Three months ago, I wrote a MOREC calling out somebody on the team of a Genesis homebrew game on some claims he made about the SNES really being an 8-bit system. Well, guess what - Zebbe actually found it and responded.
I still can't believe this guy actually emailed me. I don't know whether to be amazed or flabbergasted that the cantankerous ramblings of a small time curmudgeon like me actually managed to catch his attention. And it's actually kind of awesome that he took the time to respond to it.
It almost makes me feel bad to have to eviscerate this, with a little help from some friends. Also, this was originally sent to me as a wall of text, and I added the breaks between the points because it was almost illegible. But the actual text is what he sent me:
From: Zebastian Brax
Subject: WaterMelon Blasting
I saw what your wrote here:
To take things short: don't take everything too seriously, please.
The longer version:
*WM is international, not European.
*We don't exactly have the right to use other characters for forums, that's why you can only pick those from Pier Solar at the moment.
*I've spoken with two programmers, they both say the SNES processor is very weak, much thanks to the 8-bit data bus among other things. In the end of the day, it lies in the eye of the beholder, like how SNK called Neo-Geo "24-bit".
*I'm sorry I don't know the full specs of the Turbo.
* "Well, fuck." -> Yeah, don't take it too seriously. But it's well known emulated ports often have graphical bugs, worse music etc. The Genesis has the true hardware to handle all things correctly.
* Mortal Kombat/Exile - again, you take things too seriously and sometimes Genesis developers aren't capable of using all the Blast Processing power at their hands ;).
*Blast Processing is a marketing term yes, but it's still true the processor of the Genesis is more powerful than that in SNES, and that was the point at the time. WM use it because it's a fun way to promote a Genesis game, while people for no reason become mad about it. I mean, how can two words cause so much controversy? So unnecessary, take a break!
*Why do we call Pier Solar the ultimate 16-bit RPG? Well, because using such terms is very common when it comes to video game marketing. My Mega-CD box says "The ultimate game machine". I guess that's Sega's opinion, not mine, but I'm fine with them calling it anything, because I know how marketing works. On the Final Fantasy II box for SNES, they call it the most challenging RPG ever. But I had a harder time with Phantasy Star II, how can they lie??? See, it's all in the eye of the beholder. Do I think Pier Solar is the ultimate 16-bit RPG? Well, ultimate can be "final", and it may be the final 16-bit RPG, so who knows? But honestly, I prefer Phantasy Star IV and Chrono Trigger when it comes to deciding the better game. Phantasy Star IV is, to me, the best game ever, so we will never top that :).
Have a good day!
All the best,
/Zebbe of WaterMelon
Let me point out the most obvious thing first - he's telling the author of a sarcastic comedy website to lighten up. Also:
*We don't exactly have the right to use other characters for forums, that's why you can only pick those from Pier Solar at the moment.
I don't understand how this explains anything. Forums that allow the users to upload their own pictures have been around since, oh, 1998. That includes the old WaterMelon forums, where Zebbe had John Travolta from Pulp Fiction. I mean, it should be pretty obvious why it's a bad idea to force multiple people at a message board to have the same avatar, even if the choices weren't a bunch of generic anime game characters.
Onto the meat of the email. It sounds like he's admitting basically everything said to promote the game isn't serious, but since everyone makes bullshit claims about their products that I'm overreacting when I call them into question. That's not what I was getting at. Of course I don't expect Sega to tout Phantasy Star III as anything but "The King of RPGs", as hilariously awesome as "Yeah, this game sucks. We're sorry, we don't know what was going on here, but we're pretty sure cheap vodka was involved" would have been. But when those people start making claims that are utterly ridiculous on their own but also give underhanded meaning to older ones, and due to some technicality they're not elaborating on there's hardly any competition for what they're really saying, it's time to start asking to see their work.
Let's take Final Fantasy IV (because I doubt he meant the real Final Fantasy II, which I would totally argue is as cruel as Phantasy Star II, at least in its original Famicom form) touting itself as the most challenging RPG ever. Now let's say Hironobu Sakaguchi or whatever Square employee is most relevant comes along and says TRUE RPGs have to have character development. This means Phantasy Star II can't be the "Most Challenging RPG" because it's not a "true" RPG, because after your party members introduce themselves when they join they don't say shit until the ending, and their faces and names are just to remind you which one can't use magic but hits like a stampeding bull, and which one has the spells that are effective against machines. So Final Fantasy IV's only real competition is Mystic Quest (because let's assume this is happening circa 1992).
Or maybe he says Phantasy Star II isn't "challenging" but "brutally tedious" and that's why Final Fantasy IV is the most "challenging" RPG of all time. Look, I kinda liked Phantasty Star II, but there's a reason I will never replay it. Once was enough.
Then when somebody questions his definition of an RPG and points out that making a game that's harder than Mystic Quest isn't exactly an accomplishment, he says "I was only kidding! You take things too seriously!"
Also, I'm confused. One minute he's saying the people behind the Genesis versions of Exile and Mortal Kombat just couldn't utilize all the Blast Processing, then in the next he's admitting it's just a marketing term and WaterMelon is using it as just that. Then in yet another point, he say that while Blast Processing might be a meaningless marketing term, it's still a fact that the Genesis had a superior processor to the SNES. Given the smiley I guess he's joking around in the first point, but I still want to say something.
You know what I consider the ultimate point against "Blast Processing" meaning anything? That nobody who takes the term seriously can agree on what the hell it actually is. Ask a group of SNES gamers to tell you what Mode 7 is, and even if they can't tell you the technical definition, that it's the 8th mode of graphics the SNES is capable of (because it starts at Mode 0), they'll still be able to tell you it's that scaling and rotation effect used to create the fields in Pilotwings, the tracks in F-Zero and Mario Kart, the overworlds in Final Fantasy games when you're flying the airships, and many other things. Ask a group of Genesis gamers what Blast Processing is, and if they don't start laughing some will tell you it refers to the higher clock speed of the Genesis processor compared to the Super Nintendo's (although by that definition, every console since the SNES has Blast Processing). Some will tell you it's DMA. Some will tell you it's not a hardware feature at all, but a programming trick. And some will just tell you "I don't know exactly, but I know it's what makes Sonic run fast".
By the way, the question was rhetorical, but I already know why the TG-CD verison of Exile is considered definitive over the Genesis version: it's because the TurboGrafx-CD version had the pretty cutscenes, while the Genesis version just had a horrible translation.
So, the SNES processor had an 8-bit data BUS, whatever the hell that means, and was slower than the Genesis' processor. Either Zebbe here believes the processor's core is meaningless and it's only as good as the data BUS, or that only the system with the best processor of a certain bit generation is truly that many bits. Or else he's admitting the SNES really is 16-bit, but the processor still kinda sucks in comparison to the Genesis'. That may be true, but the SNES processor was obviously still powerful enough to handle games like Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, and Star Fox. And quite frankly, the system's processor is only as good as the programmer working with it.
(Revision from CK: Please see this MOREC regarding that second to last sentence)
I'm not here to initiate a console war argument over which system is better, or to tell anyone what system they should be developing homebrew games for. It's up to them to decide whether they want a better processor, or a superior sound chip and color palette so their graphics aren't dithered to hell, better parallax support (incidentally, these are the reasons the SNES was better equipped for Mortal Kombat), and effects like Color Layering so they don't have to fake transparency by making things rapidly flicker or putting a checkerboard of holes in them, and which system they just plain like more. My point is, don't make things up to defend that choice. Leave that crap back in 1993 where it belongs.
Now there's the other word at the root of all this - Pier Solar as the "ultimate"
16-bit Genesis RPG. So, "ultimate" didn't mean "best" it meant "final." That seems a bit like the Final Fantasy IV guys saying "challenging" was referring to the story or RPG conventions of the time, not the gameplay, but whatever, we'll run with it. So, there will never be another Genesis RPG? WaterMelon never intends to make another one? And there will never be anyone else putting out homebrew Genesis games, who makes an RPG?
Actually, maybe here "ultimate" really meant "definitive", as in it's a compilation of all the defining traits of Genesis RPGs. That actually works... mostly. You have an unwinnable fight where somebody ends up dead ala Neifirst or Zio, that entertainer character struck me as Rune with a juggling act, it's grindtastic, and it has a toe-curlingly high encounter rate. Except that even Phantasy Star III, for all the (not undeserved) flak it gets, still had more than two enemy formations a dungeon. Hell, what Pier Solar does is more like if each biosphere only had two enemy formations used in every field and dungeon within.
Which brings me to my favorite thing about this email - he says nothing about my complaints about the actual game. He doesn't explain why they only programmed two sets of enemies into every region (or even assure me that if I continued with the game, I'd start finding areas with three sets of enemies. Maybe the final dungeon has four!), or why they assumed the players are all psychic and would instinctively know where to go when the elf girl tells them to go to her house instead of spending ten minutes running around the unintuitively laid out town trying to find it, or even explain why only the Genesis has what it takes to make Pier Solar struggle to animate a healing spell. And was it really necessary to make the player pull up the menu, find the spell, and sit through the healing animation every single fucking time they wanted to heal a little bit of one character's HP? In the field? Seriously guys?
And no, you cannot just cast a stronger healing spell and only sit through the animation once thanks to a battle mechanic where you have to charge the characters to access better spells, which effectively locks you out of all but the weakest recovery spell outside of battle.
Since I wrote the original MOREC, I only put two, maybe three more hours into the game. In that time, I ran in circles around a desert (no, seriously, the goal is to run in circles around the place until your guys finally notice) while getting into fights with apes and monkeys every five seconds, and then drugged a lumberjack to steal his beaver to chop down a tree, which makes even less sense than you think because you find a friggin' chainsaw for the Jeff Andonuts knockoff whose name I'm too lazy to look up. I then found myself at a lakeside town of people too busy making math jokes about how Point Zero is really called The Origin (which was rather odd coming from a game that says you encode in ROT-13, to say the least) to give me some clues on what the chuffin' hell I was supposed to do. Then I decided to replay the three SNES Final Fantasies (so yes, this was back in March) and completely lost interest in Pier Solar.
But the main reason I gave up is because the game is paced like a turtle swimming through a tar pit. Before going through the monkey desert, I noticed I had almost eight hours on the clock. Eight hours into Final Fantasy, you've beaten Lich and Kary, gotten the airship, probably upgraded your characters, and if you haven't beaten Kraken yet you're certainly getting there. Eight hours into Final Fantasy IV, you've beaten three of the four elemental fiends along with a slew of other interesting bosses, climbed Mt. Ordeals and turned Cecil into a Paladin, and had your first tussle with Golbez. Eight hours into Final Fantasy VI, you've beaten fifteen bosses ranging from magic beasts to a demonic train to a major villain you've crossed paths with before and eventually becomes the final boss, played the opera, raided the Magitek Facility, and unleashed the espers. Eight hours into Chrono Trigger, you've traveled through time, seen the destroyed future, gone to the stone age, stormed Magus' castle and beaten his face in, and are probably battling the Black Tyranno, one of the game's nastiest bosses on a fresh run. Eight hours into Phantasy Star IV, you've beaten Zio and the first Dark Force mutation, gone to another planet, and if you're really hustling you could be fighting Lashiec at the Sky Castle. Eight hours into Cthulhu Saves the World, you're at the gates of the final dungeon.
Eight hours into Pier Solar, you've beaten a whopping two bosses (a slime turtle thing and a giant crab), cured somebody's sniffles, found a compass, lost an unwinnable fight, and acquired a couple of old books. Frankly, if it wasn't for my unwillingness to leave yet another game unfinished I would have abandoned it when I found a weapon called the "Ban Hammer," and then Totally-Not-Jeff quoted Zero Punctuation. In retrospect, the second boss is probably a reference to a certain worn-out Internet meme.
And Zebbe, if you want to send me another email telling me it's just a game and I shouldn't take it so seriously, when I spend nearly sixty goddamed dollars on a video game, I'm going to take it very seriously.