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  • FUN Ep. 6 — The Secret

    Posted on June 3rd, 2013 keving 5 comments

    “640K ought to be enough [fun] for anyone” – Bill Gates

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    FUN - Episode 6 - The Secret

    Click above to listen/download!  (Or consult the RSS feed or iTunes page)

    And so it’s come to this! It’s the final episode of FUN with Kevin Gifford and His Pretend Pals, an exciting podcast devoted to old game/computer music and to me talking crap a lot. Download and enjoy the secret to having as much fun with your life as possible — a dwindling resource, and one that can be secured only through concerted effort. What’s the secret? You’ll have to listen to find out! (Hint: It involves the SID chip, mostly.)

    It’s been tremendous fun doing a podcast for the past six weeks and I hope you’ve enjoyed listening to the episodes. Now, presuming I get any free time before E3, back to the usual game-industry harping…

  • FUN ep. 5 — Greetings from Methmond

    Posted on May 28th, 2013 keving 6 comments

    “See the sky turning red and you’re still in bed; it’s fun in Acapulco” – Elvis Presley

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    FUN - Episode 5 - Greetings from Methmond

    Click above to listen/download!  (Or consult the RSS feed or iTunes page)

    Here is episode 5 of FUN with Kevin Gifford and His Pretend Pals, a limited-time podcast run by me. I play lots of old game/demo/computer-generated music running the entire history of the genre. Throughout the show, I also cut in and talk about myself, the game industry, and other things of questionable interest.

    Features this time around include:

    • An intro
    • A thrilling look at the drug situation in the state of Oregon
    • The first GameCube track in FUN history
    • The exclusive story of how running a dumb NES site got me into the game industry
    • Discussion of how Microsoft is going to spy on you scratching your balls
    • The wistful farewell song
    • And more

    This is a free podcast and by all means let everyone know about it, because FUN is best when it’s shared, right?

    A full annotated tracklist will be released tomorrow! And make sure to keep June 2 open, because the final episode will be the one where I finally reveal my secret formula for enjoying the rest of your life! What could it be?!!

  • Rising sea levels forcing jungle animals to adapt?

    Posted on May 24th, 2013 keving No comments

    Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D is out! Let’s celebrate by watching a new TAS of the v1.0 Japanese version that goes through every stage (but doesn’t 100% it).

    Unfortunately, the thumbnail kind of gives away the best part of the video (skip to around 16:00 to see it in action, along with the setup that makes the bug possible — basically the code gets confused about whether you’re entering a new stage or restarting one after losing a life). You also get a lot of Diddy Kong tumbling forward in a straight horizontal line while the game’s ambient soundtrack plays on in the background, an oddly soothing audiovisual experience.

    Part two is after the cut.

    Expect FUN episode 5 on Sunday. Happy Memorial Day!

    Read the rest of this entry »

  • When 16-shot gamemaster power isn’t 16-shot gamemaster power

    Posted on May 22nd, 2013 keving 1 comment

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    Terrifying shockwaves are coursing across the Famicom world as we speak. Why? Because allegations are spreading across Twitter that Takahashi-meijin’s skills at pressing the “shoot” button 16 times per second were actually pretty useless, since most Famicom games’ programming couldn’t register more than 15 button presses anyway.

    Takahashi himself explains the issue in a 5/17 blog post reported upon by Inside Games.

    “Japanese TVs use the NTSC encoding standard, which updates the screen image 60 times per second. As a result, games tend to operate in slices of 1/60th of a second at a time, making it easier to sync its operations with the game screen. For modern consoles like the PS3 or Xbox 360, I imagine buttons would be polled 60 times a second as well, but with the Famicom of the time, there was no meaning behind doing that — there weren’t games that demanded that kind of precision.

    As a result, most games cut the number of polls per second in half — in other words, 30 per second. Each poll returns whether or not a button is pressed, so there was no point in pressing the button more than 15 times because it wouldn’t work anyway.”

    Shocking! Does this mean that the events of Game King, the famed 1986 home-video release that was the closest to real-life Video Armageddon we ever got, are as tainted as modern baseball records? Not so — Takahashi went on to explain that this was the case for most FC games, but once the whole “16-shot” thing became a huge deal among Japanese kids in 1985 or so, Hudson took action to make sure it was more than just an ad slogan:

    “With Star Soldier, Hiroshi Kudo (vice-president of Hudson at the time) said “Kids are going crazy for Takahashi’s quick-shot skills right now, so why don’t we have them try their hand at the record, too?”. So Mr. Nozawa, the programmer, upped the number of button polls so they could. As a result, for Star Soldier at least, you have the Lazaro enemy which requires you to shoot it 16 times in 1 second to fully defeat it.”

    By the way, whether or not the Famicom could recognize it is irrelevant, because Takahashi definitely could do 16 shots in a second. In fact, people have played the Game King video in slow motion and have made an astounding discovery — in parts of the video, Takahashi is actually achieving 17 shots per second. (Nowadays, in his comfortable retirement from the game-master throne, he averages around 12 or so.)

  • FUN Ep. 4 playlist

    Posted on May 20th, 2013 keving 6 comments

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    I went all-out with FM this week and I regret not a single second of it!

    Part 1
    - Main – World Cup Soccer (Midway, pinball) — Vince Pontarelli
    - Ice castle, Netaro Village – Momotaro Katsugeki (Hudson, PCE) — Michiko Yoshida
    - Silent Language (Course C) – Power Drift (Sega, arcade) — Hiroyuki Kawaguchi
    - Ending – Lethal Enforcers 2: Gun Fighters (Konami, arcade) — Tsuyoshi Sekito
    - Field – Cosmic Fantasy (Telenet, PCE CD) — Hisao Inoue etc.
    - Winters White – EarthBound (Nintendo, SNES) — Keiichi Suzuki/Hiroyuki Tanaka
    - Block Town – Pac-Mania (Namco, arcade) — Yuriko Keino/Junko Ozawa

    Looking back, I’m surprised to find that I would’ve had a full segment with nothing but Japan-made music if it weren’t for that darn piece of classic early-’90s sports interstitial music leading things up. I’d like to think John Test, composer of “Roundball Rock” (aka. the NBA on NBC music, surely the best in its genre), would be impressed by Vince’s effort.

    Perhaps in response to the warm weather of last week, I’ve unconsciously played two different very good “ice/snow world” pieces. “Winters White” routinely gets mentioned in discussions of best “snow” tune ever, or at least they would be if people actually held these conversations besides myself. I played through EarthBound when it was a new release in 1995 and not once since; I should get back to it sometime but I’m too busy with Sorcerian at the moment.

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  • The greatest website in the world is closing

    Posted on May 15th, 2013 keving 2 comments

    Capture

    Of course, I’m referring to the homepage for the Aiseikai Hospital in Saitama prefecture, a small facility mostly specializing in ob-gyn work. (Clicking on that link may or may not trigger security blocks on your PC. Viewer beware. Totally worth it, though.)

    Featuring MIDI music, a wealth of nonsensical imagery alongside  their office hours and photo tours, and a vivid, psychedelic design straight out of 1998, Aiseikai’s page has been notorious among Japanese net users for years now, in part because it’s  remained doggedly impervious to change for over 16 years. However, sad news trekked across the net today: The hospital chief’s son reported on Twitter that his dad intends to close the site within the next two months, triggering a firestorm of nostalgia on 2ch and other forums.

    Aiseikai’s site has often been cited by Western Web designers as a classic example of Japan’s zeal for garish, cluttered, eye-destroying websites, despite being the culture that gave us finely-crafted paintings, Zen gardens, and an art style that emphasizes saying the most with the least number of strokes. It’s true that a lot of Japan’s web-dom is still stuck in 2005, sticking with Flash and tables and designs optimized for gara-kei feature phones. (Uniqlo is an oft-cited exception.)

    Time, however, apparently waits for no ghost website, even if an entire nation’s worth of nerds adore it for nostalgia’s sake. I fear that he’ll just replace it with a boring old WordPress setup and it’ll look just like every other listless, yawn-inducing website. It’s the passing of an era.

  • “Game Bar A-Button” in Akiba

    Posted on May 14th, 2013 keving 15 comments

    game bar a button

    ED: It turns out this post references a blog post from 2008 and is therefore probably really inaccurate. Never mind. Apologies for not noticing that. Original post follows below.

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  • FUN Ep 3 playlist

    Posted on May 14th, 2013 keving 4 comments

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    FUN is halfway done! Here’s a quick recap of what I played in episode 3:

    Section 1
    - Feed My Disease — Comix Zone (Sega, Genesis) — Howard Drossin
    - The exciting “crossing a sewer” music – Energy (NCS, PCE)
    - Stage 1 – Drill Dozer (Nintendo, GBA) — Go Ichinose, Satoshi Nohara
    - Stage 2 – Gods (Accolate, Genesis) — Jason Page
    - Village – Tengai Makyo ZERO (Hudson, SFC) — Toshiyuki Sasagawa
    - Stage 1 – Kuru Kuru Kururin (Nintendo, GBA) — Atsuhiro Motoyama
    - Stage 2a – Golden Axe III (Sega, Genesis) – Naofumi Hataya, Tatsuyuki Maeda

    I wrote about Energy long ago. The music still rocks, but not as much as the job Jason Page did revving up the soundtrack of Gods for the Genesis. The original Amiga was a lot more plodding and “Amiga-y” in the bad definition of the term.

    Comix Zone gets some love these days, but it sure didn’t at the time, despite the fine job that Drossin did with the Genesis’ sound chip. No FM game sounds like this.

    Section 2

    20 minutes of Sorcerian, the PC88VA version.

    I don’t think it can be emphasized enough how influential this soundtrack was to a generation of computer enthusiasts in Japan. Yuzo K. got his start writing music articles for computer mags, and by the time this game came out, he was already a major celebrity in the business. Music disks came out for the PC88 from amateur groups and they all sounded a lot like Yuzo. In that was I suppose he was kinda like the musicians in Future Crew for people of my generation. (Speaking of people I haven’t played yet…)

    Section 3
    – World Wide Connection – Shock Troopers 2nd Squad (Saurus, Neo Geo) — Masahiko Hataya, Masaki Kase
    – Battle – Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire (Nintendo, GBA) — Go Ichinose, Junichi Masuda
    – Europe in the Middle Ages (Receiving) – Gain Ground (Sega, arcade) – Katsuhiro Hayashi
    – Stage 5 – Sunset Riders (Konami, SNES) — Motoaki Furukawa
    – Village – Fury of the Furries (Kalisto, Amiga) – Frédéric Motte
    – Main – Mousin’ Around (Midway, pinball) — Dan Forden

    Sega arcade composers had an odd yet endearing habit of creating tunes that had no hope of looping before the player would finish the stage it played in. Stages in Gain Ground run a variable amount, but never more than about three minutes, a bit under how long this tune runes. (More to the point, if you spent that long on any individual Gain Ground level, that most likely means you’re screwed anyway and your game is about to end.)

    Fury of the Furries is not a fetish game, but instead an innovative French platformer that sort of foretold the gameplay mechanic that The Lost Vikings used a bit later. It became Pac-in-Time on the SNES and also had a PC port, but the Amiga version wins out music-wise I think.

    Section 4
    – Title – Ottifanten (Infogrames, GB)
    – Field – Hourai Gakuen no Bouken (J-Wing, SFC) — Hitoshi Sakimoto
    – Little Joke 1 — XTD (Amiga)
    – Title/Field – King Breeder (Artec, PC8801) — Hitoshi Sakimoto
    – Battle tune 2 – Hippodrome (Data East, arcade)
    – Desert town – Romancing SaGa 3 (Square, SFC) — Kenji Ito
    – Sweet and Sour — PRI/Oxyron (C64)

    Sakimoto did a lot of random stuff, didn’t he? I should write about King Breeder sometime (it’s not porny).

  • Podcast: FUN Episode 3 — Look what I can do

    Posted on May 12th, 2013 keving 2 comments

    “Across the nation around the world, everybody have fun tonight; a celebration, so spread the word” – Wang Chung

    fun3

    FUN - Episode 3 - Look what I can do

    Click above to listen/download!  (Or consult the RSS feed or iTunes page)

    Here is episode 3 of FUN with Kevin Gifford and His Pretend Pals, a limited-time podcast run by me. I play lots of old game/demo/computer-generated music running the entire history of the genre. Throughout the show, I also cut in (about once every 15 minutes) with commentary about the game industry, favorite artists, and the plight of the hourly worker in Central Oregon.

    Features this time around include:

    • An intro
    • Some more singing
    • A look at the best FM music ever composed by Yuzo Koshiro
    • Me discussing the time I went out to the deserts surrounding Reno and shot up a photocopier
    • Me creating the world’s first audio Commodore 64 crack intro
    • The wistful farewell song
    • And more

    This is a free podcast and by all means let everyone know about it, because FUN is best when it’s shared, right?

    A full annotated tracklist will be released tomorrow!

  • Akihabara has hit “peak maid cafe”

    Posted on May 8th, 2013 keving 1 comment
    Inside a maid cafe in Den-Den Town, Osaka (Vitalie Ciubotaru)

    Inside a maid cafe in Den-Den Town, Osaka (Vitalie Ciubotaru)

    I know many people think that Japanese nerds are all perverts who see women as desirable yet inherently inferior to themselves, but the full story is a bit more intricate than that. I say this because Sankei Biz reported a couple days back that less than half of all the maid cafes that set up shop in Akihabara over the past ten years still exist.

     

    Maid cafes aren’t an easy to make money with because they work with a completely different cost structure from normal cafes. They have to cover the inventory costs for food, rent, utilities and so on, but also must devote a larger chunk of their budget to employee wages. To a maid cafe, the “maids” are a vital business resource, and the cafe needs to retain at least a certain amount of them at all times. As a result, wages are always difficult to keep in check, and running the cafe like a regular one results in reduced profits and even losses. Once cafes begin to have trouble keeping up with expenses and fail to pay their staff, rumors begin to spread quickly and the business never lasts long afterwards.

    As more than 2ch commenter noted in response to this article, part of the issue is that Japan doesn’t have the tradition of tipping at restaurants. It’s not something you run into at all. As a result, Japanese guidebooks to the United States have to explicitly explain the concept to readers, reminding them that while a tip is “a symbol of your appreciation for the service provided” (the way a free Japanese-language Seattle tourism brochure I have bumping around puts it), it’s not something to be considered optional, either. As a result — for better or for worse (I know a lot of food-service folks here who’d say “better” by a longshot) — the maids get their full wages paid by the company, and the company’s only recourse for the higher fees popular maids may ask for is to try and make it up in prices and get customers in and out of there as quickly as possible. Hence why your average cup of coffee in general isn’t cheap at traditional, non-Starbucks kissaten and never, ever goes below 500 yen at maid cafes.

    The most surprising part of the article to me: Even though maid cafes are on the decline, there’s apparently still 132 of them in Akihabara as of the start of 2012. I don’t know where they all fit. (Ko Ransom on Twitter informs me that the number is likely for all maid-oriented joints, like massage / “refresh” places, not just traditional cafes.)

    A related article from Searchina that came out at the same time covered American tourists’ responses to cat cafes on travel review sites. The article’s conclusion: While they had good things to say about the courtesy and kindness of the staff in letting them in and dealing with the language barrier, visitors “wondered if the cats there were really happy”. As a 2ch poster put it: “The cats in places like that are like the girls at cabaret clubs, right? None of those girls are happy while they’re on the clock either, so…”