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  1. Keeping an old 2600 running isn't always easy... My original 2600 is kind of an odd one to begin with, in that it was a factory reconditioned Sears console, with a light-sixer case, but heavy-sixer insides. Apparently, this is just something Atari did. It makes sense - if they're factory-refurbishing something, they'll put it back into the best, or newest, case available. In 2002, as I dusted off my 2600 for the first time in years, I noticed the springs in the switches were broken. These were the chrome-capped switches Atari used when reconditioning their consoles, although I didn't know that at the time. I thought they were just stock switches. So I ordered some replacements, only to find out they were the aluminum-finish ones instead. I was disappointed, but installed them anyway. In hindsight - I would have disassembled them, and kept the chrome switches, just repairing the springs. In 2008, my 2600 died. In that case, it turned out to be the hex buffer (CD4050) - which was a pretty easy fix. Thanks to batari and supercat who suggested that was the problem. Then, in 2011, it died again. This time though - I couldn't get it working again. I wasn't sure what the problem was, although the console had taken a lot of abuse over the years as the guinea pig for my mods comparison tests. I tried swapping chips with a working four-switch Vader, to no avail. Meanwhile, I used the Vader as my daily driver. In 2015 I bought a populated six-switch donor board from Best Electronics to swap parts with, in an attempt to get my original console working again. But despite my "best" efforts - my original 2600 just wouldn't work. Its TIA was good though, since that worked in the donor light-sixer. But its 6507 and RIOT wouldn't work, so I figured those were bad. But even swapping all of the donor's chips over to my 2600 didn't get that working. So then the donor board went into my original 2600's case, "fixing" it. But it wasn't really fixed, and I still really wanted to get as much of my original 2600 working as possible. Then recently, mojoatomic began selling capacitor and voltage regulator kits. Now, these parts can be found at Digikey or Mouser, but the nice thing about buying his kits, is that he buys them in bulk, and saves you the trouble (and shipping costs) of hunting them down yourself. Everything's just there in a neat little bag. Plus, he posted instructions on what to replace. And he also sells brand-new replacement power adapter jacks. Very nice! So, hoping this might have been part of my original 2600's problem, I ordered up some kits and installed them. But again, to no avail. Swapping the chips with the donor light-sixer still didn't fix it. Mojoatomic also suggested checking for cold solder joints and bad connectors on the IC sockets or cart connector. So, I spent a pretty long evening desoldering and replacing the IC sockets, and completely re-soldering the cart connector. Still nothing. At this point, I was about to give up and take up mojoatomic on his offer to see if he could fix whatever was wrong. But first, I tried one more thing. I pulled the RIOT and 6507 from the Vader again, and popped those into my original heavy board. And it worked! My Atari was back! For realsies, this time! So what happened, and why didn't the donor-sixer's chips work in my board? They worked in the light-sixer, and the chips are all the same, right? Well... not exactly. Since I first got the donor board, it always had a slightly odd quirk. It worked fine, but whenever I pressed the fire button on the joystick, the picture would dim slightly. I had hoped recapping and replacing the voltage regulator on the donor would fix that problem. But it didn't. Yet - the console still worked. So I assumed its chips all worked. But apparently, the RIOT is going bad. It's not bad enough to fail on the light-sixer, but it is on the heavy. So I was trying to troubleshoot using a bad chip. Once I put the Vader's RIOT into the donor-sixer, the dimming problem went away. I think the sequence of events went like this: My power adapter had some sort of problem. When it did, it took out my original console's RIOT and 6507. (That power adapter has - quite recently - fully up and died. So I'm sure now it was the culprit.) It may have also taken out the voltage regulator or a cap somewhere. This would explain why originally transplanting the Vader's chips didn't work. It may have also damaged the donor light-sixer's RIOT, causing the dimming problem. But I have no way of knowing that. In the end, I had a bad 6507, and two bad RIOTs. But now I have two re-capped 2600s with new voltage regulators and power adapter jacks, and I know they both work. I'm going to go through and upgrade my Vader and another four-switcher I have with those kits as well. I've ordered up the replacement chips I need from Best, as well as a few other goodies (power supplies, joystick rebuild kits, and a speaker upgrade for my pimped-out Lynx). For the time being, I'll keep the Vader's chips in my original console, so that for the first time in almost six years, I finally have a working heavy-sixer-in-a-light-sixer-Sears-shell 2600 again. Now all I need to do is find another set of six chrome-capped switches.
  2. This is a pretty cool blog entry. Alan Kay and Bob Stein were working for Atari back in '82, and were asked to come up with some concepts for an "Intelligent Encyclopedia". They hired recent-ex-Disney artist Glenn Keane to illustrate them, and what they came up with was, well, basically what we're doing with iPads, the internet, and all that sort of stuff now.
  3. No doubt thanks to all of the hard work he puts into AtariAge, and his upcoming attendance at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, he is this week's App of the week! Download him now, while he's still free!
  4. ... we could have been referring to the 2600 as "Giant Butte" all of these years, instead of "Stella".
  5. First of all... it's 110° outside today. For the second day in a row. Tomorrow will be the same. Fortunately, on Sunday, it will finally drop "down" into the high 90's. This is one of those days where you're only outside long enough to run from one air-conditioned space to another. Last wiikend, however, I got to go down to my friends' place in Redondo Beach, where it was nice and cool. It wouldn't take a whole lot of convincing for me to move down there, except I'd absolutely have to get a new job. (A two-hour commute each way would not sit well with me.) While there, we hung out and played Mario Kart on his Wii. Even though I didn't know the tracks very well, and am still not used to the Wii Wheel control, it was a lot of fun racing against people from literally all across the world. Yes, I realize I'm probably the last person on Earth to experience online multiplayer gaming, but it was very cool - and these were people I didn't even know - so racing (or playing other games) against people I did know would be an absolute blast. At this point though, the Wii's virtual console stuff doesn't really appeal to me much, since they're all systems I never owned in the first place. I'd love to see vintage arcade games become available (even Nintendo's own), as well as 2600 games and other classic consoles - Colecovision, Intellivision, Odyssey2, Vectrex, the 5200, and so on. Sure, I didn't own any of those either, but they were contemporary with the 2600, so I'd have an interest in checking them out. (For what it's worth, I think Nintendo should buy out the rights to Atari from Infogrames. Infogrames needs the money, Nintendo gets a near-monopoly on classic gaming, and Atari would finally be owned by a company that wasn't run by complete idiots.) But I have to ask myself... would it be wiirth it to buy a Wii? There are a handful of games I'm sure I'd play (the upcoming Tiger Woods golf game looks excellent, although I could probably do without the stress fractures), and likely more are coming down the road, but just to get the console and Mario Kart would be at least $300. That's a round-trip airfare ticket to Seattle (plus a pizza at Spiro's). Or a 16GB 3G iPhone. Or a pretty good start on a Vectrex collection. And it would be another mouth to feed (in addition to my other game systems). Besides all that, the Wii is still ridiculously hard to find. So I guess for now, the answer is "no" - it's not wiirth it. As Nintendo catches up to demand, the price will come down, and a year from now Mario Kart will be in the $20 bargain bin. Besides... I haven't eaten at Spiro's in months. But I would be interested in hearing from others who have a Wii and what they think of it. So comment away!
  6. So, it's January. Funny, it seems like it was January just a few weeks ago. The MacWorld Expo (Apple's big annual show-and-tell) is coming up in a couple of days. They almost always announce some new product at it. The question is - what will they release this year? (That would be 2008, by the way. I don't know about you, but I find that rather hard to believe.) With that, I'll once again display my incredible wealth of ignorance, by making Technology Predictions for 2008. But first, it's time to look back on some of my past predictions, and see how I did. Apple Predictions 2007: Apple will announce a deal bringing the Beatles to their iTunes Store, during last years' SuperBowl. Wrong. Didn't happen. But EMI was the first to release DRM-free music through iTunes, and all of the Beatles' have their solo work now available through iTunes, so this seems inevitable. Apple is going to announce a new, widescreen iPod, with touch-screen interface. Basically, the iPhone, without all of the phone functionality, and with a hard drive. Partially right. Well, I thought it might show up as early as the SuperBowl, but it did show up. It just didn't have the hard drive. (But it should.) Expected OS X 10.5 to ship May or June. Wrong. It shipped in October. Eight-core processor Mac Pros. Right. Not only did this happen, but now that's the standard configuration. I have one in my office at work, and it's extremely fast. At least for multiprocessor-aware applications. Adobe: They'd ship Universal versions of their applications. Right. They did, although they shipped them earlier than I expected them to, since I thought they'd come out when OS X 10.5 did (or rather, Apple shipped 10.5 later than I expected). Adobe's apps would be optimized to use Apple's Core Animation to accelerate everything. Wrong. Didn't happen. Probably next time. Hoped against hope that Illustrator CS3 would include backwards-compatibility with FreeHand files. Right. Unbelievably, this actually happened. You can open FreeHand files in Illustrator, although the results are a little dicey. But it's better than nothing. Apple will release a new version of Final Cut Studio, including major updates to Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, and Motion. These will all take advantage of the core graphics in 10.5, and offer major speed improvements, but generally minor feature bumps otherwise. Partially right. Yawn. The updates were all minor, except for a slew of nice features in Soundtrack Pro, and the addition of 3D effects in Motion. Final Cut added a few updates, but it was far from a major overhaul. DVD Studio Pro has almost nothing new in it, but I suspect it's because they're waiting for the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD dust to settle. iLife '07 and iWorks '07 will ship. These will likewise be accelerated for 10.5, and in fact, will require it. iWorks will finally include some spreadsheet functionality, and hopefully regain some of the basic database tools that AppleWorks used to have. Partially right. They both shipped (but are called '08 instead of '07), but don't require 10.5. There's a spreadsheet program (and a very nice one) but no database. I gave the following percentages for these predictions: Eight-core Mac Pro - 85%. New Adobe software: Photoshop - 90%, Illustrator - 75%, InDesign - 80%, After Effects (by September) - 65%. Illustrator w/ FreeHand compatibility - 5%. New Final Cut Studio - 95%. Full Blu-Ray authoring support - 45%. Some Blu-Ray support - 70%. New iLife and iWorks - 85%. Partially right. Did pretty good, for the most part. New MacBook Pros by the end of Summer - an 80% chance of happening. A super-lightweight MacBook - 35%. Partially right. MacBook Pros were updated during the Summer, but still used the old form factor. Lightweight MacBooks aren't here... yet. AppleTV will become more useful and TiVo-like. But there's only a 20% of this. Wrong. Still hasn't happened. But I was right in that it was a long-shot. Apple products that I predicted wouldn't happen in 2007: Apple-branded high-definition TVs. Right. Still not here, and still won't happen. A tablet computer. Right. Not yet. Apple officially supporting Windows on their computers. Right. Still nope. You can run it, but they don't offer support for it. Apple allowing OS X to run on generic PCs. Right. Still nope, and never will. And now... Apple predictions for '08: Apple will release a lightweight MacBook. Most likely at MacWorld Expo. Rumor has it that it will use flash memory for storage. I think it will use a combination of flash memory (for ultra-low power consumption) and a hard drive for capacity, and will shuffle files back and forth as it needs to, transparent to the user. Also rumored is that it will have an external optical drive to cut down on space, but I'm not sure I buy into that. That seems a little too inelegant for Apple. Rather, if there's no internal optical drive, there will be some sort of docking station to hook it up to a desktop Mac (or larger notebook) to piggy-back that machine's optical drive. Basically, you'll sync it up to a host computer, the way you would with an iPod (or the Apple TV). (Addendum: If the flash memory is 64 GB or higher, there will be no hard drive in it.) Apple will release a touch-screen tablet computer, with a stand/docking station that basically turns it into an iMac (with the addition of a wireless keyboard and mouse). I don't expect to see this until Summer, but it could be Steve Jobs' "one more thing" at MWExpo on Tuesday. Axiotron will decide to go out of business shortly thereafter. Some major update of the Apple TV. I don't think Apple has given up on this yet. I'm hoping they'll add DVR capabilities to it, but I'm not holding my breath. I expect it to be more of a movie/TV show player for stuff you buy (or rent) through iTunes. The difference will be - you can rent movies directly through it from the comfort of your sofa. Updated iPhone. 3G is already a given, but I expect to see one with GPS built-in, too. Hopefully. But not until Summer. Blu-Ray support will finally show up this Summer at WWDC. With it, will come either an update to DVD Studio Pro, or an all new app for authoring Blu-Ray discs. More on Blu-Ray predictions right about ... now. HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, and the next-gen console wars predictions Okay, I'm reaching back almost two years for these: The PS3 would be the dominant console, and the XBox 360 would be second place. Wrong. The extra time on the market, price difference, and Halo 3 all gave Microsoft a big lead over the PS3. This despite a lot of quality control problems with the 360. The Wii might climb over Microsoft to take second place. Sort-of right. The Wii did pass Microsoft, but it has now taken over first place. Blu-Ray will beat out HD-DVD. Not yet, but soon. See below. And finally... HD-DVD vs. Blu-Ray, and the next-gen console wars predictions for 2008: The Wii will increase its lead - if it can keep good software coming. People will get bored playing tennis in their living room after awhile. The PS3 will remain a distant third unless two things happen: Blu-Ray is declared the winner, and the format wars end. Then people will be actively looking for a Blu-Ray player. But only if: Sony slashes the price of the PS3. I expect to see a slim-line, lower cost PS3, but not until the end of 2009. Sony needs to cut their prices this Summer, to be competitive with the XBox 360. If they were really smart, they'd undercut the 360 by $50. Timing the price cut with the release of Gran Turismo 5 wouldn't hurt, either. Blu-Ray will win over HD-DVD. The other week (right before CES) Warner announced it would be dropping HD-DVD, in favor of Blu-Ray. The latest news suggests that the last two major studios - Paramount and Universal - may also abandon HD-DVD, since together they represent only about 30% of the potential content. Paramount reportedly has an escape clause in its exclusivity deal with the HD-DVD consortium, that lets them out if Warner drops out. Also, some reports indicate that Universal's deal has already expired. Things look bad for HD-DVD, since right after the Warner announcement, the HD-DVD backers postponed, then outright canceled their CES keynote presentation. HD-DVD is on life-support, and the plug is about to be pulled. Sales for HD-DVD were reportedly 1/3 of Blu-Ray sales, and with more studios jumping ship, retail stores aren't going to want to waste shelf space on a handful of movies for a dying format. I expect HD-DVD to be gone by the end of Summer. Completely gone. Remember how fast Divx DVDs vanished? Look for the same thing. HD-DVD had an uphill battle all the way. Here are some other factors contributing to its demise: Sony was determined to win. At any cost. Toshiba underestimated them, and their ability to partner with (or bully) other manufacturers and movie studios. Toshiba is not a movie studio. They didn't have as much credibility with them. HD-DVD: the acronym. Guess what? Average consumers are confused by acronyms. Consumers hate being confused by acronyms. There are a lot of them floating around right now. HDTV, HDV, HD-DVD, HDMI, DVD... but only one Blu-Ray. At first, I thought Sony was stupid to call it that. But what it does, is distance Blu-Ray from everything else. It removes a layer of confusion, by being different. I understood this most clearly when talking to my parents about the hi-def formats. They knew what Blu-Ray was. HD-DVD got lost in amongst other acronyms. Sony still has some work to do though - my folks didn't think their current DVDs would play on a Blu-Ray player. Toshiba was (for all intents and purposes) the only company making HD-DVD players. This scares consumers. There's strength in numbers. Toshiba is a well-known company - but it's not Sony, Pioneer, Panasonic, Philips, Sharp, Samsung and LG. Lawsuits galore. After HD-DVD disappears, expect people to start suing retailers, movie studios and Toshiba, for having sold them an obsolete technology. Movie studios (or retailers) will probably offer a coupon for $5 off of Blu-Ray movies, for every HD-DVD turned in, just to appease people and boost sales. The lawsuits will all be thrown out, because hey - that's technology, kiddies. Well, that's enough of that. As early as Tuesday, we'll start seeing just how wrong one person can be!
  7. So... with the recent announcement of the PS3 "slim" (which I choose to refer to as the more confusing "PS3-2"), I'm wondering if maybe I should get one? I've been thinking about getting a Blu-Ray player anyway, the likeliest candidate of which would be the Sony BDP-560 (it does the Bravia-sync thing with my TV, and has built-in WiFi for firmware upgrades and whatnot) which sells for $269... only $30 less than the PS3. However... even though the PS3 is "only" $299, it doesn't come with the $20 Blu-Ray remote. So that's $50 more than a Blu-Ray player, but then it's basically like paying only $50 for a PS3 (razors and razorblades... Nolan Bushnell was so right on the money with that). The thing is... there is currently only one game I'd get for the PS3: Burnout Paradise. Gran Turismo 5 is due out sometime before 2020, so that would make two, but that would be about it. Now there are rumors about the PS3 gaining backwards compatibility via emulation, so that would add some value to it since I've still got some PS2 games I play (although what do you do with the old memory cards; and it wouldn't exactly kill me to leave the PS2 hooked up either). Well, it ain't gonna happen this month anyway, but I'll have to mull it over a bit more seriously now. I guess the thing to do is see how much more Blu-Ray players prices drop this fall, and what movies come out in Blu-Ray (I'd buy a player just for Tron or the original Star Wars). As it is, I'm not entirely sure I want another video game mouth to feed. On the positive side, another one of my predictions was right.
  8. So, it's time to tackle the latest console wars.Get comfortable... this is going to take awhile. Sony vs. MicrosoftThe XBox 360 is going to sell a lot of units, and eventually make money for Microsoft. But they're going to be second place to Sony, even before the PlayStation 3 is launched.The reasons for this have to do in part with the technical specs of the systems, the games available at or after launch, and brand loyalty. And while those are all going to be contributing factors, none of those are the root cause.The root cause is due to a completely different corporate culture within Microsoft and Sony. Make no mistake about it - Sony is just as big of a monopolistic bully as Microsoft is - but they approach their businesses in entirely different ways.On the surface, they share some similarities. Sony wants to dominate any market it enters. Consumer electronics, professional video equipment, video games, and so on. It does this, more often than not, by creating products that, through one means or another, become the de facto standard for their type. Sony does this, in part, through bullying, just as Microsoft does. Especially when it comes to professional products. Sony adopts a "my way or the highway" attitude, and they're so large they can usually get away with it. But the thing to remember about Sony is - they're a proactive company. They want to dominate the market by having the "must-have" product out there. Sometimes they do this by inventing a product, sometimes they do it by re-inventing an existing product in a proprietary manner that forces you to use their version of it. Either way, Sony relies on some degree of innovation to succeed. They're always taking the initiative, and they plan for the long-haul. They want the best product out there, because they know it's likely to come out on top, and when it gets there, they want it to stay there. Sony wants to lock you in as a customer for years (and many product cycles) to come.Microsoft, on the other hand, is a reactive company. Everything they do is in response to something else. They lack the ability to self-generate any sort of original ideas and are only doing what's necessary to dominate in the here and now. They see an area of technology where they don't rule, and want to get in there and take it over. They don't care about having the best products out there - they're concerned about having the biggest piece of the pie, and getting it as fast as they can. If they can take over an industry, they can own an industry. If they can own an industry, they don't have to innovate. They're short-sighted and can't see beyond the horizon. This is why they keep having to change strategies when new technologies appear seemingly out of nowhere and threaten them. They respond after-the-fact to paradigm shifts - but they don't cause them. This is the corporate attitude that spawned the XBox 360. This is also the attitude that spawned the original XBox.The original XBox came about because Microsoft saw Sony's total dominance of the videogame market, and the kind of money that industry generated. It was done as a response to Sony - not as a genuine desire to make a better gaming machine. It only took 18 months for Microsoft to throw the XBox together and get it to market. They rushed it out there to cash in on the buzz surrounding what were the "next-gen consoles" as fast as they could.The problem was, they ended up coming in second to Sony. By a pretty wide margin, too. This was unacceptable to Microsoft. The reason they ended up in second was mainly because their console really didn't offer anything that was compelling enough to get people to not buy a PlayStation 2. Certainly a lot of people bought the XBox (24 million at last count), but it didn't do what Microsoft wanted it to do - take away Sony's customers.For the XBox 360, Microsoft is once again reacting to Sony. This time, it's the PlayStation 3 they're reacting to, even though that hasn't been released yet. Now, Microsoft has always implied there would be a follow-up to the XBox, so how can this be a reaction? Because they rushed the XBox 360 to market.Microsoft released the XBox 360 when it did, not because the console was the best it could be and it was the right time to release it. They released it to beat Sony to market. Period. They wanted to cash in on the Christmas buying season, and the fact that they would be the only next generation console on the market for months. They believed that this would cause every gamer out there who wanted a next-gen system to buy the 360, since it would be here now. With Microsoft, it's always about now. Dominate now. Take out the competition by beating Sony to the punch. Get the consumers to spend their money now, and they won't want to buy a PS3 later, right?The trouble is, it's not going to work.In the short term, there are a couple of big problems for Microsoft.Console ShortagesFirst of all, there's the shortage of XBox 360s. In fact, Microsoft sold out of the units so fast (mere days after its November 22nd release), some industry pundits are claiming it actually hurt the overall holiday sales figures for videogames. And if people can't buy a 360, they're going to spend their money on something else. Either more games for existing consoles, or they'll save their money to see what the PS3 is going to look like. It doesn't do any good to bring a product to market, if people can't actually buy it. Wall Street analysts predicted Microsoft would sell 1.8 million units over the holidays. They ended up falling well short at 1.3 million. Moreover, Sony saw a 10.5% increase in PS2 sales, selling more units than the XBox 360 did. (Sony also claims to have sold more PSPs than the XBox 360.) So - bad move there for Microsoft. As it happened, the buzz over the 360 reportedly hurt the original XBox's sales over the holidays, too.Lack of Truly "Next Gen" GamesRelated to the shortage of consoles, is the shortage of games. Most stores that I went into that had XBox 360 displays had maybe 10 games available. And while this is pretty typical for a launch, it doesn't look very promising to a potential buyer. Especially when there are tons of games for existing consoles right around the corner. Add to this the fact that a lot of the launch titles are garnering less-than-stellar reviews. The games so far, aren't the quantum leap over existing games that people are expecting them to be. Software sells consoles. That is, if you have consoles to sell.Rumors of ProblemsThen there are the reports of reliability issues and the inevitable angry customers. These may not be widespread problems, but the reports of them are widespread, and that's more important. Why? Well, if you're a hardcore gamer with disposable income, it wouldn't really matter. You'll buy an XBox 360 despite negative reports, because you've probably already determined that those issues wouldn't likely affect you. But... what if you aren't the one paying for it? What if your parents have to pay for it? There was a pretty steady stream of negative reports about the XBox 360 in the news, because anything Microsoft does wrong is news. You didn't have to be a close follower of the industry to pick up on it, either. So parents who might have otherwise bought their kids an XBox 360 might think twice before spending several hundred dollars for one. Especially if they can't even find one in the stores.The reliability problems (whether widespread or not) were also backed up by what I'd seen in several stores. Just before Christmas, I hit up three stores (two Toys 'R' Us stores, and an EB Games), that had XBox 360 kiosks. In one of the Toys 'R' Us stores, the XBox 360 only had videos of the games running on it. They didn't actually have a playable demo installed in the unit. It was drawing absolutely zero interest from passers-by in the video game department. In the other two stores, both XBox 360s were not working. Whether they'd crashed, or had just been turned off didn't matter. During the busiest shopping week of the year, nobody was giving them a second look. After the holidays, the units were (generally) up and running, but by then, nobody was shopping. And of course, you still couldn't find one for sale anyway. That sort of negative impression can stay with a shopper for months. Especially with something that expensive, and hard to find. Why make the effort? If you have to wait anyway, why not just wait a little while longer for the PS3?So sure... Microsoft sold out of the XBox 360. But by doing so, Have they risked alienating potential customers? Now that the XBox 360 hype has passed, will people still buy them as they catch up with production, and games begin to trickle out? Or will consumers just wait for the PS3? Was getting their console out the door first, and selling 1.3 million units really worth it to Microsoft?Yes. For now. Because they were still first, and Microsoft thinks that's the most important factor in getting customers to buy their console, rather than Sony's.So will this work for Microsoft, and make the XBox 360 the dominant new console?Well, no.Even discounting the short-term issues, theirs is a flawed strategy for a number of reasons.Loyalty of PlayStation ownersFirst, gamers who are loyal to the PS2 are going to wait for the PS3. The specs for it are too compelling for them not to wait. There aren't any killer apps for the 360 that will drive Sony loyalists over to Microsoft. This is still the vast majority of the market (Sony claims to have sold over 100 million PS2s), and those gamers will still be able play nearly all of their PS2 (and PS1) games on the new console. And while the backwards-compatibility for the XBox 360 is better than initially expected - it is not backwards compatible with any games from Sony.Curiosity of gamers "on the fence"Gamers who could go with either console will, at the very least, wait to see the PS3 in person. Why spend their money on a 360 now, when the PS3 is maybe six months away? It's not as if Microsoft is a year or more ahead (which would give them a pretty big advantage) - they're about a half-year ahead. For $300-$400, even the most impatient gamer is likely to be able to wait that long. Some of those gamers will buy a 360, but many more will buy a PS3. And one of the reasons is because of Blu-Ray. The PS3 will have it. The XBox 360 won't.High definition moviesA little history is in order at this point. There are two main competing technologies that are aiming to replace current DVDs with media capable of supporting high definition video. Both are backwards-compatible with DVDs and CDs. One is going to lose, one is going to win.HD DVD, which is backed by Microsoft, among others, is a step up in capacity (15 GB) from current DVDs, and is largely compatible from a manufacturing standpoint with current DVDs. Microsoft is backing it, not because they think it's a superior format (it's not), but because it fits into their home media center plans. The Digital Rights Management (DRM) scheme for HD DVD would potentially allow for copying the movies off onto a home media center for easy access. Plus, it was supposed to be out to market by the end of last year. Remember Microsoft's desire to beat Sony to the market? However, Toshiba (who is the principle manufacturer backing the format) had to push the release back, missing the holiday season, and it's still not out yet.The biggest problem with HD DVD is that the movies studios are mostly backing the other technology: Blu-Ray. A few studios are considering backing both, but Blu-Ray by far has the most support from movie studios. Blu-Ray can store 23 GB of data (with higher capacities in the works), which means higher quality video - and more of it - on a single disc. But that's not why the studios want it. The studios want it because they like the DRM scheme on Blu-Ray better. Blu-Ray prohibits the user from copying movies off the disc, and copying movies is something that the studios absolutely hate. The studios control the movies, and guess who one of those studios is? Sony. Sony is a huge movie studio. They own Columbia, TriStar, MGM, United Artists, and all of the movies in those libraries. They are also one of the developers of Blu-Ray. The other movie studios on board with Blu-Ray are Disney (including Pixar, Touchstone, Miramax, Buena Vista), Warner Bros. (including Turner Entertainment, Castle Rock) and 20th Century Fox. What's left over? Well, basically Paramount and Universal. However, there are reports that those studios may back both formats, at least until a dominant one emerges.Sony has a lot to gain with the adoption of Blu-Ray as the new standard. They get to sell their own movies on Blu-Ray. They get to license Blu-Ray technology to others. They can use it as a marketing tool for selling the PS3. They can use it to sell HDTVs, and other Blu-Ray-based products. And it's going to work.High definition has been slow in adoption by the general public due to two things: the lack of high definition content, and the cost of high definition TVs. The costs of HDTVs are coming down dramatically. But because there's so little HD content, many consumers still see little reason to buy HDTVs. If there were more content, even more HDTVs would be sold, driving the cost down further, resulting in more sales, and so on.Content is the key to the adoption of HDTV. It's also the key to the successful introduction of a new media format. Blu-Ray will bring that content. Sony is going to sell tens of millions of PlayStation 3s, and the studios will have millions of people to sell new, high definition versions of their movies to. Sony will also have millions more people to sell HDTVs to. And the PS3 will be the driving force behind it. Barring an obscenely high introductory price or technological catastrophe, that's just a given fact. In order to get Blu-Ray out there and adopted as the standard, Sony will sell the PS3 at a very competitive price, and take a heavy loss on each console. Of course, Microsoft also takes a loss with the XBox 360 (for the original XBox, each owner had to purchase ten games just for Microsoft to break even on each console sold). Over time, component costs come down enough for the hardware to be sold at cost or for a profit, but the real money comes from software sales. For Sony, that also includes movies. For Microsoft, it doesn't. Sony can afford to sell the PS3 at a greater loss, since they can make more money back off software and movies, than Microsoft can on software alone.Because of its ability to play high definition movies, Sony will sell more PS3s than they would have otherwise (and they would have sold a lot of them anyway). For comparison's sake, the PS2 sold a lot of units in its initial run because it was not only a game console, but gamers got a DVD player included at "no extra cost". This was at a time when DVD players were a lot more expensive than they are now. It cost Sony a lot of money, but it paid off, and they're about to do the same thing again with Blu-Ray. (And as an aside... look for Apple to be one of the first - if not the first - company to offer computers with Blu-Ray burners and authoring software. They're one of the other major backers behind Blu-Ray, and are big proponents of HD.)Now, one knock that I've been reading about Blu-Ray is the higher cost of manufacturing discs, and therefore the higher cost of movies and games. Well, Sony just announced their pricing scheme for movies, which is in line with what DVDs were introduced at. And if you're buying a PS3 and an HDTV anyway, the odds are you've got some disposable income at hand. Furthermore... there's the rental market. I hardly even buy DVDs now, so why would I buy Blu-Ray discs when I could probably rent them through NetFlix? Finally, as far as games go, nobody has ever said that the games have to be on Blu-Ray discs. There's no reason, except for extremely large games, why they can't continue to ship them on DVDs. And gamers are likely to be willing to pay extra for Blu-Ray games anyway, since (hopefully) they'd be something pretty special to exceed a 7.9 GB dual-layer DVD.Because Microsoft rushed to market, they have no capability within the XBox 360 to play high definition movies. They didn't even wait for the technology that they're backing - HD DVD - to be ready before shipping the console. They have a next generation console, with previous generation media. Now, they have announced that they plan to ship an external HD DVD player later. But that means that XBox 360 owners have to buy another box to plug into their console, to watch HD movies. There's no indication as to when (or if) you'd be able to buy an XBox 360 with an HD DVD drive built-in. This is going to hurt their sales. Gamers will think, "Well, I want to buy a new console, and I'd like to play high definition movies too, so I either buy just a PS3, or buy an XBox 360 and an external HD DVD player, or an XBox 360 and a stand-alone Blu-Ray player". And Blu-Ray players are going to be expensive initially, just like DVD players were. The best way to buy one for months to come will be in a PS3. More to the point - HD DVD is going to lose to Blu-Ray anyway. So I suspect at some point Microsoft will offer an external Blu-Ray player for the XBox 360, because they have to be aware, like it or not, that the HD tide is turning against them. They're going to have to include support for Blu-Ray, sometime.Once Sony blazes the trail with Blu-Ray on the PS3, the cost of manufacturing Blu-Ray players will begin to drop, and they'll begin to replace DVD players as the new standard. It may take two or three years, but it will happen. The movies studios want it to happen. Sales of DVDs are slowing down, and they need to find a new way to get you to buy your movies, again. High definition Blu-Ray discs will be the key. And Sony will make it happen. As a manufacturer of game consoles, HDTVs, professional and consumer HDTV cameras and equipment, software and movies, they have far more at stake than Microsoft, and they're doing what is necessary to ensure that they win. Not because they want to beat Microsoft. Sony doesn't care at all about Microsoft. Sony has other businesses to run, which all intertwine with each other. They're in it for the long haul. Microsoft only wants to win because they can't stand to see someone else having more success than they do.Now, none of this means that the XBox 360 is going to "fail". It's just going to "lose". It will be a distant second to the PlayStation 3. Although to Microsoft, this is certainly a failure.Sony's ProblemIt won't be all smooth sailing for Sony, however. There's always the question of launch titles (how good and how many), and the reliability of a brand new technology. But Sony's biggest problem, as it is with Microsoft, is going to be meeting the demand. But I suspect this is one of the reasons Sony isn't rushing the PS3 to market now. They want to avoid the massive shortages that they've run into in the past, and are no doubt doing everything they can to ramp up production of components to a reasonable launch level. However, I think they're still going to have problems. And I think the problems will come from IBM.IBM has had trouble making G5 chips in quantity for Apple, variants of which are driving both the XBox 360 and PS3, yet the quantities are far higher than anything Apple ever needed. Sony and Microsoft are largely at IBM's mercy. Sony has the advantage though, because 1) their product has more development time ahead of it, so IBM has more time to work out issues before going into production, and 2) Sony is a bigger customer. IBM knows there will be more PS3s sold than XBox 360s, which means more money for them. So that gives them a reason to give Sony priority in research and development and manufacturing. Plus, they're selling a 7-core chip to Sony, and only a 3-core chip to Microsoft. Even though that means more complexity for the PS3 (and more potential problems), the potential payoffs are greater in terms of sellable technologies. And finally, Microsoft and IBM have had what could charitably be described as a "tenuous relationship" in the past. How much of that will come into play is anyone's guess. But IBM is, first and foremost, a business, so they'll do their best to serve both clients. Still, I wouldn't expect the PS3 to be easy to find. Especially since a lot of people will be looking for one.Nintendo... #2?The unknown quantity in all of this is Nintendo's Revolution, and I'll tell you why: the Nintendo DS. I expected the DS to go the way of the Virtual Boy. I thought it was a gimmick in search of a game, and that nobody would buy the thing. Well, 13 million units sold later, I was obviously wrong. Nintendo has a willingness to try new things with gaming, that neither Sony nor Microsoft do. Nintendo is a true game company, while the others are companies that added gaming to existing businesses. Nintendo may not get it right every time, but at least they're willing to explore what videogaming can become, rather than just taking what already exists and making it look better.The Revolution may not capture the hardcore gamer market that the PS3 and XBox 360 are aimed at, but it may not have to. There is a large untapped market of people who might be willing to play some quirky, interesting Revolution game, who have absolutely no interest in Halo 3 or Metal Gear Solid 4. There are a lot of those plug-n-play TV games on the market now, many of which have unique controllers, which aren't too far off in concept from what the Revolution's controller can do. The DS is proving that there is a pretty large market for unique gameplay ideas. This isn't too surprising anyway, if you check out the kinds of games currently populating arcades. People have traditionally gone to arcades to get gaming experiences they can't get at home. From the 70's to the present, that's what has defined the arcade experience. But as soon as the home consoles would catch up with what the arcades offered, the arcade game manufacturers would have to reinvent what arcade gaming meant.Now, it looks like Nintendo's taking the next step in console gaming, by offering far more interactivity than a standard gamepad can provide. The key will be the software. If the software is innovative, and most important - fun, then they could have a hit on their hands. A lack of DVD playback and HD output might hurt them, but not if they make the console cheap enough. Sony and Microsoft are selling home-entertainment packages. Nintendo is making a game machine. That's an important distinction, and gamers - hardcore or not - may find enough reasons to pick up a Revolution in addition to their favorite console. Besides, Nintendo still has a lot of fans out there, some dating back 20 years. Nintendo isn't just a company for "kids". Since the Revolution is designed to play all of their classic games, fans young and not-so-young may line up to buy one on launch day for that reason alone.Whether or not Nintendo can make a dent in Microsoft's #2 spot remains to be seen. I think the Revolution will be a successful console, but it's all going to depend on the software. Actually, I think Nintendo's best bet would be to follow Sega's lead, and get out of the console business (except for handhelds). After all, why couldn't Nintendo make the Revolution controller work with the PS3, and then develop software for it? It'd save them the cost and hassle of manufacturing and marketing their own console, and they could focus on what they do best - making games. Links:HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray article at CD Freaks (a little out of date, but a good technical comparison)Blu-Ray homepageHD DVD homepage (note curious lack of FAQ)Ars Technica article on Microsoft and HD DVDSony's Blu-Ray pricingXBox, PS2 sales figuresNintendo DS sales figuresXBox 360 specsPlayStation 3 specsNintendo Revolution pre-release info
  9. About a year-and-a-half ago, I posted about a couple of Lynx upgrades I bought - McWill's excellent replacement screen, and SainT's Micro SD multicart. When repairing my 2600 last year, I ordered a bunch of parts from Best Electronics - chips, joystick repair kits, and so on. Also, I added one of their Lynx replacement speakers. Now - my speaker actually worked, but for $12.50, I thought maybe the upgrade would be worth it. But it just sat in the box, waiting for me to get around to it. Since I had worked on my 2600 yesterday, I finally decided to go ahead and do the speaker swap today. It doesn't require any soldering, just a bit of careful disassembling/reassembling. I didn't take a bunch of pictures this time, but here are the two speakers, midway through the swap: The top (clear) one is the replacement. The lower (black) one is the original. Here's the new speaker in place before reassembly: The hard part, is not breaking off the little plastic tabs that hold the speaker in place. Anyway, I reassembled the Lynx, fired it up... and presto! It... uh... has sound. I guess I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It sounded okay. After all, you're not going to get hi-fi out of a tiny little speaker. I wasn't even sure it was any better than before. Fortunately, I recorded a "before" and "after" video. Skip about halfway to hear the "after". This was recorded at close range with my iPhone 6S. So while not the best recording, it actually does give a very good comparison of what these two speakers sound like. Flipping between the two, the new one does sound better. A little bit fuller. Bass is slightly improved. But if I hadn't shot the "before" video... I probably never would've known. Again - my original speaker wasn't fried, so I wasn't trying to fix something that was broken. Anyway, if yours is broken, then I think this is a worthwhile swap. It certainly won't make the kind of difference McWill's screen did though. If you want better sound... get a good pair of lightweight headphones. (I've been using the Koss PortaPro for decades. They sound excellent, and have a lifetime warranty. I've worn out two pair, and they replaced them for the cost of shipping.)
  10. Well, despite my hesitancy to be an early adopter, I did go out and buy Tron: Evolution for the PSP. It was an impulse buy, and I feel terribly guilty about it. Mainly because I bought it at Wal-Mart. It's not the same Tron: Evolution that's on the PS3 or XBox360, but rather a collection of mini-games. Most are similar to the games on the Tron: Legacy iPhone app, but the PSP version adds a few more. I suppose Disney chose to go this route since they're both portable platforms, and they could get the same studio (Supervillain Studios) to do both games (in contrast, the console versions were done by the recently shut down Propaganda Games). The mini-games consist of Modern Lightcycles, Classic Lightcycles (90° turns only), Tanks, Recognizers (an on-rails shooter) and Disc Combat. Plus a "hacking" mini-puzzle-matching game. I'd take screenshots, but that's not built into the PSP. Also, good luck finding any screenshots of the game online. Even the developer's website has none, and Disney's official site barely mentions the PSP version. There's nary a review out there either, and this was a tie-in to a movie that had the full might of the Disney Marketing Machine behind it. They made games for it for every platform. The studio paid to have a PSP game made. That had to cost, what... three or four hundred bucks? And yet, there's hardly a mention of it anywhere. It's not a bad game, but it is an example of what's becoming increasingly typical of PSP ports, where you get either a watered-down version of its console-cousin, or a watered-up version of a cellphone game. Few PSP games anymore are really designed for the system it seems, and Tron: Evolution is basically a slightly-larger version of its iPhone sibling, for about 30 times the price. Disney apparently just rushed something together so they could make a few extra bucks off Tron completists and PSP gamers desperate for something to buy. For my money, I'd just rather have a larger PSP-like version for the iPhone, and pay $10 for it. There are far more iOS users out there than PSP users (160 million vs. 65 million), and it costs Disney zero to package, market and distribute an iPhone game. So they likely would have made more money doing that, than wasting development, manufacturing and distribution dollars on a PSP version. For the PSP version, it's pretty apparent there's zero support behind it. No marketing. No review copies. However many copies happen to get into the hands of whatever PSP gamers happen across it seems to be good enough for Disney. Toss the PSP users a bone, but don't fret that there's no real meat on it. The simple truth is, nobody really cares anymore. The PSP is dead. Actually... it's been effectively dead for years. But it's stone-cold dead now. I find it hard to believe Sony sold 65 million PSPs. Certainly its anemic retail presence belies those numbers. Good luck even finding the PSP section among video games in stores now. I've been in stores where it's smaller than the PS2 section. The PSP should have a pretty good-sized user base, but I don't think even they care anymore. I've owned a PSP for several years, and own about a dozen games for it. But with few exceptions, I rarely play it anymore. I've never even cracked open couple of games that were given to me. My favorite games for it were the two Burnout titles - the most recent of which came out in March 2007. Gran Turismo is also very good, but is severely hamstrung by the PSP's biggest drawback by far... It's lousy analog stub-stick-controller-thing. This thing makes every controller on every system ever look brilliant by comparison - the Intellivision disk, the 5200 joystick - no other major game system ever came with a controller this bad. Take the worst game controller you've ever used, and multiply its badness by 50. Then add 2. And you're about 1/4 of the way there. The PSP's analog-stub-thing is, for all intents and purposes, useless. There's no feel to it. There's no range of motion. It "grinds" against the PSP's housing. It absolutely ruins what otherwise might be perfectly good games. The best PSP games manage to effectively ignore it as a true analog controller, and just use it as a smaller d-pad. I gave up playing some games simply because the controls were so bad. Lego Star Wars? Unplayable. You can't precisely control where you're going, and will repeatedly fall to your death. The Recognizers in Tron: Evolution? Unplayable. You can't aim at all where you need to shoot. It's completely ridiculous. I suspect a lot of bad PSP ports that had been successful on other systems (such as Split Second or Mod Nation Racers) were due in no small part to how dreadfully awful the PSP's controller is. Either the gameplay suffered because of the controller, or the developers simply gave up trying, because they couldn't make the stupid thing work the way it should. Coupled with that, objects in PSP games are often ridiculously small, so playing the games becomes like performing brain surgery on a mouse with a blunt chainsaw. Left-handed. (Or right-handed, if you're a lefty.) So Tron: Evolution is likely to be my last PSP game. I've decided if I'm going to buy games like Gran Turismo, Mod Nation Racers, Lego Star Wars, or anything else that exists on larger consoles, I'd be better off just buying the big-boy version in the first place. The sacrifices made to squeeze games into the PSP more often than not aren't worth the portability of them. Besides, games written for the iPhone (and other smartphones) are approaching (if not exceeding) the quality and depth of what the PSP can do, and are designed specifically to work on those systems, rather than trying to shoehorn a console game into a half-baked portable console-wannabe with a horrible little analog-stick-torture-thing. An iPhone is also a fraction of the size and weight of a PSP, and iPhone games generally cost 99¢. The pricey ones are usually just a few dollars. How can Sony possibly hope to compete with that? Well, apparently, they're about to try. Again. With the PSP2. Yeah. Good luck with that. First of all, for dedicated gaming handhelds, Nintendo has the market sewn up. The DS is everywhere, and the 3DS (which I personally consider to be little more than the Virtual Boy Advance SP DSi - but whatever) is going to sell a gazillion systems, if for no other reason than because Nintendo already has the fan base for it. The novelty of 3D will get the Nintendo fanboys to line up and buy yet-another version of the Game Boy, despite the outrageous price. Second, the PSP is dead, remember? Nintendo replaces its handhelds while they're still popular. They didn't wait for their user base to get tired of the Game Boy/Game Boy Color/GBA/GBA SP/DS/DSi before putting out the next one. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If your PSP has been sitting, unused, on a shelf for months, how likely are you to buy the next one? Eleven months from now? Third, smartphones are filling the casual/portable gaming niche in a huge way. First, people are going to buy a phone anyway. So if they have the phone, they're likely to spend 99¢ once in awhile for games. That means they're going to be increasingly unlikely to fork over big bucks for another portable device to haul around with them, when they've already got a perfectly good game system with them all the time. Plus, they're really unlikely to want to start spending $30 or more per game, when most iPhone games cost 99¢, many are under $5, and the really, really expensive ones cost only $9.99 (and usually drop in price shortly after release). Fourth, the PSP2 is a behemoth. The original PSP was already huge, and now they're making this one even bigger? Yeah... it's portable-ish. But it's yet one more thing to haul around. I bet those dual analog sticks are going to help it slide right in and out of your pocket with ease, too. If you're looking for gaming on the go, this is a step backwards, like buying a CD player to replace your iPod. Who is it aimed at, really? Not kids. Kids have the DS. Not casual gamers. They have smartphones. Innovation seekers? They'll have the 3DS months before the PSP2 comes out. And while no price was announced, I can't see the PSP2 for selling less than $399, can you? And no mention was made of backwards-compatibility with existing PSP titles (no surprise there - even the PSP Go didn't bother with that). So... tell me, who's going to buy it? Hardcore gamers who are looking to take their PS3 experience on the road? And how big of a market exactly is that? If Sony actually decides to go ahead with this (and maybe they'll smarten-up by then and decide it's not worth it), the PSP2 will likely end up being nothing more than overpriced, underperforming, short-lived, soon-forgotten, unlamented, portable roadkill on the videogame niche market highway. Of life. And Gran Turismo will ship for it five years late.
  11. So... if you had a bunch of money, how cool would it be to gather up a bunch of the best programmers from the classic arcade era, and hire them to make new games? You know... like Ed Rotberg (Battlezone), Owen Rubin (Major Havoc, Space Duel), Rich Adam (Gravitar, Missile Command), Ed Logg (Asteroids, Centipede), Tim Skelly (Rip-Off, Armor Attack, Reactor), Bruce Merrit (Black Widow) and Dennis Koble (Atlantis, Solar Storm)? Well, some guy just did that. Seamus Blackley, one of the co-creators of something called the X-Box (I never was much up on them new-fangled consoles like the Nintendo and ColecoVision), got the band back together to create new games for mobile devices. iPhones, iPads and the like. You can read the whole story at VentureBeat.com. Blackley teamed up with Van Burham (gamer chick and author of one of the most disappointing books on classic videogames ever) to found Innovative Leisure - a company that apparently is striving to be the spiritual successor to the original Atari. Hopefully they won't end up being the literal successor to the original Atari. They've already got 7 games in development, and THQ is on board as a publisher (fortunately, if/when THQ goes under, Innovative Leisure can take their games elsewhere). I'm looking forward to seeing what they come up with. Could this be the start of a new renaissance in classic gaming?
  12. How about, "Buyers' Remorse Day"? This would follow Black Friday, where people would look back at a day wasted chasing bargains at stores, having spent more than they ever intended to (or having not found anything they wanted), and realize they could have just bought everything online instead. To wit, the Playstation 3 Bundle. Wal-Mart (plus Target, Sears and possibly others) is offering up a PS3 bundle. This includes a PS3, Ratchet and Clank All 4 One, and Little Big Planet 2, all for $199. Even without those games (which I wouldn't have bought anyway, but there's always eBay), that's $50 off, and enough incentive to finally buy a PS3. However, I loathe the very thought of going shopping on Black Friday. Even more, I loathe the thought of setting foot into a Wal-Mart. So the thought of doing both is simply out-of-the-question. Stores will sell out of it within minutes of opening, people will trample each other in a stampede of greed and man's inhumanity to man, and the whole thing would just be an exercise in futility and frustration, leaving me a broken, angered, shell of a human being lying in heap of exhaustion. But oh, hey... Wal-Mart will have the very same deal available online. So can anyone explain to me... why on Earth would I ever get up at the crack of dawn on Friday (or worse still, waste part of my Thanksgiving going the night before), to fight the crowds on the off-chance I might happen to be in time to get some bait-and-switch deal to save me a few bucks, when I can do just as well, and without the headaches, online? Are people insane? Hence, the need for "Buyers' Remorse Day". Oops - looks like somebody beat me to it. There's already a day for that. But the name I came up with is catchier.
  13. So, remember this? No? Well, I didn't expect you to. Anyway, so here's the entry. And sorry Dave... it's not about "Top Gear". However, it is about cars driving really fast. Just without the wacky British humor. It's about rallying. Oops... okay, before you leave - those of you in the United States - stick with me a minute. Yes, rallying is pretty-much a non-entity in the U.S., but unlike say... soccer... rallying is actually interesting. (And before soccer football fans start sending me hate e-mail... I loved soccer as a kid. Played it all the time. That is until "the man" started making us play using "rules". What's the fun in that?) I'm not really sure how long ago I first heard about rallying. I do remember seeing insane videos of insane drivers driving at insane speeds right through the middle of crowds of what could only be described as insane spectators - parting out of the way of onrushing cars like the Red Sea getting out of the way of Charlton Heston, but a whole lot faster. I did watch racing when I was a kid, what little of it there was on TV (this was well before cable stations like EPSN or Speed) - mostly NHRA or NASCAR events - with the likes of Don Prudhomme, Tom McEwen (I had their Hot Wheels funny cars) or Richard Petty. Them was the good old days. Somewhere in the late 70's to early 80's though, I stopped watching racing on TV. Part of that was due to other interests occupying my time (i.e. video games); part of it was the dreadful car designs of that era; and part of it was the fact that once I got my own driver's license, I didn't need to experience driving vicariously by watching it on TV. (Not that I ever exceeded the speed limit or anything, mind you.) Of course that didn't stop me from playing a lot of racing video games. Turbo, Pole Position, Spy Hunter (hey, it counts), and later games like Out-Run, Hang-On and Hard Drivin', which was one of the last arcade racing games I remember really playing much. After that, arcades pretty-much died and only rarely did I sit down for a game of Cruis'n USA, San Francisco Rush, or Sega Rally. Ah yes... rally. Back to the very topic of this rambling blog entry. With the arrival of my first PlayStation came Gran Turismo. (Obviously, I didn't buy one for a few years.) I'm not sure if it was Gran Turismo or GT2 that first included rally driving in it, but I do remember that it did include a Subaru Impreza. I had already been looking for a new car around this time, and had noted that Subarus were pretty reliable and affordable, so I was glad to be able finally test drive one... in Gran Turismo. (Hey, it counts.) Eventually, I test drove a real one (along with numerous other cars) and finally ended up buying an Impreza in 2002. I'll admit part of the appeal of it was the fact that there were cars that didn't look all that dissimilar to it, tearing up rally courses around the world... and in video games. Unlike NASCAR or NHRA, the rally race cars still resemble their real-world counterparts. It's not hard to imagine a not-so-distant cousin of my car flying down some road in Europe at 120 MPH, narrowly avoiding wrapping itself around a tree (or a herd of insane spectators). I also picked up a couple of Colin McRae rally games for the PlayStation, and kept an eye out for other games featuring "my car". It's always fun getting to the point in a game where I get to unlock, modify, and drive around in my own car like, well, an insane person. So last year, I saw that Discovery HD Theater was carrying highlights from the World Rally Championship. Now when I say "World Rally Championship", I don't mean "World" like the MLB "World" Series or NFL "World" Champions. Nope. The WRC literally spans the world. This year they're racing in Sweden, Mexico, Jordan, Turkey, New Zealand, Portugal, Bulgaria, Finland, Germany, Japan, France, Spain and Great Britain. And some of the countries change from year to year, so this is a truly global event. Except, of course, in the U.S. Which I haven't quite figured out. After all, we're car-obsessed over here. NASCAR is big business. The NHRA is big business. Cars in general are big business (well... Chrysler and GM notwithstanding). And rallying is, in my opinion, more fun to watch. First, as I already mentioned, the cars look like regular cars. They haven't been streamlined and modified beyond recognition. Also, rallies take place on just plain-old roads. Mostly dirt (or gravel, or snow...), with hills, mud, debris, rocks, and trees. Lots of trees. Zipping past mere feet (or inches) from the cars at over 100 MPH. (That's... um... something... in KPH. Not sure. Like... 180. Anyway, it's really fast.) The control these guys have over their cars is astonishing, and very exciting to watch. And the crashes are spectacular. None of this padded barricade nonsense. You can't pad a tree, bucko. Not that I watch it for the crashes. That would be wrong. The only thing I can figure, is that the U.S. audience can't wrap its collective noggin around the fact that rally cars race against the clock - not directly against each other. Although this hasn't really stopped people from watching downhill skiing. Maybe we need a hot blonde rally driver in the sport. Either that, or because rallies take place in the countryside, U.S. race fans would miss the opportunity to gather as a communal group of racing fans, and all get drunk together. Anyway, this week on HDT will be highlights from last week's Mexico rally. They run a half-hour coverage per day of the rally (usually three days), plus an overview of the rally beforehand, and an hour-long recap the following Sunday, so there's plenty to watch. The one bummer about this, is that prior to last year, Subaru dropped out of the WRC, citing the economic downturn. However, thanks in part to Toyota's little problem of getting their cars to actually come to a stop, Subaru's sales have been on the uptake. So maybe they'll get back into it again. Consequently, Subaru's not sponsoring anyone right now, so any Subarus are few and far-between, being privately campaigned without factory support. Mads Ostberg deftly turns his Impreza left, to go right. Or is he turning right, to go left? Right now, the Manufacturers' Championship portion of the WRC is just down to Ford and Citroën. Citroën?! A French company?! Who am I supposed to root for now? Ford? Well, I guess they did copy Subaru's blue oval, so they'll do for now. Personally, I think Subaru is just embarrassed that the current Impreza is so ugly*, that they're waiting for the next redesign to get back to racing. I hope so. I'd hate to have to buy a Citroën next time... * See? I managed to stick a Top Gear reference in there anyway. Aren't you glad you stuck around?
  14. For nearly ten years, I ran a website originally called MacMAME News and Info. After a couple of years, I bought a domain name, and it became MacMAME.net. MacMAME was the Mac version of MAME - the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator. A fantastic piece of software that allows you to play thousands of classic (and not-so-classic) arcade games on your home computer. I say "was" since even though MAME is certainly still around, MacMAME hasn't been updated in two years. The project, by all accounts, is dead. Brad Oliver had kept the Mac port going for years, mostly by himself. To be certain, others contributed to it, but nobody else ever took a lead role with it. As Brad's spare time evaporated, releases became few and far-between, and finally, stopped altogether. Some of this was due to changes in Mac OS X that would have required such an overhaul of MacMAME, it wouldn't have been worth the effort. Beyond that, a couple of other Mac variants of MAME (SDL MAME and MAME OS X) have appeared, so the reasons to continue MacMAME largely went away (save for its user-friendly interface). Consequently, the reason for MacMAME.net itself has largely gone away. As of last week, the domain name has expired, and MacMAME.net is no more. So why not keep the site around, and use it as a resource for those two versions of MAME for the Mac? Well, I haven't really followed their development. As MacMAME began waning, my interest in it did too. I found myself over here at AtariAge much more often than the MacMAME Message Boards, since this was a more active community. There were projects here I could get directly involved in, rather than just running a website for someone else's project. I kept hoping MacMAME would come back, but I've finally accepted that it won't. And so when the domain name came up for renewal, I let it lapse. Even if MacMAME returned in some form, I'm really not interested in running a website about it, since support and news for that sort of thing is far better served by message boards. The video game movie reviews on MacMAME.net will find a new home, however. Dave Dries has offered to host them at Cinemarcade. Once I get them reformatted and updated a little bit, we'll be moving them over, and I'll post a notice about it here. I put more work into those reviews than any other part of the site, and it's nice to see they'll still have a place on the web. I'd thought about moving them over to my CheepTech site, but they fit in with Cinemarcade better, and CheepTech is going to get a major overhaul sometime this year to focus in on my Atari-related projects. So to anyone who had visited MacMAME.net - thanks! For those that haven't, it can still be found here, until that server is retired sometime later this year. A history of the site can be found here. I miss the community that had sprung up around MacMAME more than anything else. If for no other reason, I would have liked to have seen MacMAME keep going in order to keep those people around. But people lose interest in things over time anyway, so it may not have made that much of a difference. MacMAME was exciting when it was new, and its period of popularity actually exceeded that of the arcade games it brought back to life. But all good things must come to an end, and some of the MacMAMErs ended up here at AtariAge anyway. I've made a whole slew of new friends here, kept some of the old ones, and have a brand-new time-sucking hobby on top of it all. So in the end - it's all good.
  15. Okay, so I'm blogging. Just like the rest of the internet. Always more than a few months behind the curve, it seems, even though I was online with AOL, usenet, and even doing the whole "chat" thing (irc) back in '94. But I was one of the brilliant people who never thought the World Wide Web (remember when people still called it that?) would catch on. It seemed like a handful of disjointed sites with questionable content and no coherent way of finding anything. Now of course, it's millions of disjointed sites with questionable content and no coherent way of finding anything. That's progress! I didn't think there was any real way to make money off the internet. Even as internet startups were making millions, I just couldn't see a working business model in all of it. But just as I began thinking I had been completely wrong, the big dot-com crash happened, and I can't say it surprised me at all. There were too many ill-conceived businesses starting up, and people were throwing money at them for no good reason. The dot-com crash was, in my opinion, the fallout from a fad. Just like (wait for it...) video games. The video game crash of '83 was also a fallout from a fad. Yep... video games were a fad. Allow me to explain... In the 70's, video games were a novelty. Pong, a handful of other arcade games, and the various home systems that came out, were for the most part, a novelty. At least by my definition. A novelty, I think, is something that catches on to some degree with the public. They're fascinated with it, may dabble with it briefly, then they move onto something else. Pet Rocks were a novelty. The Rubik's Cube was a novelty. 70's video games... a novelty. Beginning with Space Invaders (at least in Japan) and then really hitting its stride with Pac-Man, video games became a fad. Again, by my definition (I suppose I should be looking these up...) a fad is a novelty that catches on in a big way with the public at large (especially people who would usually not be interested in the fad), crosses over into other areas, and has staying power. For awhile. Star Wars (and I'm speaking strictly of the 1977 movie phenomenon - not the franchise as a whole) was a fad. Disco was a fad. Video games (and Pac-Man by itself) was a fad. Video games were everywhere, being played by everyone. Shirts, TV shows, breakfast cereals, key rings, arcades popping up everywhere, home video games being sold at nearly every store (even 7-11 was selling Activision cartridges), and dozens of manufacturers jumping on the bandwagon were all effects of the fad. The problem with fads is, they don't last. They can't last. They burn out. The level of momentum they attain is unsustainable. The reason is: people who normally would have nothing to do with the fad, simply lose interest. And they're the ones who take something from a mere novelty, and turn it into a fad. Their interest, and more importantly, their money, drive the fad. But their interest is transitory. If a fad burns out fast enough, a few people make a lot of money in the short run, and that's that. But if a fad stays around a little too long, then too many people jump on board to cash-in on it, and when the fad collapses, so do all of those businesses that were started up to take advantage of it. They were built on the temporary whims of people caught up in the fad. The video game industry of the early 80's was driven by the fad. Not by sound business decisions. Unfortunately, when the fad died out, it took everything else out with it. It wasn't just the cash-in businesses, but the well-established businesses that, normally, would have been just fine if the fad had never happened. The video game industry's upward momentum was completely canceled out by the downward spiral. In fact, the very industry itself was practically canceled out. Now, it's not that there was no longer a market for video games. That never went away. The fad went away, and the industry went away, leaving those of us who had been playing video games all along with nowhere to go. Nintendo came along and absolutely proved there still was (and is) a very healthy market. But the collapse of an entire industry takes a while to get over, and businesses are extremely weary of entering into a market that has just imploded in on itself. So Nintendo had to prove that video games had life beyond the fad. And the same thing is happening with the internet. At the beginning, I felt that it wouldn't make any sense to have a business on the World Wide Web, because you had no way for your customers to find it. There was no Yahoo or Google. You found websites by word-of-mouth, or pure chance. So what are the most successful internet companies today? Search engines. eBay, Amazon, iTunes and other online stores, are basically product search engines. The internet has become successful because it has settled into a business model that works - finding stuff. The fad part of it has passed, and the shakeout got rid of the elements that simply weren't well-thought-out enough to work. Well, except this whole Blog fad.
  16. Just got a PM from John Champeau - Lady Bug is now the #2 best-selling 2600 homebrew in the AtariAge store, recently passing Star Fire and Thrust+ Platinum. (Sorry Manuel and Thomas. ) To date, Lady Bug has 15 perfect reviews. All well-deserved. Congratulations, John! And thanks for letting me be a part of working on it (label and manual design, and game graphics).
  17. I used to play Nintendo's Vs. Golf back-in-the-day-when-you-could-actually-play-it-in-the-arcades. When I got into MacMAME (now 20 years ago!!!!) I picked it up again, and the best score I shot at the time was 59: That was 13 under par (the course changes, so the overall par changes as well). Recently, since I got MAME running again properly for the first time in years, I've been playing it again. I've gotten to where I can birdie every hole on the course... just not always in the same game. Although I just got real close: Just two more... (and yes, I did miss two putts). Admittedly, one hole was actually an eagle, and three were pars, but one of these days, I'm going to shoot 18-under.
  18. As I'd pointed out in the comments of this blog entry (it'd be really nice if there were a way to link directly to a particular comment... ), the once-great Starcade video arcade at Disneyland had become a sad shadow of its former self. Back in the early 80's, it was an amazing arcade, jammed full of video games, spanning two floors. When Disney released Tron: Legacy, they opened up Flynn's Arcade as part of ElecTRONica in California Adventure. I never managed to get over and see it though, since the one time I was there while it was still in place, that park had already closed for the day (at 9PM, which seems ridiculous). Flynn's got shut down a few weeks later, and arcades were once again dead at Disneyland. Then I'd heard that with the release of Wreck-It Ralph, they'd put a couple of Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade games in at Starcade, back in the main park. Since I was going to be there last week, I thought I should check it out. I didn't know if the Fix-It Felix, Jr.'s were still there, or if any games were left at all. I had already played the Fix-It Felix, Jr. arcade game at a Disney event, but playing classic video games, even fake ones, is never a bad thing. So even if that one game was all that was there, it was worth stopping by. Imagine then, my surprise... From left, near the Space Mountain entrance: Arkanoid, token machine, Yie-Ar Kung-Fu, Track and Field (obscured), Centipede, Dig-Dug, Joust. The classics were back! And not one or two machines, but nearly two-dozen of them. And while hardly a return to the arcade's glory days, there were more than I'd ever expected, and all (mostly) in good working condition. Best of all - they were actually being played! It was difficult to take clear pictures of everything because there were usually people in front of the machines. Kids, adults, adolescents... and not even playing them ironically either. But enjoying them! Timeless classics, indeed. The token machine near the Space Mountain entrance was even typically fussy about taking dollar bills. I saw more than a few people having to "iron" out their money by pulling it across the edge of the machine to get it to work. While probably not intentional on Disney's part, glitchy token machines are as much a part of the arcade experience as the games themselves. I was disappointed though to see that the tokens were just generic designs, and nothing unique to Disneyland, Wreck-It Ralph or Starcade. C'mon Disney, they don't cost that much! Now certainly, these aren't the money-makers they once were, but neither were they abandoned, derelict, lonely games sitting forgotten in a corner somewhere. People were enjoying them. It was hard to get any time on Fix-It Felix Jr., despite there being four of them in the arcade. From left, two Fix-It Felix, Jr.'s, R-Type, Donkey Kong Junior, two more Fix-It Felix, Jr.'s. My heart just about skipped a beat (could be the cholesterol build-up) when I saw my all-time favorite arcade game there as well: Battlezone! It was more than I would've hoped for. It seemed they tried to have at least some of the games shown in Litwak's arcade from Wreck-It Ralph. Curiously though, no Q*bert. Guess he's still unemployed. Cylone and Tron: Legacy pinball machines, Missile Command (obscured), Asteroids, Battlezone. Galaxian, Space Invaders, Stargate, another token machine. Galaga, Road Blasters, Super Cobra, Scramble, Tron. In the far distance: the games near the Space Mountain entrance. Most of the games were in good working condition. Some of the monitors were faded (particularly Scramble) and dip switch settings were all over the place - Asteroids was apparently set on "impossible" since I've never seen space rocks move that fast, and Battlezone was set to not give any extra lives, plus its joysticks were shot - they wouldn't return to center, making the game tough to play. Still, I probably blew five bucks in tokens there, in an hour or so. Could've been longer - I honestly lost track of time. I embarrassed myself on Arkanoid (paddle controller had too much play in it - might be worn gears), I had lost pretty-much all of my skill on Joust (but managed to get on the high score list anyway), had a disastrous outing on Stargate (nothing new there - never could play that nearly as well as Defender), did okay on Tron (almost got through the third level, which is about as far as I could remember the patterns), nearly got to the base on Scramble, and had a catastrophically bad game on Super Cobra. Fix-It Felix, Jr. was set on free play, and I managed to get in a few games. It plays considerably different from the iOS version - I didn't capture any video of it (it's hard to play and shoot with your cell phone at the same time), but in short it's much, much harder. Ralph's bricks cover several rows of windows as they fall, making them very hard to dodge, and requiring a completely different approach to the game. On the other hand, when Felix fixes a window with broken top and bottom panes, you only have to hit "fix" once to fix the whole window (in the other versions, each pane must be fixed). I never got past the first screen, in part because of an intermittent joystick problem on the machine I was on. But a poor dancer blames the floor and all that, so no excuses. Panorama shot of the arcade. The row with Galaga, Tron etc., is to the left, in the center of the room. Arkanoid, Dig Dug, etc., are in the far distance. Fix-It Felix, Jr. machines are near the middle of the picture, then the pinballs, Missile Command, Asteroids and Battlezone are to the right. (click to enlarge) Continuing from the previous section, to the far right you can see Galaxian, Space Invaders and Stargate near the Star Tours gift shop. Turning another 90° you'd start over again with Galaga. (click to enlarge) Even though Battlezone was fairly trashed, I was determined to play it and beat 100,000 points. On my sixth game, I'd finally adapted to the wonky controls enough to clear that score, and then some. Not bad for busted joysticks, a twitchy monitor and no extra lives. It's great to see some of the classics back at Disneyland. They just belong there. They should be a permanent fixture. They just need a little more fixing up and tweaking to make them so people can play them without getting frustrated. Hopefully they won't remove them again. They certainly have enough space there left for selling t-shirts and merchandise so it wouldn't hurt anything to leave them. And people enjoyed playing them. I certainly did. It was the closest I've been to some of those machines in many, many years, and I'd go back to Disneyland just to spend time in the arcade playing them. If, of course, I knew they were still there and in good working condition. Mainly because I got into the park for free. But still, the tokens cost money.
  19. So, I finally bought a PlayStation 3. I had planned to do so a year ago on Black Friday, but just didn't want to deal with the insanity of fighting people at stores for one, and all of the online deals sold out before I could get to them. This year though... I had a plan! I was going to camp out on Amazon, and snag one in a Lightning Deal™. I knew when their PS3 bundle was going on sale - all I had to do was just log on a little early, refresh the page until the deal showed up, and bam! Deal done. Yeah... so that didn't work out. They sold out faster than I could refresh the page. But I had a back-up plan. Y'see I was determined to get a PS3 for no more than $199, because that's what Sony should have been selling them for anyway. That meant hitting up a store. Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Toys 'R' Us and probably others were all selling the same $199 bundle. All I had to do was find one. Now, I could've gone to the stores late Thanksgiving night, or stupid-early the next morning, but I refuse to play the bait-and-switch game. Either they had enough stock to last the weekend (which is what their sales theoretically run) or they didn't get my money. I was either going to get a PS3 on my terms, or just skip it until the next sale. So when I got home from visiting relatives on Friday afternoon, I planned out my route. Best Buy first (it's closest), then Target, then Toys 'R' Us, and finally, if those didn't play out, the three (yes... three) local Wal-Marts as a last result. I hate shopping at Wal-Mart, since my soul dies a little each time I do. But hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. I was hoping that by the time I went out, the crazy shoppers would've finished up/been arrested, and most everyone else would be getting tired and heading off to dinner. So, off to Best Buy I went. And that's as far as I got. First, parking was a breeze. Black Friday shopping hint #1: Park near the stores nobody wants to shop at. In this case, Office Depot. A Sears will also work. Then just walk. There was no heavy traffic around the strip mall, and I found a parking spot up the second aisle I turned into. So far, so good. Then I walked into the store. Busy, but not insane. No crazy people fighting. Walked over to the video game section. There were a ton of PS3s there. But they were the not-on-sale $299 500 GB version. Not what I wanted. Checked the next aisle over. Some other models, priced at $269, including some of the leftover 160 GB models from the previous generation. Not looking so good now. Then, I turned around... and in the middle of the floor: Ka-ching! More than 20 of 'em left! I don't know how tall the stack was earlier in the day, but I only needed one (a couple of other people snagged one while I was there, so I would guess they were selling pretty well). I also picked up the PS3 Blu-ray remote while I was there - after price-checking it against Amazon, naturally. Surprise! Best Buy was the same price. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks. Black Friday shopping hint #2: Shop for obsolete technology. It felt a little bit like buying a Dreamcast on closeout after Sega announced they had killed the console, but they were sure easy to find. The checkout line took just a couple of minutes, and I was back home in under an hour. Black Friday shopping hint #3: Shop late in the day, after all of the crazy people are gone. Sure, you limit your options, but deals can still be found, and your stress level will be a lot lower. The odds are you're going to miss out on "doorbusters" anyway, so just plan around it, and don't let your world come to an end if you can't find the deals you want. And that is how you go shopping on Black Friday. So I brought my first new console in years home, eager to fire it up. And now, the obligatory unboxing shots: The bundle comes with a couple of games: Infamous and Uncharted, and their sequels. Never heard of 'em. Suppose I should look 'em up to see if they're any good. And inside the box... another box! Actually, this is a pretty smart idea on Sony's part. Just put a thin cardboard sleeve over the standard box, and you can quickly and cheaply re-bundle the console. You know... I don't feel like taking pictures of removing every single thing from the box. So let's cut to the chase: Console, controller, bundled games and some cables. And no, there's no HDMI cable with it. But really... anybody still whining about that has obviously never found Monoprice. And no, the center channel speaker didn't come with it. The games are just in cardboard sleeves - no cases. The console is considerably smaller than I expected. How small? Well, while every other website in the world has taken comparison pics next to other PS3s or XBoxes or whatever, that's all pretty irrelevant here. So here are the comparison shots that actually matter: Sorry I didn't have a Heavy Sixer, but you get the idea. It's smaller than a 2600, but bigger than a 2600 Jr. Now then, I already had two games for it: ModNation Racers and Split/Second, so I was eager to fire them up and see how they were. But things have changed a lot since the last time I bought a console. First... the console had to update itself. So that took awhile. Then I dropped in ModNation Racers. And it had to update itself. That took over a half-an-hour. But finally, I was able to play the game. And... it's a kart racer*. But where it's made its name is in the customization options. You can build karts, characters, and even tracks, then share them and download new ones. I haven't spent much time with it, but it looks like it's going to be a pretty major time-suck. However a lot of the game is built around online racing, and I suspect that since I'm probably the last person to have ever bought this game, most of the online racing is over and done with. Besides, I still have to sign up for PSN or whatever it is. Next, I fired up Split/Second. This only took about 15 minutes to update. Now this is more my type of game. Very much in the Burnout style of racing game. Very arcade-like, with lots of crashing and destruction. The idea is, as you're racing around you can trigger events on the track that can take out opponents - from exploding oil drums to cranes swinging around to trash trucks backing up to demolishing entire buildings. It's terrific fun! You can even destroy enough objects that the course of the race will actually be altered while you're playing. So I'm going to have a lot of fun working my way through this one. My "must-have" list for other games includes: Gran Turismo 5, Dirt 3, Burnout: Paradise, Tron: Evolution (yes... I know it's supposedly not very good, but hey - it's Tron!), and possibly Need For Speed: Most Wanted. Sense a pattern here? Yeah... I bought the PS3 for racing games. But if there are any other "must-haves" out there, let me know. Especially if they're in the bargain bin. Oh, and the Blu-ray remote was totally worth it. While I already had a Sony Blu-ray player, the PS3 will now replace it. It has an excellent picture (I re-watched Tron last night on Blu-ray which looked fantastic), has options that my dedicated player didn't, loads discs a little faster, and while not whisper-quiet, it's quiet enough that I don't hear it during movies. Plus, Sony does a good job of regularly updating their PS3s with firmware updates. One gripe - the remote isn't backlit. But if I ever set up a proper home theater, I'll buy an Oppo. * Seems to me there's a good idea in there somewhere for a "cart" racer game for the 2600.
  20. I just got back from a nice, long vacation in Seattle. I never took a vacation last summer (it was insanely hectic at work), so it was nice to catch up on rest and relaxation for a few weeks. It was also a good opportunity to recharge my creative batteries, which frankly, had pretty-much run dry. I've got several homebrew projects I should be working on (labels and graphics), so I'm hoping now to be able to get back to them in all earnestness, and with renewed vigor. Just as soon as the post-vacation depression lifts, that is. Because man - is it ever a drag being back. Seriously, with vacation scenery like this... can you blame me? (Taken from the Ocean Crest resort, Moclips, WA) Yeah... that's what I'm talking about... Sorry. Lost in thought there for a moment. Besides relaxing and visiting with friends and family, vacations are always an opportunity to discover weird and cool stuff I overlook during my normal rut routine. To wit, these cool little Pac-Man candies, which I had no idea existed: They come in nice little tins, and given the theme of Pac-Man, make a perfect tie-in to the brand. Plus, the tins are nicely designed - they keep the retro look of the original sprites, without any cartoony embellishments. I suppose you could even role-play with them as toys if you wanted to. But that would be weird. I just have them on a shelf. Too bad they didn't have all of the ghosts in different colored tins (maybe different flavors), but it's still a pretty cool idea, and something I was very surprised to find, in a world where this is all-too-often the sort of thing you see on store shelves: And no, I didn't buy those. I have some standards.
  21. About a year-and-a-half ago, I posted about getting my best-ever score in Vs. Golf in MAME: 16 under par. Since then, I've kept playing and have gotten back to that score and near it quite a few times. But 18 under eluded me. I'd always have one or two bad shots that kept me from reaching it. I also started playing the Women's Vs. Golf ROM as well. If anything, I think the course is trickier. Part of that might be due to unfamiliarity with it. But it did help me practice and get better overall. Today, after playing a decent round in Men's Golf, I played the Women's version again. I was doing quite well. No bogies. One par, but an Eagle made up for it. After 13 holes, I was 13 under: Another par though set me back. But I made it up with another Eagle at 16: Then I had another par at 17. Even with a Birdie at 18, the best I could do would be 17 under... But 18 was another par 5... and I Eagled it: Resulting in a final of 18 under! Finally! I managed to shoot 18 under in Vs. Golf! And on a course I'm less familiar with, too! My final score was 55. This is only one stroke less than my previous best, because that was a par 72. But I'll still take it! I kind of wish I'd recorded it - but I play this so often, I never do. I never intentionally set out to attempt 18 under. I'm not after records or anything like that. This is strictly for fun. Now then... anyone for 20 under? (It does make me wonder if a decent port of this could be made on the 2600. Maybe with bus-stuffing?)
  22. Previously, I mentioned at the very end of this post: That's not the only problem anymore. You see, I've been testing the Trak-Ball™ hacks on it. Why have I been testing them? Well I wouldn't have wanted to go to the trouble of designing labels for hacks that didn't work now, would I? The problem is... some of them just won't work on my six-switch 2600. What's weird is - some of them do work. On my four-switch, all of the hacks work fine. Both of my CX-22 Trak-Balls™ work with all hacks on that system. But on my six-switch, only these hacks work: Missile Command Colony 7 Nexar Reactor Marble Craze Missile Control Plaque Attack So those are all good. But these don't work on my six-switch: Centipede - controller only moves left and up/down. You can not go right, and you'll get stuck along left edge of screen. Millipede - Y axis is fine, but the X axis responds far too fast and makes moving/aiming impossible. SpaceMaster - same as Millipede. Star Wars - same as Millipede. And yes - I'm using the correct versions where applicable, and those that auto-detect are doing so correctly: So between that, and the problem with needing to have an AtariVox continually plugged in, I'm a-guessin' something is amiss with my 2600. I'm observant like that. So that means... I have to pull my 2600 apart. Again. I'm assuming this is a RIOT problem again. But I'm not sure. So I'll have to do some chip swapping to find out. Ugh. But it won't happen anytime soon. I just got this thing put back together and I'm not inclined to go tearing it all apart right now. But while I'm here, I do have some observations on the Trak-Ball™ hacks. These aren't reviews, as such. Since for one thing, I only review games that I have on actual, released carts. Not fake renders. Plus, I have a gazillion other reviews to write before I get to these. So consider this a warm-up. For these first six games - playing them with a Trak-Ball™ is transformative, and these are "must-buys" when they're available: Missile Command - I already reviewed Missile Command, so check my comments there. Reactor - This is one of my favorite unsung 2600 titles, and this hack really lets it shine the way it always should have. It brings a lot of the arcade feel back to this title, and the controls are superb. Centipede; Millipede - Both are dramatically more playable (and fun!). If I had any complaint, the controls may be just a touch too fast. However, I'm perfectly willing to accept that perception is due to how bad I am at both games. The Challenge of Nexar; Colony 7 - Both feel like they should have always been Trak-Ball™ games. They almost play like entirely different games - the hacks are really that good. Less successful are: Marble Craze - Just to be clear, the Trak-Ball™ is a noticeable improvement over using paddles. That said, I wish braking was more forgiving. I keep meaning to just slow down, and end up going over the edge. A lot. I'm not sure how to fix that. Some of it is due to the nature of a Trak-Ball™ being a free-form analog control, and some of the maze layouts being designed for you to go dead-straight vertically or horizontally to get through them. Rolling a Trak-Ball™ in a dead-straight line is next-to-impossible. Stopping on a dime to change direction in a dead-straight line is even closer-to-impossible. But again, the Trak-Ball™ is a significant improvement, and makes the game much more playable. I think for it to truly work to its fullest potential, some of the mazes would need to be redesigned with the Trak-Ball™ in mind, rather than paddles. Or there would have to be some sort of AI that would dampen X or Y axis input, depending on the predominant direction you were heading. Or something. One lingering frustration that became more apparent the further I got into the game, is that it's not always clear what constitutes a path leading offscreen, since instead of having the path's color extend to the edge of the frame, there's a band of "falling to your death" color at the edge, such as the blue on the right side of the Berzerk robot: To me, that says "don't go here". So I'm always second-guessing that. This is especially obnoxious on the Adventure maze level, which looks like it's full of dead-ends, but isn't. Finally, on the hack, there's a graphic glitch on the title screen (it shows up on real hardware, too): Missile Control - This is a pretty obscure game, and while the Trak-Ball™ moves your aiming cursor around just fine, the game's control scheme is wonky to begin with. Firing directly at the enemy works well, but then you're expected to ricochet shots off of huge rockets flying up either side of the screen. As the game progresses, this is the only way to hit enemies, and it's more guesswork than anything. It doesn't help that your range of motion is limited so you can't always aim where you want to. This is part of the original game, and the Trak-Ball™ can only help so much. Plaque Attack - Another game with wonky controls in the original. Again, the Trak-Ball™ works fine for moving you around, but Activision blew it with this one, in that you can only aim up or down. They should've made aiming four-way. That would've vastly improved this game. Plus not making it about teeth would've helped it be less weird. But hey... dental hygiene education. I guess. SpaceMaster X-7 - I haven't played this enough to determine if the Trak-Ball™ really helps or not. I tend to find myself wanting to stay in one spot, fire for awhile, move, fire, move, and repeat. The Track-Ball™ doesn't lend itself to that, but when you do need to move around, it works well. Star Wars: The Arcade Game - The 2600 version of Star Wars has one of the worst control schemes of any 2600 game. I hated it so much when it first came out, I returned it to Toys 'R' Us and exchanged it for something else. Gyruss, I think. By using the same objects for the crosshairs and lasers, aiming and firing becomes a sluggish, inaccurate chore. Having a limited range of motion doesn't help. The Trak-Ball™ does improve it marginally, but it can't save what was a bad design to begin with. Anyway... if any of you hardware-inclined types have any suggestions on what's ailing my 2600 this time, let me know in the comments. I'd really like to get this thing back to 100%. Finally.
  23. A year ago I finally fixed my original Sears 2600. It had kicked the bucket in 2011, and after making do with a donor board for a couple of years, I finally got my original board working again by swapping out the 6507 and RIOT, plus installing Mojoatomic's re-cap kit. So I had my original 2600 (plus a CyberTech S-Video mod) all up and running again! But not quite... One of the first repairs I had to make back when I dusted it off in 2002 for the first time in over a decade, was the Select and Reset switches were broken. So I ordered a set of new ones, and much to my disappointment, they weren't the same. The toggles were aluminum. Mine had always been chrome. I didn't know at the time that the chrome caps were added to refurbished models - I just thought that's how the Sears consoles were supposed to all be. I knew mine was a factory refurb (that's how I was able to afford it), but had never made the connection. Unfortunately, you just can't go out and order replacement chrome caps. Those parts have long-since been exhausted. And an attempt I made to get one of the chrome caps off resulted in mangling it so bad it was unusable. So, I made do with the aluminum ones. But my 2600 never felt... right. My 2600 - with aluminum switches. When I repaired it a year ago (for what I hoped was the last time), I made one last effort to find chrome switches. Even if it meant finding another refurbished Sears 2600. But no luck. So I figured "Well... maybe someday", and went back to playing the console with the stock aluminum switches. Then, quite recently (probably due to my participating more than usual in the 2600 HSC this year), my Reset switch started misbehaving. At first jiggling it would make it work, but after awhile, it completely failed. So I was going to have to open my 2600 up and replace it anyway. Meanwhile, I swapped my console with a spare Vader, and kept playing. Then, this thread happened. And in it, AtariAger Osgeld responded to me asking about chrome capped switches - and he had some! They were spares - and I could have them for the cost of postage. A quick PayPal later, and I had the switches! Now, it didn't 100% solve my problem, because he had only one momentary switch, and I needed two. But - I was able to get one of my other chrome caps off with minimal fuss, so all I had to do was slide that cap over one of the aluminum ones, and I'd be in business! Three of my original switches, Osgeld's spares, and my successfully-removed cap. So today I opened up my 2600, and started swapping out the switches. All prepped for surgery. The nice part about doing a switch swap is that the main part of the 2600 - including my video mod - can stay put. The bad Reset switch is on the right. Some of the contacts in it are loose and flopping around. I had to scrape some adhesive out of the cap before it would slide over the switch. The re-capped Select switch. Since this switch was good, there was no reason to desolder it. The cap is held on with a thin strip of Poster Tape inside. All desoldered, and ready to have its proper switches restored! All done! That was fast! (No it wasn't... desoldering took awhile. I need to get one of these.) Close-up of the chrome switches. Don't they look sweet? More chrome! Including the re-capped Select and replaced Reset switch. Felt pads are back in place, and the 2600 is ready to be buttoned-up. Hopefully for the last time for a long while. I don't actually know what this is. I hit the button on my phone accidentally at some point. But it's kind of a cool abstract art thing, so there you go. And it's finished! It's hard to show how good these look in person. But what's even better, oddly enough, is how they feel. They're smoother than the aluminum ones, and they make my 2600 feel the way it used to, all those years ago! Before and after. So finally, after multiple surgeries, and many, many years, my 2600 is back! It's got its original switches again, and finally everything works! Well... except that it boots to a black screen unless my AtariVox is plugged into the right joystick port. For some reason. Whatever.
  24. With Pong being prominently mentioned in a couple of forum threads recently, I just had to pick up a Pong console off eBay... I wanted one of the Sears Tele-Games models, because those were the first ones sold (I have no idea of this one's actual manufacturing date however). This one is in amazing condition, especially considering its age. It works perfectly fine, there's almost no wear to speak of, and it just needed a little TLC with some Windex and a toothbrush to clean it up. The left pot needs a little contact cleaner, but it's not bad - just a little jittery. The picture is very crisp, especially considering it's running on a 35-year-old TV. And no - the score doesn't stay on the screen while you're playing. It only appears between serves. But the photos looked empty without it. When the game ends, a checkerboard pattern moves around on screen: I guess this was just a way to let you know the game had ended, and was probably something easy to display. Plus it adds a little pizazz to it. It also came with an original Sears Pong "Battery Eliminator" which is still the coolest name ever for an AC adapter. I think Radio Shack may have called them that, too. Having never owned a dedicated console before, a couple of things surprised me: It's battery-powered. It seems strange now, but at the time it would've been marketed as an electronic toy, and all of those were battery-powered. But again, you could buy a "Battery Eliminator" for it. The speaker is built-in. No sound comes through the TV. Not sure why, except, again, it's effectively an electronic toy, so that would have been expected at the time. It just makes a couple of different beeps, and there's no volume control. I don't know when videogame consoles started using the TV for sound, but this better explains why there are unused speaker grills in the 2600. Anyway, it's a cool little conversation piece to have around, and it's still fun to play. And yes - it will be making an appearance in a certain Atari-themed comic strip at some point.
  25. See what I did there with the II? As in Lynx II? No? Well... fine. I never claimed to be a good literaryist. I'm pretty sure that's a word. If I tell my spell-checker to ignore it, it works, and that's good enough for me. Anyway, a few years ago, I had written that I had dusted off my Lynx II and picked up a few new games for it. And while there were a few keepers in the bunch, after a little while the Lynx sat idle again. In the last couple of years though, it's had new life breathed into it not once, but twice, thanks to a couple of very talented Lynx hobbyists. AtariAge member McWill created an LCD screen replacement kit that has to be seen to be believed. The original Lynx screen was dull, washed out, and had a very narrow viewing angle. Mine was starting to exhibit dead pixels, too. McWill's kit puts a modern, bright, crystal clear screen in its place (and you can optionally add a VGA output, too). I posted about my experience with installing McWill's screen kit in the Lynx forum. The upshot is, it completely transformed the system. The games actually became more playable, as details lost to the old murky LCD screen suddenly became razor-sharp. It was like my Lynx got cataract surgery! That was a weird analogy. Maybe this is better: It was like the difference between looking at leftover pizza through wax paper or Saran Wrap. Uh... no. Look... here are a few photos, okay? Rampart, before: And after: And Awesome Golf before: And after: It looks a lot better. That's the point to take away here. If you want to see more, I posted extensive before and after galleries. If you want to order one of these amazing new screens, just contact McWill, and he'll get the details to you. For those who don't know how to solder, he offers installation as well. He also has kits for the Lynx I. So... after installing the new screen, the games I had looked better, but I still had a relatively meager selection of them. But this year AtariAge member SainT developed an SD-based multicart for the Lynx. As with similar multicarts for other systems, the RetroHQ multicart allows you to load any or all Lynx ROMs onto a single Micro SD card, which can then be plugged into your Lynx. From there, you just choose the game you want to play from an onscreen menu. The online reviews and videos of it were all very promising, so I asked to be added to the pre-order list. And last week - mine finally arrived! SainT's Multicart is on the left (the Micro SD card can be seen in the notched corner at the top), and a standard Lynx cart is on the right: Once booted, the menu system is very responsive and clear to read. A downside is that it only shows 8 character filenames: One thing that helps is that you can organize your ROMs by folder. Mine are alphabetical for now, but I may further refine this by games I play more often, or by genre, etc. A really nice option is that you can add preview images to your SD card to view pictures of the games you select before loading them. This is very handy, especially if you can't remember what game KISTENSC is supposed to be. Or in this case, APB, which is, well... APB. In order for the previews to work - your ROM names and preview names must match. The preview images have already been created, named and zipped for download, so you'll likely have to go through and rename something for them to work. In my case, I renamed my ROMs to match the previews. It's just as well, since the menu can't display long filenames. Also, you currently can't create your own preview files, unless you can figure out how to save images in the correct image format. It'd be great to be able to create your own, or even have multiple ones available for each game to show different screens or other information. Once a game is selected, it takes several seconds to load, but from that point on, everything works as if it were an original cart. The multicart is very solidly made - with a 3D printed case permanently attached to it (for the Lynx I, you have to get one without a case, or it won't fit). There's quite a long waiting list to get one - I was added to the list mid-May, and it finally arrived mid-October. But it was well worth the wait, because apart from a few unavailable homebrews, I have instant access to the entire Lynx library. If you want to read more about it, check out the this thread. To get on the order list, just post a response in that thread, specifying what you want. I'd highly recommend both of these items to any Lynx owner. They really do transform the system, and have really increased my enjoyment of it. If I had to pick one, I'd have to go with McWill's screen. I never thought a Lynx could look that good. But once you get the screen looking good - you're going to want to get the multicart, too.
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