DreamPod - Episode 28: Bonus Features - 'Ghost Host' Textual Commentary

Bear with me while I draw a long bow...

You know how DVDs and Blu-rays often come with audio commentary that you can listen to while you're watching the film? You can get further insight into what's happening on screen or interesting behind the scenes anecdotes. Well, what if I could do an audio commentary for a podcast? That would be silly wouldn't it? You can't listen to both at once, unless you spliced more then one audio source together into an extended podcast (Tom from the Future says Hi!), but that's not really the same, is it? So how about a textual commentary? Wouldn't that be cool? It's like we've dropped two levels from a second order derivative back to the original equation (Video > Audio > Screenplay, or TV > Radio Play > Book). See? It totally makes sense.
Ooooh, a maths analogy, this must be a classy blog
Well, I'm just gonna go for it anyway, since it pains me to listen back to a podcast that I wasn't able to join in with (i.e. slept in too late and missed). I have lots of things I could have added to the discussion, but because I missed the recording session, they would have to remain unsaid without an outlet to voice them. Until now, that is...

By the way, great episode guys - truly sorry that I missed it. If you missed it too, you can listen to episode 28 of DreamPod here.

02:20 - Tom: ... but you know, as we always do, we'll speak a bit about what we've played or or what we've bought...

I've been really addicted to Leona's Tricky Adventures lately, and have been playing that almost exclusively at the moment. After the initial honeymoon period where I was besotted by the superb presentation and the obvious love put into the game by the developers, I became aware of some nagging disappointment.
I've made it past the unbreakable rocks phase
I'm a bit of a puzzle game fan, but my main poison are games where you create chain reactions by matching colours, like in Puzzle Bobble or Puyo Puyo. I was expecting a similar mechanic in Leona's and I didn't really like the field matching dynamic to begin with. It reminds me of the way I used to solve, or attempted to solve, the Rubik's cube - trial and error until I surprised myself with a solution. I was less involved, and progress felt more like hit and miss, with extensive use of the undo button.
Problem solved!
However, now that I'm a bit deeper into it, it's all kind of clicked in my head. I'm over my bruised expectations and am really starting to dig it. The learning curve is really well designed, and I'm enjoying the more challenging puzzles I'm now coming up to. I would have liked a bit more interaction in the overworld environment though, like some fetch quests or something, but I'm still hopeful these might still happen a bit later in the game.
I've rebuilt the town hall, and the owl mayor is happy. I'm on a roll.
Other than that, I've been playtesting my prototype DreamTrance Vibrator with some good ol' sessions with Rez. So far, no overheating or tripped fuses, so it seems like the Dreamcast can survive two vibration packs powered from the one slot. A do-it-yourself guide will appear on the 'yard at some point in the near future.
It's not a sex toy. Seriously.
Interestingly, and I never thought I would be one of these people, but the lag in the wireless Dream Conn V2.0 controller, which admittedly is fantastically close to zero, did bug me just a little bit too much when using it to play games like Rez. When I'm using it for slower games like Leona, it's great, as I can sit back and relax and I don't even notice it. When it comes to game where quick reflexes matter though, you can't really beat a traditional wired controller.

08:49 - Tom: The only other game I've been playing on the Dreamcast is a game called ... I'm gonna murder the title here now 'cos I dunno how you actually pronounce it but it's called "Noise-two-es-ay" or "Noise-two-sah." You guys know what I'm talking about?

Yeah Tom, it was me who posted about it recently on the Facebook group. It's been kicking about a lot longer than 2009. Noiz2sa was originally developed for Windows in 2002 by Japanese doujin virtuoso Kenta Cho. It's the sequel to his previous java based games Noiz and Noiz2, so I'm guessing that Noiz2sa means "special addition"... or something. In 2004, the game was ported to Dreamcast by the supremely talented Chui, who is now the lead programmer at Retro Sumus (Carlos from Retro Sumus was previously interviewed here)
Lots of abstract geometry and pseudo 3D effects.
It's a fantastic little gem, with 10 levels and 4 endless modes (normal, hard, extreme, and insane). It's simple, the lack of power-ups keeps you focused on the destruction, and the objective is score chasing rather than single crediting. The frame rate is super slick for the most part, only struggling with the bulletiest of bullet hells, and, like Tom said, the soundtrack is superb and unique to the Dreamcast port. Like Volgarr last year, it's essentially a full-featured release that could have easily justified being sold at retail, but was generously given away for free. It's certainly up there with the best indie shoot-em-ups available for Dreamcast, which is high praise considering the vast army of competition out there.
I would totally have bought this if it had ever happened
Now that Chui's working on Ameba and Xenocider for Retro Sumus, I'd love to see him revisit his port of Noizsa for a pressed physical disc release to be bundled with either of those two games (like how Geometry Wars was bundled with Project Gotham Racing). The game is worthy of a proper release, but if I could change one thing, it would be an option for rotating the display to 'tate" mode for vertical scrolling heaven.
What could be a more perfect double-billing: Xenocider and
Noiz2sa. Retro Sumus: Why not?
Furthermore, the Noiz lineage did not end with Noiz2sa. Kenta Cho followed up with two further games in the series: Parsec47 and rRootage. Both of these are dying for Dreamcast ports, if anyone wants to take up the challenge. Be warned, Cho-san's programming language of choice is "D" (comes after C++) which has been known to be notoriously hard to port to other systems.
"Defeat retro enemies modernly" - Parsec47 looks amazing, and
sorely needs a Dreamcast port

20:13 - Tom: I've got to admit with you here Ross, I've never seen the anime. It's never really appealed to me.

You should watch it Tom. I was skeptical at first, and it is almost intolerably twee, but there is a lot to love about the series, especially when trying to catch all of the modern and archaic Sega references. Despite it's kiddie show presentation, a lot of the jokes are quite sophisticated and clever. In this one scene, Mega Drive and Dreamcast are trying to convince Saturn to get a passport and visit America (to buy an unusual pet, but that's beside the point). Saturn really doesn't want to go to the States, because she has a sixth sense she isn't going to like it, subtly hinting at the Saturn's poor reception in the West. Like Ross said, the episodes are short (about 10 minutes long), so you can easily binge watch the series on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Go on, give it a go.
The extended family
20:32 - Ross: It's better if you just google "Sega Hard Girls" and you'll see the full name of the anime..

The full title is Hi☆sCoool! SeHa Girls, which is an interesting triple entendre, or at least a double and a half entendre. The series is set in a fictional high school, and you can see the obvious misspelling to emphasise the word Coool! but also the phonetic sounds of high school and high score are virtually indistinguishable to the Japanese ear, so you have that additional meaning as well. Man, the Japanese sure love their puns.
High Score!
Ross Edit: Epic Gaijin Fail!

School and Score are phonetically very different in Katakana Japnese, phonetic pronunciation isn't close.

スコア - SU KO A
スクール - SU KUU RU

As you can see, they only share one character.


21:21 - Caleb: Why does the Genesis have like a big book and stuff? Is the Genesis like a nerd in this series.

This is where the great divide occurs between Japan and the West in their appreciation of the Mega Drive/Genesis. In Japan, the Mega Drive was released in the late 80s alongside NEC's PC Engine (wait a minute, Jesse explicitly mentioned the Turbografx-16 in his rantings - the conspiracy is real!). Both were attempting to get out from under the shadow of the almighty Famicom. In spite of her superior 16-bit brain, the Mega Drive was arguably less successful than the PC Engine and both were ultimately defeated by the Super Famicom. Sega's efforts didn't really begin to bear fruit in their adopted country until the Saturn era, which is ironically when the worm turned for them in the West. So it is fitting, from a Japanese perspective, that the Mega Drive was the smarter but ultimately unpopular nerdy girl.
Don't be shy Mega Drive, you have a huge fan base in the West
However, there is an official Genesis Sega Hard Girl, aka "Jennie," that more accurately reflects her success in the West, complete with a stars and stripes bikini, high-heeled knee-high boots, leather jacket and a "Yehaw!" cowboy hat. She is briefly referenced in one of the episodes on the anime (as a competitor in a beauty pageant ranking all the Sega Hard girls - she doesn't win, but I won't spoil who does)
Howdy pardner. Looks like you could use some more freedom.
21:45 - Tom: Is there a 32X girl with like a massive forehead?

Not exactly, she looks to be some kind of fairy or pixie with 'X' shaped wings. Her bio says: "Super 32X loves to tease people, is a fast talker, and will never admit she's wrong even if she's caught in the act, and would rather offer a small army of excuses before she apologizes." So the joke is in her personality, rather than her appearance.
Where's the magic mushroom reference?
21:59 - Ross: Funnily enough, in the game there is a - which one was it? - Sega Pluto, was it Sega Pluto... which was the unreleased Mega Drive 32X combo...

The Pluto was once falsely assumed to be a code name for what would become our beloved Dreamcast, prior to the White belt/Black belt/Katana/Dural code names that followed. However, just a few years back, two prototype Sega Plutos were revealed to the public as cost-reduced Saturn models with built in Netlink modems. If the Pluto had made it to market, it probably would have been the first home console to have internet support straight out of the box (stealing the Dreamcast's thunder by a few years).
This is now reclassified as a dwarf Sega console
What Ross is thinking of is the Sega Neptune, which was to be a combined Mega Drive/32X hybrid. It's believed that no working prototypes were ever built, and the images circulated in magazines at the time was of a non-functioning shell (sounds like a certain Coleco system doing the rounds recently).
Neptune
However, the Neptune also got a Sega Hard girl (of sorts) in the Compile Heart game Hyperdimension Neptunia, which parodies the seventh generation consoles wars and re-imagines the Neptune as an alternate universe "Dreamcast 2," where Sega had continued to fight in the wars. Recently, the universes of Hyperdimension Neptunia and Sega Hard Girls were combined into cross over title Hyperdimesion War Neptunia Versus Sega Hard Girls: Dream Fusion Special. Ross did warn us that this gets quite complicated.
I found it! I found the Dreamcast 2! It's a scantily clad, purple haired anime girl.
28:55 - Tom: I wanna hear about your history with the VMU though guys

I used to play the VMU a lot on the bus back in my university days. I didn't have a problem with the battery life, as I used to insert the little white tab into the back to disengage the battery and conserve power. My favourite unofficial games were Tiny Tetris and Mini Pacman. I think Pacman was the most advanced VMU game I played back in the day, with nice big animated characters.
Waka waka waka
On the official game front, apart from too much time in Chao Adventure, Falcon's Aerial Adventure in the Power Stone mini compilation was pretty sweet, and the Voldo Panic, exclusive to the Japanese release of SoulCalibur, was an awesome Circus Atari clone, with a surprisingly well animated Voldo on the tiny VMU screen
Trust me, it looks better in motion
Tying this back into the Sega Hard Girls discussion, did you know there is a VMU goddess as well? Naturally, she's good friends with Dreamcast and can shrink down to her namesakes size and fit into the controller that DC (stupidly) wears on her head.
Don't forget about VMU, she's an important part of the Sega Hard Girls family too
31:43 - Tom: SLaVE, SLaVE... Guys, I just want to take a little bit of a straw poll, who's pre-ordered it?

Yeah, I have too, but I'm bummed that I missed out on the "Limited Limited Edition." I found out about it just a few days after they were all sold out. Really annoys me, as I had maintained a complete set of every other indie game release up until that point, including all other limited edition variations and re-releases. I now also don't have the German pressed release of Volgarr either, so not sure whether I'm still going to try and get the complete set again. 
You can still place a pre-order for SLaVE at the Goat Store. It's only $20.84,
as the price pays homage to one of the game's retro inspirations - Robotron 2084
35:06 - Ross: When you start saying "This is gonna be out next month" or in two months, and then it gets delayed for almost another year... How does that happen?

The game was originally developed on a Dreamcast emulator. If you know anything about emulators, they often notoriously take shortcuts with their approximation of the physical hardware, and can allow for things to happen in emulation that are impossible on real hardware. That was the case with SLaVE, and the whole thing needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. This wasn't known at the time when Goat Store made the first announcement.
Dreamcast coders cable, never leave home without one.
A friend of mine, who goes by the name 'Nemesis,' has started a very worthy project of revisiting the ethos of emulator design to try and engender a greater appreciation for mimicking a system more accurately. The Exodus emulator doesn't emulate systems, but emulates individual chips and processors found within them, and then co-ordinates them to work together in a way that is "cycle accurate." So far, it emulates the chips that make up the Mega Drive (like the Motorolla 68k "blast" processor and the Zilog Z80 sound processor), but it is an open source project and there's no reason why it can't one day (in the far off distant future) be expanded to mimic the Dreamcast Hitachi SH-4 CPU and Power VR GPU as well. Cycle accurate emulators are super slow though, as they prioritise accuracy over performance, but as computers get faster we'll one day be able to emulate old gaming systems flawlessly. 
Exodus in action
37:07 - Tom: The tools that all these indie developers have got are just getting better and better...

Sometimes, I wish Sega would recognise the market place that has grown around their orphaned progeny and just officially release the original Dreamcast software development kit as open source. While indie developers have reverse engineered a lot of it, I'm sure there are still plenty of things about the hardware that are not yet fully understood. Developers might even shy away from using some of the systems more advanced features, as there is some uncertainty about whether they might be straying into some grey areas that could get them in trouble regarding proprietary ownership or unlicensed use of third party firmware. It'd be nice if there was more official clarity about what can and can't be done with Dreamcast development. Surely freeing up the rights to the architecture of a 17 year old system isn't going to hurt anybodies bottom line, and would allow the indie scene to evolve unimpeded without the threat of being raked over the coals for the sake of some seemingly forgotten IP rights. Some larger developers in this market place might also reconsider the Dreamcast as a viable platform if that uncertainty is removed. 
I just want to use the official Dreamcast Movie Creator without fear of
being hunted down by CRi Middleware
42:01 - Tom: ScummVM, which is the emulator for various PC games like Broken Sword and Full Throttle...

The only Scumm game I've played is Sam and Max: Hit the Road, which I really enjoyed back in the day. I've been meaning to play more of these old Lucasarts point and click adventures - maybe I should try them on Dreamcast when I get around to it (though honestly, I'll probably just play them on PC, otherwise I've got to dig out my Dreamcast keyboard and mouse, and that's currently far from the path of least resistance). 
Use a fork Sam, that's what I do.
56:43 - Tom: Thanks very much for listening, and we'll see you on the next episode of the DreamPod... and goodbye. Everyone say goodbye.

Bye! If you enjoyed this "Bonus Feature" where I nitpicked to pieces what everyone else said, then let me know in the comments and I might do this semi-regularly going forward into the future, and maybe even revisit some old DreamPods too.

3 comments:

Anthony Harrap said...

Dude, that was awesome.

Tom Charnock said...

I agree, really cool post !

doceggfan said...

Cheers guys