When I first read about the Evercade, I didn't see much to get excited about — another retro gaming device with old Atari and Namco games you can already get in plenty of other places, and despite "-rcade" in the name it didn't actually have any arcade games, only console ports of them. Like, it might be something fun to get my nephew if it didn't cost quite so much, but I didn't think it was for me.

Times have changed. Those early Namco and Atari collections aren't really representative of where the Evercade is today — in fact, they've not even in production anymore.

Stuart Gipp's done a good job of covering the Evercade over at Retronauts; he's called attention to it as a system that often highlights weird or obscure retro titles, not just the obvious stuff. And when he interviewed a couple of the folks at Blaze Entertainment in an episode of the podcast, I decided I should probably get me one.

So I got three.

But I'll get to that in a future post. For now, let's talk about the Evercade.

Why (or why not) Evercade?

The Evercade is a gaming device primarily focused on emulation and retro-gaming.

Thing is, there are plenty of those. I have an Analogue Pocket. Hell, I've got a Steam Deck, which isn't emulation-focused but is pretty damn great as a handheld emulation device. Those both cost a lot more than the Evercade, but you can get an Abernic handheld around the same price point and load it up with ROMs.

So what sets the Evercade apart?

Does going legit matter to you?

I'm going to leave aside the indie games and native ports for now (we'll get to them down at the bottom) and just talk about the retro ROMs you can buy for Evercade.

You can find all these ROMs on the Internet. You want a complete dump of every NES game or whatever, they're not hard to find.

But a lot of the retro games on Evercade aren't available anywhere else legally.

Now, let's be real: in the vast majority of cases, buying 30-year-old games isn't going to support any of the people who actually worked on them. But you are showing the publishers there's a demand for games like these, and giving them an incentive to release more.

Does curation matter to you?

So these ain't exactly Digital Eclipse releases here. They are, for the most part (but not always!) pretty barebones collections of ROMs that, as I understand it, run in Retroarch. There's a description and box art for each game, you can use savestates and a few simple screen filters, and depending on which version of the Evercade you have, you may or may not be able to remap the buttons. (Which you will usually want to do, because the default mappings are mostly terrible.)

But nonetheless, people put thought into what to include in each collection. Most Evercade carts make for a pretty fascinating and diverse lineup of games from different times and different genres and, often, different systems. And, given the choice between multiple releases of the same game, the one they pick usually shows a certain amount of care — for example, as Gipp notes, Interplay Collection 1 has the Genesis version of Earthworm Jim, but Interplay Collection 2 has the SNES version of Earthworm Jim 2. They chose the better version of each game. Similarly, Sunsoft Collection 2 includes the Genesis version of Aero the Acro-Bat 2 and the SNES version of Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel.

It's easy to find a dump of every SNES game ever released. But what are the odds you'll fire it up, look through the list, and say "Hey, Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel sounds like fun; I'll play that one"? I've scrolled through those lists of Every Game, man, and it's like indecisively paging through Netflix for half an hour: too many options can make it hard to choose one. There's a value to a limited set of suggestions. Particularly if all the options are good, or at least interesting.

B-listers and deep cuts

Most dedicated retro-gaming devices focus on the hits. And the Evercade's got some of those — one of its upcoming devices is Street Fighter 2-branded — but it's also got collections where the most recognizable games are Earthworm Jim, Glover, and Dizzy.

And don't get me wrong, I love me some Mario, Sonic, and Castlevania, and the first thing I did when I got my Evercade EXP was fire up Mega Man X. There's nothing wrong with playing the hits. But the Evercade collections have that thrill of discovery. I've never played Claymates before, and it turns out I've been missing out. I haven't spent enough time with Joe and Mac 2 yet to realize if it's any good, but it sure looks great. Even something like The Fidgetts, which I wouldn't describe as good, has some lovely sprite work and is so close to being good, if only it weren't for oldschool artificial-difficulty mechanics like lives and a way-too-short timer. Even the games that aren't great are worth the time to check out, and I doubt I ever would have if they hadn't come in collections like these.

How do you feel about physical media?

Well, they've got their benefits and drawbacks, don't they? On the one hand, they'll probably still work in 30 years if you still have the hardware. On the other, they sure do take up space, and obviously it's less convenient to swap cartridges than to just pick a game from a menu.

Evercade games come on cartridges, in plastic clamshell cases, with full-color manuals. That's pretty cool! But maybe not the most convenient. But it brings us to:

The collector thing

It doesn't take long to figure out that the Evercade is a system for collectors.

I wouldn't say I'm a collector on purpose, but I definitely collect things — if for no other reason than I'm terrible at getting rid of the shit I have.

I've got a comic collection, a game collection, a movie collection; I'm a collector. But I buy comics to read them, games to play them, movies to watch them — sure, I've got a backlog, but I mostly don't buy stuff just for the sake of having it. I don't worry about gaps in my collection — sure, occasionally I'll think "Hey, I'm only one issue shy of a complete run of Simpsons Comics," but then I forget about it; I don't go on eBay and start looking for it because I just have to complete my collection.

But yeah, the Evercade encourages collectors; it's got numbered releases, a menu screen that keeps track of which games you have and which ones you're missing, the whole deal. The good thing about this is, if you buy a used Evercade game, it's probably going to be complete and well-cared-for. The bad thing is, once games go out of production they start to get expensive. You want a copy of the Oliver Twins Collection? It ain't gonna be cheap.

Since getting an Evercade, there have definitely been a couple of times I've seen an announcement that a cartridge has been discontinued and then thought "Oh shit, I'd better get that while I still can." And sometimes that's a good idea! I got the Codemasters Collection while it was still available for $20 new, and there are some great games on that thing. But it can be easy to get caught up in that mentality and spend too much money on stuff you don't need if you're not careful.

If you like to collect things, the Evercade will scratch your itch. Just don't go overboard, okay?

The unique stuff

Now, I've said that most of the retro collections are just simple ROM dumps, and that's true, but it's starting to change.

First there were modest modifications, like removing Charles Barkley from Barkley Hoops: Shut Up and Jam.

More recently, there have been ground-up remakes: this year's Piko Collection 4 includes Glover, which the Evercade site describes as "rebuilt from scratch" to run smoothly on a device that isn't exactly optimized for N64 emulation. And the collection that convinced me to buy an Evercade in the first place, Duke Nukem Collection 1, includes remakes of the first two games.

You can buy Glover on Steam. You can find Duke Nukem 2 on abandonware sites. But these specific versions of those games aren't available for any other platform but Evercade. A lot of work went into them, and they're pretty fucking cool.

And the indies

So now let's get to the indies.

They're fucking great.

If you have an Evercade EXP or VS, there's a featured indie game every month; you download it and you can play it for free until they replace it with the next one. And periodically they'll release compilations of indie titles, including those previously-featured downloads as well as others. And they're some of the best games on the system.

Some of them are modern ROMs for retro systems that run in emulators; some are retro-style games designed for modern systems and ported to run natively on the Evercade. In both cases what we've got are some games that look, sound, and feel like old 8- or 16-bit classics, but with another thirty to forty years of design iteration.

And once again, you've got other options for devices to play these games on — legally, even. Most of them are on Steam or itch.io or direct from the publisher's site. They're not necessarily a reason to get an Evercade in themselves.

But if you do buy an Evercade, you'd be remiss in not checking out at least some of them. It's a device whose primary purpose is playing old games, but the best games on it may very well be the new ones.

My current favorites are Alwa's Awakening, Full Void, and Tapeworm Disco Puzzle.

So that's a quick introduction to the Evercade. Next time I'll talk about the different models I've tried (and some I haven't) and where to buy (I like videogamesplus.ca). Join us, won't you?

When IDW launched its Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series by Kevin Eastman, Tom Waltz, and Dan Duncan in 2011, I picked up the first couple of issues and stopped there. I'm sick to death of reboots, I'm not interested in reading the umpteenth iteration of the origin story, and the pacing felt glacial.

But I've picked up a few issues and trades here and there over the years, and liked them a lot, so I've occasionally thought about getting into the main series.

As of this posting there's a Humble Bundle featuring the first fifteen volumes of TMNT: The IDW Collection, plus The Last Ronin, a TMNT riff on Dark Knight Returns which I've heard a lot of good things about. So I went ahead and snagged it.

I read TMNT: The IDW Collection vol 1, which collects the first twelve issues of the series plus an 8-page story from the 30th Anniversary Special and five "micro-series" issues (one for each Turtle, plus Splinter). And I liked it, but it also reinforced my initial impressions from 2011.

It is decompressed as fuck, but it feels pretty brisk in this format, where you can breeze through a 22-page chapter a couple of times a day instead of waiting a month in-between. So I like the main series better this time, but the done-in-ones are still the best part. Particularly Donatello, which has the best writing (by Brian Lynch and Tom Waltz, with artist Valerio Schiti), and Leonardo, which has the best art (by Sophie Campbell, with writer Brian Lynch).

As for the main arc, well, it sure does hit a lot of the expected plot beats. Turtles and rat get mutated by glowing green ooze of alien origin, Raph meets Casey and they beat up some street thugs together, Michelangelo has a holiday-themed adventure, Donatello makes a human friend, Leonardo gets the shit kicked out of him by a whole lot of Foot ninja, the lair is attacked by Baxter Stockman's Mousers, Splinter is captured, the Turtles meet April (who faints), they infiltrate the lab where the ooze came from, Splinter is captured by the Foot, the Turtles hunker down in April's secondhand store then find out where Splinter is and go to save him, big fight with Shredder, end of the book. It's fine, even good-to-great, but most of it's a little familiar (and the stuff that isn't, like the new origin where Splinter and the Turtles are a reincarnated family from feudal Japan, doesn't necessarily work for me), and I'd rather see new stories than just riffs on old ones.

That said, the characters are there, and that's the most important thing. Raphael and Casey aren't as angry in this depiction as in most; they feel a bit more like the older versions from Mirage's TMNT vol 4, who'd grown up a little and gotten some perspective. Donatello, by contrast, is kind of a dick; he knows he's the smart one and he never lets anyone forget it. It's Don, not Raph, who's constantly butting heads with Leo and questioning his leadership. It's an interesting twist on the formula; it makes Donny a lot less likable than usual, but it sure makes him queasily relatable.

And some of the plot changes are good, and serve the characters better than in the original series, when Eastman and Laird were just making it up as they went along.

Like, the original 1984 TMNT #1 is kind of weird. Splinter sends his four 15-year-old sons out to settle a decades-old blood feud for him. That's pretty fucked-up! And nobody addresses that it's pretty fucked-up until about 50 issues later, in City at War, when (IIRC) Leo observes that they are caught in the middle of a gang-war because Splinter dragged them into this. And that's following all the other shit that's happened as a direct result of their killing the Shredder back in issue #1: Leonardo and Raphael both got beaten nearly to death, and April got her apartment burned down. None of those things would have happened if Splinter hadn't roped his boys into a revenge killing.

Which, in hindsight, really doesn't sound much like Splinter at all, does it? Eastman and Laird weren't thinking of long-term character development when they put together that first issue, they were just thinking of chop-socky tropes. (Oh God. Is that why the villain's name is Saki?) And most subsequent versions have, rightly, rewritten the story so that Splinter isn't the aggressor. Usually the Foot is up to some nefarious deeds and the Turtles run afoul of them without even knowing of their connection to the Shredder. This is one of those stories, with some mysticism thrown on about fate and karma and destiny.

Most significantly, at least for Splinter's character, is that he only faces Shredder because he's forced to. He literally has to be dragged before the Shredder before he fights him, and even then he agonizes about whether he's willing to use lethal force — and only decides he's willing to kill because he thinks that's the only way to protect his family.

(He doesn't kill the Shredder, of course; this isn't the original series and they're not going to take him out that soon.)

I also like Leonardo calling out the Shredder for acting like he's a badass even though he's never won a fair fight. Like, what have we seen him do up to this point? Kill a woman and children, and then win one-on-one fights with Leo and Splinter but only after ambushing or kidnapping them and then making them fight like a hundred other ninjas first. The Shredder's only ever projected weakness, never strength, and Leo sees right through him.

All in all? I thought it was pretty good. I've got my gripes but I liked it, the potential is definitely there, and I'm interested to keep reading and see how it develops as they start to tell new stories and as Sophie Campbell becomes a bigger creative presence.

But maybe I'll get back to that Hellboy bundle first.

Expanded from a post at brontoforum.us, 2024-05-28.

I like the Humble Bundle. I've bought rather a lot of games, comics, and books there.

Usually the comics and books have been DRM-free, but recently they've had a couple of bundles, including a Discworld bundle and a TMNT bundle (still available as of this post), that, instead of being straight DRM-free file downloads, required that buyers redeem DRM-encumbered files from Kobo.

Fortunately, it's not difficult to strip DRM from Kobo downloads, so that you can read your books on whatever device and in whatever app you choose. Here's how:

Download and install Calibre.

Download DeDRM tools (make sure you get it from the noDRM repository, not the original apprenticeharper one; the latter is no longer maintained).

Extract the zip file.

In Calibre, go to Preferences → Advanced → Plugins. Click "Load plugin from file", browse to the directory you just unzipped into, and install both _plugin.zip files. Restart Calibre after both are installed.

Install Kobo Desktop (direct link to kobosetup.exe). Run it, log into your Kobo account, and download the books you want. Once they're finished downloading, quit out of the Kobo app.

In Calibre, click the "Obok DeDRM" link in the top bar. From there it's pretty self-explanatory; whatever books you select will be added to your Calibre library and you can find the epub files in your file browser.

That's it for stripping the DRM, but there's one more thing I noticed: it turns out that my comics reader app of choice, Perfect Viewer, doesn't really work very well with epub files; for some reason it doesn't support the same features for epub as it does for cbz/cbr/pdf files (eg automatically showing two pages when rotated). Fortunately, there's a dead-simple workaround: change the file extension from .epub to .cbz. (A CBZ is just a zip file of images; an EPUB is basically a zipped website. Change the extension from EPUB to CBZ and PerfectViewer just ignores the HTML files and looks for the images.) YMMV depending on your reader of choice; some will show side-by-side pages without issue (like Calibre's built-in reader) and the file extension trick may not work in others (since the images aren't at the root of the zip file; in that case you may need to extract the EPUB and then re-zip just the images into a CBZ file).

So, to use a phrase that's appeared more than once over the course of the...Jesus Christ, 25 years? I've been writing this blog: I've been meaning to blog more.

It's been a wild couple of years. In 2022, my grandma Alice died; in 2023, I became a father. Maybe I'll talk about those things more, and maybe I'll just talk about Ninja Turtles comics and old Nintendo games. I haven't decided yet.

Following my previous posts on my favorite episodes of The X-Files and my favorite episodes of Millennium, I will now complete the trifecta with my favorite episodes of X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen. This won't take long.

(This post reuses some stuff I wrote on Brontoforumus, 2022-08-26.)

Episode 6: Madam, I'm Adam

The always-great Stephen Tobolowsky plays the eponymous Adam, a man who comes home one night to find there are other people in his house and there's no evidence he ever existed. He tells Jimmy and Byers that he's from another universe and in this one he doesn't exist.

That's right: it's a riff on Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.

Or is it? In an amusingly specific third-act twist, it turns out it's actually a riff on a different Philip K Dick story.

It's got its problems, including some ableist language: several of the characters in this one are little people and they're repeatedly referred to by the M-word, and look, there was a time that word wasn't considered a slur, but 2001 was not it. There's also a moment where Langly loses his temper with Adam and calls him a "re-" before stopping himself. I guess they at least knew that one was too far, but jeez, you guys.

And there are some problems on the plot side. I'd really like to know more about Lois and why she is doing the things she is doing! Like, is she just a sex pervert? I kinda feel like she might just be a sex pervert.

But still! Flaws aside, I really liked this one.

Episode 8: Maximum Byers

You know those TV episodes where the good guys go undercover in a prison to try to exonerate an innocent man? This is one of those, with Byers and Jimmy going to prison.

It's got a couple of uncomfortable racial stereotypes, including the violent Latino and the wise Black man. And it's got some tonal shifts that maybe work to the detriment of its overall consistency but, to my mind, make it more interesting.

Episode 11: The Lying Game

Guest-starring Mitch Pileggi as Skinner, who just can't stop getting accused of murdering people. Also guest-starring Mitch Pileggi as Jimmy pretending to be Skinner.

Content warning: like the film it takes its name from, this episode treats a character being trans as a plot twist, and, while it's a sensitive portrayal for 2001, the other characters describe her using some phrases that wouldn't be considered appropriate today.

I listened to a recent episode of the Retronauts podcast focused on Final Fantasy ROM hacks, hosted by Nadia Oxford and featuring guests Andrew Vestal and my old friend Steve Tramer.

Unfortunately podcasts aren't exactly the ideal medium for helping people find things on the Internet, so I've gone ahead and taken the liberty of putting together a list of the ROM hacks (and at least one fan game) they mentioned, with links.

I haven't played most of these, but FF6 T-Edition is great, and these guys have pretty good taste in 8- and 16-bit Final Fantasy games. Andrew's Unofficial SquareSoft Homepage was the best Square fan site back in the early days of the Web (or at least the best English-language one), and Steve loaned me a fair few Square games back when we were kids. (We, ah, also managed to work FF6's Opera House scene into a Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic we wrote when we were 12, but try not to hold that against us.)

I think these are all the hacks, translations, and fan games they mentioned in the episode, but if I missed any or got any wrong, drop me a line and let me know.

Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy 1 & 2: Dawn of Souls

Final Fantasy 2

Final Fantasy 3

Final Fantasy 4/Final Fantasy 2 US

Final Fantasy 5

Final Fantasy 6/Final Fantasy 3 US

Breath of Fire

Breath of Fire 2

Skies of Arcadia Legends

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna

Private Eye Dol

Expanded from a post on brontoforum.us, 2022-11-30.

This website moved to a new hosting provider last week; the old one shut down.

I've been feeling kinda weirdly melancholy about that, actually.

I'd been at that last hosting provider since 2007. And that hosting provider was my first Real Job -- the one where I moved out of my grandparents' house and got my own place.

It was a lousy job and the pay was shit -- I'm making more than three times as much now for a job that's nowhere near as stressful -- but my brain still associates it with a pivotal moment in my life.

And I was kinda off in the middle of North Bumfuck and didn't know anybody on that side of town, and it was lonely sometimes, but I had friends around the valley who'd come visit. So I also associate it with old friends. Including an old girlfriend.

It had its moments, y'know? It was my first real taste of adulting.

It's kinda funny, looking through my old posts and thinking about how I've changed. I used to variously refer to Halloween and New Year's Eve as "my favorite holiday". Now they just kind of go by without me paying too much attention to them.

I'm forty, I don't go to parties anymore, most of the friends I used to go to parties with moved out of town. I've mostly stayed within a few miles of where I was born. When I stay up late I get a headache, and my opinion of fireworks has changed significantly since I got a dog. And all that was before the once-in-a-century pandemic. Except for the being forty part; that's new.

It's not that I don't like nostalgia or looking back. Hell's bells, moving my website to a new server makes me nostalgic for a shitty job I quit 15 years ago. It doesn't take much. I don't need New Year's Eve to wax nostalgic, and what good is a three-day weekend if I spend a day of it with a headache from staying up too late?

Anyway, the website's been migrated to a new host. Hit up the contact page if you find anything that's not working. Unless it's the mobile sidebar; I already know about that. You know what I'm nostalgic for? WordPress 4.

As readers of this site (if any) are no doubt aware, there are a lot of things that make me feel nostalgic. Moving is one of those things.

It's a goodbye of sorts. "Beginnings and endings," as my high school drama teacher used to say on closing night.

I'm finally getting rid of the old Ikea furniture I bought when I moved into my first apartment in 2006. And I think about those times -- first apartment, first furniture, first flatscreen TV, first car, first full-time job --, and mostly they were lonely. I was out in north Phoenix, 25 miles away from anybody I knew, working a shit job and getting paid about a third of the fair market value of my work. The wonderful world of IT in the post-dotcom-crash era.

But, y'know, it wasn't all bad. It's not like I was completely isolated. I had friends who'd make that 25-mile drive, from Glendale or Scottsdale or Fountain Hills or wherever they happened to be. Other folks going through the same thing I was, twentysomething kids figuring out how to adult. Watching Firefly and Justice League and walking to the outdoor mall nextdoor to see Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters. We had some good times.

And y'know, what would nostalgia be without thinking about old girlfriends?

One of those friends I spent some time with, back at that old apartment, was a woman I used to date. We'd gotten reacquainted since. There's something about having somebody to talk to who knows you that well, but the both of you coming back older and, hopefully, wiser -- at least, wise enough not to do anything stupid like try to date again. At any rate, I think she was going through some similar stuff in those days; I don't know if she was as lonely as I was (she always had an easier time making friends), but she was probably even more miserable in her job. And we were there for each other.

And I'm looking through some of the other stuff I'm packing, or leaving, and my mind's moving on a few years, to another move, and another girlfriend. And that move was one of the most consequential decisions of my life, though it didn't seem like it at the time.

In 2009, I moved in with a woman I'd been dating for six months or so. I'm not sure we were entirely clear that that was what we were doing at the time; she still had her own apartment. But her brother was staying at her place, and she kept staying at my place, and eventually we realized my place was actually our place.

Our first home. And I'm putting stuff in boxes and bags and I think of the good times and the hard times we went through there. I pack meds and I think of nights we spent in hospitals, and I think those nights were what forged our relationship into something lasting. Even more than the wedding, I muse, as I take down the wedding photo hanging on the wall.

I pack my laptop and remember I bought it after the last one was stolen. I pack dog toys and I think of the puppy we brought home a few days later.

And then we moved again. Seven years ago, to the week -- I remember because it was the Fourth of July and it was pouring rain.

And if that other house was our first home, this one was the first house that was our house. With the custom cabinetry, the closet space for my comic collection, the big shed where I have too much old shit that I've at least pared down a little now that we're moving.

I'll miss the place. It's been a great place to live these seven years. Hell, just in the past year we've hunkered down here during COVID-19 and dealt with the aforementioned puppy's recovery from hip surgery. (She likes to jump into our bed with us, so we broke down our bedframe and put the mattress right on the floor to stop her from jumping. It was hell on our backs, but she's recovered nicely.)

The places I've been, the people who've been there with me, even the furniture I've bought and all the assorted shit I've accumulated over the years -- well, at least I'm getting rid of some of it -- all that's part of the story. Most of it has a memory attached. Good ones, bad ones -- and on balance, I'd say mostly good.

I'll miss this place. But the new place is good too. Someday I'll be thinking back on all the memories I'll have made there. Beginnings and endings, huh? Yeah, I can see that.

The other day I got some Chinese takeout. We got to the end of our meal and opened our fortune cookies.

The first fortune said, "Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." Which is not a fortune, it is a Ben Franklin quote.

The second fortune said, "A penny saved is a penny earned." What the hell? Did we get a bunch of Ben Franklin fortune cookies?

And the third said, "Taxes are a fine on success."

Okay, what the actual fuck? All of a sudden we've switched from Ben Franklin fortune cookies to Libertarian fortune cookies.

And look, dude, I don't know what writing cookie fortunes pays? But if your job is writing cookie fortunes, then I'm gonna go out on a limb and suggest that whatever taxes you're paying are not a punishment for your massive financial successes.

Poor Libertarians baffle me. Back when I worked in the PetSmart phone bank, there was a guy who sat across from me who was a young Libertarian. One time, somebody asked if he'd voted for Obama; he responded, "No; he wants to raise my taxes."

I thought, "Motherfucker, we have the same job; I know what you make and Obama has definitely not raised your taxes," but I did not say it, because I try not to talk politics at work, or to address my coworkers as "motherfucker."

I guess poor Libertarians are just an object example of Ronald Wright's quote, paraphrasing John Steinbeck: "Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires."

Put that in a fucking fortune cookie.