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Category: vgconvos (page 1 of 10)

PSP Game Transfer and Error Message Woes

It seems I don’t exactly have the best luck with video game hardware lately. My 360’s USB ports seem to be on the fritz, my Wii has graphical glitches that seem to stem from WiiConnect24 (a story which I somehow missed back in 2007), and my PSP? Well, other than the one that just flat-out died in its first year, my replacement has been pretty fine!

The system has not gotten a whole lot of use over the previous year, last being the system of choice for a play-through of the original Suikoden. I have been amassing a bunch of PSP games (along with lots of cheap PS1 games via PSN) though, so I decided to pick up a 16GB memory stick to load up, which arrived a couple days ago.

Since tossing a 320GB drive into my PS3, I have greatly enjoyed using it as the central location for the entire PlayStation family (which is… well, really just the PS3 itself and the PSP for now) — I keep every single game I have purchased over PSN right there on the system without having to worry about juggling content due to limited hard drive space. That includes things like ~35 PS1 games, a crap-ton of free Minis, Neutopia for the PCEngine/TG-16, and the two free PSP games I got as a part of the “Welcome Back” program last year (LittleBigPlanet and ModNation Racers).

One of the features I have always liked so much about the tight integration with the two Sony platforms is the ability to play PS1 games on both systems with just a single purchase, and freely copy games and save files between them. With PSN being prone to massive slowdowns and bottlenecks (even with the magic of FiOS!), it has always made the most sense for me to just keep it all on the PS3, hook the PSP up to it via USB when necessary, and copy stuff over — it is far more efficient and painless than loading up the PlayStation Store on the PSP itself, navigating the store or my download history, and individually selecting things to re-download from there.

So imagine my surprise when I could not copy things over to my PSP the other night. There was simply no “Copy” option (navigate on the XMB to the item you want, press “Triangle”, select “Copy” when the PSP is hooked up and in USB mode; you can do the same thing with video and audio files when, for example, a USB stick is hooked up). That was… weird, to say the least.

Those familiar with the PSN download process know that, unlike over on the 360, the PS3 separates the “download” and the “install” of items. If you download an item from the store and let it be (without going to background downloading to putt around elsewhere), it will finish the download, and then immediately install the item. If you go elsewhere, however, the download file will sit in a type of “bubble”-icon within the “Games” section of the XMB — pressing the “X” button on this will “install” the game and place it into the appropriate folder (PS3 games, PS1 games, Minis, etc.).

I had a couple different types of files available to me, so I started experimenting. Could I press “Triangle” and then “Copy” a PS1 game already installed like I use to be able to? Nope. Could I do it with the Dissidia Duodecim Prologus Final Fantasy files (game + Aerith assist) that I had downloaded the prior day, which were sitting in a “bubble” above the folders? Yes. Could I do it with the three PS1 Syphon Filter games I downloaded for free the prior day as a part of PS+, which were also still sitting in their own “bubble” icons, not-yet-installed? Nope. Was the copy option there with Neutopia? Nope. Was it there for any of the Minis? Nope.

How about the PSP software from the “Welcome Back” program (which was not in a “bubble”, but filed in its respective PSP folder)? Yes, the option was there, but would result in an error message:

My next thought was that somehow I had too many systems “registered” with my online identity — I did have another PSP, after all (the one sent back to me was a replacement, not a fixed version of the same exact one I sent back). After slogging around the main us.playstation.com website and knowledge base, I ended up over on the account.sonyentertainmentnetwork.com website. From here, I was able to see that I had three systems “activated” with Sony and tied to my online ID: one PS3, and two PSPs. One of them was clearly the old system, which of course had been activated and tied to the account, but I no longer had physical possession of.

This, as I would correctly figure out, all ties in to a new policy Sony put in place this past November: the amount of systems that could be “activated” and tied to an account to play downloaded games would be decreased from five to two.

PS3: Users will be able to play the game on up to 2 activated PS3 systems.
PSP: Users will be able to play the game on up to 2 activated PSP systems.

Even then, the policy was confusing. What about things like PS1 games that were playable on both systems? Was that one PS3 system and one PSP system (equal to two total systems), or one PS3 system and two PSP systems, since that still restricted it to two systems of the same type? It went on to be clarified that the new policy was only applicable to new downloads you made after the November 18th cut-off — things you downloaded prior to that could still be played on the five-system limit.

Plenty of my content had been downloaded prior to that November 18th cut-off (things like Suikoden on the PS1, which had still been sitting there the whole time, and which I had transferred via the USB method from PS3-to-PSP a year prior), but that “Copy” option was inexplicably no longer there.

The next thing I tried was simply logging onto the PlayStation Store directly on the PSP, and checking my account information. All good there, with an accurate download history as well (though entirely out of chronological order, which is another mess for another day). I could even re-download things with no problem (such as Grandia for the PS1, which I had recently grabbed during its $2.99 sale). So it was not like I could not use content on my PSP at all, but the break-down point was clearly between the PS3 and the PSP.

It is here that we circle back to those three activated systems. Even with older-downloaded content, I wanted to check to see if perhaps having three systems was the problem. I tried to simply “activate” the PSP right on the system itself (“Account Management” –> “Activate System”). The error message: 80109D80.

Huh. OK. The new customer site allows you to remotely deactivate your systems, though you have to do it in one fell swoop, and cannot individually pick a system to deactivate. That was fine — I would just deactivate them all, and then re-activate the PS3 and PSP that I own and have in my possession. That seemed like the cleanest way to start fresh with the systems I truly, actually, physically had right in front of me and could fully account for.

It went fine for the first few steps. The deactivation went well, and I was able to activate the PS3 immediately. The PSP would not activate, however — not through the PS3 when hooked up over USB (“Account Management” –> “Activate System” –> “PSP System”), nor directly on the PSP. The following error message popped up each time and in each location: 80109D80.

OK, weird yet again. I tried a few more times (and attempted to look up the error messages on Sony’s own website, which was not even listed in their database!), and decided it was time for a call to PlayStation customer support.

The phone call was ~45 minutes in total. Probably ~10 of that was the initial maneuvering through automated prompts and being placed on hold for a live support representative. When I finally got through, “Joe” was totally awesome — very personable, very understanding, very knowledgeable, and very quick to compliment me on actually knowing what I was doing and talking about at every opportunity he could (I can only imagine the crazies that call in).

I explained the whole situation, and as expected, the 80109D80 error code was not listed in his database, either. We tried a bunch of basic stuff first (check that the online ID is actually the same on both systems, restore the PSP to factory settings, try reactivating the system again, try different types of content again). I asked if attempting to activate a system so many times would raise some security flag. Joe asked how many times I had tried (I dunno… maybe 10?), and replied that if I had tried so many times, one more was not going to hurt — indeed, we kept getting the same 80109D80 error code. At some point Joe suggested that, if re-downloading on the PSP worked, I should just stick with that option. That was unacceptable to me, though, since I no longer had a feature that had always been available to me, and it was far more convenient to copy from the PS3 than to navigate to the store on the PSP and individually select each item to re-download.

Joe eventually decided that we reached the limit of what he knew and could do, so he asked if I would be willing to wait around 10 minutes for the next level up of a specialist. “Sure, why the Hell not?” I was only on hold for maybe one minute before Joe came back on:

“You’re not going to believe how we can fix this.” (well, something like that; it definitely started with “you’re not going to believe”)

For whatever reason that we still could not clarify, the new DRM wrapping and two-system policy was indeed the likely culprit. To test the possible solution, Joe wanted me to delete something on the PS3, re-download it, and see if I had the option to copy it over via USB mode — all while still on the phone with him. OK! I wanted to go with something small enough that would not take forever to re-download, so I chose Where Is My Heart?, the pretty-well-regarded Mini that I had not yet had a chance to play (~50 MB or so). Deleted, signed in to the PlayStation Store, re-downloaded. The game did not automatically install, so it sat there in the “bubble” icon above the folders. I selected it and tried to “Copy” it… and yes, the option was there!

New error message, though: 80029780.

The groan/sigh/laugh of understanding on the other side of the phone was hilarious. Joe knew exactly what this was. This was finally the “you have been locked out of copying files for seven days for too many activation attempts” error message (Sony’s site defines it as, “You have reached the maximum number of downloads for an unactivated system”). Yes, the account had eventually been flagged for security concerns. What was never really answered, though, is why older content (that should have still had the five-system limit, and had been copied a year before with absolutely no system changes or alterations in the mean time) could not be copied.

Thankfully, it was not as if the online ID was “banned” or not usable in other ways; I could still re-download items directly on the PSP if I wanted to, and seven days from that phone conversation, I would be able to start copying files again. The caveat was that I would have to re-download all of those items on the PS3 (to get the new DRM wrapping and account syncs) before I could transfer them to the PSP… which still means I have to re-download every single last compatible item, but at least it would be on the PS3 for centralized/future access.

So that is where we stand. Seven days from now I will try copying files over again, and will update the post with the results! With no real, well-written, informative posts out there concerning these specific error messages, my goal here is to hopefully save someone the trouble of how to go about “fixing” this issue; documentation for this kind of stuff is clearly limited. As Joe and I both discussed, we both knew exactly what we were doing and talking about, and neither of us could get it resolved in a timely fashion — how on Earth is the everyday gamer supposed to figure this out?!

Also, someone please give Joe a raise or at least a free day off. He was great. My favorite part of the conversation was (other than being told over and over how awesome I was) probably reading my online ID aloud (which is, of course, just “v – e – g – e – t – t – o – e – x”), and being asked with a laugh what that spells out. I wasn’t sure if that meant he knew who I was by some cosmic coincidence; if he did, he didn’t mention it. I guess that means it was just funny, and hearing someone else say “VegettoEX” to me on the phone is indeed hysterical.

If you will indulge me just for a tad bit longer, let me point out that the root of this entire problem was DRM (and specifically, a policy change with regard to DRM). I understand the reasoning for changing the policy — “game sharing” had (apparently) gotten slightly out-of-control. Reducing the number of allowed devices was an attempt to squash that issue in some way. The problem that it created was that I — a legitimate customer — was suddenly unable to do what I had previously been able to do with the items I purchased (well, “licensed”). All I wanted to do was transfer games from one system to another. Had I hacked my PSP and installed custom firmware, I would have been able to load up my memory stick with any PS1 and PSP game(s) I wanted, with absolutely zero restrictions.

I am not advocating for free-reign piracy on the system. This entire ordeal was a clear example of how the wrong approach and policy shifts within an existing DRM scheme can really rub your paying customers (and I have significant investments there) the wrong way, however. I have to be honest: in this case, the great customer service I received basically talked me out of finally getting around to hacking the damn system. The slightest extra inconvenience would have pushed me over the edge. I am half-tempted to buy another PSP just to have one totally legit and one with custom firmware just to compare the two experiences side-by-side.

Am I just being spoiled? Sure. I could have (as Joe suggested) just re-downloaded every item I wanted directly on the PSP rather than transferring it from the PS3. Why should I have to, though? I am almost starting to come around to a full understanding-and-sympathizing viewpoint of the “they took away my Linux!” crowd… and that was always crazy (albeit in an understandable way) to me.

Mike’s Spring/Summer 2011 Gaming

People seem to want to hear my thoughts on video games, or at least my experiences with what I have been playing… so hey, let’s just dive right in and pretend it has not been a little over three months since my last contribution.

I think what I will cover here actually brings you completely up to speed with my gaming experiences over those last three months since finishing Suikoden — anyone who knows me even the slightest bit knows how slowly I plow through games, so if you expected more, you are out of luck!

As per the norm when covering such a huge amount of stuff, do not expect “reviews” or “well-written commentary” here — it’s all just a string of consciousness. Blame yourselves for asking for it! ^_~

DragonBall Kai: Ultimate Butôden

I plan on finally writing a full review for this game over at Daizenshuu EX, so between what you have already heard on the podcast over there and what I will be writing in the future, you have plenty to dive into. Suffice it to say that this game surprised the heck out of me, and it is a gigantic shame that it will likely never see release outside of Japan.

Besides, this was way back in February, so as The Internet likes to say: “old!”

Pokemon: Black Version

After wrapping things up on the PSP with Suikoden, I was just in time to jump into the new Pokemon. It had been about a year since playing through SoulSilver, a game that I finished but never truly “got into” the same way that I went all out in FireRed and Pearl — but that is a subject for another time. I am just crossing the 100 hour mark in the new game, having defeated “N” and participated in a good amount of end-game content (gathering up the sages, catching all currently-available legendaries, etc.). I have not yet taken on the Elite 4 (and Adler, the actual champion) again because — *gasp* — I have sunken to the depths of specific egg move breeding.

This is something that I have always been vaguely aware of, specifically with the promotion of Pikachu and the move Volt Tackle, but have never bothered to get into on my own. I have sadly gone down the rabbit hole, and I do not know if I will ever return. I have the aforementioned Volt Tackle along with Thunder Punch on a Raichu, a Lucario with Blaze Kick, a Milotic with DragonBreath, and (probably my favorite of all) a Ferrothorn with Rock Smash and Leech Seed. I have no idea what my “team” will be, but I am having a pretty good time toying around with selective breeding for the first time ever. It is a fun compromise between “enjoyment” and “insanity” before dipping even further down into I.V. Training. It fascinates me how much mathematical depth is down a few layers deep, but is always held back in any obvious way from the players. I will concede that having two DSes out (and thinking a third would be helpful) does indeed border on insanity.

None of this is too much of a surprise. Like most of the players who get through the “main campaign” of the game, I find that I enjoy the end-game content far more than anything else. It is as if the game is just stringing you along for a couple dozen hours until the entire world is open and available for you to do whatever you want. That’s a pretty “duh” statement and reflection to all of you, though, isn’t it?

I feel that there is a ton more I could say about the game, but I would probably be doing it a disservice without spending hours upon hours pouring over my experiences with it to come up with an “ultimate post”. I really enjoyed all of the continued improvements, as iterative as they always are, that have been made to the game (though I am left scratching my head why the option to keep the equivalent of “running shoes” on at all times was removed since last year’s Gen II remakes — I hate holding down the “B” button, and I do not always want to be riding the bike). There are some fun daily events to return to, and the Dream World does an interesting job of extending what they started last year with the Pokewalker.

The game is not revolutionary. It is what it is. It is the type of game that lets me get my OCD jollies out so my life still feels balanced. Sometimes that is all I need.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn

The wife and I attempted to play through New Super Mario Bros. Wii together, but ended up putting it aside after one world almost entirely because we got in each other’s way, rendering the game “un-fun”. The two of us have plenty of Mario masteries under our belts (each copy of Super Mario World in our house has that little star next to the 96), so to suddenly be forced to work in tandem with someone else while simultaneous pulling off death-defying leaps of faith was something our brains could not process.

So what made Kirby’s latest adventure any different? The adorable art direction (in many ways taking cues from LittleBigPlanet, and likely in more than just the art) melted our frozen hearts of gamer disgust. It took several months after receiving the game last Christmas, but we finally got around to jumping into the game. It took only around seven or so hours to complete, but like everything else I do with video games, that was spread across a few weekends.

That word “adorable” really sums up everything about the game, especially if you toss “charming” into the mix, too. Particularly on the Wii, art direction and style really means a lot, and it was clear how much the developers took this to heart. The world is colorful, brimming with personality (even the generic “ice stage” has its own distinctive feel), and the right amount of cameos to make it feel fresh while still harkening back to what makes Kirby games what they are. Solid mechanics are a must for Kirby, and they work as expected (that is, perfectly) — a little bit loose and floaty, but tight and responsive at the same time.

While plenty have derided the game for its “you can’t ever actually die” kid-friendly difficulty tone-down, this really was the best choice for the style of game they produced. Even though the majority of levels are on the short side, there were very few that I would have wanted to play even a second time through — a “wash, rinse, repeat” cycle of dying and re-playing would not have worked for them. On the flip-side, that also gave me little reason to want to go back and collect any of the trophies we may have missed (three in each level, similar to the golden coins in recent Mario games) or shoot for a gold medal based on the number of gems collected. We saw it all on one pass through, and simply getting a better grade for the sake of it just was not compelling enough of a reason to return.

Yeah, yeah… all that “art” and “game play” stuff is important, but let’s be honest: the amazing narration work by Dave White is what really makes the game so great.

Portal 2

I got slightly burned on this game, and not in the way you might expect. Amazon was offering it for $5 off plus a $20 credit for pre-ordering the console version of the game, and even though I had no interest in playing the game on anything other than my PC, the PS3 version came with the PC version for free. I decided to go that route and put the free $20 toward the next Dragon Box set. Of course, when the game came in, PlayStation Network was down… meaning I could not redeem the code by linking my account on Steam via the PS3 to get the PC version. It took me a while to get around to playing the game (missing out a bit on the “being an active part of the discussion upon launch” diddly-doo), but it all worked out in the end.

There is really nothing I can contribute to the discussion about this game. What can I say? It was super fun. I was genuinely surprised by the story at certain points, loved all the characters, and even though (yeah, I’m going there) the controls felt a little “console-ified” on the PC, it played like butter. I thought the third section of the main story (post-goo) was a little much and hurt the pacing, but not enough to drag down the whole package. I still have to go back and play co-op, something I can’t wait to do — just gotta find the time and a partner!

It’s more Portal. It’s done well. C’mon, now.

Mortal Kombat

I have written a bit about how I got into Street Fighter, and while I touched upon Mortal Kombat a little bit, I do not think I gave the gory game series of greatness enough credit. As wonky as the fighting engine has always been, it has been a source of hilarity and unironic enjoyment for me. Like most people (I presume), the series faded into obscurity for me after MK3/Ultimate/Trilogy. I no longer cared about the increasingly-convoluted story (yes, I genuinely thought the story was moderately interesting — sue me), the early generation of polygonal fighting games were terrible (and would not impress me at all until Virtua Fighter 2), and I was busy exploring other genres of games, anyway. Oh yeah, and Street Fighter.

I was interested in “MK9”, but purposefully did not actively keep up with its development. If it ended up as a surprise hit, fantastic. If it didn’t, that was perfectly fine, too. Early access to the game’s demo via PlayStation Plus piqued my interest for sure, and a price drop to $40 on Amazon shortly after release was too much to pass up.

Cruising through the story mode, I found myself enjoying the Hell out of how abysmal it was and simultaneously also loving every second of reliving story bits I knew so well from the past — a “reboot” set in the same time period that does not ignore the original version was a fantastic idea.

What is there to say? It is Mortal Kombat, but updated and relevant again. Lots of characters still play the same way as each other (defined only by their special moves), the mechanics still feel a little stiff and imprecise, but dammit, it’s a lot of fun. To reboot with the entire Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 cast is a pretty fine achievement, allowing room to flesh out a collection of go-to characters — I’m still loving Nightwolf (as lame as he is), Kabal, and Smoke… but my ol’ buddy Ermac just isn’t cutting it any more.

Like I said for Pokemon, in the case of Mortal Kombat, it is what it is. It is not going to win over fans of more refined fighting games, but it is a fun romp that has both cleaned and dirtied itself up in all the right ways. It may be getting shoved to the side a little bit in favor of the next two games a little bit, but as I am moderately excited for the upcoming DLC characters, and with “King of the Hill” being as fun as it is, this is one I will continue to pop in over and over.

Demon’s Souls

Wait, what…?

I own a lot of video games that I feel “I should own” — I’m that type of person. Persona 3? Sure, I will likely never get around to it, but I am glad knowing I have it if I am ever ready for it. Shadow of the Colossus? Well of course I should own and play that some day. Huh? What’s that you say? Better versions of each game exist now (PSP and PS3, respectively)…? Well crap.

When Demon’s Souls went on sale for ~$15 on Amazon with its soundtrack last holiday season, it was an extra that I tossed into an order with some presents for other folks. “Mike,” I said to myself, “You will likely never play this game because it is incredibly difficult. You hate hard games, you have more games than you know what to do with, and you are a fool.”

Well, fine. Sure. All of that is true. Except that I am playing it now. I really do not know what convinced me to toss it in. A free afternoon will do that to a guy.

Every experience you have heard about the game (particularly the Zero Punctuation review) is entirely accurate: you start, you die, you get a little further, you die, and eventually you beat a boss. I am feeling pretty great about myself for completing the first stage of the game (“1-1”, the first area of Boleteria) with maybe only three or four deaths — I do not know how I got through that bridge area (with the dragon spewing down fire from above) alive, but I did!

It has been a fascinating learning experience in training myself to not just run around and hit R1 to slash everything to death — attempting to do so will only lead to, well, more death of my own. Pull up that shield. Parry some attacks. Try to circle behind the enemy. Toss a firebomb down there. The game’s pace is so slow, but the way your heart will race with each new encounter will lead you feel otherwise.

I have been enjoying the online messages, which may have been a reason I decided to start playing the game sooner than later — once the servers are taken down (and they have already been extended before), that component of the game will be gone. Sure, most of the messages are garbage, but even the occasional, “No, for reals, beginners really shouldn’t go down this corridor” have been helpful.

Why do I enjoy the abuse so much? Can someone explain it to me? We will see just how far I get in the game before politely tossing it aside — I have already resigned myself to the fact that it is a game I will never complete (then again, I so rarely complete games that it will not be too much of a change for me). For now, I am enjoying that abuse and want to see a little more of the world. Maybe I just feel it is important to step outside the usual gaming box and see what else is out there. Maybe the underlying character stats are pulling me in.

Maybe I just wanna cut up some demons. Or dragons. Speaking of which…

Dragon Quest VIII

As Pokemon winds down for me, I have been looking at what my next Japanese RPG should be. I have been saying for a while how I almost cannot even comprehend playing these types of games anymore if they are not portable, since the concept of sitting around and grinding away at battles while sitting on the couch at home seems like the last thing I would ever consider a “good idea”. I pretty much assumed my next game would be one of the DS Dragon Quest remakes, since IV/V/VI are sitting right there staring back at me. I briefly thought about heading into Radiant Historia next (based on the fact that Pokemon and Dragon Quest were similar in the grindy-grindy sort of way), but if I knocked that one out first, all I would have left would be the grindy-grindy games.

Imagine my surprise when I decided I would do the unthinkable: play a Japanese RPG on a console again. Pokemon is still not quite over for me, and I was looking at playing something alongside Demon’s Souls on nights that I did not feel like playing the DS, but also did not want to concentrate super hard on reflexes and real-time battles.

I knew it had a 16:9 mode to toy around with, I knew it had great voice acting, I had such a great time with IX… hey, why not dive into Dragon Quest VIII…?

At about four hours in (which includes the requisite “stay close to town and grind for a while” opening tactics), I do not have a whole lot to say about the game just yet. It pains me to say it in light of his historical revisionist alignments, but Koichi Sugiyama‘s musical score fits the game like a glove, and has gotten quite a few approvals from the peanut gallery during play sessions. The cel-shading engine brings Akira Toriyama‘s character designs to life, and upscales quite nicely (though the lack of a progressive mode knocks it down a peg). The little story vignettes that I loved from IX (and from what I gather are a staple of the series) are already in full effect, and I cannot wait to learn more about the world.

I also just got a boomerang for my hero (who’s named “Vegetto”, of course), and that just plain ol’ rocks.

That being said, even though it is early in the game, I can definitely appreciate the difference between this and IX. Playing them in “backward” order has been a fun way to see how the main series evolved/devolved, and not even necessarily for “better” or “worse”. One of the things I loved so much about Chrono Trigger (a game that came out 14 years earlier than Dragon Quest IX) was the lack of random battles. It has actually been easier than I thought to go back to a console RPG with random battles — I think the wild-critter-every-step nonsense in Pokemon makes everything else seem like cake. The jump from the later game’s non-defined characters (my team consisting of Vegetto, Snow, Trunks, and Uub) back to a non-verbal hero supported by a cast of well-defined, vocal characters is a fun one. Again, none of this is qualified, but just “different” and fun for being that way. I suppose that is just a “statement of fact” that really does not add anything to the discussion, but hey… I am only four hours in.

Minecraft

Have I talked about this with any of you before? Since we have not done a “vgconvos” podcast episode in over a year (and no search results turn up for it), I doubt it!

I got in right before the alpha period ended, figuring a couple bucks for guaranteed updates to a game that a million or so people were enjoying didn’t sound like a bad idea. I wish I could say more about it, but it has actually been a little bit since I last played. I am not enjoying the level of pain that I have started getting in my mouse hand (started using a tablet at work, scaled back on content creation over at Daizenshuu EX… yeah, sucks getting older), so other than the quick plow through Portal 2, I have scaled back on (what little) PC gaming I was bothering to keep up with.

After learning my way around (and I mean that — after dying the first time it took me days to figure out which direction I had originally headed in to build my first base, after which I promptly built a giant, torch-lit wall so I could see it from a relative distance), I started digging and digging and digging. I have built two base camps connected by a stone bridge in one direction, and recently an air rail in the other direction (crossing across different masses of water and circling back around, if that makes any sense). I have started building more bridges out into the distance so I can find my way back — even with a compass, I feel that I will just end up aimlessly wandering without a distinct path to follow to and fro. I have visited The Nether, I have some diamond weapons, and I have endless series of tunnels that I promise myself I will one day connect to each other.

I find that I enjoy hearing about other folks’ adventures in Minecraft, so if there is any kind of “demand”, I would be happy to take pictures of my building monstrosities. They are pretty terrible, but I had fun making everything.

When I have a couple minutes here and there, I boot up the game and continue digging along in one of my underground tunnels. It is cheap, fun times.

So What’s Next…?

Well, that is a fantastic question — I wish I knew the answer! I have plenty of other console games waiting in the queue. In light of the apparent shut down of developer Game Republic, I feel like I should probably tackle Majin & the Forsaken Kingdom at some point soon. The DS has plenty of RPGs waiting for me, so I could really just grab a game at random off the shelf and go for it.

What about you all? What have you been playing recently, and what gems have I still not gotten around to playing?

PSN DRM Disconnect

The long-rumored “game saves in the cloud” option is coming to PlayStation Plus members. Included in its description on the PlayStation Blog is the following statement:

Online storage for game saves is a great way for PlayStation Plus subscribers to ensure that their data files are secure and also for users who wish to access their files from other PS3 systems.

That strikes me as rather fascinating, considering Capcom’s dips into heavy DRM on PSN titles such as Bionic Commando Rearmed 2, which seem to be a clear line in the sand against “game sharing” (where one customer purchases a downloadable title, and “exploits” a “feature” of the PlayStation Store licensing where the title can be downloaded and used on a certain number of other systems).

Sure, Capcom is not Sony — I get that. Plenty of people, especially after the launch of the slim model, also have multiple PS3s in their home, which would make picking up from a save file a lot easier with this new cloud option.

As a PlayStation Plus member (courtesy of a gift from Mr. Deluxe), I am all for the new save capabilities and welcome them with open arms. Somehow it just doesn’t all jive with me, though. I can back-up copy-protected game saves and use them on another system, but I can’t play a single-player-only game offline on another system…? It seems like there is a lot of conflict coming down the road with an option like this.

Dipping Into the Classics: Suikoden

I have always meant to go back and play more of the 16-bit and 32-bit RPGs that I missed during their prime. It may take me years upon years on end, but I do eventually hit up what many consider the “classics” (even when I don’t finish them — hello, Final Fantasy VI — I want to give them at least a little bit of the attention they are supposedly worth).

Many personal friends have recommended Suikoden II as one of these games to go back to. It continues to be one of the genuinely “rare” games, though — one that reaches that fantastic $200 price tag on eBay, shared by a few of its peers like Panzer Dragoon Saga. If I were to play a Suikoden game (or series of games), I would likely start with the first. The barrier to entry is far less with the original, particularly when you take the PlayStation Store into account, where it goes for a semi-ridiculous $6.

As a part of their 15th anniversary celebration, Sony offered the first game for half-price back in September 2010. Yes, the game cost $3. At that price, who could pass it up? I sure couldn’t.

I did not get to the game right away, though, having plenty of other things to occupy my time (such as still wading through Dragon Quest IX). Thanks to the remembrative (that’s a word, right?) power of Twitter, I know that I started the game on January 18th — we had a delayed opening at the office, but due to car pooling and train schedules, I ended up heading in at my regular time and hanging out at Starbucks with the PSP.

(Side note: I have reached the point where my tolerance for Japanese RPGs requires that they be portable. If I cannot bring it with me and play in short bursts, I cannot and will not dedicate the time to it. Therefore, Suikoden ended up getting played on the PSP courtesy of Sony’s somewhat gracious option of PSOne Classics being both PS3 & PSP compatible/transferable.)

Having just completed the game yesterday, and at the suggestion of some friends and Twitter followers, I figured I would share a few thoughts on the game. A long entry like this makes up for a drought in terms of articles and podcasts, right…? Try not to think of this as a review, though — it is far too casual for that.

My overall experience with the game was a hugely pleasant one. The game has, in fact, spoiled me in terms of playing current Japanese RPGs (yes, a game that came out 1995/1996 has plenty of leg-ups on today’s games, much like the amazing Chrono Trigger, which I detailed in two pieces). I will analyze some of these, but I would be remiss not to mention some of the annoyances I experienced with the game, too.

Right off the bat, I was extremely impressed with the presentation of the game. I specifically noted areas of the sound design, such as noise from the water fountain panning across the speakers as you walked past.

If I suffer any amount of data loss with a game, it is likely that I will immediately drop it in disgust, never returning to it again. About a week into my playthrough, and directly upon starting up the first major battle in the game (not a boss fight, but rather a special rock-paper-scissors army battle), the PSP froze for a few seconds and turned itself off. Thankfully (more for the game’s sake rather than my own!), my prior save point was only a few minutes prior, which meant returning to the same spot was not a major ordeal — the worst part was simply re-reading a ton of non-skippable dialogue.

Despite completing the game now (and under the 30 hour mark), I do not feel as if I ever fully “got” the magic system. In fact, I did not even use magic for approximately twenty of those hours…! I understood that there were these “runes” and that I was collecting “crystals”… but for the life of me, and even after reading through the instruction manual (which is included in the digital version of the game), I do not think I actually know how I got some of those magic abilities. The town-by-town basis of where certain types of merchants were (those that sold items, attached crystals, sharpened weapons, etc.) did not reinforce any of the concepts to me through normal game play, so it was up to individual experimentation to find what worked with what. Some crystals even specifically noted they were for certain characters (the “Boar” rune being for Pahn…?), but I would collect a dozen of them from defeating enemies, leaving me scratching my head. In addition to not fully comprehending the system, I found that my physical attacks were always strong enough to take on any enemy I came up against, essentially turning magic into a completely irrelevant concept in my mind — I was all about sharpening those weapons, and nothing else!

So how do I feel about that? Part of me thinks back to the days of the original Legend of Zelda, where exploration was left up to the player without holding their hand — I enjoy that quite a bit. On the other hand, this was not just about combining certain items and finding cool uses for them on your own, a la the Materia system in Final Fantasy VII (which, as a 15-year-old kid, I also had trouble understanding right off the bat, but eventually through my own experimentation was able to not only fully understand, but exploit!). I guess I am conflicted — I understand the basics of it, but never felt as if I was in enough control of the progression. Perhaps I’m wrong. I may just be stupid. Were I to replay the game, I would likely start messing around with crystals and such far sooner in the story and do so far more often, rather than just relegating it to a side thing to occasionally use.

One of my favorite aspects of Dragon Quest IX (and from what I understand, is a large part of prior games, as well) was the little story vignettes. The larger story was there to push you along, sure, but the real heart and charm would lay in each individual town and its smaller, compact, tightly-knit group of characters. There is certainly a town system in the first Suikoden, but the heart of the story was not with the townsfolk — it was with your own rag-tag group of friends. Even with a staggering amount of available characters, and even knowing that some of them would be woefully extraneous and near-irrelevant, I still found myself engaged by nearly all of them and genuinely curious about their plights. The game has a couple instances of short, sequential cut-aways to various areas of your castle with certain groups of characters having conversations with each other, reminding you of their own struggles with loyalty, self-discovery, revenge, and loss. It brought a wonderful sense of camaraderie to the group, which is one of my favorite tropes (did the shonen anime love not give that away?).

That being said, as relatively interesting as the greater cast was, the fact that the main party consists of six characters led to a lot of favoritism. When you consider the party’s formation (short, medium, and long-range attack capabilities), you can see how this would happen. I found myself returning time and time again to Cleo, Vikor, and Flik. Kirkis wound up as a long-range fighter and healer toward the end of the game, and somehow Tai Ho ended up in there, too.

(Oh, and hey… did anyone else not know Cleo was a woman until 20 hours in when she is actually referred to with gender information? Anyone? Anyone at all?)

That also being said, I was incredibly impressed with how easy the game made it to bring other characters back into the fold. Any characters forced into the party for certain situations were usually ones that had been along for the ride and were equipped already, but in the instances they were not, it did not take long for them to get up to snuff. The game dishes out experience not at a flat rate, but somewhat exponentially based on the level of the character — a character at level forty may only get 3 EXP from a monster, but a character down at level five may actually jump straight up to level ten from the match (the numbers not being accurate, but a generalization). Therefore, so long as you kept that forced character alive, they would likely be on par with the rest of your group in just a couple fights along the way.

Without spoiling things too heavily for those that have not played, major character deaths are a semi-recurring trend in the game. Each one was obviously coming by the nature of those forced party members and certain quips, but they all at least brought a twinge of emotion in me. I am sorry to say that I did not gather all 107 (yes, minus a certain one…) characters, which sounds like it would have resulted in a nice “Awww…!” out of me toward the end of the game. On a second play through, I would certainly go for this.

So far, I have only hinted at the story and my feelings toward it. I noted the cast of characters, enjoying the time I spent with them, etc. What about the larger story, though? There is a villain and main plot, right? Well… I suppose so. I hate to keep doing comparisons with Dragon Quest IX, but I think it is an apt one to make in this case — where as Dragon Quest IX smartly held back the main “villain” and its respective goals/plot/interactions until later in the story (and yet still providing that overarching narrative that tied things together and led you along so that it all still felt like it truly was one giant story), Suikoden attempts to do the same thing at times, but misses the boat. It was as if the game designers and writers wanted to show me how the hero’s story was relating to the larger world and the villain’s plot, and those bits shined at key points, but I still felt far more disconnected than they probably would have liked. This “Windy” lady…? Who is she, again? Oh, and this other cloaked figure that shows up from time to time talking about runes…? One particular story where the team is sent into the past to witness a key event really helps set things up, but without reinforcing those story ideas just a little more often, I was far more concerned with my party’s own turmoil than with the world’s. Maybe that is OK. I definitely liked my characters, so if I got enjoyment out of them, isn’t that enough? It was clear that the writers wanted me to care more about the world, though — but I just didn’t.

(Speaking of villains, what the Hell was that last boss I fought…?)

Moving back to game mechanics and design, I had one incident where I spent the majority of play time over the course of two days completely unable to advance the story. I was told on Twitter by a few folks that the game is very heavily “check-pointed” (for lack of a better phrase) at times, where these event flags indeed prevent you from continuing the story unless you complete a very specific action. I thought I had encountered something like this during the poison rose scenario, but it turned out I simply had not walked out a door on the top floor of a building to find Milich. This is a recurring thing with me and video games (not seeing the obvious), but I like to think that this was the game’s fault, rather than my own — many of the “doors” in the game are, frankly, not obvious as anything other than a plain ol’ wall unless you know what to look for.

The castle (which I named “Grayskul”, by the way) was something I had never experienced before in a game like this. Having a central hideout/base was intriguing to me, especially with all the other games I have played being so linear (not that Suikoden isn’t) in terms of “this town, then this town”. There was always a place to go back to which grew along with you over the course of the game. Even as I began recruiting characters, I had no idea that some of them would actually embellish the castle and put themselves to work! Coming back to my own blacksmiths, armor dealer, elevator, and even my own (free!) inn made me want to go out and seek the full 108 characters. The first time I wandered my (barren) castle I was extremely apprehensive about it, but the game quickly took care of those fears for me.

Something that I never truly struggled with but still found a nice challenge in was the limited inventory system. While you could store items in your vault back at the castle with Rock, each character can only hold a certain number of items, which includes their equipped armor and accessories. Maybe this was a nice prelude to when I eventually get around to playing Final Fantasy: 4 Heroes of Light. Item drops from monsters would occasionally force me back to a town to appraise and then back at the castle to drop, but there were no instances where I was fighting with the system to bring the necessary number of items on the road with me.

I noted earlier that a couple aspects of the game’s design have spoiled me — those would be (1) “Free Will”, and (2) resting at inns.

While many games have experimented, even within the confines of random battles, with how to speed things up (particularly toward the end of the game when you are over-powered), Suikoden provides a battle option called “Free Will” throughout the entire game, by which your entire party will just automatically target opponents and physically attack them — no magic or items will be used, and they will not necessarily target opponents in conjunction with each other. Despite (or because of?) those limitations, the excessive “Press A To Win” (or in this case, “Press X To Win”) game is not necessarily removed, but at least toned down. The minor tedium of those random battles is still there, but at least with a way to speed up the process and still reap the rewards (cash, experience, and dropped items). “Free Will” also beefs things up in the visual department, zooming in a little more with multiple characters attacking at once, which also helps speed through the round.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the entire game (boy, am I easy to impress…) was how lightning-fast resting at an inn is. Seriously. There’s no excessive “watch the characters walk to their beds” scene. No musical cue to wait through. Pay the innkeeper, screen fades down, screen fades up, no more dialogue to read, go ahead on your way. I simply cannot overstate how impressive this is.

It may go without saying, but were Suikoden II to hit the PlayStation Store, I would grab it in a heartbeat. I am more than ready to dive into what is said to be the best of the series, especially with the first impressing me so much. With a few things cleaned up here and there, a few cameos from the first game… how could I not be interested? It has also made me curious to check out Water Margin, one of the four classic novels of Chinese literature which it is (very loosely!) based on. With Journey to the West also under my belt (which I am coincidentally also about to finish a very loose video game adaptation of!), why not?

Until then, I still have plenty of other classics and cult favorites to get through. Xenogears is finally up on the PlayStation Store now, and you likely won’t see me for a month after the new Pokemon hits this weekend…

Holiday Break Gaming

This past Thanksgiving break, as was expected, I dropped a bit of minor cash on all the great sales digital distribution providers were offering. Between some indie pack sales on Steam and some discounts on Xbox Live, I probably acquired a dozen new games over the last week. Some of them will end up like many others in my Steam list and never get downloaded, but others will undoubtedly end up being discussed on whatever end-of-year podcast we end up doing around these parts.

I ended up playing a fair amount of different types of games over the last week. I figured I would break them down for my own sanity (and see what you all were up to):

Dragon Quest IX (DS): $33.62 via Amazon

I almost cannot bring myself to finish the main quest. I really do not know why; perhaps it is due to this part of the story not being particularly interesting (unlike the early, town-by-town stories which I found absurdly endearing)… but I really should just go and get it done. If I want to come back and do some maps, I can do so — nothing is preventing me from doing it. C’mon, Mike! Finish a game! Instead of beating it, though, I just fought some liquid metal slimes for a bit…

DragonBall: Raging Blast 2 (PS3): $34.99 via Amazon

I finally finished unlocking the last couple of characters. While this was more of a “for work” type of game, I was having a good time with it, nonetheless. As you will read, I have been enjoying the heck out of “Galaxy Mode” and its constant stream of dangled carrots. There are still a few characters I want to get back to and learn a little more in-depth, so it may be one of the first DBZ games in a long while that I actually return to after completing its review.

Super DragonBall Z (JP PS2): $64.90 via Play-Asia

On a whim, I tossed this goodie back in. After a couple rounds of reacquainting myself to the controls, I was back in the groove. It is no secret how much I love this game and how much of a crime I feel it is that these darn kids today do not respect it. I played a good amount of rounds as my custom Mecha Freeza (whom is simply named “Mecha”), spamming all sorts of wonderful projectiles before rushing in with quick combos. “Crack Bomb” and “Freeza Cutter” have re-entered my daily lexicon. Consider yourselves warned. I note the Japanese version specifically because that is the one I originally purchased — the American release does not feature the original Japanese voice cast, a deal-breaker for me.

VVVVVV (PC): $5 via official website, Steam, etc.

I had been waiting on some type of sale or bundle before picking it up, since it was almost guaranteed to hit that point sometime soon in Steam. That being said, it is a steal at the regular $5 price point. The simple and limited controls of “left or right” and “change gravity direction” are brilliant and right at home in today’s world of platforming’s glorious return. The music is also fantastic and will have you tapping and thumping along. Much like the recent Super Meat Boy (which I will probably grab on Steam rather than Xbox Live, the only reason I do not already own it), the ability to instantly pick up where you left off after dying is exactly what these types of punishing games need to do to keep it fun and satisfying. I am most curious about playing the game without a controller in the later levels, as it seems so counter-intuitive to do any amount of progressively-difficult run-and-jump maneuvers on a keyboard, alone. Then again, some people say similar things about FPS games and equality of dual-analog sticks to mouse+keyboard… and those people are wrong… so who knows? I could be wrong about this control judgment.

And Yet It Moves (PC): $9.99 via official website, Steam, WiiWare, etc.

Part of another indie bundle on Steam, I had been hearing about it for a few weeks and blindly purchased it when the sale kicked in… and I could not be more happy with a purchase. The art direction is jaw-dropping, and the twisty-world mechanics also fit in as a perfect complement to something like VVVVVV. Much like the aforementioned game as well, the checkpoint and instant-restart system in place is perfect for that “just one more level” tug. Everything about this game screams “quality” from the art to the haunting music to the puzzle design, and you owe it to yourself to check it out. A WiiWare version was recently released, though I have not checked out the demo to see how it plays on the console.

Mega Man II (NES): $5 via Virtual Console

I have never been particularly “good” at any game in the series, but its extraordinary music and difficult-yet-fair level design always brings me back around. While I rented III more than any other as a kid, I recognize the quality of II just as much. My session with Mega Man II was just filler in between some other obligations, so all I did was breeze through Metalman’s level… but it was enough to get those memories flooding back.

Game Dev Story (iPhone): $3.99 via iTunes Store

Sure, I am a couple weeks late on this one by the blogosphere’s watch, but who cares? It is an absolute blast. I have been playing in bits and pieces and am still only on my first run through (I am about twelve years in and have completed 32 games and done a few contract jobs), but I cannot wait to play through again. Having now learned all the ins-and-outs of which systems will come when (which should have been obvious, but I was not expecting pun-erific accuracy down to the Bandai Playdia), what the benefits are of training and hiring certain employees, what the best types of game and genre combinations are… what is essentially “Let’s Play Game Management Company!: The Game” could not possibly be more fun. Certain aspects are a little rough around the edges, but its cute factor and attention to detail are overwhelming.

So many other games were acquired and not-yet-touched (‘Splosion Man, Trials HD, Gish, Recettear) that it simultaneously fills me with both joy and dread!

This all got me thinking, though: what are your “holiday trends” with regard to gaming? Do you dive into one specific game and not move onward to the next one until that first one is complete? Are you like me and cruise from parts of one game to parts of another game, making slow bits of progress along the way? Also, did you snag any great deals over the last week?

Ye Olden “Proud Of Myself” Story

As you can probably tell from the various podcast episodes I have done (including here on vgconvos), while I love topical discussions, I also adore old stories. Anything filled to the brim with reminiscence is right up my alley. I love hearing how people grew up with games, how those games affected their lives, and any little vignettes they care to relay.

This is one of those quick, old stories.

I have spoken before at length about Zelda II and whether or not I actually like the game. I shared how I have never actually beaten the game myself, but a childhood friend has the personal glory of owning a save slot on my cartridge with a completed game (and amazingly enough, my game’s battery still has not croaked):

Rewind to the previous game: the original Legend of Zelda.

Mike C. was always a slightly-better gamer than I was — not significantly so, but enough to impress me just enough without leaving me scornfully jealous. It was definitely fun times. We both played the Hell out of the first game, sitting down for long nights in front of the TV (long after our parents thought we were asleep) and trading the controller back and forth on levels and save slots. Mike C. beat the first quest before I did, and the two of us turned our attention toward the rumored-yet-true second quest.

Anyone who has played the original Zelda knows how completely arbitrary some of its discoveries can be. Burn a random tree here, and you found a cheap store. Bomb a random area of wall here, and you found an old man who steals your money. In the second quest specifically, walk through this random wall that cannot be bombed and shows no signs of passage in any way, and you found a hidden passage. Once you realized that only one “secret” would be present on any single screen, things fell into place a little more…  but it still felt very “random”, even with the amazing feeling of accomplishment.

It is that combination of “randomness” and “accomplishment” that gave me one of my only one-ups on Mike C. with the second quest. We roamed the map for days looking for level six, but could not find it. Level seven was a tree burn, sure, and we found that one ahead of time no problem… but where the Hell was level six…?!

Its original location held no clues, but I was convinced that it would still be around the graveyard in some capacity. We pushed every grave stone. We bombed every wall. Nothing…

… nothing, that is, until one night by myself when I decided to blow the whistle/recorder on each of the six graveyard screens:

Words can not describe how proud I was of my child self, and how devilish it felt to be the one to share the information with my buddy.

Now the 360’s Fridge is Full

(Has it really been five months since the last blog post? Holy crap. Time flies when you’re having fun.)

One of the reasons I wanted to pick up an Xbox 360 was, believe it or not, how great of a service Xbox Live seemed to be. In addition to the integrated friends list and all that standard goodness, the titles available on the platform seemed like a blast. From old arcade classics like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, to new takes on old games like Uno, to entirely new experiences like Geometry Wars… well, I wanted in.

Microsoft always painted themselves into a corner by having to support the “Arcade” unit of the system which did not come with a hard drive, eventually resorting to packing in some amount of on-board storage to support their own initiatives. It seemed strange to split your consumer base in this day and age, something Sega learned the hard way with the Sega CD and 32X a decade earlier.

A few years have passed since then. We have been updated to a whole new “experience” with a new interface. The restrictions on how big a downloadable game must be have been lifted, and then lifted again... and lifted what seems like several more times since then. Current games like Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light now kick around in the 2 GB range. 50 MB seems hilariously quaint by comparison.

What about me, though? I am a gamer. I knew which system model to get back then — I got the standard model with the 20 GB hard drive, of course! I had all sorts of downloadable games I wanted to check out, and the upcoming Guitar Hero III and especially Rock Band were going to need all sorts of space for DLC!

Flash-forward again to 2010. I have 4 MB of space left on my Xbox 360 hard drive.

I have removed as much as humanly possible while still keeping the necessities. No music videos initially installed to the drive. No extra game demos. It is an epic struggle every few weeks when a new Rock Band Network (or even just standard, weekly DLC) song comes out and I need to juggle some space around. Sure, a USB stick is an option for a couple small items… but with the entire original Rock Band and Green Day: Rock Band installed to the hard drive, and now not having enough room for Lego Rock Band (never mind installing Rock Band 2 for when 3 comes out next month)… those dongles just are not going to cut it.

At the time, 20 GB seemed like plenty of space for a game console that was still primarily disc-based. We all saw the purely-digital-delivery revolution coming down the line, but not enough of us anticipated just how much it would come this same generation.

Needless to say, I am in the market for a new Xbox 360 hard drive. 60 GB (the amount Microsoft eventually began including as “standard”) seems like enough for me… for now, anyway. That should cover the Rock Band installs I need to do, along with plenty of room for demos and XBLA games (looking at you Lara Croft and Limbo). The question is… is it really enough? If I could not anticipate 20 GB not being enough, having all the experience that I now possess, is it incredibly short-sighted to think that 60 GB will carry me to the end? A used 60 GB hard drive runs about $35-40; a used 120 GB runs about $45-50. Should I just spend the extra couple bucks on double the more-than-double the space? Buying “new” is out of the question almost on principle alone, as Microsoft is well-known for entirely gouging with their accessory pricing.

That all being said, let us not forget about our ol’ pal the PS3, either — with all of the mandatory installs, that 40 GB hard drive is typically hovering in the range of only having one or two free gigs. At least that one can be easily replaced

“Rocket Knight Adventures”: Genius Level Design?

You are going to get a little bit of meta-material and genuine game analysis in a single post. That is awesome.

A few years back when I first pitched the idea of “vgconvos” to Andrew and Jeff, one of the first show concepts was to give the other person a somewhat-obscure game from your youth that was played extensively, allow them to play this game they otherwise had never heard of for somewhere between two weeks and a month, and then get back together to talk about it later on. This concept semi-evolved into the “Record Exchange” every nine-or-so episodes over on Lo-Fidelity, but it just never happened with video games. The main reason was that we are all simply at a point in our lives where we cannot guarantee that we will have the time to get together every month to do a podcast, never mind dedicate a couple weeks to a video game and then come back to also talk about it…!

It is still an incredibly worthwhile idea for a show, and one that has somewhat been done in a couple different ways, such as the “Backlog” or “Game Club” sessions on things like Rebel FM. I really wish it was something we could do on a regular basis, but it just cannot happen. Andrew and I even had a few games that we would have used to toss at each other (Boomer’s Adventure in ASMIK World from me, and Rocket Knight Adventures from Andrew). I just absolutely adore the idea of giving something (a video game, an album, whatever) that has such a deep meaning to you… or at least just some rose-tinted memories… over to someone else with zero familiarity and seeing how it holds up.

I have always kept the idea in the back of my head just in case something came along that would work out for the website. You know from reading our posts and listening to our shows that we are no strangers to diving back into older games, either just for the heck of it, or to legitimately see where this modern era of gaming all came from if we happened to miss a step along the way. You have seen me write about FPS games from ten years ago, and most recently, what many consider (myself among them now!) the best 16-bit Japanese RPG ever created. Sure, Andrew and Jeff may or may not have played some of those, but it was more a conversation with myself that you all happened to be able to peer in on.

This one is a little different. Not entirely, but a little bit.

I stumbled across a new store called Game Trader at the Quakerbridge Mall here in New Jersey. If you did not stop to look at some of the cases, it looked like any other generic GameStop-esque store… but then I saw the old video games! There was a splattering of the standard, big NES games and such, but one particular game caught my eye, and I walked out of the store pretty content with myself!

About $7 scored me a copy of Rocket Knight Adventures, a cartridge I have not seen sitting around on any retro-store shelves in quite some time. Remembering that it was a game Andrew would have potentially tossed my way, and also knowing it will soon be seeing another sequel/revival for modern download services, I snatched it up.

I am fairly sure I had never played the game before last weekend. Andrew and the rest of the Internet always spoke highly of it, so I settled in with the ol’ SDTV in the loft for some old-school gaming action. I would like to go on record as saying that my Genesis controller extension cable was one of the best purchases I ever made in the 1990s, and it was a nice help in getting my rear-end reaching to the couch instead of the floor.

I was expecting something like a cross between Sonic the Hedgehog with some of the other typical 1990s mascot platforming action all mixed in nicely with some Contra shootin’ and slashin’ (courtesy of Nobuya Nakazato)… and that is exactly what I got.

The enemies seemed a little sparse in some of the levels I reached, but there was a really nice balance of standard enemies, terrain obstacles, boss fights, and more. In fact, it seemed rather spastic in how often it would toss those different elements at me, and I could never really be sure how “far” I was into a level. I would be swimming and attacking enemies that shot scattering, blue lasers at me… only to find myself wading through a single screen of a terrain obstacle before I was then on another to the next area.

It felt as if the level designers all came up with interesting little ideas completely independent of one another and then hastily had to stick them all together toward the end of the design process. “Hey, you… you worked on a water level, right? Me, too. Let’s just put them next to each other! Oh, and put that mine cart level right after us.

The obligatory 1990s platformer mine cart level should have been obnoxious, but I found myself both cursing and laughing at it — much like a Mega Man game where part of the fun and challenge is remembering all of the nuances to avoid and jump over, I had a genuinely good time dying, instantly repeating the level, and getting just a tad bit further each time.

What really blew me away, and what I will talk about with anyone who will listen, was — yet again — another obligatory stage for a 1990s platformer: the lava stage. The only enemy is the lava that continuously rises and falls, giving you ample opportunity to run across to the next ledge that places you just out of reach. If you are paying attention, the game gives you an immediate hint at where this level is going… but for first-time players who are not being particularly observant (like me!), a tiny bout of confusion followed by the “Aaaaaaaaa-HAH!” light bulb moment is what follows.

You soon reach a point in the level where the overhang begins to obscure your vision of the ledges in front of you, eventually blinding you completely. How on Earth are you supposed to get across?! Impatient players may charge up Sparkster’s flying attack, used on prior levels to bounce around and over top high ledges. If you simply take a moment to analyze what the game presents to you, its genius soon makes itself apparent.

It seems so simple, but I cannot think of a way to describe it other than it “blew me away”. Much like Andrew and I have discussed about Sonic games (specifically Sonic 2), you are forced to slow your ass down and actually analyze your surroundings. Without paying attention to the reflections in the lava, which is shown as soon as you start the level (there is that genius game design at work), it would be impossible to progress through the level.

You have all the tools at your disposal, and the game hands them to you in bits and pieces as you need them — it is the platformer equivalent of something like the typical Zelda game design, where with each new weapon or tool you think back to areas that were previously inaccessible.

Kudos to Rocket Knight Adventures for impressing me seventeen years after its original release. Now if only there were more tunes in the game… goodness, does that music get repetitive and over-used…

Yes, one little aspect of one stage in an old video game prompted me to write a blog entry. That is just how I roll, folks. Fun little things that I notice and care not if anyone else gives a rat’s ass about is what drives my Internet content creation. I cannot be the only one, though, right…?

How about you all? Is Rocket Knight Adventures a game you also hold in high regard? Was this a game worthy of our original podcast idea as Andrew suggested? Am I crazy for wanting to write about it just because of a silly lava level?

Pokemon HeartGold/SoulSilver American Save File Problem?

Yesterday, I headed down to summon/fight/capture Lugia in my copy of Pokémon SoulSilver Version for the Nintendo DS. I had originally started the game on my “DS Phat”, but for the last several days, I had moved over to playing on the wife’s DS Lite. Never once did I go online with the game in either system, though I had locally traded between it and Pearl. I had been leveling up my Farfetch’d (since I planned on using False Swipe to reduce Lugia’s HP to 1). I had also captured a wild Farfetch’d and stole its stick for my own. I had taken “Shuckie” from the dude in Cianwood City to the daycare center with a Ditto to breed my own Shuckle. Once I had the egg and it was hatched, I tossed my new Shuckle into a PC box and returned the borrowed one to the maniac in Cianwood City. I loaded up on Poké Balls and surfed on over to the Whirl Islands. Right outside the cave entrance, I saved yet again (having done so many times along the way, of course).

My battle against Lugia did not go as planned — I carelessly did not bring enough Poké Balls.  I reset the system and loaded things back up to try again with a better plan.

I was outside Cianwood City. Farfetch’d was five levels back. He did not have his stick. All of my Poké Balls were back in my inventory. Interestingly, I no longer had my own hatched Shuckle, but I did have its egg, and “Shuckie” was back at the daycare center.

… WTF?

It was not just that the save was rolled back to a prior one… it was both that and a weird corruption of prior events. Is that even possible…?!

I was idling in the Daizenshuu EX chat at the time, and immediately vented my frustration. It sounded like others may have had a similar situation occur, but there was some uncertainty about whether the game had actually been saved in the meantime. I next went to Twitter, where I almost immediately received a response back from someone that had a very similar thing happen to them… around the Lugia event, as well. Many folks told me about the Dutch release of the games, which had an issue with save files, themselves.

My game seems to be fine (having saved a bazillion times, turning off the system, and restarting to confirm I still am where I think I am), though now I am retracing my steps. I have captured a dozen wild Farfetch’d again, and none of them have my precious stick…!

I am going to have a lot more to say about this game in the near future, but this was certainly not something I expected to be writing about. In the near-200 hours I have logged on both FireRed and Pearl, never once did I ever encounter any errors that hindered my progress or rolled me back. Had this error been even the slightest more severe, it could have potentially made me drop playing the game all-together. Those that know me know how much I rail against back-tracking and replaying segments of games. I am extremely hesitant to turn off the system now in fear of losing progress — and not only progress, but legit legendaries in my PC boxes and on my team, carried over from the aforementioned FireRed and Pearl.

I am not deeply ingrained enough in any Pokémon communities to know where to discuss this, so if any of you happen to be the VegettoEX of Pokémon… by all means, please share my story and offer any advice you may have.

Conversation 009: Shooting the Shit and E-mails

It may take us six months, but we eventually hit you back with a show…!

When we realized (upon gorging on pizza and beer) that the core group was actually all together at the same time and had a free evening, we decided we may as well just go ahead and record a show! Episode nine of the podcast is the embodiment of everything the show aims to be — a bunch of friends sitting around pontificating about video games. Sometimes we say stupid things and sometimes we say brilliant things, but the end result is a good time, and hopefully with a few guys you want to hear from.

Andrew told us about playing everything from DJ Hero and Civilization IV. Jeff has been playing everything from Angry Birds to Boom Blox. Mike has been playing everything from Heavenly Sword to Final Fantasy 1. You all had e-mails with some top ten lists, and questions about everything ranging from English translation ambivalence to relationship advice.

For your amazing convenience, here are some of the iPhone and PC games we spoke about during the show, as well as one article:

Special thanks to all the folks who hung out with us the other night during the live recording of the episode! After you listen to the show to let us know what you think (and chime in on any of the opinions or questions), let us know how you best want to be notified about new posts and live recordings. Does the site warrant its own Twitter feed? A Facebook fan page? What do you think?

Enjoy! Hopefully we’ll see you again sooner than six months’ time! Expect some blog posts from all of us in the meantime, of course!

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