Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Sizzle Reel

In the interim between blog posts, I've been working on a mod for another joystick in my collection. A word to the wise, from the not-so-wise... soldering irons are heavy duty equipment, and can give you serious burns if you're careless. I've still got a red mark on my middle finger from where the iron touched it. Also, if you're going to work with joysticks, my best advice to you would be to get a wire crimper and easy connect terminals. Not only is there significantly less chance of you burning yourself, you can easily swap wires if you've connected them to the wrong buttons, saving yourself lots of time and frustration.

Without further delay, here's the fruit of my labor.

There are two benefits to this mod. The first is that the buttons are no longer in those weird Playstation-branded colors. Red, green, yellow, and blue (used on the Dreamcast, Super Famicom, and Xbox 360) tell you a lot about what each button does. All vermilion, seafoam, lavender, and fuchsia tell me is that there's a designer at Sony with really bad taste.

That's just window dressing, though. What's most important about this mod is that the new buttons are crisper and more responsive than the ones installed by default. The standard issue buttons have a rubber pad on the underside which strikes a circuit board when they're pushed down. The replacements have an integrated switch, so you don't get that awful, mushy feel that buttons on mid-range joysticks (read: nearly all of Hori's) typically have.

I'm not totally finished with this joystick, by the way. I need to grease the stick to make it move more smoothly (with the right lubricant; not petroleum jelly that can break down the plastics or "personal" lubricant that would rust the metal) and probably swap out the microswitches. So far, though, this Hori is off to a good start, and far lighter and more compact than the one I built myself a couple of weeks ago.

Okay, enough self-indulgence. I wanted to mention two things before I go. Firstly, the Nintendo Badge Arcade that I complained so bitterly about two years ago has been retired. It won't vanish completely, but if you're hoping for new badges or commentary from the badge bunny (and really, who wants that?), you're out of luck. However, if you haven't collected all 8,800 badges, you can log in every day for two free plays, plus whatever freebies you can shake out of the practice badge catcher.

Next thing. Sega Forever, the collection of classic Sega games available on Android for a couple of dollars a pop, kind of sucks ass. You'll find more details on Retronauts, but the Cliff Notes is that the emulation is rotten in 80% of the launch titles. Evidently Sega tried to weasel the exclusive rights to the RetroArch emulator out of the people who designed it, because open source software is still a foreign concept to corporations. Failing that, Sega went with sloppy seconds, and the players were stuck with... well, slop. Only Christian Whitehead's ambitious port/enhancement of Sonic the Hedgehog is worth your time... don't bother with the rest. Can I suggest M2's Genesis and arcade ports on the 3DS instead?

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Post-E3 News Grab Bag

Between E3 and a few unrelated surprises, there's way, waaaay too much stuff to report this week. I'll do my best, though.

Keith, shown with his famous progeny.
(image from NeoGAF)
* Keith Robinson, the founder of Intellivision Productions, recently died after a protracted battle with heart disease. I'm not going to pretend that I knew the guy personally, but what I can tell you is that he was deeply appreciated by everyone who met him, typically at classic game conventions where he was treated like a superstar. After all, he was the guy who kept the Intellivision brand alive long after the system left store shelves. Robinson was also a cartoonist, with the characters from his long-running Making It series appearing in Normy's Beach Babe-O-Rama for the Sega Genesis. You'll find more about Keith in this heartfelt obituary on The Retroist.

* Konami's back to its cartoonish supervillain ways, making life miserable for former employees trying to land jobs with other game developers. It's gone so far as to use its connections in the health care industry to deny insurance to members of Kojima Productions, founded by Metal Gear Solid creator Hideo Kojima. You'd think that the future job prospects of Konami's former game designers wouldn't matter all that much to a company which has distanced itself from the video game industry. Of course, you'd be giving too much credit to Konami CEO and fetid pile of human garbage Kagemasu Kozuki, whose obsessive need to settle old scores is more important than his company's already damaged reputation, or a sense of fair play, or basic decency...

* Lots of nifty stuff was announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo this year, including an Atari 2600 clone with HDMI output, two sequels to the long-neglected Metroid series, and a remake of Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga with bonus content. The new Metroid game for the 3DS has got my attention, because it gives bounty hunter Samus Aran the ability to swat nearby enemies with her gun arm, complete with a dramatic slow motion shot of the impact. I never thought melee attacks would make much sense in a Metroid game, but early footage of Samus Returns suggests that it will add both depth and excitement to the combat.

Inexplicably, Iron Man now sounds like
comedian Greg Proops.
(image from PvP Live)
* I played the demo of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, and I'm cautiously optimistic. The series has returned to the two punches/two kicks control scheme of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, which in my opinion is a big improvement over the three ambiguous attacks used in Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. The graphics are also sharp and vivid, demonstrating a marked improvement over UMvC3. It's still got a ways to go before its visuals can measure up to NetherRealm's Injustice 2, but at least the contrast is higher, helping the characters stand out better against the backgrounds. On the down side, the character dialog is, to put it kindly, horrendous, and I'm not really grooving with the return of the Infinity Stones, first introduced in Marvel Super Heroes over twenty years ago. Does anyone use these? Did anyone ask for these? My best guess is that they're here to promote Marvel's upcoming superhero films, so I guess you're stuck with them whether you want them or not. Same goes for Sigma, who's merged with Marvel nemesis Ultron to become twice the overpowered douchebag he was in the past.

* On a personal note, that joystick I was making works now! I'll discuss that in detail in a future post, but I've been pretty happy with it now that I've got bolts which tightly hold the stick in place. I still need to find a way to make this controller more presentable, though, because in its current condition this thing is just shy of fugly. More news as it happens, folks.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Drill's the Thrill

GEEZ, Microsoft. The character Robot 1-X from Futurama was supposed to be a satire of incremental product updates announced with absurd hyperbole, not a how-to guide! Anyway, the Xbox One X is the new name for Microsoft's Project Scorpio, and it will be released sometime this year at the price of who gives a damn. Really, console manufacturers, you can't give us five years between systems anymore? Just five years. It's not an unreasonable request.

Enough of that crap. I finally made some headway on that homemade joystick I wanted to make, picking up a handful of power tools at Harbor Freight and drilling all the holes I needed to mount the stick and buttons. Here's a quick look at what I've got so far... it's not even slightly presentable in its current condition, but it's a good start.

Some notes on the stick-making experience. One, this is the first time I've ever stepped foot into a Harbor Freight, and I have to say, I kind of dig it. It's basically a hardware store, except the tools are at shockingly low prices. Some would say they were of shockingly low quality as well, but I haven't had any major complaints about my twenty dollar drill so far. Expert craftsmen who know better probably shop elsewhere, but for a noob like me, Harbor Freight is just dandy.

Two, drilling is a long, tedious process, if you haven't already realized this from playing Mr. Driller. However, don't let your impatience lead to reckless behavior! There was more than one instance where I had to remind myself to unplug the drill before cleaning the debris out of the hole saw on the end. For those of you who don't know, a hole saw is a metal cylinder lined with teeth, and it doesn't much care if it's cutting through wood or your fingers. Ignore your inner dumbass... take your time, and take every precaution.

(Also, here are a few tips I got from H454, a member of the AtariAge forum. Wrap the top of whatever you're drilling with painter's tape to keep it from splintering, and work up from small bits to larger ones to increase the odds of a clean cut. There's a futuristic-looking tool called a step bit that's perfect for this, and it should relieve some of the tedium of swapping out bits.)

Three, the wooden box I used for this project looked like a quality product on the outside, but sinking a drill into it revealed the ugly truth. And oh yeah, a lot of cheap, splintery plywood. If you have the resources and the knowledge, you're much better off building your own box... it'll be a lot sturdier, and the contents won't be a mystery.

Okay, now onto the mostly finished product! The stick works all right so far... I'm quite happy with the Happ Competitions I used as action buttons, but the joystick needs work. I tested it out with a few arcade favorites, and while it's just fine for Pac-Man, its performance in fighting games like Street Fighter Alpha 2 is dubious. I'm having the same problems pulling off dragon punches that I did with the Hori Fighting Stick 3... to get them to come out at all, I have to punch in 636, rather than 623 as would be natural. (If you're wondering what the hell that means, look at your computer's numeric keypad.)

I'll probably have to replace the stick with something more expensive, like a Sanwa, to get the sharp response I crave. Actually, there are several things I'd like to do with this joystick, like add longer wires to the encoder and a clasp on the front of the box to keep it shut, but this is a good start. Hell, the fact that I was able to get through this with all ten digits is pretty encouraging.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Back Words

Expecting backward compatibility on the Playstation 4? Don't hold your breath for it. Here's a quote from Sony head of global sales and also up his own ass Jim Ryan, taken from the Destructoid game blog.

"When we've dabbled with backwards compatibility, I can say it is one of those features that is much requested, but not actually used much. That, and I was at a Gran Turismo event recently where they had PS1, PS2, PS3 and PS4 games, and the PS1 and the PS2 games, they looked ancient, like why would anybody play this?"

Oh, so I guess we're back to the shortsighted and insufferably arrogant Sony of 2006. Just like old times!

First, releasing a small handful of PS2 games for the PS4 is "dabbling in backward compatibility" in the same way reading a Twitter post from Neil Degrasse Tyson is "dabbling in astrophysics." Second, the PS4 is already home to dozens of (typically overpriced) arcade titles from the early 1980s... games like Crazy Climber and Elevator Action that make even the original Playstation seem as cutting edge as Data from Star Trek. 

Third, Microsoft didn't seem to have any hangups about backward compatibility after it jettisoned the woefully inept president of its interactive division and worked hard to repair the damage he did to the company. Its own Xbox One has had backward compatibility with the Xbox 360 for two years, and there's been talk that it may extend to the original Xbox in the future.

Fourth, all this is ignoring the fact that games for the first Playstation are already being sold for other Sony platforms. PSOne titles can be played on the Playstation 2, Playstation 3, PSP, Vita, and Playstation TV. Sony doesn't seem to have a problem with profiting from these "ancient" games on its other systems, so why is the Playstation 4 the odd man out? Furthermore, why is a Sony representative talking smack about important milestones in the history of this hobby, and the games that built the foundation for the Playstation's current industry dominance? 

Hell, if this is the kind of stupid shit he's going to say, maybe Jim Ryan shouldn't be talking at all.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Hot 'n Sticky

Welcome back my friends, to the blog that never updates.

While not panting at the steadily rising temperature (99 degrees on Tuesday?! Oy vey!), I've been planning the design for my homemade arcade joystick. All the parts have been ordered, and the button layout has been printed out on card stock. Here's how that looks.

Let me guide you through this design. The joystick is fed through the hole on the left hand side... this is just wide enough to afford smooth movement while being small enough to be hidden by the plastic dust cover on the joystick's base. Moving on, we've got eight buttons arranged in the Taito Vewlix format. I considered some of the other layouts on the Slagcoin web site, but I found them too close to Hori's double rainbow of sadness for my comfort.

See? Even he's not happy about it.
I spread the buttons out a little bit, in the hopes of making them fit comfortably next to each other. Hopefully they won't be spread so far apart that my fingers have to travel to another zip code to reach them.

The four action buttons are set in the center and line up with their Dual Shock and Xbox 360 counterparts. However, I've elected to set the left shoulder buttons over the right ones. It's the layout used by the replica Saturn joypad by SLS, and it should be a better fit for the Playstation TV, which has only one L and one R button.

Up top, we have the menu keys. I ordered Happ Competition Convex buttons with light touch micro switches for the punches and kicks, but I'll be using smaller, less sensitive keys for start, select, and the like. Home gets its own small, slightly recessed metal button, ensuring that it's only pressed when I damn well want it to be. (Players have been disqualified from fighting game tournaments after touching the home key by mistake. I don't think I'm in any danger of attending one of these, but just in case...!) It also has a glowing ring in the center, which should look pretty cool if I get the wiring right.

If all goes well, this arcade stick should be compatible with all the systems I'm currently using, although an adapter will be necessary for a few of them. And if this stick is indeed a success, it probably won't be the last one I make. A joystick that works perfectly for fighters may not be a good fit for, say, Pac-Man. Beyond that, it'll keep me entertained during the long, boring summer months. (Yes, that's what the video games are supposed to be for, but I've got to play them with something.)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hey, Everybody's Doing It!

That explains everything! The president isn't Donald Trump at all... it's really an Apple IIe that's gained semi-sentience after being left on for thirty-five years! No wonder the tweets never make any sense!

Why yes, this IS filler I'm posting because I don't have anything to say about video games at the moment. Hopefully June will be more exciting. Hey, E3's coming up soon... it's almost gotta be.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

IP Not-So-Freely

Heads up, folks! If you've got a 3DS (Old or New; it doesn't matter), there's a new hack called Boot9Strap that will let you install and run homebrew apps straight from the main menu. It'll take you about an hour to go through all the steps and the results aren't guaranteed, but I put the hack on my Old 3DS this afternoon, and it worked like a charm for me. You'll find the instructions here if you're interested.

It's a good day to be a 3DS owner, but alas, ColecoVision fans aren't so lucky. The current holder of the Coleco brand, one Chris Cardillo, is making life miserable for hobbyist game designers, threatening them with cease and desist notices while publicly claiming that he supports their work. You can read more about this mess on AtariAge, but the impression I'm getting is that Mr. Cardillo wants to sell licenses to produce software for a console that's been dead for (looks at watch) uh, thirty two years. It's like trying to put the genie back in the bottle, after it's been cremated and the ashes have been scattered to the sea.

Cardillo probably has no legal way to force ColecoVision game designers to accept a licensing agreement with his company, Coleco Holdings LLC. Sure, the ColecoVision brand is his, but the system is another story... if the glut of NES clones on the market are any indication, the patents on the hardware have long expired. Most likely, fans of the ColecoVision will continue to design games for the long-dead console independently, albeit with legal disclaimers on their title screens... and no shortage of contempt for the man who made them necessary.