Thursday, March 30, 2006

Welcome to Taipei!

Welcome to Taipei, foreigner. We hope you'll find the bus system safe, convenient, and easy to use!

I like Taipei a lot, but the bus routes can be just a tad hard to figure out sometimes.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Convenience Stores

I know it isn't that original or anything, but I wanted to write a bit about convenience stores here in Taiwan. Taiwan has the highest density of convenience stores in the world with one store per 2800 people(Japan is Taiwan's closest competitor with one store per 3000). In practice this means that most city blocks here in Taipei have at least one, and it is not unusual to see two competing stores almost side- by-side. There are five main chains that I see here: 7-11, Family Mart, Hi-Life, OK, and Nikomart. But they are really all about the same; two convenience stores of roughly the same size will carry basically the same products, regardless of the name on the sign.

There are differences between what a Taiwanese convenience store will carry compared to one in the US though. In addition to all the drinks and snacks, you can buy computer games in convenience stores here. They also sell things like usb hubs, mice, magazines that aren't targeted at truck drivers, and fairly expensive bottles of liquor. Oh, and boxer shorts. Now, if you happen to be out and about in the city and suddenly need a new pair of boxers... well, I'd say that is pretty convenient. Selling computer peripherals is pretty convenient as well, especially if you use a computer as much as the Taiwanese seem to. The fact that Taiwan is still primarily a cash-based society has even opened up the opportunity of allowing you to pay your bills at convenience stores.

In short, convenience stores here allow for a lot more possibilities when it comes to 'convenience store runs.' Not only are the ubiquitous beer and cigarette runs accounted for and present -- this isn't just speculation on my part, I have witnessed the execution of a Taiwanese beer run by Taipei high schoolers -- but you also have 'Oh shit! My electric bill is due today' runs, 'Hell! My World of Warcraft game card expired and I'm almost 60' runs, and my personal favorite(though I don't know exactly how common among the natives) 'Damn I need some green tea and dorritos' runs.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Final Fantasy Fans

So, I was roaming my new stomping grounds today in search of mahjong . That's right, mahjong. Specifically, mahjong that I can play on my Nintendo DS. I eventually settled on a Japanese -- What!? The Japanese make mahjong games!? -- effort titled Everybody Loves Mahjong(I think). It's pretty cool, but that is not really the point here. The point is that I wish I had had my camera with me.

But first, some background:

Final Fantasy XII is another Japanese videogame, one which was released last week in Japan and which will sell many, many more copies than Everybody Loves Mahjong, no matter how much the Japanese love mahjong. The Final Fantasy series is quite popular in Taiwan as well. It was on store shelves here in Taipei last week selling for upwards of 70 USD(ELM was about $26) . What I'm trying to convey is that yes, Final Fantasy XII is popular, but hell you can buy it already so calm down! Got it? Alright.

So, back to the mall, there were lots of PS2 demo stations setup with Final Fantasy XII. One of these had about 12 kids(actually, they were all probably in their early twenties at the least) crowded around it watching another kid play the game. Some of the dudes were standing there with what I would consider appropriate expressions and body language. That is to say, they looked kinda bored. Good for them. There was one kid though that made me wish I had a video camera, or had at least brought my powershot. He was kind of standing with his weight tilted forward on the balls of his feet, shifting back and forth. He was damn excited. You would think by looking at him that Taipei had been offered a franchise in the NBA and in their inagural year the Taipei Tai Chi Masters had made it to the finals, and he was watching overtime of game seven right then and there. And then, when one of the characters unleashed one of those super mega attacks that Final Fantasy is famous for, you should have seen him! Wow! I don't know though, maybe they were watching some kid beat the game or something. I have no idea, but it doesn't seem like it should be any more exciting than, "Hey, that was pretty cool."

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

More Retro Game Shopping

In a previous post I covered the game shops and arcade at Wannian Plaza. Since posting my findings I have not been sitting idly by, sipping oolong tea while gazing out my apartment window. Oh no, unsatisfied with my findings at Wannian, I have continued my search! And I am happy to report that I have found quite a few nice game shops. Details below:


All of these shops are located in Taipei City Mall, an underground shopping mall running beneath Civic Blvd near Taipei Main Station. Check out the map here. I haven't explored the entire mall, but the shops I've found are all in the area around mall exit 5. One easy way to get there from the MRT station is through the Station Front Metro Mall on the west side of the station. Take exit 7 from the Station Front Mall and walk north along Chongqing Rd. to exit 5 of the Taipei City Mall. Walk down the steps and you should see one game store almost directly in front of you. This shop has a lot of new releases, but if you walk east a little ways you will see several other shops selling a variety of current and classic releases. There are also some shops to the west, but most of the good ones that I found are to the east.

The Goods

Several shops were well stocked with retro games and consoles. All the classic consoles were there, though not in large numbers. One shop even had the Super A'Can! I eventually bought a Japanese Megadrive 2 and two games -- Shadow Dancer and Elemental Master -- for around $80. Not too bad, although Shadow Dancer was pretty expensive at $30. One vendor had Panorama Cotton, but at a price of nearly one month's rent, I had to pass. Between the various shops they had most of the classic Megadrive games, which is one reason I went with the Megadrive over a Saturn. They had some pretty good Saturn games, but most of the great ones are just too expensive. I think I will stick to the Megadrive for now.

Overall, the shops here beat the ones at Wannian in every way. The only thing missing is a good arcade. I'm planning on heading back here to try and score a copy of Under Defeat when it is released later this week.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Xbox 360 Launch

So the 360 officially launched yesterday here in Taiwan. I was vaguely aware that March 16 was the day but honestly didn't care that much. The fact that most of the shops have been selling imported consoles since the Japanese launch kind of steals the thunder don't ya think?

Fortunately, another blogger out there has picked up the slack and took some pictures of the launch party held last night over in XinYi.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Taiwan Weekly Famitsu

I bought a few Taiwanese videogame magazines the other day. Since I'm the Taipei Gamer, I had to do it even though I can't read them. I bought three of them and I bought them at a convenience store. They had several others that I didn't buy because hell, three magazines that I can't read is enough. I can read the titles of two of them though, and one of those it turns out is a translation of the mightiest of all Japanese videogame magazines, Weekly Famitsu. I'm going to start with that and maybe talk a bit about the others in later posts.

Taiwan Weekly Famitsu

Well, what can be said. It's basically a translation of the japanese version. The issue I have is dated March 17. Considering that I bought it around the 4th, that seems a bit late(or early). I have always hated that about magazines by the way. A subscriber to a monthly magazine should get the March issue sometime in March, preferably. But he'll generally get the March issue in mid-Feburary and be completely done with it by March as he awaits the April issue. When you consider that the content of the March issue was most likely prepared in January or earlier it is doubly annoying! I've read lots of magazines and believe me, magazine editors are not that prescient. Back to Taiwan Weekly Famitsu, it appears thinner than the Japanese version, not that I know all that much about Weekly Famitsu, but I believe theTaiwan version has a lot less ads. I see a number of articles that seem familiar because I occasionally read articles about what articles there are in this week's Weekly Famitsu; that is the kind of grip this magazine has on the denizens of the internet. I can only assume that these articles are just straight translations of what's in the original version. I can spot some local content though. There is Taiwan's 'Top 15 Selling Games' list, Taiwan's 'Top 15 Most Wanted Games' list, and Taiwan's 'Top 20 Games' list. The last two are voted on by the readers, I'm sure. It is also worth noting that Japan's top selling/most wanted lists are included as well. This is because videogame players everywhere are obsessed with Japan. I am reproducing Taiwan's lists below because they are illustrative of Taiwan's gaming culture and because I want to engender a love for Taiwan in the world's gamers via this website.

Read More

Taiwan's Top 15 Selling Games For Week of ...
  1. Monster Hunter 2 (PS2)
  2. Something 3 (PS2)
  3. Onimusha: Dawn of Dreams (PS2)
  4. Monster Hunter Portable (PSP)
  5. Dynasty Warriors(PSP The Best) (PSP)
  6. Naruto Something 3 (PS2)
  7. Ridge Racers (PSP)
  8. Some DS Racing Game (DS)
  9. Some game by Banpresto (PS2)
  10. Another DS game (DS)
  11. Black (Xbox)
  12. Something 4 by Capcom (PS2)
  13. Naruto Something 4 (GC)
  14. Kingdom Hearts 2 (PS2)
  15. Tourist Trophy (PS2)
Taiwan's Top 15 Most Wanted Games
  1. Final Fantasy XII (PS2)
  2. Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (GC)
  3. Dead or Alive 4 (360)
  4. Something 5 by Capcom (360)
  5. Some Microsoft RPG (360)
  6. Something by Capcom (PS2)
  7. Some RPG by Sega, maybe Phantasy Star Universe (PS2)
  8. Some Pokemon RPG (DS)
  9. Ninety-Nine Nights (360)
  10. Final Fantasy III (DS)
  11. Another Century's Episode 2 (PS2)
  12. Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3)
  13. Devil May Cry 4 (PS3)
  14. Resident Evil 5 (PS3)
  15. Mother 3 (GBA)
Taiwan's Top 20 Best Games
  1. Final Fantasy X (PS2)
  2. Something 3 by Capcom (PS2)
  3. Dragon Quest VIII (PS2)
  4. Dynasty Warriors 4 (PS2)
  5. Ninja Gaiden (Xbox)
  6. Final Fantasy X-2 (PS2)
  7. Something MX by Banpresto (PS2)
  8. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Easter (PS2)
  9. Something that looks like Dynasty Warriors (PS2)
  10. Resident Evil 4 (GC)
  11. Dragon Quest V (PS2)
  12. Resident Evil 4 (PS2)
  13. Devil May Cry 3 (PS2)
  14. Something with a long name by Banpresto (PS2)
  15. Final Fantasy VII (PS)
  16. Something by Tecmo (PS2)
  17. Dynasty Warriors 3 (PS2)
  18. Something by SCE (PS2)
  19. Something 4 by SCE (PS2)
  20. Kingdom Hearts (PS2)
OK, maybe that wasn't as useful as it could have been. But hey, it's better than nothing and you can at least see the trends if not always the specific games. PS2 is big here, as you can see. Keep in mind that Famitsu doesn't cover PC gaming, a big part of Taiwan's gaming scene.

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Forget what you think you know. Forget that "Taipei" is the (bad) Roman transliteration of the Chinese name for the capital city of the Republic of China, 台北. You also might as well go ahead and forget those two characters each have a meaning of their own in the Chinese language. It's all wrong.

Today, I went to Taipei 101. Not only did I go there, I went to the 89th floor. While there, I learned a lot -- well, a little -- about mass tuned dampers, the symbolism inherent in the design of the building and it's communications infrastructure. Most importantly, I learned that Taipei is actually an acronym.


So that's why they used a 'P'!

Also, 101 symbolizes both binary code and "better than 100%".

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Monday, March 06, 2006

BoA and Yuna

BoA: A Korean pop star who sings in Japanese.

Yuna: Leading character in Square Enix's videogames Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2. In FFX-2, Yuna is a bit of a pop star herself.

I'll be damned if they don't look alike.

...and then I found this. (You can get a higher quality version here.)



It is about 6 o'clock and I'm hungry as hell. I just left the coffee shop where I was studying and am on my way back home. There's a McDonald's right by my apartment so I decide to drop in; I'm feeling a bit too tired to put in the effort necessary to 'eat local'. I place my order and while waiting for my food I notice that there's a little green box on my tray.

Looks like I just ordered a Happy Meal.


Saturday, March 04, 2006

Taiwan Basketball

Basketball is really popular here. There's a cable channel that shows bball like 24 hours a day. At least, I have never seen anything other than basketball on that channel. I just finished watching an exciting fourth quarter between Taiwan Beer and the Dacin Tigers in the um, Super Basketball League(SBL). It's sort of like NCAA ball, but without dunkin'. I haven't watched the channel enough to know if all they show is Taiwan basketball, or if they show Mainland ball as well. It is definitely all chinese though.

It's also hilarious to watch. Here's a sample transcript:

Announcer 1: <really fast chinese>
Announcer 2: <more really fast chinese>
1: <rfc> turnover! <rfc>
2: Woah!
1: Wow!
1: <rfc>
2: <rfc>
1: <rfc> Wah!

I'm starting to get some of the lingo down though. I know 2-pointer and 3-pointer. And the English that gets mixed in is kind of funny.

Oh wait! Now they're showing highlights of the game set to Green Day!



Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wannian Plaza (萬年)

This will be my first travel guide entry for gamers visiting Taipei. So far, in my two weeks here in Taipei, Wannian Plaza is home to both the best arcade and the best console game shops I've found.

How to get there
Wannian Plaza is in Ximending, a well known Japan focused and youth oriented district in Taipei. The easiest way to get there is by MRT. Take exit 6 out of the Ximen station(on the blue line) and you are in Ximending. You may feel like you just stepped into Tokyo. That is the general vibe of the area. Before you exit the station though, take a look at the station map of the surrounding area. Wannian Plaza is shown on that map. Aim for the Northen end of the building, where you see the dot on the map. You could walk right along the road on the southern end and not realize you are basically right next to the Plaza. All the signs are along the northern half of the block.

What to do
Once you've found the plaza, you should see some signs detailing the contents of each floor. The first three floors house a variety of clothing/fashion vendors. Not to much of interest there from a gaming perspective. Tom's World arcade is on the fifth floor and the fourth is where most of the gaming, manga, and anime related shops are. On the tenth floor is a Net Cafe, you might be interested in that. I think seven has KTV, while eight and nine have MTV. I had never heard of MTV before this, but it appears to be a place where you can rent a room and watch a movie, sort of like KTV. So in this case, the 'M' stand for movie. There is no relation between an MTV joint and the popular music channel.

The Arcade
Tom's World Arcade is half decent. Tokens are 5NT each, with a credit costing 3 tokens on most games. So roughly $0.50 US per game.

Here's what I saw there:

  • Numerous SNK fighers, including: KOF2003, KOF2002, KOFXI, SVC Chaos, and Samurai Spirits(not sure which one)

  • Metal Slug 5

  • Mario Kart GP

  • Raiden II and III, as well as some other Raiden game

  • Several Strikers 19XX games

  • Some unidentified 2D fighters I had never seen before

  • Outrun 2

  • House of the Dead 2

  • Soul Calibur 2

  • Virtua Fighter 3

  • Some DDR games

  • Many other racers and shooters

  • Some other stuff

  • So, nothing compared to some of the arcades in Japan, but not exactly bad either. I just wish they had a larger variety of shmups.

    Console Gaming Shops
    The Game shops on the fourth floor carry a number of recent and retro titles. The Sega Saturn, Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, Dreamcast, Megadrive, and the Super Famicom were all represented with at least a few games. I didn't see many retro consoles there, however. The selection of current releases seemed decent, but be aware that the Gamecube and Xbox are not very popular in Taiwan. I did see a few games for those systems, but not many. Today, I bought Age of Empires(US) and a used copy of Jump Superstars(JPN) for my DS. My copy of Jump Superstars is in pristine condition and was only about $27. Much, much better than paying $49.99 plus shipping to PlayAsia or LikSang(This isn't a dig at either of those online retailers by the way. I will continue to use them once I return home to the US, and I'll be grateful to have that option.)

    If you are a gamer and are in Taipei, then you should definitely head over to Wannian Plaza. I'll try to visit a few more times before I leave to make sure I give a well rounded impression. My main disappointment was the lack of retro consoles available for purchase. Maybe I'll have better luck in future trips.

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    Wednesday, March 01, 2006

    A Tale of Two Characters: 是 and 美

    Rain gently patters the asphalt, the foreground of a busy intersection framed by green, mist ensconced mountains. I'm looking out the second story window of a starbucks. Four large chinese characters, a pharmacy's vertically oriented signpost, occlude about ten percent of the light which would otherwise strike my retina. I can read two of them. One is the verb 'to be' and the other means 'beautiful'.

    The building housing the pharmacy is to my left and is constructed from brown brick. It looks solid. On one side are white framed windows, three per story. On the side directly facing me the windows are black and so close together they might as well be one big window. Two little ledges of white tile, stained grey by pollution, trisect the building into three floors. Nestled close to the ledges, electrical conduit wraps the around it like an anaconda but somehow doesn't detract from its beauty; if a plain brown building holding a pharmacy can be said to be beautiful. And why couldn't it be beautiful? The pharmacy it shelters serves a useful purpose for a lot of people, and I expect its upper two stories are home to a family or two. If a tidy green lawn with a white picket fence can possess a sort of beauty, born of peacefulness and simplicity, then so can a plain brown building on a busy corner in Taiwan.