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Retro Game Modding [Jan. 31st, 2016 | 11:46 pm]
Perhaps it's time for a "real" post for a change. I've been working a lot lately on my retro gaming shit. Figured I should document it. I have a long list of consoles to do various updates to, and other things to do. But first the coolest one...

I dumped my Trog NES prototype.

It is in fact a prototype and has never been dumped. I went ahead and did a diff on the files and noticed only a small portion of the game was different. Looking in a hex editor I assumed it was some sprites (since the hex wasn't random). Pulled it up in a sprite viewer and it did look like sprite tiles. I thought it might have said "Win!", which I figured would have meant maybe the ending wasn't completed. I looked up the ending on Youtube and saw it said "WOW!" so I thought for sure that was it.

I played through my prototype and beat it and it is indeed the difference. The "WOW!" in the release version grows in size and animates, and on my version most of the animation save for the first frame is missing. That's it, that's the only difference!

I plan to release these roms (both iNES and MAME version) along with documentation on it (with videos of the ending difference) on my website soon.

Here's quick list of a bunch of other things I did recently:

One my SNES's center plastic pin on the power input broke off (I guess this is a common problem with plastic getting brittle). I ordered a new plastic piece and soldered it in. Looks good as new.

I got all my Everdrives from the Ukraine. They are all loaded up with ROMs and ready to play. So now I can basically play every game on the original console for NES, N64, Genesis, Gameboy/Gameboy Color, SNES, Master System, Game Gear and Turbo-Grafx.

Another thing I got from Ukraine was a Famicom to NES converter. I have a 52-in-1 pirate Famicom cart that I wanted to play on my NES. I bought a cheap NES Golf game and had to hack the cartridge a bit to get it to fit in, but it works!

The latest thing I did the other night was RGB mod my Nintend 64. Someone built a little board you can solder on to the N64. It really only works if you have a very early N64 model, and thankfully I bought it when it came out so the mod was easy. Still, the wires are tiny and I'm not the greatest at soldering yet. But the picture looks awesome!

Speaking of awesome RGB, now that I have several system hooked up to my RGB monitor, I could never go back. It just looks so good, especially on retro content.

I have a bunch more stuff to work on with my old systems, but I'll post more when I get more done!
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LUTZ! [Dec. 15th, 2015 | 08:50 pm]
Many times people ask me why I like Phantasy Star so much. I think if you played it when it came out you'd perhaps understand how groundbreaking it was. Best graphics of the time. Multiple planets. Woman as the main lead character (and not a bimbo one at that). 3D dungeons. Many frames of battle animations. Destructible terrain. All of these were firsts and way ahead of their time.

But one thing I always thought of that was also way ahead of it's time is a character called Lutz (Noah in the US version) that was human. When you play the game, Lutz is referred to as both a "he" and a "she". This is done at different times during the game. Most people totally miss this because, well they probably don't play it as much as I have (and there is a female heroine in the game so it's easy to gloss over).

This always made me think that Lutz was supposed to be androgynous, but I had no way to prove it. So I've always referred to Lutz as both "him" and "her" just to go with the game.

However, I just found this interview from the mid-90's on the making of Phantasy Star with the creators of the game. Reiko Kodama (lead designer) is asked about Lutz. She says:

"Since so many people have asked whether Lutz is male or female, let me say a little about that. In the original story drafts of Phantasy Star, Lutz was a hermaphrodite, and as Alisa grew up, Lutz could become male or female. I thought that was interesting so I depicted Lutz that way."


Holy shit, after all these years, my intuition was correct. I've never actually heard anyone else refer to Lutz as anything other than a "he" before, except for myself. The fact that I've been holding on to this view of Lutz all these years and basically "got it" is the coolest thing ever!

Like I said, Phantasy Star was way ahead of its time!!
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Big Trouble In Retro Japan [Nov. 25th, 2015 | 07:08 pm]
Something weird is happening in the retro gaming scene. Prices for games on certain systems have skyrocketed while others have gone down significantly and it makes little sense. Recently I've been pricing out the value of various games I own, as well as games I'd like to purchase and found some things that are quite odd.

Super Nintendo games are ridiculously overpriced right now. Super Mario World, a game that came packed in with every SNES and sold 13 million copies (more than any other 16-bit game by far) is selling for $25 loose, no box, no manual. There are over 400 available on ebay currently.

Seriously WTF. Want the Super Famicom version of Super Mario World (the same game)? That will only cost you $8. Want Sonic the Hedgehog, the biggest game to compete against SMW? That will cost you $7, and sometimes you'll even get the box and manual with that. SMW for the SNES, a game everyone already owns and is more abundant than any other 16-bit game, has zero reason to be selling for more than $5, and yet it's being offered up for 5x that everywhere.

Meanwhile, almost all Sega Genesis games are fairly inexpensive, especially the common ones. It just seems the SNES has ridiculous prices even though it has 50 games for it that sold over 1 million copies each. It makes no sense.

But alas, all hope for cheap SNES games is not lost. About 10 years ago the price for Final Fantasy VII on Playstation was well over $100. I remember thinking at the time, "$100 for a game that sold 3 million copies?". Well, now the game generally sells for $25, which still seems excessive given its print run, but is much less than the ridiculous prices charged a decade ago.

Perhaps in 10 years SNES prices will come back down to earth as well. One can hope anyway.
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CPUs [Sep. 23rd, 2013 | 12:06 am]
This winter I'm going to be doing a massive update to my arcade cabinet, which next month turns 10 years old (crazy when I think about it). I worked a bit this weekend on parting out some of the hardware, and tonight I worked on CPU's for the new rig I'm going to build.

CPU's are interesting because min/maxing them really depends on the task. The newest Intel chips came out a couple months ago (aka Haswell) and didn't go over so well for gamers. Haswell wasn't a very large jump for games over Ivy Bridge (the previous gen Intel chip) because Haswell is mostly a power consumption upgrade and thus it doesn't overclock as well as Ivy Bridge.

At first I thought, well, less power is nice, but I'm building this for a MAME cab so I need POWAH! Ivy Bridge is cheaper so I figured since the results are similar and the OC potential of Ivy is better I'd just go Ivy Bridge.

But not so fast. What I should have done is not read about _game_ use, but _emulation_ use. Different things! See, one thing Haswell adds is faster single core speed. This actually takes more power but the increase is fairly large. Given most emu's run single core, this greatly benefits emulation. So much so that the increase between Ivy Bridge to Haswell is about 20% for emu's. Much more than the flatline that normal gamers would see with the same setup.

And that makes it very worth it for me. Research time well spent.
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RIP Cooper (2003-2013) [Mar. 8th, 2013 | 11:17 am]
We had to put Cooper down today. We woke up and he was sitting by his food bowl but couldn't move. His entire lower half of his body was limp and wouldn't move. He was also having issues breathing.

He's had various issues this year, but this was by far the worst. We rushed him to the Vet, who gave us the news that there was not much they could do. It was most likely a heart issue and a clot in his arteries cutting off blood to the lower half of his body. The likelihood that they could get it removed and save his heart was only 10%, and that the likelihood of it returning was very high. They also said it's very painful for the cat. We had no other option.

We were with him when he passed. It was very hard and continues to be. I miss him a lot already.

RIP Cooper. I love ya buddy.

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I'm A Rock [Oct. 3rd, 2012 | 11:36 pm]
In WarGames there's the quote "the only winning move is not to play". I now feel that way about social media. Apparently the cardinal sin of social media is "unfollow" or "unfriend". I find this interesting for a couple of reasons.

One is that it's become equivalent to not caring about someone in real life. A simple virtual flag, cleverly named, now has a similar weight to turning your back on someone in real life. I find this a little weird and disconcerting.

Two, it's apparently better to never have friended than to friend and then defriend. Or, to friend and then ignore all (or most) posts. This I can somewhat see, as few people tell others in real life that they are boring to their faces. They smile, nod and bare it until they can find an excuse to remove themselves from the situation.

That said, #2 only makes sense if you assume #1. If, on the other hand, you see social media as a way to curate and pick and choose who and what you want to listen to whenever you'd like to in whatever way you want, and not some form of social construct, then #2 makes no sense either.

It's as if we as a society have never lived without social media. 5 years ago nobody was on it. The world worked fine and we found out about all the things that those we care about were doing. When did the real world and real relationships and real communication take a backseat to the virtual?

I gotta hand it to the companies that are making millions (billions?) off of all of this. They've tricked our psyches into believing all of this *really* matters. And I don't mean that it doesn't matter or have influence. But when how you view someone is dictated by their FB status or whether they follow you on Twitter, as opposed to how they are to you face to face, well, I tend to question it all.

If it's not obvious I've gotten lots of crap recently for removing people from my various social media sites. I don't see it as anything personal, I just want to use these sites in a different way after my month off the internet. That doesn't fly well.

I expected some of this. I got just as much (perhaps more) crap for wanting to take the time off in Sept in the first place. Many thought I was weird or dumb for wanting to do so. Nobody really understood the point or why I would want to do that. Most thought I must just like torturing myself.

But what I didn't expect was that nobody really seems to understand, at all, my viewpoint on this, even after the fact. I don't see following as being equal to actual friendship. I don't see companies taking advantage of human psychology to be a wonderful thing. I don't think the transition of physical social norms into the virtual world is a 1:1 relationship. I *do* think that everyone should use the internet in any way they see fit.

I think that last one is perhaps most to the point. The internet was created on freedom. Freedom of expression, creativity, you name it. It was a place where anything could go, and nobody could tell you what to do because you, finally, controlled a virtual world that you may not have been able to control in a physical one.

But more and more that has changed. There are now rules, expectations, norms, etc that go along with not only the way we use the internet but how we even *think* about it. I've always believed that the beauty of the internet was that there were no real rules, or expectations, or norms. That it was whatever *you* wanted it to be.

But times change, people change, companies profit, and you can't go backwards from here. Please don't get me wrong (and I think many people have). I do not begrudge anyone for feeling the way they do about these sites, or the companies for giving them to us, or the actual benefit they do provide (and they really do provide real benefit). All I'm saying is...it's not the only way.

I'm an experimenter. I like to fiddle. As I say, "when everyone else zigs, I flamingo". I realize that's a huge character flaw, but it's also feel it's one of my best traits. I want to believe the internet that I remember and know is still out there. But I'm beginning to have my doubts.
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Ego Section [Oct. 1st, 2012 | 10:06 am]
Now that I'm back to viewing social media, I checked my FB account. The right hand side has a lot of "people you may know". Decided I should block that with my ad blocker so I don't see it. When selecting the div to block, turns out they named the div "ego_section".

Well, at least they're honest.
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Experimonth Over [Oct. 1st, 2012 | 09:18 am]
So the Experimonth is over. How was it? Overwhelming is the best way to put it. Never did I think the grip of social media and current news would be so great on my psyche. I have given up other vices before (fast food, soda, alcohol, caffine) and none have been as hard (fyi, caffine was by far the hardest before this).

Actually it was so hard that I'm not sure I'm done with the experiment yet. And while I tried not to, I did cheat a couple times. The pull to want to know how *others* react is pretty great it turns out. Now I know why so many companies want to get into the social realm. As far as addictions go, it's right up there (and socialy accepted).

However, lets start out with what I did not miss. I didn't miss Twitter or Facebook or Google Plus. Many of these quick "what are you doing now?" sites really didn't stick with me. After a few days I didn't miss them or think about them at all.

So what did I miss? Blogs, News sites, and especially forums. Not "forums" like Reddit, as I didn't really miss Reddit, but forums like the drummers forum I frequent or the Packer one or the emulation one. The communities I'm a part of that are niche where other posters "know" me. And while I missed them, I know I'm better off not being on them very often.

The forums that is. It's easy to spend way too much time having "conversations" with people you don't actually know about things that don't really matter. Blogs and news sites are a different story. They are more for consumption, tend to be longer in length and are something that I miss but also don't feel like is a massive waste of time. That's probably because their output is a trickle here and there instead of the flood of other social media.

Before I went on hiatus I had subscribed to a bunch of art and design blogs. Looking at them just now they are filled with so much awesome stuff, that I really feel now like I missed something this month being away. Looking at the normal forums I used to visit...well it's pretty much the same old thing. I don't get the feeling that I missed a lot or that anything major happened in the last month.

Looking at Twitter, FB, G+, et al I sort of feel like I did when I had my first fast food after about 3 months off of it. "What is this shit?!" I don't mean that to disparage anyone, but it really feels like empty calories now. It's weirdly unrecognizable.

So, how have I changed and what am I going to change? I've realized current events are important. Real news of the day is a good thing. I've realized well written blogs/articles about niche things I care about are also important. They keep me up to date on what matters but don't beat me over the head with it 10 times a day.

I've realized day to day posts or memes or random quips while fine on their own, in aggregate are a waste of time. I can think of only a few posts on Twitter, FB, G+, etc from the past year that really wowed me (or that I can remember). I can think of dozens of great blog posts, podcasts, and news articles. Not that everything needs to be of value, but there's a slippery slope here.

So yes I will be watching more football, playing more video games, and reading my RSS feeds. But no, I won't be on the social media websites or forums as regularly as I used to be, if at all. If I've learned one this this month (and it's something I want to continue into October), it's to *slow the fuck down*.

In an interconnected and instant society this turns out to be amazingly hard, espeically if your brain is wired to take everything in. There were several times this month, with a lack of things to do, that I felt like a kid again. Instead of feeling bored, I felt like I could do anything I wanted. That was not something I expected, but it came from a lack of distractions. And I did do a lot because of it. I was more productive in September than I have been in a long time.

This idea, "lack of distractions" is where I want to focus my time and energy moving forward, not just online, but elsewhere as well.
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Being A Design Pro [Sep. 28th, 2012 | 05:19 pm]
I've been a web designer for a long time now (15 years) and for some reason I still have issues trying to argue my design points to non-designers. This goes doubly for developers.

I'm not badmouthing developers (or anyone else) by saying that. I think part of it comes from a lack of understanding of the design process, and of design principles and best practices. That's expected, it's not anyone's job to know these things except the designer. But much like politics, when it comes to design everyone has an opinion that they in some way *feel* is right.

There's nothing wrong with this, it's human nature and sometimes it opens up insight into something that otherwise would be missed. But the hard leap for people to make seems to be what feels right for you doesn't necessarily mean it's right for everyone.

Now I used the terms "argue" and "right" when design "arguments" don't tend to be negative (or at least they shouldn't be) and there is much more grey area in design ideas than any one "right" one. But hashing through an idea or counter ideas to many people does feel like an argument, which then makes people feel "wrong" and thus defensive.

It's this defensive reaction during a brainstorming session that is still what I can't quite solve. I get that not everyone works like we did when I was at the Walker where you walk into a room, drop your ego and go at it for a couple hours. Best idea leaves the room and everyone is happy.

That last part, "everyone is happy", is where I want to end up, but I want it to be because we all agree on the best path forward, not because anyone "won" anything. And I'm still at a bit of a loss as to how to do that when many people (perhaps subconsciously) see brainstorming of ideas as Me vs You as opposed to Idea vs Idea.

I mentioned how this is a lot like politics above and perhaps that's the solution to a lot of this. Instead of just assuming that people will understand that this is a battle of ideas instead of a battle of *your* idea, some politicking is probably needed. I'm no longer at the Walker with people who understand the difference, and no amount of me educating them on how I work ever seems to make it any easier.

What's interesting is that the way I might debate with a developer over a design decision is very similar to how they debate with each other over a development decision. Perhaps this is a sure sign of a bad approach off the bat since most developers feel other developers have horrible ideas.

Part of this could be because these debates are about trying to *convince* each other of an approach instead of trying to see how each approach could be successful on its own. That can turn a debate of conflicts into a discussion of best practice.

This, funny enough, tends to make people want to defer to a designer for decisions instead of always trying to butt heads in the arena of ideas. But it's something I need to get better at and many times fail spectacularly at. Since I don't get "reviews" anymore, I need to do more introspection, so I think it's time to have this be my next focus area in the coming year.
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VidKids Logo [Sep. 20th, 2012 | 11:35 pm]
Also, I think we had one of the coolest logos:

I'm going to take this into Illustrator when I get the time and make a vector version of it. I'll post it when it's done.

Looks like after I cataloged all the column clippings I have it's around 180 game reviews. But from the looks of it I'm also missing about 55 weeks worth of columns. I know there were weeks it didn't run (especially towards the end) but I gotta think we missed a couple. Going to check with Rob's folks to see if they have any of the missing pieces.
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