My games room – wide angle style.

December 26, 2012

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Random retro gaming

November 20, 2012

Just thought I’d give you a little window into a few of the games I’ve been playing lately. As usual, I don’t like to spend too long gaming on one system (apart from the Amiga) so there’s a fair rotation of platforms going on. If you get dizzy, just hold onto the hand rails.

First up was Virtua Racing for the Megadrive. I think I found this at a market in a box of utter trash (not the treasure kind of trash either, the ‘USB printer cables and water damaged Tazos’ kind of trash).  The cartridge box had no label, so I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it to find Virtua Racing.  As you can see from the photo the Virtua Racing card is differently shaped to a standard Megadrive cart thanks to the inclusion of the Sega DSP chip, some nifty silicon that lifts Virtua Racing from an average game to a stonkingly awesome racing simulator.

Thanks to the DSP’s polygon pushing power, Virtua Racing is a seamless, smooth 3D experience that has you hurtling around tracks in F1 cars. Based on the arcade game of the same name, Virtua Racing on the Megadrive is a flawless port. Seriously, you could just find an F1 cockpit shell, a CRT TV, a Megadrive and this cartridge and be experiencing that arcade racing feel. Very impressed.

Next up was the Amiga. I can’t stay away from this machine for long. The addition of the HxC Floppy Emulator to the Amiga 600 means I’ve got 13.5GB of Amiga disks at my disposal. Gaming overload. Recently I’ve been playing a bit of Phantasie III, one of the titles I spent the most time with back in the days when the Amiga was new. An old school RPG with turn based combat and an emphasis on exploring over land and in dungeons, Phantasie III is a great way to lose hours to simply wandering, fighting and micro-managing your party of Wizards, Priests and Warriors.

The games difficulty is equal parts frustrating and awesome.  Thanks to random encounters, you often make it all of three steps out of a town before you’re confronted by monsters whose skills and potency well outstrip your party. In a few rounds, you’ll have armless Priests, dead Rangers and a Wizard sans left hand. You’ll hobble back to town, get new members and venture out again. It can be disheartening, but it does make victories all the sweeter, and the cultivation of a decently high level party of adventurers who can survive the more dangerous encounters is a rewarding experience.

And last but not least, I received a few additions to my Atari Lynx collection recently. The pick of the bunch is Viking Child, an amusing – if slightly pedestrian – platformer.


Updated collection pictures

November 18, 2012

Just took a fresh round of photos to add to the collection page here, so if you’ve got a few spare minutes, head in and check them out :). As usual, as soon as I looked over the pictures I realised I’d left plenty of things out, but these will have to do. One day I’ll be clever enough to get a comprehensive gallery in here of everything I own.


HxC Floppy Emulator Review

November 2, 2012

W. B. Yeats included the line “Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold” in his famous poem “The Second Coming”. Many ascribe the inspiration for this work to the atmosphere of post-war Europe, but I’m positive Yeats was talking about floppy disks.

The staple media during the 80’s and 90’s, the magnetic storage of the floppy disks of the day has just about run its course. Sad news for retro computer gaming buffs, who regularly come across games stored on 5.25″ or 3.5″ disks which no longer work due to the deterioration of the media itself.

I know this pain all too well.

Having purchased a bulk lot of Amiga disks – including boxed games – along with a couple of Amiga 500’s, I was torn up to discover upon inspection that most of them had been stored in a damp place and suffered all kinds of nasty mould damage. I still managed to harvest a chunk of working games out of the lot – but for how long? They’ll likely fail too, it’s the inevitable journey of the floppy disk.

So what’s a retro gamer to do? Well, there’s emulation of course, but we all know that never feels quite the same. Game speeds don’t match up, you’re not using original input devices (e.g. legitimate Commodore joysticks) and the whole experience really isn’t recreated. Another option, is to do as I did and invest in the HxC Floppy Emulator. This brilliant little device is made by a chap in Poland, and has the ability to mimic the workings of a floppy drive from a huge array of retro computers including the Commodore 64, Atari range, Amiga’s and Amstrad.  The kicker is, instead of using floppy disk media, it allows you to run floppy disk images straight from SD card. Bam! In one hit you have done away with the entropy of the floppy disk and stepped into the almost infallible world of flash card storage.

The way it works is simple. Into one end of the PCB, you re-route the floppy data cable and power connector from your chosen computer, and in the other end goes your SD card – loaded up with all the games you want to play. The set up is more involved than that – which I’ll get to in a moment – but that’s the basic principle. It’s an SD to Floppy cable data converter. Neat! This turned out to be the perfect solution to my desperate need to play Amiga games as often as possible, and in true blog fashion I detailed the steps of setting it up so you can get an idea of what’s involved, and whether it’s something you’re interested in.

First up, I picked a victim computer to test on. My Amiga 600 seemed like the best choice. Small, portable, in great condition and compatible with a fair chunk of Amiga titles. While the HxC floppy emulator is undoubtedly designed to be fitted inside the case at some point, short term I was happy to have mine attached in a rough fashion. First step, was to up end the Amiga 600, as I needed to pop the case to get to the floppy cables inside.

Would you believe the warranty seal was still intact? I felt like I was disturbing some ancient crypt as I popped the screwdriver through the seal. Hey, it’s for a worthy cause!

I had my HxC floppy emulator and specifically purchased SD card sitting close by and ready to be installed. Note the funny shaped SD card. It’s actually called a ‘UD’ and has a USB connection sticking out one side. Extremely handy for people like me who don’t have card reader in their PC, this allows me to just plug it directly into USB to download floppy images, then use the SD end into the emulator.

 

With a bit of ‘levering’ on some plastic tabs around the A600 case, the case popped open, and as you can see it was pretty easy to gain access to the internal floppy drive cables.

 

It’s a pretty simple affair to get the HxC connected, but make sure you read the instructions online carefully! You’ll need to ensure you set jumpers correctly for the drive(s) you want to emulate, and it’s also important to know which way your floppy ribbon cable goes onto the board (as it’s different for different machines) and what the led indicator lights on the PCB refer to (it will make diagnosing teething issues a hell of a lot easier)

 

As you can see, I went for the rough and ready ‘hang it outside the case, but only on the left side, yeah that’s the crip side’ look. If you’re more handy with case modding, you’ll want to fix it inside the case, with a window for the LCD.  Once installed, it was back to my main PC to prepare the SD card. A few things to note, firstly – read the documentation carefully. I can’t stress this enough. Because the HxC is designed to run on multiple different machines, you’ll have to be aware of the particular settings for your vintage computer as well as how to set the SD card up so that it boots the way you want (via a customisable config file placed on the SD card). There is a program you can download that allows you to customise the config file entirely, but you’re far better off initially using one of the ‘pre baked’ config files ideal for what you want to achieve. We picked one that auto loaded a ‘floppy manager’ (basically a game chooser GUI) when you run the HxC connected to an Amiga.

After you’ve configured the SD card, you just need to convert your floppy images into the HxC native .hfe format. Thankfully, this is super easy – in the case of my Amiga 600 I was using a ton of .adf files, and the same program that allows you to customise the config file also allows you to batch convert any number of disk files to .hfe format. Once I’d converted a few hundred games, they were loaded on the SD card, and it was back to the Amiga to fire it all up and test!.

The HxC is a thing of beauty when it’s fired up and ticking away. Interestingly, just because it’s running an SD card, doesn’t actually make any of the load times particularly fast, as the data still has to travel along the floppy cable.

 

 

Pictured below is the floppy chooser menu. Even if you’re only emulating a single drive (DF0 in the case of the Amiga) the floppy chooser allows you to assign a floppy image to a number of ‘slots’ in the HxC, and if you need to swap disks during use, you just press a button on the PCB to swap from one slot to the next. Very handy!

 

So, the moment of truth, did it work? Yes, yes it did 🙂

 

It’s a fantastic device, and I’m having immense fun trawling through a library of Amiga games to play the way they were intended to be played – on an Amiga, and a 1084S monitor. It’s a worthwhile investment for me (costing $100 approximately) and I know I’m going to get hours and hours of use out of it. If you’re happy running emulators, that’s fine to – but for anyone who is really digging that original experience on an Amiga, Atari, Amstrad, Commodore or any number of other retro computers, check out the HxC Floppy Emulator, it may just save you from all the pain and frustration of floppy media.

 


Collector Spotlight #3: Emma from Melbourne, Victoria.

September 24, 2012

In the third installment of my look at fellow retro collectors and their shiny and diverse hoarding (er – I mean collections), I spoke with Emma from Melbourne to find out about her prized possessions, how she got into collecting game related stuff, and where it’s all headed. Enjoy!

First things first; Who are you? And where are you from?

Emma, Melbourne.

 What gaming systems did you grow up with?

When I was 6 my sister got a SNES with Super Mario world and my I loved it. Luckily I was able to play it all the time because I didn’t get my own console until I was 10, which was the Nintendo 64. I also had an original Gameboy.

 Describe your collection? What’s the focus? Where are you aiming to end up with it? When did you get started?

My collection is really focused on what I have played thought out my life and what I missed out on. I have gradually expanded to other systems and games as I have learnt more about collecting and other systems. But I don’t think I will expand beyond what was released in Australia.

 I started collecting 6 years ago when I finally purchased a gamecube and twilight princess. After that I wanted to re-play ocarina of time and an assortment of 64 games which I loved when I was young. I then decided to expand to other consoles I missed growing up but had wanted to play.

Eventually, I want the entire PAL-A 64 collection, every Zelda game on all systems and every post NES system boxed. Mostly I want to end up with an amazing collection, which is special to me.

 Why did you start collecting? A general love of gaming? Re-living youth?

I started 4 years ago. First I just wanted to have a small, modest but varied assortment of game goods. I had this fantasy as a 10 year old of an entire book case of 64 games, I really wanted to achieve that early on. I ended up really getting into gaming culture and history, which I had enjoyed as a child to. I can talk for hours about the Sega vs Nintendo saga; I just find that stuff interesting.  At first re-living my youth was my motivation, but inevitably I ran out material and was kind of disappointed by some games so now it’s a general love that keeps me going.

 Do you actively play / use your collection, or are you happy just to admire the shiny stuff sitting on the shelf?

It really depends on the item.  Some items are just interesting collectors pieces, like my Gameboy collection I have every Gameboy system but I only ever use the SP because it’s better, and play’s all the other systems games. I have a few sealed things too, which are just shiny things never to be opened J

 Would you ever sell your collection, or is it with you for life?

I may eventually sell parts of it that I never use but the stuff I originally collected is with me forever.

 What’s your single most prized piece?

Although it’s not particularly valuable, my Jungle green 64. I use it for all my 64 needs and I have always wanted one. Collection wise, it’s my Nintendo Magazine System collection. I have spent the better part of 4 years trying to get every issue. It’s been a lot of effort.

What’s the most you’ve spent on a single item so far? Go on, be honest – no-one is looking I promise.

Hmm, I usually buy bundled Items; I did spend $850 for a bundle from Adelaide and drove there from Melbourne to get it. Single item, would be a boxed Zelda Gameboy Advance SP for $120.

 What’s something you’re lusting after that you don’t have yet, and why?

A Panasonic Q, I can’t justify spending $500 on one item O_O

 How complete do you consider your collection?

I have a lot of items $0-$100 in value with a few pricey pieces in the mix. It’s those really expensive bits that take a long time to collect. I really don’t think it will ever be ‘complete’ even if I had every 64 title, I would still need to resell some and get boxed copies. After that I’d just move on to SNES.

Got any advice for people wanting to start a retro game collection? Where should they start? How should they start?

I found it easier to start with what I knew. As you go along you learn more about prices and items. Take it slow and really consider if you want complete copies of things or not, otherwise you will have to rebuy stuff. I usually buy in bulk that way I can resell the items I don’t need to buy more stuff that I want. Start with what you want to play the most, ebay is usually the easiest option, that’s where 90% of my stuff comes from.

And of course – no spotlight is complete without the juicy, juicy pictures. Feast your sense upon Emma’s assorted gaming goodies!….


Handheld roar…

September 22, 2012

Wikipedia defines the Lynx as having “short tails and the characteristic tufts of black hair on the tips of their ears. They have a ruff under the neck, which has black bars, is not very visible, and resembles a bow tie. They have large, padded paws for walking on snow, and long whiskers on the face.”

Of course, if you’re reading this blog then you know as well as I do that the Lynx is in fact a fat brick-like handheld thrust into the world by Atari just shy of 1990.  While it never made a dent against Nintendo’s handheld offerings, the Lynx is amazing little piece of kit and managed to render the games of the era in splendid visual and audio majesty. So – to celebrate the Atari Lynx – I’ve put together a bit of a pictorial walk through. Enjoy!

Read the rest of this entry »


What’s the point of games, if not to play? :)

September 1, 2012

A few shots of the games room in action. Always nice to see a bit of a crowd enjoying the various retro games :).


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