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A tribute to 100!

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Authors notes

I wrote a article for GH101 to celebrate the 100th episode last year. However, I decided not to post it because I felt it didn’t really fit in with the site.  After receiving a very touching e mail from a fan of GH101 I’ve changed my mind. It’s important to stand by your passions and I love writing, talking rubbish and being part of GH101 and this article is very much a tribute to that. Of course this is written in the past tense so take the content for what it is. Thank you.

Original article

On the 22nd of July Gaming History 101 is going to hit the milestone of 100 episodes which is a fantastic achievement. I thought I would share some of my memories listening to the podcast as well as becoming a co–presenter (co-host).

The route to G101

ffviiA couple of years ago I had taking up a job in Cambridge (a well known town in England) and commuted everyday from the outskirts of London. I was probably travelling around four hours a day either by foot, bike or train. Of course I was very much into gaming on the handheld, this was the perfect opportunity to play RPGs like Final Fantasy 7 on the PSP. But I often returned to my personal favourites, the Resident Evil games to see if I could complete them in a single day. I also read books, caught up on work on my Netbook, but I needed something else to fill this incredibly long void.

I was a big fan of YouTube and one evening I was watching a random video from YouTuber “PeteDorr,” who announced he was doing a podcast with some other members of the community called “AllGenGamers” and that it could be heard on itunes. I downloaded it to my ipod and its safe to say I became pretty hooked on gaming podcasts from then on. Since I traveled so far I listened to several podcasts including IGN UK and US, Giant Bomb, and Joystiq. I would also throw in non gaming podcasts as well like Hamish and Andy and Radio 4 film podcast.

Through “AllGenGamers” I heard another YouTuber called “Jumble Junkie” who announced he had his own podcast called Operation Kill Screen which I listened to since I quite enjoyed listening to the gamer’s opinions on news stories and games. You would be surprised how different they were from the mainstream website podcasts. It wasn’t long until I heard a plug for a little known podcast called Video Game Outsiders (VGO), and that is how I came to know allgames.com since VGO was on so late in the UK I could never listen live. So I continued on itunes and with my long commute.

Soon after that I heard a guy called Chip Cella aka “Captain Chaos” who had his own podcast called the B–Team. So I listened to this show also on allgames.com and I heard some funny fella with a interesting surname called Fred Rojas, with his enthusiastic golden voice made for radio, he mentioned he had his own show called Gaming History 101. I jumped on this show as from my experience there was no other podcast that really covered old games in a interesting way.

Obscure_coverThe first episode of Gaming History 101 I ever listened to was Obscure survival horror games. In this show Fred was a solo presenter and discussed some not so well know survival horror games like Obscure on the Original Xbox, Enemy Zero on the Saturn, and Overblood on PSone [I also covered Rule of Rose on the PS2 – Fred]. This show was right up my alley as survival horror is one of my favourite genres in gaming. I’m so sad I still have this podcast on my ipod as well as several episodes of GH101 which I listen to when I’m bored or going on a crazy long journey.

It’s also worth mentioning GH101 also introduced me to yet more great podcasts like 42 Level One, EZ Mode Unlocked, and recently Horseplay Live! and Pixelated Pints (Fred’s third podcast).

When Being a Fanboy Wasn’t Enough

Eventually it got to the point where I started writing in to Fred’s show on GH101. I wrote messages through his website most of the time it was to nit pick. After all that’s what we do as retro gamers, we correct people when they make mistakes. One of my favourite nit pick episodes by far was for Silent Hill 2. Fred did a solo game club on the show which received a lot of listener comments. I was going to jump on the band wagon but I think its fair to say poor Fred had well and truly learned that Silent Hill fans are hard people to please. Instead I had to praise the guy after all most of his shows are solo and it is hard to carry out a podcast by yourself and still make it sound interesting. I know this from experience as I presented my own radio show at University.

Eventually I wrote into Fred with some show requests specifically Silent Hill and Resident Evil. To my surprise Fred just flat out invited me on the show. My first appearance on the show was Silent Evil. It was Fred, myself, and guest Allen Epstein, a very nice guy with extensive knowledge on the Resident Evil and Silent Hill games. We initially meant to cover most of each games from the series but instead we ended up only covering the first game in each series and a little on the second game. Since this podcast we have done a follow up episode but we are still quite far from discussing all the games in both series.

silent_evil_2

At this stage I was now living somewhere new and had a new job so no more ridiculously long journeys. So I was able to listen to the show live and actually join in the live chat on all games. I had also decided to start writing articles on gaming which I was doing for a website retrocollect.com, a website that is very useful for retro game news.

Time passed I made occasional guest appearances on the show still and made comments in the live chat. Eventually, I guess Fred got fed up with my nit picking and decided why not bring this annoying English person on the show all the time. And I’ve been a co-host ever since.

Best Parts

taito_postSome of my favourite podcasts that I have been on so far include the Taito episode as I share a lot of nostalgia for this company. The majority of the games I played when messing around on my parents Amstrad CPC were Taito games including New Zealand Story and a game that would later become my favourite game of all time Rainbow Islands. The Guardian Heroes game club was memorable because I had been waiting on this episode for ages and Fred originally cancelled it, I remember putting in all the preparation for the podcast only to hear Fred say he was no longer doing game club episodes. Fortunately, that didn’t stick and they returned. Game Club episodes to me are great because they usually encourage me to play games I would generally overlook. Of course one of my favourite episodes is Silent Evil because it was my first, you never forget your first.

Some of my favourite episodes I have not been on include the Sonic podcasts with Ali and Andy from 42 Level One mostly because it was fun hearing the two Scots defend the blue hedgehog on a two-part episode. The Metal Gear podcast with TreesLounge which to this day is the most downloaded episode of the show of all time. One of my favourite game club episodes by far was Blue Stinger on Dreamcast. This show also featured TreesLounge and was one of the the most bizarre games I had played to this point on a Game Club and would probably have never touched it had it not been for the podcast. You will never again come across a survival horror game set during Christmas (with Christmas music as well) in place called Dinosaur Island and has no Dinosaurs in it. It’s fantastic.

blue_stinger_post

Before I finish I wanted to say thanks to all out listeners especially for allowing me to be a co-host, it really is a dream come true for me. I have been out of the radio gig for quite a long time and its been great to come back to it. It’s been amazing meeting so many nice people from other podcasts and of course interacting with the fans.

Finally I just want to say thank you Mr Fred Rojas for Gaming History 101.

Lets raise a glass, take a shot, whatever your into and here’s to another 100 episodes.

Written by jamalais

January 22, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Blog

Podcast: Big Boss Man Part 2

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bigboss2_post

Listener @Fortengard joins us to continue our earlier discussion on the art of the boss battle.  With tons of community news, e-mails (thanks guys), and news articles, we don’t get there until about halfway through but then we get down to the concept of the doppelganger, the “dark” version, and attacking oneself.  We then tackle roundtable discussion about our significant boss battles.


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Written by Fred Rojas

January 21, 2015 at 11:01 am

Posted in Blog

Talking Ports: Half Life on the PS2

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I’ve always wanted to dedicate an article to Half Life on the Playstation 2 (PS2). However, Half Life is one of those games I genuinely get a bit worried about when reviewing, since so much as mentioning anything negative about this series will cause the entire Valve fan base to storm on you with torches and pitchforks. No where is safe, you are screwed. But since so few people have even played Half Life on the PS2 hopefully, its safe to come out of my Half Life hermit cave and talk about it.

hl_ps2_2

Now here is where I make my first shocking statement: Half Life on PS2 is the first time I ever played Half Life. One redeeming factor maybe that it did lead me to playing the game on the PC later when I was able to. Anyway, I was in day one for Half Life on console. I’d been anticipating the game since the hyped up Dreamcast port which never official surfaced outside of the homebrew scene (despite being advertised in leaflets that game with games at the time). It seems like a lot of the assets used to make the game on the Dreamcast surfaced on the PS2. Whether your a massive fan of the Dreamcast or not, its hard not to argue this game was much more suited to the PS2 due its its dual analogue sticks. This was the time where First Person Shooters (FPS) were finally getting easier to control on consoles, with thanks to Halo, gamers where just no longer stomaching the single analogue nub system famous on the N64 and Dreamcast.

hl_ps2_1Half Life on PS2 is technically an HD remaster (but just up-scaled, not actual HD graphics). The graphics received a massive overhaul and for the time looked fantastic. Enemies and human character models looked much more polished and some of the guns such as the assault rifle were completely remodelled. The recharge points had little probes for example, the health station had a syringe that would come out and stick your character. Though its very much a cosmetic change it does look pretty cool. The entire campaign was playable and you were able to save anywhere just like the PC version, which was quite uncommon for console games. Everything in the PC version is present on the PS2 even the humorous gore.

I actually played Red Faction on PS2 before Half Life and it was clear to see that a lot of the inspiration for that game came from the Half Life design. I also remember a article in PS2 Official Magazine confirming this from the developers.

hl_scro_gonNow the developers decided to include an interesting idea to make the game a bit more simple on the console. That feature is the dreaded auto lock-on system. I absolutely hated this and still don’t care for its inclusion to this day. This was probably a feature that was originally designed for the Dreamcast and probably made sense with its controller restrictions. Basically, what you do is when an enemy is in the area a simple press of the button will literally force Gordan Freeman to lock onto the enemy with his gun cursor pointing in more or less the correct area. It felt very similar to the lock-on feature [this is known by many as “Z-targeting” – Ed.] in Legend of Zelda Orcarina of Time (you know, just without the fairy shouting at you). Now you would think this feature would make the game a lot easier, but for a lot of the enemies, especially the boss characters like the scrotum monster on Xen (you know the one I’m talking about) the feature doesn’t lock-on properly and causes practically no damage. Its inclusion feels pointless especially when the dual analogue controls seem to work absolutely fine. Of course many would argue the controls can’t possibly compete with mouse and keyboard, but for a console port this was a fine effort.

hl_alienThe original Dreamcast version was going to feature the additional campaign, which later became Blue Shift, and was eventually released separately for PC. On the PS2 the developers included a co-op campaign that can be played in split screen, even if your playing alone. It’s a fantastic inclusion to the package. When you do play the game alone it’s a bit awkward because you have to control both of the female characters separately. A press of the button will switch back and forth between the characters if you are in the area alone your partner will defend themselves but will not move, they will just stand there like a loon till you move them yourself. This makes playing it solo feel very slow as you are literally travelling through the level twice. Unlike the main Gordon Freeman campaign, which is a continuous campaign with no level breaks, the co-op campaign is split up into individual levels you select from a menu. There is more backstory to the Half Life universe that even ties into the story of Blue Shift. So if you are a die hard Half Life fan and want to experience every campaign possible you will need to dust off your PS2 and get this game to experience the co-op campaign as it was exclusive on PS2. Not sure whether its worth all that effort though, since the co-op is very short. You do receive a fantastic bonus co-op mission where you get to play the aliens in the game; it’s brutally hard but its a nice touch.

hl_decaySo is Half Life on PS2 worth picking up? Well these days probably not so much especially since Half Life got another HD remaster in the form of Black Mesa on PC [as of this writing, Xen, the least popular portion – but also the ending – of Half Life is not included in Black Mesa although the development team reassured in early 2014 that it is coming and will be improved from the original – ed]. Die hard PC gamers will most likely laugh at this games existence despite the improvements the developers made to the graphics. The reason you may want to consider the title is if you already own a PS2 because this game is crazy cheap. Back in the day I paid full price for the game and I didn’t feel cheated. I later sold my entire PS2 collection but when I started collecting again I found Half Life on PS2 for a single British pound, and that’s still the going rate for this game. To this day I have an interest in PC ports to console even if they are most likely worse. It’s fascinating to see what developers do to a game to make it work on restricted hardware. Another fascinating example like this is Half Life 2 on the original Xbox and I may cover that in a later article.

Written by jamalais

January 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

Posted in Blog, PS2

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Feel the Need, The Need to Speed-Run

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acdq

This past week a charity event has taking place in the America called “Awesome Games Done Quick” (AGDQ). For those of you who have not heard of this event, it is where gamers from all over the world gather together to speedrun various games (retro and modern). It’s twenty four hours of gaming goodness over seven days all in the name of charity. The event is to raise money for the Prevent Cancer Foundation. Today’s article is a tribute to the internet phenomenon that is speedruning.

AGDQ_1I first became interested in speedruns after getting into a debate with a friend about what the fastest time Resident Evil on PSone could be completed. Eventually we headed to YouTube to find a video of a speedrunner by the title of Carcinogen, running through the game in just over an hour. There was something quite mind blowing of how precise he played through the game. This then lead me to finding more videos and consequently discover ADGQ which almost feels like an esports event, as people speedrun a game live while crowds of people roar with cheer as they pull of a difficult glitch. I then soon learned there was a entire website of people speedrunning games twenty four hours a day (speedrunslive.com). Not only are runners somewhere in the world speedrunning games right now, there are also runners racing each other. I’ve have never really been much of a Sunday football watching kinda guy, but I guess I know the feeling now since watching speedrunners race each other can be quite exciting.

Speedrunning games is easy to get into. Just pick a game and finish it as fast as you can. Then play it again and do it quicker. Mastering the art of speedrunning is a true investment of time and patience. Speedrunners literally play the same game over and over again just to improve their times by a few seconds in hopes it will beat there PB (Personal Best) and in some cases grant them the WR (World Record). Runners will study the games to exploit every glitch possible, explore all routes and break the game in whatever way they can to get through the experience as quick as possible. The community of speedrunners is becoming increasingly popular online with forums dedicated to revealing the best routes through games. Some of the runners have access to the debugged game and can explore the game design in more detail to study the additional routes and exploits in the games framework. Most of these runners spend weeks and possibly years playing a game thousands of time just to shave off seconds from there records.

agdq_3Records for every game can vary as well. Take Super Metroid for example. Theres a record for finishing the game 100% as well as finishing the game with just 1%. There are multiple categories per game and going either these routes may drastically change up the way the runner plays through the game. Some runners even go one crazy step further and speedrun games like Punch-Out!! on NES blindfolded, a game I can’t even conquer with my eyes open let alone closed.  With the increasing popularity of twitch a vast majority of these speedrunners are able to stream there record attempts online. Many of these runners are so popular they are able to earn some money from advertising revenue.

You really won’t believe your eyes when you see certain runners breaking games like God of War 2 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time, games that come across as solid glitch free experiences are made to look shameful by runners. Even the developers of the games have been surprised by some of the secrets exposed by runners. Last year during one of the AGDQ charity events one of the developers of Borderlands 2 was left speechless as a runner exposed glitches in the game.

Much like when players find high scores for websites like Twin Galaxies, speedrunners record playthroughs and they are submitted for assessment to see if the record is legitimate and involves no cheating. In these particular sensitive scenarios the runner will also submit a second recording of themselves using the controller to play the game. Most records can be found on Speed Demos Archive.

agdq_2Speedrunning is becoming increasing more popular over the internet. Just like the fighting Evo tournaments and League of Legends live events its continuous evidence that watching other people play video games is becoming just as popular as watching sports on TV.
I’m not the best speedrunner the only games I am able to complete quickly (and that just because I play them constantly) are Resident Evil 2 (PSone), Streets of Rage 2 (Mega Drive/Genesis) and Rainbow Islands (Arcade).

AGDQ is over now but you can revisit all the runs on YouTube. Be sure to check out their second charity marathon over the Summer cleverly titled “Summer Games Done Quick.”

Written by jamalais

January 15, 2015 at 11:00 am

Extra Credit: 2014 Game Clubs – A Year in Review

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Jam goes solo on this short show to round up all the Game Clubs we did over 2014

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Written by Fred Rojas

December 31, 2014 at 2:59 pm

Posted in Blog, podcast, Videos

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Tech: Comprehensive Capture Device Review

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First and foremost, let me preface by saying that this entire post is in no way promotional.  While I may link to a slew of items – using Amazon because it’s the only location to find all of these items, but many can be found elsewhere and sometimes at better prices – there is nothing in it for myself of Gaming History 101.  We did not receive any of these items, all were purchased by the reviewer (ie: me, Fred Rojas) and none of the links here involve any kickback for purchasing through them as I’m told you can do with Amazon and of course, Gaming History 101 remains completely ad free.  I am writing this piece because when I looked for buying advice online it was nothing but paid promotion, a few hardware reviews that are years old and speak nothing to the current state of these capture devices, and of course none of them had accurate information when it came to capturing retro devices.  In a world where we want screenshots, streaming, video capture, and just to have fun with the prized possessions in our collection and share it with the world, capture devices are a great way to do so.  I have also been told that capturing and streaming emulation, especially if you generate ad revenue (we are ad-free on GH101 as well as our YouTube channel), can be illegal and get your videos taken down so use caution if going that route.  We only capture actual consoles with actual game carts/discs, and use flash carts when necessary for items like homebrew.  Therefore, here is the most comprehensive review I can give with about as much geeky tech background as I can provide.

As stated in the intro, I wanted a device where I could both capture retro and modern consoles that also supported streaming, commentary, and a myriad of content creation options.  I should also point out that my plans were, and currently consist, of importing almost all gameplay into Sony Platinum Video Suite 13 (formerly Vegas) for editing and rendering, so that does play a part in my opinions.  I tested these devices on three computers, all of which I will provide basic spec for you now.  In reviews, these will be labeled as Computers 1, 2, or 3.

Computer 1: Editing Rig

This computer is a strong but basic rig that runs Windows 7 64-bit Premium, has an Intel Core Duo 3.0 ghz processor, 2 GB of RAM, some Intel integrated graphics, multiple USB 2.0 ports, and is a desktop.  I run my editing software on it and it has a massive hard drive for such work.  I also have a slew of software to change content types, which I highly recommend if you’re getting into higher level editing and video production, like FLV extractor/re-encoders (for taking those Twitch streams and making them .mp4), Audacity (for audio editing and adapting), and capture devices.

Computer 2: Antiquated Laptop

I think everyone needs a laptop they no longer care about, and mine is a Sony Vaio that runs Vista Premium (32-bit), an Intel Celeron dual core 2.2 ghz, 4 GB of RAM, Intel integrated graphics, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a massive 500 GB hard drive.  It was my hope to do all the capturing here since I can compress and extract the clips I want for editing and just capture forever on this computer.

Computer 3: Gaming Rig

This computer runs Windows 7 64-bit Premium, has an AMD Phenom II 955 3.2 ghz quad core (overclocked to 3.6), 8 GB of RAM, NVidia GTX 970 (although I also worked with it on a GTX 760), and twin 7200 RPM 500GB hard drives (no RAID, no SSD), and it does have two USB 3.0 ports. I did not want to use this for game capture for several reasons, most notably that this computer has one purpose and that’s gaming, nothing else.  I also have a graphics card that can capture and stream through Nvidia’s ShadowPlay, which despite the complaints I’ve heard, has never really given me any problems and had incredible capture quality.  Still, it’s not as dependable as a capture card and there have been times where I’ve lost significant data (not to mention it’s a performance hit, like FRAPS is, on cards that are barely meeting benchmark for today’s games).

The Capture Devices

I am not interested in integrated cards because I don’t want it in my gaming rig and the other two computers don’t support add-on hardware, so that’s that.  As a result, here is my breakdown of the cards I tried.

easycapEasyCap  USB Dongle for Composite/S-Video (Link) – Price: $8.99

It really couldn’t be that easy, could it?  Actually, yes, for retro consoles looking exactly as they did this device delivers at a super budget price.  It’s a bit goofy in terms of driver software and I had to go on the web, download six different drivers from random sites, and eventually one worked the way it should, but once it’s running it runs wonderfully.  This comes with ULead Video Studio 8.0, which I recommend using various Googled means to get the updated 10.0 version (and you can do this legally with your EasyCap software’s registration code, but it’s complicated).  This is the perfect starter capture device because it’s plug and play, reliable, and ULead even has some impressive editing abilities like picture-in-picture, dual audio/dual video tracks, support for images, transitions, and animation.  Not to shabby a package for less than $10.  Here’s the catch: the games won’t look good in today’s competitive landscape.  Ever hooked an N64 up to an HDTV?  Looks like crap.  It will look similar on this device because of how compressed the video signal is, there’s no mid or post processing, and this device is limited.  It also supports no resolution over 720×480 (widescreen 480p), although almost everything in composite or S-Video, especially retro consoles, will be 640×480 (full screen 480i) and it does have a de-interlace so it looks just fine.  You also may want to consider not editing in ULead if you can avoid it because there is lots of blurring and mosaic effects as the result of rendering, but the captures themselves (especially when thrown into an external editor) look solid.  I’ll provide some links to GH101 videos that we use this with, but as you’ll see in our YouTube library, this was the capture device I learned on and it served me quite well for almost two years.  This device also worked on any computer I threw at it, even a 2.8 ghz single core Pentium 4 with 512 MB of RAM running Windows XP 32-bit.  If you want to grab retro vids, do basic editing, and want just good enough quality, this is the capture device for you.

Example Vids:

blurexBlurex HD Capture Box (Link) – Price $79.99

As you can see the moment you try to do anything resembling modern capture devices, the price goes up considerably.  The Blurex HD almost looks too good to be true, and in some ways it is.  The box promises to let you hook up any HDMI or Component video device (PS3 needs to hook up via component video unless you find a way to strip HDCP – which this device accidentally does – but no illegal activity please) and allows the capturing of video to any connected USB device without the use of a computer.  Keep in mind that Component Video (red/green/blue) cannot output higher than 1080i, no matter what you’ve heard/read/or your TV says, so don’t be mad if your PS3 captures in 720p (although 90 percent or more of PS3 games are in 720p via HDMI anyway unless you force the poor upscaler).  It does allow you to use audio from a headphone source (that’s the blue “in”) for those HDMI no-sound and analog audio output people (like certain PC users), has a pink “MIC” jack for embedded audio commentary alongside your video, and a green “out” for using headphones to hear the audio if you so desire.  It outputs everything in HDMI only, though, so you’ll need an HDMI tv to play on and the passthrough is lag free.  In truth this does an amazing job and may be your only option if you do not want to involve a computer.  After using the higher end capture cards I now appreciate the fact that commentary syncs up perfectly, the device auto detects the source (only supports 480i, 480p, 720p, 1080i, and 1080p and de-interlaces 480i/1080i), and captures in great quality.  Here are the down sides: it doesn’t stream, it captures all video in 1.95 GB chunks (that’s so it can support FAT32 USB drives), it won’t tell you if it runs into problems (you’ll just lose part of the capture), it has no support for composite video, and the MP4 format it uses isn’t liked by almost any software but what’s included and ULead.  If you plan to capture these videos and directly upload to YouTube, especially if you only have a 15 minute limit on YouTube (1.95 is exactly 15 mins in 1080p), this is a perfect solution.  The second you want to edit, stream, or even have a reliable source to capture to (ie: you care if you lose part of the recording), then it’s probably not for you.  I should note that under 30 mins I rarely lost parts of a recording, but for those long 30-2 hour captures, it got unreliable consistently.  Another recommendation is to use a 2.0 compliant flash media to capture (16-32 GB should be more than enough and costs about $5-$10 online) because it hated my Lacie 1 TB USB hard drive and dropped recordings constantly.  As a bare-bones HD capture device it’s great, but you can rule out most retro consoles.  Don’t send surround sound through HDMI on this either, it creates an odd sound signal in the capture, but also keep in mind that almost no capture device also grabs 5.1 and none via HDMI.  I have no comparison videos because I decided to return this item when I realized it didn’t work with my editing software.  The quality was identical to these other cards below (I think it’s MBPS encoding was 14, which is quite good and YouTube doesn’t benefit from anything over 6).

roxioRoxio Game Capture HD Pro (Link) – Price $99.99

After my failure with the Blurex I decided to get back to a true capture device.  My next step was the Roxio Game Capture HD Pro, which I selected over the half price Game Capture HD because it did both component and HDMI, whereas the the regular Game Capture HD is Component only.  It needed a dual core processor of at least 2.0 and 2 GB of RAM, so I liked that all the PCs I had could work with it (especially the laptop), and the included software allowed me to capture and stream.  I had also heard that it could capture composite video if I hook the yellow video cable into one of the three component video inputs (either blue, green, or red and just try each and see what works).  This turned out not to be the case, the device never detected a video signal and thus never even allowed me to try composite, so I returned this almost immediately due to the fact that it did not capture old school (although my EasyCap does quite well in the old school world but I wanted to stream retro).  It also has the same HDMI problem that all capture cards do with the PS3 (see my review of the Blurex above to remove that headache, if you wish), but otherwise I was impressed with the capture and stream.  Then, like always, with two weeks of testing and longer runs of 1 hour+ streaming and 2 hours+ recording I started to see problems.  Recordings would get jostled around, pixelate, blur, and at times even repeat themselves.  Furthermore the streams would get goofy and I would end up with Twitch streams that my viewers said were unwatchable, out of sync, and it would result in my video library having like 100+ 30 second clips that were glitched to high hell.  I wouldn’t mind all this if the software ever told me, but according to the software everything was great.  Even more odd was that I had the most problems, as you would suspect, on Computer 2 (it barely made spec), but Computer 3 (gaming rig) tended to have major issues too and it had a powerhouse of hardware behind it.  It just seems to me that a particular build type of computer was in mind for this Roxio and if you moved outside those designated lines it wouldn’t work properly.  If you try this and it works for you, that’s great, because I assure you the quality of the videos is not in question here, just the consistency.  Without retro streaming and with these hiccups I gave up and decided I would have to spend a bit more.  I also decided I would not accept a capture card that didn’t allow me to stream retro consoles either.

elgatoElgato Game Capture HD (Link) – Price $149.99

Given that it was at price parity with the other option (Hauppauge HD PVR 2 below), the most popular and widely regarded capture device I could find was the Elgato Game Capture HD.  There was a recently released Game Capture HD 60, which captured at 60 frames per second and not 30, but it was incompatible with the retro console dongle (a $10 add-on from the Elgato web site that adds composite and S-Video) so I went with this one.  It had steep requirements for a PC, namely at least 2.0 ghz dual core and 4 GB of RAM (the RAM being the bigger and more expensive problem), and if you scour the web you will find that the Elgato acts really goofy if you use antiquated software (ie: streaming issues, audio sync issues, bad recordings, etc).  This little box really does it all: it streams, it captures, it does both at the same time automatically, it has a 15 minute buffer in case you don’t want to capture and just want to grab cool moments after they happen, it supports all video formats and allows you to manipulate them (ie: capture at 1080p but stream at 720p, etc), and it has its own editor and MP4 converter (because all high end streams are usually in raw MPEG-2 .ts format).  You can also plug the yellow composite into the red component video slot (putting the audio in the separate audio ports) for retro gaming right out of the box, the dongle is just for S-Video (with a quality boost, of course).  The down side for me was that only my gaming rig (computer 3) worked with it – Computer 1 didn’t have enough RAM and Computer 2 was min specs and had all of the problems I had seen.  I did not like having to install all this software and screw with my gaming rig one bit (had to update my Win 7 to SP1 and install .NET Frame 4.0, both of which may be ideal from a securities and regular use standpoint but I had avoided by only playing games on it).  Furthermore it still didn’t work properly most of the time without a bunch of fiddling with.   For starters the software is now at 2.0 (or so) and it had all kinds of install issues, then once it finally started it needed me to disable video and audio preview to not have audio sync issues, and every now and again the software would crash while converting to MP4 format, leaving me with lost footage.  Now I’m sure some people out there had no software install issues (well I did), Elgato claims that a “decent” rig doesn’t need to disable these features (I can run Shadow of Mordor at ultra in 1440p, what the hell does this thing need?), and my editing software can easy work with .ts to make an MP4 but not everyone has 3rd party editing software nor should they be required to.  I also had problems with the microphone in that on my computer it would sometimes cause the Elgato to not be recognized (and visa versa), which according to Elgato support (great support staff, btw) is a “known issue” but they have no good solution.  The old Twitch issue with 100 30 second vids came back as well, which they suggested is my Internet, however I’m doubting that more and more given that my speed test is a consistent 30 mbps down and up (I have a fiber optic line) and I don’t have those streaming problems with my PS4, Xbox One, Nvidia ShadowPlay, or other capture devices, so it’s gotta be some odd hiccup with the Elgato on my rig.  With all those compromises, hundreds of cords, and the need to hook my gaming rig up to another display device than my TV (not to mention the lack of portability), I just couldn’t take it.  After re-installing drivers a few times, having tons of problems, and whatnot I decided that this wasn’t going to meet my needs.  Although if you don’t have these problems the quality is amazing, my entire Conker’s Bad Fur Day LiveStream (in S-Video with the retro dongle) used the Elgato, which worked flawlessly for almost 14 hours and my Resident Evil HD Remaster video was also captured on it with impressive results, but that is two rare cases out of the nearly dozen I tried over two weeks.  I should also point out it has the highest recording and streaming quality options, it automatically drops the game sound when you speak in a mic (although it suffered some lag issues), and it allows you to adjust livestreams and recording with tag info on the fly as well as telling you how many live viewers you have.  Fortunately you can return it to retailers (in my case Micro Center) with ease if it doesn’t work for you.

hauppaugeHauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition (Link) – Price $199.99

Finally we come to the last, and my personal favorite, the Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition, which is a half step down at 30 fps from the Gaming Edition Pro that supports 60 fps and 5.1 via optical port, but you guessed it, doesn’t support component or retro consoles.  The PVR 2 Gaming Edition was the capture device of choice as recently as Black Ops 2, but in recent years the quality and options of the Elgato have blown it away.  I’m not about to claim otherwise, so I highly recommend doing as I did and trying these devices before committing (ie: buy from a store, not online), but for my setup and my needs it is by far the best with some major caveats.  Since all of the video capturing, processing, and output is handled by the box you can use older hardware with it.  Hauppauge recommends 2.0 ghz dual core with at least 2 GB of RAM, but frankly I’ve read online about people using 1.5 ghz dual cores and even 3.4 ghz single cores without much issue (I tried it on a super old laptop I had that was 1.3 ghz dual core and 1 GB of RAM, and it worked but not too well).  On the other hand, my Computer 2 (laptop), that just skirted by at minimum spec handles this like a dream.  I can capture really anything and at this point have zero concerns about audio sync, capture quality, stream quality, etc. and that peace of mind is priceless to me.  Now, this all comes with some acceptances you need to make first.  On the forefront of those problems is that the Hauppauge software is quite rough, does require the SP1 and 4.0 NetFrame to work, and if you don’t have it all installed at first will fail on your first installation (just install a second time and it’ll work fine after that).  Also the software itself is so GUI and user friendly that it’s almost a disservice to the custom user because very little can be adjusted or tweaked.  Basically it’s true plug-and-play: open the software, pick the video/audio source, add the microphone if need be, choose record or stream, and go.  There’s even a massive black button on the top to start/stop recording from the box if you don’t want to deal with the computer part.  This box only allows you to capture at 13 mbps, which is more than twice what YouTube can handle but some still swear that if you capture/render in 22 mbps or higher it looks better on YouTube, not my experience with the Elgato or ShadowPlay (which can capture at up to 50 mbps).  For the record, YouTube compresses this stuff heavily and never has a higher stream than 6 mbps and it rarely gets that high.  You also can’t stream and record (at least as far as I can tell) so if you stream and want to keep it you have to stream to Twitch (at, say, 720p) and then pray that when you export it to YouTube or download it back from Twitch that it keeps the resolution because that’s the only way to get your hands on it.  It’s also so precise at capturing video that I thought there was an audio lag issue with Final Fight on my 360, but it turns out that lag was from the game and I was noticing it on the capture card (it was a test recording), so kudos to that and I have had no audio sync or even mic sync issues at this point.  On the other hand, the streams I take are MPEG-2 .ts files and if you try to convert to .mp4 within the provided software, there will be an audio lag issue.  On the net most suggest to use a 3rd party converter like Handbrake (which is free and works well but takes a long time to convert) and luckily Sony Video Suite 13 has no issues working with .ts (all HD captures in the Primal Rage video came from the Hauppauge), but keep that in mind if you go this route.  The fact that it works with my laptop, records/streams with ease, and just plain works allows me to forgive the lack of high end quality, lack of record and stream simultaneously options, and of course this thing needs a lot of cords (power, USB, and HDMI) and a bit of space (box is just above palm size).  It also has a composite/S-video dongle that’s $15 on the Hauppauge web site, but you can also hook composite into the component area (yellow into blue on this particular box) and it works just fine.  It’s the most expensive and kinda dated, but for my needs the Hauppauge rains supreme.

Example videos:

Other Devices

PS4 and Xbox One: Both of these have built in streaming, which is great but my few issues and why I generally don’t like using the included capture solutions are limited 15 minute recordings and a compromise while streaming of either real estate on the screen or not being able to see the chat via the console.  Oh, and there’s also like a 30-60 second delay from when it’s typed into chat to when it shows on screen, which usually defeats the purpose because the comment is no longer relevant.  I also hate that the video on my screen is 1080p, streams in 720p, and often gets converted by YouTube when I export to 480p (according to Twitch and YouTube this is a process that happens on the back end and there’s no getting around it).  Then again, these are free solutions.

Nvidia ShadowPlay:  When it was first in beta I wasn’t a big fan, but now that it’s in later revisions, has desktop capture, and I have a 970, I love this software.  It can capture or stream with literally the push of a button, I can add my mic, and there’s no lag anywhere.  Also the quality is by far the best I’ve ever seen for both capture and stream and the desktop display allows me to grab items like Hearthstone or Strife that I used to not be able to.  The down side is that even with a GTX 760, a decent mid-range card, I had issues with performance drop on most games when I used it.  Thankfully with the 970 I’ve had little issue, but that’s some steeply priced hardware so I feel it better work well.  Anyway, for the PC Elitist, it’s a decent option.

Keep in mind that when you check out my YouTube, I’ve used all combinations of these devices to capture, but you can easily get by with just one or two.  This is meant to be a buyers guide and less of a formal review.  What has been your experience?  Let us know in the comments below.

Written by Fred Rojas

December 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Posted in Blog

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Talking Ports: Ghouls’N Ghosts on the Master System

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gng

I really wanted to write a article on this port but rather than doing an actual review I thought it may be more interesting just to discuss what this game does differently from the arcade version it is based on.

Several ports of Ghouls’N Ghosts came out from the microcomputers like the ZX Spectrum all the way to the consoles like the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis). For the time it was practically released on everything except Nintendo consoles – yep, look it up, this particular game has never graced a Nintendo console. One port that certainly deserved recognition is the attempt made on the Sega Master System.

gng_smsWhen you boot up the Master System version of Ghouls’N Ghosts you are greeted to the familiar soundtrack from the original version in cute Master System form. Pretty much any soundtrack that is successfully converted on the Master System brings a smile to my face.  This port really is one you have to try not judge by its cover. The box art for Master System version looks like some young persons fan art doodled on the typical Master System grid paper background, saying it it is still better than any box art I could come up with. Put this next to the far superior Mega Drive box art and you would be forgiven for choosing the later to take home. Saying that I do have a lot of nostalgia for the awful Master System box art, its so bad its brilliant.

Just like most ports of the game this does include all 5 levels from the arcade version. All the boss fights are also included. The graphics take a massive 8 – bit hit to them and character animations are not as smooth. Unlike the Arcade each level is split into two sections and the boss fights are also fought in a separate room as well to accommodate for the Master Systems limited processing power. There are less enemies on screen which you would think would make the game easier but you’ll find your constantly dealing with enemy threats as you venture through each level. Sure it looks pretty poor (like the box art) compared to other versions but its very impressive that the developers managed to cram the entire game into this little cartridge.

Ghouls'N Ghosts on Sega Master System

Ghouls’N Ghosts on Sega Master System

Ghouls'N Ghosts on Arcade

Ghouls’N Ghosts on Arcade

This particular port truly feels unique and different from any other version of the game. The main draw here is you can permanently upgrade Arthur’s abilities. When you open a chest during gameplay you will often get the evil magician guy who turns you into a duck or a old man. However, once in a blue moon you will get a door instead, entering the room will present you with three upgrade options (though there are actually four abilities to upgrade). You only get one choice each time the door appears but the effects are permanent even if you have to continue to game after loosing all your lives. Upgrading your Helmet will give you a new magic spell which can then be selected in the pause menu. Of Course this being the Master System your expected to get off your backside and walk over to the console to press the pause button. You start with lightening and fire spells but soon unlock shield which is probably the most helpful spell in the game as it makes Arthur temporarily invincible (this feels similar to the game Psychic World also on Master System).

gng_sms_shopUpgrading your shoes makes Arthur walk quicker and jump further which seems essential in the second level of this game when you need to jump across very distance platforms. When I started playing the game Arthur’s movement and jump are so slow I thought there was something wrong with the port. Once you start upgrading the guy zips around a lot more smoothly, probably on par with the arcade port. Upgrading the Armour upgrades your hit points and changes the colour of Arthurs armour it goes Silver, Red, Green then of course Gold. Upgrading to Gold will give you 4 additional health points making the game significantly easier,. You don’t get stripped down to your undies after one hit like other ports of the game. You can upgrade your weapon which essentially cycles through the weapons available in the arcade version like the dagger and the axe. This upgrade can actually be a bad thing as weapons like the axe throw in a arc making some enemies harder to hit when compared to the far more useful javelin. Once you upgrade your weapon you can not go backwards. Fortunately the final weapon upgrade which is the spell required to defeat the final boss is very useful and works just like the javelin.

gng_2Just like the arcade you still have to finish the game twice through to get to the final boss. Unlike the other games this is where the Master System has a glaring problem. You are expected to fully upgrade all your armour and weapons and then get the final weapon. Upgrading is very rare in the game and it is not uncommon to finish a entire level without upgrading anything, when you have to upgrade each ability three times each this can be quite a chore. If you reach the final level on your second playthrough and still haven’t upgraded everything you will literally repeat the final level over and over again until you do. I literally played the last level about six times before I finally got every upgrade making for a ridiculously tedious experience. I probably would have found it more enjoyable just to play through the entire game again a third time with the new upgrades. What I found hilarious is once you finally make it to the final boss encounter, Arthur is so overly powerful the boss is a complete white wash. He is literally easier than the boss in the first level and stands no chance.  The Master System port is by no means perfect but it is a ton of fun to play especially if your a fan of the system. The ports legacy did inspire some design choices in the SNES game Super Ghouls’N Ghosts where a shield can give you more than one hit point.

At the end of the day the question remains: is the Master System port worth playing?
Answer: Absolutely, yes the game has graphical flaws and works with hardware limitations. But this is a great example of developers using such hardware restrictions and building on the game creating a unique experience that stands proudly on its own.

Did you know we did an entire episode dedicated to the Ghouls’N Ghost franchise?  You can find it here.

Written by jamalais

December 22, 2014 at 11:22 am

Posted in Blog, Master System

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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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header

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

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