Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gran Turismo Retrospective!

Years ago I wrote an entry about how much I hated the Gran Turismo license tests, and to a degree I still stand behind that entry. Yet, all these years later I can't help but be nostalgic about the series that gave me so many good times, although I won't deny it also gave me many frustrating times too.

Gran Turismo seemingly broke the mold when it came to racing games. Many games up to this point were arcade racers that didn't really come with all the trivial things that true life can throw into the mix. While you did need to have some degree of driving skills, Gran Turismo amplified that and enforced the need to become better. What could have easily been banal, Gran Turismo turned into a whole new genre!

Gran Turismo was one of the only games that I actively talked to friends about, as the Playstation was one of the only systems I actually had while people still gave a shit about it. Armed with my DualShock controller and my Greatest Hits edition of Gran Turismo, I was well educated in the subject when it popped up on the school grounds. Trading cars with friends, learning tuning settings and generally having a lot of fun with the game was exactly what I did in that time, and boy do I miss it.

The sheer depth of customization and tuning were things you never saw before. You could reach back into the NES era with games like RC Pro Am or F1 Built to Win, where you could upgrade parts on the car, but it was all superficial. There was a slight handling difference but nothing changed about the avatar you were controlling. Which is a great deal of what I enjoy about Gran Turismo; even though they did enforce the need to get better, you never really had to fully understand tuning or be an F1 level driver to play the game, enjoy the game and ultimately be good at the game.

It never hurt to do the license tests over and over until you mastered them all, in fact if you did master them all you received hidden rewards cars for your efforts. Again, I absolutely hated and dreaded a lot of those tests. What made sense under normal racing conditions was never allowed in the test, which makes no sense to me. I understand they wanted to lay down a strict learning environment, but if I can slide half my tires into the grass to pass someone under normal racing conditions, I may need to do so in the test teaching me how to pass 2 cars racing side by side.

After being overcome with a sense of nostalgia, as well as forgetting whether or not I officially had the exceedingly rare Yellow Dodge Copperhead, I decided to do some good old fashion Gran Turismo racing. After a while I thought to myself I wonder what a more modern Gran Turismo would be like, so I purchased Gran Turismo 5. Hey, I said more modern, I didn't say current day!

After I purchased the game off Amazon the day had finally come to see how a more modern Gran Turismo felt. I was in a more modern era, I was going to play what previously only Forza 2 had offered to me; racing cars in beautiful HD. Upon popping the disc into the PS3 I was greeted with 12 hours of updating. Yep, 12 whole hours that I couldn't use, nor shut down, my PS3 console. Lucky for me, however, the bonus car codes had not been used and, unlike the expiration date on the codes stated, they worked just fine!

Do you know what happened then? I did what any person who just bought a Gran Turismo game would do, I immediately started trying to do the license tests... and quickly became pissed off again! To help me suffer through I took breaks, and mostly learned from my mistakes, but those tests are still fucking awful! Oh, but isn't that just the greatest thing? They never eased up and they instill a strict learning environment, which brings all that nostalgia rushing back once more. I love you Gran Turismo!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Micro Machines: I Miss Them!

-Rapid, incoherent speech- Well, it's not as good as John Moschitta Jr, but what I was attempting to say was how much I love and miss Micro Machines from when I was a child. I believe I grew up in the best era for children, although I think everyone thinks that about their childhood era. I grew up in the late 80s and all throughout the 90s, so there was never a day gone by that there wasn't something new and exciting pushed out to rot my child mind.

TV commercials of my generation were filled with seemingly endless ways to incorporate technology into toys and video games. That means my childhood was chock full of bleeps and bloops and anything you could imagine. When Micro Machines came on the scene they dethroned the previous king, Hot Wheels, or maybe Matchbox... one or the other. These tiny, easily swallowed vehicles came multiples in a single package. Your child mind thought why would I spend 75 cents on a single Hot Wheel when I could spend $4 and get 5 or 6 (I can't remember) Micro Machines? WHAT A DEAL!!

One of the kids in my neighborhood, who was a spoiled child who grew into a spoiled adult, had a large suitcase filled with Micro Machines. Almost every one produced, so I thought. Anything from the normal vehicles to the ones with light up headlights and tail lights all the way to airplane Micro Machines. He even had the monster truck ones that had huge wheels that were almost the size of a whole other Micro Machine! I remember often going to his house and watching him drag out that big, blue suitcase and plop it down in a patch of grass just beside a little dirt spot and force me to watch him play with them. I was never allowed to touch them, of course.

Eventually I would obtain my own, albeit small, collection of Micro Machines. I believe I got a few packs from Christmas, then a few more for my birthday, and from there I just obtained singles from flea markets for pocket change. Sadly as childhoods go, they come to an end and everything you own gets donated to Goodwill without your permission. Gone were all my childhood memories, Micro Machines and all.

Even though my actual Micro Machines were gone, my mother tried to make me feel better by buying me the video game for Game Boy one Christmas. I actually really enjoyed that game, although it is much different from the console versions. The video game filled that void for a short period, but it could only do so much, which wasn't enough. I missed my tiny vehicles.

Well, as of the past 5 years Goodwill has been paying me back, while I'm digging deeply through their outlet store bins. Not very often, but on occasion I will find myself a roughed up Micro Machine inside the bin and toss it in my purchase bag. I may not have as many Micro Machines as I did when I was a kid, but I will continue to pick them up when I can.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Era of Farming Sims.

For years there has been a strange obsession with farming style games. Most notably when Zynga brought Farmville to the most popular social media website to ever hit the internet. More recently there has also been an ever growing series of Farming Simulators, almost in the same ilk as Madden or FIFA.

For me it all started with Sim Farm on the PC, way back when I was just a young, dumb kid that wanted to while away the hours looking at a computer monitor. Addictive, yes, but Sim Farm was quickly ruined when I found the best crop to grow. I just made a few massive fields and grew nothing but that and there never really seemed to be much challenge. Sure, they would sometimes go bad before the field was fully harvested, but what I did manage to harvest and sell ended up netting me more cash than I ever needed to use in the game.

Another farming style game that caught my attention was Harvest Moon. I was in my early 20's, looking for SNES RPGs and kept seeing Harvest Moon pop up on lists of beloved SNES RPGs. The name conjured fantasy imagery in my head of a dark mount rising into the sky to slightly eclipse a full moon as dragons and warlords took to the sky to do battle. Harvest Moon harbors none of this, it was an adorable little farming sim.

Throughout the years I've played and loved many Harvest Moon games. With their open ended game play you can get tired of the repetition, but there are also many other things to keep you occupied and to keep your eyes peeled for. Harvest Moon offers such variety in the things you can do outside of tending to your farm that I felt it was quite possibly the first life simulator, in some ways.

Then came Animal Crossing and while Animal Crossing isn't strictly a farming sim, you have elements of Harvest Moon incorporated into the game. You can buy tools to do a small bit of farming, planting, harvesting, etc. Animal Crossing is more about socializing and helping make the town in which you live a better place, but there are some elements of farming you can do as well.

Most recently, however, I decided to look the horse straight into its mouth and purchase myself Farming Simulator 15. This wasn't my first romp with a Farming Simulator; the addiction took hold when I downloaded the free Farming Simulator 14 on my tablet and lost so many hours, days, weeks and months to that game, I felt that a console version might be more fun to play. If only I knew the truth.

The truth is yes, it is more fun, but at what cost? DEAR GOD AT WHAT COST!? You see, I don't necessarily have an additive personality, I find myself far too apathetic and lethargic to be addicted to much of anything. Things will catch my eye, I will play them to the point of repetition and get sick of them and cease all association with it. Farming Simulator 15, however, took control of me on a near molecular level.

I started playing as I did the free mobile app, but I soon found myself doing all kinds of things like running around to collect lucky coins, cutting down annoying trees, planting saplings to grow up to become even more annoying trees that I may very well someday cut down.

I would run the game as much as possible, and even more when I was making more money than I was paying out. Farming Simulator 15, and quite possibly the rest of the Farming Simulators, is an addiction I've not found repetitive, not yet at least. I'm not saying I won't, but I truly fear if and when I do I may not stay gone for too awful long.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why I'm ok with Greatest Hits Video Games.

Why does it seem that most video game collectors hate Sony's Greatest Hits editions of games? I don't see that much opposition to Nintendo's Classic Series on the NES, their Player's Choice on SNES, N64 and Gamecube, nor their Nintendo Select for Wii and Wii U. It seems as though Sony is the only brand collectors actively enjoy bashing for offering a lower price on an already proven great product.

When the original Playstation first launched I was a teenager, which means I didn't have much expendable income to throw around carelessly. My tactic was either to buy used from video game stores or swoop in and pick up a $19.99 Greatest Hits edition of the same thing that was sitting on the exact same shelf beside black label versions for $49.99. To me the choice was obvious.

The only difference was the bright green edge, which never really bothered me. However, this was before the time of DLC and other such things, so if you move into the world of PS3 (I know we're skipping PS2, just bear with me) you'll find a bright red case, but this will often times be the best version of the game to buy, since it will also include DLC packs. Sure you don't get the satisfaction of being among the first people who play the game at launch, but then again that's not really a distinction that matters because literally millions of other people are doing the exact same thing.

Sticking with PS3, I'm not sure why people don't complain more about PS3 spine labels because they're not very cohesive anyway. You will find original releases having a red horizontal PS3 logo at the top, which later changed to a black vertical PS3 logo. These aren't even Greatest Hits, these are just standard releases! Although I haven't dug very deeply I've never seen a single person complain about this, but if the case is red because it's a Greatest Hits edition, whoa boy! Fuck that shit! Right?

Now the PS2 Greatest Hits don't seem to garner as much hate as the original PS1 and PS3 games, but I have witnessed the occasional "Boy them red labels are ugly!" comment. Even if I was a case snob I would have to say the PS2 isn't that much of an offender! The label structure stays the exact same, only the color of the PS2 logo and the SLUS number are turned red. Not even an eye offending red, just a much different color than the original black labels.

What people are forgetting is regardless of how groomed your shelf may look, it's the same game at, often, a lower price that includes more content than the original did. If you prefer black labels, more power to you, but I'm a cheap bastard and I want as much as I can get for the lowest price I can get it for. Even if that means taking shit brown colored cases and placing them among shiny platinum cases, as long as I got the best deal I could. Again, because it's the same game!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quick and Dirty DIY Footswitch

Sometimes it's not about saving money; it's about doing a project just to prove you can do it. And also a little about saving money. Either way today's project was super quick and super cheap. All the parts came from, you guessed it, the Goodwill outlet store. For about $1 I built myself a footswitch for my Fender Mustang Mini.

After I bought the amp I started testing to see how to setup a footswitch, which turned out to be far more simple than I ever imagined. A simple on/off switch would work, that's all the amp needed to go between both selectable channels. I already had a latching push switch so all I needed to do now was find a cable with 1/4" end and a housing to put everything into.

The housing began life as an Archer RF amplifier. The basic shape, even though it's significantly smaller, reminds me of a guitar effects pedal, so that's why I bought it. After a brisk steel wool rub down all the markings and the little bit of tarnish that had accumulated was removed. It may not look it in that picture, but it's a fairly mirror finish.

The next step was to eliminate the flares on either side that the Archer used to attach to wherever it was attached to. In what I can only call a sheer stroke of genius I folded the top flairs in and the bottom flairs up so the unit closes up tightly, as well as giving me two simple screw holes to keep the whole thing shut once it was all done.

The next piece of the puzzle was the cable. I just so happened to find an XLR to mono 1/4" cable, which is honestly not going to be useful for microphones, so I decided to remove the XLR end and use it as the cable I needed. Nothing special, it's unbalanced and it wouldn't have been ideal for microphone use anyway.

Finally came the switch, which is nothing more than the only latching push switch I had at the moment. It's all plastic, it's all cheap but it all functions. All functions? WTF? Anyway, as the saying goes "If it works but looks stupid, it's not stupid.", or something like that.

After modifying the housing, again by folding the flairs, drilling some screw holes, making the switch hole bigger and removing all the lettering and tarnish, I was ready to put it all together. I simply put the switch in, slid the cable through the slightly modified wire restraint system that sticks out of the side of the box and soldered everything together. Easy peasy!

The finished product is a thing of beauty!
Admittedly, this isn't perfect but it was a quickly put together, and above all functional, project that I wanted to attempt. In the future I'm pretty sure I'll be changing the switch to a more heavy duty footswitch as well as swapping the cable to one with a 90 degree angle. This project also gave me the idea to buy more Archer boxes from the outlet store, when I see them, to use for future guitar pedal projects. I mean look at it, it's perfect for a guitar effects pedal! I would have to miniaturize the guts and find the right parts but I think that's totally a doable project.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Saving a 2GB Flash Drive.

I know, I know! Today's technology far exceeds a 2gb flash drive. You can pick up 32gb flash drives at the dollar store these days! Why are you bothering to save a 2gb? Because I can, it's that simple.

Admittedly it's nothing special, I'm well aware, but this Duracell branded 2gb flash drive was something I had picked up from the outlet store a month ago. I love to pick up flash drives, because I love old technology and because I can always use more ways to quickly transfer files from one computer to the next.

Upon getting this little booger home I noticed it didn't work at all. This is an extremely rare occurrence because I've found tons of flash drives and they all worked first try. I've found normal flash drives, promotional flash drives and even a 32gb flash drive. Once I find a flash drive from the outlet store I IMMEDIATELY format it. I'm not a pervert or a voyeur, plus you never know what you might find on these things.

Since this one didn't work I decide to just crack it open and see what was the matter. Carefully I pried the casing open and pulled the main board out to see the oscillation crystal was shorting itself out. After carefully realigning the legs I popped the bare board into the USB port and it sprang to life, with a rather cool blue LED no less. 1.91gb of the 2gb wasn't bad, I've seen 4gb flash drives with merely 2.8gb on them after formatting, so I was pretty excited.

Not being fully happy with the way I had realigned the legs of the crystal I gave it one more try... and broke it... off the crystal! Nothing left to solder, no way to reattach it. It was done; it was dead. The only alternative was to find a replacement crystal, which I did!

After taking apart a pair of completely crap Vivitar HD camcorders I found the crystal I was needing. After a few short seconds of soldering the crystal back onto the flash drive, I plugged it into my computer and noticed it acting like it wanted to mount, but it didn't. Upon closer inspection I noticed a solder bridge between the two solder points, after I wiped that clear I attempted to mount the flash drive again. SUCCESS!!!

Again I know a 2gb flash drive is archaic to most of you, but I'm glad I could resurrect it. Even though it's 2gb I can still use it to transfer data from computer to computer, when I don't need something as big as a 32gb. This all makes perfect sense to me, and that's all that matters.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nintendo DSBoy Advance Tutorial

A few years ago I bought a battered (fat) DS from the Goodwill outlet store, with hopes of restoring it with parts from an online supplier. Sadly the online supplier never restocked the housing I wanted, so it just sat in my closet until I used it to piece together a single working DS. What am I suppose to do with the leftover parts? Well, I'll tell you.

Now that I have a working DS I felt it was time to turn the spare parts into something I had seen five years prior. Back then I still retained the need to restore the console, but now I'm ready to transform the leftovers into a project I have dubbed the DSBoy Advance! Since the DS and DS Lite play GBA games, as well as DS games obviously, I feel it's a good choice to be a backlit console to play my GBA games, without cramping my hands around a tiny square. I'm referring to you GBA SP!

This is where the DSBoy Advance is born! You can use either a DS or DS Lite; I'm choosing the fat DS because the GBA cartridges fit flush into the console, but the trade off is that the original DS screen doesn't offer as much brightness or clarity as the DS Lite. This really comes down to what you prefer. Maybe in the future I'll also make a DSBoy Advance Lite, just to see how it is, but that cartridge overhang really annoys me.

After you remove the battery cover and battery here are all the other screw locations.
Green = Top screen ribbon cable
Red = inner screw locations
After you've disassembled your DS you are going to need to detach the top ribbon cable from the motherboard, or in my case what was left of it. Once the ribbon cable has been removed the console will not boot without a slight modification, which just means putting a 330 (or about) ohm resistor into the circuit to trick it into thinking the top screen is still attached. You can use normal resistors, but I decided to check around in my parts box and use a surface mount resistor. These take up much less area and don't require any case modifications, which you might need to do if you use a normal resistor.

It's a small spot, this is why I used a surface mount.
Solder the resistor to the pads just right of the Select and Start buttons like this.
Now that your system boots up without the top screen you will need to figure out how to get sound. Remember? The DS speakers are in the top portion of the console and are attached to the top screen circuitry. This isn't difficult at all; in fact I managed to wire a single speaker for stereo. It may not be true stereo, but it sounds good enough for me, with enough volume that I'm not worried about having to wire and fit two speakers.

It's not pretty, but it works! In the end, isn't that all that matters?
Once your speaker is wired up it will now need a home. Luckily there is a nice little space big enough for a speaker just below the action buttons. This is a perfect fit for the speaker, and there is even a small channel through which you can feed the speaker cables up to the soldering joints to where they need to be. Once this is all done everything fits together as if it was completely stock.

Like a glove!
One problem you will have with the original DS case is that the original DS housings are exceedingly brittle! You're going to need to modify the case in a few ways, most notably adding speaker holes and removing the hinge areas at the top. I held a thin wire with needle-nose pliers and ran my soldering iron across it as I slowly, but firmly, pressed it into the plastic to melt some starter holes for my speaker. You'll notice mine aren't the prettiest so be more careful than I clearly was.

Really wish I had taken more time with the
speaker holes, but at least I can hear.
Well, that's essentially all you'll need to do. You can modify the case however you want now. Some people remove the X and Y buttons, some people add two speakers, some people cover up the DS cartridge slot, and some people go completely crafty on the housing face and make it look professionally done. I'm perfectly happy with the way my console turned out, crappy sound holes and all. Since you can use the D-pad and actions buttons to navigate the menus I removed the touch sensory part of the touch screen, but left the glass in as added protection for the display. 

Converting an old DS or DS Lite is a fairly quick and easy modification. The only odd tool you'll need is a tri-wing screwdriver, which can easily be bought online these days. If you are using a DS Lite you'll need to find the DS Lite specific tutorial because I'm pretty sure the solder joints on the DS and DS Lite are different. I'm not entirely happy with the screen on mine, but it was a fun project and it works! Maybe I will do that DSBoy Advance Lite sooner than later, you know, just in case.