25 September 2009

Sonic Genesis Rant

You know how when people get really mad, they write really vitriolic letters, but throw them away instead of sending them? Directly after playing Sonic Genesis for the first time (years ago), I typed something like that, but never posted it anywhere. I've since calmed down, of course, and feel that criticism should be constructive. If I'm to point out its flaws, I might as well be helping others to avoid them at the same time. But it's still mildly entertaining, so I've recreated my original rant here.

Ah, Sega. Can you stoop any lower? After re-releasing Sonic the Hedgehog 1 for every system imaginable (Saturn, Dreamcast, Gamecube, Playstation, PC, Cellphone, Wii Virtual Console, etc), you still feel as though you can continue to milk the poor game for yet more cash. Especially since the new games aren’t selling very well….

Forget that you missed the 15th anniversary by seven months, forget that we’ll have to pay $19.95 for the thing (I remember buying Mega Collection for the same price and getting 12 games, plus a load of nifty extras. Funny that), and forget that it’s going to be released for five bucks on the Wii 2 days later. Sonic 1 is still the best 2D action game ever made. Ever. It changed the industry, changed our lives, and changed the world. It spawned a thousand rip-offs (Oscar, Rocket Knight Adventures, Gex, Rocky Rodent, Aero the Acrobat, Crash Bandicoot), and for a short time one couldn’t turn around without bumping into an animal mascot over-brimming with ‘tude.

More importantly, the vast, unwieldy genius of one Yuji Naka would make the game more unique still – never before had we seen such brilliant programming, such tight physics, such fluid motion and control. In a time when video characters were running at fixed speeds across flat boxy ground, and jumping one block up and across no matter what their inertia, Sonic was running over lush hills and around gravity-defying loops, gaining momentum by rolling down hill, rebounding off of objects, drifting through the air like a discus, and of course, running at improbable speeds (all with realistic acceleration, friction, gravity, and collision detection) and looking cool doing it. Very few, indeed probably no, games at the time had pushing, tipping, waiting, and halting animations. Certainly none had such style. Suddenly here was a game where a cartoon character was soaring through fantastic, vibrant worlds, and all to some of the catchiest music to ever be written, for a video-game or otherwise. Never again would the populace be satisfied by notched hockey pucks or monochrome spaceships. A new era had begun.

A game so revolutionary, so infinitely groundbreaking and fun, must surely still be all these things, even in today's era of Metroid Primes and Windwakers. So why not release it one more time, on the world’s coolest handheld system, where it can keep some of the other greatest games of all time company? Where it can share the hallowed halls with Minish Cap, Zero Mission, Superstar Saga, Chain of Memories, Empire of Dreams, and its flashy brethren, the Sonic Advances. Where a whole new generation of young, impressionable children can discover the joy that is Sonic the Hedgehog….

Yeah, right. That’s assuming a single soul left working for Sega has any brains. Sadly, they’ve all either left, or are still celebrating National Opposite Month. “Sonic Genesis,” as they so maddeningly called the game, will do none of these things. Instead, a thousand unsold copies will linger in every retail outlet until somebody takes them out with last year’s Christmas tree and buries them like the nuclear waste that they are. And if they have any sense, they’ll shoot each one with three rounds from a high-calibre weapon for good measure.

Why is Sonic Genesis so bad, you ask, if Sonic 1 is so darn good? How can Sega, no matter how bad they are at making new Sonic games, possibly fubar a freaking re-release?

Simple. They’re Sega – it’s what they live for. Corporate restructuring, firing all their good talent, and methodically, no, surgically removing every last good thing about Sonic the Hedgehog and Phantasy Star. It’s their primary goal, just like Microsoft wants to rule the world and Nintendo wants to embarrass you in public (not even mentioning Sony’s fiendish plot to upset the world economy!)

I will now, just as methodically and surgically, list every single flaw I’ve found in Sonic Genesis, every glaring oversight that screams sloppiness, laziness and negligence. Read them and squirm. And may Sega be struck by bolts of alpha-blended lightning for not fixing each and every one of them. They deserve every scorch mark they get on their sorry hides for, yet again, screwing their customers and leading a whole new generation of children to believe that Sonic 1 must have sucked. Those children will some day be the ones who run our businesses, our television stations, the United Nations – and they’ll think Sonic 1 sucked. Oh, Sega, you make me so mad!

And just to make sure that we can never find it in our hearts to forgive them, they go and do the unthinkable. They say, on the back of the packaging, “A perfect port of the original that started it all!” You can be crapulous, Sega, and I’ll forgive you. But when you are crapulous and say you are not, clearly I can no longer give you the time of day.

If Sonic Genesis is a “perfect port,” I’m Sasquatch.

I'm not sure the back of the packaging really says what I claimed it did. I must have seen it in advertising for the game at the time and got mixed up as to the source.

P.S. I'm not Sasquatch. Really.

The Nitpicker's Guide to Sonic Genesis - Part I

Hello again, Code Ninjas, and welcome to the first ever Code of the Ninja special, The Nitpicker's Guide to Sonic Genesis - Part I.

Some Code Ninjas are a disgrace to their title - they fail spectacularly at our subtle art. Perhaps they lack the necessary commitment or training. Or, perhaps they are not entirely to blame, and the reason for their failure is a lack of time, or budget.

Either way, the results of their efforts suffer terrible scars, belying the shoddy and haphazard code underneath. This is unacceptable, for the Code Ninja should be swift, efficient, and invisible.

The outstanding example of such an unsuccessful mission is Sonic the Hedgehog Genesis, for the Nintendo Game Boy Advance. It is supposed to be a port of the 1991 Sonic the Hedgehog for the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive), but you'd barely know it. Whereas the original Sonic the Hedgehog is an exemplar of good programming by a true Goemon of code, this embarrassing port is a shambles, infamous for being the worst Sonic game ever. In fact, it has a strong claim to be the worst programmed video game ever (a distinction a certain Bubsy Bobcat is used to enjoying).

In this special series of Code of the Ninja, I aim to draw attention to each of Sonic Genesis's plenitude of flaws, with special emphasis on their likely causes. It is one thing to notice that Sonic Genesis is bad - it is entirely another to find out why. It is a testament to the degree of the abject failure of the Sonic Genesis programmers that the likely causes of the many glitches in the game are not opaque.

To be sure, I cannot be 100 percent certain of any of the causes I will cite. I do not have access to the programmers' code, nor the inner workings of their brains (and I'm grateful, for they would assuredly be terrifying), but I can make educated guesses. As a Ninja whose current mission plants him squarely in the wilds of his own Sonic engine, I am in a better position than most to make such observations.

As in the infancy of the discipline of taxonomy, before the advent of the field of genetics, one simply looked at the external features of a lifeform when classifying it. The underlying coded information, the recipe for those external features, was invisible to taxonomists at the time, just as Sonic Genesis's code is unavailable to me.

They made mistakes, certainly, especially because of the wonderful yet maddening effects of convergent evolution, but plenty of good work was done, enough to cement the endeavor as respectable.

It is in this spirit that I undertake nitpicking Sonic Genesis. Whether all of my evaluations turn out to be true or false, I hope many of them will be incising insights, which will arm inchoate Code Ninjas and help them avoid the same traps and pitfalls (some of which the Sonic Genesis programmers' feet are still sticking out of, accompanied by contented digestive noises).

As a bonus, I will be pointing out some extra flaws each time which were not the result of programming.

Code Flaw #001: Sonic is not synched to moving platforms



Programming moving platforms in a video game is actually relatively easy. When the character object detects a platform, it remembers the ID of the platform. From then on (until the character falls or jumps off the platform), the platform's motion is simply added to the character's.

Sounds easy enough. But a lot of beginners (including me, back in the day) are surprised to discover upon running their game, that the character's movement is not perfectly synchronised with that of the platform.

It turns out that it all relies on the order in which the code is performed. Every frame of the game (and there are usually 60 per second), the objects perform their code. But they can't do this at the same time - they queue up and do it one after another.

If the platform moves first, then Sonic follows suit. Then the screen is refreshed, and the player sees Sonic stuck fast to the platform. All is well.

But what if the platform comes later in the queue than Sonic? Then, Sonic moves based on the speed or position that the platform had in the last step. Then the platform moves to its new position. Then the screen is refreshed. The player sees Sonic juttering about the general vicinity of the platform, but not firmly atop it. Sonic is lagging behind, basing his position on variables that are one frame out of date!

Unless all moving solids complete their code before the character object's routine is run, this will be a problem. In Game Maker, this would amount to putting the platform routines in the "Begin Step" event.

Apparently the "programmers" of Sonic Genesis were too rushed or lazy to bother with this simple fact, and so they fail to achieve decent moving platform physics - something that early NES games can do in their sleep. It's pretty pathetic, when you think about it.

Bonus Flaw #001: The background in the title screen isn't animated

Not only is there no paralax, and the clouds don't blow by on the breeze, but the waterfalls and sparkles on the surface of the lake are totally frozen! The GBA can palette cycle, so there seems to be no explanation for this besides sheer sloppiness.

Bonus Flaw #002: There is no shrapnel when crushing through walls

Yes, folks - the segments of rock (or metal, in Starlight Zone) simply disappear, accompanied by a lame "poit" sound effect that is nothing like the original. I'm guessing that the 6 month delay still wasn't enough time to implement a few bits of shrapnel flying away.

Well, that's it for now. The normal Code of the Ninja will not be interrupted by the Nitpicker's Guide, so I'll see you next time.

Happy coding!

18 September 2009

The Mobius Fallacy

UPDATE: This article has been featured at Saturday Morning Sonic, so you could zoom over and read it there instead.

Welcome to the first Pernicious Fallacies post. In this series I hope to shed some light on certain issues, and reverse some of the damage done by the spread of misinformation and well-meaning "theories". The subject will most often be Sonic the Hedgehog and its development, but at times I may branch out.

Today's Pernicious Fallacy is "The Mobius Fallacy". It is best summed up by quoting one of its carriers, the Concept Mobius website:

Concept Mobius:

In fact, Mobius itself is all but a simple misinterpretation on SOA's part. Let me take you back to the year of 1992, when Sonic 2 was still in the makes and interviews and press releases were filling the media of the blue blur…

Back when Sonic 2 was released, which was basically the impending of one of the most prestigious video games of all time, many interviews and many magazine articles were published prior to its release. One of which was a Sega Visions issue where Yuji Naka was interviewed, and he mentions the word 'Mobius.'

Yuji Naka was not making a reference to a planet, but instead an obstacle. A Mobius strip is a mathematical testament of geometry that is continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating one end 180° and attaching it to the other end. Sound familiar? Exactly. Those corkscrew roadways in Emerald Hill Zone were Mobius Strips.

The Mobius strip (right) is what the nifty corkscrew highways in Emerald Hill Zone (left) were based off of.

Yuji Naka meant to point out the Mobius strips. Because hey, we all know he is bad at English — the only time he uses good English is when he is kissing an American car salesman's ass to haggle down a shiny new Ford GT. But other than that? Bupkes.

This little misinterpretation stuck with Sega of America, so it was thus morphed into what we know today as Mobius - the world that Sonic comes from in the comics, AoStH TV series, SatAM TV series, and the Sonic Underground TV series.

Here is the offending quote from the Yuji Naka interview in question:

And here is the entire interview at Sonic Retro.

Now that you have a clear and colourful picture of the Mobius Fallacy, it is time to dismantle it.

Firstly, the Mobius Fallacy is based on two independent precepts, which must be dealt with separately.

1. As a result of this interview, the word Mobius was applied to Sonic's homeworld.

The name Mobius for Sonic's homeworld was in use long before this interview was conducted. For example, the Promo Comic from 1991:

(Promo Comic article at Sonic Retro)

And the "Sonic Bible" (an internal document used by Sega of America), dated June 24th, 1991:

(Sonic Bible thread at Sonic Retro)

Now, it is entirely possible that the name Mobius was given to Sonic's homeworld by SoA due to the loops and twists in the Zones. But it certainly was not due to any utterance of Yuji Naka's in this particular Sega Visions interview. The very notion that SoA would mine an interview for ideas on what to name their planet is silly anyway, even if it had not come too late.

2. Yuji Naka said the word Mobius, referring to the corkscrews, but was misunderstood / mistranslated.

Why did Yuji Naka say Mobius? It's a SoA term, after all, not official in the Japanese Sonic canon.

First, there is no proof he ever did. Many interviews with Japanese game developers are conducted through a translator, who could easily have said Mobius for the Americans' benefit. Furthermore, even if there was no translator and Yuji Naka was speaking English (which there is, to my knowledge, no evidence for), he could have used the word himself, knowing that he was speaking for an American publication. We must bear in mind that Sonic 2 was developed in Palo Alto, California, and his American colleagues perhaps used the name Mobius on a daily basis during development. It would not be hard for Yuji to employ the name himself, without believing it to be Sonic's home at the end of the day.

Remember, in the interview, the name Robotnik (not Eggman) is mentioned as well. Similar to Mobius, the name Robotnik is not canonical in Japan (at least not until Sonic Adventure 2, when they finally capitulated, perhaps because Professor Gerald Eggman and Maria Eggman sounded really stupid).

Yuji Naka, Sega Visions:

We wanted one of the characters in the game to be egg-shaped, so we created Robotnik. It was a great character, but since it couldn't be the main character, we made him the bad guy.

So why did Yuji say "Robotnik"? See above - the same points come to bear on this as why he said "Mobius" - if, again, he even did.

This actually suggests a new, parodical "Robotnik Fallacy":

Hypothetical Theory-tard:

In fact, Robotnik is nothing more than a stupid translation error on Sega of America's part.

What Yuji Naka really was referring to was Metal Sonic. Robot Sonic, Robot-nic, Robotnik! After all, he's a college dropout who can't string two English words together sensibly.

Ever since, mindless buffoons in the West have been parroting the mistake, and they think he's called Robotnik!


As for the whole "translation error" idea (the idea that he was referring to the corkscrews in Emerald Hill, but was somehow misinterpreted), it is certainly possible. But it is not very probable.

Read the interview. Yuji Naka is not vague or ambiguous in any way throughout. The language used is clear, informative, and precise.

Yuji Naka, Sega Visions

...the new Mobius worlds are brighter, crisper, and much more detailed.

The quote itself is crystal-clear (BTW, in ye olden days, it was quite common to call individual levels in a video game, "worlds").

To assume that somehow a reference to an object can be construed into a sentence of that nature reminds me of Bible interpretation. Read with no bias, you'd have a hard time believing that sentence in any way referred to a corkscrew in the first zone.

I hypothesise that, since a screenshot of the corkscrew is featured prominently on the page with the interview, a strong subconscious connection has arisen. When casting the mind's eye back to the only mention of Mobius associated with Yuji Naka, hovering in view is a big ol' page-spanning screenshot of the corkscrew. Check the caption of the screenshot, however, and you'll see it clearly and correctly labeled as a "corkscrew".

Bear in mind that the corkscrews in Emerald Hill bear no legitimate resemblence to a true Mobius strip, either. The very definition of a Mobius strip is an object with one continuous side. The corkscrews in Emerald Hill do not connect to themselves, but are stretched from cliff to cliff, and have two distinct sides. To claim, as Concept Mobius does, that a Mobius strip was their inspiration, is wild speculation, unwisely stated as if it were fact.

Actually, the entire quote from Concept Mobius is arrogant, insulting, and peppered with opinion masqerading as fact:

Concept Mobius:

Yuji Naka was not making a reference to a planet, but instead an obstacle.

This is stated baldly as fact, not as his opinion. Would a simple "perhaps" have killed the guy?

Concept Mobius:

A Mobius strip is a mathematical testament of geometry that is continuous one-sided surface that can be formed from a rectangular strip by rotating one end 180° and attaching it to the other end. Sound familiar? Exactly. Those corkscrew roadways in Emerald Hill Zone were Mobius Strips.

Actually they are clearly not, by the very description just offered! They are twisted far more than 180°, and do not attach to themselves. The corkscrews are no more Mobius strips than the Eiffel Tower is a rabbit - it is incredible that this claim was made by someone who ostensibly has a working understanding of what a Mobius strip is!

Concept Mobius:

The Mobius strip is what the nifty corkscrew highways in Emerald Hill Zone were based off.

This is more fair to say - they are not actually Mobius strips, but could well have been inspired by them. But again, it is stated as bald fact. How does he know what inspired the level artists? Has he spoken with them? Again, this is pure opinion.

Concept Mobius:

Yuji Naka meant to point out the Mobius strips. Because hey, we all know he is bad at English — the only time he uses good English is when he is kissing an American car salesman's ass to haggle down a shiny new Ford GT. But other than that? Bupkes. This little misinterpretation stuck with Sega of America, so it was thus morphed into what we know today as Mobius...

How does he know this is a misinterpretation or a mistranslation? Was he there when the interview was conducted? Does he have a taped recording, does he even speak Japanese? Where is the evidence for these claims?

Also, this is insulting the man who developed the games this person's site is dedicated to. And hey, isn't the site called Concept Mobius?

Moving on....

Why do people feel so strongly about this Mobius Fallacy? Well, there are two sides.

On the one hand, for people who wish to establish Mobius firmly as Sonic's home planet in all regions' canon, this may be (and only may be) the only time the name has been uttered by the original creator's own lips. Believing this lends the name Mobius more credence, and one can see why territorial fans might cling doggedly to it. We know better, of course - Earth is Sonic's home in Japan, and always has been (the Tails Adventure Japanese Manual explicitly mentions the South Pacific, for just one example).

On the other hand, for people who hate the SoA canon and the Archie universe, maintaining that Mobius is just a stupid mistake that doesn't really mean anything probably makes them feel superior. It de-legitimises Mobius and makes the Western canon seem inferior. But we know better about this, also - Mobius is as official as anything in the Japanese canon. Sonic was intended to have a different backstory for each region, so that conflicting cultural preferences wouldn't limit his popularity.

In summation:

1. The corkscrews are demonstrably not Mobius strips.

2. It is extremely unlikely that a mistranslation occured.

3. Sega of America did not mine an interview from the future for ideas on what to name their planet.

A healthy Sonic community must challenge the current views, and overturn them when new evidence comes to light. Continuing to repeat, or support, old, unproven claims only takes our attention from new challenges and mysteries that need to be solved.


There is one clear instance of the corkscrews of Emerald Hill being referred to as Mobius strips. It is from Sega Force, July 1992, talking about Sonic 2 as it was premiered at the CES that year on May 28th. From what is said about it, it sounds like the build that was shown off was the Alpha (just Emerald Hill, with Starlight's BGM), or very similar.

(here's the full scan)

We can be pretty certain that this guy is referring to the corkscrew. "...Must be negotiated at full tilt to keep Sonic from falling off" - the corkscrews are the only thing that fits that description. However, this instance emphatically does not legitimise calling them Mobius strips. Just because one person makes a mistake does not mean that everyone else should copy them.

Why was the mistake made? Here's a bit of a new theory: Instead of, as the Mobius Fallacy suggests, the obstacle name being applied to the whole planet, it's the exact opposite. The Sega Force guy could have heard Mobius said at the show floor and tied it with the corkscrew. I know how confused things can get in the aftermath of a show like CES or E3. Furthermore, gaming magazines of this era are not known for their stellar accuracy or high-quality journalism. This is, of course, only speculation.

Special Thanks:

Sonic Retro, where I posted a topic on this subject

Dean Sitton, for pointing out that Robotnik was mentioned in the interview

and Concept Mobius, for such a vivid example of the fallacy

10 September 2009

"Project Needlemouse" - 2D Sonic in 2010

Sonic fan community:

"SEGA YOU SUCK ****, ****, AND **************!"


"We're making a 2D Sonic game!"

Sonic fancommunity:


2D does not equal Sega answering all of our prayers. I'm going to hold all speculation until I see actual gameplay, but the announcement of a new Sonic game is nonetheless exciting news.

There is a related interview at GameSpot, as well.

05 September 2009

Code of the Ninja: Smart Triggers

If you haven't already, read the Code of the Ninja: Introduction

Welcome to another lesson, Code Ninjas! This time I'll be demonstrating a game design concept, and not actual code. It's pretty simple, actually, but it requires a bit of backstory.

In The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker for the Gamecube, you can target enemies with the L trigger. They call this L-Targeting. In the options menu of the game, you can change the behaviour of the L-Targeting. The two settings are Switch and Hold. The difference between them is thus: In Switch Mode, you begin targeting by pressing and releasing the L trigger once. You then stop targeting by pressing and releasing the L trigger again. In Hold Mode, you begin targeting by pressing and holding the L trigger down, and you stop targetting by releasing the L trigger.

Now, this option is an important one. I use Hold Mode, myself, and play miserably in Switch Mode. Some of my friends, however, use Switch Mode, and perform admirably. One mode isn't really better than the other. It all depends on the type of player.

However, when using either mode, sometimes things still don't work out so well. For instance, in Hold Mode, during long battles against one enemy, your finger can get tired out squeezing the trigger the whole time. In Switch Mode, in battles with many enemies, pressing the L trigger again sometimes cycles to the next enemy instead of ceasing to target altogether. This makes terminating a confrontation and retreating a confusing process. Continually switching between modes through the option menu would be tedious, though, so a player tends to pick one mode and stick with it, warts and all.

While thinking about these issues, I thought of a simple third setting, which I called Smart Mode. Perhaps it does not solve all of the problems, and I can't quite test it out in Windwaker, but here is how it would work.

Basically, when a press of the L trigger is detected, a timer begins. In Game Maker, you would use an alarm event, or increase a variable every step. Anyway, then when a release of the L trigger is detected, one of two things would happen:

1 - If the timer was below a certain time (say two-thirds of a second, about), you wouldn't stop targeting. It's rare that a player would want to target something for so short a time. At this point, it would require another press of L to cease targeting.

2 - If the timer was above that time, then you would cease targeting. In this way, a natural quick press and release of the trigger would enter Switch Mode, and pressing and holding down the trigger would enter Hold Mode. In a way, both modes would be available to you at any time, without having to change anything in the options menu. The computer could detect which you wanted it to be based on how you pressed the button. It is for this reason that I call it Smart Mode. It's like the computer knows what you're thinking.

This "smart toggling" system could be used for anything. It doesn't have to be targeting in a 3D adventure game. It could be used for opening and dismissing a Seiken Densetsu style menu ring, or activating a protective shield, or even for changing between two different weapon types in an action sidescroller.

And I'm sure that you Code Ninjas could think of many more applications that I couldn't. So, think about how you might add "smart" triggers or toggles to your game. It might make it a little more user-friendly.

Happy coding!

If you use my code or scripts in your game or engine, no credit is necessary. But I'd love to hear about your project if you do! Just drop me a comment below, or e-mail me at us.mercurysilver@gmail.com

04 September 2009

The Meme Cloud, Part 1

'You are what you eat', or so says the old saw. There's a bit of truth to it - in many ways, you are the sum of your inputs, the random bits of culture you've absorbed during your lifetime. I say this strictly as a generalisation. To be sure, we are more than the mere sum of our experiences. The order in which we are exposed to them, the mood we are in at the time of exposure, the person or place responsible - all of these things also heavily influence us. And there is almost certainly a genetic component as well. However, it remains my opinion that a good way to gain insight into one's personality is to discover what bits of culture have had a lasting impact on them. In some ways you get to know them better, and in other ways, you find you know them less, as they dig deep into their pasts and pull out more and more obscure influences. One way or another, as a means to catalogue one's unique blend of constituents, or just a stream-of-consciousness to perhaps turn others on to one's more eclectic tastes, the exercise of compiling a 'meme cloud' can be entertaining. Thus I present to you this running series of posts. In each will be one of my memes, a strand of my culture that comprises my idiosyncratic whole. They will be accompanied by short descriptions of how I came by them and what I think of them, and how they have influenced me, however slightly. These will be things that have some detectable impact on how I behave (my choice of words, creative style, my tastes in other entertainment, etc). With them will be a secondary list of 5 things that I happen to like, but that have little impact on my personality overall. I will also be purposely making the lists as unrelated and varied as possible, to demonstrate the sheer disparity of tastes that a mind can accomodate. Here goes - in no particular order:

Video Game: Chrono Trigger

Having missed Chrono Trigger when it first came out on the SNES (which is okay, since I was too young to properly appreciate it at the time, anyway), I only played this masterpiece comparatively recently on the Playstation.

Yes, the disc-based technology of the PS results in frustrating loadtimes before each battle, but fortunately the battles are not random, and the smattering of anime styled cutscenes and other little extras make up for this. Furthermore, even if the game dropped heavy stones on your toes after every ten seconds of play, it would still be worth playing, such is the level of this game's greatness.

As a joint effort between Squaresoft and Enix, before the companies officially merged, the game has the unique flavour of a grand collabourative undertaking, a meeting of the best minds in the industry. Hironobu Sakaguchi, of Final Fantasy fame, and Yuuji Horii, of Dragon Quest fame, combine their talents to create a tale that is the perfect mix of complexity and simplicity.

For someone raised on action games, and the comparatively user-friendly RPG elements of the Phantasy Star series, Final Fantasy was always a little overwhelming. Sure, I loved Final Fantasy VI (III in the West), but there is a feeling pervasive of all the major Final Fantasy titles of mad genius on a little too long of a leash. To have that tempered by a stone simple Dragon Quest sensibility transforms Chrono Trigger into a romp with the grandeur of a Final Fantasy, but the earthy familiarity and consistent tone of a more laid back RPG. This, along with fantastic characters and localisation, and a score by the incredible (though outrageously uncredited) Yasunori Mitsuda with a little help from Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu, makes Chrono Trigger, in my opinion, the best Square RPG there is.

But how has it influenced me? Aside from sucking hours from my life, that is. Well, the primary influence it has had on how I design my own RPG's, and other types of games, for that matter, is the manner in which the enemies are presented.

Almost every enemy in the game has a different introduction. Instead of random battles that accost you every couple of steps, battles are initiated in a much more natural way - an enemy will leap out from behind foliage, or descend from concealment on the ceiling. Being attacked turns from a chore into a surprise, every time.

These events aren't even limited to enemy type - sometimes enemies of the same type will ambush you in different ways. This goes a long way to improve immersiveness, and give the enemies personalities beyond multicoloured blobs that must be repeatedly struck. It also appeals to the action gamer in me, who wants to be surprised around every corner, and grows impatient with the repetition of traditional RPG's.

Film: Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Though continually overshadowed by another, somewhat similar, Disney film, I feel Bedknobs and Broomsticks suffers from the comparison. It seems unfair to uncharitably compare two movies because of an accident of birth.

Watching the movie as though it stood alone, Bedknobs and Broomsticks is a delight. I must here admit that I saw it long before Mary Poppins, due to the random and chaotic nature of a life lived long after the release of either. There is plenty of the Disney magic present in the film, the kind that catches you later lustily singing Portabello Road before you become aware of all eyes disapprovingly upon you.

It is not without its faults, but I wish people would shed the ingrained unfair contrast with Mary Poppins and just appreciate it for the wonderful adventure that it is.

Television: Have Gun - Will Travel

I must first admit to you that I have never liked westerns. Or cowboys. Or anything of the sort. But after watching Have Gun - Will Travel on a recommendation, I fell in love with it immediately. In particular, the episodes written by Gene Roddenberry are great. Just as Star Trek uses the milieu of outer space to frame universal and timeless human stories, so Have Gun - Will Travel uses the wild west. Though it is now a very old show, set in a period yet older, it is not mired in the dusty obsolete whooping, yee-hawing and cowboy singing that scar the other westerns I've been subjected to.

Paladin is a hero as timeless as Robin Hood or Sherlock Holmes, and I can only wonder at the fact that he has not had further adventures. Remake, anyone?

Video Game: Seiklus

This is not a professional video game, but an independent Estonian game by cly5m, distributed through the internet. It stands as testament to the fact that a single person can still make a video game that's worth playing, whether they work for a company or not.

It has shades of early Commodore games, the first Myst, and has an atmosphere that is at once compelling, and even moving. Very few games draw you in, and make you feel like you have been transformed into the character on the screen, but Seiklus has this elusive property. Shigeru Miyamoto couldn't have made it better himself, and Seiklus belongs on your shelf of games as much as if not more than any title you payed good money to put there.

Seiklus Wikipedia entry

Seiklus Official Page

Music (Band): Eiffel 65

I was, of course, introduced to Eiffel 65 by their repetitive and slightly annoying, though still lovable, anthem, 'Blue (Da Ba Dee)'. However, to dismiss them as a one hit wonder capable of nothing more complex would be a mistake.

Sadly, they are no longer together, to my knowledge, but their short career has resulted in such gems as 'Your Clown', 'Crazy', 'Now Is Forever', 'Losing You', and 'Brightly Shines' (which sounds like it could be a Tears for Fears track), all of which top 'Blue' for me.

Of all the modern dance music I've heard, they recapture a little of that spirit that I had though lost when the 80's ended.

Film: Young Einstein

Firstly, you must understand one thing. Though I am by no means a trained or professional scientist, I grew up reading the likes of Isaac Asimov (not his fiction, primarily, though I do like it, too), and Carl Sagan. True, their message of the supremacy of the scientific method only began to sink in as I matured, but their other major point - that the universe is big, beautiful, and largely beyond us set the stage for my mindset.

Thus, to watch a film that flagrantly throws science out the window to recast Albert Einstein as a Tasmanian who invents rock and roll would seem anathema for me.

But it's not. I love it. For someone who loves science, and the history of it, it just makes the movie all the more enjoyable. While most everyone else might be struggling with the sheer bizarre nature of the central concept, I can sit back and enjoy it for what it is. It's like a parody of science and its heroes, a loving ode to their quirks and senses of humour. It's similar to how 'Murder by Death' is a send-up of the whodunit genre.

Science and scientists are a vast repository of true characters, and if we didn't get to have a little fun with them every once in a while, things would get boring. And a kicking Icehouse song doesn't hurt, either.

Young Einstein Wikipedia entry