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2015 Gaming Selections

For several years, I posted “roundups” of all of the games I played in a given year. After the 2011 edition, I lapsed on this and have not written one since. Having to remember every game I played in a 20xx and write up a little something about it got to be tedious, and didn’t play well with my inherent laziness.

All that is why, when I decided to revive this feature, it was with new restrictions. This time, I will be covering only ten games: those which left the strongest impressions on me within a given year, regardless of release date. This restriction also enables me to write a bit more about each game.

So, without further ado, here’s my ten for 2015, presented in the order in which I played them. Following each title is the developer/author, the platform I played the game on, the release year on said platform, and my obligatory summary. They are not ranked, except for my personal Game of the Year and its runner-ups, which were relatively easy choices, at least for this installment.

Mighty GunvoltMighty Gunvolt
Inti Creates | 3DS | 2014
Although I am not a big fan of anything that resembles Mega Man, this game charmed the pants off of me. Few “retro” style games that truly want to be “retro” ever come close to the faithfulness to the era that Mighty Gunvolt achieves: here, it really does feel like you’re playing an NES game. The art and music are lovingly crafted, as is the localization from the original Japanese, which sprinkles bits of “Engrish” throughout. The biggest aspect which feels “modern” is the difficulty, which isn’t as punishing as its predecessors, but that’s all for the better.

<i>Octodad: Dadliest Catch</i>Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Young Horses | Windows | 2014
And on the opposite end of the spectrum is Octodad, which forces the player to unlearn everything they know about controlling video game characters. The player character is a giant octopus masquerading as a human surburban father, and controlling him—through a scheme where arms and legs are affiliated with analog sticks and shoulder buttons—is as difficult as you might expect, given the circumstances. Not drawing suspicion to yourself in your everyday life is the goal of the game, a lighthearted sitcom of a tale which comes complete with a catchy theme song (but no laugh track, thankfully). Although a certain part came off as slightly unfulfilling, there’s nothing else that would cause me not to recommend this.

<i>Gone Home</i>Gone Home
The Fullbright Company | Windows | 2013
This is one of those games I put off playing for awhile due to the neverending hype and discussion surrounding it, but I finally did so this year. What it ended up being was an exploration through a massive old house that was alternately nostalgic, goofy, and suspenseful, a miniature 1990s teenage soap opera told in first-person in-between references to Bratmobile and The X-Files. That this tightly crafted, intimate little story generated as much controversy as it did is bewildering. Gone Home is—somehow, bizarrely, sadly—groundbreaking for the video game medium in its everyday mundanity and small human dramas, but it’s also good, and hopefully this sort of thing will become more commonplace in the future.

<i>PixelJunk Eden</i>PixelJunk Eden
Q-Games | Windows | 2012
I play few platformers anymore, not so much for lack of interest (Kirby burnout notwithstanding), as that there haven’t been any really good ones in awhile. I came to PixelJunk Eden not knowing much about it, but finding within it just the refreshing sort of platformer I needed. The visual style is minimalist overall, but can get pleasantly noisy sometimes in a structured Sonic Youth sort of way, and it’s accompanied by some cool electronic music and suitable sound effects. The physics are floaty but believable; the diminutive player character moves around like it’s in water. Although the paths weren’t always clear and, thus, it became way too easy to get lost in certain late-game levels, I had a really good time with PixelJunk Eden.

<i>You Must Build a Boat</i>You Must Build a Boat
EightyEightGames | Windows | 2015
This game, the follow-up to 10000000, almost didn’t make this list. It’s on here because I returned to the game again, months after first beating it, to go after more crew members and achievements. That’s when I fell back into its rhythms. With more tile types and general complexity than 10000000, my original feeling was that You Must Build a Boat was too overwhelming, and somewhat inelegant. Somehow, this doesn’t matter any longer. Its density and mechanics have their own kind of beauty and rhythm, and it has proven itself to be just as well-balanced and addictive. That, plus the new rooms and crew members that get added over the course of the game gives it more character than 10000000 ever had. That’s not to say that YMBAB is better than 10000000, but it is most definitely a worthy successor.

<i>Roundabout</i>Roundabout
No Goblin | Windows | 2014
This game is unlike anything else out there. It’s got a groovy 1970s setting complete with funk music, rounded chunky fonts, trippy drug references, and suitably toned live-action FMVs. The story centers around Georgio Manos (pictured), a silent protagonist and up-and-coming revolving limousine driver. With the support of her comrades, she ferries people all over town and deals with various bits of drama. Oh yes, and as her title implies, her limo does indeed revolve around and around while she drives, which is where the challenge comes in. It’s all very silly, a little bit difficult, rather fun (and funny), and over all too quickly.

Neko Atsume: Kitty CollectorNeko Atsume: Kitty Collector
Hit-Point | iPhone | 2014
My husband and I waffled on trying this out for ages, and a patch from earlier this year which added an English-language option basically gave us little excuse. So, one day over the US Thanksgiving weekend, we each downloaded Neko Atsume from Apple’s App Store. What a great decision that was. A few times a day, after setting out food and toys, we check to see which stupidly cute, beady-eyed cats have visited us. Another aspect which has won us over: it’s free to play, with microtransactions available, but we’ve never once felt the pressure to buy any extra gold fish (the top-level in-game currency). We just take our time and enjoy these adorable digital felines at our leisure.

———

<i>Hatsune Miku: Project mirai DX</i>Third Place
Hatsune Miku: Project mirai DX
SEGA | 3DS | 2015
I’m afraid I might be biased when it comes to this choice: I’m a fan of Vocaloids, and Miku in particular, plus I also have a soft spot for both Nendoroid figures and tactile rhythm games. Project mirai DX features a robust selection of songs featuring music software developer Crypton’s beloved stable of Vocaloids: classics, fan favorites, and lesser-known tracks spanning a nice range of styles and BPMs, from many of the best producers in the scene. There are even a few songs with additional vocals supplied by special guest GUMI (aka Megpoid), a Vocaloid published by Internet Co. Ltd. All of the characters are represented in their chibi Nendoroid forms, thanks to a collaboration with Good Smile Company, and have a certain lively appeal to them that the blander, regularly-proportioned Project DIVA models lack.

The touchscreen-based gameplay mode is a joy to play (the button-based one isn’t too shabby either, though not as much fun), and there are several diversions—a room to decorate, character outfits, reversi and Puyo Puyo minigames, a music player, etc.—that are entertaining ways to take a break from the main rhythm section every so often. Despite the rare misstep (such as a certain pair of popular but overly repetitive songs), it’s a must-have for 3DS-owning Vocaloid fans, and probably the best rhythm game on the system overall.

<i>Analogue: A Hate Story</i>Second Place
Analogue: A Hate Story
Love Conquers All Games | Windows | 2012
Stories with a strong sociological bent are still relatively hard to find in games. While my 2015 manga slate was filled with brilliantly humane works like Vinland Saga, My Love Story!!, and Assassination Classroom, there hasn’t been much like those on my gaming one. Analogue: A Hate Story is one of the rare exceptions. Like (the absolutely amazing, seriously it’s a masterpiece) Ōoku: The Inner Chambers, Analogue is a feminist examination of a specific period in Asian history. In this case, it’s an extremely repressive Korean society recreated on a long-lost starship, whose story is told through the logs maintained by, and the commentary of, a pair of AIs named *Hyun-ae and *Mute.

What follows from there is a dense, intertwined tale of family, hierarchy, social expectation, doomed romance, dashed expectations, and horrific violence, with the occasional bits of humor, which helps lighten the mood from time to time and rounds out the characters. It’s a gripping tale, one as fine as in any good comic or prose story I read this year, and I’m looking forward to playing its sequel, Hate Plus, in the year ahead. In fact, Analogue was all set to be my personal Game of the Year, but then something else came out…

<i>The Beginner's Guide</i>First Place: Game of the Year
The Beginner’s Guide
Everything Unlimited Ltd. | Windows | 2015
I really don’t know where to start with this one without giving away what happens during a certain scene, a scene that matters so much when it comes to how this story is ultimately interpreted. When that scene happened, I understood much more, but only to a point. By the time the game ends, there’s at least two apparent large plot holes and some uncomfortable unanswered questions, which aren’t helped by the fact that the entire thing has been narrated by Davey Wreden, the creator of The Beginner’s Guide, seemingly playing himself. There’s also that cryptic dedication…

I’m going to dig further into this now, and although I won’t reference anything too specifically, there might be some parts that could be considered spoilers, so turn around if you need to.

Okay? Good.

The Beginner's GuideWhat The Beginner’s Guide is ultimately about (or at least it seems so to me) is audiences, the great bugbear of creators everywhere, and how uncontrollable they are. It left much the same impression on me as The Wind Rises, Hayao Miyazaki’s final film, which dealt with a similar theme on multiple levels. In that film, which is based on true events, an inventor does amazing, innovative work but finds that his lofty ideals don’t line up with reality. Such is the situation in The Beginner’s Guide, where Davey takes us through a tour of the works of “Coda”, a friend who has dabbled in game development before suddenly stopping. Who Coda is and what their works really mean is beside the point. It is Davey and his presentation of Coda’s games which really matters here.

The result is a fascinating, but somewhat worrying, journey through all sorts of unfinished first-person games. There are a lot of dialogues that go nowhere, enclosed spaces, and strange surprises. Davey is not wrong to have interpretations of these creations. The wrongness that is present becomes evident later on, and, in the end, I don’t blame Coda for their actions, though perhaps they were somewhat naive in how they handled their games. It’s an interesting and ultimately heart-wrenching story about creation, interpretation, modification, and everything in between. I wonder if anyone who isn’t a creative type of some sort would get it. I wonder, like many others, if this is based on something which really happened. I do not wonder if this sort of thing continues to happen in the real world, because I know it does. It sucks, but it still happens. It happens to a lot of us, and though it might take awhile, things will be okay again.


Six Campaigns

Combat Evolved

A copy of Halo sat amongst other barely or never touched PC games—stuff like American McGee’s Alice and Half-Life—for a number of years. Early in 2010, I decided to change its status, and got around to starting it on April 17th. This decision was one that I’m still feeling the effects of.

It did so many things right: consistent world design, likable characters, unique (for a first-person shooter, anyway) music, good equipment, and great momentum. There was also the big plot twist, a moment when so much seemed to change; I believe this was also the moment when I became hooked.

It’s not like the game didn’t have any problems, as it had a streak of sameness and repetition running through its many grey corridors, but as with any flawed piece of brilliance, the magic of the rest was such that they were minor concerns.

Two

After Master Chief and Cortana’s adventure on Installation 04 came their next one, which starts in orbit above Earth. The situation had become grave, the enemies less cartoonish, and the animations a touch less snappy. Realism and gravity—in a galaxy filled with whole races of aliens that could speak perfect English, a Forerunner civilization that rivals StarCraft‘s Xel’naga in terms of crazy conundrums, and Sergeant Avery Johnson (minor spoilers in link)—was trying to worm its way into a realm that was fun and exhilarating above all else.

Although I wasn’t sure what to make of this change of tone, with it came a closer look at the Covenant and their motives, and the introduction of a new playable character, the Arbiter. This disgraced Elite was a welcome change from the UNSC’s perfect super soldier and whatever seriousness that was imbued in the story suited him quite well.

The air may have changed, but the action didn’t. In fact, the ante was upped, with dual wielding, new equippable weapons (including the truly badass Energy Swords, which were present in the first game, but not a useable option), and frantic battles. Unfortunately, the final fight, which aimed to be the pièce de résistance, fizzled instead, thanks to a shortsighted bit of level design. The ending was a cliffhanger this time, as the “trilogy” formula had now been settled upon.

Three

The action outdoes itself again, and there are crisper graphics this time around due to this being the first Xbox 360 outing for the series. Also still present is the gravitas, with extra emphasis on Chief and Cortana’s relationship, which takes a turn away from the first game’s buddy-movie-screwball-comedy antics to something a bit more tender and weirder, with a slight whiff of retcons.

As for the rest of the plot? Muddled and nothing to write home about, with a none-too-subtle throwback to the first game at the end and some non-closure closure.

Wars

Although I’d put up with it for three installments, here is where the formula really started to wear thin. Despite being an RTS, taking place two decades before Combat Evolved, and featuring a whole new cast of characters, a familiar three-act structure was in place. It would all be eyeroll-inducing were it not the most fun I’ve had with a game in this series since pre-final battle Halo 2.

I am and remain a PC person when it comes to first-person shooters (though, as I’ve said before, the Wii’s controls for first-person games are damned good). With Halo Wars though, I found a console RTS with a control scheme that suited my style of play fairly well. It was also, sadly, Ensemble Studios’ final game.

Three: ODST

The second in the Not-Master-Chief non-trilogy puts the player in the role of an Operational Drop Shock Trooper during the events of Halo 3. Its emptiness, coupled with basic character animations attached to equally basic characters, brought to mind the first game, more than any of those that had been made previously, albeit with a moody touch of noir on top. The story was modest and significantly different, in terms of structure, from the ones that had come before it. Perhaps the one thing I liked the most—and this is the only time it has happened in the series—is that the main character is not only nameless, but pretty much voiceless, a true silent protagonist whose UNSC-issue boots I can easily slide into.

ODST is a wonderful game, but aside from the rare bit where it’s obvious you needed to have played Halo 3 first, its biggest frustration is representative of something that I’d noticed about the console Halos I’d played to this point: the save system, or rather, the lack thereof. One of the great things about modern PC games is they haven’t forgotten about the value and necessity of manual saves. Autosaves and “save and quit” features are all well and good, but not if one wants to go back and try a different approach, as I did with ODST when I realized that I was unraveling the plot’s core mystery in the wrong order. Redoing the previous mission over again, I found my acquired weapons gone and my checklist cleared of any real progress. This was why I deleted my save file and started the game over again. That said, it is unfortunate that certain other progress markers, namely the Xbox Live Achievements and the in-game audio file unlocks, could not be similarly wiped clean.

Reach

Bungie’s final Halo would have it come full circle: in the beginning of their Combat Evolved, we learn that the planet Reach, which had been colonized by humans, has fallen to the Covenant, and that Master Chief is the last of the Spartan II-class soldiers. This game, then, tells a story of the doomed right from the start; I knew going in that the Spartan I would play, and the others in Noble Team, would fail to save Reach and die. The story did have a few surprises left, though, including one which was badly explained in-game, and only clarified by reading some forum threads and the facsimile diary that was included in the game’s special editions (I have the Limited one).

Interestingly enough, although the nameless protagonist “Noble Six” was not silent this time, gender was both obvious and up for grabs: Six could be male or female. Even with an already solid range of good-to-great women characters in the Halo universe, and the existence of female Spartans having been established since at least Wars, that I could make Six any gender I wanted was a welcome surprise. I went with the male option, though.

Male or female, Six is your typical Halo human protagonist: if s/he’s not already a decorated and admired soldier, s/he has an impressive track record. Only Halo 2 stands apart in its presenting the player with a flawed protagonist in need of empathy and redemption, and even then, the Arbiter is only playable for half the game. On the other hand, Master Chief (and his sidekick Cortana), Sergeant Forge, the Rookie, and Noble Six are characters who had admiration and/or respect on their sides prior to their in-game adventures, and could be considered canonical Mary Sues.

Although I have enjoyed my time with all of them, I continue to love the Arbiter the most.

Epilogue: Combat Evolved Anniversary, and Four

After a month-long binge on the not-Master-Chief non-trilogy, I am done for awhile. Anniversary, a remake of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, sits in my backlog, and there it will remain for awhile longer, mainly since there are virtual worlds I want to delve into that do not involve space marines. Halo 4 will come out later this year, but unless there’s a real must-have preorder bonus, I won’t pay full price for it. I don’t go in for the multiplayer on these games, otherwise I would certainly have my order in already, and $60 for what will surely be another eight-hour (or, heaven forbid, shorter) campaign is too much.

I do plan on buying and playing it, however. Despite whatever gripes I may have, Halo still has that special something.


2011 Gaming Roundup

It’s that time again! Here is my fifth annual overview of the games I played in the preceding year. Previous roundups: 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007

All games are listed in the order played and/or beaten; the “Endless Games, etc.” section is from memory and may be out of order and/or incomplete. Linked titles go to that game’s Review, Impressions, or Game Love entry, though many of the unlinked games are discussed elsewhere on this site. Icons were made from press images poached from various places all over the internet. Thanks as always to namatamiku for the initial inspiration, and an additional shout-out to Clidus for writing his own roundup posts this year.

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2010 Gaming Roundup

Greetings and welcome to the fourth annual overview of the games I played in the past year. Previous roundups: 2009 | 2008 | 2007

All games are listed in the order played and/or beaten; the “Endless Games, etc.” section is from memory and may be incomplete (there might be some Mario Kart Wii session that’s gone unaccounted for, in other words). Linked titles go to that game’s review or impressions entry; note, however, that unlinked games are most likely discussed elsewhere on this site. Icons were made from press images poached from various places all over the internet. Thanks as always to namatamiku for the initial inspiration.

Read the rest of this entry »


The Best of E3 2010… eBay Auctions

As someone who doesn’t/can’t/won’t attend E3, one of the best parts of the annual event is the swag auctions that crop up on eBay. The tchotchkes placed on sale are neat little windows onto the expo, inherently different from the avalanche of news reports, written impressions, screenshots, trailers, and press conference livestreams that are available to anyone and everyone with a decent internet connection. They are trinkets that were actually there, instant collectables that show how an industry markets itself to itself, and to the world at large, in physical form.

The E3 goodies on eBay traditionally take many different forms. Every year, without fail, there’s at least one auction for the daily magazines/guides for the event itself. There are also always auctions for t-shirts, as well as lots containing a variety of items; the latter listings are very hard to find after E3 has come and gone. Other common items that appear year after year include lanyards, magazines, keychains, and, for some reason, Square Enix catalogs.

Other items are more on the quirky side. One of my favorites this year—and not just because I love the character and the franchise—are the patches that were given away to promote Kirby’s Epic Yarn. How better to promote a fabric-themed Kirby game than with a fabric Kirby? Several of these patches, with a Buy it Now (BIN) of $9.95, sold quickly, and at least one that has gone up since then as a regular auction is hitting an even higher price. I thought the initial $9.95 BIN listing was a bit high, but I’m a born cheapskate, and now I’m wondering if I should’ve bit before that same seller doubled their price.

Another item of note this year is the Epic Mickey cloisonne pin. Not only is there a huge Disneyana collecting scene, but there is a subset of Disneyana collecting that specializes in pins. Throw in video game memorabilia collectors on top of that, and you wind up with BIN asking prices as high as $24.99 for these pins. A search of completed listings has revealed that only three of these pins has sold so far, which makes me think that the highest of these BINs are too optimistic.

Two bits of Natsume swag have caught my attention. First is the Harvest Moon: Grand Bazaar plush horse. Since Natsume typically gives away plushes as preorder bonuses, I think we’ll be seeing this specific item again, on a wider scale, in the future. More unusual is this catalog for Natsume’s games. Again, I believe this to be an overly optimistic BIN. Meanwhile, one enterprising auctioneer has combined the two into one lot.

Some things which could become scarce in the years ahead are the Sonic Colors plush and the two Portal 2 t-shirts. There haven’t been many posted, which is always an interesting sign. The Dreamcast shirts are a little bit more common, but seem to be quite popular. And then there’s the Zelda shirts, of which there are a ton, but might also become nice collector’s pieces, given the size of fanbase and the popularity of past Zelda-related swag of all kinds.

Some general shopping tips: swag traditionally starts hitting eBay on the first day of E3, and BINs, if utilized, trend toward the high end. Both starting prices and selection generally improve toward the end of the event and in the days afterward, but bidding can be fierce. Even so, during and after E3 is the absolute best time to get one’s hands on a piece of swag that might be rare down the line. Please note that it’s sometimes hard to know what will be valuable, even for the most seasoned collector; as with any other type of collecting, it is always best to go after the pieces you personally like the most.

In the months and years following an E3, it will, naturally, be harder to track down many items on eBay or other auction sites. However, when older E3 stuff does pop up, it can sometimes be had at a relative bargain, since there isn’t nearly as much competition. Here are the results I got for “E3 2009” in the Entertainment Memorabilia category, which contained the most number of relevant results. Slim pickings, to be sure, but I bet that Left 4 Dead 2 poster was going for a lot more last summer. It should be interesting to see what an “E3 2010” search brings up a year from now.


My Fan Translation Wishlist

Yuna Kagurazaka, Guardian of the Light. Forgot where I originally got this image from.Remember that huge stack of game soundtracks I bought awhile ago? I’m still working my way through them. Have managed to listen to most of them, but one I haven’t touched at all is Front Mission 5 ~Scars of the War~ Original Soundtrack. A big part of this is because, as I said before, I haven’t played the actual game. Although this sort of thing hasn’t stopped me before, this is Front Mission, and therefore, special in my eyes.

Front Mission 5 was, apparently, briefly considered for an official stateside release. However, this never panned out, and thus, fans took it upon themselves to do what very few (if any) had done before: an amateur translation of a PlayStation 2 game. Thus was born the Front Mission 5 Translation Project, which has since become the Front Mission Series Translation Project, as they are now working on patches for Front Mission 2 and Front Mission Alternative.

The group completed the beta translation patch of Front Mission 5 in December of last year, so all I would need to do is to hunt down a copy of the game and the necessary PS2 modding tools to get it to run. However, this brings me to the one criticism I have of the project. If the group’s goal is to draw Square Enix’s attention to English-speaking Front Mission 5 fans, then why make it so the patch works only on the non-Ultimate Hits verion of the game, which has long been out of print? I think a spike in sales of new copies of FM5, rather than secondhand ones, would push Square to consider an official release even more. For historical evidence, I point to Capcom, who localized the DS port of Gyakuten Saiban in North America (as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney) after noticing all the sales of the bilingual game that were coming from outside of Japan. Anyway, I know the fan translation team is well aware of this issue, and I hope they make an Ultimate Hits version of the FM5 patch a priority for future releases.

With FM5 on my mind lately, I got to thinking about what other Japanese games never made it over here that I would like to see complete translations of. There are some games that are “import friendly” in that you don’t have to know a lot of Japanese—if any—to be able to enjoy them, so those aren’t a problem. There are also those like Tales of Graces, Front Mission 2089: Border of Madness, and Game Center CX: Arino’s Challenge 2 that are still recent enough to have a chance of localization, slim though they may be. What’s left are the text-heavy titles which are on dead systems and have small cult followings, if they’re lucky. What’s left, in other words, are games like those on my wishlist.

Ys V: Lost Kefin, Kingdom of Sand, Super Famicom – I’m cheating a little bit here with a couple of them, including this first one. You see, a fan translation of Ys V was started several years ago, but the patch is currently incomplete. This leaves Ys V as the only main-series Ys storyline whose translation has never been made available. Rather frustrating if you’re interested in the Ys canon and don’t read Japanese, but even after all these years, the patching project is not dead, so there’s still hope.

Galaxy Fraulein Yuna and Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 2, PC Engine – And now for something completely different: visual novels! My initial exposure to Galaxy Fraulein Yuna came in the form of the first OVA series; later, I saw the much more coherent second series, Galaxy Fraulein Yuna Returns. Each storyline follows the adventures of teenage Yuna Kagurazaka, who is the savior of the universe, a popular celebrity, and a regular girl all at the same time. It’s a pretty wacky series, with some amazingly good character designs, all courtesy of mecha designer and Gundam Girl artist Mika Akitaka.

Some years ago, I learned that these anime were based on a “digital comic” game series, which gave me a better perspective on the character-stuffed OVAs. However, aside from the Sega Saturn’s Galaxy Fraulein Yuna 3 these games have never been translated into English, by anyone. The Yuna games have shown up on several systems, but the first two in the series are on the PC Engine, thus, my wishlist request. A PSP collection of the first two Yuna games as well as a related title, Galaxy Policewoman Sapphire, was published only a couple of years ago, so it seems there’s still interest in these oldies, at least in Japan.

Chocobo Stallion, PlayStation – Unlike the others on this list, I actually own this game. If I recall, I first learned about Chocobo Stallion while reading some information about a different Squaresoft-related thing. The idea of a chocobo sim racer intrigued me, and I later picked up a cheap copy on eBay, only to find that this was not an import-friendly game in the least. There are no English-language guides of any sort on GameFAQs or anywhere, and, naturally, no translation patches. I’ve long had the idea to make a rudimentary guide of my own, but have yet to get around to putting something together.

Segagaga, Dreamcast – A translation of this navel-gazing RPG/sim is the dream of every English-speaking Sega fan ever, and as with Ys V, is an actual project that has been ongoing, with occasional updates. Started in 2006, the project lead is still pushing forward with it as of September 2009. Will it ever see the light of day? Let’s hope it does!