Thursday, February 25, 2021

Put a Data Cap in Your Ass

I don't know how much this matters because next to nobody reads this shit anyway, but can the game industry stop with the demand for massive downloads already? Somehow, people are wondering why Google Stadia- the service which forces you to stream games from a server hundreds of miles away- is plummeting to its demise, when it's clear that this country's internet can't even handle the demands of ordinary game consoles. 

Google Stadia.
(image from News4JAX)

Let me give you an example. Every time I turn on my Playstation 4, it insists on a time-consuming system update, or a game update, which explains why I haven't been turning on my Playstation 4 much lately. Oh, Dan Hibiki is finally available in Street Fighter V? That's fantastic! I'll go buy the character right... no, I guess I have to sit through a 27GB download first. That's ten hours of twiddling my thumbs waiting, instead of spinning them on the D-pad where they should be. 

He. Doesn't. Seem. To Have. A Problem. With.
Waiting. Maybe. I. Should Just. Be. Patient.
(image from the Disney Fandom Wiki)
(Did you know those Fandom guys just bought
out Fanatical, the company that sells Steam keys
at budget prices? Kind of surprised me.)

Remind me again how large Street Fighter V: Champion Edition was? 45GB, you say? Why am I downloading a file that's over half the size of the full game, when I've already downloaded the update that transformed it into the Champion Edition months ago? In fact, why did I have to re-download the whole damned thing from scratch last year, when I switched from a physical copy to a digital one? It's written to the hard drive one way or the other... the only thing that disc is good for is proof of ownership. 

All this downloading and re-downloading and re-re-downloading is wasted bandwidth, which is inconvenient for those of us slow internet speeds (read: every American who doesn't live in a city) and downright expensive for everyone with data caps. If the player is limited to 100GB of data a month by their ISP, they've just wasted a quarter of their allotment downloading a game THAT'S ALREADY ON THEIR HARD DRIVE! Can't you consolidate things a little? Is it really necessary to make an update with only minor revisions to the core gameplay HALF THE SIZE of the original file?! (Hint: No it's not, if you put in some effort.)

Not even kidding about this! If anything,
I undersold the size of this update!

We're at a point where the Xbox One that was originally envisioned as encumbered with DRM and a mandated internet connection is somehow less of a hassle to use online than the Playstation 4, which was originally promoted with this video. The restrictions Don Mattrick wanted to burden the Xbox One with in 2013 are history, yet the constant demands for downloads on the Playstation 4 remain an aggravating reality. 

Maybe they should have showed the part in the video where the Sony chairman had to wait through a bunch of system and game updates before he could play the disc he was handed in a couple of seconds. Remind me, can you post ten hour videos on YouTube?

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Two for the Price of None

Oh, that whole Nintendo Direct thing? I didn't watch it... but fortunately, these guys did! Some highlights include a sequel to Splatoon, a new game in the Mario Golf franchise, and remakes of titles from a few console generations ago, including Legend of Mana and late Xbox Classic obscurity Stubbs the Zombie. Okay, I can see another Mana game on the Switch, but Stubbs the freaking Zombie? The action game built on the Halo engine, where you lob your own decayed, exploding body parts at residents of a quaint 1950s town? That came out of left field. Hell, that came out of a baseball stadium several miles to the west.

I don't want no Stubbs, a Stubbs is a corpse
that will get no love from me...
(image from USGamer)

Also, some sword-wielders from Xenoblade Chronicles are being added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and I will not be buying them. At the rate things are going, the cast of the next Smash Bros game will be fifty percent Fire Emblem and Xenoblade characters by volume. They can call it "Oops! All Swordies."

Now for the news that excites me! Match of the Millennium, the best fighting game and possibly best game ever on the Neo-Geo Pocket, has found a new home on the Nintendo Switch. That'll set you back $7.99, like all the other games in the Neo-Geo Pocket Color Selection series. Also, Capcom Arcade Studio has finally arrived, bringing with it two free games. You'll get 1943 by default, but you can also have Ghosts 'n Goblins gratis if you download it before the 25th. Oh yeah, I'd buy that for no dollars. 

The remainder of the games in CAS can be bought in packs, split into three different eras of gaming and each costing $14.99. The problem is that many of the games from the latter two packs were already available in Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection and Capcom Beat 'Em Up Bundle. No, they don't automatically unlock in CAS if you already own those two Switch games, although they really should. 

One other thing worth mentioning: Capcom Arcade Studio awards a fake currency called "CASPO" for your performance in the games, which appears to have no other function but online bragging rights. As if anyone would brag or even openly admit their high scores in a game that sounds like a brand of condoms. On the plus side, you won't have to feed all your CASPO (the machine gun toting ghost?) into a slot machine to unlock goodies, as you did in Capcom Classics Collection Reloaded for the PSP. On the down side, why didn't they call it Zenny? That's been the coin of the realm in Capcom games since the late 1980s.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Solder the Hedgehog

After ten thousand years, I'm free! It's time to... uh, update this blog.

Emboldened by my successes with previous electronics projects (repairing a JoyCon last week, and unlocking a stubborn smartphone the week before), I finally worked up the courage to order a replacement battery for my Dreamcast. I just finished the installation, and I'm pleased to say that the operation went smoothly, with no major crap ups. Removing the fan cable from the controller PCB was the hardest part... pulling out the connector proved stressful, as the port on the board wriggled with every tug. I was worried that I'd tear the damned thing off the board completely, but careful use of a pair of tweezers and pliers kept things where they needed to be. Desoldering the old coin battery proved far easier... it was as if the worn out cell was ready for retirement, and slipped off the board with little resistance.

This little mofo is gonna give you trouble.
(image from iFixit)

Now my Dreamcast has a fresh battery, and a holder that will make future swaps a snap. Preliminary testing has been encouraging... the system retains the time even after being unplugged from the power strip and reconnected, so I should never again be reminded of its (and my) advanced age.

It's a good thing, too, as I suspect I'll be spending more time with the Dreamcast thanks to the releases of Force Five and KenJu. I'm rather fond of the first game, a slightly wonky Virtua Fighter clone that nevertheless impresses by running at a brisk clip and offering features other fighting games don't. Case in point: projectiles often have unpredictable trajectories, with one character's fireball bouncing along the floor and another being pulled behind the fighter like it was loaded into a slingshot, before launching at the opponent. The game eventually reached Japanese arcades as Jingi Storm with an unwelcome hentai makeover, but I like it just the way it is here.

Tough games... demand tough talk, demand
tough hearts, demand tough souls, demand!
(image from Sega Sky)

I wish I were more enthused about KenJu. It's closer in design to Street Fighter II, but it's even more like Rival Schools, with the same off-puttingly stiff feel. Beyond that, some of the play mechanics are hard to grasp, like the the namesake KenJu Kakusei. See, there's a meter below the health bars that works like the tug of war bar in World Heroes' Death Match mode... land hits on an opponent and it fills with your color. Get it completely full by dominating the match and you can perform a rapid-fire flurry of punches and kicks for about five seconds. It's similar to the Variable Attack in Street Fighter Alpha 3 or the Exceed mode in Street Fighter EX 2, but you've got less control over when it happens. The air launcher likewise feels awkward and impractical, with you mashing buttons to score hits after the opponent is sent skyward. It's free so there's no harm in playing it... just know that in a sea of great Dreamcast fighters, KenJu is unlikely to be one of your favorites.

Hm, what else should I mention? Oh yes, Hustler publisher Larry Flynt recently died. I didn't spend a lot of time reading that magazine, but I did enjoy his other publication, Video Games and Computer Entertainment, along with its spin-off Tips and Tricks. (And yes, I definitely was reading them for the articles.) Also, someone released a Vectrex version of Warblade, a hectic shooter previously known as Deluxe Galaga. Frankly, I'm amazed this old machine can handle it, but somehow it manages, filling the screen with bugs, bombs, and bonus prizes.

Vectorblade, designed by Vide Malban.
The Germans seem to have a weird
fascination with the Vectrex. No, I don't
get it. No, I don't understand the
Hasselhoff thing, either.
(image from Retro Gaming Magazine)

You can run this either on a standard issue Vectrex or a Pitrex, which is evidently a Raspberry Pi connected to the Vectrex through the cartridge port, which runs Vectrex games using a Vectrex emulator. On the Vectrex. I need to sit down for a moment; that last sentence gave me a headache.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Microsurgeon

Come along and ride on the Fantastic Voyage!
(image from INTV Funhouse. TV Funhouse.
TV Funhouse. Come back with my show!)

You know, I had Microsurgeon for the Intellivision, once upon a time. It was one of those recklessly ambitious, conceptually brilliant games on the system like Utopia or B-17 Bomber or Hover Strike which glued you to your television even after the metal bar on the front of the system got so hot it burned to the touch.

But this post isn't about THAT kind of microsurgeon! Rather, it's about me having to install a new thumbstick in my Switch. I started the procedure feeling rather anxious, and ended it with a sense of accomplishment, coupled with some resentment that it was even necessary in the first place. Come on, Nintendo, you're supposed to be the champions when it comes to console reliability! Remember that GameBoy you recovered from Desert Storm, with its exterior burned to a crisp by napalm but its innards still capable of playing Tetris? How about the GameCube, which took a licking from Morgan Von Webb and kept on ticking? Now it feels like you've taken a step back to the days of the NES, with its flashing screens and finicky cartridge slot. Sure, gamers can buy a replacement JoyCon, if they can afford it... or even find it.

Since I couldn't, I had to go with invasive surgery... and while the thumbstick swap was a success, I struggle to think of another system which forced me to do this and made it so difficult. Do you know how small the components are inside a JoyCon? Small. "Insert Johnny Carson joke here" small. Small enough that I had to use a friggin' toothpick to push the power cable back into its proper slot. This is not a user-friendly fix, yet it's precisely what thousands of players have had to do because drifting has been such a widespread problem, and replacement JoyCons have been anything but widespread! Bad Nintendo! No biscuit!

Oh, by the way, this is what remained of the factory installed thumbstick:

It straight up disintegrated after I opened the JoyCon case and removed the screws holding it in place. Looks like at Nintendo, quality is job none!

Hmph. Anyway. Games just keep on comin' for the Dreamcast thanks to Megavolt85 and yzb. The duo just ported KenJu, a 2.5D fighter I didn't even know existed until this week, to the system, along with a prototype called Force Five, whose assets were repurposed in a different fighting game. It's even more entertainment from the game console that would not die.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Set Adrift a Second Switch

You know, Nintendo, you've got a pretty good hustle going on with the Switch Lite. People buy these pared down handheld systems hoping to save money, get frustrated with the tiny screen and lack of features, and go back to the store to get a real Switch, netting you five hundred dollars when your more cash-strapped customers were hoping to save three hundred.

You think you guys are pretty smart, but I didn't pay three hundred dollars for this Switch. It was more like $240 at a pawn shop, a pretty good deal which got even pretty better when I discovered the previous owner had left a 64GB memory card inside it. On the downside, the dreaded thumbstick drift that's been a bane of Switch owners for years has found its way to this system as well. The right Joy Con seems to be the problem, but it's not that big a deal as I have joysticks and adapters that will let me circumvent it.

With a different controller attached, this Switch works better as a handheld than my last one. I can flip it on its side, rest it on the couch, and play games like Exerion and Donkey Kong with their proper aspect ratio, boosting both my enjoyment and my high scores. Huh, now I get what all the FlipGrip hype was about! Thread some cables through the back of the docking base and drop the Switch inside, and it becomes a console... albeit one that's fighting my ThinkCentre PC and Genesis Mini for control of the third HDMI port on my television set. (I really need to do some pre-spring cleaning; my entertainment center looks like a Best Buy from 2017 exploded. You don't even want to know how my Wii U looks at this point.)

My only beef with the second Switch (aside from the fact that it chiseled another $240 out of my pocket...) is how it handles my account. It'll play the games I've already purchased, sure, but it takes a few extra seconds, checking with Nintendo HQ to make sure I've got the rights to play them. It doesn't bode well for those times when my internet takes a dirt nap, which happens more often than you'd like when you live out in the boonies.

But hey! I have a Switch now... like, a real Switch, and not some sorry half-measure that's only technically compatible with it. You can't realistically play Mechstermination Force or Rock of Ages on the Switch Lite unless you've got 20/10 vision and an electron microscope.

Friday, January 22, 2021

Inactive Visions

So. We've got a new president now (thank goodness), and he was sworn in on...well, this.

image from The Wrap

That Bible is hella thick and old. It looks less like the religious text you'd bring with you to church on Sunday and more like a weapon you'd use for protection while invading Dracula's castle. Then again, considering the last occupant of the White House, Biden could use all the protection against unholy nightmares he can get. Better bring along a sack full of garlic and stakes (not steaks with catsup; the last guy liked those) while you're at it.

image from the Castlevania
Fandom Wiki

Anyway. The eShop sale mentioned in a previous post is over, and my take from it was surprisingly slim... just Pure Pool, Panzer Dragoon, A Short Hike, and Clubhouse Games, with a copy of Captain Toad I managed to get at a steep discount, because Wal-Mart accidentally sold the game for the price of its DLC, and members of Cheap Ass Gamer were quick to flip all the copies they purchased during this brief mistake.

I haven't dug too deeply into my bounty yet, but I did leaf through Clubhouse Games and was slightly underwhelmed. It's polished yet bland, like a shellacked saltine cracker, and that's pretty much exactly what I should have expected from it. However, the selection of titles is unappetizing compared to its Nintendo DS predecessor, packed to overflowing with board games and card games I'm not likely to play. It seemed like the DS version was a little more creative, including a Jenga-like game of balance and the slightly nerve-wracking Soda Shake.

Also, Bowling was a bit of a letdown, at least from the perspective of a Switch Lite owner. I already have a couple of bowling games for the system, and the best of these, Strike!, wisely uses a vertical aspect ratio, giving you a better view of the alley and more room to swipe your finger for throws. Clubhouse Games Bowling is played with the system held horizontally, and I can't tell you how many throws I've guffed because of the limited finger real estate. At least the impact of the ball against the pins is more satisfying here, with a loud thunderous crash, compared to the unremarkable clacking of pins in Strike! and the toothless, tinkling sound effects in Knock 'Em Down Bowling.

The improbably good DS
game Tony Hawk's American
Sk8land, created by Vicarious
Visions. Guess we won't be
seeing much of that action
anymore, thanks to Bobby
Kotick.
(image from DarkZero.co.uk)

There's something else worth mentioning... oh yes, Vicarious Visions is being absorbed by the Blizzard half of Activision-Blizzard. I'm not just saddened by this news as a fan of the Game Boy Advance, where many of their games were published, but also a little mystified. VV was one of the few game companies that could turn the sow's ear of a television license into the silk purse of a respectable handheld video game, and their specialized talents will be wasted at a publisher best known for World of Warcraft. 

There's still room in this industry for a game company that can make entertaining handheld games based on cartoons and movies, really! Just look at Wayforward, which has made it their bread and butter for the last twenty years. I'd personally just leave well enough alone and let Vicarious Visions do what they do best, but hey, what do I know? (More than Bobby Kotick, the guy who cratered the Tony Hawk and Guitar Hero series with a decade of oversaturation and inferior products.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Besieged with Choices

"There was a poem
in ancient Rome
about a dog
who found two bones
he picked the one
he licked the other
he went in circles
he dropped dead!"

Freedom of Choice, DEVO

Can't decide! Brain aneurysm!
(image from IGN)
(also, Psyduck looks less like a Pokemon here
and more like a bit character from a Munch
painting.)

People like choice, but they hate deciding between two equally appealing choices. That's the dilemma I'm currently facing with the eShop New Year's sale, which offers a whole lot of appealing choices and only so much money to stretch between them. Do I get Clubhouse Games, packed with over fifty different diversions? None of these insubstantial games would be especially tempting on their own, but when you pack them all together in one package and cut the price to the lowest it's ever been, you start to take it a lot more seriously.

Perhaps I should go one step further and get SmileBASIC, a programming language which lets you download hundreds of games or even create your own. The promise of infinite gameplay for a paltry seventeen dollars is hard to ignore, but then you realize that a programming language also demands an investment of your time... time to download the fruit of others' labors, and time needed to learn that specific dialect of BASIC. Let's not forget that without a keyboard, typing in those programs is going to take a whole lot longer on the Switch than it would a personal computer.

No no, that's starting to sound more like work than play. Maybe I should snap up some of the games in the Sega Ages collection, currently being sold at healthy discounts. Maybe recently released indie titles like A Short Hike and CrossCode (a dual stick shooter/RPG mash-up?) would be a better investment. Then again, I could always set my sights a little higher and buy one of the big budget games  on sale, like Ghostbusters, or Crysis, or Assassin's Creed IV, or Borderlands: The Handsome Collection. I've got to assume that Borderlands 2 would be a much better experience on the Switch than it was the Vita, which could barely keep up with its demands.

Perhaps I should just save what money I got from the stimulus and put it into the computer I bought at a thrift store a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, that comes with its own tough choices... should I stick with the small form factor case the system came in, saving space but also sacrificing expandability? Or should I risk transplanting it into the more spacious case I purchased at an estate sale last year? There'd be plenty of room for a video card in there, but it's also plenty big and bulky.

I can drag my feet on the computer for a while, but with the New Year's sale ending on January 21st, I've got a whole lot of choices on the Switch and not much time or money to make them.