Friday, February 26, 2010

Abandoned For Wreckage And No One Cares

What a pack of mean, cruel, selfish monsters.  Are these America's values in the 21st Century?  There is something dangerously wrong with a culture that embraces such cruelty, and a people who allow themselves to be seduced by this gospel of selfishness.

Where, I wonder, are the self-proclaimed "pro-life Christian Conservatives?"  These are the public voices of their Republican Party.  Where is the outrage?  Who is coming to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, comfort the afflicted, visit the imprisoned?  Not a word.  This is what passes for compassion and charity for much of America.

I'm reminded of the great Megadeth song about veterans who become used and abandoned, thrown out on the streets and left for dead.  It's one of the great protest songs of my generation, because it cuts to the heart of the injustice and cruelty of this culture.  "Tears streak his solemn stare/Abandoned for wreckage and no one cares..Don't ask what you can do for your country/Ask what your country can do for you."

You know I'm getting so many people -- this Louise Slaughter comment on the dentures? I'm getting so many people -- this is big. I mean, that gets a one-time mention for a laugh, but there are people out there that think this is huge because it's so stupid. I mean, for example, well, what's wrong with using a dead person's teeth? Aren't the Democrats big into recycling? Save the planet? And so what? So if you don't have any teeth, so what? What's applesauce for? Isn't that why they make applesauce?

I am wearing George Washington's dentures right now. I'm wearing his teeth right now...I just like wearing dead people's teeth. But in America -- I'm sorry, I didn't know that that was -- I've read the Constitution before. I didn't see that you had a right to teeth.

I have no health care, Mr. Pwesident, and I have no feet and no tonsils because doctors took 'em out."

Will Obamacare buy me glasses and contacts? Will Obamacare buy me a gold tooth in the front of my mouth with a little heart on it?"

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Greedy, Selfish and Stupid

Don't cut my spending, but cut spending on goodies for someone else.  I want all the goodies for myself!  Whaah!!

This is just not a serious nation.  It's a kindergarten for 300 million crybabies.

Sen. Inhofe Wants to Prosecute Climate Scientists?

Hoo boy.  We really should put the Republicans back in charge of running the Congress.  We'll be doomed for sure, but the circuses will be so much fun to watch.  It'll be like the McCarthy hearings on mushrooms.

Smithers, Release the Hounds

Governor Pawlenty offers his idea of health care reform: repeal the law that requires ERs to treat sick people.  Smithers, release the hounds!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Memo to Democrats

Jerking around your supporters is not a winning strategy in an election year.  For some reason, we don't quite feel like turning out to vote for a party that refuses to fullfill their campaign promises.  Instead, the Dems just slap us around with weak excuses and kabuki posturing.

I can't wait for our Republican overlords to take over, can't you?  Next year's impeachment drama will be so much fun.  Hey, maybe they'll convince the Dems to destroy Social Security and start a war with Iran.  Joy!

I suppose the one good thing to come from this little Kang-and-Kodos saga is that we're officially off the hook for supporting Ralph Nader in the year 2000.  The Democrats have done everything they possibly can since 2007 to prove he was right.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Beethoven String Quartet - A Minor, Op. 132

I'm playing this on the turntable right now, thanks to a Bicentennial Beethoven box set I picked up this weekend.  I thought I'd share the music with everyone, so a little searching on Youtube produced this complete work.  Courtesy of Vanderbuilt University, here is the Blair String Quartet, performing Beethoven's string quartet in A Minor, Opus #132.  Enjoy.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Yabba Dabba Doo!

Nearly a third of Texans believe people and dinosaurs lived together.  And another 30% aren't certain.

It's Not Terrorism if White Guys Do It

Let me check my Cliff's crashes an airplane into a government building because he's supposedly angry with their this considered an act of terrorism or not?  Apparantly not if you're Joe Stack in 2010.  This is a rather bizarre notion, and underlies a certain stupidity on the part of Americans.  We have a long history of dealing with domestic terrorists, and all of them where white, blue-eyed boys - Timothy McVey, Eric Rudolph, The Unibomber, Scott Roeder, yadda yadda.

And there's a particularly bad habit on the part of Republicans trying to downplay or sympathize with extreme-right violence.  Scott Brown offers a perfect example in his remarks yesterday:

"I don't know if it's related but I can just sense not only in my election, but since being here in Washington, people are frustrated. They want transparency. They want their elected officials to be accountable and open and talk about the things affecting their daily lives. So I am not sure if there is a connection, I certainly hope not, but we need to do things better."

There's no excuse for rationalizing domestic terrorism.  This is a much greater problem in America than the threat of foreign terror attacks; our own history has born this out.  It's not "terrorism" only when brown-skinned people do it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rate of Ocean Acidification the Fastest in 65 Million Years

More good news.  The burning of fossil fuels is turning our oceans acidic at an alarming rate.  We're talking about collapse of ecosystems, mass extinction, yadda yadda.  None of this matters to the selfish and the greedy, of course.  This just isn't an issue that seems to matter with most people.  But it will matter to their grandkids.

What matters to most people today is Jello Biafra's old motto: "Give me convenience or give me death."

Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentines Day Marcee!

Yayy!  A dozen roses and a box of chocolates!  The internet is the coolest invention ever.  I can order flowers in Bogota online, and have them delivered the next morning.  This whole relationship was made possible on the internet.  Heck, we may even have to post the wedding reception online, hehe hehe.

And have you noticed that Marcee is smokin' hot?!  Yeeehh!!  Life is very good.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Surface Temperatures in 2009

Here is a map that shows the overall temperature changes in 2009.  According to NASA, this was the second-hottest year on record.  2010 is widely expected to break that record.  The continental US was largely neutral for the year, while the rest of the world burned.  And the arctic ice continues to disintegrate.

Surface Temperatures July-December 2009

These charts come from NASA.  You know, the guys who walked on the moon.  These show the surface temperatures for the second half of 2009.  Red means warm, blue means cold, yadda yadda.

You'll notice two things about these maps.  One, the continental United States was abnormally cold, relative to the rest of the world.  There's a "rest of the world?"  Yes!  I know it sounds so strange, but this "world" really exists.  I've been on airplanes.  I've seen it.

Two, and this is the important part, the hottest temps are in the arctic region.  This is in keeping with global warming theory.  As carbon dioxide levels rise, the greatest temperature increases will occur at the poles.  The arctic ice cap is melting, and it's melting fast.

You greedy, selfish fools have hurled your grandchildren into the grave.

It's Snowing Outside - Global Warming Must be a Hoax

Hmm, no, not really:

Here’s the problem – these ‘snowpocalypses’ that have been going through DC and other extreme weather events are precisely what climate scientists have been predicting, fearing and anticipating because of global warming.

Why is that? The thinking that warmer air temperatures on the earth, a higher air temperature, has a greater capacity to hold moisture at any temperature. And then as winter comes in, that warm air cools full of water, and you get heavier precipitation on a more regular basis. In fact, you could argue these storms are not evidence of a lack of global warming, but are evidence of global warming – thus the 26 inches of snowfall in the DC area and the second giant storm this year.

This really shouldn't be surprising to anyone who's honest enough to see what's in front of your eyes.  Greater concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere result in greater quantities of moisture in the air.  This moisture is fuel for storms, summer and winter.  You can observe this by looking out your living room windows.

In Minnesota, this fact is easier to grasp, because our local climate is affected by the cold arctic air to the north, and the warm air to the south.  When that humid moisture from the Gulf Coast collides with the colder Canadian air, you get the storms.  And the greater concentration of moisture in the air means stronger, more ferocious storms, with more precipitation.

In the summer, this means increasingly violent thunderstorms with extremely heavy winds, flash flooding, tornadoes, yadda yadda.  Remember those massive storms that hit Atlanta last September?  That's a perfect illustration.  "Once in a Century" storms are becoming more and more common, as a result of all that warm moisture in the air.

In winter, this climate change will result in stronger and more intense winter storms, and that means snow.  Lots and lots of snow.  It can only snow in relatively warm weather, anyway - between 20F and 30F is the ideal range.  By the time you've reached single digits, it's too cold to snow.  Again, "once in a century" becomes almost routine.

These winter storms across the Mid-Atlantic region of the US don't disprove global warming.  Far from it.  This is precisely the sort of weather climate change theory predicts.  You can predict it yourself if you've been paying close attention.  The human race has been pumping pollution and smog into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, and you knew there would be consequences.  There was always going to be consequences.

Just wait until the water runs out.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

"Tea Party" is Mr. Burns in Disguise

File this under the "Duh" column:

Though it's not true for all of its supporters, the "tea party movement" itself is just a Republican movement -- the standard-issue type that blindly cheered Bush and Cheney. It's all the same nationalistic militarism and warmongering, Wall Street-subservient economics, and religion-based policy-making that has defined the GOP forever. There's nothing new here. If anything, it represents a demand for even greater allegiance to the Bush/Cheney mindset, for a more purist and even less restrained version of the national security insanity, civil liberties assaults, massive increases in the rich-poor gap, control of Americans' lives through "social issues," and endless wars which the Republican Party has long rhetorically claimed to embody. Other than a Medicare prescription plan here and an immigration reform plan there, from what Bush/Cheney orthodoxies do they dissent? None.

This movement is nothing more than the Republican Party masquerading as a grass-roots phenomenon. In 2000, the GOP found a cowboy-hat-wearing, swaggering, "likable" Regular Guy spouting "compassion" in domestic policy and "humility" in foreign policy to re-brand itself in the wake of the Gingrich-led branding disaster. Sarah Palin and the "tea party movement" are just the updated versions of that, the re-branding in the wake of the Bush/Cheney-led image disaster. They're every bit as extremist, radical and dangerous as the last decade revealed standard right-wing Republicans to be, but the one thing they're not is new or innovative.

Remember that Simpson's episode where oil was discovered under Springfield Elementary, and Mr. Burns walks into Principal Skinner's office dressed like a teenager? That's basically the Republican Party. Every time their disgraceful policies turn off the voters, they return in a new set of clothes, and we're supposed to play along. If you look at it that way, then Sarah Palin makes perfect sense. It's Mr. Burns' latest scheme to sucker the rubes. Unfortunately, this sort of thing usually works, so we'll have to be on our guard.

(In the photo, Democrats and Republicans hash out their differences.)

Monday, February 08, 2010

George Orwell on Torture

" Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. "

This is in response to Matthew Yglesias' post here.

Hey, There's a Big Hole in the Boat

The mortgage crisis is still ongoing.  Do ya think maybe we should do something about this?  Glub, glub, glub.

Fire Rahm Emmanuel

The man has actively worked to defend the Bush/Cheney torture regime.  I don't give a damn what his motivations are.  He's a monster and he needs to be removed, and the Justice Department needs to prosecute these crimes.

When the torturers return to power, they won't be satisfied with butchering foreign suspects.  This brutal machine will be turned on its citizens.

I honestly don't know why Obama chose Rahm in the first place.  What's the deal with that?

Political Football

Of course the Republicans use terrorism as a political football.  Did the Obama administration just discover this yesterday?  This is why playing in good faith is such a fool's game.  You're going to get punched in the back of your head by some drunken frat boy, no matter what you do.

Know Fear

Andrew Sullivan's not doing me any favors getting scared by the Tea Party Republicans.  He's supposed to be the eternal optimist.  If he starts freaking out at the Palin crowd, it's only going to encourage my mood swings.

Adding, there's really nothing new about the way the peasants in this country identify with their abusive Republican daddies.  They're fed a constant stream of paranoia, fear and xenophobia by way of Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and Fox News.  Then they're bombarded endlessly by Christian fundamentalism and taught to hate and fear literally everything and everyone.  Throw yer wallets up on stage!

Sullivan should really sit down and watch Jesus Camp one of these days.  He'll probably freak out, but that's a good thing.  This has been the dark side of American politics for most of my lifetime.  The great conflict of our time, really, is between hope and fear.  This battle wasn't decided just because we elected Barack Obama President.  It's still on.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Sega Genesis Games I Want on Virtual Console

Sega has done a good job of bringing their vast Genesis catalog to Nintendo's Virtual Console, but many classic games still remain.  I don't see any reason why VC releases should slow to a crawl.  These are essentially free ROM dumps, and the entire console library could become available immediately.  These following titles should be reissued as quickly as possible, and when they are available, you should buy them immediately.

Photos - Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Another large set of terrific photos from Sega's great double-album, Sonic 3 & Knuckles.  This has long been my favorite Sonic of the 16-bit era, and the fantastic variety of landscapes and visual styles are a key reason.  This is a game where Yuji Naka and his team pushed Sonic to the absolute limits.

So...when is Sega going to be bothered to release Sonic & Knuckles on the Virtual Console?  What exactly are they waiting for?  Sonic 3 has been available for some time, yet part two remains in limbo, and for no good reason.  Very strange.  I'll just continue to play for free on my Gens emulator.

By the way, did you know Michael Jackson composed the music for Sonic 3?  This revelation finally emerged in 2009, after the death of the King of Pop.  True story.

Videogame Classics - Sonic 3 & Knuckles

Sonic 3 & Knuckles
Sonic Team for Sega
Sega Genesis

October 25, 2004

First comes invention, then refinement, and then finally perfection.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles represents Sega at its absolute peak, at a time when they defined cool. Sonic was largely responsible for that, wrestling half the videogame market away from Nintendo and spawning an unending stream of mascot games. And like any rock star, the time came for the big, epic statement; that definitive work that captures all the themes and summarizes its era, its Sgt. Pepper.

Perhaps it is unusual that I define Sonic in rock ‘n roll terms, but there’s no denying the pop appeal the character generated. Also, the first four Sonic titles – 1991’s Sonic the Hedgehog, 1992’s Sonic the Hedgehog 2, 1993’s Sonic CD, and 1994's Sonic 3 & Knuckles – remind me of The Ramones’ first four albums, which for all intents and purposes defined punk rock. These four titles redefined games with its speed, invention, and sense of attitude.

The first Sonic the Hedgehog started at full bore but spend most of its time stuck in mid-tempo. Sonic 2 focused on the speed, but the worlds were still not large enough; it was all over too fast. Naka and his team were still working to find that ideal balance between barreling speed and intricate level design. In S3K, they finally found that perfect balance, without sacrificing either element. If anything, this Sonic seems even faster, if that were possible.

The enormous size of the game worlds allow for some truly amazing speed runs, torpedoing through loops, twists, turns. There are eruptions of water, deep, pummeling vertical drops, snowboarding down mountains, elevator cars run amok, runaway spinning tops. One of my favorite moments are the “racetrack timers” in the Death Egg Zone, which grab Sonic and hurl him in chaotic loops through open space. It’s completely gratuitous, of course, but a terrific rush (and clearly predicts NiGHTS).

This is the one videogame that I think captures the essence of a speed junkie’s highs and lows. When you’re high, you’re flying so fast so can’t catch breath. But when it’s time to slow down, the panic sets in. S3K features numerous moments of moving walls and collapsing ceilings, crumbling backdrops and closing walls. And the timer, almost completely useless in the first two Sonic games, looms over your head from start to finish; those large worlds guarantee you’ll often run out of time before reaching the exit or defeating the bosses. This tension is one of the game’s calling cards.

Sonic 3 & Knuckles is blessed with some of the finest and intricate level design, and this is the balance that truly makes the game great. There’s the obvious Mario influence in the way surprises and rooms are hidden away, but now they are plentiful enough to actually justify all that wandering. You are amply rewarded for your curiosity, with its secrets and multiple pathways, and that’s what keeps you coming back again and again. I suppose you could run through the various zones several times and still not take the same exact path twice.

The smartest move was to take the giant rings from the original Sonic, and tuck them away for you to discover. These rings whisk you away to the magnificent bonus rounds, which involve navigating through a spherical maze of red and blue spheres. It ranks among the best visual effects seen on the Genesis (or the Super Nintendo, for that), and it’s the best of the whole series; they’re fun and challenging enough to stand as a game of their own.

Yuji Naka was the creative mind behind this game, and just like Sonic 1 and 2, it’s his baby to the core. The enormous success of Sonic 2 gave him the leeway to start making demands, and he brought over a number of people from Japan to America for the third Sonic, including Takashi Yuda, the character designer responsible for Knuckles. Oddly enough, Sega didn’t have the rights to the signature theme, since the original songs were written by a member of the Japanese pop group Dreams Come True, so instead of paying hefty royalty fees, they had to compose new music for this venture; thankfully, it’s as vibrant and catchy as one could ask.

S3K is videogaming’s great double album. I say that because it is, in fact, two Genesis cartridges: Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles, each half released eight months apart. When Sonic 3 was released in February of 1994, we were thrilled, but a bit puzzled as to why it seemed cut short. Then when Sonic & Knuckles appeared, that sense of burnout began to set in. That cynicism set in, that sinking feeling that we were merely being worked over for a few more bucks, just as Capcom had pulled with Street Fighter 2.

I remember being especially critical in my own fanzine at the time; the 16-bit market had become saturated with beat-em-ups, fighters, and mascot titles and we were, frankly, tired of it. Perhaps that resulted in a throw-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater approach, which meant that we never gave late-era Genesis classics (like Gunstar Heroes, for instance) the attention they deserved.

It was only much later that I truly recognized S3K’s brilliance, understood how Sega’s politics influenced the release of the game in two halves. This was not only Sega’s peak, you see, but also the beginning of their downfall. Their corporate senses just, bafflingly, drifted away, leaving the company to make poor decision after poor decision, until they had to exit the console hardware business entirely. The hubris had taken over.

So we’re back to the rock star analogies again. It doesn’t matter. In the end, we remember the artists’ achievements: its zones that vary in tempo and style; its lush, beautiful environments and visual effects; its challenging bosses, both large and small; and that magnificent sense of speed, speed, speed. Sonic 3 & Knuckles belongs on any short list of the greatest videogames.

Photos - Sonic CD

I worked long and hard to get these varied screenshots for Sonic CD.  The time travel aspect of the game enables four different versions of every level in the game.  You can imagine how much variety that entails, and how challenging it is to pare the photos down to a usable amount.  There's just so much to look at and enjoy and run through.

Sonic CD remains criminally ignored by Sega, and I honestly don't know why that has happened.  There's no reason why Sega CD couldn't be added to Virtual Console or Live Arcade.  Doesn't Sega want to receive free royalty checks every month?  This is a fantastic game and it should be seen again.

Videogame Classics - Sonic CD

Sonic CD
Sega CD

June 25, 2005

I knew a friend of mine who bought himself a Sega CD soon after it was released. I suppose he thought it would boost his popularity or "status" with other gamers. Unfortunately, lady luck just didn't seem to go his way. For starters, the unit cost $300, which at the time was a rediculous amount of money to spend on a videogame machine, especially when the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo cost $150.

To compund problems, the games for the Sega CD turned out to be duds. Complete, utter flops. Despite months of endless hype, all we had to show for it was barely enhanced versions of Genesis cartridge games. Sure, it was kinda cool watching the cartoon intro to Sol-Feace, but that was only good for five minutes.

I suppose you could suggest the Full-Motion-Video games, but the novelty on those, ahem, "games" wore off pretty damn quick. Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective at least was fun for twenty minutes or so, but what good is that? And the less said of Sewer Shark, the better.

So, my friend ended up paying $300 for a doorstop. I eventually bought it from him for a song, which probably wasn't the wisest decision from me; but that's largely because I believe money should never be exchanged between friends.

Perhaps this will give you an understanding of why so many gamers from the 16-bit era will swear on a stack of holy book that Sonic CD was the greatest thing to come along since sliced bread, perhaps even the greatest of all the Sonic games. At the time, we were seriously starved for anything good, and the Sega CD debut of Sonic exceeded our wildest dreams.

The game's long disappearance from future compilations and greatest-hits packages only seemed to strenghen its status. Sonic CD achieved the status of mythic legend.

It wasn't until now, in the year 2005, that Sega finally brought its classic back from the mists and onto a console again. What will the average Playstation 2 owner think? There's more to overcome than the passage of time; the two-dimensional platform game has become all but extinct.

I don't think it should be too difficult. All you need is a chance to sit down with a controller in hand and a couple minutes. Sonic will have sunk his claws into you by then. Anyone who isn't seriously hooked should question their love of videogames. You know, real games, not pre-rendered movie clips.


The First Four Sonic Games - Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 2, Sonic CD, and Sonic 3 & Knuckes - represented Sega at their creative and commercial peak. I'm always reminded of the first four Ramones albums, which wrote the book on punk rock and spawned countless imitators. Of these four, I think the original Sonic is the weakest, but this is how it should be. The creative talent later refined and perfected their formulas.

After S3K, I'd say Sonic CD is my favorite in the pack. It's different from the others, a little off the beaten path, and it suggests another way Sonic could have evolved it Sega CD's fortunes turned out different.

Imagine, if you will, that the Sonic branches in two different directions after the original. In one direction, Yuji Naka, the crack programmer who left Sega Japan for work in America. He found himself working at the Sega Technical Institute, with the independent American talent. By a bold surprise, he was handed the Genesis sequel to Sonic, with considerable creative freedom to mold the character in his own likeness.

Naka took that opportunity and ran, resulting in Sonic 2, the Genesis' most successful game and the standard for every Sonic game that ever followed.

Back in Japan, a second branch moved away. This was led by Naoto Oshima, the other major talent from Sonic. He was given a team to design the Sonic sequel that would appear on the Sega CD.

Naka's contribution to Sonic was speed, but Oshima's contribution was intricate, tightly designed platform levels. His inspiration was Super Mario, games that rewarded exploration and depth above barreling through as quickly as possible.

What he and his team created is a marvel of game design. The worlds in Sonic CD are vast, enormous. These are the largest levels in the 16-bit era. I want you to notice an especially striking feature. Note how vertical these levels are. Note how long some of these drops are.

Sonic, of course, can still fly at lightning speed, but that speed must be tempered against plaftorms, ledges, towers. There's a lot of territory to climb and explore. You could, if you wish, simply run to the finish line as quickly as possible, and it shouldn't take more than a minute or two. But look at how much you've missed. It's not the destination that matters, but the journey.

This brings us to Sonic CD's most famous feature: time travel. The worlds are seperated into three time zones: past, present, and future. Scattered about are sign posts that enable you to travel forwards or backwards in time. In the game's story, the ever-present villain Dr. Robotnik has corrupted the world of the future. By travelling into the past, you can destroy his machines and set the course of history straight.

Each level has four parts: past, present, future, and the good future. And this is the real genius, isn't it? We can see the steady progression through time, in each of Sonic CD's worlds. The attention and dedication to consistency of style is striking. And, for players, there are more than enough variations to make you want to explore each time zone as much as possible. The standard ten minute time limit can get stretched thin pretty quickly.

I've mentioned the level design, and the architecture, but observe how Oshima uses them to counter Sonic's speed. After hitting a sign post, you need to run at full speed for a length of time (think Back to the Future). The trick is that, as you progress, there are fewer places to just barrel ahead without running into something. You need to explore a little, and find a place where you can loop or bounce between springs.

Each of the seven zones in Sonic CD carries its own style, and often require different tactics to progress. There's the bright, green valley that starts off every Sonic, and the industrial factory at the end, but we see some locations that have never been revisited in the series, like a crystalline cavern or a colossal series of trumpet horns. One zone even features an electric floor that shoots everything - including you! - dozens of stories high. You have to wonder why the recent Sonic sequels always rely on the same schtick. Where's the creativity?


One thing that really strikes me about Sonic CD is the look of it all. It's very psychedelic; not loaded with trippy visual effects, but very heavily saturated in color. The Sega CD offered a larger palette over Genesis, and Oshima's artists took great advantage of this. It's one of the best examples of acid-drenched pop art seen in a videogame. Turn me on, dead man.

Classic gamers also happen to remember Sonic CD for another reason: the soundtrack. In Japan, they took advantage of the then-new CD medium and recorded a terrific musical score. It's not too loud, not too far removed from cartridge music, but the quality is a grand improvement. The past and future zones play variations on the main theme, and it all gels perfectly.

For some reason, Sega decided to rescore the game when bringing it to the States. That task fell to Spencer Nilsen, who wrote a lot of game music for Sega during the 16-bit era. I will, in his defense, say he did a very good job. He recorded a variety of synth-pop tunes, some with backup vocals; for some cruel reason, it reminds me of Paula Abdul. That's just mean.

But it has to be said that it doesn't match the Japanese original. More importantly (and this is where I firmly oppose dubbing foreign movies), Sega of America intruded upon the original vision. It's as if a gallery owner decided a certain artist's paintings needed more green, and then started in with a paintbrush.

The fanzines back then were really upset about this. I also remember Diehard Gamefan reminding its readers (?) every chance it could. Does it really matter in 2005? Probably not. The internet took care of that. It's a sort of karma; a way of bringing a sorely-overlooked classic to modern audiences.

Not that I'm telling you to download the old files so you can play Sonic CD on your emulator. Oh, no, not me. Wink, wink.

Photos - Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

I'm continuing to move game review essays from to Daniel Thomas Vol 4.  Along with the game reviews, I often included a number of screenshots.  So here are my extra photos for Sonic the Hedgehog.  Enjoy.

Videogame Classics - Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog
Sonic Team for Sega
Sega Genesis

March 12, 2005

Sonic the Hedgehog belongs to that select group of videogames that is more famous for what it achieved than the the game itself. Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, Tetris, Street Fighter 2 - these are the landmark titles that redefined the medium and influenced everything that followed.

I'm not too sure how to convey to younger readers just what it was like to discover Sonic in that summer of 1991. It was the year underground rock and Seattle grunge finally toppled contrived pop and hair metal; the closing days of the Cold War; the beginning of the end for Reagan-Bush. Not to get too political here, but '91 was the year for change.

When Sonic arrived, it was a rush of fresh air. We were accustomed to Mario and countless wannabees, but this was different. This was modern, flashy, new. Here was a game practically bursting at the seams, eager to prove itself. For anyone with a Genesis, it was a dream come true.

Most gamers are familiar with the story of Sonic, of how hardscrabble Sega, desperate to compete against Nintendo's impending steamroller into the 16-bit console market, pooled their best talent to create a mascot game that would embody their rebel spirit and sell systems. They succeeded beyond their wildest expectations; the resulting shock waves are still being felt.

You've seen it in boxing once or twice, as when Muhammed Ali beat Sonny Liston or when Buster Douglas knocked out Tyson. Those champs weren't defeated, they were ended. Their careers were over the moment their faces hit the canvas; immediately reduced to rubble, to irrelevance. Sega delivered that blow to Nintendo. Sonic the Hedgehog destroyed Nintendo, finished them.

At one time, they were king of the hill, untouchable. Hell, Nintendo was videogames. Now, they're nothing. Genesis took away half the console market in one punch. Then Sony swept away the both of them and finished the Console Wars for good.

Nintendo doesn't even make games anymore. They've spent the last five years on the gas fumes of nostalgia, hoping the old fans will return for another Mario, another Zelda, another Metroid. But those few gems are few and far between, and the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube consoles have the dust to prove it. All Nintendo really has left now is their Gameboy, and now Sony's Playstation Portable will take that away. Nintendo is over, and it all comes back to that blue hedgehog in the summer of '91.

It goes without saying that Sonic is a great game. If you gave me the opening Green Hill Zone and discarded the rest, you would still have one of the great videogames. It's bold, abstract checkerboard patterns, it's trees and robot animals that resemble the computer animation of its day, those collapsing cliffs and shining rings; everything just jumps out at you. These levels have that perfect mix of speed and mystery, of turns, tunnels, and buried surprises just off the page.

It's really in Green Hill that Sonic the Hedgehog earns its mythology. This is where we're promised all the roller coaster thrills and bad attitude, and it delivers. The early levels in Sonic CD and S3K may have refined and perfected the formula, but this is where they stole all the ideas.

Now that said, I'm going to write something that really needs to be said: the rest of the game isn't as good. Sonic's other five worlds are varied and carry their own theme - volcanic temple, underwater ruins, city construction site, industrial wasteland - and they're a lot of fun. But that reckless speed that was promised at the beginning is almost entirely abandoned. Poor old Sonic is stuck in mid-tempo, or worse, left waiting around for something to happen.

Why was this done? There's something of a creative tension between Sonic Team's two top talents. Naoto Oshima, who designed the characters, preferred intricate level structure, while Yuji Naka, the lead programmer, wanted the speed. You can see this play out as they were both given their own Sonic sequels: Oshima with Sonic CD, Naka with Sonic 2 and S3K.

I happen to think that Sonic CD and S3K are both superior to the original, but there's no denying the appeal of that first discovery. Time has given it a unique flair, warts-and-all.

With its triumphant release, Sonic the Hedgehog quickly became the Genesis system-seller, and spawned an endless stream of mascot-tinged platform games. For the rest of the 16-bit era, it seemed every software publisher had to have its own smart-alecky mascot.

Aero the Acrobat. Awesome 'Possum. Bubba and Stix. Bubsy the Bobcat. Chester Cheetah. Cool Spot. Dynamite Headdy. Earthworm Jim. Mr. Nutz. James Pond. Pulseman. Socket. Radical Rex. Ristar. Taz Mania. Tinhead. Treasureland Adventure. Vectorman. Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel.

That's only a partial list of games that appeared on the Genesis. I haven't even begun on the Super NES, to say nothing of every game system to come after. Even today, most action-platformers star cartoon heroes who try to be "cool."

The key word here is "try." None of them can still touch Sonic. Sure, he stole the toe-tapping bit from the character in Boulderdash, but so what? The hedgehog was always cooler.

Photos - Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Genesis)

I fired up the always-excellent Gens emulator tonight and had lots of fun with Sonic the Hedgehog 2.  I ended up snapping many screenshots of every level and zone, most of which will end up here on this blog.  Here are some terrific shots from Emerald Hill Zone.

I've always loved the abstract, psuedo-CGI look to Sonic on the Genesis.  Here are the geometric patterns of early computer animation, the Tetris shapes and checkerboard patterns carved into the rocks.  It seems to evoke the feel of early Pixar short films from the 1980s.  When this is coupled with the terrific color pallete of the Genesis,  the rushing waterfalls, the stacks of golden's a fantastic design.  This was an art style that jumps out at you.  It's bold, confident, self-assured.  This was Sega at the height of their powers.

This is exactly how Sonic the Hedgehog should look.  I always wish there were more levels from Green Hill and Emerald Hill.  Heck, you could set the entire game in this zone, and I'd be happy.