Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Year You Stopped Being a Kid

Image Source: https://brickset.com/sets/6893-1/Orion-II-Hyperspace 

Happy New Year.

We had a great Christmas holiday at my house.  It was a Lego themed one for my son, who is now massively into all things Lego as I was at his age.

Having a kid who is now old enough to play with regular toys has of course gotten me into those toys as well, particularly Lego this year.  In getting his presents ready I re-immersed myself in a toy world that I hadn't really connected with in decades.  It was great.  In addition to hunting sets that I thought he would like (the Arctic Explorer series was his favorite this year) and building them with him, I also spent hours online looking through the comprehensive listings of Lego sets on Brickset.

It was great nostalgic fun, going through the sets I had as a child.  Starting with the Classic Space sets I got around 1980 or 1981, then looking at the Castle sets I got in the mid 1980s, and all the sets in between, year by year.  It was all familiar, even the sets I never owned I recognized since I remember spending a lot of time looking at the catalogues and toy store shelves back then for stuff I wanted but ultimately never received!

Then as I went through year by year I found the cliff.  The chronological moment at which I instantly went from having 100% master knowledge of every minute detail of every toy, to knowing absolutely zero about anything I was looking at.

For me, that point is the year 1987.  The year I stopped being a kid.

In the Brickset Lego list, browsing them chronologically I realized that the Orion II Hyperspace Set pictured above was the last Lego set I could remember.  I think I was given it as a birthday present that year, in which I turned 11.  Every Lego set on the list before that I remember.  Every Lego set after it is Greek to me: I couldn't distinguish a Lego set released in 1988 from one released in 2008 ( my entire childhood Lego collection was secretly disposed of by my mom in 1993 incidentally, I've never totally forgiven her for that).

Its the same across other toylines that I had been into as a kid whose release lifespan crosses that event horizon.  I know every G.I. Joe released before 1987 and none after.  I know every Transformer released before 1987, but none after.  And so on and so forth.  Without these easily searchable online databases of vintage toys I probably wouldn't have been able to remember exactly when I got out of toys, but their existence makes this possible, which is kind of neat.

Some other toy lines I have complete knowledge of because their releases occurred entirely before 1987.  So I am familiar with all the original Star Wars toys and all the Gobots for example.  Masters of the Universe too (I think).

This kind of makes sense.  11 years old is about when the typical kid grows out of toys.  Its just kind of interesting as an adult to discover these radical points of departure in your memory where everything just suddenly stops.

1987 was a bloodbath for my toy interests, but not for everything.  My video game knowledge crossed that year without much change.  My video game knowledge is really patchy and has a few spikes.   In the early 1980s I had a Commodore Vic 20 and I remember a lot about the games available for it.  In the late 1980s I had an Apple IIC and my knowledge of games for it before and after 1987 is pretty much the same.  In 1989 I got my NES and I have a pretty solid memory of the games from the period about 1989-1992 for that one, after which I kind of got tired of the system and my video game knowledge enters its dark ages.  I never got an SNES so that entire generation is just an empty slate (discounting what I've learned about it since getting my first Super Famicom back in 2009).  Then in 1998 when I was in my early 20s my room mate got a Nintendo 64 and my video game knowledge experiences a renaissance.

Comic books and baseball cards also survived the 1987 barrier for me, I guess because it was socially acceptable for teenagers to like those things.

This knowledge creates a new year for me to not really look forward to: 2025.  My son will turn 11 that year and stop being a kid like I did back in 1987.  So I only have a few more birthdays and Christmases to give him toys that will light him up like he did this year and like I did back in the 80s. I'll have to make them count!

So anyway, looking at online toy databases, what year did you all stop being kids in?  Anybody else in the class of 1987 out there?

Thursday, December 13, 2018

My Blog and Donald Trump Have a Bizarre Thing in Common

I was super excited today to realize that my blog and Donald Trump have a really weird thing in common: they have both been at the top of Google image searches for the word "Idiot".

This made headline news yesterday when the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, was testifying before the Judiciary Committee in the United States House of Representatives about Google search results and why, when you type the word "idiot" into a Google image search, pictures of Donald Trump come up (see above video).

This of course seems like a question that contains its answer within itself: he appears in searches for idiots because he is an idiot.

But politics aside, this really got me excited because for a brief period about 7 years ago, long before the idiocy of Donald Trump became the subject of public discourse that it is today, this very blog was actually the number one hit for Google image searches for the word "idiot".

The post in question was this one, titled "I am Idiot hear me roar" about the relatively mundane subject of me having not been able to figure out how to use the controllers on my Nintendo TV Game 15 system.  The image in question was this meme that was doing the rounds at the time:

I remember just throwing that post up and kind of forgetting about it until one day a few weeks later my blog traffic levels just exploded overnight.  I was used to getting about 200 page views per day and suddenly I was getting 5,000 or so almost all of them going to that post.  For some reason Google's mysterious algorithms had thrown my blog into the number one spot on searches for the word "idiot" and my blog was getting visited like mad.

Then, after a few days, everything suddenly went back to normal.  Google must have adjusted its algorithm or something and my blog post got knocked from its perch atop the idiot rankings and never got anywhere near that type of traffic again.  I was back to 200 or so page views a day!  Unfortunately since people looking for the word "idiot" would likely have been disappointed to discover they had reached an obscure blog about vintage Japanese video games rather than some site devoted specifically to an idiot-related topic, I didn't gain any readers from my brush with algorithm dominance.

The experience did however leave a few statistical anomalies for my blog that persist to this day.  That post remains my #1 most visited after all these years with about 20,000 views, almost all of them happening within those few days.  A couple other posts are slowly catching up to it so that is likely to change in the future, but for seven years it has been #1 despite being a post that few people actually into the Famicom ever read.

Also, the #1 search term that people found my blog through remains the word "idiot", a position it will likely keep for many years to come as it has about 6 times more than the #2 term "famicomblog" and about 10 times as many as "Famicom".

So anyway, I just thought that was a neat random thing.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sony PS2s can no longer be repaired by Sony: Meanwhile millions of Famicoms continue to hum along

I just read that Sony has announced it will no longer repair PlayStation 2 consoles .

That is the end of another era, I can't believe the PS2 is nearing its 20th anniversary.  Its actually older now than the original Famicom was when the PS2 came out!

I wonder what future the PS2 has though, as the "retro" console that I think it can now clearly claim to be.  This curiosity is spurred not just by the announcement that Sony will stop repairing them (how many people are still sending them in for repairs anyway?) but rather by concerns about the survivability of the console itself.

The Famicom is now 35 years old and even the oldest units generally still work or can be repaired without too much hassle by someone with limited technical skills.  The pain-in-the-ass factor associated with owning and maintaining a Famicom is extremely low, which makes the hobby very accessible to a lot of casual gamers who just want to play games on original hardware but don't want to invest too much of their time in learning how to carry out complex repairs.  Its a pretty simple machine without any moving parts to wear out (in contrast to the FDS for example) so its just a remarkably long lasting system that you can buy with confidence and just enjoy.

I can't say the same about PS2s though.  I've owned two of them over the years and both of them ultimately kicked the bucket after just a few years of use in a way that made repairing them uneconomical.  I'm no expert on the internal workings of the PS2 but do know that they are a lot less simple on the inside than a Famicom.  When a Famicom stops working I just crack it open and, despite having very limited technical knowledge or tools, can usually get it working again (half the time it seems just dusting off the motherboard does the trick).  A PS2 repair on the other hand isn't something I can handle, and I am guessing that most people who own one are in the same category.

This explains why I never bought a replacement for my last PS2 after it broke about 6-7 years ago.  When I look at PS2 consoles on Yahoo Auctions I just don't feel confident that the thing that I would be buying would last very long, a feeling that I have never felt when buying a Famicom (or Super Famicom, N64, Mega Drive or basically any other cart based system).  So I have a huge pile of PS2 disks lying around in a box somewhere that I have sort of written off ever trying to play again (even though I like some of them quite a bit).

This leads me to ask what kind of market there is going to be for PS2 consoles in the future now that even Sony itself won't repair them.  There are 150 million of them out there, or at least there were that many sold, but the number of them actually left working is likely to succumb to higher and higher attrition rates as the years go by and more break down in ways that are not cost effective to repair for the average gamer.  By the time it reaches the Famicom's current age (in 2035) I can't imagine there being more than a tiny fraction of those 150 million still left out there.

This is a concern entirely separate from the fact that the discs the games are on themselves seem to have a very finite life expectancy. which kind of acts as a double whammy.  Carts are also prone to wearing out over time since they have connectors that get worn down over time, but theoretically a cart that is well taken care of and not constantly inserted/removed can last for a very long time since there is no cart equivalent to "disc rot".

Any PS2 collectors out there have worries or thoughts about this?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Went back to Fukuoka, Did some Game Shopping

 I was back in Fukuoka for a few days for some work related stuff a couple weeks ago.  I love that city so much, I can't believe its been 6 years since I left. They added a Godzilla to Canal City since I left:
Of course I had to check out good old Mandarake, which is located in a trendy neighborhood near Akasaka Station:
I got there at about 11:50AM, which is 10 minutes before they open so I had to wait outside the entrance for a bit.  I've never understood Mandarake's ridiculously short operating hours, they are only open 8 hours a day (12 to 8), which rules out both morning visits and late evening visits.  Its not like they are a little mom and pop shop, they are a huge chain with lots of employees!  Open up more!
I couldn't take any pictures inside but it was basically the same layout as I've detailed in previous posts here, which was nice.  The prices, as everywhere, have creeped up to levels much higher than they used to be, which was expected.  I was able to score one game I needed off my Famicom want list though: Star Wars!  Not the Namco version, which is one of my all time favorite Famicom games, but the other one put out by Victor.  Though not quite as quirky as the Namco version, I have wanted the Victor one for years.  I got their version of the Empire Strikes Back at Omocha Souko very early in my collecting days and I loved the game play on it.  But for some reason it took me a very long time to get the Star Wars version.  This is simply because it is a hard to find game (way rarer than the Namco version, which itself isn't super easy to find either) and I couldn't find any good deals.

So when I saw it on Mandarake's shelf for only 2700 Yen (with tax) I jumped all over it!

That would be my only game purchase in Fukuoka on this trip, but I also went to check out the Book Off in front of Hakata Station.

This was actually an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.  In 2011 I wrote a post about that location in which I basically savaged it for having bad games badly priced.  So my expectations were low going in.

Much to my surprise I found that they had completely changed the layout of the place and significantly expanded their toy/game section.  They have a decent little pile of Famicom carts in there, which is increasingly rare to find in Book Offs these days:
There weren't any particular bargain finds in there (oh how I looked) but the prices weren't outrageous either.  And they did have one Famicom bargain, a boxed AV Famicom for only 6300 Yen, which is a really good deal (I didn't buy it so if you are in Fukuoka and looking for one, get over there if its still available).

Anyway, I would add this as a place to check out if you are in Fukuoka since they might update their game pile every now and then and you might catch a deal.  They are right in front of Hakata Station so its pretty easy to hit (which is why I went there)!

Unfortunately I wasn't able to check out any of my other old haunts in Fukuoka to see if they were still in business.  Mainly this is due to my being public transport bound when visiting and a lot of those places need to be reached either by car or bicycle.  Maybe some day!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cleaning Poo the Famicom Way

 As the father of a baby I often find myself looking for stuff to clean up baby mess when I go shopping.  As a Famicom fan I often find myself looking for Famicom stuff when I go shopping.  Never before have these two activities overlapped.  Until today. 

Let me introduce the new Famicom product that is going to change your lives forever: 99.9% pure water Wet Sheets!  With a Famicom style package!  And Super Mario Bros. cart on the side

I have no idea why these things exist but they do, right in the baby section where they have all the wipes that are mainly for cleaning poo, an activity not generally associated with the Famicom in any way that I know.

I did not buy these because once you've settled on a wipe for cleaning poo, its very hard to change that.  Also these cost more than the ones we use.  And other than having a Famicom on the packaging which will just become garbage once you open it, they seem to be nothing more than generic wipes.

So I just thought I'd pass that find along to the internet for information purposes, these things need to be archived somewhere!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Famicom Menko are so Cool!

 Menko are cool.  They are cards made on thick cardboard and designed to be thrown at the ground.  You win the game if you can use one menko card to flip over another one.  They were extremely popular during the post war period, though by the 1980s their popularity had declined quite a bit from its peak as kids had a lot more toy options available.

Despite this, there were also some Famicom menko released during that decade and they are awesome.  I already had a few that I bought four years ago but last week I bought a decent pile of them off of Yahoo Auctions to add to my collection.

They feature images of games from the first few years of the Famicom's lifetime - Wrecking Crew, Front Line, Super Mario Bros., Front Line, Combat and Lode Runner being among the games featured.
 The backs of the cards feature another game kids could play - baseball.  You would flip one card over and it would tell you what you got (hit, stolen base, double play, strikeout, etc).

They are really thick:
 This is my new stack in all its glory:
I'm not sure how many of these were made but I hope to put together a complete set someday!

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Most Expensive Famicom Games at Super Potato

I made a trek out to Super Potato in Nagoya the other day.  I love Super Potato even though I don't buy a lot there, its just such a beautiful shop to stroll around in and gawk at the amazing stuff they have.  If I ever opened a game shop, I don't think I would do anything differently from what Super Potato has done with theirs.

I brought my camera along and in addition to the obligatory pictures of rows of Famicom games on shelves:
And stacks of Famicom consoles:
I also took some pictures of the glass case in which they store their most valuable Famicom games and thought I'd share with you the most valuable stuff they have.
The CIB stuff is, predictably, the most expensive.  Some of the highlights here include:

Battle Formula: 128,000 Yen
Over Horizon: 49,800 Yen
Gimmick!: 69,800 Yen
Adventure Island IV: 49,800 Yen
Metal Storm: 29,800 Yen

Also visible in the foreground is an oddity - the Gradius Archimendes version, which was limited to 4000 copies given out to consumers of ramen back in the day.  They want 59,800 Yen for it, which is in the ballpark, but its odd because the box is a regular Gradius box.  The Archimendes version has a distinctive label across the upper right corner which is missing on that one (otherwise it would be much more expensive).
Right next to them is the most expensive thing in the store, though I think it is a pricing error.  A CIB copy of Recca Summer Carnival 92 for 778,000 Yen (that is about $7,000 US).  That is definitely a valuable and rare game, but CIB copies usually go for about 100,000 Yen on Yahoo Auctions (and in fact there is one there now at that price).  Super Potato's price tend towards the high side, but not THAT much, so I think this must be a mistake and maybe somebody accidentally added an extra zero to the price tag.  
More goodies here, including Moon Crystal (64,800 Yen):
Battletoads (21,800 Yen) and some Rockmans with prices falling into reach of mere mortals:

A few more beauties in the 10,000-20,000 Yen or so range:

The cart only selection is also pretty impressive. Tailor Made by Bridgestone (49,800 Yen, the one with the cyclists on it) is one of the holy grails of Famicom collecting.  It was distributed only to bicycle shops and allowed customers to choose custom parts for their bicycles, thus making it one of the rarest games out there (though also one of the boringest).  Recca Summer Carnival 92 is available for the same price and is a lot more well known, though it seems to be a lot easier to find.

One of the more surprising things I noticed was actually that, impressive as this selection is, its nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it once was.  A few years ago a trip to Super Potato would inevitably turn up some hyper rarities - like my visit to the Osaka branch a few years ago where I found copies of the gold Rockman 4 (only 8 ever made) and the gold Binary Land (only about 200).  The hyper-rarities like those ones seem to have disappeared from the market as they never turn up on Yahoo Auctions anymore either.  Games like Tailor Made and Recca are certainly impressive, but they don't really feel up to the task of headlining a Super Potato glass case.