Friday, July 28, 2017

Not Worth a Plug 'n Play Nickel

I heard Wal-Mart opened pre-orders for the Classic Super NES that's scheduled for release in September. I also heard Wal-Mart cancelled those pre-orders, claiming that a bug in their system made them available sooner than they planned. Nintendo fans with bitter memories of last year's Classic NES debacle are fuming, but I'm neither surprised nor upset by the news. I expected Nintendo to put players who wanted this system through the ringer, which is why I wasn't interested in buying one. I'm old enough to remember the fad toys of the past, and the manipulation companies use to make customers break down store doors and trample each other to get them. Soon enough, that excitement fades, and all that remains is the regret. No sale.

Speaking of plug and play consoles and predictable outcomes, AtGames released yet another Sega Genesis, which has been received with all the warm enthusiasm of a Christmas fruitcake. Really Sega, isn't it time you took the license away from them? After eight years of failure, I'm pretty sure AtGames is never going to get it right. Wile E. Coyote's got a better track record.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

You Can't Always Get What You Want

The terrible reality of being a video game fan is that you're always looking for new ways to play them, but you never have the money to explore all of those options. I just learned about a frontend for the original Xbox called Coin-Ops, which turns the sixteen year old system into a capable arcade jukebox. Hold on, let me dig up a link...

Look at all those games! Look at that slick, user-friendly interface! Who wouldn't want that? Regrettably, while I do have a classic Xbox, it's stranded in Michigan, and it would cost a pretty penny to ship it to the southwest, where I'm currently stranded. I could get a new old Xbox, but first I'd have to find one, then mod it. That would take a few hours of work, along with a lot of extra equipment. After that, I'd need to download the Coin-Ops file, which weighs in at a gargantuan ninety gigabytes. That's a lot of time, effort, and money, and frankly, I already threw in the towel on this idea two sentences ago.

I suppose I could settle for a Wii... lord knows I've got plenty of those. The problem here is that while the system is easily modded, there's not much hardware under the hood, making arcade emulation a crapshoot. Some games will run, while other games will run slowly, and still more won't run at all because the Wii just doesn't have enough RAM to accommodate them. Plus you have to deal with that stupid Wiimote, making it less than ideal as the heart of an arcade cabinet. Scratch that idea.

I do want to build an arcade cabinet eventually. I mean, I've got tons of flat screen monitors, the tools to build the cabinet itself, and the knowledge to put together a machine which could handle most of the arcade oldies from the 1980s and 1990s. Hell, an ancient Pentium 4 would do the trick... even that would be more powerful than a classic Xbox and a Wii combined, and it would be a helluva lot easier to set up for this purpose. Sadly, the only thing I'm missing is the cash to bring it all together. Some day, Jess... some day.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Fighting Games Are Great!

They sure are, Tokido. (Well, except Street Fighter V.) 

There was some pretty big news announced at EVO, the yearly fighting game tournament. Let's start with Tekken 7. Not content with Akuma, Namco has added another final boss from a competing series to the game's growing roster. Here he is, freshly scraped off the streets of South Town... it's Geese Howard!

Not sure I'm in love with his voice or the medallion around his neck which seems to defy gravity, but at least he's got all his moves from the Fatal Fury series. That includes the Reppuken, which might be a little out of place in a series where projectiles are rarely used, but I'm sure Namco will make it work.

What else? Capcom revealed their own crossover character for Street Fighter V, and fittingly, it's kind of a letdown. You remember Abigail from Final Fight, right? No? Well, Capcom still does. He's back, and he's so big and brawny he could make even Hugo pee his pants.

You could make fun of his name, but considering that he could give you a concussion with a flick of his finger, I wouldn't recommend it.

There was also news of a tag-team fighter featuring the characters from several Arc System Works series. I think I've made it clear in the past that I don't like ASW's games, but for completion's sake, here's the clip.

Before I go, there's something I've been meaning to mention on Kiblitzing, but never seem to get around to it. I was having trouble performing dragon punch motions with joysticks- even that top of the line one from MadCatz- and was getting frustrated by the situation. After all, the shoryuken is an important attack in 2D fighters, defending you from aerial opponents, and some characters are nearly helpless without it.

The solution to my rising uppercut dysfunction was embarrassingly simple... I just needed to lighten up. My grip on the joystick, I mean. See, American arcades use rugged parts that force the player to really lean into the stick to get complex motions like the shoryuken to register. Home joysticks (and indeed, all sticks that use the Japanese design) don't respond well to this, though. Since they're designed for precision rather than durability, they demand a lighter touch from the player. Once I adjusted my play style to compensate, I found myself performing dragon punches with relative ease, even in games like Capcom vs. SNK 2 where the timing for commands is uncomfortably tight. Trust me on this one... quick, gentle inputs make a big difference.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Writes and Wrongs

First, let me get this out of the way. I'm a writer by trade... it's what I love, and I've spent many years refining that talent with practice and college classes. Perhaps the biggest slap to the face you can give to a writer like myself is to take a carefully researched article and shrug it off as "fake news" because it didn't confirm your personal biases. It's intellectually lazy, and proves that you don't know a damned thing about writing when you elevate paranoid conspiracy theories and half-baked lies over the inconvenient truths of credible journalism.

No, modern news sources aren't perfect, and yes, it doesn't hurt to be skeptical when you come across an article that doesn't pass the sniff test. At the same time, maybe you'd better save some of that skepticism for the claims that the politicians you don't like reek of fire and brimstone, or the strangely glowing coverage of the politicians you do like. Use your head, and try to keep it out of your ass if at all possible.

Okay, rant over. I don't have much to report on the gaming side of things, but I can tell you that the GameCube I modded a couple of weeks ago seems to be working properly. By the way, there's a much easier way to diagnose a modded Cube than hunting for tiny LEDs buried inside the system. Just pop in a disc, close the lid, and hold the start button on your controller while powering on the machine. You'll get a copyright message from the Xeno chip... or not, if it isn't properly installed. Don't worry if it's fuzzy; the message is displayed in the European PAL format, and your television has no idea how to deal with that. Your games will display properly, though.

So why did I go to the trouble of installing a mod chip on a system that's over fifteen years old? Well, you remember the Game Boy Player, right? It's an accessory that snaps onto the bottom of the GameCube, giving you access to the entire Game Boy library. Thing is, the startup disc that comes with the GBP is lacking, offering a dim, slightly blurry picture which doesn't do the Game Boy Advance library justice. 
Frustrated by its shortcomings, a hobbyist programmer whipped up his own startup disc called the Game Boy Interface, which brings out the vivid color in Game Boy Advance titles. Just check out this comparison video... you'll notice an obvious difference in quality. Unfortunately, this homemade startup disc won't start up at all on a GameCube... unless you've got a mod chip like the Xeno installed. 

People also have a nasty habit of losing the official disc that comes with the Game Boy Player. Replacement discs cost a mint on eBay, so why not get something that works better for the price of a mod chip and a handful of mini DVD-Rs? It's a smarter, more cost effective way of doing business.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Frustration, Cubed

What to discuss, what to discuss...

Well, there's the Castlevania series which recently debuted on Netflix. Word on the street is that it's very good (and very brief), cementing Netflix as the preferred streaming service for original animated series. It's also very violent, but you can't make an omelet without whipping a few zombies into undead goo. Or something.

Blah! BLAH! (Not blah at all, actually.)
(image from Screen Rant)
On a personal note, I've pulled my GameCube out of retirement to install a mod chip. It's not like I needed to do this... my Wii U plays Cube games just fine using the Nintendont app. However, I just wanted to be prepared in case I ever found a GameBoy Player without the disc. That tends to happen, but you can substitute it with a homebrew app called the GameBoy Interface, which is said to run GameBoy games even better than Nintendo's official disc.

What was that? You said I could just as easily play GameBoy Advance games using my Android TV? Well, uh... the mod chip was cheap, and I was bored. So there.

Just a couple of notes about the install... normally, you need a special tool to open the case on your GameCube, but that's not really necessary. I found that the bit extender on a screwdriver sold for about seven dollars at Wal-Mart works just as well. Set the extender (without a bit on the end) into the screwdriver, stick it down the screw hole, then turn left until you hear a click. Bingo bango, the screw releases, and you can keep unscrewing it until it's loose enough to shake out of the bottom of the console. Here's the tool set you'll need, by the way. It's got a lot of bits that'll probably help you with the rest of the mod job, too.

Second thing. YouTube users have described this mod as "extremely easy," but I beg to differ. Just getting the GameCube open is a bit of a challenge (hint: try this teardown guide by iFixit), but once you reach its creamy middle, you've got to solder six points on a chip the size of a small postage stamp. It's got to be placed precisely on the drive controller board, and you've got to make sure you're binding the chip to the Cube's PCB. Just filling the holes on the chip isn't enough... you'll have to poke the iron through them a few times to ensure there's a love connection.

Wait, wait... I haven't gotten to the best part! There are LED indicators which tell you if the installation is successful. The first one blinks off, then a second one turns on if you've done it right. Seems easy enough, but the LEDs are tiny, packed closely together, and (you're going to love this) the same color. Once you insulate the chip with black tape, you're not going to have the figgiest idea which LED is lit, if you can see them at all. So maybe my GameCube's been properly modded, but maybe it hasn't... the only way to know for sure is to nuke it from orbit pop in a burned mini DVD and hope for the best.

On an even more personal note, I tried Zima for the first time in nine years. Holy hell, I liked this stuff? Maybe my tastes have dulled in the past decade, but to this steadily graying member of Generation X, it tastes like slightly sweetened rubbing alcohol. Flavored malt beverage technology must have advanced by leaps and bounds during the Obama administration, because I'd rather have a Mike's Hard anything than another Zima. Okay, my curiosity's been satisfied... back to the 1990s with you!

Monday, July 3, 2017

I'll Get You This Time, Gadget

I think my search for the perfect joystick may finally be over. I've had my eye on a MadCatz TE2 at a pawn shop in Sierra Vista for a while now... but apparently I was the only one interested, because it had been there for over a year without any takers. The manager cut the price from $130 to $90, and I was able to whittle that down to $75 after a little negotiation. I generally don't pay that kind of dosh for a controller, but after my past (often frustrating) experiences with cheap arcade sticks, it seemed like a wise decision to finally do things right, no matter the price.

Here it is in the box. Aside from some tearing on the box cover, the package is in excellent condition... the stick looks great and there are no missing pieces. There's even a screwdriver included so I can remove the plexiglass plate and replace the artwork... something I might actually do, because the lenticular Chun Li on the front is a little distracting.

And here it is out of the box. Not sure I'm down with the textured blue plastic along the edges, but past that, this is clearly a premium stick, outclassing anything else I've ever owned. (Or built. D'oh.) It's fully compatible with the Playstation 4, so I can finally play Namco's arcade series with a proper controller. The joystick is responsive, with minimal clicking, and the buttons have low actuating force, so even a light tap registers as a press. The control panel rests on a hinge, so you can open it up and swap button positions if you like (and I might; I'm not fond of the factory defaults). Start and select are set on the back of the stick, making it unlikely that you'll press them by accident. The USB cable screws into the back and can be stored inside the stick when you're not using it. 

In short, the TE2 is a class act all the way, and the fact that we no longer have Mad Catz making these should be distressing to fighting game fans. If it's any consolation, though, they're still ripe for the picking on eBay. Let's check out a few listings, shall we?

$369? Oh...kay. Surely there's an auction with a better price!

Five... hundred and fifteen dollars. Excuse me for a minute.

Wait, wait... all right, I'm good. Seriously. So like I was saying before... WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?! You're paying FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a damn joystick?! Look, I get it. This has never been a cheap hobby, and the prices have risen exponentially in the last five years, but still! It's a JOYSTICK. You could buy a game system for that! Like, one of those fancy Xbox One Xbox One Xbox One Xs, or a Switch, or maybe even an NES Classic! Unless you're doing this professionally- and even that notion mystifies me- there is absolutely no reason to pay FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS for a joystick.

Five hundred dollars.

Five. Hundred. Dollars. Think about it.

I'll be back later, once I clean the drool off my shirt.