Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How to Win at Nintendo (then lose my respect)

You know, I don't often discuss politics here on this blog (although lord knows I've been tempted), but this warrants the intrusion. Remember Jeff Rovin, the guy who wrote all of those How to Win at Nintendo books at the exact moment the NES got popular? Turns out he's an extremely prolific writer, editing the sleazier tabloids from the 1990s, and he's somehow gotten himself involved in this increasingly ridiculous presidential election. Just look at this.

Rovin claims he was paid to keep quiet about Hillary Clinton's torrid affair with Vince Foster's ghost, or some stupid thing. Sean Hannity, the windiest of Fox News' blowhards, ate it up, because this is the last fragile strand Trump's supporters can cling to now that it's two weeks from the election and his chances of victory are in the toilet.

I really did appreciate Jeff Rovin's work as a teenager, because video game journalism was a rare commodity in the 1980s, and How to Win at Nintendo seemed more earnest than marketing focused magazines like Nintendo Power and GamePro. So it's a little disappointing to learn that he's been reduced to spreading rumors about the Clintons that even Fox News can't verify. Then again, I can't really blame Rovin for turning to the dark side. It's not like you can make much money writing about video games these days...

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Kan't-ji (also some Switch crap)

I'm still trying to make a translation for the Game Gear version of Mappy. It's not going that well. HOWEVER! I did manage to find out what the game's adventure mode was called, after a frustrating hour of scribbling strokes into online dictionaries. Ready for it? Here it comes!

Wait wait, that's not it at all. (Funny, though!) Let's try this again:
Roughly translated to English, it's "Challenge of your Ancestors," or perhaps "Ancestral Challenge." If I were translating it, however, I'd probably call it Days of Mappys Past, because I like my localizations cheeky and slightly off-script.

(image from GoNintendo)
All right, enough of that. Nintendo finally revealed the NX, or as it's now known, the Switch. The brief promotional video was a confirmation of what everyone expected it to be, give or take a directional pad. Yep, the D-pad is history, removed from the two tiny Joy Cons that clip on the sides of the system. I suspect Gumpei Yokoi is shaking his fist from way up there in gaming legend heaven. I also suspect Namco-Bandai is considering a lawsuit for the very familiar name Nintendo chose for the modular controllers.

There's also an unpleasant rumor that the Switch screen will have no touch features whatsoever. Not only does this strike me as a step back from previous Nintendo systems (AND the Playstation 4, AND the Vita, AND practically every smart device on the market), it'll effectively make Miiverse useless for artists like myself. If this turns out to be true, I won't be making the Switch to Nintendo's new system any time soon. This is... kind of an important feature, guys! You can't just start an art-based social network with thousands of users, only to chuck it in the crapper a few years later! Give it a chance to grow, for cryin' out loud!

The other rumor is that Nintendo will continue to make handhelds, in spite of the Switch's extreme portability. This... is slightly mystifying to me, because I thought the system was supposed to merge the handheld and console markets. I'd humbly suggest squeezing a few more years out of the New 3DS and then deciding whether to launch a new handheld or putting all of your eggs in the Switch basket, but what do I know? (More than this guy, at least.)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Lost in Translation(s)

So hey, good news! Although the Playstation 3 repair was a bust, I did manage to install Arm9LoaderHax on my 3DS! That means instant access to homebrews and emulators, without the annoyance of starting Ocarina of Time 3D first! I can even inject ROMs into Virtual Console with some handy software I found on GBATemp. That's good! But some of the games I'd like to play are in Japanese and don't currently have translations available... which is less good.

Take for instance the Game Gear version of Mappy. It's a solid port of the Namco(t) arcade game, with the addition of a brand new quest mode. The game's new stages scroll in four directions, and all the ill-gotten booty the Mewkies have stolen has been updated to early 1990s standards. It's a pretty nifty sequel, marred by a needlessly confusing menu screen.

Picking the first option takes you to the original Mappy, obviously, but I have no idea what the hell the second option is supposed to be. All I can tell you is that it's something of something else, because I can't read kanji worth a damn and the only thing that really stands out is the possessive () in the middle. The final option is some kind of versus mode, I guess, but with all that kanji only native Japanese speakers and advanced students will know for sure. It's just completely unnecessary in a Mappy sequel. It's not a damn RPG, after all.

So I took it upon myself to translate the game. Hey, all you have to do is change a few tiles in an emulator and you're done, right? Heh heh, no. You'd be able to get away with that on the NES, but things aren't that easy on the Game Gear. The graphics are compressed, so Sega can squeeze them onto those tiny handheld cartridges. That compression also prevents tampering, as you'll notice in the next screencap.

Changing just one tile garbled up most of the graphics on the same horizontal line. Even if you could read it before, you probably wouldn't be able to now. So that was a swing and a miss. It would help if I knew what I was doing, or if someone would at least tell me what to do, but alas, that information is tough to come by and not always complete. Let's take a look at the guide offered on the official web site for Master Tile Converter, the program I used to mangle- er, alter this game.

Okay, I've got MEKA. Hell, I've used MEKA for nearly fifteen years. I don't go back to it much anymore, because KEGA Fusion has obsoleted it, but sure, I'll fire it up one more time to get that information you wanted. Now I'll just load the cartridge and tap in the keys that export the palette. Oh, there ARE no keys that export the palette! Wait, is there an option in the drop-down menu? No, no there isn't. Wait, maybe the documentation will tell me what to do! Nope, it sure doesn't! And this goes on and on until I'm tired of getting crushed by the boulder I'm trying to roll up a hill. Nuts to this... maybe I can find something more productive to do with my time, like demolishing a brick wall with my skull.

This kind of frustrating crap was precisely what put the breaks on my plan to translate the Super NES-exclusive sequel to Fighter's History. I thought it would be fun to do to Mizoguchi Kikkipatsu! what I'd done to Schmuck Fu years earlier, but Data East did such a wonderful job of hiding the text from hackers that it became obvious why nobody attempted a translation before. If you're going to put in that kind of effort, you might as well invest it in a game that absolutely needs English text, like the surprisingly enjoyable Gunman's Proof. (Seriously, try it sometime. Ignore the fact that it was programmed by the same guys who made Deadly Towers... you wouldn't even know that if they hadn't told you.)

Sure, you can muddle through Mizoguchi Kikkipatsu! without actually understanding it, but I still dream of what could have been. My faux-translation would have had so many fart jokes and anachronistic pop culture references! Eat your heart out, Victor Ireland!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Halloween Horror Show: The Playstation 3 Autopsy

You want to see something scary for Halloween? Here's something absolutely terrifying. Viewer discretion and a strong stomach are advised.

Around this time last year, I found a Nintendo Wii at a garage sale for ten dollars. It was in miserable shape, but it still worked, and a thorough cleaning made it not only functional, but presentable too. I was not as lucky with this recent find.

This Playstation 3 appeared in my yard a few days ago. My aunt brought it over in the dead of night, having absolutely no idea what it was but thinking it could fetch a few dollars in a yard sale. Under normal circumstances, sure, but in this shape? Not bloody likely! The system was caked with dust and faded Disney stickers, and a test run on my television had predictably disappointing results. Turns out the machine was just as much of a mess on the inside as out, as you'll soon discover.

Most of the screws on the underside of the Playstation 3 were missing in action, but the previous owner's attempt to repair the system was foiled by a trio of Torx security screws, hidden under the disc drive. They nearly stopped me too, but then I remembered that I could take them off with a strategically placed flathead. Jess one, vexing security screws zero!

What I found under the case was a whole lot of unpleasant-smelling dust. Perhaps the previous owner had a Playstation 3 for every room of the house and this poor soul was stuck with bathroom duty. Perhaps I shouldn't be breathing near this thing without a mask. I dunno. Anyway, this is what was waiting for me under the cooling fan...

Dig that dust bunny in the fan well! No wonder this Playstation 3 wasn't working properly... I wouldn't work under those conditions, either. 

Using the handy instructions on iFixit, I continued to take apart the Playstation 3, unplugging ribbon cables and removing screws, until I finally reached its creamy center.

Well, maybe not so much "creamy" as "creamed." The system's motherboard is a dust-covered mess, and the thermal paste on the processors has turned to silt. It's hard to believe this system was brand new in 2009... frankly, it looks like it's suffered decades of neglect. I've seem Atari 2600s in better shape. 

Unlike the Wii I mentioned earlier, I don't know if this system can be revived. A wiser man than I would likely dismiss it as a lost cause, but hey, at least a doomed attempt at a repair will distract me from all the ridiculous crap that's happening in America right now.

Oh yeah, there's one other thing I feel I should mention! In an amusing but not especially surprising fit of hubris, Sony called the graphics processor in the Playstation 3 a "Reality Synthesizer." I mean, sure, that's probably more accurate than calling the CPU in the Playstation 2 an "Emotion Engine" (what the hell does that even mean?), but it has an air of overreaching pomposity that makes you think Sega deserves an apology for all the grief it got for Blast Processing.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Pigs (Two Different Ones)

There was a wonderful surprise waiting for me in Nintendo's eShop... a remake of Butasan, the frantic action title where pigs chuck explosives at each other. (I know what you're thinking, but no, it's nothing like Bomberman... imagine dodgeball with even more painful projectiles and you'd be a lot closer to the mark.) 

Unfortunately, this release from Jaleco's successor Clarice Games would be easy to miss, not only because Butasan is not well known in the United States but because the company's attempt to make it more relevant to Westerners was a crashing, flaming failure of Hindenburg proportions. Here's a picture of the original game from 1987... the 3DS version uses polygonal graphics but is otherwise in the same style.

(image from arcade-museum)
(also, no, I don't know why that pig
is wearing a diaper. Look, that's not
important right now...)
Okay, cute livestock frolicking with cartoon bombs. Got it. Now let's look at the artwork used to promote the game on the eShop...

(image from Nintendo UK)
I can almost forgive the new title, but those characters? The one on the left looks like Harley Quinn with a fake tan and an appalling fashion sense. The steroid junkie on the right at least resembles a pig, but one that's likely to stick a pole through you and roast you over an open flame, rather than the other way around. It's not even the first time the game has been, uh, creatively localized, as the ZX Spectrum version illustrates:

(image from MobyGames)
Look, I get it. Westerners weren't in love with cute Japanese characters back in those days. Nintendo hadn't quite cemented itself as the leader of the gaming industry in 1987, and Pokemon was almost a decade away. But really, if you're going to offer Pig Vicious here as the Western face of the series, I'll stick with the original design for Butasan, polka-dot diaper and all.

(image from YouTube)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Astro Fighter vs. Astro Blaster

These videos are turning into something of a habit, aren't they? Anyway, this is a quick look at Astros Fighter and Blaster, released by Sega in 1979 and 1981 respectively. Astro Blaster doesn't get a lot of love from players, but it really should... it's devilishly challenging and a whole lot of fun. Astro Fighter is also ignored, but... well, maybe it's better that way.

Okay, that's enough outta me. Happy Rosh Hashanah, National Taco Day, World Animal Day, Cinnamon Roll Day, and Ott-tober for all my furry friends. I'm outta here!