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volume 1, issue 27

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Pad Happy:
No PAL of Mine

By Nick Ferguson

Most, if not all, console manufacturers divide the games-playing world into 3 general geographic regions – Japan & South-East Asia, America, and Europe & Australia. Most hardware manufacturers ensure that games from one region will not work on a system from another – Sony have their regional coding (foiled by the use of a mod chip), Nintendo have their cartridge security chips (foiled by a universal adapter). If you modify your machine to play games from outside a region, then your machine’s warranty becomes invalid. Even then, modifications (or adapters) don’t always lead to perfect NTSC gaming – running US games on a PAL Super Nintendo led to an interesting lack of harmony between the on-screen action and game music (boss music fading in before the boss was actually reached proved a common occurrence). The NTSC PlayStation title Bust-A-Groove ("Dance and Rhythm Action" - punch buttons in time to the beat) runs out-of-sync with the music on a PAL machine.

Gamers with chipped / modified machines or adapters are always catching up with security measures. Every few months the latest Nintendo release refuses to work on the current crop of "universal N64 adapters", so a new one has to be bought. Sony have devised a way of detecting the presence of a mod chip, halting import sales of Final Fantasy VIII (and who knows what else in the future)? I can understand concerns about piracy, but simultaneously attacking the legitimate import market seems a slap in the face to many of the gamers who play offbeat titles for the love of them and would never want to play a pirate copy. Sony’s indiscriminate attack on the "modified" community has left many non-pirates feeling bitter.

Things are looking even worse for the import-minded PAL gamer. Sega has begun taking steps to prevent the import of NTSC Dreamcast units into Europe, and Konami threatened legal action against European importers stocking NTSC versions of Metal Gear Solid this winter. In the US, reputable importers have been threatened with legal action for selling certain Japanese games – games that aren’t even going to be available in the US!

I find this kind of corporate bullying completely unfair, particularly in the case of PAL gamers (who are being forced to wait for inferior versions of a game). Why should we suffer because Sony / Nintendo / Sega can’t get their act together and release half-decent PAL optimized software? Another quibble: the import market does a great job of spreading news by word-of-mouth, yet the Japanese companies seem intent on squishing it. Many magazines in Europe review NTSC versions of software on import, building up hype for titles that might not see an official PAL release for many more months. Games companies benefit greatly from this hype (Metal Gear Solid had a huge amount of pre-orders in Europe) – I believe it’s hypocritical (not to mention cruel and torturous!) to allow magazines access to NTSC games, but not the common consumer. For many gamers, it’s one thing to read reviews lusting over Silent Hill (or whatever the hot new game is), quite another to head over to an NTSC-importing friend’s house and see it in action. Of course, in many such cases, the PAL owner soon wants to find out how to get his machine modified so he can play these new games as soon as possible…

Is there any disadvantage to buying NTSC? I can’t think of one, seeing as – in my experience – importing US and Japanese games from online stores like Tronix works out significantly cheaper than waiting for the official PAL release. Hmmm – why would any sane person wait for a PAL game, when they can get the superior NTSC version a good few months earlier for less money? Beats me…

I’d like to end this article with a heartfelt - if hopelessly naïve - plea to console developers (there must be some of you reading this). Don’t sell the PAL market short! Why spend so much time and effort creating the best game that you can, and then release a noticeably inferior version to a sizeable proportion of the world’s gamers? Imagine watching a movie with the special effects only half-finished, or listening to a favorite piece of music running at the wrong speed... that’s what it’s like to play a bad PAL conversion. If you want to fob me off with the usual excuses about time and money, well it just goes to show that you’re all about money, markets and profit - not the games. Just remember, without the games there wouldn’t be any money. Finally, I realize that importers like myself are but a small fraction of "the market", but I think we are the small fraction with the most influence; it’s people like me that end up writing for magazines, web sites (hey!), posting on newsgroups and calling friends over to check out the best new games. Don’t try to kill us off – we’re the ones doing you a favor.

Phew!

As everyone else on loonygames (well, loonyboi) seems to be going through a "Top Ten phase", I thought I’d round off this week’s column with a more modest "Top Three".

The Best PAL Conversions Ever

  1. Goldeneye (Nintendo 64) – Rare’s PAL releases always run considerably closer to their NTSC originals than most other softcos’. This full-screen (and near full-speed) effort proved that even a game pushing hardware to the max can be tweaked for a quality PAL experience. Lylat Wars (PAL Starfox 64) wasn’t too bad, either.
  2. Wipeout 2097 (PlayStation) – AKA Wipeout XL in the US, Psygnosis kept a lot of people very happy when the PAL version of the game looked just as fast and full-screen as the subsequent NTSC version! See also: G-Police, Colony Wars.
  3. Sega Rally (Saturn) – The Saturn bombed in Europe, but at least owners could comfort themselves with Sega’s fine string of PAL conversions (of which Sega Rally was probably the best). I can only hope this trend continues with the release of the Dreamcast…

The Worst PAL Conversions Ever

  1. Street Fighter II (SNES) – The SNES was plagued with terrible PAL conversions, but this key release was the crown prince of PAL disappointments. Running in ultra slo-mo, it’s testament to SF2’s gameplay genius that the European release of this game was at all playable. Starwing (the PAL name for Starfox) runs a close second.
  2. Wave Race 64 (N64) – In NTSC, a fun, innovative racer with the occasional moment of slowdown. In PAL, a CinemaScope monstrosity with a framerate that plunged deeper than The Abyss. Truly terrible.
  3. Tekken 3 (PlayStation) – A close call between this and the original PlayStation Ridge Racer. Tekken 3 wins by virtue of being four years older and, incredibly, even slower than its PAL prequels. Delaying this game at all was sheer cheek on the part of Sony Europe.

 

- Nick Ferguson is a regular loonygames correspondent. Yes, he realizes he should get out more.

 

Credits: Pad Happy logo illustrated and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Pad Happy is © 1999 Nick Ferguson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it, or you'll get some real force feedback.