The Zombie Gym Leader Who Never Was

It’s no secret that all kinds of fictional works change from their beginning to their final product. And a minor character in a classic video game embodies this very well. In the Kanto Pokemon games, Erika is the grass-type specialist leader of the Celadon City gym. Wearing traditional Japanese clothing, her characterization is that of a graceful flower lady (who has a tendency to fall asleep).

But apparently she wasn’t always that way. And some of the changes made to her were after her Gen I artwork had already been drawn.

Development and concepts assets that have emerged have shown a picture of the original Erika. She would have been placed in what would have been Lavender Town (which in the final version didn’t have a gym at all). And, unsurprisingly, she would have specialized in ghost types. The sole ghost specialist who actually emerged in Gen I was Agatha, portrayed as a normal person who just happened to use ghost types.

At least judging from her art design, Erika would, uh, not have been. Her eyes were closed and the Poke Ball in her sprite was in midair, which could be justified as her juggling it but which was likely meant to have her hovering it with supernatural powers. Finally, her clothes were folded in a way that was only used for the dead in her initial sprite. (A pretty big implication of this is that her design was changed in Yellow and all later appearances to be folded the correct way).

In other words, she was heavily implied just from the visual assets alone to be some kind of undead. Since no final text dialogue was made, there’s no 100% confirmation, but it’s pretty clear. Would this design carrying over really change much?

Probably not. Unlike a few other Gen I leaders, Erika did not become a superstar in her own right. At the time, not much would really change. Except for her prominence. See, spooky Lavender Town became a centerpiece of internet creepypasta campfire stories immediately. And having someone who was an outright zombie? Oh yeah, she’s definitely getting featured in them. So even if official media stays out, Erika the Zombie would become a star of the internet.

Since a multiverse canonically exists in Pokemon, Zombie Erika probably lives in some variant universe. Much as how creepy supernatural anime Sabrina exists alongside normal actress game Sabrina. Who knows, maybe this Erika starts conventional Fuldapocalypses as a hobby. Has the zombie sorceress been found?!?

Review: Battle Royale

Battle Royale

Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale is a classic horror novel about high school students being thrown onto an island by a totalitarian government and forced to kill each other until only one is left. I knew I had to read it. Although I think the timing is off. After this, the similar Hunger Games (whose author believably said that the similarities were a coincidence), and an entire popular genre of “one shall survive” video games like Fortnite and PUBG, it’s not as out-there as it would have been at the time.

One area that did not slow the gory book down is the translation, which is at the very least sufficient. The writing style, regardless of language, conveys the action very well.

However, the book is still kind of flawed. And I’d argue that there’s two main reasons. The first is that the setting is so dark that it’s hard to care about anyone, since even if their class had avoided “The Program” in the first place, it would be unlikely that they’d come to a happy end in such a ruthless state. The second is that the book is just too long for its premise.

It has the substance of a fairly short cheap thriller, which it still is in spite of its pretensions-which are a little too prominent. I had to groan at the main characters suddenly dipping into “As you know, Bob…” setting exposition at the worst possible moments. Not the book’s finest hour. Anyway, there’s a good 200 page novel there, but it’s 600 pages. And the bulk of those pages consist of kills that probably should have happened offscreen, so we could focus on the real protagonists.

That being said, I’m still glad I read this book. But it’s very much a “mean 51%”. And that’s fine!

The Asian Sportsbook

Finally got the chance to hear about the peculiarities of Asian sportsbooks in an old podcast by betting hand Matthew Trenhaile. Of course it comes a year after I wrote an Asian megabook as if it was a western-facing post-up (you deposit money in the book instead of operating on credit) one in The Sure Bet King. Anyway, the entire segment is great and I recommend you listen to it.

Asian sportsbooks have had (note the past tense) a reputation for being “sharp”, ie taking bets unquestioned with huge limits. But as the podcast notes, it’s wrong to compare them to the western-facing “sharp books” (Circa Sports / Pinnacle /BetCRIS). The short version for their “balancing act” is simple:

  • A complex “agent system” that evolved from technological constraints and also legal ones.
  • More importantly,a gargantuan pool of recreational money (at least in soccer) and the ability to, for lack of a better word, “dilute” the sharp money across it.

The podcast, recorded in 2018, mentioned this system declining already. Limits were being noticeably reduced, especially for lower-tier leagues. The wider adoption of the internet makes the tangled agent pyramid less and less necessary. Since then, everything I’ve seen has indicated this trend becoming more pronounced.

It’s a fascinating look at an extremely important but murky even by sports betting standards component.

Weird Wargaming: The Axis Contraptions

After World War II, various veterans of the vanquished (to put it that way) offered to design and make various military platforms. Only a few actually entered production. Kurt Tank designed the HF-24 Marut and sputtered-out Pulqui jet fighters. An Italian submachine gun, the TZ-45, found its way into the Burmese Army. Most fell victim to the same culprits: A combination of Cold War military aid and cheap Allied surplus sweeping them aside, while not being high-performance enough to beat them that way.

Yet for alternate historians/wargamers/writers wanting to add various wunderwaffe to their scenarios, it’s not that implausible that a few could slip through here and there. They’d mostly be out of the way unless history moved to that region (for instance, the Willy Messerschmidt-designed HA-300 would undoubtedly see service in the Arab-Israeli Wars if it entered mass production.) But they could still be done.

What would be most interesting would be the really exotic and large Luft 46 aircraft and wunderpanzer tanks. Those would probably need veto-able foreign engines (or other less obvious components) and would be no picnic to design. But they would be the most fun to play.

A Thousand Words: Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9

Judged on its own without any other context, Mighty No. 9 would resemble a mediocre Mega Man-style game. There have been dozens of those, including more than a few in the official series itself. To study it there would not be the most interesting. About the only things I can say for the game itself are that it copied the cheapest difficulty elements (why?) and in everything from plot to aesthetics simply tried to be “as close to classic Mega Man as possible without lawsuits”.

But what is interesting is the ridiculous amount of hype that came around its crowdfunding. Occuring in the “irrational exuberance” phase of Kickstarter and spearheaded by ex-Mega Man head Keiji Inafune, this was one of those “the gaming king came down to make a dream” experiences. This prompted emotion that successful MM-esques like Azure Striker Gunvolt (made conventionally by a firm that had experience on the official games) and 20XX (crowdfunded yet made by an unknown) couldn’t bring.

The result was a ton of stretch goals “met”, feature creep, the project getting out of hand, the mood turning from hopeful to laughable, and then the game itself sinking like a stone when it was finally released. Whether it could have been better or if the expectations were just too great is an open question. What is not is that this was one of the biggest crowdfunding embarrassments.

A Thousand Words: Alien3 The Gun

Alien3: The Gun

Based off the ugly duckling of the Alien franchise (infamous for killing off the beloved non-Ripley cast of Aliens, for starters), Sega’s Alien3: The Gun was an arcade lightgun shooter a la Revolution X. Unlike that “how do you do fellow kids” game, this actually manages to be atmospheric. The visuals match the movie’s themes well, and the music is excellent.

In fact, this is the rare game that manages to have its cake and eat it too. Alien properties, following in the wake of the second movie, have this tendency to turn xenomorphs into uglier Koopa Troopas, being generic expendable enemies. (The game Alien: Isolation was a deliberate reaction to this trope). Naturally, a light gun arcade game can only do that… but it still manages to be chilling and foreboding too.

Then there’s how the action is jury-rigged into the movie plot. The player controls an anonymous marine who somehow ended up on the doomed Sulaco and goes through all the parts of the actual movie. There are robots, including a giant tank. Despite there being hordes of xenomorphs, the real one from the actual movie is inexplicably more durable as a boss. And finally, the last boss, in a game full of hideous monsters is….. a human with a flamethrower. It would be annoying in other contexts, but here it’s endearing.

This is the rare quarter-muncher with class and poise, and a pleasant surprise from a genre with low expectations.

A Thousand Words: Sonic Adventure

Sonic Adventure

I was a child when Sonic Adventure first came out on the Dreamcast. I was also one of the rare few who got to see it new and firsthand. At the time it looked impressive. Now with hindsight, it’s basically the Yak-38 of video games.

The Forger was basically a tech demo of a V/STOL fighter that got shoehorned into being an operational aircraft out of desperation. It was horrendously underpowered and unsafe. Likewise, this is a massively erratic way to show off all the things the Dreamcast could do more than an actual game. Sonic himself is a barely controllable pinball. Everyone else is there to represent something “new” and “amazing”. Tails can fly. Knuckles is there to have the same kind of collectathon gameplay pioneered in Mario 64. Amy-uh, does, basic puzzle stealth? Gamma the robot does third-person shooting by way of locking on, and Big the Cat infamously has that classic element of a speed game: Fishing. Slow paced fishing at that.

The cinematography in the cutscenes is utterly horrendous with the slightest point of comparison to anything else. And this introduced the storyline elements that would explode to horrendous proportions in Shadow and 06 and remain with the series even to this day. Which is to say, a combination of mystical mumbo-jumbo, Dr. Robotnik/Eggman messing with something he shouldn’t, and tons of new characters with each installment.

What I consider interesting is that Super Mario 64, made by Nintendo from a position of strength, did not do anything like this. It kept the same basic excuse plot as the past installments, and didn’t feel like it had to push anyone new very hard. Sonic Adventure, made by Sega from a position of weakness, had to stretch, and it failed in that regard.

The tragedy of this for the series was that instead of trying to improve the fundamental controls, Sonic Team focused on one gimmick after another. Mechs, teams, guns, telekinesis, anything but razor-sharp platforming. Adventure didn’t cause the famous 3D pit all by itself, but it started the process of digging.

A Thousand Words: BUSTAFELLOWS

BUSTAFELLOWS

So, it should be obvious that I’m not the target romance fiction aimed at women. But romance fiction that doubles as a crime thriller? Call me intrigued. So when I saw the Blerdy Otome Review of BUSTAFELLOWS (the official title is in ALL CAPS), I felt like I should check what’s still a crime thriller out. Hey, if an otome game took place in a conventional World War III, I’d look at it (I’d be seriously interested in how someone who came from the opposite background as most technothriller authors would handle it.)

Anyway, BUSTAFELLOWS takes place in the fictional NYC stand-in of New Sieg, where a reporter who can send her mind back in time and bodyjack someone in the past to change the present (the implications are addressed, and it’s portrayed as more limited and less powerful than it could theoretically be) gets involved with five possible love interests/vigilantes. While a visual novel doesn’t have much in the way of gameplay per se save for selecting choices, I have to say that this is one of those “PC version as a total afterthought” ports with a bizarre control scheme. Oh well. I got used to it, and the actual game ran fine.

The good news is that this is the rare “Romantic Suspense” that actually succeeds in balancing “Romance” and “Suspense”. The bad news is A: I think there’s a bit of culture clash that’s iffy but still bears little ill will (I’d expect the same from an American production that tried to tackle East Asian socio-political issues), and worse, B: The tone zigzags too much from “too serious” to “too goofy”. But these aren’t deal-breakers and I found it worth my money.

Review: High Rise Invasion Volume 1

High Rise Invasion Volume 1

The manga High Rise Invasion was recommended to me, so I decided to give the first volume a try. The premise of this volume is extremely simple-schoolgirl Yuri Honjo ends up in a strange world of nothing but skyscrapers and masked killers. Essentially the entire volume’s plot, save for the last few sections where other sane characters appear, is of Yuri running around and fighting.

It’s shallow but I can forgive it. Remembering that it’s meant to be read one chapter at a time in a magazine serial helps a lot. That and the fundamentals being done well (the art is good and so is the action) makes this worth the cost. I’ve read plenty of shallow but worthy cheap thrillers in text form, so one in comic form can work as well.