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!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Talk is Cheap (and annoying)

Is February almost over already? And I haven't posted anything for over a week? Sheesh!


Freezerburn.
(image from Wikipedia)
Okay, let's try this. I recently purchased the Playstation 4 version of Mortal Kombat XL during last week's PSN sale, and while I'm not the biggest fan of the gore or the ridiculously hard to perform brutalities, I certainly appreciate the effort that went into the game. Most of the characters were given talented voice actors and loads of personality, with the two Cages and newcomer Takeda being highlights. The graphics are even more gorgeous than in the last Mortal Kombat, with beautifully illustrated backgrounds and startlingly human kombatants. If that weren't enough, there's plenty of content, with dozens of fighters and three different play styles for each. It's a standout fighting game on a system with no shortage of competitors. Better than Street Fighter V? Yup. Better than King of Fighters XIV? Well... it certainly looks better, at least. If you're new to the Playstation 4 and are in the market for a versus fighter, Mortal Kombat XL should be on the top of your shopping list.

All of my PS4 fighting games have been getting a lot of love lately, while the system pack-in, Uncharted 4, remains sealed in shrinkwrap. Frankly, I'm not looking forward to the mountains of exposition that I'll have to sit through just to get to the action. It's a big problem with today's video games... there's too much story and not nearly enough, you know, video game. One of the reasons I enjoy versus fighters so much is that they remind me of the arcade scene from the 1990s, where you were playing as soon as you dropped in a coin. The game industry of the 21st century could use a lot more of that instant gratification, and a lot less of the chatter.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Glutton for Punishment

How do I get myself into these messes, anyway?

I picked up a copy of Bloodborne during PSN's Flash Sale, despite knowing full well what happened when I played Demon's Souls seven years ago on the Playstation 3. Much hair was lost, many teeth were gnashed, and a full wardrobe of garments were rent, until I came to the bitter realization that this style of game just wasn't for me. 

But because I was convinced I needed something meatier in my Playstation 4 library than fighting games, I'm back at square one with Bloodborne... and have barely progressed beyond it. The latest title from, er, From Software brings the punishing gameplay of the Souls series into 19th century England. This time, crowds of torch-wielding lunatics and grotesque monsters are hoping to get medieval Victorian on your ass, and your only hope for survival is a "trick" weapon that can be shortened for quick strikes, or lengthened to keep enemies at a safe distance. (Well, in theory at least... they usually end up slaughtering you anyway.)

Burn up the old... bring in the new...
(image from game.co.uk)
I don't know if it's the extra horsepower of the PS4 or seven years of refinements to the core gameplay, but Bloodborne feels tighter than the old Souls games. Your character dodges more quickly and swings his weapon without leaving himself wide open to counterattack. However, the number of enemies has increased to compensate, sometimes drastically. An early scene has a throng of foes gathered around a burning stake, with a dozen sentries standing nearby. Taking them out is a time-consuming progress of luring individuals from the crowd with gunfire (so laughably weak that it offers little more than a distraction) or sneaking behind stragglers for a stealth kill. Make a mistake and you're thrown back to a checkpoint set agonizingly far from where you were slain.

You'll spend as much time in Bloodborne recovering the ground you've lost as you will making concrete progress, and the grim knowledge that you'll have to repeat everything you've already done (perhaps for the fourth time) is maddening. Like, "pound the walls, stomp the floor, scream every expletive in the book and a few you just made up" maddening. Shortcuts make the trip to the end of a level less painful, but you've got to find them first, and they don't take you straight to the boss... you'll need to fight a half-dozen formidable enemies to reach his front door. At best, it's a waste of time, and at worst, it's senselessly cruel.

Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Or who
turn around and go in the opposite direction.
Doesn't matter, really.
(image from GameFAQs)
Bloodborne can be entertaining when it takes the boot off your throat. After hours of fruitless struggling, I found an detour through Yharnum... a sewer with less dangerous enemies and plenty of hidden items. It was fun to explore for a while without worrying that I'd be pounded into lunch meat by an eight foot tall ogre. But then I stumbled across the merciless Father Gascoigne, and I was once again wondering if the brief moments of joy were worth the blood, sweat, and tears. I'll probably be asking myself that question a lot, considering that I spent eighty hours with Demon's Souls before I finally had the sense to give up on it.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Fun with Pronouns, or I My Mi Mine

That Mi Box I mentioned in a previous post arrived a few days ago, and in my opinion, it's gone a long way toward redeeming Android as a gaming format. Sure, there are a lot of apps on the Google Play Store that won't install on this palm-sized device, but it's just dandy for emulation, handling the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming better than the Playstation TV had. Games load faster, run more smoothly, and work with more controllers than they do on Sony's failed set-top box. Needless to say, it utterly steamrolls the CX-919 II that vexed me a couple of years back. 

Mi Box, he box and she box...
(image from Anandtech)
I guess the moral of the story is this: if you're going to turn to Android for your casual entertainment needs, for the love of Pete buy a system with strong reviews, that you can actually find in a store. The Mi Box isn't entirely flawless- it's slow to respond to voice input and there's no dedicated menu button on its remote control- but at $69 dollars with a fistful of free streaming trials, it's a far better deal than the NES Classic is at $60. (If you can find one. Trust me, you can't.)

I've been using the Mi Box to get reacquainted with the NES library, and I've learned a few things from the experience. At the top of that list is the realization that Nintendo's first home console no longer has the hold on me it did when I was younger. For the longest time, I was convinced that the Nintendo Entertainment System was the best system ever made, but now, I'm having second thoughts. Frankly, video games have come a long way since the NES. It's hard not to think of the machine as a little dated in hindsight, whether it's the repetitive tiled graphics, or the unpalatable color palette, or the cruel sadism in games like Batman.

Image from HG101
I mean, come on! Who designs stages like this? A big jerk, that's who. And it's not like this level (or the game in general) gets any easier from here. Back in my teens, I would have pounded my fists on this brick wall for an hour or two, but now, I just don't have the patience. In the increasingly relevant words of Danny Glover, I'm getting too old for this shit.

There was some other stuff I was going to write about, wasn't there? A retrospective of last year's posts, maybe a review of that Hori Fighting Commander I bought for King of Fighters XIV. Maybe that'll happen later. Stay tuned.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Shake Your Move Thing

During a jaunt to Sierra Vista, I picked up a pretty sweet prize at a thrift store in the area... a 42 inch television set for ten dollars. They said it could be repaired with a $25 part, but what they DIDN'T say is how difficult it would be to open, or how much space it would take up in my house. So I've got this behemoth propped up on the side of my entertainment center, covering nearly half of it, while I figure out a way to pry off the back cover and replace what's broken. Maybe this wasn't such a sweet deal after all...

In "better use of my money" news, I scored a Playstation Move controller for seven bucks; not a bad catch when you consider how much it costs online. Evidently it's forward compatible with the Playstation 4, turning what would have been a quickly forgotten novelty into a sought after component for fans of virtual reality. VR's not my bag, though... I wanted the Move for one game and one game alone.


Several years ago, I wrote a brief review of Deadstorm Pirates, a swashbuckling shooter I found at a Peter Piper Pizza in Nogales. I took an instant liking to the game, and made it my mission to bring it home as soon as I heard there was a Playstation 3 version.

Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that Deadstorm Pirates is a front-loaded game, with all the thrills packed into the first stage. I haven't played through the whole thing, but the next level is a decidedly less exciting trip down a river with crowds of giant enemy crabs along the shore. They're sick of that meme from 2006, and they want revenge! Hopefully the gameplay will get better in the next three stages, but I wouldn't bet on the lousy acting and script improving much. Yes, Captain Obvious-beard, keep your eyes on the crabs and shoot them some more. Thanks for that clarification.

Namco Shooting Collection comes with two other games, Time Crisis 4 and the headliner, Razing Storm. I don't know that much about the Time Crisis series (I was always a Virtua Cop guy myself), but from what I can tell Razing Storm is vastly different from the science-fiction tinged espionage in the previous four games, with bulky, heavily armored mercenaries blowing up robots and turning buildings into rubble. It's Michael Bay meets Gears of War, and I strongly suspect Namco designed it that way to appeal specifically to an American audience... possibly after some arm-twisting by its parent company Bandai.

Time Crisis 4 is a more traditional Time Crisis experience, except with swarms of deadly insects called Terrorbites added to push the limits of the Playstation 3 hardware and the player's shooting skills. Personally, I'd rather be shooting terrorists than genetically modified bugs, but the series was over ten years old at that point and I guess the developers had to throw in something new to keep the fans surprised.

The Move wand (right) and optional
Navigation controller.
(image from TechReport)
Let's talk for a minute about the Move controller itself. It was offered as Sony's answer to the wireless controller packaged with the Wii, but it's not nearly as intuitive. While the Wiimote was mostly a point and click affair, navigating menus with the Move requires you to hold down a trigger under the controller, THEN flick the wand in one of four directions, THEN release the trigger, THEN press a special button on the top of the Move to confirm your selection. Tiny action buttons on the top of the wand and recessed start and select buttons along the side don't help matters. Start and select in particular are so hard to see that it's easy to forget they exist at all!

To its credit, the Move works pretty well once you've learned how to use it, and if the Playstation Eye camera has a clear view of the globe on top of the wand. It's accurate enough that you can target specific areas of enemies in the three previously mentioned light gun games, and it makes for a serviceable pool cue in Hustle Kings, letting you strike the ball with natural arm movements rather than filling a power meter and tapping a button. I'm still absolutely terrible at pool, but at least I'm having more fun playing it!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Once More into the Droid

Okay, maybe that's not as clever as Parish's "Farewell, My Conker Buyin'," but hey, you'll have to work with what I give you. Anyway, after months of slumming with the Playstation TV to get my retro gaming fix, I've decided to take another chance with an Android device. I'm not taking chances this time, though... instead of some cheapie cheap stick from and made with parts unknown, I'm getting the favorably rated, extensively tested Xiaomi Mi Box. The videos I've seen suggest that it's powerful enough to handle both emulation and Android exclusives, which is pretty much all I demand from it. The wealth of television apps on the Mi Box is the icing on an already tasty cake.

I'm glad Jeremy mentioning the rising price of classic game collecting, because it's a subject I wanted to tackle here on the blog. I wanted to plot out a line graph detailing the price of software for a typical system over a twenty-five year period, but I would need concrete data to validate it, and that information isn't easy to come by. Prices vary wildly depending on the seller, and there's not a common consensus about how much a particular game should cost. You might be able to get a ballpark figure from talking to a dozen retailers, but it'd be a pretty wide ballpark. Now try getting that same figure from five years ago, or ten, or twenty. It's a little slice of impossible!

One thing I can confidently say is that the time to purchase games for a system you enjoy is a few years after its successor is launched, or (in the case of non-starters like the Saturn or Vita) a year after its manufacturer abandons it. In other words, if you like the Xbox 360 or the Playstation 3, the time to start your collection for those systems is NOW NOW NOW. Don't wait. Scour your local pawn shops, thrift shops, yard sales, and Craigslistings for the games you want, because they're going to dry up in a few more years. 

Take it from someone who's been collecting since the 1990s... you want to grab this stuff while everyone else is eager to move on to the next big thing. When they get nostalgic for the games they left behind- and they always do- you'll already have them.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Gaming on the Cheap

Just a quick update, because it's been a while and I really need to keep my writer's pencil sharpened. I picked up a handful of video games over the past week... some came from Wal-Mart and the rest were found in a thrift store, but they've all got one thing in common: they were less than ten dollars each. 

The Wal-Mart games were Sonic All-Stars Transformed for Xbox 360 ($5) and Dead or Alive 5 Last Round for Playstation 4 ($7). Granted, I already bought the former game for my PC during a Humble Bundle sale, but what the heck... for a fiver it can't hurt to have it on a console as well. DOA5 at seven dollars is a much better deal than the forty it currently costs on the Playstation Store, and it adds much-needed bulk to my PS4 fighting game collection.

On the thrift store side of things, we've got the longbox version of Battle Arena Toshinden, All-Star Slammin' Super D-Ball, and X-Men Legends, all for a dollar each. Toshinden was an early system seller for the Playstation, loaded with the flash largely absent from the original Virtua Fighter. However, even in 1995, some players saw through the cutting-edge graphics to the mediocre gameplay underneath. Twenty two years and three console generations later, it's impossible not to notice how much this sucks. 

I played this with a Sega Saturn joypad, and while that controller can make a good fighter even better, even it can't save a lousy one from itself. Special moves in Toshinden are a gamble, coming out roughly half the time and forcing the player to crush the D-pad with his thumb in a vain attempt to compensate. By contrast, the woefully unappreciated Street Fighter EX+ Alpha responds to your requests for special moves 90% of the time with a Saturn pad. It's a tighter, better constructed game overall, reserving its 3D for dramatic camera angles rather than finding an awkward middle ground between 2D and 3D gameplay as Toshinden does. It's telling that while the EX series sputtered out after the third game, its influence can be felt in Street Fighters IV and V. Toshinden has no such spiritual successor, remembered only as one of the awkward first steps in the transition from 2D to 3D gaming. (And oh yeah, the terrible, terrible voice acting in the Saturn version of the game.)

As for the other two games? Well, I haven't gotten to them yet. I may never get to Slammin' D-Ball (YouTube videos suggest that it falls far short of the excellence of Technos' Super Dodgeball), but I might spend an hour with X-Men Legends for shiggles. Stay tuned.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Toys to Life Support

Okay, I might as well try to blog, I guess. It's not like I've got anything better to do, other than sleep and worry about the fate of this country.


Anyway! It looks like the "toys to life" fad, started by Activision's Skylanders and hitting its apex with Disney Infinity and Nintendo's Amiibo, is starting to run out of gas. Disney's line of toys was discontinued last year (although many of the figures can be still found in retail stores with significant price cuts), and there are rumors that the franchise which started it all is starting to grind to a halt. Danish toy maker Lego's Dimensions line has made a less than illustrious debut in dollar stores, and even Nintendo's Amiibos have gotten sporadic discounts. Many of those figures still retail for $13, but a handful can be found for as little as three bucks if you know where to look (hint: try Best Buy and Wal-Mart).

Personally, I tried to steer clear of toys to life, as I suspected that they wouldn't be popular (or useful) for long. Beyond that, I have plenty of plastic clutter in this cramped trailer, and I certainly didn't need to add to that pile. Having said that, I do have three Amiibo figures, mostly for display purposes, and I'll grudgingly admit that I admire the quality that went into both those and Disney's Infinity toys. Every time I see that smirking Han Solo on a store shelf, my super ego has to pin my id to the ground to keep me from making a purchase. If one of these companies had made Star Trek figures, there's no way I would have been able to resist...

Huh, that wasn't so bad after all! At least blogging kept my mind off, ahem, other matters.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

(More) Radio Silence

Yeah, I know... it's been around two weeks since I last posted. Sorry about that, folks. It's not that I don't have things to talk about... I'm just not sure if there's a point. Does anyone read this stuff? Does it even matter what I say? I feel like I'm throwing words down a hole. The antics by our current president (remember when he said he was going to "tone down" his obnoxious behavior after the election? Wasn't that a fun fantasy?) have only further dampened my enthusiasm for blogging. It's hard to discuss trivialities like video games when it feels like Rome is burning all around you and there's a ten foot wall preventing your escape.

I dunno. I guess I'll post here again if I can work up the motivation. Don't set your watch to it, though.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Switched Off

2016 left us in suspense about Nintendo's next console, but now that most of the beans have been spilled about the Switch, I wish I could go back to that blissful ignorance. Other writers have discussed the machine at greater length (and I suggest you read the articles recently published by Kat Bailey and Bryan Ochalla), but my own opinion of the Switch can be summed up in two words...


image from The Register
(both the site and the cash register in the picture)
The price of the system is an absurd $300, a fistful of bills above the $250 that was anticipated before yesterday's reveal. The accessories are similarly upscale at $70 or more, while the hardware is anything but, unlikely to keep pace with the Xbox One or Playstation 4. Software runs the gamut from insubstantial tech demos to the regurgitations that were so aggravating on next generation systems two years ago (really... Skyrim?), with the best stuff planned for the end of 2017. There will be a paid online service similar to Xbox Live, but there won't be support for features like Miiverse, one of the few reasons I still turn on my 3DS. 

It's like Nintendo not only refuses to learn from the mistakes it made with the Wii U, but insists on repeating everyone else's blunders as well. Since they haven't been paying attention, let me make this clear: Nintendo's most successful products have been economically priced. The NES. The Game Boy. The Super NES. The Nintendo 64. The Game Boy Advance and its successor, the DS. The original Wii. These machines all retailed for the same price as competing systems or significantly undercut them, and led the industry as a result.

Now let's look at Nintendo's failures. The clumsily designed Virtual Boy wasn't just hard to enjoy; its $180 price tag made it difficult to afford as well. The Wii U cost at least $300 at launch, with much of that price being the fault of its bulky, impractical gamepad. The 3DS would have failed as well if its $250 launch price hadn't been drastically cut. 

Nintendo can no longer afford to make systems people can't afford. If they insist on releasing consoles and handhelds that lag behind the competition technologically, the prices have to reflect that. It's wiser- and far less risky- to pass the savings onto the customer than invest it in costly, cumbersome hardware that doesn't contribute much to the gaming experience. I suspect the Joycons that seem like a good idea now have a dim future ahead of them as closet clutter, crammed between the plastic steering wheel and the balance board that called you fat.