Retropie update

I planned on writing about what i did with the Retropie but my head wasn’t in the (video) game.
So here is a short update.

I got the SFC30 controller from 8bitdo. But since the Bluetooth adapter that is integrated in the Rapsberry Pi3 freezes the system every time it looks for devices to connect. (sorry for the clutter and image quality)

8bitdo SFC30
Next thing i got was a screen to hook the Retropie up to.

Screen

My brother and i are currently looking to get a weekend off to spend on reliving our glorious Nintendo World Cup days.

That is a thing i experienced with a lot of people i talked about the project; a rekindling of the joy they experienced with these games.

Other things that need attendance are:

  • Hook up a USB soundcard since i currently can’t use a bluetooth speaker.
  • Get rid of the two power-supplies needed to power the Raspberry Pi and the monitor, and replace it with one that also features a USB charging port.
  • Building a case to mount the Raspberry Pi and a USB-hub to the backside of the monitor’s case.

If you have a tip or case idea or just want to talk about old video games and contact me at heliocentricbs@gmail.com

Retropie Controller update

This controller from Buffalo arrived yesterday.
The form and colouring resembles those found on the original Famicon[1], the console that is the base for what became Nintendo’s NES in the west.

Here is it in its packaging. Like with the SNES controller, i dig the box.

Famicon Controller Boxed

And here it is by itself.

Famicon Controller Unboxed

A reviewer on a popular online shop wrote, that he almost cried when he took this controller into his hands for the first time; and i must admit that i can relate to that. While it did not manage to press tears out of me, it brought up the memories of me and my brother playing soccer games together. Good times.

This controller features four extra buttons, two above the regular ones als well as two shoulder buttons in the small frame that rounds around the case.
Since my Famicon/NES days, my hands grew a bit larger and playing isn’t as comfortable as i think i remember it.

Frankly, i’d rather have this version without the extra four buttons over this one.

If you’re not a slave of nostalgia as i am, stay with the SNES version of Buffalo’s controllers, i’ll probably present it on a shelf and moan about my brother and me selling of our Famicon to cheap.

I’ve got a 8bitdo controller on the way to take things to the wireless level.

[1] Gamekun has a list of differences between the Famicon and NES controller

Please share your experiences with the Retropie or classic games with me in the comments or via e-mail at heliocentricbs@gmail.com

an alternative to the Nintendo Classic Mini

In the wake of the presentation of the Nintendo Switch, i thought it would be fitting to share a little thing i did with you.

Lets start this with a story: I had a Nintendo Classic Mini on pre-order. I was assured that they already overordered and there is no way Nintendo won’t produce enough. And with the vouchers i had from left from a birthday, it would have cost me 20 bucks less, which i wanted to invest in a second controller. Know what i did instead? Cancelled the pre-order and used the the coupon to get a couple of components to build a prototype for a new chain-hoist control box. I was to lazy to walk to the next cash machine that dsy. “There’s no way Nintendo won’t produce enough units, right? Those things will become stuffing material.” was my reasoning.
How wrong i was.
When i went there on release day the whole chain of stores had received ten units, which were sold as soon as their front door was unlocked.
And there are several people who share a similar story like this one.

Here is an alternative to spending ridiculous sums of money on the secondary market: use a Raspberry Pi and run Retropie on it.

Raspberry Pi 3

Recently i was reminded that i had a Raspberry Pi as part of a project at work that got dropped. I had tinkered around with it since then, used it as solar powered data server, mined some bitcoins[1], used it as a hardware firewall and a media center.
Until i listened to the end of the year episode of the Spieleveteranen[2] podcast. They guys are enamored by Nintendo’s nostalgia engine but pointed the listener towards Retropie[3], an emulator platform.

The thing emulates a lot of systems[4], even the Atari Jaguar[5] and the 3DO[5].

Setting the whole thing up was easy, documentation is neat and easy to follow. You don’t have to spend any time with using Terminal because every option can be accessed and altered via a menu.

I hooked up an XBox controller and it works fine, although i’m contemplating to get a controller from 8bitdo[6].

Now, getting the ROMs, rips of the read-only-memory of the old game cartridges, is tricky. I had the fortune of having attended a technical college were almost all of my co-students were video game enthusiasts, therefore we made backup copies of our games to play with the emulators we had installed on the computers at school. Today one could use a Retrode[7] adapter to make legal copies of his SNES/Super Famicon and Mega Drive/Sega Genesis games.

So far i played Mega Man X, Super Star Wars and The Adventures Of Batman & Robin and realized that, while i still know them like the back of my hand, my reflexes aren’t as good anymore.
Probably because i’m not using a proper controller.

Next step is getting a small screen and put it and the Raspberry Pi into a case to make it a sort of “Retro Nintendo Switch”. I’ll keep you in the loop.

[Controller update]
I picked up this controller from Buffalo because it seems like it manages to capture the feeling of the original the most.

Buffalo Classic USB Gamepad

What makes it stand out for me is the box it came in. Japenese packages have this special flair about them because they try to keep the footprint as small as possible. It’s a shame we did not get the Super Nintendo games in their native packaging instead of the black boxes with the smaller artwork and big red logo.

Buffalo Gamepad Box

Have fun building your own Retropie! And if you do, please tell me about your favourite classic games and why they enamored you.

[1] rather bitcents, are they called satoshi?
[2] Link Spieleveteranen Podcast
[3] link Retropie
[4] link List of supported Systems
[5] Things we thought would win the next gen battle back in the days.
[6] link 8bitdo
[7] link Retrode

let’s settle this! Santa Claus vs. Penguin

A battle that won’t likely happen on the plane of reality we are inhabiting, because Santa Claus is a guise behind which parents hide with the excuse of keeping the world a magical place for their offspring and Penguins don’t usually come by the north pole.
But thanks to the people at Brilliant Game Studios we get to witness what it could look like if 4000 magically enhanced product distributers came into conflict with 11000 well dressed aquatic but flightless birds as a mean to present their new crowd rendering system.

DOOM Resurrected

Noclip, who set out to make crowdfunded documentaries about video games, released a three part documentary about the Doom reboot from earlier this year.
In one and a half hour we learn about what Doom 4 could have looked like and what thoughts and considerations went into some of the decisions that shaped the game into the form the consumer experienced it.

It’s a well made look into the business of bringing a beloved IP back into the present.
Now i want to get the original Wolfenstein, the first two Doom games and Quake 4 out of the cupboard for a replay[1].

Just so you know, there is some content in there some people will find is offensive to their taste and is not suited for younger persons.

# part one
# part two
# part three

[1] And hunt down a Jaguar for the fun of it. I played Aliens vs. Predator on that. Was it good? I don’t know, i was pumped to have the opportunity to handle a next generation console (four generations ago).

rambling about No Man’s Sky

No Man’s Sky is the newest entry in the list of glorious failings. Well, failing is perhaps to strong a word given that the people working in it considered it finished and released it out into the world.
I had my reasons to look forward to this, and one of it made it into the finished product: the sense of adventure and solitude. It is an uplifting experience to break through the atmosphere of a planet, sometimes with activated boosters because one can’t wait to touch down something savoring the moments, slowly descending towards the surface, taking a look out the cockpit of ones space craft to compare the vastness of the world one is about to step onto with the vastness the rest of the system is offering. A neat allegory on how words/systems/universes exist in words/systems/universes or how we can zone into one thing that in turn grows in size until it blocks out the sheer endlessness that the rest of life encompasses.

After the landing comes another uplifting moment: being the first “person” to set foot on the planet. Taking in your surroundings, how hostile are the weather conditions, terrain and possible wildlife. And except for the guardian drones that will attack you when they catch you mining materials and possible native fauna, you are alone on this world. So you adjust your exo-suit and start to explore.
And this is were the biggest letdown of the game starts: exploration and material mining. In theory these parts are optional, most things can be bought, but to me that would betray what i see in this game, an Indiana Jones in space simulator[1]. Besides mining for elements, each world offers a number of sites to discover: artefacts/”cult”-sites[2], knowledge stones that let you learn alien languages, deserted modules containing laboratories or living quarters and sometimes the aliens[3] that put them there.
The strange thing about this game is, that my disregard for it is far higher when thinking or talking about it than when i am actually interacting with it. The design and soundtrack of the game makes me think of the covers of various sci-fi book covers. Listening to the soundtrack on its own[4] makes one feel like watching a 70s sci-fi movie in the minds theatre. And i don’t mind spending hours running over a planets surface, or glide through space, going wherever i like or necessity takes me. I’m not even missing the multiplayer. But after talking to people who played through the game multiple times including the Atlas path quests i came to the conclusion that i miss a story. I get that the proceedings can be interpreted as a metaphor for life, the human condition and the need to leave a legacy behind, even without ones name tag on it, but frankly, that is something that we already experience, in a “mundane” environment, but nonetheless, it feels more like an exercise in abundance which ironically is hollow inside.

[1] although the life of Dr. Henry Jones are per definition a simulation too

[2] instead of a cutscene you get text describing the goings on at such sites. at one i killed a bird that had been revived by an artifact but according to the text, it’s chirping sounded like a plea for a mercy kill. i climbed on the acceptance ladder of the resident alien race for doing so.

[3] which need a few knowledge stones to be found to have a meaningful conversation with

[4] available on cd or download, but the “analogue” version comes with a second disc containing a gap free mix of a few songs to emulate the actual playing process

[review] Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

spoiler free
Maketed as the final installment of the Uncharted video-game franchise, part four sees protagonist Nathan Drake being coaxed out of retirement by the promise of a treause who’s pursuit he abandoned 15 years ago.

Lets start with getting the bad thing out of the way: the game parts themselves are only serviceable. Noticeably, the shooting/sneaking sequences are not up to par and for this player, a well of frustration. It feels like the avatar’s aura is causing the air around him to become more dense than it is for the other combatants. The guns themselves however have a satisfying difference in “handling” and dealing damage, coupled with the low ammo count and the need to pick up whatever weapon you come across makes for an interesting change of pace during the phases of armed conflict. The cover system works well enough and the auto-aim feature helped made the experience a bit more bearable.
Luckily the shooting passages are well placed.

Climbing makes up the biggest part of the game. And although it is beautiful to behold and easy to control, it feels like steering a train along its tracks, stirred up a bit with the inclusion of a pick that Nathan can drive into “softer” patches of rock to fashion a makeshift handhold.
The feeling of safety gets betrayed by some cleverly placed breaking wooden planks or stones coming loose sending the characters tumbling and in the process shaking up the proceedings. The maratime setting in which some of the constructions have been left without maintenance for is a good enough explanation for the wear and tear.
And sometimes the rails are mounted onto environments that makes you forget about them for a moment. And even though a jump from the pendulum of a clock tower to a nearby wooden beam is indicated to be a safe affair by Nathan stretching out his hand in the according direction, it looks like a suicide attempt. The gesture of stretching out an arm in either search for a possible handhold or as mentioned above, indicating that it’s ok to make a jump, is a great way to take the players mind of the idea of just climbing instead of walking a fixed path, but rather being in the body of an experienced individual.
Traversing the environments in a climbing matter is one of the most entertaining aspects of Uncharted.

And are those environments pretty! Every space surrounding the characters is a meticulously made character in itself. No matter where you go, even the most remote corners or sections that the player is rushed through feel like the recreation of a real space that are a result of diligent design. Houses feel lived in, and while some surroundings have to bend their shape to fit into the game, it isn’t overly noticeable as in other games.
There were some instances where a texture or object took a little longer to load properly/be placed, but that happened two or three times and is probably related to the rather constricted placing of my PS4 rather than program code.
And the beautiful rendition and attention to detail is also applied to the characters. Clothing, hair, animation and voice work come together to fashion figures that truly deserve the term “next gen”.

And that leads me to the one thing that brings together the aforementioned aspects: the story. Now, please bear in mind that i have not played any of the Uncharted installments preceding this one. I’m mentioning this because there are people who told me that some aspects of the story did not sit quite well with them.
But it is an extraordinary feat, a narrative that uses all the devices that we internalized over a lifetime to craft something that, while adhering to those, manages to feel fresh. Of course you’ll call out most of the big beats, but that’s ok, because there’s always the one or two things you won’t guess.

#conlusion:
Uncharted 4 sure has its weaknesses, things that other titles and perhaps even its predecessors handled in a better way (which i’m not aware of because i have not played them) but are embedded in an engaging narrative which is presented beautifully.

i plan on doing a spoiler heavy think piece about the game in the next couple of days