Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Gran Turismo Retrospective!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Micro Machines: I Miss Them!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Era of Farming Sims.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Why I'm ok with Greatest Hits Video Games.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

Quick and Dirty DIY Footswitch [UPDATE]

Since the original posting of this entry I have found both an angled cable and a much higher quality switch and installed them both. This has been quite a few months ago, but I'm only just now getting around to updating the post. Laziness!

Regardless the plastic switch just wasn't going to cut it, even for bedroom usage, it was just too weak. The original cable I used wasn't going to work because it stuck out like a sore thumb, and the angled cable is much better looking and out of the way.

I'm pretty happy with the end results, with the exception that there is still a big hole in the pedal. Since the primary function is to switch between the channels, and it does that, I can't really complain about a homemade pedal that cost me around $2 total.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Saving a 2GB Flash Drive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Nintendo DS Boy Advance Tutorial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 20, 2017

My experience with guitar technology.

When I started playing guitar it was a very archaic time. Sure, there were tons of cool gadgets for guitarists, but if you weren't a touring guitarist you were mostly stuck with a solid state Crate or Peavey buzzing at any volume, AND YOU LOVED IT! Fizzy, shitty, buzzy tone was all the rage in the mid-90's, all thanks to the grunge era where tone didn't matter, tuning your guitar didn't matter, hell knowing how to play didn't matter!

It wasn't until the early 2000's that I really started to seek out something better than my Crate GX-30M. I don't mean a better amp, because to me my Crate combo was the best amp I could have at that time. The GX-30M would remain my baby for many years to come, but eventually I did sell it off and upgrade, at least I think so.

Before I sold the Crate I decided to try and make it sound better, so I bought a Zoom 510 Distortion processor. Originally I wanted a Danelectro Black Coffee mini pedal, but I couldn't find a store that stocked them, and I found the Zoom 510 on ebay for the same price, but it seemingly offered so much more! The Zoom 510 was chock-full of buzzy, fizzy and shitty tones for me to explore, and I absolutely adored it!

Eventually I bought a Boss GE-7 to help shape the tone overall, but the fact remained I was still using a Crate GX-30M with a Zoom 510, there was no way to make it sound any better than it did, or even remotely good. The signal chain was my guitar plugged into the 510, to the GE-7, to the GX-30M, which made me feel like a rock star. I could sound as good or as shitty as I wanted, again mostly shitty.

After having so much fun with the Zoom 510 I decided it was time for me to find another processor to fiddle around with. Would it be a Digitech? Would it be a Zoom 707, which I have always wanted because of the expression pedal, and truth be told I still want one! No, it was a rare blue Zoom 505.

The Zoom 505 was the standard Zoom processor and it offered more than just distortion. I could add chorus, flange, delay and all kinds of goodies to my already horrible tone! HUZZAH! The signal chain now was my 510, for distortion, into the 505 for other effects, into the GE-7 to level it all out and onto the amp. I truly felt like I was a touring guitarist with all this gear, I dared to even call it my rig, which was a bold overstatement.

At this point in my life I had the Crate GX-30M and I had a Crate G600XL head with my brother's Crate 2x12 cabinet. With all the gadgets cluttering up my space I decided it was time to clearance everything and consolidate. This was especially spurred on by the fact that my Zoom 505 was growing ever more finicky and deciding on its own when it wanted to work, which was mostly never.

When he let me borrow his 2x12 cabinet, my brother had been bragging about picking up a Line 6 Flextone 3, which to me sounded like a great option. I too wanted to have all the most popular amp tones of at my finger tips, and be able to quickly and "accurately" switch from a Fender Deluxe to a Soldano SLO-100 all by simply turning a knob. After all, I had just come from a Zoom 510 and 505 setup where I could quickly and easily change my distortion and effects within seconds.

After selling off everything, except the Crate G600XL which I gave away, I went to work on finding out what I could afford and what offered the most bang for my buck. After all was said and done I had narrowed my choices down to the brand new Spider 2 HD. Still reeling from the fact that I didn't get all the cash I expected from the stuff I sold, and heavily regretting selling my Boss GE-7, I walked into Guitar Center on Super Bowl Sunday 2006 and sought out the Spider 2 HDs.

Strangely, both Spider 2 HDs they just pulled out of their boxes, right in front of me, decided neither of them wanted to work, so I was forced to look elsewhere. Behind the counter sat a used Line 6 Flextone 3, like my brother's, which they said just came in and could not be sold for 2 more weeks. My brother tried to persuade them to let me try the amp, but the salesman kept saying no. I think my brother really wanted me to have the same amp as him.

After walking around the store I found a Line 6 Flextone HD that really piqued my interest. With a Jackson Dinky and a Peavey 5150 speaker cabinet I tested the Flextone HD, falling in love with it almost immediately. I wasn't worried about the overall tonality, I was more overjoyed with the familiarity of having so many options in one place, and was more so infatuated with the idea of what I could do with this amp. I walked in wanting a Spider HD but walked out with a Flextone HD on layaway.

The following years were filled with happiness, actually. I've had quite a good time with my Flextone HD, even going so far as to buy the long floorboard to unlock more options and a Mesa Boogie 4x12 cabinet so that it sounds the best it possibly can. And even though I didn't get a Flextone 3 like my brother, he did end up buying a Flextone HD like mine. This, however, is not the end of the story, as with technology being ever-changing I've had a few chances to see what the modern age of guitar amps/simulation has to offer.

So far you know I'm perfectly happy with digitally modeled guitar amp simulation, but even though I still love my amp, that's almost 20 years old, modern amp simulation has really taken a hold and become less expensive, far more accurate and easily obtained. My first experience with modern guitar amp simulation is when I found an Amplitube Stealthplug at the Goodwill outlet store. I was quite impressed with the way everything sounded but didn't feel like being nickled and dimed to add a tube screamer or a new amp to my options, so I quickly uninstalled Amplitube and packed the Steathplug away.

Most recently I picked up a Fender Mustang Mini from the outlet store for $8. I knew it was a more modern modeling amp, but I still wasn't completely sure of how it worked. Once I got it home and plugged it into my computer, after having installed the required software, I was completely blown away by what I was experiencing.

Which the aid of an Amplitube style program I was fine tuning the amps from my computer in real time. The Mustang Mini has a 6.5" speaker, so the tones clearly aren't going to be the greatest, but for a practice amp this thing is absolutely amazing to me. I can upload, download and fine tune presets and take the battery powered beast anywhere I want. Fender offers a website for the community to submit all their settings, most of which are horrible but I still find it extremely enjoyable to download and give them a try, before ultimately deleting them and downloading more.

I'm sure I'm still far behind the times in terms of being on the cusp of amp simulation technology, but even so I'm really excited to have what I have. I still enjoy my Flextone HD, but I can only imagine what a Fender Mustang HD would sound like through my Mesa 4x12. Maybe in the future I'll acquire one, but for now I've got a half stack for bedroom jams and the Fender Mustang Mini for everywhere else. These are all I feel I'll ever need, currently. What an amazing time to be a guitar player!

Monday, June 19, 2017

Tablet Shootout!

A few years ago my mother gave me her first gen Kindle Fire, after she found a really good deal on an HP tablet. Up to this point I was a PC or laptop person, I had never used a smart phone or a tablet for any extended period of time. I find getting new electronic devices extremely exciting, but since it's a Kindle Fire that excitement was quickly quelled. Perhaps I could say that fire was extinguished? It's my blog and I'll make stupid jokes if I want!

The first things I noticed about the Kindle Fire were that I was locked to their browser, no Firefox or Chrome for me, just some lame, cut-rate browser that worked OK. Secondly I was greeted by the absolutely abysmal app store Amazon offers. Many apps I wanted just weren't available and I'm assuming never would be, without rooting the device.

Not wanting to take a risk and root the damn thing I trudged on with the tablet, hey at least I had one. As the excitement waned I just let the thing sit on its own and didn't touch it for weeks on end. The few apps I had grown attachment to were now abandoned, based solely upon the performance of the device and not the quality of the app itself.

Eventually the Kindle Fire would become a thing of the past, all thanks to a tablet that isn't built anywhere near as well as the Kindle Fire. I present to you the Apex Solo 7i, a tablet that truly feels like it might fall apart in your hands. At least this one is full Android, and not a truncated version controlled by an online shopping website.

The Apex was yet another amazing find at the outlet store, but it didn't come in perfect shape. A few scratched here and there, but overall the tablet is in working order and is actually quite nice. Quickly, even despite it's build quality, the Apex has become my tablet of choice over the Kindle.

The Apex Solo 7i runs Android KitKat, meaning I can access the Google Play store and download any friggin app I want! The screen is quite vibrant but shows how cheap it is when trying to view it from most angles that aren't straight ahead. There are both front and rear facing cameras, although they're such low rez they're absolutely useless, but the option is nice, and the tablet allows for Bluetooth connectivity.

To sum up the Apex's faults I would say the build quality is pretty lacking, the screen isn't great from all angles, the battery seems to be moderate, but not great, and anytime I watch videos on anything above 480p the tablet absolutely craps itself, although so did the Kindle Fire.

Where the Kindle Fire made up in build quality it completely lacks in functionality, usefulness and overall desire to use the damn thing. If you want a tablet strictly for watching videos on the go, or you don't need a large library of games, the Kindle Fire might be worth picking up used, although the newer versions have to be better and they're actually quite cheap these days.

Where the Apex Solo seems like an extremely cheap piece of junk, it's actually quite a good little tablet. Admittedly I've accidentally dropped the thing a few times and it seems more sturdy than I originally thought, although I wouldn't drop it from great heights onto hard surfaces. Since the Apex is running KitKat it's limitations, thus far, are few and far between. There are so many apps, browsers, etc. that I can use it's almost limitless.

Is the Apex Solo 7i better than the first generation Kindle Fire? Simply based on how useful it is, yes! Leaps and bounds yes! The Kindle Fire might have been an amazing little tablet, had it not been restricted so ludicrously by Amazon. Even so, I used the heck out of the Kindle until I realized there was a much larger and better world out there, a world ran by Android.

Monday, May 8, 2017

This Town Ain't Big Enough Fer the Two of Us: Gun vs Red Dead Revolver!

At the height of its popularity Red Dead Redemption was a household name. The idea of mixing GTA and the Wild West was a great idea, but had it been done before Red Dead Redemption? Well, not as well as Redemption, but to a much lesser extent it was attempted at least twice, with Red Dead Revolver and Gun.

Back when Redemption was still on the tongues, minds and consoles of video game fans, I was busy trying to find a copy of Red Dead Revolver. When I did find a copy I was fully expecting to see a GTA San Andreas style Western game; I mean for fuck sake when Red Dead Revolver came out Rockstar already had GTA 3 and Vice City under their belts, with San Andreas just around the corner.

The elation I felt for having a copy of what I thought was going to be an open world thrill ride through the wild west was quickly and painfully dashed, slashed and left out in the sun to rot. With Revolver being cut up into chapters I quickly realized that in the year 2006 (when I bought the game), I had played NES games that were more open world than this game. It was nothing more than mini games setup as missions/chapters, all themed the same and mashed together in some form of coherency.

I gave it a good go, hoping that at some point the game would open up and I would be free to decide whether I was a law abiding citizen, or become a legendary outlaw of the old west. Soon it became painfully obvious that no matter how far I progressed through the game, the only freedom I had was roaming through one town, choosing a mission and being placed within that mission until I succeeded, only to be placed right back into the town to pick another mission. Disappointed I eventually gave up on the game and put it back on the shelf, in hopes it would disappear.

Years went by and I still didn't have Red Dead Redemption, but I was still on the hunt for an Xbox era equivalent. This is when Gun was brought to my attention. I was familiar with the box art and the name, but I hadn't the slightest clue what the game was. After watching a few Let's Plays and reading some reviews, my childlike wonderment was renewed! Gun was the game that was going to send me into the wild, gun-toting west and allow me to decide whether or not I was going to be a law abiding citizen, or a lawless madman with a lust for killing.

For the first few missions of Gun I was sorely disappointed, yet again. The game opens up with the main character and who we assumed to be his father hunting to earn their survival. Suddenly things take a turn for the worse and the game throws you into a mission. Once that mission is over it throws you back into the game, all of which has been a tiny little map. It all felt too much like Red Dead Revolver so far, and I was quickly growing impatient.

Persevering along through a few more missions and I was allowed to ride a horse into a new town. Now this felt like the game was opening up, but still the map wasn't very big, it still felt very small and mission based. Eventually I reached another town, where the whole map was unlocked, after a handful more missions. It's not the Red Dead Redemption feel I was looking for, but this was leaps and bounds more freedom than Revolver ever afforded.

After each mission you are given a screen that tells you what upgrades you've gotten, which still feels too mission driven, but you're, essentially, dropped right back where you were before the mission started, making it feel less like the game is picking you up and dropping you off everywhere you go. Once I got past the painful first few missions of Gun, it truly opened up and made me feel like I could do whatever I wanted. Sure, it's still restrictive, it's nowhere near as free or as good as Redemption (even though I've never played it, I know it's better than Gun), but Gun is a really good western style game that I feel earns the badge of open world game.

Gun didn't exceed my expectations, but it sure as hell beats Red Dead Revolver out of the water. The end boss fight is quite frustrating if you walk into it without being properly prepared, but the overall game is fun. Even after you complete the main story missions there are a handful of things to do, not many but there are some. If this was a wild western showdown I would fully expect Gun to blow Red Dead Revolver away before it could even draw its pistol. No contest, Gun is the winner.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Once Bitten: Snakebyte PS3 Wired Controller Review

As a thrift store shopper I have a fairly unique opportunity to find cheap electronics and give them a thorough testing. Sometimes these electronics are good and sometimes they're bad. In the case of the Snakebyte wired PS3 controller I can't say that it's good, but I wouldn't write it off as being completely bad either. The Snakebyte wired PS3 controller just kind of... exists.

My original intent was to use the controller as a PC controller, which you absolutely can do. I saw it as a wired Dualshock style controller and figured I would give it a chance. The fact that it works on PC is great! It's simply just a plug and play scenario where you plug it in, Windows finds the drivers automatically, and without hassle, then you configure it through whatever game you wish to play. It's truly that simple.

Though I may praise it's simplicity in connectivity to the PC, the Snakebyte isn't without its flaws. All of the action buttons are analog, which I found quite surprising, but the particular nightmare here are the should buttons. Sometimes the weirdly designed L2 and R2 buttons don't register and even though they are analog it's far less sensitive than the official Dualshock 3. Whatever they were thinking when they decided to design them differently from the Dualshock 3 triggers, I don't know, but in either case these L2 and R2 buttons are this controller major downfall.

Another issue you may find with the controller, albeit not as bad as my previous gripe, is the analog sticks. Firstly the texture on them is very shallow and harder than the rubber on the Dualshock 3, making them much more difficult to keep your thumbs on. Secondly is the dead zone which feels like you could fit a complete Dualshock 3 controller in. This makes precision use of the analog sticks nearly impossible.

The overall build quality is decent with a firm and rigid plastic shell. The design takes a slight departure from the standard Dualshock form factor and offers elongated handles that I don't care very much for nor do I find very comfortable, but it's not horrible. The controller also offers customizable turbo functionality, while also including a clear function to undo turbo assignment. Finally the cable seems to be quite a long one; no complaints about having to sit right beside the console while using this controller.

My final verdict on the Snakebyte wired PS3 controller is this: if you need a cheap PC controller I'm sure there are better ones out there, but if you can pick this thing up for a couple bucks on clearance or in good, used condition it may suit what you need. If you need a cheap PS3 controller then you may want to follow the same advice. I'm sure there are cheaper, better PS3 controllers, wired and not, out there.

If I'm playing a game where precision isn't a necessity the Snakebyte controller is useful, otherwise not so much. I've played Fallout and Skyrim with the Snakebyte and I've done just fine, but as far as racing games, where the analog really is required, the controller falls flat. 

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Making Connections and Persistence Pays Off!

All the way back in the year 2010, yes when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I started my hardcore video game collecting. I had always collected video games on the odd occasion, but it was that year that I decided to make it a full on pastime. Along the journey I made friends at most of the thrift stores, as well as a handful of enemies, all of whom were employees of those stores.

From assistant managers who helped me find games from stock that had just come in, to managers who hated me because they didn't understand why I wanted them to change the price of common NES games from $20 to a more reasonable $3. Many fights were had, but mostly the visits to thrift stores were filled with either overjoyed scores or empty handed defeats, both of which were all part of the hobby.

One such occasion of being nice to store employees paying dividends I walked in on an assistant manager, whom I often spoke with, trying to get a Nintendo Gamecube to work because the lid wouldn't shut. Fearing the console was doomed to be trashed, I threw out the an offered of $5 (to my recollection), which he accepted. For a product he thought was trash his store was now $5 richer, and for about 15 minutes of work I gained a perfectly good Nintendo Gamecube, complete with power and video connectors.

I was also given steep discounts on items that just sat in the store, or display case, for extended periods of time. Eight NES controllers for 80 cents (total for all 8), SNES games at 25 cents each, a shoe box full of Atari 2600 games for $3, the list goes on and on. Sometimes the employees would even try to hold things back for me, and the manager would always put things out behind their backs. Although their efforts were appreciated I wouldn't want to score things this was, I prefer the thrill of finding the items on the shelves myself.

Salvation Army used to have a bric-a-brac section atop all of their clothes racks, which often yielded goodies such as a Gameboy Color for 59 cents, countless N64 games for 39 cents, among many other things. The perk of frequently going to the same places, regardless of finding anything or not, was that the employees saw me and knew I was in there quite often; even if we didn't build up a personal report they knew who I was. This meant when one Salvation Army store was given someone's nearly entire NES collection, I had a bargaining chip to get the games even cheaper.

The year was 2011 and the selection was vast! Someone had taken very good care of their NES games and I would say nearly all of them had their manuals and were kept exceedingly clean inside black Nintendo game sleeves. I knew I couldn't afford all the games I wanted at the price they were asking, which was only $3, so I went to the manager and asked him for a discount. He recognized me, although we had never spoken before, and after explaining that I usually find games for anywhere from 39 cents to $1 he told me that if I bought more than 10 I could get them for $1 each. SCORE!!

I quickly shoveled about 20 NES games off the shelves and into a cart. Back then I didn't have the ability to quickly and easily verify what games were worth what, nor did I have the ability to readily remember which ones I already had, so I had to go on instinct. Along some enjoyable filler titles like Donkey Kong Jr. and Popeye, I picked up Ninja Gaiden 3 with its manual as well as Chip n Dale's Rescue Rangers 2, also with its manual. All for $1 each, in mint condition and with a pristine Nintendo game sleeve.

Another case was at another Salvation Army store, where I saw a box with an N64 and PSone console and various video game things inside without any prices on anything within the box. After asking an employee, she quickly called over the manager, and after a short haggle I ended up getting the box full of video game goodness for $10. This would turn out to be my modded PSone, that I had no clue was modded at the time, as well as give me my copy of Mario Kart 64, which I played the hell out of for the following few months,

However, further interactions with that same manager didn't go as smoothly as this occasion. There was a time I asked him about a bare bones SNES console sitting in the electronics section of the store the was priced at $30, which I thought the price of the week made it 50% off. Without even looking at the price tag he wanted to charge me $50! Needless to say I walked out empty handed, laughing that he had raised the price $20 without even looking at the price right on the item itself.

The moral of the story here is to be friendly and build those connections. Of course you're not going to be the only one using this tactic, but stay persistent and eventually you'll have the edge. Nothing is more important than being kind, courteous, persistent and frequenting those places, being seen buying the things you're after and maybe even without your input employees will start to help you find those things as well.

Monday, February 6, 2017

When Two Become One, and the Leftovers Become Something Else.

Recently I found a rather beaten and worn Nintendo DS. The poor thing looks like it's been through a war, and it may have, but the strange thing is that the hinge is still completely intact. Once I got it home I plugged it in and let it sit for a good, long charge. After it was all good to go I immediately noticed that a few things weren't quite right.

The first thing that was wrong was the touch screen; there was a deep gouge running nearly the complete height of the touch screen, which caused the touch screen to not work properly, nor could I calibrate it. Luckily the only thing affected was the touch screen, the actual display screen was in perfect condition. The top screen looked great, until I noticed 2 black lines that only appeared when the back light was on. I turned the back light off and applied light from the front and the lines simply aren't there. I'm going to assume this is repairable as I'm pretty certain this isn't a fault with the screen itself, rather something between the back light and the screen.

So what am I going to do with this poor thing? I'm going to take the best parts from it and another original DS that I bought years ago (which had a broken hinge) and make a decent, working original DS. After taking them both apart and putting the best of the best within the housing with the good hinge, I finally have a working original DS with a working hinge. By the way, the plastic on the original DS has not aged well. On both consoles I found it to be quite brittle, which is sad and makes me not want to use it out of fear of it breaking, but oh well!

Once everything was said and done I had a pile of leftover parts. What am I going to do with them? Well, years ago an article circulated the internet about someone who converted an original DS into a back lit GBA. That's it! That's what I'll do with the spare parts.

The only real issue here is fitting a resistor beside the Start and Select pads, and making sure there is enough clearance for the whole shell to close up again. The resistor is needed so that the system will allow itself to turn on without the top screen being attached. I was too excited to really take any inner photos or do a tutorial on this, but I may in the future as modding the original DS to be a GBA isn't as well documented as the DS Lite mod. I prefer the original because the GBA games fit flush, unlike the DS Lite where the games hang out slightly.

Mine currently doesn't have speakers, but headphones are just as good. I'll figure out where to mount the speakers and get them all wired up sometime, but for now having a working GBA with a decent, but not great, back lit screen is pretty neat.