Super Vehicle Arachnids

Posted March 19, 2014

The gaming momentum continued all week, with some chance opportunities and others a long time coming. After returning the dead and overpriced Sega Genesis, I found another model 1 in decent condition for $35. Right away you could smell that it had belonged to a smoker, and things didn’t improve after cracking open the console. Dust and hair, sure, but what looked like bits of tobacco, cobwebs, rust spots, even a couple dead spiders — I fully expected it to be another clunker. But after a thorough cleaning it works great. Running off a SCART cable to the XRGB-mini, the picture quality is amazing for a 25-year-old stock console.

I really have to recommend retro_console_accessories for their custom cables. The SNES also looks crisp and colorful with one of their SCARTs. Well built, shipped fast, and they offer detailed advice if you need it.

The TurboGrafx-16 came back from an RGB mod, but sadly has to return again, as there’s a snag with the Genesis 2 adapter he built in and the SCART/XRGB-mini adapter I’m using. So the wait continues on this one.

But I did have a bit of luck with a random Sega Saturn and Dreamcast from a local guy who wanted to unload them, along with a few extras. While initially I didn’t anticipate tracking these down, I’ve come across lots of shmups for both, particularly the Saturn, that easily make them worth having. They’re in solid shape and look like they may have had their caps replaced a few years ago. I grabbed the games he had, including Radiant Silvergun, Soukyugurentai, and Nights into Dreams (with the 3D controller) for the Saturn, and Bangai-O, Typing of the Dead (with two keyboards), Chu Chu Rocket, and Space Channel 5 for the Dreamcast. I’m already eyeing several imports, and have ordered some NG:DEV.TEAM shooters.

Lastly, but what I’m most excited about at the moment, was the arrival this weekend of the Omega Neo Geo. I remember playing Metal Slug as a kid in the arcades, this behemoth red cabinet looming over me, looking up at the little backlit cutouts displaying the other games it offered. Take the guts out of that Neo Geo MVS and squeeze it into an AES-style custom molded plastic enclosure and you have a consolized Neo Geo. And of course the irony is that the arcade versions of the games are now vastly cheaper than their AES home console games.

Paired with the Neo Geo CD gamepad and plugged into the XRGB-mini, the Omega is an insanely fun, 2D powerhouse of an afternoon. The build quality is top notch and minimal: two controller ports on the front, power and SCART output on back (or optional component, etc). The image it generates with the mini’s scanlines is beautiful (make sure to set the mini’s v_width from 32 to 33), and the stereo sounds are a far cry from what I’ve been hearing through emulation over the years. Unibios 3.2 was included with my unit, allowing modifications like region change (blood!), DIP switch access, memory card viewer, cheats (zzz), and a surprisingly entertaining jukebox mode for cycling through a game’s music and sound effects. Turning on the gore and bouncing bosoms is one thing, but some games have enough regional differences to play them all. I opted for the Omega model with internal memory, or VMC, for progress and high score saves, a $25 option some may overlook on an arcade console but I’ve found it’s well worth it.

Since I’m new to Neo Geo as an owner, I only have one MVS cart, the 120-in-1. It’s actually a great sampler, but if you’re dumb like me, you’ll probably want to find the originals. Still, the games play great on the multicart. I keep putting random games on attract mode while I write this, their screens flashing in the background keeping me company. And when the day comes that I may have space for a couple arcade cabs, the MVS carts will be twice as useful.

Spring Loaded

Posted March 8, 2014

A compulsive flurry of retro gaming stuff has been eating up my time. Before bed I read Grails: The Cool, the Rare, and the Obscure of Arcade Games and RETRO magazine, walking around I listen to the Back In My Play podcast (start with the Quan Nguyen interview, creator of the Omega Consolized Neo Geo MVS), and many hours have gone into hunting down a Sega Genesis.

Which arrived a few days ago via eBay, a very complete and incredibly clean model 1, only it didn’t really work, so back it went. Hopefully the next one will fare better. Waiting for it is a custom SCART cable, Mega Everdrive and so far just a couple games.

Also this week I should be getting back my TurboGrafx-16, which was RGB modded, and also has a custom SCART cable, Turbo Everdrive and various games waiting. This one’s been gone a long time and I’m very eager to see the improvement over its sad factory RF. And I miss Kato-chan & Ken-chan.

Realizing these consoles need some space near the tv, I’m going to repurpose a bookshelf soon, complete with a SCART switch, fresh 12-outlet power strips and some serious cable tidying.

Starting Again

Posted August 30, 2013

The ad, likely created on my electric Brother typewriter, said something like: NES, SNES, Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16 video game consoles for sale. I suggested they be bought as package deals with the dozens of games I didn’t want to try selling one-by-one. Many dozens! I had my mom post the ad at work and soon all but the TurboGrafx-16 were gone. I don’t think her coworkers knew what a TG-16 was. I probably wouldn’t have either at the time if it weren’t for Electronic Gaming Monthly, GamePro and other magazines filling in the juicy details. Released in North American in 1989, the TG-16 barely held shelf space in the central Illinois stores I shopped in. And now, 24 years later, it’s the system I most regret selling. Of course, I regret selling them all, especially the games; I can still see the boxes taped to my bedroom door and walls.

The TG-16 was pretty flawed: the pack-in game Keith Courage in Alpha Zones stunk (at least until you transported to the underworld), one controller port, RF output (both remedied only by pricey add-ons), small work RAM, an 8-bit CPU in an emerging fully-16-bit market, hardware-limited single-layer background scrolling, mismanaged marketing and the lost potential of great games that never made it out of Japan (or arrived censored). Still, the games looked and sounded beautiful and stood apart from the competing Sega Genesis (with its classy frosted plastic box sleeves) and was two years ahead of the SNES. The Legendary Axe, Blazing Lazers, R-Type, Bonk’s Adventure, Akumajou Dracula X: Chi no Rondo, and later, CD-ROM releases like Ys, Gates of Thunder and the SuperGrafx Ghouls ‘n Ghosts.

It’s nostalgia for this system, and its fourth generation peers, that’s led me down this path again. While emulation is fun and addictive (even on a Mac), soon you’re thinking about everything from homemade MAME cabinets to professionally built ones, running frontends from this, to modest open source projects, to the insane HyperSpin (when Forbes gets a heads up you know frontends have arrived). But at some point you simply turn to eBay and start buying the stuff all over again. And tracking down those games (boxes extra). And finally considering that Neo Geo you’ve always wanted. Then begins the PCB quest.