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LET’S PLAY (And Overthink): Bubblegum Crash For The PC-Engine.

4 Mar

A couple weekends ago I finally beat Bubblegum Crash for the PC Engine, and that was kind of a big deal for a few reasons. The game was part of my massive vintage game collection (that I sold to pay for my move to Portland), and not only had I never beaten it but I never got particularly far on it either. You know, because it’s a “digital comic” text adventure entirely in Japanese.

bubblegumcrash2It was also the only reason I hung onto my “Purple Barney” converter so long

Thankfully, about a year ago a fan-translation ROM of the game surfaced. Playing through the whole thing, the translation is fantastic, with very little ambiguity or awkwardness. Which is good because the game includes plenty of that for itself. The game opens up with mysterious armored battle suits breaking into a bank. You start out playing Nene Romanova, one of the vigilante Knight Sabers, who finds out about the robbery because her day job is boring. It’s worth noting that the entire Bubblegum Crisis franchise does a pretty tenuous sexual politics balancing act between showcasing four relatively self-actualized woman protagonists (a business owner, a rock star, an actress and… a traffic cop) that are kickass robo-suited vigilantes behind the scenes but also making them ditzy, irrational, and surprisingly helpless on occasion.

bubblegumcrash3Then again, for 1980s Japan, this *was* progressive.

So anyway you go inside to talk to Leon McNichol and Daley Wong and let’s just stop there for a second because Daley Wong. Seriously, even for anime, having such an unapologetically gay male character in the mid-1980s that wasn’t, like, dying of AIDS or otherwise weighted with hubris was really badass. Even though it doesn’t come up at all in the game, they even made sure that looking at him, you just know.

bubblegumcrash4You’d be sassy too if you had a 10-inch… neck.

Like other digital comic adventures, you have a series of commands you can use on the right side of the screen. One of the things that is endlessly frustrating if you don’t have a walk-through handy is that there are separate commands for “Talk” and “Listen” (bottom left and middle left) and many interactions require you to alternate between them in a non-intuitive (read: seemingly random) manner to keep the conversation going. Anyway, you find yourself investigating the bank and immediately the fourth wall between yourself as player and Nene finds itself broken. After a brief glance in their direction, Nene resolves that the nearby garbage bins aren’t worth searching and are gross anyway. Well, turns out you can *force* her to investigate them anyway. Doing so doesn’t even find anything, except a vague sense of horror at a player/character contract the game allowed you to violate.

bubblegumcrash5The fuck kind of game is this?

 Most of the game involves investigating broken pieces left behind by the unfamiliar robo-armor of the criminals that performed the robbery. This requires going back and forth to various computer vendors, sleazy hackers, and military factory workers for bits of information. Eventually Nene just says “fuck it” and HACKS INTO ONE OF NATO’S DATABASES… WITH A POLICE HQ OFFICE COMPUTER… THAT SHE LOGGED INTO WITH HER POLICE BADGE. You know, as one does.

bubblegumcrash6Sure, ok, fuck it why not.

Shit, why not just tell rando homeless street hackers about your plans, as a police officer, to bypass NATO security? Nah that would be so impossibly reckless oh wait she does that too…

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While Nene is busy breaking international treaties, the bank robbers strike again, acquiring a total of 5 billion yen. Further investigation reveals they are also raiding the safety deposit boxes for the pieces of a top-secret super AI. At this point, Nene finally decides hey maybe this should actually be an actual Knight Sabers game…

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Oh wait nevermind, this just means you hang out in Linna Yamazaki‘s apartment while she takes a shower. At this point of the game, in another strange fourth-wall breaking moment, you can peek in on Linna in the shower if you are persistent enough. Not you as in Nene, you as in the player. The game talks directly to you the whole time.

bubblegumcrash10Yeah, like Gamergate would be concerned about a woman’s privacy.

After some story exposition, you find yourself playing as Linna. During this interlude you head to the stock market to hear buzz about Zone Co, the company that manufactures the stolen Super AI. Then you get sexually harassed in an alley be the same guy that harassed Nene earlier in the game. And then you call Nene. And that’s pretty much it.

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Nene then uses the police computer she already committed international espionage on to stalk and harass an old man into telling her more about the Super AI. Because apparently Internal Affairs isn’t a thing for the AD Police. And then this happens-

bubblegumcrash12Oh, Leon. You suck so hard.

Priss (who suddenly becomes a thing in this game) then pursues the escaping battle armor with her motorcycle, which moves about as smoothly as trying to play shuffleboard with a Christmas ham. I cannot emphasize how awful the controls are or how infuriating this motorcycle stage that just appears out of nowhere is.

bubblegumcrash13At least it looks cool when you die. Which you will. A lot.

Once you manage that (takes surviving through three to seven stretches of road) this ridiculous bullshit happens. It’s a 3/4 view grid board game where you chase the mobile suit and manipulate the board to trap it. Seriously tho, apparently somebody thought this was a good idea, and worth adding/keeping in the game. They took the time to program a top-view movement engine, and created these cartoony RPG sprites in a style that appears nowhere else in the game. For this. I’m half-convinced parts of this game were just bullshit unused shovelware hobby projects they had lying around that they inserted the BGC characters into and shoehorned in. Look at this and try to convince me otherwise.

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Then, after investing so much energy into keeping her motorcycle intact through the chase, Priss just shoves it right up Armor Suit Guy’s ass.

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Then we go back to following Nene around, showing some of the pieces of what was left of the armor suit to various folks until she gets a note from Sylia Stingray, which she immediately misinterprets.

bubblegumcrash16Oh God shut up, Nene.

At this point, finally, after what is likely around two to three hours of gameplay, the four Knight Sabers get together in the same place and this thing turns into something that actually kind of looks like an actual Bubblegum Crisis/Crash game. Sort of.

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The remaining part of the game is in Stephen Lab, and if you die you have to play the whole thing over. The gameplay here is like a standard first-person RPG maze game. It’s a three floor maze where you have to trip three levers to get the main service elevator (which takes you to the final battle) to work. While wandering through the maze you will be attacked by the traditional boomers from the series as well as more men in armored battle suits. With each battle all chars HP starts at full, so you don’t have to worry about that, but other than that the fight themselves is like a bare-bones RPG. You’ll wanna switch out characters to keep them from dying. Also, Nene has a “Scanner” tool that will increase your defense while weakening the enemy’s attack, so you wanna use that each battle. Other than that, all four characters have the ability to use physical combat or shoot, which you will also alternate for effectiveness.

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After sludging through the generic “dungeon” of Stephen Lab you fight the leader of the battle armored criminal gang, and it is actually kind of boring as shit. To be honest, after wanting to beat this game for like 20 years, I feel a bit ripped off by how corny the ending is.

bubblegumcrash19seriously that’s it

Like, I think there were elements here that could have made a much more solid game. Literally everything taken care of in the digital comic scenes could have been accomplished as a standard RPG if they’d just developed that aspect. As they were, the RPG elements did offer a challenge and a change of pace, but one that wears off quickly because the elements were so rudimentary and lead to dreary repetition.

That said, it’s an interesting eclectic conceptual grab bag. The graphics are mostly rendered gorgeously and it stays true to the source material. However, the gameplay is clumsy and non-intuitive. Depending on how much of a fan you are of the source material, the latter may be forgivable to an extent. I just happen to be one of said fans, so your mileage may vary.

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She Should Have Been A Son.

6 Apr

So like, I was pretty sure I was gonna come out as gay when I was around 13…

beenason1TOTAL. FUCKIN. HOMO.

The clues were all there… I guess.

Honestly, I don’t know what the fuck I was except I seemed to be completely unlike “other boys”, and everyone seemed to be able to tell. I couldn’t seem to connect to boys my age on any level and instead found myself socializing around girls which found me this nonthreatening asexual presence. Yet I was also being palpably groomed towards appeasement and subservience to men and coded as a “faggot” deserving of violence and marginalization without resource for complaint. I was groomed to desire approval from and to appeal towards masculine idealizations. I remember the first time I’d watched Velvet Goldmine, and in that opening scene where child Jack Fairy is beat up and spreads the blood across his lips I remember actually thinking HOLY SHIT WHERE DID THEY FIND THIS FOOTAGE OF MY CHILDHOOD.

beenason2A pretty reasonable summary of my childhood.

All I knew, honestly, was that shit that “doesn’t happen to boys” happened to me on a pretty frequent basis.

I found no analogous “shared boyhood” experience to cling to when I was 10 and my male friend broke my nose when I told him he was cute and “reassured” me that he did so “for my own good” to remind me “I’m not allowed” to say such things. Was it just typical “male socialization” when I was 13 and it became a running gag/twisted bonding experience between members of the football team to grope my ass and whistle at me and then threaten to beat me up if I complained? When I spent a night at a friend’s house, 30 miles from my home, and he goaded me into drinking vodka and casually got naked in front of me suggesting we “wrestle”, I’d had no preparation or warning or understanding to work off of.

I learned pretty quick that the same boys in the schoolyard breaking my face open and the boys in the back of the bus goading me to give them handjobs were usually the same. And that somehow that made them heterosexual, and me not. My pre-teen years were spent getting a first-hand custom education that what most people understand about gender and sexuality is 100% bullshit, but not in the way everyone tells you it’s bullshit. More like in the straight women creating gay porn way that everything most people understand about gender and sexuality is bullshit.

…and this is aside of my well-trod-out stories of hundreds of pre-teen nights staying up after my family went to bed to play with makeup, calling myself “Rachel” in the mirror. Mornings after when my dad would yell at me for any detected trace of glitter or color on my face, speculating out loud (and loudly) how many cocks his “son” must be already sucking before “he’d” even made it into high school…

So anyway I was a big old homo and I was pretty sure I was just gonna start admitting it to myself and others and then my parents had to up and divorce. I mean, the divorce was needed and an excellent idea, but it put a serious kibosh on my plans to come out. My parents relationship had been rapidly disintegrating for a while, but had accelerated after the suicide of my uncle Jim, an event that fucked pretty much all of us up, including myself.

beenason3One of entirely too few photos I have of my uncle and I.

So anyway my parents split up and it was traumatic and whatever, you know, the typical child of the 90s story. That legendary divorce is such a bore. What it meant to me was that we were relocating from Briggs, Texas to Copperas Cove, Texas, a place where there were people my age that I could feasibly, you know, hang out with and potentially have a normal childhood friendship with. I was 14 at the time and had no idea what that was like and, honestly, I was terrified. I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to be my friend if I was gay, so that got buried. Between repressing that and my socialized fear of masculinity, I found myself drawn to and embracing bonehead white trash heavy metal music and lifestyle (of which, thankfully, no photos survive).

placesivecalledhome5The duplex we lived in when we first moved to Copperas Cove in 1991.

Amongst all the knuckle-dragging meathead metal I’d immersed myself in at the time, something else had broken through that fall of 1991. One evening after school I’d caught the near-inescapable video for Smells Like Teen Spirit and I was enthralled. I just didn’t even know how to comprehend what I’d seen except that I’d suddenly become obsessed. I wound up scraping the cash together for the single on cassette, and then a few weeks later the album, and studied the artwork and scrutinized the lyrics and just tried to absorb everything I could out of it. For years afterwards I hunted down interviews and tracked down bootlegs to gain a more cohesive understanding of Kurt’s oeuvre.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s get down to brass tacks: here was a scrawny cat with a big nose and a cleft chin with a feminine gender expression, an obsession with anatomical models and other weird antiques, and an obvious chip on his shoulder about toxic masculinity. It was like looking in a mirror or running into the future version of myself or something. I was 15 or so when I first read that legendary statement tucked away in the liner notes to Incesticide:

At this point I have a request for our fans.  If any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us — leave us the fuck alone!  Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.

I remember thinking wow this is like the opposite of what it’s ok to say these days and filed it away in a place in my brain similar to the place under my bed where I stashed my gay porn. Someplace personal and private until I worked up the courage to address and admit to myself. I find myself periodically reminded of the role Nirvana played in sparing me from white trash induced mediocrity and self-repression. By the time I was 17 and in colllege away from small-town and family pressure I’d moved well past being that weird kid that was painting his nails coral and writing sharpie slogans and had come out as bisexual and began to cross-dress and wear makeup publicly in increasing frequency…

18yearoldmeMe at Lubbock punk rock club Einstein’s in 1995.

…but then we’re starting to get into a whole other story.

One Terabyte Of Kilobite Age, A Geocities Archive Blog.

10 Dec

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One Terabyte Of Kilobyte Age is a blog project on the fascinating vintage computer nerdery site Contemporary Home Computing.  It’s a regularly posted of a recovered archive of Geocities sites, posted one at a time in chronological order on the corresponding Tumblr. On the main blog, commentary and trends are noted, like this symbolical interpretation of the classic “Felix The Cat gif”  and this analysis on broken image links. It’s an amazing resource of vintage internet ephemera, of experimentation and curiosity and people seeking like minds.

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WWWTXT (1988-94): A Twitter Archive Of Posts From The Early Internet

9 Dec

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WWWTXT (1988-94) is pretty much what it says on the tin: a regularly updated archive of internet/Usenet/BBS posts from between 1988 and 1994, during the early hatchling days of the consumer internet. It’s a pretty fascinating mix of pomposity, hubris, and more than a little bit of eerie prophecy.

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Visited My Childhood Arcade, And It Wasn’t Too Shabby.

26 Nov

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Before I moved out of Texas and headed out to the Pacific Northwest, I wound up going on some trips to haunts of my adolescence with my brother as a sort of little-bro/big-sis bonding. At one point we wound up at the Killeen Mall, hanging out with an old high school friend.   Mostly, the mall is exactly what you expect:

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But when we found ourselves back at the arcade of our childhood, it was surprisingly fun. But then, spending the day in Killeen, Texas can really throw off your expectations so who can even tell. It was definitely not as depressing as anticipated. Other than the surprising lack of, well, arcade games, there was a lot of fun bright colors and rides. Parts of it looked like they were recovered from a Six Flags or something similar, and there were some games in the back that seemed like downright antiques (but in a creepy, aesthetically pleasing way).  It also included a full indoor black light mini-golf course.

Also, apparently TILT is a franchise.

                 homearcade18 homearcade19  homearcade17 homearcade16 homearcade15      homearcade14homearcade12homearcade13homearcade11homearcade10homearcade9 homearcade8 homearcade7 homearcade6 homearcade4homearcade5    homearcade20

Some Dude’s Regrettable Punk Phase Just Got Immortalized By Urban Outfitters.

24 Sep

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So, like, at first I found this hilarious, and then it made me angry, and now it’s hilarious again.

The misguided anger was when I thought this was a piece they were mass-producing, and we’ll get to while it bothered me in a bit. But it turns out this piece is fro an online feature they have called Urban Renewal Vintage and holy shit, I thought certain vintage storefronts in meatspace were overpriced and way too full of themselves.

I mean, it’s none of my concern when rich people willfully line up to be ripped off and spend the money I spend on rent on worthless crap to feel “edgy” or whatever. And if some dork wants to lay down $375 (holy shit really?) on a jacket that will get him beat up if he wears it in public, well I hope to see a video of him sobbing on Youtube.

But this jacket is a work of near-artful levels of NOPE-ness to a point where I cannot let it be. Let’s start with the product description:

“Crazy awesome vintage moto leather jacket from the 1990s. Topped with hand-painted punk logos at like Sex Pistols and Crass. Excellent vintage condition. We only have one, so get it or regret it!”

Setting aside figuring out what the exact fuck “excellent vintage condition” means, and the fact that whoever created this thing probably regrets it’s existence, what we already see is that it’s a jacket from the 1990s with a bunch of poorly rendered logos of bands from the 1970s. That’s pretty lol enough but let’s really get into how awful these logos are.

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Do we want to even get into the reasons having CRASS and The Clash on the same jacket is pretty absurd? I mean, sheesh.

And I guess I hadn’t mentioned yet that it has built-in shoulderpads, but jfc it has built-in shoulderpads.

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And yes it apparently comes with buttons already pinned on, with “rockin” slogans like “I’ve Got A Dirty Mind” and some sort of half-assed anarchy yin yang (what?). The piece de resistance, however is the recommended follow-up purchases:

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If you need any more proof than the above that punk is dead, I honestly don’t know what to say.

23 Of The Ugliest Video Game Accessories I’ve Ever Seen.

18 Aug

Prepare to see some of the most hideously off-brand 1990s-ish stuff ever. It’s so 1990s I’m not sure why I’m not posting this on Tumblr. Anyway, let’s soft grunge this blog up a bit:

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^I may have to do an entire post just based on this ad sometime, TBH.
No way I’m gonna let a company with the brand acronym STD get by without a making fun of them further.