Thursday, July 25, 2019

Dynamite with a Laser Beam

I had heard about the game Killer Queen in passing. I had no idea that it would ever get this popular. A.A. Dowd goes into exhaustive detail about this indie arcade title, the players who enjoy it, and the culture surrounding it in this excellent piece for the A.V. Club. Especially noteworthy is that the noxious behavior that often takes place in other multiplayer games is strictly prohibited in tournaments for Killer Queen, boosting female participation to thirty percent. I'm sure some players have complained that it's their constitutional right to act like an asshole, but if they feel that strongly about teabagging their opponents while shouting profanities into their microphones, they can always go back to Call of Duty.

By the way, that Playstation Classic I mentioned in a previous post? It's been a lot of fun, although perhaps not in the way its manufacturer intended. I've swapped out some of the games and even the emulator on the system's internal storage to make it more appealing. You can even coax the PS Classic to run Dreamcast games if you're running the latest version of Autobleem. While performance isn't perfect, it's surprisingly smooth, and a heck of a lot better than you could reasonably expect from a twenty dollar game console. It's money I don't regret spending, that's for sure.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Nothin' Up My Sleeve!

So yeah. I got one of those Playstation Classic systems, because they were just twenty bucks at Best Buy, and my hoarder's instinct demanded it. For that price, it's hard to complain, but I've had a lot of practice complaining and I'm up for a challenge. Before I begin, here's a picture for reference.

It's smaller than I realized; almost cute in its diminutive size. Also, a lot of what you see on the machine, like the memory card slots, the drive door, and the little I/O hatch on the back, are just for show, like a small child's kitchen playset with plastic fruit and cutlery incapable of cutting anything.

We all know the problems with the Playstation Classic by now... the press spilled the beans about its faults well before the price drop. The heavily dithered interface adds "gl" to the middle of "UI," half the games are running in the sluggish PAL format, and there are USB ports, but they only accept the faux-Playstation controllers included with the system. 

These are all annoyances, but the biggest burn for me personally is that the game selection is so contrary to my tastes that I'm tempted to think Sony picked these titles just to spite me. Intelligent Qube is a winner (and nuts to anyone who says otherwise), but the other titles have aged like lettuce in a heat wave, and wouldn't have gotten a second look from me even back when they were fresh. I didn't like Final Fantasy VII, barely got through the demo of Metal Gear Solid, and never played- nor showed any interest in playing- Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six.

Jumping Flash was a great game! In 1995. Heh.
Luckily, there's a well publicized workaround for the Playstation Classic's unappetizing software library. Bleemsync lets you fill up a flash drive with the Playstation games you want to play, then tops it all off with RetroArch, which grants access to titles for a dozen other systems. What's not well publicized is that Bleemsync isn't always cooperative. Sometimes games load at agonizing speeds, and the USB ports on the front of the system are hobbled with current limiters that starve your flash drive of power. You'll have to plug them into the back of the system to keep them from getting corrupted over the long haul. However, that's where the Playstation Classic draws its power, forcing you to throw together a rat's nest of adapters so it can handle both an AC adapter and a flash drive. It was inconvenient for me, and doubly so for anyone who doesn't already have a USB hub and an on-the-go cable on hand.

What to do, what to do? Well, if you're adventurous, you can overwrite the games on the Playstation Classic's internal storage... once you've hacked the system with Bleemsync, there's nothing stopping you. A guy who calls himself Bertin Joseb describes how in a post on Medium, and while it's time-consuming and a little risky, it does yield results. Observe!

Uh, whoops! Missed a step. Lemme try that again...

That's Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha, taking the place of Battle Arena Toshinden in the default games list. The flash drive is no longer necessary; you just have permanent access to the game. Street Fighter EX doesn't run as well here as it did on an actual Playstation, but even at a slightly lower frame rate, it's a heckuva lot more fun to play than Toshinden.

I've heard that you can even replace the PS Classic's dodgy emulator with a more capable one, and I may attempt that at a later date. Right now, though, I'm happy just swapping out games. Move over Tom Clancy, now there's something funner!

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

It's the Little Things

Recently I heard about a crowdfunding campaign for the GPD P2 Max, which the manufacturer claims will be the world's smallest ultrabook. There's clearly interest in the project, evidenced by the fact that GPD has raised seven times the money it needed to start making these systems. I'm happy to see this much love for small scale computers, but at the same time, I have to wonder why it took so long for people to appreciate them.

image from Digibarn
See, small computers aren't a new thing... they've been around for decades. Take for instance the Epson HX-20, created way back in 1980. This system packed an insane amount of technology into an insanely tight space... Epson included a comfortably sized keyboard, an LCD screen, cassette storage, and even a printer into a system roughly the same size as an open magazine. It's an engineering marvel that was later imitated by Kyocera for its own portable computer, rebranded the Tandy 100 in the United States. Lemme bring up a picture of that one...
image from
This computer kept the spacious keyboard but prioritized a larger screen over the Epson HX-20's more extraneous features. It was just large enough that journalists could use it while on location, punching in a story, checking it over for typos, and sending the finished product back to the front desk. The 300 baud modem wasn't an especially speedy way to get it there, but in the year 1983, when the high bandwidth we take for granted now may as well have been science fiction, you had to take what you could get.

image from
Sadly, such computers were for professionals, not cash-strapped kids. I had to settle for another Radio Shack product, the PC-8. Originally designed by Sharp, this tiny computer was roughly the size of a calculator, with specs to match. Its screen was a single line of sixteen characters, the keys were rubber nubs, and errors had to be expressed with two digit numbers rather than a more verbose explanation of what you did wrong. Despite all this, I was happy to have it... it had BASIC built in, which meant that I could program just about anywhere I could see that little LCD screen.

image from
I really wanted to get my hands on this guy, and years later, I finally did. This is the Tandy PC-6, a Casio-designed pocket computer with four times the RAM of the PC-8, a whole lot more keys to press, and... uh, a similarly crappy screen. Hey, at least it's twenty-four characters wide this time. My last pocket computer came straight from the Shack, but this one was found in a Goodwill, apparently mistaken for a calculator and priced to move at a couple of dollars. Admittedly, I didn't use it much, since it was 2010 and the technology of the PC-6 was eclipsed many times over by my first iPod Touch. Still, when you're a collector, it's sometimes more about the thrill of the hunt than the usefulness of your target.

image from PhoneDB
My first mini-computers of any practical use were the NEC MobilePro 780 and later, the Asus EEE 701. The MobilePro 780 was released at the turn of the century, and certainly shows its age, with Windows CE as its operating system and a feeble 32MB of RAM. However, you could give the system a respectable amount of storage with the CompactFlash slot on the side, compensating for its limitations. It didn't have wifi out of the box, but frankly, it was liberating to work without the constant distraction of the internet. Sometimes you need a little seclusion to be able to concentrate on your work.

image from NotebookReview
The Asus EEE started its own sub-genre of laptop, the small and inexpensive netbook. It generated a lot of excitement on the internet, and I wanted to be the first on board that hype train, so I picked up the 701 model from an online retail shortly after it was launched. Would I want to go back to it twelve years later? No, not really. The keyboard was painfully small, an SD card was all but necessary to supplement its meager four gigabytes of internal storage, and the resolution was a claustrophobic 800x480 pixels. Still, the EEE could do a lot more than you might have expected from its size and price. People were running Mass Effect on this thing, a pretty big feat for a computer much smaller than an Xbox 360.

The EEE was a hit at first, inspiring competing products from Dell, HP, and Acer. Unfortunately, its popularity was quickly derailed by tablets, and by meddling from Microsoft. The company drew a line in the sand on how powerful a netbook could be, and jacked up Windows licensing fees for anyone who dared crossed that line, preventing the systems from growing along with the rest of the industry.

Netbooks may be history, but if the success of the GPD P2 Max crowdfunding campaign is any indication, we may not have seen the last of subcompact computers. Personally, I'd like to see them make a comeback... they may not be as powerful or comfortable to use as their full-sized cousins, but there's always something fascinating about making a molehill out of a mountain of technology.

Special thanks to Wikipedia and the Pocket Museum for providing information for this blog entry.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Heeeere's Johnny! (Turbo)

We now have a list of the games that will appear on the Turbografx-16 Mini... and the PC Engine Mini... and the PC Engine Core Grafx. Kishi of the Talking Time forum found an Amazon Japan listing for the three systems, which reveals that the consoles will share the same pool of fifty games (minus Tokimeki Memorial, a dating simulation that will remain exclusive to Japan).

Surprisingly, the Turbografx-16 pack-in Keith Courage was not included in this list, perhaps omitted because Konami didn't want to pay a license for the cartoon series that inspired it. More surprising still is that the trio of systems will include cartridges, CD-ROMs, and a handful of titles from the Supergrafx library. In case you missed it, that was the successor to the Turbografx, with a whopping six games. Two of these will be included in the mini consoles; Ghouls 'n Ghosts (yay!) and Aldynes (less yay).

The three consoles will offer a good sample of the Turbografx library, with Bonk's Adventure and its sequel Bonk's Revenge, three Bomberman games including the puzzle game Panic Bomber, two Gradius games along with the spin-off Salamander, and two Neutopias. There are some puzzling omissions and some equally puzzling inclusions (China Warrior? Really...?), but overall, the Turbografx triumverate should give the Genesis Mini some stiff competition when these systems are released. We'll be getting the Genesis in November, and the 'Turbs next March. 

Thanks (again) to Kishi for the scoop.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Product Does Not Convert

Years ago, I found something peculiar in the toy aisle of a department store... a Transformers action figure designed to promote one of the films by director and pyrotechnics enthusiast Michael Bay. That wasn't unexpected, but the fine print squeezed into the corner of the box was. It warned potential purchasers that the "product does not convert," which misses the point of the whole enterprise.

"But I have AM and FM radio!"
(image from Previews World)
I haven't followed the Transformers franchise since Beast Wars was cancelled twenty years ago, and I've went to great lengths to avoid the aforementioned films, watching Bumblebee only after I was assured that Michael Bay had little creative involvement. But y'know, I did used to play with these toys when I was a kid, and I take umbrage at the notion of a Transformers toy that doesn't transform. They're Transformers. It's what they do. It's in their name.

Eurrgh. Maybe they should switch to better colors.
(image from Nintendo)
Years later, Nintendo has followed in the footsteps of Hasbro, bringing the world a Switch that doesn't actually switch. The Switch Lite, due in late September and available in a limited variety of ugly colors, merges the screen and Joycons together for a singularly focused handheld akin to the Playstation Vita or Game Boy Advance. It can't connect to your television set, and it can't play 1-2 Switch out of the box, in case you weren't already tired of that.

Thanks to a drastically reduced price ($200 versus the $300 for the original model), I could see a market for the Switch Mini. Hell, I would be that market if it weren't for Nintendo shuttering Miiverse two years ago. Nevertheless, it seems weird to call this a Switch when it doesn't.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

What?! Me Worried!

In case you haven't heard (and if you're reading this, you most likely have already), MAD Magazine is grinding to a halt after sixty-seven years of publication. I've heard some people sniff that the magazine was "quaint" and "behind the times," but its style of cutting, rapid-fire humor was right up my alley. Evidently, it also resonated with dozens of successful pop culture satirists, ranging from Weird Al Yankovic to the writers of shows like The Simpsons and The Critic. 

Sophisticated MAD wasn't, but it was smarter and more insightful than people give it credit. Take for instance their feature on Brand Name Onomatopoeia, which illustrated the chemical leak of a drain pipe with the steady drip of "Du-pont, du-pont!" Years later, the staff observed that the reboot of Beavis and Butthead failed because the show about two braindead teenagers who pass the time with frog baseball had become too highbrow for MTV's audience. 

The beady-eyed mascot and the frequent slapstick may have suggested otherwise, but MAD was valuable as a clear, concise chronicle of current events. Pick up a copy from 1987, or 1995, or 2009, and it would tell you at least as much about the cultural climate of the time as Newsweek... and you'd have a lot more fun learning about it. My condolences to the children of the future, who will be cheated out of the same opportunity to see the world around them without blinders.

Off that subject (which admittedly has nothing to do with video games, but it's my blog, so there), I just purchased a laptop to replace my creaky old Acer from 2010. It's not new either, but if the specs and benchmarks are to be believed, it's going to be a heck of a lot faster than this old beater. Maybe it'll even sort of kind of run games! I guess I'll find out in a week when it finally arrives. Wish me luck.