the commoditization of geekdom2, I have steadfastly refused to take my business to some bullshit faux-geek hipster boutique, & of the few purchases made since3 are of the online variety.4

Just this past glorious Labor Day, however, I was at the local Fred Meyer marketplace, & betwixt the aisles were the ever familiar clearance tables. I've never had much luck at the clearance table market5, but this time these bizarre, cutesy, Japanese-animination-esque, robotic- or at least power-armoured monkeys caught my eye. A cursory look-over revealed them to be from some Jetix television series, which, like so many cartoons today, has adopted a very heavy yet watered-down "anime" look, or at least character design, to it. 6

Of course, I don't give a shit about the show. The yellow one, "Hyperforce Nova," with clenched fists nearly the size of her head, was making eyes with me. Her clearance sticker marked her down from about $8 to $5.50. Good enough for me.

Later(!), enjoying a pint at Hedge House, girlfriend points out to me that the table was one of those "60% off whatever the sticker says," so I check my receipt, and sure enough, I paid a mere $2.25 for this cutey-pie!!

Waitaminute! This looks familiar…

Rearward-swooping spikey-thing at the top of her head? Check. Fin-like ridge thing that starts above and between the eyes and curves back and then down behind the head? Check. Large, bug-like eyes which suggest protective eye-wear? You betcha. Small mouth, or at least set at such an angle as include the chin, sorta? Yep.

Familiar... like... looks like..

[snaps fingers]

Oh yeah! Like Ultraman Astra!!

Always thought Astra stood out in a crowd, the jaunty motherfucker.


1 Dr. Tongues, however, perseveres on the infobanh
2 Seriously. I mean, comicbook shops that rely on the sale of Pokemon cards to stay afloat? The absolute glutting of the movie-houses w/ comic-book after comic-book adaptation? Adult Swim? Ugh.
3 Stikfas,
of course.
4 Credit where credit's due: my girlfriend still buys me an action figure my birthday and/or X-mas. Ahh.
5 As opposed to Fat, who has had some
decent success, scoring everything from Gundam model kits to GBA games, the jerk.
6 I'm not sure if its ironic or sinister or simply cross-cultural exchange at work, but:

A) Far as I can tell, JETIX is a block of animated programming on the Disney channel that features Japanimation-esque series. In other words, Disney appropriating Japanimation styles & design.
B) Generally acknowledged alpha-patriarch of the Japanese manga AND Japanese animation, Osamu Tezuka, cites the art and animation of Walt Disney as his inspiration (Mickey Mouse, it is said, is why Japanese manga & animation character have those big eyes).

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

this week in retail and rage

O. Introduction.
Right now I'm exceedingly cravy. Between Starfox and Deep Labyrinth, my RPG-hunger and my appetite for space shooters are both powerful and sharp. Unfortunately, I'm broke as shit, and need to save some room in my budget for Contact and Baten Kaitos Origins later in the month.

Since these 'Cube and DS games are out of reach at the moment, there's only one outlet for my depraved retail and gameplay desires: my beloved pink handheld, the mighty GBA. I have thus far adopted a two-pronged strategy. To appease my desperate need for a new RPG, I have told myself most sternly that first, I must finish an old RPG, one already in my collection. And to satisfy my overwhelming desire to purchase something, I have embarked upon a massive clearance-rack safari. I shall treat of these out of turn.

1. Shooting for clearance, with clearance to shoot.
Yesterday, I put in four hours on my bike, roaming around, hoping for some clearance magic. Really, I was looking for Nanostray, a DS space shooter by this company Shin'en, who made a super-neato GBA space shooter called Iridion II. Seemed like a cheap way to scratch the itch caused by Starfox.(1) Struck out, though. Out of the two Targets, two Freddys, Circut City, three GameStops and an EB, there was no trace of Nanostray.

Indeed, there was little trace of anything even slightly interesting. Some Star Wars game where you use the Millenium Falcon to do shit, fly around, probably, blow stuff up. Now, not to offend, but I've logged my hours in Tie Fighter, I've played a fair bit of X-Wing, and the Millenium Falcon is pretty close to the bottom of the list when it comes to ships from that universe I'm interested in flying. Teen Titans for ten bucks for the 'Cube, that mighta worked, or Lego Star Wars, but I really did want something handheld, and something in the shooter genre, while I wait to score my next RPG...

Finally, however, at least a little bit of lightning struck. SigmaStar Saga. This is an RPG...whose random battles are space-shooter segments. I have no clue how long this will remain engaging, but for a ten-spot, it seems like a lovely way to provide myself with a purchase, an RPG, and a new shooter.(2) Now this is a retail victory!

2. Levelled up, but never level-headed,
old JRPGs will make you insane.
Just today, over at Penny Arcade, Tycho and Gabe have both issued terrific defenses of the classical JRPG. This is a genre they've both (among many others) savaged in the past, but its appeals are strong for them, and for me. For me, turn-based party combat is just about as good as it gets in a video game, and when it's done right, it'll easily carry me through the many, many sins of the average JRPG. At least for a while.

And it would be hard to find a more average JRPG than Final Fantasy IV. I quit playing this game a while ago. A long while ago. Since I put it up, I have beaten two GBA RPGs, gotten halfway through two more GBA strategy RPGs, put 30 and 65 hours into two 'Cube RPGs, fallen in love with Metroid Prime, and started a torrid affair with the Dreamcast.(3) Never did finish the fucker, though I felt like I was pretty close...

Two nights ago, Canada comes downstairs to deliver some recently-burnt cartoons. He finds me engaged in the most rage-filled gaming session I've ever had. I unloaded on him my bile and contempt for confusing dungeons with battles Every Four Steps and the total annoyance of the Active Time Battle System.(4) At the time, I was seriously foaming at the mouth and anus: no battle system is fun Every Four Steps, particularly when you're having to backtrack all the god-damned time, due to a shitty map system.

Three hours later, I was 9 rooms into a 12-room dungeon with no save points, and I decided to take on a minor side-quest battle. Halfway through the battle, the bad guys somehow took command of my party. I then got to watch the game play itself, as my characters...slowly...got...killed...off. Three hours of time, totally wasted, because SquareEnix just couldn't make a handheld game with a workable save system. Right around here I made a note to myself:
I have never enjoyed a video game less.

The next day, I recognized that particular rage as my usual response to being inadequately leveled up. This is a "feature" of JRPGs that gets me Every Single Time. At least once in every such title, I beat a boss, they tell me about the next boss, so I take the game at its word and go find that boss. Then I proceed to have an incredibly frustrating play experience, because my characters are nowhere near ready for that part of the game.(5)

So I spent a couple hours yesterday and today happily running through the new-weapon dungeon and snooping around for other side quests: when the characters are well-matched to the environment, even the Active Time Battle System can be fun. Something has to be fun, here: I've got 40 hours in this game on this one playthrough, probably another 12 in the first two times I tried to play. Not that I can explain why I've played so much, exactly.

It can't be the story, which 1,000 internet nerds claim was a breakthrough in video-game narrative, because (a) I couldn't follow the thread when I was actually playing it, and (b) I gave the game up for so long that I had actually forgotten three separate members of my party.(6) The gameplay? Well, I can't actually remember any point at which I was really stoked to be playing this game. The music's pretty great.

All I can say is that a couple members of the supporting cast are really appealing to me. There's a guy who gets brought back to life by his wife. This is pretty neat. However, she pulls this off by whanging him on the dome with a frying pan. That's awesome. Cid is genius throughout the game: every single time he died, I felt genuine stirrings in my tiny, blackened little heart.(7) Palom is such a mouthy little twerp that his sister bitch-slaps him, which is fairly common in these games, but is still hilarious. And Kain has a really cool helmet. A really cool helmet.(8)

Which, apparently, is good for 40+ hours. Christ, I can't wait to be done with this stupid game. And never again will I play any Final Fantasy game without a good map by my side. Come to think of it, maybe I just won't play another Final Fantasy game.(9)


(1)Curse you, Nintendo Power! You know I'm powerless to resist your miniguides! Such a cunning way to advertise...

(2)The opening text crawl is a nifty hard-boiled sort of science fiction. The middle paragraph of the main character's narration runs:

The Krill found earth sixty years ago, a humbling day for humanity. Their spaceships swarmed over the Atlantic. Gouged out a hunk of ocean floor the size of Canada. The sea boiled for three years, turning the sea life into gumbo. Melted ice caps and exposed mantle sludged into the hole like a wet rag. Good time to be a mapmaker.

That's nice stuff there. An added bonus is that the music is by Shin'en. The soundtrack for Iridion II is one of the finest game music achievements I've yet experienced, so I'm stoked for a bit more of their work.

(3)This is just to mention my involvement with comparable games. I shall pass over in silence the couple of action games and the several puzzle games I have involved myself with over that span.

(4)Combining the most irritating features of turn-based combat with the nagging insistance on your attention of real-time play! Thanks, SquareEnix! (Cockjockeys.)

(5)Frequently, I can actually prevail, due to my intensely awesome RPG playing. Seriously, nobody uses a healing spell, then a fire spell, then a couple physical attacks quite like me.

(6)I suspect that I cribbed the phrase "breakthrough in video game narrative" from GameSpot.

(7)And every time he came back, I felt like a chump for having been so easily manipulated by the dumb game.

(8)Seriously, the helmet is so cool I refuse to take the guy out of my party. I am in no way kidding. I even like the look of the helmet when he's in low-HP mode: his head looks exactly like Trumpy! TRUMPY!! "Trumpy, you can do stupid things!"

(9)Well, I do still have that copy of FFII to get through, and I've got maps for it, so.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Starriors! come out to play...

As I work on a piece about the most impressive and charming Drill Dozer, I become reminded of the first super-cool human-piloted giant robots what ever fascinated me. Starriors.

The Starrior roster.

This toy line was a cousin of Zoids. I actually had a couple Zoids: the idea of a great big robotic dinosaur (with a little gold dude in a spacesuit sitting in the head) was pretty irrestistable. Building them yourself was equally nifty, particularly because the heads came off, and were very much like an escape-pod, starfighter kinda thingy, so when you got tired of giant-robot-dinosaur fun, you could fly the head around, shooting lasers at things.

This head-with-pilot functionality was also present in the Starriors, which I couldn't afford, but craved. Now, the idea of human-piloted giant robots was always in my head, near as I can remember. I mean, I don't really remember not being aware of Voltron, for example. But Voltron always struck me as basically lame. These guys, though, these guys I could see. Robot lion? Please. I want a giant chest-mounted buzzsaw, or twin-laser, or drill. I think it was this industrial, useful feel that first enthralled me about Starriors...

Crank.  My boy!

I have a very clear memory of being in the Wal-Mart toy aisle, holding the box with this guy in it. Would have been 84/85, looks like. This one was the one I wanted. I'm no longer convinced that a chest-mounted drill is all that functional, but I'll still take my chances. Except maybe against this guy.

Gouge.  Nemesis.  Role model!


Thursday, August 31, 2006

I love my dead grey console: part 1

As I mentioned earlier, I recently acquired a Dreamcast. I did this for no particular reason: I saw one at Goodwill, it was cherry, it was insanely cheap. I didn't know anything about it, I thought it might be cool. Initially, the purchase kicked my handheld gaming time right in the teeth. I'd just suffered a major setback in my Advance Wars II campaign, so those energies were easily canalized into my new toy.(1)

The second main effect of the Dreamcast was a serious pride of ownership. This wasn't a defensive posture, it's just that I'm thoroughly charmed by the little white box.(2) This seems not uncommon: there's the excellent Dreamcast Junkyard, there's this odd little page...(3) The Dreamcast seems to inspire an affectionate loyalty quite unlike the (hostile, incoherent, fanboyish) outpourings other consoles recieve. Couldn't tell you why. I'll say that when it starts looking around on those GDs, it's so goddamned loud that the machine seems like it's trying really hard to entertain me, and I can't help myself, I just start rooting for it.(4)

The third thing I had to do was find some games to play. I'm happy to use the console to play cds in mono through my tv's tiny, tinny speakers, but games just seemed appropriate. I've had luck with this process, and would now like to present a little Reviewiera feature:
how to build a dreamcast collection.

Step 1.
Get lucky and score a free copy of Soul Calibur. This game will flip your wig, making you realize that those Street Fighter days are over, because all that SF once did, SC does at least as well, adding a bunch besides. One title in, your Dreamcast has already fundamentally altered your gaming tastes! A twelve year long relationship with Street Fighter ended in like four hours of game play...

Step 2.
Pick up Rayman 2 for five bucks. Add it to your collection of high-rated 3d platformers you'll never play again, because the whole genre is foreign, inscrutable, baffling. Hello there, Super Mario 64 DS! Haven't seen you in a while...

Step 3.
Throw in a copy of Space Channel 5, for another lincoln. Every library needs a rhythm game, right? Later on, you'll discover that the rhythm game bit is just a cover story: really the game is an upskirt sim. A damn' fine upskirt sim. Speaking of cosplay porn...(5)

Step 4.
Now you'll want to do some research on the nets, figure out exactly what this Dreamcast thing is about. It's about Junkyards and Planets, mainly... Quickly score Armada, which will turn out to be not exactly what you were looking for. A simple scrolling shooter, or maybe, dare one dream, something a whole lot like Tie Fighter? Nope, a game a lot like Asteroids, where the flying is as hard as the shooting. But there's a lot of ship-customization in an RPG-like way, you'll get to this eventually. It'll justify its ten bucks, no fear.

Step 5.
Hit big with Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. (Another hamilton!) Spend a couple weeks playing this game a lot, even though you seriously suck. Solve block-moving puzzles! Solve platforming puzzles! Feel bad because you never finished Metroid Prime, which is better than this, even though this is really really good! Reave souls! REAVE SOULS! Give up eventually because there's a monster you can't figure out how to fight.

Step 6.
Watch the opening movie of Resident Evil: Code Veronica. Be wowed. Resolve to play the game sometime, if you can ever figure out how to play the stupid thing and its stupid stupid controls. Three disks for five dollars, shouldn't be hard to get some mileage out of this one.(6)

Step 7.
ZOMBIES! Ah, Zombie Revenge. Nobody understands you. Nobody really likes you, even. Well, Tycho from Penny Arcade is on record as liking you, and so am I. So your controls are a little sloppy; not every game needs to be ridiculously technique-filled. Sure, I love all that in my 2D side-scrollers, along with a nice sense of design, but the only place you get those anymore is on a handheld. On a bigger screen, I'll take some 3D action, nifty textures, well-done scurrying sewer rats, and, oh yeah: a shitload of zombies lining up for bullets in the brain. Looks great, sounds good, and there's all the zombies you could reasonably want to annihilate.

Step 8.
Back to the internet! Score a copy of Shenmue. Be totally into Shenmue. Be, if you will, all about Shenmue. Decide that all modern "sandbox" games with "urban" settings and "crime" stories are hacky ripoffs of Shenmue. Contemplate changing your name to Ryo Hazuki. Ponder Nintendogs, a game that obsessed you for a couple months, and marvel over the kitten in Shenmue, from years before. Get to the second disk, and wonder at the incredible realism of the warehouse district. The game really captures what it feels like to loiter in a warehouse district! Lose some momentum by butchering a couple of save routines. Hit a really annoying stealth mission and fail at it for a couple hours. Give up. Resolve to come back to this game: it'd be embarassing not to finish a title that's in your top 5 all-time.

Step 9.
Ecco! I'd read about this game a bunch. Consensus was: this game is pretty. Playing Soul Calibur, I'd already decided that the 'Cast level of graphics is as good as I'd ever need, so a verdict of "it's pretty", even from 7 years ago, is good enough for me. And five bucks? Yoink!

Sure enough, it's pretty. Beautiful, matter of fact. And there's no doubt about it, it's a game where you play as a dolphin. I mean, you're very much a dolphin in this game. After I'd played for an hour, I had the following exchange with Canada:
Fat: Man, this Ecco thing is cool. You're a dolphin, you swim around, there's a bunch of special moves that all pretty much just make you...frolic.
Canada: ...
Fat: ...I just recruited some other dolphins to help me rescue a baby whale from an underwater landslide.
Canada: What the fuck are you talking about?
Fat: This game, Ecco, Defender of the Future. You play as a dolphin!.
Canada: ...
Fat: Dreamcast game. Launch title.
Canada: Can't hardly see why the system failed, can you?
Fat: (while thinking "people like dolphins, though") I dunno, it seems pretty cool to me.
Canada: Can you breathe underwater?
Fat: ? What? No, of course not. You're a dolphin. You're a mammal, you have to surface to breathe.
Canada: That's lame.

Back downstairs, I began to muse on purchasing some weed, which surely would kick this game to the Next Level.

Or...skip the weed, run upstairs and raid the fridge for a can of whipped cream.


Step 10.
Crazy Taxi. Drop a fiver on a copy of this, beat up, though complete with booklet. Play this for most of an evening, realize you'll never get much better at it, understand that you've already gotten yr fiver's worth. Rejoice! --Between this and dotstream, you'll never need another racing game!

And that's how you build a Dreamcast collection!

(1)An amusing progression, two tex from DDT:
Dude. Advance Wars 2 is the shit! 17jul, 20:35.
Advance Wars 2 is rad. But evil. 21jul, a school night, 00.12. Shockingly late for DDT to be up!

Not long after recieving these tex, a customer of mine wasnted to see my copy of AW2 on his new DS Lite. While he was dicking around with it, I got distracted by the phone. I returned to him and noted the sickly look on his map: "what did you do, Tom?".

"Uh, I think...I think I just..." "Oh fuck no. You didn't just fucking wipe my save file. Fuck. You just wiped my fucking save file."

"Maybe it's still saved on your machine?"

"That's not how portable games work, Tom." Since I'm not totally stoked about replaying the first 20-some hours, I haven't picked up the cart since. I'll probably sell it.

(2)As opposed to my defensive pride in my Gamecube, for example. The customary take on this platform is that it's underpowered, the weakest machine of its generation, which simply wasn't the case. I dunno, maybe people are gentler with the 'Cast because they have fond memories of Sonic or whatever. Whatever, it's the only console that prods people to say things like "There was a lot of unrealized horsepower in the poor, star-crossed little Dreamcast, and it was hard to see it go." (Tycho, from the 2nd Penny Arcade book, p28.)

(3)This has to be a project in somebody's history of design class.

(4)Nobody needs to root for their Xbox, their Playstation. These machines were hits. Somehow the Dreamcast's career is...forlorn. Unloved by the world at large, forgotten by most, considered a failure if it's considered at all. Even a piece about interesting and influential industry failures mentions the 'Cast, without actually pointing out what was interesting or influential about it...

The short version of that answer would be, I think: the Dreamcast was the Xbox without a company able to lose huge money establishing it. Both consoles have libraries dominated by shooters, racing, and sports games, and both were well ahead of the curve in offering an online component. Unfortunately, Sega combined being too early with doing a crappy job on its online component, and had shallow pockets for marketing.

(5)Thank you, UK Resistance.

(6)The voice acting and intro movies in my meagre Dreamcast collection kick the hell out of their counterparts in my rather larger 'Cube library. This is probably just a result of Resident Evil having super-good movies, and LoK:SR having the best voice work I've ever heard in a game. The MDK2 intro is funny and stylish, two attributes few cutscenes ever feature. Just an odd fact.

Loyal solider, devoted companion, beloved VCR...


Back when, I was convinced for a year or two that I should be a filmmaker. With the wisdom of age and relative sobriety I am now reasonably confident that anytime some person says, "I want to be a ____," they will either:

(a) become "___," but be either mediocre or suck at it (the kind of person you say behind their back: "so-and-so should have stuck to being a [housepainter /dogwalker / jivetalker]), or;

(b) become "____," turn out to be really good at it, but make everyone sick to their stomachs because said person is one of those "success stories" we all hate, and they're probably independently weathly anyways, so the degree to which they truly "realized their dream" is questionable, since they clearly had a leg up on the rest of us shlubs in the first place. Ahem.1

Back then, I was so terrible w/ money I never came even remotely close to being able to make the first step: buying a digital camcorder, which were expensive, back then. Times have moved on, & the other day I dropped the $400 to get a digicorder and necessary accessories, mainly for the purpose of digitizing some shit off old VHS tapes.

So I get home and decide to try and find some certain footage. These tapes are, in what seemed like a simple and clever strategy at the time, simple labeled #1, #2, #3, all the way of to #13. There are no other guide as to their content - leaving me with the joy and agony of watching them all one by one. So I throw a tape in the ol' VCR, watch about 5 seconds, realize I should just start with #1 instead, eject the one I'm watching, and put No. 1 in.

Then it happens.

You see, this isn't about the camcorder, or the old VHS collection...

My vcr, the ol' girl, just sort of IDLES DOWN, if you can imagine a vcr doing such a thing. I hit eject and the power button a couple times. More of the same. I panic a bit. Its kind of late and I have an invite to go to the neighbor's birthday party (including free keg!), so I give it a rest and head out.

Next day, I'm brushing my teeth and it hits me: is my vcr dying?

Fat may recall I had a similar scare about three years ago, and was prepared to take the fair lady out to a parking lot, stuff her full of fireworks, douse her in lighter fluid and give her a proper Viking funeral pyre. Then I just got a head-cleaner and she was okey-dokey.

But this is different. This problem sounded... mechanical.

For the record, I received this vcr as a Christmas present in 1995. Yeah, ELEVEN years ago. It was the cheapest vcr on the market at the time, and it still cost $90 (maybe $125, things were different then) - at K-Mart! 'Course, that high price tag, I'd like to think, even if it was the cheapest model, implied, y'know, some investment in parts and labor by the manufacturer, which is why it took 11 years before I was faced the prospect of getting new vcr (for what? $19.99?).

Still, I'm terribly upset by the prospect the ol' girl's given up the ghost. Eleven years! As far as things go, this vcr is antediluvian! I not sure what else I own could sit in that esteemed company. Probably some books. Maybe a CD or two. I think I have a board game or two kicking around that pre-date '95. Still, this detris of my youth, of this vintage, could probably fill two milk crates.

And let's not forget, a vcr, especially one you've owned for 11 years, signifies a lot of movie watching. There's probably not a single genre of film that I didn't start watching on that vcr. I had a tape once of about five episodes of the second season of Futurama that I taped off Fox with that VCR. I taped CGI cut-scenes from playstation games with that vcr!2 I watched Battle Royale and Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Warriors and Return of the Night of the Living Dead and Zeram and "gray market" Godzilla flix and El Topo and god know what movies I'd seen a billion times before and over and over again on that sweetie.

The next day I get home from work, take the top cover off, kind of poke at the parts, and then, get this, I BLOW ON IT, as if some dust is the problem. And guess what? I hit power and the son of a bitch fires up, ready and rearin' to go!

That's my girl!!!


1 Pardon the butting in of my views about the role of entitlement in this society of ours.
2Come to think about it, I still have that tape of CGI cutscenes (all of 'em from Legend of the Dragoon, then some other stuff. Maybe I'll digitize that!! Yreka!

As Fat's Giant Robot Week lingers on, slowly transforming into Fat's Giant Robot Month, I stumble over Chou Sou Juu Mecha MG on insert credit. It's a giant-robot-war game for the DS, apparently. Transforming giant robots! Fighting around the Eiffel Tower, no less. So, title that rolls off the tongue, possibility of trashing the Eiffel Tower, giant robots with multiple configurations. This one should be hard to fuck up.

The gameplay movie looks only okay, except for the super-rad control interface: on the touchscreen there's levers to move, switches to throw, and the like. If your character's got a giant bow, there's a bow-analogue on the touchscreen, where you've got to pull the string. If your character's got a spinning-blade attack, I suspect, there's a blade you'll have to spin on the touchscreen. Assuming these controls are analog, rather than digital, then this will be worth a strong look.

This title is apparently another step down a long-established manga/anime road: these games will serve to train the next generation of mech pilots, and there will be vast, lengthy tournaments to see who those pilots are likely to be.

As long as those tournaments aren't of Virtual On, at which DDT used to school me mercilessly, I expect I'll be fine.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

I will have...my...REVENGE!!

A couple years back, there blew up on the truth box the genre of robot wars. I was fairly into it, not for the product, but for the future. See, the wars were inevitably dominated by recent engineering-school grads, CalTech/MIT types who'd just gotten decent gigs and their own houses big enough to, y'know, build robots in their garages.

And who were these guys inevitably dominating? Midwestern hobbyists, mainly, of a sort I had thought long-disappeard. Popular Mechanics, Boy's Life kinds of Midwestern hobbyists. Usually it was a father-and-son combo, just a solid family, doing what families do: building remote-controlled minitanks with buzzsaw blades and sharpened stakes. At the end of the battle, you'd always get a priceless shot of the father and son, stunned, staring, holding each other up, their smoking ruin laying in the background while the victorious 'bot...yes, it's actually managing to strut somehow.

This brings me to the future. If I know anything from the comix I've read, it's that agonizing humiliation is the best motivation in the universe. See, right fucking now one of those children is fuming down in his basement, honing his plans, whetting his appetite for revenge and recognition, sharpening another buzzsaw blade, inventing gundaminum. Right now this second one of those boys is pioneering the next generation of doombots. He's transcending battery power and radio control, no doubt, and maxing out the number of hardpoints available for customization of his war machine.

Clearly, the kid will be too busy in the lab to pilot the damn' thing. This is where I come in. The prototype, the production model, whatever, I don't care. Just so I get my time at the controls, showing all the bastards, crushing all lesser foes, and so forth. I have, in this life, oft been wronged. I demand recompense. Only a giant robot can satisfy me.

This is a good start.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

one-oh-oh-one uses, We got the juice to bruise the fuses!!

(continued from The Self-Actualization...)

1. Melo's rep is going to emerge from this in the best shape of its career. Its gonna be the one kicking the sand down at the beach, now, muthafuckas!

2. If Chris Paul's your main PG, then either Arenas has to be a 2 or he's backup and you cut Hinrich. But he's too good to be a backup and there are better 2s… Either way, Gilby got cut. Maybe. Whatever - one way or the other he's not on the squad anymore. He's a fave but I'm not really broken up about him not being on the squad. Why?

3. I'm still sticking with my earlier instinct that the "American" style of basketball lays in the trait of versatility, as in, if you assemble a squad of really good American players, whats their biggest strength? The answer to this inquiry is quintessential, as the coaching adage professes you play to your strengths.1 Really good American players have many strengths. Hence, versatility.


4. The cutting of Gilby, however, has exposed the earlier hypothesis, that American basketball is Kevin Garnett, as FALSE. Garnett is not versatile. Garnett is a virtuoso. He is not merely a "really good ball player," he's a fucking goddamn demigod. Same with LeBron and Kobe. Can't tell for sure yet with Wade. Gilbert might be a late-bloomer half-diety. You might throw Amare in there too. And its not just their games that are quasi-Asgardian, its their gravitas. Put them on a team with at least 11 really good basketball players and they won't know what to do with themselves – Herculean feats are their soul's calling, and Hercules works alone. Seeing as LeBron & Wade are already on this edition of Team USA, and can easily play multiple positions (and given a lack of big men, LeBron's crucial since he can play some four), Gilbert had to go. Its like, Patton and MacArthur were never in the same combat theater for a reason, y'know?

5. Gilbert Arenas in a Patton tank helmet or in MacArthur aviator shades w/ a corncob pipe? Much ink could be spilled over this subject, so I will shelve the issue, for now.

6. Hey, waitaminute! If KG, Kobe, and LeBron are demigods, and Wade, Arenas, Amare are the sleeper unawakened, then how is it that Melo's the Dude on this U.S. Squad? Simple: while the blood celestial courses through the viens of the aforementioned larger-than-life players, transcending this hardwood coil, Carmelo Anthony is, simply, the World's Greatest Basketball Player .


1 My conviction in this adage, and its extension that the "True Way" of good basketball is a team that plays to its strengths (last years Suns were as pure of an example as we may ever see of this…) is deep. This belief apparently lay dormant in the subconscious for many years, until one night Fat and I were both talking about NBA Live teams we liked to run with (me: the crippled Blazers, the Redd-Mason Bucks, the Alston-Bosh Raptors; Fat: the Zarko Cabarkapa Warriors), and it occurred to us we had no interest in running with the, say, 85+ rated teams. Booooooring! For us, perhaps, apothesis of the game was made manifest in short-handed, under-talented team, taking what few strengths it had, and riding that mare into the ground, even if it meant using a committee of six players to generate the illusion of having a decent backup center.

Anyways, if you were to watch us running these teams over our shoulders, it'd probably be like watching the Suns' last year: "how are they winning? They play no defense, have no reliable outside shooting, and half of them can't rebound, pass, or shoot a free throw, yet they're winning division titles and making deep playoff runs." I hung up my coaching controller when I took last year's abysmal Trail Blazers to the Finals for a loss against the Pacers, then the Western Conference Finals for a loss against the Wolves, and final trip to the Finals to beat the Heat in six games after going down 0-2. I think in that playoff run there was a double OT game against Phoenix where the final score was in the high 80s or low 90s, with regulation FIVE MINUTE quarters! Defense? We don't need no stinking defense!!

Monday, August 14, 2006

"the color of a bleached skull, his flesh"

If my sci-fi leanings have a genetic Adam and Eve, then Adam would be Robert Heinlein's1 Starship Troopers, which may be of no surprise. After all, whose skiffy roots aren't? Eve, however, is definitely Michael Moorcock's Elric books.2

Specifically, it’s the second volume in that saga, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate, which I first purchased. I read the second book first because (a) the first book, Elric of Melniboné , was not in stock at the Waldenbooks at the mall of the mid-western town the Tinzeroes' clan was blowing through during the late '80s, and (b) of the available Elric books in stock, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate had the coolest cover.

Of greater significance, however, was that I went to Waldenbooks, and picked those two books out in the first place, because I was already in possession of the Avalon Hill board game versions of those skiffy stalwarts. I'm confident that Starship Troopers was the first to catch my eye at, strangely, the aforementioned mall's Kay-Bee. Additionally, chances are all the Avalon Hill products were on clearance, which explained my mother's willingness to buy them for me.

Like the other Avalon Hill games I came to own (1776, their RPG Powers & Perils, Squad Leader, Freedom in the Galaxy), I "played" Starship Troopers by myself 99% of the time, which mostly involved going through the elaborate starting game set-up procedures of putting a hundred-odd ¾" by ¾" pieces of card board ("chits") on a board divided up into hexagons.3 But man, by Arioch, that Starship Troopers game just straight-up nailed the translation of a sci-fi book into actual board game mechanics. Those boys in Baltimore at Avalon Hill were some mean board game mechanicists.

Since the game's design and mechanics were so completely derived from the text of the book, and included a handful of actual quotes from the book, and since the game and the rulebook so completely infatuated me, buying and reading (repeatedly) the book was not a big conceptual leap.4 The discovery of the Starship Troopers game led me to haphazardly pick out other Avalon Hill titles, of which one of the early ones was the ELRIC board-game.

Just like Troopers, the degree to which the game was absolutely and directly derived from the text of six, count'em, six books boggles the mind a bit.5 Hate to spoil it for you, but the sixth book, Stormbringer, ended with Elric unleashing the End of the World. This had the effect of ending the influence of the petty Gods, preventing them from meddling in the affairs of the universe ever again. Unbelievably, the board game incorporated this element.

Many other specific events from the books were in one way or another represented in the game, which was an odd way to design a board game, really.6 The number of sub-sets of rules which represent the various incidences from the books essentially dictated 'this is Michael Moorcock's world, and we're all just pushing chits around in it.'


P.S. See also, Moorcock's Miscellany.

1Speaking of Heinlein, at the time of this writing, I am terminally stalled mid-way thru Heinlein's buddy E.E. "Doc" Smith's sixth & final book in the Lensman series, Children of the Lens. I mention this since Heinlein and Smith were friends, and Heinlein claims that once he asked Smith to help him buy a car. The two of them took the car for a test drive. Smith drove the car over unimproved roads at high speeds, with the two of them pressing their head against the roof of the car to see if they could hear deficiencies in the car.

2The appropriateness of genetically likening the Elric books to Eve and Starship Troopers to Adam is remarkable. To date, I have only read two other Heinlein books, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and, of course, Stranger in a Strange Land. Heinlein's Friday is still one of the few books I ever started that was so completely unreadable I just stopped after about 50 pages or so. This rather skimpy sampling of Heinlein's collected works makes the Elric books the metaphorical Eve, since I have read many of Moorcock's books. Seven Elric novels, Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan, The Dragon in the Sword (still one of the stranger created worlds I've ever read – and Hitler's in there, somehow), pseudo-historical-fantasy-fiction Gloriana, and, of course, his Nebula winner Behold the Man!, wherein Jesus Christ is a stranded time-traveler.
3The singular exception to this rule was the hands-down brilliant game The Mystic Wood, which I'm still pissed I don't have anymore…
4If this was the way, which seems really complicated now, that I became acquainted with sci-fi, and, indirectly, "adult" literature in general, then how the fuck do kids today make their introductions with the craft of reading, if its not spoon-fed to them via family or school? Certainly, my parents and my school(s) never handed me a copy of Heinlein or Smith, much less Moorcock.
5Credit where credits due: California-based Chaosism originally developed Elric, and I suspect many Avalon Hill's products were actually acquired from smaller companies. I find little fault with this since I highly doubt I would have ever found these games in a Kaybee in the middle of the American gulag if not for Avalon Hill. Salut!!
6 For example, Section 2.0 of the ELRIC rulebook read as follows:
THE WORLD OF ELRIC For 10,000 years the mighty Melnibonean Empire ruled the world. It was an inhuman race,. originally peaceful In their ancestra1 homeland of R'lin K'ren A'a. When the gods needed their city as a neutral meeting ground to create a lull in their cosmic strife, the ancient peoples were blessed with great powers and sent into the world. They found their way to the isle of Melnibone, mastered the dragons which lived there and began the building of their empire. Through sorcerous research and experimentation, the earliest emperors established mystical bonds and pacts with the gods and spirits of the planes. Armed with such knowledge and power they gained easy conquest of the known world. Thus secure, they settled into their long rulership; entertaining themselves with all known and several unknown experiences until their centuries filled with jaded dreams. Then the gods moved again, setting cosmic forces into motion. The Young Kingdoms arose, casting off the Melnibonean yoke. Once free, they squabbled about their petty human pursuits. The Melniboneans continued to decline. their dragons slept longer after each battle. and the race drifted into a deeper slumber, like that of the black lotus eaters. Then the Cosmic Balance grew more unstable as the struggle between Law and Chaos became more than philosophical discussion. Nations rose and fell, and ancient monsters and deities again stalked the world. This time of legend and dangerr demanded a new breed of person to confront the grave dangers. Thus began the age of heroes. There were many heroes in those days, but formost among them was Elric. Kinslayer, Red-handed Reaver , the White Wolf were among his names. His saga is powerful and bitter, the story of a man whose life was a curse and whose blessing was evil. EIric was the last of the Melnibonean emperors. As if to personify the decadence of the race, this emperor was born a weak, sickly albino able to remain alive only through the constant use of powerful magics and drugs produced by Melnibonean sorceries. Yet he was stirred to immense curiosity and intellectual vitality amid the slumbering race. This isolated him. He was known as a brooding and alien king by his own people. EIric sought and suffered from mighty magics. Through his knowledge and fate he came to find the mystical sword called Stormbringer. This ancient blade was a tool of the gods, for instead of merely taking the life of a person, it drew the very essence of their sours into its wicked being. Yet this power was useless without one to wield the weapon, and in return for Elric's hand upon the hilt the sword was bound to share its unholy energy with the emperor. Elric, needfu1 of such vitality; accepted the pact. Sword and man became slave to the other. None could tell the master. It was Elric's destiny to be tossed about by Fate and the gods, bandied like a toy, forced Into the most dangerous and foolhardy positions, suffering forever the doom of his sword. Thus he went forth into the Young Kingdoms.
Got all that?! Because there will be a quiz when the game is over!