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Mail for July 13th, 2006

Welcome to the mailbag section! Here the best minds in the (relatively small) universe (of Contra) strive to answer your (related) questions. We can't help you with poisoning or finding a home in Contra Costa County, but if it's about shooter games, wilderness, I'd better stop at classic gaming. Right, ask away.

I recieved some interesting mail a few days ago, and just now found the time to answer it. I didn't ask for permission to post the original emails, so I'll just cover the basics of what was asked, and then present my replies.

Email #1: Scan a Label

June 14th note: After writing this, I realized that the very one-sided nature of this article might cause some to believe I am against scanning material (indeed I've got many more items to scan)! I do think it's important to provide rare materials - information - to the public. The purpose of this response is to point out that there is a balance between providing usable information, and in encouraging forgeries. Relatively low-resolution, imperfect scans should not be a problem for collectors.

This was in response to my woefully outdated personal site, Ed's Game Resource for the Internets. It was last updated over two years ago. That's gotta change. Recently I've been writing an entry now and then on my blog at The Digital Press Retrogaming Roundtable, but only registered users can view it (or else I get hit by lots of nasty spam). That sucks. Been thinking about moving it over to my Comcast site.

What in hell was I thinking when I wrote these lines: "Here you'll find the new Japanese Mega Drive page: this page is going to be retired soon. I'm working from the bottom up (instead of from the top, i.e. this page, down), but it's nice to have the content first. There's some other fun stuff (such as two slides showing screenshots of The Legend of Zelda 64 [sic] (Temporary) for the Ultra 64, circa 1995) but I'm working the page layout first?" Churns no sense from whey that does at all.

Still one brave soul managed to wade through the minefield of broken grammar and Phantom links - they found enough of use that they thought they'd ask me a question.

That question was reasonable enough: Could I scan the label for a Japanese Mega Drive game to be used as a printed replacement for their damaged label? Now, I'll have to warn you that this reply has been reformulated; my email response was polite and to the point. What follows is a bit more of a rant, I'm afraid.

Leaving alone the question of how one would be able to get ahold of a good enough printer and paper to make a convincing facsimile (have to wonder about it though), I personally feel that originals are always best

The argument goes beyond that, however, and this is actually one of the major issues I've had to ponder when scanning material for the Contra HQ. It's the question of serving the interests of the public while denying forgers and counterfeiters access to materials.

There already is a big criminal - yes, this is illegal, just like offering GBA ROMs on the Contra H.Q. would be illegal - market selling counterfeit CD-ROMs to the public. Hop on eBay and you'll find counterfeit GBA games. People say (and might be secure) in the idea that counterfeit CD-ROMs are always marked Sonmay or EverAnime, and that the counterfeit GBA games are always from Hong Kong.

Do you actually believe that?

This might sound like science fiction, but in the future we will have machines able of churning out essentially exact replicas of plastic items (currently the devices in use employ lasers and a sort of foam to make precise scale models or mockups of various designs, from architecture to machine parts).

The common eBay seller's claim that counterfeit music soundtracks necessarily sound worse than the originals is false. Counterfeiters today have a large number of software tools available to create exact copies of CD-ROMs - I use one myself (for benevolent aims, however): Exact Audio Copy, which has legitimate uses in ripping music from CDs (or comparing CRCs).

I enjoy collecting arcade flyers. In the future, what will stop people from creating copies of classic (desireable) arcade flyers? And so the question goes on.

What is the answer? Save your records and receipts. These can be counterfeited, as well (especially in the case of a PayPal transaction - what's to stop somebody from creating a fake purchase record); list your games somewhere and keep tabs on your sales and purchases. People who collect NES prototypes keep tabs on who currently owns the games. I like to think this approach can be utilized for various other types of collectables.

The idea of keeping a database of all games or even all rare merchandise is absurd. Gaming swag is made by the lowest bidder, after all, and often in immense quantities - and there still are warehouses out there filled with items waiting to be discovered. Yet we all need to use our heads in preventing the influx of counterfeit items into the hobby. I'm not a fan of high prices (more on that in my next mailbag), but there is no reason to punish collectors by reducing the price of their games.

No, I didn't say all that in my email out of politeness, but I do think this needs to be known.

Okay, Sorry for all that negativity - let's move onto the next email!

Email #2: Seek and Assign a Value to the Unearthly Teratoma

This was a big request. Here's the essence of what I was asked: 1.) What are the prices of original Contra games, and where can you find them? 2.) Can you emulate Sony PlayStation systems on your home computer, and how well?

For the first question, it is quite a long list. Games from Japan and Europe in the series appear to be more expensive in many cases (Contra on the Japanese Mega Drive - aka Genesis in the US - is easily worth more than $120 USD if it is like new). Shipping games from out of the country is also expensive. Shipping a music CD from Japan will easily cost more than $10. For this reason you should always make sure to have enough money for shipping before you buy something - and this holds true for games in the US as well. Try to get different items you want from the same source (i.e. an eBay seller) shipped at the same time so you can save some money.

That brings me to my next point. Yahoo! Auctions Japan is a good way to find import items, but people living outside Japan will need to use a go-between service like Rinkya that will put a bid in for you and ship the items to you (this is because most Japanese use postal services that do not offer shipping out of the country). But there are potential dangers to using these services, check out this topic*:

Grandia Forums @ RPG Planet

For that reason (and also because I'm lazy**) I like to just use eBay.

And now for the answer: If you are looking for Contra games, it is a good idea to watch what prices are over a period of time. Don't try to bid over somebody else, and don't overestimate the value or rarity of something. Save your money! Values on eBay (and everywhere else) on video games are constantly changing. I have a rough idea of what some games are worth, but for others I'm not sure. Here's an example: the Saturn version of Contra: Legacy of War (which isn't very well respected in the Contra community, i.e. it's kinda bad).

A couple eBay sellers offer it for about $50 each. Ouch! I wouldn't pay that much even if the game was new. To me, that game is worth $20 tops.

How do you deal with this? First of all, you can emulate the older games to find out if you really want to buy them (I wouldn't buy anything I didn't want to play). Once you find a game and then find an auction for it, feel free to ask me if I think the price is right (I promise I won't steal your auctions - unless it's for some rare promotional material the Contra H.Q. needs, that is). To price anything, I have to have an idea what condition it's in, whether it has the box and manual, and so on.

Okay, the second question. I think you can emulate the original PlayStation on your PC, which means the two less-respected Contra games. You wanted to ask about the PlayStation 2 games Shattered Soldier and Neo Contra. I sadly don't know of any PS2 emulators - and if they existed I'm fairly sure your computer isn't new enough to run those.

However, you will be able to emulate every old Contra game before those, and probably the PlayStation (One) games pretty well. The only game I don't think you'll be able to run is a rare Contra LCD game (like a Tiger handheld). The good news there is that I did find one of them, so there will be information on the Contra H.Q. soon.

To my emailers: Thanks, and good luck! Remember - decide what you want before you decide what the price is.


* Disclaimer: I have not used any of these services; my contact for Yahoo! Auctions Japan was a private individual. No pricing estimates I give represent an offer to buy or sell. What something is usually worth on eBay is often over what I've managed to buy it for on Digital Press or GameTZ, so keep in mind that an eBay price estimate is not necessarily the best price available.

**Upon reflection, I realized it's mostly because I'm lazy - like how I simply pasted over my response to the question. I did remember to put paragraph tags in, though, so I'm losing some laziness points there for sure.