All posts by Steve W

Shooter Intro Showdown – Axelay v. Zero Wing!

Back at it again after a lengthy hiatus with a new concept – the Shooter Intro Showdown! We watch two space shooter intros, you vote on which one you like best. After a few months, we’ll know what space shooter has the greatest intro of all time. That easy! Watch and vote below!

Better one man space force?

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We’ll  be back soon with more intros!

Subspace Brief Facts – Psychic Killer Taromarou!

Here it is, what I anticipate will be the final Subspace Brief Facts! We’re going out with a bang – Psychic Killer Taromarou!

Psychic Killer Taromarou is one of the rarest and most expensive games out there. Nobody should pay for it – but if you can find a way to *cough* acquire it *cough* it’s worth a look. It has the kind of bizarre late ’90s charm that only the Saturn could bring. Watch the vid! And watch this page for my next foray into the the exciting world of VIDEO!

Padhacking and Other Strangeness

In the summer of 2017, I hacked a spare Nintendo Wii I had lying around so I could install some emulators on it. Hacking a Wii is extremely easy, and I’d recommend you give it a shot.  While there’s a slight risk of bricking your hardware, hey, it’s 2018: if you still have a Wii, chances are it’s not doing anything other than collecting dust. The Wii homebrew scene is pretty quiet these days, but there’s loads of fully functional, high quality emulators and homebrew games already out there.  You can even turn your Wii into an alarm clock. Give it a shot!

Getting a Wii to run some arcade ROMs with Retroarch isn’t too difficult – but who wants to play Street Fighter II with this?

NOBODY! Well, at least not I, noted arcade stick nut Steven J. White. I needed an authentic arcade controller. And it had to be a good one. Sure, I could probably have just bought one, but Wii arcade sticks are somewhat expensive, and I’m cheap. On top of it, I’d already hacked up just about every other arcade stick I owned. The solution? BOOZE.

After finishing a bottle of Blood Oath Bourbon, it dawned on me that the box that it came in was something I MIGHT be able to use as an arcade stick – plus it had a nice little sliding top I could use an access panel for future repairs, if need be. So with that in mind, me and my buddy Adam extracted the PCB from an old Wii Classic Controller, dremeled up the box, ran some wires, and…. PRESTO.

The #bloodoathbourbon stick is done… for now. #arcadestick #retrogaming

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A classy, and mostly functioning arcade stick for the Wii. Why “mostly functioning?” Well, that’s because the buttons that were mapped to the Wii Classic Controller’s triggers (second column from the right) produced inconsistent results. After a bit of research (meaning checking out this long dead thread on shoryuken.com), I learned that this is because the left and right trigger buttons on the Wii classic controller, much like their Gamecube forbears,  are analog/pressure sensitive. This means you can’t map them cleanly to a simple arcade-style push-button without soldering in some resistors and diodes. Lacking these components and a comprehensive guide to work with, I decided to go another route:

The Classic Controller Pro. This bad boy, ostensibly designed so that people could comfortably play first-person shooters on the Wii, has 4 strictly digital trigger buttons, meaning no additional components would be necessary. So, with that in mind, Adam and I got back to work.

Dream team back at it again! #padhacking #retrogaming #fightstick

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After a quick PCB replacement, we found that the arcade stick now worked perfectly. But hey, by that time, we’d finished another bottle of booze.

It was hard not to look at the beautiful, clear front on that bottle of Booker’s and not think that it would look positively BEAUTIFUL with a PCB slammed into it. We had another Classic Controller Pro ready to go, so we just went for it:

First, we drilled some holes and mounted the buttons (24 mm, in case you are looking to recreate this) and joystick. Notably, we had to mount the joystick sideways and adjust our wiring accordingly, as the box wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the standard positioning. The astute reader will note that we chose a color scheme that paid homage to the Neo Geo MVS cabinet. After that, it was just a lot of soldering and running wires:

The end result came out looking pretty good:

The #bookersbourbon #fightstick is complete! #padhacking #retrogaming

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Ooooooh, sexy! You may note that I left the analog sticks attached. While they’re functionally useless, I thought it might be cool to leave them in there in case I ever decided to get creative – maybe some day I’ll mount them on the sides and use them as pinball flippers, I dunno. They look kind of cool resting in the middle, if you ask me.

So now I had two fully-functioning Wii arcade sticks. But I also had a lot of spare parts, and a strong desire to keep making unconventional controllers. One thing that has always intrigued  me are “stickless”  fightsticks.

A conventional arcade style joystick, at its core, is just a lever that smashes into one of four buttons for each of the cardinal directions.

Shamelessly stolen from an e-bay store.

Digital d-pads operate on much the same principle. There’s a subset of the fighting game community that prefers to skip the stick entirely, opting to put directional buttons on the face of the controller instead. I don’t know if that’s a way I’d want to play to play fighting games, but damn if my hands don’t get cramped when playing old school NES RPGs.

It was then I got inspired by this cigar box:

This here blunt box, which a former co-worker abandoned on her desk, would be perfect for my RPG controller. It didn’t hurt that I had a long-unused Retro-Bit dogbone style NES controller just sitting around.

So, I got to work. First, drilling some button holes….

Then dropping in the dogbone PCB and running some wires…And, finally, putting it all together, and dropping in an LED for style points (pro-tip: hot glue is a great lightspreader):Not pictured here, because I’m not a great documentarian: having to shave down the lip on the right side of the box lid so I could actually open and close this thing when all was said and done. The trickiest part of all this? Running a nice, clean looking ground loop through the 4 buttons on the side AND the 6 buttons on the top. The end-result?

The KILLER BEE! A fully-functional, extremely impractical NES controller without a d-pad. While I haven’t gone nuts with it yet, yes, it does work just fine for RPGs. Because I’m nuts, I thought it would be fun to put A and B on either side, making this controller usable by both lefties AND righties.  This may be the weirdest thing I’ve done yet, but I’m super pleased with the result.

So there you have it folks! When it comes to retro controllers, if you’re willing to crack a few eggs, you can get some nice omelettes. I’m not sure what I’ll make next, but I’ll be sure to post about it when I do!

Dynamite Cop!

Dynamite Cop
Dreamcast, 1999
Developer: Sega AM1
Publisher: Sega

Yippie Ki Yay, Mr. Falcon. In 1996, Sega unleashed Die Hard Arcade – an international joint effort from the minds of two of its better known development teams, Sega AM1 and Sega Technical Institute. As its name would strongly suggest, Die Hard Arcade is an arcade beat ’em up based on the Die Hard franchise. A solid early entry in the 3D brawler genre, Die Hard Arcade is as fondly remembered for its absurd blend of pro-wrestling moves and gunplay as it is for its wonderfully rectangular rendition of Bruce Willis’ head.

Behold: the rhomboid bone structure that helped define the modern action hero.

But, for some reason, in Japan, Die Hard Arcade wasn’t a licensed property. There, it was called Dynamite Deka, which translates roughly to “Dynamite Detective” or “Dynamite Cop.” It’s basically the same game, but all references to Die Hard have been removed, and John McClane is now “Bruno Delinger.” I have my guesses as to why they went with “Bruno.”

Coincidentally, Bruno is also the name of Bruce Willis’ singing alter ego. Yes, this was a thing, kids.

But this post isn’t about Die Hard Arcade. We’re here to talk about its sequel, Dynamite Cop. Which is kind of what Die Hard Arcade was called in Japan. And, if you want to get technical about it, in Japan, Dynamite Cop is known as Dynamite Deka 2. What we call Dynamite Cop is an English localization of the game basically called Dynamite Cop 2 in Japan. Have fun keeping that straight. But whatever – it’s the sequel to Die Hard Arcade, minus the Die Hard, but suspiciously high on the Willis factor.

Fake Bruce Willis gets the benefit of a digitally augmented hairline. And a pet monkey.

Released to arcades in 1998, the game is perhaps best known for its 1999 Dreamcast port, which is what we’re covering here. Dynamite Cop’s plot is charmingly stupid – and I mean that in the least pejorative sense. Modern day pirates – and we don’t mean the actual terrifying Somalian kind –

The captain, now. Look at him.

– we mean a group of nautical themed lunatics with a skull shaped island fortress and an actual wooden pirate ship –

have kidnapped the president’s daughter. You have to rescue her. This is actually the plot of the first game, except on a boat. These are, in fact, the same bad guys from the first game. They’ve just decided to become pirates. Yep.

Main villain Wolf Hongo in both Dreamcast and Saturn forms. The 128 bit face lift in full effect.

The player controls one of three Dynamite Cops – Bruno Delinger, the aforementioned McClane/Willis stand in and all-round baddass; Eddie Brown, a Navy Seal who seems to specialize in Muay Thai; and Jean Ivy, another Navy Seal who uses a weird mix of kung fu and pro wrestling.

Core gameplay is pretty straightforward. You’ve got three buttons – punch, kick, and jump – which can be combined with directional inputs to perform more advanced maneuvers. Truthfully, you only need the basic button combos to succeed, but if you start experimenting with more elaborate inputs (particularly after grappling with an opponent), you’ll find that the move list is surprisingly deep. On top of it, after picking up the glowing powerups that emerge most enemies, your character can get LUDICROUSLY violent. Observe:

But the real joy of Dynamite Cop comes from the weapons. You’re rarely more than a few moments from obtaining a gun, but why stop there? You can beat up your foes with…

Potted plants!

Urinals!

Tuna (maybe?)!

And, my personal favorite, hand-launched anti-ship missiles!

I really only stopped listing weapons because I got tired of making gifs. Dynamite Cop’s full arsenal contains everything from shish-kebabs to laser guns. If the spectacle of violence can truly be silly, this is as silly as it gets.

That commitment to silliness and spectacle is really the only reason to play Dynamite Cop – but it’s a DAMN good reason. Dynamite Cop is merely a competent brawler, but it’s a competent brawler that’s got an arcade thrill ride standing proudly on its shoulders. This isn’t a game which wants you to master the intricacies of its move list, it’s a game that wants you yell “HELL YEAH” after you kick a dude in a shark costume in the nards 10 times and run over his buddy with a motorcycle. Because it adheres so fastidiously to its high-impact ethos of ridiculous violence, it’s difficult for me to consider Dynamite Cop anything other than an unqualified:

Dynamite Cop is short; a successful play-through only takes about an hour or less. That being said, each of its three routes are worth replaying multiple times, if for no other reason than to use every single absurd armament at your disposal. I give it a “YOU CAN THROW SLOT MACHINES AT A CRAB MAN” out of 10.

Special thanks to Mark Del Rossiwho was the best Player 2 this author could ever ask for. Even though he shot me with multiple hand thrown missiles.

Mod Fever!

Recently, I’ve gotten the mod bug. Maybe it’s the logical consequence of owning a ridiculously oversized retro console/game library; maybe I just got tired of paying other people to mod things for me. Either way, I picked up a brand spanking new soldering iron about a month and a half ago, and I haven’t been able to stop.

First, I kept it relatively simple, installing a stock mod boards. After a few failed attempts with a Turbo Duo (more on that in a later post), I found some success with an N64  RGB amp… the results came out looking pretty good.

You’re going to have to take my word on it when I tell you I installed the mod myself. I didn’t think to take a picture of the completed installation, and I’m too superstitious to open it up and poke around now.

With a successful console mod under my belt, I started thinking about controller mods, which led me to slagcoin and its treasure trove of PCB diagrams. You have to crawl before you can run, so I thought I’d start small, by putting an LED in an old third-party Genesis controller.

Putting LEDs into old #segagenesis controllers. Because why not? #retrogaming

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As that didn’t prove too difficult, I came to the conclusion that virtually everything could be improved through the edition of an LED. Like, say… a few Genesis controllers I spray painted a couple of months back.

Finally got the green monster up and running! #segagenesis #retrogaming

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Pleased with these results, I got a little more adventurous, and decided to go to town on a limited edition Sega Saturn controller.

This clear #segasaturn controller looks great with… another led. #retrogaming

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And, finally, since I had an old NES Advantage that needed cleaning, I thought I’d give it a new paintjob and drop in some green LEDs.

Fun little cosmetic mod for the advantage. Fresh coat of paint and two new LEDs. #nes #retrogaming

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While I think I’ll be putting LEDs into things until the day I die, I was still hungry for more.  After looking at some NES controller PCB diagrams, I became convinced that I could add a new button – a “C” button, if you will – that would function as a simultaneous press of  “up” and “B.”  Theoretically, this would allow me to fire subweapons in games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden with a single button press. The inspiration came from the “III” button on the Avenue Pad 3 for the PC Engine, which functioned as a second “select” button.

Image source: genkivideogames.com

A lot of games for the PC Engine used “select” for gameplay functions, and  this bad boy made it easier on the player to make that button press. My “up and B” mod probably wouldn’t be as useful, but hey, I had soldering fever, and I wasn’t going to stop.

I had some tiny little buttons from a breadboard kit, and I figured I’d use them. My first attempt, in all its glory:

The wires on the right side of the button are running from “up” and “B.” The wire on the left side is running out to a ground. On a certain level, this actually did work – pressing that button did trigger “up” and “B” simultaneously. Unfortunately, however, pressing either “up” or “B” individually ALSO yielded simultaneous presses of both buttons. This is because this was a “SPST” – single-pole, single-throw – button. Basically, the wiring of the button was such that by placing “up” and “B” on the same side of the button, I was actually wiring them together.

After reading up a bit and consulting a friend (who happens to be an engineer), I learned that what I needed was a “DPST” – dual-pole, single-throw – button. This would allow me to wire my custom button in such a way that it could complete the circuits for both “up” and “B” without linking them together. My second attempt:

Alternate view:

It’s a little more difficult to see, because I reinforced my soldering job with hot glue, but the wires on the right side of the button are running from “B” and a ground and, the wires on the left side of the button are doing the same thing for “up.” The ugly end-result:

It ain’t pretty, but hey, that Nintendo Power sticker from ’93 wasn’t much of a looker to begin with. Did it work?

HELL YES IT DID! The button is kind of touchy (cheap parts or bad soldering on my part, not sure which yet), but it works – you can see it when Ryu sticks his hand out. Fun stuff!

I’d encourage any retrogaming enthusiast to pick up a soldering iron and try their hand at some mods. While I’m still a neophyte in the modding arena, I feel like I’ve revealed exciting new depths to my chief hobby.  It’s easier than you think!

More to come!

Video Pinball 666 Salute!

This post is more than a bit late… behold! My tribute to the insanity that is video pinball:

Over the years, I have amassed quite aof video pinball games. Even though I’m not much of a pinball player, I’m a huge fan of the genre, and I’ve long wanted to do a retrospective on the legendary Alien Crush.

Alien Crush game was the visual centerpiece of the TurboGrafx-16 when it was released. It was one of those games that made you think “I want this system.”  However, being a pinball game, it doesn’t make for terribly compelling gameplay footage – at the end of the day, it’s just pinball.

I decided to bolster the video by adding additional pinball games. As I browsed through my library, I began to notice a pattern of… uh… “heavy metal absurdity.” A video pinball game relies quite heavily on the theme applied to its table(s) – if you’re working with a decent physics model and table design, that’s really about all that separates one game from the other. I found myself increasingly amused at the “edgy” nature of the themes developers chose; many games from the early 1990s just seem like they were designed to upset parents. In a word, they were SWEET.

So, with that in mind, I took inspiration from one of my favorite NES commercials:

I thought it would be fun to just go full sensory overload – inundate the viewer with over the top nonsense as rapidly as I could. If nothing else, I think I accomplished that goal.

FUN FACT: I had originally recorded footage from the TG-16 version of Devil’s Crush. Unfortunately, due to some hardware issues, I wasn’t able to capture it in RGB, and I wasn’t happy with how it looked next to the rest of the footage.  As such, what you see in the video is actually from Devil’s Crush MD: the Japanese Genesis version of the same game. Here’s the video of the TG-16 version if you’re interested.

Catch you later, pinball wizards!

Some Random Pinbot Media

I’m in the process of throwing together a piece on video pinball. Rare’s 1988 NES port of Pinbot didn’t quite make the cut. It plays like garbage, but that seemless split screen effect is something else. Rare really knew how to push the hardware!

Also, the main theme is completely wicked… So I ripped it for your enjoyment.

Stay tuned for more pinball goodness!

Castlevania Symphony of the Night: Maria Goes to Saturn

It’s difficult to cover something that’s been done to death, but I’ve always wanted to do something on Symphony of the Night.  Hopefully I’ve provided something somewhat new and original by exploring a very specific aspect of the Saturn version of Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight– the ability to play as Maria Renard. Enjoy!

You’ll also note that there’s a decent amount of footage from Dracula X: Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine. Here’s some fun little gifs I ripped from that game while recording:

richtergif
WEAPONIZED RELIGION!
mariadeath
You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper.

And here’s Maria and Richter’s’s official concept art, which can be found on the Saturn disc:

And because I’m such a (tragic) prince, here’s the audio for the music used in the video:

As usual, the game was played through a Framemeister. I used Chris Genthe’s upscaler settings – you can find all of his videos here. I’ve embedded his Saturn video below:

I’m a big fan of Chris’ settings for 1080p output. Give them a shot!

On a somewhat sad note, you will also see that this video is dedicated to the beloved memory of my recently departed corgi, Gizmo. Among many other things, Gizmo was my “games dog” whenever I had to verify shipment of Saturn imports, I’d always try to make the photo more entertaining by throwing in Gizmo.

He was one of my best pals. He’ll be missed.

Colorizing the Odyssey 300

When I turned 30, a good friend of mine provided me with an old Magnavox Odyssey 300 – one of the finest pong machines of its day. It’s one of the more thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received.

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Remarkably, despite the condition of the box, the system inside still worked perfectly.

odysseycropped

The stickers had bubbled up a little, and the plastic had picked up a little bit of grime over the years, but it worked like a charm. It STILL works like a charm, 40 years after its original manufacture. They REALLY don’t build them like they used to.

Like most systems of its vintage, the Odyssey 300 is designed to be hooked up to an antenna-based CRT television.  Crazy to think, but cable TV was far from commonplace at the time of the Odyssey 300’s release.

20161029_155404

What you see above is most commonly referred to as a “TV/game switch” –  At least that’s what we called it in my home back in the ’80s. The screws you see at the top of the picture are where you would affix the leads that come in from the antenna. You would then take the leads that come out on the right and hook them in to the back of your ol’ boob tube. When you wanted to do some gaming, you’d flip the switch to “game,” and the console would then “broadcast” over one of your TV channels (usually channel 2, 3 or 4). In the image above, you’ll note that the switch is hooked up to a simple adapter, which allows it to be plugged into the coax/CATV port on the back of a modern TV.

oydyssey-bw

Despite its age, the Odyssey 300 works just fine on a modern flat panel display – at least it worked fine on my  6-year-old 20″ Vizio LCD. Through the use of a cheap RF booster from radioshack, I was able to amplify the signal and get rid of much of the static. The result is more than playable – probably on par with what you would have experienced back in 1976.

20161029_132911
I was amazed that (1) they still made these, and (2) I was able to find a Radioshack in Philly that carried one.

So playing and enjoying the Odyssey 300 is fairly straightforward – much easier than I expected out of a console 6-years my senior. But, like any good retrogaming enthusiast, I was not satisfied. I had to know: could I pointlessly upscale this thing to 1080p?

20161030_145023

That right there is Micomsoft’s XRGB Mini – the Framemeister. It’s what I use to upscale all of the retro console footage you see on this site. Long story short, it takes video signals from  old consoles, upscales them to your desired resolution, and outputs a nice clean signal over HDMI. Basically, it makes old game systems look crisp and clear on modern televisions. The Odyssey 300 looks fine without any upscaling, but I thought it would be neat to see if I could bring Magnavox’s old dinosaur into the HD era.

One slight problem, though: the Framemeister doesn’t have an input for coaxial cable. I had to get the Odyssey’s signal to output over standard composite/RCA cables.

20161029_132801

Enter my parents’ old VCR. The Panasonic Omnivision. Behold its “VCR Plus” functionality. Truly a titan of its era.

20161029_132811

Being a high quality VCR from 1995, the Omnivision is more than equipped to take video input over a coax cable and output it over composite cables. All I had to do was just hook the TV/game switch into the VCR, run a single yellow cable to the Framemeister, set the tuner to channel 3, and I was ready to rock. There are probably more elegant ways to accomplish this, but I wasn’t about to spend any money on this experiment. Besides, getting a VCR involved in the mix only made this experiment far more ludicrous/fun.

king-of-demons-screenshot-2016-10-29-13-54-58

Boom. So there you have it. That there is the Framemeister’s menu over top of an Odyssey 300 screen, upscaled to 1080p. But I wasn’t done yet. Nope, not by a long shot.

king-of-demons-screenshot-2016-10-29-13-55-19

With recent firmware updates, the Framemeister has gained the ability to place colored overlays atop its video output. Presumptively, this is to be utilized with old arcade games, like, say, Space Invaders, which output a black and white image, but utilized colored gels to create the illusion of color.

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Image source: nowgamer.com. Click the image to read their excellent Space Invaders retrospective.

Using the Framemeister, I could replicate this effect on the Odyssey, and give it a fresh injection of all of the colors of the test pattern rainbow.

king-of-demons-screenshot-2016-10-29-14-02-41

The Framemeister allows for up to 7 “strips,” which can be oriented horizontally or vertically, and set to variable widths. Utilizing just three overlays, I was able to divide the “tennis” court into two colors, divided by a nice red center line. No longer would anybody be confused about which white paddle was theirs!

king-of-demons-screenshot-2016-10-29-14-37-15

By playing around with the zoom setting a little bit, I was able to get the image to more or less fit the 16:9 aspect ratio of my display.

odyssey-200-tennis-screenshot-2016-10-30-14-12-09

Experimenting with a few more overlays, I was able to get each paddle to appear as as a distinct color while giving the playfield a little bit more of a “tennis court” look. Unparalleled realism!

But wait, there’s more! The Odyssey 300 could do more than just pong, it also had…

odyssey-200-hockey-screenshot-2016-10-30-14-13-19

Hockey! Hockey is more or less the same as pong, but each player controls a “forward” and a “goalie.” Using the overlays, I was able to make it clear which paddle belonged to each player. But the fun doesn’t stop with hockey, oh no.

odyssey-200-racketball-screenshot-2016-10-30-15-56-29

Racquetball! Racquetball, again, is basically the same as pong, but both players occupy the same side of the court. With the aid of the overlays, it’s like you don’t even have to get up and go to the country club!

If you watched the video at the beginning of this post, you may have noted the lack of in-game audio. That’s because the Odyssey itself outputs nothing but horrid white noise. The game audio (little more than a few bleeps and bloops) emanates from a speaker in the Odyssey itself, rendering it uncapturable – at least for purposes of this exercise. The excellent music you hear in the video is the product of Rob E. Cohen, the very same friend who gave me Odyssey.

So there you have it: with a little bit of ingenuity, a fancy-ass upscaler and an old VCR, you can turn even the oldest of consoles into a colorized, high-definition destroyer. I don’t know if I’ll ever buy another sports game again. Color your world, people.