About Joe

I'm the idiot who made this blog, because I apparently don't have enough blogs or free time.

Chrono Trigger: As Far As I’ve Been

Spoilers follow.

I think I’m pretty close to as far as I’ve ever gone in Chrono Trigger. I’ve hit the point where I just have a bunch of side quests to do, but I could just go fight Lavos. That said, I’m pretty sure my characters would get crushed in a few turns.

This might have been where I stopped last time. When games lose their narrative drive it’s easy to walk away for a few days. Then sometimes it turns out that 3 months have passed, and then there’s no way I’ll pick it back up.

I’m hoping my next update on Chrono Trigger will announce that I’ve (finally!) beat it. I’m already thinking about the next game(s) I want to play.

Anyway, here are some observations.

Preventing Chrono from being killed by going back in time and replacing him with a fake duplicate — YES! Finally some clever, logically consistent time travel. Well, his actual “resurrection” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, if I recall correctly. Still, conceptually it works.

Bosses are definitely more difficult now. I’ve had my party wiped out on a number of occasions. It’s all about strategy, though, so it’s not too bad. Brute force doesn’t get you far.

When going to the Ocean Palace, I got some major déjà-vu. Not from past plays of Chrono Trigger, but I think from Chrono Cross. I haven’t looked it up (and probably won’t, in case I want to play Chrono Cross again later), but I’m pretty sure that you visit the Ocean Palace in Chrono Cross.

I got déjà-vu in another way too. When you first go to the Fiendlord’s Keep, the camera pans up to show the building then pan back down. The reason is because I must have been playing a lot of Chrono Trigger back when a friend and I made our own RPG with “RPG Maker” for Playstation. The game we made was called “Adventures of Hot P”. That was the truncated version of its proper name, “The Adventures of Hot Pants”. The game’s title screen wouldn’t fit the whole thing. There is a very similar scene where the characters go to a church and it pans up and down the castle. In addition, there’s a locked door at some point early in the game. When you try to open it, a spotlight shines down on your character, and a message pops up: “It’s locked. How f&*$ing tragic.” I’m pretty sure this was supposed to be a reference to the locked boxes in Chrono Trigger. “Adventures of Hot P” was a terrible game. I may record a play-through of it some time and post it here.

Chrono Trigger Updates

I’ve been busy for the past month or so, but I have played some Chrono Trigger. I’ve just visited the End of Time for the first time (wait … that’s super-confusing) and gone back to the time period where the game began (1000 A.D. — what does A.D. and B.C. mean in this game’s universe?).

I don’t have much to say except that it’s been fun so far. I still think the Back to the Future moments are ridiculous and make absolutely no sense — if Marle’s presence in 600 A.D. meant that her ancestor was killed, thus meaning Marle was never born, then she couldn’t have gone back in time to inadvertently get her ancestor killed. And she sure as hell wouldn’t have faded from existence.

(I know I said I wouldn’t harp on this — but seriously! It makes no sense! And quantum branching doesn’t explain it — why would Marle disappear after her ancestor died if quantum branching was what was happening?)

But, you know. With these games it’s all about the gameplay, right? And that part is pretty good. It’s a little on the easy side so far.

I have to say that I really don’t like the silent protagonist thing. I’ve never liked it in Zelda. I kind of like what Halo did — the character has a voice but no face (he’s always wearing his helmet). Making the protagonist silent just leads to awkward moments in dialog, where it’s clear that the character is talking, but the game isn’t showing me that text to preserve the silence.

Still: it’s classic, mid-90’s JRPG fun. And I’m going to beat it this time, damn it.

Also, I got to see the first cut-scene, which is shown when you find Robo. It was all right, but it doesn’t really add much to the game.

So as I said, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t made a ton of progress. I’ve been working on and off on a garage workshop. It’s shaping up nicely, though progress has been slow.

As for gaming-related projects, I’m almost finished with the Dreamcast VGA mod. I’ve just got to modify the console shell to accommodate the VGA jack. The Gamecube region mod is done, but I’m not done painting it. I installed a mod chip in one of my Sega Saturns and it works great. I haven’t done a region mod to it yet. I also made a completely home-made Turbo Booster for my TurboGrafx-16. That is, I made a peripheral that can be plugged into the expansion port to output composite video and stereo audio. I’ll post some pics and info on that. I may even do an instructable for it.

Actually, I’ll share the results of most of those on here at some point. And I’ve worked on a couple soft-mod things that I may discuss later.

Chrono Trigger

My PS3’s hard drive crapped out a couple of weeks ago. Luckily I had already picked up a new drive, as I was running out of space. However, the old one died before I could back it up.

That means I lost a lot of saved games, including Final Fantasy XIII-2. I’m not happy about this. However, I was in a bit of a rut, so now I’m going to change things up. I’ve started playing Chrono Trigger.

I’ve played Chrono Trigger many times over the last 15 years or so. I’ve never actually beat it, though. I played the original on SNES in the late 90’s. I was borrowing it — sadly, I never owned it — and I gave it back before beating it. I did get very far into the game, as I recall. Later, I played it a bit in an emulator, then the PS1 re-release. But for all those times I played it, I never finished it.

So now I’ve decided: I’m finally going to do it. I have two realistic options: the Virtual Console version on my Wii U (in Wii mode) or the DS version. I think I’m going to do the DS version. While the VC version is an exact duplicate of the original game, I think I can get more play-time in with the DS. Plus, the DS version has nifty cinematic cut-scenes.

Oddly, I actually did beat its sequel, Chrono Cross. I’ve heard some people say that it’s inferior to Chrono Trigger, which I think is unfair. It was a fantastic, if occasionally confusing game. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve played it either, though, so I can’t say for sure.

I’ve only just started Chrono Trigger. I’ve just met Marle and I haven’t done the first bit of time travel yet.

Speaking of time travel (the main plot device of the game), I’ll try to restrain myself from going off on the insane lack of logic of its use in this game. I’m just going to go with it and enjoy it.

In other news, I’m still working on some console mods. I’ll post them as I go, maybe along with some instructable posts. In the pipeline are:

  • Dreamcast VGA
  • Genesis A/V and region
  • NES stereo
  • Saturn mod chip and (maybe) region
  • SNES de-yellowing
  • Gamecube region (tricky one)

All of these are in various states of completion, except for the SNES and NES mods. I’m also planning on building custom NES and Genesis joysticks. I might do an SNES one later, but I want to start small. The custom Atari joystick was fun, but I’ve got some gripes. It lacks heft — it feels far too light. I also don’t like the button; it just doesn’t feel right. So I might revisit that. In any event, I’ll let my mistakes there help me do a better job on future ones. I’ve got some better tools to work with now too.

Assassin’s Creed III: Won!

I went ahead and finished Assassin’s Creed III this past weekend. I was actually just a few missions away from the end. I did a few side things. I did most of the naval side-missions and some other things here and there. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

A few people told me I would probably be disappointed with the conclusion. I actually wasn’t, though I understand why many people would be. It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, but it was definitely an interesting (and a little surprising) conclusion to Desmond’s story.

The previous games certainly had a few interesting moral dilemmas here and there. This one had the ambivalent relationship between Conner and his father, Haytham. The game introduces a twist near the beginning of the game. You start playing Haytham. After playing the previous 4 games, it’s just assumed that you’re playing an assassin. He certainly operates like one. I knew that the main character was an American Indian, so I assumed I’d play Haytham to the point where he’d die or something. In a surprising twist, though, it suddenly becomes clear that he is, in fact, a Templar.

This sets the stage for later confusion and ambiguity (the good kind, story-wise). Though Connor and Haytham are enemies, they do temporarily work together at one point. Near the end of the game, though, they fight one last time and Connor kills Haytham.

Shortly before this, though, Connor broke ties with George Washington and the Patriots after learning that Washington had destroyed many Iroquois villages. It was part of an interesting balance of interests — on one hand, there were the goals of the Assassins, which seemed to align with the goals of the revolution. But of course the Americans were no less guilty of atrocious behavior than the British with regard to relations with Native Americans. The Templars had people on both sides of the Revolutionary War. In the end, his only goal was to eliminate the man who had killed his mother (Charles Lee, one of Haytham’s men).

This was, for me, the most satisfying part of the game, and why I think that in some ways it’s better than its predecessors. The first Assassin’s Creed had many opportunities to explore difficult moral dilemmas, but perhaps out of fear of touchy boundaries, the game stayed away from anything very controversial. Every game has a start screen that informs the player of the cultural, religious and ethnic diversity of the game’s staff — for a long time they just seemed like they were being too careful.

Perhaps because this game didn’t touch on middle-eastern politics at all it was able to really explore some tricky territory. And as in real life, there is no satisfying fix or compromise. Connor, after killing Charles Lee, returns to his village to find his tribe driven away.

Desmond, too, struggled with his relationship with his father. He managed to mostly reconcile with him, though. Still, Desmond had to sacrifice himself.

Honestly, I haven’t really thought all this through very well yet. Certain themes (compromise, father/son relationships, hypocritical idealism) run through the game. I’ll probably have to think about it some more.

But I was not disappointed. The game had interesting things to say, especially with regard to Native Americans, their involvement in the revolution and their treatment by the colonists/Americans.

Gameplay wise, it was your standard Assassin’s Creed game. Good (if occasionally frustrating) controls, fun combat and stealth and many mini-games. I certainly didn’t finish every side-quest, but I had fun with a lot of them.

I’m not, at this time, interested in any of the DLC. The “King Washington” stuff sounds intriguing, but it’s time for me to move on to another game in the stack. I’m thinking of wrapping up Final Fantasy XIII-2.

How to Open and Clean a ColecoVision

I made another instructable this week: How to Open and Clean a ColecoVision.

Video games have moved, again, to the back-burner. But I am working on some video game-related projects, including an instructable for adding video-out to a ColecoVision. Also working on adding VGA-out to a Dreamcast. There are already instructables for that, though.

I did pick up a few games recently, including Video Olympics (AKA Pong for Atari), Montezuma’s Revenge (for ColecoVision) and Psychonauts (for PS2). Also a Sega 32x. Which is just silly.

Updates & Instructables

Aaand the pendulum has swung the other way. I was playing a lot of Oblivion and Assassin’s Creed III. Then I had an interesting month that put all that on the back burner.

That said, I’ve done a few things. I’ve posted several game-related instructions to instructables.com:

That’s been fun, and I have a half-dozen or so ideas for new ones, most of which are video game related.

The Atari joystick one was particularly fun — I really don’t like the standard Atari joysticks. Even if you can find one in pristine condition (good luck with that), they’re just not good joysticks. I will definitely be using my custom joystick for any Atari game sessions.

20130421-101635.jpg

Oblivion

I knew it would happen. I knew the moment I started this blog that I would eventually pick Oblivion back up. I haven’t looked at the save game time stamps from when I last played it, but it was probably 5 years ago. I never beat it, of course. I’m sure that by skimming over this blog you can guess why.

But the thing that led to me dropping it is what’s brought me back: the seemingly endless side quests. I’ve started a new game and I’m maybe a dozen hours into it. As soon as my character escaped from the underground caves and sewers, she promptly ignored the main quest and went off fishing, spying on merchants, etc. It’s tons of fun. Just travelling between cities and noticing a cave, then deciding whether to head in is just a ton of fun.

Yes, I know I’m playing too many games at once. I always do this. So I’ve put a few on hold. I might put Assassin’s Creed III on hold too. It was probably a mistake to play Brotherhood & Revelations back-to-back and then start #3 immediately after. So I’ll get back to that. As Final Fantasy XIII-2, I’ll get back to that too. Frankly, they’re kind of hard to write about too. Final Fantasy I was easy to write about because there were so many gaps to fill in — the story in the game was pretty bare. Oblivion may be more like that, due to its fairly non-linear design. We’ll see.

I’ve also been on a bit of a retro kick lately, and I’ve greatly expanded my console and game collection. I recently picked up a Genesis, a NES, a ColecoVision (2 of them!) and a Game Gear. Not all of the games I’ve got recently will end up on my list of games to beat (ColecoVision and Atari games often can’t be beat in the normally understood way), but I’m sure some will. Games like Sonic 1–3, Super Mario Bros. 1–3, Dragon Warrior, etc. I don’t think Ninja Gaiden will make the list. I doubt I have the patience to beat that sucker.

Championship Joystick

I’m going to change gears for this post and talk about some old hardware. I’ve been working on my (ahem) office at home, including a little retro setup with a bunch of old consoles. This inspired the following.

I’ve been playing video games for a very long time. I don’t remember the first video game I played, though it was probably on an Atari 2600. I have fond memories of Pitfall, Adventure and The Empire Strikes Back.

In the mid-80s, my parents bought a Commodore 128. This was when I really started to play games. Games I got into included Bard’s Tale II, Wizard’s Crown, Summer Games II, Defender of the Crown, Ghostbusters and Agent USA.

Commodore128

This was not actually my Commodore 128. But we had basically the same computer, monitor and peripherals. I’m also pretty sure that we had the same pine cones. Picture from psychlist1972 on flickr. Click image for link.

My parents resisted buying a Nintendo (NES). A computer at least had education aspects to it. Sure enough, I learned to program BASIC on the Commodore. But I did get some exposure to the NES. We’d visit some cousins in South Dakota who had one. I remember playing Dragon Warrior and being blown away. It was an RPG, like Bard’s Tale II, but on a console. It didn’t have the long load times I was used to on the Commodore. It also had a bit more story than BT II had, as I recall, and it was certainly less tedious.

Anyway, even though I really wanted a NES, my parents wouldn’t budge. Somehow, though, when the Super Nintendo (SNES) came out, my parents gave in. To this day I’m not sure why they caved, though I’m glad they did.

The SNES was like nothing I’d seen. It was light-years beyond the NES, of course. But it also left the Commodore 128 in the dust, which surprised me at the time. And games like F-Zero (and later, Star Fox) were just crazy. To this day, if I turn on a SNES with Super Mario World in it, a weird switch gets flicked in my brain. It’s hard to describe, because SMW looks primitive by modern standards. But it was a huge jump, graphically and gameplay-wise, from the Mario games on the NES.

The real killer game, though, was Street Fighter II. The SNES version was very faithful to the arcade version, though I think it had the blood removed. It played pretty much exactly the same. The graphics were slightly degraded, but it really felt very, very similar to playing the arcade game. Back then, arcade games were on the cutting edge. Home consoles typically had dumbed-down versions. But the SNES and Genesis versions of SF II (Championship Edition for Genesis) were pretty damn faithful.

Their controllers, though, left something to be desired. The SNES controller had enough buttons, but it didn’t much resemble the arcade layout. The Genesis controller did not have enough buttons — Sega had to release a new controller with 3 extra buttons. As I recall, you could play with a standard Genesis controller, but I think you had to use the Start button in combination with the A, B and C buttons to toggle between punching and kicking. I and the other Nintendo kids used to point and laugh at the Genesis kids. Well, in my head. Those Genesis kids could beat me up.

The point is that the controllers were not up to the task. The game was basically identical to the arcade version, but the controllers were alien. The button layout wasn’t right and the directional pad was no substitute for a joystick. So manufacturers started putting out arcade-style joysticks geared specifically for Street Fighter II and similar games.

I don’t remember the magazine I used to read. I think it was EGM. I really don’t know. Maybe Nintendo Power or Gamepro? Anyway, I remember seeing a review of the C&L Championship Joystick. The review gushed over it, claiming that it had real arcade parts and was encased in the same kind of plastic that telephones were made out of. Telephones back then were big, heavy and sturdy.

I don’t actually remember how I got this joystick or where I got it from. Probably as a birthday present. I remember it was rather expensive. I think it was $60 or so. But man it was nice. It still is.

Championship Joystick

This actually is my Championship Joystick. The picture was taken a few days ago.

Look at that bad boy. This sucker has lasted me 20 years, and it’s got only minor wear (though it should probably be cleaned with a q-tip). The buttons each still make nice, satisfying clicks. The stick itself is still sturdy. It’s a great controller, and I wish I could use it more often. As arcade sticks in its category go, it was actually fairly small. That said, it’s still large — it sits comfortably on my lap, but it’s larger than a SNES console.

It’s hard to describe just how satisfying it was to use this controller. It really was very similar to the controls on arcade games. All of me SNES control pads are worn out and mostly useless. This controller is still as good as it was in 1993.

I was able to pick up a SNES -> Game Cube controller adapter, which also works for the Wii. So I’m able to play old SNES games on the Wii with this controller, which is a blast. I should pick up a SNES -> USB cable too.

Aside from the various Street Fighter games, I remember playing Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Chrono Trigger, Star Fox and Mario Kart with this joystick.

No other controller I’ve ever owned got as much use as this sucker, and it’s in better shape than some of my current controllers. Of course it doesn’t have the right controls to play a lot of modern games, so it’s only really useful for retro gaming.

Game Overload

Oh, the first-world problems.

I’m playing too many games at once again. I’m currently playing:

  • Final Fantasy XIII-2
  • Assassin’s Creed III
  • Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation
  • Lost Odyssey
  • Professor Layton and the Last Specter

In addition, I actually beat another game in the interim between the last post. It’s called 10000000 (ten million) and wow, it’s a fun, addictive game. It didn’t take me long to beat, but still, it’s a lot of fun.

I started playing Lost Odyssey while on vacation. We were visiting the in-laws, and my father in law has an Xbox 360. I found Lost Odyssey used. I had previously played a rental back in 2008 or 2009.

I’ve enjoyed it. It was created by Hironobu Sakaguchi and scored by Nobuo Uematsu. Final Fantasy fans will know those names. In fact, Lost Odyssey really reminds me a lot of Final Fantasy VIII. It has a skill-learning system that’s reminiscent of FF VIII’s Junction system. It’s also got a thing where in combat, as your character is about to strike their opponent, you try to hit a button at exactly the right time to do extra damage. This was also present in FF VIII’s gunblade attacks.

It’s going to have to be put on hold, though. I didn’t get particularly far. I’ll still play it for an hour here and there so I don’t forget what’s what, but it’s on the back burner.

I’ve started playing Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation because I’m a nerd and I bought a PS Vita. So far, it’s fun, and I’ll just pop onto it here and there to do a mission. It’s buggy as all get out, though. I actually had to restart the game from the beginning because of a bug that trapped me on load screens (even after resetting the game). I’ve also managed to swim under and inside houses, trapping myself there. I’ve seen pedestrians walk into and through walls. I climbed through a roof once to get a treasure chest.

On the heels of playing AC: Revelations, I’m really disappointed in Ubisoft. That was buggy too. Now that the main AC games are done (though I haven’t beat III yet, of course), I may not purchase future games in the series. AC III seems to be bug-free so far, so that’s something. But Liberation wasn’t dirt cheap and it feels like a beta release.

Speaking of AC III, I’ve got past the point where I switch characters. There was a nice plot twist at that point, which was very cool. I won’t say what it was, but they did a good job. I felt more and more uneasy with a particular aspect of the story until the twist made sense of it all. I loved it.

Final Fantasy XIII-2 is on the list, but I haven’t played it for a few weeks. I may pop it on soon and try to wrap some stuff up. I’m probably only 5–10 hours from beating the game; though I’m not entirely sure.

Assassin’s Creed: Revelations — Won!

That was quick. I started AC: Revelations on 12/3 and beat it yesterday, 12/16. That’s much better than my normal 6–18 months.

First, the bad. This game was glitchy, at least on PS3. More than once I came across groups of guards that did nothing and could not be killed. You could attack them, they’d go through all the animations, then they’d stand back up and hang out like nothing happened. Also, I never finished all of the “Desmond’s Journey” side stories because the 5th (and last) one crashed my PS3 every time I tried to access it. Every. Single. Time.

I also did not enjoy the strategy mini-game Den Defense. It actually isn’t too hard when you get the hang of it (I even got a “Perfect Defense” PS3 trophy), but I actually got all three den defenses required for a guild challenge out of the way as soon as possible, then made all of my dens assault-proof. The third defense was the hardest, and I lost it twice before finally winning it. But one of the losses was in an area with a Coward Templar Captain, which was very annoying. So I actually made all dens with Cowards assault-proof before attempting the final den defense again. Super annoying.

Near the very end of the game, something weird happened. Minor spoiler follows. Sofia was kidnapped by the main bad guy. To trigger the next memory, I had to go back to Assassin’s HQ. I got there and Sofia was inexplicably there. Ezio showed her all his books and they talked, with Ezio avoiding talking about what exactly he does. Then the scene ends and she’s nowhere to be found. Because she was kidnapped, of course. Then I went and rescued her and continued with the game’s conclusion. Very confusing.

With that out of the way, I thought this was a very good game. The hook-blade was fun, the combat was even better than AC: Brotherhood and the side-quests were fun and addictive without pulling you too far off the main storyline.

Desmond’s interactions with Subject 16 were interesting, if a bit of a letdown. Maybe I missed something, but Subject 16 communicated a lot of cryptic things over the last couple games and now Desmond had the opportunity to have some things clarified, but he didn’t really do that.

In fact, the sort of meta-plot (with Desmond and the contemporary assassins) was probably the weakest part of this game, and that makes sense. The plot itself really concerns Ezio and Alaïr. Ezio has hit middle age and is struggling with how to live his life. Through his investigations he sees how Altaïr spent his twilight years. The short video story “Embers” follows up on this, showing Ezio in a sort of retirement. He wants nothing to do with the Assassins any more (likely feeling that he had already done his part), but is briefly dragged back into the conflict.

I probably had the most fun in a particular segment near the end of the game where Ezio causes all sorts of mayhem, from bringing a tower down to torching a half-dozen ships with Greek Fire. A close second would be an episode even closer to the end where Ezio leads his assassins into the Arsenal. I kind of felt like a Sith Lord in that segment.

Overall it was a fun game, annoying bugs notwithstanding (seriously, Ubisoft — straight-up crashing?). I’m definitely looking forward to AC: III. There are a lot of interesting possibilities with setting it in the American Revolution. And that the protagonist is at least partly Native American (I got the impression somewhere that he’s half Native American, half European) should make for a interesting, possibly complex story.