Gaming History 101

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Video: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones Retrospective

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A look back at the origins of the PC-Engine, its Western counterpart the Turbografx-16, and the pack-in title Keith Courage in Alpha Zones.

There is also an accompanying livestream that can be viewed here or by following the link in the card at the end of the video.

Written by Fred Rojas

February 1, 2017 at 3:00 pm

Podcast: Are You One of Us?

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tg16_post

This week Fred flies solo to discuss the short live but highly coveted niche console the Turbografx-16.  With an 8-bit processor and a 16-bit graphics card this Japan-centric console by NEC only hung around for 4-5 years but has a cult following almost as intense as Sega.  This episode covers its release, different versions, Japanese counterpart the PC Engine, and of course the expensive CD expansion and games.


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Written by Fred Rojas

August 21, 2013 at 11:00 am

Buying Guide: Turbografx-16

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We all love our retro consoles, but in many cases the consoles we are buying are because they are cheap enough or we have enough money to purchase what we never were able to in our youth.  Unfortunately the business of making used retro items available to the masses can at times be a money grubbing market where consumers are deceived by people they will never meet in real life.  As an individual who has spent the last decade scouring the local area, conventions, eBay, and the internet as a whole I have learned many valuable lessons.  For that reason I present my buying guide series, which is a handy quick guide to knowing what to purchase and what will cost an arm and a leg to replace.

There was this brief period of time when the store shelves of Toys R Us had Nintendo games, Sega Genesis games, and Turbografx-16 games.  After the Super Nintendo ushered in a whole mess of games in the holiday season of 1992 (the console premiered in 1991 but it had significant presence the following year) and the Turbografx-16 consoles moved to that dreaded area in the middle of the aisle.  Before you knew it they were stacking up boxed consoles at discounted $99.99 price tags (the console originally was either $199.99 or $149.99, although I forget which) and in 1993 it was down to $49.99 with free games and all at once disappeared.  Due to the fact that NEC’s “in between” console only moved at that exremely low price point, most people that owned the console kept it, which makes for a bit of scarcity on today’s market.  Fortunately I have this buying guide here to assist you and aside from games, there really isn’t a lot to the accessories or hook-up of a TG-16.

You will want to make sure your console has:

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 18, 2012 at 3:36 pm

Review: Sherlock Homes Consulting Detective (Sega CD)

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Console: Sega-CD/Mega-CD
Released: 1992
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Sega (Sega/Mega-CD)
Instruction Manual: Not necessary
Difficulty: Moderate
Played it as a child? Yes
Value: $5.99 (used) $11.99 (new) (pricecharting.com) – Price for Sega CD version only
Price: $5.00-$10.00 (used) N/A on US Version (new) on eBay
Other Releases: FM Towns (original release, Japan only), DOS/MAC, Commodore CDTV, Turbografx-16 CD
Digital Release? Yes – an updated version with better video quality released on PC, Mac OS X, and iPad in late Sept. 2012

Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a bit of an anomaly in the realm of video games.  Much like Myst, the game premiered on CD-based consoles and computers to show off the benefits of the new technology, but was much less of a game than it was an interactive form of media.  A basic interface allowed the player to navigate various options and view content (mostly video) in order to solve one of the popular cases that originally appeared in the novel by the same name.  To show off all of the fancy marvels of a multimedia CD-ROM title there was complete focus on showing off content rather than optimizing any aspect of the game for quick playing, resulting in a few simple actions taking ridiculous amounts of time to accomplish.  I was recording gameplay videos for this article last night and it took more than 30 mins just to capture the “tutorial” that includes many icons, each with its own slow loading audio (no subtitles) background, and a video from Sherlock Holmes himself.  It was so slow-paced and boring to capture, I made the executive decision that it would be even more boring to watch and scrapped the video.  Don’t let this discourage you, especially with the re-releases likely having no load times, Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective is a thought-provoking hybrid between the adventure genre and the full motion video (FMV) game.

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Darius Series (Taito)

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Of all the shmups I mention this month, the toughest to actually play the way it is intended will be Darius (pronounced “dah-rai-us”).   This title premiered in arcades in 1986 by developer Taito and featured a super wide 3-screen arcade cabinet.  The first monitor would be centered like you’re used to, but the other two would be at slight angles on either side, using mirrors to create one straight wide view.  As a result the way you play the game is completely different because there’s a lot more to see coming and going around you.  Nowadays you could do a decent job emulating it on widescreen televisions, but no one has decided to do it yet.  Because of this visual mode it doesn’t work all that great on MAME and I highly recommend trying one of the home ports or later arcade ports, which were designed around 4:3 televisions.

Sample screen from original arcade format of Darius

Darius isn’t only significant for having a super wide screen resolution, otherwise it would have died in obscurity as a one-off coin-op.  It breaks the mold of the traditional shmup in many ways, including the fact that the player picks which level to play next.  Much like Castlevania III it is impossible to see all 28 levels in one playthrough, in fact you will only see 7 in any one completion, but eventually you can piece together every level.  Seafood haters out there will also note the interesting crustacean look to the enemies in the series.  Your ship, the Silver Hawk, comes equipped with a cannon, bombs/missiles for ground attacks and a force field, all of which are upgraded by, you guessed it, power-up items dropped by destroyed enemies.  Each level ends in a boss battle, although the size of the bosses isn’t quite the scale as I was used to with other shmups.

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 10, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Magical Chase (Palsoft/Quest)

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To keep the theme of this weekend alive, I decided to go with yet another light and fluffy shmup on this Sunday afternoon.  I’ve chosen to go with one of the most expensive games in my collection, Magical Chase, one of the few Japanese-heavy shmups to find a release on the Turbografx-16 system in the US.  I always thought this game was kind of a throw away title as a child, it didn’t do anything quite as well as Fantasy Zone, Gradius or even R-Type, but of course I had to dig it out when I found out how rare and expensive it was.  I am pleased to say that when I gaze upon this title with learned eyes I am much more aware of some of the great things it does and now that I finally got my hands on an owner’s manual I can play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.  See, back then if we couldn’t understand a game we just assumed that it was too complicated or we were too stupid and just ignored it.  I had no idea how to control the stars before getting my hands on that text document.  Don’t believe I actually have the game?  Well here’s your proof below (yes, this is a cheesy excuse to show it off):

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Written by Fred Rojas

March 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Converts

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So now you want to import consoles and games, do you?  Well you’ll be happy to know that it is entirely possible on most consoles, however there are some things you’ll have to be aware of before you do it.  This article discusses the different things you have to do to both the electric and video signal of various imported consoles.  It will also briefly discuss how to get foreign games to play on US consoles, if possible.

Electricity Differences
No matter what console you are using, it’s important to know the differences between electricity in the US, Europe and Japan.

Japanese Consoles in the US
As you’ll see plenty of times in this article, Japan is quite similar to the United States in many ways, including power.  We use 120 volts as our standard for power.  Japan doesn’t appear to use a ground (or at least none of the Japanese consoles I’ve ever gotten do, never been to Japan itself), so all plugs from Japanese consoles will be two-pronged and fit in an US outlet.  Also fortunate is the fact that most consoles, especially retro ones, will use AC adaptors that work in the US.  Never interchange US power supplies into Japanese consoles, you could fry the console or worse.  For example, if you import a Famicom, use that console’s AC adaptor and not an US NES one.  For newer consoles like Japanese PS2s and PS3s, you may want to check the back of the console, but I think those are good for AC 100-240 volts for worldwide distribution, but I could be wrong.  Basically if it generates heat, be very careful and do a search for advice from a reputable source (no, Yahoo! Answers is not a reputable source).  Also if you want to be completely safe, there are Japanese voltage converters that allow use of Japanese products here.

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 29, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Day 10

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On the tenth day of Christmas my memories gave to me…

10 Turbografx-16 Cards!

I know the picture has more than 10 games, but I just recently found a bunch of old Turbografx-16 games from my youth and I don’t have all of the original “big 10”, sue me.  Back in 1992 Toys R Us decided it was high time to get rid of the Turbografx-16 and clearance priced both the console and the games.  I’m fairly certain the console dropped down to $49.99 and I know the games were all $9.99.  I had no idea what the heck a Turbografx-16 was but the graphics definitely looked like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo so I grabbed it and five games for Christmas.  This was an even bigger deal when you consider that my Toys R Us only had 10 games for the console.  I was hoping that I could find other stores or places downtown (I lived in a suburb of Chicago) but to no avail.  After two weeks of searching I finally gave up and decided to ask for the other five games for my birthday to at least have my strong 10 game collection.

That ended up being one of the most worthwhile Christmas gifts I could have possibly asked for.  The back of the box was adorned with games I had never heard of, like Bloody Wolf, that looked absolutely amazing.  Unfortunately, I was limited to just the 10 games I could find but many of those were gems of the console: Keith Courage in Alpha Zones (pack-in), Legendary Axe, Splatterhouse, Devil’s Crush, Pac-Land, Vigilante, Aeroblasters, Bonk’s Adventure, Victory Run, and of course J.J. & Jeff made up my collection.  Being only ten years old and getting my hands on a game like Splatterhouse, an action title where your character looks like Jason from the Friday the 13th series and explores a haunted house, I was blown away.  Additionally the Turbografx-16 had a strong Japanese influence, so all games looked very cartoony and covered topics like graphic violence and adult situations.

I spent most of 1993 playing Turbografx-16 at home, but with my obsession with Mortal Kombat for Christmas the next year, my Genesis became the main console of my life after that.  For the longest time the Turbografx-16 remained a vague memory gathering dust in my closet (much like my Wii was a year ago).  I ended up selling off the console in college but the box containing my games remained untouched in my parent’s basement, which had more than tripled by the time I was 20.  I recently found the games and picked up a used Turbografx-16 and upon that first boot-up of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones it was like being a kid again.  I had no idea what a great part of gaming history I had stumbled upon for Christmas ’92.

<- Go back to the ninth day                                      Go on to the eleventh day ->

Generation Gap Pt. 3: 16-Bit

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By 1989 the NES was a powerhouse not to be reckoned with.  Sure, there were other consoles out there, but if you were doing home gaming it was predominantly on the NES.  That is, until Sega introduced the first 16-bit system to the market.  Billed as the Genesis (Mega Drive in other regions, but due to an US copyright it was renamed to the Genesis), Sega hit the ground running bringing near-perfect arcade ports of popular titles like Golden Axe and Altered Beast.  This spawned the popular “Genesis does what Nintendon’t” campaign, the onslaught of the console wars, and the second true generation of consoles since the crash.  For those simply wondering what 16-bit (and other “bits”) means is the type of processor working within the system at a given speed (think “Pentium 4” for a basic comparison).

16-bit Generation (1989 – 1999)

Sega Genesis – Launch Price: $189.99 – Released: 1989
It came literally out of nowhere.  Back then the only place to purchase Nintendo games in the Chicago suburbs was Toys R Us – you’d go see a slew of Nintendo box art in closed plastic sleeves, remove a ticket with a large price on it, and take it up to a booth that was enclosed and caged like a casino redemption.  There wasn’t a “video game” section, just a “Nintendo” section, because at that time Nintendo was synonymous with video game (and for my grandparents, it still is).  On that faithful summer day in August 1989 I walked into the Nintendo section and a slot was missing from the game display, replaced by a big blue logo that read “Sega” and a television that had a commercial playing.  In the commercial games like Golden Axe were getting compared to Bionic Commando, a truly unfair comparison from a graphics standpoint alone, despite hindsight revealing Bionic Commando the better title.  This upbeat guy was chanting “Genesis…” and a bold deep voice finished the sentence “Does!” as the commercial cross-cut the great visuals of Sega’s new console versus Nintendo’s clearly dated NES.  Then my eyes wandered down to the price: $189.99 – available soon!  I immediately forgot about it.

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