2018-12-06

Growing Up PAL


Without wishing to make too much of what is very much a first world problem, it was a bit of a miserable experience growing up as a fan of JPRGs in Australia (end elsewhere in PAL territories).

Limited local releases


It wasn’t that we missed out on obscure or fringe titles either - the “big hitters” of the genre, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest were completely absent from shelves. The very first Final Fantasy to see a PAL release was VII on the PlayStation. Dragon Quest took even longer - the PlayStation2’s Dragon Quest VIII was the initial appearance
for the series (the number was even dropped from the title, something that also occurred with the EU/AU/NZ Nintendo DS releases of Dragon Quest IV, V and VI. Presumably this was done to prevent any confusion but I like to imagine marketers saying “what other Dragon Quest games?” while whistling innocently).

Interestingly, some titles did still slip through the cracks. Lufia II [SNES] appeared as simply “Lufia” (the first game, which comes second chronologically never made an appearance). Suikoden [PlayStation] was the very first JRPG I played, rented from a video store (remember those?) on a whim. It’s still one of my favourites and is largely responsible for getting me into the “scene” (?).

What about imports?


With such scarcity of local releases, this meant importing was the only way to obtain most of the titles. Of course, this was before Amazon, VideoGamesPlus, Play-Asia, and the like, so I remember nervously ordering Lunar 2 [PlayStation] from a small online game store that was willing to ship internationally and crossing my fingers that they were legit. Thankfully, they were, and I still have that gorgeous boxed collection on my shelf.

Apart from the issue of actually getting the game in your hands was problem of region locking. The SNES used a lockout chip AND the cartridges were a slightly different shape (PAL used the same slightly rounded shape as the Super Famicom, while the US cartridges had squared corners. Getting around this involved an adapter to, firstly, make the cart fit and, secondly, defeat the lockout. This was done by having a second cartridge slot on the adapter, into which was placed a local game. This game was presented to the lockout chip, passing the region test.

On the CD-based consoles like the PlayStation and Saturn, there were a few workarounds. A common one was a mod chip soldered onto the motherboard that defeated the region lock. Another was the “swap-trick” for PlayStation, whereby a local game was started with the lid open (lid sensor depressed to fool the system into thinking it was shut) and swapping the import game at just the right time - after the region test but before the game itself started booting.

There were also universal adapters of various types - one for the Saturn that sat in the cartridge slot (normally used for the Memory card or for RAM expansions) or boot CDs for Dreamcast and Gamecube that function like a more elegant version of the swap trick. The tool would boot, get past the region lock, then load to a menu which prompted the user to swap the disc.

Good things come to those who wait


Eventually, the PAL markets started to see local releases of most of these missing titles, in the form of re-makes for the PlayStation and then the GBA, DS, and PSP and also via backwards compatibility (e.g., PlayStation titles released via the PSN store - playing the North American version of a game on an Australian console merely required setting up a US PSN account).

Some of the bigger titles kicked off this wave during the PlayStation years, with games such as Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy IV, V and VI making an appearance via collections. Eventually all of the series was locally available in some form. The Dragon Quest series was a similar story, with the earliest titles appearing as GBA re-makes, while IV, V and VI appeared on the DS. Only VII (PlayStation) missed out on a physical release.

The Present


Of course now, with the advent of a variety of emulators along with a nostalgia driven boom in re-releases, re-makes, and re-masters, most of these titles are more accessible than ever. In fact we are spoiled for choice in some cases - choose a platform, choose a version, choose an emulator, choose a translation (professional or fan, re-translation, re-localization or re-write), choose one or more mods.

Even after settling on a version of a game, then an emulator, there are things like scaling, filtering, and shaders to consider. Go for the authentic look or try to make it look more modern? Then come any patches or hacks put together by fans - some longstanding bugs have been fixed by committed folks while other groups have added new content or characters.

Trip Report - Hiking US Deserts - Introduction


For a bit of a change, I'll be writing up a (hopefully) proper trip report of my recent trip to the US. This involved lots of hiking in Joshua Tree, Zion, and Bryce Canyon. I figured this time of year would be a good time to visit in terms of lower temperatures and lower visitor numbers at Zion and Bryce.

Getting There


Unlike my last two trips to the US, which involved more round-about routings, this time I simply booked a simple cheap economy (sad face) return from SYD-LAX.

For reference, here are the flight maps for my previous trips:

From the beginning of 2018, a multi-carrier trip heading westwards



And from 2017, heading eastwards via Auckland, NZ


This trip


I did end up upgrading the SYD-LAX leg to Premium due to a discounted UpgradeMe offer but missed out on a Business class upgrade on the way back - my low ball bid was obviously just too, well, low.

Next time, in Part 1: Impressions of VA's Premium Economy cabin, venturing into LA's infamous traffic and exploring Joshua Tree National Park.

2018-11-17

Multitude Fantasy - Final Comparison

Compare the pair (and more)

So many versions/ports/translations of Final Fantasy VI, which leads to the inevitable question: which is the version to spend 60 hours playing through?

It's a question that's been asked all over the net with as many opinions as there are interested gamers. It can actually be quite fascinating, there are comparisons based on translation, looks, censorship (or the lack thereof), nostalgia, system of choice, and more.

As an aside, The Legends of Localization site has a wonderful breakdown and comparison of the different translations (complete with video), and is well worth having a look through.

It's certainly not a choice I've been able to make 100%, but I have ended up settling on a SNES play-through using the (admittedly flawed) RPGOne re-translation. I've also sunk a lot of hours into (but not completed) the GBA and PSX ports. The GBA is (IMHO) the best of the official ports, but it does require some patching to restore the original music and to lower the brightness (raised for the GBA screen).

First up, the SNES version - or, more accurately, the Super Famicom version patched with the RPGOne translation (v1.2) plus other fixes. Screenshots below from mednafen, with hq4x scaler and smoothing applied:







Next up, the patched GBA port:


 




 Finally, the PSX version:







So, for the moment at least, I'll probably persevere with the SNES/RPGOne version for this play-though but I'm also very tempted to keep up with the GBA version of switch over completely.  

2018-11-12

Walking up mountains in Queenstown, NZ

Queenstown, NZ


This was the one major part of NZ's South Island that I had yet to visit and I was blown away by the geography of the area. High peaks, mountain ranges, a gorgeous lake and towns nestled between the shore and the slopes.

The highlight for me was the hike to the summit of Ben Lomond. The 360 degree views at the top made the effort in getting up there well worth it.





2018-05-06

Battling the elements at Cradle Mountain

After spending a night in Queenstown (it rained), I got up early and drove up to Cradle Mountain NP (it rained all the way) and enjoyed some mixed weather (to put it mildly) while walking.



The weather ended up forcing a change of plans - I was originally going to do a loop that went near the summit but the weather up high at and beyond Marion's Lookout was just so brutal that I ended up turning back (about 30 mins after the lookout).










The change did work out reasonably well as I took the relatively sheltered trail past Crater Lake to Ronny Creek then back to Dove Lake.







It was a bit of a shame to have not much of a view at all from Marion's Lookout (it took 10 minutes of waiting for it to clear enough to see anything) and Cradle Mountain itself was invisible until mid-afternoon.





Still, a really nice area to do some walking with an amazing variety of plant life and scenery.

2018-05-04

Hiking the Mt Anne Track to Eliza Plateau


After warming up with a walk to the pinnacle at Hobart's Mt Wellington the day prior, I ventured a bit farther into the wilderness and tried the Eliza Plateau portion of the Mt Anne track from Condominium Creek (20km down the unsealed C607, itself 30km along B61 from the nearest town at Maydena).

It's almost a constant climb after a brief walk through a marsh. Quite challenging as the track varies, sometimes just following a watercourse that has gouged a path down to the rock. The views over Lake Pedder were wonderful and only get better they higher I climbed, at which point more and more of the surrounding mountains became visible.









The weather turned nasty as I headed back down (it seemed to change every 15 minutes anyway - rain, sun, wind, cloud) and it poured a which made it a real slog and obscured a lot of the view, which was a pity. Despite the ending, it was still a worthwhile and enjoyable walk.



2018-01-25

The long way around

It really was the long (wrong) way but I finally arrived in New York on Thursday morning local time after leaving Sydney Wednesday morning (Sydney time). A one night stop-over in Ho Chi Minh City padded out the scheduled a bit (arrived Wednesday evening and didn't depart until 24 hours later) but also allowed for a bit of rest.

There was method to my madness though - this was to take advantage of some incredible Qatar Airways business class fares that were only available departing Vietnam. These were some lovely flights, especially the DOH-JFK leg in a shiny A350 - even though it was a 14 hour flight! The seat, food, service and in-flight entertainment were all top notch, a wonderful way to fly.

The Path Less Traveled
Doha by Night


Final Approach to JFK from the Tail Camera