Virtua 4-Way

Posted March 10, 2015

There are a number of classic arcade games that had 4-way joysticks, like Pacman, Donkey Kong, Burger Time, Frogger — what more could you want outside of up, down, left and right? This becomes an issue with 8-way sticks as those diagonals are now dead zones. If you’re emulating those old games, you’ll likely look for a MAME preference or .ini command to ignore those corners, but strangely I never found a solution.

I’ve been wanting to convert one of my lesser used console sticks to 4-way but kept thinking there must be an easier way, and a method that wouldn’t permanently change or disfigure it. I picked the Sega Virtua Stick since it gets the least amount of use, and seemed like a good 4-way candidate with its clunky stick and buttons and sexy arcade looks. I took off the bottom panel and pondered the level of difficulty required to swap the stick and add a 4-way restrictor gate. I noticed the stock gate was held on by four screws so I took them out and turned it 45 degrees, creating the diamond shape that should block diagonals, but there was no way to screw it back down once turned.

After searching around online — there’s surprisingly very little in the way of Virtua Stick mods — I found someone in a forum post who mentioned not just rotating it 45 degrees but also flipping it, as this realigns the screws. Could it be so easy? It certainly sounded like the switches were releasing before the next one was picked up. I screwed it down and then quickly realized out of all the adapters I have, that I didn’t have one for the Virtua Stick. So tonight an adapter arrived and I gave Ghouls ‘n Ghosts some 4-way action with much success. No dead zones, and it feels much closer to how it was intended.

I’m curious if Sega cleverly designed it this way, anticipating someone cracking open their Virtua Stick and flipping over the restrictor gate, or it was simply a manufacturing and geometrical coincidence. And if other stock sticks have the same ability.

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.

The Ultimate History of Video Games

Posted February 2, 2014

When I became interested again in arcade and home console gaming, I bought several books on the subject last year. The largest of my growing collection is probably The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent. At just over 600 pages, Kent covers a lot of gaming ground, from the pre-Pong 1960s, up to the release of the Xbox, around the time the book was published, in 2001. Which is fine by me considering my attention on the subject doesn’t really reach beyond the PlayStation 2.

I appreciated that a third of the book spanned the arcade, where I knew the least, much of which was devoted to the rise and fall of Atari and Nolan Bushnell. Nintendo of course receives a lot of attention, as do many other Japanese companies, which is great considering their immense contributions, a fact some Western authors tend to gloss over. This leads to the home showdown between Nintendo and Sega, then eventually Sony.

Exhaustedly assembled quotes and anecdotes carry you through the massive amount of information here at a fairly quick pace, reading more like a conversation than a serious historical assemblage, which is really what this is. Highly recommended.

On a side note, I signed up for Amazon Associates so if you happen to buy the book using the link above, I get some tiny portion. Considering the traffic this site generates, I should make enough in a year for a NES-era cup of coffee.