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.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The 2022 Convention Update: Castle Point Anime Convention 2022

 After months of anticipating the return of conventions, April hit me like a truck, bringing the full force of con season back into my conscious. Castle Point’s 2022 iteration is the first true convention I’ve attended since November 2019, a whopping 29 months prior. Before that, I did go to a smaller-scale local convention on April 2nd known as EMCon and its small scale was a good warmup, even if I personally don’t think it should be called an anime con from how much of it leans more greatly into general pop culture and doesn’t embrace the anime theme as much as these larger anime cons do.

So April came and went, and on April 30th it was time to make the drive down to the Meadowlands Exposition Center to attend the convention’s first day. As the pandemic was still a large concern at that point, vaccinations and masks were required by all attendees inside the building (thank god), but since everything was jam-packed into a very small venue, some parts of it felt rather cramped, especially in the first few hours. The dealer’s room and artist’s alley were tightly packed from the morning and early-afternoon crowds of attendees and it wouldn’t be until the early evening when it felt comfortable enough to walk through without having to dodge everyone. Because of just how ridiculous things could get at this convention in particular, there were lines to get into the dealer’s room and the artist’s alley and people sat at the entrances monitoring the number of people entering and exiting the respective sections, and unlike in 2019, you were allowed to exit from the entry point instead of a dedicated exit.

The artist’s alley was easily the highlight of the convention, as it’s been for most of the cons I go to year-by-year. Being able to meet artists, check out their artwork, and socialize with them about various topics is what drives me to attend CPAC every year, and once the crowds dissipated it was fun to stroll through, as I did several times. The dealer’s room has always been a hard sell for me since I usually don’t come to conventions to buy merchandise and other physical media that I can (usually) just go and buy online. Making matters worse was that while the line for the artist’s alley was rather short and constantly moving until emptied out, the dealer’s room had a constant line for a much, much longer period of time, and it would go from double to even triple the length of the artist’s alley line in the convention’s opening hours. The dealer’s room also didn’t have any big booths of vendors suspending tall stacks of merchandise or posters/wall scrolls to serve as sort-of landmarks or focal points, and this, combined with the outer two isles being significantly shorter than the middle isle, made the dealer’s room a big slog to walk through.

In stark contrast to the dealer’s room and artist’s alley, the gaming area had a very large amount of space to roam. Multiple different console games and a few PC’s lined the left half of the space, offering multiplayer titles (mostly fighting games) like Smash Ultimate (twice!), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Kill La Kill If, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Dragon Ball FighterZ, and Guilty Gear Strive. On the right was the arcade setup and the lineup consisted entirely of, with a few exceptions, Japanese rhythm games like Dance Dance Revolution, Pop’n Music, Sound Voltex, Project DIVA Arcade, and Taiko no Tatsujin. I didn’t play any of the machines because they had pretty lengthy lines and you can already find most of them at Round 1 arcades all-year-round. In fact, most of the console games that were in the game room fell under this too, whenever they be one of the many modern titles or the rare retro game. Thus, except for a session of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with three others in the final hour of the game room, I pretty much just watched all the action and used the chairs to take a brief break from walking around.

Tucked into the back of the main convention area was the live stage, which housed various vocal musical performances for all to hear. And I really do mean “all”. The volume levels for the speakers on the stage were set so high that you could practically hear the beats even if you were all the way on the opposite end of the convention, and at that distance you couldn’t understand anything besides the thuds of the speakers and the high notes of the singers’ voices. Everything else was inaudible and it made talking and hearing in the convention much more difficult, as I had to raise my voice through a mask to the point that I begun losing my voice, and my inability to step out of the artist’s alley and drink water on the fly only made it worse. I’m convinced if there was a possibility the stage could be moved to a separate building so it wouldn’t interfere with the rest of the convention, it would.

Despite the sounds of the stage blasting through every inch of the convention it was still a good time, spending most of the visit snapping pics of the many cosplays at the event, chatting with artists, buying commissions of my characters, and spectating the games in the game room. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be all colors and rainbows, as one of the attendees would sneak into the artist’s alley and snatch funds from one of the artists, causing bag checks to be temporarily enforced for those entering and leaving the artist’s alley. Second, the convention’s main area has practically no seating options besides the gaming area’s console gaming half and the food court, which can be absolutely painful when you consider that all these conventions opt for floors made of concrete and don’t have anything to accommodate for handicapped attendees or those with leg injuries or problems walking besides the wheelchair ramp. And even if you could get a seat, the chairs were very small and I swear I managed to break one by accident just by sitting on it. I ended up having to lug around a camping chair to sit and take a break, and even then I still ended up with both my legs absolutely wrecked from walking 8,000 steps on pure concrete for 9 hours.

During the endurance through the expo, I took a grand total of 120 different pics of cosplays. As typical of a convention all the “recent big hits” were represented. Lots of Genshin Impact, lots of Demon Slayer, lots (and lots) of My Hero Academia, some Jojo and Persona, and a few surprises and weird picks that nonetheless come off as brilliant. Is it my biggest collection yet? Well, not really. Looking at my statics from past cons, I took more at CPAC’s 2019 event, but more than 2018’s, and as for the highest amount that record still goes to AnimeNEXT 2019. I don’t focus on the photos I do take of cosplays at these events as much as dedicated photographers do, considering I don’t really experiment with different, more dynamic views of the cosplayers or edit them later before posting them.

So what’s next? Well, as you can see from the schedule I posted above, AnimeNEXT got the axe and will not be happening this year. I considered a few alternative conventions that took place around the late May/early June but none of them struck me as intriguing enough to want to attend, especially when I’m still recovering from CPAC 2022 amongst still trying to get back into the swing of drawing art and writing down character bios and game design concepts. That said, my next large event will be Eternal Con 2022 on the first weekend of July, and after that will be Long Island Retro Gaming Expo in August.

As part of the parting words for this post, here’s a link to the gallery of cosplay photos and the art commissions I received by several artists during the event.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Jazz Jackrabbit 2: the Anniversary Bash 24 Experience

Well hello; it’s a lovely day in April and here I am with a new post before “Con Prep Hell” season rears its head back into my life.

Lately I got back into putting various old computer games onto my retro Windows 2000 rig, and after installing the DOS classic Jazz Jackrabbit onto the machine, I got motivated to try out its sequel Jazz Jackrabbit 2 and spent quite some time in the single-player after buying the game itself for a shockingly cheap value of… two dollars. And… wow, I was not ready for just how feature rich Jazz 2 really was.

Take the first game, expand the character and weapon roster, add in full-blown multiplayer plus support for custom levels, and boom. That’s Jazz Jackrabbit 2 in a nutshell, and it even got an update patch thanks to a number of passionate fans in the form of Jazz Jackrabbit 2+, adding further improvements and bug fixes while keeping the general core of the game the same. This drove me further to try the online multiplayer and it honestly reminds me of the Battle Mode from Super Mario Bros. X as well as Super Mario War, but faster and with a greater excuse for players to play more offensively (especially compared to SMBX).

And to my surprise, there was a four-day event occurring just a few weeks after. Titled the “Anniversary Bash” (though I had the urge to call it the “Birthday Bash”), this yearly event brings forward fans of Jazz 2 from across the world to celebrate the game’s anniversary. The format was simple. The first two days would be dedicated to the game’s most popular multiplayer modes: Day 1 was based around Match, a basic free-for-all deathmatch mode where the goal is to build up weapons and frag other players. Day 2 was Capture, otherwise known as Capture the Flag, and if you’ve played CTF in other games you know how it works here, and it translates surprisingly well to 2D.

The final two days of the event went absolutely nuts with the game modes. Day 3 featured a variety of free-for-all modes in addition to basic vanilla Match, while Day 4 branched out from just Capture the Flag to include a bunch of team games. Highlights across these final three days include Match with random events gradually going off as the game progresses, a mode in which players must survive a crumbling structure and can use TNT to destroy it quickly and put other players (and themselves) in danger, and a variation of Capture where players score points by accumulating kills in addition to capturing flags.

Overall it was a fun time, and it gave me my largest exposure to the potential of online Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Following the event, I begun working on what I thought of the event:

The good:

  • A very large variety of modes in rotation, some of which are fun in a crazy kind of way, especially during the second half of the event when the events were turned up to 11.
  • A meaty number of maps featured in the event to sink your teeth into.
  • A killer selection of songs for the aforementioned maps, including some recognizable themes from other games.
  • Custom weapons, some more chaotic than others (including a powerful flamethrower that outpaces the base game’s Toaster, fireworks, a drill gun to destroy a large amount of destructible blocks at once, a literal nail gun to scale vertical surfaces, and hornets).

The bad:

  • Most servers you see on JJ2, including the Anniversary Bash, are based in Europe and use a system that’s built from functional but rather dated net code. if you reside in the Americas like I do, other players will appear to warp everywhere on the screen and hit you constantly with a stray shot while you struggle to shoot someone even at point blank rage, and unlike other games.
  • The Jackrabbits’ signature abilities aren’t exactly perfectly balanced to each other, as Spaz’s double jump is much more useful for traversal compared to Jazz’s high jump, Lori’s quick lunging melee, and Jazz and Lori’s heli-ear abilities. Thankfully Spaz’s moves isn’t an outright game-breaker compared to multiplayer modes in other games released at the time, so you should still be able to play well as Jazz or Lori.
  • Some of the modes on offer didn’t seem like they reached their full potential, but I can’t exactly decipher which ones and how exactly they could be improved.
  • Other, smaller general issues baked into the game due to how it was designed back when it first came out and is no fault of the Anniversary Bash itself.

I think my main gripe with the event was my inability to play it optimally due to the increased lag in how the game registers character movement. While you appear to move, jump, and shoot just fine, that information is not always relayed exactly as they appear on your screen, leading to the scenarios mentioned under Bullet #1 in “The Bad” and some unintentional comedy in the process. I was given advice and strategies to circumvent the lag and use it to my advantage but it still left me confused and dumbfounded and I usually just sprayed and prayed projectiles while running at full speed for entire matches in hopes that I'd snag a frag.

The Anniversary Bash got me wondering how different the online would feel with a more local connection, and to that extent, the possibility of hosting an occasional server from my residence. While not something that I’m considering right away as, well, I don’t exactly have the strongest PC or network, it is definitely something that I’d love to make happen once I improve my PC rig and especially once I start streaming games in my downtime.

So that’s all I really have to say about Jazz 2 and the Anniversary Bash. I’d go on but I have a convention at the end of the month and I’m currently putting focus on prepping for it as much as I realistically can.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Sonic the Hedgehog Hack Series Recordings- Version September 2021

A few years back I posted a small album of custom music tracks recorded from various ROM hacks made for the original classic Sonic the Hedgehog trilogy. Following the original post from 2017, I ripped a small sprinkle of other music tracks from hacks that released afterwards and into the following years, yet I never thought of making another public update to the album for various reasons. And if you've been following me for a while then you should all remember what happened in late 2020, I lost pretty much everything that I didn't back up online or had on one of my other computers which included these post-online uploaded tracks from the Sonic Hack Series Recordings.

So after holding off on the project for almost a year, I got inspired to do a full second round of ROM hack music rips back in Autumn 2021. And this time, all the new songs would be under a new "Part II" album to distinguish them from the first wave of songs four years prior. Some of the songs are rips from hacks covered in the original collection, while the majority of the set is from all new faces to the Hack Series Recordings. As with before, I could only rip songs that were available through an in-game sound test and, if they weren't, were available to record through standard gameplay without being disrupted by sound effects.

This time around, the songs are a mixture of rips from the following hacks:

  • I Made You a Salad!
  • Metal Sonic Rebooted
  • Mr. Cat's 16 Day Challenge
  • Return of Shadow
  • Studium
  • Sonic 1 Dragon Edition
  • Sonic Egg Factory ReMastered
  • Sonic Legacy
  • Sonic the Hedgehog Megamix
  • Sonic the Hedgehog ReOne
  • Sonic - Project Regal
  • Tisha Mania
  • Tisha Project
Not as big of a list as last time but then again I didn't really intend to go all out as I once did as the original intent was to simply update the original music pack with newer hacks and some leftovers I initially missed and gather some of the songs that I initially lost to the hard drive crash. And before I go and leave you with the download, I'd strongly recommend playing these hacks for yourself if you have an emulator or a flash cart that can run them.

Sunday, March 20, 2022

For Want of a Streamer

Well, February didn't really have any meaningful posts of note since I spent most of the time jotting ideas and working on shading the Aozora group art. Progress has been steady but February has left me with "I want winter to end already" thoughts more times than I'd like to admit and there's still a meaty to-do list I have to attend to, which is hard when you've been struggling with motivation.

After deciding to get my streaming fix with different streamers following Vinesauce's break/hiatus in mid 2021, I ended up catching onto a bunch of them and seeing just how vast the world of videogaming streaming was. This included a group of streamers from New York City that I met in 2018 and two big content creators in the form of Gamescage and Maximilian Dood.

To keep a long story short, experiencing all these other streams has made me further consider attempting the hobby myself at some point in the future. Mostly since I haven’t had much of the incentive to game as much as I once did, and the pandemic and the resulting lack of conventions and other public events has made me crave some form of social interaction where I can communicate through voice while showing off the games I love, including the overly obscure ones you wouldn’t see in a typical stream. Art progress, unfortunately, would all have to be off stream as I work far, far too slowly and sparingly compared to other artists and my previous attempts at art streams on Picarto never worked out in a way I’d like.

Now, this won’t be a venture that I plan to jump straight into, as there are many other things still on the schedule that are higher on the priority chart (besides artwork). I’ll likely give a general update on the state of the agenda later on but for now we’ll focus no the one thing that would drive the streams: my computer. While I originally got the computer for Christmas 2010 then had it drastically upgraded five years later with a new shell for my birthday in June 2015, there have been no upgrades (or fixes) to the machine since and it is still running Windows 7. Now you may be wondering, why didn’t I update it? Well, if you look closer at the date I had the computer initially upgraded in, it was still within the lifespan of the controversial Windows 8, and naturally I was skeptical about upgrading to Windows 10 as PC games and programs have a horrible rep of having poor compatibility with newer machines. With Windows 11 now being the current OS, I figured the best time to upgrade would be now-ish so my PC is better equipped to handle more intensive graphics and specs so at least a few more years.

After the lengthy and rather expensive endeavor of trying to find a good graphics card in the year 2022, will I be streaming then? Likely not right away, as I also need to evaluate and ask my friends on what I can do to improve the quality and experiences of the streams as well as combat potential spambots. Going off of personal preferences, these are what I’m considering:

  • A full overlay, which changes color each month to a different palette and (maybe) pattern.
  • “Starting soon”, “BRB”, and “Stream offline” splash screens used in their appropriate contexts.
  • No lengthy stream intro. Some online games might begin as "pre-streams" to give people a chance to populate servers and warm up before the real stream begins with voiceovers. 
  • One or two games per stream, to prevent constant jumping between games that can become monotonous the more it happens before giving a game a chance to show everything it’s got. There would be exceptions, but only if a game, or two games, would be too short or too long for one stream.
  • If the game is too long for one stream, it’ll bleed into multiple streams and get an additional part the following week.
  • Games will be played beforehand to at least get a basic grasp of how they work and learn the ins and outs of the controls.
  • No live feed of the Twitch chat in the stream to future-proof spambots (as their messages still remain in the VODs even if the message is removed).
  • Subscriptions, gifts, bit donations, and raids will appear on screen accompanied by a sound effect but will not be called out on screen to prevent distractions in games. They will also appear in a part of the stream that does not disrupt game footage.
  • Custom emotes done from scratch (I’m an artist, after all!)
  • Support for specific BetterTTV channel emotes to enable more free emotes for use in the chat.

Unlike most streams, the games I feature will be primarily dedicated to older, more obscure games with very little if no modern presence or relevance on Twitch that also work with my current setup and can be streamed. And just to ensure I don’t go “just savestate/rewind everything LUL” at the first opportunity, I have created some internal rules in play for various older games in regards to the use of emulator features, such as save states and rewinding if I intend on reaching the ending. Games recorded through a capture card, as well as older Windows games from the 90’s that don’t run well or can’t run properly on modern systems (disregarding DOS games thanks to DOSBox) will be looked into at a later date, since I’m not sure about installing a virtual machine without knowing how much I should devote to an operating system that’s over 20 years old.

I’ve also been eyeing up some better USB controllers to replace the shoddy third party 360 controllers I’ve used for ages, as well as a Stream Deck, which will only drive up the total cost of the equipment in a time where I can’t really afford to spend too much extra cash. And sure, I’ll admit I can play games decently on keyboard and mouse that aren’t first/third person shooters but depending on the genre (especially run and guns, shoot-em-ups, and some execution-heavy platformers) controllers will be mandatory. I can’t promise that controllers will make me play any better than I usually do, but we’ll see.

Anyways, I’ve been working on this post for long enough, I’ll catch you all later.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Games Done Quick: the Awesome Games Dome Quick 2022 Experience

Well I did it once and I'm doing it again. While temperatures began to drop as the second half of winter rolled in, I took the week off from working on projects to go and watch the first of the 2022 charity marathons hosted by Games Done Quick. Of course, I'm talking about Awesome Games Done Quick 2022 Online, which wrapped up Saturday last week with a grand 139 games showcased across a total of seven days. Since I was really craving a new "season" of speedruns, I wrecked my sleeping schedule just so I could catch many of the early morning runs and now I'm going to be spending some time repairing it and getting back to my normal schedule of content creation.

Summing up the marathon itself, it was very, very solid. I'd say it closely matched the quality of Summer Games Done Quick 2021 with a nice selection of runs and runners from across the globe, once again showing one of the biggest strengths the online format has brought to the events. However, the lack of an in-person crowd to help drum up excitement as you saw in live, on-site GDQ's is still absent for understandable reasons. The online format also meant weaker support for legacy and retro consoles and hardware, and this time it was especially noticeable with PC/Computer games dominating the marathon and many of the games being shown were newer releases from 2020 and 2021. On the bright side, the younger age of many of the games shown in the marathon led to many more world records being set in this one marathon compared to previous marathons, and speaking of records, a total of $3.4 million was raised--the highest Games Done Quick has ever made in a single marathon.

Many people in the Games Done Quick Discord near the end of the marathon were asking each other what their favorite preferred runs were, and with so many runs it's very, very hard for me to narrow it all down to precisely one pick. A few of the runs I've seen people cite as their favorites, unfortunately, never really caught my eye, though that's probably since I've never been into Dark Souls games or other Souls-likes in marathon settings--the same goes for RPG runs without enough action or fast pacing to hold my attention. That said, here's my favorites from the marathon from what I was able to catch live and as VOD's as of the writing of this blogpost, sorted by what "day" they were run on the schedule.

Day 1 (Sun): Donkey Kong Country 2, Mega Man 2, Marvel's Spider Man, The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

Day 2(Mon): Kirby's Dream Land 3, Crash Team Racing, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Mania, Super Mario Galaxy

Day 3(Tue): NES Block (Kyouryuu Sentai Zyuranger, Bucky O'Hare, Spacegulls, The Kiron Conquest), Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

Day 4(Wed): Sonic Block (Sonic R, Sonic Robo Blast 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II, Sonic Adventure DX), Pokemon Crystal, GeoGuessr, ShootMania Storm, Trackmania

Day 5(Thu): Diddy Kong Racing, Awful Games Done Quick Block (Taz-Mania, Meegah Mem II, The Simpsons: Bart's House of Weirdness, Sonic Jam (Game.Com), Zadette), Discworld, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, Lost Judgement, Kingdom Hearts II Final Mix HD, Resident Evil Village

Day 6(Fri): crossbeats REV. Sunrise, Ultraman Ball, Rockman & Forte, Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, Portal Reloaded, Super Mario 3D Land, Stepmania

Day 7(Sat): Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon R, the Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night, Casio Mario World, Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, Halo: Combat Evolved, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Tetris: the Grand Master, Portal 2, Deltarune, Metal Gear Solid

Yes, there were that many picks that I'd put in the spotlight for just one marathon, though some of the choices would fall under "honorable mentions" if I were to give them any sort of ranking, which would take me even longer to assemble up a full list for.

So what kind of runs would I love to see make the big stage in a future marathon? Well, while I do love the roster of runs we've been treated to, I always enjoyed seeing older console games show up to be destroyed in a run, but considering we're at an age where many of the most notable retro titles have been run at least once in a GDQ in the past several years it would make sense to move on and find new games to showcase on the show floor for the first time. Another type of run I always enjoyed catching live was the "relay race": two teams of two to four runners each competing in custom-made Mario levels made just for the event in either Super Mario World or Super Mario Maker- passing off the controller to the next runner if they fail.

At this rate I have doubts that we'll be going back to live events anytime soon but no matter what happens I'm sure Summer Games Done Quick 2022 will be a blast when it happens later this summer and we'll get another wave of awesome speedrunners showing off their favorite games to a wide audience.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

The New Era of 2022

Well, I'm a bit late, but this is the official beginning of the year 2022 for Super Justin: the Blog. I can't believe I've had this blog going for thirteen years with its ups and downs and I honestly wish I had more to say, but unfortunately Covid still lingers in the air and limited what I could do, and it tanked my motivation as a result.

Part of my new year's resolutions for myself included getting back to producing content regularly, mainly in the art and sprite-work department. Since they're the fields I have the most experience in, I figured grinding through them whenever inspiration strikes me until I feel motivated enough to venture into other fields of productivity later in the year. Another potential future endeavor would include getting into game streaming on Twitch, mostly as a means of showing off games that I don't think get enough recognition. Of course I need to upgrade my kit--unsure about a facecam but I am certainly considering a reliable capture card incase I decide to play something I can't on emulators or my current PC build and a better, more comfortable and reliable headset with its own volume controls independent of my computer's. If only there was a way to try different brands of headsets before I committed to an order, cause I do not enjoy getting my hairs stuck on plastic and/or metal and my skull being crushed.

The much bigger activities I intended to get into last year, including coding/game development and website design didn't happen, at it felt too overwhelming with my current lack of motivation ontop of having a bunch of smaller projects left over and still needing to be finished from at least 2020. Many of my game development ideas from last year still exist and I'm holding them over until I feel ready to spend time and tackle them proper. Hopefully when the pandemic starts to die down for real and I can start making big ventures out into public I'll get more motivated to pick up these bigger ventures.

As for art, my priority is still the Aozora boys' group art first and then the Aozora girls' group afterwards, whenever it be just Keisha and Sakaki or them plus Patrica and Brenda, but with how slow this 4-person group is shaping up I'm likely better off dividing them into two groups. As for sprites my current priority is finishing up some long-overdue racers for SRB2Kart and progress on a few others that I'll try to finish up later in the year. And that's not even accounting for my many other spriting projects- which will likely see a resurgence if game development/design kicks off.

Speaking of game development, one thing I was considering, if the games I create have a simple-enough design to the point where an editor can be constructed and made easy to use, I may open up offers for people to design levels for these games and the best ones would be added to the final products and subsequent updates/overhauls. Otherwise don't expect anything related to game development for a good, good while since times lately have been a little rougher than usual and the sooner I can go into public places without feeling like I'm going to fall ill the next day, the better.

Anyways, I'll see you next time.

Thursday, December 30, 2021

2019 Blind Kaizo Race OST

Happy New Year's, everyone! This isn't a typical update post since my previous one was very recent so I'm holding off until sometime later in Janruary before I give everyone a taste of what's to come throughout 2022. For now I wanted to squeeze out one final project before the end of the year, and since I've gone quite some time since I made one of these.

Back in the year 2019, a "Kaizo" ROM hack of Super Mario World was created specifically for Summer Games Done Quick 2019: the 2019 Blind Kaizo Race. Instead of controlling Mario, you play as one of eight Kaizo Mario World speedrunners split off into two teams: the blue-clad One Tile Men, and the orange-donning Lunar Magicians and carry them through seven levels of chaos. At the event itself, the teams would rotate out their respective players each time one bit the dust, and the run concluded with the One Tile Men winning the event overall. That said the ending doesn't change based on which team you carry to the end of the game, so for casual runs it mostly boils down to which set of runners you prefer.

The OST is a 10-track collaboration of both original and converted tunes from five different artists, all rendered in Super Mario World's engine. Ripping them was not as straightforward as you might expect since only ZSNES provided audio that wasn't prone to stuttering mid-song, and still some songs were affected and didn't result in flawless recordings despite my best efforts.. Two of the levels spawned enemies that would produce some kind of sound- interrupting the recording's first parts, and the credits, well, cannot be accessed unless you beat the final level. Since I had no patience to play through the hack, I edited the levels through Lunar Magic so the enemies cannot cause sounds to play through their actions and the final level can be beaten by just taking a door to the final room then defeating the boss in a much safer environment without killer plants everywhere. At the end of the day I still managed to do everything the night before New Year's and provide something to cap off 2021, despite the possible likelihood that I'll have to come back to this hack and re-rip a song or two in order to improve the recordings.

Will I rip the songs from another Kaizo hack? Likely not, as many of them run for much longer lengths and don't give you the connivance of skipping levels or jumping straight to the final level. Anyways, you can grab the download for current version of the soundtrack here and I'll see you all in the new year.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

The Finale of 2021

It's nearing the end of the year 2021, and the pandemic still looms over the world.

Times lately have been a mix of stagnant and slow progress, including a recent visit from two different repairmen late November before Thanksgiving to get things started towards breathing new life into my retro arcade machines and get the game room and arcade better fit for local visitors. My Xbox One is now fixed and able to play games again after months of breaking due to a failed system update, but on the flipside my launch edition Nintendo Wii might never see life again due to its busted disk drive being not easily repairable or replaceable and save transfers between two different Wii's not being as convenient of a process as I'd like it to be. I have a spare Wii, sure, but it's strictly for homebrew games and expansions and has not been updated in a long while since late 2013 to reflect updates for various mods.

Outside the game room and arcade, not much else was done. Mostly it comes from having very little inspiration with nothing of highlight going on outside and large-scale cons still being out of the picture until April next year provided Omicron doesn't get too severe by mid Spring (and for those wondering, I'm not due for my booster until February). I'm still trying to improve my physical physique and recover from some issues with one of my legs so when con season does start I'm sort of back to the athletic prowess I was before the pandemic hit. In other words I'm putting priorities towards real-life matters, and not helping is having to watch over my mother while she's laid up from surgery earlier this month and not being able to do much of anything until January when she recovers.

Some new art on Aozora and his close pals Satoru and Zik, plus a new face and a character I have yet to draw in my style, have been in the works since August and I've been developing it off and on. Once again the pace has been... pretty glacial despite my best efforts to keep focused. Aozora's girlfriend Keisha and her pal Sakaki are in the queue for after the boys are finished, and I've long hinted at making these renders of my girls in Clip Studio Paint in an effort to learn the program following being recommended it by more than several of my artist buddies. I still have plans to launch an artist's Twitter and a Discord server to help further my works and serve as a general hangout spot respectively. I originally planned to launch the artist Twitter and the Discord community this month, but postponed it to a point where I felt more comfortable with doing art and other content at a good pace in the case of the former and work on adding bots to the latter to help with role management in the case of the latter.

For other ventures for Aozora and co, I begun development of a page for a more descriptive and visual format for displaying my original characters for Aozora's Adventure compared to the current Wiki. Currently it is very barebones as I have not been feeling the drive to go work extensively on character lore and character bios- even on the Wiki. That's not to say Aozora has had nothing worked on lately beyond the above WIP's; in the background there have been some attempts to get several different drafts and documents for game ideas for the Aozora's Adventure project going, just to give an insight on exactly how each game would function. From 2D platform games, to racing games, to a full-on tournament fighter (a given when you have so many detailed character designs that you always think "how would they work in a fighting game?" while designing them). As for game-development itself, since it was stressing me the heck out months ago, I've put it on hold until sometime next year so I can get myself into a more productive mood, and I'm the opposite of that.

I've also been considering getting into game streaming just as much as I'm considering getting into 3D modeling, programing, and web design. Only I need to get myself a better PC rig, which is hard with all the GPU shortages due to ridiculous demand, so I'm afraid I'm going to have to make due with my 2015 rig for a bit longer and possibly when Windows 11 gets better. After having to jump between several big-name and small-name streamers I think I might have what it takes to broadcast a game or two, even if I won't be able to stream everything in my collection since I have no capture cards to record from my TV's and I'd be forced to use emulation whenever I want to or not. Still, it might give me that social experience that I haven't had since November 2019.

Since it's getting late, I might as well wrap it up for now and save what else I could bring up for a future post. In the meantime, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.