Thursday, December 24, 2015

Console Headaches!

With as many video game consoles as I've played and owned throughout the years, I have to say that without question the most troublesome have been the Playstation 2 and the Xbox 360. Even with as famously unreliable the NES connectors are known to be, I've never had to do anything more than take the NES apart, toothbrush and alcohol the connector and slap it back together. The Playstation 2, however, hasn't been too bad, it's just the fact that the Playstation 2 consoles that I have (three in total) seem to eat through reading lasers like they're breakfast cereal.

You could argue that it's my own fault, since I've received all my consoles second-hand. While that is in fact true, I would argue greatly to the fact that I have received all my consoles second-hand, and have never had as much trouble from any of them as I have with the Playstation 2 and the Xbox 360 consoles. My original Xbox was given to me because the laser wouldn't read, but once I installed a replacement the console gave me years of solid service. I did replace the laser in my black PS2 slim, which gave me varying levels of service throughout four years, but ultimately it too died.

Now comes the Xbox 360, in my opinion the absolutely worst conceived console ever. Don't get me wrong, I love my 360s, when they worked, but the console's architecture was absolute garbage and planned to be disposable, either that or by a complete idiot. Even though the Xbox 360's competitor, the PS3, was known to have gremlins of its own, the Xbox 360 far and away will be known as the console that should have never been. Again, I'm not dogging the Xbox 360 as a brand, I'm simply saying that Xbox 360 was built like shit.

If I buy a console that doesn't work properly, it's a rarity, that's just a fact, and most times a console can easily be repaired with a few slight modifications or repairs. The Xbox 360, however has been a terrible case that even once repaired, there is no telling how long it will last. I was given two Xbox 360s because they were giving the RROD, and since they were free I figured I would give the towel wrap trick a try and see if I could get any signs of life from them.

Eventually I had one of them professionally repaired at a local PlayNTrade, but that only last until their warranty had expired, literally shortly after their repair warranty expired the Xbox 360 died another death. Hope wasn't all lost though as with the console being repaired it was easier to towel wrap it and reset the chips, which I did many many times. At some point after I was given a Halo edition Xbox 360, which was plagued with the RROD also. I'll be damned if I'm going to pay another $50 and have the repair only last until the short warranty expired, no, this time I opened the console myself and somehow fixed it by simply shimming the X braces, which seemingly lasted forever.

The Halo 360 lasted a long time, only occasionally needing a towel wrap to reset the chips, which seemed to work much better than it did on the first Xbox 360 I had. The original 360 would go through long periods of acting as if the towel wrap wasn't working, then mysteriously, and many months later, it would fire up as if nothing happened after yet another towel wrap trick.

The point of my rambling is that I'm clearly not the only person who has had these issues with the Xbox 360. I watch a lot of youtubers talk about how they've gone through four, five, even six Xbox 360 consoles, paying retail and still having the console crap out on them. I also know people who still use their original launch era Xbox 360, some people are only on their second Xbox 360, yet the Xbox 360 is, without a doubt, the most troublesome console in history.

Sadly none of my Xbox 360s currently work, and I am sick of having to repair them myself. I've debated buying a slim or even an E model, yet I don't want to be burned by buying a brand new Xbox 360 and having the damn thing die on me, yet again. But with what little spurts of time I've spent with my Xbox 360s, I've enjoyed greatly and have built up a collection of games for the console that I truly wish I could play, just like I do with any other console. Just turn the console on, pop the game in and not sit there for hours on end worrying that after 2-10 hours of playing the screen is going to glitch out and then worry how long it will take for the temperamental console to will itself into working again.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

My Thanksgiving Scores

This past week was absolutely amazing. With the company of my girlfriend I got out and hit the thrift stores, flea markets and a few other places. To be honest I was surprised at how many video games I was able to find in all the places we went, most of them were sports titles but at least they had something. Nestled away between the sports titles, empty cases and the overpriced riffraff I found the occasional game worth spending a few dollars on, as well as I finally found a few games I had been wanting from Gamestop.

The adventure started on a snowy Saturday, where I found a complete copy of Duke Nukem Forever for Xbox 360. Sure I've heard bad things about this game, but it was only $3, it was complete and it was at Goodwill, so I felt it was a pretty good deal overall. Not the greatest, but not something I could have walked away from.

On another day we stopped by a local Gamestop and I had a strangely great experience. I bought two cheap 99 cent games from Gamestop: WWII Aces and Wii Play, nothing special but they were games I've been wanting to pick up for a while now. The cases were mint, the manuals were completely in tact and the discs look as if they've never been played, perhaps rightfully so, but regardless this is the first time Gamestop hadn't tried to shove me out the door with grime covered discs and/or a broken case without the manual.

Finally came Black Friday, which had two meanings. Firstly it was the sales event of the year, yet it was also Black Friday because it was the final day of my girlfriend's visit. I'll save the best for last, but my actual final pickup came from another Goodwill, where I found a mint copy of Wii Fit for $3. This isn't a mind blowing score but this is a game I've been wanting to find, because I've actually been debating picking up a Wii balance board from Goodwill on their 50% off sales.

And finally, the best for last was a pick up I couldn't pass up! I've been wanting this for years and have watched the prices fluctuate on the used copies and I finally decided that $20 for a brand new copy of  Grand Theft Auto 5 for Xbox 360 would be the reason I finally own it. I've made it well known that I love the GTA series and besides the handheld versions I now own all of the console version of GTA. Even though my Xbox 360 is dead, I feel $20 for a sealed copy to have when I finally do get a working 360 is better than $30 for a used one, especially since this was a Gamestop sale.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Project: Outlet Wii - The Final Peice

It's been over 2 years since I've last stepped foot in the outlet store, although I haven't completely stopped going to thrift stores. Sporadically I've been to Goodwill sales days as well as going to a local Salvation Army store, yet I've never been able to find the final piece to finish off Project Outlet Wii. I found everything, short of a replacement controller, through the outlet store, flea markets or other thrift adventures, yet for some reason I could never, and have never found a Wii sensor bar that wasn't already part of an overpriced bundle.

Up to this point I've been using a wireless Big Buck Hunter Pro bar that is essentially the exact same thing, albeit ugly and eats batteries like a glutton. This meant I would turn the thing on just enough to navigate the menus or get a game started, then I would turn it off and hope that I didn't use up the brand new batteries I just put in the thing, not 10 seconds ago. I do have a few games that require a constant presence of a Wii sensor bar, which I don't play all that often anyway, otherwise causing the game's controls to be horrible or non-responsive at all. I needed to find myself a Wii sensor bar, or did I?

Being the crafty fucker that I am, I decided that I would just compromise and use what I already had, but modify it to work with the Wii's USB ports. It's a super simple little project. All you need is a Big Buck Hunter Pro sensor bar, or analog, which I found at the outlet store years ago, I also often find them hidden among the toys at local Goodwill stores, and a cheap USB cable, which I procured from Goodwill for 50 cents.

While the Big Buck bar only requires 4.5 volts, USB will provide 5, and to be honest I'm not completely sure whether this will shorten the life of the sensor bar or not, but the fact is I'm sick of changing out batteries constantly and I don't often play games that require the bar on the whole time, so I see this as being a necessary evil. Either way I feel this project is worth the attempt as it only cost me about $1.

I simply isolated the 5v source and the ground wire and soldered them to the proper terminals in the battery slot. Then I made a knot in the USB cable and cut a notch in the battery door of the Big Buck bar and voila! Now I have a USB powered sensor bar for about $1. If this thing burns out or dies, I can most likely salvage the USB cable and just find a replacement bar at Goodwill for $1-2 and just do it all over again. Hopefully with the infrequency with which I use the sensor bar I won't need to, but it was well worth a try because now I don't have to worry about batteries anymore!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Mafia Video Game Series.

Amongst the slew of open world, free to explore at your own leisure games there stands one game that set the bar at a slightly different level than all others; Mafia. At the time of it's release Mafia was sandwiched between two of Rockstars juggernaut games of the GTA franchise that seemingly inspired Mafia, both GTA 3 and Vice City. Where the GTA franchise missed a large era that would have been the perfect setting for a GTA universe, the prohibitionist 1930s, Mafia crept in and took it's rightful place as the outlet to freely explore and live a fictional life in that era through the protagonist Thomas "Tommy" Angelo.

Mafia was indeed the answer to those wanting a 1930s era Grand Theft Auto. From a random encounter with the mob, Tommy is given a chance to join the mob as an associate, which may sound cliche today, but actually turned into a great story line. Mafia was filled with twists, turns, challenges, rewards and all of the things you would want from an open world game.

That's not to say Mafia wasn't without it's flaws, the biggest of which was that the console versions felt like very sub-par ports of the PC game. Everything felt like it was slowed down to fit the controller configuration and never really felt very much like a genuine console release. The graphics weren't always the greatest, and while driving was a great portion of the game the cars were never really all that exciting to drive. For good and bad, Mafia was and I believe is still a worthwhile game to play.

For nearly 8 years the franchise sat dormant, and only those with their ears to the ground heard much about the franchise, but in 2010 a whole new experience was unleashed. With the release of Mafia II came a shift in console generations, meaning everything looked better, everything felt smoother and everything felt more alive. This time Mafia was set in the mid 1940s, following a war veteran by the name of Vito Scaletta as he returns from war and catches up with old friends, only to find the fast track to money and fame is through his old friend Joe, who has been doing odd jobs for the Mafia while Vito was away at war.

Again, this time through Vito, you are taken through the twists and turns of joining the mafia, but this time things don't feel quite right to me. Where the first Mafia was story driven, everything felt more fluid and everything seemed to link together, not the case with Mafia II. Mafia II lays out the story as if it were a book, in chapters, which left me feeling as if the story was disjointed and clunky. I'm familiar with the mission to mission grind, but the story just didn't seem to flow with all the fast forwarding and jumps the game did.

The flaws within this game don't really smother the fun you'll experience while playing it, but they are there. For instance the lack of free roam, which even the first game offered, 8 years it's senior. I honestly can't remember whether or not the first game unlocked free roam after completion or not, but I know it was there, so why wasn't free roam ever offered in it's sequel? Well, technically there is free roam, albeit in the form of a DLC pack called Jimmy's Vendetta. You won't be using Vito, the character you've grown attached to in the story mode, you'll be doing a short story line for Jimmy, but at least here you do get to access all three homes from the story mode, unlike Vito.

Another issue is the tiny garage, as you're only allowed 10 vehicles, only getting more with DLC included vehicles. Since Mafia II allows the player to steal and customize just about any vehicle within the game, you would think the game would allow more than just 10 cars in a garage. For example Driver Parallel Lines allows players to store 99.9% of in-game cars (which is around 80 or more), and Saints Row offering about 50 cars. There is no need to limit the player to 10 cars, plus DLC cars, especially with the plethora of vehicles that Mafia II provides.

And finally, and simply put, the police are far too easy to escape. In almost every free roam game I've played the police are ruthless crime stoppers. From GTA to Saints Row, to the original Mafia and all the way around to the Driver series. In Mafia II the police will give chase, they will even shoot, depending on the severity of the crime, but in a moderately fast car you can easily lose them within a few city blocks, no hassle. It may sound like a nitpick but if there is no real challenge or punishment for committing a crime in a video game, there is no real fun or reason to do so.

Mafia II isn't all bad, not at all. The graphics are beautiful, the city is beautiful and fun to explore. There are many things to do within the city, magazines and wanted posters to collect, clothing stores, gun store as well as diners and bars you can go in and have a meal or a drink. You can even rob these establishments for a little bit of cash, and I do mean a little bit of cash as the highest I've taken was $300 from a gun store. Not much, but it adds a little bit of adventure to the overall exploration of the city.

Now what would an open world game be without vehicles? As I started earlier you can customize vehicles and race them around the city, although there really aren't many places you can truly max your car's horsepower, it's still fun to speed around the city. There is quite a selection of vehicles to choose from, all of them based loosely on popular real-world vehicles of that era.

One of my (oddly) favorite parts of Mafia II is that should you find a vehicle you wish to make your own you have two options; you can just be brash and smash out the window, or you can be quiet and cunningly use a lock-pick mechanic to unlock the door. The trunk and hoods of some vehicles will open up with very little use as you can't store anything in the trunk, but if your car is heavily wrecked you can pop the hood and have a fiddle around to get it working again.

I like the Mafia franchise the same I like the Grand Theft Auto franchise, and I believe they both hold their own respective places alongside each other. As GTA expands upwards and outwards I hope that Mafia continues to follow where it is headed as well. I loved the crossover mission in Mafia II that called back to the ending of Mafia, proving that Mafia has a good idea of where it's headed, and as a fan I will be along for the ride.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

MySims Racing, is it a budget Mario Kart for the Wii?

With my Nintendo Wii library looking a little sparse I decided to try and stir up some hidden gems. Google wasn't much help as any results for Wii hidden gems either yielded lists of very well known titles, or mostly the same batch of little known titles that aren't quite up my alley. My goal was to unearth hidden racing titles for the Wii, which should be quite easy as it seems the Wii motion controls were quite popular with racing game developers.

Sadly I found out the Nintendo Wii was rife with abysmal, and downright shitty racing titles. After digging a little deeper I ran across a title I was partially familiar with, MySims Racing. I own, and do enjoy, MySims Kingdom, despite it being a very dumbed-down version of The Sims. So what could I expect from MySims Racing? Well for only $2 I was more than willing to try it out and see for myself.

MySims Racing starts you off with the options of Quick Race or Story Mode, you can also play up to 4 players in the multiplayer mode. One thing I need to say right now is that MySims Racing supports the Gamecube controller. Suck on that Ubisoft! Anyway, the meat and potatoes of this game is obviously in it's story mode, where you create your chibi-Sim and set off on an adventure that is quite remanescente of the story line from Disney's Cars. I mean it's practically a complete ripoff of it!

You are set in a small, forlorn town called Racetown, which was once a great hub of all things racing. After getting to know the local mechanic he reveals that you are the only hope to restore this town to it's former racing glory and bring back the hordes of racing fans. I told you it's Disney's Cars!

After you get over the shock of the, obviously, stolen story line, MySims Racing sets you off doing various racing related tasks for people in the town to collect things they've lost, test new parts, earn blue prints, collect gems among various other things. As you progress through the story you can upgrade your cars, of which you are given three types; small, medium and large. Each car can be upgraded using the same parts you've earned through blue prints as well as customized through the same blue prints you've earned for style parts. Although shallow, MySims Racing's customization and upgrades do add a nice little dynamic to the game.

Once a certain round of tasks have been completely you will meet the mayor of Racetown. The mayor will then organize a small championship for you to win and help bring pride back to Racetown. Once you've completed the fairly easy to win championship, an adjacent town is unlocked, repeating the cycle. Help new acquaintances with tasks, which builds their business around Racetown, earn yourself blue prints for better parts, everybody wins, etc.

Although the story line is stolen, the gameplay is cheesy and the competition doesn't usually pose any real threat, MySims Racing was fun and I feel that it was a really good game. Obviously aimed at the Disney Cars crowd of ages 5 to 12, MySims Racing isn't going to be as tough as Mario Kart, but adds a few elements that Mario Kart doesn't.

So can I honestly say that MySims Racing is a budget Mario Kart? Well, not whole-heartedly, no. I feel MySims Racing is fun to play, it's engaging and it offers the player the chance to customize their cars in a few different ways. For $2 (compared to Mario Kart currently being $30) I feel it was a solid purchase. MySims racing may not win over the hardcore Mario Kart fans, but I feel it's a very solid investment for the crowd who enjoys a relaxing, quirky and fun little kart racing game for a super cheap price.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Driver Parallel Lines, I'm finally not impressed!

I've written a few articles already about Driver Parallel Lines and how it's my favorite Driver thus far. I also believe that it is possibly the most competent GTA clone, as well as an all-round under appreciated game. Well, at least those are my feelings for the Xbox (and possibly the PS2 version) version, but I can't say as much for the Wii port.

Driver Parallel Lines was released in 2006, just as the sixth generation of consoles were almost gasping their last bit of breath. Yet, for some reason Parallel Lines wasn't released for the fresh faced seventh generation, like a handful of other titles were. That all changed in 2007 when Driver Parallel Lines saw itself ported to Windows and the Nintendo Wii, you know... the most deserving of consoles to port a GTA clone.

Again, I love this game! I can not state it enough, I simply love this game and the way it made me feel when I was playing through the story missions, as well as the countless hours I spent free roaming through their rendition of New York City. However, I feel this is due in large to the fact that the Xbox controller fit into my hands quite comfortably and all my controller choices were made with minimal human consciousness, it became almost intuitive.

So this past weekend Gamestop was having a buy two get one free sale, to which I decided I would take a chance and flesh out my Wii collection a bit further and buy some cheap games and get one for free; why not? Once inside the store the plan had changed, as my euphoria of being around so many games had dulled my memory of what exactly I came to buy in the first place. I forgot exactly what I had come in to purchase, as well as I had forgotten the huge list of games I wanted to even check to see if they had, but the very first game I did pick up was Driver Parallel Lines on the Wii for a measly $2.

My glorious collection.

After getting home with my haul I cleaned up the extremely greasy and finger print laden Driver disc and popped it into my Wii. After watching the intro cut scenes I was already less than impressed. The graphics seem to be sharper, with a new, slightly iridescent, sheen about them, but the textures are still the same, making the game look worse in the overall scheme of things. I also noticed that the game seems to try it's best to run at 60 frames per second, which I can easily notice from time to time. Sadly the only reason I notice this is because it comes through in bursts, making me all too aware that the game can't sustain a steady frame rate.

But here is where the game has almost entirely lost me; the controls are absolutely shit. Needless to say, I've owned a Wii for a while, and I had encounters with them well before I owned my own, so I'm well aware that the Wii controller and nunchuck are not going to feel the same as an Xbox or PS2 style controller, but there are plenty of games for the Wii that do allow for the player to use the Gamecube controller, which would have been this game's holy savior!

 At first I couldn't get the car to go, and it took me a while to figure out that I needed to be holding the nunchuck up perfectly straight, or else I would in fact be engaging the handbrake, rendering the car impossible to drive. Again, I will say that I am familiar with the stupid, and dare I say down right shitty, controls games have in them to try and encompass the Wii control scheme. While I am familiar with them, that doesn't mean I like them, and not all games have them, so why did Ubisoft try so hard to fuck this game up!?

It would have been easy; it should have been easy. Many Wii racing games allowed for the Gamecube controller, and Parallel Lines should have as well! I even tested it, the game won't acknowledge any Gamecube controller inputs at all. The way it is, using Wii controls, the game isn't very playable compared to the originals. All it would have taken was for Ubisoft to pull their heads out of their asses and make this GC controller compatible and this would have been the best version of Driver Parallel Lines.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Memory card Archeology

If there's one thing that I've both loved and hated about video game consoles in the past 20 years, it's the invention of the memory card. Before disc based consoles came around it was handy to write down a password or use a battery backup to save your progress. When discs started taking over the only logical concept was to use a memory card.

Although memory cards weren't always perfect, often times third party memory cards would fail and erase your progress, I eventually came to have a love hate relationship with them. As the years went by memory cards have fallen out of favor, as now hard drives are much easier to incorporate into a console and allows the user to just save and go on without the hassle of finding the right memory card, etc. At this point my love for memory cards has started to grow, now that they've fallen out of favor, as now I find them to be almost forgotten relics of a bygone video game era.

Not only are memory cards relics from the standpoint of technology, but they're relics in the sense that you can go hunting within them, much like the catacombs or Egyptian tombs. You see, I've acquired quite a few memory cards from many different thrift stores, etc. and within most of them are hidden and forgotten data, data that tells a story.

While many people would most likely look at a memory card and clear it for their own usage, I tend to have a weird, deeper feeling toward the data stored on memory cards I've found. Just like myself, these game saves aren't just overnight accomplishments. Most of them, I'm sure, have taken weeks, months or even years of work and dedication to achieve.

Playstation, N64, Dreamcast, PS2, Gamecube and even memory cards for the original Xbox have fallen into my lap throughout my many treks to thrift stores. Almost all of them have sacred, forgotten data stored upon them. Sure, if I own the game I'll go through and see what the progress is and if it's better than mine, perhaps I'll keep it. Sometimes I do delete the saves and make room for my own data, but I almost always check the game progress on that save, and I usually feel a bit uneasy as if it was someone erasing my own data before my very eyes.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cleaning a game!

Years ago I ran across a broken, battered copy of Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, for the Super Nintendo. The poor thing was sitting alone in a bin at the outlet store (you don't say!) and I decided to pick it up and give it a good home. There was a weird rattle, the sides were wrapped in dry rotting duct tape and I could tell something wasn't right with the connecting pins.

After removing the duct tape I found out that the cartridge was in pretty rough shape. It seems whoever owned this wanted to open it pretty badly and figure out what exactly the rattle inside was, and to be honest so did I. Nearly every edge of the cartridge looked as if they tried to pry it open with a screwdriver, this game was in poor shape!

After using the proper method to open the cartridge, which sadly was only one screw left anyway, I found what was causing the rattle. Apparently this game has a battery backup and the battery had come loose, which is odd because it seems as if this battery had poor connections to the contacts in the first place and was just jarred loose easily. Besides the battery being loose, the contact pins seem to have been gripped with pliers and bend back and forth, luckily they all seem to be there and connected still, but they're not very pretty. 

After checking the insides, it was time to work on the sticky duct tape residue. Some Goo-Gone, Q-Tips and some elbow grease (no elbows were harmed in the writing of this blog) and everything turned out quite nicely. Although the cartridge is still very sticky where the residue used to be, there are no visual signs. At least now it looks semi presentable.

After a few minutes of restoration, surprisingly, the game works, even with the contacts being chewed up as they are. Since I don't currently have any battery holders I just used electrical tape to hold the battery in, which I'll change at another date. The only things that concern me now are the fact that there is only 1 hole for a screw and only one tab at the top to keep the game closed. No big deal, I'll play it anyway!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preliminary Review: Dark Cloud for the PS2

Take an early PS2 RPG, add a bit of Harvest Moon, a dash of the later to come Lego series, a little bit of Sim City as well as My Sims and what do you get? Well, you would probably get something fairly similar to Dark Cloud.

As my video game hunting days have come to a silent halt, it's time for me to check out the games that I've already acquired. Somewhere within a 5 inch deep stack of loose PS2 discs was that of Dark Cloud. Completely unsure of what it was, I popped it in one night, about a month ago, and gave it a test.

At first I didn't fully get it, all I knew was that I enjoyed collecting these little parts, killing all these creatures and exploring this dungeon. The problem being that this was just a quick test, I didn't read anything, nor did I even save my progress. Weeks went by and the fun I had with Dark Cloud followed me around, so I decided to make some room on my memory card and actually give it a serious go, as well as read all the dialog this time.

This time I found out why the initial field was so barren, what I was expected to do within the dungeon and that there is no leveling system as such. I was tasked with rescuing and rebuilding my town from little orbs within a nearby dungeon to it's former glory, all the while collecting weapons and leveling them in a Final Fantasy 2 sort of leveling scheme. All of these things seemed fine, until a few levels into the dungeon, when things became quite difficult.

Now I will admit that I was a bit rushed and didn't really consider grinding, I was just having so much fun collecting the little bits and pieces of my town, that I never really cared to go back and grind out to level my weapon. So as I went deeper and deeper monsters became tougher and took larger chunks of my weapon's durability, which became greatly frustrating by the fact that the sword I worked so hard to level up would break at the drop of a hat.

As frustrating as things have been, perhaps only perpetrated by my own haste, things have also been quite fun. Dark Cloud looks great, in my opinion, for a 2001 PS2 title. I'm quite glad I picked it up when I found it, of course I picked up almost any loose PS2 disc I found anyway. Overall I'm enjoying the time I'm spending with Dark Cloud. I wish I could find the case and manual to have it complete, but at least I've got it, and I'm enjoying it anyway.

To be honest, I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often.

Back in January 2011 I walked into a cold, musty Salvation Army and stumbled upon a box in the tiny little electronic's section that had a Nintendo 64 with Mario Kart 64 in it, a PSone and few other miscellaneous items inside. Nothing had a price tag so I sheepishly asked an employee if she could tell me what they wanted for the whole box. She simply said "On second", turned around and shouted for the manager.

The manager asked me if I wanted everything and I acted as if I didn't, but inside I really did! He threw a price at me of $10. With everything that was inside I couldn't pass up $10, so I didn't. Needless to say, I went home that night feeling quite satisfied with the purchase. A fresh N64, Mario Kart 64, a few other good N64 games as well as the nice little PSone with a copy of Test Drive Off-Road 3 inside.
How it looked for my Sam's Scores article 4 years ago.
The joy was quickly quelled when I tried to use the console a few days later. I popped in South Park, as it was my newest PS game, and it failed to read it. Well, the joy wasn't completely gone immediately as I've had quite a few run-ins with lasers that didn't want to read discs anymore. Most of the time I've managed to get them reading and they usually last a little while longer, sadly this wasn't the case.

After quite a few failed adjustments I just gave up and tossed the presumed broken laser. Perhaps someday I could buy a replacement online and finally have a working PSone. Besides, at this point I already had an original PS console, as well as the slim PS2, I didn't need a working PSone to play games, more just a display piece, to say I had one. 

To this date I've acquired four PSone consoles in total. One without a lid, which means the laser from that one went into the one that is the subject of this entry. By now you may be asking yourself why I'm making a blog entry specifically for one of my four PSone consoles? Well, that's because this one in particular is quite special. How special? Keep reading!

While I was tinkering with the laser, I happened to notice that this console had some weird wires coming from the motherboard. Now, this isn't so weird as sometimes I've seen consoles with resistors soldered into places and jumper wires soldered in from A to B, etc. This being my first PSone, I didn't really pay much attention to it, I just replaced the laser and let everything go.

By the way, replacing the laser made the thing boot right up without problems, so that made me happy, but by this time I had 2 others that worked already, so it wasn't a big deal.

It was about three months ago, give or take, when I started looking into possibly importing PS games, or even making backups of some of my more scratched games. I'll be honest, I want to be able to play burnt backups of PS games anyway, but without a modded console I couldn't do that. I asked around, as I know a few friends who had played imported games on their PS consoles back in the day, and they explained to me their methods, none of which were modchips.

With a few weeks research I found that PSone consoles had modchips and they were quite easy to install. Then, it finally dawned on me. This was why none of my other PSone consoles had that chip, this one was special, it was modified!

Although it took me a while to finally get a backup burn that finally worked, it did in fact work. Albeit just a copy of PS cheat device discs, Gameshark, Code Breaker and Action Replay software on one disc. I even tested the console with four of the infamous anti-mod protected games, none of which were tripped up by the modchip. I'm not saying I'm going to go crazy, especially since my failure rate at making working backups was so high, but it is nice to have a modchip installed in my PSone and to be able to confirm it works.

To be honest, I'm surprised this hasn't happened more often. With modchips being fairly popular for PS, PSone, PS2 and a even other consoles, I'm surprised I haven't run across another console with a modchip installed. It would be nice to own a modified PS2 or something, but I'm not going to bother doing it myself. I'm excited that my PSone modchip works, it's just nice to have one as part of my collection that may come in handy, should I decide to start importing PS games.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Movie license games I've been playing lately.

About two months ago I found myself in a bit of a video game slump. That desire to play a video game, yet not have to trudge through another campaign of something I've already done before. Well as I really have no desire to go buy anything new, that only left me with the option of indeed trudging through another campaign of something I've already done before.

My two choices were Scarface and The Godfather for the original Xbox. What you may notice right from the start is that these two games are both licensed titles, from movies that were both vastly better than their video game counterparts. But hey, when you're creating video games based on two of the best movies ever made, can video game media really do any justice to their namesake?

Now, the singlemost troublesome issue that I had with another play through of these games happened to be the opaque tinted glasses of nostalgia. I remember, quite fondly, sitting down of an evening and playing these games as I stretched out across the living room floor and sometimes even cuddled up to my Corgi. What I don't remember, however, are all the frustrating, brain aching moments when these games simply don't play by the rules. Not only do they not play by the rules, but they often glitched me into such a terrible position that it made continuing the game impossible.

After many, many, many, and I do mean many, tries, retries and varies stoppages for hours or even days, I managed to complete The Godfather, as well as get fairly deeply rooted within Scarface. I'm not going to go into great detail about the games, go check them out for yourself. Yes they frustrated me, but I also had a pretty good time once I finally relaxed and focused on the task that needed to be done.

Do these games do any justice to their movie namesakes? Absolutely not. In fact they had to alter the movie plot entirely for Scarface and say Tony survived the attack, lost everything and is now rebuilding his empire to take on Sosa and take him down. While in The Godfather, some unknown schmuck rises through the ranks, literally within in-game days depending on how fast you get things done, to become the Don. On a funny note, since Al Pacino's likeness was licensed for Scarface, they had to completely alter the look of Michael Corleone in The Godfather game. Neither character being voiced by Mr. Pacino.

These games could have been stand alone games with different themes, different titles and different characters, but instead they tied them to two of the most beloved and critically acclaimed movies of all time. Would they still be just as fun and frustrating of they were titled "Billy Bob the Coke Dealer" for Scarface and "Cheap New York Mafia Simulator" for The Godfather? I doubt it. I believe the only reason these games are fun at all weighs heavily on the titles they were licensed from. And that fact alone.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sonic Collection: Cross-platforming

Three years ago I wrote an entry here about my feelings on buying the exact same game for more than one console. Since that time I've slightly, and I do my slightly, laxed my opinions on that matter. For example, I would love to get 18 Wheeler for the Gamecube, simply because I love the Gamecube, even though I already have it for the Dreamcast and it's the exact same game.

But sometimes companies will release a game and add slightly varying content for each console, such as the Mega Man Anniversary Collection for the Gamecube, PS2 and Xbox, so I would gladly own them all. Or perhaps a company will release a game on one console, see how great it's selling and then release it with a slightly different title for other consoles, such as the Sonic Mega Collection and Sonic Mega Collection Plus.

Sonic Mega Collection was originally was released only for the Nintendo Gamecube, until things got a little greedy and they decided to release it as Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the PS2 and Xbox. Sonic Mega Collection Plus added additional games to the roster, including most of the Sonic games for the Game Gear, making it completely unfair to the owners of the Gamecube version. The Gamecube never saw a release of Sonic Mega Collection Plus, but the score was upped by the (in the USA) Gamecube only release of Sonic Gems Collection!

Without a Sonic Mega Collection Plus for the Gamecube, my only option was to hunt down a copy for either the PS2 or Xbox. Which just so happened today, at the Goodwill 50% off sale! The original price tag was $5.99, so I only paid $3 for it, so I can't complain. For what I paid, coupled with the additional games and the overall fact that it's genuinely a great product, I don't mind owning this and the Sega Mega Collection for the Gamecube, although I doubt I'll be playing the Gamecube version much from now on, rather I'll be hunting down a Sonic Gems Collection.

That brings me to the fact that I do own most of the Genesis Sonic games in cartridge form, so why would I want to own them again for the PS2? Well I guess it's ease of use. It's easier to pop in a disc to my PS2 and play games I don't own (the Game Gear Sonic games) alongside the games that I do already own. I mean, they're all on the same disc, so why not?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How Minecraft Helped my Anxiety Disorder.

Ah, Minecraft! One of the most popular, addictive and yet despised video games ever created. The time was mid-2012 and I was just starting to try and cope with my anxiety. What originally helped me was watching Minecraft videos on youtube. Youtube was rife with people using Fraps and Minecraft to record little series and wait for the viewers to find them.

After watching a handful of youtubers playing the game, I decided to give it a try myself. The problem was that I was only playing the free version; the old, extremely outdated, free version. After sending some videos to a friend of mine, knowing he would find it as interesting as I did, he actually bought us both a registration ticket for Minecraft. Sweet!

Now I wasn't just wasting hours on watching people playing Minecraft, I too was playing it! The constant element of exploration, the ability to go anywhere, see anything, battle, build and spelunk kept the majority of my anxiety at bay, at least while I was wrapped up in the world of Minecraft. My anxiety disorder was in no way healed or cured, but this was a major contributor to helping me keep my mind off the insanity that was going on inside my head, and inside my head alone.

I dreaded leaving the world of Minecraft, not out of OCD, although that may have been part of the reason, but because when I left my anxiety came tearing down the door of sanity, much the way a Zombie would in Minecraft. My anxiety would just creep up behind me and explode, much the way a Creeper would in Minecraft. All the hissing, negativity, jumping back and forth, coming and going as it pleases, only fighting back when I truly wanted to face my fears and be free, much the same way as the Enderman.

The countless hours turned into a giant man-made island kingdom out in the middle of the sea. It's taken many years, which throughout those years have helps me keep my mind off my anxiety disorder. Building, mining, creating, adventuring, collection and everything else that Minecraft encompasses, it all helped my anxiety, if only for the time I spent playing it. Again, Minecraft is in no way a cure for anything, but it did help me break the tension of anxiety, as well as taking me out of anxiety enough to help me realize this is an internal struggle, not the struggle that anxiety wants me to believe it is. It's a battle with calming the thoughts that anxiety feeds me, rather than believing them and allowing myself to fall into a downward spiral of anxiety.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

My Kalamazoo Model 1

Years ago I picked up a Kalamazoo Model 1 from the Goodwill outlet store. I still haven't plugged it in to test it, mainly because it has an old 2 prong power cable and potentially a "death cap", which could send DC voltage through the chassis and down to me, which I would rather not chance.

Admittedly I'm completely ignorant of tube amps, and amp circuitry in generally, but I really wish that I could replace the power cable myself, as well as remedy any potentially death dealing capacitors. I don't want to screw anything up, yet I can't afford to send this off to a professional and have them send me a bill of more than this thing is really worth, just to have done things I feel I could have studied and done myself. (by which I mean simple soldering)

Being a solid state person I'm ill-prepared to maintain a tube amp, but I'm seriously wanting to get this thing turned on, turned up and listen to what it has to say. The problem is that I did a bit of research and found people on both sides of the fence saying these should be good to go, barring any unforeseen electrical issues, while others will say they should be checked over by a qualified technician to avoid damaging the amp or yourself.

Sure, it's not a Marshall, Gibson, Fender or any other well known vintage amp, and most of these aren't even used for guitar anymore. The Kalamazoo tube amps are now mostly used for mouth harps! I did happen to find one person on youtube who cranked a model 1, and it sounded REALLY nice, which makes me sad that I'm completely ignorant on how to fix this poor thing.

Everything except the end of the power cable looks to be in great shape, just a little bit attic. No black marks, no scary looking missing leads or wires to nowhere, everything looks great! Maybe someday I'll get this thing fixed, but there is such little information on checking and maintaining one of these, even with as popular as they are for harmonica players.

Guilty by association!

With vintage video game collecting becoming an ever increasingly popular hobby, prices seem to fluctuate from day to day. Through rarity, nostalgia, the desire to own something you didn't own when you were younger, or just the sheer desire to own something, people are placing higher and higher values on many different vintage games.

One thing that I've noticed is that sequels seem to be the harder to find, or more highly sought after video games. In many cases, sequels were either better or were released later in the life of any given console, making them harder to find or more desirable. But what happens when the price of the more scarce sequel invades the price of it's more plentiful predecessor?

Two examples I can think of, off the top of my head, are NES Flinstones and Chip n Dale. Without question Flintstones Surprise at Dinosaur Peak is rare, as is Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers 2, but what I see is an ever increasing price tag on their more common cousins. And I believe the reason for that is highly lead by greedy sellers not wanting to pay attention to which one they have and potentially lose money.

As we're all aware video game resellers usually tend to just gloss over what they have and magically come up with a value from various online resources. To the untrained eye an ebay search with Surprise at Dinosaur Peak could make someone believe their Rescue of Dino and Hoppy seem like a gold mine. Sure, from a collector's point we would check and make sure that's what we have, as where a reseller in a rush to make a quick buck wouldn't be so thorough.

Likewise, even as a collector I sometimes get the labels of Chip N Dale 1 and 2 confused. I know they look different, but the purple Capcom design throws me off sometimes. Again, imagine being a foolish reseller or someone just wanting to make a quick buck off their old NES games. The time it takes to nail down exactly what you own is potentially costing you money. If it looks the same, price it and sell it! That's what most resellers do.

Another reason is that perhaps the seller in question doesn't know this is a sequel, or that there is any other version than what they have, so they mistakenly just take for granted that is the correct price. Again, it seems foolish from a collector's point of view, but then again so does the mysterious pricing of resellers, so it kind of makes sense.

I'm not saying the other games aren't good, or even hard to find, but it seems that when there is a small series of games for a vintage system, the rare one always seems to drive up the price of the other game(s). A series like Mega Man stands on it's own, as it was six games long on the NES. The weight of the series seems to be evenly spread throughout all six games. Although they each have their own price, no single copy of Mega Man is $200 while the others float around $20-40, merely because they bear the same name as the expensive one.

Why I love the Nintendo Gameboy

Growing up I was never afforded the allowance to get swept up in the newest and greatest electronic crazes, everything I owned was second hand at best. So when I learned that one of the neighborhood kids was selling his Atari 2600, I quickly starting begging my parents. After they bought it I learned that I had to share the Atari with my sister, who honestly never really connected with it as deeply as I did, but still that meant the system was never fully mine.

It wasn't until a few years later that I received my first brand new, and all my own Nintendo Gameboy for Christmas. Through the following years I slowly started collecting games for the little handheld, as they were cheap and plentiful. By this time most of the kids I knew were already bragging about their Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gears, as nobody really wanted to own the Nintendo Gameboy anymore. I even specifically remember one of the kids in school coming back from Christmas break and saying his mom had bought him NBA Jam TE for the Gameboy, and how much he hated her for getting it for the wrong system.

Needless to say I adored my Gameboy, which lead to countless nights sitting on the couch trying to catch just the right glimpse of light from the hall light, countless hours of sitting by the window at the dinning room table to catch the fading sun. Playing NBA Jam, Kirby's Dreamland, Metroid 2, Madden 95, F1 Race, among other Gameboy classics, until I knew them backwards and forward, and I loved them all. Until one day I threw a major childhood tantrum, smashing the screen on my Gameboy, it was dead... it was gone.

This taught me a very valuable lesson, as I spent months wishing I could play my Gameboy, but through my own childish stupidity I couldn't. I actually had to find other means of entertainment, which mostly ended up being me watching TV. The months went past and yet another Christmas arrived, perhaps this year I would get my own NES, or something to help me forget about my inability to play my Gameboy. What happened was Mom bought me a black "Play it Loud" Gameboy. I was ecstatic, and I knew better than to destroy this beauty!

I was back catching fire in NBA Jam, sucking up enemies in Kirby's Dreamland and rolling around aimlessly in Metroid 2. That is until I bought myself Pokemon Red; to be fair I gave my Mom the money and had her get it from her work, with a slight discount. After acquiring Pokemon Red I almost never put my Gameboy down, I was hooked! A handful of friends and I discussed Pokemon tournaments before Nintendo ever officially said anything about them. We planned them, but never actually held one.

I still clearly remember the joys of owning my very own system, even though it seems nobody other than myself and a small group of friends even wanted to own the Gameboy. I still remember the endless hours of enjoyment, throughout all seasons, weather conditions and all the time I spent just looking into that little green screen, lost within a completely different world.

Then came another addiction: Guitars. About the year 2002 I had been finding so many guitars at pawn stores that I wanted, it forced me to sell off stuff that I no longer had any desire to play, which happened to be video games. One of the first things to go was my entire Gameboy collection. I still regret it to this very day.

As the years have gone by I've acquired a few Gameboy consoles, in various working order, and I've even bought Gameboy Pocket and Color consoles, which I never had before. Even though I own more various Gameboys and games, accessories, etc. for the Gameboy I still regret having sold the collection I once had. Maybe in time it will come back to me, albeit slowly, but just maybe.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Gameboy Color Speaker Repair

After weeks of researching why I wasn't getting any sound from the speaker in my Gameboy Color, I've finally figured it out. The most common answer spewed out haphazardly was to change the speaker, but being the type of person who will test the most common answer as a theory, rather than accept it as fact, I proved that wasn't the case for my particular GBC. When tracking down why your GBC isn't making any sound there are many things to keep in mind. The GBC has many little components within the system that drive the speaker, so for many various reasons your GBC may not have sound. Most of these components will be perfectly fine, but sometimes you'll need to dig a little deeper than thousands of people saying the same thing in the same thread on a forum.

I know my speaker works because I tested it in another GBC, just to be sure that I didn't need to change the speaker. By this point I was fed up with having no sound and I was ready to just bypass the headphones and hardwire the speaker to get any sound from it at all. When I held the speaker wires to the headphone connections on the other side of the board the speaker came to life, which I found a little odd, as I don't believe the headphone jack should be live at this point.

So after a little more poking and fidgeting around, I goofed into figuring out what was ailing my particular GBC. Within the headphone jack of the GBC there is a tiny switch that either opens or closes the electronic signal path to the speaker output. As anytime with metal, sometimes it can corrode or tarnish, as was the case with my GBC. This doesn't allow the switch (simply two pieces of metal) to close properly, sending the signal that should be going to the speaker, instead directly to the headphone jack.

The switch in question is at the bottom right of the jack.
Outlined in red and yellow, these two pieces of metal should make
proper contact to send the sound through the speaker.
As you can see above, red and yellow need to make full contact to send the sound to the speaker. Once a headphone input is submitted, the dark grey bit (above red and to the left of yellow) breaks the connection and sends all the sound through the headphone input instead. As you may also see, the metal is quite dirty and tarnished, as are the connection points inside.

This connection is absolutely minuscule, making it almost impossible to properly clean between the two bits of metal. I tried to slide a tiny flat screwdriver down between the two and scrape away anything I could, without success. Finally what I did was press the one piece (highlighted in red) down with one screwdriver, while pressing up toward the other piece from a small hole on the side of the headphone jack, located just below the connection point.

After a little more tinkering around I finally got sound. Just to be sure it would work I plugged in my headphones, but once I unplugged them the sound was gone again. After a few more attempts of bending the one piece of metal, I finally got a fairly decent connection that would allow me to use headphones as well as the speaker once they were disconnected.

It's not perfect, but it's not something I've ever read online as being a fix for a GBC with no speaker sound. I get tired of the knee-jerk reaction of people on forums just regurgitating things they've seen said, and have possibly been correct, before just to be the first to answer a question. But just because someone has said something is the answer, even with conviction, it's not always the right answer. Test the answer like a theory, don't accept it as fact and keep poking, testing and find the answer yourself.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Gameboy Color Fuse Repair

Of all the Gameboy Colors that I own only one of them gives me any real trouble. The problem child happens to be a green one that I bought from a Salvation Army about 4 years ago. I only paid 59 cents for the damn thing, so even if it never worked at all it was well worth the price I paid if only for use as parts.

Straight away I noticed the GBC would only come to life under battery power, so I quickly went to the internet for a little research. I found that the GBC has two fuses, one for battery power and another for the adapter plug. After bridging the fuse for the adapter port with tweezers the console came to life. All I had to do now was find a fuse. How hard could that be? Well, that happens to be almost impossible.

F1 and F2 (the last being the adapter) fuses marked.
This is how it should look.

Fast forward to when I acquired the GBC board from the outlet store. By this time the original guts from the green unit had been moved to an aftermarket yellow shell and the green shell was about to house the new GBC board. After some testing the board that I bought from the outlet store worked perfectly fine, it just needed a new power switch, which I later "repaired". As time went on the speaker in the yellow GBC stopped working completely! Now not only did this GBC only work off batteries, I could only hear it through headphones!

In an attempt to see why this thing was slowly decaying I swapped the speaker over into the green GBC, where it worked perfectly fine, so I'm assuming it needs the capacitor changed. I quickly became fed up with having two broken units and decided to just make one work completely. I figured it's best to have one completely working and I could figure out the problems with the green one later, or worst case use it for parts only.

After all was said and done the yellow one worked perfectly, yet the poor green one still has the old DMG-esque power switch, no sound and won't work off the DC adapter. What a sad, sad situation this little GBC has become. While I'm not too worried about the state of the switch, I do need this thing to at least make sound, and I surely would prefer it to work off both power options! With hope quickly slipping away I decided to take this thing apart one more time and see if there was any engineering I could do for it.

I had previous removed the blown fuse and decided I would just move the good fuse over so that I could use the adapter and bridge the connection to use batteries, as I feel using batteries would have a much lower likelihood to blow up the GBC without a fuse than a power adapter. After doing so I noticed the GBC wouldn't work at all. I checked the continuity and everything seemed to be fine, but for some reason the system still refuses to work off a power adapter. I knew it would work, like it did with the tweezers, so I was completely stumped and returned the fuse back to it's battery space and made sure it worked there, which it did.

After a bit of thinking I just decided I would err on the side of caution and not bridge the gap for the power adapter, instead I would piggyback off the battery fuse by soldering wires from the correct spots where the adapter fuse was and onto the sides of the battery fuse. After painstakingly, and half-heartedly, setting up the wires I plugged in the power adapter, hit the switch and hoped for the best. The GBC came to life! It was alive through the power adapter once more!

Not the most beautiful, but it works!

Now I know this isn't an ideal repair, but it does work. Ideally I would love to find a perfect replacement fuse to solder in and be perfectly safe, but if the power adapter has any issue now at least there is some form of fuse to stop it from killing the system. I do know, through a few other sets of GBC boards, that the fuse is a 1 amp, other than that I have no clue what else to search for, so I have no clue how to acquire another fuse like it needs.

Again, it's not an ideal repair, but it works. In the end this Gameboy Color has been repaired in so many different ways, but it keeps on ticking. I would love to get it fully repaired, but the fuse, and especially an OEM switch, just aren't anywhere on the market, that I can find. Worst case I'll use it until it pops, but until that day I'll keep patching it together like an old, forlorn teddy bear.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Peep Show

Late one night, many years ago, BBC America happened to air a pair of episodes from a TV series I had never seen before, nor have they shown since, to my knowledge. That show was Peep Show, starring David Mitchell and Robert Webb. I had become well aware of these two British comedians from their slightly more popular show, which BBC America seemed to like better, That Mitchell and Webb Look. I had seen, maybe, a dozen or so episodes of That Mitchell and Webb Look and I liked it quite a bit, so the comedy pairing of David Mitchell and Robert Webb was already a good thing, within my mind.

It wasn't until a few years later, while doing a full marathon of That Mitchell and Webb Look as well as The Mitchell and Webb Situation, that I decided to give Peep Show a proper try. Sadly, I must confess, my only access to any of these shows was solely through uploads I found on Youtube. So on a cold and anxiety filled night of December 25 2012 I laid in my bed with my laptop and watched as many episodes as I possibly could.

From the very start I was hooked. The show was shot in a very unique, interactive perspective of a first person view, which brought an interesting dynamic to the show. Sadly I found myself heavily connecting with David Mitchell's character, Mark Corrigan, who was very neurotic and seemed to share many of the same character traits as I had acquired through my anxiety.

Paired with his irresponsible flatmate, Jeremy Usborne, the show took me through an amazing adventure that seemed to hit far too close to home for it's own good. The experiences of life's ups and downs and twists and turns, paired with very solid writing and acting. Peep Show quickly became a series I wanted to see more of. Little did I know, the series had literally just finished up season 8 (December 24, 2012).

With a large gap between seasons 3, 4 as well as 7 and 8, I wasn't sure when I may see new episodes of what had quickly become one of my favorite TV shows of all time. Weeks passed as I rewatched episodes, in 10 minute chunks on Youtube, and soon I tired and decided to turn my interests to something else. But soon my love for the show was renewed as I found that it was on Netflix, without all the stupid clicking and waiting.

Now here is where this takes a little bit of a funny turn. I'm sure I may have mentioned, once or twice, that I'm quite a fan of Chinese pirated Famicom games, as well as their Famiclone consoles. Well, we all know China are the masters of piracy, and not even Peep Show has been spared!

One day (while at the outlet store, seriously!) I happened across what I thought was just a normal, region 2 DVD of season two. Upon closer inspection I noticed there was quite a bit of Asian characters on it (sorry that I can't distinguish between different Asian writing). Knowing that none of the Asian countries were withing region 2 DVD territory, I automatically assumed this was a Chinese pirated DVD.

Regardless of whether I'd ever be able to use it, I picked it up as a simple novelty, just to say I own it. But this tale gets even weirder. You see, for some reason whoever pirated this DVD didn't seem to like Olivia Coleman, so they replaced all her artwork on the DVD with Kylie Minogue. Yes, you read that correctly! Not only is this a pirated DVD, but they removed all traced of Olivia Coleman and replaced her with Kylie Minogue, at least on the artwork.



They even tried to sex up the front logo, by adding a suggestively nude lady to the Peep Show within the eye.

Again, this is region 2 and since I don't have a player, and don't feel like changing regions on my computer's DVD drive, I'll probably never get to use this DVD. I just find it to be a neat little novelty for a show that I really like. With Netflix I won't need the DVD anyway, at least until Netflix pulls a bitch fit and decided to bring it down for no reason.

My History with the GTA series. Part 5: GTA 4: The Next Generation!

When I heard Grand Theft Auto 4 was approaching I was filled with hope and wonder, remembering just how amazing the first three were and imagining how much better the fourth would be on the new hardware. When I heard they were distancing themselves from the first three games, as their own universe, I was filled with trepidation and disappointment. I imagine my reaction was just like anyone else who had spent countless hours on the first three games, because when the last gen games peaked with San Andreas, the franchise had become such an amazing and diverse game.

I was hoping they would sustain the level of wonder and exploration that made San Andreas such an amazing game and expand up it, albeit in a much brighter and better looking world. I wanted to roam aimlessly in a larger, more living, vibrant city that made me feel as if I were truly walking within an inhabited city, rather than a cold, empty environment. Well, they did make it a much brighter and better looking world, but GTA 4 was destined to become a bitter sweet stain on my GTA gaming history.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed GTA 4. The protagonist was humorous, the supporting characters were humorous, but the main attraction, cars, were completely and utterly underwhelming. GTA looked more realistic than it had ever before, and rightfully so, but I also feel as if Rockstar tried to push a more realistic angle that just shouldn't have been in the game. Cars would swing and sway through corners at high speed, and understeer was a major factor in getting anywhere, even at low speeds. But the bustling city landscape and environment lived and breathed as if it were truly a city.

Many new additions made the game it's own, yet I still felt that it was lacking so much that Rockstar had built up to in the previous installments. GTA 4 started a new era, a new story line, but no matter what, we were still influenced by the previous three games we had played, and hoped GTA 4 would encompass some of those things, and not just start all over again. GTA 4 brought new characters, new story lines, new inside jokes, all of which, I'm sure, most GTA fans truly wished were in addition to what we were already accustom to.

Now I know I keep bitching and complaining that GTA 4 was such a large change from San Andreas, but I do understand that it was a smart move for Rockstar and the GTA franchise itself. Admittedly it was really getting stale to keep seeing Kent Paul and  Ken Rosenberg popping up and having a panic attack over getting himself into shady business deals he should have learned from 10 years ago. But from what I see with GTA 5, it seems as if they've left almost all of that behind, with merely 1 link from GTA 4 even in GTA 5. Which is something I believe I'll miss once I get a chance to play through GTA 5.

One good thing about GTA 4 being on the new hardware was, of course, DLC. When I originally heard about it, I thought Rockstar was going to release countless updates that we could endlessly download and keep GTA 4 fresh and new. The sad truth was that we only got two; The Ballad of Gay Tony and The Lost and Damned, after that it seemed as if Rockstar had abandoned their child to fend for itself in a harmful, unforgiving world. Even the ability to play online didn't seem to appeal to people enough to keep GTA 4 alive.

Since I prefer to own a physical copy of video games, I bought Episodes from Liberty City and finally got my chance to play both DLC packs. To be honest, they're not bad. Vehicle controls seemed to be slightly tightened up and even more vehicles were added. A pair of short, interwoven episodes of characters that we didn't even really notice while playing the Niko campaign now reveal the other side of the shady business ventures Niko happened to get himself into. Which was actually quite an interesting thing: to take control of a completely different view point of the same mission.

Overall GTA 4 brought GTA back on the map, but not nearly as long as the previous installments did. Sure GTA 4 did well and was a massively better looking game than the previous "universe", but GTA 4 is, to me, a clear sign that brighter and more beautiful isn't always the better option. GTA 4 became stale very quickly and although it did spoil me away from playing San Andreas, which I love with a passion, GTA 4 simply will never and can never make me invest as much time in it as I did San Andreas.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Weekend pick ups!

Today Goodwill had their monthly 50% off sale and I decided to get out and try to find a few things I'd passed up on my birthday week. Sadly I only went to one of the two stores I was wanting to go to, but I did indeed pick up what I had passed up a few weeks ago! The other store had a weird Sega Genesis controller I'd never seen before, but I'll just have to make an excuse to go there and see if it's 50% off (or still there) some other time. Today I happened to pick up three things, not much but still better than not picking up anything at all!

First up I bought something on impulse. I'm not a huge fan of strategy guides, to be honest, but I do find them interesting to thumb through for the artwork. Sometimes they can be helpful but for the most part a simple FAQ/Walkthrough online helps me out when I need it. Since this was only 50 cents, and one of my favorite games, I decided to go ahead and pick it up anyway.

Fable Strategy Guide - $.50

Next up is a rather interesting chance encounter. I was looking around the glassware shelves when I came across this little guy sitting there all by his lonesome. I hoped there would be more but this was the only one I could find. I knew this was worth well more than even full price, but half price is always better!

Fire Emblem GBA - $.50

And finally an item I originally saw on my birthday and decided to pass it up, but quickly kicked myself for doing so. I've had an Intec rechargeable battery pack for years, which can be recharged via cable or through the charging dock, but I could never find the charging dock until this one. It's pink, but I've actually been looking for the transparent pink GBA variant to add to my collection anyway. Regardless I think the half off price was worth paying, since it does work.

Intec Power Station - $2.50

Oddly enough I found the matching battery pack for the Power Station at another Goodwill store, but the latch was broken and even at 50% off I just couldn't use it. The battery I do have is indigo, but it still charged in the base the exact same. Overall I wish I had found more, but I walked away spending about $4 total for all three items and I had a good day outside of my room.