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  • “The Phantom of Akihabara,” Chapter 5: “Like the River Flow”

    Posted on July 16th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    090716-akihabara1

    “You know how I’m helping out with the Comiket down below, right?”
    “Uh-huh. That, and how you worked with the closet otaku in Urban Planning to keep it from attracting any attention.”
    “Yeah, well, the honeymoon’s just about over with that. I think they’re gonna do away with Comiket, and they’re gonna take down every damn store in this building along with it.”

    Here is chapter five (“Like the River Flow”) of The Phantom of Akihabara: GAME OVER, a serial novel written by Yoshitaka Ohsawa between 2002 and 2004. You’ll want to start at chapter one if you’re new to the tale.

    With an economy in shambles and a nation in chaos, the Japanese government has forced peace and goodwill upon its people — a movement that dovetailed all too well with media’s tendency to censor itself, starting in the 1990s. With all the “poison” sucked out of their popular entertainment, how can Japan’s game nerds continue to exist…if they can at all?

    Happy readin’.

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  • [I ♥ The PC Engine] XE-1 PRO HE

    Posted on July 16th, 2009 keving 1 comment

    XE-1 PRO HE

    Maker: Dempa Shinbunsha (MICOM SOFT)
    Release Date: 11/26/88
    Price: 9500 yen

    xe1When it first launched, the PC Engine was one damn hardcore system, a serious piece of equipment that touted arcade ports and high-end action. The whole scene would be pretty damn hard to believe for the horny otaku who got into the system with Tokimeki Memorial, but it was the PCE’s prime focus until ’92 or so, and no peripheral symbolizes that more than this ridiculously full-featured joystick.

    As with the X-HE2, the XE-1 PRO HE was released by Dempa Shinbunsha, a Japanese publisher of computer and electronics-industry books and newspapers. MICOM SOFT, their consumer development division, worked on a wide range of stuff for computers (and still do), as well as pitching in on the PCE port of Space Harrier and other titles. Most of MICOM’s current products are for hardcore gamers who also happen to be crazy audio/videophiles, and remarkably, they still give a lot of their products names that start with “X”.

    This particular stick came out in the fall of 1988 — just in time for the PCE’s first birthday, right when R-Type was the system’s killer app and all sorts of neat stuff was being released. Gamers saw the PCE as the best machine for arcade ports (a role that Sega positioned the Mega Drive for in its early advertising), and in response, no less than three arcade-style sticks came out at nearly the same time — this one, NEC’s Turbo Stick, and the ASCII Stick Engine. I don’t know how well any of them sold, but the PCE joystick fad didn’t last beyond the end of the year.

    The XE-1 PRO, to its credit, lives up to the “PRO” marking in every sense of the word. I dount MICOM was thinking about anything besides hardcore arcade freaks when working on this one, which is probably why it costs nearly 10,000 yen. If you were an arcade rat who couldn’t get used to all the control pads that dominated the console scene, you wanted this, badly, to get the sort of pinpoint control you enjoyed with the pro-spec stuff.

    The joystick mechanism itself is arcade spec, according to MICOM; it’s made of the sort of sturdy metal you see used in MAME panels these days. You’re able to switch modes between four-directional and eight-directional, which makes games like After Burner II feel truer to the arcade control-wise. (Of course, to get that game arcade perfect, you’d need an analog stick, but that wouldn’t come until the X-HE3 in 1992.)

    Meanwhile, the two buttons on the right are large, round, and rotatable. You can spin them around in a 270-degree arc, moving in 10-degree intervals. According to the manual, this feature was included so “you can play using your favorite position” — which, again, is important if you’re playing an arcade port and want the controls to feel exactly the same as what you’re used to. Most arcade and MAME panels have the bxe12uttons at a bit of a diagonal to each other, often in slightly different configurations depending on game; this feature is MICOM’s solution to that.

    Shooters were the hottest arcade genre in 1988, and therefore every high-end home stick (including the Turbo Pad, Turbo Stick and ASCII Stick Engine) had built-in rapid fire. The XE-1 is no exception, of course, but the sheer amount of functionality here is staggering. There’s a switch on the front of the panel that lets you select TRIGGER MANUAL, TRIGGER AUTO and TRIGGER HOLD. Manual means turbo is off; Auto means it’s on, and Hold retains turbo even when you remove your thumb from the button. Two sliders on the top let you pinpoint exactly how rapid you want turbo to be on each button, and there’s even a couple of LEDs on the top right that shows exactly how quick the firing pulses you’re sending the PCE are. It’s only 1988, and we’re already approaching the high end of home controller functionality for the 16-bit era.

    That’s not even all, either. As you can see from the pics, there are four ports on the right side of the XE-1. They’re PCE controller ports, and if you use them, then huzzah, you can connect up to five controllers to your PCE at once. Multitap schmultitap! (Though, again, YūYū Jinsei is still the only five-player game at this point…)