Burning Torch

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There are a lot of games that I hold a torch for…  even when they are long dead and gone.  Specifically I am looking at you Hellgate London… that I will always have a significant amount of love for.  However another of those titles is Phantasy Star Online.  This is ultimately what I consider to be my first MMO, or at the very least the gateway drug that opened me up to the possibilities of Everquest.  The Dreamcast is a special console for me, and in large part it is due to this game.  I spent many a weekend afternoon dialed into SegaNet with the 56k modem and eventually upgraded to the “broadband adapter” and running a 50 ft network cable out of my office and around the edge of the loft so I could partake of this title at my then DSL speeds.  I even went so far as to purchase a weird controller adapter that among other things had a PC PS/2 port that allows me to connect a keyboard so that I could communicate more easily with other players while running group content.  I played a RAcast, which was the giant robot ranger character…  which is probably why I have so damned much fondness for Exo’s in Destiny.  Because of just how hard the various mobs hit… I found playing a sword wielding Hunter class to be awkward and involved way too much dancing in and out of melee range just barely not getting hit.  Ranger on the other hand could absolutely abuse the fact that mobs would turn back around when you encountered a gate between areas…  and I would sit at the space between zones and effectively “kite” the mobs until they were dead.

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For awhile I have known about unofficial community run servers for Phantasy Star Blue Burst the PC release of the game that came out in 2003.  However with the one I had messed with before, the game felt not completely functional in some way.  The controls were wonky, and the servers felt laggy.  However I heard there was a much better experience in the form of the Ephinea Private server.  I never quite know where whims come from… but suddenly this weekend I was hitting the page and downloading the client.  Firstly the experience of getting into the game is much better than the version I had messed with before, that involved downloading the game via a large torrent.  This instead is a fairly slim roughly 650 meg installer.  From there it boots into a menu system that features its own built in patcher, so there has been a significant amount of time spent making this as good of an experience as is possible.  The client also seems to support a whole slew of modern resolutions and some advanced options for a higher resolution HUD, all of which was missing from the version I played a few years back.  Reading the FAQ on the website you can see that they have made a significant number of tweaks to improve overall game play experience like giving all of your characters a shared bank.  What is also interesting is that there are three seperate rulesets that are supported:  Normal, Hardcore and Sandbox.  The second being much more difficult but having much better drop rewards, and the later being a pseudo “admin mode” that allows players to summon up items and such.  For the time being however I have simply been playing on Normal mode while I get used to the game again.

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It is funny just how fast the game has come back to me, and even though my Fusion Pro Controller is nothing like a Dreamcast Controller…  I have managed to adjust to the differences rather rapidly.  In truth there is not a lot of deep strategy going on in this game other than the rhythm of landing a triple hit attack…  which I remembered pretty quickly and have been abusing since.  Ultimately I probably wouldn’t suggest downloading the game unless you are in one of two camps.  Firstly this is awesome for those of us who played the game back when this was literally better than anything out on the market, and want a trip down memory lane.  Secondly this is awesome for anyone who completely missed the boat on Phantasy Star Online and would like to at least see what the game was like.  In both of those cases it will provide some enjoyment, but for anyone expecting a modern experience…  you should probably keep on moving.  I’ve talked about this before, but there is an era in gaming where the ability to play online with others… especially from a console was the central feature of the game and any other details were by nature secondary.  While the core gameplay loop is still enjoyable to me personally… it won’t be for many especially considering how slow paced the game is and how cludgy the targeting system can be.  A good bit of my love of Destiny is likely because Phantasy Star Online was my first “looter shooter”.  I ran around with a rifle wielding RACast and shot things until they dropped boxes of loot… that I then either equipped or took back to the Tekker to identify the item.  Master Rahoul has nothing on the disappointment the Tekkers used to bring us when that weapon we have trudged up from the bowels of  Ruins 3 turns out not to be the upgrade we were looking for.  If you too want a trip down memory lane however… I suggest you check out Ephinea and their awesomely tweaked version of the PC Phantasy Online Star Blue Burst client.

Of Geekdom

You’re A Gamer

Yesterday I saw the above video pop into my subscription feed on YouTube, and since Pixel is awesome and was a Blaugust participant I of course watched it.  In the video she talks about a problem of shunning going on in the “girl gamer” circles, and it prompted me to write yet another one of these pieces.  While I absolutely see the issue happening in that community, I also think the issue is inherent in all “geek” communities, and it becomes pretty damned frustrating.  For awhile now I thought I could blame it on my generation.  As far as video games go, we are essentially patient zero.  My folks had a pong system, then I graduated to Atari… then to Nintendo… and pretty much every gaming fad in between.  So for awhile now I have felt this strange sense of responsibility for apparently being part of the generation that created this broken model.  I thought maybe the gatekeeping came from the fact that for many of us we have experienced a bit of shame over our hobbies, or at least being treated to those “you are not normal” type of looks on a regular basis.

I wear my “geekdom” on my sleeve but once you leave the development row at work… I am absolutely “not like the other kids”.  I have Lego MiniFigures instead of pictures of kids, and I have to explain so many of the assorted items of kitch on my desk.  Weirdly enough pretty much everyone knows what a Creeper from Minecraft is however, but I guess if folks have kids… that makes sense.  The odd thing is…  I remember a time when it wasn’t like this really.  I remember when you went to someones house and saw an Atari… you were essentially instant friends because you had a fast point of reference.  Same thing happened for Nintendo, and everyone would huddle around the lunch room to talk about this game or that.  It wasn’t just a geek thing, it was an every kid thing.  Hell my wife does not consider herself a gamer at all… but she had an Atari and a Nintendo and played both.  Her favorite game growing up was Snoopy and the Red Baron, and at some point I am going to find one for her for no reason other than sheer nostalgia.  So I guess the question is… what happened?

Forming Camps

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The very first time I can really remember any tension forming, came from the early Sega versus Nintendo rivalry.  I mean during the Atari era there were other console systems like the Colecovision or Intellivision, but ultimately it didn’t really matter that much.  At the end of the day we were all playing the same ports of arcade games, which seemed to be universally offered on all platforms.  The first party title thing didn’t seem to really matter… that is until Mario and Sonic.  The advertising was constantly and obnoxious and full of partial truths.  I grew up in a small town, and quite literally no one that I knew could actually afford both a Super Nintendo AND a Genesis, so it ultimately meant you had to place all of your hope in one console or the other.  I don’t remember any fights breaking out but it was really the first time I can remember such a thing as someone owning the “wrong console”.  I had a friend with a Sega Master System, and I remember one birthday party where everyone was disappointed that he didn’t have a Nintendo to play.  No one really wanted to try this “other” thing, because everyone wanted to play Super Mario Brothers.

I could drive myself insane trying to trace the roots, but regardless of how we ended up in this situation…  it isn’t a great one.  Any system where we claim that Gamer A is not as much of a gamer as Gamer B because they like this thing or that thing…  is a really bad system.  I guess the part about it that I don’t really get is when did we start competing with each other on everything.  Can’t it be enough that you like a thing, and want to do a thing…  without having to feel the need to shit on everyone who is doing something else?  I mentioned Minecraft earlier, and that game honestly gives me a lot of hope.  A friend of mine was telling a story the other day, about how their kid bumped into some other kids while on vacation.  Somehow the topic of Minecraft came up, and suddenly all of these random strangers were instant friends.  Games have the power to bring people with no other shared interests together, and honestly most of the people I know on the internet… I know thanks to gaming.  So I see the potential that this shared interest has to unite us all… and it just makes me even the more depressed when I see people fighting over this game or that game.  Does it really matter if you prefer Call of Duty to Battlefield, or if you happen to like a PS4 over an Xbox One?  Can’t we all just be okay with saying “these are things I like” and be equally okay when someone else happens to like different things?

I Have No Answers

I have no real answers at the end of the day.  Lately I have seen a lot of angst in the World of Warcraft community as people disappear from that game.  I was absolutely part of the problem during the first great exodus to Rift, and I feel bad for it.  Ultimately what I want is for people to do whatever makes them happy, and play whatever game they are passionate about.  Similarly when they stop being passionate about it…  it is perfectly okay to walk away with zero shame.  Just because I am in a down cycle where I am not all that interested in World of Warcraft it doesn’t mean that I wish the game harm.  Sure there is a bit of schadenfreude occasionally over the earning reports, simply because I have felt for awhile that the staff doesn’t really get what players actually want.  I keep hoping that they will right the ship and turn us back to a game that I would be happy to play again.  At no point however do I want the game to go away or am I willing to actively rail against people for playing it.  I guess what happened to change my opinion… is that I started to see the alternative.

During that first parting of ways…  we had not seen the consequences of when a game stops being supported.  Ask the folks who played Star Wars Galaxies, City of Heroes or Vanguard how they feel about having a game world disappear.  After watching several worlds just simply vanish…  it has made me quite a bit more respectful of whatever game anyone happens to be playing.  We invest so much of ourselves in the games that we play, and whatever it is that you happen to be passionate about is awesome.  The gatekeeping and the “you must be this tall to ride this ride” signs that we seem to constantly be willing to tack up all over our landscape are counter productive.  I original thought it was my generation that broke the system, but now I am just not certain any more.  Maybe tribalism is just something that is naturally going to happen in any system when it gets too large.  Maybe “gamer” isn’t even really a thing anymore… and video games are just something that everyone does.  We don’t have a title for folks who watch TV, because that distinction is utterly meaningless.  Just because we both own a TV does not mean we are likely going to be watching the same shows…  but by the same token no one is expecting us to.  Maybe we need to shed the notion that we all have this common point of reference, and maybe we just need to accept the fact that we are all going to like different things.  Maybe in another generation this question just simply won’t exist any more because gaming has become so mainstream that nobody even thinks about it as an identity.  Whatever the case…  for the time being…  I just wish we could treat each other better.

 

 

Arcade Box

Loft 1.0

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Currently I am known for being a fairly PC centric gamer, but this was not always the case.  Once upon a time I had a game loft with all of the major console systems prior to the Xbox hooked up and playable at any given time via a complex set of switches.  It was a ton of fun, but also a massive pain in the ass to remember which combination of video switches produced which actual game system being fed to the arcade style RGB Monitor.  Ultimately things happened that lead to at least in part the dismantling of the game loft, and other interests kept me from ever really rebuilding it in the same fashion.

During the summer we cleaned out the loft and set up the loft again, but this time I did not want to string cords all over the place like I had before.  Currently I only have my Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 hooked up long with a cable box.  The problem is… I still want access to all those retro games, or for me “the good old days”.  Essentially I decided I was going to create a dedicated emulator PC, but I wanted it to be something small and quiet.  I ended up going with a Foxconn Nettop machine similar to this one.

Something Simple

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The current iteration of the box relies upon XBox Media Center and quite honestly has been more fiddly than I would have liked.  As a result it is still sitting in my office instead of hooked up out in the loft as it should be.  So yesterday when an interesting thing crossed my feed I had to explore it.  One of my friends on G+ shared a link to a project called ICE.  Essentially it is an interface between Steam and the various Console Emulators, allowing them to be added to your game library and accessible through Big Picture mode.  Personally I thought this was a really awesome idea, as running a system through steam big picture mode would also give me access to a lot of the indie games that would run just fine through the nettop as well.

I did quite a bit of research into how it actually worked, as I did not want anything accessing my steam account and potentially compromising it.  Essentially it only acts as a go between, in a sort of batch file mode, automatically registering a bunch of roms with steam and configuring them to load the emulator and the file as command line arguments.  For the most part it works really well.  I had no problem getting the Nintendo 64 and Gameboy Advance games working, however I was unable to get any Super Nintendo title to work.  The list of currently supported consoles is a little something like this.

  • NES – Nintendo Entertainment System
  • SNES – Super Nintendo
  • N64 – Nintendo 64
  • Gamecube – Nintendo Gamecube
  • PS1 – Sony Playstation
  • PS2 – Sony Playstation 2
  • Genesis – Sega Genesis
  • Gameboy – Nintendo Gameboy
  • GBA – Nintendo Gameboy Advance

Arcade Box

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Were I only interested in having console games on tap… it would have been a pretty solid solution, pending I could get all of the games to register properly and get the super nintendo emulation working.  The problem is… I also want access to Mame which Ice currently does not support or have listed for future intended support either.  Why play a console port of an arcade game when you can just play the actual arcade title.  So this has lead me to search further for an easy to use solution, and I have landed upon a nifty piece of software called Maximus Arcade.

 

Once upon a time I worked as a developer at a Palm Pilot software company.  Before the environment got the life sucked out of it by corporatization…  we had this amazing Mame cabinet that one of the developers had built after hours… and then brought into the office for us all to enjoy.  Through a whole bunch of arcane bullshit he had cobbled together this really cool menu system that let us have over 4000 arcade games “on tap” at any given time.  Maximus Arcade seems like a piece of software that does all the configuration for you and just presents a really nice and cohesive interface.  Currently the software ships with all X-Arcade joysticks, but you can purchase it separately for the really paltry sum of $25.

So once again begins a little phase of me determining how best to build a Maximus Arcade machine.  Right now all suggestions are pointing at WIndows XP, specifically a derivative known as Micro XP.  The software has decent forums so I intend to do quite a bit of research there before I do the system build out.  The cool thing about it is, that it supports every console and arcade emulator I have heard of… as well as several that I have not.  So it seems like I would be able to grow the system to support anything I might want to add in later.  For the time being the important things to me are Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Genesis, Master System, Gameboy Advance and Mame and it seems to do all of those without issue.  I will keep you guys updated as I work on the build and get it rolled out into the game loft.