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An old Japanese video game console sits in my living room and I write things about it. Here.

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     One thing that I like about finding old Famicoms is when they have stickers on them.  Not just random stickers, mind you, but stickers which were specifically designed to be placed on a Famicom.
    This one I picked up a while ago and is sort of my back-up Famicom now.  I mainly got it for the stickers on the controllers.  Famitsu Magazine used to sometimes include various Famicom stickers that they`d include as special promotions.  By far the most useful ones were designed to put on the top sides of Famicom carts so that you could easily identify which cart it was.  Actually a lot of Famicom carts floating around out there still have those on them.

    Much harder to find though are the ones designed to put on Famicom controllers.  I`ve only ever seen two Famicoms with those on them, this one and another that I found at Omocha Souko a few years back which had the remnants of Dragon Quest stickers on them.

    I guess one of the reasons they are hard to find is that they don`t really have any function other than to make your Famicom controllers look different, and maybe people were therefore reluctant to put them on.  Also they look like they would have been kind of difficult to apply to the controllers, there are a lot of things (buttons, etc) you have to line up perfectly and if you mess it up by even 1mm it just wouldn`t look right. 

    I particularly like these ones in part because whoever applied them did a really good job of it, they are perfectly lined up and centred.  And the artwork on them is pretty cool.  Another thing I like is what these stickers tell me about this Famicom.  The sticker on the number 1 controller is pretty messed up, indicating that it was used a lot.  The sticker on the number 2 controller however is immaculate and looks like it was put on yesterday.  Obviously whoever owned this Famicom was accustomed to playing it solo. 

    Anyway, I just kind of thought these stickers were cool and wanted to do a post about them :)

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    Yesterday I had a bit of time and a random thought on my mind: what kind of company makes a video game console?

    It occurred to me that this might be a somewhat interesting way of approaching video game history.  So I sought I would put together a list of every company that has produced and marketed a video game console to see what it was they did before they made consoles.

    It might seem an odd question, but its also kind of interesting.  A company is an amalgamation of people supplying labor, money, management expertise and other skills to a business venture.  In the case of video game consoles, its kind of interesting to ask what those companies which decided to make a console were doing before they made that decision.  Were some types of companies more likely to make a video game console than others?  Do certain types of companies make better consoles that succeed on the market?  How did that change from generation to generation?

    So I put together the following tables, which trace the history of video game consoles from the 1st generation to the seventh.   I didn`t include the eighth because it is still new and we don`t know what will happen during the rest of this generation. Basically if a company released a console for the first time in a given generation it gets listed, along with the industry that the company was originally involved in.  I didn`t list the company a second time if it released a second console (so for example Sony appears in generation five, but not in six, etc).  I excluded dedicated systems from the list, which means there weren`t many from the first gen (which I combine with the second gen in the tables). I also excluded consoles that were cancelled before release. The tables reveal a few interesting things.  Here they are in order:

    First and Second Generations

    Notable Console
    Company`s original industry
    Fairchild Channel F
    Semiconductor manufacturer
    Coleco Vision
    Atari 2600
    Arcade Games/ Consoles
    RCA Studio II
    Bally Manufacturing
    Bally Astrocade
    Pinball Game Manufacturer
    Toy Manufacturer
    Bandai Super Vision 8000
    Toy Manufacturer
    VTech Creativision
    Video Game Manufacturer
    Epoch Cassette Vision
    Toy Manufacturer
    Arcadia 2001
    Phonographic Records
    Entex Adventure Vision
    Toy Manufacturer
    Smith Engineering
    Video Game Manufacturer

    Third Generation

    RDI Halcyon
    Video Game Manufacturer
    Smoking pipe manufacturer
    Commodore 64 Games System
    Typewriter manufacturer
    Amstrad GX4000
    Consumer Electronics
    Master System
    Jukebox/ Slot machine maker
    Too many to mention!
    Playing Card manufacturer
    Daewoo Electronics
    Consumer Electronics
    Worlds of Wonder
    Action Max
    Toy Manufacturer

    Fourth Generation

    PC Engine
    Telephone manufacturer
    Konix Multisystem
    Video game maker
    Neo Geo
    Arcade maker
    Memorex VIS
    Computer Tape maker
    Lamp maker
    Super A`Can
    Office Equipment Maker

    Fifth Generation

    Pioneer Corporation
    Pioneer Laser Active
    Speaker maker
    FM Towns Marty
    Information Technology
    Consumer Electronics
    Lamp maker

    Sixth Generation

    X Box
    Software Manufacturer

    Seventh Generation

    Game Wave
    Video game maker
    Consumer Electronics

    There are a few interesting things we learn from these tables.

    The first is that a lot of toy manufacturers - Mattel, Bandai, Entex, Worlds of Wonder - entered the console market in the first to third generations, but from generation four (Super Famicom/Mega Drive) they completely stopped entering the console market.  I guess this may be a result of the increasingly complicated nature of consoles.  In the early generations the types of skills that companies had for making toys were probably more easy to transfer to the making of simple video game systems, but as the technology progressed it became harder for them to make that leap and they just stopped trying.

    The second is that, relatively speaking, not many of these companies began life in the video game world.  Atari is one of the few, having been founded specifically to make video games.  After that there are a smattering of other companies founded by former employees of console makers or companies that were in closely related fields like arcade games - Smith Engineering (Vectrex), Vtech, Konix, SNK and Zapit. 

    There are also a few really oddball origins for some of these companies.  Casio, which released the PV-1000 in the third generation, started off as a maker of smoking pipes in postwar Japan before moving into the field of calculators and other electronics it is more famous for.  Coleco, which made one of the most popular consoles of the second generation, got its start in the early 20th century producing leather goods.  Sega started off as a jukebox maker, which I think is pretty cool.  And suprisingly not one but two companies on the list - Philips and Panasonic - got their start as lamp makers in the early 20th century.

    Other than that most of the industries are relatively unsurprising - electronics or computer related items make up a lot of the list.  That makes sense given the transferability of skills and expertise between those and the making of a video game console.

    Another thing worth noting is the sudden drop off in new entrants after the fifth generation.  The sixth generation is an interesting one - according to this Wikipedia list there were actually a large number of companies planning to enter the console market that generation but most of them were cancelled before release.  The seventh generation had a few entrants with Famiclone type consoles, but I didn`t include them on the list since those aren`t serious competitors in a generation`s console market.

    The rapid drop off might be an indication that the console market got a lot tougher to enter after the fifth generation. Unsurprisingly each generation since then has been dominated by the exact same big three - Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft.  That marks the longest run in console war history that you had effectively the same list of big competitors dominating - the Sega/Nintendo/Sony console war lasted only two generations (though the Sega/Nintendo console war lasted a generation longer, but with NEC as the main competitor in the 3rd gen).  The sixth generation was also the last generation in which a new entrant (Microsoft) was able to become a major competitor.

    Anyway, those are just a few thoughts about what this tells us.  In terms of the current generation the big three all come from widely differing areas.  Nintendo started as a playing card maker, then transitioned into toys before making consoles.  It is the last of the toy makers from the early generations to still be in the business.  Sony for its part was one of a relatively large number of consumer electronics makers in the 3rd -5th generations to try making consoles.  Microsoft is...well, its Microsoft.

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  • 04/29/14--02:00: Famicoming on a Rainy Day
  • Today is a national holiday that awkwardly falls on a Tuesday.  It has been raining cats and dogs since last night.  With a Famicom firmly installed in our living room, however, we are well prepared to wile away the afternoon warm and dry indoors.
    They key to enjoying a rainy afternoon playing Famicom with your better half is game selection.  I grabbed a dozen promising titles, pictured above, each carefully selected based on the fact that we both like playing it.

    First, Dr. Mario.  A classic in two player, I always play at difficulty level 19, my wife at 18.  I take 3 out of 5.

    Then Binary Land.  We take turns on that one, alternating with each level cleared.  We make it about 9 levels before we run out of lives.

    Onyanko Town:  my wife is a million times better at that game than I am.  She makes it to level 3 our first try while I am stuck running around looking for the kitten on the first level.  I like that game a lot, but I suck at it.

    Ninja JaJa Maru Kun:  I forgot how much I liked that game.  The music is one of my favorite 8-bit tunes.  We both do pretty well.

    Tetris Flash: Safely back in my territory I take 3 straight before we decide to move on.

    Poo-Yan: another classic, but it is so frustrating when the wolves deflect your arrows.

    The rest of the games will be played tonight.  We are taking a break now while my wife gets dinner ready, which is really awesome of her.  Adventure Island and Antarctic Adventure are two I am eagerly looking forward to. 

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    I bought a lot of about 70 Famicom carts off of Yahoo Auctions a few days ago and they arrived in the mail last night.  Sometimes lots of games that you buy there will turn up unexpected treasures like a copy of Battletoads or Gimmick, especially when it is someone who doesn`t necessarily know much about games and is just selling off a big pile of them which they found in a closet or something.

    This lot turned up a little treasure of its own which I have never seen in a lot like this before.  A copy of Takahashi Meijin Bouken Shima (Adventure Island) autographed by Takahashi Meijin himself!

    I`m not an autograph expert, but I looked around Google and this does indeed look like his autograph.  Its possible that it is a forgery, but a few things suggest it is real.  The first is that if you were going to forge his autograph you probably wouldn`t choose this cart, which is fairly beat up.  The second is that the seller didn`t even mention there was an autographed cart in the lot, and this cart wasn`t even in the main thumbnail photo on the listing, which you would expect someone trying to rip people off to do.  And, like I said, it looks like his autograph. 

    Anyway, assuming its real I think this is a pretty amazing addition to my collection.  Takahashi Meijin is probably the most well-known face associated with the Famicom from its heyday in the 1980s.  There are of course a lot of Nintendo people (Takahashi worked for Hudson) who were more important, but as recognizable personalities they have a lot less recognition than Takahashi, whose face was plastered all over advertisements, was featured in five games (not including the SFC and Gameboy ones) and even had his own TV show.  Probably Arino from Game Centre CX is the only person to give him a run for his money as the most recognized Famicom personality in Japan, but he only became in that regard years after the Famicom`s peak popularity.

    Actually now that I have this I am wondering how easy it would be to meet the man and maybe get him to sign a copy of Takahashi Meijin Bouken Shima II.  I love that pink cart and it would look amazing with an autograph on it.

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     Nagoya is not generally known as a major tourist centre.  That is because it isn`t one.  Its an industrial city that was heavily bombed during the war and thus doesn`t have much in the way of traditional sites that most visitors to Japan are looking for.

    It is, however, the third largest urban centre in Japan (technically the fourth largest `city`, but the number 1 and 2 on that list, Tokyo and Yokohama, are more or less one massive urban blob), and as such it is one of the few cities in Japan - in addition to Osaka (Den Den Town) and Tokyo (Akihabara) to possess an actual gaming/otaku neighorhood of its own: Osu.  So this will be the first in a series of two posts in which I take you through the retro gaming haven of Nagoya`s Osu neighborhood.

     Osu is a fairly large neighborhood comparable in size to Osaka`s Den Den Town.  From a retro gaming perspective though I would rate it a bit lower.  Den Den Town is primarily an electronics and gaming neighborhood while Osu, in terms of shops, skews a bit more towards the manga and cosplay end of the Otaku-verse. Nonetheless it does have a few worth taking in.

    Most of Osu is made up of a series of pedestrian only streets covered by arcade roofs.  These are a lot of fun to walk around, filled with tons of neat shops, arcade centres and pachinko halls.
    The retro gaming shops however are mostly centred on a street without an arcade roof, called Akamon Street.  It is easy to find with its red gate (Akamon means red gate).

     The street has a fair number of neat shops selling random used stuff, a lot of them computer or gaming related.  The first one that has Famicom stuff you will come across is called K-House
     It has a bunch of CDs and other stuff piled out front on the sidewalk, you can see some SFC and Famicom games crammed in the back:
     They have a pretty sizeable selection of gaming stuff (they also sell DVDs and CDs) inside:

    The prices, however, are among the worst I have seen anywhere in Japan.  This shop gouges so badly I would describe them as approaching Toronto levels.  These red and white Famicoms for example (modded for AV) are priced at 7200 yen (about $75 US) each, which is way more than what they should be priced at.

     The Super Famicom controllers in this box were 1200 yen (12$) each, about double what I would describe as a fair market price for them.
     And the Famicom games were just indescribably overpriced.  The only good thing I can say is that at least they had a decent selection of them.

    Leaving K-House about 100 metres on the ssame side of the street you will see some N-64 controllers lying causually about getting a tan:
     These are hooked up to a TV so you can play Smash Bros. on the sidewalk, which is without a doubt the coolest thing in Nagoya.  This shop is called Meikoya, located in a small building whose second floor is a shop dedicated to Korean pop idol goods:

    This is a much much better shop than K-House.  The prices are generally in the `slightly high but still fair` zone, like what they are asking for these Rockmans here:

    Or 3780 yen for Contra, which is close to what that goes for on Yahoo Auctions

    They have a pretty decent pile of AV Famicoms in there

    And their game selection is pretty good:

     They had one thing which caught my eye, a cart for the Famicom Karaoke set.  I have the microphone for this but not the cart (which has the music).  At 3490 yen I decided to give it a pass, but I thought it was cool that they at least had it:
     Those are two of the main retro gaming shops on Akamon street.  In the next post I`ll look at the biggest in town: Mandarake!

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     Part two of my posts on retro game shopping in Nagoya brings us to the Nagoya branch of Mandarake.  Nagoya`s Mandarake is also in the Osu neighborhood and is actually just a couple of minutes walk away from the game shops I visited in my previous post.   

    It is a bit tricky to find though since it is on a side street, basically when you are walking down one of the arcade streets and you get to about here (the Ameyokocho building, which is also definitely worth checking out):

    You turn onto a side street and blammo, you are right there:

    I give the shop a score of minus 1000 in terms of its external appeal.  Whereas pretty much everywhere in Osu is vibrant and colorful, Mandarake is located in the only bit of grey dreariness in the neighborhood, surrounded by ugly parking lots.  And the building itself is an ugly grey blob.  But once you get inside its a different story.

    In terms of stuff they have about the same type of selection as the Fukuoka Mandarake that I have featured on here numerous times.  The first floor is video games and comics, while the upper floors are toys and cosplay stuff.

    Their Famicom selection isn`t as good as that in the Fukuoka Mandarake (which is surprising given that Nagoya is more than double the size of Fukuoka).  They keep all the loose carts in this basket here.  The prices are probably the best you will find in Osu, though that isn`t necessarily saying much.  They are fair and you might find the odd bargain in there.
     The glass case has some impressive stuff in it, although the selection there also isn`t quite as good as the Fukuoka Mandarake.  They have 3 copies of Gimmick! (12000 yen each, with a note saying they are a bit dirty) and 3 copies of Hitler no Fukkatsu (3800 yen each).  In the back of this photo you can see they have some really rare stuff, but this photo is pretty much everything they have in terms of higher price loose rarities.  Impressive, but not quite as varied as the Fukuoka Mandarake.
     Their valuable CIB stuff is kind of the same.  Again they have 3 copies of Gimmick (42000 yen each) which right there makes up half their selection of CIB stuff.  Actually  going to this store really makes me question just how hard Gimmick is to find if one shop can have six copies of it.
     They did have a decent selection of lower priced CIB Famicom games on a shelf which I wasn`t able to photograph.  The one area they did beat Fukuoka Mandarake on was selection of games for older consoles like the Epoch Cassette Vision and Sega Mark III, which they had a good variety of.  The prices here for most stuff are reasonable so if you are in Nagoya I would say this is probably the best place to visit if you are determined to spend a bit of money!

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    This morning I read this article by Andrew Leonard about vinyl records and CDs and it got me drawing some of the obvious parrallels between collecting music and collecting video games.  The point that he makes begins with the observation that there is still a lot of demand out there for vinyl records.  In the American market last year saw the biggest sales numbers for vinyl in over 15 years, with the few factories that still press records ramping up production in response.  In Japan I can say that a similar trend exists, there are tons of record specialty stores in most cities (the Osu neighborhood that I featured last week has at least half a dozen record stores stocked with tons of vinyl). 

    Music CDs, on the other hand, seem unlikely to see a similar resurgence of interest.  Vinyl`s resurrection from obsolescence lay in the fact that the physical act of playing a record on a turntable is significantly different from that of listening to a digital audio file.  It is also kind of cool.  CDs on the other hand don`t really offer that distinction.  Vinyl is analogue.  CDs are digital - too similar to the technology that replaced them to really offer someone an incentive to maintain a large collection of them. 

    This got me thinking about the video game connection: are carts like records?  Does that make them cooler than disc based games?  Are people therefore more likely to collect carts than they are disc based games?

    In some ways music and video games are similar  Carts are analogue (edit: actually they are digital, but they kind of `feel` analogue).  They offer a different physical experience to CDs - the feel of the plastic in your hand, blowing on the connectors, trying to get the thing wedged in correctly.  Its all different in ways that make them kind of cool.

    Carts also seem to lend themselves more easily to being collected than discs.  Really what you are mainly after if you are collecting disc based video games is more the box and manual with the artwork rather than the disc itself.  A video game disc on its own is almost worthless (well, its worth whatever the game itself is to play, but not much more).  The CDs just don`t display the cover art of the game very well and you can`t handle them in a carefree way like you can with carts. 

    There is also a bigger generational factor at play with video games than there is with music.  An album released on vinyl was probably also later released on CD. The Beatles for example released all their albums years before CDs even existed yet every one of their albums (and more) have been released on CD. Anybody collecting albums though is going to want the vinyl version rather than the CD, thus making the CDs redundant from a collector`s point of view.

    With video games though you don`t have as much cross-generational releases on different media.  Most Famicom games were only released on cart based systems and never got released as disc based games (save on various collections, which don`t really count).  So the medium is more readily tied to a specific generation than with music.  Also, most disc based games (unlike music originally released on CD) can`t be retroactively released on a cart based system due to the technological limitations of that medium.  I can get a copy of Nirvana`s Never Mind on vinyl even though it was originally released on CD, but I`ll never be able to get a copy of any PS4 games in cart form.

    So while there is a similarity between carts and vinyl, there are still some differences between video games and music which make the carts/vinyl analogy a little problematic.  Still though, I think carts are way cooler than discs.  Anyone agree?  Or violently disagree?

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    Just a random thing that has been puzzling me for a while.  Have you ever noticed how a lot of Famicom carts have the number 17 on the back of them?  Right there in the upper left hand corner of the back label?

    Whats up with that?

    Not all carts have the number 17, a lot of them are just blank.  But there are no carts with, for example, the number 15 on them.  Or 16.  Or 4.  And so on.

    So I was just wondering about that.  Why 17?  Anybody know?

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     Notice anything odd about the above cart?

    I was just sorting through a pile of random Famicom carts and did a bit of a double-take when I saw this copy of Oukon Densetsu.  I have never seen this before, but somehow Bandai managed to put the label on upside down!  Only on front though, the back label is normal:

    They must have had a sheet of labels get inserted into the labelling machine upside down or something.  It is kind of a neat find, albeit on a game I have never played.  Anybody else ever find something like this before?  I can imagine that the Nintendo, Jaleco and most other carts would have been vulnerable to the same type of problem, though with Konami carts it would be hard to do given the fact that the label extends over the top. 

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  • 06/14/14--20:14: Famicom Bars: I want one.
  • Famicom City in Shibuya

    Famicom bars and cafes are one of the few remaining awesome bastions of Japanese retro gaming culture which I have yet to try.

    If you don`t know what they are.....well, basically they are about what you think they would be after hearing the phrase "Famicom bar" or "Famicom cafe".  Bars and cafes at which customers can play Famicom and other retro games.  There is a good write up about some of them in Tokyo over on 1Up here.

    My main reason for not having ever been in one of these places (there are even a couple not far from where I live) is, I`m ashamed to admit, that I`m a bit of a cheapskate.  The problem is that most Famicom bars/cafes have a pricing policy that is significantly different from most bars and cafes.  They aren`t places where you can just go in, order a beer and casually down it at your own pace like at a pub.  Instead they charge by the hour, usually with a minimum total charge of 2000-3000 yen.

    Given that I can actually buy a Famicom for about that much, I`ve always balked at going to one.  This is horribly cheap of me, I know.  You are paying for the experience of sitting in an interesting environment and playing games, so comparisons with the price of an actual Famicom are kind of meaningless.  Nonetheless, my mind works in mysterious and not always rational ways like that.

    When I think about though I totally understand why they price things that way.  The Japanese otaku crowd is, to be gentle, renowned for not being short on people who like to linger.  Open a business specifically targetting them and not charging by the hour is an invitation to have your business swamped by people ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and then sitting there for 9 hours playing Dragon Quest 3 over and over again.

    Anyway, what I really like about this kind of business, in the abstract anyway, is that it has always been a secret dream of mine to open up a bar when I retire and these places give me lots of room for daydreaming about what kind of a Famicom bar I would open if I ever got the chance.  I think I would introduce a twist on the pricing policy.  I would have a two drink minimum to avoid the lingering otaku problem, but with each drink you would get one game to keep when you leave.  So the menu would have two columns, one with a type of drink and the other with a list of games, and with each order you would have to choose one of each.  The price of the drink would largely depend on which game you wanted to go with it (Gimmick and a beer would be very expensive, Golf and a beer would be very cheap).  It would be kind of combining drinking and video game shopping in one experience, which I think would be a lot of fun.

    And of course the best part about opening a place like that would be decorating it.  I would like to have one entire wall basically wallpapered with Famicom carts.  I think that would look awesome.  I would also cover the counter tops and table tops with a solid surface made up of Famicom carts too (covered with a bit of plexiglass).  They look so awesome, I`m surprised none of the existing places have done that yet.  The one photo (in the top of this post) is from one in Shibuya where they tried to do the decor in red and white Famicom colors.  I do not like the look of that one at all.  It just doesn`t have the right vibe - it is too clean and orderly and looks more like a generic fast food restaurant rather than a cool place with some character.  And using identical flat TVs is a big no in my books - my place would be decked out exclusively with old-school cathode ray TV sets.

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     I got an unexpected surprise last week.  I had bought a small lot of about a dozen Famicom carts off of Yahoo Auctions and when they came in the mail I discovered that the sender had used the most awesome packing box ever - a vintage Famicom lunch box!

    This thing is totally awesome.  Released in 1985 it features the usual round up of figures from popular early Famicom releases on the front - Ice Climber, Super Mario, Wrecking Crew and Clu Clu Land.  The art looks awesome close up
    Both the top and the bottom have that same, colorful artwork on it.  On the side it just lets you know its a Family Computer lunch box
    While the other side has some blue colored characters from Super Mario Brothers:

    This must have been a pretty awesome thing for a kid to carry his or her lunch to school in.  It brings back fond memories of my own Empire Strikes Back lunch box that I used to lug around in the early 80s.  I`m not sure if this Famicom one came with a thermos or not.

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    I have added another oddball Famicom controller to my collection: the Top Rider inflatable motorcycle!

    This is definitely one of the most interesting Famicom controllers ever made.  It is about what you think it is - an inflatable motorcycle that you ride on.  The handlebars, which are removable, are the only actual functional controller, with start/select buttons and the gas/brake control built into the handles themselves.

    Its actually a pretty cool controller, hooking it up it reminds me a lot of motorcycle games that I have played in arcades.  The controls work pretty smoothly.

    There are, however, two caveats.  One is that it is a massive pain in the ass to actually blow the thing up, especially if you aren`t used to doing so like me.  I thought I was going to pass out by the time I got it fully inflated.  Therefore this is one game that probably isn`t going to be played with very much in my household, neat though it is.

    The other thing is that this controller was designed for 7 year old Japanese kids rather than 37 year old, 6 foot tall foreigners.  If you fall into the latter category, this is what you will look like when riding it:

    For comparison`s sake please note the similarity:

    It is massively uncomfortable for an adult to use the controller as a result, which is too bad. Of course it is possible to use the handlebars without the motorbike so I might stick to that.

    Its kind of a must-have item for anyone collecting oddball Famicom stuff.  It was never released outside of Japan, and even in Japan it is a hard one to find (this is the first one I`ve ever seen, I won it on Yahoo Auctions).  This one doesn`t have the box which made it within my price range, with it I don`t think I could have afforded it!

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    Something kind of odd I have been noticing about retro video game collectors is the fact that, unlike other types of collectors, we don`t seem to place much importance on the `rookie games` of major characters.

    By `rookie game` I basically mean the game in which a major character made his/her/it`s first appearance.

    In baseball cards, for example, a player`s rookie card, like this 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, is considered really valuable and everybody wants it.  Willie Mays is of course a popular player so all his cards ae popular, but his rookie card in particular is the one that everyone places the highest value on
    In comic book collecting too the first issue that a major character appears in is always sought after and way more valuable than other issues.  Like issue 27 of Detective Comics here featuring Batman`s first appearance
    In video game collecting though we don`t really seem to attach a great deal of importance to the question of whether or not a game features the first appearance of a major character or not.  Value seems to be determined solely by how rare a game is and how popular/fun to play it is.  We don`t even  have a word in our collecting vocabulary to describe the concept (`rookie game` is just something I made up and probably doesn`t work too well).

    Its a bit odd given that we can easily identify which carts feature the first appearance of a given character.  Like Antarctic Adventure here features the first appearance of that penguin:

     Probably the most impressive `rookie game` would be Donkey Kong, which featured the simultaneous first appearances of both Donkey Kong and Mario, arguably the two most famous video game characters of all time. 

    I have pictured the Donkey Kong Famicom cart at the top of this post, but if we are going to be strict, I don`t think that would count as a rookie game.  The Colecovision cart was the first home port of Donkey Kong, so I think the Colecovision Donkey Kong would be considered the true first appearance cart of those two characters (I find it kind of interesting that Nintendo`s two most famous characters didn`t make their home debut on a Nintendo console).  Technically of course the game was featured on Arcade cabinets first, but I don`t think those count (or, more accurately, they do count but would fall into a different category since collecting arcade cabinets is a whole different ballgame from collecting carts).

    Anyway, those are just some thoughts I had about that.  I wonder why we don`t collect video games in the same way that comic book or sports card collectors do.  I guess part of it might have to do with the fact that video game carts are tied to specific consoles and most of us collect games for whichever systems we have or like rather than just collecting carts for collecting carts` sake (which is kind of what baseball card collectors do).

    It would make for kind of an interesting approach to collecting.  Some systems definitely have a lot of important characters first appearance, like the Famicom (Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters, etc). 

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  • 08/02/14--02:11: The Original Mach Rider
  •  Despite the Fact that I am desperately trying to make some more living space in our apartment, every once in a while I find something so neat I cannot resist the temptation to splurge.  My most recent purchase: the original 1972 Mach Rider!

    As usual, Erik over at Before Mario has beat me to writing a post about Mach Rider by about 3 years and I recommend checking his post out for the full scoop on the toy.  Just to recap the highlights here: It is based on a toy originally released by Hasbro under a different name.  It came in 3 colors (I got the yellow one, but I guess the photo gives that away).  Its basically a racing car that will fly at high speeds off a jump ramp.  It is awesome.

    The box mine came in is a bit beat up, but its awesome nonetheless:

     Inside, its got a pretty cool control platform (the dials are stickers, but its got a gear shift that actually shifts):
     I don`t have the batteries or the floor space (or as Erik`s post suggests, a lack of pets) so I haven`t given it a try yet.  I`m satisfied for the moment to just look at it.  Mine came with an interesting bonus goodie, a chirashi (flyer) advertising Nintendo`s mini game series, which was being released at the same time.  Its a pretty neat piece of Nintendo history:
     And best of all, it came with the decals still unapplied.  I`m very tempted to use some of these on my bicycle that I commute to work on, but I won`t.
    I`m pretty happy to have this in my collection, its one of the more colorful and neat toys (among many) that Nintendo released in the 60s and 70s which are pretty hard to find today.

    Before finishing this post, I have to put a little plug in for a friend of mine over on Famicom World, Dire51 (aka Rob Strangman) who has just put out a book about retro gaming entitled "Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman".  If you are looking for some light retro game reading, give it a look!

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    The man in the centre of the above picture is Yoshitaka Enomoto.  He is standing next to the host of a TV show called Nandemo Kanteidan, which is kind of a Japanese version of Antiques Roadshow.  It is a lot more flamboyant than the English version, but I watch it a lot.  Mostly people bring stuff like old samurai swords, paintings, bits of pottery, etc in to get told it is either worth a fortune or completely worthless.  The host, who is a comedian, cracks jokes throughout the show.

     Anyway, the particular episode that Mr. Enomoto appeared on was broadcast on Tuesday this week.  He brought an interesting bit of Famicom history and an interesting story with him.  The antique that he brought with him to have appraised was this (pardon the photo quality, I was just aiming my camera at the TV while the show was on):

    A gold copy of Rockman 4!

    If you aren`t familiar with hyper Famicom rarities, the gold Rockman 4 is probably the rarest Famicom cart out there, only 8 copies of it were ever made.  I have seen one in the wild once and posted about it here, at Super Potato in Osaka last year.

    The carts were made as prizes for a competition that Capcom ran to have fans design the boss characters in the new Rockman game.  They received over 70,000 entries from fans across Japan, most of them little kids.  Only 8 were chosen and each of those 8 kids got a special gold copy of the game when it was released.

    Its rarity means that it is super valuable and, as with a lot of these gold/silver special carts, it is pretty easy to fake (all you have to do is paint a regular Rockman 4 cart gold, though an expert would immediately recognize it since the underlying plastic is a different color from regular carts).

    There was no danger that this one was a forgery, however, since Mr. Enomoto as a junior high school student back in 1991 was one of the lucky 8 winners of Capcom`s contest.  His design?  Brightman:

    It was pretty neat to see that at least one copy of the gold Rockman 4s remains in the hands of the actual kid who won it back in the day.

    The show did a little segment about the history of the Famicom, which was interesting but if you are reading this blog you probably already know the details so I won`t recap what they said.

     The segment ended with the show`s antique experts examining the game to make sure it was the real deal and see what condition it was in:
     And then they gave their opinion on its value.  In keeping with the greater flamboyance levels of the Japanese version of the show, they reveal this on a set that looks like it was borrowed from the Price is Right circa 1992.  They told him it was worth 400,000 yen (about $4,000 US).
     That sounds like a lot, but I was actually expecting them to say it was worth more.  The copy that I saw in Super Potato last year had a price of 628,000 yen (about $6300 US) on it, and this one looked like it was in every bit as good condition.  Maybe Super Potato is a bit overpriced?  Or the experts on Nandemo Kanteidan don`t quite know as much as they let on?  I guess it is hard to put a price on something so rare, they must hardly ever pop up for sale.

    Its also interesting to wonder how many of the other 8 are still in the hands of their original owners?  Obviously the one in Super Potato isn`t, but what of the other 6?

    As an interesting point to end the post on, the experience of designing Brightman as a kid seems to have had a major influence on Enomoto.  He went on to become a professional illustrator and has worked on a lot of animated TV shows and Manga!

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    One of the types of Famicom ephemera which I enjoy collecting the most are chirashi (mini posters/ flyers) that were handed out back in the day to advertise upcoming game releases. 

    I like them mainly because they look cool and are the sort of thing that look good when framed and hanging on your wall.  Like my Gyrodine and Sky Destroyer ones, which have awesome artwork on them:

     I picked up a small lot of them off of Yahoo Auctions the other day that just arrived in the mail.  I`m pretty happy with them.  Most of them were actually Famicom Disk System games, like Metroid here which is probably my favorite of the lot:

    And Super Mario Bros 2:

     Zelda no Densetsu:

     And a few others.

    The only thing that I dislike about collecting Famicom chirashi is the price - they are pretty hard to find so the prices likewise tend to be on the high side and bargains are few and far between.  Still though its kind of worth it for the cool artwork.  They also have cool stuff on the back, like this one which explains how you can re-write games on disks:

     Collecting chirashi is actually one of my main non-Famicom collecting pursuits too.  In addition to advertising video games they are also used for a lot of other things, including movies.  Japanese movie chirashi are actually in some ways even cooler than  the Famicom chirashi.  Japanese movies almost always have unique paintings commissioned for them which are reproduced on the chirashi.  The artwork, which often combines familiar scenes with bold looking kanji, make them look pretty awesome.  Like this poster from You Only Live Twice, with the 007 in big type, with the title in kanji below.  Totally epic:

     Same with this old school Battle Star Galactica from the 70s:

     Mega Force!!!  If you haven`t seen this film, you don`t understand early 80s culture at all:
     Ditto with Mr. T in DC Cab.  Having him yell at you in Japanese is pretty priceless:
      I keep some of my favorite movie ones on the wall in the same room with the Famicom chrashi.  They are actually a bit smaller than the Famicom ones (B5 vs A4 size).  Bonus points to anyone who can identify the 5 films in this photo:
     The other cool thing about movie chirashi is that they are generally a lot cheaper than Famicom chirashi. I`m not sure why that is, but I guess there are more of them out there than the Famicom ones.  I think people have been collecting movie chirashi since the late 60s/early 70s so there are a lot of them that have been preserved, which probably helps to keep the prices reasonable.

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     Some carts I have more copies of than others.  Super Mario Bros, Spartan X, Excitebike and Donkey Kong Jr for some reason I have quite a few of.  They were pretty popular games back in the day and are pretty good games to play now.  Still though, I don`t relaly need 12 copies of each even though I have that many.

    When you have 12 of the same Famicom cart you can organize them into 3 by 4 squares which, when put together with other carts you have 12 of, can open up some interesting interior decorating ideas.

     Parquet type flooring is one.  You would have to put them under some sort of sturdy, extremely thick plexiglass to prevent them from being broken though, which would be expensive to install.  Maybe not the best idea.
     They would make for a great coffee-table top too, just put a piece of glass over them and you are golden.  Definitely a cool conversation starter.
    They would also work pretty good as wallpaper if you had some way of attaching them to the wall wtihout damaging them.  Probably there is some way of doing this.  A wall covered with Famicom carts in 3 by 4 squares would look  pretty awesome.  If I ever open up a Famicom cafe, that is how I am going to decorate it.

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    The Japanese website CuRazy recently published a little piece reporting the top 18 things Japanese people remember about playing the Famicom as children.  Rocketnews did a good piece in English mentioning the highlights, but after reading the original I thought it would worth doing a pure, stripped down English translation of the list, which is totally awesome.  Here they are, in the same order they appeared in CuRazy:

    1. To begin, blowing on the cassette.

    2. At school, classes were generally divided into a Draqon Quest faction and a Final Fantasy Faction.  But there would always be that one guy on his own who was into Wizardry.

    3. Declaring that you would play Famicom all through the night on New Year`s Eve, then giving up halfway through.

    4. Pushing the reset button again and again and again because the game wouldn`t start.

    5. Getting into a fight while playing a simultaneous 2 player game.

    6 Having it hidden by your parents.

    7. When playing a two player game and the 1P player was about to lose, pushing the pause button in rapid succession (to mess up 2P`s timing, 2P not being able to retaliate as the 2P controller doesn`t have the pause button).

    8. Playing a racing game and moving your whole body with the game.  Then doing it a bit too much, pulling out the cord and causing the game to blink off.

    9. When you finish the game, waiting for a bit to watch the end screen.

    10. Your parents, while carrying the laundry, tripping over the Famicom and causing the game to freeze.

    11.  Loving it when you played by yourself!  Hating it when your friend came over!

    12. When your friend was playing, amusing yourself by playing with the microphone in the 2P controller.

    13. 20 years later, finally actually reading the instruction manual for the first time and realizing what the game`s story was all about.

    14. Buttons getting stuck in.

    15. When inserting the cart, having to carefully push both sides in equally.

    16. Being incredibly anxious the first time you played Dragon Quest 3.

    17. Not being able to save a game, just leaving the Famicom on when you went to school.  Then coming home and discovering your mom had turned it off.

    18. Writing your name on the back of the cart.

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  • 10/31/14--17:43: Been a Busy Month
  • I haven`t been posting in a while.  Been kind of busy with the above bundle of joy who just arrived.  Going to be a while before he is able to play the Famicom and by the time he does, it will be a 35 year old console.  Wow.  Hope he likes it, but I suspect I will have to buy him some more contemporary forms of entertainment when he gets old enough to actually use those opposable thumbs.

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    Five years ago today I found myself in my living rom in our old apartment in Fukuoka with a bit of free time to kill. I sat down on a tiny sofa with a ton of recently photographed Famicom carts scattered on the floor and I wrote this post about the different designs that Famicom carts came in. Thus Famicomblog was born.

    Five years later and, much to my surprise and delight, Famicomblog is still a going concern even though the recent addition to our family has severely dented my blog output.  Normally when a blog becomes too self referential it is a sure sign it has jumped the shark, but screw everything I am going to do the ultimate in self referential blogging just this one time to mark the occasion.   In self-congratulatory honor of having reached the 5 year milestone I am going to take you on my ego trip through what I like about my own blog.  Read on at your own peril
    So, what are my favorite posts?  I ask myself.  

    My Tour D`Excitebike post that I made during the first year remains the one I enjoyed making the most. I just took 5 copies of Excitebike with me on a bike ride around Fukuoka, taking pictures of them at random places - castle walls, a port with fishing vessels tied up, the red light district, etc etc. I got a few odd looks from people as I did so but that was a really nice day and so totally worth it.
    I did a few similar posts like that, including this one with my Nintendo Lefty RX about a year ago which was also a lot of fun (I was pleased with how the photos for that one turned out, if you use forced perspective you can make a tiny toy car look almost real)

    One kind of post which I did a lot in the early days of this blog but gave up after about the first year or so were ones in which I photographed my entire collection.  The carts look so awesome stacked up, I kind of miss doing those posts.  When you have a collection of under 500 carts like I did back then it was still feasible to do those, once I got above that number I had to stop doing it mainly for lack of space to set them up and take the photos.
    And of course the first 3 years of the blog would often feature posts from my main retro gaming source, the amazing Omocha Souko.  The day I found out it was going out of business was by far the darkest day in my gaming life, it had been such a fun place to go for deals.  I still enjoy looking back and reading old posts about the deals I got, especially the day they put these crates out.
    Another type of post which I wish I had time to do more of these days were the ones I did of retro game shops in Fukuoka that I visited. I think this blog has more information about the Fukuoka gaming world than any other, at least of those in English. Sadly, even though it has only been five years since I started this blog most of that information is already out of date, probably half the shops I visited have either closed or moved.

    Probably my favorite post, in terms of substance, is the one in which I compared the power consumption of retro consoles to the PS3 and found that my entire retro gaming collection used less energy than the average one of those.  I'm not sure what the PS4 uses, I'd like to do a similar comparison but I sold most of the duplicate consoles I used in that post so I might not have enough to make a comparison.

    Another thing I have to do is get Phil in some more posts.  I packed him away when we moved 2 years ago and I think its about time I fished him out of whatever box he is in.

    Anyway, those are some of my sentimental reflections as the father of a 5 year old blog.  I should like to give a big thanks to everyone for reading all these years, it has been awesome getting to know you all through the blog (and through your blogs for those who have them, I'd list you by name but refrain out of fear of forgetting someone).  Hopefully five years from now I'll do another one of these on Famicomblog's 10th anniversary.

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