Wednesday, January 4, 2023

The belated "Welcome 2023" post

Holy crud, I am so sorry this took me longer than I would have liked to write up and post. Considering I spent New Year’s setting up a brand new gaming/productivity, PC I was quite occupied with my time over the weekend downloading a bunch of games and software and I neglected most of my other pastimes as a result.

For those that didn’t catch the last major blogpost I wrote, I had announced that I’m beginning 2023 in a brief hiatus period, hopefully one of the final breaks from major productivity I will take, to focus on the holidays, my own health and, perhaps most importantly, changing my setup up to better benefit the various ventures I wish to take later in the year. Now with the holidays ending and the days getting longer, my plans are to slowly climb back into a productive state over the next few weeks/months. This includes resuming or getting back to grips with some hobbies of mine that I fell out of as the years went on for one reason or another, but one of those is of greater importance to me than the rest: Good ol taking a pencil and paper out and drawing.

Yeah it’s safe to say that I become a lot slower at drawing since 2018 or so and even my latest art from last year took me a whopping six months to complete. Using a mouse to make art may be good for precise strokes or lines and I have made it work in the past, but to make my art feel more organic and less time-consuming, I had to explore other options to bring myself up to speed and get some of these ideas I’ve had for art out the door. Of course I may still make some art the way I once did, mouse and all, but in a much faster process that doesn’t leave me zoned out and looking for frequent breaks and distractions, and I want to start making an attempt to break away from these old, bad habits of mine so I can feel more accomplished with my content and not feel like I have to rely on posting the same old art many times over the years or commission artists to fill the gaps. At the same time, breaking away from just drawing my original characters, a trait that ended up being bolted to my brain by an artist I follow back in 2012 or so, is another objective of mine, if only to give me more subjects to draw and represent a combination of well known and obscure fandoms and try my hand at adapting characters I never thought I would ever make fan art of into my style.

While art is not the only thing I want to get back into, it is by far the biggest thing I want to be the most known for aside from programing video games and maybe becoming a video game live-streamed, and being an artist is the one hobby that I feel like I can do decently with my current skillset and with all this equipment I have lying around and plan on setting up, I should be in a better position to experiment with returning to art, traditionally and digitally. I also would like to make a return to creating sprites and forming full sprite sheets using new techniques and tricks that I learned in the past few years and from observing game assets over the 2010’s and early 2020’s now that I’ve been figuring out Aseprite, a program that is much more strongly fit for creating custom sprites than recent versions of Photoshop (though I still do use Photoshop for a fair bit of sprite-making).

Over the holidays, I thought really hard about what was stopping me in my tracks and preventing me from committing to finishing projects in a short time for so many years. While there are certainly other factors, I think social media and the many distractions it has provided may or may not be the one defining contribution to my continued boredom and unwillingness to draw art and finish projects. In fact, last June, I made a new artist Twitter with the intent of using it in the off-chance I regained the confidence to draw more regularly, especially after my main account, Superjustinbros, became flooded in retweets and the occasional meme as time went on. And with twitter’s busted algorithm and other recent changes from the past year, it does not feel the same and I wouldn’t mind scaling back on using social media when I'm at home and could be getting creative in my free time.

Speaking of Twitter, even if I do want to limit my interactions on social media to improve my mental health and drive myself to be more productive, I do intend to make my main account, Superjustinbros, art-focused as well to an extent. That said, AozoraJustin (as well as my currently neglected DeviantArt account) will be the prime stop for anything I create, as the name would strongly fit as a professional alias if I ever expand my horizons into new ventures (and I may open a new YouTube account under that name for bigger projects while rebooting SuperJustinChannel into a channel for smaller, more personal projects).

I did create a Discord server as a form of future-proofing but it is currently not ready nor intended to be opened to the public at this time. As for my other sites and social medias, I began to use the Aozora blog as a showcase of convention commissions as I don’t exactly have any other use for it for the time being and if I wanted a blog focused on Aozora, I would prefer to make a website focused on Aozora and my other game concepts from scratch rather than use Blogspot. Of course Super Justin the Blog is a more casual space to give updates on personal life, events, and miscellaneous content I create that doesn’t really have a place on these other sites, and while I do plan to give this blog small updates (especially a new banner with updated render) the current state of Super Justin the Blog will likely be carried over into the future and beyond (and because I really miss 2000’s era websites in this day and age).

Oh look at the time. It’s late and I got a speed running marathon to check out next week. I’ll be back with more content when the time comes to do more writing.

Thursday, December 22, 2022

Happy Holidays from Superjustinbros

Hey everyone. With Christmas rapidly approaching and Hanukah coming up a few days later, I wanted to make a small post to wish all my friends that celebrate the holidays a very jolly Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and overall a great holiday season.

I'll be back in a few days with one more post to close out the year, whenever it lands at the end of the month or the first week of the month, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 19, 2022

The final hiatus… maybe.

With only a few days before the new year, you would expect a new year’s blogpost to be around the corner. This isn’t exactly that blog post, but it does kind of come pretty close to the end of 2022 so I wouldn’t be surprised if this was mistaken for the end of the year update I’ve done on this blog for a few years now.

For those of you that didn’t tune into my posts across the year, this year was a big, stressful mess. Even after doing what would become my only big art post of the year, my attempts and plans to do more art and big creative projects beyond that one post fell by the wayside as I focused on smaller projects and documents. I attribute this to some pretty bad physical health issues I was running into since the end of January, in addition to my mother’s back to back surgeries in the summer and me still struggling to get into a healthier sleeping schedule. There’s other parts that have been stressing me out but I think you can paint a pretty good picture about how this year was to me. Thankfully the year was still good, but considering what I had to deal with and my inability to focus on my passions beyond some game concepts, it could have been a lot better.

This was also the year, especially during the summer, where I noticed a lot of my current tech was either outdated or going on the verse of being labeled as such, and it also made me ponder if my current workstation, which has remained the same since about 2013 or so, is even suitable for creating the content I wish to be remembered for. Considering I’ve been struggling to get back into drawing art (and pixel art/sprites) regularly for years, even before the days of the pandemic, and now with there being no big events until next April, I thought maybe it was time to give a refresh to “the lair” so I can acquire try out some new tech that may or may not help with my creative output. I also decided to go on a small break and temporarily scale down on what I’m working on since it’s the holidays and Christmas is next weekend. I have no say on when exactly the break will end, but I’ll be spending most of it setting up the new workstation and whatever equipment I and up with.

In short, this is what I’m hoping to get into, or resume doing, in no particular order:

  • Traditional Artwork and Concept Sketching.
  • Digital Artwork and Graphic/UI Design.
  • Sprites and Spritework
  • Live Game Streaming (slightly less priority, we’ll see when/if I feel like streaming)
  • Game design and conceptualization (with some programing on the side?)

There’s more, for sure, though with everything on the plate these four seem like the most realistic possibilities with my current/forthcoming tech, programs, and equipment as well as my current skill level. I promise I will not be leaving everyone hanging as much as I did this year but I will need some time to get to grips with everything and I don’t think it’s worth sharing every little thing I create anyways. Plus my last attempt to return to traditional works in 2017 did not end in a way I would have liked (the drawing desk being too big for my room and ultimately discarding it a few months later) and that made me hesitant to return to it until earlier this year. When my attempt to go back to digital, as awesome as it turned out, didn’t last as long as it did thanks to what would happen in the middle of the year.

So that’s what I plan to do for the rest of December and the first few months in 2023 before the next season of conventions begins. As I hinted at I’ll have a followup post of sorts out sometime around New Year’s since there’s quite a few days left in December, and while I’m not quite done with chatting I’d rather save the rest for one final blogpost to cap off 2022 so I’m not confining it all to one somewhat anticlimatic post for everyone to take in all at once.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The 2022 Convention Update: New York Conic Con and Anime NYC

Greetings everyone. Since the final batch of conventions have come and gone and I finally have a few months on break, I think it’s only natural that I write up a blog post on the final two events of the year, as well as some looking back on the other events I’ve attended since April this year.

With the pandemic loosening it’s grips on society, the experience you all know as “the convention” could resume after two years of being affected gravely by the virus that resulted in said pandemic. While some conventions did happen towards the tail end of 2021, I was still in hiding from the virus and didn’t become fully boosted until February of this year. And by then, all six conventions that I had attended in 2019 planned to make a grand return in 2022, to varying results.

Castle Point Anime Convention 2022 was the comeback to cons that I had long, long dreamed of. Meeting artists and seeing my buddies and several other artists for the first time in years was a welcome experience, and the convention was just big enough to where there was enough to do without feeling too large or overwhelming. The same can not be said for AnimeNext, as they were forced to bail out for another year due to schedule conflicts with a concert that was happening in the same timeframe and the venue’s total disregard for COVID-19 safety procedures. As for the local conventions that took place on my home turf, Eternal Con was a slight disappointment, as the new venue the con was forced into didn’t really bring much new in with its somewhat confusing layout and a reduction of artists in the artist alley compared to the pre-pandemic era, making it feel emptier than usual. Long Island Retro Gaming Expo gave some of its smaller components a much needed expansion, resulting in a much meatier event overall with its only downside being the lack of an artist alley somewhere in the event space.

And after taking September off, New York Comic Con arrived guns and blazing in all its corporate, advertisement-filled glory, still being by far the largest event I attend year round. Maybe a bit too big, as I’ll elaborate later. Without a doubt this was a big event with lots to do, and like most modern incarnations of NYCC, there was a decent amount of Eastern media present front and center at the show- One Piece, Dragon Ball, and Gundam had entire booths set up, and other prominent franchises of Japanese origin had presences at the event. Of course the bread and butter of New York Comic Con was, well, comics, western TV shows, and films. I’ll admit, back in the day, I never thought I would gain an appreciation for comic conventions, but after various past NYCC’s genuinely entertained me, especially NYCC 2018, I welcomed the event into my yearly schedule with open arms. That said, this year’s NYCC felt a little too overblown for me, especially since my mother, whom I brought to the event to experience it with me, was still in the mist of recovering from the surgery that out her out of the summer conventions, so it made the event more tense and stressful for the two of us, combined with having to survive the typical crowds everyone that has attended the event (or any big show for the matter) is familiar with.

Usually in comic and anime conventions, I easily glance over the vendors hall (or dealers room as I sometimes call it) in favor of the artist’s alley, but New York Comic Con’s vendors easily steal the show year by year. Gigantic booths full of spectacle spanned the front of the vendor’s hall and had gigantic lines with unique experiences and free goodies for grabs. There were so many big booths this year that it all just blew past me and I ended up missing a good few of the larger booths, but then again I come to conventions more for the social aspect and the views, not the “experiences”. Thankfully the vendors’ hall was not as swamped with people as you would expect in a big event once you got past the booth closer to the front, but the same can not be said for the artist alley. The artist alley was just chaos at New York Comic Con and remained mostly so even into the final hour. Large industry vets with history working with the biggest names in comics were shoved in alongside indie artists and other local talent, making everything feel overwhelming and, dare I say, claustrophobic. Simply put, having all these artists in one place was too big for just one of the exhibition halls on the lowest floor and by the time I left, I had only seen half of the artists in  the artist alley.

Overall the experience was alright, though having to rush between the vendors hall and artist alley and make sure my mother was alright made things a bit more stressful than I would have liked, and having to divide the artist alley on a separate floor, while understandable due to the sheer number of artists, contributed to the rushed feeling I was experiencing as the sun dropped outside and the place slowly began to close in the evenings. Considering how disorganized everything was on my end, there were no cosplay photos for this event and I didn’t shoot any videos (to be fair, the place was packed and my phone doesn’t have the greatest camera, being several years old and all). I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to the people I met, and left, wishing I had an extra day to take in more of the event and the artists crammed into the lower floor.

Luckily for me, Anime NYC returned in a blaze of glory the very next month. With the crowds not as dense as New York Comic Con, it was much easier to get around the lobbies and the openings into the vendors. The convention had expanded gradually over the first three years it was held—the vendors’ hall easily seeing the biggest jump in booth quantity once it re-opened in 2021. The artist’s alley, spending the first two years on the fourth floor and getting shoved behind the vendors in 2019, now has its own section off to the northern side of the venue. This easily solved the crowd problems the artist alley suffered in 2019 while still making it easy to access and walk around, compared to the severe congestions of NYCC’s artist alley. As for the vendors, I didn’t really pay much attention to them. Some of the major vendors had really neat setups, including the return of the giant blow-up Luffy from the Toei Animation booth and two giant Gundam statues for the Gundam booth, which was presented as its own expo within the convention. Most of the other vendors were typical anime convention vendors, though being a bigger venue there was at least more to offer, too bad I don’t want to lug rare anime merch around for ~10 hours…

Ticket prices went up this year compared to prior events, and access to panels and autographs were done through raffles instead of just simply being there at the right place at the right time, so there was quite a bit of controversy before the convention had even started. I wasn’t planning on attending panels this year (I only attended a single panel during this year of conventions) and I never went to conventions for the special guests anyways; plus that would have been even more crap to carry around for an entire day (and my backpack is only so big, do I need to plan for a camping trip here?). Still, a seemingly unnecessary price hike and having to use raffles for something as trivial as going to a panel seems like an attempt to combat the ever-ongoing pandemic, considering Anime NYC 2021 was one of the big spreader events towards the end of 2021. Maybe by 2023 things will go back to normal and people will be able to go to panels and see their favorite guests with no tickets required? And if people cite “the line”, every con has lines whenever you like it or not, though some are far worse than others.

In the end, I enjoyed the event a great ton, it had a better artist’s alley but a downgraded vendor hall compared to New York Comic Con. I would say that it was a better time due to being less overwhelming and less packed than NYCC, but considering an explicitly anime convention would mostly only attract anime fans, it would be unfair to compare it to NYCC and the multi-genre approach it has taken in recent years. The lack of massive crowds did make it easier to take cosplay photos, and you all know where this is going…

Yup, cosplay time. Since AnimeNext didn’t happen, I ended up going overboard with the cosplay photos. Demon Slayer was still the top dog when it cane to representation, and fellow Shonen superstars Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure and My Hero Academia still had a grand presence in the venue. The new flavor this time around was Chainsaw Man thanks to its very recent and hugely sucsesfull anime adaptation, and Bleach cosplays would make a surprise return in part due to the comeback of the anime. The hype of doing all these cosplay shots after resulted in a gallery of 199 photos, and considering the massive pain my legs were in, I don’t know if was worth the physical trauma or not. I doubt it’ll be a number I’ll ever top in the future especially when it only beat the previous record by 9 photos, but hey, quality over quantity they always say. That said it does make me realize that I could go for a new phone/camera for a bit of a picture quality and resolution boost sometime in the future.

You can find the gallery of event cosplay photos here.

And that’s pretty much it for 2022’s season of conventions. Where do I go from here, and what are my plans for 2023? The resulting soreness from Anime NYC made me cancel a trip I had planned to a local con on my home turf that took place the same weekend as Anime NYC. Thankfully I do have two other local events besides that, including a small local comic convention and a winter-themed one-day spinoff of Long Island Retro Gaming Expo. I don’t consider them major enough to widely post them—especially when they’re both only one day long, hence why these smaller, local events have stayed off the schedule image I’ve used all year. In terms of new, bigger events, I briefly considered something to fill the void of AnimeNext’s cancelation, but nothing came of it. For potential new ventures, MAGFest, Thy Geekdom Con, and Otakon have all made an impression on me, but it would either make the schedule too over-bloated in events or take too long to drive to (especially when AnimeNext, back when it was at the Atlantic City Convention Center, was a four hour drive the way there and back). Never say never, but at the moment I’m sticking with the main six cons on my platter (with hopes that AnimeNext’s new venue choice will still deliver and EternalCon will be able to re-grow most of what it lost next year).

As for this blog, as well as myself, I think I need some time to think of what I would put into a new blogpost, especially since I still have an overall end-of-year blogpost to write up. Until then, I'll see you later. 

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Mega Man 8-Bit Deathmatch: A comprehensive tutorial

 Hey everyone. I'm going to keep this post brief since it's something I've been wanting to get to making for some time to help introduce new people into the world of Mega Man 8-Bit Deathmatch the same way I was all the way back in 2012.

Yup. I wrote a quick-start guide on how to install the game and several additional pieces of information I consider essential to first time players with the goal of keeping it updated over time to simplify any parts that may be too much and make any corrections. Believe me, setting up the game has gotten much, much easier compared to the old days of the 2010's when the program you had to use to go online did not come bundled with the game and had to be set up from square one, which is quite the amount of effort needed just to play multiplayer across the web.

I'm planning to make a sort of retrospective blog entry on my history with 8-Bit Deathmatch in the future, but for now I wanted to get this out the door and into people's laps so more players can check the game out now that its single-player story mode is now complete and the multiplayer component has been made much, much more accessible.

Without further ado, here is the complete tutorial. Feel free to give suggestions and feedback if there's something I'm missing or if there's any errors. I also made a version viewable on the Cutstuff forums for this reason.

Monday, September 12, 2022

A Slow Year

 Well hello everyone. It’s already September and it’s been a while since I’ve made a general update post to Super Justin: the Blog that isn’t live/remote event coverage. I would normally use Twitter to make posts like these but with how it would get buried under its busted algorithm (and who uses Facebook these days?) I instead opted to dust off the good ol blog and use it to let everyone know in greater detail just what exactly has been going on this summer, and to an extent, what I have planned for the rest of the year and into 2023.

As you can probably tell, I have not been in the mood to create as much as I once was. Even after completing a lineup of four different characters in what was supposed to be my big comeback, progress has still been agonizingly slow and any attempts to return to doing regular art or spritework have either spiraled into spending time on other, smaller projects that don’t require as much effort to get through or simply not bothering to get any work done, binging Youtube videos and enjoying some good video game beats. It’s made me feel a lot more lazy in general and it made me realize that I may need some kind of big refreshening beyond trying to expand out and learn new projects (which didn’t work out that well, if my attempt to break into learning Blender in 2021 is of any indication).

And if you’re wondering about conventions, they can only really go so far in the grand scheme of things when it comes to keeping me motivated. While I love having them back in full swing for the first time since 2019 so I can go out, get exercise, and meet up with friends, they don’t really help keep my motivation at a high pace once I return home, and in July and August there was either a convention, a birthday party, or a video game night/event on every single weekend whenever it be Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday. It pretty much prevented me from getting a good, long break to rest my legs from whatever event(s) happened before the next one started up the following weekend. And this is ontop of the stress from my mother’s surgeries in late June and early July messing up the entire family routine though the following two months (and this is after already having surgery the prior Winter). Thankfully she’s recovering and will be able to walk by the end of the month even if she’ll be confined to a cast for a while longer.

In other words, consider this another small semi-hiatus. I didn’t want to pull out the hiatus card so soon after what was meant to be the return to making art but when I get so much on the mind and barely any time to take a breather among getting interests in a bunch of other, smaller projects catching my attention (like Doom mapping), I don’t think I’m in a state of mind where I can consistently make artwork or sprites and stay committed to one piece before moving onto other things. My workstation also currently doesn’t feel as tailored to drawing art (traditional especially) as I’d like, and the drawing tablet I got for my birthday takes up most of my desk and is too big to keep out at all times. Since it’s far too big of a scope for me at the moment I’m also putting game dev and 3D art through Blender a pass for now, though I do intend to pick them up when things improve. As for art, well, maybe I need to rediscover my passion for it after it slowly faded in the late 2010’s and it never really recovered since the pandemic’s beginning?

I have so many questions and not enough answers, and I won’t know for sure until things start getting better around here and I have more encouragement, knowledge, and determination to dive into doing bigger things. As for this blog, I’m unsure when I’ll get around to posting new content proper, but if nothing comes then I’ll likely reserve an entire post for New York Comic Con 2022 mid-October.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

The 2022 Convention Update: Eternal Con and Long Island Retro Gaming Expo

Well I’m back again. I intended to have something else written up earlier this month but I didn’t really bother to go into researching for it just yet so… good thing I just finished a convention!

Since I did the same thing last year, I’m grouping these two conventions into a single blogpost especially since my coverage for one of the cons is undoubtedly bigger than the other; and there’s several reasons for that, as dumb as it sounds. But first, I need to come out and say this summer has been a very strange and unexpected series of events and it turned out far, far more different that I had hoped. My mother went into surgery in the middle of June, was on the way to recovery, suddenly tripped and broke her ankle, and went into surgery again to the point that she needed pretty much the rest of the season, all the way to the very end of August, to heal. So I spent the summer season of conventions without her, and it casted a shadow of sorts over the first convention of the season: Eternal Con.

Unlike prior years, Eternal Con, usually a late June convention, rescheduled to early July and took place at an entirely new venue… that was also smaller and divided up into two floors. The main level of the venue, the upper level, was the artist’s alley, and the lower level was the dealer’s room. It reminded me of how the first two years of AnimeNYC divided their dealer’s room and artist’s alley to separate floors but with how Eternal Con’s venue was laid out the stairs felt like they were too out of the way if you wanted to shift between floors and there was no elevator either. Thus I put most of my focus on the artist’s alley and only gave the dealer’s room two brief visits during the time I was there. And in the dealer’s room I simply wandered and only interacted with one person who was creating a card game based around professional wrestling. He asked to stay in touch, but by the time I left the building, I had forgotten his name and trying to contact him through the game’s contact form left me with no response.

Since the weekend Eternal Con took place on was also the very same weekend as the final day of Summer Games Done Quick 2022, I opted to go to the convention on Sunday, aka the “shorter, lesser day” typical of conventions, which was fine as Eternal Con was always a 4-5 hour convention for me as early as 2017 and didn’t have enough spectacle to make me stay for longer. Unfortunately for me, I was very disorganized from my mother’s recent injury that I forgot to pack a frozen portable water bottle to bring into the convention, and I was not one to consider using the public drinking fountains because, you know, pandemic. Another factor to my visit being more brief than usual was the absence of two artists that I had a close friendship with that I once could always count showing up from 2017 to 2019. One had moved away from New York during the pandemic after being clogged up with professional work, and the other was simply a no-show even after having already seen them at two other events this year (once in early April, and again in mid-May). 

Since they’re usually an integral part of these convention trips for me, you’re probably wondering if I took any photos of cosplayers at the event? And the short answer is… I did. However, because of my general dislike for how local comic conventions with low admission fees invite in cosplay that… usually leaves much to be desired, this easily became my smallest collection of cosplay photos at only 10 photos, beating out Derpycon 2016’s 15 photo count. The cosplay at Eternal Con was still pretty good, but when your con doesn’t pull in the same numbers as larger conventions do, your options for good cosplays that I enjoy can get kind of limited. And the only reason I usually dodged taking cosplay shots at New York Comic Con in October was because there were so, so many cosplays to take note of and the huge crowds made it difficult to get good cosplay shots until attendance begins to shrink in the later hours of the event.

So that was pretty much Eternal Con 2022; not as great as it was back then, but it was still a good time and I hope next year it’ll grow to work better in this new venue, especially since it’s more than just vendors and cosplay the drive conventions for me.

With that said, onto Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2022. Right off the bat, I was much more prepared for this convention in comparison to Eternal Con, packing some actual water to bring with me into the convention and as a result the stay was a total of 8 hours. The main lobby where the vendor hall was located was much of the same and was easily the most crowded area until it was closed late into each day. Instead of large booklets, attendees were handed small pocket schedules- they worked for what they did but they lack the charm and care put into the usual convention booklets and the background information they would provide on the venue, the special guests, the panels, etc.

The east side of the venue that previously went unused in past years (at least, for gaming content) was now used to house four distinct sections, including two relocated from the second and third floors and greatly expanded. I’m of course talking about the museum and classic PC gaming sections, both of which returned with many new additions and offered a great variety of games to play. Perhaps the biggest surprise of the museum section was a fully-operational Sharp X1 with Super Mario Bros. Special. The other two sections in this area were for console free play and competitive tournaments; the former felt kind of barren despite the number of games available, and the latter had tournaments for modern games when their predecessors that received ports at some point would have fit in more closely with the convention’s retro aesthetic. The tournament area was also very, very small and not spectator-friendly, especially with the lack of any projectors or larger screens to showcase the current active tournament(s) causing dense crowds to huddle over the small monitors of each game currently being played.

Of course being a retro game convention, you have to have arcade machines, and just like 2019 there were two arcades: one located on the west side of the venue on the first floor, and the other on the second floor just above the freeplay area. The first of the arcades was loaded with Japanese candy cabinets featuring games with no/limited exports outside Japan and a few modern rhythm games, plus an entire small section devoted to pinballs and small is how I would describe the pinball area in general: it had only eight games total and saw very constant use through the event. At least unlike the tournament section the pinballs stayed within the “2010 or earlier” mentality. The second arcade, located on the second floor just above the free play sections and tournaments, contained more conventional and well-known games to American audiences, like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders, etc. With how many times I already played these arcade games and with all the other, more unique offerings across the freeplay areas, I generally Ignored both arcades and stuck to console freeplay.

The second floor’s main attraction was the timeline exhibit, a chronological order of various consoles from 1972’s Odyssey to 2006’s Playstation 3. I played a good few of the games in the exhibit and very nearly went for another 1CC attempt at Super Mario Bros. Deluxe until I decided that the time wasn’t worth it. Besides the tournament section and some 16-player Mario Kart: Double Dash!! exhibitions on the first floor, another form of competition was the High Score Challenges, in which players entered to attempt to set the best scores on a given game during a specific two-hour period. One of the games featured was Rock-Ola’s fast-paced arcade game Nibbler, a game I’ve had some experience with before and remember being able to score decently well in when I first played the machine two or so years ago. I gave it a go since it was a fairly easy setup, and scored 63,470 points in one attempt. That one attempt, surprisingly, won the challenge and I got a small medal for my efforts, though the extra prize the win also came with (a mouse and keyboard converter for modern consoles) doesn’t seem like something I would find myself using.

As the day drew to the close, the absurdly loud band I had mentioned in 2019’s review of the event took over the second floor to perform remixes of notable retro game songs while in costume. Make no mistake, it was a very loud performance (especially since all the spectators had to stand) and I only stuck around for a brief bit before taking it as my cue to leave the building after an eight-hour stay. By that point, the vendor’s hall was shut down for the day and all that remained open was the freeplay areas and some tournaments for Guilty Gear Strive, Tekken 7, and King of Fighters XV (although Guilty Gear XX Ancient Core Plus, Tekken 3 or 5: Dark Resurrection, and King of Fighters ’98 or 2002 UM would have fit the convention better, as I alluded to earlier).

And that was pretty much the end of the summer conventions for the year. Eternal Con has seen better days and I hope it finds a stride to improve with a bigger artist’s alley and more things to do. My wishes for Long Island Retro Gaming Expo are similar; get some more games in the freeplay areas and improve the tournament game setup with more era-appropriate titles.

That said, catch you later.

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Summer Games Done Quick 2022: Back At it

Another six months have passed, another seven days of 127 different video game runs brought to us by Games Done Quick. I took the week off to enjoy the show, and it was a solid good. And now I’m busy trying to catch up with work and get back on my typical routine.

Now where were we again? Right, the event.

Since the pandemic had been receding since this winter, in person gatherings have started to spring back up in full force. And this was one of those events. Yes, for the first time in two and a half years, Games Done Quick abandoned the “Online” era to make a big and epic resurgence to their in-person events that originally put them on the map, and this time they were adopting a new hybrid event format allowing a limited number of runs to be live-streamed from the comfort of the runners’ homes. As someone that loved the aspects of remote runs and the sheer accessibility they provided, especially to those that lived too far from the event to travel there and stay at a hotel, this was a model that I hugely appreciated- and the runner’s audio was combined with the Twitch crowd’s to increase the version like they were really there.

There was of course a caveat to the live crowd’s return. Since the pandemic was still very much ongoing, alongside strict safety procedures being enforced throughout the marathon, the seats were spaced out and only covered half the size it did in previous live events. This led to more moments than usual where there was nothing but dead air in the crowd and its reactions, and a lot of memes of the pre-online era being either not as prevalent as they once were (ORB!) or completely dead (HONK!, though I think that was because Untitled Goose Game was “flavor of the month” material). The decreased number of seats made it much easier to notice when people weren’t piling in to watch the streams live, and on Tuesday morning in particular the crowd camera was positioned in just a way that the feed appeared to show absolutely no one, making it look desolate.

In fact, according to outside sources, this GDQ turned out the lowest peak viewership of any marathon in the past few years, and that's after the pandemic already cut peak viewership in half for SGDQ 2020, meaning donations lagged behind quite a bit and incentives once again struggled to be met, causing the runs before when a bonus run would occur to be showered in hosts begging for people to donate, often to excessive levels. And in spite of that, the incentives to unlock bonus runs were pretty huge for the audience it was able to pull in. It still was able to make $3 Million by the final day, thanks to some last minute pushes, but maybe the incentives to unlock bonus runs should be scaled back a bit until the marathon recovers its viewership?

With how much I sung the praises of this new onsite/online hybrid format, the onsite half clearly took the priority by a wide, wide margin— only roughly 20 of the runs featured were online, while the remaining 100 were on-site. Looking at the submission list that was available before the schedule’s release date, you can see a great deal of run submissions from all over the world, including Europe, and it makes me wonder just how different the event would be if several more remote runners were let into the marathon. Obviously the remote blocks would be bigger and/or more frequent, but the live runs would remain the main focus of the marathon. If expertly timed, these remote blocks could be used to have runs that would fill the pretty dead early morning hours of each day (since Europe is ahead by 6-8 hours and Japan/Australia by several more hours) or have their run time be used to set up for a more ambitious run that otherwise requires a lengthy setup time at the site (probably not going to happen since the rhythm game runs this marathon were remote and I have a feeling that’ll also be the case for AGDQ 2023, but still).

The layout of the stream was another thing that I thought looked a bit… off. While it worked as intended, the game/run infobox which showed the title, the console, and year of release of the current game plus the current category and estimated runtime of the current run stuck out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the layout, flipping between displaying the game info and the run info at a slow pace in fields that seemed too small for the game’s release year and console instead of showing everything at once. Just look at the infobox design for SGDQ2022 and you'll see what I mean:

Compare and contrast AGDQ 2022’s version of the game/run info part of the layout, which blended with the new layout’s aesthetic better, had just the right amount of room and showed everything in one swoop:

The “new” layout previously made an appearance at GDQ’s Frost Fatales event in February, and I didn’t like it there either. If the reasoning for shifting to this design is to make the game info easier to read, taking the AGDQ 2022 design and increasing the overall font size would work, since you rarely come across a game with a title that’s long enough that it needs to be split into multiple rows or a console that uses more than ten characters due to using abbreviations instead of the full names. (And heck, the game info text stayed relatively the same size between the new layout and the "new" layout).

At the end of the day both layouts work fine, though I do wonder what happened in the background after AGDQ 2022 and before Frost Fatales 2022 that made them go through with this "new" game info section after only one marathon. I did hear the layout was still in a WIP state around the time of AGDQ 2022 but I would have thought that the Frost Fatales 2022 variant was only a temporary fix until they could refine the game infobox for SGDQ 2022... Maybe by AGDQ 2023 we'll see a return to the AGDQ 2022 design?

Anyways, enough wasting time about a small box of text, time to talk about those runs. Without talking about the runners themselves the marathon still suck to the “niche games in the early/late mornings, bigger marketable hits in the afternoon/evening” format of recent GDQ’s, which I’ve come to accept as something that would never change. It does make some afternoons feel like a slog when you’re given multi-hour runs of games back to back that have very little in the way of fast-paced energy. Take Monday afternoon’s back-to-back combo of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (2019) and ICO, for example. Two rather slow-paced games that don’t have much in the way of speed and thrill lumped together despite how well the games were played by their respective runners. Compare that to Tuesday’s Yakuza: Like a Dragon; a game that, while much longer, had enough fast action, thrills, and humor to help one endure the 4-hour run. RPG runs usually become the “background audio while I do something else to pass the time” moments during the marathon so it’s nice to see one that breaks the mold, and I heard the Xenoblade Chronicles 2 run was worth a watch but I was too sleep-deprived from the Silly Block to stay focused on it (more info on that later).

The one thing I was the most delighted for when the schedule was initially released earlier this spring was the return of a full, meaty four-run Mega Man block on Tuesday, after spending SGDQ 2021 and AGDQ 2022 as mostly an afterthought. The Sonic block, meanwhile, had one of its runs early on Sunday before the block officially begun on Wednesday, only for Knuckles to steal the show and (save for one run) turn the block into the Knuckles the Echidna block thanks to winning two different character choice bid wars. The Castlevania block, usually a pretty run-rich block in other marathons, only had two games this year, and the horror block of Monday night, Tuesday morning just came and went, but I think that’s from me not being up to see the whole thing.

What I was up to watch was the Silly Block of Thursday morning, which was very much worth it, although I had to tune out of Mi Scusi and Turnip Boy Commits Tax Evasion cause DEEEER Simulator absolutely floored me, and I nearly feel asleep watching Incredible Crisis after barely sleeping the prior night to catch the entire block live. Heck, I pretty much spent all of Thursday desperate for sleep, which is nothing new for me while watching GDQ events but I would absolutely not recommend warping your sleep schedule just for this, unless you already wake up at 6 in the morning. Then again I appreciate this Silly Block starting at 6 AM instead of… 3AM and having a longer runtime and selection of games overall, since AGDQ 2022’s Awful Block felt way, way too short and had most of it swallowed up by Zelda's Adventure.

Part of the delayed start for the Silly Block can be attributed to the event’s schedule falling behind by a few hours due to setup times so to cut the schedule down so the finale wouldn’t be at 6 AM, the runs for Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon and Superheat VR were canceled. Half Life Alyx was dropped prior to the start of the marathon because the runner caught Covid and Macbat 64 was skipped due to its runner supposedly sleeping through when the run would have taken place. It’s a realistic problem when you put all the games not many people are familiar with and shove them all into the early mornings even if the chance of someone oversleeping is pretty rare. And it’s where those early-morning remote blocks that go through those few hours in the United States I mentioned earlier could, theoretically, be put to effective use, especially for international audiences.

Speaking of remote runs and runs that didn’t count, Metal Gear Rising: Revengence. I’ve always had a big love for this game, especially after the massive resurgence the game received earlier this year, and the first time in a while it got approved to show up in a GDQ, I got pumped and eagerly waited for it to slice onto the GDQ show floor Thursday night. It easily became one of the most fun and exciting runs of the event… and then the bonus Blade Wolf DLC run that followed afterwards was revealed to be pre-recorded and spliced together rather than done live, with no hints that it was a "showcase" run until it happened. It made news on a good few gaming-oriented websites and the run (and I mean all of it, not just the DLC) was axed entirely from Youtube.

I should illiterate that people don't usually come onto these speedrun events/marathons to set records, and nothing in the marathon pushes runners to go and attempt WR's in a marathon setting. Sure, they do happen, but they're so infrequent that the difference in sheer hype between someone finishing a run or even getting a PB to outright claiming a new WR is rather miniscule. AGDQ 2022 set so many because the games that did have new WR's set were either from the games being relatively new with a small number of active runners, or an obscure category.

The entire debacle also puts the concept of remote runs on shaky ground, especially after a similar dilemma occurred the prior weekend during GDQ Hotfix’s Juneteenth event (though for different reasons) and I’d be scared if Games Done Quick considers abandoning the concept of remote runs at AGDQ 2023 or phases them out of future mainline marathons because of these bad eggs and especially after two years and four marathons worth of successful remote runs.

The final two days of the event seemed to just breeze on by, with the highlights being the “Beta Showcase” for The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which is more accurately a full-on rom hack performed live through tool-assisted arbitrary code execution incorporating a barrage of beta, cut, and rumored content. After that was two Kaizo-level Super Mario World hacks, one of them being a sequel to the 2019 Relay Race that I ripped the OST of earlier this year, and it (along with the Mario Maker relay race the following day) made me realize how much the hype of the relay races of live marathons was huge for the last legs of the marathon. 

Overall, Summer Games Done Quick 2022 was a solid marathon, even if it didn’t come close to breaking the $3.4 million record. While I thought AGDQ 2022 had something of a stronger game lineup, it was nice to see another new marathon in the books after so long and a live one at that. Now I wonder if they’ll bring back Games Done Quick Express one of these years since TwitchCon is underway again…?

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Combo Breaker 2022 and SJB in the FGC

Man that was quite the mouthful of a title. Anyways, Summer is upon us, the days are longer, and now it’s time for something, somewhat different.

During the Friday before the final weekend of May, I was randomly skimming around the internet and found out late that same night Combo Breaker 2022 was live. After going “huh, neat.” I jumped in and ended up binging most of the event’s headlining games, including, at least from the list of games I watched at least a good bit of; Guilty Gear Strive, Street Fighter V, Tekken 7, King of Fighters XV, Dragon Ball FighterZ, Killer Instinct 2013, and Them’s Fighting’ Herds plus a helping dose of platform fighters in the form of Smash Melee and Ultimate, plus Nickelodeon All-Star Brawl. What appealed to me the most about this tournament, even in the years I didn’t watch it, was just how broad and varied the main game lineup was. You got the new stuff everyone’s hyped for, alongside several older fighters that don’t make common appearances in events in modern ages (especially notable with Vampire Savior, aka Darkstalkers 3, as well as the final arcade releases of Street Fighter II and III). This representation of older games was especially true for the “Chicago’s Famous Mystery Tournament”, a tournament featuring a random grab bag of competitive multiplayer games including those outside the fighting game genre itself, capping off with a big finale in the form of taking several dozen arcade and early home console games and putting them into a WarioWare-styled lighting round blender. And the goal was, as hinted by the WarioWare comparisons, to beat the opponent in each round, most of them only lasting several seconds, and whoever won 25 rounds first was the winner.

Despite how great the event was and how I dropped most of everything productive that weekend to enjoy the show, watching Combo Breaker made me further realize why I hardly invest in playing fighting games as is, and that’s mostly from how much they, especially modern fighting games, really try to push you into online modes at the expense of having much to offer to someone that prefers singleplayer or local multiplayer. As someone that struggles with being dealt losses in games in general, especially online games where something is at stake, I especially felt that “online push” with Guilty Gear Xrd- besides the tutorial it pretty much only had the arcade ladder and the mission mode as its main singleplayer, and the Story Mode, a feature you usually see time and time again in fighters in the 2000’s, was reduced to a movie with no interactive elements, and that design choice carried over into Strive, which at least had rollback net code to improve the quality of online matches.

Needless to say this greater focus and ongoing trend towards fighting games guiding you, for better or for worse, into playing their online multiplayer modes above all else, especially ranked, made me not dive into Strive (as well at Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XIV and XV) the moment I got the physical copies on PS4 and made me want to wait out until further character DLC’s beefed up the roster count a bit before diving in. There’s also the case of a lack of a good PS4 fight stick to use on my part, which I mostly attribute to there being so many options to pick from and not knowing which one is the right choice for me without spending too much money.

And you may be wondering, sure, I do indeed have a fight stick that I ordered custom-made several years back, but it was a very expensive custom build and I would not want to break it further after having to conduct several repairs to it by hand, including to the internal wiring, and I already purchased several hundreds on birthday goods and don’t feel like making a big, expensive purchase on a new fight stick that I don’t currently see myself using a lot. I guess in the end I always saw myself more as an observer of fighting games as I always struggled to memorize character inputs or pick and choose a dedicated main. I don’t even touch Super Smash Bros, a game I used to play pretty often in my late middle school years thanks to Brawl, all that much anymore, and I only played Ultimate to unlock all the characters then didn’t touch it much after that, even when the DLC characters made their grand entrance.

Watching Combo Breaker live also brought to mind just how dominant and absolutely everywhere the Training Stages were. They didn’t necessarily “ruin” the matches but it got absolutely ridiculous when the grand majority of matches in modern day fighting games (primarily Street Fighter V and King of Fighters XV, two mainline games featured as part of the event). Why do they happen so much? Well, I watched a video on it from Maximilian Dood and chatted with some buds on Twitter about training or practice stages, and it mostly came down to having very little to no obstructive background features, having a grid to line up attacks, and not being as resource-intensive as the normal stages. The few people I’ve talked to about how these training stages, the “grids” especially, could be improved without straining the game’s ability to run at a locked or consistent frame rate or introducing distracting background elements suggested turning them into traditional dojos or gyms with some of the visual features of “the grid” intact. Improving visibility and contrast in the main arenas and not going absolutely overboard with background (and foreground!) details to destroy the frame rate during a fight would also help… maybe give each stage day/evening and night variants that always bask the fighters under a glow that makes them easier to tell apart from the background.

So that was my brief talk about fighting games and the crazy final weekend event of May that led to the creation of this post. Will I ever get invested in playing these fighters regularly, especially as part of a potential ‘venture into streaming gameplay? Honestly I have no idea. Maybe at some point in the future if I end up deciding to binge a collective of modern and retro one on one, side-scrolling tournament fighters one evening, rework my setup to better work with playing fighting games as well as streaming them, or meet some local people or groups on Long Island that are into fighting games (not just platform fighters like Smash Bros.) once the pandemic calms down. I do have considerable interest in Street Fighter 6, since it seems to address a lot of what turned me off from touching the initial builds of Strive and has no signs of what made Street Fighter V so polarizing at launch to a lot of people back then. Plus from the leaks, it looks like it’ll have a much meatier roster at launch compared to Street Fighter V, even if it doesn’t seem like it’s going all out with the returning characters (understandable considering everyone is getting new, high-def models).

Now if you’ll excuse me I got a birthday summary to write, cause my 28th birthday was very, very recentely.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Breakout and... not much else.

More than ten years ago (jeez I feel really old...), I made a pretty large blog post cataloging some then-interests of mine from what was the time when I entered my final year of high school. Nowadays a lot of those hobbies have either come and gone, or just gone entirely in recent years. Since I only have time to talk about one of these past hobbies of mine, I'll quick go over the others:

  • Dot.s has long ended its production line and an attempt to bring the line back doesn't seem likely, especially for those not in the native region of Japan. The last I've done with the product was buy and assemble the larger Super Mario Bros. set for a retro game store as a gift and these days, having already owned several of the sets (including the much rarer "King of Games Legend of Zelda" set now out of print), I stopped collecting more. The Dot.s Design Builder is still available for download from the Mediafire link, as well as this Mega backup. That said good luck finding much about the actual toy line itself thanks to the very generic name they chose for it.
  • Kye is still around, sort of. Development on Xye has stopped and my update to my personal level pack bundled with the game is currently on indefinite hold. The newest version of Kye is a web-based version known as Ultimate Kye and some of the alternate versions of the original Windows 3.1 game have been archived following the posting of the original blogpost, including all of the Christmas editions and Dr. Floyd's Kye. These alternative versions can now be found at this unofficial homepage for the series.
  • Trainyard no longer works on modern devices and I recall many of the game's online functions regarding the custom level system stopped functioning altogether. With the developer's current focus on other projects I have no say on if they'll return to give Trainyard modern ports anytime soon. If I ever learn programing, I might consider making a PC port or spiritual successor with a very experimental tertiary colors mode (however, that might make an already complex puzzle game even more confusing, hence the experimental comment).
  • The Pac-Man fangames are too obscure to really say anything about them, though I did (surprisingly) get Dodger registered from the original author through e-mail back in 2012 or so.
With that out of the way, I'd like to divert your attention to some breakout games that were made for DOS in the late 80's and early-to-mid 90's. And if you've been to this blog before years back, odds are you know which one will be taking part of the spotlight.

That's right, it's Aquanoid, I originally got this game registered in early 2012 roughly six months after getting back into it and made a few extra posts to help others on how to register it. These days, however, both Stefan and Karsten appear to have fallen under radio silence if me having not been able to reach them through e-mail and their website going under is any indication. It only highlights a greater problem with late 80's early 90's shareware games in general: Sure you can play the limited 20-level version of the game, but unless you're really lucky, odds are the original author that would otherwise take your money and send you the full copy is no longer available to contact. Either because they moved and had no address to redirect to, no e-mail set up, no website that still exists or is functional, and/or no modern-day port or digital storefront release later on. With no contacts with the original authors/sellers, owners of the game would be forced to upload and distribute the game preserve it online forever and ensure other people who expressed an interest in buying and playing the full version would actually get the chance to enjoy it, as with what happened with CHAMPrograming's line of arcade ports for DOS.

To make a long story short, Aquanoid, among many other DOS games, is a victim of "Keep Circulating the Tapes", in where a product is essentially considered lost or partially lost because you can't secure a working full version in present times without jumping through a million hoops to dig up old mailing addresses, website archives, and e-mails. I might have gotten lucky with the above-mentioned Dodger as well as the obscure Qix clone Gotcha! since the authors of both games contacted me through e-mail to send me the registered versions after I sent them letters, but with Super Ball!, another DOS Breakout clone, the method didn't work and I simply had my money and letter sent back to me, ensuring that we'll all be stuck with the 5-level unregistered version of Super Ball! for the foreseeable future.

As for the game itself, it still remains a fun time, though it's also challenging and falls victim to not having all its levels designed around its very limited number of angles the ball can travel in, leading to the ball getting stuck without abusing the "Tilt" function to set it free provided it doesn't result in the ball entering another endless loop. The difficulty of the level order is also horribly unbalanced- Many easy levels with very little if any multi-hit or indestructible blocks are scattered into the late-game territory, giving you many opportunities for powerups to just grind for one of the two exit powerups and cheese the level, while on the flipside there are plenty of levels early on that can take a while to complete, either because powerups are scarce or just not available or there's indestructables scattered everywhere, especially in spots that are hard to reach. On the positive side it's one of the few Breakout clones that lets you choose the direction to aim the ball in before serving it (but not while it's active, so no influencing its direction afterwards by hitting it with one end of your paddle), there's good variety of powerups even if most of them are just variants of each other, and in the full version there's five level sets, the default and four extras, plus an editor. Surprisingly, in a feat that doesn't come around too often for a shareware demo, the shareware levels are completely unique to that version and make no appearance in the registered version, which is also the case with our next Breakout clone.

Ladies and gents, meet Electranoid (or "Enoid", as I often see it get called). Like Aquanoid, it was released in an identical  Shareware/Registered format and has completely different levels between the shareware and registered versions. Unlike Aquanoid, the registered version was, for a time, available for free from its now defunct official website under the condition that no other site host it. Compared to the two-man duo that created Aquanoid surviving into the 2010's, Electranoid's Pixel Painters failed to reach the post-Y2K era, making the registered version completely impossible to obtain fully legitimately these days. At least the registered version can still be found online if you know where to look.

Compared to Aquanoid, I didn't have much backstory with Electranoid beyond it being on the same shareware disk I obtained from my grandfather that contained Aquanoid. It also suffers from not working on certain PC builds that could otherwise run DOS games without the aid of emulators, including my Windows 2000, and I needed to get DOSBox up and running in order for it to fully work. The relative rarity of the registered version (despite being available for free at some point from Pixel Painters' website) also meant that the password system would go un-decoded for two and a half decades until very recently when a full password list of the game's 100 levels dropped.

And then there's playing Electranoid itself. While the presentation is great and feels very DOS-like and the difficulty balancing through the levels is more streamlined, Electranoid is, at least in my own opinions, a more difficult game to play optimally and skillfully compared to Aquanoid and you have no difficulty options if you're looking for something a bit easier or more difficult. Most of the game's presentation seems designed specifically to waste your time, whenever it be through the absurdly long (re)spawn times unless you remember to hold the Shift key, or the pool of enemies that make clearing levels more challenging being much more effective at hindering your simple goal of breaking every block in a level compared to most other Breakout clones. In the forefront is the Green Menacer, turning blocks into indestructible metallic green blocks with its green ball, requiring you to swipe a Red Menacer's red ball to get rid of them or have a Bronze or Silver Menacer change it to a multi-hit bronze or silver block so you at least can hit/remove it with your own ball or projectiles. Doing all of these is an exercise in patience and frustration. Why? Not only are the Menacer balls slow as molasses and hard to aim with your paddle, they all self-destruct if they hit another enemy, and sometimes an enemy you need can kill itself on the spot if it launches a ball in an enclosed gap and has no time to float away before its own ball bounces back and destroys it. There's also the "Kaizo Trap", if god forbid you lose your ball after the level's cleared before you have a chance to exit, especially if your paddle is still in the middle of de-equipping either the Laser or Missile powerups.

Electranoid is full of positives and negatives, intentional and not. If I was still doing my full reviews from years back it would easily be a 7.5/10 game. It's got colorful graphics, catchy music, good level design that gradually ramps up in challenge, a very unique set of enemies different from the basic "get in your way" types, and it's good for basic high score runs if you're not committed to reaching the end of the 100-level journey. If you were hoping for some extra features, there's no editor or alternate level sets to give the game stronger replay value. Thankfully the default (and only) levelset is solid enough, and there's no overly cheap level designs, barring the Green Menacer's antics slowing the game down severvely if it decides to get itself going.

While I didn't discover it until months after Aquanoid and Electranoid, 1988's Pop Corn ended up becoming a good favorite of mine. Like Aquanoid, it was made by a two-man group, this time the French duo of Christophe Lacaze and Frederick Raynal. The most notable aspect is the use of CGA graphics, a mere 4 colors total, yet despite that limitation it still manages to make use of them as well as it realistically could. Limitations breed creativity, they always said. It also may be the closest any of these DOS Breakout cones get to mimicking Arkanoid as a whole- but it does it so well and it even comes with a level editor that, unlike Aquanoid's, can make individual level sets that are loaded in by themselves. It's also freeware, ditching the shareware/registered model of the other Breakout clones mentioned above.

The level design in Pop Corn is good and never really gets as evil as the likes of Aquanoid, but like your typical Arkanoid there's the good deal of having to navigate around indestructible blocks and as with Electranoid, none of the powerups available to you can plow through them. There are also teleporter blocks that teleport the ball across the level, parachute blocks that deploy a parachute and make the ball float down slowly, and special "theater" blocks that gradually reveal a short looping animation as you destroy them, said animation also serving as a solid wall. Despite the animations you get out of them being somewhat charming, the theater blocks slow the game down to a glacial pace, especially if you struggle with hitting the two theater blocks wedged in the middle of the pack of six.

Unlike the fate of the other two games above, Pop Corn is still around to some extent, as it was given a modern HTML5 port (as well as versions on mobile) back in 2013. The original 1988 release also includes a separate editor program to make custom level sets in a similar manner to Aquanoid (as well as the DOS port of Arkanoid II: the Revenge of DoH), which sadly doesn't return in the remake and forces you to the original 50-level level set. If you want to play Pop Corn on DOSBox, however, you need to boot up POPSPEEED.exe in the emulator, type POPSPEEED 100, then POPCORN to launch the game into the title screen, then set the cycles count of the emulator to around 300 to keep the speed of all the different elements consistent. It's confusing, and yet it somehow works despite not really being a convenient and user-friendly way to start a game.

I'll admit, my time with breakout clones on DOS only lasted a few years and soon enough the interest fizzled out, though I still pop open Electranoid and Pop-Corn to watch demos of them play out while I work on my projects or artwork. Since then I've discovered many, many other breakout clones, none of which I'd say come close to being the "perfect" breakout clone, marrying the arcade feel of Arkanoid with the sheer volume of features, block types, and flexible editors of modern breakout clones. And while my own Breakout clone, Otaku-Ball, is close to that ideal Breakout experience for me, marrying a heaping tons of features and map gimmicks and having a very flexible editor, I'm considering going back to the drawing board to create a second attempt at "the ultimate breakout" if I can ever get down to learning game development to create something with a more streamlined art and audio direction.

I meant to have this post out in September last year but then I lost interest and forgot about it until rather recentely. After reading this blogpost over before posting, I began to wonder, will I ever get back into a wave of binging and playing retro Breakout games like these again? Honestly I'm not very sure on that.