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My PSP Friend: A handheld Fan’s Piece

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psp

The PSP, the portable console that really failed to catch a audience in the west. In this article I come out and defend the poor console which seems to receive a surprising amount of hate in the gaming community. Ok, so the little analogue nub is a bit irritating and the battery life is a bit naff and there are some questionable models of the console that are just flat out awful.

pspModelsA little background on my experience with the console. I avoided this system like some handheld plague mostly due to the horrific world of mouth the console received from my brother who owed the system as well as the gaming media itself. Its not hard to find some entertaining YouTube video that pokes fun at the attempts Sony made to market the system and how it was destroyed by the Nintendo DS in sales. Anyway, one fateful day I was visiting my parents and on clearing some junk from my old bedroom I came across my brothers PSP model 1000 which was so unloved it was shoved behind the radiator and just left there. Since by this stage in my life I was doing incredibly long commutes on the train on a daily basis which would take up to five hours of my day I was desperate to fill the void of boredom. IOS games at this stage were starting to be a big thing but they just didn’t do it for it. Try playing Bejewelled for 5 hours, you will have the most creepy nightmares you never thought possible, or maybe that’s just me. So I refurbished the poor PSP, gave it a new battery, brought a large memory card off ebay at a incredibly cheap price and then proceeded to load the system with PSone nostalgia. I owned a lot of games already as I owned a PS3 by this point. From there the rest is history, my train commutes suddenly flew by as I listened to podcasts and played PSP. Some time later I managed to acquire a red PSP model 3000 which is lighter and just runs better. I also started to enjoy games for the console itself as opposed to just sticking to the oldies. Despite owning a Psvita I still find myself reaching for the console everytime I go away, have work trips or just want to play on the sofa while my partner waches something on telly. So yeah I dig the PSP

Even with more modern handhelds now on the market like IOS and android mobiles, the 3DS and even PSVita, let’s see if I can convince you that the PSP is a console still worth adding to your retro collection.

Number One: It’s very cheap right now

dollar-bills1As most collectors know the consoles go through their traditional pricing cycle. They start expense and with time slowly get cheaper, then once the console and games start to become uncommon the price begins to rise. Well collectors the prime time is now to nab the PSP deals at most retailers are selling the consoles and even the games for a very cheap price to make room for the new consoles like the PS4 and Xbox One. Car boots, charity shops, Craigs list are more stocked with the system and games because for similar reasons people are getting rid of stuff to make room for the new. This is especially the prime time to pick up those rarer games like RPGs before they spike in price.

Number Two: Games for every gamer type

Something that really stands out on the PSP over other platforms is just how unique a lot of the games are and how wide spread the genres are. There really is something for every gamer here, you won’t see tons of FPS here flooding the catalogue. Yes, a lot of the games are dumbed down ports available on better systems at the time but believe it or not some PS2 games were ports of PSP games.

psp_stackHere’s a quick rundown of some of the systems great games just to name a few:

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy 7 – action RPG
Disgaea series -JRPG
Silent Hill Origins –survival horror
Lumines – Music Puzzler
Motorstorm: Artic Edge – Racing
Daxter – Platformer
Resistance: Retribution – Third person shooter
Patapon – Rhythm Strategy
Half Minute Hero – Awesome speedy RPG (probably my favourite game on the console)

There are a surprising amount of hidden gems on the consoles too. There are many experimental games on the consoles that developers took a chance on before deciding whether they were worth releasing on other consoles. Since the console obviously didn’t do that well most these games never saw a console release leaving a huge catalogue of hidden gems you can only find on this device.

Number Three: Its like a portable PSone

psone_port_main

Though I understand graphics are not everything especially when it comes to retro gaming. My nostalgia for this system reminds me very much of the launch of the PSone. Yes I am aware the PSone slim had a LCD attachment turning the system into a kinda portable device. Here in the UK I have never seem anyone lug around a Psone. The PSP was one of the first handhelds to do 3D gaming well and it looked amazing on a portable device. Of course compared to consoles they did not look amazing. But it was different and stood out as something a bit different especially when compared to the handhelds main competition the Nintendo DS. It really felt like you were playing a more refined PSone in your hand. Some will debate the graphics at times are on par with even the PS2 but that is very much up for debate.

Number Four: Load up on those games for on the go.  Good times!

memoryThis probably speaks more to those who travel a lot like myself. One of my favourite things about the PSP is you can shove a massive memory card in it for a small price (I go for the 32Gb) and then you can just download literally tons of games onto it. Yes the Playstation store is now dead on the PSP and you no longer go to the store to buy games but if you own a PS3 or PSVita and buy any PSP compatible game through the store you can still download it to the PSP. For reasons unknown there is still some PSone titles that are compatible with the PSP and not the PSVita. I have over thirty PSone games that are ready to play all loaded on the PSP so if I have a long journey, or I am going away on holiday I know I will unlikely be bored as I have plenty of choice from the download catalogue. Also if you are good with emulation this system is widely considered one of the best handhelds to play emulated games on having hundreds of games at your disposal. Emulation also allows you to play games from other systems like the Mega Drive/Genesis and the SNES.

Number Five: That cool standby feature

pspsleepThis point is so awesome it deserves its own spot. By far one of my favourite things about this system is how you can literally pause whatever you’re doing in any game at any time by flipping the standby switch on. Say you have to change trains, take a phone call, go to work whatever. You can leave the PSP in your bag for several hours and continue exactly where you left off later. This feature alone has allowed me to replay games like Final Fantasy 7 and other long games which have awkward save features all the way through without having to turn the system off early because something has come up. Imagine you’re on the last boss or watching some stupidly long cutscene but you have to go because something came up this feature saves your bacon. Of course this feature has become more popular in more handheld devices like the 3DS and continues to be a feature on the PSvita but it’s certainly a lesson the modern consoles can learn from.

Conclusion

So there are a few points I missed about the system such as it can play movies and music. To be honest most of that stuff is not what retro gamers look for in a system and a lot of the features such as the Playstation store and viewing comic books have now been shut down on the system.

At the end of the day the system stands out as very unique by itself. If you’re a fan of the PSone era of gaming this system is an absolute must. To most gamers I recommend the system the same why I got into it, find a cheap model, test the water with the games and let the good gaming times roll. Maybe I convinced you, but more likely I probably displayed what a fan boy I am for the forgotten portable.

screw_you_guys

Written by jamalais

December 19, 2014 at 2:25 pm

Posted in Blog, PSP

Completing the Cycle on Third Party Exclusives

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bayonetta2Recently I’ve seen a disturbing trend with contemporary console gamers, which is the hatred of console exclusives.  I don’t get this.  I get that there’s almost no reason to do so because from a business standpoint the publisher wants a game as available as possible, the developer definitely wants as many gamers to get their hands on the game and enjoy the fruits of its labors, and gamers definitely want everything available to them.  I also know that most gamers hate to hear about all the development studios that close on an annual basis and if the console exclusivity amounts mitigate or remove the risk of releasing a new game, I can admit I would probably “sell out” too.  There are also benefits to exclusivity that can include getting the highest quality game for that console because all resources will be dedicated to that single piece of hardware and lets not forget the fact that in cases like Bayonetta 2, it was the only way certain games would see the light of day.  Without third party exclusives there’s little that differentiates these consoles from one another – don’t get into that stupid “who has more ‘p’s debate” either, I can’t stand it and almost no one can visually see the difference.  If we get more third party console exclusives we may also get more games coming out because development studios don’t have to worry about supporting each and every version that releases and can move onto the next big project without worrying about those first month sales.

sfvThere was a time when third party exclusives were an ongoing way of life.  My cousin wanted to play Mortal Kombat with blood just as much as I wanted to play Super Mario World, but the reality was we just had to deal with the hardware we had.  Aladdin was different on the Genesis and the SNES and to this day can spark an unwinnable debate that will go for hours.  In the end the purpose for the argument, and most likely what side you are on, has to do with which one you played growing up.  It all makes business sense when you think about it.  Microsoft wants Rise of the Tomb Raider so that in fall 2015 they can compete with Uncharted 4 just as Sony hedges its bets on the fighter community with Street Fighter V while Microsoft tries to close its grip on first person shooters with Titanfall.  It keeps things interesting coming off of the nearly identical worlds that were the late Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 days.  Lets face it, those two consoles were nearly identical in the end, with your preference coming down to trivial facts like which one still worked or which one was hooked up to your main television.  I don’t like that, I want differentiation.  Give me exclusive content, give me exclusive games, give me sides to pick when deciding which is best.  This is exclusivity.

rottrI know many will complain that they cannot afford to purchase multiple consoles and that plenty others will argue that gamers should be able to play whatever they want provided the hardware can sustain it, but if that was true you may risk to see the end of competition.  The Playstation 4 had a clear lead over the Xbox One right out of the gate and that lead has continued for nearly the last year, so if it weren’t for console exclusives and the need to push into the marketplace, the Xbox One would be forced out and you would have to play every game on a Playstation 4.  I don’t like that, especially because as of late I’m growing more fond of my Xbox One (I own both).  Also, what’s to get you to buy an Xbox One if all of the games are on PS4?  Before the majority group, PS4 owners, gets all snarky and asks what’s wrong with that, realize that if that logic held true you would have no Playstation 4 because the Playstation 3 would have been forced out of the market by the Xbox 360 long ago.  Competition is good, exclusivity is good, and gaming is better for it.  Keep that in mind every time you jump into an online board and complain that it’s the worst thing in the world that your console isn’t getting a game you want.  Without that fact, we wouldn’t have competition.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 16, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Sound’s Good: Your Video Game Audio Buying Guide

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This week I decided to take on another technical escapade and look into the sound options for video games.  This requires you to know quite a bit about the concept of analog sound vs digital sound, then compressed audio vs. uncompressed, stereo vs. surround, and all the wonderful tidbits mixed in-between.  Just to make things more complicated, the Internet forums are chock full of people who have no idea what they are talking about and will pollute decent message boards with misinformation only to be ignored by the elite knowledgeable on that board, thus making anyone who does a search end up on a page where the misinformation is the only answer in town.  Additionally companies like Dolby, DTS, and a whole group of fun little logos that can appear as stickers on your receiver’s box, case, or display fill you with the joy and satisfaction that what you see is what you are hearing and that it’s better.  Well guess what, it’s not.  In fact, probably the best surround sound you can possibly get is LPCM (or Linear PCM), which is uncompressed audio that has been around since before CDs and still stands as the best surround sound format – albeit at the cost of TONS of storage space that most consumer products refuse to utilize (remember that TitanFall’s uncompressed audio weighed in around 40 GBs).  With all the mess and bull that exists, I figured why not enlighten my fine readers with a lesson and best practices so that you can easily determine the sound options for your consoles and get them up and running and sounding great.

Please Note: As previously mentioned, there’s tons of misinformation on the web about sound profiles.  For that reason I may be more restrictive about comments that I know are incorrect and whether you choose to disregard this post for that reason is up to you.  Additionally sound, like visuals, is a subjective medium and therefore it won’t be the same for everyone.  Some swear 1080i looks better than 720p and visa versa, the same can be said for compressed DTS 5.1 and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio.  Despite the research and blatant facts suggesting otherwise, pick what helps you sleep at night, this is merely a guide of options.

The Set Up

The first thing you need to decide is how you want to set all your game systems up and what kind of sound setup you want.  If you are going to do TV speakers (which I don’t recommend on non-tube TVs), a soundbar, or any stereo (2.0 or 2.1) receiver, then most of the work is done for you because almost every digital sound format supports uncompressed stereo.  In the rare event that it doesn’t, you’ll just have to roll with it.  Also keep in mind that many video game consoles are analog audio so you’re stuck with stereo at best.  If you have a 5.1/7.1 receiver then you can adjust surround options, but I’ll get to that in a sec.  Here’s a quick breakdown on sound setups and definitions.

2.0/2.1/5.1/7.1: These refer to the specific number of speakers you have.  Anytime you see these numbers in relation to stereo/surround, that’s what they mean.  Anytime you see a “.1″ at the end, it means that you have a subwoofer added for base.  For example, a 2.0 setup is a two speaker stereo setup, whereas a 2.1 is two speakers plus a subwoofer.  Subwoofers can be powered (ie: separate plug for power) or unpowered (the receiver sends out the power) and I personally prefer powered so that I know it gets enough power for the sound output I want.

If you are going to use a receiver, always send the sound to the receiver separately or first before going to the television.  Almost all televisions will downgrade or strip sound with modern connections, it’s best to get used to hooking up your components to audio first.  In many retro consoles the cords have video and audio together, forcing you to hook up to them and then out to the receiver.  People grew up thinking that the television was the sole and initial source for everything, it isn’t, it’s the location of the finished product.

Retro Consoles

comp_svidEvery console from Pong clones to the Sega Dreamcast (and including the Gamecube) use analog audio for sound.  This is most typically with RCA plug-type composite cables (the yellow/red/white) connection, but you will definitely have some with S-Video also integrated or alternatively from the yellow video connection and of course most consoles before the NES and even today have coaxial (screw connection) Radio Frequency (RF) adaptors that output the sound and video as one.  This makes the audio part easy: it’s the white (left stereo) and red (right stereo) connections.  This is either mono or stereo analog audio that will automatically push through the connection whenever the console is powered on.  If you have a coaxial RF connection I recommend upgrading the output cable or in the rare even of the Atari VCS/2600 era and the Turbografx-16, finding a way to adapt to RCA (either by console modification or by simply hooking it up to a VCR with RCA composite a/v out).  Then all you do is hook the video up to your source and often in the menu of the game you’re playing you can set either mono or stereo (some more modern games will also have “surround” but more on that later).  That’s it, that’s all you need to do.  Most modern receivers will take in your composite, extract the sound, and then send the video out to the TV in either the same plug or high end models will upscale/upgrade the signal and output to better resolution (like most recently HDMI).  If you have a lot of consoles you will be swapping out and do not want to keep accessing the back of the receiver, simply get a composite A/B switch and hook the receiver in the “output” part and leave that out so that you can plug any of your many a/v cables into it.  Like it or not, almost no consoles share the same a/v out plug (save for SNES/N64/Gamecube and only for composite video).

Now we will move on to surround sound, the next step in audio and the first speed bump.

Early Surround Sound and the 5.1 Compressed Audio Format

Starting with the Playstation 2 and with almost every game on the original Xbox, there was support for 5.1 digital audio.  Earlier consoles like the N64 and especially the Gamecube liked to tout surround sound, especially with the “Dolby Pro Logic” logo, but that was merely a decoder for analog stereo sound that would emulate 5.1 on those types of setups.  Today every receiver will have modes similar to that and there are even competitors.  My receiver features Dolby Pro-Logic IIz, DTS Neo:6, and it’s own proprietary format – these formats turn a stereo setup into surround, and they are quite good at faking it.  For the most part, an analog stereo source will merely feed the stereo to the left and right side of speakers according to the setup and then use both speakers in the center channel.  For example, Eternal Darkness when sent to my receiver from the Gamecube analog a/v cable will send all the left stereo to the two or three speakers of my left side, the same on the right, and the center channel that has two speakers will act like a typical stereo speaker.  That’s all.

compressed_audio

Now if you have a digital fiber optic cable (also known as a TOSlink, Optical, or S/PDIF) or a digital coaxial cable, you could get 5.1/7.1 compressed audio or 2.1 uncompressed audio.  This was first used by high end CD players, then later by laser disc, moved on to DVD, and of course was integrated into the PS2 and Xbox.  Digital coaxial was mostly used in CD players to send a digital uncompressed stereo sound (known as Pulse Code Modulation or PCM) that was said to sound richer.  On laser discs and DVD players, there would often be either digital coaxial and/or optical so that you could hook your component up to whatever port your receiver had and get compressed surround sound (known as Bitstream).  The benefit was that you could get 5.1 (and later 7.1) surround sound that was dynamic and came out of all the speakers, but at a price.  The bitsream sound format had to be compressed and lost quality, however it was the only way to fit these massive sound files onto a single laser disc or DVD.  Two major encoders emerged that were already doing similar formats in theaters to help get the best and most dynamic versions of compressed audio: those were Dolby (Dolby Digital) and Digital Theater Systems (DTS).

Digital Coaxial Cable

Digital Coaxial Cable

Back then the only way to get access to these compressed sound files were to have devices that could extract and send out the audio signal and a receiver that could receive it.  Think of it as a conversation – you can only speak English if you know the language and you can only use it with someone else who knows it.  This created the big compatibility wars of the 90s and 2000s that people have been so affected by they can’t seem to let go of it today (and frankly that’s why so few people even understand what’s going on).  You had all kinds of outlandish issues, each one that failed would result in the same effect: the digital cable would output stereo PCM uncompressed signal and you would basically lose surround sound.  This would happen if all your devices and media didn’t match – so to watch Day of the Dead in DTS you would need a version of the movie with DTS on it (look for the logo), a player that could read and output DTS (look for the logo), and a receiver that could accept and decode DTS (again, look for the logo).  This became such a headache that logo hunting is probably the biggest marketing ploy of home audio today.

Dolby Digital (DD) was the first widespread home compressed 5.1 format so most laser disc players, DVD players, and receivers could receive and decode it, dropping into uncompressed stereo (PCM) if for any reason the receiver couldn’t detect or read a DD 5.1 signal.  DTS came on the scene later and was basically the Pepsi to Dolby’s Coke, but many swore it was a more rich and better sounding format.  In truth I think it was just that DD was the go-to so you had more people using it and thus a larger range of quality differences, whereas DTS was a very specific format often only utilized when extra cost and quality were at stake.  In truth if you prefer one over the other it probably has to do with the goals of each format, because they did have different ones.  DD was set on creating a more discrete experience where the audio seemed all around you but not from the perspective of a single audio channel or direction, it wanted full immersion of the whole room, which is why hints of each sound were typically in all speakers.  DTS wanted directional based sound output so that when the Predator ran around the room the “whoosh!” of his run would jump from speaker to speaker in a circle, which any audiophile looking to show off his new equipment was probably in love with (myself included).  Back then, however, it was seen as a feature jump to include DTS because you typically had to buy more expensive equipment to support it and a more expensive version of the movie (DTS cuts were all the rage once DVD learned you could re-sell the same movie with a new feature and customers would buy it up).  In all the fun and trickery of creating a 5-7 speaker experience to replace the 2 speaker stereo, something it seems was lost because the overall sound quality was poorer.  Think of compressed as an MP3 with a low bitrate, just doesn’t sound as good as the original, whereas uncompressed is the full rich sound but only in two speakers.  It was the trade off that you had to make and everyone from Dolby, to DTS, to receiver manufacturers had an opinion.  Bose touted for years that their stereo systems using uncompressed PCM audio and then re-encoded for a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker setup was far superior to the compressed audio of DD and DTS, which given the current state of things may have been true.

Uh, Video Games?

Right, of course, so how does this relate to video games?  Well the Playstation 2 featured a fiber optic connection on the back of each iteration of that console and with the “HD AV Pack” the Xbox also could output fiber optic audio.  In many cases that only meant the game delivered uncompressed stereo, or even worse, compressed stereo.  On Playstation 2, provided you had a receiver that supported it, limited games like The Bouncer and Metal Gear Solid 2 supported Dolby Digital 5.1 in the cutscenes (you could watch the logo appear and disappear on your receiver if you had it set up properly) and the infamous Grand Theft Auto Vice City did have true 5.1 DTS (I remember hearing the world of random sounds all around me when I set this up).  There were other games, though, like SSX Tricky that would output DTS but only in 2.1, it was weird.  This was because the Playstation 2 didn’t do any encoding or decoding in the system; just like a DVD player it would simply strip the audio and send it out to the receiver in the form it was on the disc.  This meant that if your receiver could read DTS and DTS was in the game, you would get DTS.

Xbox HD AV Pack

Xbox HD AV Pack

Xbox was different thanks to the specific Nvidia chipset that made up the hardware configuration.  In this case it would take the the audio and actually construct (or reconstruct) it into Dolby Digital format.  This meant that no matter how the audio came (stereo, dolby digital, DTS, uncompressed stereo) the Xbox would take it and re-create a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio signal for it and send that to the receiver.  Honestly that’s how most of the consoles work from this point on, but I’m getting ahead of myself.  The benefit was that no matter what type of sound the developer gave, the Xbox would convert it to a compressed 5.1 Dolby Digital that would work 100 percent of the time provided your receiver could decode Dolby Digital.  It got rid of the guess work and also assured that every game you put into the system would have sound coming out of every speaker every time.  While it may have been a great deal of smoke and mirrors, the Xbox did it very well and those that had a 5.1 system and wanted to play a video game with surround sound usually opted for the always 5.1 Xbox version.

This all changed with the High Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) that eliminated compressed audio, bitstream, and optical cables but didn’t really bother to tell the main consumer.  And thus, the war that wages on even today of trying to understand what the hell your device is doing was begun.

Uncompressed Linear PCM

Remember way back at the beginning of this article when I mentioned the earliest form of digital audio was uncompressed stereo (aka PCM)?  Well secretly the home audio world converted from that lovely compressed “faking it” 5.1/7.1 of Dolby Digital and DTS and migrated back to uncompressed now that things like Blu Ray discs, digital video formats, and the HDMI plug were around.  See fiber optic and digital coax cables only compressed the 5.1 because they had to, they couldn’t carry the proper signal of uncompressed with more than 2 channels (stereo).  HDMI was different, it could carry a full uncompressed 5.1/7.1 sound.  Couple that with Blu Ray, which had a 50 GB capacity and you could finally fit the full high definition video and uncompressed audio experience.  Unfortunately it basically meant that all of us “suckers” who had signed on for the old school format were left in the dust with nothing to show for it.  Instead of openly copping to it, hardware manufacturers of all kinds opted to sweep it under the rug instead of force it forward.  In truth we should be thankful, it’s quite a decent accommodation to make for the audio side, whereas no one takes pity for video.  Heck, the Playstation 4 forces you to use HDMI and almost expects you to have a 720p/1080p television, but it will still send a compressed bitstream audio via optical cable out to your receiver without even warning you of the compromise.  Couple that with the stubbornness of technophiles – of which I will openly cop to – and you get a bunch of old guys looking for a DTS logo and regardless of what’s actually coming out of the speakers we stare at that state of mind logo and say, “damn straight!”

dd

The Xbox 360 was too early into the format, HDMI wasn’t even widespread in 2005, so it flat out didn’t support the HDMI standard for video or audio (it was later added in hardware revisions).  In addition, the 360 used the DVD format for games, so naturally Microsoft re-enlisted the lovely Dolby Digital encoder they already have and boom, 360 games are all in Dolby Digital 5.1 (ever notice that you only get DTS when it’s passed from a DVD?).  The unknowing consumer puts the game in, hears 5 speakers, sees the logo, damn straight.  On the other hand, the one year delay and hefty price tag of the PS3 justified it pushing the standards much higher.  The Playstation 3 almost completely ditched the compressed audio format in terms of how it wanted to operate, future proofing the system with an HDMI port from the get that supported up to 7.1 channels of uncompressed PCM, but also humble enough to know that many early adopters would not have the tech yet.  Furthermore video games, even if they were on the blu ray disc format, were mostly multi-platform, which resulted most times in a smaller 5-10 gb game and compressed 5.1 audio, regardless of the 50 gb capacity of the blu ray.  In addition the console would pass compressed audio formats out via the optical cable like the PS2 did, so games encoded in Dolby would get that signal and games that were encoded in DTS would get that signal, and the audiophile saw the logo on the receiver and thought, “damn straight”.  This whole confusion basically came from the concept that Microsoft wanted to hide the truth by upscaling all games to 1080p on the 360 (there were like 5 total games that were in native 1080p) and encode all games in compressed 5.1 Dolby Digital.  On the PS3, the truth was forced on all games out of the box so whatever surround sound format was in the game (mostly DD compressed thanks to the 360) would output via optical and the native resolution for the game, rounded to the closest main resolution (usually 720p) would output on the screen.  Gamers and tech guys didn’t like that, which led to the concept that the PS3 wasn’t as good as the 360 from a video standpoint because all games were 1080p/5.1 on 360 and dropped down to 720p/5.1 on PS3.  The truth was that the games looked the same but techno people want more Ps, damn straight.

dts

There was also the little case of logo fever that erupted far beyond DD and DTS.  New compression formats for 7.1 like Dolby Digital Plus and DTS-High Resolution Audio hit the market, which was just an upgrade from 5.1 to 7.1, still compressed, but it gave you that breathe easy logo on your receiver.  Not only that, but if you had a compressed audio cable and the lossless compressed Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio (both new codecs that compressed audio without quality loss to emulate uncompressed) was playing it would still display the logo for you, damn straight.  Therefore when these logo junkies (again, myself included) and PCM haters from the old guard started getting new HDMI receivers and saw no logo and “PCM” they lost it.  They didn’t want it.  Even though it was better and it was in 5.1/7.1, the brain could not understand that PCM > Bitstream and with all this hardware still supporting optical with Bitstream and you got the logo they went with that option.  I myself did this for the last five years until tons of research and a little patience finally saw me upgrading earlier this year.  Let’s go back to the PS3 for a second and also discuss the biggest reason that gamers thought they weren’t getting true 5.1 surround.  The PS3 is kind enough to decode all major forms of compressed audio and export it via HDMI in the linear PCM uncompressed audio format, the truest of formats.  Whether it’s old school DD/DTS 5.1, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD Master Audio and everything around them, the PS3 just decodes it to LPCM 5.1/7.1 and sends it to your receiver in perfect harmony.  This means that you don’t need any special type of HDMI cable and it’s basically supported by all receivers that take HDMI, no codecs on the receiver side required. It’s very similar to the way the original Xbox made everything DD 5.1 in 2001.  Unfortunately, no logo makes many people discouraged.  If you want proof, just hook your PS3 up to a receiver with HDMI, have it auto detect the sound via HDMI in your PS3 settings, and start any movie with a compressed format.  You’re receiver will simply claim PCM but you will notice that the surround is dynamic and if you choose the “display” button (either on controller or remote) you’ll see the audio formats like DTS-HD MA or Dolby TrueHD in the upper left.  See, you’re actually getting your big lossless 5.1 wonderful sound you wanted, the logo has just moved to a new place.

Fiber Optic (optical) cable

Fiber Optic (optical) cable

This is a good thing, but many can not let go of the old logo wars and dreaded “PCM means you’re getting non-surround stereo” from the earlier days that they have newer receivers and actually FORCE them back into Bitstream via optical cable.  Ugh.

Moment of Clarity

For me the moment I began to notice the difference was when I built a gaming PC.  My new Nvidia GTX 760 had an HDMI out and the setup software even said it supported 5.1/7.1 via linear PCM or Dolby Digital Uncompressed (Live Action I think it’s called), and yet I was getting no 5.1.  I had purchased a year earlier a device that would take the HDMI A/V source and strip the audio out of it so that I could send the audio via optical out to my receiver – this worked fine with my 360, PS3, and HDMI DVD player – what gives?  Well it was because the GTX series can only output PCM audio and as we’ve already discussed, optical can only handle 2-channel PCM.  I did a little research and all signs pointed to me needing an HDMI receiver, which I shrugged off and just accepted that my PC would always be in stereo, heck most PC games aren’t in 5.1 anyway because they don’t have the built-in decoders of the 360/PS3.

lpcmThe next hint was the Wii U.  The Wii just had stereo analog sound so I figured if the Wii U had any form of audio it would simply be DD or DTS 5.1.  Wrong, the Wii U actually only supports LPCM in 5.1 format, otherwise you are getting stereo PCM.  Back to the audio stripper that didn’t work with my GTX for 5.1 and I again didn’t get 5.1 out of the Wii U once the audio was stripped to the optical cable.  Even worse, the Wii U is so user unfriendly that I stupidly put “Surround” in the settings so only channels 1 and 2 out of the 5.1 were outputting to my speakers, which negates the center channel that typically carries voice on most 5.1 setups.  That basically meant that I heard little or no sound out of the voices because all it would pick up were the subtle left and right front speaker sounds of the voice that were much lower than the center channel.  I quickly went back to “stereo” and again blamed my Wii U for not being forward thinking.  Then I turned on my PS3 and watched a Netflix movie in Dolby Digital…with a logo…damn straight.

It all came to a head with the PS4 and Xbox One.  Both consoles allowed you to export the sound via optical, choose “bitstream” in your audio settings, and you even got to pick Dolby Digital or DTS!  Wow!  How did they do that?  You mean I get to pick which logo I see!  This was amazing for the first two weeks until I started to notice that it didn’t make sense that no matter what was on the screen I got the same logo, regardless of the logos on the media.  Then I started looking into this Linear PCM thing and realized that both consoles had encoders/decoders that could take any audio and export them to either compressed DD/DTS or uncompressed linear PCM 5.1/7.1 via HDMI (you know, the truest form of audio).  That did it, this logo hunting was B.S., I needed to move on.

bitstream_vs_pcm

After the setup, I was hesitant at first because again, no logos.  No matter what Blu Ray movie or game I put in, logoless.  However I did get 5.1, it sounded awesome, and things like my PC and WiiU worked (even with “surround” on!).  I had finally gotten over it and now I am able to enjoy Linear PCM 5.1 dynamic audio, without compression, despite having no logos to show for it.  But after this long 4300 convoluted history, you can see why I was so discouraged to ditch the logo.  If you are looking to upgrade your audio system and are tired of jacking around with optical cables, heed this notice to upgrade because you’re going to have to soon anyway.

As always if you have questions or discussion, please post in the comments below.  I did warn that if it spreads misinformation I may not post it, but that is limited to this post only.  Hopefully this will be nothing more than helpful.

Cheers.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm

What’s Old Is New

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xbox_sd_scanlineI’m just a curious soul when it comes to software or electronics, and I’ve always been that way.  Now ask me to turn off the water in my house, change a window screen, or heaven forbid lay tile and I’m out.  For some reason those decisions and actions, while much more predictable than electronics and software, have permanent consequences and thus I leave them to professionals.  On the tech front it’s mostly just money, and I’ve wasted plenty of that to go into most projects all “gung-ho!”  On the flip side I try to capture my memories/nostalgia when it comes to gaming so I’ve done such insane things as bring a Pit Fighter cabinet into my house to play MAME (arcade) titles on, lugged a 300 lb 38″ RCA HD picture tube display for classic consoles and light gun games (a personal favorite), and I have a machine that literally boots into DOSbox and then Windows ’95 (it’s an old XP machine) just to enjoy a handful of games like Jurassic Park: Tresspasser and hopefully soon Ripper.  I think that’s why capturing gameplay and making more entertaining videos is so fascinating but also a challenge to me.  Last week I discussed how to upgrade your visuals for YouTube export but the clear omission was how to do it without losing that classic feel.  I don’t want to play my NES on my LED display, I want it on the old tube with composite video because it looks and acts like I remember, but I also don’t want it to look like the color bleeding blurry mess I see when I export it to YouTube either.  So now I’m trying to do the opposite of what I used to: get all of my consoles to export video – both for capture and gameplay – in the best resolution possible without buying the $500 framemeister (that was in last week’s post linked above).  This does mean that certain consoles, namely the PS2, Xbox, and Wii (yes, it was pretty much that same gen in terms of visual and output), are un-tethered from my big old tube TV and migrated into the main room for the LED television on account of their 480p/720p capabilities.  Along with that came the hunting of component cables, HD AV packs (shame on you Microsoft, the Xbox could output 720p and play DVDs natively but you chose to charge accessories piece meal…just like today), and even a HDMI conversion dongle for the Wii!  It wasn’t all that cheap, probably $60 in total for all the pieces, but the results are quite impressive.  I had no idea that X-Men Legends or Hulk: Ultimate Destruction could look so good in 720p on the Xbox or that Gradius V really does look much sharper in component even if it’s still a 480i signal on PS2, and I cannot get over how Super Mario Galaxy 2 dazzles on Wii via 720p HDMI upscaler dongle (despite me having still not played that game even though I’ve booted it up dozens of times for visual comparisons).  I’m also upgrading my SNES, N64, Saturn, and PS1 for S-Video output to get slightly better captures in 480p on my SD captures, which was like $20 on Amazon for random third-party cables (not as necessary to get high-end when not passing HD through an analog source like component cables on the PS3, for example).  This is probably nothing new to many of you out there, but HDTVs were not cheap and these consoles were just dipping their toes into the water when I was a new graduate and didn’t have time or money to figure out how to make an Xbox look fancy.  I always knew the option existed, but I was more interested in surround sound back in the early 2000s and never much into graphics.  Oh and before you mention it, I’ve had a VGA box for my Dreamcast almost a decade, but stupidly didn’t capture in anything but composite as of late so I’ve truly been cheating myself.

sf2compareWhy am I bringing all this up and trying to make old games look good now?  Well for starters because I intend to begin capturing the more recent stuff in quality you valuable readers/listeners/viewers deserve and to create parity between what I see on screen and what gets uploaded into YouTube (I understand that the compression will always be a bottleneck, but I can work hard and omit a large amount of those issues if I get videos into as YouTube friendly a format as I can).  I’ve grabbed some new software, Sony Movie Studio Platinum 12 (formerly Vegas), and already used to create a new old school intro logo for GH101 before each vid (you can see an example here, which needs better transitions but bear with me, it’ll look good I swear).  I also intend to have all videos in either 480p for old school, 720p for anything with a component/vga/higher output, and 1080p when the source allows (360, some PS3, PC, and all new gen) – sure, many of you will view on a phone or device that supports only 480p or lower for decent streaming, but hey, a higher quality source downscaled will still look better.  I also picked up a capture box, which I initially went with the Blurex Capture Device both for cheaper price and also because it seemed to nicely meet my needs.  All you need to do is plug it in with the included AC cord, attach a USB storage device to it (I recommend flash memory like the $4 Micro Center 16GB stick I used, normal USB hard drives have too many corruption issues), and then you can hook a HDMI source or a Component source via included short dongle-like cords.  It has a headphone jack if your audio out doesn’t come from the component/HDMI cord, it has a mic jack if you want to embed commentary into the video, and it does have a headphone out if you don’t want to export sound to your TV/sound setup.  All output is HDMI, but it’s seamless and lag free from what I can tell (had no problems competing in Mario Kart 8 with it or conquering the first half of Gradius V).  It even detects if the source is 480p, 720p, or 1080p and makes the video to those spec automatically, so basically for everything newer than a PS2 you’re set.  I had a few problems, namely that the device only captures in 15 minute bursts (1.95 GB exactly in 1080p/30 fps MP4) although you won’t know it because it just creates another video with no visible lag between them so if you play them side by side or combine them it’s one continuous video.  Well therein lies the problem as already a few times in my weekend trials I noticed issues and lost entire 15 minute chunks in-between gameplay where the video was either corrupt or didn’t work for, as Windows 7 put it, “unknown reasons”.  I also found that Sony Movie Studio didn’t like any of these videos and neither did my MP4 merging program (Yamb) or my MP4box tools.  Somehow the MP4 container or format that this box puts things into doesn’t like traditional editing files (or at least not on my machine and I tested over 15 captures) and the cheap editor that comes free with the box isn’t even up to par with the cheap video studio I got with that standard def dongle I’ve been using.  Without Vegas or other software solutions these videos are no good to me – I have no interest, and potentially neither do you, with dropping items into YouTube without intros, professional editing, or even commentary and in 15 minute multi-video bursts.  Not what I spent $80 on.  So I’m sending it back to Amazon today and I’m gonna go grab the always faithfully recommended Elgato Game Capture (doing the traditional HD 30 fps model and not the 60 fps model because I’m more YouTube than Twitch stream) and hope that works out, I’ll let you know soon.

elgato2

With any luck these items, and the recently purchased upscalers I bought, will work like my TV does and make everything look positively beautiful on both my LED and online for you all.  I understand about lag and whatnot with upscalers, but I have amplifiers that provide multiple outputs on everything from composite to HDMI, so I’ll be fine and no lag created by upscalers or capturing will affect what I see on my screen.  Aside from all the tech talk – which is seemingly my Monday blog these days – damn do some of these games look great.  Oh and all this “capturing” also means that I’ll hopefully be able to do video reviews to accompany the written ones.  Next step, getting Jam some sort of setup.  I’ll work on that.  Anyway keep watching and hopefully you’ll see some content upgrades on the GH101 video front soon.  Also feel free to join in the discussion in the comments if you have anything to add or alert me to as I continue this journey.

Cheers.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

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Neo Retro: Chief’s Big Day

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CAM00848This morning I got up and instead of immediately heading to work I dropped by the old big box retailer to pick up a title I had been highly anticipating: Halo: The Master Chief Collection.  Here on the left you can see a photo of me with the item, big dumb smile in tow.  It’s kinda surreal picking up a collection of games that you have already played.  None of that wonder of what the mechanics, game design, or story remain because you’ve experienced it all before, and yet I find myself just as excited as I was the day I first picked up a copy of Halo or the three sequels that share space on the disc.  If you’re not a Halo fan then you probably won’t pick this up, and I expect that there will be either a slew of negative talk or more likely no talk at all regarding this package, but mark my words this is going to be a popular release.  Whether you first started playing Halo at college LAN parties, shared one of the earliest experiences on Xbox Live, or just took Master Chief for a spin or two during the Halo 3 Beta zeitgeist that existed early in the 360’s life cycle (and you can hear about many more on tonight’s podcast), there’s no denying that those who have owned Microsoft consoles can’t help but notice Halo.  That’s when it got me thinking about the state of re-releases these days – especially on this generation of consoles – and how as hard as I try to avoid them, I just can’t help buying into them (literally).

The Master Chief Collection isn’t the only game to make an updated appearance this year.  Tomb Raider received its re-release early into the year, followed by Fable Anniversary giving that game an update no one asked for, Resident Evil 4 got a third revision on the PC bringing it to 1080p, Final Fantasy X/X-2 received face lifts, Metro 2033 and Last Light received semi-controversial reduxes, The Last of Us came to PS4 after only having been on retail for just over a year, Sleeping Dogs got the Square “definitive” treatment in October, and we can expect GTA V next week.  This doesn’t even touch the slew of portable and downloadable games that were “HD-ified” and who knows how many ports I’m not considering to be actual re-releases to the PC, Xbox One, and PS4.  Hell, I even dropped a dozen hours re-playing Bayonetta on Wii U (review Thursday) because the sequel came with it.  It’s kinda hard to argue that this whole retro thing may have been the correct route to go because it seems clear that whether audiences want it or not, what’s on store shelves is at least partially games you already know.  The big question is whether or not this is a good thing.

2033_reduxSome would argue that it depends on whether or not these games sell, but I assure you they do.  I’m guilty of picking up most of these re-releases; some of which I knew I wanted right out of the gate like Final Fantasy X-2Resident Evil 4, and Master Chief, but also others I swore never to get like Metro Redux and The Last of Us.  Granted, the latter of those releases I took advantage of only because having the old version netted me the new one at half price and my urge to grab the DLC evened out the numbers for me, but it’s still an old dog trying to show me new tricks.  In a perfect world there will be new and exciting IP coming out every day, but we all know that’s a subjective and fragile wager.  2014, for me, has been filled with games I highly anticipated that disappointed, games I planned to ignore that I adored, and a whole metric ton of games I simply haven’t had the time to touch.  Given those factors you can see why it may be more tempting for me to proudly grab 4 great games I loved over the last nearly 15 years all re-hashed with better graphics and the kind of online support I was hoping I would eventually get, rather than taking a chance at Assassin’s Creed Unity.  I’m also sure the developers like it because there’s a high probability that what they put in will also net them at least what they get out, so the gamble of this over these aforementioned sequels or new titles is probably lower.  When I think about how geared up I am about playing The Master Chief Collection, however, it reminds of what never came about that I feel would be far better for the industry than a super-hyped boxed product that is advertised during NFL games.

gunstarI remember back in 2006 when Nintendo was talking about the virtual console, Sony was discussing PS1 and potentially PS2 titles coming out on the PSN, and Microsoft was releasing $15 digital versions of original Xbox games on a regular basis.  While I was psyched about not having to hunt down working original versions of Psychonauts, Final Fantasy VII, and Mega Man II, those of us in online boards and on podcasts couldn’t help but dream about what these new digital landscapes could bring.  Believe it or not, when Halo: Combat Evolved hit Games On Demand in the holiday of 2007, we were back then hoping that this game would finally receive some basic net code and allow the entire Xbox Live community to play against each other online for the first time with gravity-defying warthogs and a pistol that acted like a sniper rifle.  It never happened.  That release was nothing more than an ISO dump directly onto the marketplace, complete with all compatibility errors you could expect from playing the tangible copy of the original.  Not only that but we were getting bombarded by Xbox Live Arcade games (ContraDouble DragonSmash TV) that proved it could be done, although I am quite aware that those games were much easier to integrate net code into versus the full Xbox games.  Later the release of Halo 2 on Xbox Originals had all the ghosting effects and broken visuals, not to mention the turned off online play, that I realized this was going to be a wasted opportunity.  The same was true over on Virtual Console, where you couldn’t even play Gunstar Heroes or River City Rampage with friends online, and again we saw nothing more than a ROM dump of the original carts.  Surely, I thought, with Sony giving both a push to be more of a comprehensive online experience over Xbox (which it still isn’t if you ask me) and far more ahead of the curve than Nintendo that we might get an opportunity to team up in Twisted Metal or Contra: Shattered Soldier, but alas that was not to be either.  I imagine a world where all mutliplayer games are enhanced with online functionality and I can promise you I would own Halo and Halo 2 on the 360, given Microsoft $15 apiece for those games, and the development budget would have been staggeringly less than Master Chief Collection.  I also would have spent infinitely more on Virtual Console than the hundreds I already pumped into it, all at nearly no cost to the publishers.  Don’t tell me it’s all that difficult or expensive because emulators have been able to do it peer-to-peer for over a decade and those guys program this stuff for free.

So as I pop my Halo collection into my Xbox One (and while that massive 20+ GB patch downloads) and begin to play gorgeous upgrades of the beloved originals (I’m kind of a fanboy), it’s good to reflect on what could have been.  Oh well, looks like I’ll have to “suffer” through this package instead.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 11, 2014 at 3:28 pm

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Figuring Out How Retro Game Videos Can Look So Good

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So recently I’ve been looking at the current YouTube videos we create for the site as well as some of the photos I capture from those videos.  You see due to authenticity of how it feels to play the game – not to mention my personal affinity towards doing too much within a computer for console gaming – it’s not very viable for me to emulate.  In truth there’s little concern for the legal aspect or even the technological aspect, it’s just that playing an emulated game on an HDTV comes with it compatibility issues, screen tearing, and lets not forget the overwhelming feeling that no matter what controller you use it doesn’t feel the same as plugging that actual controller into that actual console.  As a result, most of the gameplay videos I see out there focus on either how good it looks or how good it plays, but rarely does it look at both.  There’s quite a few reasons for that, I discovered, and for my weekend project I set out to figure out how one gets these razor sharp awesome videos when compared to my relatively blurry ones.

composite_cableThe reason for this is a few things, but they all have to deal with the fact that Standard Definition TVs (SDTV) are very different than High Definition TVs (HDTV) and none of that matters until you try to adapt retro consoles (SDTV) to YouTube (HDTV).  It may look fine on my screen but it looks like crap when you pull that video up on your TV.  How do you fix that?  Well it depends on the console and your ultimate goal.  Video game systems had an output in either 240p (320×240 progressive), 480i (640×480 interlaced), 480p (640×480 progressive), 720p (1320×1080 progressive), 1080i (1920×1080 interlaced), and 1080p (1920×1080 progressive).  For the most part, anything before the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube was in 240p/480i (more on that in a sec), PS2/Xbox/Gamecube was mostly 480p (with some potential 720p for the Xbox and lack of 480p for Gamecube), and then the Wii was 480p with the 360/PS3 being either 720p/1080i/1080p.  In terms of a YouTube video or contemporary HDTVs, you want to immediately omit the interlaced resolutions because those only illuminate half of the image at once and blink back and forth, so they create scanlines (which HDTV signals and Youtube do not like or display) and make a choppy effect when things move.  While that’s no problem for the modern consoles because you can just omit 1080i and only use 720p or 1080p, you may notice that’s a big problem for retro consoles.  240p is available, but often not right out of the gate (you ever see a 240p/RGB output on a retro console?) and most of us (in the US) hooked our old school consoles up to our televisions with the lovely composite cable (yellow/red/white).  This made a 480i image out of a 240p image, which means it not only made the image look poor and blurry because it increased the resolution without increasing the pixel count, but it also removed the progressive scan and thus made scanlines and choppiness.  This is the key problem to 99 percent of the game capturing I do.

So how do you fix that?  There are a few options.  The first is emulation, which is cheapest and best because by nature emulation is free and the upscale can be done in the software and generate ideal pixel re-creation, however for me it’s out because I don’t like how it plays or feels.  The second is to try to capture in S-video or component over composite, but it does not solve the obvious issue of the fact that everything is still relatively blurry because the source is not 240p but rather 480i.  If you ever watch my videos, this is what I usually do and my current setup.  I capture the video in 480i and use the capture software to de-interlace it (ie: make it into progressive scan) and render it in 480p for YouTube (which is 720×480 due to 16:9 widescreen versus the common 4:3 full screen of these old consoles).  This is why you get some blur, some chop, and the black bars – it’s simply the best we can do for the money.  Well it turns out that’s not completely the case, which I discovered after watching this helpful video.  It told me that there is a fabulous world of improvement that comes from upscaling the image, however this always comes at a price, whether that be money or problem solving.

As always any game system that outputs to 240p will either be able to give you composite/s-vide0/component to view your systems (oh yeah and Dreamcast does VGA, but that’s not relevant right now) in 480i (and occasionally p) and you can purchase a cheaper upscaler that will do an okay job.  While it may not be the greatest thing you’ve ever seen, your games will be greatly improved in visual quality – especially if you can extract s-video or component instead of composite.  There are setbacks, though, because these “other” scalers will always introduce lag and change the orientation or look of a game.  If you are like me and have a composite/s-vide0/component signal amplifier that can output one signal to two sources, this can be somewhat of a solution because the capture lag will be independent of the gameplay you are using for the source.  Basically it will only capture at a delay but since you’re not using that lagging delay it will look normal after your capture (just don’t use a mic on your capture solution because your comments will suffer being off sync due to the lag so you’ll want to record separate and sync in post-processing).  This is your under $100 solution for those that want better looking videos but aren’t going to make a business out of it (ie: me).

rgbFor the rest of you intense purists, budding venture capitalists, Patreon savvy marketers, and of course the tech junkies, the only game in town is the one and only XRGB Mini (aka Framemeister) by Micomsoft.  This is the topic of that aforementioned video I linked and just to open with the big financial investment, currently retails for about 39,000 yen or $500 for Americans, not to mention it’s completely in Japanese.  Once you obtain this bad boy, you can use composite/s-video/component to create widely improved lag-free versions of your favorite games, add scanlines back in, and impress your less wallet heavy friends.  That’s not all, though, because you can also extract true 240p via RGB!  See there are cheaper scalers that can do this feat, however because they introduce lag and I don’t know of an RGB amplifier (although it may very well exist and probably isn’t cheap if so), cheap solutions with lag are yet again a problem.  On the other hand, if you have a Framemeister you can have a lag-free way to play games via RGB!  This option, like the Framemeister, is not cheap.  Your initial consoles like the SNES, Genesis, and even Saturn can be purchased on eBay for a relatively low price with this user: retro_console_accessories.  The crazier ones, like NES/Famicom, N64, and even Jaguar or Turbografx-16 is going to require console mods and even more work.  I saw this as a $1000+ rabbit hole that required more technical knowledge than I cared to commit (I wanna game!) and not paying attention to those things could also damage a Framemeister (out $500!) so I decided that this little magical box that looks amazing just won’t be in my future.

As it stands I hope to improve my game capturing of newer consoles (my Twitch is only outputting to 480p for some reason from my PS4!) and even some of the older ones like Xbox and PS2 where the blur just doesn’t have to be that bad.  In addition I also hope to use one of these upscalers to improve the capture of my composite video stuff, but don’t expect something miraculous, just sharper and slightly improved.  I also upgraded to the full Sony Movie (formerly Vegas) 13 suite so I should have a lot more options for comparison videos, editing, and overall improvement of production values.  So while I won’t be able to create something as stellar as this, hopefully I will someday get up to this.  It’s a rabbit hole, but luckily I came out unscathed and with (most of) my money unspent.

Written by Fred Rojas

November 10, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Vos5’s Corner: Toad!

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Greetings Everyone!  We wanted to share a great forum post made by reader and occasional podcast guest Vos5.  He dedicated a very thorough visual history of Mario’s rarely beloved sidekick Toad.

GH101 is proud to present: Toad!

They first appeared in Super Mario Bros. with their infamous line, “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” They played the same role in the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, known as The Lost Levels in the U.S.

In the American Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad was playable for the first time, where he was the fastest of all the characters! However, he didn’t jump as well as the others.

Super Mario Bros. 3, is where Toad houses are introduced and Toad gives you items and extra lives.

Actually, much to my surprise, Toad already starred in his first game in Wario’s Woods on the NES and SNES! Toad steps up with the help of Birdo and Sprite/Wanda to kick Wario’s ass! It’s a puzzle game and is available on the 3DS and Wii U virtual consoles.

He’s in Super Mario 64 explaining the backstory and giving hints for the rest of the game. In the remake Super Mario 64 DS he serves the same purpose but also makes comments about whoever you’re playing as. “What?! You’re Luigi? The world’s most inept least charismatic brother? Wow! Can you introduce me to Mario?” or “Huh…? Who are you? Oh, yes… Luigi, right? You’re always in Mario’s shadow, so I didn’t recognize you at first.”
You know, Toad’s kind of a dick.

In Luigi’s Mansion, Toad serves as save points.

Toads appear in Super Mario Sunshine as Peach’s attendants. Toadsworth’s first appearance.

Super Mario Galaxy has a wonderful place called Toad Town, full of happy little Toads, and it introduced the Toad Brigade and Captain Toad. Toadettte also shows up in the intro. Captain Toad and the Toad Brigade are also in the sequel.



In New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U, blue and yellow Toads are playable. The red Toad isn’t playable, be he does run the Toad houses, and he gets himself into trouble so Mario can save him in various levels.

He is also in Super Mario 3D Land where, after you save him at the end of World One, he runs Toad houses and uncovers secrets in the levels.

Again in New Super Mario Bros. 2, Toad runs the Toad houses.

In Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad and a blue Toad are playable in various parts of the game. Blue Toad, much like in Super Mario Bros. 2, is the fastest main character, but the worst jumper.


In Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, five Toads (yellow, red, blue, green, and purple) assist Professor E. Gadd by investigating the mansions. Luigi runs into them throughout the game, and the Toads help him uncover secrets in each mansion.

In Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, Toad teaches Mario about his battle skills in the beginning, and has to be saved during multiple times later in the game.

Toad is playable briefly in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga while exploring Mario and Luigi’s house.

In Super Princess Peach, Toad is kidnapped earlier in the game along with Mario and Luigi by the Hammer Bros. However, Toad appears as a playable character in two of the minigames in the game.



Ugh! Never look up “Super Princess Peach Toad” in any image search. SO MUCH HORRIFYING PORN!

Toad is in Super Paper Mario telling Mario and Luigi that Princess Peach has been kidnapped, in the mini-game Mansion Patrol, and Toad is one of the 256 Catch Cards.

In Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story, a mysterious infection called “The Blorbs” causes the Toads to inflate to many times their normal size and roll around uncontrollably.

He’s in every installment of Mario Kart (Toadette being introduced in Double Dash!!), every Mario Party as the host for the first four, and playable in the rest, Mario Superstar Baseball and Mario Super Sluggers, Mario Strikers and Mario Strikers Charged, Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix, as playable Mini Toads in Mario vs. Donkey Kong 2: March of the Minis and Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!






In Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Toad referees.
In its sequel, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games, Toad is in the adventure mode and hosts.
In Mario & Sonic at the London 2012 Olympic Games, Toad hosts again and is also a main character in the 3DS version’s story mode.

He is in Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Brawl (as a sticker, trophy, and an attack for Peach).

Written by Fred Rojas

October 7, 2014 at 11:00 am

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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 Fred Rojas

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 Fred Rojas

August 5, 2014 at 12:47 pm

Posted in Blog

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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

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