Holidays

Posted December 31, 2016

As Christmas 2016 passes by I’m inevitably lost in snowy memories of childhood. My mom coming home from the recently opened Children’s Palace with stories of toys from floor to ceiling. Where we would later buy our Commodore 64, and Congo Bongo, and Load Runner.

Every December I would load up the Christmas Demo and hope that someone may randomly stop by to share in the festive synth beeps.

Years later, during my TurboGrafx-16 run, I noticed a couple rectangular presents under the tree, and became obsessed with the idea of it being a game I could play now, today. One afternoon alone I peeled back a bit of wrapping and saw China Warrior looking back. It ended up being a terrible game, which gave me time to practice my surprised and happy look I’d soon need.

TurboGrafx-16 Turns 25

Posted September 13, 2014

TurboGrafx-16, the famously not so 16-bit system, turned 25 last month. There’s been a lot written about it recently, assessing its tragic history, and celebrating some of the better games we’re left with. Of course, its mature, older brother the PC Engine had all the looks and about six times as many games. But for most Americans, it’s the TG16’s wide, black shell that we recall so fondly.

Christian Nutt wrote a lengthy piece about the TG16’s anniversary, filled with revealing quotes and some entertaining videos. Like this 1990 episode of Computer Chronicles and this hilarious and strange promotional video for the Lords of Thunder release. A committed strategy around shmups and RPGs may have saved the TG16, but in the end, NEC of Japan never really gave the console a chance.

TurboGrafx-16 RGB Mod

Posted March 28, 2014

I’m thrilled to have the TurboGrafx-16 back and playable. After all, this was the console that inspired the creation of this website. I only had it for a week, then sent it to Jason Rauch for an RGB mod due to its atrocious stock RF output. He wired up a Genesis 2 adapter, which connects to a custom SCART cable by retro_console_accessories. The image is now stable, sharp and colorful without bleeding, everything it wasn’t with RF.

After some quality time with Legendary Axe and Bonk’s Adventure, I impatiently threw in a Turbo Everdrive to sample the dozens of other games I’ve wanted to try, particularly Japanese releases which won’t play on the region-restricted TG16 without, of course, another mod. The US and Japanese libraries certainly offer a healthy amount of goodness. But finding a good condition PC Engine Duo-R would increase that by 417 games, region-free.  Finding one for less then $300 though could be a challenge.

I spent most of an evening playing through Blazing Lazers (Gunhed in Japan), a vertical shmup from 1989 by Compile, which was probably my first shooter. It was exactly as fun as I remembered,  beginning at a comfortable pace, becoming more frantic as you close in on its 9 levels. The TG16 seems to easily handle the fast moving sprites, optimistic soundtrack and sampled voices with almost zero slowdown, other than some muffled audio when rapid bonuses overlap too quickly. I’m pretty sure I was able to make it to the same level I did as a kid, which I guess given one night isn’t too bad, depending on how you look at it.

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.

Upscaled

Posted September 6, 2013

After finding a decent TurboGrafx-16 on eBay a few weeks ago, I anxiously slid Legendary Axe and a few other HuCards in to see how they looked, and especially to hear the Legendary Axe soundtrack. I was a little nervous as to what a large plasma television may do to a 240p image. Initially the familiar glow of the game was enough to warm my heart, but it did look troublesome in places, especially smaller graphics and text. The fact that the TG-16 is RF out (in my case, through a NES RF modulator) certainly wasn’t helping things, but then I realized what a common problem this is for older gen game consoles on modern LCD and plasma displays. To be sure this wasn’t specific to the TG-16, I checked out Super Mario World on a SNES I’d inherited from a friend a few years ago. Same resampling issues, Mario looked like shit.

Fortunately there are some ways around this. I considered waiting until a future home I imagined owning had enough space for a fat CRT. Even better, an arcade CRT. But that seemed too far off. Then I started reading about upscalers, stand-alone devices meant in part to improve upon the generally mediocre upscalers in LCDs and plasmas. Specifically this detailed article on the XRGB-mini Framemeister by the Japanese company Micomsoft (with a name like Framemeister I’d mistakenly thought it German). At $400 it’s a pricey solution to an issue many people wouldn’t notice, or may mistakenly chalk up to being the result of a 20-year-old game console. But old tech certainly doesn’t need to imply inferior quality. I learned that just like most of its peers, the TG-16 is a RGB-capable machine. It’s keeping that raw source intact that’s the tricky part.

I ordered the Framemeister from Solaris and it arrived this week in record-breaking time from Japan. While the remote and instruction manual are entirely in Japanese, the on-screen menu can be changed to English (after powering it off and on). After half an hour of fiddling and translation assistance from my partner, we fine-tuned it to a sweet spot. There was Mario looking charmingly 16-bit with a dash of scanlines. No crumpled upscaled sadness in sight. Overall I found Picture mode, with a light scanline, at 1080p to work the best. Later I was able to ditch the SNES composite cable for S-Video which obviously made an even bigger difference. And when the TG-16 gets back from being RGB-modded, I’ll be looking forward to seeing Gogan cleaned up as well.

Could it be this easy? If you want to spend the dough, maybe it is. There are cheaper alternatives, but the Framemeister’s reviews, screenshots and videos (largely by pasty British men) won me over. If you have more than a passing interest in 8-and-16-bt gaming and you’ve left your CRT on the curb, this is worth checking out.

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.