Anime Inferno, my new home for my nerd ramblings

Anime Inferno website logo

I’ve starting writing for a new website I’ve put together with some friends called Anime Inferno. We originally started the site when we were at uni, and after letting it fall away for probably close to a decade, we overhauled and re-launched it in July last year.

My work over there has focused on news tidbits, reviewing a lot of anime on DVD and Blu-Ray, posting some occasional impressions on new games and getting excited about the arcade scene. We recently covered a fantastic arcade coop sale from a few weeks back that I’m particularly happy with, if only because I was able to give my camera a workout and get some interesting shots, like this fantastic Space Invaders dedicated cab:

Anime Inferno Space Invaders cab

In terms of this website, I’ll be keeping it up for the foreseeable future so there’s no need to worry with losing any of this content.

Anywho, if you want to keep up with what I’m doing these days, or even if you’re into gaming, anime or manga, check out the new Anime Inferno website at www.animeinferno.com.au!

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Stuff (new article on Retro Domination, podcasts, etc)

rdomination-article2

Just a heads up – yes, I’m still alive but real life has been keeping me from blogging much lately (all good stuff, but the kind that keeps you busy). Plus I’ve been trying to make more time to play games rather than just write about them, which I’ve been doing by spending some spare time playing Popful Mail on the Sega CD, Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 (Shutokou Battle 3) on the PS2, NES Remix on the WiiU and Bravely Default (well, only the demo so far) on the 3DS.

Anywho, a while back I put together some articles adapted from my travels in Japan for Retro Domination – part 1 went up last year and part 2 is now online. I got into a bit more detail into prices and stuff in those ones compared to what I wrote in my series, so I’m hoping others will find it useful.

I’d also like to plug three things I’ve been enjoying lately:

  • Yakumo from Segagaga Domain has been working hard on his latest season of Retro Core and has recently started a new series with his trademark take on retro gaming called Battle of the Ports. Connoisseurs of HD quality will be pleased to know he’s recently started uploading 60fps versions, which look spectacular.
  • Retro Domination is an awesome site for Australian retro gaming articles and tid bits (admittedly I’m a bit biased as I’ve been fortunate enough to know some of the guys from the site for a while now). Their podcast in particular is great fun and a regular feature on my playlist when commuting to/from work. You should listen to it too.
  • I’ve started listening to VGMpire following their guest appearance on the relaunched Retronauts podcast. If you enjoy critical discussion of game music laced with Simpsons jokes, you’ll be in nerd heaven. Another one on my playlist for the daily commute.

So yeah, just a quick one for today (well, quick by my standards). I’m hoping to write a bit more as the year goes on, but I’m not prepared to make a schedule at this stage because a lot’s happening. Expect some musings on games at some stage, and I’ve also put together my to-do list for mods this year, but I don’t think a Modding March is going to happen in 2014. A “Modding May” may well be an option though, as I should be able to get the components together and have some of my commitments settle by then. Maybe ๐Ÿ™‚

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Responding to the Retro Domination Saturn podcast

Retro Domination Saturn Podcast

Earlier this month one of my favourite local podcasts, Retro Domination, put together a Saturn special. After having a listen, I thought I’d write a response to fill in some of the gaps – here goes!

The Saturn launched at $799 in late 1995 locally – the extra $100 was justified with the traditional pack-in game, Virtua Fighter. The PSone retailed for $699 and came packed in with a demo disc. This was for the oval model Saturn and came in a larger box. The price had dropped by early-mid 1996 (probably between April and June) to $399. At this stage it was around the same price as the PSone and had the Sega Flash demo discs packed in from thereon and had the revised “Model 2” console design. I know this because I personally purchased mine by putting it on laybuy at Target when they had a 20% off storewide and finished my laybuy off in September 1996, whereupon I played the hell out of Sega Flash vol. 2, bought a copy a few months later 2nd hand of Panzer Dragoon and then finished up the year with VF2 and NiGHTS (with analogue controller) for Christmas. Was absolutely magic, though 1997 gave it a run for its money as that was the Christmas where I started importing Saturn games from the US and Japan!

At least one game will refuse to load if you have a 4-in-1 cart – Panzer Dragoon Saga; you can load it up with an official save cart, but nothing else. You also have to be wary of the damage third party carts can do to a Saturn’s cart slot. The EMS 4-in-1 cart currently sold is reasonably reliable, but earlier multi-carts would damage cart slots. I know this because my 4-in-1 cart (1MB version) did massive damage to my Saturn’s cart slot. Some games also misbehave, at least on earlier versions – Samurai Shodown 4 and other 1MB SNK titles would have corrupted graphics, and the first few revisions of the 4MB version of the cart had issues with 4MB games that came out after X-Men vs SF (Vampire Savior and so forth). Again, pretty sure the current builds work fine.

The 50/60hz switch affects some games differently depending on how they were programmed. Where a game was cleverly programmed it can corrupt graphics – the special stages in PAL Sonic 3D have all the 3D geometry disappear if you push the machine into 60hz (haven’t tested my Japanese copy in 50hz yet). Some games utilise the ability to have separate audio and video tracks for FMV, and when the refresh rate doesn’t match it causes problems (Magic Knight Rayearth and Sakura Taisen 2 both have this problem), and sometimes the codec simply plays up (Burning Rangers uses either the Duck motion codec or the newer ADX-driven versions of video codecs and skips/stutters if the refresh rate doesn’t match). Some games that heavily rely on complex refresh-rate driven audio and video coding also struggle in the wrong refresh rate – audio skipping is a huge problem on the Capcom 4MB games where the audio samples are loaded into memory, and in games with timed in-game rendered cut scenes (like Panzer Dragoon Saga), using the wrong refresh rate will occasionally cause some audio to skip as the cues are out of whack.

The multi-region mod is a bit tricky, but makes for a bullet-proof solution (i.e. your cart slot is free so it can be used for official carts). The other option is to remove the existing BIOS and install a region-free BIOS. The cart is an easy option, but won’t open up using the save cart for getting the ghost cars in an import of Sega Touring Car or using the ROM cart for KoF ’95.

Saturn’s are notorious for being tanks in terms of reliability – the hardware in the PSone (excepting the excellent DACs in early model PSones) is comparably precious. The exception to this rule is the cart slot – it’s rubbish.

Dynamite Deka is virtually arcade perfect because it was developed for the STV board, which was basically a Saturn with more RAM and used a cart interface for the game data/PCB. The same hardware was also used for the arcade releases of Cotton 2, Soukyougurentai and Radiant Silvergun, all of which received amazing Saturn ports.

Marvel Super Heroes actually has more slowdown in 60hz, as the 17% bump to the speed taxes the Saturn’s hardware as it needs to render faster to keep up. Adjust the refresh rate in-game to check out the difference.

The Saturn port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 is arguably the best of the ports owing to the Saturn being able to run at the exact same resolution as the CPS2 arcade PCB. While the audio samples aren’t as good as the other 4MB games due to the different ways they utilise the extended RAM, the frame-count is virtually identical and the Saturn’s pad is still the best controller for 2D fighters.

Shenmue was actually well into development on the Saturn – the demo reel video you access via Shenmue 2 shows some considerably complex geometry rendering consider the machine’s issues with complex 3D tasks (thus a substantial amount of time would have been sunk into their dev tools and the game engine). The game was then moved to the DC around 1998 as Project Berkley evolved to become Shenmue as we know it.

The full title of the Segata Sanshiro game is “Segata Sanshiro: Shinken Yuugi”.

In terms of hardware, “Model 1” and “Model 2” are depreciated in terms of the internals, as it varies – I’ve modded Model 1 Saturns with Model 2 internals and vice versa. IIRC, the Saturn had around 9-10 mainboard variances and revisions over the years, some more reliable than others, and in most modding circles you work via mainboard revision rather than relying on the external case. My current machine is suffering an issue with an overheating power supply that seems to be disrupting the +9v output which is affecting the power supply to the CD-ROM’s motor and introducing noise into the video output when it heats up too much. The component in question currently believed to be behind it is unavailable for repair or replacement though, and even a re-cap hasn’t solved the issue. The workaround is to let it cool down for an hour and get back into it! This is in complete contrast with other “Model 1” machines that have run without skipping a beat after hours and hours of abuse!

Whew, brief as always. I’d also recommend everyone drops by the Retro Domination website to get an excellent Australian take on retro gaming, subscribe to their podcast and, if you’re keen-eyed, take a squiz at the first in a small series of posts I’ve written for them recapping my Japan travel adventures ๐Ÿ™‚

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Retro Otaku’s Japan travel tips

Soba noodles

I don’t claim to be a guru about traveling over to Japan having only had the opportunity to visit last year for the first time, but figured I’d add something to the sea of information out there based on our experiences last year.

Language

Do not bark at people in English. While English is widely taught in school, it doesn’t mean everyone is suddenly completely fluent in it. In Australia most high school children learn a language, but that in no way guarantees they’ll be able to use it outside the classroom. If you’re traveling to Japan, read up on at least some useful phrases and grab an app for your smartphone/tablet or a pocket phrasebook so that you can express how amazing the ramen you just ate in a tiny neighbourhood eat-in really was. Japanese is built on phonetic patterns of vowels, and pay attention to softening said-vowels. Probably influenced by North American pronounciation, too many people seem inclined to harden their vowels when they speak the language – listen closely to when native speakers fire out the language and take some inspiration.

It probably won’t hurt to learn some hiragana and katakana as well (and if you’re feeling adventurous, add some kanji into the mix). Even if it’s just some basics – being able to read references to your choices of travel (100-yen shops, arcades [Game Centres], anime or manga stores, book shops, budo shops, ramen, takoyaki, okonomiyaki) will make it easier finding the places you always wanted to go visit and stumbling along other opportunities!

You’ll also find language will vary from location to location – Tokyo has a fair whack of English translations against its signage to make it easier to get around, though the further out you go it starts getting a bit more sparse (Ohta, where we visited the Sega building, didn’t have much English signage and both Miitaka and Takao were a bit limited in parts as well). We found that Kyoto needed a bit more attention when getting around in comparison, same with Hiroshima and Osaka. Don’t stress if you get lost though – the locals were always amazing when we asked for help, but just make an effort to meet them half-way by speaking a bit of Japanese ๐Ÿ™‚

Food

Get adventurous when you go to Japan! Ramen, udon, sushi, takoyaki, izakaya fare, okonomiyaki – these are just scratching the surface of all the amazing food over there! While it’s fun to take some time to check out the Japanese take on Western cuisine and take-out food, don’t chicken out and miss out on the fun stuff. One of the most memorable meals while we were away was hitting the neighbourhood soba place near Sega in Ohta – the meals were less than $3 each and it was absolutely delicious! Beer is also delicious off the tap in Japanese pubs despite being dirt cheap, and keep in mind that a number of places will actually have a vending machine out the front you use to select and purchase your meals (including note and coin slots), then you take a seat and wait for your meal to be finished up, collect and then return to your table to tuck in (or they’ll bring it out to you). Feel free to try some unusual gear from the armies of vending machines dotted around cityscapes too, and indulge in Japanese iced tea (hint: they’re not loaded with sugar).

Crime and safety

Don’t be an arsehole and you’ll probably be fine in Japan. The place was incredibly safe compared to home – people would leave handbags and shopping on tables in food courts when they went off to grab food from one of the outlets, prams were left loaded with personal goods outside stores and in amusement parks without the need for supervision. It was a nice change from back home. While we didn’t push any buttons while we were over there and can’t speak from experience about getting out of trouble, if you find yourself in a bad situation be nice and polite. Do not be a tool and get drunk, pick a fight with the locals while being filmed and getting it uploaded into YouTube.

Appearance

Gaijin could do a bit better in Japan. I’m not saying you need to set the pace when visiting the likes of Shibuya or Harajuku, but don’t dress like you’ve just woken up and walked out the door in a pair of baggy trackies (sweat pants to those not used to the Australian vernacular) and a t-shirt that’s seen better days, or making your way around the Tokyo train system dressed like you’re heading out to climb a mountain in a third world country (I’m not kidding – spotted a guy in the Shinjuku Station cranking a small backpack with several water bottles and hiking boots dressed in khaki like he was about to leave civilisation). I certainly didn’t set any precedents over there so it might seem a bit hypocritical, but it’s as good an opportunity as any to take some pride in your appearance ๐Ÿ™‚

Mind, I’m doing this from my perspective as a guy – my gender limits me to being in the thick of things with the same appreciation for social norms as the opposite sex, but the etiquette research beforehand and what we noticed over there suggests that legs are fine to show off and crazy heels are an amazing idea, but perhaps be a touch conservative with your chest for the daily grind. Mind, a plunging v-neck on a guy sporting a hairy hipster chest won’t exactly win you any awards (you might be able to get away with it if you’re making a statement in Yoyogi Park on a Sunday with a crepe though!).

The art of walking

Did you know that we don’t know how to walk in public? I guess when you have that level of population density it comes part of the routine. It doesn’t mean that everyone walks fast, it’s just everyone knows how to bob, duck and weave through the human sea and be comfortable with cramming into the subway in sardine-like conditions (which, to be honest, isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be). Just be prepared to go with the flow – it’s a pretty interesting experience and when you get home (assuming you don’t live in a super high-density city, which we haven’t noticed in little old Australia), it adds some perspective!

Inside voice

My speaking voice is loud. In Japan, you don’t speak loudly, so be considerate of others, and if I can get into the habit of not being a noisy pain in the arse, anyone can. This is especially prominent on trains – even when they’re packed, they’re quiet, at least in most cases (they were a bit noisier in Osaka!). By extension, note the decorum in public when it comes to your phone as well – don’t speak on your mobile phone when on public transport, but texting, listening to music and gaming’s okay as long as you’re wearing earphones or headphones. At least that’s what we noticed in our travels and from all the stuff plastered around the place.

Arcades

Here’s a tip – if you find yourself playing a round of Street Fighter, BlazBlue or Virtua Fighter against a fellow gamer and find yourself getting your arse handed to you on round 1, winning round 2, then getting torn apart in round 3, you actually weren’t amazing in round 2, you were being treated to some local hospitality (thanks Steve at Super Gaijin Ultra Gamer for the tip!). In addition, it’s a bit of a faux pas to take photos or videos in arcades over there (though Wifey took some photos and videos while I was gaming without incident). Just be subtle about it and be aware you’ll be asked to leave if staff catch you. The same goes for video game stores – I would have loved to have taken some video footage and recorded my nerdisms when wandering around Super Potato or Mandarake, but IIRC there are plenty of signs warning that photography is a no-no in shops as well.

Shopping

Customer service is pretty awesome in our experiences. Granted I didn’t understand everything at the checkout since my Japanese is a bit rubbish, but it was at least polite! The handy bit is that most cash registers will display the amount owing in Yen (I’m bad with numbers in Japanese!), but remember to use the little tray they provide to plonk your cash in. The operator will then take the cash, count it back, take the money and put the change in the plastic tray for you to take and you’re good to go.

This leads onto the next shopping bit – go with cash as your primary means of spending where possible. We found most of the 7-Elevens had ATMs that accepted foreign credit cards and we used our travel Visa cards to withdraw cash in chunks as we went through the trip. On a couple of occasions I was caught short (the one I remember most is in Mandarake in Akihabara on the second visit towards the end of the trip, who handily had credit card facilities), but most of the time cash sorted stuff out. The exception to this rule is with hotels (all accepted credit cards) and I’m pretty sure the big department stores will also take credit cards (well, Visa and MasterCards anyways).

Internet access

Wifi access was intermittent when we were over in Japan – some had free wifi, some had limited wifi access, some none. We didn’t have a lot of luck hopping onto hotspots while we wandered around the place, but at the same time internet access was a bit of an optional perk rather than a necessity when we were there.

However, if you want to get online in Japan, some of my friends (thanks Kate and Sly!) have suggested grabbing a pocket wifi device when you get into the country and use that. You’ll get access to Japan’s comparatively excellent (compared to Australia :P) mobile network speed/coverage and since it’s a pocket wifi device you can attach anything with a wifi connection (thus great for consoles, smartphones, tablets and laptops).

… well, that’s it for now. I’ve probably missed some stuff as I’ve gone back and added to this a couple of times already, but it’s been a while since I’ve written on the blog ๐Ÿ˜› Hopefully this will mark a more sporadic blogging habit rather than the long awkward pauses over the last few months!

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Why the Coalition’s NBN is a terrible idea (to me)

So, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott released their policy on their take on the NBN today. It is a terrible idea, but rather than just saying it’s a terrible idea and leaving it at that, here are some facts to consider with a dash of pragmatism.

First up, the coverage is woeful. 93% of Australian premises will get a fibre connection to their home and whatever you pay for in terms of speed, you’ll get it under Labor’s plan. We sync at 3.5mbps on our ADSL2+ service on a good day in an established metro suburb; when it rains, this can drop by 50% or more. This means that if we get FttN under the Coalition, our connection will also be shot as it suffers the same variability as ADSL. If I’m lucky, under FttN I may get an ADSL-speed connection. The policy notes that there will be a minimum 25mbps connection standard, but the state of the copper and the topography of the copper network makes that impossible to guarantee, unless you run fresh copper… which seems like a waste of money. If you’re going to roll out new infrastructure, why use something as prone to errors with a limited operational life like copper when fibre is a significantly better option with cheaper maintenance costs and a lower carbon footprint?

So, best-case scenario, under the Coalition’s plan, I’ll finally get an ADSL-speed connection at our place. At a cost of $AU30 billion.

But the plot thickens, as we have overhead cable used to deliver cable TV in our streets. Under the Coalition’s plan, they will not roll out NBN infrastructure where overhead cable exists. This means I’m locked into a monopoly and have to go with one ISP if I want a connection faster than 3.5mbps. To add further insult to injury, since cable is a shared resource, once everyone in the street moves to cable the speeds will cripple since it becomes a shared resource and once again, I’ll be stuck with performance not unlike my current situation.

So, after spending AU$30b, I’ll receive absolutely no benefit under the Coalition’s plan. Ever. Because there is no plan to eventually replace the existing copper with fibre to the home. Given 30% of Australian households have cable running past their property, that’s a good chunk of the population that will not receive any infrastructure upgrades.

So in effect, the Coalition’s solution only covers a fraction of the population. Makes sense that it’s cheaper and faster to roll out. You’re only doing a fraction of the construction using cheaper technology.

To get even more pragmatic, the Coalition’s plan is actually more expensive to me compared to the status quo. Based on current costs, for around $90/month I can get a 100/40mbps connection with 300gb of bandwidth and a VOIP service to handle voice calls (which in turn reduces our overall phone bill each month). At the moment I’m paying around that for an ADSL2+ connection with 300gb of data and phone line rental. So, for the same cost I can reduce my monthly call costs and receive a connection that is 2757% faster than my current connection and with clearer voice quality compared to my copper line. Nice.

Under the Coalition’s NBN I might be able to retain my current setup, or I’ll have the option of grabbing a cable connection which is more expensive than my current ADSL connection that utilises a shared spectrum and therefore has no guarantee of quality/performance (Telstra note I can get 200gb [30% less] per month on cable for $80). Oh, and the decidedly average voice quality on my current PSTN line will remain.

I realise there are those out there who can’t see why we need an NBN because they’re connection is just fine. But that’s the issue – ADSL (and FttN by extension) are variable due to the reliance on the copper network, so if you are close to the exchange with good quality copper you’re ADSL connection may be suitable. The real-world average ADSL2+ speed is 8-12mbps, and less than 5mbps isn’t uncommon, which reflects that the network and its topology is far from perfect. There are also plenty of areas that can’t even get an ADSL connection and are forced to use wireless, which is no substitute for a wired connection (having operated personally and professionally on 3G, 4G and fixed-wireless networks, I can’t say I’m a fan of its use as a primary connection source).

Beyond this, if you have no imagination or ability to think strategically and can see the applications possible under a ubiquitous high-speed network (including researching into the area to enlighten yourself), it strikes me as unusual that you consider your thoughts to be a logical and valid argument. I can already think of what I can use a faster connection for – moving backup storage to the cloud for all our important documents, photos, etc; eventually using cloud storage to replace local storage (and thereby no more HDDs piling up in the study); true cloud computing (which we’ll see with the PS4 and it’s BC functionality); multiple HD and 4K video streams running around the household simultaneously; improved ability to work remotely on various platforms (I get called in by family living metro, country and interstate to assist with PC problems, and a ubiquitous and reliable network means I can fix their problems quicker; for work, it improves their ROI in putting together remote access functionality and will help me work remotely more efficiently); truly reliable HD and 4K video conferencing; and so on. To degrees these could be achieved with FttN, but the variability and subsequent lack of ubiquity kills the degree to which it can be relied upon.

… and that’s today – 10 years ago I was on dial-up. In 10 years time the push for more bandwidth-intensive applications will increase, and the Coalition’s plan aren’t even providing a solution to Australians today.

So, this rant is long. To make it easier, here’s the summary.

Under the Coalition’s NBN I:

  • … at best will receive a connection with ADSL-level performance or will be locked into an anti-competitive monopoly that uses a shared-bandwidth resource via HFC, and
  • … will pay more per month for phone and internet connectivity compared to the ALP’s NBN.

So for AU$30b, nothing changes.

I realise the delays with the current NBN rollout are frustrating, but at least the vision is there and my situation will be improved and with enough capacity to deal with future demands in the household. Under the Coalition, the AU$30b makes no difference to myself and others in similar situations (including up to 30% of Australian households with HFC currently running past their home). Accordingly, it seems unusual to spend AU$30b and come out with a network with a fraction of the performance and ubiquity of the current model, fraught as it is with delays in its rollout to date.

Whew, glad to have that off my chest – please excuse the nerd rage ๐Ÿ™‚ If I’ve made some factual inaccuracies, let me know so I can update and respond to the points in question.

I’ll be back soon with another Japan-related post for those who have enjoyed the entries to date, and will also get cracking on some 1080p wallpapers drawn from the shots taken during the Japan trip too!

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