Saturday, July 30, 2011

Famicom History: When Dragon Quest III Went on Sale

This is a really cool video, a news report from 1988 about the release of Dragon Quest III that I stumbled upon over at Famicom no Neta.

The news story is mainly about the problem of kids skipping school in order to go wait in the massive lines forming in front of department stores for Dragon Quest III. A large number of students had been caught doing so and the police, the education ministry and the game maker were having some trouble dealing with the delinquency issue caused by the game's popularity.

The video is a treasure trove of images from the day. Its got video of the massive lines of Dragon Quest fans snaking down the street in Tokyo waiting to buy the game. Its got images of store employees desperately scooping copies of the game fresh out of their crates and onto store shelves. Its got the thrill of victory by one shopper who has finally gotten to the front of the line and gives a wave to the crowd behind him as he makes his much anticipated purchase. Its got two store employees at the end of a busy day on the sidewalk, one with a bullhorn and the other with a sign saying that they were all sold out of Dragon Quest III.

This video really adds a poetic touch to the experience of scrounging through bargain bins full of old Famicom games. Copies of Dragon Quest III are often to be found in them, usually selling for dirt cheap. It is hard to believe when looking at them in that sorry state that once upon a time people were thronging the streets of the world's biggest city with fistfuls of cash waiting to buy them.

The fleeting nature of success. The emotion is best summed up in the opening passage of the epic Tale of the Heike:

"The sound of the Gion Shoja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sala flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind."

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Spartan X

I'm sure every gamer has that one special video game. That one game that you used to watch the big kids play at the arcade when you were a kid, but never got to play yourself because you were a smaller kid and didn't have any quarters. All you could do was watch and yearn.
For me, that game was Spartan X. Well, actually it was "Kung Fu" as the game is known in North America, but for present purposes I'll refer to it using its Famicom title.
In the mid to late 80s my dad was stationed on an American air force base in West Germany. On base they had this rec centre for kids that I used to go to sometimes after school. Their biggest attraction was a Kung Fu arcade cabinet.
It was an extremely popular game. The bigger kids in Junior High or even High school had a virtual monopoly on it. Elementary school kids like me if we had quarters (I never did) would have to get in line. The best we could realistically hope for was to be allowed to look over the big kid's shoulders as they played.
I did a lot of that, watching and wishing I could play. I never played that Kung Fu game, but I knew it like the back of my hand just from watching the big kids sending those bad guys in their blue and purple jumpers hurtling off screen.

I think that feeling of longing - almost like unrequited love - really heightened my appreciation of the game. In my adulthood it evokes different, but equally strong, feelings for Spartan X when compared to games which I actually owned and played.
Twenty plus years later when I started collecting Famicom games I discovered that the same arcade game I had so badly wanted to play as a kid was released on the Famicom as Spartan X. It immediately became the game that I wanted most (after Antarctic Adventure which I wanted for my wife). Despite the fact that it is a relatively common game it took me a few months to find, though having already waited more than two decades at that point it wasn't such a big deal.
I finally found it one day at Omocha Souko. It was just so amazing. I raced home and immediately put it in. So worth the wait. The kicking. The punching. The.....well, basically just kicking and punching. But so MUCH kicking and punching!

Now I somehow have accumulated five copies of it, as you can see from these photos. In addition to being one of my favorite games to play, it is also one of my favorite carts. The purple looks brilliant, as does the look on Thomas' face as he kicks the henchman. Absolutely fabulous.

Related Posts:
- Planes, Trains and North Korean Propoganda
-Tour d' Excitebike

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Feats of Strength: How Much Abuse can One Famicom Cart Take?

In a few recent posts the subject of video game cartridge durability has come up in the comments section.

In this post, we put the question of the durability of the Famicom cart to the ultimate test. I have devised a gruelling regimen of ten physical and psychological stress tests to put this copy of Harikiri Stadium through in order to see how far it can be pushed before reaching the breaking point.
Lets just get right into the tests.

1. Getting Run Over By Me on My Bicycle:
Pretty straightforward really. This photo was staged after the fact as I couldn't photograph while riding over it, but I actually did go and, at about 10kmph, run over the cart.

This didn't appear to phase it, there was no visible damage afterwards.

2. Throwing it into the Ocean:
At the beach near my place. Just tossed it in there and let the waves knock it around for about 30 seconds or so.

This just got the thing wet and full of sand.

Trivia discovery: Famicom carts float.

3. Getting Slammed in the Desk Drawer:
Slammed it pretty good in there. Nothing broken afterwards.

4. Making it spend 2 minutes in a municipal public restroom without air conditioning on a scorching hot July afternoon:
Without a doubt the test I enjoyed administering the least.

6. Forcing it to phone its overbearing mother:
Francine had not heard from her son in ages.

7. Dropping it off Something High:
Took it to this pedestrian bridge in an industrial area. Its a lot higher than it looks:
After being extremely careful that nobody was around, I gave it a nudge. It landed in a grassy patch that probably broke its fall:
Nothing obviously broken.

8. Seeing What a Stray Cat Would Do With It:

This didn't turn out to be very stressful at all. I just picked out a random stray and it turned out to be an extremely friendly one who liked getting petted on the head and chin. He pretty much ignored the Harikiri Stadium cart and just wanted to curl up around my feet.

9. Giving it to my Dog to see if the Scent of the Cat Would Drive Him Nuts:
It didn't.

10. The Ultimate Psychological Stress Test.
For this test, I surrounded the cart with a group of the toughest and manliest of his peers as seen in the above photo.

I then took out a package of "For You" stickers - the girliest stickers that Daiso has to offer:
I then applied them to the cart's surface one by one.
By the time we were through it looked like a horde of seven year old girls had gone medieval on the poor guy:
The Outcome.
Having completed the entire series of tests, I put him into my Twin Famicom to see if he still worked.

And to my surprise he....doesn't quite work anymore:
It isn't completely broken, but no matter how many times I put it in, the image is all distorted.

Unfortunately I'm not actually sure which of the stress tests did him in. Probably the ocean, but I'm not too sure.

Lesson learned: To be on the safe side you should probably refrain from putting any Famicom carts you care about through this specific series of tests.

Anyway, there you have it. A Famicom cart driven past the limits of its endurance. Not a pretty sight, I'll admit, but all in the name of scientific inquiry.

Special thanks to Ecto-glow and Nate in the comments section of this post and Bryan and videogamesarerad in this post for the idea.

Related Posts:
-Famicomblog 100th Anniversary Experiment
-Tour D' Excitebike: Fukuoka 2010

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Video Game Cart Design: God do I Hate Super Famicom Carts

As I've said before on here, I think Famicom carts are the most attractive video game carts ever made.

Carts on post-Famicom consoles, however, have been kind of hit and miss. I thought I'd use this post to look at a few post-Famicom cart designs.

Lets start off with the Famicom's successor here:
The Super Famicom cartridge has to be the worst designed video game cart ever made. My theory is that in the middle of the night in late 1989 a group of vandals broke into Nintendo headquarters and, in a fit of drunken mischief, designed the Super Famicom cartridge.

They then left the plans on someone's desk, quietly slipped out and were never seen again. Nintendo, unaware of these shenanigans, went with that design.

This is the only theory that can account for the awfulness of the Super Famicom cart, both from a functional and an artistic point of view.

On the functional side, these things are huge and impossible to store. The top of the cart is curved which makes it impossible to stack them on top of each other.

On the artistic side, the carts are ugly. Their greyness is overwhelming. Why is the label so small? Why did they put that grooved recess in the front of the cart? Just to give them an excuse not to make the label bigger?

Damn you, mischievous vandals from 1989!!

Anyway. I hate Super Famicom carts.

Nintendo followed that up with these:
The Nintendo 64 carts at least resolved the disastrous functional problems with the Super Famicom carts - these can be stacked and are about the same size as the original Famicom carts. It is possible that these were designed by a different group of vandals than those who designed the Super Famicom cart.

Artistically, the fact that the label takes up more of the front of the cart is a plus, but these aren't really that different from the Super Famicom carts other than that. The grey is still overwhelming and the label is still too small for my taste.

Meanwhile, away from Nintendo Headquarters, the folks over at NEC (who employ a night guard to keep the vandals out) got things right:
I love PC Engine HuCards. These things are awesome. They are far and away the smallest Video Game carts or cards in my collection, at least for non-handheld consoles. All the HuCards in my collection (I have nine) take up less space than a single Super Famicom cart.

Also: these aren't grey. Points, NEC, points!

Sega, not to be outdone, also got things right:
I really like Mega Drive carts. They are very similar in design to the Konami carts on Famicom games like Gradius. They have colorful labels that take up almost the entire cart, which is great. And they wrap them over the top edge so you can see which game is which when they are stacked up. Perfect.

Related Posts:
-The Aesthetics of the Famicom Cart

Friday, July 22, 2011

Gramicom: The World's Oldest Gamer?

I was sipping my morning coffee and perusing the news on the internet (as is my want) when I did a spit-take at a piece on Japan Probe.

Asahi TV has this good show, Nani Kore, that airs on Wednesdays. They go around Japan looking for unusual sights, each of which they air a 2 or 3 minute clip about. After that a panel of talents votes on it and, if they are unanimous, it gets registered into a sort of hall of unusual things fame.

My wife and I watch this quite a bit, it is one of the few Japanese TV shows out there that doesn't completely suck. We missed seeing it this week. And of course, this week they had something really cool - a 99 year old woman who plays Famicom every day.

You can watch the 3 minute clip here. It is in Japanese but you can probably get the gist of it just by watching.

She plays everyday, but only one game: Bomberman. When asked, she says she has been playing for 30 years, though as the narrator points out Bomberman was first released 26 years ago so she has probably been playing it for that long.

If you watch the clip, you'll notice that she is incredibly good at Bomberman. She sometimes clears all of the levels twice in a single day, taking about two and a half hours each time.

The best part of the video is definitely where she blows on the cart before putting it in the Famicom.

Honorable mention goes to the TV she's got the Famicom hooked up to. Very age appropriate.

I wonder how many of us will still be playing Famicom when we are that age?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Swingers: Best Video Game Movie Scene Ever?

I watched Swingers the other day for maybe the fourth or fifth time. I really like Swingers. Its one of those independent films done on a shoestring budget with a bunch of talented unknowns that gets everything right.

Its just so money.

I think one of best parts of Swingers, at least from a 30-something video game blogger's point of view, is the scene where they play hockey on the Sega Genesis. The scene (watch it here) gets everything about 90s gaming by poor 20-something guys exactly right.

Its got:

-Use of instant replay to taunt opponent after goal;

-A visibly annoyed third guy waiting his turn to play;

-Complaints shared by all parties present about how the new version of the game doesn't allow fighting;

-One guy demonstrating how to make Gretzky's head bleed to the third guy, possibly because he feels bad about the fact that he isn't getting to play;

-Use of the old "un-pausing the game while the opponent is distracted while paying for pizza" routine;

-A fight breaking out over the use of said routine;

-Embarrassing the guy who goes to the door to pay for the pizza with lurid sexual innuendo;

-An insanely messy apartment complete with Reservoir Dogs poster and foosball table.

I think the reason I like this scene so much is that it is exactly the way I remember playing games in the 1990s. I'm always going on about how nostalgic I feel for the 80s on this blog that I sometimes forget how awesome the 90s were.

This, for example, is the apartment I lived in from 1998 to 1999 (room-mates faces redacted to protect the innocent):
Pretty much exactly the same type of place as the apartment in Swingers where they played that Genesis hockey game.

At first, we only had an NES, but a couple months after moving in my room-mate (on the left) bought a Nintendo 64. That changed our lives forever. The three of us, and friends who'd drop by, would just play that thing for hours, drinking massive quantities of beer, fighting, and generally just trying to annoy the shit out of each other. But, you know, in a friendly guy way.

After a few hours of that, we'd head out to the bars in town and not come even remotely close to picking up any women.

Ah, how I miss those days.

Anyway, I've been reading about how little money the makers of Swingers had when making the film. They had to film it in actual people's apartments just using whatever was lying around. I guess that is the reason that scene looks so authentic: it actually is just somebody's apartment. I also like the fact that at the time the film came out the Genesis was already old news and not the latest console.

If the film had been made with a big studio budget, they'd have screwed it up completely by making the apartment look clean, and they'd have been playing the newest game (and not allowed to say anything bad about it because they had some sort of product placement deal with the maker).

It would have (ironically) been much closer to the scenes in the Break Up where Vince Vaughn is playing the PS2, which are just blah.
Above: not the best video game movie scene ever.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Anyway, anybody else got any favorite video game movie scenes?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Famicomblog 100th Anniversary Experiment

This is my 100th post on Famicomblog. Yay. To celebrate the occasion I thought I would perform an experiment. In order to perform this experiment I required two things.

First, 100 Famicom carts, one for each blog post.

Second, this dog:
I suppose that is actually 101 things, but never mind about that.

My experiment was to see how many of the 100 Famicom carts I could stack on top of each other, free-standing, in a small room without this dog knocking them over.

I began stacking them in groups of seven. The first seven posed no problem:
Fourteen and still OK:
Twenty one and doing fine:
Twenty eight, everything is still smooth:
Thirty five and counting:
Forty two and we are starting to see some wobble, but we're still safe:
Forty nine. We've now reached the point where it is too dangerous to continue stacking them seven at a time. From now on it is one by one:
Fifty! Halfway there:
Fifty one!
Fifty two! Hey we might actually make it!!
Oh no:
Sigh. Fifty two it is!
So there you go. Another one of science's mysteries resolved through the use of a controlled experiment in the field. You cannot stack up more than 52 Famicom carts in a small, enclosed room with my dog.

LinkAnyway, thanks for reading everybody!

Related Posts:
-Famicom Console Stacking: The Next Olympic Sport