Well, it’s 2013 and stuff

A belated happy new year to everyone 🙂

This post has been inspired by a couple of other blog posts I read earlier this month, specifically this post from Old School Game Blog, and this post from Insert Disk 2. So, I’ll start off with a year in review, gaming style!

2012 was notable for being a year where I caught up on some modding, took advantage of the high Australian dollar to start filling in some of the premium gaps in games I wanted to pick up and went to Japan. Over the years I’ve gone through and culled the volume of games on the shelves a number of times, and last year I went through and trimmed the last of the fat. Almost all of the games and hardware sitting in the nerd room are titles I actually want to play, if not today then some day, rather than owning them for the sake of owning them. There’s nothing wrong with the latter, but physical storage space dictates pragmatism, and as James points out on his post on Insert Disk 2, games are meant to be played, and so the cull has been made with this key thought I’ve held for a while now (but hadn’t necessarily acted on). I’ll still hold onto some interesting curios, like my C128D complete with keyboard and matching C= RGB monitor, but most of the duplicate hardware has been jettisoned.

However, it was also a year where I spent more time reading and writing about games rather than actually playing them.

Last weekend I did something I hadn’t done in ages – whiled away a Saturday afternoon playing through a random selection of titles I picked up in Japan on my Twin Famicom (thanks to Frank and Hollo for getting me on the Twin Fami bandwagon!), then went on to some Saturn games before the afternoon gave way to evening and the time came to switch off the nerd and get started on being domestic (or in other words, get cracking on cooking dinner).

This habit of thought and not action is not just centered on gaming – the house and the garden are both in serious need of attention, and as always in life it’s all about striking that balance so there’s also plenty of time to spend with Wifey.

So, 2013 is about change. Wanky I know, but stick with me for a moment.

First up, there will be less consumption of gaming info and more time actually playing games. I’ve taken a handful of sites off my RSS feeds (though I’ve kept most of the independent gaming blogs, like those linked to above) and am trying to spend less time getting distracted online, and therefore should spend more down time playing games rather than looking up esoteric information that feeds the addiction for more information (such as the fruitless hunt for info around, say, Virtua Fighter 3 on the Saturn).

As an extension of this, I’ll also catch up on a couple of modding projects so that gaming downtime is the best it can be. This includes chipping my PSone with a stealth chip so that I can play US and Japanese games without any hassles, fixing my DC following its recent interest in resetting all the time and replacing its dead battery, finally adding an AV mod to my A2600 (thanks to fellow modder Mamejay for the info from a while back) and getting a new RGB cable for my 32X that eliminates the jailbar effect that is killing the quality of its video output.

Beyond this, I’ve had two projects in the wings for the last few years I’d like to get a start on at some stage – a late-70s Japanese Space Invaders cocktail cab common in Australia back in the early 80s that has been gutted but needs to be actually rebuilt, as well as putting together a massive switchbox for all the hardware in the nerd room.

Outside of gaming, the house needs work with renovations and painting, and the neglected gardens need a stack of work to being them back to normal again so we can get the veggie patches happening for next spring, with hopefully some winter crops in there if we make it!

So, with this in mind and the important tenet of balance at the fore, I’ll be winding back my sporadic blogging output to something a bit more realistic, such as a monthly update, rather than the current intermittent schedule. Before that kicks in I’ll aim at finishing up posting the daily travel diary I kept when we were in Japan throughout February though, so don’t worry – that’ll still be sorted!

So, what kind of content can you expect this year then? I’d like to continue to playing around with our DSLR and get some more wallpapers up (Hollo’s also got me onto some fun lenses to try out to play with some depth of field effects), and there are a couple of projects I have in mind around writing about how we consumed and partook in gaming in Australia in the 90s as a point of difference to where we are today.

I also have a lot of photos and details around a stack of repair work and console mods over the last couple of years that could do with a write-up too, but realistically they take a bit of time and effort to document so I’m not sure how likely it is they’ll get done, especially when there are such a variety of excellent resources probably already out there on the topics I’d document on the blog.

I’ll also document the process used for restoring the old cocktail cab and the switchbox too, as I really enjoyed doing that for my Astro City overhaul a couple of years back. Time will decide which (if either) gets finished this year, as the switchbox is looking to be pretty complicated, and the cocktail cab will be a bit fiddly to restore.

… so I think that’s it. Long-winded as usual, but it’s a start to the new year, and hopefully a new outlook that will make it a great year 🙂

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 5


Saturday saw us packing up, checking out and heading down to Shinjuku Station to transfer to Tokyo Station in order to jump onto the Shinkansen to visit our next stop – the cultural center of Japan, Kyoto.

One of the advantages of the Japan Rail Pass for foreign travellers is that the Kodoma, Hikari, Mizuho and Sakura Shinkansen lines are covered in your pass, which makes it easy to travel from different parts of the country to another. We spent a little bit extra to have access to the Green Car, which is a slightly more fancy way of travelling. The Green Cars have more leg room, more likely to have extra seats to stow luggage and nicer seats, but not every Shinkansen line will have Green Cars as parts of the service so do your homework – for what it’s worth, we were able to secure Green Cars for all our Shinkansen travels around the country for our trip.

Shinkansen only depart from selected stations in Tokyo – from the main Tokyo station, as well as from Shinagawa. We were contemplating grabbing the train from Shinagawa (so travelling from Shinjuku to Shinagawa on one of the JR lines) in case Tokyo was too crazy, but we ended up going back to the original plans we made before arriving in Japan and braved the early morning rush hour in Tokyo Station. Our car was pretty empty for the most part, so I whipped out the iPad to start writing up these series of blogs as we were getting home pretty late during the first leg of the trip and scribbling the day’s events weren’t as high on the priority list as kicking back, taking a nice Japanese bath and watching a movie before going to bed.

Having lived in Australia all our lives, the Shinkansen are a revelatory establishment – the speed these things travel at are amazing, and from what I understand, the Nozomi Shinkansen is even faster. We hammered through the concrete jungle in no time and soon enough we started seeing the quasi-industrial fringes, followed by semi-rural Japan. Amazing stuff. There were also attendants going through the carriages with snacks and drinks if you’re so inclined – we had picked up some goodies before heading out so we didn’t bother (Pocky FTW!).

We got into Kyoto just after midday (so around 3 hours in the train), and the difference between the two cities was absolutely tangible. While Kyoto wasn’t dead by any stretch of the imagination (compared to travelling in Australia it was positively busy), it was nowhere near the insanity of Tokyo. We also found out pretty quickly that Kyoto isn’t as idiot-proof for gaijin, so we had to kick our brains into gear to concentrate a bit harder on where to go. It wasn’t difficult, but you had to put in a little more effort, and let’s face it, part of the fun of travelling is doing the whole sink/swim thing and experiencing life outside a cultured tourist-friendly environment.

Once we loaded up with a couple of subway tickets (¥210 each, as there’s always the option of using the fare adjustment machine when you arrive at the exit gates) we jumped aboard one of the Karasuma Line trains to arrive at Karasuma Oike. After jumping out of the subway and dragging our heavy suitcases up a few flights of stairs, we wandered up Karasuma-Dori and checked into our hotel, the Hotel Monterey Kyoto (and lucky for us, despite it not being check-in time, our rooms were ready).

At this point Wifey was starting to start suffering the telltale affects of a cold, and combined with an empty stomach, it was time to grab a bite to eat. On the way to the Nishiki Markets we stumbled across an udon place that seemed to be teeming with customers, so we jumped in for a whirl. We both grabbed a basic bowl of udon, broth and some veggies and sliced pork, then as we wandered down the line they had some extras to add on, so on went some karage and crumbed miniature hard-boiled eggs on skewers.

Once food was sorted, we wandered the final distance to the Nishiki Makets. The place was awesome, a hive of measured activity with Japanese and gaijin flowing down the central lane with an assortment of souvenir shops, food stalls, speciality goods (including some pricey but beautiful handicrafts) and at least one ¥100 bargain store which Wifey insisted in entering.

Once you got to the end of the Nishiki Markets, it opens up to a modern undercover strip mall that runs along Teramachi-dori. After aimlessly wandering about the place for a while we decided to head back, this time going via Rokkaku-dori. On the way I spotted an upstairs nerd store next to a convenience store, as well as another place advertising LDs in addition to CDs and videos for sale. At this stage Wifey was feeling positively knackered from the onset of her cold, so I chalked these down in my head to visit later as we headed back to the hotel.

After getting her settled and taking advantage of the awesome complimentary wifi in our rooms, I found out where the nearest Book Off was located and went for a walk, intending to visit it and check out the other stores along Rokkaku-dori on the way. The LD store was sadly void of any LDs, but they did have some awesome classic Japanese vinyl that was fun to look through. Next up was the otaku store, which was a fruitless but hilarious adventure into the seedy side of nerd culture over here. Upstairs was a labyrinth of ecchi figures, dedicated ladies area for all their shounen-ai adventures, another area for eroge PC games and eventually I unintentionally stepped into the porn area where all manner of amusing/disturbing stuff assaulted the senses.

Bemused, I wandered out and back onto the street to continue my journey to the local Book Off. I found out something quite handy though – in light of the awful Maps app on iOS 6 (seriously, the thing redefines awful, and as of this blog post there is finally a dedicated Google Maps app so I can stop using the useless default), I found out that the Google Map I brought up through Safari was happy to function when disconnected from data and relied purely on the GPS functionality to help guide me to my location. To my surprise, I ended up back at the Teramachi shopping mall, and proceeded to follow this up Sanjo-dori to get to my destination. On the way I was fortunate to see how Kyoto transformed from afternoon to evening, with kids riding their bikes home from school or practice, parents taking their kids to the local parks after school, teenagers heading out all dressed up for the night and salarymen finishing up for the day.

Eventually after crossing two rivers (one small and one big), I came upon the impressive Book Off situated opposite the Sanjo subway station. I’m not sure how long I spent there, but I managed to pick up a small pile of titles on my to-get list once again, with an emphasis on cheap PSone titles much akin to the other Book Off stores (averaging, once again, about ¥100 per title).

Nerd shopping done, it was time to head back to the hotel (with Kyoto now in the full swing of evening) and, of course, time to pickup something for dinner. I ended up dropping into a bakery to grab a variety of yummy savoury and sweet things, then exhausted a couple of convenience stores to get some drinks and some cereal for brekkie. Unfortunately there was no luck on the cereal front, so I grabbed some fresh bananas instead.

While the day ended a little earlier than others, it was an awesome way to induct ourselves into Kyoto life. What was interesting from our experience of day one (and this would be a recurring theme for Kyoto) is that the pace is much more relaxed than in Tokyo, and while I expected there was going to be a change, I didn’t realise how pronounced it would be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing by any means, just an observation I wanted to share.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 4


Friday marked the last full day we had in Tokyo and the culmination of a bit of a juggle to squeeze in what we missed out on doing to date owing to the previous day’s hiccup. Wifey and I geared up and hit the subway early in the morning to head out the furthest we’d been thus far to visit the town of Takao and attempt to climb its namesake, Takao-San (or Mount Takao). Being an amputee, the whole mountain climbing thing can be a bit tricky, but we were both keen to see how we went.

After the lengthy (but engaging) train ride out of the city center we arrived at the beautiful town of Takao. Now, the day got off to an interesting start – I needed to use the facilities once we got there and after deciding that I’d rather avoid the lineup in the train station, I spotted another public toilet on one of the paths leading up to the mountain. So, there I was standing at one of the urinals waiting for nature to kick in when an elderly Japanese gentleman wanders in, and I swear he was taking a look at my junk. For the entire time he was doing his business at the urinal. And it wasn’t like he was being subtle about it – he bent his head and took a good old look just in case he missed something if he merely glanced at it. When he was done relieving himself, he zipped up, washed his hands and wandered out. While this doesn’t seem to be anything too unusual from some of the stories other Westerners tell of their travels in Japan, this was the first time something like this had happened to me. When I told Wifey what happened after finishing up she doubled over with laughter, which was therapeutic. This land is an amazing and eccentric place.

Anywho, toilet stories aside, we continued the trek through the town and up to the entrance to the mountain. Instead of being super crazy and walking from the base station we decided to take the open chair lift to the first station and head up from there.

When we arrived we noticed that a couple of primary school kids’ classes were visiting which made for some very cute observations of kids at play, especially as they followed us up the mountain to visit the monkey park 🙂 Once we’d seen enough monkey behaviour oddly reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001, off we went to have a quick chug of water while being amused at the kids ride-on exhibits and offer to take a photo of a father and son visiting for the day.

The mountain itself has a variety of ways to scale it, with the various paths becoming accessible around the entrance of the shrine situated a little bit above the first station. We ended up going along path number 4, which took us along a variety of mountain paths, stairs and an awesome suspended bridge

I’m not sure how that path compares to the others, but it was a hard push in places (well, at least for me), but the journey was amazing. Given I’m a slow walker due to the nature of my gimped leg, we would regularly make way for other hikers on the trail, returning the greetings of the other Japanese travellers going up or down the trail. The primary school kids in particular were fun to watch as they bounded up and down the place – one little girl decided she would be helpful and corrected my Japanese at one point, as I wasn’t emphasising the “-ni-” in “konnichiwa”, which Wifey and I both thought was cheeky and hilarious at the same time 🙂 Her teacher apologised profusely and seemed genuinely embarrassed, but I reassured her that we found the whole experience amusing and entertaining.

After a hard slog though, we hit the top and had an amazing view of the mountain ranges and cityscape from the top of the mountain. After enjoying the view and getting ice-cream and cold drinks (soft-serve green tea ice-cream is the best), we headed downhill and knocked through the same trail in excellent time. When we hit the bottom we picked up some dango (rice dough covered in a sweet and savoury sauce – yum!) before heading back to the train station.

To finish up the day in Tokyo we headed out to Shibuya to visit Hachiko at Shibuya Station, then walk and watch the famous Shibuya Crossing.

Wifey bought some clothes from Forever 21 (yay for Western sizing!) while we found a place for dinner – we ended up hitting a cook-it-yourself teppanyaki place where we fired up a few things on the hot plate (first time for me as I hadn’t been to a teppanyaki self-cook restaurant before), which turned out great. Before heading home we walked across the other side of the road to check out the Book Off for nerd stuff, while Wifey went shopping in their basement in the Bingo store for fancy pants designer second-hand clothes.

I walked out with a pile of PSone games that came in at practically nothing (around ¥100 each!) and Wifey walked out with a designer jacket. We then braved the subway system during another crazy peak period squashed in like crazy sardines, much like how the Tokyo Subway system is shown in docos and travel shows. As uncomfortably tight as it is, it’s all very orderly and everyone just gets on with things. We got the same experience the previous night too, so by this point we were getting pretty comfortable with things.

Once we got back to the hotel it was time to juggle and cram our impromptu shopping in Tokyo into our luggage in prep for the next part of the journey!

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 3


Thursday started off on a sour note – a combination of late night, rich food and left-over jet lag kept Wifey and I in bed for half the day nursing some unintended nausea. Once we got over this setback, it was go-time again! First stop was heading out to Suidobashi, near Tokyo Dome City, to go budo shopping.

Having studied karate for a number of years with some limited experience in kobudo, I was keen on bringing something back that was practical as well as being a momento from the trip. Following some advice from Sensei Chris Gillies (of Soukoban) and using Google Maps, I found a couple of places opposite Tokyo Dome City to check out. One of the bigger stores were closed up from 2pm onwards so we missed it by the time we got there (my Japanese wasn’t clever enough to ascertain why), but we ended up walking down a bit closer to the Suidobashi Station and happened upon the legendary Suidobashi budo shop run by a now-elderly couple after decades of service in the area (it was also incidentally the store I wanted to visit after reading up on it online).

While my command of Japanese was poor, with some discussion I was able to explain what I was after (a shorter, wakizashi-sized iaito, since I wasn’t confident of squeezing a fuller-sized iaito in our luggage). This done, the sword was bought, wrapped in a purple slip and boxed up and ready to go. Full of gratitude (which I offered profusely, as it was an amazing experience), we jumped back on the train to head to Akabanebashi for the next stop – Tokyo Tower!

As a comfortably-nerdy anime fanboy, visiting Tokyo Tower was a bit of a pilgrimage – it’s been a focal point of so much anime, from Sailor Moon, Magic Knight Rayearth, X, and has also found its way into a handful of game titles (the most memorable to me being the Tokyo Tower-inspired level in VF3). By the time we made it down to Tokyo Tower it was starting to get dark, and combined with a clear sky, it was an amazing sight to behold as evening gave way to dusk, and then eventually dusk gave way to night.

After navigating back to the first floor (we came up the street ramp which was actually the second floor) and paying the admission price, we headed up to the main observation deck for an amazing night-time view of Tokyo. The night was capped off by a trip to the food court for some ramen to nurse our slightly wonky stomachs before heading back to the hotel.

While it certainly wasn’t the day we had originally planned, the end result was still amazing 🙂

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 2


Wednesday was officially nerd day, where Wifey was happy to indulge the crazy nerd adventures I’ve been wanting to do in Japan for many years. After a slight sleep-in and a nice buffet brekky, we hit the subway station to make our way out to Mitaka to visit the Studio Ghibli Museum.

Being a long-time anime fan who jumped on the bandwagon around ’94 when Siren started distributing the classy Manga Entertainment label of anime locally, over the years I developed an incredible love of Studio Ghibli’s work. The first Ghibli movie I saw was Miyazaki’s Porco Rosso, thanks to SBS screening it around ’96. In 2001 Princess Mononoke had a limited screen at the Palace Nova in July that year, and around the same time I bought my first DVD player (a multiregion Pioneer DV-344) and started importing all the Studio Ghibli releases direct from Japan.

The trip to the museum was amazing for two reasons. The obvious one is the museum itself – I had never contemplated that a physical structure could in any way capture the whimsy, charm and nostalgia typical of Studio Ghibli productions, but somehow it had. This is the kind of experience that is difficult to put into words, because it was at once tangible but yet ephemeral at the same time. There was a screening of a specially-produced short movie in the small theatre, a big Nekobus that the kids were going crazy over, rotating exhibitions (which I think was looking at the history of folk tales in the West), the giant from Laputa on the roof, a cafe, book store, gift store (named after the Mama Aiutto from Porco Rosso) and a recreation of the working space of Miyazaki or Ghibli staff (I believe), with some amazing memorabilia all over the place, including lots of sketches, cells and production gear from various Ghibli movies. There was a particularly big emphasis on Kiki’s Delivery Service, which being my favourite Ghibli movie, was great to see.

After making a modest deposit at the gift and book stores (I had to resist the temptation of spending around $500 on getting a framed cell from Princess Mononoke or Kiki’s Delivery Service), we jumped back on the shuttle bus that went from the museum to Mitaka Station. Now this is where the second part of this experience came into its own – whereas the original bus between the station and the museum was pretty direct, this time we wound through all the back streets on the way back to the train station. This was a mind-blowing experience – Mitaka is a really pretty city, with residential houses, busy main streets and bikes everywhere. It evokes the same qualities that many of the nostalgia-infused moments in Ghibli movies set in more contemporary circumstances, like Whisper of the Heart or From Up On Poppy Hill (despite the discrepancy in time periods).

Next up was the sacred pilgrimage that is, in many ways, one of the other important things from this journey – visiting the Sega headquarters in Ohta. To get there was an exercise in patience on behalf of Wifey, is it was a little convoluted! We took one of the JR lines to Shinagawa Station from Shinjuku, and from there we transferred to one of the private lines to get to Otorii. Things got tricky because we used the wrong entrance/exit (we should have exited out of the main JR gate using our JR pass, then used our Pasmo card to get to the Otorii line), and then we weren’t sure which train to catch to get to Otorii since there were a handful of options. We took one of the local lines on the Haneda route to get off at Otorii. After exiting Otorii we started walking the wrong way, then turned around and realised that if we looked both ways when we exited the station originally, we would have noticed the great big Sega logos on top of two buildings down the street.

We stopped at a neighbourhood soba place to eat an amazing (and cheap) meal of plain soba with dipping sauce and spring onion and wasabi paste (around ¥280 each!), then walked down to the Sega building, where I was finally, after years of obsessive fanboy passion, able to step on hallowed ground. And it was awesome 🙂

Unfortunately the building was closed for some reason, but Wifey indulged my nerd spirit by peering through the windows and trying to take picture of things, including some people who must have come out of a meeting and walked through the lobby.

At some stage I think we had started attracting the attention of the police nearby and we promptly left while trying to look unsuspicious (which probably didn’t work – a gaijin with a limp and a hat to protect his thinning ranga hair don’t exactly blend in over there). As we were walking down the street I saw the people from the lobby in front of us, and being excitable, took their picture while walking quickly down the street in a fit of nerdy giggles. In my mind I imagine they had just come out of an amazing meeting at Sega, but I lacked the Japanese skills (and balls) to ask them anything.

Once the pilgrimage was over, we grabbed a couple of yummy pastries from Peter’s Deli (I think that’s what it was called) at the entrance of the Otorii Station, then made the trek back to Shinagawa, then we hit one of the JR Lines to visit the final nerd stop for the day – Akihabara!

As much as it’s a clich&eaccend;, Akihabara still put an amazing smile on my face. The first stop was the Tokyo Anime Centre in the UDX building to grab an English language version of the Akihabara map (thanks to Orochinagi for the tip!), then off we went to explore.

Despite getting lost a few times, it was good fun – we hit up Super Potato, Trader 2, Mandarake and Sofmap before stopping off at Club Sega. I didn’t play stacks of games since it was getting late, but I had a whirl at Parodius: Fantastic Journey in honour of my brothers Miguel and Tank, and my mate McAdam in honour of the amount of hours we sunk into this game on the Saturn. I managed to get about three or four stages in on a single credit which I was pretty happy with, and Wifey noticed a couple of the locals stopped to watch me play, so maybe I wasn’t doing too badly 🙂

We then checked out the other floors, and the top floor showcased the most amazing Gundam team battle game I’d ever seen, resembling a fusion of Virtual On and the Gundam universe with an awesome team-based mechanic.

Part way up we came upon a floor of SSF4AE (Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition) machines, and I had the balls to Ken scrub on a machine against a Japanese player with a massive score card playing as Fei Long. I got owned without landing a hit on the first round, won the second round, then lost the subsequent rounds without being able to put up much of a fight.

We were about to exit when I noticed there was a basement floor, so down we went and I was greeted by one of the most amazing sights ever – a floor dedicated to only Virtua Fighter 5: Final Showdown. Once again I plonked in ¥100 and took on another player with Sarah, the only character I’ve invested much time in over the years since getting hooked on the series since the VF2 days. The outcome was similar to SSF4AE – was annihilated in the first round as Akira juggled me with some amazing techniques, held my own in the second round, then lost the next two without being too much of a challenge. With my VF dreams complete (playing VF in Japanese arcade, regardless of winning or losing), I had a crack at a crane game (and lost!), then off we went to Book Off for some final nerding before finding a nearby place to grab a bite.

We found a place near the Akihabara Station that promised casual dining and enjoyed some awesome Japanese beer, edamame, an amazing pot of gyoza and a selection of skewered awesomeness (including vegetarian skewers, chicken thighs, chicken liver, tendons and gizzards – the kind of thing encouraged by Bourdain and Zimmern when traveling!). Bellies full, it was time to go home after a massive day.

To view all posts on the Japan 2012 Travel Diary, just use the 2012 Japan Trip tag, as the whole series will be added to it over time.