Back to the usual nonsense

I spent the past weekend doing two things: One, playing Axiom Verge for review. It’s really good. Like, really good. In fact, it was just what I needed after the gorgeous banality of Ori and the Blind Forest. I’m afraid my write up for USgamer doesn’t do Axiom Verge proper justice, but much of the joy in the game comes from the act of discovery and from the surprises it offers along the way. Even weapons and powers are so unconventional that I feel that discussing them does a disservice to the game. So… I will write about it much greater depth in a few weeks, once people have had the opportunity to experience it fresh for themselves.

Game Boy World_ 1989 PB Cover.indd

Two: My other project over the weekend was the pull together the long-overdue Game Boy World compilation book. I haven’t self-published book in ages, thanks to all my life upheavals; this past weekend was the first chance I’ve had in about four months to just sit down and concentrate on a project like this. It was quite satisfying, and I must say the book is shaping up to be absolutely gorgeous, with tons of photos and a clean internal design. I’ve had to wrestle with the impulse to clutter it up with lots of images, but ultimately a more minimalist approach has prevailed, and the result will definitely be enjoying a place of honor on my coffee table even if no one else wants a copy. I still need to write roughly six pages’ worth of text (most likely next weekend) and do some revisions and editing, but the layout, photography, and all but a few screenshots are together and looking goooood. You can get a sense of the no-nonsense approach I’m taking with the design from the cover layout above: Photography, some bold text (though never nearly that bold, or large, inside), and some less intrusive supplemental text alongside.

I also threw together an experiment for USgamer last week: A video companion piece to the latest Virtual Spotlight column. Doesn’t seem to have garnered much interest, though. I’ll try again this week and see if that has any better luck. It may not have been the best idea to try this experiment about a game and series that no one cares about. Or maybe the column was destined to be a text-only joint. Who knows.

Anyway. Axiom Verge. Prrrretty great.

Posted in Blog, Games. Tagged with , , .

The great PC question

I’ve been threatening to do it for a while, and now I’m actually going to follow through. I’m going to (gulp) get a Windows machine for the sake of having access to the vast library of games that platform enjoys. Consoles have become increasingly stagnant and conservative, and all the medium’s creativity is happening down in the cracks of independently developed PC gaming. There’s nothing to be done for it, I’m afraid.

So my question, then, is: Is it possible to build a gaming-capable rig (ideally one able to handle current AAA stuff, though not necessarily at max settings) for less than $1000? Does that include a monitor? Give me your wisdom, O nerds. Lend me your knowledge of optimal mid-range PC specs.

Posted in Blog.

The dumbest thing I ever did

(Entry #1 in an infinite series)

When I was in college, I got my hands on a copy of Macromedia’s Fontographer, a program that allowed any ol’ person to create their own custom fonts. I then used it to create a typeface based on my handwriting. Because I had written letters extensively by longhand in junior high and high school, but became proficient enough at computers in college that typing proved to be much faster for me. So I would write letters in my fake computer-rendered handwriting, because I couldn’t bear to send “impersonal” letters to people but didn’t have the time to write by hand anymore.

It’s a wonder no one shivved me for addressing them with the worst of both worlds: The illegibility of handwriting, the impersonal nature of word processing.

Posted in Blog.

Kick off those sneakers, stick around for a while

Man, A.V. Club’s oral history of UHF is a crazy rabbit-hole, as good oral history features tend to be. I started to read it at lunch and had to force myself to get back to work. It’s especially interesting to see the contrast between the personalities involved; the asynchronous sniping between writer Jay Levey and the film’s producers kind of gets to the bottom of what made UHF both interesting as a film and a failure as a commercial release: It was a personal project controlled very directly by two Hollywood outsiders. Kirkwood and Frederickson have that sort of detachment from reality and humanity that keeps the Hollywood machine going, and you can practically hear Levey’s eyes rolling at some of their remarks. Good stuff.

Levey totally nailed it with identifying the target audience for the movie, though, framing it as a sort of nerd bar mitzvah. I was just about that age when the movie came out, right at the fever peak of my interest in Weird Al Yankovic’s music — a matter of months before I really got into 20-minute symphonic rock epics and pretentiously cut ties with anything I’d ever enjoyed before that. Obviously, I loved UHF. I was just the right age to catch pretty much all the pop culture references but not old enough to find some of the humor too juvenile.

It was funny to stumble across this article maybe an hour after my mother and father headed back home; as much as I wanted to see UHF, I think my mother wanted to see it even more. She’s always been more tuned in to nerd/pop culture than I have. While she and my father were in town, and I took her to the bar trivia I sometimes sit in on… and we stomped the competition almost entirely on the strength of her pop culture knowledge. She’s the one whose Yes records I borrowed when I started seeking out interesting music, and most of the cult films I saw in the ’80s (The Goonies, Labyrinth, The Princess Bride, etc.) we saw because she wanted to see them.

Anyway, I’m sure UHF doesn’t hold up as well 25 years later as it does in my memories. I can imagine I’d be put off by some of the less sensitive jokes these days. But, even in the lowest moments of, say, Gedde Watanabe doing the Japanese equivalent of a minstrel act, at least it had jokes. That sure beats what passes for pop culture satire in certain circles these days (random pop culture reference appears from nowhere! And… that’s the whole joke). Wheel of Fish wasn’t just Long Duk Dong redux; it was lampooning outlandish Japanese television shows (back when that idea was novel and unique; we were still years away from Mr. Sparkle, for crying out loud), and it was funny not because of the outrrrrrageous accent but because it presented a rude game show host who said aloud what we all know game show hosts are thinking behind their veneer of bland encouragement. Plus, it spoke to the zeitgeist, too: Japan, we were told throughout the ’80s, was going to crush America’s economy and society with its clockwork business discipline and incomprehensible culture — and here was a Japanese game show with rules that made no sense, where failure resulted in public mockery by a shrill, hyperactive foreigner. Maybe that wasn’t the intended subtext, but it sure as hell is in there — America’s ’80s paranoia in a nutshell.

I think UHF would also seem less remarkable today just because there’s so much out there that followed in its footsteps. I love that we live in a media environment where productions as niche and off-kilter as UHF now seem run-of-the-mill — Silicon Valley is pretty much a more profane, modern-day UHF — but at the same time, it does mean there’s nothing quite so powerfully intoxicating these days as watching Weird Al in Indy Jones drag get squashed into a pancake, cross-fading into a sizzling, greasy hamburger.


Or maybe it’s just nostalgia speaking. What do I know.

Posted in Film, Media. Tagged with , , .

The art show

After years and years of doing jack-diddly with the art degree I invested many years and many dollars into, I decided to squander my BFA slightly less than I have over the past decade by creating weekly cover illustrations for this season’s Retronauts episodes (as opposed to doing nothing whatsoever with it). I suppose you could argue it’s a backward step, given the results, but generally the covers have gone over well. I’ve seen more positivity than death threats, at least. Given today’s Internet climate, that’s a pretty rare feat.

Anyway, in a fit of optimism, I’ve decided to sell off the original ink-and-watercolor illustrations on an Etsy shop. Neither Bob nor I have pocketed a cent from the Retronauts Patreon campaign so far — everything that’s come in has been set aside for reward items and production costs — so this is the only way I’ll actually be seeing any kind of return on what continues to be a zero-sum labor of love for us. (Those reward tchotchkes are a lot costlier than we had budgeted.) And honestly, I had originally been planning to hang on to the illustrations for myself, but my wife’s computer began experiencing its death throes a couple of weeks ago, which means we need to drum up the cash to replace it ASAP. Peddling art seemed a better way to go than selling off everything I own on eBay, assuming anyone’s interested in this stuff.


So… loath as I am to discuss matters of commerce, please have a look at the shop and see if there’s anything that interests you. If you don’t want to use Etsy, you can contact me at to arrange something. Even if you don’t want anything I’ve drawn, thanks for looking, at least. My wife is definitely grateful, since she’s in one of those situations where she can’t earn money to replace her computer until she has a working computer. Joseph Heller would have a good laugh at that one.

Posted in Blog.

Just my Type

Let me say, it was a huge relief to finally be able to play — and review! — Final Fantasy Type 0 in English at long last. I feel almost like some sort of midwife for the game, having been present for pretty much every major event in its rocky trip to the U.S. over the past nine years. I was at Square Enix’s E3 2006 press conference, where the massive roster of Final Fantasy XIII games (including Type 0 under its original title, Final Fantasy Agito XIII) was first announced. And then I was in Tokyo in 2008 for the bizarrely named DKΣ3713 event when Square Enix announced the game would no longer be a mobile tactical card game but in fact a PSP action game.

More recently, I sort of stumbled into another part of its history by total chance. I requested an interview with Hajime Tabata back at Tokyo Game Show 2013, because I’d interviewed pretty much every other Square Enix personality of note over the years and had enjoyed Crisis Core and what I’d played of the Type 0 import. I thought it would be interesting to talk to the guy who was quietly pumping out these reliable, entertaining handheld games for Square while everyone in media and forums alike wrung their hands about Final Fantasy XIII and XIV. I had requested the interview months in advance, so I had no idea he’d be announcing the spin-off mobile game Agito that week — and I certainly had no idea he’d been put in charge of Final Fantasy XV (which, based on the loose timeline I’ve heard, had happened a few months prior).

Tabata seemed amused (and maybe a little flattered?) that someone in the Western press had specifically requested an appointment with him, since for all we knew at the time he was just the guy who made those PSP games that hardly anyone in the U.S. bought, because no one in the U.S. cares about portable games. I definitely got the impression he wasn’t used to being singled out by the foreign press. I guess as a sort of “thank you” for taking the time, he mentioned his determination to get Type 0 and Agito localized. I could tell he went off-script for that tidbit based on the “oh crap” expressions on the faces of the poor PR folks in the room, but I think he did it as much for his own benefit as mine — apparently the resulting furor over that interview on forums and blogs gave him ammunition for the development of Type 0 HD.  The entire affair was all a coincidence, and I suspect I was unwittingly used a bit for someone else’s agenda… but even so, it was still pretty cool to take the shrink wrap off Type 0 HD a few days ago and think to myself, “In some small way, I helped make this happen.”

I’m just glad Type 0 turned out to be pretty good. It would have been really pathetic to have squandered this random brush with good fortune on some crappy 2-star junker of a game.

Posted in Games. Tagged with .

Ludicrous speed

As we were preparing to move into our home, the community’s building project manager mentioned we should get AT&T for internet. Because we’re in a brand new development, he told us, the entire subdivision is freshly wired for AT&T gigabit internet service. And sure enough: Installation day took about four hours instead of one. The technicians arrived promptly, but they had to actually finish running the wires along the block before they could flip the switch for us.

In our last place, downtown, we had 5Mbps service on a good day. Likewise our San Francisco apartment. So we decided to go with 100Mbps service — it cost the same as our previous service, and frankly we wouldn’t know what to do with a connection 200 times as fast as what we were used to.

But here we are, suddenly blessed with full-speed service. I guess the incipient arrival of Google Fiber lit a fire under AT&T. We haven’t even received our first bill and already our service has changed wildly for the better: They announced yesterday that they’re upgrading us from 100Mbps to gigabit for free. Well, not for free. They’re lowering our bill $15 per month.

This has created a bizarre situation in which, for the first time, the bottleneck in our home networking isn’t the crappy outside connection but rather our own devices. Our wi-fi routers struggle to break 30Mbps because of all the other networks our neighbors have running — one of the downsides to a townhouse, I guess. I use a wired connection in the office downstairs, but when I decided to test the speed this afternoon I was only hitting about 350Mbps. Which is impossibly luxurious, considering we’re used to Internet access feeling like trying to push a Concord grape through a twisty straw, but still! Why couldn’t I unlock the full potential, I wondered? Then I remembered that my Ethernet comes through a USB adapter running on a hub that two external hard drives share, and the USB controllers on both drives top out at 480Mbps. Were the drives limiting that USB port to their own max speeds? I moved the drives to the slower USB bus and let the Ethernet adapter sit alone on the ultra-high-speed bus and suddenly topped out at about 850Mbps. By my reckoning, that means, what, I can download 1GB in 10 seconds?

This is not a boast or a brag. I’m in legitimate awe, trending toward bafflement. I actually don’t know what to do with this kind of bandwidth. It’s so fast that I’m getting all kinds of errors on the web, because servers can’t keep up with it. That’s roughly the entirety of Star Trek, in HD, in less than an hour.

I guess I don’t have any excuse not to upload more HD video capture of Game Boy games, huh?

Posted in Blog.

I can tell I’m getting old

I’ve become unreasonably excited about furniture.


We finally installed the bedside table I bought last summer, and it’s just the greatest thing. It has a three-step light built in to its underside that can be activated or dimmed by tapping a sensor on its side, casting low illumination onto the floor so you can get up in the middle of the night without fear of stubbing your toes yet without the need to turn on a bright light to assail your poor eyes. It also has power outlets built into the drawer, with small alcoves for devices like a phone and a 3DS.

This thing is the best. When I die, an event that looms nearer with each passing day, I want to be set adrift with this as the burning boat that bears my corpse upon the ocean currents.

Tomorrow: I show off my extensive collection of soft flocked coat hangars and share my favorite Metamucil recipes.

Posted in Blog.

That’s the end, then

The end of 1989, I mean.

It does feel like a tiny accomplishment to have put together in-depth retrospectives on an entire year’s worth of a game platform’s worldwide releases. Hardly anyone cares about Game Boy, and hardly anyone cares about game history, but I actually feel pretty good about this project — as if it’s worthwhile, and permanent, not something to be read and promptly forgotten.

Posted in Games. Tagged with .

A whole lot of nothing

40 years on, and what do I have to show for myself? Not a lot, I’m afraid.

My break from this blog — easily the longest I’ve ever taken in nearly 16 years of running it — has given me plenty of time to reflect on it all. Which is not to say I came up with any answers. But I certainly have done plenty of reflecting.

Posted in Blog.

Chew on this

I’m creeping closer, inch by inch, to that blessed day in which Game Boy World‘s written content catches up to its video projects. Today, that means a retrospective on Q Billion.


As I believe I mentioned in the video version of this, the tagline for this game really annoys me: “The game to chews!” it grins, a dopey look on its face. No, sorry Q Billion, I’m the one who makes dumb dad jokes around here. But, in fairness, I think Q Billion came by it naturally; in the course of researching the heritage of this game, I found a USENET post or something that featured a publicity photo of the Seta USA team circa 1990. It was basically a group of four marketing people, middle-aged white people with huge late ’80s hair, who looked exactly like the sort of people who would want to “rap” with the “kids” to show they were pretty “hep” by telling terrible groaners while giving, say, a short introductory speech at a church potluck.

I guess what I’m saying is that Q Billion represents a different time in video games. A time before we knew the word “extreme” could have its initial E excised. A time when marketing to kids was basically indistinguishable from being an embarrassing parent hovering over your son as his friends come to visit and hang out. Q Billion is the kind of game that would “accidentally” walk unannounced into its daughter’s room when her first boyfriend came over for an innocent, giggly visit to tell weird shaggy-dog joke stories and hover around, solicitously, for just a little too long for comfort.

Anyway, Q Billion‘s not great, but I love that it hails from a time with video games were ridiculously unhip and that was OK.

Posted in Blog. Tagged with , , .

In with the new, or whatever

So here we go.

My personal goal for my professional work this year is to figure out the mysteries of video. I’ve been dabbling in video for the better part of a year now, and you can compare my very first Game Boy World video to the most recent entry and get a sense of how much I’ve taught myself when it comes to video production, both creatively and technically. I will never be mistaken for a Hollywood or broadcast producer, but I’m doing OK, considering that I’m trained as a writer, and also an old person.

Still, retrospective videos are easy. The past is all right there, ripe and ready for explanation. Trying to adapt this discipline to more current topics, however, is a considerable challenge. But that’s my goal this year. We’ll see how it goes.

I admit I tackled a pretty heady argument to start with, and by no means is the case I’ve presented intended to be gospel truth. On the contrary, I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments both in support of and opposition to my speculation. In any case, I realize this first effort — a companion piece/truncated version of an accompanying editorial that more fully fleshes out a lot of the arguments in the video — offers a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps it might be interesting to track those improvements over the course of the year?

If you subscribe to USgamer’s YouTube channel, you can watch me rise to heaven or sink to hell in 2015. Just saying.

Posted in Games. Tagged with , .