May 21, 2008

Import Report

There are a multitude of reasons why I started importing games. Many of these are becoming more and more obsolete, yet some of them still apply.

- Visual Deficiencies. PAL games (up to PS2) often had problems after the conversion from NTSC. Black borders on the top and bottom of the screen, slower gameplay. Worst offender: Final Fantasy X. NTSC always ran in smooth 60Hz, the way most games are intended to. PAL 60 is the best format to use, combining 576 lines of PAL TV with pleasant 60 Hz refresh rate, but apart from some Gamcube and Xbox games, few ever used it. PS2 has almost no games that use this display method at all. Since most of what I bought consisted of PS2 games, NTSC was the way to go. Current-gen does not have this problem anymore, especially not on HD-TVs.

- Ridiculous German localization. Worst offenders: Suikoden II (Chain Mail, as in the armor, translated into Kettenpost), Breath of Fire III (the back of the box alone is a complete mess, 1/3 of the words do not even exist). This may have changed in recent years as well and more often than not there is a possibility to change the language even in the German version - Uncharted has 13 languages in any version of the game - but since I have been playing games in English for forever now, games and German language just don't mix for me anymore.
Kudos for Nintendo of Germany's localizations though, even back in the SNES days. Those were frequently better and more creative than their English counterparts, even if they took a LOT of liberties with the translations.

- Delays. Games were typically released in Europe 1-6 months later than in the US. In the PSX days, some gorgeous RPGs (Xenogears) were not released at all. Today simultaneous releases are becoming more and more common (GTA IV, MGS 4) and with help of some little independent publishers, (505 Games, Koch Media) smaller games find their way at least to the UK market most of the time, so this is one of the points that really is moot today. If you're not waiting for SSBB, that is.

- Money. US games are almost always cheaper, with the ridiculous Dollar exchange rate now more than ever. Sometimes it is a difference of ~10 € if you include shipping, sometimes it is as big of a difference as $19,99 (13 €) to 38,95 € (~$61) with Patapon, which you can see is a 300% markup for the EU version. US game prices seem to drop faster and lower as well. In conclusion, you are almost always saving.

The cons of importing:

- Hardware. You needed the appropriate hardware, as in a Freeloader, a Modchip or a US console, at least until now. PS3 is region free, I would guess 75% of the 360 library is region free and handhelds were unrestricted all along. Why Nintendo is always late to the party is any one's guess.

- Shipping. If you take the cheapest shipping method, it can take from 1-5 weeks for your game to reach you. If you take courier shipping, you are losing the price advantage and taxation is almost guaranteed.

- Taxes. Germany has the low, low import value limit of 21 €. Everything above that is running the risk of being taxed, although it is totally random if it is or not. In my experience, the bigger the parcel and the greater the distance to where it was dispatched, the bigger the chance of it being held for clearance. Value Added Tax (VAT) for games is "only" the 19% of the normal German Mehrwertsteuer, but it is still a lot and if your product is delivered via courier service, expect to be charged additional fees because they complete the clearance for you. But there is hope. I have heard that the value limit will be raised to 150€ this December. I hope it is true. Until then, ask the shops to mark down the value on the customs form and declare it as a gift. That is all you can do to increase your chances to not get taxed. Also, if shipping costs are proportional to units shipped, ship in as many single orders as possible.

- Payment. You need a credit card or a PayPal account. Preferably both. This is more of a hassle than a hindrance.

- Language. You need to speak English, but if you are here, you probably can.

With that out of the way, here the specific reviews of shops I had experiences with.


One of the biggest retailers in the UK with over 5,000,000 items on sale.

Last purchase: Gitaroo Man Lives! PSP, 15,49 €, free shipping.

Selection/Prices: Very good range of new and older titles back to Gamecube and PS2 with great deals and special sales from time to time. Very often UK/Europe exclusive deals available. If ordering from Europe, currency must be changed to Euro to reflect the increased shipping costs, as they are already included in the price. Still, as cheap as it gets in the UK. If a game is out of stock it will normally restock in a few days to weeks. They also have the PlayTrade program, similar to the Amazon Marketplace, which I had one experience with, went smoothly.

Shipping: Shipping is free worldwide, but as you can clearly see from the prices, it is already calculated into it. GTA IV is advertised as ₤39.99 (50 €) on their site if shipped to the UK, but if the price is changed to Euro to make it available for worldwide shipping, its 55,49 €. So there. Shipping with Royal Mail is normally ₤2,50 to ₤3,50, so that's exactly the increase for the worldwide price point. It takes 1-2 weeks to arrive, since it is based on the Channel Islands, Jersey, which is the reason deliveries may be subject to VAT, but I never had that happen to me.

Customer Support: Ambivalent. First of all, there is no general contact email address or form available anywhere. Got a question? Tough luck. Apart from that, they are accommodating and focused on your satisfaction. Once when a game got lost and did not arrive after 4 weeks, I contacted them through the form (there is one for specific purposes like lost orders or returns, at least) on the site and got a refund in a week. No questions asked. Another time a game arrived that was already unpacked, used and horribly scratched. Once again, I contacted them through the appropriate form on the site, got my return instructions and had my refund 2 weeks later, including my shipping costs. No personal contact in any shape or form ever, though. Good overall.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.

Biggest chain of video game-only retailers in Europe, with 800 stores across the continent.

Last purchase: GTA IV PS3, ₤42,94 (54 €) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Smaller selection than, seems often sold out of older games. Good selection and prices for current games. They also sell pre-owned games for a discount, though I have never made use of it. Often UK exclusive limited editions and bundles. Multibuy promotions are available (Buy one get one free, buy two get one free, etc.) but most of the time games available in those are not the best.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail at ₤2,95 (3,70 €) for one game, probably more for big orders. Very fast delivery, 2-4 days. No VAT possible since it ships from the European Union. Great.

Customer Support: Have not had much experience with it, except once. They have an online form for questions of any nature. I asked them about my MGS 4 pre-order bonus a week ago and have not received a response yet. Maybe it will arrive soon, maybe never. Slightly negative.

Other: There is a part of their site with some reviews, although this could be more advertisement than anything. There are better options if you are looking for critical judgement.

Payment methods: Credit Card

Overall: Highly recommended.

Last Purchase: Bujingai PS2, ₤10.93 (14€) with shipping, Marketplace purchase

Selection/Prices: Huge selection, combined with the Amazon Marketplace, almost any game is available. Good prices, good discounts, nothing special. Marketplace offers can be very cheap if you don not mind pre-owned games. When buying there, treat it like ebay, check the seller's reputation before you decide.

Shipping: Standard Royal Mail again, only this time for ₤4,98 for one game, add ₤0.99 for every additional game. 3-7 days delivery. May differ between retailers on the Marketplace.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, but generally has good support.

Payment Methods: Credit Card

Overall: Recommended, but I prefer Play and GAME

North America:

Last Purchase: Baroque PS2, $45,94 (30€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Huge selection of new and old games back to the PSX, excellent prices, almost any older game for around $20, new games always at least $1 below RRP. No special deals or promotions, sadly. Awesome. New game releases are always 1-2 days late, for some reason.

Shipping: Air Mail for $6.99 (4,50€), $1,50 (€1) for every additional item. 2-4 week shipping. VAT possible, but it's definitely a random chance. Recommended.
Priority for $10,99 (7€), $2,25 (1,40€) for every additional item. Supposedly 6-10 day shipping, I used it once and it took 3 weeks. Also, FedEx was doing it so guaranteed VAT. Avoid.
Express for $26,99 (17,20€), $2,50 (1,60€) for every additional item. 1-3 day shipping. UPS or FedEx means it is fast, secure and there's definitely VAT. If you need the game as soon as possible, go for it.

Customer Support: Had to deal with it only once, and they were very accommodating, fast and friendly. Would have gotten a refund if the game was lost in transit, but it turned up a few days later.

Other: They always mark the exact value on the customs form so be aware of that. Because of the relatively cheap shipping, splitting big orders is advisable.

Payment Methods: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.

One of Canada's leading independent video game retailers.

Last purchase: God of War II PS2, $27,48 (17,70€) with shipping

Selection/Prices: Good range of all current systems back to PS2. Sometimes restocks of long sold out and rare games for older systems. Also sells pre-owned games for a discount, again, I never used it. A few years ago it was the cheapest place to shop because of the low Canadian Dollar but since it is now almost 1=1 with the US Dollar, this advantage has vanished. Still, the prices are good, it has regular price drops and special deals. When ordering, leave the price in $CDN, their conversion rates are very "imaginative".

Shipping: $7.49 (4,80€) for every lbs, so basically per game if it is not bundled with an artbook or bonus of some sort . Shipping normally takes less than week. Since shipping is proportional to game units, shipping every game separately to avoid taxation is advisable. Expensive courier shipping via DHL Express is available but since their regular shipping is so fast, I have never used it.

Customer Support: Exemplary. Fast, friendly and accommodating. Nothing to complain about.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Overall: Highly recommended.


Last purchase: Naruto Shippuuden: Gekitou Ninja Taisen EX2 Wii $68,30 (43,60€) with shipping.

Selection/Prices: Great selection of US, PAL, Japanese and Asian version games from PSX and up with offers for classic systems as well. Not many older US and PAL games. Prices are a little higher than in other places for most games. Regularly there's a Deal of the Week and special sales. Also, nice Japanese candy for $1-$3, so add one to your order. It's cheap and tasty!

Shipping: Since it is coming from Hong Kong, customs delays are to be expected. Shipping is calculated by weight directly at checkout. For a single game it is:
Economy Air Bubble: $3,40 (2,20€), listed with 5-10 days but in my experience it is rather 2-4 weeks.
EMS Speedpost: $24.90 (15,90€), listed with 3-5 days but in my experience it is more around 7 days. It's trackable until it reaches Germany, from there it is delivered by DHL. VAT is even more likely to be added here, but not guaranteed.
UPS: $24.90 (15,90€) 1-4 days, definitely fast, definitely VAT. Tracking available all the way.
FedEx: $31.90 (20,40€) Same as UPS, only more expensive.

Customer Support: Friendly and acceptable speed. Once a small part of an order was not delivered and I did not get a refund or a reshipment, even after asking them about it, however it had only a value of $5. I do not know how their policies are if big shipments are lost in transit.

Other: A BIG minus here. They do NOT deliver any PSP or PS3 products to the EU, at all. Bummer.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal, Moneybookers

Overall: Recommended

Last Purchase: Sony Dual Shock 3 Controller (Ceramic White) $54,99 (35,10€) with free shipping and 5$ coupon.

Selection/Prices: Small selection of recent US, Japanese, Korean and Asian games. If a game is listed as available in 7-14 days, do not bother, it could as well mean "sold out". Prices are often very good. No promotions or sales that I know of.

Shipping: Free Standard shipping on almost everything which does not seem to be reflected in the prices. 6-12 business days, once again, since it is shipping from Hong Kong, expect delays. Also, they promise VAT free delivery on anything. Should you still get charged VAT by local customs, they will refund it. Neat.
Express: $19,99 (12,80€) per shipment, $1,5 (1€) per unit. I think they ship via EMS Speedpost, so the same as Play-Asia applies here.

Customer Support: Never had to deal with it, so no experiences here.

Payment: Credit Card, PayPal

Other: Once again: Sony. No VAT-free shipping for any Sony products. No Sony consoles or US version games to anywhere in the EU. Bummer again.

Overall: Recommended

Then there is ebay for the UK and the US but this is another complex topic altogether.

E3 - It’s not what it used to be

First of all, this year's E3 will be held at the Concourse Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center from July 15th to 17th. So, why is this worthy of a post? Because the E3 of 2006 was held in the South and West Halls, with the Concourse Hall practically being the hallway between the two, holding about 3-4 booths, or 5% of the show. Talk about downsizing it.

Also it allowed me to post this. It's funny if you get it.



LOST Thoughts, Theories and Predictions

A tad later than I wanted to post it and thus some of my theories have already been disproven and consequently deleted. Here's the rest:

● The Island has a certain effect on the acquisition of foreign languages for the people with a connection to it. I think there already is something like a "Babel Theory" floating around somewhere.

-Walt learning Spanish in Season 1, reading a Green Lantern(?) Comic
-Ben is seemingly speaking a multitude of different languages
-Hurley being able to speak Korean in his dream. Also, in some scenes it looked as if he was able to understand Jin more than he should

  • ● Mikhail is invincible (and will come back), Richard does not age (obiously). They are the same as Jacob, part of the island and different from normal living people. They are also both "natives", as in "living" on the island before Dharma. Maybe all three of them share these powers.
  • Widmore is the head of Dharma/Hanso Foundation and owner or associate of Oceanic Airlines
  • ● Mr. Paik will die in the course of the series with Jin and/or Sun involved in the death
Hints: Recurring theme of the offspring killing the parent.
Kate killed Wayne
Ben killed Roger, his mother died because of complications from the delivery
Locke killed Anthony by proxy of Sawyer
Jack and Claire are partly responsible for Christians death by both rejecting him
Claire killed her mother in a car accident
Jin declared his father dead
Claire dies so that Aaron can live (?)

Paik is also supposedly part of Dharma/Hanso, which makes him a good candidate for death.
  • Rosseau was part of the Dharma initiative and somehow survived the purge. Her recording in the radio tower, "they're all dead", is referring to the purge. We will see her and Ben together in an on-island flashback to the Dharma/shortly-after-the-purge days.
  • ● People who were once on the island can not die/kill themselves off the island
Ben can't kill Charles ("We both know I can't do that")
Micheal can't kill himself
The moment Jack wants to jump off the bridge, he can't do it
  • ● Matthew Abbadon is Walt of the future (how awesome would that be)
"Don't give up Mr. Locke"
Walt always had special powers to "appear in places he wasn't supposed to be". Maybe even in times he wasn't supposed to be?

  • ● Ben is Locke's "course correction".
  • ● Richard Alpert is fucking awesome
  • ● Martin Keamy is fucking awesome, yet totally disgusting

What is the Hurley Bird?
What is the importance of Christian Shepard?
Why did Regina jump off the ship?
Move the fucking Island? What?
What's the real power of the Orchid? (Teleportation/Time Travel?)
What happened to Claire?

See you after the finale in a little over a week.

May 1, 2008

The Age Factor

Remember how games were better when we were younger? Remember how exciting they were?

I do. I still remember how I visited my older sister in the hospital, her having a skull fracture, and the only thing I did was playing Bugs Bunny's Crazy Castle on her brand new original Nintendo Game Brick™ she got for that very occasion. Cruel as it may be, I could not take my eyes from the ugly thing. Maybe half a year later, after enough begging, I got my own Game Boy with Tetris and Duck Tales and that's the point in history where it all began. After that came the Super Nintendo, countless other versions of the Rehash Boy™, a Nintendo 64, a PlayStation and everything else.

It's no wonder why I and many people of my age consider the SNES as one of the best consoles that ever was. It definitely had excellent games that can keep up with today's but my tastes were molded by the games I have played back then. The very same games I regard as outstanding today. I never owned a Sega console or played a Sonic game in my childhood and I can not see what is supposed to be so good about them. I have no connection to the (many, many) characters of the series and the game itself has no value to me. For all I know, Sonic could have always been a mediocre franchise and the people who believe that the next Sonic game will blow us all away still see him through the eyes of a kid that only had a Genesis and no other games to play. Final Fantasy VII was not my first turn-based RPG - before that I played Lufia II and Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest. I respect FF VII but I would give a toe (maybe a little toe) for a remake of Lufia. Seeing the connections?

In retrospect, the games weren't much better than today's games, and definitely not more exciting. We were just more open and excitable. It was the time when it was easily possible to disregard the flaws and intricacies of a game, take something out, imagine something into it. Forget the plot and play your own stories.

The German gaming magazine "GEE" ran a fascinating feature in their April '08 issue about 10 kids from an elementary school located in Hamburg who described their favourite games in their own words. I've taken the liberty to translate the best ones, preserving the language as much as I could:

1. That's actually really weird. So this, don't know what he's called, he kidnaps the daughter. He's, like, a little man, or some make him as a really big man and some make him as a really small one. He looks really weird, with like spikes, really weird to describe. Before, he wanted to rule the world, if you say so now. But he didn't manage it. And that's why he kidnapped her. And he's a little hard to beat. He jumps on you. Can also throw animals. But that doesn't hurt them. He is however not the friend of you. The friend is ***. He,too is such a live saver, too. Don't know, where they know each other from. But he doesn't exist in this game.

2. So, I think he's a sportsman. But he doesn't have to train much. It's natural, I think. He has this high hair. (giggles) But he has no clothes. He's about this old (holds his hand one meter above the ground). I think, he's a human. Don't know. Is no human, I think. But he has no hobbies, I think. They catch his wife and then he wants to find his friend again. That one's orange. He doesn't have high hair. His tail always spins and then he can fly. And nothing more. And the one man always tries attacking with his two men. And then this happens even with the two men. So, it comes back at them. And if the man attacks him... then he runs away fast.

3. That's set in Germany. I don't know though, which city. Have to play it with the keyboard. That's no Superhero though. That's a little boy or so. There you always have to make these boxes break. There are these things coming out of it. There are shoes and always if you take two shoes, then you always get faster. In the beginning you only have one shoe, there you are running slowly. There are these little boxes, if you go in there, you'll come back out on the other side. And then with one it's also like, there you run only fast, there you don't have to floor the boxes. You have to throw *** at the others. Then the other one is out, the one who got hit. And who is left, he has won. And then it still goes on.

4. That's really awesome. There are such little critters and they ALWAYS attack me, no matter where I am, ALWAYS! I think, they get sunburn, they don't like the sun at all. They came into the palace and then one strangled the king. And the daughter then hid herself. But they weren't arrested. Because there is no police there. That's why there are many criminals. You also have to ride on the horse and also like flail around with the sword sometimes. But you have to look out for the shadow, because then you become an animal. Because of the curse. Then there is such a giant man. He is made up of fire. And I know one more, that's like a plant. And the very last, that's the big boss of all of them. That's an evil man. With beard.

5. There are some kind of animals, but different. That aren't real animals, but only some kind of monkey, but he has some kind of glove-tail and things like that. But not all monkeys, it's always different. There are like a thousand. The *** run around freely all-over. You don't have to catch, only if you want to. But it's better, because there you need them to fight, of course. Against enemies. You can't avoid that. Then there is like a line and then a square. And then he runs to them, and then you have to fight. Sadly. You've won if you beat these, *** they're called, if you beat them. But they are five actually. I've seen him on TV once, the one who makes them up. But I forgot what he's called. He was really fat. They aren't fat themselves, though. Depends on which. But some, they are fat.

The *** represent are a word or phrase that would make the whole thing too obvious. Now, leave your ideas what those games might be in the comments, I will post the answers some time in the future.

Most appearent does the whole thing become to me now though, as I'm playing Pokémon Crystal. The first time I played Pokémon has been a totally different experience. It seemed like such an incredbly magical world, something like nothing I've seen before. Now, it's just a really linear RPG with very limited mechanics and slow battles. And monsters for your pocket.

If memory erasure à la "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" is possible someday, I'm going to delete everything connected to Pokémon from my mind and play it all over again. I'd really like that.