Updates

Yikes! I haven’t updated in a while.

I have been busy though. I put a lot of time into Skyrim. I’ll probably write something about it.

Photo of Nintendo controller with LED modification

I’ve spent some time working on some hardware stuff, including this fun NES controller modification.

I’m also ramping up to selling some modded original Xboxes.

As for games, I’m considering a few to play next. Maybe a JRPG.

Game Boy Repair

A few months ago I stumbled across a red Play It Loud Game Boy in a Goodwill. It was in very good condition. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t run off batteries.

I was able to fix it. I recorded a video of the process.

I suspected that the problem had to do with the battery contacts. It appeared that some batteries had leaked on them at some point. It turned out that was the problem, and now it works great!

Weird Xbox A/V Switch Box (ICCX)

I found this sucker at a local Savers the other day.

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It’s pretty odd. First, it’s clearly designed for an original Xbox. It’s got a similar aesthetic. More to the point, though, it’s got grooves that perfectly fit the pads on the bottom of an Xbox. Here it is with an Xbox on top:

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Second, it is an A/V switch. It’s got 4 inputs and one output. Component, S-Video and L/R audio. That’s kind of cool. What’s very cool is that this switch will switch to the input that’s being used. I’m sure there’s a priority for the ports if multiple inputs are sending info, but I haven’t messed with that yet.

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That right there made it worth the $3.99 or so I paid for it. I hate having to change TV inputs, A/V switch inputs or worse, both. It does require a center-positive 9V power supply. I have a collection of wall warts in my garage and found one that worked.

Third, you’ll notice that it has a cable coming out the side. This plugs into the 4th controller port on the Xbox, allowing it to be used as DVD player. In fact, this thing includes a remote.

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That’s not terribly useful (I don’t really use DVDs for anything anymore, and I wouldn’t put the wear and tear on an Xbox DVD drive anyway), but the remote might come in handy with a soft-modded Xbox.

Fourth is something weird and almost entirely useless. It’s got a front tray that opens up and allows you to store discs. That’s all it does.

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Anyway, I just wanted to write about this because it was weird. I haven’t found much info on it on the internet. I’d like to figure out how to program the remote, but no luck so far. I’m probably going to set it up in our guest room.

Chrono Trigger Updates

I’ve been busy for the past month or so, but I have played some Chrono Trigger. I’ve just visited the End of Time for the first time (wait … that’s super-confusing) and gone back to the time period where the game began (1000 A.D. — what does A.D. and B.C. mean in this game’s universe?).

I don’t have much to say except that it’s been fun so far. I still think the Back to the Future moments are ridiculous and make absolutely no sense — if Marle’s presence in 600 A.D. meant that her ancestor was killed, thus meaning Marle was never born, then she couldn’t have gone back in time to inadvertently get her ancestor killed. And she sure as hell wouldn’t have faded from existence.

(I know I said I wouldn’t harp on this — but seriously! It makes no sense! And quantum branching doesn’t explain it — why would Marle disappear after her ancestor died if quantum branching was what was happening?)

But, you know. With these games it’s all about the gameplay, right? And that part is pretty good. It’s a little on the easy side so far.

I have to say that I really don’t like the silent protagonist thing. I’ve never liked it in Zelda. I kind of like what Halo did — the character has a voice but no face (he’s always wearing his helmet). Making the protagonist silent just leads to awkward moments in dialog, where it’s clear that the character is talking, but the game isn’t showing me that text to preserve the silence.

Still: it’s classic, mid-90’s JRPG fun. And I’m going to beat it this time, damn it.

Also, I got to see the first cut-scene, which is shown when you find Robo. It was all right, but it doesn’t really add much to the game.

So as I said, I’ve been busy, which is why I haven’t made a ton of progress. I’ve been working on and off on a garage workshop. It’s shaping up nicely, though progress has been slow.

As for gaming-related projects, I’m almost finished with the Dreamcast VGA mod. I’ve just got to modify the console shell to accommodate the VGA jack. The Gamecube region mod is done, but I’m not done painting it. I installed a mod chip in one of my Sega Saturns and it works great. I haven’t done a region mod to it yet. I also made a completely home-made Turbo Booster for my TurboGrafx-16. That is, I made a peripheral that can be plugged into the expansion port to output composite video and stereo audio. I’ll post some pics and info on that. I may even do an instructable for it.

Actually, I’ll share the results of most of those on here at some point. And I’ve worked on a couple soft-mod things that I may discuss later.

Chrono Trigger

My PS3’s hard drive crapped out a couple of weeks ago. Luckily I had already picked up a new drive, as I was running out of space. However, the old one died before I could back it up.

That means I lost a lot of saved games, including Final Fantasy XIII-2. I’m not happy about this. However, I was in a bit of a rut, so now I’m going to change things up. I’ve started playing Chrono Trigger.

I’ve played Chrono Trigger many times over the last 15 years or so. I’ve never actually beat it, though. I played the original on SNES in the late 90’s. I was borrowing it — sadly, I never owned it — and I gave it back before beating it. I did get very far into the game, as I recall. Later, I played it a bit in an emulator, then the PS1 re-release. But for all those times I played it, I never finished it.

So now I’ve decided: I’m finally going to do it. I have two realistic options: the Virtual Console version on my Wii U (in Wii mode) or the DS version. I think I’m going to do the DS version. While the VC version is an exact duplicate of the original game, I think I can get more play-time in with the DS. Plus, the DS version has nifty cinematic cut-scenes.

Oddly, I actually did beat its sequel, Chrono Cross. I’ve heard some people say that it’s inferior to Chrono Trigger, which I think is unfair. It was a fantastic, if occasionally confusing game. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve played it either, though, so I can’t say for sure.

I’ve only just started Chrono Trigger. I’ve just met Marle and I haven’t done the first bit of time travel yet.

Speaking of time travel (the main plot device of the game), I’ll try to restrain myself from going off on the insane lack of logic of its use in this game. I’m just going to go with it and enjoy it.

In other news, I’m still working on some console mods. I’ll post them as I go, maybe along with some instructable posts. In the pipeline are:

  • Dreamcast VGA
  • Genesis A/V and region
  • NES stereo
  • Saturn mod chip and (maybe) region
  • SNES de-yellowing
  • Gamecube region (tricky one)

All of these are in various states of completion, except for the SNES and NES mods. I’m also planning on building custom NES and Genesis joysticks. I might do an SNES one later, but I want to start small. The custom Atari joystick was fun, but I’ve got some gripes. It lacks heft — it feels far too light. I also don’t like the button; it just doesn’t feel right. So I might revisit that. In any event, I’ll let my mistakes there help me do a better job on future ones. I’ve got some better tools to work with now too.

Championship Joystick

I’m going to change gears for this post and talk about some old hardware. I’ve been working on my (ahem) office at home, including a little retro setup with a bunch of old consoles. This inspired the following.

I’ve been playing video games for a very long time. I don’t remember the first video game I played, though it was probably on an Atari 2600. I have fond memories of Pitfall, Adventure and The Empire Strikes Back.

In the mid-80s, my parents bought a Commodore 128. This was when I really started to play games. Games I got into included Bard’s Tale II, Wizard’s Crown, Summer Games II, Defender of the Crown, Ghostbusters and Agent USA.

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This was not actually my Commodore 128. But we had basically the same computer, monitor and peripherals. I’m also pretty sure that we had the same pine cones. Picture from psychlist1972 on flickr. Click image for link.

My parents resisted buying a Nintendo (NES). A computer at least had education aspects to it. Sure enough, I learned to program BASIC on the Commodore. But I did get some exposure to the NES. We’d visit some cousins in South Dakota who had one. I remember playing Dragon Warrior and being blown away. It was an RPG, like Bard’s Tale II, but on a console. It didn’t have the long load times I was used to on the Commodore. It also had a bit more story than BT II had, as I recall, and it was certainly less tedious.

Anyway, even though I really wanted a NES, my parents wouldn’t budge. Somehow, though, when the Super Nintendo (SNES) came out, my parents gave in. To this day I’m not sure why they caved, though I’m glad they did.

The SNES was like nothing I’d seen. It was light-years beyond the NES, of course. But it also left the Commodore 128 in the dust, which surprised me at the time. And games like F-Zero (and later, Star Fox) were just crazy. To this day, if I turn on a SNES with Super Mario World in it, a weird switch gets flicked in my brain. It’s hard to describe, because SMW looks primitive by modern standards. But it was a huge jump, graphically and gameplay-wise, from the Mario games on the NES.

The real killer game, though, was Street Fighter II. The SNES version was very faithful to the arcade version, though I think it had the blood removed. It played pretty much exactly the same. The graphics were slightly degraded, but it really felt very, very similar to playing the arcade game. Back then, arcade games were on the cutting edge. Home consoles typically had dumbed-down versions. But the SNES and Genesis versions of SF II (Championship Edition for Genesis) were pretty damn faithful.

Their controllers, though, left something to be desired. The SNES controller had enough buttons, but it didn’t much resemble the arcade layout. The Genesis controller did not have enough buttons — Sega had to release a new controller with 3 extra buttons. As I recall, you could play with a standard Genesis controller, but I think you had to use the Start button in combination with the A, B and C buttons to toggle between punching and kicking. I and the other Nintendo kids used to point and laugh at the Genesis kids. Well, in my head. Those Genesis kids could beat me up.

The point is that the controllers were not up to the task. The game was basically identical to the arcade version, but the controllers were alien. The button layout wasn’t right and the directional pad was no substitute for a joystick. So manufacturers started putting out arcade-style joysticks geared specifically for Street Fighter II and similar games.

I don’t remember the magazine I used to read. I think it was EGM. I really don’t know. Maybe Nintendo Power or Gamepro? Anyway, I remember seeing a review of the C&L Championship Joystick. The review gushed over it, claiming that it had real arcade parts and was encased in the same kind of plastic that telephones were made out of. Telephones back then were big, heavy and sturdy.

I don’t actually remember how I got this joystick or where I got it from. Probably as a birthday present. I remember it was rather expensive. I think it was $60 or so. But man it was nice. It still is.

Championship Joystick

This actually is my Championship Joystick. The picture was taken a few days ago.

Look at that bad boy. This sucker has lasted me 20 years, and it’s got only minor wear (though it should probably be cleaned with a q-tip). The buttons each still make nice, satisfying clicks. The stick itself is still sturdy. It’s a great controller, and I wish I could use it more often. As arcade sticks in its category go, it was actually fairly small. That said, it’s still large — it sits comfortably on my lap, but it’s larger than a SNES console.

It’s hard to describe just how satisfying it was to use this controller. It really was very similar to the controls on arcade games. All of me SNES control pads are worn out and mostly useless. This controller is still as good as it was in 1993.

I was able to pick up a SNES -> Game Cube controller adapter, which also works for the Wii. So I’m able to play old SNES games on the Wii with this controller, which is a blast. I should pick up a SNES -> USB cable too.

Aside from the various Street Fighter games, I remember playing Final Fantasy III, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Chrono Trigger, Star Fox and Mario Kart with this joystick.

No other controller I’ve ever owned got as much use as this sucker, and it’s in better shape than some of my current controllers. Of course it doesn’t have the right controls to play a lot of modern games, so it’s only really useful for retro gaming.