Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 13

japan2012logo-day13

We intended to start Sunday’s shopping finale by getting away at 9am. Sadly, an amazingly comfy bed encouraged us to take it a bit easier and by the time we found our way to Harajuku it was closer to midday 😛

The Harajuku run started with a trip to the bargain store Daiso. We had been making a habit of dropping into ¥100 stores during the trip for bargain hunting/amusement, so a multi-story Daiso packed into Harajuku was, not surprisingly, amazingly good fun! We grabbed a few more goodies for ourselves and friends and family back home while we were there for a ridiculously cheap cost, including stacks of Japanese lollies and chocolates to enjoy when we got home!

From there we wandered to the tip of Otomesando-dori to grab a crepe and go cosplay hunting. Sadly we only found one pair of cosplayers (not sure if we were in the wrong spot in Harajuku or maybe we were too early in the day), so we headed over to Yoyogi Park to watch the locals relaxing on a Sunday and the rockers showing off their amazing pompadours.

It was really cool to spend a little bit of time chilling out and watching what the locals were up to on a Sunday – a guy was playing a guitar on a bench under some shade, groups of teens were playing badminton and soccer, and in the distance we saw a group of people dancing it up. Young families were out with their kids and dogs, but everyone was just relaxed and enjoying the sunshine and awesome weather.

After polishing off a bite to eat, it was time to jump back on the Yamanote Line to visit Shibuya. While there Wifey did some much-needed shopping and we also hopped down to the Bingo second hand clothing store located in the basement of the Shibuya Book Off we visited when we were in Tokyo previously to see if anything interesting had found their way to the shelves in our absence.

After dodging the hordes of gaijin and the impressive cache of locals (and getting some photos of some street art down one of the side alleys, JSR-style!), we were back on the Yamanote line for our last portion of the shopping day – Akihabara Mk. 2!

For this run I dropped Wifey off at the Caffe Excelsior opposite the UDX building (passing what looked like a group of protestors bearing cosplay outfits and someone who was wearing a Gundam mask) and started the final hunt.

First stop was Gamers, a place I’d wanted to visit since getting on the DiGi Charat train back in 2000. Sadly, the multi-floor building was a disappointment, catering to the creepy otaku with long pillows with arrays of moe (including selected pillows with squishy bits for the characters’ breasts), porn, DVDs and BRDs, more porn, cosplay, and a bit more porn. Bummer.

With a hasty exit I figured I’d visit Kotobukiya (we stumbled across it when running the maid gauntlet during our last trip – it’s close to Super Potato!) and then check out the Hard Off I missed next to Mandarake during the previous visit. Because I’m special, I promptly got lost for 15 minutes before finding my way back to Hard Off/Mandarake (should have listened to my initial instincts and walked where I thought I needed to go).

Kotobukiya proved to be great fun for this second round of shopping (picked up some anime stuff), but the trip to Hard Off wasn’t worth it, as it specialised in audio equipment and little else. While this wouldn’t be a bad thing in ordinary circumstances (while I don’t know a lot, I enjoy looking and learning about amplifiers and what-not), I was trying to go as fast as possible because I was conscious of not being too much of a pain in the rear since Wifey was at this stage getting to the end of the coffee/cake set at Excelsior.

So I jumped next door to Mandarake, this time appreciating the slight price increase in Akiba vs Nipponbashi. That being said, there was also plenty there I couldn’t find in Akihabara, and Mandarake is generally a very easy to use store for nerdy stuff. I ended up grabbing a handful of gear for the PSone, Saturn (including Street Fighter Zero 3!), Mega Drive, Mega CD and Super Famicom; SFZ3 was the most expensive at around ¥7,000, the rest of the gear was pretty reasonably priced, especially the PSone games. I managed to nab Keio Yugekitai for the Mega CD in great condition complete for around ¥1,300, so that was pretty cool too!

After finishing up there I texted Wifey and picked her up, then dropped past the Tokyo Anime Centre just up the escalators on the second level of the UDX building to see if we missed anything (picked up an awesome Macross t-shirt!), then off we went to have a look at Liberty and Traders 1, 3 and 4, all of which came up blanks for anything other than current gen systems of PS2/PSone, and at this stage I had crossed both of them off my to-get list owing to a lot of success grabbing titles for them in the wild.

This then led us back to Super Potato for some more nerding – I grabbed a couple of Dreamcast, Saturn and possibly also some Super Famicom gear (memory is a bit hazy!). With Super Potato sorted, we then went to the Sofmap wedged between the two Club Sega arcades on the main strip. The reason for the extra trek was to nab a cheap DS Lite (¥2000) as they were getting rid of them nice and cheaply (this one was in great shape physically, it just needs the fuses replaced which is pretty easy to do).

We finished up by heading into Club Sega where I played a round of Virtual On Oratario Tangram on a dedicated cab, then a couple of rounds of Super SF2: Hyper Anniversary Edition, where I got owned by someone using an M. Bison/Vega exploit by timing the psycho crusher to hit when I got up without the chance of blocking.

Normally this kind of play would piss me off, but I managed to get a few hits in before I got taken out in a succession of cheap shots, and playing against someone in an arcade in Japan was still a thrill at this stage so it didn’t really bother me 🙂 We left via the bottom floor where I failed to win a plushie from one of the crane games (got close though!) but took a couple of the Sega plushie bags as a souvenir from the trip 🙂

So with the shopping out of the way, we hit the subway and braved the rush to head back to Maihama and grabbed some delicious home-style pork and fried rice from one of the vendors before heading home.

The early night didn’t really happen, but it still made for an entertaining 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.

Share

Japan 2012 Travel Diary, Day 10

japan2012logo-day10

The first full day in Osaka was set as a half nerd/half not-nerd shopping day. Osaka houses the west-coast equivalent of Akihabara, Nipponbashi or Den Den Town, so we had planned to head over there in the morning and then jump over to the Dotonburi shopping district in the afternoon. To make things more time-efficient, I used Sebaattori’s excellent blog entry on retrogaming in Osaka as a base and headed to the Ebisucho Station via the Sakaisuji line, exit 1-B, and found Super Potato two meters to the right of the exit once we got out onto the street. We ended up crossing over the other side to check out the Sofmap over there only to realise the Sofmap on the same side of the street as Super Potato (and our other destination, Game Tanteidan) was where we needed to go.

Before going on, I have to say that Nipponbashi is a completely different beast than Akiba. Where Akiba is gaudy but full of life, Nipponbashi is gritty, grimy and dark; Wifey commented the same, and where in Akiba she felt pretty comfortable and found the spectacle entertaining, she felt a bit uncomfortable in comparison in Nipponbashi. We started off hunting for LDs in a store on the corner before starting the nerd run, and once again inadvertently walked into the porn section on the second floor (which felt a little more seedy than the other accidental walk-ins). Exiting, we headed to Sofmap and found their retro collection was located across 6 bins (3 x 3 – so two rows), where the whole thing was a bit of a mess. Games in there were certainly cheap enough (I grabbed Virtua Cop 2 for only ¥50), but it was a lot of effort for comparably little return time-wise, so we left after grabbing the above and headed to Game Tanteidan (or to use Sebaattori’s translation, Game Detectives).

The store isn’t massive, but the selection is fantastic and pricing wasn’t too shabby either considering we were shopping in an urban area – on the whole, it was probably 10% to 20% cheaper than Akiba, though in some instances it was also more expensive (consistently inconsistent then!). The bottom floor is where the hardware is (they had a set of boxed Virtual On Twin Sicks for the Saturn for only ¥960!!), as well as most of the software. The Famicom selection is extensive, but being conscious of time I wasn’t in a position to go through everything individually, and instead prioritised the Saturn and DC, and checked out a couple of Super Famicom games and some Mega CD titles. Upstairs is dedicated to MSX, collectible cards, game music and art books (and probably guide books as well). Up here I was fortunate enough to find a copy of the Phantasy Star Compendium art book for around ¥3500 and snapped it up, then grabbed some titles from downstairs on the way out, with my amazing and patient wife helping by holding onto games while I shopped (and by now I’m sure you’ve noticed that Wifey being amazing and patient has been a continuing motif throughout this entire trip!).

I was debating whether to go to Super Potato as I heard the prices there were really expensive, but Wifey said I should still go in, and as always she was right 🙂 We skipped the bottom floor as per Sebaattori’s advice and went straight to the second floor where the retro love is. Since the shelves weren’t quite as packed as Game Detectives, more games were facing with the label-side visible rather than the spine, so it made it faster than relying on my not-so-speedy ability to read Japanese to trawl though carts 🙂 I ended up buying some more gear from there, as price-wide they were often similar to Game Detectives, with some titles more expensive and some gear cheaper (they had piles of Model 1 Mega Drives for around ¥1500 a pop which was pretty cool, and Saturns for ¥3500), but of course the selection was a bit different which was great. We passed a couple of other gaijin in the shop taking turns playing Super Mario Kart which was pretty awesome too.

Where this Super Potato really came into its own were some readily accessible premium titles I was after – I snapped up Radiant Silvergun for a shade under ¥8000, Asuka 120% Final Burning Fest. for under ¥5000 (closer to ¥4500 I think) and a few other titles I hadn’t seen elsewhere (like Dead of Alive on the PSone for a cheap price too). Wifey, again being amazing, pointed me in the direction of the bargain bins towards the back where I snapped up a whole heap of goodies for ¥50-¥200, including a boxed Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon and some loose Sonic carts for the Game Gear, Godzilla Generations and a few other DC games and a DC lightgun as well.

After exiting Super Potato, we headed back to Ebisucho Station and took the Sakaisuji Line up to the next stop (Nipponbashi) and jammed the nerd stuff into a coin locker (note to all tourists – coin lockers are amazing and should be utilised to reduce shopping fatigue!), then walked out and passed a couple of dodgy looking pachinko parlours (pachinko is huge in Osaka) before arriving at the start of Dotonburi, which signalled the end of nerd shopping and the start of food and Wifey-friendly shopping!

The general perception is that in Osaka you eat and drink your fill when you’re out, and the proliferation of so many places to grab a bite down this street was impressive and set your belly rumbling. We passed all manner of cuisine, but being Osaka we knew we had one destination – takoyaki.

We ended up stopping off at a place with an impressive line-up considering the time of day (close to 3pm if memory serves), so I jumped in and managed to order a small selection of takoyaki to share with Wifey. As much as I enjoyed the goodies from the night before, I’m pretty confident that these topped them and were mouth-burningly delicious. With our belated lunch sorted out, it was time to work off all that yummy batter with more shopping.

Doutonburi is a long and densely-packed open-air mall, with shops initially sitting along the main street when you enter it from where we came from. As we progressed though, the foodie haunts gave way to all manner of shops and amusement centres, and these eventually gave way to labyrinths of other enclosed strip malls spidering off the main street. The scale really was impressive and we barely scratched the surface, instead prioritising a visit to H&M across a bridge that showed off some amazing views of the concrete jungle that is Osaka (no H&M locally and the EU sizes meant it wasn’t too tricky to work out what to buy).

As the afternoon wore on, the middle and high school students hit the pavement and Doutonburi became alive with a sea of people. Apart from catching up and going shopping they were also checking out some live performances on one of the bridges that lead over to H&M and all manner of other gear was happening in the area. We ended up doing some shopping and purchasing around this part of Doutonburi, and I have to take this spot to give huge credit to the incredible pride the Japanese guys put into looking the part when they head out. I felt comparatively under-dressed sporting jeans and a t-shirt (the humidity meant I couldn’t layer stuff otherwise I would have become a sweaty gaijin, which isn’t a good look!), but it was great to see pride in appearance and passion in the stores with guys out shopping in force. There was also an abundance of headwear that I picked up while we were over there (one of the catches with being a ranga with a thinning hairline means hats are a bit of a necessity these days!), and they’ve certainly been put to use as the Australian summer kicked in locally.

After finishing up there we wandered our way to the nearby Tokyu Hands department store at Wifey’s very sensible insistence (passing a Konami fitness club on the way!).

I didn’t know much at all about Tokyu Hands before we visited, but I cam away really impressed with it! It’s a multi-story department store with a tip towards the more affordable end of the spectrum, and while we were there we bought a couple of souvenirs and a lightweight piece of luggage to accommodate all the crap we had bought to date (I can’t recall the cost, but it was incredibly lightweight and strong, with four wheels on the base for easy movement and was extremely good value). The only trick with purchasing the luggage was that I got my Japanese mixed up, but between my command of the language and a touch of English, everything got sorted out and after 5-10 minutes a staff member brought out a fresh, new piece of luggage from the storage area out the back. With the new luggage in hand, we headed back via the train station to grab the nerd haul from the coin locker to take home with us. Turns out it all fit quite nicely inside the new piece of baggage too and made it very easy to take all our shopping back to our hotel!

We dropped our collective haul off at the hotel before hitting the Universal City Walk again for dinner (yes, we were being a bit lazy by relying on going somewhere so close to the hotel rather than exploring more of Osaka at night!), settling for Mos Burger as Wifey was interested in more comfort food as she continued to fight off her cold, and then picked up a banana and strawberry crepe from the crepe stand and more drinks from Starbucks (being the manly-man I am, I continued my addiction to their mango passion iced tea, while Wifey grabbed a mocha espresso to warm up) to finish off at our hotel.

Osaka continued to gel with us after a day of shopping – while not as clean as the other cities we visited, the place was full of life and everyone seemed to be milling about with purpose. The nerd run to Nipponbashi blew a reasonable wad of cash, but it was so much fun and while you’re paying a bit extra for the convenience, when you’re strapped for time it’s a pretty good compromise in my opinion. Time’s the central key point here I guess – there was so much more to explore in Osaka and we only touched on Nipponbashi, Doutonburi and the immediate surrounds of our hotel during the day. We also needed bigger gaijin appetites to take advantage of all the amazing street food, and that’s not even counting the copious flow of cheap and tasty beer on offer either!! I have a feeling we’d have trouble keeping up with the locals, but I’m sure if Wifey and I get back to Osaka in the future we’ll be ready to give it another crack!

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.

Share

Seasonal gaming habits – spring?

sonic_cd

So, it’s hitting spring around here (remember, this is the southern hemisphere ;)). This means it’s no longer cold (“cold” by Australian standards anyway), the garden comes alive (with new weeds and the lawn needs more frequent mowing), it’s brighter for longer and Christmas isn’t too far away (scary). Last year I wrote on how games are associated with my memories of different seasons. It’s completely irrational, but for me different seasons have tangible memories of gaming associated with them. So when the seasons change, it makes me think of different games. As opposed to something more logical/socially acceptable, like music, movies or first loves. Popular culture informs me these associations are acceptable. They’re probably right.

In my original rant, I mentioned Road Avenger (Mega CD), Sonic CD (Mega CD), Thunderhawk (Mega CD), Marvel Super Heroes vs Street Fighter (Sega Saturn), Panzer Dragoon (Saturn), Panzer Dragoon Saga (Saturn), Mortal Kombat (Mega Drive) and Street Fighter 2: Special Championship Edition (Mega Drive). While I haven’t done much gaming over the last couple of months, I seem to be going through a Mega Drive phase, having finished Wonderboy in Monster World back in July, buying a 32X in September and am currently contemplating playing through Phantasy Star 2. Well, I’m contemplating the latter via Sega Ages 2500 vol. 32: Phantasy Star Collection on the PS2, as you can set it to Very Easy/Easy to make the game less grindy compared to the cart. I do have Phantasy Star 2 in all its glory on the Mega Drive (including the map and the hint book!) from back in the day and even managed to finish it when I was a kid, but these days I don’t have the free time to grind-grind-grind my way through the game, so the M2-emulated compilation on the PS2 is my easy way out 🙂

So, looking at the list above I thought I’d focus on the Mega CD games, because I have unusually vivid memories of the Mega CD.

According to the Australian Video Game Magazine Score Archive at Retro Gaming Australia, Sonic CD was reviewed by Hyper in January 1994; this puts local availability anywhere from December 1993 to March 1994. The date is relevant because the first time I ever saw a Mega CD, in the flesh, was in my local favourite (and now sadly defunct) game store. Sitting on the front counter at the end of the two ailes full of Mega Drive and SNES games for rent that made up the small store (along with some Gameboy, Master System, NES and 3DO games to mix things up) was a Model 1 Mega Drive/Model 1 Mega CD combo with the opening splash screen/intro movie for Sonic CD running on a continuous loop. It was earth-shatteringly mindblowing in a way that you couldn’t imagine unless you were 12 years old and it was 1994. Unfortunately this isn’t necessarily a case for quality, as back in 1994 East 17 was popular amongst 12 year olds and digitised graphics/Mark Hamil was the future of gaming.

So, enthused by the promise of CD-ROM technology and low-resolution video in 64 colours, I pooled enough money to be able to rent a Mega CD from said local independent for a weekend with Thunderhawk and Sonic CD to test the machine out. This happened to be in September, and I can still recall hooking up that extra power brick to the series of double adapters behind the laminate-woodgrain TV in the lounge room to experience the future.

It was, in a word, amazing.

Sonic CD proved a great platformer in its own right, but the combination of CD audio (being a PAL version we had the original Japanese soundtrack, which is still my preference to this day) and 3D special stages elevated it to something else. Even if they could probably be done on a SNES with an overlcocked SuperFX2.

Then came Core Design’s technical wonder of a game, Thunderhawk. Having spent many hours enjoying the glorious glory that was LHX Attack Chopper on our mighty 386DX40 PC (which became an even better game when I worked out you could copy the disk’s contents to the 40mb [!] HDD for faster loading), loading up Thunderhawk was all types of awesome. Great scrolling, amazing audio, and more detail compared to my previous flat-shaded shoot-shoot-helicopter experience with the former (not surprising given it was made in… 1990, compared to Thunderhawk, which was released in 1993). Thunderhawk would mark the start of a great relationship between Core Design and Sega that culminated with Tomb Raider launching first on the Saturn, whereupon Core sold out since Sony paid them a lot of money to go exclusive. Since Sega had very little money in 1996 and created a convoluted (but loveable) mess of hardware, this arrangement is not terribly surprising.

But I digress – back to the story.

To be honest, I thought that was going to be the end of my Mega CD experience as the add-on was expensive, so there wasn’t much possibility of being able to pick one up on pocket money and money gifting on birthdays or Christmas. Fast-forward a little over 12 months though, and things changed. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation in 1995, the upcoming Nintendo 64 (though I think we were still calling it the Ultra 64 at that stage), the tanking of the Mega CD and 32X and with the 16-bit era on its last legs (nobody told Nintendo, so we got Donky Kong Country, Secret of Evermore and in the US, Chrono Trigger to keep us entertained for a little longer), in 1995 the impossible became altogether possible. I’m not sure how I got the funds together, but I joined the Mega CD club in spring ’95. I probably have the receipt somewhere that’ll give the exact date too.

Mum was kind enough to pick up the console and a game (Sonic CD) while I was at school, but it was a modern day/1995 tragedy – I was behind on a geography assignment that was due the next day (a Friday if I recall correctly), so instead of unboxing my shiny new console I stole quick glances at it between burying my head in atlases and encyclopedias whilst trying to write something coherent.

Roll on the next day though, and after school it was Mega CD time. It was warm (so I’m guessing it was late-October or November), so the fan was buzzing away at the lowest speed, and the Mega Drive + Mega CD 2 combo was hooked up via RF to the recently-acquired 34cm TV (in fashionable late-80s matte black, a hand-me-down from my older brother who replaced the TV [and accompanying C64] with a 14″ SVGA monitor and the 386DX40). Packed in was Road Avenger, which received a cursory play, but the real meat was Sonic CD. I can’t tell you how many hours I sunk into that game in the months following, but it was a lot. I remember unlocking everything on that game, it was amazing. I even started playing Road Avenger after a while, and began to genuinely enjoy it. This last point is not surprising in the context of 1995/1996, as my burgeoning anime interest was about to ramp up following easier access to videos thanks to Siren/Manga Video and SBS kicking off things with Ninja Scroll on Des Mangan’s Cult Movie sessions on Saturday nights a few months later.

So – spring, Mega CD and a few classic titles. Unusual? Probably 🙂

Share

Getting component video out of a Sega Mega Drive (works for other RGB signals as well!)

Update: Some HDTVs aren’t compatible with low-resolution (240p) video signals via component video, something I’ve discussed in more depth in a recent post.

This topic has come up a few times on one of the forums I frequent so I figured it couldn’t hurt to post a quick how-to if anyone else is interested in a no-solder solution for getting component video out of a Sega Mega Drive, something that’s particularly handy if you have display devices that can’t take RGB via a SCART cable (like yours truly!).

The concept’s simple – grab a RGB signal out of the Mega Drive, run it through a transcoder, display on your TV. The trick was finding a box that could do it, as a simple input converter won’t do the trick, you need to transcode the signal on the fly for it to work. Previously this has been a bit pricey to do, but with eBay and other stores flooded with a stack of RGB to component (or YUV if you prefer that acronym instead) converters, it’s not too difficult to track one down, especially following GameSX’s excellent wiki entry on the CSY-2100 chipset.

So, on with the simple tute – grab a decent RGB SCART cable (I got mine from an eBay seller in the UK called pcenginesales, excellent product, price and service), ensuring the cable’s carrying RGB and not just composite video, a transcoder (mine came with a UK 12v AC adapter, so I just added a power point converter to it since we run 240v locally as well), three RCA cables (colour coded if it helps, I had a spare set of composite AV cables that did the job fine) and an extra spot on your power board for the AC adapter.

As for method, dead easy again – plug the SCART cable into the rear of the Mega Drive, fire the other end into the SCART input on the transcoder, connect your RCA cables into the transcoder’s YUV outputs, then run them to your TV/AV receiver/etc.

The end result is an extremely clean and beautiful picture that gives an indication of what a true RGB signal can look like as a component video output. I’ve posted some comparison shots below that go some way to demonstrating the improvement, but you really need to see it to believe it.

And as an added bonus, flicking the Mega Drive into 60hz won’t affect the colour output, as the transcoder’s grabbing the signal from the RGB outputs on the CXA1145 encoder and not the signal from the composite output. While you can go to town on the Mega Drive’s internals to get colour output on RF/composite/s-video output (I’ll add a tute on how to do that in the not too distant future), this is a simple no-solder solution that gives great video quality. It’ll of course cost a bit more than doing the internal mod, but I love the results.

I did notice that at times the colour flickered a little on my unit, but I had a hard-wired composite connection I added to the back of my Mega Drive, and once I hooked that into my switchbox for the hell of it, the flickering via the component video stopped. Not sure the issue – could be noise from the transcoder or switchbox, weird pulses in the Mega Drive due to the mods I added to get colour in 60hz via composite/RF/s-video, might be something else entirely. Probably won’t affect you, but there you go.

For the visual tour, see the gallery below!

Share

Finishing Final Fight on my Astro City! :)

It’s obviously a week for awesome arcade gamage 😀 My brother-in-law Hamez is currently staying with us while he’s back here visiting from interstate, and last night after some subtle suggestions from yours truly, we jumped onto the arcade cab for some awesomeness. This time it was Capcom’s seminal scrolling beat’em’up Final Fight 🙂

While I remember playing this one at the arcades, I have probably clocked up more hours playing the amazing Mega CD port back in the 16-bit era. Because of the difficulty and the continues/lives system, I never managed to finish the game beffore, so it was nice to be able to finish the arcade version and see the ending to the game 🙂 We were actually doing pretty well as far as continues go at the start of the game, but by the time we got to the end, the Free Play setting really came in handy 😀

Anywho, I only started taking pics when we got to the end of the last level – the gallery’s below in all its wonky glory since I was trying to play and take photos at the same time 😛 For those interested, I’m taking up the 2P slot as Guy, whilst Hamez spent the latter half of the game playing as Haggar, doing the grab-jump-piledrive technique over and over again. Because it’s awesome 🙂

Share

Sponsored