Posted February 3, 2015

In late October we moved from the piss soaked streets of San Francisco to Berkeley, where the breeze is more veggie pizzeria than urine, unless you’re downtown of course. After 18 years I was ready to cross the bay, and always fond of Berkeley, a cozy town frozen in perpetual cycles of autumn and summer. The cottages and Maybeck Craftsmans tucked back into the oak and eucalyptus trees make walks in our neighborhood feel like being inside a pop-up book. Just with more earth-tone slacks, walking sticks and Merrell hiking boots.

We were also desperate for more space, which has been fantastic and worth the 30-minute BART ride. Still, there’s no spare bedroom or finished sprawling basement to hold all our gaming crap. There is a basement of sorts though, and a little room down there which I’m turning into a workspace for projects like a Gyruss restoration.

My old game consoles were originally on an IKEA Kallax (not to be confused with KALX, endorsed) which took up a load of space. I replaced this with an acrylic media cabinet which is rather packed but doesn’t have a hovering presence or block the cabinets behind it. Cable mangement wasn’t easy for nine consoles and took a few tries to get tidy. I ended up drilling a hole in the wall nearby in order to pass an HDMI cable from an iMac to the television for MAME, which works nicely. I think Battle Garegga emulated is arguably better than the Saturn port (unless your Saturn is hooked up to a BVM).

In early October the Duo-R came back RGB modded, so I finally played through Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which was, duh, totally awesome. Initially after moving I didn’t play too much, but that’s picked up a bit. I also slowed down on buying games, but last week grabbed three Saturn and one GBA games: Rayman, Silhouette Mirage (ehh), The Game Paradise!, and Klonoa: Empire of Dreams.

At night over the past couple weeks I’ve been playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, watching the wind blow through the trees outside our windows (trees!), and appreciating every day.

Emerald City

Posted July 5, 2014

This may go down as my most gamingest summer on record. A couple weeks ago a bundle from Yahoo Japan Auctions arrived after surprisingly winning some bids. I’m finally the proud father of a PC Engine Duo-R, which came bundled with an Avenue Pad 6 controller and 10 random, not-so-good games. Fortunately I also won Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and a PC Engine adapter for an HRAP stick a friend picked up from Japan. I was hoping to send the Duo-R right back out to be RGB modded, but my preferred modding dude is booked until fall. As much as I’d like to play Castlevania now, I think I’d rather wait until its full glory is on display.

Last weekend we went to the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo, what could be thought of as the little sister to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo in October. It was small enough that I think I saw every game over a two-hour span but still managed to find a few goodies (that Mushihimesama import seals my fate for needing to find a Japanese PS2). There were also rows of consoles and candy cabs setup with casual and tournament play. Being there almost reminded me of attending “Hamfests” in Illinois, expos for ham radio and computer enthusiasts — it smells funny and people are pushy, but it’s a community nonetheless.

While in Seattle we also checked out GameWorks and Seattle Pinball Museum, which couldn’t be more different from each other. While GameWorks largely offers shooting and driving games for clusters of bloodthirsty teens (and a few drug dealers), the pinball arcade is a place to play beautiful, well maintained pins from the ’60s up to Lord of the Rings. Seattle has plenty of barcades too, like John John’s Gameroom in Capitol Hill, where we played a tiny Neo Geo, a few rounds of 1943, and then a fierce, half-hour round of Jenga.

I brought along a 3DS, a great little travel companion, and played painful stabs at Recca and long stretches of Shovel Knight, which I think deserves the praise it’s getting.

Once back in SF I continued the previous week’s research of Xbox 360 games, trying to decide whether the North American or Japanese version of the console made more sense for me. In the end nearly every game I wanted (mostly Cave shmups) either had a NA release or was a region-free import, so I picked up the NA Slim edition from Amazon (as it’s the same price, I’d avoid the more recent budget E). This would also be a console I could share with Justin who was interested in a handful of RPGs exclusive to the 360.

To kick off the Cave-fest I picked up Deathsmiles, Espgaluda 2 and Mushihimesama Futari, and trying to be patient about the other 14 I want. Overall the 360 experience is better than I expected, and it certainly has enough power for accurate arcade ports. A few hours of Deathsmiles is enough to bum anyone out that Cave has nothing new in the works. With the arcade scene drying out even in Japan, and shmup’s better days likely in the past, it’s an uncertain future for the developers I’ve become fond of.

Like Psikyo and Raizing, whose Saturn ports I can’t stop playing. After weeks of Gunbird/Gunbird 2 love, I picked up Strikers 1945 II and, more recently, Soukyugurentai Otokuyo which fixes the first release’s bugs, like garbled Japanese characters covering the screen when played on a NA Saturn. Maybe I was born in the wrong country.

Super Vehicle Arachnids

Posted March 19, 2014

The gaming momentum continued all week, with some chance opportunities and others a long time coming. After returning the dead and overpriced Sega Genesis, I found another model 1 in decent condition for $35. Right away you could smell that it had belonged to a smoker, and things didn’t improve after cracking open the console. Dust and hair, sure, but what looked like bits of tobacco, cobwebs, rust spots, even a couple dead spiders — I fully expected it to be another clunker. But after a thorough cleaning it works great. Running off a SCART cable to the XRGB-mini, the picture quality is amazing for a 25-year-old stock console.

I really have to recommend retro_console_accessories for their custom cables. The SNES also looks crisp and colorful with one of their SCARTs. Well built, shipped fast, and they offer detailed advice if you need it.

The TurboGrafx-16 came back from an RGB mod, but sadly has to return again, as there’s a snag with the Genesis 2 adapter he built in and the SCART/XRGB-mini adapter I’m using. So the wait continues on this one.

But I did have a bit of luck with a random Sega Saturn and Dreamcast from a local guy who wanted to unload them, along with a few extras. While initially I didn’t anticipate tracking these down, I’ve come across lots of shmups for both, particularly the Saturn, that easily make them worth having. They’re in solid shape and look like they may have had their caps replaced a few years ago. I grabbed the games he had, including Radiant Silvergun, Soukyugurentai, and Nights into Dreams (with the 3D controller) for the Saturn, and Bangai-O, Typing of the Dead (with two keyboards), Chu Chu Rocket, and Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast. I’m already eyeing several imports, and have ordered some NG:DEV.TEAM shooters.

Lastly, but what I’m most excited about at the moment, was the arrival this weekend of the Omega Neo Geo. I remember playing Metal Slug as a kid in the arcades, this behemoth red cabinet looming over me, looking up at the little backlit cutouts displaying the other games it offered. Take the guts out of that Neo Geo MVS and squeeze it into an AES-style custom molded plastic enclosure and you have a consolized Neo Geo. And of course the irony is that the arcade versions of the games are now vastly cheaper than their AES home console games.

Paired with the Neo Geo CD gamepad and plugged into the XRGB-mini, the Omega is an insanely fun, 2D powerhouse of an afternoon. The build quality is top notch and minimal: two controller ports on the front, power and SCART output on back (or optional component, etc). The image it generates with the mini’s scanlines is beautiful (make sure to set the mini’s v_width from 32 to 33), and the stereo sounds are a far cry from what I’ve been hearing through emulation over the years. Unibios 3.2 was included with my unit, allowing modifications like region change (blood!), DIP switch access, memory card viewer, cheats (zzz), and a surprisingly entertaining jukebox mode for cycling through a game’s music and sound effects. Turning on the gore and bouncing bosoms is one thing, but some games have enough regional differences to play them all. I opted for the Omega model with internal memory, or VMC, for progress and high score saves, a $25 option some may overlook on an arcade console but I’ve found it’s well worth it.

Since I’m new to Neo Geo as an owner, I only have one MVS cart, the 120-in-1. It’s actually a great sampler, but if you’re dumb like me, you’ll probably want to find the originals. Still, the games play great on the multicart. I keep putting random games on attract mode while I write this, their screens flashing in the background keeping me company. And when the day comes that I may have space for a couple arcade cabs, the MVS carts will be twice as useful.