AGFF, Lifespan of a Newsgroup
As a disclaimer beforehand, this node may seem quite wordy and long, and also quite subjective. But I also think that AGFF was an example of small society, that lived, breathed, talked, and created art of its own. It deserves to be chronicled completely so that others may study how one develops. Additionally, this also heralds what people were saying about some of the greatest console-based RPG's ever made.
alt.games.final-fantasy, commonly referred to as AGFF, is a newsgroup dedicated to the discussion of Final Fantasy, Squaresoft RPG's, and RPG's in general. AGFF, like any community of people, went through it's own birth, golden age, and eventual decline.
Presented here is the entire history of AGFF, skillfully written up to the year of 1996 by Chris Johnson.
In the beginning there was SPAM. And lots of cross-posts. DejaNews first starts archiving a.g.f-f in April of 1995, but the group was actually created quite a bit earlier. Though DejaNews does have articles posted to a.g.f-f from April of '95, this seems to be only because they were cross-posted to rec.games.video.nintendo, thus offering an insufficient portrayal of the newsgroup. It seems solely-posted-to-a.g.f-f threads didn't appear until late December of '95. Who were considered "regulars" then is hard to discern, but I have cited where familiar posters were first noticed, but the chances that these are the actual dates of their first subscribing to a.g.f-f are slim. You can find the control messages pertaining to a.g.f-f here. Einexile, who posted the booster message, has few recorded posts, but he has been proven to exist. He apparently ran a Square FTP site and a Final Fantasy III mailing list.
April 1995: All the posts seem to be about a Final Fantasy III music CD, such as how to get it through importers and how ignorant American music shop owners are. Also, Torajima (email@example.com) is archived for the first time on 4/30.
June 1995: Gau's rages are the rage. Dan Posluns (firstname.lastname@example.org) is archived for the first time in a discussion about Final Fantasy Legend II. And that's about it.
July 1995: Heavy discussion about Mog's dances, involving where one can find the Snowman Jazz and the Love Sonata. Final Fantasy Adventure is briefly touched upon. Square's English web page (http://www.spin.ad.jp/square/, now defunct) is made known. Square was evidently showing off a little and looking for employees and programmers. Several pyramid schemes found their way here. This seems to be the first time Eggnog's (email@example.com) posts are recorded.
August 1995: Final Fantasy III was in heavy discussion. Tips on how to defeat the MagiMaster are focused on. Most accept the easiest way, equipping Wall Rings and casting Life 3 on at least one character, but alternatives waves, such as using Rasp and Osmose to eliminate his MP are also accepted. This is the first time Nick Zitzmann's posts were archived.
September 1995: ChronoTrigger's Lucca is debated. Some say she looks like Velma from Scooby Doo. Others say Marcy from Peanuts. Apparently, in fact, her caricature was based on a character named Burma from Akira Toriyama's Dragon Ball Z. Also, ChronoTrigger is well received. Especially appreciated are the double and triple techniques and the vast improvement of battle animations over Final Fantasy III, namely the big frog jumping all over. Dr. Nick is archived for the first time, as is Atma, under an alternative alias. A seigfried (firstname.lastname@example.org) is also archived, but I don't think this is the same Siegfried as (email@example.com).
October 1995: The "Frog/Human Ending" from ChronoTrigger is discussed. Most exciting, however, is the appearance of someone claiming to be Ted Woolsey. The e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and all the headers seem to be legitimate. Dr. Nick and many others considered him the real thing, but act extremely upset over Mr. Woolsey's message. (Square S would show up again: Siegfried (email@example.com) posted under the name Ted Woolsey on 1996/11/03, and a Square press release post was made on 1996/02/09.)
November 1995: Reasons why Schala shouldn't be dead are discussed, such as the fact that her descendent is Marle, and she would have to be alive to have descendents. The best video game music is posted about abundantly, with the "1st Annual RPG Music Awards" and other related thread. The "ChronoTrigger Ending Guide" is posted to clarify all the available endings to the game. "Square's REAL Opinion of it's fans" is a heated debate that continues from the month previous due to the Ted Woolsey poster. SR Dominguez is first archived. General Geo (firstname.lastname@example.org) is documented for the first time as well. Max C. Strini, commonly known as DejaNews poster "marketing" appears, with a newsgroup proposal. Also, an unrelated Seb (email@example.com) appears shortly.
December 1995: Videogaming magazines are compared, praised, and defamed. Nintendo Power is laughed off. Posts about game controllers surface: Sega's are condemned because of their strangeness and lack of a Select button, the upcoming Ultra 64's look too big and bulky, and the SNES ones are just right. People are having troubles with Giga Gaia, Lavos Spawn, and what's best to do with the Pendant chests in ChronoTrigger. The first recorded quiz, "Another Squaresoft Quiz," appears. News introduces that imps look exactly like the blue character Pilaf from Dragon Ball Z. Favorite Game Genie Codes and Final Fantasy III spells are conversed about. MoogleGirl (MoogleGirl@aol.com) is first archived, as is Irontail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and The TRUE Edge.
January of 1996 was the Age of On-Topic. Off-topic posts were few and far between, and Final Fantasy thoughts and questions that were once thought exhausted reappeared in droves. Rumors were discussed heavily, namely on how to find General Leo -- alive. This is also the first month that was meticulously archived by DejaNews. In 1995, only 355 posts were recorded as part of a.g.f-f, but for January '96 alone, there were 1532. Granted, a fraction of those were split files. It seems one JAMMIN (email@example.com) (that's my ISP, coincidentally) posted several times a giant list of Game Genie codes. Several posters were seen for the first time as well.
As far as the games go, Final Fantasy III and ChronoTrigger were the hot issues of the time, though recurring problems with the adamant, call spells, and hidden items from Final Fantasy II were not ignored. Celes' age was questioned, as was her attempt at suicide. How could one keep Cid alive? Ultima was considered too much of a cop-out, as it made III too easy. Which character was the best from III was also argued, ranging from Kappa -- the imp who explains Gau's Rages -- to the diabolical Kefka. The always elusive town of Narshe's location was constantly questioned about. No one could seem to find it. How one could steal the Atma weapon, the corniest attack (Lagomorph was the decided winner), The Relm sketching problem, and Shadow's dreams were also extensively covered.
ChronoTrigger was appraised as the easiest RPG of all time, but a number of posters inquired about how to defeat certain enemies, accomplish certain tasks, and find certain items. Schala was accepted as not being dead, but just couldn't be located. Lucca was given the regard of most despised character, and the ending in which Crono talks was found. The rocks seemed impossible to find for many newbies, and as a result, the FWAK of the plaid rock was constructed, either by Dr. Nick or Eggnog. And the confusing comment Balthasar the Guru of Time makes to the effect that someone close to one of the characters was in need of help was pondered upon and explained. General consensus claimed that it was Queen Zeal who was in need of help, as the the comment would disappear after going through the Black Omen. Simon Dominguez, long time infrequent poster of a.g.f-f, constructed a timeline for the game.
Secret of Evermore was the newest game out at this time, but it was tossed by the wayside. The only major question about the game was how one could cross the bridge west of Crustacia. Simply enough, all one has to do is take control of the dog and press B.
Square's future was tossed about quite a bit. Would it be on the Ultra 64? After all, Sony sure wasn't giving much attention to RPGs. The latest source of information for the posters what the Unofficial SquareSoft Home Page. The steady decline in Nintendo Power was seen, and posters began to get frustrated at the missing games. To take advantage of several newbies' ignorance, PC versions of Final Fantasy II and III was rumored. Speculation about a Magic: The Gathering version of Final Fantasy surfaced. Someone posted a Final Fantasy joke to offer some humor. It was at this time that the "You Know You've Been Playing Too Much..." thread started. Also, worst quotes in Square games and a quote quiz were discussed.
Fan-fiction was also gaining popularity. Shadow Stalker's Final Fantasy III Novella was well into its numerous chapters, as was The Last Days by Jeff Singleton and Futura Fantasy by a Shelby. The only newly started fic that I could find was an untitled work by a Gordon. If I can locate a complete version of any of these, a link will be made.
The firsts posts that I could find be several posters were in January of '96: Neal Wilson and Erica Drescher.
The renowned relationship between MoogleGirl (firstname.lastname@example.org) and SilverWolf (Dr. Nick, as he was known a short time earlier) was revealed.
a.g.f-f was prospering. But no new Square games were scheduled to be released anytime soon...
March was fairly uneventful. Monotonous, in retrospect. Rumors perpetuated, but didn't expand much. The same old questions were cycled through, and the same answers weren't suitable enough. March offered little new from February and January, which will be reflected by the amount of content below.
Final Fantasy VI was still running rampant in discussion. The Intangir was analyzed -- how could one go about defeating it? Questions about programming Gogo arose, as did the best way to go about killing a Cactrot and what he was "bundling up." Supposed proof that Gogo could be Daryl was offered in the unsubstantiated claim that a sequence in the game stated that it had crash landed on Triangle Island. Terra's clothes were examined... What was she wearing? Strangely enough, SPAM was found in the Cave on the Veldt using a Game Genie. Someone also wrote about the game's analogies of World War II.
No one had yet found the reason for the Mop's existence in ChronoTrigger, an undying quest. Alfador didn't help the finding Schala craze any. Posters claimed that Magus' cat headed in a certain direction in the commons, so therein Schala must be. Nothing unfolded. Some wondered wondered if Christ was a secret character. To add to some confusion, a FWAK was written for the game. In anticipation of a new Square game, there was speculation about ChronoTrigger 2.
People also begin to check out the import market a bit more extensively. People sought Japanese versions of the Final Fantasy games: evidently, they need something to fill the game drought they were currently suffering. Enix was closing it's American doors, but Tatsushi Nakao, who maintained the historical Illucia, announced to the group the opening of Square LA. Hope that a Final Fantasy cartoon would be created flittered through, and the first major Mac bashing took place. Devout Mac users wondered whether Square would release anything for the Macintosh, and devout PC users offered some "rationale" why the wouldn't. They claimed Apple was dead.
A little bit of fan-fiction was written. Erica Drescher started a Six-fic about the absence of magic. A short "Hero's Tale" was produced as well. Dr. Nick was working on Dragoon Kain, which can be found in the literature section or at his homepage.
The only two appearances of a famous posters this month were those of Joe Gerber and Siegfried. (There is an exception to this: the poster under the name Amanda Dillard surfaced too.) A reappearance was made by the infamous KeFKa, who made a joke then seemed to split again. Nothing too exciting.
In April, a.g.f-f still had not achieved the personality that it has at the time of this writing. It was, however, an exciting month for the gaming and on-topic world. Not only did FWAKs of yore like CT's plaid rock and General Leo revival proliferate (conveniently posted near April Fool's Day), but new rumors spread like wildfire. These rumors weren't about the games themselves, though. They centered upon the future of Square.
Near the middle of this month, Square announced their decision to disband their Redmond, Washington counterpart: SquareSoft. Fans clenched their fists at this news, for the chances of them ever seeing translated versions of Final Fantasy Extreme (Final Fantasy V) and other unreleased games were beginning to change from slim to hopeless, despite the supposed shareware version that one poster announced. Petitions were looked to as one of the few methods to get gamers' voices heard. No one knew for sure if the highly-celebrated Final Fantasy VII would ever make it to American shores, but of course, Square did not abandon their American market. Square L.A. opened to do their share of the graphically-revolutionary FFVII and the game eventually found its way into the open hands of the American RPG crowd.
With a renewed optimism -- one that lied not in Nintendo -- the future of the N64 began to be predicted, via an overwhelming amount of crossposts between various Nintendo and other videogame newsgroups. Some thought that Sony and the Playstation were no match for the much hyped bulky drive of the N64, while others portended its [demise through the lack of RPGs in the works and the intimidating price factor. The PSX would have Final Fantasy VII, namely. Highly unsubstantiated rumors of ChronoTrigger appeared as well, in what appears to be more or less an intentional hoax.
On a more a.g.f-f-oriented note, April saw to it that a great piece of newsgroup history would be created. Nick Zitzmann invested a great deal of effort and time into creating a FAQ for the group, something that would keep him tied to the newsgroup for a good while. (He's still maintaining it today, in fact. Also, allow me to add that Nick is understood to be the longest reigning poster to this date, followed closely by Dan Posluns, Rob Browning, Neal Wilson, Erica Drescher, and several others that have disappeared and reappeared from time to time.) After an extremely long wait, the fellows at MIT who oversee Usenet FAQs soon declared Nick's to be official.
As for already released games, interpretation of the games began to gain prevalence over the rumor-induced how-do-I-do-this posts. Ties were discussed between Star Wars and ChronoTrigger, involving Biggs (Vicks), Wedge, and Piett. Celes was linked to Star Trek and Gilligan's Island. Speculation about what exactly the "Entity" referred to in ChronoTrigger mildly spread. It was found that present sentiments reflect those of the past, as posters let their dissatisfaction with Square's technological advancements be known. Discontent with the portrayal (and lack thereof) of other races and ethnicities in Final Fantasy games began to stir, mostly induced by word of the upcoming Barret.
Other on-topic posts dealt with eternal questions like how one could defeat Chupon in FFVI, what good CT's Mop was, and what was the worst saved game disaster. (The last was declared to be that of a player who shortly after obtaining the Falcon, was killed by DoomGaze. Having not saved since the Floating Island, he won by a landslide.) It was discovered the Dragoon Boots could be stolen from Harvesters in Zozo, all of Setzer's weapons caused the same damage in the back row, and why Shadow is referred to as a female in the Cave on the Veldt. Japanese verbs tend to have implied subjects, and apparently, this was true in the cave. Final Fantasy IV continued to hold its audience, as players tried to milk the game for all it was worth, notable quotes and all. MUDs centering on Final Fantasy started to pique some interest as well.
The renowned Tomo Takebe appeared for the first time in April, with a short explanation on playing imported games. A celebrity in the art of RPG hacking and translating -- SoM2Freak -- also made a brief appearance. A |\|ightshade also advertised his used game collection throughout this month, but bears no relation to the NightShade of 1998.
Thus ends April of 1996.
More to come later, I am working on the history for the next 2 years.