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Jeux D’un Certain Âge

February 18, 2017

I’m not ever going to claim to be particularly athletic, but today was quite possibly the most immobile I’ve been in some while.  I split it between watching TV with my wife and playing through Saturn games that are old enough to buy their own liquor.

I realize that CD-ROMs don’t actually drink.  Work with me here.d_no_shokutaku

D no Shokutaku, or just “D” in the US, was one of those super early all-FMV games that were going to replace all other forms of entertainment as we knew them.

It… didn’t happen that way.  In fact, we mostly got really awful barely-interactive games that (if we’re lucky) dropped most of their budget on hiring one actor you might recognize and who could actually act, or (more likely) didn’t have ANY actors you recognized.

D, by contrast, was an attempt to create a virtual actress, and its heroine did go on to show up in a couple of other games.  It still wasn’t GREAT, but it did have some style to it.  Back in the heady days just after the Playstation launched in North America, we rented this from the local blockbuster, and it made enough of an impression on me that I picked up a Saturn copy for Y50 a few years back.

Played nearly 22 years later, it’s… well, you can tell that they realized about halfway through that they simply didn’t have enough GAME to keep people busy, so they added a bizarre mechanism to slow the player down.  At one point, you go into a room with a wheel in the center of the room, and turning the wheel rotates the room.  The room only has one exit, so the other side of that exit changes every time you turn the wheel.

The exit you get is completely random, and there’s a couple of minutes of unskippable FMV associated with every time you turn the wheel and check which exit you’ve gotten.  So… it can take a while to exit this room going the right way.

Depressingly, the gentleman most responsible for D passed away at a very early age.  I would very much have liked to see what he could do with modern technology.

macross_saturn

After D, I rather felt like switching gears, and a licensed horizontal shooter just happened to land in the disc tray.

This is the youngest of the games I played – it came out in 1997.  It’s basically a re-telling of the Macross movie, with occasional flying a Valkyrie around and shooting at things in between sequences from the movie.  (Like D, it has an awful lot of FMV.)

To give the tiniest bit of added value, there are three bits of new all-CG animation and a weird little insert story in the middle of the movie’s climactic space battle.

It was a decent shooter and made me want to rewatch the movie.  Not a ton to say there.  Weird difficulty curve where the first 8 levels are snoozeville, levels 9 and 10 are ones that you coast through until you slam headfirst into nasty end bosses, and then the 11th and final level is back to cruise-control mode.  Great use of depth – enemies are on basically three planes, with you on the middle plane, and shooting at anything on the other two planes involves using locking missiles so there are frequent missile barrages in classic Macross style.

mahjong_classmates_special

Finally, a semi-naughty Mahjong game because it almost felt like sacrilege to be playing Saturn games for any length of time without revisiting the reason it infuriated the Japanese PTA back in the way back when.

I’m not familiar with the Doukyuusei series, though it has an impressive pedigree.  If Wikipedia is to be believed, the first entry (a PC-9801 game from 1992) is generally considered the first dating-sim.  It also spawned some sequels, ports, OVA and TV series, and… well, this, a mahjong game where you play against some of the characters.

I’d characterize it as a very introductory mahjong game and not a bad one to pick up if you wanted to learn how to play.  It doesn’t hold your hand to show you when you can meld or call tsumo or ron, but you can set the difficulty pretty low and the first four opponents (of six) are pretty much pushovers.

It also allows you to continue as many times as you want without losing progress, and you don’t need to bankrupt your opponents – you just need to get wins, even cheezy 1000 point barely-wins.

So, three Saturn games moved to the “beaten” pile and another couple moved to the “played for 20 minutes, enough to decide not to keep playing” pile.  Progress!

classmates_mahjong_end

 

Using an iPhone as a USB hotspot on Linux

February 16, 2017

Another incredibly boring post title solely for the purposes of making this easy to find in search engines. Please excuse. 

So, last night, I was digging through the Steam library for a short game to play, and Thomas Was Alone jumped out at me. I’m not normally a fan of arty indie darlings, so presumably it came as part of a bundle, but it had great reviews and howlongtobeat pegged it as a 3 hour tour, so I figured I’d give it a go. It also has a Linux version, so it was an excuse to boot up my Ubuntu box and let it run system updates and so on. Normally it only gets turned on when I have a mass of video encoding to do, so it tends to get a lot of updates all at once. 

Anyway, not to go too much into Thomas Was Alone, though it is surprisingly brilliant, I had been playing it for about an hour when Comcast decided that I didn’t need internet anymore. This was obviously an affront that needed immediate attention, as it meant that my cheevos were not instantly being uploaded to Steam servers for all to gaze upon and wonder. 

(As in, “I wonder what this guy is DOING with his life?”)

Also it made the router start blinking an amber light at me, which is about a 4/10 as far as annoyances go, right up there with the register tape running out just as you finally get to the front of the queue at the grocers so you’re sitting there while the checker fights with the horrid little printer. 

I may be over-dramatizing this. 

So I decided to use my phone as a hotspot so that I’d be back on the net, which was fine in theory… but naturally didn’t go quite so smoothly.  

Normally I use my phone hotspot when I’m out and about with a laptop or tablet that doesn’t have a built-in cellular modem, so I just switch the hotspot on, find my phone in the list of wifi sources nearby and go. It’s as plug and play as anything. 

The Linux box didn’t have a wifi card, or a Bluetooth adapter, but I was pretty sure that I could just plug in a USB cord and go. There are even how-to docs for this on Apple’s site, though they naturally only give instructions for Windows and macOS. 

For a moment, this actually seemed to work – I had a second Ethernet connection in the Network menu and it was even called Apple iPhone. It just steadfastly refused to actually work as a network adapter.

I will leave my actual troubleshooting steps aside, as you’ve already put up with way too much long-winded rambling to get to this point. The magic solution was to disable both wifi and Bluetooth interfaces on the phone, then turn the hotspot off and on again, and suddenly the Linux box could connect to it and make use of the phone’s internet connection. Life was back to normal. (And Comcast even eventually came back on, a couple of hours later.)

So, super rare use case to be sure. I couldn’t find any help online when I was looking for it, though, so I thought I’d put this up on the off chance that it is helpful to someone else at some point. 

Wonderswan and on and on…

February 14, 2017

klonoa_moonlight_museumI’m not a huge fan of the mascot platformer genre, and I say that even though the game that made me put aside my home-computer-gaming ways and buy a console back in the late 80s was the original Sonic the Hedgehog.

I even bought the sequel, my first-ever video game pre-order, and I played both games through quite a few times, the sort of thing you do when you are pulling in about 900 bucks a month after taxes and your rent is $450 of that.

Life tip, kids: Don’t be TOO quick to move out of your parents’ house.  Well, unless you really like hot dogs, ramen, and cheap canned pasta.  I really should not have been prioritizing video games at the time, is what I’m saying.

I appear to have gotten off-track.  ANYWAY, I did have a fondness for the first couple of Sonic games, and even played one or two Marios, but those aside I more-or-less ignored the whole genre.

And then, for some reason, I picked up a Klonoa game.  This was much later in life, mind you, and my rent to income ratio wasn’t QUITE as dire.  To be honest, it was a point where I was buying games just because suddenly I wasn’t worrying where the next package of Top Ramen was coming from and wooooooo disposable income!

Life tip, kids: Don’t go from a period of austerity to a period of being relatively stable and go nuts buying all the cool things you couldn’t afford.

Anyway, Klonoa is a character I really like, because he’s just so dang earnest about helping people.  His games are also much more puzzle games – there are enemies, sure, but they tend to wander slowly around and not really try to attack you.  You typically have all the time you need to look at a given screen and figure out how you are going to get from point (a) to point (b) and onwards to the end credits.  Generally this is accomplished by rushing an unsuspecting enemy critter, grabbing it and carrying it over your head, and then using it as a springboard.  Which makes it explode, but let’s not get quibbling about how many cute and relatively-innocent critters Klonoa has killed.

So, when I found out that there were Japan-exclusive Klonoa games, I made a point of picking them up on one of my trips over there, and that’s how I came to own a Wonderswan:

wonderswancollection

This picture represents the entirety of my Wonderswan collection.  That’s one console (Skeleton Pink version), one copy Klonoa: Moonlight Museum, and one copy of the Card Captor Sakura game because felt like I needed to buy a second game.  Total expenditure: Y300 (console) + Y1800 (Klonoa) + Y680 (Sakura) = Y2780.  A bargain!

Curiously, the Wonderswan page on Wikipedia has called this color “Skeleton Red”, removing all references to “Pink”, since mid 2014 when it was changed by a Wikipedia editor for, presumably, not being manly enough.  The Bandai-official name for the color is “スケルトンピンク” so I leave you to draw your own conclusions.

It’s a weird little console.  One of a few attempts to take on Nintendo in the handheld market, it’s fairly beefy for its day and lasts forever on a single AA battery.  It is sadly lacking a headphone jack, which makes actually playing games a frustrating experience at times – if you use the internal speaker, it has three volume levels: off, too loud, and WAY TOO LOUD, so I played through almost the entirety of Klonoa with the sound muted.

There is an adapter to plug in headphones.  I neglected to buy one.  It would be a bit of a trip back to the store to pick one up.

Anyway.  I bought this thing mostly so I could play a game not otherwise available, and finished it this morning.  It was a pretty good experience, even without audio.  It’s your typical Klonoa story – he meets someone with troubles and immediately goes dashing off into peril to help them get their dreams back – and plays pretty much exactly like Empire of Dreams, with the notable omission of boss fights.  I actually quite liked that, because the boss fights never really seem to fit in with the more thoughtful puzzle bits and most of the ones in EoD were profoundly forgettable.  It’s cute and occasionally makes you think about its levels to the point where you feel smug for figuring them out, and what more could you ask really?

Also, because one of the unique things about the Wonderswan was that it could be held in either portrait or landscape orientation, some of the levels have you rotating the console and playing on a much taller field than normal. That would have been very handy for the levels in EoD where you are trying to climb up the screen as the bottom slowly scrolls up to kill you, so I wonder if that wasn’t originally intended as a WS game and moved to the GBA later.

I guess I’ll give the Card Captor Sakura game a try now.  I’ve booted it and the opening screen has a reasonably-accurate  chiptune version of Catch You Catch Me, so that’s at least one mark in its favor.

Follow-up:  Card Captor Sakura wasn’t anything spectacular, so it’s going on the meh pile.  It has an interesting hook in that it’s an raising simulator / RPG where you raise your stats by doing schoolwork and sports, but it’s all done through menus and really didn’t keep my attention past the first couple of in-game days.

Requiem for a Dreamcast

February 13, 2017

Although I was silly enough to buy an imported Dreamcast five months before the system came out in the US, it was just a few months later that a friend introduced me to Everquest, which rapidly consumed all of my spare time for the next several years.

So, I kind of missed most of the system in its prime.  Not that it HAD much prime, mind you, as the poor thing was practically dead before it launched, at least in the US.  It held on for a little longer in Japan, ending its days as a platform for bullet-hell shooters and visual novels.

Anyway, the death of the Dreamcast happened to coincide with Gamestop going through a bit of an experimental phase, which explains why a video game store in Oregon had a copy of the PAL release of Shenmue II on the shelf in 2002.  If I recall correctly, I bought it and a copy of Pocket Fighter, and I can’t swear that I ever played much Pocket Fighter.  (I’d mistaken it for Puzzle Fighter, which I defend as the sort of mistake that anyone could make.)

Anyway.  So, I owned this thing but I was deep in the throes of MMO addiction so it never got played.  After a while, through sheer osmosis, I picked up that it had a horrible cliffhangery ending, which really just put me off playing it even more.  I did eventually (in 2007) play the first Shenmue, at least.

Then came E3 2015, where the Sony conference was basically just men in suits promising everyone ponies.  OK, so we didn’t get a Starcraft: Ghost announcement – I have to have SOMETHING to hold out hope for – but they DID tell us that Shenmue III was totally going to be a thing that we could play someday, if we all wished super hard and gave them lots of Kickstarter money.

I did not immediately start the second entry in the series, because I am well aware that these things take time.  As an example, I deliberately held off playing Half Life 2: Episode 2 for three years after its release, because I figured that it would take them a while to finish up that series and I didn’t want to wait too long between episodes.

Y’all can just stop laughing now.

Anyway, long story short, finally finished Shenmue II and can confirm that it has an absolutely infuriating cliffhanger ending – literally, white words on a black screen promising “The Story Goes On…” and then credits.  So, yeah.  That was not a good way to end a game.

It do wonder how the heck they’re going to pull off a third game, because it was full of the sort of gaming design quirks that characterize that era and I don’t know if they’ll be able to make modern gamers accept them or if they’ll throw them away, go modern, and risk alienating what few die-hard fans are left.

Very few recent games have you walking very slowly down a mountain path for a half hour, then executing QTEs to cross a stream, then go back to walking, is all I’m saying.  I guess I’ll see when it comes out. 🙂

As a side note, I have a post from back in September of 2009, on the occasion of the US Dreamcast’s 10th anniversary, where I pointed out that I had six Dreamcast games still in my backlog of the time and that I would make an effort to play all six of them by the system’s 11th anniversary.

…Of those six games, four of them wound up being retired without ever being played for more than a couple of hours, but at least I played two of them to completion.  That’s not bad for uh… well, it’s not a bad batting average, anyway.  Now the poor dear can finally get unhooked and go into storage against the day when I get all nostalgic for the boot-up scream of battery-less VMUs again.

 

How to skip cutscenes in Shenmue II:

February 12, 2017

No clever title today, rather one deliberately chosen to make this page easier to find on search engines.

Shenmue 2 nearly broke me tonight.  I’m closing in on the end of the game, I’m pretty sure, but  getting this far has involved a segment with a mandatory stealth bits, one-mistake-fails QTEs AND unskippable cutscenes.  I don’t think you could commit a more serious sin against players than that, but I’m not quite done with disc 3 and still have all of disc 4, so it’s possible that the game may find new ways.

Also, navigating Ryo around is, in general, a constant reminder that the dual analog control scheme is civilization.  I love the Dreamcast, but I do not love its controller.

Anyway, I got past that and then got to a bit where I had to find three guys and fight them.  Each was introduced with a fairly long cutscene to give me a sense for how tough they were, and this same cutscene played again every time I retried the fights after failing.  Rest assured that I was hammering every single button on the controller in a desperate attempt to find a way to not watch these again.

That was very nearly the end of things.  I took the disc out, put it back in its sleeve and went and lost myself in an MMO for a couple of hours.

Then I looked it up online, and found that you CAN skip the cutscenes, by pressing B twice quickly.  As far as I can tell from a quick skim, this isn’t anywhere in the manual, so I owe a great deal to whoever figured it out in the first place.  Maybe it was that way in the first game?

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow will see me to the end.  It continues to have an amazing amount of charm to it, which handily makes up for the frustrating bits.

A Sequel Post On The Youthful Rejection Of Gender Stereotypes

February 9, 2017

So, last April I posted this thing in which I posited that playing Ms. Pac-Man as a very small boy had gotten me used to playing as female characters in video games and hah wasn’t that enlightened for a young lad in Nebraska. I didn’t honestly put that much thought into it. 

Note that I do not claim that this represents an early awakening into being some sort of progressive paragon. I still regularly make game purchase decisions based largely, if not solely, on the quantity and quality of waifus on offer. 

But it does serve as an amusing lead-in to last night’s company-sponsored outing to a local barcade. We all got two drink tickets and a pocket full of quarters, so I got my rum & coke and went to find the Ms. Pac-Man machine, thoughtfully nestled in between a Galaga and a Pac-Man. 

A few minutes later, my boss – who is a little younger than me, so in his late 30s, and who comes from a much more liberal background than panhandle Nebraska – comes over and watches me for a bit. 

Then he asks “why are you playing Ms. Pac-Man when there’s a regular Pac-Man right there?”

So I guess I get to feel a little enlightened. I will let that keep the feelings of guilt and shame away as I play through my next dozen smutty visual novels. 

How About A Game Of Lucky Hit?

February 9, 2017

shenmue2

So, it’s been roughly ten years since I played the first Shenmue, and I understand they’re actually planning to make a third one.  In addition, Shenmue II is the last Dreamcast game sitting in my backlog after I came to terms with abandoning a couple of really long RPGs.

So, getting around to playing it sounded like a good idea.

I even considered – briefly – replaying the first game, as I’d completely forgotten almost everything about it except (a) your father dies, (b) there is a kitten, (c) you have a bro friend in a great suit and (d) there is a fantastic bro fight at the end where you and your bro need to beat up like a hundred guys.

Bro.

Rather than playing that game (forgive me, I couldn’t stand the thought of all those forklift races again), I tracked down Shenmue: The Movie on Youtube and watched it.  It confirmed three of the things I remembered about the first game, though it didn’t touch on the kitten at all so I am still filled with vague dread about whether it got adopted or not.  I’m pretty sure it did, it would have been super sad if it didn’t and I doubt I’d have kept the second game if so.

Then I went to start Shenmue II, which involved digging a Dreamcast out of a box and remembering that the game is a PAL copy and my DC is a US DC and I had no idea where my Gameshark boot disc is so I had no way to play it.

Thankfully google came to the rescue, and I found a burnable boot disc and the software to burn it with AND the plug-in for the software so it knew how to burn a Dreamcast disc.  Even more thankfully, I actually had a few CD-Rs lying around.

So now, only about 15 years late, I’m finally getting around to starting Shenmue II.  I’ve played about three hours so far and don’t honestly know if I’m going to be able to finish it – I’m pretty broke, the hotel manager wants me to come up with HK $38 a night, and I’m not doing so hot at the part-time jobs.  This is kind of tedious for a game about tracking down the guy what killed my dad.

I’ll give it another couple-three hours.  Hopefully my bro will show up again at some point.