Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Coming to a Scalper Near You!

Well, it's official. Nintendo is making a Super NES version of its extremely popular, and just as extremely under-supplied, Classic game console. Here's an image of the box, straight from Nintendo's web site...


And here are all the games that will be included, courtesy of Polygon.


But because you're never, ever going to get one, here's a mask so you can pretend to be the hero of the obscure Sega RPG Panzer Dragoon Saga!

Image from Retro Gaming Australia
I'd like to direct you to the caption on the bottom of this advertisement, which was the last middle finger in the face Sega fans needed to switch their allegiance to other console manufacturers.


Gosh, I hope I'm not being too subtle. Nintendo claims that there will be "significantly more" Super NES Classic Edition systems manufactured, but coming from the company that cut supplies of its products to the point where people were willing to risk their lives for them, I'm not optimistic.

In games you can actually buy news, the Playstation Store is having a helluva mid-year sale, with tons and tons of titles you can purchase at a fraction of their original prices. (An even smaller fraction, if you have Playstation Plus!) I'm actually considering the Namco 3-in-1 pack, despite the fact that I've bought Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, and Galaga for countless other systems over the last thirty five years. In my defense, most of the home ports of Ms. Pac-Man were kind of crappy...

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.


Weiner.
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.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Sticky Situation

First, I wanted to mention this just before I jump into the peripheral talk. Sony's got a sale going on right now, with a lot of games by their Santa Monica studio at sharp discounts. This is good. The fact that Carnival Island is one of these games is not. In addition to being one of the most coma-inducingly dull games for the Move, it's also hands down the most patronizing. Successfully toss a skeeball or a ring at a target and a nearby carny responds with "WAY TO GO, KID!," or "THAT WAS AWESOME!," or some other phony platitude that would insult even a member of the game's young target audience. Am I a member of that audience? No. Am I a guy desperate to find some use for his Move, who saw Carnival Island for a decent price and thought virtual skeeball would offer some fleeting entertainment? Yes. Was I entertained? HELL NO. Avoid this awful thing.

Okay, now onto the blood and guts of this post. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the Hori Fighting Stick 3 I purchased last month, so I've decided to build my own arcade-style joystick, using a heavy wooden box and authentic parts from vendors like GroovyGameGear (note: not a handheld system Shaggy plays between mysteries). I've gotten some fantastic advice from YouTube and AtariAge, along with some examples of what not to do when building a stick. Observe some of these horrors culled from a Google Image Search, and try not to scream.


This DIY disaster comes from Imgur. Lord, I hope this is just a prototype. I appreciate trying to save money on a case, but there are limits. If you don't have a drill, swallow your pride and borrow one from a friend. Don't break out the steak knife and improvise.


From the web site Walyou and possibly your nightmares: an arcade fightstick forcibly married to a typewriter. Hey, it's not like you're going to find any other use for them these days.


Here's one from Kotaku (sorry in advance). Did you know that Nintendo of America president Reginald Fils-Aime used to be a marketing specialist at Pizza Hut, spearheading the launch of the Bigfoot and Big New Yorker? Even he wouldn't approve of this.


This gem came from Imgur, and possibly the estate of Salvador Dali. I learned this the hard way with my spinner... don't make a peripheral with Tupperware. Just don't do it. It ends in tears.


So I guess you weren't too attached to that Nintendo Entertainment System, huh? Special, uh, thanks to Pinterest for this one.


From the "conceptual nightmare" department comes the Michael McDonald fight stick. It's a real conversation starter, if you want every one of your conversations to start with "what the hell were you thinking?" This came from Imgur and Gouki, who'd clobber McDonald in a street fight but wouldn't stand much of a chance against him in a karaoke competition.


Go ahead, get a nice tight grip on this shaft. Ron's waiting for your... input. Another joystick unwittingly endorsed by a celebrity, brought to you by the fine folks at Imgur.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Cats and Dogs, Living Together: The Mayflash Universal Adapter

I know, I know... peripherals are all I ever talk about these days. But I swear, this is important! That Mayflash Universal Adapter I bought last week is finally functional. It took a lot of soldering and even more swearing, but I installed a USB cable to replace the one that had shorted out. It was a Mickey Mouse job, and I don't know how long it'll last even with hot glue keeping the wires secure, but at least it works. For now. (Why yes, the death of my spinner has taken a wrecking ball to my confidence as a craftsman! Thanks for noticing!)


Frustratingly elusive, but practically
necessary for Playstation TV owners
running HENkaku.
Anyway, let's talk about this adapter's performance. As was reported on Reddit, it does indeed work with the Playstation TV. However, it requires a bit of effort to get going, especially if you've got your system hacked. There's only one USB port on that system, so you'll have to plug in a hub to use both the adapter and a flash drive (not technically necessary, but a lot more cost-effective than Sony's Vita memory cards). After that, you'll need to enter the home menu and assign the adapter to port one. It's more work (and wires) than I'd prefer, but it's hard to argue with the results. Emulators like PFBA and official games like the PSP port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 work marvelously with the Mayflash adapter. If you've got a compatible arcade stick, or the Saturn controller Sega released for the Playstation 2 twelve years ago, you'll be quite happy.


Beats buying the Xbox 360 version
of the game and starting from
the beginning, I guess.

(image from YouTube)
As handy as that feature may be, it's just a fortunate coincidence that the Mayflash Universal Adapter works with the Playstation TV. It was actually designed to let you use Xbox 360 controllers on a Playstation 3 and vice versa, and it works quite well for that purpose. It's extremely handy for racing games on the PS3, because I've never found the slippery right shoulder button on the Dual Shock 3 to work all that well as a gas pedal. The Xbox 360 pad's curved triggers keep your finger on the accelerator, letting you concentrate on drifting around corners and nailing opponents with shunts in Blur. The game is perfectly playable with the PS3's stock pad, but why not use a better controller if you've got that option?

Just in way of warning, the Mayflash Universal Adapter won't work with every controller in your collection. The Hori Fighting Stick 3 is a prime example... the adapter makes a valiant effort to recognize input from this notoriously picky stick, but it's slow to respond to button presses, if it notices them at all. This was the case on every console I tested it with, including the PSTV, Xbox 360, and PC. The two ports on the Mayflash- one for USB and the other for the Playstation 2- give you some room to experiment with unusual controllers, but don't expect everything you throw at the adapter to work.

There are better controller converters than the Mayflash Universal Adapter, and certainly cheaper ones. However, there aren't many that are this versatile, and almost none that function with the Playstation TV in particular. If you're still using yours and need a better controller for its wealth of fighting games, you may not have any other options.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

On the Right Track

So hey, that trackball arrived! That's him on the right, next to the joystick with a kazillion buttons.


It's a lot smaller than I was hoping, and clearly designed for the less strenuous task of home office work. However, the Kensington Orbit works reasonably well as an arcade controller, pinch hitting for my broken spinner in games like Block Block and performing well beyond expectations in Atari's Star Wars. Intercepting those pesky fireballs is a breeze when you can just roll your crosshairs over them.

Some games that didn't work well with the Orbit include SegaSonic the Hedgehog, Major Havoc, and Space Harrier. SegaSonic is no big loss; it kind of sucks anyway, as nice as it looks. Major Havoc tends to be a little finicky with any controller you throw at it, and I never cared for the floaty, auto-centering movement in the arcade and later console versions of Space Harrier. Say what you will about the Game Boy Advance version of this game in Sega Arcade Gallery, but at least you're not constantly being dragged to the middle of the screen!

Trust me, it's better
than it looks.
So it's a net plus for the Orbit so far, but what really makes the trackball shine is the Atari release Quantum. This game typically gets ignored in favor of that other arcade title with trackball controls and a subatomic theme, Reactor, but don't believe the hype! Quantum is way better, challenging players to draw circles around floating particles to destroy them. It feels like an ancestor of the touchscreen-based games of today, and it's honestly perplexing that Atari hasn't capitalized on this with a remake. I'll be reviewing Quantum in the future, but in the meantime, get yourself a trackball and give it a spin. (The trackball and the game, I mean.) I think you'll be impressed.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Rise of the Machines

The robot revolution predicted in the Terminator films and Futurama has arrived. And I've become the target of its first assault on humanity.

First, I ordered a Mayflash adapter online, only to receive a baby stroller cover instead. Then, the spinner that I spent hours building craps out on me. Now, the second Mayflash adapter I ordered to replace the one I never received won't work. Evidently a kinked cable is to blame... I can force it to turn on by bending it in just the right place, but only briefly. A closer examination with a multimeter suggests that ALL the wires in the cable are shorted out, but if I attempt a repair, I obviously can't send it back to the eBay seller. If I DON'T attempt a repair, I'll have to spend five dollars to send it back, and I'll have to order another one, which will take another week to arrive and oh god I hate my life.

I recently ordered a trackball, but I've got an uncomfortable feeling that it's somehow going to spite me as well. Maybe the damned thing will leap out of the box and strangle me to death with its USB cable. That's the way this month has been going for me, and we're just two days into it.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Out with the New, in with the New

I hope you're holding onto something! Despite some initial reluctance, demand from gamers around the world has persuaded Nintendo to make... a new model of the 2DS.


What?!
...
What?!

No, seriously. There's going to be a New 2DS XL which straddles the fence between the child-friendly original and the more advanced model of the 3DS currently in stores. It's got the clamshell design and all the hardware perks of the New 3DS... the faster processor, the increased memory, that sad excuse for a second analog joystick, yadda yadda yadda. 

However, Nintendo has given the New 2DS XL a more damage-resistant design, and removed the 3D display that had once defined the hardware. Even adults don't use that feature much, so the kids this system was designed for probably won't miss it at all. The New 2DS XL will make its American debut in late July for around $150. You can check it out in all its rubberized glory below.

image from Go Nintendo
It seems the rumored (and frankly, more appealing) Switch Mini will have to wait for another couple of years. Pity.

Off that subject, I picked up the Playstation 3 version of Blur at a pawn shop a few weeks ago. You might remember that one from the commercials, which mocked the beloved Mario Kart series and paid dearly for it in sales when it was finally released. Those ads left a bad taste in my mouth, but the game itself is pretty amazing, a flashy hybrid of the aforementioned Mario Kart and Need for Speed Underground. It's easily the best of the arcade-style racers released in the early 2010s, with the active combat Split/Second and Ridge Racer Unbounded were sorely lacking. I lucked out and got my copy for two dollars, but it's easily worth ten, maybe more if you really like your kart combat.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Misfire

You'll forgive me if I'm a little saltier (even saltier?) than usual today. I ordered this from a retailer on Amazon, hoping to use my Saturn pad with my Playstation TV, and my recently acquired Hori Fighting Stick on anything but the Playstation 3.


What I purchased was a Mayflash controller adapter. What I got in the mail a week later was, uh, this.



It was an easy mistake to make, right? I mean, it's not like you can tell the difference between a baby stroller cover and a video game peripheral at a glance! Ugh.

To their credit, Bleech- er, Blinq- refunded my purchase and let me keep the thing I never asked for and didn't want in the first place. Maybe in a few years I'll be able to look back at this cruel cosmic joke and laugh. Right now, though, it's hard for me to appreciate the humor in this situation.

It's not just that it's a stone cold bitch to find one of these Mayflash adapters at a reasonable price. It's that the Playstation TV refuses to work with practically everything else. There was a list of wired controllers and adapters on Reddit which work properly with the PSTV... you could count them all on one hand, with one finger left to express your frustration with the micro console's extreme pickiness.

Adding to the frustration is the fact that while there are dozens of hacks available for both the Vita and PSTV, nobody's tried to broaden the latter system's compatibility with wired controllers. Sure, you can wirelessly connect a Wiimote, but that's not going to be much help in a game like Street Fighter Alpha 3 MAX. What I need is a controller designed especially for the dozens of fighting games on the Playstation TV. Considering all that's happened in the past couple of weeks, I'm not confident I'll ever find one.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ball Breaker

A typical arcade trackball.
(image from Arcade
Classics)
I really need to get off this weird controllers kick. First it was the spinner, then it was Sony and Microsoft's respective motion controllers, then it was the arcade joystick, and now it's a trackball. For those of you not familiar, the trackball is a pointing device that was popular in the early 1980s. You roll a billiard-sized ball with flicks of your wrist, moving a crosshair (or subatomic steamroller, or cuddly gem-hoarding wildlife, or what have you) across the screen. 

The beauty of the trackball is that it's not only exciting to use, it's uncannily accurate too. Give it a hard spin and your sprite zips to the opposite end of the screen. Gently nudge it with your thumb and your character moves a couple of pixels. You don't see the trackball too much anymore, but it does resurface from time to time in arcade sports titles like Capcom Bowling and Golden Tee Golf. It just feels right to control your ball in those games with, well, another ball.


She makes it look easy.
Trust me, it's not.
(image from Pinterest)
What's frustrating about the trackball is that, like the spinner, it's not readily available to consumers. Sure, you see computer trackballs in stores, but they're too small for frantic twitch gaming, and they're not exactly easy on the wallet. You can get a proper arcade trackball from online retailers, but those are even more expensive, and don't work with computers by default... you'll have to shell out even more money for an adapter.

So the only remaining option for the penny-pinching gamer is to build a trackball from scratch. It can't be too hard, right? You just suspend a ball over a mouse laser, wire up a few buttons, and you're done. Ah, but you have to find a way to make the ball spin freely, and that's when things get tricky. One hacker found a cost-efficient way to do this, but using the applicator from a bottle of Ban deodorant is a little too low-rent for my tastes. After all, a man's got to have his dignity. You know, when he's prancing around as a cast-off Care Bear.



Hey, shut up. It was a good game!
(image from Amazon)
The ball bearing,
the source of all
that is spinny.
(image from Pinterest)
The only way to do this right is to bring ball bearings into the picture. Bearings give you the frictionless spin you need for smooth gameplay and an authentic arcade experience, but once again (SIGH...) they're not readily available, and they're not cheap. You need five of them to build a trackball, PLUS shafts and rollers for each axis, PLUS a specially designed case to hold the bearings in place, PLUS... a Tylenol for my sudden splitting headache. The bearings, shafts, and rollers alone will cost you forty dollars from an arcade parts dealer. You can save money by getting your bearings from other sources, but they're not really designed for this purpose, and hell if I know where else I can get the shafts and rollers.

I'm pretty sure I can make this trackball myself. It's just going to take time, patience, and research. And most likely, a few tufts of torn out hair.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Thank you, Easter Bunny!

No, not you. You suck.

I'm actually referring to The Flow, who just released an update to Adrenaline. This homebrew app greatly expands the Vita's compatibility with its ancestor the PSP, while adding features that enhance the overall experience. The latest version of Adrenaline offers save states (handy for ball busters like the Prinny games) and support for the PSOne's immense software library. That's fantastic news, because there are plenty of titles for Sony's first game system which will probably never make an appearance on the Playstation Store. It's even better for Playstation TV owners... thanks to a previous hack, they'll be able to cram dozens of these games on a flash drive, rather than having to pay big bucks for Vita memory cards.

It takes some work to install Adrenaline, and you'll of course need the 3.60 firmware on your system, but trust me, it's worth the hassle. If you're interested, you can download Adrenaline from the GBAtemp web site... they'll even help you install it if you ask nicely!


All right, what else? That fight stick I mentioned in a previous post arrived this afternoon, and I spent a couple of hours giving it a test drive. I didn't pay much for this so I really can't complain, but if you're thinking of buying one of these for yourself, know this: the Hori Fighting Stick 3 works ONLY with the Playstation 3, along with a handful of Playstation 4 games. Other systems either won't recognize it, or will grudgingly acknowledge its existence while ignoring all input from the controller.

There's another thing I feel compelled to mention. This stick works pretty well for basic movement and most special attacks, but has an annoying habit of whiffing anti-air attacks and supers. This is more of a problem in Capcom's games than SNK's... I finished King of Fighters '99 with a single credit, whipping out Iori's flame spiral and King's trap shot on a whim, but was completely hopeless with Ken in Marvel vs. Capcom 2. Shoryukens are about all he does well in that game... without them, he's a big red punching bag. The PSOne port of Street Fighter Alpha 3 fared better, but changing the command setting to "long" probably helped sharpen the game's reactions to my input. Not every versus fighter has this option, as was painfully evident in Capcom vs. SNK 2.

I've got a few other nits to pick with this stick- the weird button layout and no real place to set my left wrist immediately come to mind- but it nevertheless gave me a taste of the arcade experience I'd been craving for so long. I had a blast hammering buttons and frantically dodging bullets in Xevious, suggesting that the Fighting Stick 3 will get plenty of use. (Just not necessarily with fighting games.)

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Craving...

Long time no blog, folks. Hopefully in a couple of days when I have the house all to myself, I'll be posting a lot more.

Anyway! First things first... I wanted to let you all know that I picked up the two Kinect Sports games for the Xbox 360, and that I've been having a ball with bowling in particular. It's my favorite of the motion-controlled versions of the sport, because it just feels more like the real thing than the simulations in Wii Sports and Sports Champions 2. The dynamic camera angles (behind the ball! Next to the pins!) and the celebratory music after a strike brings a lot of excitement to a game not usually known for its heart-pounding thrills. The only issue I have is that you need a lot of space to properly use the Kinect; more than I have to spare in this trailer. I could move around (a lot of heavy) furniture to give myself an extra couple of feet, but geez, do I gotta? That wasn't the kind of exercise I had in mind when I bought this thing.

So now I've turned my attention to a different peripheral; one that doesn't require so much lifting. I had a few arcade sticks back in Michigan, and I'm itching to relive that experience. Sure, an ordinary joypad is functional, but it lacks the urgency you get from tightly gripping a stick with one hand while smashing quarter-sized buttons with the other. I miss that feeling. I need it.

The only problem is that arcade sticks are expensive, and the ones I've had in the past have been varying degrees of disappointing. Ask me about the Pelican universal arcade stick which burned out the rumble technology in my Playstation 2, or the Tekken 5 joystick with the sticky square button which didn't work with Namco Museum. That's the part of the arcade stick experience I don't want to relive... the unmet expectations.

I've got an arcade stick coming in the mail which I hope will do in a pinch... the Hori Fighting Stick 3, which was given high marks by IGN but has gotten a mixed reception from dedicated fighting game fans. Maybe it'll be good enough for me. If it's not, I'll have to break out the power tools and build a stick from scratch. It's not an ideal situation, but as the old saying goes, if you want something done right...

Monday, April 3, 2017

Gaming on the Cheap (again!)

It's been a while since I've done this, so here, have a look at some of the discount-priced gaming goodies I've found over the past week.



UBoost
$2.50

Wal-Mart's been eager to drop kick the Wii U out the door, selling its remaining stock of accessories for precipitously low prices. I dragged my feet on the Wii U Pro Controller and lost my chance to take one home, but I did manage to get this battery extender by Nyko. You just screw it into the back of your Wii U gamepad, and it doubles your play time. That's the claim, anyway... I haven't verified that, but for a handful of quarters, I'm willing to take Nyko's word for it. One nice bonus is that it's got a built-in stand for the gamepad, which would have been handy back in 2014 when I was actually using the damned thing. 

Wario Amiibo Figurine
$1.50

I don't collect Amiibo figures... is what I keep telling myself, despite owning four of them. In my defense, this one was just a buck fifty! Besides, I'm sure I could find some use for Wario here. Maybe he'd give me an excuse to dig up my long-neglected copy of Super Smash Bros. Alternately, I could use him as a cake topper, or a rook in an elaborate Nintendo-themed chess set, or to hold down a large stack of papers...

Playstation Sharpshooter
$3.75

If the Move was Sony's answer to the Wiimote, this was their Zapper. It's oversized, harder than necessary to assemble, and dependent on accessories that aren't packaged with it, so it's not surprising that this Wal-Mart stuffed it into the clearance aisle along with all their other crap. On the plus side, you feel a little more like a soldier when you're using it with Time Crisis: Razing Storm. On the down side, you feel pretty stupid when you're frantically spinning it around during the wheel segments in Deadstorm Pirates. Seriously Namco, you couldn't let players steer the ship with the navigation controller? It's right there in the name!



Ocarina of Time
$4.00

Onto the thrift store on the outskirts of Sierra Vista, where I found a ColecoVision and my big screen TV (some assembly required). The management wasn't feeling as generous as usual today, offering a copy of Sonic Rivals for five dollars. Ha ha! No, seriously, what else you got? 

The answer was this beaten up copy of Ocarina of Time for the GameCube. It's riddled with scratches and even has a little bit of the dreaded mysterious brown stuff on the edge of the disc, but it might be worth the trouble of cleaning it if I can get it to work. Hardly a collector's item in this dire condition, but it'd give me something to do with my Cube if I ever get a controller for it.



Resident Evil 4
$1.50

See, this is more like it! I found the well-received Wii version of Resident Evil 4 at the thrift's sister shop, nestled in the heart of the Sierra Vista mall. Generally this store is a purgatory for all the merchandise they couldn't sell online or in the flagship location, so I was a little surprised to find this treat hidden in a sea of Playstation 2 sports titles and workout videos. I was downright tickled when I cracked open the case and found an instruction manual and a nearly spotless disc staring up at me. Best of all, I got it for a buck fifty! Hell, I paid three times that for the bubble tea in the food court.



Xbox 360 Kinect
~ $15.00

I was bitten by the waggle bug after playing Sports Champions 2, and wanted to see how Microsoft's competitor, Kinect Sports, stacked up. Problem is, I didn't have a Kinect, and wasn't inclined to spend a lot of money to satisfy my curiosity about it.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon the peripheral during a visit to the Salvation Army thrift. I wasn't even planning to go to that store... it just happened by chance. It was also by pure luck that this Kinect was offered at a discount, slashing its price from around twenty bucks to fifteen.

So I'm pretty happy with my find. The only problem now is that I don't have anything to play with the Kinect; not even that racing game where you can sit motionless and still finish in third place. Eh, I can always take some amusement from navigating menus like this...


Handspree HF199H
$20



This was the Mac Daddy of all my finds... a monitor with an HDMI port! Do you have any idea how hard it is to find one of these in a thrift store? Sure, there are buttloads of displays with VGA ports, and even a few with DVI connectors, but none of those will work with a Playstation TV. 

However, the Handspree recognizes it right away, which means I can move the PSTV to my bedroom for late night game cravings and reserve the Vizio in the living room for my big boy game systems. I'm not sure I'll ever sleep again with all these distractions around the house, but I'm willing to take that risk!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

We Are the (Sports) Champions

It's been (counts on fingers) ten days since the last update. I better post something here before I run out of fingers...

Anyway! There was a pretty good PSN sale last week, with Sports Champions 2 being offered for just ninety-nine cents. It's hard to resist any game at that price, and it gives me an opportunity to get some use out of that Sailor Moon wand Sony calls a motion controller.

Seriously... bocce ball?
(image from The Average Gamer)
I bought the previous Sports Champions on disc about a month ago, and while I enjoyed it, I couldn't shake the feeling that the designers had tried too hard to distance it from Wii Sports, offering some really out of left field challenges instead of the usual golf, bowling, tennis, and boxing. The quirky selection of events was a little off-putting... I doubt anyone was clamoring to play virtual bocce ball, outside of a few arthritic Italians.

Sports Champions 2 abandons all pretense of originality and offers many of the same games as Wii Sports. The thing is, Sports Champions 2 does them all better. Bowling is just more fun when you feel like you're actually throwing a ball, and when your onscreen character looks like a real person instead of something from the Toys 'R Us clearance bin. The same thing goes for golf... the more life-like courses, complete with spectators gathered near each hole, makes the game feel less sterile than it had on the Wii. Take a look at the image below and compare it to the gameplay from Wii Sports... you'll see what I mean.

See, that's more like it.
(image from Playstation)
There's no baseball in Sports Champions 2, but you get two events that weren't in Wii Sports... archery and skiing. Skiing is a little awkward, with players pulling the controller inward to simulate "pumping" with the ski poles, but it's fairly entertaining once you get used to the control. Archery, one of the events from the first Sports Champions, comes more naturally... you just hold the Move controller behind your back, then aim it at the screen and fire. It's fast-paced and fun, and frankly, it's more welcome here than baseball would have been.

So yeah, I think I got my dollar's worth out of Sports Champions 2. It's more approachable than the first game, and leaves Wii Sports looking really dated by comparison. I never really got a feel for boxing (I suspect you need two Move controllers to get the most out of this one) and some of the settings are a little weird (who puts a bowling alley in a ski resort?), but past that, I'm happy.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Unlikely Return of the Playstation TV

Bronco bustin' banana boats! The Playstation TV has once again been resurrected by hackers, who have ended its dependence on Sony's stupidly expensive Vita memory cards. Now, games can be stored and accessed from an ordinary flash drive, giving you a hell of a lot more bang for your buck. 

To give you an idea of just how good this news really is, a 32GB Vita card costs about $70 online. A flash drive of the same size will set you back ten dollars, or even less if you're a savvy shopper. Past that, a Vita card will only work with Vita products, but a flash drive will fit in any PC you've got lying around the house. This makes adding files to your PSTV a lot easier than it's been in the past.

You'll find more about the hack on this page. There are some conditions, mind you... your PSTV must be on firmware 3.60, and it has to be a PSTV, not a handheld Vita. The hackers don't have a solution for that yet, and aren't confident that they'll find one. Still, if you've got a PSTV that's been gathering dust and a large library of digital games, this is very, very good news. Thanks to Wololo and Hack Informer for the scoop.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Now Brought to You in Giganto-Vision!

You remember that faulty television set I bought at a thrift store about a month ago? I worked up the nerve to order the replacement part last week and installed it today. I didn't have much faith that I would get it working again, but here it is, running like a champ! Hold on, let me show you a picture of this mammoth set in action...


This doesn't give you an idea of just how large this Vizio is, so let me put it next to my 3DS for the sake of scale...


That's a 3DS XL, by the way. It's big for a handheld, but compared to this 42 inch television, it's practically shrimp-tastic. It's like pitting the Geico lizard against Godzilla.

I'll admit this set I brought back from the dead isn't perfect... there's a small blemish near the top left of the screen, and it runs a little hot, which I desperately hope isn't a sign of a larger problem. For the moment, though, I'm happy. It's not only huge, but the resolution is a no-longer-cutting-edge-but-still-quite-comfortable 1080p, really bringing out the details in visual powerhouses like Mortal Kombat XL.

On the downside, the TV is so large that I can see jaggies up close, making me understand why the industry is pushing to make 4K the new standard. Eh, first world problems. If this set keeps me from going blind while trying to read all the text in Final Fantasy XV, that's good enough.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Internal Dialogue

"Oh, hey! Far Cry 4 is on sale for the Xbox 360! I bought that months ago for the Playstation 3... I could be playing it right now!"
"Do you really want to?"
"Well, uh, kinda..."
"Do you really want to, though? You fumbled with the controls the last time. That and all the mountains in that so-called open world game prevented you from making any progress."
"Mph. Yeah, I guess you're right. Well, I could always play that racing game I just got!"
"You already have it on the Vita. You didn't like it there, either."
"But this is on Playstation 3! It'll have better graphics!"
"Do you really think it'll make that much of a difference?"
"All right, all right, fine. What do you suggest I play instead?"
"Actually, I was thinking you could crawl in bed and sleep for a while. That always works. No commitment required."
"But I already did that this afternoon!"
"And you enjoyed it, right?"
"Can I at least screw around with my tablet, or maybe scribble something in Miiverse while I'm there?"
"Yes, that would be acceptable."
"Joy."

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's-a me, March 10th!

Hm, that doesn't work so well when you spell it out. 

Anyway... there's plenty of good news for gamers today, including a sequel to Blaster Master, five Neo-Geo titles for the Switch including deep cuts like Waku Waku 7, and an update to the Playstation 4 which offers compatibility with external drives and improves overall performance on the Playstation 4 Pro. I'm not sure why we even needed a Pro version of a three year old console, but if you've got the deep pockets for this mega-machine, firmware 4.50 ought to justify the investment.

Friday, March 3, 2017

You'll Never Guess What I Just Got!

It's March 3rd... the perfect time to show you the system I just bought!


What, you were expecting a Switch?

There's a fun story behind this acquisition. While on a trip to Sierra Vista, I stopped by a thrift shop in neighboring Huachuca City. Next to the stacks of music CDs and outdated computer programs, I spotted a ColecoVision with two stock controllers and two Super Action joysticks... Coleco's rough equivalent of the Xbox Elite pad or the Switch Pro controller.

I was a little shocked, because this store usually reserves such treasures for its online auctions. Apparently, the ColecoVision was supposed to end up on eBay too, but the owner of the shop had a momentary lapse of sanity and left it in the middle of the shop, to be snatched up by the first lucky bastard who recognized its value.

The manager sold it to me out of a grim sense of obligation... after all, it was right there with the rest of the merchandise, so it was fair game to customers. The assistant manager didn't seem too happy about it, though, bitterly reminding me that I'd gotten a steal as I carried the ColecoVision back to the car. No arguments there... at $20, it cost as much as the Flashback machines in Wal-Mart, but this is the real deal, manufactured by Coleco itself in the early 1980s!

The only problem is that the system didn't come with any games or the power supply. I'm not worried about the games- they'll look better in an emulator anyway- but the power supply might be an issue. Unlike most consoles of the time, the ColecoVision uses three voltages, so you can't just plug in a universal AC adapter and call it a day. Either you've got to buy an official power supply (bulky, heavy, and in short supply) or hack the internal hardware to make it play nice with modern equipment. I don't have the deep pockets for the former or the stomach for the latter, so emulation it is!