Monday, December 29, 2014

My History with the GTA series. Part 4: From Grove Street to Easy Street in San Andreas.

The scene is the early 1990s, the place is a vastly expansive (fictional) state way out on the west coast of the United States called San Andreas. San Andreas encompasses three major cities: Los Santos (based on real life Los Angeles) San Fierro (based on San Francisco), and Las Venturas ( based on Las Vegas). The gang culture has taken hold, whether the youth wanted to be a part of it or not, many couldn't escape it.

San Andreas was the third installment of the Grand Theft Auto series and blew the two previous installments out of the water. Literally, as in this one you could finally swim! Not only could you swim, you could actually dive and stay submerged for a period of time, which in and of itself was an amazing feat.

Along side the ability to swim came an RPG feeling element of gaining heath and getting better at skills like driving, shooting, fighting, etc. We now had the ability to go to a gym and bulk up, or to Burger Shot and pig out. We also had an exceedingly massive landscape to explore, with woodlands, deserts, small towns and big towns, and just about anything you could imagine in between.

With a larger environment came a larger selection of modes of transportation including: various planes, boats, helicopters and you could even hijack a train and chug along the tracks from one end of the state to the other. What GTA would be complete without a copious amount of cars, trucks and motorcycles to drive around aimlessly? Not only did they give us that, but they gave it to us in large quantities, including the ability to feel as if we're really living the west coast life and giving the player the ability to customize almost every vehicle in the state of San Andreas.

To coincide with the west coast lifestyle of custom cars and movie stars, San Andreas also gave us the ability to buy new clothes and change the style of our main protagonist. We could live the champagne wishes and caviar dreams in a house in the hills, or live in a small hick town just outside of Los Santos, with plenty of other homes and assets to choose from! And last but not least, we had the small, but real, ability to interact with the fellow public. A very simplistic system, but it was fun to react a certain way to a comment directed toward our protagonist and see how that person would respond.

San Andreas blew my mind, to the point that it ruined my ability to go back to GTA 3 or Vice City. San Andreas was so massive and had so much to do that I found it impossible to go back to the previous games for more than 10 minutes without being overwhelmed with boredom and making the switch back over. From the huge list of missions, side missions, collectibles and other things you could acquire, customize or just waste countless hours doing, San Andreas was packed with fun.

For years, literally, I found myself popping San Andreas into my Xbox and sitting down for whole night sessions of finding certain cars and finding most of the ways I could customize them. Even just little personal challenges were fun! How long will it take me to get from Grove Street to San Fierro on a bicycle? The fun was endless.

With as much as I've played, I'm sure there are still places in San Andreas I haven't seen yet. Although the call to return to San Andreas isn't as strong as it once was, it's still there, and I do from time to time. I think I'll go hijack a tractor and hitch it up to the front of a random pedestrian's car and drag them around for a few hours!

My Interesting Relationship with the PS2

The very first video game console that I bought myself brand new was the original Sony Playstation, and I loved that console with a passion. I wasn't against owning the PS2, when it originally came out, but I couldn't afford one and I honestly didn't see any reason for owning one. I spent a lot of time over at a friend's house playing all the various games we had rented for their PS2, so I knew what it was capable of, but still I wasn't convinced that I needed one.

By that point purchasing a brand new console was out of the question, so I spent most of my time playing NES, Dreamcast and Playstation. This was also a prime time for Playstation as there were copious amounts of titles being clearanced off store shelves to make way for PS2 games. So many good titles at such low prices, I was swimming in a sea of Playstation games and really didn't care to venture outward to anything newer.

It wasn't until 2005 that I entered the sixth generation of video gaming consoles when a friend gave me his old Xbox to repair. By this time there was already an ever increasing number of Xbox games that were getting clearanced off, so I felt right at home while also staying current. The vast difference between what I was familiar with (PS, NES and Dreamcast) and the Xbox was astonishing.

Titles such as Grand Theft Auto 3, GTA Vice City and many of the GTA clones were quickly added to my collection. With a perfectly working Xbox, why would I need a PS2? Most of the titles for the PS2, that I was actively seeking to play, were already on the Xbox, where most reviews said the Xbox versions were slightly better in most ways. This really put a damper on me wanting a PS2, which was already slim to begin with.

A few years later my friend told me his PS2 wasn't working and asked me if I wanted to take a crack at fixing it. Now that I finally had a PS2, what benefits did it hold over my Xbox? The Playstation 2 did have a good amount of exclusive titles as well as a huge library of RPGs, so needless to say this made me feel better about owning a PS2 and allowing myself the option to play these games.

Throughout it's lifetime, the only reason I really wanted a PS2 was to play Liberty City and Vice City stories, which were PSP and PS2 exclusives. Later on I was introduced to the game Bully, which was, at that point, also a PS2 exclusive. Slowly but surely the titles I had clearly overlooked were coming out of the cracks and onto my radar.

After a while I've actually collected a few PS2 consoles, as I find them unreliable. The list of games I own in my PS2 collection has grown beyond what I ever thought I would own, but that's not a bad thing. Right now PS2 games are fairly cheap and fairly common, so I think I got into the PS2 just about the right time. Sadly not in time to collect many of the exclusive RPGs I'd love to collect, which are now hard to find and "worth" more than I'm willing to pay.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Audacity of Animal Crossing Villagers

When I first started playing Animal Crossing, maybe 10 years ago, I never really let one simple, yet boldly blatant, fact settle in to my mind. That I, myself, was the sole bearer of responsibility in my town. No one but myself was responsible for the maintaining of a whole village, packed to the brim with completely able-bodied animals.

Seemingly no one else had to do chores for Tom Nook to earn their plot of land within the town. No one else took care of the weeds, especially immediately surrounding their homestead, while I was gone for months or even years. No one else took the time to check in with the town's condition and plant trees or flowers where there needed to be, for the overall greater good of the village in question. No one else donated to the museum to fill out the displays. Instead they just complain that the town is terrible and simply move away, without lifting a single finger in it's aid.

Throughout the first game, which I still haven't really managed to perfect as I don't play it enough to be bothered, I noticed I was the only one who had to take care of the weeds, trees and various other things to beautify the village. At least after all was said and done I had a golden statue of myself places just outside of the train station to commemorate all my hard work, at paying off my home. It also seems Tom Nook never really hassled any of the other villagers about the size of their homes, so they just bought the basic and never really bothered to upgrade. As where Tom Nook constantly hounded me to keep upgrading and forever be indebted to him.

Although I haven't delved too deeply into maintaining my Wild World village, because my DS Lite is slowly decaying into a hunk of shit (Good job Nintendo!), I have noticed the theme of blaming the town for being junk and just moving away has carried over. Not much to say other than adios! If this were real life and someone just bought a home, never did anything to keep it maintained, then complained to neighbors about how terrible it was before simply packing up and leaving, this person would be labeled mentally insane.

Again the theme carried over to City Folk. I still enjoy working on City Folk, but this time things are bit more complex. This time the town asks for donations to build additions, such as an additional bridge, a water fountain and finally a lighthouse or windmill. Funds are paid directly to Pelly or Phyllis in the civic center, but I am the only one who ever bothers to put any bells toward such projects.

As I toil away, day after day, and slowly earn 1,000 bells here and 10,000 bells there, what do the other villagers do? They bide their time by walking around, holding one of their favorite tools. Almost every villager will eventually be seen carrying a fishing rod, an axe, a shovel or a bug net, proving that they too earn bells, somehow. Since we know they've bought these homes and have enough bells left over to pay me for misc. items I have on my person, or for doing random tasks, as well as tools to keep them busy, why don't they donate to the town fund? Or better yet, use those tools to donate to the museum?

How incredibly lazy and audacious these villagers are to move in, never lift a finger to aid in the beautification of the town and just complain about how terrible it is and move back out! Villagers come and go and it never changes, with the exception of a few, whom still let the occasional critique slip every so often. Even after all my hard work, they will always find something to complain about, as if my sole purpose in Animal Crossing is groundskeeper and fund raiser for things to keep them busy.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

My History with the GTA series. Part 3: Back in Time in Vice City.

A new place, a new time. Fresh off the plane and into Vice City. Everything looked better, fresher and the controls were marginally better than GTA 3. Tommy Vercetti is about to take over the islands of Vice City, and then the world! Well, really only Vice city.

Vice City was undoubtedly based on Miami Vice and the 1983 film Scarface. The first thing I noticed about GTA Vice City was the unmistakably 80's theme going on, which I liked quite a bit. From the 80's fashion trends to the soundtrack that was filled with unforgettable top 10 hits from that era, everything screamed 1980's. Everything that the 1980's offered is present and, just like the 1980's, filled to the brim with excess!

More so than GTA 3, Vice City felt like a living, breathing city environment, rife with beachgoers and partygoers alike. It also offered a lot more than GTA 3, while doing so in what felt like a much smaller space. Vice City offered a very well themed variety of vehicles, this time including helicopters, motorcycles and, even though you still couldn't swim, boats. There were also more things to keep you busy, such as the events you could take part in at the stadium, or you just out exploring the new city landscape and many hidden areas.

The unrefined insanity of cops trying to murder you over slight infractions, as well as pedestrians having a deer in the headlights moment just before you plowed into them, carried over from GTA 3. Some cars carried over as well, but the handling was upgraded to be more manageable. Even though cars were fun to drive, I felt that helicopters were where it was truly at. Helicopters gave me the ability to climb high above the city and see the city from a completely new vantage point than ever before.

Vice City sucked me in (no pun intended) and kept me busy far longer than GTA 3. After all the missions were done, there was still so much left to be done in the islands of Vice City. So many little places to explore, vehicles to drive, little areas to see and different events to accomplish. Vice City also had a plethora of assets for Tommy to purchase such as a used car dealership, an ice cream company, among others, which helped fill his bank account.

Once everything was seen, found, tested and the money was rolling in hand over fist, there wasn't much left to do other than find the little hidden Easter eggs that Rockstar had left within the game. After achieving 100% I still loved to find myself a Voodoo and play around with the hydraulics, run people over in the tiger striped Taxi cab and continue on with the various events at the stadium. But even with all the fun I had in Vice City, after everything was said and done it felt empty, and I knew it was time to move on. Moving on to the early 1990s in a new place called San Andreas.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Venturing into s-video

A little over 2 years ago I happened across a dirty Sony PSOne sitting atop the bric-a-brac shelves at one of my favorite Salvation Army stores. From what I remember it was only $3, so I decided it would be worth picking up for the power and video cables it had attached to it. Shortly after I made my purchase and got back to the vehicle to leave, I noticed the cables weren't standard multi-console cables at all, they were S-video!

Now, I'm honestly not one to give a shit about the quality of video output from a video game console. I still have a CRT television, I still use RF and even my Xbox 360 and Wii are run through an RF modulator because my TV only has coax input. People who go ape shit over RF vs Composite vs Component vs HDMI simply have too much time on their hands worrying about how sharp every single pixel is on screen. And that is coming from a man who has OCD.

As soon as I got home I tested the cables and noticed the video kept cutting out. My excitement was quelled, but I did the standard bend the cables around and see if the video game back, to no avail. I then noticed there were plastic junctions for the cable to split for each system as well as to split for the S-Video and audio ends to plug into the TV.

I carefully used a guitar pick and some brute force to pop open the little plastic box revealing that one of the wires had come loose, in reality it looked like they had never actually soldered the damn thing in the first place. Since I had (literally) a handful of multi-console RF adapters, as well as my TV only being able to accept S-Video through the RF modulator, I decided to just pack the cables away and not worry about them for a while.

About 6 months ago I was quickly becoming fed up with the way the OEM Xbox 360 cables were so stiff and always got in my way. The AV into RF modulator gave me a pretty good signal as where the MadCatz RF adapter I used pulled in far too much interference. Then I remembered that I had the S-Video cables, so I decided to solder it together. A quick glob of solder firmly attached to the board and a little tinning to the wire, put them together and voila!

I tested everything out and this time everything was perfect, but I did notice something strange. Even though this was going through the RF modulator everything seemed sharper than the AV cables I used for each system. Same TV, same RF modulator, exact same layout as before, except this time I was using the MadCatz multi-console S-video cables.

As time went on that difference has faded away, not sure whether that is because I've become accustom to it or what. I do, however, find these cables to be far more convenient to use, less stiff and cumbersome, as well as allowing me to use a lot more consoles than a single set of AV cables or RF adapter.

To me video output is video output. Only for the past 4 years have I ran any of my systems in anything other than RF, because it was just easier to have the old NES RF adapter plugged in and use it for Nintendo and Sega consoles alike. Even though I did notice a difference when I first used the s-video cables, that difference has since faded and I honestly can't tell much of a different between the RF and s-video cables. Sure it could be that I'm using an RF modulator, but if that were the case why and how did I notice the difference in the first place?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Power LED? WTF man?

What do the NES-101, SNS-101 and the Sega Genesis model 3 all have in common? The sheer lack of a power LED. Does this fact bother me? Not in the slightest, but for some reason a lot of people can't live without a power light on their console.

If you want a power light on your console just because you like to have one, that's fine. What really sets off my bullshit alarm is when almost every person I've seen doing a tutorial on how to install a power light gives the excuse "Without a power light I don't know if the console is even on.". This excuse was also used by someone giving a review on the NES-101, where their main complaint about the console was just that.

Let's be honest here, if you're playing a video game there is absolutely no doubt that your console is on. Once you've finished playing that game, or any series of games you wish to play, the console is shut off. This is a fairly common practice and doesn't require any console to have a power light for you to know whether or not the console is powered on or off.

What if you need to step away for a few minutes and have a snack, eat a meal or perhaps you need to leave the house for a few hours and run some errands? Then maybe, in the name of safety, you should shut the console off anyway. But you're playing a game with no passwords, no save points and it has taken you a long time to get where you're at? If you're that committed to beating the game how could you forget the console is on in the first place? Wouldn't you be excited to accomplish this feat, therefore causing you to get your chores and tasks done so that you could finish the game? You shouldn't need a power light to tell you the game is still running and needs to be finished.

The only time I've wished a console had a power light was when I tested consoles that I wasn't sure were functional or not. A power light would give me a better idea whether or not the console is getting power. But the reality is that since I was merely testing the console to see if it worked or not a power light isn't even needed. If you're testing consoles that may or may not work, you are most likely going to try to repair them, in which case it is solid advise to go find a decent multimeter and check that way.

Regardless of your personal need for a power light, the whole "I can't tell if the console is on" is a totally bogus excuse for adding one to a console. I'm not opposed to modding consoles for your own personal tastes, needs or desires, far from it. But to join a bandwagon of people using the same lame excuse is in and of itself pretty stupid.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Gameboy Color Switch Repair

Last year I spent the better part of an hour digging through a bin at the local Goodwill Outlet store searching for every last bit and piece of a shattered Nintendo Game Boy Color. I even wrote an article about it (here). For over a year the parts that I found sat inside a spare green GBC shell that I had. Everything needed to rebuild a functioning Game Boy Color was present, with the exception of the IR cover on the top and the fact that the tip of the power switch had snapped off.

The beige part within the little cut out area is what was left of the switch.
After some testing I found that the system worked, yet some parts would need to be replaced. The screen was in great shape, it worked with both AC and battery power, the headphones worked but the speaker was rusty and weak. The speaker was a simple fix, because I had found the top screen portion of a DS Lite a few years prior, which was just a quick desolder and swap. The problem being, that didn't fix the weak audio coming from the speaker, the problem lies deeper, and still has yet to be addressed.

My main issue was that the system could never be a working Game Boy Color without figuring out a way to fix the power switch. The switch Nintendo used was a very thin slider switch, that obviously connected the correct points to turn the power off or on. The weird fact being it had to connect points C and 3 (referencing pic below) for the unit to turn on. A simple on/off mechanism would have worked, Nintendo! In fact, that's exactly how I repaired it.

Normal GBC switch outlined in Red. What an unnecessary mess.
After a year of trying to track down a replacement, I decided it was time to just bite the bullet and modify the thing to get it back into working condition. I have a small collection of on/off switches, which only require 2 points to be connected, as per any usual circuit. The trouble was actually finding out which 2 of the 4 points needed to be connected, which I found out were C and 3 by using tweezers and connecting the different points together.

After attempting to carefully remove the original switch, I end up just using a small pair of end snips and removed the switch in haste, which worked out better than I thought. After the switch was removed I tinned two small wires and soldered them to the correct points on the board. Lucky for my poor soldering skills, the other side of the neighboring chip didn't have any pins on the same side as the power switch.

After the wires were soldered to the correct points, I tinned the other ends, added a little solder to pins on the switch and made the needed connections. A quick test showed that everything was a success, the Game Boy Color came to life and was now completely functional again.

Soldering up the switch was probably the easiest part of the whole project, what really took the most planning was figuring out where the new switch would go. I originally attempted to sandwich the shell together with the new switch where the old one used to be, but that didn't work. Then I remembered that I didn't have the IR cover for the very top of the shell, which gave me an idea.

The Infrared connection ports, from what I understand, was meant to be a wireless connection between 2 Game Boy Colors, much the same as the wired connector on the old DMG. The fact is, Nintendo also integrated an option to connect a wire, thus I don't need to keep the IR connection. So I desoldered the IR diodes and went to work clearing out space in the shell to make the new switch fit.

What the IR port looks like normally.
It didn't take much to desolder the IR diodes and set the switch in place. With a few snips of plastic here, a little double sided tape there, everything went into place quite well. Although I can screw the shell back together, it doesn't fit together as tightly as it originally did, but that doesn't bother me at all.

Switch in it's new home

Gives it a bit of an old DMG power switch feel.
I wish I could have tracked down an original GBC power switch, but that would require me to cannibalize another GBC. This project sat far too long in my closet, so I'm pretty happy to have finally just taken control and thrown in a switch I had laying around. It's not perfect, the screen is scratched, the IR connection no longer functions and it has a weird switch, but otherwise it works perfectly and is a Game Boy Color I won't mind accidentally taking a tumble or getting scratched up.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My History with the GTA series. Part 2: Welcome to Liberty City!

On the back of one of my instruction booklets for either GTA or GTA 2 is an advertisement for GTA 3. At that time I didn't own a PS2 or Xbox to see what GTA 3 was all about. So when I saw the protagonist standing with a gun in the middle of a 3D environment, I simply assumed it was an amazing cutscene from yet another installment of the Grand Theft Auto series.

Later I witnessed the insanity of GTA 3 firsthand (watching a friend play) and I wasn't prepared for what I saw. Full-on 3D environments with living and breathing city atmosphere. Cars, weapons and so many other ways to cause mayhem in a completely new way, in a new setting, from a new point of view! It was simply amazing.

After acquiring an Xbox a few years later, some of the first games I set out to purchase were the GTA series. I remember sitting down and telling myself that I had to play through the missions and finish the game, because I had never finished any of the previous GTA games. The GTA series is essentially an RPG, and in GTA 3 that really drew me into the game and helped me stick it out and play through almost all of the missions. But sadly the last few missions caused me such frustration that the lust for mayhem took control and the final missions went unfinished for quite a few years.

GTA 3 really brought a lot to the table, in terms of game value. I remember stunt jumps from the original 2D games, but in the 3D world they were much more interesting, as were many of the other things such as finding the hidden "packages" and having safe houses, the ability to save your favorite type of car, etc.

GTA 3 packed in three different islands, each with it's own style and flair, meaning I could switch between each island and never get bored. From racing around the city and mowing people over in my car to blowing people up and learning that, for some stupid reason, I couldn't swim, I always found something to keep me busy, outside of the extensive list of things the game had given us to reach 100% completion.

Rife with secrets such as the hidden intro city, that required you to learn how to fly the almost inoperable Dodo, and many different styles of neighborhoods in which to cause chaos, I found GTA 3 to be worth far more than I paid for the game, used of course. Even so there came a time when the desire to find a new place and time overcame me, which is when I decided it was time to pack my bags and head to a new place. Somewhere warm, pastel, loaded with hot women, fast cars and tons of crazy people... Vice City!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Saints Row the Third

I've finally made my way to Steelport, but sadly I'm more underwhelmed than I thought I would be. The city is beautiful, the atmosphere is alive, but the the city of Steelport just doesn't have as much character and diversity as Stilwater, either version. Stilwater drew me in and made me want to visit, drive around and just generally spend time within it's city limits, as where Steelport feels too much like the places I've already been to and avoid in my real life.

Saints Row the Third doesn't stray too far away from the feel of the previous two installments, but it does give the player an almost completely new experience, overall. My personal feelings are a bit of a mixed bag, in terms of how I feel playing the three games I've played so far. My absolute favorite change, however, is how the ranking system now feelings more like an RPG leveling system and you're not left out of missions simply because you don't have enough respect, forcing you to do some of the side missions to advance through the main story.

But then comes a short list of things that I didn't quite like about Saints Row the Third, such as, but not limited to: latency between when I push the button and the car horn actually sounds, often changing frame rate, the engine sounds for the Hammerhead and a few other vehicles are almost non-existent, most of my favorite cars were removed and replaces by cars I couldn't care less about (sick to death of seeing the fucking Sovereign EVERYWHERE), car upgrades aren't as good or interesting as they were in the previous two games, Angel's Gym garage is completely broken and worthless (Did anyone test this!?) and finally I do not like being asked to access crib the whole time I'm inside the crib!

Saints Row the Third also offers a few things that felt unfinished, but would have been great, had they taken the time to fully flesh them out. When you set down a way point on the GPS, there will sometimes be a working turn signal on the vehicle you're driving. The sad part is that it never seems to work for too long, maybe once or twice during the whole trip. Another half-assed idea was the drift button, which is good, and sometimes quite useful, but I'm more familiar with a handbrake that helps me come to a complete stop, not one that allows me to defy the laws of physics.

The activities are very well managed in Saints Row the Third, the story is very well done and I liked how a lot of activities were placed into story missions to get you acclimated on how to work them all. I found the activities to be less challenging, yet more fun; even if I failed, I felt like I had learned what I did wrong so I could correct it the next time around. Also, there are quite a few less activities to be done, although more variety, which is absolutely a great part of this game.

Something I'm indifferent to was the system of unlocking and then paying for upgrades. I didn't find this to be a hassle nor a great addition to the game, I just felt it is what it is and it worked, simple as that. Money is fairly easy to come by, once you start to acquire parts of the city and earning an income, so once you've gained enough respect and level up, it's fairly easy to purchase the upgrades you've unlocked, which at the end of the game become very useful.

Compared to the first two, Saints Row the Third felt bland and unfinished. Instead of finding myself losing track of hours at a time, I found myself shutting down my Xbox and occupying my time with something else as it just didn't draw me in as much as the first two did. I don't fully know what the disconnect was, but I have a feeling it's due, in large part, to the lack of interesting vehicles and the sub-par car modification system. But even through all the ups and even more downs I've felt with Saints Row the Third, I enjoyed it, just not nearly as much as I did the first two, which I feel I've made the point abundantly obvious.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

My History with the GTA series. Part 1: The Playstation Years

When Grand Theft Auto hit the Playstation, I was about 14. At that time I had a Playstation, but I didn't have enough money, or the ability, to purchase many games for the console. At that age the rumors of such a game were hanging heavily in the air around school, and just in general.

I believe my first introduction to the game was at a friend's house, where I would often spend weekends at a time going on benders of soda fueled video game bingeing. I remember walking through the door and hearing "Hey, check THIS out!". When I looked at the screen I remember my first reactions were mixed as to how lame the 2D graphics were, as I was more familiar with the full-on 3D things the Playstation seemed to be geared more toward doing, at the time. But after sitting down and watching someone play the game for about 30 minutes I realized this game wasn't your average video game; this video game was going to push a lot of buttons and become a classic.

It wasn't until the Playstation was actually dying out, and I was 18, that I acquired my own copy of Grand Theft Auto and Grand Theft Auto 2. Playstation games were becoming so cheap that I decided it was finally time for me to buy whatever games I had always wanted but never purchased. Sure, they're the Greatest Hits versions, but they're the exact same thing! I never really cared much about the whole Greatest Hits versus original black label anyway, like I said, the games are the exact same.

Countless hours, days, and possibly weeks were spent driving around and testing out all the different cars in all the different cities, selling them for more money, obtaining more weapons, using cheat codes to obtain the tank and just generally causing as much mayhem as I possibly could. To this day I've never actually taken the time to play through all of the missions, but I have played through quite a few missions. The strange thing being that when I finally decided to play GTA 2, I purposely tried to play it as a game, instead of playing it as a free-for-all mayhem simulator.

It wasn't until even later that I bought a collector's edition of Grand Theft Auto, allowing me to finally play the London, 1969 expansion pack. I hate to say that by this time I had moved into the 3D games and had become less and less impressed with the original games, but it's true. I haven't played any of the original 2D GTA games in a handful of years, simply because I don't find them as appealing as I once did. The 3D worlds offer far more variety on how to create mayhem, rendering the original games to being merely shelf decorations.

Regardless of my lack of desire to play them today, they still hold a treasured place within my past. I still recall many nights whizzing pass as I sat in bed playing GTA. Hours of my life just draining away as I tossed molotovs in GTA 2. Hours, days and weeks I'll never get back, but I don't want back, simply because GTA made them so much fun to waste.

Monday, April 7, 2014


An article or two ago I mentioned that I had a case for Crackdown that was complete, except for the actual game disc. Well after a quick ebay search I tracked down a disc only auction for $3, which was as cheap as I could find a disc only copy. After the game arrived I gave it a good play though, to make sure everything worked, and after I was done I put it in its rightful case.

Crackdown was one of the first Xbox 360 games I had ever played, so I've always wanted to get a copy, it just never materialized until now. In Crackdown you play as a super cop, of sorts, and take on crime in an expansive city, rife with area to roam around. As a super cop you have the ability to jump really high, pick up almost anything and essentially pretend you're Robocop.

I'm sure it's well documented on this blog that I love open world games to explore and roam around freely, so Crackdown fits well into that niche. But Crackdown is a bit different in that the city seems to be geared more toward the special jump ability and traveling over rooftops, instead of hopping into a car and just driving from A to B. Which is slightly odd, in Crackdown I strongly loathe driving, as I've always found my ability to bound up and over buildings the more entertaining way to go.

As an initial test for the game I deleted the Demo that had been sitting on my Xbox hard drive for years and started a new game save. As I started playing I was quickly quite frustrated by the game's difficulty; nothing I did seemed to make any progress, and I simply couldn't do anything right. After a few days of frustration I was about to give up, but as I was signing in (this games jargon for loading the save file) I noticed in my haste to get through the initial setup and begin the game, I had set the difficulty on the highest level (Psychotic). After I had rectified this problem I found the game a little bit too easy, but still very much enjoyable.

Crackdown was a fun game, but it only gave me about 4 or 5 days of gameplay. Although its short, and I don't see much replay value in it, the game is still worth a play through. I'm glad I held on to the case when I found it, and I'm glad I found a disc only copy fairly cheap. Now that I've beaten the game it will end up in the stack with the rest of my Xbox 360 games, but this game was well worth the time and money invested, which sadly wasn't much in either direction.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Gamecube Action Replay

Recently I've been trying to track down a Game Genie for both the Sega Genesis and Game Gear on ebay, but I've been outbid on every one so far. While on the hunt I saw an item pop up with an astonishing amount of bids that I never knew was supposedly this valuable. It was an Action Replay for the Nintendo Gamecube and it was at $50 with a few days still to go, which made me recall the time I picked mine up.

It was about a year ago, and I was checking the book bags and backpacks at a local Goodwill when I saw a unique Gamecube bag I hadn't seen before. The item had no price tag, but all the other bags around it said $3.99, so I just assumed this would be the same price. When I opened the case, to make sure the inside wasn't ripped up, I saw an Action Replay disc and memory card sitting in one of the pockets. This little addition pushed any doubt of whether this was worth $4 out of mind and straight into buy mode.

After searching the store for anything else, and coming up empty, I headed for the register. The cashier was new and after I told her there was no price tag on the item, I lent a helping hand by telling her the bags around it were all $3.99. She repudiated my assistance and headed over to the nearest manager. This made me nervous, as I know how money hungry and greedy Goodwill is, they would probably assume I was trying to steal the Action Replay, or charge me an extra $4 for it!

With the Gamecube bag in hand the cashier walked over to the nearest manager, who just so happened to be speaking with another employee and not giving a single fuck about doing her job, which turned out great for me! The manager opened the bag and I envisioned all my dreams of owning an Action Replay slipping away fast, but instead she quickly handed it back to the cashier and mumbled $3.99.

I quickly pulled out my card and gleefully paid my $4 plus tax and walked out of the store, before they could attempt to rectify their mistake. I had never owned an Action Replay for the Gamecube, but once I got it home and used it to unlock a slew of things in Animal Crossing, I was glad I had one now. Although not completely useful to me, I still felt quite lucky to now have it in my armory.

Until recently I had never even given much thought to my Action Replay, I haven't used it much, although it does have a system to allow me to play imports if I so choose. But I just assumed it was maybe a $15-20 value that I picked up for $4, along with a pretty cool Gamecube bag. It turns out, I was off by quite a long ways, more so than I could ever imagine.

Knowing ebay the way I do, I just assumed the $50 bid was someone being a jerk and boosting the bid to the point they were going to win it, or never intended to pay that much for the auction. I took it upon myself to do a little research into what these were currently going for, and what they were actually selling for. Thank you ebay for finally allowing people to see what items actually SOLD for!

The results were still astonishing, astounding and even downright exciting, at least to me. Above are two auctions, obviously the one with a few more things sold for a little bit more, but this is fairly common place for these units. I've seen discs only sell for $60, I couldn't believe it! Not a bad investment, and all I had to do was check the book bags section of a local Goodwill.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Mercenaries 2: World in Flames

Nearly 2 years ago I wrote about buying games for more than one console, and how I prefer not to do it unless I have no other choice, or I'm getting a good deal on the game. One of the games that I mentioned was Mercenaries 2: World in Flames, which I originally bought for the Xbox 360, and how after my 360 died I purchased the PS2 version, as I have never owned a PS3. Well the PS2 version never got much play time because it is so wildly different from the Xbox 360 version, in terms of game play and story details, that I found it difficult to jump from one to the other.

Now I can understand graphical differences, with the leap from PS2 to Xbox 360, that is to be expected. But the game play and story varies to to an alarming degree, at least for me, too much so to be a game with the same name. Another example I gave was Bully for PS2 and the Scholarship Edition for the 360, while upgrading the graphics and adding additional content, the game was still based on the same core, and was much easier to pick up and continue playing as if it were the original version.

The overall goal is the same; to be a mercenary in war-torn Venezuela, and to complete contracts to earn as much money as possible, destroy as many things as possible and to generally have a good time while doing these things. But with the transition from Xbox 360 down to the PS2, the map has gotten significantly smaller, with less area to explore and even fewer things to destroy. Also the hardware limitations cause many things to popup right in front of you, causing you to take more collateral damage than is really even necessary.

One of the main things in the game are weapons, which seem to disappear if you swap them out for something on the ground, where as in the 360 version they stick around for a while allowing me to use an RPG and swap back to the SMG I just swapped it for 1 minute ago. Also weapons crates seemed to be stashed everywhere in the 360 version, if you find a crate in the PS2 version its a most often a solid object, offering no ammo, grenades, health packets, nothing!

Don't get me wrong, I loved the original Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction, which the PS2 version of World in Flames feels like a heavily modified version of, but even the original seems to have a bigger map, more things to destroy and it just all around better feeling than the newer one. Another game with the same feel was Just Cause, which is far more massive than the PS2 version of World in Flames, but the driving and walking mechanics have a very familiar vibe. It just feels more like Just Cause than it does Mercenaries.

Strange, but useful, finds.

One of the things I found most often at the outlet store were empty video game cases. How these cases were emptied is anyone's guess; whether they had been picked through by the crew who dumped them into the bins, the resellers ignorantly picking out the games and leaving the cases behind, or perhaps they were just empty cases when they turned up at Goodwill. Seeing what I've seen, I can assure you all three of those are very viable options.

Although PS2 cases were most prevalent, on occasion there was anything from Gamecube to Xbox 360. Original Playstation cases would pop up from time to time, but more often than not they actually contained the game, which was better than being empty. On rare occasions I would find game boxes, such as my Home Alone for the SNES or the two absolutely complete, other than the game, N64 boxes for Blast Corps and Nascar 2000.

My initial idea was to snag them and use them for video games that had generic cases, Shamestop stickers on them that just wouldn't come off, or damaged or otherwise boogered up cases. After I had swapped out all my cases, to my satisfaction, I kept collecting them for potential future swaps I may need to make. But then I came across a case that changed my idea of why I should pick them up and keep them.

Up to this point I was running across a lot of NCAA, Madden and other boring titles, so I never felt bad evicting sports titles from their cases to give the games I owned a better place to live. But just as I had done with the video game boxes, I found a video game case that was complete, and a game that I wanted to own. So instead of looking at this case as swap fodder, this was the first case I kept complete so that I could track down a copy of the game and have it CIB.

Crackdown was one of the first Xbox 360 games I had played, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I saw it as sort of an Xbox 360 Grand Theft Auto, before I had the chance to play GTA 4. So when I saw this case I quickly snatched it up, popped it open and was disappointed that it was empty. Oh well, at least I have the case! And I'll just have to buy myself a disc only copy from ebay, which is exactly what I think I'll do!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Video Games I need more of: Bully!

After I acquired my first PS2 I did the standard "What games can I use this thing for?" research and came up with a nice little treasure trove of games that I wanted to purchase. Among them were obviously exclusives for the Sony consoles such as Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, as well as another Rockstar hit, Bully. The concept of Bully was a bit weird for me, at first, but after I purchased the game and gave it a bit of a play through it really sprouted out and became a game that my mind wished there was more of.

In the game Bully you play as Jimmy Hopkins, a 15 year old with a bad attitude, which is a slight departure from the main protagonists Rockstar is putting into their GTA series. Jimmy is sent to Bullworth Academy, a boarding school, to help him adjust said attitude. While at Bullworth Jimmy makes friends and enemies along his (mis)adventures through both the school yard and the adjacent town.

Bully plays a bit like a GTA game, but has its own environmental feel and works really well, although I always felt the overall area was just too small, as I was more familiar with the land masses of GTA games by this point. Even so, the game played great and there were plenty of story missions, side missions and many other miscellaneous things to do to keep yourself busy and entertained for quite some time. But once everything was collected, all the missions were done and all that was left was driving up and down the streets on Jimmy's moped, there was an undying desire to see a sequel.

A few years ago I acquired a copy of Bully: Scholarship Edition for the Xbox 360, which added more things to do, as well as beefed up the graphics and made everything look far more presentable and likewise appealing. Sadly, I had bought a copy of the game that had a hairline crack in the disc. When combining the need for the disc to be spun to be read, as well as the heat the Xbox 360's DVD drives are known for, the crack quickly grew to the point it would no longer boot up.

Although I got a fairly good taste of what Scholarship Edition was about, I never got the full experience, which only made me want an additional, more modern version of Bully even more, and I'm NOT a modern console gamer! I'm not sure where Rockstar would go with another installment of Bully, but I'm sure I'm not alone in this feeling of wanting to experience more. With all the improvements they've made in the GTA series, I bet another Bully would be nothing less than amazing.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Saint's Row 1 and 2

About 4 years ago I was cruising ebay and found a game that caught my eye. Admittedly, I am by no means a modern gamer; I don't know what games came out for the Xbox 360 unless I actively pursued them. So when I saw Saint's Row I quickly went into research mode to see what it was.

Through roughly 10 minutes of research I found out Saint's Row was a GTA clone, of sorts. After the initial search I moved ahead to the "Lets Play" type search, where I watch a few episodes of someone playing the game, to see if I'm interested in pursuing the game any further. Turns out the answer to that question was a resounding yes, yes I was interested in pursuing Saint's Row, so I did!

I can't remember exactly what I paid, but the auction included a complete copy of Saint's Row and the Brady guide. When the package arrived I noticed it cost the seller more to ship to me than I had paid for the whole auction, which made me feel slightly uneasy, because I've done this as an ebay seller as well and it doesn't feel good paying more than I was paid to ship a product. There was nothing I could do, so I just decided to set my feelings aside and pop it into my semi-functional Xbox 360.

One of the main features of any GTA, or clone, is the plethora of vehicles you can snatch and drive around, which Saint's Row doesn't disappoint! In GTA you would steal a car, total it and run off to find a new one, yet Saint's Row had an ingenious garage system where you could store, seemingly, endless amounts of cars and never have to steal another one again, unless you wanted more of any specific car. Not only that but Saint's Row also harkened back to GTA San Andreas and offered players the ability to customize vehicles in much the same way.

Although not perfect, players were given the ability to add hydraulics, nitrous, many different wheels, custom paint jobs, among other things. Once the car was customized all you had to do was drive it into any of your garages and it would save that car, never to be lost or stolen, unlike in GTA.

Since this is the first thing I brought up about Saint's Row, I have to admit that its basically all I did for the first few days I owned the game. Endless stealing cars and finding out what all I could do to them, testing many different ways of customizing them, and only doing story missions to gain money to customize more cars! But eventually I did finish the story mode, which left a little to be desired.

The final mission, which I won't spoil here just in the off chance someone might not have played it yet, doesn't go away. So even with 100% complete the final mission is left undone and sticks out on the map like a sore thumb, unless you turn all icons off, which is possible.

Overall I found the game to be interesting, not as good as GTA, but good in its own right. But personally the strong points were the cars, the ability to customize them and the way you could store them in your garage. With many different side missions strewn about throughout the city this game kept me busy for a while, but once it was over I wanted to move forward with more!

Lucky for me, and being so far behind in modern gaming, Saint's Row is currently up to 4 games in the series, so finding a new Saint's Row wasn't impossible. So my search went to finding a copy of Saint's Row 2. I wasn't concerned about whether is was a limit edition, a platinum hits edition or just a plain release version, all I wanted was Saint's Row 2, which is exactly what I got.

Before purchasing Saint's Row 2 I saw a video from Dan (aka Nerdcubed), which made me want the game even more than I already did. So, again, I went to ebay to find myself a copy of the game. After an anxious few days of waiting the game finally arrived and I popped it into my 360 and got straight back onto the streets of Stilwater, only this time they were slightly different.

Through Dan's video, and a few other Saint's Row 2 videos I had watched, I noticed that Stilwater was different in the second game, which the story explains away. This brought a very welcome element to the game, as you're essentially exploring a brand new town, with hints of something familiar. So the player starts fresh and has to regain their reign over Stilwater in Saint's Row 2.

Again, for the first day or so I spent my time finding new cars and customizing them, as well as finding cars from the first Saints Row and using the new customizing abilities on them. The very first vehicle I saw, and stole, was a tow truck, which looked awesome and actually functions, sort of, which I knew would come in handy later in my endeavor to gain vehicles and customize them. Needless to say it took me a few days to actually start the story missions.

But once I started the story missions it really didn't take me all that long to complete them all. A few side missions here and there to gain respect to continue on my way, as well as a dozen or so retries on various missions, and within a few days I had beat Saint's Row 2. Now all I have to do is finish up all the collections and other miscellaneous odd jobs to get 100% and I can move on to Saint's Row the Third!

Although Saint's Row 2 improved over the original, in some ways it is worse, such as draw distance. Many times I found myself waiting on a street corner for a certain car to drive by and noticed that cars would pop into view then almost instantly disappear, off in the distance. As well as while I'm out on water, many water vehicles can only be seen when they're within crashing distance, you'll notice their waves in the water before you'll actually see any boat or jet ski.  

Saint's Row 2 does add flying, which is another welcome change, even if the flight controls are a bit wonky. Airplanes and helicopters, as well as the ability to parachute, have helped me a few times during missions that I was just too lazy to drive to. But, again, sometimes flying, especially the helicopters or "Destroy", is more of a hassle than it is a pleasure.

Other than the few flaws I believe Saint's Row 2 is the best version of Stilwater, as it affords more freedom and air to breathe, while still packing the city with life and plenty of scenery. The first Stilwater had many annoying blockades that you'll find, especially when you're looking for the hidden CDs. All I needed to do was jump over a fence, but I simply couldn't, making it more of a chore than it needed to be.

Saint's Row 2 took care of most of the issues with the original Stilwater and made a very fun town to explore and dwell within. After I've accomplished 100% I'll be looking forward to moving to Steelport! Where I'll be staying for the next two installments of Saint's Row, beyond that who knows where we'll be.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Driver Parallel Lines: The Brother Nobody Talks About at Christmas.

I've been a fan of the Driver video game series since I tried the original. Back then it was amazing to have an expansive landscape to explore and feel like you could go anywhere you wanted, when you wanted! As with almost any game franchise, Driver tried to be competitive and in a lot of ways it succeeded, and in a lot of ways it failed.

Driver 2 was never a masterpiece, but it expanded on what the original gave us and gave the player the option of getting out of the vehicle, to drive any other vehicle you could find. Sprinkle in some events that required the player to exit the vehicle and you had a decent follow-up to the original Driver, filled with hours of things to do, explore and uncover. But where the series really took a dive was when things moved up to a new class of hardware, ala PS2 and Xbox, when the creators of Driver seemingly pushed out a half finished game that wasn't great, but ok for a single play through, if nothing more than to laugh at the complete mess of it all.

There was no doubt the team could create a Driver game for that console generation, but they just couldn't seem to finish what they started. Tanner's jump was half hearted, as if he shit his pants just before leaping, and the vehicles felt as if you were struggling to pass everyone at an already sluggish pace, where was the speed? They did, however, leave in the concept of hidden areas from Driver 2, but this only serves as a showcase for how terrible Tanner walks and his controls outside of vehicles.

Up to this point I had greatly enjoyed all of the incarnations of Driver, yes even 3, not counting any of the mobile/portable versions as I hadn't tried them. The original was still my favorite, based on its purity and simplicity, but on the horizon loomed a force, a force so big and so bold that no one could turn away from it... well no, in reality I fear, at this point, the franchise had been torn apart by competition so nobody really ever gave the fourth installment a fair chance to even survive. Which is sad too, as I feel it is far better than any of the first 3!

In 2006 Driver: Parallel Lines was unleashed for the PS2 and Xbox, but it seems nobody was listening after the boy had cried wolf too many times. Mediocre reviews abound, Driver: Parallel Lines kept selling and still it seemed nobody was saying much about it, other than it was a sad GTA clone.

My original game and the
Limited Edition set that I found at the outlet store.
Shortly after its lifespan was over I acquired an Xbox. The whole library was new to me and I went on a spree, buying used game to flesh out a meager little collection. I collected as many GTA games as I could, as well as Driv3r, and soon switched my focus to GTA "clones", such as the True Crime series. Among all the clones listed online sat Driver: Parallel Lines, never having heard about it I knew I had to find a copy and give it a try.

I remember it like it was 6 years ago, which it most likely was. I walked into ShameStop and walked over to the Xbox rack, tracked down the only copy that was in its original case that had the manual and took it up to the counter to plunk down $17.99. Being the frugal (cheap!) video game hunter I am, I walked away feeling as if that price was a bit much for a used game, so I hoped that it would live up to the $18+tax.

When I got home and sat down I wasn't exactly sure what to expect when I fired it up, but I do remember the cut scenes being remarkable, as I believe all cut scenes in the Driver series have been. After playing for a bit I was hooked, it was as if two rivals came together and had a child. The child had many aspects of both parents, but also had its own personality and qualities that made it quite good in its own right.

Unlike Driv3r, Parallel Lines was more fluid and worked better than even GTA 3, maybe on par somewhere between Vice City and San Andreas, but still very good. The antagonist controls we easy and nowhere near as clunky as before, getting in and out of cars was easy, vehicles had power, the visuals were (IMHO) better than any GTA before it. That and you weren't stuck in a single time era, after a certain part of the storyline you were allowed to free roam through 2 different eras!

Playing in 2 eras was a bit glitchy as you can still drive modern era cars in the 70s era, but other than that it was still great to have choices. Speaking of vehicles Parallel Lines has a good variety, and a MUCH better storage system than GTA had! Instead of parking your car within a designated place and hoping its there the next time you load your save, all you had to do was go to one of the selectable repair shops and pick from a list of cars you had brought in and saved along your journey.

I can't and wouldn't say Parallel Lines was as good as San Andreas, but it did look better to me. Like I said, somewhere between Vice City and San Andreas. Driver: Parallel Lines is a competent GTA clone, but I have more fun with San Andreas. San Andreas was just massive, and while Parallel Lines was no slouch it just felt a little too much like a sandbox to really give any depth the exploration.

Of all the games that I've spent countless hours with my Xbox San Andreas comes first, without a doubt. Driver: Parallel Lines comes second and I couldn't even think of a third, but it would be one of the other GTA games. Parallel Lines was a very competent Driver game, it was a very competent GTA clone (or contender), but for some reason it just never got the respect it deserves. Which is sad, because its leagues above Driv3r and that only gets talked about because of how much of a horrible train wreck it is!

Nyko Wand: Skewed Review

Let me start this review off by stating clearly: I purchased my Nyko Wand USED so this in no way means that all Nyko Wands are this way, perhaps so, perhaps no. This is my blog and these are my opinions, you don't have to agree, but don't be a nuisance if mine differ greatly from your own.

If you've read any of my Project Outlet Wii entries you'll know that the only remote I had for my Wii was a purple Nyko Wand, that I acquired from the outlet store as well. Throughout the whole time I've had my Wii, the Nyko Wand didn't respond the same way I remember the official Wii remotes did. The Nyko Wand chewed through batteries at a fierce pace, it would unsync/desync often in the middle of Animal Crossing and was just generally a poor excuse for a controller.

As I stated above I did purchase it used, discarded if you will, at the Goodwill Outlet store, which leads me to assume it was already in bad shape as someone else had tossed it away with their Goodwill donateables. Or maybe this is a case of a rare factory defect, and the previous owner had already purchased a replacement before donating it. I can only run on assumption, as almost everything else I've found there has been in used shape, but still functioned as if brand new.

Excited for the coming holiday in Animal Crossing: City Folk, I woke up every day to do my 15 minutes of play, just to get things going before heading over to Netflix and watching something to pass the day. December 17th came and all of a sudden my Nyko Wand went crazy. The lights at the bottom started flashing off and on as if it were trying sync but never stopped. I pulled out the batteries and upon placing a new set in, the controller still flashed as if it assumed the new career of being a tiny, purple Christmas tree.

I waited a few minutes and it never stopped, so I did what I normally do... I took it apart to see what may be wrong with it. I checked all the solder joints and made sure everything looked as good as they could be. Knowing absolutely fuck all about a Wii remote I have to say it did no good what so ever. I figured it was just having an issue syncing to the Wii, so I pressed the buttons and waited. Nothing...

After replacing the batteries a handful of times with various other batteries the controller just stopped working completely. Being the only Wii mote I had and it being dead... no more Wii.

For what it did, the Nyko Wand was, at best, OK! Sure all Wii remotes chew through batteries, but the Nyko Wand seemed to have an even greater thirst than I remember the OEM remotes having. The unsyncing issue was a huge mess and interrupted gameplay more times than I care to recount, simply because it could!

It was used, possibly abused by the previous owner, but it gave me well more than the 25 cents I paid for it at the outlet store (I have no clue what that thing weighed, but it couldn't have cost me much more than a quarter). It hated Netflix, it hated my Wii, the thing was just trouble from the start. I wouldn't buy another Nyko Wand unless it was at Goodwill or the outlet store, based on the experience I've had with the purple one, even though this may have been a rare defective unit.

I've since bought an OEM Nintendo Wii mote and the only thing I truly miss about the Nyko Wand is the option to shut the remote off, which is a massive oversight by Nintendo in not giving them that feature. The OEM remote doesn't chug down batteries, it doesn't have to resync every 10 minutes and it generally doesn't throw a fit, like the Nyko Wand did. The only true annoyance is that I have to manually shut it off while watching Netflix or when the remote isn't in use by pulling out a battery.

Throughout the whole time I've collected video games, 3rd party brands are either hit or miss and we base our buying choices upon that. I purchased Pelican brand Xbox controllers years ago that lasted 7 months and since then Pelican has never been a choice in my mind, even if it were in the outlet store. If my OEM Wii remote would shut off when I pressed the power button shortly, I wouldn't miss the Nyko Wand at all.

Meet Bertha!

One of my lesser discussed hobbies is playing guitar, which I used as a gateway to get closer to my brother when I was about 13. Most of my life I can't really remember him being around, as, depending on who you ask, he was either kicked out of the house or decided to leave of his own free will when he was young. I still don't understand it...

He taught me the basics on his gear and as my interest in tone changed I started working to acquire some of my own. I started out with a little Peavey combo my brother gave me, until one day I heard an extremely loud pop inside the amp and the thing just stopped working. When I checked inside one of the chips was smoking. From there I got a small Crate 1x12 combo which had a very nice clean but a pretty cruddy overdrive, but it did the job of making noise and that's all I wanted at that age.

In the following years I had acquired a handful of effects pedals, including a blue Zoom 505 and 510, to flesh out more interesting tonal options from my standard little Crate combo. But after my brother bought himself a Line 6 Flextone 3 he brought his old Crate amp head and his 2x12 speaker cab to stay at my place for a while. The head was fairly decent and had a valve preamp, I think, but as I lived in a duplex I really couldn't push it to test what a partially tube amp sounded like. All I got was a flat tone that wasn't even as good as the solid state overdrive on my Crate combo.

After a few months of hearing what my brother's Flextone 3 could do I did a little research into what other Line 6 products interested me. I knew I wanted a head and I wanted tons of options, essentially I wanted a Zoom 505 inside an amp head. After a few months I saved some money and decided that I wanted a Spider 3 HD 75.

When I walked in to the local Guitar Center I asked for the Spider 3 HD 75, but the associate had to go into the back and grab one fresh out of the box. My brother wheeled over a nice Peavey 5150 4x12 cabinet and after the associate plugged it up... nothing! The Spider was dead and there were absolutely no signs of life no matter what he did. The guy ran back and snagged another, but since the first one was dead on delivery I decided this may not be the amp I truly wanted. After playing the second one for a short while I realized it really had limited options and a boring, buzzy tone. Then my eyes spotted the Flextone HD sitting on the floor.

Using the same Jackson Dinky and the same Peavy 5150 cab, the associate lugged the beast over and gave it the same plug in treatment he did the Spider. After the flipping the switch I could not only feel all 4 Sheffield speakers dancing, I could hear them screaming with delight. The Flextone HD was actually pushing the speakers, instead of making a noise equal to a kid farting into a megaphone. Although computer drive, much the same as the Spider, yet much older, the Flextone HD was still pushing out a thick, full tone.

The cleans were clean, the crunchy was like peanut butter, thick and crunchy, and the high gains were high gain, I was sold! I came in with enough to walk out that day with a brand new Spider 3 HD 75, but instead used that money to put the Flextone HD in layaway. Since the amp had just came in I was told I would have had to wait a few weeks for all the numbers to clear any stolen gear search regardless, so that worked out in my favor. I remember the associate who helped me looked like the voice actor Billy West, who is a bit of a guitard himself. 

I'm not a professional guitar player, in fact I may go months without playing guitar at all and come back with even less talent than I already had! But its a hobby, not a career or something I take too seriously. I don't need professional gear, and many would argue on both sides of the fence that the Flextone HD is professional and that its total junk. I've seen professional acts touring with the Flextone HD, even an ad in Guitar World with a famous guitarist promoting the Flextone line of amps, but at the end of the day I like my Flextone HD and that's all that matters to me! Its just a fun little pass time that I enjoy.

After I got the Flextone home I still had my brother's 2x12 to plug into and jam. It sounded a lot better than the Crate head it was perched atop, but the Celestion G12T-75s weren't as lively as the Sheffields in the 5150 cab. This could be due to many factors, but all I knew was I wasn't happy with the extreme difference, or loss, of tone between the cabinet I demoed and the cabinet I used on a daily basis. After having my Flextone for a while I decided it was time to give it a home on top a nice 4x12 cabinet, one that would do it justice and make it sound as good as it should.

After doing some research into inexpensive 4x12s I had a few choices; first the Behringer Ultrastack BG412S was brought to mind, it was cheap and 400 watts of raw power. Then I thought perhaps I'll go with something more traditional and metal, like a Marshall 1960. They're usually fairly cheap used and depending on where you look they can sometimes be found in near mint condition. The only problem was the Marshall stocked 4 GT12-75s, so would more air give them a better tone? If my best choice had the speakers I didn't really connect with in them, what speaker options did I have? The answer was Celestion Vintage 30s.

I've heard great things about Celestion's Vintage 30 speakers, but what cabinets came stock with them and wasn't something everyone wanted? The obvious answer is the Marshall 1960V cabinets, which were slightly more than I was wanting to spend at that time, but still only a little more expensive than the standard 1960 cabs. Another choice was a Crate Blue Voodoo cabinet, but as I couldn't find any of the older ones in actual blue tolex, I really didn't want to settle on one of those.

The day came to take my Flextone to Guitar Center and give the Marshall 1960 and 1960V cabs a demo side by side. I noticed that with a little more room, and 4 of them, the GT12-75s sounded a little better, but not enough to sway me to buy that cabinet. I plugged into the 1960V cabinet and noticed a lot more activity. Even at low volume the Vintage 30 speakers seemed to crunch up pretty nicely. Then I think my brother wheeled over a black Crate Blue Voodoo for me to try out. The Blue Voodoo wasn't bad, but there is some seriously bad mojo from Crate because even with the same speakers and approximately the same cabinet shape these speakers didn't have the same characteristics as they did coming from the Marshall vintage cabinet.

Sitting far, far in the back was a beast of a cabinet by a company I didn't even consider, because everything they touched seemed to be way too expensive. A straight cabinet design with a slanted baffle, armored on both sides with gig battered diamond plated steel! The tolex ripped here and there, the speaker grill having a few wounds of its own. I was told it had Vintage 30s in it and took the associate's word on it. It was a Mesa Boogie Rectifier Standard 4x12.

After wheeling away the Blue Voodoo and the standard 1960, it was time to demo the 1960V next to the American muscle with the same speakers. After turning on the Flextone the Mesa Boogie roared to life, even though the Flextone HD was emulating the sound of a rectifier amp it still made sense. It was as if they were a perfect match. The tone was dark and foreboding, seemingly dripping with the deepest and darkest evil heavy metal could offer. I walked in expecting to put a $400 cabinet on layaway, but I walked away physically and emotionally touched by the $650 road scarred, gentle giant.

Months came and went as my interest in playing guitar was starting to disappear. The Crate 2x12 just wasn't the same as any of the 4x12s I demoed, obviously, but only one truly left a lasting impression on me. I went to Guitar Center to see if it was still there, it was, and it was still $650. I'm not sure what Guitar Center was thinking as the cabinet was painfully road scarred, the front name plate was missing and everything about it just screamed "I'm not worth what these morons are asking!".

After scraping together some additional money I called up Guitar Center and asked them about that specific cabinet and if it was still in, they said yes. I asked them if they could do slightly less than they were asking, and got the faux run around, when in reality it was pretty apparent they wanted it out of the store, by this time. After a few days of back and forth I went in for a last demo with my Flextone HD and the cabinet.

Everything was still the same face melting, brain shaking insanity as it was the first time. This cabinet was mine! I asked the associate to open the back so I could make sure it was all stock and check the condition of the speakers, they agreed. Once everything checked out, I put my money down and was the proud owner of an insane Mesa Boogie 4x12!

After a quick trip over to accessories to pick up some speaker cables and picks I wheeled it outside and loaded it into the back of the car, sideways! I took the time to test as much gear as I possibly could, found the best choice for my own personal tastes and liking and I still enjoy it to this day. I ended up buying a name plate for the front from Mesa, I think it makes it look better. Blasphemy to put a Line 6 on a Mesa Boogie cabinet? I see more blasphemy in today's music scene than I do in my half stack!