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I Love My MAME Cab

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mame_cabMan do I love my MAME cab.  In the culture of emulation, I’m not too keen on the concept.  I understand that emulation is necessary and that it has been an essential tool in not only archiving these great works of the past but also in allowing me to play import and fan translated games I otherwise never would have experienced.  Still, I think that more often than not emulation gives way to piracy.  If I want to go get Super Mario Bros 3 on NES, I’ve got a slew of choices: I can buy the original hardware and game, I can emulate illegally, or I can purchase legal emulated versions (Virtual Console).  In most of those scenarios I opt to purchase the tangible hardware/game – but this is not always the case as I have never purchased a Turbografx-16 CD console to play the handful of favorites like Rondo of Blood and instead “settled” for emulated, legal, Virtual Console and PSN versions.  On the arcade front the story is a bit different.  Not only do I have to pony up large sums of money for the hardware/software – in this case being a working cabinet and PCB board – but I also have to make space, transportation arrangements, power consumption, safety, and in many cases repairs.  It’s one thing to buy a PS1 game from Kentucky, have it shipped to you, resurface it if necessary, and then enjoy it.  For a good working Salamander cab I may have to pay $500-$1,000 upfront on eBay, drive to Kentucky with a large truck, move the whole thing over 1,000 miles without damaging it and paying for gas/transport, move it into my house, and then most likely degauss a monitor, replace some wires, re-solder some button connections, and if I’m lucky I can play that single game for about 30 minutes before it’s time for my A.D.D. brain to move onto the next new thing.

Enter MAME, Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator, for the PC.  MAME is nothing new, the initial C++ build premiered in early 1997 when I was only in high school.  It has come a long way since then, but the core of the emulator remains intact and it allows you to play just about every arcade game that has ever come into existence and customize nearly every aspect of each game.  This comes with a price: at its core the emulator is command prompt (ie: what you used to call “DOS” if you aren’t familiar with command prompt inputs) that stops many players dead in their tracks.  It seems easy at first, just pull open a command prompt, type “mame.exe” along with the name of the game (rom) you want and go.  It gets complicated when you try to do things like adjust resolution, fit parameters, add enhancements built into MAME, use arcades with special languages or hard drives (SNK Neo-Geo or Capcome CP2 cabs), utilize controllers, or just plain flip a vertical game like Donkey Kong to working in the horizontal resolution of your monitor.  As a result, the MAME frontend has existed nearly as long as the program itself.  A frontend is a program that basically controls all of the aspects of MAME, puts in all the command prompt lines and options you want, and makes an easy launcher that usually contains an entire list of available games along with things like bezel art, marquees, screenshots, and even gameplay video.  With a copy of MAME (it is free at mame.net), a set of roms (be them a few or a complete 4,000+ set – don’t ask where to get those), and a frontend (here’s where to get those) you can create an all-in-one solution for an arcade on a relatively outdated PC that should only run you $100 today.

That’s just the beginning for many arcade addicts such as myself.  In college it was great, I just turned on this old Windows 98 machine that I set up to autorun the frontend Mamewah, and used the keyboard to play.  Eventually you beat DoDonPachi or Final Fight (neither arcade version available by digital means in 2001 when I was in college) enough times that you want the arcade “feel” and upgrade to a gamepad.  Using a program like Joy2Key (turns joypad buttons into keyboard presses and it’s free here) you play with the gamepad and pretend your PC has become and arcade console, but eventually that’s not good enough.  You do some stupid stuff like buy $200 X-Arcade USB sticks (link) or adapt PS2 Street Fighter 15th Anniversary sticks to your PC, but all have a limited life span and expensive replacement cost that you think twice on whether or not this is a correct solution.  Lets face it, arcades from the 80s and 90s were built to be abused and these fragile re-creations of the last decade or two just cannot compete.  Eventually you decide to yourself that you are going to get an arcade cabinet.

sf-anniversaryThat story is different for everyone.  Some super classic fans get the Multicade, which is a 60-in-1 collection of the most popular vertical raster games from the past, slam that PCB into any Jamma cabinet (we will get to that later), and now you have simple but addictive games like Ms. Pac-ManDonkey Kong, and Dig Dug at your fingertips.  Others grab those Neo Geo MVS cartridge-based cabs and scour eBay for the perfect combination of two or four classics from that library.  Some will buy their favorite game growing up, which is usually safe and inexpensive because by definition our arcade favorites were the ones that saw mass release like Mortal KombatStreet Fighter II, a Konami licensed brawler, or a shmup.  You’ll buy that, play it to death, and then I assure you it will eventually collect dust.  Then there are those like me who pick up the cheapest arcade cabinet that meets their needs (in my case it was a Pit Fighter cab with a working 25″ monitor that some guy gave me for free provided I came by and picked it up) and convert it to a MAME cab.  In many cases these conversions do not damage the original hardware, require no soldering or electronic knowledge, and only need a scant bit of software knowledge.  The following article (with the longest intro in history) discusses the steps to turning a simple arcade cabinet into a MAME cab, the cost involved, and the high level process to making it a reality.  As always, you can hit us up at the Contact link if you have additional questions for your setup, but please note that there are lots of online arcade resources that are probably much better than I am.  Also if you want to rehab or fix a single game arcade cab or are just curious about that side of it, a great technical resource is John’s Arcade on YouTube.

Selecting Your Cab

For me this was easy: I wanted something that fully worked with the biggest monitor and cheapest price.  As I began shopping I learned that most arcade monitors are between 19″-25″ and a vast majority will have horizontal resolution (like your TV, think Mortal Kombat) vs. vertical (think narrow sideways widescreen monitors like early games Space Invaders, Galagaand Frogger).  There are also two monitor types: raster and vector.  Raster monitors look much like the monitors and TVs of today, except that they tend to operate at a 640×480 resolution in 15 khz (which is a much lower frequency than computer monitors, more on that later).  Vector monitors are actually beams of light that create razor sharp graphics in either single color or multicolored setups that have more archaic graphics because they are literally drawing the image.  Vector monitors are rare because they weren’t in many games and a large quantity have died out and no one is making new ones – games include Red Baron, Tempest, and Asteroids.  Vector monitors usually are vertical resolution and should not be used for MAME cabs (not even sure it’s possible).  You also will benefit from getting a setup with the proper wiring structure, in this case I recommend the Japan Amusement Machinery Manufactures Association (or JAMMA) setup.  JAMMA is the most common wiring for arcade cabinets and it was widely used across the world because you could program your game to use this wiring setup and then swap the PCB (game) in and out of the cabinet at will.  It allowed arcade owners to buy like 30 cabinets and then just swap the bezel art, marquee, and PCB around to turn any cab into any game.  As a result most of your second generation games and later (1987-2000) will usually have JAMMA wiring, harnesses, and setups.  You can easily identify the JAMMA setup by the PCB wiring, or just doing a quick search on Google before buying a specific machine.  Please note that JAMMA is either wired for 3-button or 6-button, the later usually only being used by fighting games that already have six buttons, but either can be used by a MAME setup.  It can be time consuming, techincal, and an overall headache to convert a 3-button JAMMA to a 6-button because you have to re-wire the whole cab.  You have been warned.

jamma_swap-5

In the end I would say that a good two-player, 3-button, decent monitor JAMMA cab can be had for under $200 – sometimes even free like mine – and once you’ve done the wonderful process of moving it (bring a friend and a dolly) and quite possibly disassembling parts of it or your house to get it into a room, you’re good to go.  If you are a fighting fan, need a complete working list, or various other factors, a Capcom fighter a la Street Fighter II and its various iterations can be the better option, but cabs like that can vary, get expensive, and have limited quality so use caution when purchasing what is quite possibly the most modded arcade game of all time.  Always wanted to find a good well kept Killer Instinct myself but to no avail.

Selecting Your PC

p4Plain and simple Windows XP is the best PC to run MAME on because it’s compatible with every version, every frontend, and every software solution to making a PC run in a JAMMA harness.  You can get by pretty well with Windows 7, but most people I know downgrade to XP (full disclosure: my first MAME PC was an XP but my current is a Win 7).  You don’t need too much hardware and an external graphics card, while necessary for this conversion, has absolutely no bearing on the graphics.  It’s all in the processor.  I usually try to find a 3.0 ghz Pentium 4 or around there because right after that when they went multi-core MAME isn’t optimized for it.  RAM can be a biggie because it determines the games you able to play, although 2 GB of RAM are required by Windows 7 and that should be sufficient (and frankly the 512 MB required by Windows XP will still run a vast majority of games).  Since price and spec of computers change on a daily basis, this may not be a great reference later, but currently a perfect PC for MAME use would be this one at Micro Center (the Dell Optiplex GX620 Big Case) for $100 (it comes with Windows 7 but XP will be free these days).  Even better, this PC supports external PCI-e graphics cards, which most MAME cab creators will need.  When purchasing these cheap PCs for your setup, be sure to verify it can do that because there are many former office PCs that have an open PCI-e slot that cannot use them for graphics cards.  Again, a quick Google search will help you determine what’s best.  Once you get this computer, you’ll want to set it up with all your software and basically make it work the exact same way you want your MAME cab to work before starting the process of converting to your actual cab and adding in the graphics card.  You may even want drop a shortcut to your frontend in the “startup” folder for windows so that your PC will boot right into the menu and thus remove the need for keyboard/mouse when finally integrated into your cab.

 

Selecting Your MAME Version and Frontend

This is completely dependent upon the user.  Some people like different versions of MAME than others and at times it may come down to the rom set you have (many MAME rom sets are based on the specific version of MAME they are compatible with due to the name of the roms at the time that version was published).  If you mix and match rom sets for one version with a different version of MAME, some roms may be unrecognizable but I do not know how drastic these changes are.  You’ll do a lot of reading through message boards in your journey and you may find the version you think is best based on the feedback of others in your search.  As for the frontend (links in earlier paragraph), that again comes down to how much customization you want, what operating system you are using, what kind of cab you are using, and then personal preference.  The plus side to frontends is they are their own program so feel free to load up the specific MAME and rom set you want and then bounce around between frontends until you find one you like.  Again, MAME rom sets are not legal so how you obtain them, how many you obtain, and various other questions involving the games themselves cannot be answered here and will not be answered if you contact the site.  Your answer lies in a search.

logo-mame

Putting it Together

Now that you have a working cab and a working MAME PC, you have to put these guys together.  This will require the following: an interface solution (some form of hardware/software that links the PC to the cab for button inputs and video/sound output), a way to send the correct video signal to your cab (this will be a graphics card of some kind), and a few bits of software to connect the pieces.

ultimarc_insideFirst off, the interface solution.  This will almost universally be handled by a J-PAC (I always use UltiMarc), which is a $60 item that plugs into your JAMMA PCB plug and will hook up to your PC’s video card, keyboard/USB port, and also accepts a separate keyboard (if necessary) for you to interface with.  In return it will give your PC keyboard inputs for all of your directional pads and buttons.  This will be how you can interface with MAME via your cab.  Now, while it does
have frequency jumpers for 15/25/31 khz so as not to burn out your arcade monitor with too much power, it does not convert the signal down to those frequencies so you will need a proper graphics card that can do this.  J-PAC is ready to go with 3-button setups but will require some re-wiring for any 6-button setups (although you can try plug & play but I doubt it will work).  There is a disc that comes with it that contains instructions on various setups, but for the most part I find the J-PAC to be ready to go out of the box (other than the monitor frequency jumpers).

Next is the graphics card.  In order to display your PC on an arcade cab you need to get the resolution proper for display (most horizontal monitors are 640×480) and the frequency correct (most monitors I’ve worked with are 15 khz).  The easiest way (but not the cheapest way) to do this is to purchase the ArcadeVGA graphics card (also from UltiMarc) for a whopping $90.  The plus side you get out of this card is that it’s tailor made for what you want and does pixel perfect recreations on your arcade monitor without software or settings.  This is an especially tempting option if you need a J-PAC and purchase at the same time.  I have seen them in action and they are nice, but I already had a graphics card that works and a J-PAC so I opted out of this for my current setup.  It’s by far the easiest and best option.

Alternatively, you can use a software called Soft15k to force any compatible graphics card to get your PC resolutions and frequencies used by arcade monitors.  You’ll be spending some time in the FAQ on this one.  If you scour the FAQ you can find compatible graphics cards (I’m in there too), but what I used was a Radeon HD 4350 by Gigabyte I can vouch for and the Arcade VGA is based on the Radeon HD 5450 so those are good starting points.  Try to pick cards from that era because they were low profile and required no additional power like today’s cards.  Also before you ask (and get no answer), Soft15K does work with Vista (don’t use this OS) and Windows 7.  The catch with Soft15K is that once you install it and shut down, the next boot will be in 15 khz and thus won’t display on a monitor, you’ll have to plug it into your J-PAC, turn on your arcade and pray that after it boots you get a viewable screen.  Remember to find and adjust the vertical and horizontal placement, size, and v sync to make sure the picture is not rolling, centered, and fully viewable (it’s usually 6-8 nobs with labels found somewhere on or around your monitor).  Assuming you’ve gotten it all set up, you should have a working MAME cab like this!

Cost and Final Rundown

So, how much should you expect to spend?  Of course it will vary based on arcade cabinet, hardware, software, options, etc.  Here’s a quick breakdown of my setup and you should be able to freely adjust the slight changes to your preferences.

Arcade cabinet:  $0.00 (but $150.00 in transport costs for renting a UHaul – be sure to rent the dolly too – and paying for gas and pizza/beer for those that helped me)

Computer:          $100.00 (try  not to spend more or use a modern rig)

J-PAC:                 $59.00

Graphics Card:  $30.00  (Gigabyte Radeon HD 4350)

Random purchases:  $150.00 (hardware, parts, degaussing coil, external speakers, etc)

Total Cost:  Approx $500

Total Time Spent on First Build:  Approx 10+ hours (spread over a week)

Again, your mileage may vary, but this is a good and (relatively) inexpensive way to play any arcades you would ever want.  Granted, based on cost and space this is not the option for everyone but without the cabinet the PC portion and price definitely can be.

 

Written by spydersvenom

August 28, 2014 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Arcade, Blog, Features

Tagged with , ,

Perspective: Video Games: The Movie

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vgtm_box I went into this film intending on writing a review, however after seeing what it has to offer I think the better article more discusses what you can expect and if, at this time, it’s worth the higher prices asked of a direct-to-digital (DTD) release.

I didn’t know about this movie until the day before it was released thanks to an interview between Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek and director Jeremy Snead.  In their brief conversation, it becomes clear that Snead has chosen to tackle this documentary as a pop culture phenomenon and dissects it for the public.  Knowing that I went into VGtM expecting it to be adjusted for a general audience and quite possibly learning nothing new that anyone who’s studied video game history didn’t already know (or could learn on this and other sites).  That’s okay, as a retro gaming blogger and podcaster I know I’m working with a minority group (retro gamers) within a minority group (“core” gamers, for lack of a better term).  To put it bluntly: if he made a movie specifically for us or people like us it would be a commercial failure.  Not only that, but I got the feeling from some of Klepek’s line of questioning that Snead may not be quite up to snuff on his deep historical facts on gaming’s past.  I’ll give him this though, his favorite video game of all time is Ikari Warriors on the NES, and that has to count for something.  For appropriateness I invited over a couple of friends who are familiar with gaming but most likely knew little about the subject and also piggy-backed my wife into the audience, which is somewhat unfair because she has to listen to my historical gaming diatribes on a regular basis, and we watched this mainstream-safe documentary on more than four decades of my favorite hobby.

It wasn’t more than 10 minutes in (the film runs just around 90 mins) that I was already annoying people as I questioned, nitpicked, and vocalized by general dissatisfaction with the way Snead’s film tackled history itself.  After a justified attack on my disposition, I shut the hell up and just watched the film for face value.  To my surprise, I was entertained.

You may not know the story of Ralph Baer, Nolan Bushnell, or even Shigeru Miyamoto, or the long-standing debates in nerd culture as to which of these three men are responsible for what we know call a video game.  Thanks to the content of this movie, you will not only meet those men but you’ll get some insight on what they contributed and why it’s understandable to consider any of them to be the “father of modern games”.  Additionally being a visual medium, this film affords people to finally see old school consoles like the Odyssey in action – and why I consider it more of a Pong clone than a game system – or even what a really old computer, the PDP-1, looked like in an MIT lab.  Things like that are cool and do add to your knowledge, even if you already knew the facts, because now you can attribute it to a moving working game.  Unfortunately for all the good it brings, this documentary gets bogged down in a limited amount of interviews, focus, and timeline of events that it feels a bit rushed and suffers with the audience for it.

dreamcastSega fans like myself will notice an apparent lack of those particular consoles in the spotlight, the most atrocious being the complete omission of the Dreamcast.  Yeah, seriously, it’s not in the entire film.  Just in case you’re wondering if it was a timeline issue, this movie features everything from Spacewar! to Destiny (running on a Playstation 4), so I have no idea why it was omitted.  Focus keeps jumping back to Nintendo’s consoles, which at first makes sense due to its larger popularity, but since the house of Mario is so good at keeping its stories and secrets locked away there are few facts to help support the events VGtM tackles.  Sega, on the other hand, has documented some of its longest, strongest, and most troubled game and hardware development stories in gaming history.  None of the big interesting tales come into play – like the origins of the Sony Playstation as a SNES CD add-on or the day that home console games took on arcade games.  For the large scale issues that are covered, like the mid 90s senate hearings over video game violence, the documentary offers no perspective or opinion, even from its interviewees.  This leaves the viewer uninformed with limited information and forced to decide whether or not they agree with it and frankly is horrible coverage.

vgtm_nb

It all wraps together in a by-the-book documentary that is one thing: safe.  No controversy here, no new stories, no opinion, and ultimately no soul.  I can’t speak to why certain decisions were made, but it seems clear that budget and time constraints were probably the largest factors as to why we are consistently leaping back and forth over the 20 year gap from 1990-2010 as a focal point and why nothing is covered in depth.  When compared to a much better executed documentary like The King of Kong, you start to notice how the opinions, tales, and drama reinforced by that film keeps you invested because, for better or worse, it is trying to say something.  VGtM is not really trying to say anything other than, perhaps, that video games are a big market and here’s some cool factoids about them.  The reality is that few have tackled the subject and Snead’s film is worth seeing, even if it didn’t quite tackle the subject the way I would have liked.  I still feel that learning about the behind-the-scenes scandals and business wars of Nintendo, Sony, and Phillips or the $100 slam of the Playstation over the Saturn plays to the masses much better than showing me a ton of blood in Mortal Kombat and mentioning that the senate once discussed gaming violence.  Either way, if you’re looking for a documentary that lays a limited portion of the video game pantheon at your feet and selectively reveals facts that anyone who grew up with games could tell you, it may be worthwhile.  I’ll be the first to admit that nostalgia is a strong factor and VGtM being in an audio/visual medium capable of showing off the games themselves makes it worth the time and price of admission.  Hopefully you can get a mixed group and find the entertainment in a flawed, but fun trip down gaming memory lane.

Video Games: The Movie is available in limited theatrical run and digitally for both rent and purchase via Amazon, VuDu, Google Play, iTunes, and at videogamesthemovie.com.  Cost for rental varies starting at $6.99 for SD with HD and purchase options up to $12.99.  The editorial writer, Fred Rojas, rented this film in HD from Amazon Instant Video for a cost of $6.99 and viewed it twice during the 1 week rental period.  No technical hang-ups occurred during either viewing.

Written by spydersvenom

August 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Blog

Tagged with ,

Mario Kart 64 vs. Diddy Kong Racing – The Ultimate Retro Racing Game Debate

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pro

The two notoriously addictive and challenging 3D racing games produced for the Nintendo 64 were Mario Kart 64, developed by Nintendo and released on February 10th 1997, and Diddy Kong Racing, developed by Rareware and released on the 21st of November 1997. Both games skyrocketed in sales and popularity, with Diddy Kong selling over 4.5 million copies and Mario Kart selling over 9 million copies. The outrageous sales of Mario Kart 64 was arguably due to the fact that the characters were previously known and established by Nintendo in previous games, whilst the characters featured on Diddy Kong Racing were generally new installments.

In fact, Nintendo used Diddy Kong Racing as a platform to set up new characters to be released in other Nintendo games; these were characters such as Banjo the bear (the Banjo Kazooie series following) and Conker the Squirrel (the infamous Conkers Bad Fur Day followed). But the age old debate between old school and retro gamers remains: which was better? There are hardcore advocates and arguments on both sides, some of which we will take a look at.

Storylines

dkrac_1Typically racing games do not have or need a strong storyline. It is arguable that if people have bought a racing game, they want to race vehicles around a track, not play an action adventure. There are certain disadvantages including a storyline, such as once you have taken all of the available cars for a spin around every track, where is there to go from there?

Mario Kart 64 has no discernible storyline – effectively, Mario and his friends have all gathered together and decided to race – that is simply it.  On the other hand, Diddy Kong Racing has a developed, all be it mental, storyline. It involves Wizpig, an alien pig from space, trying to take over an island that a tiger has been put in charge of… and there’s a flying elephant at some stage… it’s crazy. However, this injects a huge element of fun into the gameplay. When you have a known adversary to eventually race against, it spurs you on and gives you the drive to race again and again.

This is what Mario Kart 64 is missing.  The argument is that a single player mode that involves racing against the other characters again and again with minimal dimensions to the story don’t give you a drive to continue playing for hours and hours on end.

 

Tracks

toad_turnpikeWithin Mario Kart 64, every track has been extremely well thought out and detailed, complete with the music reflecting the mood and feel of each track. You always know which track is your favourite and which one is your worst because they are all extremely distinct from each other.

When looking at the racing courses on Diddy Kong Racing, so many tracks evoke a feeling of unremarkability. Having played both, I couldn’t tell you which is my favourite Diddy Kong course, but I can instantly recall my favourite Mario Kart track (it’s Toad’s Turnpike).

Gameplay

Controls

The controls in Mario Kart 64 are, unfortunately for Diddy Kong Racing, unparalleled. Both the responsiveness and the terrain interaction match perfectly to give an accurate representation of each player’s ability at the game itself.  Diddy Kong Racing, on the other hand, struggles to match up to the same level of responsiveness, and the terrain can make the game almost unplayable on some of the (ice) levels.

Vehicle Diversity

dkrac_fly

The vehicle selection in Diddy Kong gives you access to a selection of cars, planes, and hovercrafts.  This, whilst giving more of a variety of gameplay to a gamer, has upsides and downsides. The hovercraft is extremely hard to control, cornering like a golf buggy on ice. The planes, although fun, have issues with certain tracks as it is seemingly impossible to turn a corner without crashing into a wall. Even with these detrimental aspects, the vehicle diversity keeps the tracks interesting and challenging.

In Mario Kart, you can develop your technique with each character, but after playing the game for a long time you get so used to the tracks and vehicles behaviour that the game becomes less challenging.  This can lead to getting bored with playing the game, which is obviously the opposite effect that the developers wanted.

 

MultiPlayer

There is no discernible winner in this category; both games have a great multiplayer component to them. Mario Kart has been supported as being the better of the two for group racing and battle rounds, but I think this is more a matter of personal preference.

 

The Verdict

mk64_win

Although both games have great attributes to them, I believe that Mario Kart 64 is the winner. This is purely down to reflective talent in the controls and weapon base that the game possess. Although Diddy Kong Racing has a great free roaming edge to the gamer platform, Mario Kart‘s developed tracks and notable characters are unforgettable. In the debate about what’s a better video game, sometimes the effort into developing and making them is forgotten. Product design consultants and software design companies work hard to achieve the best gaming experience for their audience base, and I think that they should be commended with both titles in creating two fantastic and distinct racing games.

 

Written by Drew Rapley

May 12, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Blog, Head to Head, N64

Wax Nostalgic Responsibly

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classic_gameAs time ticks by the threshold of what is considered nostalgic and retro grows exponentially.  I dare not even define the term or the guidelines one may foolishly attempt to place on what would even be appropriate for a site like this.  At the going rate of Internet coverage I could probably justify reviewing a game a month old or that has recently earned a price drop as retro, it’s all relative.  Still, there is a place for looking fondly back at gaming days passed but it is important to realize that with the ongoing clutter of fan created gaming sites that we all do our part to stand out.  I don’t want to read articles about things I already know, I want to read articles about things no one knows.  This is why you don’t see much coverage of Super Mario World or reviews of the latest virtual console releases – too many have already done it before.  When you set out to talk about the past, try to impress with what unique items you can bring to the table, not recycling.

It’s a hard road to figure out what to cover and frankly we tend to migrate to what we know best, but remember that as a consumer product there were so many copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 that perhaps one does not need to review it for the thousandth time.  I may be off base, but I propose that anyone talking about old games either try to cover what has rarely been touched before or bring a new angle.  Also it’s important to understand that with different eras ushers different players and neither is the correct opinion.  I scoff at the people who played pinball in the 70s and 80s and tell me that I should play a real man’s game and put aside kiddie video games.  In that same regard I know there are plenty of you out there who want to dismiss me immediately for feeling that N64 bred few winners, especially when you find out I like Shadows of the Empire and don’t much care for Goldeneye.  It’s all perspective.  So here is a fun list of rules I have created when delving into the games of the past that hopefully you will find helpful.

Embrace the Faults of your Favorites

This month we are playing Super Metroid for the game club.  Having now completed the game, I get why it can be considered by some to be the greatest title of all time and yet others can’t figure out why the hell I knew to look for all the wacky hidden paths and items in that game.  It’s simple, I just pretend I’m back to that time and start to think like the designers of that time.  I knew the landscape, I knew the game concepts, and I knew the style, but unless I acknowledge what was going on at the time Super Metroid is not a competitor to today’s titles, especially when you consider the wall jump.  This is true of any game in the past and it will be true of any game today when more than a decade has passed.  Another great example is my favorite title: Resident Evil.  I get a little excited every time I boot that game up, in any iteration it was available for, and I happen to own it more than 10 times over on as many different consoles.  It is undeniably my favorite title, but I dare not say it is the best game of all time, this simply isn’t true.  To play and appreciate Resident Evil means that you have to appreciate long load times, slow pacing and reaction time, one-hit kills late in the game that can set you back 30+ minutes, and endless backtracking.  It’s not for everyone, but it impressed a great many at the time of its release.

Appreciation Without Masochism

There are a great deal of influential games that paved the way to many staples in contemporary game design.  Some of these titles, like Chrono Trigger, withstand the test of time and are great to replay today.  Others, like Half Life 2, don’t quite hold up when compared to the sea of first-person shooters that grace the walls of most game collections.  I know it’s mean to pick on Valve’s baby, one of the highest rated games of all times, and probably the title that created all of our favorite shooter franchises but that game just doesn’t hold up.  Graphically, thanks to the Source engine, it can still look nice, but it doesn’t play nice.  First person platforming, pathetic pseud0 jet ski controls, blocky mindless monologues, and the annoying thin-wire-under-the-bridge sequence aren’t exactly what today’s gamer views as fun.  Sure if you desperately want to know the building blocks of the franchise/genre or go into it with an open mind there’s no denying the innovation it reveals, but you don’t have to play it to appreciate that.  Just do a quick search for “Half Life 2″ and you will be blasted with endless articles explaining, justifying, dissecting, and begging for a return to this title – no gameplay required.  This and countless other titles are games you should know and be aware of when brought up in conversation but the twelve-hour romp of the main campaign and the so-so follow-up episodes are really only there as a reminder, not an all-powerful example through the ages of how to make an FPS.  Oh, and just in case you don’t think I can slam my own favorites, just know that I consider Deus Ex to very much be in this same category.

Try It Before You Buy It

illegalJust like illegally downloading music tracks, gamers tackle emulation much in the same fashion – it’s illegal, it’s wrong, and everyone does it.  Putting aside the dark and brooding side effect of playing games illegally on the take, emulation also allows you to experience a game before pulling the trigger of buying it on a digital service or *gasp* for the skyrocketed prices of classic collections.  How many of you have played N20: Nitrous Oxide?  It’s quite an intriguing title that seemingly combines tempest, Starfox, the effect of tripping, and songs by The Crystal Method.  I find it to be a fascinating game that’s fun to pull up and blast away at from time to time.  It’s also a niche title so perhaps before you drop even a measly $6 for it on PSN you might want to test drive it.  This is where emulation can be a friend and asset.  Think of emulators as demo consoles, allowing you to get involved in the first 30-60 minutes of a game and, if you are convinced, a way to justify purchasing it.  You can try tons of games, most of which you hopefully have never heard of or not touched, and decide which is going to be the next retro gem for your collection.  Technology works for us, not against us, and no one can afford to buy every old school game they don’t know or heard something good about.  When you find that magical title, write your thoughts.  I’m always interested in finding out why someone today was compelled to play something from the past, especially if it isn’t well-known or liked.

Retro gaming is an endless web of unique gameplay, technological breakthroughs, fascinating adventures, and utter trash.  When you choose to explore, dissect, or cover these titles it’s optimal to do and play something original.  Keep that in mind when it comes down to replaying Grand Theft Auto Vice City for the tenth time or giving Shinobi a go.  You may find that the game talked about the least becomes the title you cherish the most.

Written by spydersvenom

May 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

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Rated M For Mature

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mature_gamers

Today I’m going to touch on a topic that is near and dear to my heart: maturity.  It’s quite a complex word and rarely is it defined correctly because the USA, and most of the world, like to gauge a work’s “maturity” by the quantitative amount of content that is unsuitable for public consumption.  This does not make a mature game in my eyes.  While it may be chock full of breasts, f-words, and toilet humor that literally dnfhas you flinging feces, Duke Nukem Forever is not a mature game despite what its rating says.  It is a reality of a world that is forced to categorize appropriateness of a medium, in this case software, for a quick guide to consumers on what’s appropriate.  At the same time I do feel that games can and sometimes do represent true, mature scenarios that mix graphic content with justified plot.  Sadly this is not the case for the majority of titles and the main focus of this article deals with the controversy surrounding Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and specifically plot points that come about at the end of the 120 minute campaign.  In writing this I first read articles by Lucy O’Brien of IGN¹, Cameron Kunzelman of Paste Magazine², and on a more informal note the talented Ria Jenkins of Introskeptive³ (article links at the bottom), who have dissected the ending in a much better way than I ever can.  As you proceed forward, be warned that some of the topics of MGSV: GZ will be touched upon and the referenced articles definitely spoil these events in greater detail.  It should also be noted that the following content, while not explicit, does discuss some gritty subject matter.

So let’s get down to brass tacks: MGSV: GZ has rape in it.  This is a tough subject to tackle and still remains mostly taboo in the world today, even though the actual statistics are so high it’s staggering.  I’d like to say it’s not appropriate.  I’d like to say it shouldn’t be in media.  I’d also like to say that whenever rape is used as a plot device it’s unnecessary.  Just because it hasn’t been done yet doesn’t meant that it shouldn’t.  There are plenty of examples in books, film, and even television that state the contrary, and I’ve had it with the double standard that gamers make stating games are nothing more than entertainment but getting offended when the media calls games immature.  Rape is absolutely a subject that can, and maybe even should, be tackled in video games, if handled appropriately.  Unfortunately there’s a great barrier to entry given the fact that games, unlike other media, are always expensive, always a business decision, and will never reach mainstream acceptance like these other examples in the current state of the world.  Basically books, film, and television can be made faster, cheaper, with less of a risk, and more widely accepted than games that it’s hard to find subject matter such as this handled well.  This is why the way Hideo Kojima and his team handled the rape sequence in MGSV: GZ not only unfortunate, but disappointing.

mgs5Few creative directors have the clout and freedom that Hideo Kojima does.  Programming Metal Gear on the MSX microcomputer in 1987 along with a small team that detailed the story of Solid Snake, an assassin for hire sent to infiltrate a compound and deactivate a mobile nuclear weapon left from Cold War atrocities, was a true work of art.  Limitations of the time allowed you to feel like an actual soldier hiding behind enemy lines and sneaking through the core of a terrorist organization.  It wasn’t about killing, it was about being invisible.  From that point forward he launched a career going on 30 years that told one of the most complex and emotional series of all time.  Metal Gear Solid and its sequels always played the realities of war close to the chest while escaping the darker side with supervillian-like bosses and childlike humor such as a guy with diarrhea and hitting on the main communicator of a covert op.  It was hard to follow, it didn’t make sense, and it was some of the most fun I’ve had while gaming.  I love this series (as proven by our podcast on it).  At this point the sky is the limit for Hideo Kojima and Konami will definitely give him the freedom to write whatever he wants into his games, which is why everyone was walking on eggshells with this newest iteration that seemed to take a very realistic turn.  Took a turn for realism it did, but not before concepts like prisoners of war being raped, children being sexually abused, and the overall terror of war was thrown at you in a mere 15 minutes of bombarded plot points at the end of Ground Zeroes‘ story.  It was jarring and it felt insincere.

By the time you complete the story of Chico and Paz in Ground Zeroes, they are shells of people.  In fact, I felt that Paz was the only person who truly found peace in the end, but what she had to go through to get there was unimaginable.  I wasn’t having fun, it wasn’t a release from the real world, and most importantly I felt for those that had gone through such a trauma.  Parts of it don’t make sense – like Paz’s reaction to her violation later on with Chico – and others just seem to be a person devising the worst ways to violate someone.  I will admit that the esrb_mevents aren’t far-fetched, Paz seemed to be the only female in an all male prisoner camp and the sexually violent behavior of both psychopaths and warmongers, of which Skull Face is both, but you can get that across without being so explicit.  I guess what I’m saying is that it was hammering home a topic that may have been best handled with subtlety.  It just goes to prove that Kojima isn’t ready to tackle these kinds of subjects and unless he had some peers in writing the plot, no one at Kojima Productions (KojiPro) had the balls to tell him so.  In the end I don’t care if Chico or Paz live or die because the amount of trauma they have suffered doesn’t suggest a very normal life moving forward, they are broken.  It’s the same reason the intro of the remake of Texas Chainsaw Massacre that showed an aged Jessica Biel in a psycho ward was cut from the movie: even if this is realistically what would happen, you don’t want to see it firsthand and be reminded of it.  What should have been a celebration for Snake succeeding in another extraction became somewhat of a torture porn scenario where everyone loses.  It’s a zero sum game and that’s not a video game I want to play, which is ironic considering I really liked the new Fox Engine and gameplay scenarios.  This is even further disheartening because few others will be able to tackle this subject with any developer or publisher and especially now that there was this editorial backlash.  I want video games to be ready for mature content.  With the more recent realism and storytelling of today’s games, notably The Last of Us, I thought that there was enough care and self control that whenever topics – such as rape – were introduced that the games industry would show the world it was ready.  This just proves that, perhaps, video games haven’t grown up to handle truly being rated “M for Mature”.

What do you think?  Feel free to give your opinion and lets get a dialogue going.

References

1: What’s Wrong With Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes’ Ending? by Lucy O’Brien at IGN

2: The Violent Sexism of Metal Gear Solid V by Cameron Kunzelman at Paste Magazine

3: Chico’s Tape 4 by Ria Jenkins at Introskeptive

Written by spydersvenom

April 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Progressive Challenge: A History of Game Difficulties

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Zelda2

Zelda II: The Adventures of Link, Shin Megami Tensei Persona, IkarugaDark Souls.  All of these games have one thing in common: they are hard as hell.  Since the genesis of the video game difficulty has existed to be the barrier to entry and the extension of game experiences.  What is a video game if not a challenge?  Originally technology had not caught up with the goals of the medium so games had to use difficulty to bridge the gap of a good experience where visuals and storytelling failed.  Nowadays games are just as capable, if not more, than other media in being an interactive experience and therefore difficulty steps aside most times.  I consistently hear that the concept of difficulty is dead, that a hard game dictates a good game, and that today’s gamers are weak and catered to.  Frankly, I disagree with all of that.  Gaming is typically tech dependent and with that dependence comes the evolution of experience, which results in the evolution of difficulty.  Games haven’t gotten harder or easier, they have simply evolved.

Difficulty Trends

I think the question of how difficult a game is comes to the amount of time you spend with it, which is why games seem easier today.  Traditionally the challenge was intended to get you to play the game more often, justifying the high price tag for a relatively short experience.  Take Contra for example, I cleared that game on this very site in roughly half an hour without using any codes.  This is not an easy feat for many gamers and definitely much harder for those that didn’t grow up playing the game.  While it may have only taken me 30 minutes, there are tens of hours of practice spanning more than 25 years that led up to that run.  In contrast, I could not conquer Ghosts’n’Goblins and finally gave up after two hours.  There is someone out there who is the exact opposite as me and it’s most likely based on what they have played.  This is transparently due to memorization – once you know exactly what is going to happen to the point that the game becomes manageable.  The best way to memorize something is to repeat it over and over.  Enter the first generation of the difficulty.

Parallel to this initial outing in repetition and memorization comes reflex.  Some of you reading that last paragraph may be thinking more of games like Punch-Out!! or even a PowerPad game like Stadium Events that require you to have the skill to conquer them.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve memorized Bald Bull’s charge, if you can’t nail the timing of hitting him in the stomach you’re either repeating the dodge till the end of the round or eating canvas.  Either way, you’ll never win.  Being able to conquer a skill set, nail timing, and basically having the reflexes to perform complex tasks in games like Super Mario Bros. 2 (Lost Levels in the US) either enabled or prevented your ability to win.

battletoadsFinally there were the dick programmers.  Like it or not they didn’t have an appropriate way to blanket difficulty so they were forced to fudge it.  This explains such terrible games as Beat Takeshi’s Challenge, Battletoads, and Silver Surfer where being good at the game or memorizing how to beat it meant nothing because the game invariably stacks the odds against you.  Repeating an area is one thing but forcing someone into game over screen after game over screen to the point of insanity with nothing but unsavable hours to retread the past is not fun.  These games are not fun.  They are only used for the purpose of masochism.

 

Contemporary Difficulty

From that point they just continued to evolve in a regular pattern until you get the games of today.  Nowadays the point of many games is to tell a tale rather than post a challenge, resulting in games like Heavy Rain that have no end game state.  On the other hand some of the biggest and oldest gaming tropes hold true.  Dark Souls is nothing more than a memorization game, as are any of the bullet hell shmups you may enjoy today.  The game never changes its course, it always spawns the same enemies in the same way – many argue to alter this mechanic would navigate it to the “not fun” hard status.  Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero/Rock Band are also nothing more than reflex gameplay, requiring that you not only understand what to do, but perform actual physical tasks to achieve your goal.  I think the only difference to games today and from the past is the unknown.

dark-souls-dragon-bridge

Imagine playing The Legend of Zelda for the first time today.  I will fully admit that I can breeze through this title in no time, having little fear of taking on Gannon at the end, but then I grew up playing it and knowing its intricacies.  I think you would be hard pressed to find someone today that hasn’t played it dedicate the time it would take to figure out the mechanics, find the secrets like where to get hearts and the location of dungeons, and finally complete the game.  If that person were to go online, you may accuse them of making the game unfairly easy or cheating to get ahead.  This is why people criticize Dark Souls and those that generate guides to get it.  It also explains why it’s so popular; gamers get to return to those better days where you have to figure the world out.    Also keep in mind that like Dark Souls, it may not be just about memorization or reflexes, but both, which creates a whole new barrier for entry.  Still, there will always be those games that are not fun and unnaturally hard for no reason, and for games like Knight’s Contract I say good riddance and the world is a better place without you.

Written by spydersvenom

March 31, 2014 at 4:01 pm

How Product Design has Transformed the Amusement Industry

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1

The term “arcade game” these days conjures up images of cutting-edge graphics and sound, combined with innovative and interactive technology that can bring any concept to life.  However, good graphics and interactivity have not always been a necessity for a game that is both enjoyable and addictive. I dread to mention the recent phenomenon of the Flappy Bird app but it is an example of an outrageously faulty and basic game becoming extremely popular. This has been seen in the past with games like Space Invaders, Pac Man, Tetris and Asteroids following very basic concepts and graphics, but still being addictive and rewarding when completed.

The Really Early Days

The first arcade games kicked off at amusement parks and are still present at fairs and theme parks, but there’s nothing particularly sophisticated about them. Ring toss, throwing balls at stacked cans, shooting targets, and other simple challenges have been doing the rounds for hundreds of years and can still draw in the punters to this day. Just don’t go expecting an easy win. Perhaps this is what is indicative of a good game – making it appear simple whilst making it actually fiendishly difficult to win. Make it too hard, however ,and you are left with Zelda II.

Pinball Wizard

2The introduction of the electric element into arcade games in the 1930s completely revolutionized pinball, which had existed as a spring-loaded tabletop ball game since the 17th century, and the advent of player controlled flippers in the 1940s solidified pinball’s reputation as a classic favourite amongst arcade gamers. Pinball continues to be a popular game to this day with digitized versions adding to the range of machines available. The Japanese even have their own variant of Pinball called “Pachinko’” which features multiple smaller balls in play all at the same time.

The Beginning of the Computer Age

The 1970s was the dawn of computer-based games. Rather than mechanical amusements, which had up until this point held sway. The seminal Pong was released in 1972 and in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s a swathe of arcade classics were released including Space Invaders, Asteroids, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong. Game cabinets took their lead from pinball table designs but featured digital monitors and player-controlled joysticks and input buttons to control the action on screen rather than physically manipulating items, as in earlier amusement games. Anyone who was lucky enough to be alive at this great time will tell you that Pong was very addictive.

Late 80s Into the 90s – The Birth of the Games Console

SEGA MEGADRIVE – Release Date – October 29, 1988

3

The Sega Genesis (or Sega Mega Drive outside the US) saw the beginning of the developed console, bringing games like Sonic The Hedgehog, Pat Riley Basketball and Mortal Kombat to life. This product was unwittingly the start of a new generation of gaming. With most of the games relying on reflex and timing, they relied on the same instincts that were instilled in the general population from old arcade games.

GAME BOY – Release Date – April 21, 1989

4

The Game Boy saw a different kind of gaming completely. The handheld device was a revolutionary idea, and the death of every gamers social life. When I was a youngster I would literally take the bulky object everywhere I went, just for a few more goes on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. Again, the product design of the Game Boy was very simple, whilst the hardware and software were complex at the time of its release, showing that product design does not necessarily have to be complicated to be popular.

SNES – Release Date – November 21, 1990

5

What a machine. As a proud owner of a SNES, I have to say that the hours spent in front of the console were some of the best of my childhood. If you think this is sad then you obviously haven’t played the original Super Mario Kart, Street Fighter II or Donkey Kong Country. The design of the console and indeed of the games themselves worked extremely well. It never tried to be too extravagant or design based, simply slot the cartridge in the top (after blowing on it, of course) and you’re in gamer land. Nintendo skyrocketed in popularity with games being created in house and by third parties like Capcom. The product design of the console meant that they could improve the graphics and make a significant move from 2D platform games. Eventually this design would give us the hallowed Nintendo 64, which brought out games such as Banjo Kazooie, GoldenEye, and Mario Kart 64.

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Shift Towards The Physical

Fighting games such as Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II gathered huge followings whilst racers such as Daytona USA developed the trend of simulating an actual in-car experience. Gun games also developed so that players held an imitation weapon and fired at on-screen targets. In 1998, Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) marked a shift towards physical actions and computer inputs being combined. Players “dancing” on arrow pads would try to stay in time with a selected track, simultaneously watching the rhythm and timing displayed on-screen.

7This has now led to new product designs and consoles that promote active movement. Consoles such as the Wii and the Xbox One now have the player standing up, moving around, and using themselves as the controller in many games. The future of product design in the gaming industry has never been predictable, but we can see that there is definitely a paradigm shift in the way that people are viewing gaming experiences and indeed the target audience for games.

Increased physical interaction has incorporated all manner of activities that have now been made available in arcade format. Football, guitar, drums, shooting, driving, and many more pastimes have been translated into interactive games with motion control, eye tracking, and other modern features common in today’s games. DCA’s design for the X-Putt, a golf putting game, shows how a design idea and inventive product can combine to create a novel and fun experience for gamers.

Editorial – Nintendo’s Biggest Problem: Us

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iwata

Normally I wouldn’t be speaking to the modern gaming scene, but the overall backlash toward Nintendo is that they are failing with the Wii U and they need to fix it now.  The first statement is unarguably true, and despite the second statement being more of an opinion, it’s one that Nintendo also shares.  From the outset of the Wii U’s supposed and later confirmed failure, my peers on the Internet and beyond that at larger video game media venues have taken it upon themselves to suggest what Nintendo should do to fix this problem (just look at this simple search).  Needless to say the vocal minority in message boards have also role-played as CEO and declared their plans on how to “fix” Nintendo with suggestions that vary from practical to downright stupid.  This illustrates one of the largest problems in gaming today: the public.

wii_u_salesI’m not sure quite when the Facebook generation took over, but ever since social media has boomed it has been handled in a very irresponsible way.  At first people were just plain rude due to anonymity, however now we see people who blatantly admit to their real names and even in public have brought out this behavior.  Internet rudeness has become commonplace.  With it so has any sort of credibility for sources of accurate information and inevitably the whole world thinking they are important.  Well Nintendo doesn’t need your help and wouldn’t do well to follow it.

yamauchi-san_postI wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t get all historical on you readers.  Nintendo was founded as a simple hanafuda card company in the late 1800s, progressed into various markets like instant ramen and even love hotels before the Hiroshi Yamauchi eventually entered into the video game market.  Even Nintendo’s first console was released in the dark times after the video game crash and there have been countless times in history where the decisions of Nintendo have been called into question just before massive success occurs (this was covered in my Hiroshi Yamauchi podcast if you’re interested).  Logic dictates that for a company that has existed more than a century and currently has a war chest of billions of yen that perhaps the average gamer that has only lived about 20-40 years and has no experience actually making games or running a company may be ill-equipped to be giving advice.  Still, Nintendo didn’t build that war chest to hemorrhage it and investors will not stand for much more failure without drastic change, but the most popular suggestions suck.   Even I, the low retro games blogger can shred through some that seem ideal at first and pathetic when examined:

  • Nintendo should move to mobile gaming: This is a popular one.  Oh sure, if Nintendo brought Mario to your iPhone or Android you would most certainly buy it, right?  A suggestion popular among people who refuse to purchase the comparatively low priced 3DS/2DS consoles seem to be the last person I expect to buy these products.  Furthermore the mobile gaming space is the most risky, pathetic, and flooded world of gaming in existence.  Almost no one hails it as a proper business strategy and everything I’ve ever read suggests that the only successful game is a price-gouging or bad game (Game Industry covered the mobile gaming space here).  For a company that has the portable gaming market down to a science, I don’t think Nintendo gains a thing with mobile gaming.  Companion apps, on the other hand, may not be much but at least peers EA, Ubisoft, and several others are trying it with varied success and little to no financial risk.

next_gen

  • Nintendo should drop out of console gaming and go pure software on that front:  Did you learn nothing from Sega?  Now, to be clear, I’m not saying that Sega made the wrong choice, but that company was in a completely different place.  What I mean is that for decades we sat and pondered what Mario would look like on a Sega platform and Sonic on a Nintendo one.  When it finally happened on the GameCube, few cared.  Sonic set no records, even for established solid titles like Sonic Adventure.  I think the concept of Mario being on the PS4 or Xbox One are more tempting than the reality of Mario on those consoles.  Furthermore, if you’re not going to spend $250 to get Mario on Wii U, why in the world should Nintendo shell out licensing fees and give up its biggest money-making franchises to come out on a $500 console?  Not to mention the struggles they’ve had developing on their own hardware, what do you think the dev time will be on another company’s hardware?
  • Drop the price of the Wii U:  I keep hearing this argument from gamers time and time again, “if they would just drop the price I would buy it.”  Bull.  Wii U was $350 and now it’s $300 with one of three included game options and you still didn’t buy it.  Meanwhile PS4 and Xbox One are at a staggering $400 and $500 price tag respectively, have even less games than the struggling Wii U, and are moving millions of units a month.  Many like to say it’s the promised potential, but as any Nintendo enthusiast will point out, many of the your_choicemost anticipated games on those consoles (like Black Flag and even Call of Duty, which even I in an earlier draft of this article didn’t think was on the console) are on or planned for the Wii U.  This still doesn’t speak to the obvious lack of Battlefield, I know, but it’s not exactly like there’s zero potential.  Even more, you lack faith that Nintendo has some heavy hitters coming?  Well if so, moving development to PS4/XBO/PC like suggested in the last point will not help that.  Wii U goes any lower it will be seen as not only an inferior struggling console, but a cheap alternative to a “real” gaming platform.  Oh and before you suggest dropping the tablet for a drop, it will reduce the cost, tops, $25 and I still go back and say gamers are happily shelling out $100 more for the Kinect in the Xbox One, another peripheral no one asked for (meanwhile you can’t find Playstation cameras on store shelves for some odd reason).
  • hardcoreNintendo needs to release more “classic” and “hardcore” games: NES Remix can only truly be appreciated by those that grew up with these games in my eyes, and even if you don’t agree with me there’s no doubt this is a hardcore gamer-centric title.  Bayonetta 2 is solely for the hardcore, it will not perform well.  The same can be said for Wonderful 101Zombii U, and even if you didn’t bite at them, the myriad of 3rd party titles that premiered on the console and died a miserable sales-free death.  Nintendo listened and you spit in its face, gamers, just like you did EA a few years back that caused them to do the horrid practices they now do to survive.  Nintendo is even in danger of releasing its strongest franchises too often and you all have the balls to ask them to bring something new?  New IP are known to be high risk and rarely succeed in the first iteration.

Nintendo has a long hard road ahead of it, but one I feel confident they can work themselves out of.  The current plan of branching out to other areas of non-gaming culture and branching out the business means that Nintendo may not have to care as much how well (or poor) its games perform.  But for Christ’s sake stop making suggestions, they all suck.  I’m humble enough to realize that I haven’t seen any good suggestions and I don’t personally know the answer.  Oh and you Wii U hardcore fanboys: take it easy, you’re having fun with your console and that’s what matters.

Written by spydersvenom

February 11, 2014 at 3:12 pm

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Re-Dissecting the Ouya

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Ouyaouyacontroller

We are here, the moment has arrived, the hype machine open Android device for homes known as the Ouya was recently released to the masses. I haven’t heard much from the retail or consumer market yet, but it’s become abundantly clear that tech sites and gaming sites seem to have two different opinions when it comes to the palm-sized silver box. At $100 the promise of an HDMI compliant device on your television that plays games, this Kickstarter funded project has promise, but as far as practicality is concerned it’s far from impressive. The simple question is, “do I want it?” As a retro gamer (and a retro web site) Gaming History 101 is within that niche that can almost without a doubt say “yes,” but before you go running off to buy it, best you know what you’re actually getting first.

My thoughts on the design and innards of the Ouya have already been addressed on this site, so feel free to read about them and come back later. Nothing has changed; this console always was and continues to be an underperforming Android device that is further held back because of the tether to a controller. You cannot pick up the Ouya and download any Android app you want, they need to be reprogramed to support the controller, which the early software library reveals not many have jumped on board for. Furthermore the controller kinda sucks, but this opinion also has a mass split so feel free to try it out for yourself before trusting my judgement. Put it all together and you have nothing more than a lackluster console with a rubbish controller that only plays a handful of games (although some titles like TowerFall apparently help justify the potential). For the typical consumer, like my wife or mother, there’s no reason to get this – everything they want already plays on any Android device and no typical consumer is buying a $100 console for TowerFall.

Then there’s the caveat, the secret weapon, the compelling factor so necessary to the initial success of the Ouya that the creators casually make sure to mention it every time they are interviewed: it’s one hell of an emulation machine. My thoughts and feeling on emulation are quite clear, again feel free to read my detailed article and the more broad podcast on the subject for background, but when you deal with the expense of retro gaming $100 is a banger of a deal for a one-stop shop. In this regard, the underpowered Ouya rises above and emulates almost every video game from 1977-2000 with ease. Not only that, the openware apps that allow for emulation are provided, for free, in abundance, under the “retro” section of the Ouya’s menus. Additionally those unhappy with the controller can sync a Playstation 3 controller to the device with no modification (get the newest firmware) thanks to the bluetooth built into it. Couple that with emulators and you are ready to re-live your past with decent results on a dazzling big screen with a rock solid controller. There’s a flip side to this argument, and exactly why I won’t be picking it up, but for most people this is a great blast to the past on the cheap.

Now for the nerd stuff. Of course elitists in the retro gaming world will have their own opinions, I being one of them, that is a deal breaker. First of all, I feel that emulation was invented because gamers didn’t have a better option. There were times when finding retro consoles wasn’t easy, it was and still is very expensive, and many of the retro games we love never even came out here so fan translations are a must. That is where emulation is beneficial, that is why it’s promoted. By the very definition of what you will be playing (unreleased, rare, and non-English translated titles) you fall under the hardcore retro gamer category. That’s not what most Ouya buyers will want or use it for. Nope, they will download Super Mario 64, Sonic the Hedgehog, X-Men the Arcade Game, and Final Fantasy VII. The problem is that these games are already available in abundance and some people fought very hard to get them released on current platforms. These games are cheap, each one at or less than $10. As a result, using these games on Ouya is blatant piracy, enforceable by today’s laws because the companies that own them paid to get them converted to modern platforms. You aren’t finding a new way to enjoy your games, you’re too lazy to boot up your Wii and pay to download it. That’s a problem. If you were desperate to enjoy Mother, Policenauts, Sweet Home, or even unfinished demos of Resident Evil 1.5 then I’m totally on your side, but I have yet to see an Ouya video showing off these gems.

Then there’s the quirks of the emulation. I don’t particularly care for the framerate that most PCs and now the Ouya generate when trying to adapt to old school scrolling and resolution. Games look blurry, grainy, and have the stutter you see on games without v-sync or framerate locks on. You can literally watch Super Mario Bros. tear as you run from screen to screen. It’s just a reality of emulation, but one I can’t stand. Virtual Console and a few others have managed to remove this problem, but see the above paragraph as to why this isn’t going to be used by Ouya fans. I also see odd glitches, sounds, and the Playstation 3 controller, as nice as it is, is not an NES, SNES, or Genesis controller for those appropriate titles. For a nitpick like me, emulation is too frustrating to deal with (plus you should only play on a CRT, don’t you know people).

While the Ouya has some fascinating potential and tech fans may be keen on the emulation functions all wrapped into a $100 box, I find it to be a limited and niche product. Any PC built within the last 15 years is capable of the same emulation with no problem whatsoever so it’s not exactly reinventing the wheel. Furthermore the console has little to offer outside emulation and I have a personal issue with any company that’s willing to basically promote piracy in order to sell what is basically a limited all-in-one Android device. I wouldn’t take such issue with the salesmanship of emulation if the Ouya didn’t make it so damn obvious and user friendly to turn an everyday consumer into a rom-hungry pirate. On the other hand it was built for the tech junkies, hardcore gamers, hackers, and basically anyone who will sacrifice loads of time for miniscule dollars, to which I say have at it. For me it’s the opposite, I have almost no time and plenty of dollars so I’ll gladly pay for something that makes its worth obvious with unique software. At this point it belongs next to all those Hong Kong based devices that play illegal games for small prices you see on clearance at mall kiosks and flea markets. Still, this is a new device and it’s hopefully only a matter of time before a slew of justified personalized software hits and makes this more than the shiny piracy box.

Written by spydersvenom

July 5, 2013 at 11:00 am

Posted in Blog

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Check This Out: Game Vault (Omaha, NE)

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At first glance Game Vault, located just outside the core downtown area of Omaha, looks like another clone of GameStop. Upon entering, you may still feel that way as most of the walls are lined with modern PS3, 360, and Wii titles along with a large flat screen television that is displaying an endless playlist of gameplay videos. It wasn’t until I began to browse the large glass cases and have a brief chat with owner Scott, who was the only employee in his store on this brisk Saturday morning, that I learned Omaha has quite a great local game store.

IMAG0567His featured glass case contained a few instantly recognizable gems of retro gaming, such as a boxed complete copy of Earthbound on the SNES (he also had a loose cart for the more budget-conscious), as well as other SNES classics like Super Metroid, Super Mario RPG, and Yoshi’s Island, all boxed and complete. Rarely have I entered a store that not only provided such care on these holy grails of gaming, a few of my friends have been searching for boxed complete copies of these games for years, but his prices were reasonable. It’s not just the SNES that he has to offer, I was stunned to find everything from a stack of Atari 2600 games to a batch of decent 3DO titles and even a Jaguar game or two. In fact, I don’t think it was possible to name a system this guy didn’t have at least a few games for (including PC games, new and old). He even had an import game section that had a mint copy of Dino Crisis on the PS1 from Japan, as if resting on the shelf just for me. Often times when you see stores like this, I remember one in particular in downtown Chicago and another in New York, that you expect heavily inflated prices. Not the case in Game Vault, Scott’s prices are fair, easily topping most of GameStop’s and eBay’s prices, and he doesn’t require a game club membership or anything to get the best price. All in all, Game Vault is one of the most diverse and well stocked used game stores around. I’m now saddened I don’t live in Omaha.

IMAG0568His inventory aside, owner Scott O’Dell knows what makes a good store run. I know this because I saw it firsthand. He’s not an elitist gamer, nor is he a socially awkward super nerd; he’s just a regular guy who is proud of his store. From talking with him and his friendly regulars I was able to discern that he had spent at least a little time at GameStop, but as a responsible business owner he had nothing negative to say about the chain. Instead he focuses on informing his customers of the many benefits, including price, that his store offers. Customer service is one thing, but he also knows his stuff. We chatted for a short time about all kinds of topics from the crazy things he sees come through his doors that people want to sell to the attack of popular games. Scott doesn’t care if you’re there for Call of Duty or Panzer Dragoon Zwei, he just wants to make sure you get what you want. We talked about things like the elitist retro gamer, the massive increase in value of 8-bit and 16-bit era Nintendo carts, and of all things his excitement for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon. During our entire conversation he never lost sight of the fact that he has a store to run and customers to attend to, politely ducking out of our conversation to help those that came in. That’s good to see because lately I feel that game stores have become the hangout for gamers with no money and lots of time. Employees seem like they would rather chat up nonsense about gaming with non-customers instead of a person like me who is seconds away from dropping $100. It’s the comic shop dilemma, managing your regulars that spend lots of time and little money, with your random customers that could wind up dropping major cash if the circumstance fits. He does the same at the register, chatting up his customers for a brief few moments while the process takes place, then making sure to assist anyone else waiting to check out immediately following. It’s refreshing to meet an owner that is a balanced hybrid between gamer and businessman.

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In the end I spent a total of 90 minutes in his store, probably far too long for the amount I spent, and managed to pick up several great items I don’t think I would find anywhere else. Scott recommended Syberia on the Xbox as I discussed my negativity towards retro point-and-click adventures for contemporary players, and I managed to rummage plenty of things I wanted myself. I picked up the aforementioned Japanese Dino Crisis on PS1, an interesting book on the history of Lara Croft (Tomb Raider) for a mere 25 cents, Iron Soldier on the Jaguar, and a copy of Halo: ODST without the multiplayer disc at a heavily discounted price. I noticed he also had tabletop games, which are quickly making a comeback, and after a few minutes of debate as to whether or not to pick up Settlers of Catan, I decided not to on account of the fact I would have to travel with it. Upon checking out Scott mentioned that I had perhaps the most eclectic selection he’s ever seen leave the store, which sums my taste in retro gaming quite nicely. I’m pleased I decided to Google “retro game store omaha” that morning, otherwise I never would have stumbled upon this great brick-and-mortar game store.

This article is my personal impressions of a retro game shop I found while out of town on vacation and is not in any way affiliated with Game Vault or any type of sponsorship. As an avid game collector, I always want to expand my knowledge of game shop locations, especially the ones that get it right, a practice few sites do. If you’re in the Omaha area and want to check out Game Vault, the information on the store is below:

Game Vault
6307 Center St, Suite 102
Omaha, NE 68106
Phone: 402-555-7476
www.gamevault.me

Written by spydersvenom

May 11, 2013 at 11:00 am

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