Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Games the need a Sequel: Apex

In the heydays of the original Xbox the console seemed flooded with racing games, or games that included racing in some form or another. As a fan of racing games I tried my best to acquire as many of them as possible, as even then they were cheap and abundant. One game, however, stood out from the crowd, yet it's name was only spoken in almost unintelligible murmurs. That game's name is Apex.

What set Apex apart was that you took the reigns of a car company and built it from the ground up. What's not to love about finally being able to get your hands in on building the race cars you were going to be racing anyway? To answer that question simply, much of this game. Apex, in theory, is an amazing idea, but what was given to us really fell short of anything spectacular or mind-blowing, which I'm sure many racing game fans had hoped.

From the corner cutting tactics of car sales being strictly based on the results of your finishing position in races to the exceedingly limited and drab choices you have in car designs, Apex really missed the mark by quite a few miles. What fans really wanted to see was more inspired car designs, have more options on how to customize them and I'm sure have more control over the power plants placed within said cars. I'm also pretty certain fans wished the sales were based on some kind of constantly flowing sales system, like a stock market, rather than only when you race and only where you place style system.

The idea was an amazing one, although Apex wasn't the first to do this. Sega GT for the Dreamcast allowed the player to earn different ways to build their own race car, which offered far more options in customization as well as far better car designs and engine choices. Perhaps if Apex was the first game to have offered this style of gameplay it may have had a sequel already, so that we could see just how much better it could be.

Apex may have been a victim of being stuck between a rock and a better game, but I think Apex still deserves a sequel. Given the current generation of consoles, and the fact that racing game continue to be strong sellers, if done correctly Apex 2 could be a smashing success. Imagine having the option to mash together similarly styled cars of from the real world, such as cars we already see in GTA or the likes. Then you're allowed to decide whether it's front, mid or rear engine, front, rear or all wheel drive, and finish that off with a few miscellaneous details about the power of the engine and presto, a recipe for success!

Apex isn't overly horrible, but it's not as great as it truly could have been. Watching your business grow appeals to people, as is apparent by the popularity of business sims these days. In my honest opinion I think it just makes sense to make an Apex 2, the current gaming climate just feels right. I just hope if they do decide to, they take their time to make the game as good as it could have been, then polish the shit out of that thing and make it the masterpiece it should have been in the first place.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Nyko Redemption?

Could it be true? Could it have finally happened? Did Nyko create a product that I could happily enjoy? Well, maybe.

A few weeks ago I was at, where else, the outlet store, when I found an Xbox 360 controller. I quickly chucked it into my bag and kept on hunting through the bins. Upon later inspection the thumb sticks were absolutely fucked, someone had carved their name into the side and the controller was no longer white, but a deep nicotine yellow. Needless to say I decided against buying it.

Immediately after I tossed the controller back into a bin I noticed that it had a rechargeable battery pack on the back. On closer inspection it turned out to be a Nyko battery pack, which sent chills down my spine. Even so, this time I was quite confident because I had a secret weapon on my side, the official Microsoft battery pack charging base!

A few months prior I had bought an official battery pack charger because it was at the outlet store and I already owned an official Microsoft Xbox 360 rechargeable controller pack. The controller pack had been nothing but fussy when trying to recharge it through the cable that connects to the console, so I decided maybe this would help the battery pack.

Much to my surprise the battery pack seemed to take a long charge, lasted much longer than it ever had before, and seemed to hold a charge for weeks without even being used, where it would previously discharge rather quickly without being used. Could this charger help me revive a Nyko brand Xbox 360 battery pack? Well, maybe.

At first the battery pack didn't seem to have any life left it in; all signs of life were gone. I plugged it into the charging base and got nothing. I plugged it into the console with the recharging cable and also got nothing. It soon dawned on me that Nyko put their own special charging ports on the back of the battery pack, which was the key to a successful revival.

After working out the polarity I simply put some electricity through the positive and negative terminals on the back of the battery pack and once it was outputting roughly 1 volt I slapped it back into the Microsoft charging base. Would this work? Well, yes! Yes it did.

The official charging base turned red, meaning it was charging, and charged the battery for quite some time before turning green. I quickly put the Nyko battery back into my controller to test for life, and there it was... the green lights lit up, the controller synced and everything was right with the world.

So far the Nyko battery pack seems to work quite well with the official 360 charging base. The battery also seems to have quite a good life span. It's odd that Nyko made a product I'm actually half way proud to own, even if I had to bring it back to life by myself.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sometimes risk equals reward.

Every time I walk through the doors of a thrift store I never know what I'm going to find, or if I'll find anything at all. This is a calculated risk that I take; to spend time waltzing through the aisles, searching high and low for things that pique my interest. Sometimes I find absolutely nothing, while other times the risk, although very minor, pays off in huge scores.

Same goes for the outlet store, which is more of an impulse driven risk. Digging through the bins gives me a euphoric feeling of treasure hunting, as well as finding treasure from under other people's noses. The risks taken at the outlet store are more "Should I buy this seemingly broken item?". Sometimes I buy things that seemingly don't work and once I get them home, clean them up and fix anything that may be wrong with them, they work just fine. In other cases I've wasted a few cents on complete and utter junk that I instantly regret, but such is the system of risk being a reward.

Over the years I've learned to draw the line of how far I am willing to go to pick up an item at the outlet store. It's a fine line, knowing to what degree of disrepair of said item will I accept or just toss back into the bin and pass up. Just a few weeks ago I passed up an iPod touch with a shattered screen. Sure, I could have bought it for less than ten cents, paid a small fortune to get the screen repaired and had myself an iPod Touch, but that wasn't a risk I was willing to take.

A few months back I purchased the face panel of a Nintendo Wii, with no Nintendo Wii anywhere in sight. Hunting high and low produced no console whatsoever, but the face panel had to belong to some poor Wii, now without it's face. The reward in this is picking up a completely odd item that I may someday need. I may never find another Wii without it's face, but if a Nintendo Wii without it's face shows up at the outlet store, no one will buy it because they will perceive it as broken, at which time I will swoop in, because I have the parts to make it whole again.

It all may sound silly, perhaps even stupid, but calculated risks in the hobby of thrift hunting are an everyday occurrence. Knowing how far you're willing to go to own an item, or part of an item, is something you need to figure out for yourself. My views on picking up items, parts and even completely useless junk are fairly liberal, but I do have my limits. Eventually you'll see that sometimes risk equals reward.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Way to Go Nyko!

Along with aftermarket controllers Nyko is also famous, perhaps infamous, for making rechargeable battery packs. From both online reviews and personal experience these rechargeable battery sets don't seem to be the best quality. To be fair they are used when I buy them, and as for the online reviews I could use the old saying "The squeaky wheel gets the grease" could be applied here. Most reviews are negative, but if a person is happy with a product, do they necessarily have time or the desire to give said product a review? I doubt it.

A few months ago I picked up a Nyko Charge Station (87000-A50) for the Nintendo Wii. I had become ever increasingly irritated with the fact that my rechargeable Energizer AAs were slowly but surely losing their longevity, so I needed an alternative. The outlet store, once again, came through and saved the day when I found both the charger and two rechargeable batteries for the Wii motes.

With hopeful wishes and childlike wonder I put the batteries into my Wii motes and quickly realized a few things. Firstly you need a special Nyko battery cover for these battery packs, the original Nintendo battery cover will not work. Secondly, and probably most expected, the batteries were dead, but lucky for me I had the charging base. As soon as I put them into the charging base the blue light lit up and within seconds it turned green. After a short bit of internet Columbo sleuthing I found out blue means charging and green means full.

Obviously the batteries weren't full already, the Wii mote didn't even flicker with them installed. I continued my Columbo sleuthing and found a tutorial online where someone replaced the batteries with regular rechargeable batteries, which greatly appealed to me, because it meant I had a project on my hands, and I love projects!

A few months after buying the Nyko Charging Base, the outlet store also gifted me a pair of Rayovac hybrid rechargeable AAAs. After recharging them in my wall charger I noticed the Rayovac batteries seem to have held a charge for a long time. It only seemed natural that these two should go together, and so they shall!

I carefully pried the top open and removed the cells from one (the pack that seemed the worst off anyway) of the battery packs. With a small piece of aluminum foil folded and placed in the bottom, the AAAs batteries fit quite snug, yet quite well within the battery pack. After everything was all put together it seems to work just fine; the Wii mote lit up and worked as to be expected, without going dead within a few minutes.

Hopefully I'll find a way to recharge the original cells and get them back to a semi normal charging cycle, but otherwise the Rayovac hybrid rechargeable AAAs really seem to have saved the day. One thing I will say about this new pack is that there is no way I'll be using the Nyko charging base to recharge this particular pack. I feel it would be much safer to just pull them out and charge them in the normal wall charger, as I would have done anyway. Better safe than dead!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

My Adventures in Guitar Cable Repairs.

Let me say it right now, I am a cheap ass. That's right, I said it, I admit it and I'm fairly ok with that. I am a cheap ass. This means if I can find something useful at the outlet store I'll buy it, even if it needs repairs. Odds are I'll find the parts to repair it at the outlet store also, as you'll soon see.

Many many moons ago I bought a First Act guitar cable from the outlet store. It felt sturdy and I liked the ends on it, so I knew I was going to purchase it. What does a guitar cable weigh? Not much, and that was the last deciding factor I needed to make the purchase a done deal.

As things go, sometimes cables aren't quite up to scratch, especially First Act brand. What ended up happening to that cable was that one end became bent and dislodged the wires. The ends aren't the high quality, unscrew and solder style, these are molded hard rubber, so fixing this cable would be more of a problem than it would be a solution. I figured maybe in the future I would find a cable with a nice unscrew and solder style plug that I could just buy and replace it with that one.

That day came, a few months ago, when I stumbled upon a really nice, unbranded, tweed wrapped cable that was missing one of its ends. The problem became apparent immediately; I couldn't tear this cable apart to repair a cheap First Act cable. There was no way in hell I was going to ruin a better quality cable, even by an unknown brand, to repair that cable. I, instead, decided to painstakingly repair the First Act cable to its former glory, sort of.

The process was filled with blood, sweat and frustration, literally. I removed the plug from the cable, hollowed out the hardened rubber to allow for the wire to come through, better than it was when it was molded, soldered everything back together and finished by sitting the plug back into the socket. These are not quality parts, the repair is not a quality repair, but the results are exactly what I wanted. The cable now works, and sounds as good as can be expected from a cheap cable, and everything is right with the world again, plus I have a spare guitar cable to use.

So what was I to do with the tweed cable? Repair it too, of course! At first I was going to buy a Switch Craft brand cable end from Amazon. I wanted to do it right since this is such a nice looking cable. Amazon being the Mega-Douches they can sometimes be won't sell you a $2 (at the time writing this) part without you buying an additional $48 worth of stuff. I would gladly pay the $2 it would cost to ship the damn thing, but nooooooooooooo! So what's a crafty nerd to do? Outlet store, baby!

That's right! While at the outlet store I found a weird cable hobbled together with the 6.3mm end I needed connected to two RCA jacks on the other end. I could tell it was homemade because 90% of the project was electrical tape and it took quite some time to tear apart. Once the part I needed was free I put it in my bag and kept shopping. Once I got the item home the project started to come together.

The tweed cable needed to be stripped, wires tinned and the jack needed to be cleaned and prepped for surgery too. The thick, lead solder was a bit rough, but the wires still attached to the jack came free just fine. I'm not sure what brand this jack is but while moving solder around I saw Japan stamped into the metal, so I'm feeling pretty good about the whim on which I decided to pick this jack up.

The original tan shrink wrap had been ripped off with the original jack, and since this jack didn't come with the metal sleeve that screws on and protects everything within, I just decided to solder everything up and wiggle what was left up and over the exposed wires. This is nowhere near ideal, but I'm fine with it, plus I can always repair it later, if the need arises.

Cheap outlet guitar cable plus cheap outlet parts equals a fun time repairing stuff. Yes, it works just fine, and again I know it's not a perfect repair, but it is a repair. I always feel it's worth the time and effort to repair things I find from the outlet store, especially items I want to have that just need a little extra time and care. I'm hoping to find a proper end sometime in the near future, but then again the tan shrink wrap would still be missing. Either way I'm glad to have two spare guitar cables.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Goodwill Disappointment.

Let me preface this with the fact that I have a Love/Hate relationship with Goodwill. Sometimes I'll find a good deal, sometimes I walk away in disgust at their lazy ebay researching when they slap an extremely insane price on an item and expect it to sell. This is just one shining example of what is wrong with the Goodwill pricing system.

Every so often my local Goodwill stores have a sale day, and the outlet stores drop their prices a little bit as well. The day started out quite interesting as the very first bin I found was a bin filled with media. CDs, DVDs (that were actually in their cases), video games and much more! Needless to say it was crowded, but I managed to nose my way in and I picked up a few PS3 games, a pair of PS1 games and some PC software I thought sounded interesting. It wasn't until the final round that I found something that blew my mind, not only for the fact that everyone else passed it up, but because it had a Goodwill store sticker on it.

Finding items at the outlet store with store stickers isn't an uncommon occurrence, in fact years ago I found a whole roll of store price tags; had I been a less honest person I would have paid the per weight price for the tags and went shopping at the store and got everything for that price. Needless to say, I'm not a prick, well at least not that much of a prick. The outlet store is comprised mostly of items that sat on shelves for months on end and just weren't sold, thus many items do have price tags on them, and most of those prices are also quite laughable.

The item in question is a rather roughed up Nintendo DS Lite. Again, not only was I quite shocked that everyone passed it up, I was also shocked at the $34.99 price tag that adorns the top screen when I opened it up. $34.99 isn't a bad price for a used DS Lite in good shape, perhaps if it came with a few games, the charger, the stylus, and maybe even a case. However, that price is bad for a roughed up DS Lite with the bottom screen being smashed!

Clearly Goodwill didn't bother to check if the item worked and just checked ebay, found one for sale and priced it as such. If the item was broken by a customer they would most likely be forced to buy it, as you would at any retail establishment, or it would have been thrown in the trash, which I've seen them do with countless other broken items. The only thing I can conclude is that the item came in broken, was never tested, was priced lazily off ebay and was put in a glass case for many people to pass by and either not buy it because they don't want one, or because the bottom screen is smashed.

At the outlet store price I knew I was taking this home, in fact I didn't even know the bottom screen was broken until I got out to the car when I was leaving. It doesn't matter to me if the bottom screen is broken, as I'll use it to fix up my broken DS Lite. I have some spare parts from a broken DS Lite I found from the outlet store years ago, so I'm sure I could possibly have two working DS Lites.

The only problem I have with it is that $34.99 price tag that some store employee lazily slapped on their. Goodwill received this item for free and was hoping for glory. It's sadly not the first, nor the last case of Goodwill taking in items for free and wanting a premium price for them. If you're going to charge a premium price for something, Goodwill, make sure the item is worth what you're asking.

Friday, October 14, 2016

I Guess it's the Small Victories.

After watching some videos online of how to make NES homebrews using donor cartridges and PCBs, I decided to try my hand at taking apart an old Gyromite PCB I had laying around. A while back I bought quite a few games with NES to Famicom converters inside to make into actual converters, which left me with quite a few Famicom and NES game PCBs with nothing better to do with. So I figured I would start by trying to remove the chips.

After painstakingly removing the solder from each leg of each chip, I decided to try and pry the chip out. As I was applying moderate force I heard a crack and quickly panicked. Did I just fuck this up? Even though I have a few more I still didn't want to ruin one, because I would still like to use them all, if possible.

After I heard the crack I decided it would probably be best to test my skills at soldering the chip back into place. After a few more minutes of making sure each chip leg was bathed in solder and comfortably seated to the contacts on the PCB I popped the board into a Famiclone and fired it up.

Oh boy! It's glitchy! I'm pretty sure I just fucked this thing up. Again, this isn't a huge deal, but I would like to have used them all and been able to make a few NES homebrew games I could be proud of. If nothing more than just a confidence booster, I needed to check over my work and make sure everything was done right. I had to make this work!

It was only then that I realized I hadn't resoldered the alignment pad. On some NES games there is a vertical and horizontal alignment pad that needs to be soldered. After putting a nice glassy blob of solder on the correct pad I popped the PCB back into the Famiclone and fired it back up. Would it work this time?

Yep. It worked this time, but quickly the realization that I had just set out to remove the chip, panicked and completely resoldered the chip made me feel confused. After the feeling of confusion wore off I decided to chalk this little experiment up as a confidence boosting skill. Hey, I had desoldered most of the legs and once I panicked I proved to myself that I could resolder a chip right back into place. All I need now is a proper solder remover, a chip programmer, chips to program and games to put on the chips.