Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ball Breaker

A typical arcade trackball.
(image from Arcade
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.


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

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

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

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

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

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!