Thursday, July 2, 2009

Ode to Video Gaming

I thought I'd just take this moment to celebrate one of my favorite pastimes, which is none other than the wonderful world of video games! Yes, indeed...I've spent nearly a decade sitting behind a television set plugged into a gaming console, and then ventured to the wonderful world of computing and now have these babies (most of which I grew up with) emulated right from the very comfort of my own desktop! How about that? Technology that works! Basically put...it's just a matter of searching for the right emulator (hint: type the word emulator in a Google search engine and see what pops up) and then simply installing it on your computer and finding the roms, which can be a little bit difficult since well; the industry---plainly put, it's just the freaking industry!

It's like say you were going to get the latest release by the pop artist of your choice. But let's say this artist prefers to press their cuts exclusively on vinyl (dig it...it's just a retro thang baby!) and well you pay a pretty penny for it and then your friend wants in. So faced with the dilemma of either shelling out yet another say fifteen, or twenty bucks (maybe?) or simply transferring the record (needle pops and all) onto a disc or a cassette tape; (do those things still exist?) chances are that you're going to do the ghetto logical thing and just copy the damn thing, with no due respect to the artist. Oh well...screw them, you think; one little copy ain't going to hamper their next successful tour all across Europe, Asia, and Fresno, am I right? Of course I am, and that's why I'm writing this blog, so bear with me here, folks!

Another analogy would be clothing. A good example in this here category that comes to mind almost immediately, would most likely be footwear. Sure, you can get yourself an expensive pair of air (insert your MVP basketball player's last name here) or instead opt out for a cheap imitation knock off somewhere out of Malaysia. What's the difference, I mean...hell, after all they are both manufactured directly out of sweatshop, probably made by some poor Indonesian slave girls for mere pennies on the dollar, while the folks back here at home are still playing their fancy dress makeup parties whilst evaluating their potential mating partners' income by the quality of the soles on their feet. Whatever happened to the expression it's not the clothes that makes the man, but the man that makes the clothes? Oh well, it's just something to think about.

Anyways, getting back to my initial point of discussion...video gaming. It used to be that I could escape the trappings of the modern day world by just sitting down and popping in my 8-bit graphic driven Pac-Man Atari cartridge and just keep getting disintegrated by the different colored ghosts in the maze. I think I never really got the hang of the game since I was just too young to understand it. Who knows? But over time, new gaming consoles rendered these golden age goodies mere dust magnets that can now be found residing happily in just about anybody's attic and/or closet space. Usually they're hard to get to, because what's the point in attaching all the needles cables and/or A-B boxes that probably don't work anymore, when one can simply find some pretty useful secondary emulation consoles on the web. My favorite site is Planet Emulation, since you can find virtually every console and just about any game there is in there. Sure, it's a French site, but the categories are listed in my native tongue (well, actually my second native tongue...my first would have to be bad English, hahaha!). Anyways, after doing some searching and installing the consoles on my desktop, it's just a matter of tracking down the appropriate bios images and then going through a series of trial and error to see which emulator works the best.

And again, we see how technology; i.e. the industry; i.e. the market; i.e. the competition...is stopping at nothing to outdo themselves. It just amazes me to see how many emulators there are out there for one system. Some of the work, some of them are still in beta; while others are just not worth the time, since they may have bugs. But what never ceases to astonish me is the fact that there are people out there dedicated to make these things accurate. We're not talking any second degree cut rate web programmer out there; (AKA: yours truly) no... we're usually seeing a lot of great programs being developed either by the very same people that developed these games in the first place or just some pretty cool tech rebels that refuse to let super mario die! And by that I mean, not let the original 8-bit port, with the bonus original lost levels (before it was remade into the more popular Super NES version) which is actually just plain Super Mario Bros. 2 to the rest of the world, including its home in Japan. You see the story here is that this game was going to be released just as it was, with the graphics being a near spitting image of the first Super Mario Bros. with a bunch of new tweaks (including the dreaded poison mushroom!) except that the game was just to flipping hard for public consumption. So what the geniuses over at Nintendo did was just reprogram a game that had a pretty good following over in Japan, entitled Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic and simply repackaged it as the Super Mario Bros. 2 that everybody in America knows and loves.

I feel pretty gypped, to say the least, in knowing that the decision to not be challenged by a very difficult game came from the higher ups. In this case, it was one man...Howard Lincoln. Then again, who knows? Maybe he was right not to let this version of the game leak out in our neck of the woods. After all, in some alternative reality, where Eric Stoltz stars as Marty McFly and John Belushi is playing the part of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, maybe the world may never get the chance to see our lovable pizzan's take on the pharmaceutical industry (i.e. Dr. Mario). Hmmm... well why stop there? Why not make a Super Dr. Mario Sopranos video game? To paraphrase the late great George Carlin here; organized crime, and organized medicine working together for a better tomorrow! Then again, there's nothing really too alternative about that, since that's the world we're living in right now! "Just like now!" again go I there...paraphrasing the late great George Carlin.

Back to the Future Two Martys Image
Great Scott! It seems that we've entered a
parallel timeline where there are two
actors playing the same role!

So it should come as no surprise to me that it usually all comes down to one person's decision to drive and/or steer our attention spans into the proverbial fecal chopping fan that is the world of video gaming. Sometimes, they'll even go so far as to get mascots (just like Mario, MegaMan, and Nester (remember him?) he was a product of Howard Phillips (why are these guys all named Howard?), who was the bow tie wearing Howdy Doody look-a-like nominated the first fun club president in charge of editing the official Nintendo Power gamers' magazine. And then these mascots tend to take on a life of their own. Just look at Sonic the Hedgehog. Just what the hell is he doing playing for the opposing team now?!? Bought and sold, baby...bought and sold!


Well, actually the story there is a bit more tragical. One needs to look back at the history of Sega and see all the failed business ideas just to stop and say...wow! You mean to tell me that Phantasy Star actually sounded better in its native Sega Mark III console?!? And what's that you say? Alis is actually Alisa, Odin is Tyrone, while Lutz is Noah?!? Okay, that really makes sense, because of this character's reprised Walt Disney on ice-like role in the sequel. Now I really feel gypped! I've always admired Sega as coming out of left field and socking it to Nintendo when the Genesis port came about. That was really cutting edge state of the art stuff that we as kids were dealing with at the time. But I still can't get over on how some titles suffered tremendous losses in translation whenever they were ported to our side of the pond. Take for instance the sequel (or better yet...bastard of the series) Phantasy Star III. In some cases, I could swear that the musical compositions arranged on this cart in the original Japanese console were remarkably a lot better and wouldn't you know it? Even the backgrounds were animated during the fighting sequences. You mean to tell me that the development team couldn't spare a couple of bits and/or sprites; or whatever the hell you want to call them and animate these parts of the game? It looks pretty dead to say the least. So what are the kids supposed to do now? Grow up and go to college and major in a second language! Preferably Japanese! Then again, the same can't be said for the Phantasy Star II port's soundtrack with that insanely annoying snare drum cutting through the mix. So Kudos to the America development team there for muting that track at least! Everything else, as far as the character's names are concerned...change a great deal in translation, as usual.


And where did I come across all this information you may ask? Well, just by downloading some emulators as well as the roms (that is games) and checking out their other translated ports. Now that I think about it, I remember seeing a screen shot of the original Mario Bros. 2 (Japanese version) on a Sears' catalog, and couldn't help but think: "Somebody must have screwed up at the printing press!" Only now do I realize that maybe they had gotten an acetate picture of the official screen shot release for the Japanese cartridge. Wish I still had that catalog. I'd probably auction it off on eBay! God knows I need to do so these days, just to make ends meet. The job market's not too forgiving for this college drop out, I tells yah! While everybody else was out there learning another foreign language, I was still here getting my kicks on these emulators and then lo' and behold started getting into computer gaming. Which is an ongoing love and hate relationship that this here blogger has with the new feats that technology likes to impose upon us every now and again. You see, there's this thing called retroactive compatibility. Basically, what that means is that the programmers for some really cool cutting edge games didn't really count on there being better and sometimes even bigger breakthroughs in technology which would render their products as plastic CD casing bookends. Quite a dilemma indeed!

And so it is because of the very essence of this retroactive compatibility nuance, that the gamers of yesteryear can't really enjoy playing computer games that were made in the 80s. And with the new platforms that have come out since then, well---let's put it this way, just because you got the hottest model on the lot, doesn't exactly guarantee that it'll come equipped with all the basic features. Hence the reason why I hate the fact that I can no longer enjoy playing Star Wars Podracer on my Vista. C'est la vie...and damn LucasArts for not doing anything about it, either!

To paraphrase Wiliam Wallace; "They might have taken my Podrace, but they'll never take away my Lego!!! And by that I mean the instance of Lego Star Wars not being able to work on my computer's Vista platform. I was able to track down several threads on this minor nuisance and came across the only plausible solution; that is next to arming my own fleet of droids to invade the Skywalker Ranch! lol. Just joking... no I'm seriously kidding! Please Mr. Lucas sir, don't freeze my balls in carbonite.

Anyways, please pardon the disturbing imagery there folks, but dig this; the way to resolve the issue is to simply download the Orca MSI Editor and then copy all the contents of your Lego Star Wars CD onto the computer, so that you may edit the executable installer and save it after your done. What you'll need to do is find the line that says Launch Condition and just delete all the fields in that appear in the boxes to the right; it'll say something to the extent of Not Version=some numerical value or some junk...lots of high tech lingo for us diehard gamers to put up with, in my humble opinion. Anyways, once you remove those lines you can simply burn everything onto a disc for the convenience of installing the game a helluva lot easier, or you can simply choose to install the game from whatever folder you saved your work to; though I don't really recommend doing this, since you'll probably end up confusing the shit out of your home computer...enough so to the point where you'll have to do a Eddie Izzard stand up routine (see video below) in order to explain to any passerby just what in the hell you're really doing.


And if that solution wasn't perfect enough, you'll eventually have to wind up tracking down the annoying SWLEGO.BIN file, which if memory serves you'll need to go through a series of technical hoops (such as making sure that you can view hidden files, just so you can access it via your Documents and Settings/Local User folder path and then I think you had to click on this show compatibility files view (or was that on XP?). You see? I'm just another victim in this age of technological triumph! The computer has systematically wiped out my memory and now I have no recollection of the handy tutorial that I was providing for my audience. System overload, device overflow error (I'm peeing myself as we speak, really...here folks) and by dawn I shall be another empty case of a rotting cyber vegetable. Kudos to you mankind! You and you're infinite wisdom...which probably needs a couple of memory chips to make these thought processes run a little smoother!

Any who---the reason why this file will need to be deleted is because the game itself writes it as you play for the first time. I believe it stores some bit of information such as customized controller setup and whatnot, since I find that I always have to reprogram my joystick (which is the latest euphemism for...no wait, let's not go there, for this is a family blog). At any rate, playing the game the first time around after you make the changes to the installer package (yet another suspect phrasing of an innuendo right then and there folks) will inevitably work; just as long as you don't quit and start the game over, at which point you'll get a rather unsuspected crash stating something to the effect that Lego Star Wars (or was it Windows) has encountered an error and/or has stopped working and now needs to shut down. Do you want to look for a solution for the problem (recommended)? And this is the point where the smart dufus goes yeah right...as if the crack staff over at Microsoft has nothing else better to do than to find a solution for all of your home entertainment needs; such as getting this freaking thing to play! Fat chance--to say the least, there me friendo! So that's why you need to delete that file and get this bloody thing to run. And you'll need to do this every time you finish playing just so you can get the damn thing to load properly the next time around. It's pretty annoying, but it's the best answer I've got.

I've read about this supposed patch being released that was designed to solve this problem, but I can't find that file anywhere...nor am I even going to bother to look, since I'm perfectly happy the way it's running now. I just make a shortcut to the game folder where the file is located in, and make sure I delete it whenever I feel limber enough to play the game. Another one of my favorite wastes of time...er, I mean; games (well not of the particular series that it belonged to, but rather just in general) that didn't really make it past the audition of a whole new operating platform is none other than Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. After some digging into this little dilemma I kept running into when I was installing it on Vista, I came across a solution that worked. Basically, the deal is that the software protection driver that this game has built in from factory is a bit outdated, so naturally of course...one needs to find the updated driver. But does the company even bother to let you know about these things? Probably not. Well, maybe they did, but I certainly didn't get the memo. I mean, after all, what do they care...they're all in the business of making a buck out of providing you all with entertainment. Hence, the expression: game whore! Yes, that's right. They're the game whores, and I'm the whoree, so to say.

Anyways, the problem I kept having with this one was a little more severe since it insisted on restarting my computer in order to "finish with the install procedure" which pretty much left me to not the blue screen of death, but the black screen, which I personally think is a lot more frightening because you can select to either start your computer in safe mode, or start it with a command prompt, or donate one of its kidneys to science, or maybe even make it settle someplace in a nice comfy villa in Albuquerque somewhere, just so it can die peacefully. I tell ya, you haven't lived until you've seen your computer restart itself on a loop every time you choose to start in safe mode. It's like playing doctor with Russian roulette, while all the chambers are loaded and the barrel of the gun is bent backwards. Does this make any sense? Of course it does, since I'm rambling in a stream of unconscious writing again...what else can I do at three in the morning? Bake a cake?!? The reason why this happens is because the driver's digital signature can't be verified, and lo' and behold your computer will end up having "déjà vu all over again" as Yogi Bera would have said.

So what you need to do to skirt around this issue is basically go to the Star Force support site and download the utilities on there, which will basically uninstall the drivers that you installed whilst attempting to make the POP:TT work for ya's. Make sure you install the game first, and click on the executable file once it's on your computer. Do not, under any circumstances say yes to rebooting the system, otherwise you're going to be sorry you were ever born. By the way, the black screen of death ain't so bad...I've been told you can get around it by pressing F8. But then again, I'm not going to venture out into deliberately fucking up my computer just to double check that notion, so just stick to the other method for the time being. Simply close the window when it prompts you for a reboot in order to finish a successful installation (turn and spit) which will then lead to a series of error messages, all of which state something to the degree of Windows wasn't able to determine this device's digital signature or some junk. Simply close all of those windows...I believe I had to close four of them in sequence (and oddly enough it was the same exact message every single time!) and then run the utilities provided, which updates the drivers that you'll need in order to successfully launch the game and provide it with your serial key and whatnot. What you'll need to do is run the remove drivers application first, which will prompt a reboot. Don't worry...it's safe this time around! And when the computer finishes booting up, run the update driver utility, and reboot it once again. This will ensure that you can get to the screen which asks you for the serial number.

I never had this problem in XP...so thanks to all of you geniuses at Windows out there for your lovely little UAC feature! Where would gamers be without it. Okay, sorry I'm being a sarcastic little smart ass here, for I'm sure you make lots of useful products that work; such as Windows ME. Anyways, the only side effect that this solution produces is that the Windows Media Center automatically appears after I exit the game. Big whoop! Nothing drastically problematic, but at least I still get to play the game. Someone also suggested to run the game as an administrator by right clicking the launch icon and checking that box under the compatibility tab, and if that didn't work to simply run the program in Windows XP Service Pack 2 compatible mode. I didn't try this after installing the game, nor do I plan on doing so...since well, I'm a lazy gamer.

Yeah, that's right...I've wasted (no scratch that---squandered) nearly half of my life, sitting behind a console and/or computer screen playing these freaking things! Entertaining? Maybe. Educational? Perhaps not. At times like these, I think that maybe Pac Man was right after all! The very essence of a portly yellow figure relentlessly gobbling down and just downright consuming anything and everything in its path and running through the same exact maze over and over again is just plain digital poetry to me. It speaks volumes really...about this age of environmental decadence that was inherited by us from the carelessness of the generations before our time. Pac Man economics 101. Keep eating shit, until you work your way up the corporate ladder (or next level). Watch out for the ghosts, for they're everywhere my friend! These are the poor wondering souls that are out there to do everything in their power just to screw you. Don't let them fool ya! It's like Bob Marley, ya dig? Don't let them change ya! Even if you chomp down on a super power pill that'll temporarily make them edible. Chances are this is PCP, but I can't say for sure. I only ate them to get pass the stages. My plea is not guilty to acts of simulated cannibalism your honor...I'm simply the snake that eats its own tail, and the defense now rests.

Maybe the best thing for me at this point is an almost immediate death...quick and painless. Hopefully it'll come to me once I reach the last level of Tetris (there isn't really one, unless you're on crystal meth and have great motor skills) and maybe the last thing I'll see flashing across my eyes will be something like this...Enjoy!


This has been P.S. Elliott (AKA: Dr. Gonzo XXVII) reporting for the disassociated press, that is... The Gnoyze Guitar Mods & More Web Blog.

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