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Hugh Likes Video Games: Castlevania – The Dracula X Chronicles

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Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles
Published by Konami
Originally for PSP, Played on PS Vita

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The Skinny: Old School Difficulty meets mid-2000’s 3D backgrounds

Welcome to Dracula Season! With the release of Castlevania Requiem for the PS4 last week, I felt a hankering to dig into the classic games included, Symphony of the Night and Rondo of Blood. But they were both part of an earlier collection, The Dracula X Chronicles for Playstation Portable. But rather than a collection, they were unlockable bonus content in one of the most difficult games in a notoriously punishing franchise.
Dracula X is a faithful remake of Rondo of Blood using 3D Polygonal graphics instead of sprites. The models look very good, and are quite detailed, but they still feel a bit dated by modern standards. The game retains every controller-snapping bit of difficulty from the original, which came out for the PC Engine console and was not previously released outside of Japan and is one of the hardest entries in a game series known for its brutal challenge.
By finding special items hidden in the remake, players can unlock both the original Rondo of Blood in all it’s 16-bit pixelated glory, and its sequel, the breakout Playstation hit Symphony of the Night. And while these aren’ just laying out in the open (they’re found on hidden stages in somewhat more difficult paths) A few minutes of googling should help you reach them if you’re only really here for the original, which for the PSP is priced less than Requiem.
Castlevania: The Dracula X Chronicles retains all of the charm as well as the extreme challenge of the 1993 original. You can find it in the Playstation store if you have a PSP or Vita laying around.

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Hugh Likes Comics: The Long Con

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The Long Con
Written by Dylan Meconis and Ben Coleman
Drawn by E. A. Denich
Colors by M. Victoria Robado
Published by Oni Press

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The Skinny: The Comic Con at the end of the world

What happens when The End of the World happens during a major Science Fiction convention? Five years ago, a cataclysmic event destroyed the city of Los Spinoza, and, presumably, the Los Spinoza Convention Center, home to Long Con, the world’s largest and greatest comic convention. But what makes a better bomb shelter than 600,000 square feet of Brutalist concrete? When evidence emerges that something survived, struggling reporter Victor Lai, who barely escaped from the Long Con minutes before the disaster, is sent back in by his editor to investigate.
The Long Con is a delightful look at the apocalypse through the lens of pop culture fandom. It’s a clever microcosm of fans, some of whom are literally eating each other once they get cut off and have to figure out how to survive. The book seamlessly shifts between the last day of the convention and Victor’s return, with his friend Dez guiding him though the twin mazes of Convention culture and the survivors. Meconis and Coleman’s wit is sharp, Denich’s designs are charming without being too cartoonish, and Robado’s use of color is spot on. The past is a riot of bright colors, and the future is just the right touch of grimy.
The story weaves in a third layer, a fictional Star Trek-inspired media property called “Skylarks” that does a lot of great storytelling work and a delightful piece of parody all on its own.
The Long Con just released its fourth issue, and you can find it on Comixology or at your local comics shop. I highly recommend it.

Hugh Likes Video Games: Stardew Valley

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Stardew Valley
Developed by ConcernedApe
Published by Chucklefish
Played on Nintendo Switch

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The Skinny: “Harvest Moon” all grown up.

“Stardew Valley” is a retro-style farming life simulator made by indie developer ConcernedApe, the one-man studio of Eric Barone, in tribute to “Harvest Moon.” As in the original, they player is tasked with rebuilding their grandfather’s dilapidated old farm in an isolated rural community. Like in “Harvest Moon,” there are a lot of different activities you can do throughout the game, from growing crops and raising livestock to fishing, gathering, mining, and developing relationships with the town citizens. But the game builds on these mechanics and interrogates them in unexpected modern ways.
The player is given their farm in a letter in a cut scene at the beginning of the game, prompting them to quit their job at soulless mega-corporation Joja to pursue a new life in Stardew Valley. But the company has already gotten in a foothold in your new town, in the form of Jojamart, a supermarket that is already squeezing out the local general store. It is up to the player to decide if they want to help Joja take over and turn Stardew Valley into a Joja distribution center, or to drive them off by rebuilding the town’s dilapidated Community Center. Like most of the choices in the game, there is a decision that feels better, but it isn’t quite so black and white. Rebuilding the Center requires delivering a mountain of specific items, while siding with Joja is easier and allows the player the freedom to play however they want.
Rather than just settling in to the fantasy of small-town life, Barone has very thoughtfully examined the issues impacting rural life today and incorporated them into the game. Most NPCs are friendly, but some are hostile and distrustful of outsiders. Depression, substance abuse, and financial hardship and broken homes all play into their stories. Also, the player can choose their farmer’s appearance and gender, and can date and marry NPC’s of either gender, which feels to me like a huge step over “Harvest Moon’s” marriage options, and a natural way to include LGBTQ players.
“Stardew Valley” is one of those games that you will either hate, or will entirely absorb you as you try and delve into all the town’s secrets, find every hidden relationship cutscene, and work to raise the best crops. There are only a few things that bother me about it. One is that trees, rocks and other liter are constantly regenerating on my farm. I feel like I’m spending as much time chopping down the multiplying pine trees as I am watering and planting. The other is that the games doesn’t have a way to buy multiple items at once, a real oversight when I’m buy seeds for huge fields, or trying to buy enough hay to see my cows through the winter. This might not have been a big problem on PC, but on console, having to rapid-fire hit a button is a needless irritation.
“Stardew Valley” is available on Steam and for most major consoles. I played on the Nintendo Switch and I could hardly put it down. It is a perfect chill game for these long autumn nights.

Podcast: NP24 – Personal Man-Circus

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Welcome to Nostalgia PIlots! Today, Jurd, Jason, and Hugh take a look at Gundam Wing episode 24: “The Gundam They Called Zero!’

Click HERE to listen online!

This week: Quatre receives a thorough warning, Trowa is just kind of hanging out with the other pilots in their cell, and Heero is still the worst at advice.
Plus, The Gundam Engineers remain delightful, and the Nostalgia Pilots tackle the original “Gundam.”

Fiction: What You Did, and What You’ll Do

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They’ll say you killed yourself, which isn’t exactly wrong. By now, your guest has recovered from his ordeals, and will pass all but the most thorough forensic examinations. He’s a little thinner, a little more drawn, but by the time you’re done, nobody will know the difference. Your future self has been living with you for months, at this point.
When he found you, he was a wreck. You almost didn’t recognize yourself. His hair was going gray, and he was starved nearly to the bone. His stared wildly, like he was being hunted. Not knowing what else to do, you took him home.
No matter how hard you pressed, your future self refused to tell you how or why he traveled back in time. He said it was too dangerous for you to know, and you believed him. After a few weeks of care and good eating, there was little difference between the two of you, save for his hair, and the scars, you dyed his hair and gave him some clothes. They were his anyway.
Your future self was afraid of the outside world, and refused to leave your house. He constantly surfed the news channels, even the one that you can’t stand. He signed you up for digital subscriptions to a dozen newspapers from around the world. You constantly changed the password on your laptop, but of course, it didn’t do any good. When you asked what he was looking for, he would get distant a distant look and go quiet. It was disturbing for you to watch terror and despair play across your own face. He told you it was safer if you didn’t know. Eventually you stopped asking questions.
He did give you missions, though. Tests to see how broadly he could influence the events that brought him here. Some missions were as simple as being in a certain place at a certain time, such as a coffee shop. Others were more involved, such as striking up a conversation with a stranger, whom your future self described perfectly. You had to say just the right things, the lines you and your future self practiced. You felt like an actor, without any idea of your role. One night, you drove out to the woods and dug up a heavy, iron-bound chest. It looked like an illustration from a fantasy novel. Your future self forbade you to open it. You dragged it five feet east and buried it again.
When, nothing happened after the first month of missions, your future self began to relax, but he still would tell you nothing of the future, or leave the house. He sent you on longer and more complicated jobs, requiring you to use up most of your time off from work. The missions never seemed dangerous, but they never made sense, either. You did them anyway, trusting that if anyone had your best interest at heart, it was your future self.
Your future self kept a journal, and one day your curiosity got the better of you, and you snuck a look at it while he was asleep. It was either written in shorthand, code, or both. You couldn’t make any headway with it. A week later, he burned the notebook without a word.
Even though he would tell you nothing about your fate or the future, you had long conversations with your future self. You reminisced about your shared past, and his perspective was enlightening. You also philosophized often about what would happen if the future really does diverge, or if it was already diverging. You saw less and less of your friends. It was too difficult to explain your increasingly odd behavior, or why your house was suddenly off limits.
After three months, he announces that the missions have been a success. You cheer and open a bottle of champagne and wait to see what will happen. Nothing does. Your future self announces he feels tired, and goes to your guest bedroom to rest. He never gets up again.
At first, you think it is another test or a mission. After a week, you ask him what is wrong. He doesn’t know himself. He tells you that the timeline has changed, he thinks. But now, something is missing. Your future self isn’t your future self anymore. You did it. But now the time he came from doesn’t exist anymore. He thought that he would fade away, or find himself back in his own time. It doesn’t work like that, apparently. He avoided fate, but now he has now future. He feels like a puppet with cut strings. You say this is a good thing, that he is free. He shakes his head, slowly. A puppet without strings can’t move on its own. He slides into a deep depression.
You do everything you can to cheer your future self up. You guess that you know him pretty well, after all. You screen your favorite movies, cook your favorite meals, and even invent elaborate schemes to get him outside. You suggest claiming he is your cousin from out of town, or find local masquerade events where he could hide his face. You even offer to let him go out as you. Your efforts are met with stony silence. You visit a doctor and claim his symptoms, scoring a little vial of medicine. Since you share the same DNA, you don’t think it counts as fraud. He flushes them down the toilet while you’re at work.
That night, he asks you to kill him.
He says that he found a new rule to the laws of the universe. He expected to fade away, or to find himself back at the point where he left, or even to have never come back in time at all. He expected that time would either make room for him or erase him, but it did neither.
Instead he finds himself trapped without fate, unable to do anything at all. Any further attempt to change his circumstances falters before he can accomplish it. Otherwise he would have simply killed himself. Unable to go back and unable to make a life for himself, the only thing he can do is die, but even that needs another hand.
At first, you refuse. He keeps after you, showing interest in something for the first time in weeks. Eventually, offers you a reward for all of this: A second notebook filled with information from his future: Stock tips, world-series winners, schematics for inventions that will make you a very rich man. He says that he’ll burn this one too, unless you kill him. This time, you agree, and tell yourself it is about mercy, not money. You almost believe it.
The assisted suicide doesn’t go as planned. It’s harder to kill anyone than you expected, and the trauma of watching yourself die is nearly more than you can take. Eventually, you shoot your future self, and let the gun drop. You had a plan to deal with the body, but seeing your own corpse isn’t something you are prepared for. You take the notebook and run. At a truck stop halfway across the country, you buy a newspaper and read your own obituary. As the murder investigation goes on unsolved, you start a new life for yourself.
It will be harder than you think. You’ll lose all your savings trying to get a new identity, and soon you’ll be broke and without a social security card. You’ll manage to get a job under the table, but never make quite enough to survive. You’ll console yourself that you still have the notebook. As long as you’re careful, and don’t draw attention to yourself, you should be fine.
But the notebook won’t work. None of the predictions will come true. At first they will be similar. You’ll make a little bit of money. The stocks you pick will do well, but never reach their predicted heights. The sports scores will be close but never quite correct. No one will be interested in your ‘inventions,’ or they simply don’t work quite as described.
Eventually, the notebook will fail you entirely. At first you’ll blame chaos, the thousand tiny variables that somehow changed when your future self went back in time. Then, you’ll suspect that your future self made a mistake. This will turn into a suspicion that he gave you false information on purpose. Before long, you’ll be certain that the figures in the notebook change when you aren’t looking. You’ll become obsessed with it, spending all day flipping through pages, rarely eating, never sleeping. Eventually you’ll lose your job washing dishes. You’ll fall behind on your debts, which will lead to some very unpleasant encounters.
Finally, you’ll discover the hidden pocket on the back cover, and pull out the single piece of paper inside. At first, the schematics and equations won’t make any sense to you, but the more you stare at them, the more sense they will make. You won’t be able to afford the materials and exotic components, but you’ll do what you have to, and eventually your time machine will be complete. You’ll look at your drawn face and gray hair in the mirror, and you will know what you have to do.
End

Cover photo by JLS Photography, shared under a Creative Commons License.

Podcast: CCRC43: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

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Tonight your hosts, Hugh of HughJODonnell.com, Rich the Time Traveler, Jurd, and Opop, take in some Halloween fun

Click HERE to listen to the commentary!

Here’s the video, but it’s not the same source we watched, so no guarantees!

Chrononaut Cinema Reviews is presented by http://skinner.fm and http://hughjodonnell.com, and is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Podcast: NP23 – Duo: A Gundam Story

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Welcome to Nostalgia Pilots! This week, Hugh, Jason, and Jurd consider Gundam Wing episode 23: Duo, The God of Death Once Ageain!

Click HERE to listen online!

In this episode, Duo stars as a one-legged man in ass-kicking contest, the Five Gundam Scientists have WAY too much leeway, and Hilde is way better than Duo gives her credit for. Plus, Heero is mad that Duo didn’t blow up the base he was trapped in, and we check in with the real heroine of this series, Sally Po!

This week’s promo is For Talk Nerdy 2 Me’s Halloween Horrorfest!
Plus, pick up my short story “The Montressor Method” in the new anthology, Quoth the Raven!

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