Saturday, April 30, 2011

Breaking News: Mandarake Has Moved!!! And I Got Stuff There!

Last week my wife and I were downtown and dropped by Mandarake in Tenjin. As I noted last year in my review of the store here, Mandarake is without a doubt the best retro game (and toy) store in all of Fukuoka.

I feel like I'm in a little dreamland when I go there it is so good. Omocha Souko, our local retro game store out here in the suburbs kind of sucks in comparison. I get amazing deals at Omocha Souko from time to time, but they very rarely get any good stuff in. 95% of their stock is fake retro stuff (all these commemorative edition things that have been mass produced in recent years). Mandarake on the other hand is always full of amazing retro stuff. Its almost like going to a museum, you can just gawk at it. You won't get any insane steals like you might find at Omocha Souko on occasion (if I don't beat you to it), but they have fair prices on everything and a really great selection. Their staff are really nice too (Omocha Souko's can be a bit gruff at times).

Anyway, like I was saying, last week we were downtown and dropped by Mandarake. Much to our dismay though it was permanently closed!! They were actually hauling away boxes of merchandise as we arrived:
Thankfully we discovered on talking to the guy carrying the boxes in the above photo that they hadn't gone out of business but were just moving to a new location with more floor space than their current one. The grand opening of the new place would be on April 29th.

I knew I just had to be there.

The new place is in Daimyo, about a 20 minute walk away from their old one. The old one was in a 4 floor building that was extremely cramped. Whenever I'd go I would always end up bumping into people in the aisles, especially if I had a back pack on. The new one is only 2 floors, but they really do have a lot more space in there, so no more bumping into people.

They had a ton of female staff members dressed up in cosplay outfits for the grand opening welcoming customers at the doorway:
Unfortunately they don't allow photography in there so I couldn't get any pics of the inside. In a nutshell, its really big and really full of awesome old retro toys, comics and games. I kind of preferred the look of the old one actually, it had a darker, more cramped feel to it that somehow created a cool vibe to the place. The new one is more spacious and much, much brighter. Everything is bathed in florescent lighting. So I give them a thumbs up for the increased aisle width, but a bit of a thumbs down on the new decor.

The new space must have allowed them to display a lot more than the old place, as they had some new stuff I'd never seen before. The had an Intellivision system CIB that looked fantastic (you can see a pic of it on their website here).

I have to admit that I went on a bit of a shopping spree there. I didn't buy any Famicom stuff though, as they didn't have much new in that department.

I did find these babies though:
Yeah! Vintage Star Wars Action figures!! Whoo hoo! OK, they are all minor characters and all from Return of the Jedi, but they still count! And were they ever cheap!!

I'm not a huge fan of sealed stuff so these things are vexing me. I have previously on here slammed the practice of keeping stuff - and specifically Star Wars action figures - sealed, but there I had more in mind these new toys that are made for collectors rather than kids.

These ones on the other hand are actually vintage and sealed ones are hard to find. But I really want to open them up and play with them. Oh I just don't know what to do....
Anyway, these are only some of the things I bought. I might put pics of the other, amazingly awesome, stuff I bought in the days to come....

Related Posts:
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 1: 007
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 2: The Decline and Fall of the Famicom Empire
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 3: Mandarake
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 4: Flea Markets Brought to you by the God of War
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops 5: Don Quixote and Village Vanguard

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Requiem For My Super Mario Bros. Famicom Cart Keychain

One of those kind of "neat little things you can get in Japan" that I've had for a while is a key chain shaped like a Super Mario Bros. Famicom cart. I bought it for a hundred yen last year and have been carrying it around since.

As you can see from the above photo, its pretty beat up now. As far as key chains go, it wasn't a very good one. It was kind of a bulky thing to have in your pocket and I came very close to ditching it a number of times during the 2010-2011 slim-fit- jeans-wearing season (mid-November to early April).

Its general cuteness always won it a reprieve though. The thing that holds the chain to it broke recently though, effectively ending its career as a key chain.

I couldn't bring myself to throw it out though. Its one of those things that are kind of too nice to throw out even though they have no value. Like those decorative things that come on nice birthday cakes.

Anyway, it does have some potential usefulness as not only is it a key chain, but it is also a box!
A box that, unfortunately, is way too small to be of any practical use. 1 yen coins will fit in it, but not many of them.

Anyway, these are kind of neat. They made a series of them, with Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Wrecking Crew and a couple of other classic Famicom cart versions. Nice little thing to have if you don't wear slim fit jeans with tight pockets.

I end this post with this photo:
Note the odd angle of the cart. A gust of wind has just caught it and is in the process of knocking it over. This photo was taken on the railing of the second floor balcony to my apartment, which overlooks a steep wooded hillside that is extremely difficult to access and currently infested with Asian Mountain Hornets (look them up on Google. Most hits will also include the phrase "flesh eating venom").

Nestled among the leaves and other forest debris below now lies a Super Mario Brothers Famicom Cart key chain. What will in all likelihood be this little fellow's final resting place. Farewell old friend, farewell!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

More Video Game Shopping Porn! Another Boatload of Famicom Carts!

Well, my indignant boycott of Omocha Souko for selling me a broken console lasted for all of three days. They just know me to well. Cheap Famicom carts are my Kryptonite.

And today did they ever have some cheap Famicom carts.

They had put out another pile of carts for 100 yen (about1$US) each. I ended up buying 19 of them.

First, I got these eight here. All of them are carts that I needed and with these acquisitions my collection has moved past the 650 mark, almost 2/3 of the way to the entire set.
Solomon no Kagi (Solomon's Key) was probably the best one in this lot. I've been looking for a cheap copy of it for a while, this is the first time I've seen one for less than 2,000 yen. I haven't played it yet so I don't know if its any good, but what a deal. I was really psyched to get a copy of Family Basic V3 too.

Next, the Ice Climbers. These were probably the best deal. Two copies of Ice Climber, one complete with box and manual, for 100 yen each:
The box is a bit beat up and the carts are a little scuffed, but what a deal. I love the Ice Climber box art, it is probably my favorite cover art from that series of early Nintendo carts with the gray boxes. Something about the maniacal expression on the face of the pink guy amuses me.

I also got a "boxed" copy of Wrecking Crew:
I found this to be interesting. The box and manual aren't original, they were made by a shop called "Famicom House" which used to make its own manuals and boxes for used Famicom games it sold. I think they are kind of neat.

Famicom House, incidentally, still exists and is still called "Famicom House", but it is a grossly misleading name. They have a location near my place, but they only sell games for new systems these days. So if you are looking for Famicom games, Famicom House does not have them so don't bother. They also seem to have diversified heavily into the pornography market, as about 2/3 or so of the floor space is curtained off and devoted to adults only stuff.

Back in the day, though, they were probably a pretty good place to buy Famicom games. Judging by this copy of Wrecking Crew, anyway.

Rounding out my purchase were the eight games featured in the photo at the top of this post. I already have those games, but figured they would make for good trading material someday!

Related Posts:

- Mega Bargain of the Day: 3 Consoles and a Game for 10 Bucks
- First Famicom Carts of 2011
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Family Basic, Family Trainer and Climber Stick
- Retro Game Shopping Will Never be the Same Again

Monday, April 25, 2011

Nintendo Color TV Game 15

So this is one of those things where everything doesn't quite go to plan.

Omocha Souko has had this Color TV Game 15 for the longest time. Made in the late 1970s by Nintendo, it is one of the oldest of the old-school video game systems. It says it has 15 games built into it, but their method of ENRON-style accounting would never fly in today's gaming world as all the games are variants of Tennis, Hockey or Ping Pong.

If you want to know more about the history of these things I highly recommend Erik's excellent Before Mario blog, which has some really great photos and write-ups about old Nintendo toys, including this one.

Anyway, despite the fact that I've wanted this thing for a long time, I've held off on buying it because they wanted 10,000 yen for it. That is a bit on the high side, which is unusual for Omocha Souko.

They suckered me out this week though. A combination of their various discounts brought the price of the thing down to 6,500 yen. That is boxed and it came with the AC adapter (most don't as the thing didn't originally, it can also run on batteries) so it was a pretty reasonable price.

My wife was looking to get me a present so I said "come on, lets go to Omocha Souko." I'm a lucky guy. She is so sweet.

I brought my camera and intended to photograph the whole purchasing process from its removal from the glass case to the cashier, etc. Like an idiot I forgot. You can see a picture of what it looked like in their glass showcase in a photo I put on this post here last November. It was only when I got home that I remembered to start taking photos. Here it is, fresh out of the bag:
The box is really cool:
My fun came to a bit of a screeching halt though when it came time to actually hook it up to the TV. I had a deja vu experience, remembering hooking up my first Famicom with RF switch to a TV. Long story short: none of the connections match up and you have to use a lot of adapters and things. I had to go through boxes of old cables and crap looking for the right stuff. It turned our living room into a mess:
As you can see from the above photo though, I did eventually get it hooked up.

The story does not quite end happily there though. If you look closely at the pong style game displayed on the TV screen in the above photo, you'll notice that there is only one paddle on the right side of the screen. None on the left. Strange, isn't it?

This puzzled me greatly. For about an hour after getting the thing hooked up, no matter what I did I could not get the paddle on the left (1player) to show up.

I made my way onto the internet and after much surfing to no avail eventually stumbled onto this Youtube video. The guy is just showing the insides of his Color TV Game 15 and while doing so he notes that if you unplug one of the controllers (you have to physically open the casing up to do that) the corresponding paddle disappears.

"Great" I thought. Probably the controller is just unplugged inside the thing and all I have to do is plug it back in and we'll be ready to go.

Nope. I took everything apart. Both controllers were plugged in. I noticed that when I switched them though, the number 1 controller did not work at all. The ingrates at Omocha Souko had sold me a Color TV Game 15 with a broken controller! D-oh!

The normal course of action on making such a discovery would be to return the thing for a refund. BUT I can't do that. As we were making the purchase the staff reminded us (as they always do) that they do not accept refunds for any retro game items. And I explicitly said "yes, that is fine" as I always do.

If I'm buying a 300 yen junk item, I'm willing to take the chance and usually stuff works. Even if it doesn't, I never get upset as its small money. But this thing was expensive. And they had a sign saying "Dousa Kakunin" on it, which means that it had been checked. I think when they checked it they probably just plugged it in to see if it worked for a second (which it does) and didn't notice the missing paddle.

So, you know, caveat emptor and all that. The plus side is that all I need is a working controller. As they come hardwired into the console these things are impossible to find on their own. But if I can find a broken console going for cheap I can cannibalize it for parts to make mine work.
So I can't be too disappointed. I love the thing despite its not working. Just look at it. It looks really really cool, even though it is completely useless.

Related Posts:

- Mega Bargain of the Day: Kousenjuu SP Electro Safari

- The Unveiling (Drumroll): Donkey Kong Hockey!
- Fukuoka Famicom Shops II: The Decline and Fall of the Famicom Empire

Friday, April 22, 2011

Famicom Baseball! Reflections on the Art and More Japanese Video Game Slang

Spring is my favorite season of all. Mainly for the warm weather. But also because it is when my favorite sport of all starts up again: baseball!

The Famicom has an awful lot of baseball games for it. I'm pretty sure there are more Famicom baseball games than any other single type of game. This makes sense as Baseball is definitely the most popular sport in this country (yet another reason why I like living here).

In the comments section of my last post on Ice Climber Nate astutely pointed out that there are a lot of interesting Famicom slang related to Namco's Family Stadium series of baseball games, which were the most popular baseball games on the Famicom (Jaleco's Moero Pro Yakyuu was also popular though). So I thought I would do a post here about Famicom baseball. In the first part of this post I offer some thoughts on the genre of Famicom baseball games and their artistic qualities. In the second part I offer a continuation of my series on Japanese Famicom slang with some entries on baseball games.

First, a little word about Famicom baseball and Family Stadiumin particular:
If you were a baseball loving kid in the English speaking world in the 80s as I was, you probably longed to play this game's American release, Tengen's R. B.I. Baseball. This is a really great game, partly because it just plays well, but also because it was the game that used actual Major League player names rather than just generic ones.

I didn't have this game as a kid. Instead I had Bases Loaded 3, which used generic teams and player names, much to my disappointment. That game had its predecessor on the Famicom in Jaleco's Moero Pro Yakyuu:Not a bad game. This one holds the record for being the cheapest Famicom game I have ever purchased: 10 yen. It actually had a "10 yen" price tag on it and everything.

Anyway, a lot of people criticize older Baseball (and other sports games) for not aging well. The clumsy graphics and controls are no match for today's games. I have to admit that this is one of the few genres (along with racing games) where I fully acknowledge and embrace the newer consoles. About the only games I play on my PS2 are Baseball and racing games. Still though, I could never completely abandon my old Famicom baseball games.

One of the main points of brilliance in the early baseball video games is their coincidental similarities with American folk artist's rendering of baseball games. Look at this painting by the brilliant Ralph Fasanella ("Night Game - 'tis a bunt"):
Doesn't that field with those players bear a strong resemblance to the way early baseball video game designers made their field's look? The simplicity brings to mind Nintendo's first baseball game on the Famicom (the descriptively titled "Baseball"):The elements of folk art aren't just found in the games but on their labels as well. Probably the best in my opinion is an obscure old game called Chounin Ultra Baseball:
The use of color is perfectly balanced on that cover art. The simplicity of the background and the bold, yellow letters perfectly compliments the detail on the player's jersey and the look of determination on his face. I really love this cart.

OK, now on with the baseball slang. Courtesy of Tatta Hitori no Famicom Shonen's excellent glossary of terms. In no particular order:

コントローラー落とし ("Controller Otoshi") - when you are about to lose, you drop your controller on the Famicom, causing it to stop working, thus nullifying the game's results. Literally "Controller drop".

侍打法 ("Samurai Dahou") - I have a little trouble understanding the precise meaning of this as it is written, but basically this is a type of hit where you stop the bat at one of the corners of the plate. Literally "Samurai hit".

ハットリ打法 ("Hattori Dahou") - another name for a hit similar to Samurai Dahou. The name comes from the game Ninja Hattori Kun.

ピッピ ("Pi-pi") - The sound the pitcher makes in Family Stadium. Can be used in a sentence like "Does anyone want to Pi-pi?" (ie does anyone want to pitch?). Of course in English if you ask that it sounds like you are asking if anyone wants to urinate, so you should probably use this with extreme caution.

武士なさ (Bushi nasa") - This took me a bit of time to figure out, but basically it means to have mercy on your opponent. Like if it is the 9th inning with two outs and your opponent hits a fly ball to right that will end the game, you might choose to let it drop instead. Comes from an old Samurai expression ("Bushi" is another word for Samurai).

雨天中止 ("Utenchuushi") - literally "game called due to rain". Use this phrase when you are losing (and frustrated) and hit the "reset" button. Can also use "teiden" (blackout), "Bochittona" (a word that mimics the sound of a button being pushed) or "hekkushon" (Achooooo!).

Related Posts

Dining a la carte: Ice Climber Famicom Japanese

Famicom History Part 2: Japanese Famicom Slang 101

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Dining a la carte: Ice Climber Famicom Japanese

Famicom carte, that is.

After so many kind readers expressed interest in the Famicom Japanese slang I introduced in my previous post, I decided to put up a few more in (yet another) separate series of posts. I've decided to introduce a few of the individual games that seem to have more colorful video game slang going for them. Today's game is the classic Ice Climber.
By way of introduction, I really like this game. Its one of the few Famicom games that you can play in two player cooperative mode, and its actually quite fun. I think my favorite such game is Son Son, but Ice Climber comes in a close second (in a tie with Contra).
Anyway, here are some of the Japanese slang associated with Ice Climber as reported by the always entertaining Tatta Hitori no Famicom Shonen. As a disclaimer, I should note that according to that source, some of these phrases were "extremely local" in character and were not necessarily in widespread use. Nonetheless, I think they are kind of interesting and worthy of translation.

男気 - "Otokogi" - Refers to when you get to the top of a level, jump and fail to catch the bird and then fall, left or right, through the cracks to the bottom of the mountain. Literally means "Man spirit".

奈落 - "Naraki" - Used when you just miscalculate a jump and then end up falling through the cracks much further than you could have expected (ie all the way off the screen) to your death. Literally it is an obscure word for "hell".

ワッシャる - "Wassharu" - Game Over. This just mimics the sound the game makes when it is "game over".

雪印 - "Yukijirushi" - This is used when you make a mistake (such as making contact with a seal) and your character freezes (causing you to lose a life). It is the name of a famous dairy product company whose name means "snow brand" and whose logo looks like this:
Anyway, there you go. Next time you plunk Ice Climber into your Famicom or NES, be sure to have these four useful terms memorized. Impress your friends!

Related Posts
- Famicom History Part 2: Japanese Famicom Slang 101

- Famicom History

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Famicom History Part 2: Japanese Famicom Slang 101

Here we go, part 2 in my new little social history of the Famicom (part 1 is here). Today's post looks at the language of the Famicom.

Jargon is an interesting thing. Impenetrable to outsiders, it helps to define the group of people who use it. Over time, some words may make their way into the larger lexicon of the language in question, but most do not.

When I try to think of some English examples of, for example, NES related jargon that kids back in the day used, I can't really come up with anything. I'm sure it existed but....I don't know. Nothing comes to mind. Weird...some of you readers out there must have some?

Anyway, over at Tatta Hitori no Famicom, they have put together a dictionary of all the "yougo" (jargon) that Famicom fans have developed over the years. It is surprisingly large, with 177 entries to date. I spent a bit of time pouring over these, some are quite witty and amusing. Others perhaps not so much so.

I decided to translate a few of them for your reading pleasure. So here you go all you Famicom wannabes: How to speak "Famicom yougo" like a real 80s Japanese kid.

I've divided these into two sections, the first one looks at some general Famicom words/phrases. The second one looks at words specific to individual games.

Section 1: General Famicom Vocab

ファミコンあらし - "Famicom Arashi". I love this one, probably its my favorite. The definition on the website says:

"A person who goes to a friend's house only to play the Famicom and then goes right home after. Includes people such as those who only owned a Sega, or whose parents accidentally bought them Family Basic thinking it was a Famicom."

ファミカー "Famikaa" - Someone who really likes the Famicom. Also "Famiconist".

ファミる - "Famiru" - the verb form of "Famicom" (ie to "do Famicom" or "Play Famicom"). The -ru ending signifies it is a verb in Japanese.

ファミ逃げ - "Faminige" - Describes the situation where you are playing Famicom at home with someone and they (impolitely) say "Hey, I 'm really good at this part here, gimme the controller" and then when you do they immediately screw it up and die. Then they say "Oh I just remembered something I have to do" and run off. Literally means "Famicom runaway".

Section 2: Game Specific Famicom Vocab

1. Rockman

岩男 - "Iwao." This word is the nickname for Rockman (Megaman). From the Characters for "rock" and "man".

2. Super Mario Brothers

大人マリオ - "Otona Mario". This is the word you use when you get a mushroom on Super Mario Brothers. Literally means "adult Mario".

スタート殺し - "Suta-to Kuroshi" - Used in Super Mario Brothers two player mode. When 2p is jumping over some hazard, 1p pushes the "start" button, pausing the game and messing 2p's timing up. Then pushes "start" again, and 2p dies. Literally means "Start Kill".

3. Dr. Mario

おま連 - "Omaren". Used when your opponent erases two rows of pills in Dr. Mario, causing penalty pills to fall onto your screen. Its an abbreviated way of saying "I have you to thank for these damn pills falling onto my screen."

4. Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Shima (Adventure Island)

カミカゼ - "Kamikaze" - used when you go really fast on the skateboard and run into an enemy.

5. Balloon Fight

地獄落ち - "Jigoku Ochi" - Used in "C" mode when you fall into the abyss and the game makes that "hyuuuuuuuu- " sound. Literally means "Falling into hell".

6. Spelunker

スペランカー的 - "Spelunker-teki". This can be used with any game, not just Spelunker. It literally means "Spelunker-ish", and refers to any game where you die quickly. A reference to the fact that the Spelunker character dies really easily in that game.

Related Posts

- Dining a la carte: Ice Climber Famicom Japanese

- Famicom History

Friday, April 15, 2011

Famicom History

I'm a big history buff. In real life I do some research that touches on the subject, though I'm in a different field.

I've been wanting to do some articles here on Famicom history for a while and figured I might as well start now. So here goes.

You'll notice that there are a lot of sites that give you the bare facts of the Famicom's history - the dates and names. The best history on the net I've seen is the write up at Game Spy on the 20th anniversary of the console's release. Their (excellent) article though is mainly concerned with the history of the Famicom as a console itself. What I am more interested in is the Famicom's place in Japanese history. What is really missing out there in English is some writing about the Famicom and the people who actually went out, bought the things, played with them, got bored with them and forgot about them back in the day. What place did the Famicom have in Japanese society in the 1980s?

In short, this is not a series about video game history. That has been done to death. It is a series about the Famicom's place in history writ large. This is a subject which has been almost entirely overlooked in the English (and even the Japanese) blogosphere.

Probably a big part of the problem is the sheer difficulty of finding material. Normally I only use photos that I took myself on this blog (with some exceptions), but of course I can't go back in time to the 80s to take such photos, so I'm stuck with free riding off the photos of others for this series, which is a difficult task.

I spent a ton of time trying to find photos of the Famicom actually taken back in the 1980s on the net. If you look around, especially on youtube, you can find videos of original commercials for the Famicom (which are totally awesome, BTW), but not much else. No 'candid' shots. After searching the Japanese internet far and wide the only picture I was able to find was the one above. This came not from a gaming site, but from the website of the Association of Japanese Energy Producers, who used it to show how electricity was used in the 80s. That is how far and wide I had to look!

It seems I'll have to (ugh) start pouring through actual physical media from the day to find more such photos. I'll see what they have at the library...

Anyway, another almost- Famicom photo I found was this one, Akihabara in 1982, on the eve of the Famicom boom:These people didn't know what was about to hit them.

Looks fitting though. Kind of what I imagine 1982 Akihabara to have looked like. The photo comes from the excellent archives section of Akihabara's official site. Even if you can't read Japanese, they have some cool photos of old school stuff in there (just start clicking at random and you are bound to find something).

Anyway, I'll end this post by introducing the "major eras" in Famicom history, as defined by Tatta Hitori no Famicom Shonen, a Japanese Famicom related website. Yeah, I know I said I wasn't going to talk about dates, but for introductory purposes I think these might be useful and of some interest.

The Early Golden Age (1983-1986): Covering the period from the release of the Famicom to the release of the Disk System.

The Middle Golden Age (1987-1989): Covering the period when the Famicom reached its peak to just before the release of the Super Famicom.

The Late Golden Age (1990 - 1994): In the wake of the Super Famicom's release, new Famicom titles continue to be released. To the last officially released Famicom title.

The Famicom Ice Age (1994-1997): Mountains of remaining, unsold inventories of Famicom games sold on the market at discounted prices. Some overlap with the late golden age.

The Renaissance (1998-2003): Famicom games begin to regain their value (on the secondary market). Until the 20th anniversary of the Famicom.

The Second Coming of the Famicom (2004 - Present): The value of the better ("premium") Famicom games go up, while all the other games are dumped at discount prices again. Famiclones make their appearance on the market.

I won't necessarily be following this breakdown by era (I'll only be focusing on the "Golden Age" from 1983 to 1994), but there it is for you. This is a loose translation of the original, with some liberties taken here and there.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Famicom Releases by the Numbers

Welcome to the newly re-designed Famicomblog. I love these new Blog templates that for some reason I've been ignoring for so long.

Anyway, kind of a quickie post here. I was browsing the Japanese Famicom Internet world this morning when I came across this interesting Faminfo blog here. He organized all the Famicom game releases into a single table by year, which I thought was kind of neat.

I thought I'd do something similar in English here, hence the above. Its basically the same info from the Japanese site so if you read Japanese, head over there for the original statistics.

Its kind of interesting to see it in table form like this. A few interesting bits of trivia which it reveals:

-In 1983, the year of its release, the Famicom only had 9 games. The same number were released in 1994, the last year of the console's official life.

-1986 was the first year in which more than 100 games were released for the Famicom. More than 100 games were released for it in each year from 1986 to 1991.

-1988 was the peak in Famicom game releases with 200.

-The number of releases skyrocketed in the period from 1983 until 1987. They then plummeted at an equally fast rate between 1991 and 1994.

There you go. Quick Famicomblog post.

By the way, if my table looks like something I did up in a powerpoint slide, converted to a pdf, and then realized that Blogger doesn't let you upload pdf files so I just took a picture of my computer screen and uploaded that, its because that is exactly what happened.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Emulation Schmemulation: 5 Reasons You Should Own an Old Console

Hey look! My first blog post that is a list of something! Another milestone here at Famicomblog.

My main purpose here (despite the somewhat inflammatory title) isn't to criticize emulators. I actually think they are great and have a lot of respect for the early pioneers who reverse engineered the games back in the day. And I get the attraction. Playing a game on a PC is just insanely convenient. The games are easily accessible, instantly playable and you don’t have to devote a huge chunk of your realty to the storage of tons of old cartridges and consoles. Perfectly reasonable. Switching to emulators to play retro games has even been linked to a 90% reduction in “tripping-over-massive-entanglement-of-console-wires” related injuries in retro gamer living rooms. Probably.

That said, I never play retro games on my PC. Its not a trend that I view favorably as I like to think of "retro-gaming" as a hobby that is about more than just playing the games themselves. Emulators can't emulate all that other stuff. Here I’m going to make my case by showing five things that Emulators can't provide but consoles can.

1. The Thrill of the Hunt

Ironically, having to go out and buy something can actually be a fun experience in and of itself. Being able to download stuff on demand removes the thrill of the hunt from the experience. I’ve noticed this with things like music and movies that I used to procure at actual stores but no longer do. Going to rent a DVD or buy a CD was something that I probably enjoyed as much as actually watching the movie or listening to the album. Downloading is just way too easy and bland an activity for you to get anything out of it.

Case in point: Antarctic Adventure. My experience trying to track down this game is illustrative. When I first got my Famicom that was the game I wanted the most. It was my wife’s favorite game when she was a kid and I knew that buying it for her would put me in her good books. Only problem was that none of the video game shops in town had a copy of it. I ventured near and far looking for a copy of that game, spending god only knows how much time burying my nose in the junk bins, glass cases and racks of Fukuoka’s game stores. For 6 long months I toiled.

My quest was such as to achieve legendary proportions in the Fukuoka gaming community. Clerks at the video game shops in town would see me wandering the aisles. A new guy with a quizzical look on his acne-scarred face would ask “Why is that guy always here? I understand not the purpose of his constant visits.”

“That,” a grizzled veteran shop clerk would reply in a fatherly voice, “is Sean the Wanderer. He is not from this land, but hails from a distant kingdom. He is a man on a quest that brings with it much peril. He seeks a copy of Antarctic Adventure. Boxed if possible, but they say that he is flexible on that issue.”

Then, suddenly, it appeared one day. At 007, they put out a whole bunch of new games and Antarctic Adventure was one of them. My quest was at an end. Sean the Wanderer could finally rest.

Having to spend so much time looking for that game produced two positive results. The first was that I actually enjoyed looking for it. Spending your time looking through quirky stores searching for an obscure item is fun, at least to people like me. You actually get to interact with people and places rather than just sitting in front of a computer. The second was that when I finally got the game, I really appreciated it, and so did my wife. We got a bottle of wine and played that thing for hours, taking turns on each level. It was fun, and a great memory.

Now, if I had just gotten a copy of the game on our PC, it would have been fun for a few minutes and that would have been that. Having to go out and find it though gave me a good 6 months of...well, of something to do at least.

2. The Ritual of the Console

Ritual is an undervalued element of our modern society. We’ve pretty much done away with most of the formalities which used to dominate our lives. Undoubtedly this has been a good thing. I’m an informal kind of guy. I hate suits. But sometimes I do wish I had a bit more ritual in my life. I get some of that from the Famicom.

The ritual of the console is something that emulators can’t emulate. PCs and laptops are just too frigging convenient and well-designed. The ritual of the console can only be achieved by having a bunch of old consoles that are massive pains in the asses to hook up and make work.

Thankfully I just so happen to possess a bunch of such consoles.

The ritual begins with the need to select a console on which to play. Lets go with the Famicom. Now I must first go through the ritual of getting all the right wires hooked up to the TV, as every time I use a different console I switch the wires around.

Then comes the taking out of the Famicom from its little shelf beneath the TV as the controller wires aren’t long enough to reach our sofa otherwise.

Next comes the selection of the cart, done at our lovely wall rack.

Then, the putting in of the cart and switching on of the console.

Grey screen.

To wit: the removal of and blowing on the cart and then trying again.

Grey screen.

Enter: the phase of fidgeting with the cart to get it in just right. Not all the way in, but kind of like almost all the way in. No, more than that. Yeah, like all the way in but just pull back at the last second.

Grey screen.

Swearing, threatening to throw the bloody console out the window. Calming down. Reassuring everyone that you’ve got it. No, really, you know what you are doing. Come on, I’ve got it. OK, go ahead then. Yeah, lets see you try it, smart-ass. Good luck with tha….

Oh shut up.

Anyway, the bottom line is that while the ritual described above is a huge pain in the ass, somehow it is a necessary ritual that heightens one's appreciation for the game. I think this is because it makes the activity of playing the game much more than the simple playing of the actual game itself. Having to go through all of this is part of the experience. Being able to play the game right away, while convenient, removes all of these ritual elements from the experience. You are just playing the game and nothing else.

3. The tactile feel of the real deal.

The physical experience of playing on an old console and actually holding the original controllers in your hand is also something whose value should not be underestimated. Computers just aren’t designed to be used in the same way.

This is something much more than just the design of the controllers, and it is difficult to put into words. It’s the “feel” of them. Somehow your brain knows when you are playing with a real controller. It remembers exactly what they feel like and sends a message subconsciously “this isn’t the real thing” when you try playing a game on something else. I get that feeling when I play on a Famiclone. Even though the controllers are similar to a Famicom’s, they aren’t quite the same. They are just different enough – the amount of resistance when you push the buttons, the weight of the thing, how sensitive it is to your movements, etc – that you notice.

4. Art

This is a pretty simple point which I won't belabor. The box and cover art of the games are some of their most impressive features. Some games which I can't stand playing I really enjoy looking at because of their fine cover art. Of course you can see scans of the box art on your computer, but having the actual thing in your hand is a much different experience. The wear and tear on the carts themselves can also provide a more human touch to the experience of retro gaming than the standard and sterile computer file can.

5. The Joy of Being a Collector

A key difference from the "hobby" perspective is that the retro-gamer who also owns a console is a kind of collector. Emulation of course is also a hobby, and a good one at that, so I certainly don't say that collecting is superior. It is, however, different, and that fact is worthy of consideration.

This point kind of relates to point 1 above - the activities and mindset of a collector are fundamentally different than the activities and mindset of someone who only plays the games. Again, I'm not saying they are better or worse, just that they are different and as such provide a somewhat more in depth experience than solely playing the games do. Having a collection means having things, sorting them, storing them, caring for them, looking for more of them, trading them, etc etc. This is kind of a pain in the ass to some people, but I rather like it.


As I said at the outset, I totally understand the appeal of emulators. My only purpose in this post is to perhaps give those of you out there who restrict yourselves to playing retro games on the PC some food for thought. Apologies for the profanity, but it needs to be said that owning an old console is pretty fucking awesome, despite all the headaches!

Related Posts:

- Famicom Cart Condition: Why Good is Bad and I’ll Never Buy Sealed Stuff

- Why the Famicom Has Aged Well Part 1: Imagination

- Why the Famicom Has Aged Well Part 2: No Planned Obsolescence