Archive for the 'Collecting' Category

New Limited Edition Street Fighter II Cartridge Could Literally Burst Into Flames — or Just Ruin your SNES

Friday, September 1st, 2017

iam8bit Street Fighter II limited edition reproduction cartridge is a fire hazard on fire

This is really bizarre.

News hit a couple days ago that “iam8bit,” a boutique retailer of video game nostalgia products, is releasing a limited edition Street Fighter II cartridge for the Super NES.

It is part of a Street Fighter 30th Anniversary package for US $100 (plus $24 shipping, inexplicably) that includes trinket bonuses designed to lure cash out of a video game collector’s wallet.

The cartridge looks and supposedly plays like a real Super NES cartridge on a real Super NES console. There’s only one catch: iam8bit says it might catch on fire while you play it.

I am not making this up. Here’s a quote of the actual product page:

WARNING: Use of this reproduction game cartridge (the “Product”) on the SNES gaming hardware may cause the SNES console to overheat or catch fire. The SNES hardware is deemed a vintage collectible, so please exercise extreme caution when using the Product and make sure there is fire extinguishment equipment nearby. Use of the Product is at the sole risk of the user. The Product is sold “as is”. Neither iam8bit, Inc. nor Capcom Co, Ltd. make any representation or warranty, express or implied, of any kind, including any warranty of merchantability of fitness for a particular use, or that the Product is safe to use, and iam8bit, Inc. or Capcom Co, Ltd. shall have no liability for damage to property or persons arising from use of the Product. Nintendo of America is in no way associated with the release of this Product.

And here’s a screenshot of the warning:

iam8bit Street Fighter II Super NES SNES Fire Hazard Warning Screenshot

That sounds pretty bad! Who knew that retrogaming could be so dangerous?

Since we do not know the exact internals of the new Street Fighter II cartridge yet, we can only speculate about the reasons for this warning.

Or, heck, we could ask.

Just yesterday, I sent iam8bit an email about this issue. I have not yet received a response (I will update this post when I hear something from them).

Melting Super NESWhile waiting to see if I ever hear back, I decided to consult some knowledgeable friends via the oracle known as Twitter.

I received a quick response from Chris Covell, a respected video game tech enthusiast.

Covell said, “As long as modern ‘professional’ retro publishers use 3.3V flash chips without good 5V level translation everywhere, yeah, there may be fire.” Although by email later, Covell said to replace the word “fire” in his tweet with “heat and/or magic smoke.” Not very reassuring, Chris.

The 3.3V Problem

As I mentioned earlier, I don’t know what’s inside the iam8bit SFII cartridge, so we’re only speculating here. But when there’s a potential flaming Super Nintendo console involved, it’s for a good cause.

In his Tweet, Covell pointed to a common problem with improper or missing level translation in flash or pirate video game cartridges. Level translation is a term that describes changing the voltage coming from a power supply to fit your needs using a small circuit (such as this product on SparkFun).

Sparkfun Level TranslatorIn this particular case, a Super NES supplies +5V to the cartridge slot. Iam8bit could be using flash chips that need 3.3V and somehow improperly powering them with 5V. Without translation between them, you could be left with excess heat in the circuit that could melt the cartridge. Covell told me more about this in an email:

It has been pretty well known for a while now that homebrew/pirate cartridges for retro systems made in recent years don’t contain the usual CMOS (5V) EPROMs, or even PROMs, but bog-standard modern flash chips that run on 3.3v.

Some pirate carts built this way that don’t have proper level translation have actually failed on NES/Famicom systems, as reported in threads on NESDev. Kira Kira Star Night on FC, and other music carts have famously failed on actual NES/FC hardware. The Shubibinman Zero re-release did bad things to Jeremy Parish’s SNES, didn’t it?

I don’t know about Jeremy Parish’s particular problem with Shubibinman Zero, but as Covell mentioned, there have been a few recent music game releases for the Famicom, and they have been problematic for certain Famicom/NES consoles out there.

In the email, Covell also mentioned a neat electronics blog that explains the dangers of driving 3.3V chips with 5V in detail. There, the author Rene writes: “When the console outputs 5V into a 3.3V input the extra voltage must go somewhere; 1st law of thermodynamics. It is converted to heat through the unintended conduction of clamping diodes, which can be harmful to integrated circuits.”

The level of heat involved might just melt the plastic or ruin the hardware, not burst into flames — and if that’s the case, then iam8bit is just covering all legal liability angles with their disclaimer. But man, why risk it?

Why are modern cartridge manufacturers using these 3.3V chips if they don’t work properly in retro consoles? Covell says it comes down to scarcity of original compatible parts on the market:

It’s sad that 5V chips are getting scarcer. It is merely “ROM” for now but it’ll mean that other chips (4-bit SRAMs & DRAMs, TTL logic ICs) may eventually be hard to come by for repairing old consoles & computers.

Even with scarce parts, it is possible — almost trivial, if you know what you’re doing — to design a game cartridge that uses both 3.3V chips and incorporates level translation, thus completely avoiding any possibility of meltdown or fire.

As to why iam8bit is using an inferior hardware design in an expensive boutique product — insert sigh here. I think video game historian Frank Cifaldi had the perfect response to that in a tweet:

A Profound Ethical Problem

So in the end, what do we know? We know that even if your console doesn’t literally catch on fire from using this SFII release, you could either a) ruin the cartridge you paid $100 for, or b) ruin your console. Sounds like a pretty bad deal.

I’m no philosophy major or consumer rights advocate, but it is not ethical to sell a product that might spontaneously catch on fire while you use it — especially if the manufacturer knows it might happen.

Heck, it might even be illegal in some way.

So stay far away from this one, folks. In fact, I recommend staying away from any of iam8bit’s products in general, because if a firm is willing to sell an openly defective product such as this SFII release, then it is liable to have much deeper ethical and business problems. They do have a few standing complaints against them that don’t inspire much confidence about their ability to deliver a good product, period.

And what about Capcom? I hope they’re listening, because if I were them, I would pull their license to iam8bit quickly before they ruined their reputation with melting cartridges.

Secret Cartridge Messages

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Benj's Secret Cartridge Messages

In the early 1990s, I rented quite a few video games from my local Blockbuster store. I felt compelled to try any and all new games that showed up for rental — up to the point my parents would allow, anyway.

Around the same time, I figured out how to disassemble video game cartridges. I thought myself very clever and began disassembling NES and SNES games I’d rented to see what was inside. Blockbuster wouldn’t have liked this, of course — to prevent such a practice, the chain sealed its game cartridges with tamper-resistant security stickers designed to show if someone had opened them up.

Luckily for me, the stickers didn’t always cover the screw holes, allowing me to work around them. With a careful bend at the sticker joint between two sides of the plastic cartridge case, I could examine the cartridge interior with impunity.

Initials in Concrete by ww_whilstIt was then that I struck upon a weird idea. Similar to how kids would scratch their initials on a tree or a school desk, or perhaps draw their initials in wet concrete, I realized I could leave my own mark hidden within the cartridges themselves, gaining a small form of immortality in the process.

The key idea being that I would stick a note on the inside of the cartridge case, so people (most notably, Blockbuster employees) could not normally see it; one would have to open the cartridge again to reveal the secret message.

My youthful imagination fantasized about exchanging covert correspondence between video game renters this way. Even better, I could imagine someone, some day, far in the future randomly opening up an old SNES cartridge and finding a note from me inside. They’d be completely perplexed and amazed, and my goal would have been achieved. But even if no one ever found my message, it still would feel good to have it out there.

Placing The Golden Ticket

The next time I rented a game, I disassembled it and set to work with my plan. I found some small self-adhesive labels and wrote a short note on one, along with a date. After sticking the label to the inside of the cartridge, I closed it up and later returned the game to Blockbuster as usual.

Super Mario Kart Title Screen (SNES)I probably only wrote my initials on the first label (simulated above), but on the subsequent labels — maybe two at most — I might have written a short phrase such as, “Greetings from the past!” I don’t recall exactly. I believe I left the first such note inside Super Mario Kart in the Raleigh, NC area around 1993.

If you find it, let me know. It will be even better than finding the Golden Ticket in a Wonka Bar. As a reward, I’ll give you a personal tour of the VC&G Museum — and I promise you won’t drown in a river of chocolate.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] From My Pocket to You

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Wizard of Wor and Gorf Ad - 1980sFrom my pocket to you.

My mother was born in Texas, and my immediate family usually visited her parents every summer when I was a kid. During one of these visits as a teenager, my grandmother invited me to look through her Time Magazine collection. She led me to the back of the family’s wash house, a detached building on their rural Texas property where she did the laundry. Through a side door, we entered my grandfather’s generally dark and cluttered workshop. In the far corner — beyond the tools, beekeeping equipment, and motorcycle parts — I spotted three or four large cardboard barrels overflowing with old magazines. The mouse-chewn issues spilled over the edges of the containers where they had been piled haphazardly for decades.

Benj's Grandparents' Wash HouseI spent the rest of the day thumbing through musty old magazine issues from the 1970s and 80s. While reading a copy of Science Digest from 1983, I ran across the ad for Wizard of Wor and Gorf you see above. I was amazed. In my youthful zest to discover and collect all things vintage, I felt like I had uncovered a lost Egyptian tomb. I’d never before seen a vintage video game print ad — and prior to that, I didn’t know that CBS had published a version of Wizard of Wor (a game I love) for the Atari 2600.

I eagerly tore out the ad page, folded it up, and stuck it in my pocket. Why I didn’t take the whole magazine is unknown to me; I guess I just didn’t want the rest.

Until now, the page you see above has been sitting, still folded, in my collection of vintage print materials. It’s been waiting for a day like this when it can finally end its long journey from my mid-1990s pocket in Texas to you, on the Internet, today.

Afterword

A year or two later, I revisited the Texas magazine pile and found even more material, especially in Time Magazine. There were issues with cover stories on personal computers, video games, and computer viruses. That time, I took the whole issues themselves. Among them, I found a few ads for IBM systems (like this and this). I probably still have more from that collection that I can scan in the future.

[ From Science Digest, January 1983. ]

Discussion topic of the week: Tell us about your ancient computing or video game discoveries. When have you felt most thrilled at uncovering old video game or computer history?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

A Truckload of Vintage Computing

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

A Truckload of Vintage Computing

I should be ashamed of myself. I do so much vintage stuff every week, but I’m usually too lazy to tell you guys about it — and I run a blog called Vintage Computing and Gaming. Well, maybe I can do more quick updates on my activities in the future. Here’s the first.

A few months ago, I visited a family friend’s house. She was cleaning out her attic, and I had long since promised to help her get rid of the numerous dusty computers her late husband had collected.

I came home with seven machines, including an Apple IIc and an old Compaq bearing a Post-It Note warning: “Do not get on this computer.” The note backfired, of course, as it insured that I would be getting on it post-haste.

Once atop the slumbering beast — some five inches off the ground — I booted the machine. Therein, I found a sluggish, hobbled-by-its-own-nature install of Windows ME and no less than 86 virii (this is not an exaggeration) intertwined with every facet of the operating system. As per my promise to the former owner, I formatted the drive with extreme prejudice.

A Truckload of Vintage ComputingChief among the other spoils were a NES Action Set in a near-mint box; the aforementioned Apple IIc’s original box with all documentation; an Apple IIc color monitor and monitor stand, both in box; various boxed Apple II and PC software; a box; six PC clones of various vintage between an AT-class machine and Pentium stuff (no boxes to be seen); and an awesome, non-boxy Model 500 rotary telephone in stylish red and black.

Above all else, the equipment carried with it a priceless nostalgic element: I had watched my brother’s best friend use most of these items when I was a kid, so it was very familiar to me.

What you see in the back of the truck above would have met death-by-dumpster had I not gallantly rushed in to save it. Of course, now it’s cluttering up my house instead of hers. Despite the nostalgia rush, I’m starting to think our family friend got the better end of the deal.

Polaroid Instant Video Games

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Polaroid 15-in-1 Game Controller

What you’re seeing is not a hallucination. It is neither the result of partial head trauma, nor an accidental intrusion from an alternate dimension.

It’s a plug-and-play video game system marketed by Polaroid.

Polaroid 15-in-1 Video Game ControllerWalking through an absurdly enormous Target Supercenter last year, I spotted this strange beast hanging on an isle in the electronics section. I knew Polaroid was in bad shape (having declared bankruptcy years ago), but this? It’s so bizarre that I had to pick it up.

What I got was a battery powered NES clone with 15 mostly terrible games. No big surprise there. After some searching on the web, I found pictures of this same unit colored translucent blue instead of Polaroid grey — clearly Polaroid licensed this from another manufacturer. But why?

Word on the street (aka “the Internet”) says that Polaroid had originally built these games into their Portable DVD players. With that move, Polaroid quietly tiptoed into video game business. Still not satisfied, Polaroid soon launched this re-branded Chinese bargain-bin controller…almost directly into the clearance isles of retail electronics stores across the nation. Little did they know that it would some day make its most famous press appearance ever on Vintage Computing and Gaming.

Polaroid 15-in-1 Title ScreenPolaroid 15-in-1 Video Game System Title Screen

[ Continue reading Polaroid Instant Video Games » ]

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 » ]

How China Warrior Ruined My Childhood

Tuesday, March 4th, 2008

China Warrior kicks MarioI’ve read a lot of bad press about China Warrior recently due to its re-release on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service. Many make fun of the simple beat-’em-up as being a completely horrible game, which is not far off the mark: playing China Warrior is about as fun as eating a brick. But they don’t know exactly how horrible it can be. In the early nineties, I had a personal run-in with this TurboGrafx-16 non-classic that still haunts me to this day.

[ Continue reading How China Warrior Ruined My Childhood » ]

Collectors Take Note: Microsoft HD-DVD Player Hits Clearance

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

Microsoft Xbox 360 HD-DVD Drive

If you’re a regular reader of VC&G, you know the important role that clearance isles have played in my adventures as a video game collector. Silly as it may seem, collecting vintage computers and classic game systems starts now, in the present. Wise choices can be made as to what will become rare and collectible in the future, and collectors should seize the opportunity to purchase such items while they’re still available through regular retail channels.

Case in point: Thanks to Blu-Ray’s conquest over HD-DVD in the hi-def format wars, Microsoft’s HD-DVD drive for the Xbox 360 is now $50 (US) new at Best Buy and Circuit City. Best Buy even has a free HD-DVD movie rebate program that makes the deal much sweeter [expired] If you’re feeling lucky, wait a few months and they may dump them for even less. Otherwise, go for it now. If you’ve got the cash, buy a second and keep it mint in the box.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] The Super Gorilla Advantage

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

SNES Super Advantage - Asciiware - Gorilla Magazine Ad

It’s true: most controllers can’t stand up to the intense punishment delivered by the average Donkey Kong Country player. That’s why Asciiware created the Super Advantage joystick for the SNES. It’s built “gorilla tough” for “gorilla games.”

Woah there — don’t try using this sophisticated piece of technology on a non-gorilla game, or that tiny gorilla (pictured) will jump out of the controller and smack you. Just a warning: he goes straight for the eyes.

Discussion topic of the week: What if standard joysticks looked like this in the Atari 2600 era? How would games have been different?

If you use this image on your site, please support “Retro Scan of the Week” by giving us obvious credit for the original scan and entry. Thanks.

Benj’s Epic GDC 2008 Adventure Slideshow

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Benj's GDC 2008 AdventureAnd I mean epic. Last week, I crossed the country to attend Game Developers Conference 2008 in San Francisco, California. Below, you’ll find a detailed report on my travels, replete with in-depth photos, each accompanied by both honest and sometimes facetious commentary. But be warned: it’s going to be a long trip. If there be any lilly-livered scallywags amongst ye who fear the voyage, turn back now, or forever will ye be scarred by me words.

[ Continue reading Benj’s Epic GDC 2008 Adventure Slideshow » ]