Archive for the 'Remakes & Reproductions' Category

VC&G Review: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards

Friday, August 26th, 2016

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Jokers Photos by Benj Edwards

No, you're not seeing things. These are actual physical playing cards designed to look just like the classic Microsoft Solitaire card faces — the same faces Microsoft used for its Windows-based card games between 1990 and 2007.

Just this month, home decor vendor Areaware began selling the cards, which were produced with the help of the cards' original graphic designer, Susan Kare (and with the blessings/license of Microsoft).

Kare is best known as the designer of the original Macintosh fonts, icons, and interface elements. She also created most of the icons for Windows 3.0, which was the first version of Windows to ship with Microsoft Solitaire. Along the way, she ended up designing the Solitaire cards too.

Excited as I always am for computer nostalgia, I eagerly bought a pack of these new cards as soon as they became available, and I put them through the ultimate test: a game of real desktop Klondike solitaire.

Manufacturing Quality

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj EdwardsAreaware's Solitaire Cards, which currently sell for US $14 a pack, come nicely packaged in a clear plastic reusable case with a cardboard slip cover. The deck arrives crisp and clean within, neatly wrapped in cellophane.

Physically, the cards feel well-made, about the same quality you'd expect from a $3 pack of Bicycle poker cards. Each Areaware card is coated and feels about as thick as a normal playing card. You get 54 cards in total — all the cards of the four Western playing card suits plus two joker cards that Susan Kare designed especially for this set (see photo above). The new joker design fits well with the vintage card theme.

Regarding the card's coating, they are perhaps a little too slick, because they very easily slide all over the place when you try to set them on top of each other. It's the kind of thing you do frequently when you, well, play a game of solitaire.

Card Design

Image DescAside from the new joker card design I mentioned above, the 52 other cards in the deck take their designs almost directly from Windows 3.0 Solitaire card faces. The card back design is also from the original Windows game.

Each of the cards has a square notch cut out of all four corners to add a pixelated motif. It's a nice touch, but the notches can catch on other cards and get in the way a bit if you're handling cards quickly. That being said, the notches are not a big problem.

Curious to see how accurately the Windows designs were reflected in the print cards, I scanned and compared several of the face cards. I discovered many subtle differences — none of them major enough to get in the way of the enjoyment of using the card deck. But still it is worth nothing that the cards are not 100% authentic facsimiles of Microsoft Solitaire card designs.

Here is a good example: the king of hearts card. All of the major design elements are there, and the corner suit markers have been re-positioned to better fit the card. If you directly overlay the two cards, you can see a few different pixel colors here and there. Aside from the removed magenta anti-aliasing, you have to be eagle-eyed to spot the differences (take a look at this GIF which alternates between the two cards).

Areaware Windows Soltiare Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

The king of clubs card has even more changes, many of which I'd say were unnecessary. But again, if you didn't sit down and study the differences like I did, you probably wouldn't notice.

As you can tell, I am a huge Windows Solitaire nerd — perhaps the only person who might bother with such a comparison. But then again, this Microsoft card game is probably one of the most (if not the most) played computer games of all time, so the subject is not entirely trivial.

I have been in touch with Susan Kare over the years, so just today I sent her an email asking about the design differences. Were they mistakes? Here's what she said:

"We had slightly to adjust the aspect ratio for the printed cards. I also had to make vector versions of each card and it's possible that I inadvertently changed a pixel or two in the KJQ cards; nothing intentional. It was a chance to look over everything and aim for consistency. I made the jokers new for Areaware. (I worked with Lisa Smith at Areaware — she was great.)" — Susan Kare

After looking a little more closely at the comparison I sent her, she also said, "I see where I missed one pixel but made decisions to remove another and make the hearts all red."

Again, this is just minutia, really. Kare is the designer, and if anyone can modify the design and get away with it, it's her. She did a great job optimizing the cards for a print run.

Playing Solitaire

So how to the cards play? Well, when you lay them all out in a Klondike pattern, they look like this:

Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards Photos by Benj Edwards

It's enough to make yer teeny Windows-lovin' heart go pitter-patter.

But I'm not going to lie: I had no idea how to set them up at first. Although I have played Klondike solitaire thousands of times on a computer, I had only played it with real cards once or twice, so I had to look up how to arrange the cards on Wikipedia. It would be nice if it came with printed instructions on how to play — or at least set up — Klondike solitaire.

Once it was set up, though, I had no trouble playing. It was quite fun until I got into an unwinnable situation. I was tempted to cheat because, unlike on the computer, the cards were sitting right in front of me (and no one was watching), but I didn't. After a re-shuffle, I played another game that I promptly won.

And just like in the Windows version, the cards started flying everywhere, bouncing all over the room.

Ok, I'm kidding: I just threw them up in the air and laughed like a crazed Solitaire fan. It's been a good day.

Q&A With Susan Kare, Designer of Microsoft Solitaire Cards (from 2008)

Back in 2008, I planned to write a feature about Windows Solitaire, so I asked Susan Kare a handful of questions via email. She answered them very briefly, so I never used them. But looking back, I think there are some interesting tidbits in there. — Benj

VC&G: How did you end up being the designer of the Windows Solitaire cards?

Susan Kare: It was part of the Windows 3.0 contract

VC&G: Was any particular card more challenging to draw than another?

SK: Kind of obvious, but the K, Q, J were the most complex.

VC&G: Do you have a favorite card design from the bunch?

SK: Not really

VC&G: Did you model your cards off of any particular brand of real playing cards?

SK: No

VC&G: What method did you use to design the cards?

SK: Studio 8 (from Electronic Arts) and the paint program that came with Windows — 16 VGA colors

VC&G: While designing the cards, how much did you interact with Wes Cherry, programmer of Solitaire?

SK: Not at all.

VC&G: To your knowledge, have the Windows Solitaire card face graphics remained unmodified from your original Windows 3.0 version until XP?

SK: Believe so

VC&G: When's the last time you played Windows Solitaire with your card designs in it? Did you enjoy it?

SK: I love Solitaire. I mostly play on my phone now though.

The Skinny: Areaware Windows Solitaire Cards
Good Features: Clever idea taps into nostalgia, high quality card material, good quality printing, Susan Kare involvement
Bad Features: Not 100% accurate to Windows card faces, corners and slickness make handling more difficult, slightly expensive, no solitaire instructions included
VC Rating:
(10 Being Best)
[ 8 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles - Excellent

Analogue Launches 'Nt Mini' Modernized NES Console

Monday, August 22nd, 2016

Analogue Nt Mini

The upcoming NES Classic has its first high-end competitor.

Just today, Seattle-based Analogue is announcing the Analogue Nt Mini, a miniaturized version of its videophile-grade NES-compatible console that debuted earlier this year. The intention, according to Analogue founder Christopher Taber, is to go head-to-head with the NES Classic console from Nintendo that ships in November.

It will not be undercutting the NES Classic in price, however. This little beauty will cost you $449.

Unlike the earlier Analogue Nt, which was partially made out of recycled parts from authentic Nintendo Famicom circuit boards, the Nt Mini utilizes FPGA technology to simulate the authentic NES chips in a smaller package.

The Mini also includes RGB+HDMI output by default (HDMI was an upgrade option for the original, limited-edition Analogue console) and an 8Bitdo wireless NES controller and Retro Receiver for wireless play. It plays games off of original NES and Famicom cartridges.

Despite its attention to built quality, the Analogue Nt Mini is a very expensive proposition — especially when you can buy a working original NES on eBay for anywhere from $40-$100, and Nintendo's own HD NES Classic will retail for $59.99 (of course, that model will only play 30 built-in games).

And if you think $449 is expensive, keep in mind that this is the same company sold a 24K gold version of the first Analogue Nt for $5000. So much like buying a $200 bottle of wine, cultural cachet is a big part of Analogue's marketing angle.

I will try to get my hands on an Analogue Nt mini for a review and see if that price can possibly be justified. Until then, Analogue is opening up its site for Nt Mini pre-orders today if you'd like to dive into boutique NES waters head first.

It's amazing to me that it's 2016 and the the NES console market is heating up in ways I never thought possible. (We've come a long way from the Generation NEX, which inspired me to launch this site back in 2005.) Between this new unit from Analogue, Nintendo's NES classic, and RetroUSB's AVS — a $180 HD NES remake which I intend to review soon — I can see that I am going to have a fun and busy fall.

Own a Glowing NES Cartridge: Glider Special Edition

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

RetroZone Glider NES Special Edition Glowing

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.

[ Continue reading Own a Glowing NES Cartridge: Glider Special Edition » ]

Buying Real Copies of Wii Virtual Console Games…Ouch!

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Wii Virtual Console Prices[ 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?

NESBy 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.

[ Continue reading Buying Real Copies of Wii Virtual Console Games…Ouch! » ]

The PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

NES PowerPak Flash CartridgeFor 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.

[ Continue reading The PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge » ]

[ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Brian Parker of RetroZone Riding a BicycleBrian 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. ]

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart » ]

VC&G Review: Super Pac-Man TV Games Unit

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Super Pac-Man TV GamesThe 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.

[ Continue reading VC&G Review: Super Pac-Man TV Games Unit » ]

Messiah Announces "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick"

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Image DescFor 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?

[ Continue reading Messiah Announces "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick" » ]

Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web

Friday, August 4th, 2006

Prodigy Login ScreenWhen 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.

Madmaze Title ScreenMany 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.

[ Continue reading Prodigy Lives! Play MadMaze On the Web » ]

R&D Automation Taking Pre-orders for v2 Apple II Compact Flash / IDE Interface Card

Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

CFFAI'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.