Thursday, April 28, 2011

Randomly-Offered Musings!

Although I was actually born in the mid-Seventies, I consider myself to be a child of the Eighties (and since my earliest recollections stretch back no further than 1979 at most, it would be disingenuous for me to claim otherwise!). And what a great time it was to be a kid! We (by which I mean boys... and all of the coolest girls, of course!) had the best action figures; the best cartoons, which were based on those action figures; and even the real Indiana Jones and Star Wars in movie theaters!

Now it's not as though I'm somehow completely unaware of the fact that subsequent generations have also enjoyed many of the same things that I did when I was younger (chronologically speaking, at least - I'm still just a kid at heart) - '80s nostalgia is seemingly still big business today, if modern filmmakers (and toy-makers - and um, clothing-makers? - and...) are any indication! But there is one facet of Eighties life which is fast becoming just as foreign a concept as 8-track tapes were in my own time: that most endangered species amongst dying breeds known simply as... the arcade.

Right about now you're probably thinking about that one mall you still occasionally go to whenever you find yourself getting bored with those other three malls - it contains a small arcade, after all! But there's a big difference inherent in its floorspace usage and the all-important price-per-play ratio therein.

I mean, when you really think about it... isn't that place pretty much overrun with over-sized cabinets easily two or three times the size of one standard arcade game? To say nothing about the similarly-huge gimmicky controllers (I haven't forgotten about old-school machines like Super Hang-On and After Burner - but back then those were the exceptions to the norm)...

And how much would you be willing to pay to play that racing game - a dollar... possibly more? Better get your quarters in order before you begin, in any case - you'll have to chip in again whenever you don't cross the finish line in first place (W. A. Stokins from Fuldigan, HA called - he wants his money back)!

No, I'm talking about real arcades here - the ones where your parents would give you a five-spot and set you loose every year on your birthday... and you'd never even play the same game twice, if you could possibly help it (and although I've also heard the horror stories about shadier establishments which would deal *ahem* mind-altering substances out of the back room, I was fortunate enough never to encounter any of them myself)!

Particularly-astute readers have probably already guessed that this series isn't exclusively based on any actual arcades from that bygone era. No, the focus is instead on the types of games that were typically contained therein - and what really needs to be said is that emulation doesn't have to be a dirty word!

First thing's first though - your keyboard just isn't going to cut it when it comes to taking on these classic ROMs! And to that end, might I recommend Tomee's SNES USB Controller? Sure, it might not accurately emulate the actual arcade experience without either a true joystick or those shiny red buttons (the jolly candy-like buttons!) - but I got mine so I could play console games that I already own on my home computer (but that's a discussion best left for some other time)!

So to start with, here are my Rules of Responsible ROM Usage - Arcade Edition (more like recommendations, really - but would you buy a list called "Suggestions of Responsible ROM Usage"?)!

(Note: I might have unintentionally left out something important - so I'll remove this notice once I've figured out whether or not I actually remembered everything I really wanted to include...)

If - after successfully cross-referencing Wikipedia's "List of arcade games" article with arcade-museum dot com's Killer List of Video Games (better known by the acronym KLOV) - you've determined that the following criteria have (or have not, as the case may be) been met, it is morally permissible (if not always, in the strictest technical sense, legally well-advised) to download arcade game ROMs for personal use in emulation:

1. You already own a legitimate copy of the ROM in question.

Although this applies just as much to arcade games as it does with console titles, it's not going to come up quite as often. I mean after all, why would you ever play something on your PC when you could just as easily do the same on your big-screen TV - and with an Xbox 360 controller to boot? Still, the option's there if you need it - and I actually have a practical, real-world example of the same:

I own a copy of Capcom Classics Collection Vol. 2 for the Playstation 2. However, the spindle inside the case was just too big - which created small fractures radiating outwards from the middle of the disc. This, in turn, effectively rendered the game unplayable - but when it was working, it gave me the ability to play the twenty included titles in emulation on my PS2. Shouldn't those rights also extend to my laptop as well?

2. At no point has the game ever received an official release, in any format whatsoever, for your current country of residence.

Basically what it all boils down to is this: Is there now, or has there ever in the past existed a means by which an average individual might reasonably have rendered payments due to all responsible parties for the rights to play this particular game?

Here's one qualification which is actually easier to investigate with arcade games than it is for those titles only intended for home use. Could it have ever conceivably appeared at your local arcade - and if not, was it ever ported over to any of the home consoles? Well, that last part's gonna be a little bit trickier.

First thing's first: You're gonna want to check out Wikipedia's "List of Playstation Store games;" the "List of Xbox Live Arcade games;" and the "List of Virtual Console games," in addition to the two sites mentioned previously.

This rule also applies to Neo-Geo titles as well. I know that it's tempting, what with those games being so expensive otherwise - but the fact remains that none of SNK's home systems have regional lock-outs. What this means is that any Neo-Geo console can play any game ever designed for the system - regardless of where the title was first manufactured and/or distributed.

3. The game was released for arcades in your area - but it was never made available for home use (or else it was only ever offered as such in other countries).

As the old saying goes, "I would if I could - but I can't, so I won't." To better illustrate my point, I offer by way of example my all-time favorite video game (that's including both arcades and home consoles): Taito's Night Striker.

If some place nearby still had that machine... well then, I probably wouldn't even be writing this right now! Instead, you'd always be able to find me right there - spending all my time, and most of my money on it. I love Night Striker so much, in fact, that I even imported it for the Japanese Playstation... despite my having no way of actually playing it!

Clearly the issue here isn't my unwillingness to pay... it's my complete inability to do so. Emulation represents my only viable option for playing this game at present - it isn't even available on any of the Taito Legends compilations!

So don't let considerations such as these keep you from ever experiencing what are some truly incredible titles - for instance, all the best shoot 'em ups ("shmups" to those in-the-know) were only ever released for Asian markets...

4. The available home versions are all vastly inferior to the arcade original.

This one's clearly debatable, because so much of it is based on personal judgment. Caution, however, is always advisable in any situation such as this...

Before the release of Midway Arcade Treasures 2 in 2004, I'd always considered NARC to be the unofficial poster-child for this particular phenomenon. Perhaps the title should now be passed onto 1981's Vanguard? But just in comparison to its Atari 2600 counterpart, of course.

Thanks for reading - and please, keep on reaching for those high scores until the next big installment of Randomly-Offered Musings!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dinky Reviews!

Source Code (2011).

When it comes right down to it, there's just one thing you wanna know about Source Code.

I can't blame you - I'd been wondering the same thing myself.

Got part of my answer when I finally noticed it was from director Duncan Jones - the man behind 2009's Moon. This inexplicably isn't mentioned in any of the film's advertising. Had I known this sooner, I myself - and doubtlessly others like me - probably would've seen it on its opening weekend.

Moon's theatrical run was extremely limited. Because of this, the film remains relatively unknown amongst general audiences - at least in comparison to the wide releases which most other movies receive. So focusing on Jones as the director might only have appealed to what otherwise would have been a very narrow - albeit also a vocal, and supportive - market.

And yet, none of this is the worst offense committed by the film's ad campaign. For that, we must travel back to the aforementioned question - which, in the simplest terms, is this: Is Source Code really just 2006's Déjà Vu all over again?

I'm glad to report that the answer is a resounding no. While the director's sophomore effort fails to achieve the same dizzying heights of his first film, Source Code does manage to rise above most of the unfortunate comparisons that one could make (for instance, the Nicolas Cage movie Next).

Are there any other films which might arguably tackle similar issues in a more satisfactory manner? Sure, I might make a case for Los Cronocrímenes/Timecrimes being better - but that's apples and oranges, really... and both films are ultimately enjoyable on their own merits.

In summation, while Source Code is unlikely to ever change your world, at least you should still leave the theater feeling entertained... and, more importantly, not at all like you've wasted your time and money (and in the end, isn't that what really matters?)!