Monday, May 30, 2011

The Lost NES and Other VG Thoughts, Part Two

I realize the NES wasn't so much something I wanted to have and play again, it was mostly because of the fond memories I had playing them there. I mean, my uncle is moving anyway, and he was supposed to already be in Texas, that is, if it wasn't for the recession. If he had retired a bit earlier and sold it during it during the post-Katrina housing boom in Baton Rouge, well, things would be different right now. It wouldn't be the NES at my uncle's house without my uncle's house, so that's it.

What I DID manage to get was even a bit more exciting, a box of old computer games, many with manuals and original disks. Most of the Mac games have been added to the Macintosh Garden, but I'm sure some manuals would be great. I have an old 80s Carmen Sandiego manual I need to scan. I also managed to get a novelization of Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey which includes many scenes not found in the actual film. I know because I read it in 7th grade, English class. Maybe I should tell "Ms. A" that, my old 7th grade English teacher who had it, and now works in the community college I go to. The most exciting thing is a few 1st-generation Sears "Tele-Games" consoles, which I'm eager at trying out.

Also, like my previous post, I wanted to investigate video games again. You may notice Saturn in my previous post, but that was pretty much a wash because of the Saturn's unusual 3D rendering that broke polygons into quadrilaterals instead of triangles. Then there was the whole "Saturnday" deal, in which the release date was suddenly pulled forward to an early release at select retailers (Babbage's, Electronic Boutique, Software Etc.,[*] and Toys R Us) which ended some retailer's relations with Sega and annoyed third party companies, who would not get their product out by launch. Just earlier that year, Sega trotted out the 32X, a add-on that had its own "32X-enabled" cartridges, but it turned out to be garbage and left a bad taste in consumer's mouths. Needless to say, it only got some arcade ports.

The "6th Generation" as it was known, was even more exciting. Sega Dreamcast roared onto the scene in 1999 (an early start) with amazing graphics that could beat the Nintendo 64, a 56k modem, the innovative VMU unit, and some decent games. Unfortunately, Sega had gotten a terrible reputation thanks to the 32X and Saturn, was running out of money, and when the PlayStation 2 came out, Dreamcast was quickly discontinued.

So our focus turns to Nintendo. The GameCube, while profitable, failed when stacked against Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation 2.

And in a way, I think they kind of deserved it.

I mean, it did have some advantages, like a very small case, a neat controller that perfected the bulky and "for three hands" Nintendo 64 controller, and more.

But it did have some distinct disadvantages. Disregarding some consumer feelings, like its goofy case (the default color was purple, and it had a handle). The GameCube used a distinct miniature disc format, which was to help prevent pirating, but it had less storage space than DVDs (which PS2 and Xbox graduated to), could not play DVDs (which helped PS2 sales in Japan), and was far slower than cartridges.

It broke several promises. Following up on the failure of the N64DD, there was a memory card for the GameCube that you could stick an SD card into, to import audio and video. There were many games promised, many of which were never made. Rare put out a lot of games at E3, but after major delays (StarFox Adventures arrived a year late, and many games were completely cancelled) Nintendo sold the N64's golden goose to Microsoft, which has yet to revive Rare (now making, um, Kinect games).

The Xbox had a hard drive as well as a DVD drive, their flagship product, Halo: Combat Evolved (by Bungie, originally going to release Halo as a Mac game...that's often a sore spot in Mac gaming history), and a Broadband-enabled Xbox Live, which took the 56k modem in Dreamcast to a new level. Nintendo never developed a good online system (despite modem add-ons to the GameCube only used for Phantasy Star Online), was not able to create a good launch line-up (though the best game for the console, Super Smash Bros. Melee, came a few months later), no real Mario game (Super Mario Sunshine doesn't count). As the years dragged on, and the GameCube continued to receive multi-console ports instead of exclusive hits, Nintendo tried gimmicks for it and the Game Boy Advance, including linking cables (though Pac-Man VS was fun) and the e-Reader (more on that later). And all the while, Nintendo's "kiddie" reputation continued to work against them. It was perhaps the failure of the GameCube that Nintendo tried a new marketing strategy for the Wii.

In a more detailed explanation on the Dreamcast, here's what I wrote for Two Way Roads in August 2010, about how it could've succeeded.

1. If Sega Dreamcast had stuck through most of the sixth generation, it would be up against the Xbox and Bungie, PS2 and its loyal third parties, and Nintendo GameCube and the games Nintendo is known for. Not great when all you've got is a worn-out franchise character.
2. The Sega Dreamcast was light-weight, looked cool, and had expandability. It was by far the best-looking video game console of the sixth generation.
3. If Bungie had remained an independent company, and the launch platforms were Mac and PC, Dreamcast could've secured console rights, leaving Microsoft with not much.
4. The brand of Sega had been tarnished, which was a huge factor in the failure of the Dreamcast. First was the problems with the Sega Genesis: there were too many Sonic games, and the Genesis had two mediocre add-ons. The Sega CD was too early and consisted mostly of bad FMV titles and enhanced ports of Genesis games, and the 32X just saturated the market with mildly-improved graphics. What Nintendo did instead of a whole cartridge was market a special chip, the Super FX. And it worked. If the Sega 32X and the Sega CD were released as one 32-bit CD-ROM peripheral....that might have worked.
5. Meanwhile, the Saturn's launch was a disaster, by moving the release date up by four months, Sega both PO'd developers and retailers. Arguably, they could've continued with the Genesis, as Nintendo's strategy with the SNES was going fairly well, even in America. The Genesis had been quickly discontinued by 1995.
6. Still, had Dreamcast been more successful and competed with Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo, the market could've crashed (a crash was feared in 2004) and Sega likely to be the one to fall out.

I didn't mention some facts, about how Sega literally was running out of money. Shenmue got decent reviews and was hailed as an innovative product, but it lost a lot of money. Isao Okawa gave Sega nearly a $700 million dollar donation in private funds, and during this time, Sega was looking to sell out or merge, talking with Microsoft, Namco, Bandai, and Electronic Arts, eventually merging with Sammy Corporation. Plus, I think the Dreamcast had too few buttons.

I'm thinking about subscribing to Steam. Although I don't feel comfortable buying things online, it looks good, plus two of my cousins and my brother use it. I'm thinking about getting the Cyan collection pack (which includes Cosmic Osmo and Myst), Portal, and maybe other games. I don't like DRM especially for abandonware, but I'd pay for something that will run on my system (particularly, I've found Cosmic Osmo won't run well on any system I have, the dying iMac G3 is too fast, Basilisk II runs transitions far too slow, and Mini vMac won't recognize the CD image).

Currently, I'm doing some cleaning again, and found a Famitsu page (partially translated) about SimCity DS 2, which looked cool, but turned out to be SimCity Creator when released in America, which really turned me off for some reason. Be sure to tune in for more scans and content on Carbonizer!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Lost NES and Other VG Thoughts

Well, it seems that back at Baton Rouge, in order to get ready to sell his house, got rid of all that remained of the Nintendo products that were used so many years ago. This includes a cache of NES and SNES games (the N64 was sold a while back), as well as controllers and even a Virtual Boy. Now, granted, I have acquired the old Nintendo Power magazines and have a bunch of Nintendo ROMs backed up on the very computer that Carbonizer! writes from, but I just can't shake that sense of loss. I mean, this was what helped me get into Nintendo. This was the genesis of all things that came. Up there in that tiny converted attic, this is where the magic really happened.

Just a few days earlier, I was strolling around the local used video game store. A beloved used video game store up north in Bryan had recently closed, and the flea market really was a joke (at least, on my trip there five years ago): they had lots of NES games but no systems. But is a real NES system really that good? I mean, it would just take up space in my room, and eventually, my apartment. The "blinkies" often plague the system and require some minor fixing, the controllers are the best part but I could probably get a USB adaptor if I wanted to play (besides, I've never really gotten a controller to work properly with my Mac anyhow...). In terms of a SNES, I just can't get Stunt Race FX to work correctly, despite numerous upgrades to Snes9x. It still flickers in odd places and seems far harder to control than its real SNES counterpart.

So I still don't know what to do. I think an actual NES would be great: I saw a SNES/NES/Genesis combo at aforementioned video game store, but it was $60 and I was almost certain it used cheap "NES-on-a-chip" technology that would just not be the same.

But there are hundreds of NES games out there. A few are good, a lot are garbage. Said "garbage" are mere curiosities on emulators, but we know which are garbage nowadays due to online sources.

I watched several episodes of Angry Video Game Nerd, which explores some of the worst "garbage" games for consoles. In the interest of providing only SFW outbound links from Carbonizer!, I decided to let you Google that for yourself. The thing with AVGN is that the "novelty" (and what many have ripped off this from), is some dork with glasses screaming obscenities about some bad NES (or otherwise) game. While the character of the Nerd is purely fictional (James Rolfe, the guy playing him doesn't actually wear glasses), the games are not, and are usually culled from the vast collection of James Rolfe. What's interesting about AVGN is that in many cases, he provides background information for the system (although on occasion, he has gotten things wrong). The most interesting part what I've noticed is that the worse the game, the better episode it is. If a game is not great but mediocre, he'll give some vulgarity-filled outburst that can be quickly tuned out with a speaker control. And when something is NOT bad, the review will be almost certainly excellent. Perhaps someday I'll make a SFW-cut of some of the better episodes (Sega CD and Nintendo Power among them). There's also the theme song, which is catchy but has NSFW lyrics (quite a bummer).

Nevertheless, it has been a bit of inspiration in many aspects. Part of me has always wanted to make a YouTube show of anything. Food, video games, anything.

Another thing that has been bothering me in terms of video games, is why did the Nintendo 64 fail against the PlayStation?

A few reasons, I think.

- Nintendo had been promising an add-on from almost day one, the Nintendo 64DD for the system, which would hold eight times the amount of information as a normal N64 cartridge at the time. The system would allow gamers to "edit, trade, and add on" to games. Putting yourself in a video game, editing things, trading components, that was the future. Many games were announced for it. But the problem was that Nintendo wasn't open with the 64DD architecture, and the disks, "Zip Disk" type "cartridges" were still not as cheap to produce or as space-filled as CDs were, and eventually, most planned games moved to the N64 anyway, and the DD got a limited "subscription" release in Japan in 1999, which guaranteed it to fail. I remember reading somewhere on the Internet that would create a rift in N64 gamers, those that had the add-on, and those that didn't. It was possibly the confusion about the DD that doomed the system.

- The CD vs. cartridge debate is widely known. Nintendo 64 cartridges never got past 64MB (the size of planned 64DD disks, but that's not to say that 64DD disks could've gotten bigger themselves), with CD-ROMs having a max size of about 650MB. But most of that was never utilized. In reference to the Sega CD titles, most of the space was used for just new audio/video tracks and not gameplay themselves. In many cases, what the PlayStation got was some amazing cinematic sequences, but not much new gameplay. It could switch CDs thanks to memory cards, but N64 also had a Memory Pak which could've done the same thing. CDs were far less durable and were slow. But they were also cheap to produce. This had two points in itself: higher royalties for developers and lower prices for games (a good deal for all) BUT also easy to pirate. With the N64, pirating games required an expensive "Doctor V64" (or similar) to work, while it was relatively easy to pirate things for the PlayStation. If you cut out the cinematics and actually compared gameplay, N64 had a better processor and better graphics.

- Finally, there was the whole "kiddie" debate. The Nintendo 64 was derided for its games, like the colorful (but very fun) Super Mario 64 and Rare's games like Banjo-Kazooie. On the flipside, the PlayStation had Gran Turismo and Final Fantasy VII. Sony was able to capitalize on what the Sega Genesis had tried to do a few years earlier, position their system as the more "serious" game system. Gamers who had been with the NES were growing up and wanted those types of games. The advent of Pokémon was a great money-maker for Nintendo, but also cemented the N64's reputation as "games for kids" and sent more dollars toward the PlayStation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Junk and buried treasure

I have 250 items on my desktop. Time to clean them.

I could get rid of my hard copy of the many mustaches of Mario. I just got the "Dupond" and "Dupont" reference, it's Thomson and Thompson from the Tintin comics.

A redundant Toast image of an old kid's software program I copied to my file archive can go.

A weblink to something at the University of Alberta. May have used it for CAS numbers, but it redirects to "Wishart Research Group" now.

An "artsy" black-and-white of photo of me taken from Photo Booth. Also, one with me grinning like an idiot as I hold up a bottle of Saint Arnold Brewery Root Beer, with "Root" covered up.

A list of old gas stations in town. Decided to post it on In, Around, and About the Brazos Valley raw.

Another redundant weblink for college, another sign it's been months since I did anything.

A map of my bike route from my house to the local university. Should've been only temporary--it's only on my desktop because I sent it to my brother.

The many owners of Shredded Wheat (the version now made by Post)

Article on gourmet food trucks in Chicago. Also linked in this earlier Carbonizer! post.

A picture taken from's "Lose Your Own Adventure", in which every ending is a loss (but to be fair, most of the original CYOA endings weren't pleasant)

A canned crossword puzzle idea. Ended up moving to "Aborted/On Hold Projects".

Dozens of screen captures, 80, to be accurate. A lot of them were from Macintosh applications I wanted to write about (and I admit I cheated on a few, Basilisk was finicky, so I used DOSBox for an image of SimCity 2000. I feel dirty)

Some of these screen captures featured Simtropolis as it was during "6.0". Now viewable here.

Another one was some now-demolished 1960s arches on a local building (viewable here)

There's a neat image of the old MKT right of way in Houston.

Imagine a train going down this's east of the old line that paralleled I-10. This train could've easily passed it earlier that day.

Image of the old McDonald's sign near Splashtown. The original snapshot can be seen on this Carbonizer post.

Yet another screen capture, this time of Google's April Fool's Day prank with results in Comic Sans MS. See what it looked like at this link.

With all that, that brings the total Desktop items to 150 (instead of 257). Come back for another episode of Carbonizer Cleaning: there may be buried treasure yet.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Aggregation Experiment: The Best and Worst of Video Games

I've spent the last hour trying to compile the best and worst video games of any system. I managed to get a few systems done.

ATARI 2600

BEST: From what I've heard, Yars' Revenge and Activision's Pitfall.
WORST: People say that Pac-Man and E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial top the list. Bad as they were, they only topped the list because of their high-profile disappointments. Mystique's Custer's Revenge is also listed, but strip away the shoddy "erotica", and it's basically a cheaper version of the old Game & Watch game "Helmet". When you factor in all of the non-Atari games (ALL technically unlicensed), there's going to be bad ones that could arguably make the list.

BEST: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time by Nintendo.
WORST: Superman by Titus Interactive.

BEST: Arguable. The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, or any other the Mega Man games could easily top the list.
WORST: Most of the unlicensed games (except for maybe the Tengen and Codemasters games) could count: Action 52, Master Chu and the Drunkard Hu, Little Red Hood, the list goes on. In terms of licensed, maybe Where's Waldo?, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Deadly Towers and Color A Dinosaur.

Super NES
BEST: Again, so many hits to list. Super Mario World, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island, any Square RPG, Super Metroid
WORST: Most games based after movies (including The Wizard of Oz, Batman Forever and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York), especially Bebe's Kids. Also, Shaq-Fu.

Sega Genesis
BEST: Unfortunately, I couldn't find a good consensus on Genesis games. I'm not too familiar with the console.
WORST: Like the Super Nintendo, most games based after movies. Dark Castle gets special mention from going to being one of the best Macintosh games to the worst Sega Genesis game. Also, Shaq-Fu.

Sega CD
BEST: Sonic the Hedgehog CD, better known as Sonic CD
WORST: The "Make My Video" series by Digital Pictures.

BEST: Either The Horde or Star Control II. Like Genesis, I'm not too familiar with this one.
WORST: Plumbers Don't Wear Ties by a long shot.

Atari Jaguar
BEST: Tempest 2000 (almost universally)
WORST: White Men Can't Jump (almost universally)

Game Boy
BEST: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening, Pokémon Red/Pokémon Blue, and Tetris could all be argued.
WORST: Unfortunately, all of the other Game Boy games I've seen could arguably take this title. But which one is above-and-beyond bad?

Game Boy Color
BEST: The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening DX, Pokémon Gold/Pokémon Silver (though they were all backwards compatible)
WORST: Unknown. Take it to the comments.

BEST: Final Fantasy VII is widely agreed upon.
WORST: Bubsy 3D is also widely agreed upon.

Atari Jaguar CD
BEST: Possibly Myst
WORST: Unknown.

Virtual Boy
BEST: Virtual Boy Wario Land by Nintendo.
WORST: Waterworld by Ocean. Pun not intended.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Inflated software count

OK, last summer, I talked about Ports vs. Exclusivity, which was part of a disconnected series of posts about video games and the ways you could play others on platforms. Open console architecture and emulators were all discussed.

Now, putting all that aside, I have to say this in regards to my previous post. It's about this: computers, such as Mac or PC, always seem to get the best of both worlds. Unlike console games, which are limited by generation, computers always got the console ports. Whether it was "Atarisoft" games in the early 1980s (like Donkey Kong, one of the popular arcade ports at the time), the FMV Digital Pictures games (like Night Trap and other FMV games by the same company), or even Sega PC ports of old Genesis games in the late 1990s, computers always seemed to get everything. Granted, they didn't get Super Mario World (or other Nintendo exclusives), and the DOS/Windows and Macintosh had very different game sets (the Mac has a very respectable collection of shareware/freeware not found on Windows, and usually better graphics), but both got a lot, most of which was never seen by video games. Additionally, Macs and PCs got real software, like word processors, something practically never seen by video games.

But one of the most annoying things is that if a game can run on, I don't know, whether it says NES, Sega PC, or 3DO, it can run on that. Any NES game, any NES. I mean, assuming its licensed, you're on your own for unlicensed (and even those have good compatibility, gameplay on the other hand...). But for Mac and Windows, it's impossible. With Mac OS X 10.7 coming up, you can kiss another whole set of applications goodbye when Apple pointlessly removes Rosetta. And even long before Mac OS X, updates would often break titles (some games can't even run in System 6!). Even with DOS/Windows, which have substantially better compatibility with past versions, there are a number of Windows titles that are just not going to work without lots of setting-fiddling, patches, or in worst case, WINE.

What it seems to boil down to is backwards compatibility, but that's not necessarily the case. A Nintendo 64 should not be expected to run Super NES games (it doesn't, not without some shifty adaptor from Hong Kong). It's about whether a game can run for the system its advertised for. If the game requires Macintosh System 7.1 and up, or Windows 98 and up, then I SHOULD be able to run it on my Mac or PC, respectively. No questions asked. I shouldn't have to pay for an updated version to run on a new system (unless, of course it comes with new features and by definition is an entirely different program, or is an entirely different platform), I shouldn't have to lose the compatibility I have, and I shouldn't have to use a stand-alone emulator. Similarly, it is a developer's responsibility to patch games that are accidentally broken by system updates, and it is a manufacturer's responsibility to not break compatibility directly.

Some of you out there may believe I'm asking for too much. And you may be right, but in your heart, you know that this is the way things OUGHT to be.