For those of you who don't know, Console Classix (CC) is an online video game "rental service" of sorts that focuses on classic games. It beat GameTap to the punch by a number of years, and yet still remains relatively obscure. To go along with my VC&G review of that service, I recently conducted an interview with Console Classix's President and co-founder, Aaron Ethridge, via email. He was generous in answering the many questions I posed to him, and I find his responses honest and fascinating. The following interview is long, but if you're interested at all in CC, it's well worth the read. His answers were edited for spelling, structure, and minor typos only; everything else is as he wrote it.
Archive for the 'Emulation' Category
[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]
When I first played Super Metroid in April 1994, it was the most incredible gaming experience I'd ever had up to that point. Period. The atmosphere created by its top-notch graphics, music, and gameplay was palpable, enveloping me deeply into an incredible world of sci-fi fantasy and exploration.
There was only one problem with this otherwise excellent game: once you had finished it — exploring every nook, finding every secret, and collecting every power-up along the way — you had squeezed nearly every ounce of replay value out of the game. For years I wished so badly for a new Super Metroid, even if it were the exact same engine with a completely new world to explore. Well, my friends…in 2006, that wish was granted. Fans of this seminal work can explore the planet Zebes all over again in a new hack by Drewseph and crew called, quite simply, Super Metroid Redesign.
[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]
Hello, friends. Welcome to my new regular column on VC&G, Hacksterpiece Theatre, where I hope to profile for you the best, worst, and most interesting retro game hacks in existence.
Back in March on Vintage Computing and Gaming, I profiled what I called "The Best NES Game Hack of All Time," Mario Adventure. Shortly after the hack exploded across the Net, I tracked down the author of that masterful piece of SMB3 modification and conducted an interview with him. He goes by the name "DahrkDaiz" in the online retro hacking community, and it is my belief that he is likely the most talented NES game hacker out there today. After many conversations with him about hacking, he agreed to send me some of his earlier NES game hacks that have been relatively "lost" as of late. And by lost, I mean that they were once available for download on his site, but have not been for quite some time. In this inaugural column of HT, and the first in a series of "Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz," I'll be profiling one of his earliest hacks, Mario Seasons.
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.
I have always wanted to build something that I like to call a "Universal Game System" (UGS). You could also call it the "ultimate game system," since it would play all games for every game system ever released. Well, theoretically it could — with a powerful enough processor and the right emulators. That's why I call it "universal." But for now I'll set my sights lower and stop at the N64 generation. The UGS itself would have a simple interface to launch every game, would have ports for every type of controller for each system (or at least a select few that could be used on most games), it would hook up to a TV, and it would require nothing more than a game controller to select the games and operate the interface. You, the user, would provide the ROMs and controllers, and the UGS would do the rest. I suppose this would be kinda like a making a "MAME cabinet" for console games.
Central to the UGS would be a powerful computer fitted with emulators for every system, all seamlessly integrated into one easy-to-use front end interface. You would never have to use a keyboard or mouse (although you could if you so desired), as you could easily select, launch, and play games with only a game controller. Also, you could see everything you're doing on an ordinary old TV (not HDTV, although it would definitely support that too) with larger fonts and a layout designed for analog TV legibility. While HDTVs should be cheap and plentiful in the future, playing games on an old analog TV might be a big part of the "authentic nostalgia factor" soon, as regular TVs are quickly being supplanted by the new technology. And besides, I personally neither have nor can afford an HDTV-capable TV right now.
It is my goal to one day build one of these, but the requisite software is not quite together yet. I'm not aware of all the latest and greatest in the emulator scene, but maybe something that would help me build a UGS is in the works. I know about MESS (Multiple Emulator Super System), but last time I used it, it wasn't in the best of shape (it still needs lots of work, in my opinion). Still, when it's fully mature, MESS combined with the right front-end interface might just do the trick on the software end.
But the software is only half the battle. I also need a small, compact, quiet, and cool PC case that can hold the right cards for the I/O required, while also being able to hold a powerful enough processor to do the job (processor-generated heat is the main factor in dictating noise level and case size). Inside said box would be a versatile computer video card with an excellent composite or S-Video analog TV-out that looks good on regular old TVs. I've tried a few cards so far, but the video is always lackluster, and you have to reference a VGA monitor on the side to actually read what you're doing (to select the games to play, etc.). As far as interfaces go, I plan on building a large controller interface box that has ten or more types of classic system controller ports that would all hook up to a USB connection, similar to RetroZone's controllers, or Lik Sang's Smart Joy series. You could plug in your NES, SNES, N64, Genesis, PlayStation, etc. controllers and play the original system's games with them on a regular TV as if you had the real console in front of you.
My question for you guys out there is this: do you know of any software or hardware that would help me fulfill my dream of building this ultimate emulator system? Hardware? Front ends? Emulators? Any suggestions about how the UGS should function? Let's work together to figure this thing out. Eventually, a commercial version of a device like this will probably be as common in a household as a DVD player is now (minus the ten different controller ports, of course). Until then, we have to work hard to make it happen on our own terms.
Update (03/31/2006): I like how I made the UGS sound like some kind of incredibly complex, dramatic project, requiring resources and effort akin to the Space Race to achieve properly. And then you guys come along and nonchalantly say "Yep, I've got one already." Well, I don't "got one" yet, of course, but I will some day, thanks to your help (it was your feedback that I wanted about front ends, etc.). Still, to me, the ideal, seamlessly fuctioning UGS has not yet been created. Who knows if it ever will…
Ok, I'm being dramatic again.
[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.
You may remember our popular feature on Mario Adventure a few weeks ago. Well, an intrepid fan named Greg Head has completed the first ever Mario Adventure FAQ and it's now available for view on Vintage Computing and Gaming. The FAQ is mostly complete so far (except for some world walkthroughs) and Greg and I will be updating and improving it over time. You can send typo / editing / formatting errors to me, and content errors, improvements, or suggestions to Greg.
If you didn't catch the link above, here's where you can view the Mario Adventure FAQ.
Just yesterday I had the opportunity to conduct an email interview DahrkDaiz, creator of the impressive hack Mario Adventure. Mario Adventure is a completely new Mario game made from modifications to the Super Mario Bros. 3 game engine for the NES. The game was the subject of a recent piece on VC&G and has proven to be quite popular now that it has been given wider attention on our site.
Vintage Computing and Gaming: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. First off, where are you from?
DahrkDaiz: Knoxville, Tennessee
VC&G: What do you do for a living?
DD: I'm currently a student at ITT-Tech and working full time at a fast food restaurant.
VC&G: Do you aspire to be a professional game designer?
DD: I hope so one day but in reality I know game design is a tough field to crack, so I'll continue to pursue the dream in my spare time while focusing on a realistic programming career, working for businesses to make a living.
VC&G: What's your favorite video game? Favorite Mario game?
DD: A tie between Sonic 3 & Knuckles and SMB3. [Favorite Mario Game:] SMB3, no surprise there.
VC&G: What inspired you to make Mario Adventure?
DD: The total lack of a proper Mario sequel. I was disappointed with the Mario Advance series and I saw other people's attempt at creating a new SMB3 experience and decided to take the matter into my own hands.
VC&G: Mario Adventure has been very popular on VC&G. It been downloaded over 11,000 times from our site in the last few days. Is there anything you'd like the players of Mario Adventure to know or keep in mind while playing?
DD: This hack was made with the hardcore SMB3 player in mind. I could practically beat the original with my eyes closed and figured it was time to up the difficulty. However, I tried to include ways to pass hard obstacles easily. Use your power-ups to their fullest abilities and you should do fine getting through the game.
VC&G: What's your favorite new feature of Mario Adventure? Also, what's your favorite world in the game?
DD: Definitely the key collecting idea. I always liked having to back track through levels or world to get something out of the way to continue in a game. Point A to point B grows old quickly. [Favorite World:] Colossal Classics. The giant nostalgic look just has something about it that pleases me. Though I thought I could have a slightly better job with it.
VC&G: What development tools did you use to create Mario Adventure?
DD: FCEUd (emulator with an excellent debugger), YY-Chr (graphics editing), Mario 3 Improvement (archaic SMB3 level editor), Hex Workshop (hex editor).
VC&G: How long did it take you to complete Mario Adventuree?
DD: Approximately 16 months.
VC&G: Was reverse engineering the Super Mario Bros. 3 Game engine and implementing new rules, power-ups, etc. difficult? Tell us more about how you made changes to the Super Mario Bros. 3 game itself.
DD: At first it was very difficult. I slowly began to see a certain logic used behind the game. However, when reprogramming the code, I had to find unused space in the ROM, so that was pretty much hit and miss. Admittedly I did a poor job at coding it, hence all the bugs and glitches, but I did what I could with what knowledge I knew. A lot of time stepping through code and even writing code out on paper while at work during my break was required.
VC&G: Did you do all the level design in Mario Adventure yourself?
DD: Absolutely everything was done by me in this.
VC&G: Do you think Mario Adventure would work properly if somehow put on an actual hardware cartridge and played on a real NES/Famicom? Have you ever attempted this?
DD: Unfortunately, it will not. I reprogrammed the game to take advantage of a bug most emulators have, however, I did not realize at the time that it was a bug. The hack would work on a real NES, but not properly all time. The main bug being the status bar moving up over the screen at certain times.
VC&G: Have you ever heard from Nintendo about your Mario hacking exploits?
DD: Surprisingly, no.
VC&G: Have you done any previous game hacking projects? If so, tell us about them.
DD: Before Mario Adventure? No, but there were a few things I did while working on Mario Adventure and afterwards. Most of it is unknown unfinished test projects. I created a cool parallax (SNES style) background scroll in Mega Man 3 for Snake Man's stage. I hacked Castlevania 3 to start and stay as Alucard. I completely hacked Ms. Pac-Man to have 32 unique levels, a mode to play levels at random and a pellet counter. This hack is known as Pac-Man 3 and will be available on my site once it relaunches.
VC&G: What can you tell us about your next hacking project? When will it be ready?
DD: I can tell you now the next big project is another SMB3 hack. Most people may sigh at this, but I took a different approach with this hack and differs from Mario Adventure. The scale is that, if not more than Mario Adventure. It makes Luigi and Mario be separate characters with each having special powers of their own for different gameplay, including Luigi's floaty jump and slippery control and a new item box for Mario found in Mario Adventure. Each character has their own separate 8 worlds to play through, so this is literally two hacks in one. It's like nothing you've ever seen.
VC&G: Is there anything else that you'd like our readers to know?
DD: Mario Adventure is a real gem, but I've listened to a lot of good and bad feedback on it and this new project I'm working on addresses those issues. But I like to thank everyone who's played this hack and given so much praise for it. It's really inspired me to take game development as a serious career.
In a way, I think we all thirst for a new 2D side scrolling Mario adventure. It's some sort of basic human need, along with eating, sleeping and reproduction. Why, just last week I was about to keel over for want of Mario when, at the last minute, I found the greatest NES game hack of all time, Mario Adventure. But this isn't your usual game hack, mind you. You'll find no giant buttocks glued onto Mario's forehead, no nude Mushroom Retainers, no Super Tokin' Brothers with Luigi replaced by a white Rastafarian with a cannabis leaf for a hat. Nope, this is a real game — a new game, crafted with care and aplomb using the Super Mario Bros. 3 game engine. Who executed this masterful feat? Look no further than intrepid homebrew coder "DahrkDaiz," who completed the game over the course of sixteen months, sometimes coding on paper during his breaks while working at a fast food restaurant (check out our interview with Mario Adventure's creator here). Now that's what I call dedication. This man deserves serious recognition for the creation of this masterpiece.
Yeah, I know, this joystick is old news. It's probably been reviewed dozens of times. But when it first came out, I didn't have a Vintage Computing and Gaming blog. So now I get to play catch-up and review all kinds of nifty things I've been buying and collecting over the years, just to add another voice to the chorus of public opinion, and to help my fellow enthusiasts, of course. And in this case, I specifically wanted to review the XGaming X-Arcade Dual joystick because I definitely think it's worth a mention here.
I bought my X-Arcade Dual over three years ago, and it has held up very well over the years. I originally used it with a PS/2 to USB adapter on my iMac to play arcade games in MAME. Then for a while I had a dedicated (if pathetic) MAME PC that I used the Dual with to play emulated arcade games, of course. I originally decided to get the Dual model so my buddy and I could play two-player games together (loads of fun and works great), but the extra joystick also comes in handy for games like Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV that use two joysticks in their original cabinets (one for movement and one to fire in a certain direction).
The price is a little steep (currently $129.95 for the Dual, and $99.95 for the Solo, one-player joystick), but I'd have to say that you really get what you pay for here: authentic arcade controls. This thing is made of the real stuff — industrial strength switches for the buttons and joysticks that hold up to intense pounding, while still being quick and responsive — all mounted sturdily in a heavy particle-board base that feels like it could take quite a beating itself (although not a drink spill, if it seeps through the plastic-covering's edges). The eight standard play button positions are well thought out, allowing for the best compatibility with many different arcade games. There are also two start buttons at the top (for added authentic feel) and as a nice bonus, two buttons on either side, which work excellently as flipper buttons for a video pinball game. The overall craftsmanship and quality of the product is exemplary, and it becomes obvious once you hold the Dual in your hands that you're dealing with a well-designed, well-manufactured product.
The X-Arcade Dual, by default, plugs into your computer through its PS/2 keyboard port, with a handy pass-through female PS/2 jack for your regular keyboard. In this way, the Dual emulates a keyboard and has incredibly large possibilities as a game controller, even for games that don't support joysticks. You can program which buttons correspond to which keys on a keyboard using a plugged-in keyboard and a special programming button on the back. The Dual also allows you to save four different button configurations (for different games, for example), which you can toggle with a four-position switch in the back of the unit. It should also be noted that through XGaming, you can purchase various adapters that let you use the Dual (or the Solo) as a controller on traditional console game systems like the PS2 and the Xbox, although I have never tried this feature.
Overall, I'm very impressed, and yes, I recommend the X-Arcade Dual highly to anyone who is serious about playing games with MAME, or even those who just want a damn good joystick. The bottom line is this: if you want an authentic arcade quality feel to your games, look no further than the X-Arcade Dual.
And no, all my reviews won't be this glowing. I'll find something bad to review soon enough.
|The Skinny: XGaming X-Arcade Dual Joystick|
|Good Features:||Sturdy, arcade-authentic hardware, excellent craftsmanship and quality, great button layout, incredible compatibility options with keyboard emulation and available adapters.|
|Bad Features:||The price is a little steep, relegating this stick to a hard-core audience. Keyboard pass-through a little awkward. Particle board body construction.|
(10 Being Best)
|[ 9 out of 10 ] Shiny Marbles|