Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Garage Sale Hauls

Garage sale season doesn't really begin until May -- there are always a few stragglers before the wave hits, but typically their iconoclastic hosts will have similarly outlying taste in regards to the materials they're hoping to sell you. And yet and yet... we are having another baby in June. (The first is already a big fan of Pac-Man and Mario, so soon the gamers in the house will hold a majority power bloc!) And so... we will not be making it out to many sales this summer. But we have managed to hit a few thus far, to some good effect.

There are some immutable laws of the historical echo effect with second-hand goods: what you find second-hand of course changes over time -- I remember how back in the day NES carts were plentiful at Value Village, but eventually all the kids went to college, all the attics were emptied and all the plastic cartridges found their way channelled through the thrift shops and into all the collectors' basements, and now they are once again rare and costly. When I came into my own as a regular thrift store patron was during that particular moment in time when mostly you would find Xbox original and PlayStation 2 games up for grabs, with occasional murmurs of the fading echoes of the PS1 and Dreamcast eras, but all earlier gaming history had been recognized in its due course as actually historical, and had emerged from the trough of no value alchemically transmutated from "dated" to "vintage". Basically, if you adhere to my standards of not collecting games for systems you don't own, you always need to be current to within a generation or two to pick up the good deals, or else you're not helping people by picking up their trash but instead competing with collectors for collections. Eww.

Consequently, now that I've inherited a Wii and an Xbox 360 (and just whose PS3 will end up taking residence on my shelf, anyhow?) I'm starting to purchase games for those machines second-hand, just when they're beginning to dominate the field of what I find on offer at sales. (It's an extreme novelty to me to be in ownership of systems for which I could, hypothetically, go to the store and buy new, first-run games. I was very briefly in this situation with our bought-new PlayStation 2, picked up at fire sale prices well after the PS3 had landed (though the PS2 continued to outsell it for quite a while), buying a handful of games new -- so few I can name them: Dance Dance Revolution Supernova 2 (as it was intended as a cheap alternative to Wii Fit), Beyond Good and Evil, Secret Agent Clank, and Shadow of the Colossus. Then the PS2 shelves were redecorated as PS4 shelves and my machine's future prospects became purely second-hand, and the Nintendo DS waved its freak flag high as the only machine in my burgeoning coterie for which new games could be bought in-store. Handheld hardware seems to age at a different pace from home consoles, a phenomenon perhaps worthy of study. Actually it ages both faster and slower than home consoles; most of them are obsolete overnight, unless they're made by Nintendo, the Dorian Gray of the handheld gaming industry. But I digress.)

Clockwise, we have: for the XBOX 360: Super Street Fighter IV, Viva Pinata, and Two Worlds; for the Nintendo Wii: Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, No More Heroes, and Mario Party 8; for the Nintendo DS: Super Monkey Ball Touch & Roll; and some weird stuff: the official Tetris card game (Uno, reskinned, though I think the winner need announce "Tetroono" when one point away from winning), and issue #1 of DC's bizarre brand cash-in comic book, Atari Force. As the home consoles have gotten more powerful and development budgets to throw your hat in their ring inflated, I think a lot of the small fish were removed from the game development ecosystem and consequently buying random games for this generation of hardware is likely to be less of a complete crapshoot -- while I have no direct experience with any of these games, they are all flagship representatives of beloved brands (Street Fighter, Metroid, Monkey Ball) or at least they're not-unknown and well-reviewed titles. Sadly, I'm not going to find anything truly out of left field (my favourite niche) for these machines, but I can be contended with the assumption of at least a baseline standard of quality and polish. (How bad can a Street Fighter game on 21st-century hardware going to be to a fellow who downloaded and played Stick Fighter 2 under MS-DOS?) Perhaps my favorite part of the photo spread is looking at the original price on the SF4 box and comparing it to the yard sale price next to it on Viva Pinata. Games: probably a worse investment than cars, at least in the medium term.

And as the tide rolls in, bringing new games into my nets, so it also washes out, taking away surplus from my tangled collection:

(Insert supercomputer-smuggling joke here.) The retro gaming lucre flows in and as it does, redundancies begin accumulating very quickly -- second copies of games already owned (I had to start a mobile-device master list of games owned because I could no longer keep track from memory (things grow hazy after the first few hundred) and found I had accidentally duplicated a fifth of my collection), second MACHINES already owned (or streamlined out with back-compatibility -- with the PS2 in effect, there is no compelling argument for keeping a PS1 on life support. Arguably that could apply to any system that can be easily emulated on a PC, but let's not get carried away here) and extra bibs and bobs -- spare joysticks and multitaps, power and A/V cords, etc. etc. You can consider it like a sports car -- for value, you buy two, and keep one around for spare parts -- but really once you have a working system, especially one that may only get used twice a year at retro gaming parties, you can only justify keeping all the extra bits around if you live on a rural ranch with bona fide outbuildings and a back 40. (Related: my working C64 came into my hands after spending 25 years forgotten in a barn. The broken one... was sourced from the flea market. There is a special circle of hell for those who sell broken hardware packed in its original box.)

Here, I have turned my problem -- what am I going to do with all this stuff (Not pictured: a surplus Wii and an original Xbox) with a growing family and a finite homestead -- into a boon for my friend. He took them last Saturday (also helping me test-drive the Tetris card game -- verdict, probably not as much fun as a set of wooden Russian polyominoes -- and introducing me to the saga of The Atariian vs. Ninja-Endo, which I will be filling you in about soon) and already this coming weekend he has plans to have people over to play games on them. That's infinitely better use than I was putting them to (infinite because of a divide by zero error), so I consider it a win/win.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Video game textmode art part 19: Konami's Final Fantasy report

Obligatory post-irrelevant leading image: Settled! OK, you've now seen bibs and bobs of Final Fantasy-alia represented in this "textmode video game art" blog series, but nothing to really demonstrate what a juggernaut the franchise was in the late '90s. Here Konami (not the beleaguered company but the nickname of an artist who we've seen grandstanding before in an undirected virtuosic fashion) really fills in the blanks nearly singlehandedly. A couple of other artists add some drag factor, but I can't get away with imposing both artist and subject themes on these blog posts, so something's gotta give. We'll begin with a Final Fantasy 8 piece in Big 5 (what I described earlier as "Chinese Unicode"):
Small, but in a sense the triangles help to provide greater detail than an analogous screen of plain 80x25 ANSI would yield. Here are a couple Big 5 takes on menu artwork on a Final Fantasy 11 theme:
(And more, but different! Bump the Roman numeral, make all the letters slightly wider...)
Warmed up, yet? Just helping you to calibrate. here's a Bomb (it's a kind of enemy first appearing in FF2) by Scarecrow of VOR:
All right, you've adjusted your v-hold and buckled yourself down? Now let's switch into overdrive and get this show on the road!
OK, it's an original depiction of Terra Branford (totally notable!) from Final Fantasy VI!

And here's an original group shot of Cloud Strife & Sephiroth from that classic FF VII:

Another original take on a popular subject, it's Cloud Strife again:
Next, a curious original arrangement here, no doubt following one too many late nights playing Final Fantasy IV: "Cecil as both Paladin and Dark Knight":
Here's another original take on Cecil from the same game: the quote is directly sourced from the game.
An original depiction of Kefka from FFVI really putting negative space to good use:
Here we have a group piece, an original staging of Ramza and Agrias from Final Fantasy Tactics:
And while we're visiting that game, another original take on another character from that version of the franchise, one of FF's many, many Cids:
Here we get another original piece, Kururu from FFV.
Those were good pieces of monochrome art, but here in full colour ASCII is Auron from Final Fantasy X -- an image Konami describes as "pretty much taken from his official art". (But with more dollar signs, we can safely assume!)
Now an original presentation of a Jester class Moogle from Final Fantasy Tactics Advance:
And here, we get an original depiction of Rinoa from FF8:
The $ character for "filler" is only medium-intensity; the happy-face covers many more pixels, and makes for a brighter, more high-intensity pic that practically pops right off of the page! Here we get more FF7, now featuring Cait Sith! Everything is awesome!
For the last of these, Cyan (the character Cyan Garamonde, what do you think this is, the CGA fanart hour? No, that's magenta!) from FFVI:
Now we switch gears into full-bore ANSI art! (Funny to think that I really could have still further subdivided this uber-niche specialty post, "Final Fantasy textmode fan art by Konami", into different posts for representation of different styles. But no, I'm powering on through!) In a sense, we start actually losing detail with this less-abstract (or at least differently-abstracted) visual idiom. ASCII is an odd duck format to be sure, but it gives such splendid options for textures! So you don't get thrown too much, here's Cyan again:
This is an original design for Ultima The High Seraph from Final Fantasy Tactics:
And here, Squall from FF8. (Note from the artist: "I kinda hate that ANSI.")
Now there's an original take on Witch Edea, also from FF8 (I'm sensing bias toward certain games in the series... ones that were current when Konami drew these pictures, or ones that lend themselves unusually well to a textmode adaptation? My running theory is: the former.)
Following right up with an original design showing Locke from FFVI:
Here we have two original takes on Terra who you also saw in Konami's first piece in this blog posting:
An original toony group piece here, portraying all the characters in FFVI's final party:
An original design for Relm in FFVI:
Update: here are three that slipped the cracks! Without further ado... Golbez from Final Fantasy IV:
A tableau of some of the character classes from the first Final Fantasy game:
And here, Celes from Final Fantasy VI:
We now return you to your initially scheduled post in progress...

And here again, the stylish man it's impossible to escape in fanart circles, an original presentation of Cloud Strife:

And one MORE time, with a bit more detail:
And... further drilling in the exception that proves the rule (I know, why cap off the "Konami draws characters from Final Fantasy" post with art by different artists? I'm just a contrarian I suppose...), a big joint you can use to compare and contrast with that last one:
Phew, what an epic spree! That's not the last you'll see of Konami (you wouldn't believe just how much textmode video game art he's got up his sleeves!) but that probably is a fond farewell to the Final Fantasy games (especially numbers 6, 7 and 8). See you again soon, blockheads!