Berkeley

Posted February 3, 2015

In late October we moved from the piss soaked streets of San Francisco to Berkeley, where the breeze is more veggie pizzeria than urine, unless you’re downtown of course. After 18 years I was ready to cross the bay, and always fond of Berkeley, a cozy town frozen in perpetual cycles of autumn and summer. The cottages and Maybeck Craftsmans tucked back into the oak and eucalyptus trees make walks in our neighborhood feel like being inside a pop-up book. Just with more earth-tone slacks, walking sticks and Merrell hiking boots.

We were also desperate for more space, which has been fantastic and worth the 30-minute BART ride. Still, there’s no spare bedroom or finished sprawling basement to hold all our gaming crap. There is a basement of sorts though, and a little room down there which I’m turning into a workspace for projects like a Gyruss restoration.

My old game consoles were originally on an IKEA Kallax (not to be confused with KALX, endorsed) which took up a load of space. I replaced this with an acrylic media cabinet which is rather packed but doesn’t have a hovering presence or block the cabinets behind it. Cable mangement wasn’t easy for nine consoles and took a few tries to get tidy. I ended up drilling a hole in the wall nearby in order to pass an HDMI cable from an iMac to the television for MAME, which works nicely. I think Battle Garegga emulated is arguably better than the Saturn port (unless your Saturn is hooked up to a BVM).

In early October the Duo-R came back RGB modded, so I finally played through Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, which was, duh, totally awesome. Initially after moving I didn’t play too much, but that’s picked up a bit. I also slowed down on buying games, but last week grabbed three Saturn and one GBA games: Rayman, Silhouette Mirage (ehh), The Game Paradise!, and Klonoa: Empire of Dreams.

At night over the past couple weeks I’ve been playing Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, watching the wind blow through the trees outside our windows (trees!), and appreciating every day.

SCPH-10000

Posted August 14, 2014

I didn’t own the first Playstation. This was 1995, my post-high school years when I was likely busy selling off my consoles like luggage I didn’t want to drag into adulthood. Two or three years later I briefly played my roommate’s after moving to California. My first experiences with the controller were confusing — what’s with all the buttons! I missed the simpler 16-bit precursors. The poligonal games were, I guess impressive, but confirmed that I still wasn’t interested in the next generation systems.

Then in the early 2000s I bought a PS2 slim for a handful of racing games and Mortal Kombat, which used every last ounce of those buttons. I printed out MK character move guides and tried to memorize the basics. It was clear that the fighting genre wasn’t my bag, though the gore and detailed environments helped me forget about the missing sprites in this 128-bit world. A few years later it slipped into the closet and I once again stopped playing console games, relying on a series of Game Boys to get my gaming fix.

My next Playstation was the joint purchase, with my future husband, of the pricey PS3. This quickly became immeasurably useful as a reliable DVD/Blu-ray player and streaming hub — I can’t believe I initially hesitated in buying the $20 Bluetooth remote control which has endured eight years of daily use. For Justin this was gaming mecca (at least until the Wii came out, and then the Wii U, and then the PS4). I played sporadically, and sung the repetitive, mournful tune of gaming-was-better-when. The slim slept in the closet next to a friend’s SNES, sleeper agents waiting for a nostalgic green light, which came in the form of a TurboGrafx-16.

So here we are several years later, and a year after that green light: an Ikea shelf holding nine aged consoles, and the modern remainders on the tv stand. Something was still missing. Some of the best PS1/PS2 shmups were never released in the US. While some consoles have region compatibility workarounds, the PS2 required either hardware modding, or a soft mod that sounded like a bunch of fiddly bullshit. It was time to go directly to the motherland, as with the PC Engine Duo-R, and find a Japanese PS2. Of course, except for the Xbox 360, every console on both shelves are Japanese creations. While Japan gets the beautiful, generally slimmer originals, North American releases are bloated monster trucks, arguably a financially centered decision for size-conscious Americans.

Once again Yahoo Japan Auction came through with a $30 first edition PS2, otherwise known as the PS2 fat, or as Sony elegantly named it, the SCPH-10000. The YJA seller even threw in a stack of games, which no doubt rounded out the painful EMS shipping charges (games which I don’t want, so contact me if there’s interest). The PS2 fat is hefty, a mountain of a thing compared to the slim, and surely has gobs more innards than a wafer-thin SNES or Genesis PCB. Some of this is due to its internal power supply, which is great because that 12-outlet power bar is maxed. Plugged into the XRGB-mini via SCART the results were surprisingly good.

The first test was Popolocrois II, a PS1 game that Justin picked up in Seattle. While the PS2 itself can show English menus, game play text obviously remains largely in Japanese. He’ll be able to do some translation, but as an RPG that’s a fair amount of work. Fortunately I mostly play shmups which have limited amounts of text, and when I do feel like I’m missing out I call him over for quick explanations, and it generally turns out I wasn’t missing anything. Currently I only have Espgaluda and Mushihimesama. Mushi isn’t even a capable port, but it’ll have to do since the Xbox 360 version is not region free. Espgaluda though is amazing and gives me a whole new perspective on the PS2. Considering how large the PS1/PS2 library is, my wishlist barely scratches the surface.

I wonder if this could be my last retro console. What’s left? First and second generation, eh — I already have a pong clone, and I’ve never really wanted an Atari. For third generation there’s the missing link, the NES. Perhaps blasphemous that I haven’t bought one yet, but the cost of an original model plus an RGB mod is damn expensive for those 8 measly bits. There’s always the Super Famicom for good measure, or the Sega CD for laughs. Better yet with more space there’s full-fledged gaming computers like the Commodore 64 (zzz), X68000, and FM Towns Marty. So let’s play it by ear.