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!

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


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™‚

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!

Well, it’s 2013 and stuff

A belated happy new year to everyone ๐Ÿ™‚

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 ๐Ÿ™‚

Playing through Phantasy Star 2… in 2012

Phantasy Star 2 blew my prepubescent mind and tugged on my heartstrings at the tender age of 11. The game was released in 1989 in Japan with an ambitious localised version hitting the English-speaking market in 1991. In an environment where Japanese RPGs were incredibly niche, the decision to translate the game was a risky, but ultimately it was a sensible move – without it, we may not have had the amazing Phantasy Star 4 or the Phantasy Star Online titles released in the West, games that have captured nerdy hearts, minds and wallets for years since and hopefully years to come.

My first exposure to RPGs came from my older brother. Miguel had the delightful thought of getting the D&D Gold Box for the C64 in 1990 as a pressie, and there was something about this 8-bit fantasy world that clicked with me. While I tried to get into the games, with multiple half-arsed save files to show for my efforts, it was watching my brother play through these challenging and detailed worlds that drew me into appreciating the broad scope offered in RPGs.

We picked up our Mega Drive in 1993 after selling off the SMS and all our games to bring in the $299 for the retail pack (it came bundled with Sonic 1 and redemption vouchers for Alex Kidd in the Enchated Castle and Columns). Somewhere over the next couple of months while shopping at the now-defunct John Martins, Mum had my brothers and I in tow and we naturally migrated to the video game section. I can’t recall if I picked up anything for myself, but that fateful day saw my brother pick up Phantasy Star 2, complete with hint book and foldy map, for what I hope was a reasonable retail price.

For my brothers and I, this was our first experience with a console RPG. I remember Miguel renting Ys for the SMS from our local video store (same with Golden Axe Warrior), but there was something mesmerising about this brightly coloured, electric-pop RPG. I remember watching my brother play through the game as he slowly hammered through this detailed world and its insanely complex dungeons. What impressed me most, as daft as this sounds, was how you could save your game and it would be instantaneous. This was a crazy notion to us having being used to the save process on the Gold Box titles on the C64, which took a couple of minutes each time you saved your game to the floppy disk.

But I digress.

The turning point for me was when the jet scooter took my brother’s party underwater and there encountered one of the lynchpins of modern RPGs, the tragic heroine. Between those amazing still images, melancholic soundtrack and just enough reasonably-translated text to convey what was going on, this was the point that convinced me that I needed to play this game.

So I jumped in, started a party and began that journey. Phantasy Star 2 was (and still is) an incredibly punishing RPG, but it is also very rewarding. Somehow Phantasy Star 2 manages to get a balance that keeps you enticed if you’re committed to the journey, helped by the way it presents its world in an utterly engaging way.

The hint book that was included was crucial to make progress without causing nerd rage. While there were a couple of misprints in there, it was critical in getting through the game. To this day I still have the hint book, complete with scribbles from my brothers and I, and its amazing how much sentimental value I attribute to the thing.

Phantasy Star 2 was followed up by Phantasy Star 3, a sequel that was too ambitious for its own good. It was also a game I didn’t get a chance to play until I was at uni thanks to some eBaying (so, over 10 years ago), as I could never find a copy of it anywhere at retail. I can even recall hitting the local shops during the atypical family trips to country towns around Australia in case they had old stock, but never had any luck. The break wasn’t necessarily too bad, as it meant that my next experience came in the form of the sublime Phantasy Star 4 in 1995. Couldn’t have asked for a better way to follow up the defining game that convinced me that playing RPGs was well worth my time.

The Sega Ages 2500 release of the Phantasy Star Collection featured all the games emulated to anally-retentive accuracy by M2. One of the amazing features of this release (aside from forcing the PS2 back to 240p and displaying this over component video) was the ability to switch the games’ respective difficulty levels. The difficulty switches simply performed on the fly hacks to the game code and multiplies the amount of meseta and experience points you get for each battle, but in doing so they bring Phantasy Star 1 and 2 back into the realm of approachability that suits the lifestyle of someone at my stage in life where I don’t have the time to grinds my levels in RPGs as punishing as Phantasy Star 1 or 2. This meant I was able to finish Phantasy Star 1 for the first time, which has helped in filling in some blanks as far as the series goes. It also meant I was able to go back and revisit Phantasy Star 2 in a way that meant I could play through it again on a console that is more compatible with my free time these days.

So, all that out of the way, how was revisiting my watershed RPG experience?

In a word – awesome.

The game still kept me riveted throughout the whole experience, despite some of the light grinding that’s still required despite pushing it into “Easy Mode”. The visuals, though simple, are efficient, clean and charming. And that portrait art? Tight, endearing and brilliant.

The game world is still genuinely intriguing, despite the flaws in the translation and the breaks in consistency. The soundtrack as well – Bo, you are a genius. What I hadn’t noticed before was the stylistic similarities between Phantasy Star 1 and 2 if you compare PS2 to the FM synth version of PS1, but it’s in there. Slowly uncovering the game world, exploring Mota then Dezo, all those crazy dungeons and the abundance of primary colours with incredibly detailed sprite animation? Still a great experience.

Phantasy Star 2 fans have waxed lyrical over the years over the trend-setting elements in the game, and I’m inclined to agree, though with the usual rose-tinted glasses caveat ๐Ÿ™‚ The game revels in juxtoposition – Mota is lush, green and the image of a utopian future. The core of the game centers around unwrapping this outer layer to start exposing the truths of how the universe evolved between the two games, and humanity’s response to a technologically-managed future. There are thematic links that suggest commentary on the reliance on technology and evolving standards and expectations of laziness wrought by apathy that has been brought about by government control. There are government conspiracies, hidden layers that hint at the externally-based surveillance state, hidden historical layers and tight links back to the prequel that bring up the kind of tingles associated with getting to the second book of a long-running series that you only “get” because you shared the experience playing through the first game.

Then there are the plot twists. Nothing terribly crazy, but there are enough twists and hints in there that suggest much more beneath the surface of a game crammed into a tiny cartridge and developed as a response to late-80s sci-fi anime and manga.

The only problem going back was lamenting the lack of a solid JRPG follow-up to the core Phantasy Star games. PSO and PSU both contain plenty of hints back to the old games (the first time I picked out the melodic homages to PS1 and PS2 in PSO Episode 2 gave me goosebumps), but we still haven’t seen a proper follow-up. The Japanese-only remakes of PS1 and PS2 are good if you can speak Japanese, as there’s so much more content in there. Unfortunately, the difficulty is still unforgiving and the game was never officially translated, thereby rendering it relatively inaccessible in the West (though that being said, the first game has recently received an amazing fan translation). The remakes were also done a slim budget, so while it was great to see the game coasting along in 480i, it lacked the kind of polish that still shines through with the original games.

It is wankery to assign hyperbolic phrases like “ahead of its time”, “best JRPG ever”, “set the pace for RPGs”. There’s really no need to debate that one, as objectively the game is flawed and probably an acquired taste. However, as someone who cut their teeth and who also developed an unnecessary emotional attachment to the game as a child, I still have a soft spot for Phantasy Star 2, and playing through it again in 2012 has not shifted that belief.

Phantasy Star 2, as a gamer, coloured my entire perspective of what was possible in video games. My brother had planted the seed of interest in RPGs with the Gold Box releases on the C64 and with his purchase of PS2, he cemented my obsession with the genre. Looking through my pile of games I’ve accumulated, RPGs are a running theme, and the experiences that they have brought with them have forever coloured me as a JRPG fanboy, even if their relevance is considered antiquated since the dawn of the current generation.

So yes, the game is flawed, and playing it in 2012 cements this. But this step back in time was priceless, much like my original playthrough of the game in 1993 and 1994. That was probably the best part going back to it – while my broader experience with games has coloured my interests accordingly, Phantasy Star 2 has remained, to me, an excellent game and an amazing experience.

For those curious, I followed through with taking snaps of my progress throughout the game – the image gallery is here if you’re keen on following the journey ๐Ÿ™‚