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In Which I Learn New Tricks

February 6, 2017

So, I offered a favor to a user of a message board I frequent, and it turned out to be a fantastic learning experience.

As always, it started with arrogance.

They were wanting a video file converted.  Basically, they wanted to replace the unsubtitled version of the opening animation for Disgaea 2 with a subtitled version using an srt they’d whipped up, but didn’t know how.

I assumed this would be a done-in-5-minutes handbrake job and I could feel good about myself.

So, they sent me a copy of the opening and their srt file, and I threw them into handbrake and told it to burn the srt into the video, and this took all of about 2 minutes start to end including encode time.

…then I looked at the result.  It was not pretty.  Handbrake had, for some reason, skipped the first subtitle.  The video was also AWFUL.  It was 1920×1080 video but had obviously started with a 640×480 source and been stretched to that size.  I moved over to a PC and repeated the encode, and this time the first subtitle was there (so that may have been an issue with Mac handbrake) but the video was still awful.

I downloaded the demo for the game and took a look at my options.  The opening animation was in the install folder as an ogm file at its original resolution and aspect ratio, so I pulled it out and ran IT through handbrake.

Video better.  Subtitles, all present.  Subtitle timing ridiculously bad, as the video from the game omitted an opening title that was present in the awful video.  My smugness was fading.

Manually adjusted all timings in the srt.  Ran again.  Still off.  Manually adjusted again.  Still off.

Realized that handbrake has a way to change srt timing from within the handbrake application rather than needing to manually edit all the timings in the srt.  Tweaked it a little.  Timing was now reasonably decent, video looked good, I had a pretty solid m4v file that represented a subtitled version of the Disgaea 2 opening and I was starting to get my smug back.

Ran the m4v through ffmpeg to make an ogv file out of it, renamed to ogm, dropped into the Disgaea 2 folder, started the game… and got audio, but no video.

Took another look at the original file, realized that it used a yuv444p pixel format instead of yuv420p.  I have never needed to mess around with pixel formats before and I’m not actually sure what the numbers MEAN, but I figured out how to adjust the pixel format in ffmpeg and encoded it for about the seventh time and dropped it into the game folder… and it worked.

So, very educational if a little humbling.  I’ll probably never NEED to know how to make a yuv444p ogm file again but if I do, this post will be here to remind me.

 

I Read The News Today, Oh Boy

February 6, 2017

Couple of articles on the Don’t Call It Gawker network that I felt the need to mention.

First, this bit talking about the end of support for 32-bit iOS apps as of iOS 11, whenever that comes out.  This is going to be a nightmare.  I have a ton of Japanese grammar and dictionary applications that I have been using for years that haven’t been updated in all of that time.  My go-to dictionary app, thank heavens, HAS gotten some 64-bit love, I think, but I don’t even know if there’s a way to test apps to find out if they’re going to work if I update my phone past a certain point.

I have an iPad3 that can’t upgrade past iOS 9.something and it will likely be my go-to for the foreseeable future.  Normally I’m on the side of Apple’s planned obsolescence strategy, but this is going to hurt a lot of people who will only find out that they’ve screwed themselves over by upgrading after the fact.

Second, and terrifying in a much more interesting way, Koei Tecmo is apparently making special VR pods with touch, scent, and motion features to complement PS VR helmets.  Arcade-only, obviously, you won’t be wheeling one of these into your living room unless you are filthy rich and if you are filthy rich and reading this blog, let me say HI NEW BEST FRIEND LET’S RIDE BIKES.

Tecmo makes the Fatal Frame games, and a few years ago I got to experience their little “sit in a pod while you watch a 3D Fatal Frame movie while we blow puffs of air at you and shake your seat around” experience.  It was pretty neat considering the tech of the time.

A full-on VR Fatal Frame experience?  I will be on the first plane to Tokyo and will probably need to bring a change of pants.

Well, obviously, I’d be packing for a trip so there would be a few pairs of pants in the suitcase.  BUT IT’S A FIGURE OF SPEECH.  YOU GET MY MEANING.

Fortunately for my frequent flier mileage balance, no such game has been announced… yet.  I’m not going to make the trip for the horse racing simulator, I tell you that right now.  I really don’t want to know what smells they have for that one.

 

 

Now I’m REALLY Fishing For Page Views

February 6, 2017

One of the things that most annoys me about my blogging is that I’m never quite sure how to capitalize post titles – should they just have initial cap, or should they follow normal title capitalization rules, where significant words are capitalized and insignificant aren’t?  And that’s when I get into the problem where I wasn’t paying a TON of attention in 2nd or 3rd grade English class, whichever year it was when they explained WHICH words were significant.

Mind you, it could have been…4th? grade.  I skipped 4th grade.  I’m going to blame it on that.  Lest you think of me as some sort of child prodigy, I wound up repeating a year of high school due to an unfortunate tendency to not be in school when I was supposed to be.

Uh, I have gone somewhat far afield at this point.  Let’s get back to the fishing for page views.

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Sakura Nova is yet another mildly naughty VN from Sekai Project, and the first to break their naming convention.  Previous Sakura games have been very clear – Sakura Dungeon was “this is a mildly naughty game set in a dungeon”, Sakura Beach was “this is a mildly naughty game set at the beach” and so on.  I was, therefore, expecting either a love triangle between anthropomorphized exploding stars OR a love triangle set behind the scenes of a long-running PBS show.

Turns out, it wasn’t either.  It’s just set in that vague sort of futuristic fantasy world where people have invented digital watches and microwave ovens but nobody has thought “hey, if we made a device that propelled projectiles down narrow metal tubes to kill things at long range, it would be WAY better than everyone carrying swords all the time.”

Still and all, swords – especially futuristic swords – are cool and I guess the rule of cool applies.

So, not to deviate too far from how these games USUALLY go, there’s a love triangle between you (an up-and-coming knight in training) and your two comrades (also up-and-coming knights-in-training, though LONG out of training bras if you catch my meaning).  As part of the training, you fight a lot of monsters, discover an evil plan to conquer the… world? kingdom? city? (it’s not actually clear), get yelled at a lot by your drill instructor, and face off against a demon who has a REALLY weird set of priorities.

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Now, all of these games wind up with you dating or marrying one (or often both, because what the hell) of the other two vertices of the love triangle, and usually the path to the heart of your choice of one girl or the other is pretty clear and the harem ending is a little tricky.  Sakura Nova shakes things up a little in this regard, because the default solution is that you wind up confessing to BOTH girls and it is actually quite difficult to make all the right choices to woo only one future Mrs. Knight.

Something something couldn’t quite pull off a “Mrs. Right” pun here.

Should you pull this off, both of the other characters actually have an extra story to play through.  So there’s actually quite a lot of game that can be easily missed if you  settle for a life of bigamy.

With this, I’m almost caught up with the “Sakura” series. I don’t own “Sakura Agent”, because I’m trying to keep a 10 games played to one purchased ratio and so far this year I have already bought one game and have a preorder for “Horizon: Zero Dawn” looming on the… well, it’s on the… oh FINE IT’S ON THE HORIZON dear God I should be shot for that.  Anyway I will probably buy that on a Steam sale.  I expect that it will have a secret agent in it.

 

Raiding the Lost Arc(hives)

February 4, 2017

Backlog reduction project continues.

With most everything I play on PC coming from Steam this days, it’s easy to forget that I picked up quite a few indie games on various trips to Japan, which have wound in a box “for later”, particularly as that box got put on the bottom shelf of a set of shelves and then pushed to the back of the shelf.  Fortunately I have backloggery to remind me of things like that.

So, I hauled it out and picked a couple of bullet-hell shooters and a visual novel to look at.

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The Touhou series of shooters is one of those things that has transcended its roots; it started off as just this one crazy guy doing his own indie shooters and doing all of the art and music and coding himself and now it has a massive and rabid fan base and has branched out into all sorts of other games and merch.

I don’t really know much about that fandom.  I just own three of the shooters, and I’d played through the other two thanks to credit-feeding, so I thought I’d give this one (“Unidentified Fantastic Object”, which I must credit as being a great name) a try and see why I hadn’t played it as well.

It turns out that it’s because I’m not very good at it, and while it DOES allow you to continue, it starts you at the beginning of the stage, so you need to play through the stage again, get to the boss again, die again, repeat.  I got a couple of stages down and realized that it just wasn’t grabbing me enough for me to want to get better.  It’s an older game and really not particularly attractive.  So that leaves the backlog in shame.

Alternative Sphere, on the other hand, is a bullet hell shooter that I WISH I could get better at, because it’s gorgeous to watch.  Playing it is like maneuvering through a fireworks display.  Example screens, below, stolen from the internet as I am playing these on a Mac through Boot Camp and one thing that the Mac keyboard lacks is a PrtScr key.

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Sadly I am not GOOD at maneuvering through fireworks displays and felt really quite overwhelmed, even on Easy.  I managed to cheese my way to the end but won’t be going back to it.

I find that the biggest challenge in 2D shooters comes from how much of the playfield you’re denied at any given time, and I’m realizing that the shooters I like enough to get better at are ones that deny you that playfield through terrain and enemies that you need to avoid.  There’s a solidity to the world, the level designers need to pay at least minimal lip service to it, and you actually see the enemies as more than just the origin points for a spray of fiery death.  Bullet hell shooters like these two constrict your motion by filling the screen with, well, bullets in a variety of gorgeous patterns, and the actual opponents are just things that will hopefully die while you’re dodging all of the electric doom with the fire button held down.

A fewdevelopers pull off a decent balancing act – Cave most notably, and I’ve played a bunch of their games and enjoyed them enough to want to improve.  I also quite enjoyed Triggerheart Excelica and Ikaruga, by Warashi and Treasure respectively. I should probably stick to those couple of developers instead of beating my head against the more obscure games. 🙂

The visual novel was a short affair called Fukigan na Natsumi-San, which according to vndb is a < 2 hour read, presumably if you’re actually fluent in Japanese.  I am NOT fluent in Japanese and needed to have two dictionaries handy to get through it in four hours with a ton of skimming.

It had a pretty decent hook to it.  The main character is a bit messed up because his mother died a few years ago, his father remarried two years back and now he has a new mother (and a sister, who hates him.)  So, he withdraws from the world in general.  The story is about him connecting with his new sibling and realizing that they both have a lot they’re going through, that she is likewise dealing with the loss of a parent, and becoming friends…or at least friendsish.

The hook is that after you play through his story, it flips around and you then get to see things from his sister’s point of view – her father didn’t die; he left.  So she’s dealing with massive abandonment issues and the whole you’re-not-my-dad thing with regards to her brother’s dad.

So a little more dramatic than the normal very fluffy VNs I read. And I took some discs out of a box! So woo progress, as I have become fond of saying.

In Which I Am Helpful At Work

February 4, 2017

For the last few months, I have been on a bit of an odd schedule at work – they have me in the office from 2 PM until 11 PM Sunday through Thursday.

This is actually a shift with a lot of advantages, but being eight hours out-of-sync with the world does eventually catch up with you.  It’s not quite as bad as my hard-core MMO days where I was trying to get by on four hours of sleep a night and everything felt very far away all of the time, but there is a certain… disconnect, and it’s hard to overcome the feeling that people I’ve worked with for years have become ghosts that I only see for an hour or two before they go home and the building empties down to only the dozen or so of us who drew the short straw.

Fortunately I have found coping mechanisms.

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Thank Heaven for Save States

February 3, 2017

Getting around to Klonoa: Empire of Dreams the other day was a pretty deep dive into the backlog.  I’d had the cartridge for probably 15 years and it needed to be played.

It was not the oldest thing in the backlog.  That honor, as it were, went to a pair of MegaCD games that I bought, well, back when you could walk into an import game store and buy new MegaCD games off the rack.  I no longer HAVE a MegaCD, but thanks to the excellent OpenEmu that wasn’t a problem.

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The first one, Keio Flying Squadron, was the first “cute-em-up” I’d ever played, and one of the first to come out in the US period.  I think that it was probably beaten by Magical Chase for the TG-16, and maybe Cotton (again, TG-16) but not by many years.

In a time when anything Japanese tended to get localized to within an inch of its life, it was a novelty – JVC pretty much dubbed over a little of the Japanese dialog, slapped some English on the title screen and sent it out to die.

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No, really, this game got absolutely no oversight from any American localization team.

As games of the age go, it’s not too difficult and you can set it to give you a ridiculous number of lives.  It does have a ton of cheap deaths if you linger too near the left edge of the screen, but that’s kind of a staple of the horizontal shooter genre.

Keio was marketed with the slogan “Strap on your bunny ears, and save the world”, and that really should prepare you for the challenges ahead.  You’re a young girl with a pet dragon and a penchant for bunny outfits, your family’s heirloom treasure is stolen by a hyper-intelligent tanuki, and you need to go get it back or you won’t get any dinner.  Your opponents are, well, weird.  Kappa, Oni, the US Navy (Represented by Uncle Sam in a battleship), cats powered by hamster wheels…

keio_cat

…drug laws are VERY strict in Japan so I really have trouble explaining some of them.

Anyway, while I’d played the sequel (a platform game, oddly enough) a few years back, I had never gotten around to beating the original.  I won’t make any pretense of having done it without abusing save states a LITTLE, but when you’ve owned a game as long as this sometimes you just want to see the end credits.

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The second MegaCD game off the shelf was another horizontal shooter, Bari-Arm.  Not a name that makes THAT much sense, so when they released it in the US it got tarted up as “Android Assault: The Revenge of Bari-Arm” which gives a little more insight into the game’s contents.

It’s a much more serious shooter than Keio, with no silly enemies and a plot that can be summed up with “there are aliens attacking earth, and you have a fighter plane that can transform into a mecha.  Do the needful.”

Also your character doesn’t wear a bunny costume.  For much of the game this is not made 100% clear – you COULD be wearing a bunny costume in that plane, we can’t REALLY tell… but the end credits show you standing outside your giant mecha and you are in a perfectly normal flight suit.

It DOES have a very cool soundtrack and robot designs.  It’s VERY 90s anime.

On the down side, it was a much more trying experience.  For one thing, the game has four different types of weapons, two of which are absolutely useless, and one of which makes it nearly impossible to kill the last few bosses.  It also revels in the cheap deaths, even on “Easy”, to the point where I’m wondering if it was balanced around slowdown that isn’t present when played in an emulator.

Put it this way: When I played “Keio” and got to a boss, I would usually set a save state before the boss, then die a couple of times figuring out the boss, then restore the save state and fight the boss again knowing roughly what it was going to do.

In Bari-Arm, I was setting a save state roughly every ten seconds during the last two end-of-level boss fights, just because I’d managed to land a few lucky shots and desperately wanted to save that progress.  It was a tedious, eye-straining affair.

To be fair, both of these were quite expensive games at the time and needed SOME difficulty to prevent a player from blowing through them in no time at all and feeling like they’d wasted money, but Bari-Arm pushed the boundaries well past my normal comfort zone.

Still, that’s one more system I can mark off the list.  I have one more GBA game and two WonderSwan games and I’ll have those marked off as well.  Woo for progress.

 

On Amazon Recommendations

February 3, 2017

I shop at Amazon a lot.  Like, seriously, A LOT, especially as I work weird hours lately and am not awake when most of the stores are.  They are not making any money off my Prime subscription, I tell you what.

And, since I’ve been shopping there since 2001, they have a pretty good picture of what I buy and usually give me pretty good recommendations.  I’ve frequently used their recommendation engine in conversation as an example of how to do recommendations RIGHT, unlike some other online store that keep recommending me whatever the current best sellers are without regard to what I’ve actually bought in the past.

Well, there was that brief, horrifying period after I bought some opera DVDs as a gift.  Suddenly my recommendations page had a whole lotta Kathleen Battle and Placido Domingo on it.

Actually, in retrospect, it may have been their advanced machine AI deciding that I had shown the first signs of appreciating culture and trying desperately to encourage me to be a better person.  I should give them some credit there.  Sadly, it did not work and I still spend my days playing video games and watching harem anime.

But, back to the point of all this, which is a rather more recent recommendation that took me a little by surprise:

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On the one hand, yes, I would love to hear of any updates from Douglas Adams.  On the other hand, I would be terrified if he posted any news to his author page.

Yes, this is a tremendously lazy way to get a post up for the day.  Some days I just want to pick a random image and make fun of it.