Brian Parker of RetroZone is at it again, reinventing the NES homebrew scene with innovative new products. This time he's selling a special edition Glider NES game cartridge on eBay that, aside from being a previously unreleased title, will glow while it's being played.
Archive for the 'Remakes & Reproductions' Category
[ This is JJ Hendricks' first contribution to VC&G. He is the author of the Video Game Price Charts Blog, which analyzes and charts video game prices. Additional contributions and layout by Benj. ]
Since the Nintendo Wii's release in November 2006, the Virtual Console service has been one of its most popular features. Yet almost instantly after its launch, people began complaining about how much VC games cost. The most common argument against the VC pricing scheme (aside from the illegal emulator option) is the presumed "low price" of the original games if you bought them used. But how much would it really cost to buy physical copies of all the Virtual Console games? Is Nintendo's retro service a good deal, or are you getting ripped off?
By analyzing the current market prices of every game offered on the Virtual Console service, I've come up with an answer. In the charts below, you'll find an exhaustive price breakdown that compares the current market value of real cartridges to the cost of their VC counterparts. The prices for the cartridges themselves were determined by using the daily updated prices at VideoGamePriceCharts.com from January 24th, 2008, which, in turn, are taken from multiple sources, including recent eBay auction results, Amazon.com, and Half.com. All prices are in US Dollars.
For a Nintendo Entertainment System fan, it's a once-impossible dream finally come true: a thousand games at your fingertips in a real NES console. RetroZone has done it first with the PowerPak, a new NES flash cartridge. With the PowerPak, you can fit every NES game ever made, around the world, onto one cartridge. Dumped ROM images of the games are copied to a compact flash card, which slides into the PowerPak unit itself. Turn on the NES with the PowerPak cart inserted, and you'll see an on-screen menu that lists all the games on the cart. Pick one from the list, you'll be playing the game as if you had the game's original cartridge in the console. With a flash multicart like the PowerPak, NES users no longer need to switch cartridges between games. As an owner of over 250 NES games, I personally have been looking for a product like this for a long time.
Perhaps even more exciting is the PowerPak's potential to jumpstart homebrew development in the NES community. Unlike the Atari 2600, Nintendo's most famous console is woefully lacking amateur home-programmed software. RetroZone is out to change that with their new PowerPak products, which significantly lower the barriers to entry in developing games for play on a real NES unit.
Brian Parker, a resident of Redwood City, CA, has run RetroZone full time for three years. His company is well known in the retrogaming community for its sales of original console controllers — like NES, SNES, and Genesis control pads — modified to work with the USB ports found on modern computers. In 2005, I reviewed one of his USB NES controller products and found it to be excellent (I still use it regularly, in fact). But it was with the new PowerPak NES flash cartridge in mind that I interviewed Brian via email last month.
Also an avid cyclist, Brian gave me a picture of him competitively riding a racing bicycle, the only known picture of him in existence. Ok, I'm kidding — but it is him.
Thanks for the interview, Brian.
[ Update (11/02/2007): Click Here to read our review of the RetroZone PowerPak flash cart. ]
The popularity of "TV Games" units seems to have waned a bit recently as overexposure and, to some measure, public apathy, have set in. After at least three years on the market, the newly reborn dedicated home video game concept (pioneered by Jakks Pacific) is a product line whose novelty has finally begun to wear off. TV Games and their countless imitators are everywhere you go; you'll see them as impulse gifts in stores like Best Buy, Toys "R" Us, or even in less likely retail outlets like Kohls or Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Literally dozens of different units of varying levels of quality line the shelves of my local Target, for instance. But their absolute retail ubiquity doesn't mean that a few good new ones aren't leaking through. Jakks Pacific's line of classic game units, developed by HotGen of London, have typically retained a high standard of quality over the years. And it's their latest Super Pac-Man TV Games unit that I'll be discussing in this review.
For someone who was highly disappointed with the Generation NEX, I'll have to admit that Messiah's latest product looks pretty cool. But then again, the NEX looked awesome when it was announced, and you know how that turned out.
The product is the "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick," a supposedly arcade-quality wireless arcade stick for Messiah's NEX system. And that right there is the catch, and it's a major one: it's "exclusively" compatible with the NEX system, which is likely a horrible business move on the part of Messiah. Why would they limit a great stick design (which looks…absolutely nothing like a NES Advantage, by the way) to such a cheap NES-on-a-chip famiclone machine when they could probably triple their sales if they included a wireless receiver that worked with a standard NES? This stick is essentially what the Advantage should have been back in 1987, and NES freaks would love to get their hands on it for their own NES. But sorry, folks, you're out of luck. That's Messiah for ya — just shy of the target, as always. Gotta love 'em.
So why on earth am I telling you about it?
When I was but a wee lad, I begged my father to sign me up for Prodigy. I loved BBSes and wanted to try Prodigy so badly. On Christmas 1992, I finally got my wish: an orange cardboard box emblazoned with a blue star appeared under the Christmas tree. One hour (and one father's credit card charge) later, I was online. Overall, I was mostly underwhelmed with the service and my subscription didn't last long, but there was one thing I really liked about it: the games.
Many of you probably know of Prodigy, a pre-"popular Internet" era commercial dial-up online service that utilized copious amounts of NAPLPS graphics in its client interface. And one of the best applications of this rarely used, bandwidth- friendly graphics protocol was Eric Goldberg and Greg Costikyan's very popular Prodigy adventure game, MadMaze.
I've never been a huge fan of using emulators for any computer that I actually physically possess. The original hardware is almost always where it's at — the unique look, the feel, and even the smell of a machine all add to the "authentic" user experience (kinda makes me sound like a wine snob, doesn't it?). But original hardware breaks over time and sometimes becomes irreplaceable since it's no longer in production. That's where people like Rich Dreher step in with modern upgrades for vintage computers (for more on this phenomenon, check out my "New Tech for Old Computers & Game Systems" list).
Rich is now on the second revision of an impressive Apple II hardware add-on card he designed called the "CFFA" that enables any Apple II system to use a compact flash card, IBM MicroDrive, or IDE hard drive for storage. While definitely not the first Apple II IDE interface I've seen (or owned), this is a very slick piece of hardware. Here's a brief rundown of its features, taken from the official site:
- Standard Apple II form factor Card 3″ x 6″ (Usable in any slot, except slot 3 in IIe and later)
- A Compact Flash/IDE Interface for Apple II family of computers (Type II Compact Flash socket — IBM MicroDrives work too)
- Standard 40 pin IDE header connector
- 3 terminal screw type power connection for IDE hard drives
- Support for up to 128 MB (4 drives) or 256MB (8 drives) under ProDOS and GS/OS (without Dave's GS/OS driver)
- Support for up to 128MB, (four ProDOS 32MB drives) plus two 1GB drives under GS/OS (with Dave Lyons' GS/OS driver)
- On-board EEPROM for SmartPort firmware
- User jumper to select 1 of 2 versions of the firmware
- Allow booting ProDOS or GS/OS directly from the Interface card (for a floppy-less system)
- Firmware available for 6502 machines (II, II+, IIe) and 65C02 machines (IIe enh, IIe platinum, IIgs ROM1 & ROM3)
Particularly attractive is, of course, the built-in CF socket. I recently read on Rich's site that there's even a new utility called "CiderPress" that will let you transfer files to / from the Apple II-formatted CF card when it's plugged into a Windows machine!
Despite all its neat capabilities, what is actually most important about this card is that it's actually for sale (currently US $105 plus shipping). Extremely unique short-run hardware doesn't stay around for very long, so if you're interested, don't hesitate to jump on it while you still can. I've already got mine on order and am looking forward to running my Platinum IIe from a compact flash card soon.
Do you want hundreds of different games of diverse genres that span video and computer gaming history available for unlimited play on your PC, 24 hours a day, without the hassle of having to set up eleven different game and computer systems? So do I. But in this case, you're going to have to pay $10 a month to Ted Turner for the privilege. And there's another catch — the "unlimited" games have the darnedest habit of magically disappearing at the blink of an eye once you stop paying your monthly gaming tariff. Hmm. Sounds pretty limited to me.
Thus is the state of the GameTap Broadband Entertainment Network, the world's first large-scale legal attempt to make a rerun channel for video games. It's an admirable goal that is pulled off relatively effectively with their candy-coated software wrapper that wrangles together 400 disparate games from the late 1970s to the present into one virtual gameplay arena. The interface is clear-cut and simple to understand, allowing you to easily browse through and select different games you want to play (one at a time, of course). Upon selecting a game, you're presented with a game overview, some history, the choice of some game-specific bonus information, and instructions on how to play. Then, if you choose to continue, the game is downloaded to your PC and…you play. Download times range from a few minutes or less for the simple games to over 30 minutes for the modern PC Windows titles. Don't expect to make copies of the games you've downloaded, of course, because every downloaded game is chopped into pieces on your hard drive and likely encrypted, rendered useless unless played through the GameTap client itself. But if you just wanted to do that, you would have already (likely illegally) downloaded the game already, right? You're here for the experience and the convenience of having everything accessible and playable in one place.
[Editor's Note: This article was written by Procyon as his first contribution to VC&G, with additional writing by RedWolf.]
Portable electronic gaming has been around in one form or another since the mid-1970s. Nintendo, then relatively new to video games, revolutionized it in 1980 with their Game & Watch series, and again in 1989 with the release of the Game Boy. Since then, portable systems, like their console brethren, have gotten more powerful over time. Powerful enough, in fact, that they are now regularly capable of running software emulators of older game and computer systems. When a Korean company called Game Park developed the precursor of the GP2X, the GP32, they designed a system that would be completely open, allowing anyone to legally develop software for it, unlike the more common commercial products like the Game Boy Advance, the PlayStation Portable (PSP), or the Neo Geo Pocket Color. Soon after the GP32′s release, emulators for various systems — from the NES to the Arcade, and beyond — started popping up across the Internet. The GP32 became the hacker's portable of choice, with a wide variety of different homebrew games and applications developed for the system. After the GP32′s success with hackers, Game Park thought it was time to improve upon the GP32 with a new unit. However, various factions within Game Park fought over the focus of the successor of the GP32 — should it be a multimedia machine, or a pure gaming console? The two groups couldn't get along, so a group of employees left Game Park proper to form Game Park Holdings" (GPH), an entirely new company. Soon, GPH set out to design their vision of an ideal successor to the GP32, with incredibly expanded multimedia support, greater horsepower, and an open development system that poised the it to become the hackers' new favorite for homebrew development. Finally, GPH's answer arrived in November 2005 — as the GP2X.
The GP2X uses Secure Digital media (aka SD cards) to store multimedia files and executable programs (games, emulators, etc). Putting an emulator on your GP2X is as simple as downloading one from the Internet, connecting your GP2X to your computer via USB, and transferring the necessary files to a SD card inside the GP2x. Alternatively, you can use any PC-compatible SD writer to write to an SD card, then place the card inside your GP2x. The GP2X has an eight-direction digital joystick, eight face buttons, and two shoulder buttons, making it ideal for nearly any emulated system configuration. It is capable of direct composite video output to a TV through the aid of the GP2X TV-out cable, and it runs (for better or worse) on two regular AA batteries. It's backed by a 200MHz ARM CPU, coupled with a 200MHz dedicated 2D graphics accelerator, but how does it perform?
Based solely on the version of MAME that developers have been able to port to the fledgling system, it performs admirably. Not only do many of the older (and therefore, less sophisticated games) run at full speed with sound, they can be oriented to play horizontally with borders on the sides, or vertically to take advantage of the entire screen size (with a native resolution of 320×240.) Later games such as Neo Geo games or Capcom's CPS1 arcade series will play quite well with a small frame skip. And the picture on the screen is crisp and beautiful.
MAME is by no means the only emulator present for the system. At the time of this writing, several terrific emulators have been developed or ported to the GP2X that allow it to emulate the NES, Genesis, Game Boy, Turbo-Grafx 16, SNES, Atari systems, Commodore computers, and many more. The GP2X runs a version of Linux for an operating system, so users who are familiar with Linux will understand the way that many emulator authors prefer files and ROMs to be set up. Users less familiar with Linux are often aided by the "readme" file that usually accompanies each emulator. There is a learning curve, but it's very slight, and very approachable. In addition to emulators, there are many fantastic homebrew games that programmers have released for the system. And the system comes complete with the ability to play back MP3s and movies.
The GP2X is not perfect or without flaws. Many users have complained about the choice of a convex, mushroom-shaped cap that adorns the joystick. A particularly popular user on many of the GP2X forums has gone to the trouble to design, manufacture, and sell a concave replacement that has been highly rated by customers. Additionally, the battery life for the system is disappointingly short. Two ordinary alkaline batteries can be depleted in less than 2 hours. Users have generally opted to use rechargeable camera batteries that maintain a constant voltage through the lifetime of the battery, and their reusable nature certainly cuts down on replacement battery costs. When using these types of batteries, cordless play time can increase to just shy of 4 hours. An AC adapter is also available for purchase separately.
The GP2X is only four months old and it has already seen a staggering amount of development. Few of the emulators are at the level than frequent PC emulator users would call "perfect," but the early indications are so promising that, as the scene develops, the GP2X will probably be the portable emulation platform of choice for some time to come.