Saturday, July 28, 2018

Genesis Won't (also, last call on the Xbox Ultimate Sale)

"Okay, so the S-video mod was a fizzle. If I solder some wires to the A/V port of this Genesis and connect it to an old VGA monitor, it's got to give me a great picture then, right?"

Narrator: "It didn't."

Well, I'm out of ideas... and patience. With all the cheap solutions exhausted and the expensive ones too costly to seriously consider, it's probably time to throw in the towel on this misadventure. I mean, I guess I could get a monitor with a built in SCART connection, but such a beast is exceedingly rare in the United States, and it would cost way too much to have one shipped from Britain. So the Minigen HD it is, then!

Annnnyway. Since I'm done beating my head against this cement wall, I can turn my attention and my bloodied brow to the Xbox Ultimate Sale, which ends in a couple of days. I picked up Torchlight, Mini Ninjas, and the Xbox One version of Rayman Legends so far, but I feel like I should squeeze a few more deals out of this sale before it ends. What about the critical darling Ori and the Blind Forest? Or perhaps the less warmly received but steadily improving Recore? Perhaps I should grab a copy of Sleeping Dogs, which offers a ridiculous amount of gameplay for the price of a McDonald's Happy Meal? So many options, so little time...

Oh yeah! Since I brought it up, I'd like to take the time to recommend Mini Ninjas at its current "how the hell is this so cheap?" price. While it's true that Square-Enix was giving it away for the PC a few months ago, that version requires a lot of prep work, forcing you to install obscure patches before it will play music and recognize your favorite joystick. Mini Ninjas for the Xbox 360 works right out of the box, making it a more user-friendly experience.

Look out, it's a bear! I mean, sure, it's adorable,
but it's still a bear.
I'd say "friendly" was a good way to describe Mini Ninjas in general. It was designed by IO Interactive, but it's a kinder, gentler stealth game than the studio's Hitman series. Sure, you'll sneak up on big-headed samurai (who poof into cuddly woodland creatures after they've tasted your blade), but there's so much more to do, like racing along walls to reach distant platforms, harvesting plants for later use in potions, and riding down rivers in a giant soup bowl that doubles as an arrow-proof helmet. Mini Ninjas is fun for less skilled players and respectful of Asian culture... in other words, it's the kind of game I wish the endlessly re-released Legend of Kay would have been.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Low-Down High-Def Blues

The frustrating thing about emulation is that it warps your perception of retro gaming, and gives you unreasonable expectations of the actual hardware. Take for instance the Sega Genesis classic Sonic 2. Here's how it looks on your computer, courtesy of KEGA Fusion...

Annnnd here's how it looks on a real Sega Genesis, connected to a real television set.

Oy gevalt. The Genesis wants to give you a sharp, pixel-perfect image, but the display technology of the late 1980s prevents that from happening. What you get instead is composite, which was only barely passable when the Genesis was first released and is downright grotesque on today's HD televisions. Clearly something has to be done to fix this.

Right now, I'm trying to upgrade my Genesis to S-video, from the standard ass-video you get out of the box. That hasn't been going so well! So far I've only succeeded in ripping a voltage regulator off the motherboard and the wires from the red LED that glows when the system is turned on... which means it no longer does that. (D'oh.)

The folks at Console5 who sold me the S-video chip have been extremely helpful, offering tons of tech support, but I'm nevertheless coming to the conclusion that I'll have to go the clone console route to get an acceptable picture from my Genesis games. On the down side, Gamerz Tek's Minigen HD doesn't offer stereo sound and it can't interface with the Sega CD. On the plus side, I get to keep my sanity rather than sacrificing it on frustrating mods. I'm pretty sure that counts as a net gain.

I've been griping about this a lot so let's switch gears. Microsoft is currently running its Ultimate Xbox Sale until the end of the month. Calling this sale "ultimate" is a check even Bill Gates can't cash, but there are nevertheless some pretty good deals on older Xbox One and 360 titles. I'm thinking about triple-dipping on Rayman Legends, since I don't want to drag my Playstation 3 out of retirement to play it and the touchscreen features in the Vita version make it more frustrating than fun.

That reminds me... there are still a lot of Vita games (and other games) in my collection I haven't reviewed yet. I should get right on that... it would probably be more fun to read than yet another post about trying to wring a quality picture out of my Sega Genesis.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Errata 2600

I thought it might be a good time to mention that I made a mistake in a previous post. Sure, I published it five years ago, but anyone with a Coleco Gemini who's given serious thought to modding this Atari 2600 clone for modern television sets will nevertheless want to know this. Back in 2013, I tried to find the pinouts for one of the system's chips using a tedious process of testing each pin with a multimeter. Some of my findings were correct, but others were so far off base that it was a wonder I managed to get a recognizable picture out of my composite video mod.

The correct pinout for the 73192 (aka the E4002) is right here on Console5, and they would know... the web site has been selling mod kits and replacement parts for game systems for years. (I've been thinking about picking up their S-video kit for the Sega Genesis, because it's starting to look like it's the only way I'll ever get a halfway decent picture out of the system.) If you'd like to add composite jacks to your Gemini, use Console5's pinout as a guide, not mine. Also, you might want to reinforce the controller ports with hot glue or something... I've heard they don't hold up to repeated use. It was a budget system, after all.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Get the Picture?

No, but I'm working on that. I'm trying to find ways to get a crisp picture out of my Sega Genesis, which at the moment is stuck using composite cables. Composite may have been acceptable back in the bygone days of the early 1990s, but on today's high-definition television sets, it leaves something to be desired. Hell, all that blur and color bleed is like looking at Medusa before she's put on her morning make-up.

I've been trying to find a solution, but so far nothing's been satisfactory. I bought an SCART cable and an HDMI converter some months ago, thinking that it would solve the problem, but the picture still has big issues... characters in the foreground are soft around the edges, and scrolling results in a "swimmy" distortion that turns every scuffle in Streets of Rage 2 into the fist fight from Top Secret.

Then there's VGA. It's possible to connect the Genesis to a computer monitor (as demonstrated in this video by Thomas3120) but it comes with a laundry list of caveats. First, you have to build the wire yourself. Second, most VGA monitors won't work with the Genesis because it's so old. They run at a 31 kilohertz frequency, but the Genesis can only output to 15 kilohertz, and the whole thing hertz my head because I have no idea what the hell any of it means. You can use a "scan doubler" to connect a Genesis to the VGA port of a modern display, but that requires a separate power supply, and my power strip is already at low vacancy.

I could even connect the Genesis straight to HDMI using cables from Pound Technology. Those are the guys who released a high-def cable for the original Xbox last year, and they're planning to offer similar products for both the Genesis and the Super NES in the future. Problem is, there's no specific release date for these products... and when they are released, they'll display games in a 16:9 aspect ratio rather than the 4:3 aspect ratio the Genesis normally uses, resulting in a stretched display. Annoyingly, these cables will also require a separate power supply, and as stated earlier there's not much room at the inn for extras.

At least I've got options. None of them are perfect and some of them are aggravatingly complicated, but I have options.