Archive for the 'Hacks & Projects' Category

[ VC&G Review ] PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge

Thursday, November 1st, 2007

NES PowerPak Flash CartridgeIt’s 1987. Your ravenous love for Nintendo’s new console leads you to rent every new game released for the system, craving the joy of each new experience. One day, a stranger walks up to you on the street and offers you a device that lets you play nearly all the NES games ever released (or ever will be released) around the world on a single magic cartridge. What do you say?

Twenty years ago, such a contraption would have seemed laughably impossible. But that same mind-blowing scenario (minus the mysterious stranger) has become a reality in 2007 with RetroZone‘s PowerPak NES flash cartridge. Brian Parker, the man behind RetroZone and the PowerPak, put forth a monumental effort to bring this technically challenging dream product to market.

Nintendo Entertainment SystemThe PowerPak retains the familiar form factor of classic licensed NES cartridges, albeit rendered in a translucent orange plastic. Cut from top edge of each PowerPak is a notch through which a standard compact flash (CF) card may be conveniently inserted or removed. Turn on a NES with the PowerPak cart inside, and you’ll see an on-screen menu that lists all the games on the CF card. 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, except for the few games that the PowerPak doesn’t support (see below). Legal vagaries be damned: as an owner of over 250 NES cartridges, I find the convenience of this feature worth the price of the PowerPak alone.

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Review ] PowerPak NES Flash Cartridge » ]

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 » ]

Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Discolored SNES

Sure, consoles age and get dirty. Heck, I remember a suspicious incident involving my Super Nintendo (SNES) console and a can of Coca-Cola in the early ’90s that left my SNES looking more like a moldy loaf of bread than a video game system. But around five years ago, I noticed that my SNES console was aging particularly badly. I cleaned off all the remnants of fossilized Coke residue from the chassis with a wet washcloth, but the “moldy bread” look still remained. The top half of the console’s plastic body retained a uniformly nasty yellow-brown hue, while the bottom half flaunted its showroom shine — that native SNES gray that we all know and love. I soon realized that a much deeper mechanism was responsible for the aesthetic disfigurement of my beloved SNES than mere dirt and sugar.

To further complicate matters, I have another SNES unit that was obviously produced more recently than my original one, and that console shows no sign of aging whatsoever. Comparing the units and the way different parts of them had discolored led me to believe that there is something different about the two batches of plastics — the one for the top half of the SNES chassis and the one for the bottom, or the plastic for the old unit and plastic for the new — that made them age differently over time.

Immediately below are two photos I took of my actual SNES units. Notice the difference between the colors of the top and bottom halves of the plastic chassis on the older unit, and also how the newer unit shows no sign of discoloration at all.

Discolored SNESMy first SNES console (right) exhibits discoloration on the top half only.
The newer unit on the left, however, looks as good as new.

Discolored SNESThe top half and bottom half of my first SNES console, disassembled.
Notice that the underside is yellowed with the same uniformity as the top.

[ Continue reading Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines » ]

Hacksterpiece Theatre: Luigi vs. Mario (Mario Adventure 2)

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Ever since DahrkDaiz released Mario Adventure over two years ago, fans of the NES hack masterpiece have been ravenously hungry for a sequel. After my coverage of Mario Adventure earlier this year brought the hack back into the public eye, DD and I planned a full-scale release of Mario Adventure 2 on VC&G when it was complete. He sent me a demo version back in March, and as much as I wanted to show it off, I decided to hold off until DD completed the project. Unfortunately, that hold became indefinite as DahrkDaiz abandoned work on Mario Adventure 2 over six months ago and has since moved on to other things. It seemed that the sequel that everyone was waiting for would never see the light of day.

Luigi vs. Mario Title ScreenFast forward to this month: fans of his work have been so persistent in pestering Mr. Daiz about when Mario Adventure 2 would come out that he finally publicly released the incomplete version last week on Acmlm’s Board. Now that the cat’s out of the bag, I guess it’s safe to take a look at DahrkDaiz’s masterful, but incomplete sequel to the beloved Mario Adventure.

But wait a minute: Where did all this “Luigi vs. Mario” business come from?

Identity Crisis

Luigi vs. Mario Panda SuitSome of you may be confused by the names I’m throwing around here. The hack featured in this article started out as “Luigi vs. Mario,” but at some point DahrkDaiz decided to use it as the basis of Mario Adventure 2 (likely after seeing the incredible explosion of popularity caused by VC&G’s article on Mario Adventure). From that point on, the hack had an instant identity crisis, because the main concept of Luigi vs. Mario was to have two complete games in parallel — a quest for Mario, and a separate quest for Luigi. That plot wasn’t necessarily appropriate for a sequel to Mario Adventure, so DahrkDaiz began to change various aspects of Luigi vs. Mario to fit its new Mario Adventure 2 title. Luigi vs. Mario is an incredible feat of programming with tons of new features, and ironically, it might have been the incredible depth and ambition of those very features — and the confusion that resulted when he tried to force Luigi vs. Mario into the mold of Mario Adventure 2 — that made DahrkDaiz abandon it earlier this year.

Panda Suit, Anyone?

Luigi vs. Mario Mouser SuitThere are so many incredible new features, power-ups, levels, and elements in Luigi vs. Mario that I’m not quite sure where to begin. Personal highlights for me include the new Mouser and Panda suits. With the Mouser suit, you can throw Bob-ombs, ala Mouser in Super Mario Bros. 2, and with the Panda suit, you can walk upside down on the ceiling in some areas! It’s really absolutely stunning what DahrkDaiz has managed to cram into this hack. Due to the incredible complexity and depth of this hack’s new changes and addition, the game is probably best explained by the author himself. At the bottom of this article, I’ve reproduced the manual that DahrkDaiz created in HTML for Mario Adventure 2 / Luigi vs. Mario, which he sent me back in March 2006. I’ve edited it some and cleaned it up a lot, but otherwise the text remains all his. For now, though, you should get the hack and see it for yourself.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: Luigi vs. Mario (Mario Adventure 2) » ]

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” » ]

Hacksterpiece Theatre: Return to Zebes with Super Metroid Redesign

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ 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.

Super Metroid LogoThere 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.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: Return to Zebes with Super Metroid Redesign » ]

VC&G’s NES DVD Player eBay Auction Ends

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

NES DVD Player on eBayWell, the auction ended last night, and “bunikmonkey” is the winner. The final price? $282.73 (US). Not bad at all! This will definitely help take care of the kittens. I’d like to thank everyone who bid in the auction, and everyone who helped spread the word.

Before you start thinking “Wow, that’s a great price! I should go into business selling NES DVD players,” remember this: eBay is a strange market that sells to the highest bidder. Usually only a couple people on earth are willing to pay eBay prices for high profile items. I believe much of my NES DVD player’s value is seated in the fact that it’s a one-of-a-kind item. Once you start churning them out, the value per unit goes waay down. And I’m not going to make any more.

Anyway, I hope you don’t mind, but I might post an entry about some more VC&G-related items for sale soon. I won’t litter the blog with eBay crap, of course, but I might just do one more post to announce another round of VC&G fundraising / housecleaning in the future.

Thanks again, everybody, for your help.

Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 3 (Luigi’s Coin Quest)

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Greetings! Thanks for joining me once again for Hacksterpiece Theatre. This week, in the concluding segment of the “Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz” series, I’ll be examining another incomplete and “lost” DahrkDaiz NES game hack as usual — but this time it’s a more recent one starring a certain iconic Italian plumber’s green-garbed, typically overlooked brother.

Luigi in the Spotlight

Shortly after completing his 2004 magnum opus, Mario Adventure, DahrkDaiz got straight to work on a totally new hack of Super Mario Bros. 3 which would feature Luigi in the starring role, eschewing the usual Mario vehicle cliché. Luigi’s Coin Quest, as it would be titled, would have numerous similarities with his previous SMB3 hack, but would greatly improve upon them. Over the next eight months, only one world of this epic project would be finished. And yet, despite being incomplete, the resulting work is one of the most sophisticated and highly playable examples of sheer technical mastery in the field of NES game hacking that the gaming world has never seen.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 3 (Luigi’s Coin Quest) » ]

VC&G’s NES DVD Player Hack for Sale on eBay

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

NES DVD Player on eBay“Ok, RedWolf. Now you’ve gone and done it. Selling out to the Man!” That’s me. I’ve got a lot of clutter to clear and a lot of hungry kitten mouths to feed / fix, so I’m going to be auctioning a series of vintage computing and gaming related items in the coming weeks. The first item on the block is my very own custom NES DVD Player, which I lovingly crafted by hand and featured in an article on this very site back in early March. The article was very popular and I received a number of offers to purchase the unique player. I figured I’d never sell it, so I turned them down. How silly I was — here it is, for sale. I’m not planning on making any more of these, so this is your only chance to get the real thing. Tell all your friends and help me spread the word. It’s for a good cause, after all…feline population control. Thanks!