Friday, April 27, 2007



I got a kick out of this ROM hack video. It's how I imagine anyone must react to these ridiculously difficult custom levels that people seem to get off on making.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Starting Over

So I made up this cute little theory about why people stop enjoying their games, and about how having a save slot in a game makes you feel like you never have to play it again. So I think it's time to put this theory to the test. I'm going to take a game I haven't played in forever and start over. Dump the save slot, no looking back.

I'm going to restart Pokemon.

All of it.

Red, Blue, Yellow, Gold, Silver, and Stadium 2. I'm going to play through all five versions and interface them with Pokemon Stadium 2 and my Pocket Pikachu 2. I want to see what it's like to have a total Pokemon experience from the very beginning. (I reserve the right to not restart my Pocket Pikachu 2 because it has information relating to my exercise activities over the last four years that are unrelated to the game, and Pokemon Trading Card game because it's a different affair entirely.)

I figure I have nothing to lose. I haven't touched any of the games for any appreciable length of time for several years -- my files might as well already be deleted. And if this can rekindle my interest in a collection of games I already own, then it'll be worth it.

This'll go down May 1st. Just to make an event out of it. I was thinking about declaring a National Delete a Save File Month, but I think I'll just give it a try and see how it goes and worry about organizing something like that based on my experiences.

Wish me luck.



Saturday, April 21, 2007


Getting My Retro On

So I haven't made the move into the next generation of video game consoles yet, and I'm not sure when I will. So the question looms: where is my next fix going to come from? What's a video game addict to do without a cutting edge video game system?

The answer, of course, is to go retro.

Retro. I've always sort of associated the word with systems like the Atari 2600 or the Intellivision. You know -- the systems that were popular before they invented good graphics. Maybe even the NES, although that's sort of pushing it.

I've been going through a paradigm shift lately. The Super NES? How could that be a retro console? It plays Yoshi's Island, for crying out loud! The game where you touch fuzzy and get dizzy! That's retro now?

The Nintendo 64 is retro now?!

That's about as far as I've gotten. I'm going to wait a bit before I try to come to grips with thinking of the Dreamcast as a retro console. That's a pretty big pill to swallow. Gamecube's not retro yet -- I'm clinging to that with all of my being.

And yet, as I've pulled my Nintendo 64 out for the first time in months and actually loaded up some of my favorite old games for the first time in years -- Mario Party 2, Super Smash Brothers -- it's easier to recognize it. The graphics are dated. The gameplay has aged very well, but the graphics... yikes. It really is like looking back at the NES after being accustomed to the Super NES.

I remember that night, over ten years ago, when my brother and I went everywhere -- everywhere, all over town -- searching for anyone who had a Nintendo 64 in stock and a copy of Super Mario 64. Oh, what a terrible search it was, in the snowy hell of a Wisconsin winter, but we came back victorious. And from our first delicious taste of what the Nintendo 64 could do, we were hooked.

And I remember, as we were scaling Cool, Cool Mountain, that my brother and I started up a conversation about what would happen to our Super NES. Could we really go back to it after the miracle of seeing a fully realized, three-dimensional, breathing, talking Super Mario sliding around a winter wonderland like a human tobogan?

Even in my awestruck glee, I had a moment of prophetic insight. We were amazed at that exact moment in time, but it wouldn't last forever. Something else would come along, something so amazing that I couldn't even yet imagine it, and that would make Super Mario 64 look just as poor to our eyes as the original Super Mario Brothers.

We had just spent hundreds of dollars on a piece of electronics that would be doomed to obsolescence in just five short years.

And now it's happened. The Nintendo 64 is retro. The Super NES is retro.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing.

I'm starting to peek around the second-hand market, and for the most part, I like what I've been finding. To my dismay, I've discovered that Gamestop no longer deals in anything older than Playstation 2, although I'm not exactly surprised. However, there's a store in my area called Mega Media Xchange. I paid them a visit the other day.

It was like some sort of video game Valhalla.

The store was dominated by the same sort of things that Gamestop deals in, but there was so, so much more. I found Atari 2600, Sega CD, Saturn, stacks and stacks of NES and Super NES and Genesis. There were Sega Master System games. There were systems, games, accessories, you name it.

A lengthy tour of the store revealed that it was mostly crap that I wasn't interested in owning, but still! Mind-blowing! And I have to admit, I was awfully tempted to walk out of there with a 2-in-1 NES/Super NES clone system that they had on sale. I put it out of mind by reminding myself that there aren't any NES games that I really want to play anyway, but the question burns in my mind -- is that because I really have no interest in them anymore, or is it because my current NES would crowd my shelf space and is generally too difficult to get to work properly?

I'm filing that one under "just a matter of time".

But the Internet is there to lend a hand. Gone are the days of being limited to what you can scrounge from the local video game pawn shop. With sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace, it's easier than ever to hook yourself up with a video game that's been out of print for over a decade. Sure, you may have to pay exorbitant prices for the rare or popular titles, but that's pretty much always been the case, eh? The only real issue is waiting days for the mail to come.

I scored myself a copy of Pilotwings 64 on Amazon. I've been developing a fondness for flight simulation lately, and spending a few hours with that one has really hit the spot. There's a review coming. You better believe it.

As I've lamented before many times in this blog, I have no real need for new video games in my life. I don't even spend the time to do more than scratch the surface of what I already own; what good is it going to do to have more? I should be content.

I think what I really lack is some sort of mechanism to keep the games that I already have toward the front of my consciousness. I regularly visit websites where I'm bombarded with information about what's new in video games -- things that I don't yet own that I should be excited about getting in the future. And it's not that I want to turn that off -- I can't say for certain that my life would have been better had I not found out about Puzzle Quest, for example -- but... where do you find the hype to keep you interested in what you already own?

How do I recapture my first all night marathon session with Mario Party 2? How do I reawaken my passion for capturing and training Pokemon? How can I relive that giddy joy that came with finally unlocking Ness in Super Smash Brothers? Why has it been so long since I've played Super Mario RPG? Why can't I be happy that my dream of having unlimited free games of Ms. Pac-Man is finally realized?

I think that's the endgame. When I can cure ownership amnesia, when I can rekindle the passion that inspired me to buy (and keep!) these dozens and dozens of game cartridges for so many years, I'll have won.

I just got a mad urge to play Donkey Kong '94. Think I'll do that.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007


Orwell on Fanboys

George Orwell, the famous author of 1984 and Animal Farm wrote an interesting piece about human political behavior, "Notes on Nationalism". I'm not as well-read as I probably should be; I only just discovered this essay the other day. If you haven't read it, take a look, it's worth the time it'll take.

To his own admission, Orwell calls his concept of zealous loyalty "nationalism" because he doesn't have a better word for it. He says that it can be directed toward a nation, a religion, a social class -- so why not a console war?

Consider this passage (emphasis is mine):

When one grasps the implications of this, the nature of what I mean by nationalism becomes a good deal clearer. A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade.

Of course, we have our own terms for this kind of thinking. We call the positive side "fanboys" and the negative side "trolls".

On the one hand, it's really no surprise that the console fanboy wars have the same sort of basis as any other idealogical war, but at the same time, it's troubling to see it lain bare like this. How did this happen? How have we come to invest emotional attachment into consumer electronics that was once reserved for things like our country or our religion?

Video game fandom has a horrible history of rivalry and humiliation not just between the companies who make different consoles, but the people who buy them. The lynching of the N-Gage in the marketplace is still fresh in my mind -- the overwhelming tide of derision that came from everyone who didn't want to buy the unit directed ferociously at anyone who did.

One of the points of Orwell's article is that it doesn't have to be like this. We can change, but it will take effort. In the end, we have more similarities than differences, and we need to recognize and appreciate that. We are all consumers participating in a very expensive hobby -- what good does it do us to shout down our fellow consumers with the flaws of what they've purchased? Why do we have to be cliques, unpaid herds of guerilla marketers manipulated by multi-million dollar companies into tearing apart their competition for them?

We're being used, folks.

So what's the solution? I don't want to go down any sort of road that leads to abandoning personal opinions, because frankly, it's a lot of fun. Look at this place, for crying out loud. I'm screaming my opinions out as gospel truth and dismissing anyone who disagrees with me as irrelevant or out of touch. I don't want to stop doing it, so damned if I'm going to tell other people that they have to.

Nor should the answer be to try and love everything, because that's just as bad. Contrary to rumors, you do not need to own every console that was ever created in order to form an opinion about the one you do own. You don't need to like every god damned game that gets produced.

All you really have to do is take the competitive meanness out of it.

Comes down to it, there is some good and some bad in everything. And different people will weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each console (and each game) differently. We just need to reach a point where we can acknowledge that every person's opinion is valid, even if it's completely wrong.

I was invited to play Halo at a friend's house once. I'm not an X-Box fan. I'm not a first-person shooter fan. And after my experience, I did not walk away a Halo fan. But I can at least acknowledge that I understand why other people would find it appealing. I'm not going to say that Halo "sucks" just because I don't like it or that my friend is "stupid" just because he does.

It's a game he likes that I'll never get into. And that's that.

That's the sort of attitude we need to start developing if we're going to put all of this messy and counterproductive fanboy crusading behind us. Love your games -- shout it from the rooftops! -- but don't get caught in the "us" versus "them" trap.

We're all gamers. Whether we're "casual" or "hardcore", it doesn't make any difference. If we just keep cutting each other down, we're just going to end up exhausted with nothing to show for it.

Tune in next time, when I explain why Game & Watches kick the PS3's ass.


Sunday, April 15, 2007


Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters


The Aqua Teen movie actually surpassed my expectations.

Based on the reviews I've read and my experience with the show, I was expecting to spend the afternoon munching popcorn and watching an incoherent stream of consciousness. The majority of reviewers write off the plot as being incomprehensible.

I write them off as not fucking paying attention.

It's truly amazing what they pulled off. The movie as a whole fits right in with the Aqua Teen universe. In particular, the pacing wasn't altered to try and make it feel like a "real" movie. No precious time is wasted trying to bring the non-fans in the audience up to speed on the premise. They didn't take a 15-minute story and buffer it up to feature length. It's exactly like watching an episode of the show, only instead of cutting the story short at the quarter of an hour mark, they just keep on going.

It's marvelous.

As for the story -- what's not to get? The Aqua Teens set off on a quest to assemble an exercise machine, only to discover that it transforms into a giant death machine when it's turned on. They have to figure out a way to stop it before it destroys New Jersey, and they don't necessarily solve the mystery of their origins along the way. This is easily the most coherent and cohesive story that the Aqua Teens have ever been involved in. And there's plenty of time for extended gags that center around Master Shake explaining the birds and the bees to Meatwad or the Mooninites stealing furniture.

And they've pulled off another clever trick -- the movie feels epic without ever really going for that over the top "HEY! LOOK WHAT WE'RE DOING THAT WE COULDN'T DO ON TV!" feeling that a lot of TV show movies go for. The fates of several of the best recurring characters from the show intertwine as the story progresses. And they break one of the most cardinal unspoken rules of the show: Doctor Weird becomes a front and center fixture in the plot, which leads him to a direct confrontation with the Aqua Teens.

The revelations about the show's mythology are introduced and denied with gleeful abandon. Were the Aqua Teens created by Doctor Weird himself, or was it the other way around? Was there ever a fourth Aqua Teen called Chicken Bittle? Was this all really the fault of a sentient watermellon slice and a nine-layer burrito? The movie raises more questions than it answers, then laughs at you for caring in the first place.

It may not be a wall-to-wall laugh riot, but it's definately 87 minutes of solid entertainment, complete with a song about how pathetic the creators imagine their audience to be and a minor easter egg after the credits. It's everything that an Aqua Teen movie possibly could be. If you thought you wanted to see it, chances are you're right.


Saturday, April 14, 2007




Trials and Tribulations. OH FUCKING HOLY FUCK YEAH!

On Edit:

Now that that's out of my system (ahem!), wow. The third Ace Attorney game? As soon as September? Now that's something worth getting excited about. The "Ryu" sweater became a "P" sweater -- not as cool as the "Nick" sweater that fans were expecting, but it'll do. If we can believe the press release that I've only seen as a post on GameFAQs, Godot remains Godot, as he damn well should.

The whole thing's got me giddy. Mia's got a great voice. Every lawyer in the series (except the late von Karma senior) will be appearing in some way, shape, or form. I'll finally get to see Winston Payne cracking balls at the height of his career. And, if I'm to believe the not-quite-spoiler-free promises I've been hearing, this one's got a story that's going to blow doors down.



Thursday, April 12, 2007


Why It's Like This

Allow me to make a few generalizations, because I really believe I'm on to something here.

In the beginning there were arcade games. They followed in the footsteps of older amusements by working on a pay-for-each-game basis. You were expected to play a complete game in one sitting -- in fact, several complete games. The more the better! Keep those quarters rolling in!

Video games became more sophisticated. They began to have a storyline and distinct levels that differed by more than just difficulty level. Soon, it wasn't about the score anymore; it was about "finishing" the game. Savvy developers began to realize that their machines could make more money if they offered players a chance to continue a lost game by dropping more quarters in.

The trend spread to home game consoles. Players were offered limited continues. Passwords to mark their progress. Games became more sophisticated still -- the home market allowed for RPGs and adventure games to take hold. As the technology for home consoles improved, we saw the rise of video games with save slots.

And with that, the entire shape of the industry was decided.

What's the difference between passwords and save slots? A password is temporary. It can be lost or forgotten. Save slots, by comparison, are relatively permanent.

If the goal of playing a video game is to reach the end, then there's no reason to start over from the beginning when you have a save slot that already takes you to the end.

As more and more video games began to add save slots, we began to see a shift in players' attitudes. We would play through a game once and only once because, in our minds, there was no point in playing it again once it's been "conquered". We already have the save slot in case we want to see the ending again; why go through all that hard work all over again?

There was always a push for longer video games in the market, but now it had a reason to grow into an obsession. If you're paying $50 for a video game that you're only going to play once, then you want that session to last as long as possible. Developers like Square set the high water marks for hour-per-dollar payoffs. Gaming culture made a radical shift. It used to be that gamers would beg and plead for shortcuts to help them reach the end of a two- or three-hour game faster. We slowly evolved into a culture that balked at anything that didn't promise to waste at least 20 hours of our lives.

And as games got longer, losing was no longer an option. It was okay to die and return to the beginning in Super Mario Brothers because the game isn't especially long -- it won't take a week's worth of free time to return to the place where you died. But telling a player who's invested 49 hours of his life into a 50 hour epic that he has to start over? That would make too many people angry.

Having multiple lives became meaningless. It's stupidly easy to just save and continue your way out of any situation. The only complication may be the distance between save points, but even that's not much of an issue compared to starting an entire game over again. All it means is that we'll have to tediously replay the same stretch of game until we pass it -- we'll never have to see it again, and we won't want to because we just saw it five times in a row.

It used to be that players would derive more utility from a game by losing and restarting. But now that save slots effectively made the player immortal, players began to demand that the games become longer so they can get more utility from them.

So having save slots brought on a push for longer and longer games. Unfortunately, this really started to pick up steam at a time when game development was becoming a monumental undertaking. Home systems were capable of creating ever more finely detailed, immersive worlds.

The problem is, those worlds have to be designed. And designing free-roaming 3D environments takes a lot more dedication than designing simple 2D environments. We cried "More! More!" at a time when creating a single level in a video game was becoming an undertaking that could require the input of an entire team of programmers.

So we didn't get games with more levels. Instead, we started to get games that required us to do more in those levels.

Developers began to get good at reusing their levels. Games began to force us to backtrack, to cross old ground multiple times. Instead of having more levels, we were given fetch quests -- Rare-style platformers, where you have to collect hundreds of meaningless dodads in order to progress. The name of the game was keeping the player busy so that he won't think the experience is "too short".

We had to do more with less.

I think that this is close to the heart of the matter -- this vague feeling of dissatisfaction that the video game culture seems to be experiencing these days. We have so many truly incredible games, but we don't play them anymore because we feel like they're already completed.

Clearly, something should be done.

I'm going to call for a National Delete a Save Slot month. More as it develops.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Not Bored Yet

If you make a web page when no one is reading it, then you really mean it.

I've started a lot of web pages in the past, some related to video games, some not. If I ever got to the one year mark with them, it was usually with some degree of resentfulness or apathy. I've never been happy with the slim following that my websites have found. I tend to end up crumpling them up and throwing them away in disgust, enraged by the lack of ego-stroking that I get for putting them up.

But maybe -- maybe -- I've found my calling with Electric Dilintia. This blog has reached the ripe old age of one year old, with fully 64 articles. It's a grab bag of thorough reviews, thoughtful commentary, gut reactions, pointless lists, and self-indulgent crap. It's an online vomit bag, a receptacle to catch my every thought about video games, no matter how clever or stupid, the better to save them for my future inspection. It's a website by me and for me.

There's something liberating about writing for nobody. I can shout my opinions into the void without all of that messy "disagreement" nonsense you get at video game message boards. I can write reviews that are as long and rambling and tangential as I want, then shift gears and shoot out quick one or two line reactions to contemporary video game news. I can whine about anything I want, and it's not going to interfere with anyone who's looking for something entertaining and/or informative. There's no structure, no deadlines, and no pressure -- just the joy of writing about whatever I want, whenever I want to.

And so, I feel neither bored nor resentful as Electric Dilintia cruises through its one-year anniversary. To the contrary, I feel like there's still plenty of juice in me. I still haven't tackled the subject of how save files have inadvertantly led to a decline in the quality of video games or where I stand on the eternal "graphics versus gameplay" debate. My masters thesis regarding Pac-Man as the quintessential video game remains unwritten. And I feel, deep in my heart, that I will succumb to a new video game system before the year is out, which will open a whole goldmine of new reactions and commentary.

So I want to thank you, the hollow, silent void of the internet, for being there and ignoring my deranged ramblings as I slowly and pitifully fanboy myself to death. We'll see if I've got another year in me.


Sunday, April 01, 2007


Hamtaro: Ham-Ham Games

I suspect, though I can't prove, that Hamtaro was brought to America in the hopes that it would rock our world in a manner similar to Pokemon. Whether that was the intent or not, it never happened, and I can't say I'm especially sorry that it didn't.

I mean, fair enough, I was never really Hamtaro's target audience. But somehow, I managed to get involved in the Hamtaro games for Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance. And I'm not especially sorry about that either.

Ham-Hams Unite! and Ham-Ham Heartbreak are surprisingly solid games, head and shoulders above typical "children's cartoon tie-in" crap. And with Nintendo at the helm, I wouldn't expect anything less. They're set up as adventure games in the spirit of the old King's Quest series. There's plenty of entertaining dialogue, huge sprites, and wonderful animation. The best part is how deeply implemented the game worlds are. Some game developers would use a rollercoaster in a theme park world as static scenery. In Ham-Ham Heartbreak, it's a fully-implemented ride, complete with lots of custom animation. They are, for the most part, games that reward your curiosity.

So yeah. I was actually slightly disappointed when Rainbow Rescue never got an American release date. Instead, we got a track and field game that's based on the characters from Rainbow Rescue. Hooray?!

Hamster Olympics

There aren't many sports games that I'm especially interested in. There aren't that many sports that I'm actually interested in, and even fewer that translate well into a video game experience, at least in my opinion. Why play a video game when it's just so much more fun to go outside and play?

But there's always been a special place in my heart for track and field video games. I blame it on the pitch they gave me -- it's a video game that actually requires real-world physical endurance in order to do well at it. That's the sort of thing that speaks directly to me.

It's not actually an especially useful gameplay mechanic, but it speaks directly to me.

So Ham-Ham Games features fifteen Summer Games events that have been shrunk down to accomodate the cute and fuzzy competitors. There are bite-sized renditions of Tennis and Beach Volleyball, but most of the games you play are timing games (and not button-mashers). You know the kind -- push the button with the proper timing, and your character will be animated doing something with an appropriate degree of success.

And here's the first point in Ham-Ham Games' favor -- no two games are exactly alike. Every event takes the same basic idea and tweaks it just a little. One of the things that bugged me about Activision Decathalon is that every event was exactly the same deal -- twiddle the joystick back and forth, then press Fire. You won't find that in Ham-Ham Games. Even the two pure running events -- the 100 hm Dash and the Marathon -- control differently.

What's more, the games are actually fun. I've been known to do a quick High Dive or Syncronized Swimming when I've been bored.

Every game has three skill levels. The control is, as far as I can tell, exactly the same in all three skill levels. The only appreciable difference is how well you have to do to place well at the event. Although the overall package is definately aimed toward the kids, even an adult like me can find it challenging to do well enough to earn a gold medal on Hard mode.

All of the games can be played in Free Mode or sequentially in the Tournament. There are no real multiplayer options, unfortunately.

But let me tell you about the Tournament.

This Section is About the Tournament

A less ambitious game would simply present the game's fifteen events in sequence and call it a tournament. Ham-Ham Games is more ambitious than that.

The fifteen games are divided into a week-long schedule, complete with cut scenes for the opening and closing ceremonies. (That kind of attention to detail really tickles me.) Every game day, Hamtaro wakes up at the clubhouse, and he has free time before, between, and after the day's events. You can wander around the game world, talk to other hamsters, scrounge for sunflower seeds (the game's currency), and find costumes that you can use to dress up your hamster avatar. In the clubhouse alone, you can watch television (a different show at every time of the day), ride a basket back and forth in the loft, play a basketball Game & Watch game, alter the message that everyone says when they say hi, tumble down a slide, or take a nap so that you can stay up late and catch a secret TV show. This mini adventure isn't really the focus of the game until the second time you play through the tournament, when Prince Bo charges you with collecting a "Hamigo Card" from all of the game's characters -- which turns out to be quite a feat!

It does a good job of emulating the experience of a real Summer Olympics by giving you the feeling of passage of time. Every morning, the game explains the schedule for the day. Most evenings, you get to see a cute little cutscene about what goes on while you slumber. Sometimes Crystal the Hamster Fairy will ask you a question, and your answer is incorporated into the game's dialogue.

And, of course, sometimes you'll lose. The AI is terribly basic -- most of the time, Team Rainbow will get a gold medal if you don't, so the only way to win the entire tournament is to capture eight or more gold medals. If you don't manage that, you'll lose the tournament. I guess it's just kind of refreshing to play a game where you have more options than just "complete victory" or "restart from save point".

It's not a work of art, but I like it. Track and field games have a pretty narrow audience, but if you like that genre and you can stand to play it with hamsters, I don't see how you can go wrong with this one.


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