A New Oldskool Comp Emerges!

So, as usual, I haven’t blogged lately.

Well, stuff has been on my mind.

Last month, my gaming PC “Mazinkaiser” had issues. It started with a weird thing where whenever I would install games it would suddenly give me a rather terrifying Blue Screen indicating that it could not write to the C:\ drive. For the non-computer literate… the C:\ drive is where the operating system is, and its very much the Windows PC equivalent of an NES blinking because it can’t locate the cartridge, except if it did that in the middle of active use (which I’ve seen NESes do that and that’s when I break out the screwdriver…)

After looking into it and asking on Vogons, the best answer anyone could come up with was that the board’s capacitors were going bad. I wanted to fix this myself, but I have… hand issues. Especially anything involving precision. My nerves are known to suddenly give way and I’ll just lose my grip, which is not something I wanna do while holding a soldering iron.

So I sent the board (Along with a duplicate which was in even worse condition) off to badcaps.org to be repaired. It’ll be costly but I’d rather do this than take a chance that another mobo off ebay will just develop the same problem.

… then I got another mobo off ebay anyway, except this one specifically said it had been recapped prior to being put up for sale.

This new motherboard is a Dell GX260, it came pre-equipped with an intel Pentium 4 2.80ghz processor an 512mb of ram (in the form of two 256mb sticks). From what I’ve read, this mobo’s max capacity is two gigabytes of RAM, which I’m thinking of updating it to, but… well, anyway…

So I stuck a Geforce 4 ti 4200 in this baby, and a Soundblaster Audigy 2… and first installed Windows XP on it.

It was no time at all before I was running XP and honestly, for someone who is so used to using a laptop to do things like watch anime, there’s almost something amazing about seeing a desktop do it.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. See, before I installed any OS at all there were weird issues because unfortunately I hadn’t known that Dell likes to make their stuff proprietary. While this motherboard works with standard power supplies, it has a unique front panel connector. Fortunately I had visited my dad that week and he happened to have parts from a similar Dell model that he was able to just toss at me, mainly just a bit cable of all the front panel stuff–most importantly an on-off switch.

The other thing is this board is designed for a specific case, so if you want to use a different case you gotta do some work. Right now I have the mobo just sitting naked and in the open, with an actual desk fan pointing at the heat sink (this, however, hasn’t prevented occasional overheating).

But I decided before I case it up, I see its capabilities. Since Windows XP worked fine, it was time to test Windows 98SE for the potential of dual-booting.

This, of course, was where I ran into hiccups.

My first problem was that Windows 98 wouldn’t let me install my Geforce’s drivers–even before I did, it would report that there was a resource conflict with the ACPI BIOS. Essentially they wanted to use the same I/O range… whatever that is.

Someone at Vogons gave me a solution that worked. It required a reinstall of windows, but when running setup (which in this case I have to run from a command prompt and not from a CD-boot, which fortunately Win98 makes easy to do) to use a command switch. So the command I should run is:

setup /p i

(This is, of course, Windows 98 SECOND Edition. Why would I run first edition? That’s just more headaches waiting to happen).

Anyway, this prevents windows from even looking at the Advanced Power Whatsit, so no resource conflict.

The next deal was installing my sound card drivers. I had one Audigy 2 install CD ISO (you can find these either at VOGONS or at Archive.org) but you couldn’t install drivers direct from the autorun. Instead you have to navigate to a directory called Audio\Drivers and run a program called ctzapxx.exe (or something like that).

I installed one set of drivers and they worked… kind of. The first I installed were WDM drivers, which I had seen a Phil’s Computer Lab video that mentioned these and noted they could cause compatibility issues and sound hiccups. Which, as soon as I installed and ran Unreal Tournament, I got an example of this.

Okay, Unreal Tournament (the original, no 2004 or Part III… though this IS the Game of the Year edition, the version included in the “Totally Unreal” pack) has this opening intro where after a moment, a lady narrates about how these corporations started a tournament.

On Mazinkaiser’s Sound Blaster 16 in Windows 98SE, this played fine.

On this very same Audigy 2 on my new comp on Windows XP, it played fine.

On this same comp but on Windows 98SE but with these Audigy 2 WDM drivers? The voice either never starts, or is just static.

So I went to try and find a way to get VXD Drivers.

Turns out, I just needed a different disc.

Again, Vogons provided the answer–their driver library featured something labeled the “Audigy 2 Installation and Application CD,” which at first seemed no different from the ISO I already had… but this one let me install VXD drivers using the same ctzapxx program (the other didn’t give me the choice).

Since then, stuff has worked mostly fine. I once had an issue of no sound coming from one of the speakers but it was fixed after a reboot, and other times the comp overheated (a problem its only had in Windows 98SE). Just now, the comp weirdly powered on by itself when I was on the other side of the room… even though I checked the bios and had specifically disabled its ability to do that… (I mean, I guess it’s just eager to get back to Unreal Tournament).

The only real difficulty left is that as this is a Dell motherboard, it was all proprietary and thus designed specifically for a Dell case. I might be able to modify another style of case to fix this, but otherwise its looking like I might need to hunt down the kind of case actually meant for an Optiplex GX260.

My only other concern is, again, heating. My dad had a Dell fan meant for this kind of comp and he let me have it, and so the processor overheats. For the Geforce card I’mma looking into custom heat sinks.

And finally, there’s the name…

I haven’t finalized what I’ll call this comp yet. I previously thought of calling it Megazord, to go with the “Giant Robot” theme Mazinkaiser started, but since its a Dell I thought of also calling it Michel Delving. Or I could call it Gundam.

Eh, if anyone’s reading I’ll leave it to a vote in the comments.

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Computers Hate Change Too, I Guess

Sometimes I wonder if computers are symbiotic.

If you’re familiar with me at all then it should come as no surprise that I’m not big on change. I’m not totally against it, but change in general seems like one of those things where things get worse before they get better if you catch my meaning. Constantly having to get used to new things doesn’t help.

Apparently, Mazinkaiser feels the same way.

Mazinkaiser, as long-time readers will be aware, is my Windows 98 gaming PC. And one constant in my life is every time I get back into PC gaming tends to come with thoughts of “upgrading” Mazinkaiser somehow. These almost always end with me learning that its fine the way it is.

This time, it was the sound card.

A year or two ago, I had asked on VOGONS what the best soundcard that was Windows 98 compatible was. They said the Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZX (though the non-ZX was fine too). I wound up buying two of them on ebay–I didn’t seek out two, just I saw a cheap listing (like twenty bucks or something) that happened to be for two of them, and I scooped it up.

At the time my plan was to use them for a Mazinkaiser pseudo-successor that would be more suited for games from circa 2006-ish, but then last night it occured to me that I might as well put one of them in Mazinkaiser, not strictly as a replacement for the Soundblaster 16 that is in there (that one would probably still be necessary for DOS compatibility) but just as something for the more later-ish games like Half-Life to use.

Turns out its not possible.

Not because of IRQ conflicts or anything like that… the motherboard itself seems to just not like the Audigy 2.

Admittedly, I sometimes wonder if getting a more powerful power supply would change anything (I think I have like 500 watts coming out of this one?) because what’s happening and the symptoms kinda lead me to think there’s just not enough juice going into the machine. But here’s the deal: Any time the Audigy 2 was plugged in, no data would be sent to the monitor–it was on, but blank. The comp never made any distressed noises or anything, just no video signal was being sent.

This was with just a Voodoo 3 and the Audigy 2 in there, by the by. I had figured it made the most sense to go ahead and test the Aud by itself before worrying about making two soundcards work in tandem. The only other thing I had in there was a PCI card that provided extra ps/2 ports (which are read as USB ports and basically just there to allow me to use an optical mouse, though I’ve thought of ditching this since I can only use it in windows and I have one of those oldstyle optical mice in a DOS-compatible serial port as well. The reason I’m not just using the ps/2 ports on the motherboard, by the way, is because they for some reason stopped working and I’m not tech guru enough to be able to fix them without worrying that I’ll mess something else up).

My motherboard is an Epox-8KTA (I believe its either a plus or a 2 at the end), and if anyone has a spare one and is willing to reinforce the onboard ps/2 ports so they’re not quite so fragile (mine went bad essentially because I kept unplugging the mouse and keyboard whenever I opened the case up) I might be willing to buy it from you. Onboard ps/2 ports allow me to use a modern-ish optical mouse in DOS and I quite prefer that over either old wheel mice (I never liked wheel mice) or old kinds of optical mice which all require special pads.

Anyway, back to the sound card.

So I tested, at a point where nothing but the Vood and the Aud were plugged in… if I took out the Aud, then the monitor would get data just fine. It was only when I plugged in the Aud that I had problems.

My next thought, since the Voodoo and the Aud were the only things in there, was that maybe the Voodoo doesn’t play nice with the Aud, so I took it out and replaced it with a Geforce I happened to have (a Geforce 4 ti4200, AGP whereas the Voodoo is PCI).

Unfortunately, it was exactly the same story there: No video output unless I took out the Aud.

I will mention here that what I forgot to try was the Aud by itself with only the onboard video drivers. Mostly because I’m not even sure if I had those enabled or anything, and by this point I was too frustrated to deal with anything that might involve a trip to the BIOS. Besides, I also reasoned, even if it worked, so what? I’d have improved sound… and no ability to play any game that required more than EGA graphics (which would eliminate the point of better sound anyway). I suppose its an option to look into, but I tend to always get frustrated with this stuff so ultimately I just wanted it done.

That’s actually kind of why I’m writing this entry really: because like I said, I always return to this “wanting to tweak” point, and it always results in me finding out that the changes are impossible (or not really worth it) and so I wind up going back to what I know works. My PC is basically a console now in that sense–at this point, I might as well build a second gaming PC and put the Audigy and Geforce in THAT rather than upgrade Mazinkaiser, and leave good old Maz to its intended purpose–computer games from the dawn of time up until 2001 or so.

I’m writing this largely to remind myself of that.

The only thing I really want changed or fixed now is regaining the ability to use ps/2-port optical mice in MS-DOS, which like I said was possible before the onboard ps/2 ports went kaput for unknown reasons. Even that tho isn’t exactly something that I’m scrambling to fix since I’ve got a workaround solution in the meantime.

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Ranma 1/2, Blu-Rays, and Nostalgia

Anime in the western world has a peculiar trait attached to it, at least for those of us who aren’t Bennett the Sage and actually did discover anime during the golden years where it was still niche.

That peculiarity is this: Sometimes we older fans tend to prefer–or be emotionally attached to–a certain adaptation rather than the uncut original.

An obvious case of this would be Samurai Pizza Cats, but for me it can sometimes be more subtle.

For example, I absolutely could not get used to “Robotech: Remastered.” It just… from the moment I watched it, everything about it was just wrong–mostly though the fact that conspicuous CGI credits and title cards had been inserted into a show obviously made in the 1980s. So I wound up sticking with the first run of ADV DVDs, which sure had crap video quality but also resembled the TV broadcasts a little more.

…..

So, about Ranma.

I’ve before said that as far as I’m concerned, Ranma 1/2 is the best anime (and especially manga) ever made and pretty much the only thing resembling “harem show” that even needs to exist. Some of that is undoubtably nostalgia as Ranma was what got me into anime, but its also stuck with me in a way other things from the time have not. In fact I’m trying to remember what all I used to rent from Hastings back in the day and I’m mostly drawing a blank. What exactly was Metal Fighter Miku about? or Genesis Survivor Gaiarth? Or Big Wars? There was an anime called Big Wars, right?

There’s a reason Ranma still holds up when other anime have come and gone. But first to lay out what it is.

Ranma 1/2 is a manga-turned-anime originally by Rumiko Takahashi, who you might know more for Inu-Yasha (which I have mixed-but-mostly-okay feelings about), and is a case of a premise that easily could have (and in fact, has in some executions) been completely retarded, but if Rumiko has anything going for her its that she finds ways to make this stuff work.

Ranma Saotome is a martial artist. Oh, so its a fighting manga, right? Ummm… kinda. Okay, so: There’s this guy named Soun Tendo who is worried about who will inherit his training hall, as he has three daughters but no son. His friend Genma Saotome made a deal with him long ago that Genma’s son will marry one of Soun’s daughters and will inherit the training hall to secure the legacy.

Only, when Ranma gets there… he’s a girl.

Except no, it turns out Ranma and Genma went to China and trained in something called the Training Ground of Cursed Springs, Jusenkyo. Someone or something drowned in each of the springs, and if you fall in the spring you get cursed… well, its more like gaining a shapeshifting ability: immersion in cold water turns you into whatever drowned in that spring, while hot water restores your normal form.

Ranma is betrothed to Soun’s youngest daughter, Akane, who… has issues with men (largely due to that a LOT of men want to date her and she seems to only attract insane people), but its not long before Ranma himself (in both male and female forms) is attracting suitors, or people who have a grudge, or getting caught up in schemes involving marriage or attempts to buy out the Tendo Dojo or even just challenges from people with weird styles…. that’s just the episodes where Ranma and/or Akane is the lead, which isn’t always the case.

Simply put… this is a show where pretty much anything can happen.

But here’s the thing: Ranma actually has a logic to it, in its own twisted way.

This is important because most anime are completely vacuous and that winds up being a major issue (as far as I’m concerned). Take fighting anime: How often do you see an anime where the bad guy has “bullshit anime invincibility” (where they just No Sell every single attack) and the hero only wins because of some nebulous concept of his “fighting spirit” being stronger?

In Ranma 1/2, the antagonist (nobody is ever truly evil in this show) might be hard to hit because, say… he’s exceptionally good at blocking with chopsticks. How does Ranma (or whoever the focus character of the day is) beat that guy? They might break the chopsticks, or hit him with something he can’t block… like air, or water. Characters who have “BS Anime Invincibility” are rare–there’s always some trick. Ironically this makes the logistics more like western superhero comics than what you normally see in anime.

Now, I said earlier Ranma has some high-school harem aspects, and there’s a lot that entails. Thing is, here they actually kinda make sense.

Take, for example, the timeless tired cliche of “always mistaking the guy for a pervert.” Yes, Akane Tendo does that. A lot. So what makes her different from Jane Schoolgirl From Some Other Anime? That Akane actually has a reason for this–its established right off the bat that she’s suffered a lifetime of what is basically sexual harassment due to boys liking her (and like I said, she seems to attract insane people–just watch the second episode, you’ll see). So on top of that, she’s suddenly forced into a marriage with someone she literally just met… though, its made clear very soon that she’s started to cool down, and her violent reactions are due to insecurity and because she’s picked up on the fact that Ranma actually kinda enjoys it. That Ranma is a martial artist, sometimes too arrogant for his own good, and sometimes legitimately deserves a beating makes his punishment easier to swallow.

Compare other anime where a male getting constantly accused of being a perv and slapped hard happens a lot. I’m remembering Love Hina (wow, does anyone but me remember that?) where Joe Highschooler got it a lot from Jane Highschooler (I don’t remember their names) and in that case, it actually came off as outright abuse. Sometimes when I read high school manga I think the writers just outright hate girls. I wonder if Ranma being written by an actual female had anything to do with it being different.

Speaking of which, I’m honestly a little glad there’s no “everyman” character in Ranma 1/2. Ranma comes closest only because his various psychoses are less pronounced than Ryoga Hibiki (no sense of direction but is also honest and naive to a fault) or Tatewaki Kuno (not sure I can sum him up without doing a full essay), but even Ranma is a little nuts–his fear of cats, for example, or how he’ll sometimes be ashamed of his female form and want to be cured of it but other times become upset or jealous if someone doesn’t think said female form is attractive.

Anyway, there’s no way to summarize Ranma 1/2. If you haven’t seen it yet, see it. One of its strengths is you can usually just jump into any episode and understand what’s going on. Ironically this yet again makes it more like western animation–most anime have a single continuous story, Ranma is usually “here is the thing that is happening today” (this is true even of the manga, by the by).

….

But the thing I wanted to talk about today was the blu-ray release and the nature of nostalgia.

See, Ranma is in a situation similar to Robotech, except kinda weirder.

Okay… for awhile, Viz Video would put out Ranma in basically a localized format. NOT censored, nor was it an extremely cut-up job comparable to say 4Kids (remember them?) or anything like that. Their version was pretty faithful to the original, all things considered.

There were some differences though.

One was, their version used digitally-inserted english credits.

Also, for Season 2, they made it so the second opening segment was at the beginning of every episode–originally only five episodes began with it, while a bunch of others just started with this short “Meet Ranma” bit briefly explaining the whole forced-marriage and changing-into-a-girl thing.

The seasons thing is another dealie… because they originally released the show two eps at a time (remember this started on VHS) and also to have even-numbered seasons, sometimes they would rearrange episodes and change which opening and ending they have. This is something that threw me for a loop when I watched the blu-ray version of episode that introduced Ukyo (which in the Hastings days, always began with “So Many Memories” and ended with “Lambada Ranma”) and suddenly it began with this sequence I had never seen before of various character jumping out of a manga page, and ended with “Lai-lai Boy!”

See, Viz’s blu-rays use the original Japanese master copies, I think the exact same ones used for Japan’s blurays.

THIS IS A GOOD THING.

But it can be a bit of a problem if you’re watching Ranma to indulge in nostalgia, because it’ll bother you that some stuff just doesn’t match up.

Those who are new to Ranma, I suggest getting the blu-rays and getting used to how they do things. People like me aren’t screwed, however.

See, the older season set DVDs from the early 2000s are exactly the same as the VHS tapes, using Viz’s minimal digital alterations and everything. Watch those and it’ll be the version you grew up with.

Even better… thanks to the blu-ray release, the early versions have plummetted in price on the secondhand.

So, like, Ranma’s actually in a better position than a lot of anime. There are some where if you want an earlier dub or something, you have to look for a VHS release, if there even is one.

Us Ranma fans, we are lucky.

Anyway, I’m gonna go practice my Martial Arts Secret Technique of Indescriminate Posting, so I’ll see you later.

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I still like (and sympathize with) The Spoony One

Most of this was originally posted as, of all things, a Youtube comment, but I had wanted to speak about Spoony for awhile now and realized I probably couldn’t say it any better than I originally had, so copypaste time…

Honestly, the thing that always gets me (and one reason I still sympathize with Spoony) is people tend to not mention that he wound up involved in a kinda shit environment once he became a Youtuber. I’m speaking of course of Channel Awesome–nearly everybody there was various degrees of unprofessional, basically it was like a children’s hang out but somehow making money. None of these people had their heads on straight.

I imagine if Spoony had been in an environment more capable of setting him straight then that might’ve curbed his worse tendencies. Instead however they got exacerbated.

Just look at his attitude. Now watch ANY Channel Awesome video–pretty much the entire site REWARDED that kind of attitude (indeed, the “Betrayal” thing was considered awesome by Spoony’s fans, who had no idea of consequences any more than Spoony did). Can you really blame him for winding up as he did when the very things he’s being criticized for now were being rewarded and even encouraged at the time?

It’s like hanging around a video game forum. It starts out okay, then you meet the headcases and through constant exposure to them, you become a headcase yourself, and then its throwing tantrums, stalking across topics or forums, attempted doxxing, all because you told somebody you didn’t think Ninja Gaiden was that good a game.

Spoony’s life and mental state would’ve gone a lot differently if video making had stayed a hobby for him and not gotten him involved with Channel Awesome. I’m not saying he would’ve been a saint, but he wouldn’t be the person he’s turned into.

I know I’ve already written a novel there, but I wanna add something:

I’ve seen people say on the interwebs that they can’t watch Spoony’s older content anymore, knowing what kind of person he’s become.

I honestly can not understand that perspective. I mean, do these people also hate Disney movies because Walt wasn’t exactly a saint either? Can they not read the old Conan the Barbarian stories because Robert E. Howard was a massive racist who committed suicide? Can they not stand Sherlock Holmes because Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was kind of crazy and into all sorts of pseudoscience? Can they no longer enjoy Alice in Wonderland because Lewis Carroll tried to romance a ten year old girl?

Any media you enjoy, there’s a chance that someone connected to it had something wrong with them. But as Bravestarr once said: its best to remember people for what they did RIGHT, not what they did wrong. The wrong ultimately does not invalidate the right.

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The Most F___ked Up Flash Story I’ve Ever Read

So now I’ve perused more of those comic volumes I mentioned getting in a previous post, and I’m starting to understand why the “Silver Age” is treated as if it was, well, a silver age for comic books.

I want to start off by mentioning the most f___ed up premise I’ve seen in a superhero book. The story is in Flash Chronicles Volume 3 and its called “The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds.” The title is not the effed up part.

The effed up part is it began with Gorilla Grodd killing himself.

Not. Making. This. Up.

The deal was Gorilla Grodd was in a prison he could only escape by dying. I don’t mean faking his death, either: his plan was to literally die and be reborn as someone else. He even admits in a thought bubble that he has no idea who–or what–he will be reborn as, but anything is preferable to prison, so he takes a pill he made from natural elements in the Earth beneath him and… dies. So he somehow made an instadeath pill out of dirt and grass. I mean eating dirt will kill most things, so…

Reincarnation is weird in Silver Age DC though, because he’s not born as a baby. Instead he basically possesses some balding dude–and again, he had no idea who he was gonna get. He has to check the man’s pockets to find out who he became–some dude named Dawson.

Now, here’s a question: Who was Dawson before Gorilla Grodd assumed direct control? There’s fanfic fuel there, but most “comic fans” haven’t read anything from before Crisis on Infinite Earths (just look at TV Tropes page on The Flash, which never mentions anything pre-Crisis except vague acknowledgements that Barry Allen exists) so actual interesting stuff is never gonna get explored, simply because most “fans” don’t even know its there. I guess it’s more important to invent a new throwaway villain and talk about how drunk and abusive his dad was, because clearly that’s what’s most interesting about superhero fantasy.

Not to mention the metaphysics of a world where dying means you might just randomly take over someone else’s life. Like, is that just gorillas, is Grodd a special case, or would Barry dying have caused him to spontaneously jump into someone else’s body too? Oh, and the story implies that the Dawson human body is beginning to become more gorilla-like now that Grodd is in it (he remarks that hair keeps growing back faster), which he’s trying to prevent because he wants Flash to think he’s dead.

Dawson as it happens was going to train chimps for a carnival act, and… he actually is fine with that for awhile, but then he gets bored (yes, seriously) and decides its time to be a criminal again. When Flash shows up he fires a ray at him that causes Flash to suck in excess moisture from the air and thus grow fat, and as an extra touch, Grodd still has mental powers and uses them to give Flash amnesia. Then he uses this fat-guy-in-a-Flash-suit as a freakshow attraction. (Flash regains his memory after seeing himself in a funhouse mirror, then goes to a potato drying plant to thin himself, but sneak attacks Dawson-Grodd by showing up with an inflated suit so he’ll still look fat and using the momentary confusion to suckerpunch the guy).

Oh, at the beginnning, Solivar of the Gorillas uses a special phone which can call Flash anywhere in the world by… tuning in to his personal frequency? to inform him of Grodd’s death. While Barry does comment on how odd it is that chimp crimes started happening soon after said call, even Barry isn’t so far gone as to think Grodd has come back to life via what amounts to literally stealing someone else’s life.

….

So, ummm, why don’t they write stories like this anymore?

Seriously, right here, they’ve got a very interesting premise… and yet I’m betting its something the DC Universe never touches on again.

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Final Fantasy VII – What It Means to Me

At the risk of sounding like a hipster, I hated Final Fantasy VII even when it was the hot new kid on the block.

That really never changed. I played through it twice on the PS1, and recently tried again on PC (making use of the “Beacause” fan retranslation) which didn’t get far before I just got sick of the game.

Ironically part of it is I’m just not a big fan of Final Fantasy in general. Yes, the two North American SNES releases (retitlings of IV and VI) basically got me into RPGs and are nostalgic, but recently I was replaying those and the NES original after having devoured Dragon Warrior 1 and 2, and they wound up making me bored of RPGs. Final Fantasy has just always had something irritating about it that I can’t put my finger on. By contrast, when I replayed Dragon Warrior 1, 2, and Earthbound, I was hooked and was able to overlook their flaws because they were so damn fun… I even began replaying Dragon Warrior 1 just to test a theory.

I’m not sure what this says about me or my taste in games, because I’m not able to latch onto what makes other RPGs work but then Final Fantasy–even the ones I like–get on my nerves a little.

But let’s talk about FF7 in particular.

For me personally, FF7’s biggest legacy is as a point of comparison. In discussions I’ve used the term “FF7 Syndrome” to refer to a work of fiction which was highly regarded upon release, even held up as being of exemplary artistic standards, but which eventually wound up either derided or forgotten by all save a few hardcores.

Works that could be said to fall victim to FF7 Syndrome include (but are not limited to) The Lord of the Rings films by Peter Jackson, the Matrix trilogy of movies, the graphic novel Watchmen by Alan Moore, or the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion.

There’s a thing though, that I’ve come to notice: most works that fall victim to FF7 Syndrome (including FF7 itself) tend to be things that do things which are unique within a particular field. Even then, sometimes things that are only percieved as unique due to public ignorance.

For example, one thing I remember being a big deal was the fact that (SPOILER) Aeris dies. For a long time held up as one of the most emotional scenes in gaming, and had people talking about games telling serious stories with true artistic depth.

Which… step back and think about it: Someone dying is unique and novel enough to warrant respect? Really? Because novels and film had been doing this for years. No, it was only unique for it to be a video game doing it. And what made some gamers guffaw even more was that FF7 was far from the first to ever do so, either–it was simply the first that the wider public knew about. Anyone who had ever played RPGs, Adventure Games, or anything with a focus on a compelling narrative had likely seen far more emotional deaths than Aeris’ dozens of times over. FF7 was basically a video game that got big only because video games were still in a state of being seen as just toys for kids, defined for most as Mario jumping on goombas or a space ship shooting at aliens, much the same way Watchmen was impressive for a comic book simply because the popular consciousness associated comics with stuff like the Adam West Batman.

FF7 had the same sort of legacy too: For a long time, RPGs were the hot-ticket item, and every company was hoping to create the next FF7. This began an era where a lot of big-ticket games tried hard to be art (and we’re still seeing this today–just watch adverts for a lot of recent games, which look more like movie trailers than anything) while certain sources (usually mainstream non-gaming press) would deride any game that didn’t have lofty goals as being throwbacks. I recall even seeing a review of Metroid Prime of all things which described it as “arcadey”–and said that as if its a bad thing.

Nowadays, we’re starting to see pushback, what with all these retro revivals, and even by the time of the PS2, people were more interested in the likes of God of War or Devil May Cry than the latest Final Fantasy offerings. Square is trying to recapture their glory days by remaking Final Fantasy VII, which is just kinda laughable to me… and sadly, kinda reminds me of how Gainax recently tried to milk Neon Genesis Evangelion with a trilogy of anime movies.

The thing about Eva is I actually like the original TV series. I’m not so sure I like End of Evangelion, but anything past that has this feeling about it of being insincere. Eva worked because, among other things, Hideaki Anno was legitimately a little crazy. When other anime, like Gasaraki, tried to copy Eva, their understanding was just “its a mecha show that has a lot of weirdness” without really understanding it–similar to what the Dark Age of Comics did to Watchmen, copying the superficial without understanding the core. And then it came full circle–Watchmen got the “Before Watchmen” comics and Eva got the “Rebuild” trilogy, both being obvious cynical cash-grabs riding on name recognition, and possibly misunderstanding what made the original work just as much as the various clones did. In fact, I almost suspect they’ll be really fan-nish, similar in ways to how Yahtzee described the later Silent Hill games, filled with fanservice such as Pyramid Head while completely missing what those creatures and elements were about and why they were done the way they were. I’ve never seen Rebuild of Evangelion, but my suspicion is it plays up the angsty aspects to the exclusion of all the other parts of Eva’s identity, much like how some Silver Age comic throwback play up the goofy parts forgetting that that’s not the whole picture.

That’s kind of what I suspect the FF7 Remake is/will be–it’ll play up stuff that FF7 is “known for” but will forget the total package. Imagine remaking Earthbound, and deciding that because the original was known to be quirky, the remake will be full of IN YOUR FACE LOLZ RANDOMNESS forgetting that this was only a part of the whole package (and probably turning Giygas into a pink bunny or something), and you have basically what I think the remake will do to Final Fantasy VII. Modern creators, even those who were there at the time, tend to forget why the originals work. You simply can’t go back to the person you used to be, and as such any story you tell now will be fundamentally different even if its a remake.

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I finally beat R-Type…

…too bad it was the Gameboy Color version, and no it wasn’t a one-credit-clear.

I dunno if its an age thing or not, but lately I find I’m more interested in watching other people than in playing video games myself, especially games where the appeal is in how challenging they are. I’m not sure, but for me it feels like the zest has gone out of it.

Don’t get me wrong, some games like Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts are fun to play just as games, but a lot of arcade shooters for example feel like they’re better served being fun little diversions rather than something to take seriously.

What I’m finding weird about this is that my mood changes after spending awhile with Final Fantasy IV. The game is an RPG classic, but for some reason after an hour or so with it, I am just so ready to have the thing called tuna sashimi to the full extent of the jam. I actually find my performance against the Bydo empire improves as well. Guess the lesson is, “contrast is good, yo.”

One last thing… dear Irem: why exactly did R-Type need a rather involved storyline? (then again, some games–like Namco’s Xevious–had entire novels originally. Has anyone translated that yet?)

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Some Comic Book Pickups

Random, but… I wish people would stop abandoning dogs. Especially near my house. Today a golden lab and (what I think is) a basset hound appeared in my yard. The lab was very affectionate and clearly owned by someone, even understanding some commands. But I can’t keep dogs.

Those who remember me from my TV Tropes days remember I wasn’t a huge fan of American comics.

So you might be wondering then, what possessed me to buy a bunch of trades yesterday when I went to a bargain outlet store called Ollie’s (it’s like Big Lots, basically selling hand-me-downs from other stores). Well, thing is some comics–particularly older ones–do fascinate me a bit. It’s also possible that I’ve just been reading the wrong comics–most of my experiences have been with Marvel, who kinda suck. I bring this up because most of Ollie’s selection was DC Comics–the only Marvel representation was hardbacks of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower comic (and this makes me wonder if I’m right about the “hand-me-down” nature of their offerings because they tended to have multiples of the same volumes, not just for that but basically everything in their stock would have an exact dupe somewhere. Some of my own selections came off a stack, in fact).

So here’s what I got:

Green Lantern Chronicles, Vol. 4 – DC’s “Chronicles” line being an attempt to cover every story in a given character’s existence. In practice, none of the Chronicles wound up lasting long, but I do love them. If you’re wondering, this is Silver Age Green Lantern–Hal Jordan.

Flash Chronicles, Vol. 3 – This was in a stack. Also, this is Barry Allen. One of the stories contained herein is “The Day Flash Weighed 1000 Pounds!”

JLA: The Greatest Stories Ever Told – No volume number so I’m guessing first in a line.

Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, Volume 2

And finally Showcase Presents: The Phantom Stranger, Volume 1. Now this I picked up because it sounded interesting and I had never heard of Phantom Stranger before. Ollie’s had two other Showcase volumes, one for JLA and one for some war comic (I think called Metal Men or something like that? But the cover showed soldiers and tanks and stuff so I may have the title wrong). The War comic was one of the few cases where they seemed to only have the one copy. I normally don’t pick up DC’s Showcase (or its Marvel equivalent, Essentials) because well these comics were intended to be read in color so I’d prefer to read them that way, but one deciding factor in this case was that NONE of these books costed more than $3.99 (most of them were a dollar less than that) so I could afford an exception.

So far… well, the book I’ve explored the most is the JLA Best-Of volume, and… holy crap, that title ain’t no lie, because some of these have actually been damn good.

I think one reason I like the Golden and Silver Ages is because this was back when comics didn’t have their heads up their asses, and could follow any silly idea to its logical conclusion, often with just totally awesome results. To put this as spoiler-free as possible… one of the JLA stories mentions that Superman’s cape is indestructible. Aquaman takes advantage of this to trap an explosive being following the Flash, by setting the Cape up like a net, having Flash phase through it (because he can just DO that) and then the cape holds in the explosion of the trapped chaser (said explosion makes the cape inflate up something fierce in a panel).

You had me at “indestructible cape,” comic!

Seriously, why can’t we have more like THIS?

One of my regrets about the Marvel Method is that it put an additional emphasis on “character,” which sounds neat in theory, but in practice amounts to “everyone is a dick and whines endlessly about problems which in some cases they could easily solve and are usually bringing on themselves.” Whiners aren’t fun in real life, why would I want them in fiction? It’s the same deal as in Console RPGs–I’d rather have the blank-slate Light Warriors than the brooding narcisist Squall or the endless waifus trying way too hard to be kawaii and instead coming off as annoying.

Don’t get me wrong, characterization is normally a good idea, its just that modern writers seem to not understand human beings at all and seem to think any character who isn’t miserable all the time is just a plank of wood (when in practice being defined solely by misery makes a character literally one-dimensional).

Anyway,

The first Phantom Stranger volume so far is interesting, though I’ve only gotten past his and Dr. Thirteen’s introduction story. The Superman volume opens with the first appearance of Mr. Mxyptlk (not sure I spelled that right), which is where The Animated Series got the “McGurk” bit from. Kinda genius that they somehow realized “McGurk” is inherently a funny name.

Like I said, the book I’ve spent the most time is the JLA volume, followed by the Green Lantern, which opens with a story about Sinestro trapping GL on a yellow planet where “even the very air is yellow.” Ummm…. okay? One thing I never noticed before is that Sinestro’s head is… elongated. Like seriously I could see using it as a baseball bat or a club. Not complaining, because at least its distinct.

I have not yet read the Flash volume beyond glancing at the table of contents. The first story–featuring some dude named the Trickster–just didn’t grab me. Still, happy to keep around the adventures of the Original Red Ranger (a name I’ll be shocked if nobody else has used it before now).

I’m also trying seriously to draw comics of my own, but no ETA on that as well, I tend to be chronically lazy. Hopefully I’ll get somewhere soon.

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The Problem With Franchises

In the late 1990s, there was a 101 Dalmations animated series.

It wasn’t particularly good, but I watched it because I was bored and those puppies (particularly Cadpig) were kinda adorable. But there happened to be one episode that I find I keep remembering, because it turned out to be prophetic and unexpectedly brilliant.

I don’t know its title, but its description is this: The pups are watching an episode of their favorite show, Thunderbolt (sort of a canine cop), when the power goes out. The pups are eager to know how the episode ends, and end up coming up with their own conclusions–essentially making up their own endings for the episode.

Then the power comes back on and they see the episode’s actual ending… and it sucks. Their unanimous reaction is “our stories were better.”

I keep thinking about this because this precisely matches how I feel about most franchises (sometimes even single stories, but its more common with franchises). Fans are always asking for canon explanations and details, but very often, their theories and speculation are more interesting than the actual answers we get.

To use a recent example: Five Nights at Freddy’s. I… don’t know how to spoiler mark on this blog, so I’ll keep my statements vague: The focus of the series stops being about a restaurant with a history and more about some dumbass family, and that’s boring.

For a classic example, I always hated how Metal Gear turned out, especially stuff like who the Patriots are and what the ultimate endgame of the series was. Unsurprisingly, Hideo Kojima didn’t even want to answer the questions Sons of Liberty raised and its my theory he deliberately gave underwhelming answers to punish people for asking.

And it just goes on like this. Chances are, the more (continuous) installments a canon has, the more likely its gone completely freaking stupid. This is also why I can’t get into comic books, because for a lot of them the damage was done years ago and modern writers don’t want to “disrespect tradition” by making major overhauls.

But sometimes, traditions suck and SHOULD be thrown aside.

So, word of advice for all aspiring writers out there: Unless you reeeeaaaally know what you’re doing (or just don’t care), never let your epic saga have more than three canon installments (three books for a novel series, three seasons for a TV show, three video games, etc.) Three tends to work. There were only three Back to the Future movies and none of them were bad, there were only three Lord of the Rings books (technically one big book printed in three volumes) and it’s one of the best books ever written, and so on and so forth. Of course there are times where more installments works, but they tend to be special cases (like Final Fantasy, where none of the games even have any connection).

tl;dr always stop at three.

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VLOG: Brief Thoughts on Mega Man’s Canon

Story canon, not the kind that shoots.

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