Sunday, 27 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt2)

Last time out was the turn of Vertical Scrolling Shooters, this time out the theme goes by the pithy title: Other Shooters

How do I come up with these things...?

First up, Galactic Storm released by Taito in 1991.

Good old fashioned fly into the screen the shoot everything that moves action in this one.

Despite shades of Space Harrier, Starfox, Galaxy Force 2 and the likes, the great sprite-scaling 3D effects and some neat original level design help to keep things fresh - and the oddly laid back soundtrack give the whole thing an atmosphere all it's own.

Not a lot more to say than that really, it's just a hell of a lot of fun and, if you can resist spamming the coin button, a pretty intense challenge.

Next up is Gundhara, a shooter in the Ikari Wariors/Commando vein.

This 1995 effort comes from Banpresto, a company whose name I've seen a surprising amount while compiling these posts.

The game gives you a choice of two guys who play pretty much identically. Having chosen from either Jerry or Jinn you press on, ever upwards, shooting everything and everyone with pause only given to rescue the occasional brat tied inexplicably to an oil barrel - I have to admit though, there is something incredibly annoying about these little twerps and if you can resist 'accidentally' gunning them down then you're a better person than me.

There's a simple but effective directional fire mechanic to give you the edge in your quest.
You fire whichever way you happen to be facing, but if you hold down the button it locks the direction of fire allowing you to strafe in any direction.

There's a neat levelling power up system too. Picking up different weapons swaps them out, picking up the same weapon you already hold increases it's power.

There's also a couple of great looking vehicle elements in the game, in one you ride a motorbike and in another you pilot a mech. They both serve to break up the standard gameplay very nicely.

There's a lot going on in Gundhara but it manages to balance it all into a challenging and fun experience without ever seeming to take itself entirely seriously - and that's something that should always be applauded.

A couple of h.shmups to round things up, firstly - Gigandes.

Gigandes comes from a company call East Technology, of whom I have never heard. It also comes from 1989.

It is not the prettiest of games. The sprites are well drawn but the backgrounds fit in the vast range between empty and slightly less empty.

However the hook with Gigandes, like so many of the best shooters, is the power up system.

This time it's all about multiple weapons.
Your tiny spherical craft can equip up to four weapons at a time all of which can be powered-up individually - which, in itself, is nothing new.
Uniquely, in Gigandes each of these weapons is attached to an individual side of the ship - top, bottom, front, and back - and each fires in the corresponding direction.
The weapon will be attached to which ever side of your craft you ram into the icon with, this applies to choosing which weapon is affected by the power-up icon.

Unlike just about every shooter ever, getting killed does not rob you of your accumulated weapons.
You start each new level with just a simple cannon, no matter what you had equipped at the end of the previous one, but soon you'll be firing in every direction of the screen at once - that the game still remains a significant challenge despite this a great achievement.

Whether you have full compliment of weaponry or just the starting cannon pressing the second button allows the weapons section of the ship can be rotated, one section at a time, about the bot of the craft. This ensures that you can always have your most powerful gun pointed at the meanest looking bad guy. There's even a secondary function whereby holding the button moves whichever weapon is attached to the bottom to pivot 45 degrees - basically it can point south, south-west, or south-east.

As I mentioned when recommending Guardian Force previously, directional fire can sometimes be redundant in isolation. But as with that game, Gigandes has the level design and enemy attack pattern to ensure you are tapping away as furiously at B to rotate button as you are at A to fire.

Last up, the answer to what made the dinosaurs extinct, Genshi-Tou 1930's.

This one comes courtesy of SNK and, like Gigandes, comes from 1989.
Also like Gigandes is a power-up system that involves rotation, although this time it is of the more usual 'pod' design.
I never know quite what the correct name is for these things. In R-Type I always called it the 'Force', in Gradius I believe it's referred to as 'Option'. Is there a standard generic term?
Anyway, in this excellently atmospheric game you pilot a biplane to a Jurassic park style island and gun down everything you find there.

My game was in Japanese so if there is anything more subtle going on it was lost on me.

The pod style power-up is rotated around your ship with the second button. The type of shot fired changing depends on where you position it.
Position it out front and you get a more powerful supplement to you standard gun, position it underneath your plane and you get a spreadshot fired towards the ground, out back it will drop mines and placed up above it will give you the spreadshot again, only fired upwards.

The need for such a range of fire modes becomes apparent very quickly. You are attacked from the ground by land based dinosaurs who jump to try and hit your plane. They are accompanied by cavemen who will grab onto your plane entertainingly if you get too close - A little joystick jiggling is required toshake them off.
Additionally, as you move further into the game, the levels begin to scroll in various directions, further necessitating the need to adjust the direction of fire accordingly.

For '89 this game is a stunner, great sprites, massive bosses, fun effects and interactions, it all comes together under the original premise to create an experience that should not be missed.

#Retrogaming $Gaming #Arcade #Mame

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - G is for... (Pt1)

Note: Most of this post has disappeared into the void. No idea what has happened but I'll endeavour to get it rewritten soon.

Let me fill you in on a little of the process by which these blog entries come about.

Firstly, about a month ago, I played through every Mame game I could find.
A collection of around 9000 files was weeded out for poker games, Mahjong games, trackball games and just plain old bad games.
This gave me my 'Long List' - about 1300 games.

As I had been whittling down from 9000 to 1300 I made notes of any game that I wasn't already aware of but which impressed me - and it's these notes that I refer to when writing this blog.

I know this sounds like pointless ramblings but I promise you that I'm going somewhere, do bear with me.

For each of the previous letters of the alphabet I have chosen my three recommendations from between 2 and 8 games, from my notes, that fit the bill.
For example I'd noted 4 games originally for A, B had 6 notable entries, E had only 4...

For games beginning with 'G' there were 23.

After eliminating those that that only flew under my personal radar rather the games community's in general (Guwange, seriously, how did I miss that!?) I'm left with 15 'actual' hidden gems.

And I don't want to drop any of them.

So here's what's going to happen:
I'm going to divide them up into categories and the next 4 'Hidden Gem' posts will be themed accordingly.
The first of these categories is, predictably, Vertically Scrolling Shooters.
So - finally - here we go with 3 best slightly obscure V.shumps the letter G has to offer.

First up, G-Stream G2020.
As you can probably tell from that picture, this one is a real beauty, ground and air based enemies are all beautifully drawn and have a real feeling of weight to them.
The game was designed by a guy called Toshiaki Fushino who bloodied some ideas in this that have apparently gone on to become mainstays on the recent hardcore gaming scene.
Primarily, there's a great power-up system whereby the three types of shot fired by your ship are proportionate in power to the coloured cubes that fill the representative bar.
If you manage to fill the bar with a single colour that weapon becomes a super weapon.
It's great system and really adds an extra level to proceedings.
To further as to your arsenal there are two super bomb types.
The first is a standard big-explosion-that-blows-lots-of-stuff-up bomb and is fuelled by simple pick-ups.
This second is a 'black hole bomb' that absorbs enemy fire and is powered by medals that are dropped when enemies are destroyed.
The combination of all these mechanics and the fantastic design make G-Stream a great game, and it's all rounded of by a well pitched difficulty level too.

Note: The post went on to recommend Guardian Storm and Gunnail

Friday, 25 October 2013

Setting up a test bed... again...

Very brief update on the monitor situation:


This puppy is a Dell M770 from around the turn of the century.
Its listed everywhere as 17 inch. Corner to corner inside the plastic is only 16, and only there's 15 actually being used by the display.
It doesn't seem quite as crisp as the previous unit (R.I.P.) but it's more than up to the task at hand.

I'm about to strip it down to check the gubbins are in good dismantle-able order... I'll update in the next full post.

But basically - back in the game.

#Retrogaming #Arcade #Mame

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Setting me back...

The other day I was remarking to myself how lucky I'd been so far on this project, every potential issue or shabby piece of planning turned into nothing more than little hiccough on my journey to cut-price Mame cabinet glory.

Today, not 5 minutes ago, I blew up my monitor.

I was being an idiot, I have the screen out of it's casing, as you may have seen from pictures in previous posts, and for some reason I decided to try and rotate the whole thing with the power still connected.

I guess if I want to find something lucky about this then the fact that I'm not dead would probably be it.

So it's back to Freegle to find a replacement - I'll probably go back and contact some of the people who I rejected first time around, see if they're still feeling charitable. Needless to say this feels lie a bigger set back than anything that has happened previously.

But anyway.

This all happened because of a conundrum I have regarding the design of my cabinet. 

I'm toying with the idea of spinning my monitor 90 degrees - just to offer that extra bit of authenticity to the many (many) vertical shooters and older games that have made the cut into my Mame selection.

There are pros and cons to this approach, the big (and probably only) Pro is how great V.shmups look.
I wouldn't have believed this to be such a profound difference if I hadn't seen it for myself, so it's tricky to put into words.

The best stat I can offer is that, as the diagram below illustrates, it increases the size of the image size by 37%

The cons are that, for every other genre of game, the screen size is reduced by the same 37%.
Remember that this is 14" screen, when mounted vertically you would have a usable screen size of 6"x7"  - a diagonal measurement of just 9 inches - in which to try and appreciate beautiful games like STUN Runner, Powerdrift, or Street Fighter 3.

It shouldn't really be a question at all, I have far more games suited to a horizontal screen than a vertical one, and as much as a enjoy v.shmups they are not my favourite genre, fighting and old school racing games would both rank higher on a personal genre preference list and both suit a horizontal set up better.

But there is something a little bit special about a vertical screen that is unquantifiable in words and numbers.

So I've devised a third option.

It is feasible that I could mount the entire screen with its PCB inside a cube housing that was removable from the control deck and PC section.
This would allow me to physically rotate the screen to suit whichever game I'm playing at any given time.

This is a great solution in theory, but there are downsides.

The original dimensions for the screen area of the cabinet would have been about H35cm x W38cm.
To create this rotatable arrangement that increases to 40cm in both directions - it's not a massive increase, and the height is the main victim which is preferable to the width.

But, considering what happened a few moments ago, is it worth it?

#Mame #Arcade #Retrogaming

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - F is for...

First up, an apology:

I was reading back a few of these blog entries last night and was appalled by the number of typos I make - I think there are at least 5 in every post.
I will endeavour to do better in the future!

I'm also a little disappointed in the games listed under E. The pickings were slim and, while I stand by the choices and think they are all games everyone should play, I'm not sure they were all keepers.

Anyway, onwards.

I'm starting to see themes in the games I like on this format, Finest Hour falls into the "non-stop-balls-out-noisy-action" theme.

It's a 'Contra' style effort in which you pilot a mech-suit and travel left to right wielding an auto-targeting gun and a set of booster jets for massive jumps.
It has a couple of neat tricks up it's sleeve, both of are things that modern games consumers have learnt to hate.
First up, there's the time limits.
Each level has a timer tied to a bonus, so speed  is of the essence.
You can double tap to run and it's quite a blast to surge into the unknown, hammering the fire button whilst ready to hit the brakes, or the boost, at the first sight of a bigger than normal baddie.
As well instilling the game with this extra urgency the timer also prevents abuse of the second game mechanic, the very mention of which has classic FPS fans exploding into fits of nerd rage...
The game is the earliest example I've seen (note: I've seen) of regenerating health.
Well, technically it's not your health.
As you take fire from the swarms of other mechs that assail you, your own suit starts to overheat, take too much continuous fire and you start to fry the circuits and eventually 'die'.
Even the continue screen keeps up this design, asking if you want to engage the emergency cooling system (bpay up to continue) or bug out and go home (Quit).
This one may be a little simplistic for some tastes, but if simplicity has a place in video games then the arcade is surely that place.

I'm pretty sure that there's been a shmup in every one of these 'Hidden Gem' blog entries. Representing F we have Fever S.O.S. from the lovely chaps at Cave.

You do have to wonder what would have become of the the shooter genre without these guys in the market to continually offer up fresh takes on the standard format.
Fever SOS is not one of the companies better known IPs, it never saw action outside the arcades and there are no sequels.
Nevertheless, this one's that's an absolute belter to crank the volume on for the full arcade experience - because what they've done this time is create the first, last, and only Disco V.shmup.
How could I not list that here?!
To be honest the Disco theme is mostly cosmetic, the soundtrack, enthusiastic announcer, and end of level score counter are all in a gloriously cheesy seventies style but the game itself is a fairly straightforward, albeit very high quality, v.shmup.
It offers a choice of craft, a choice of bullet pattern, and a choice of speed.
The idiosyncracy in gameplay comes from a score multiplier system based on collecting the little dudes that float down and back up the screen after you have destroyed the enemy ships. If you let just one guy float off the top of the screen then your score booster is reset.
The rest of the gameplay is the usual classy Cave stuff; Fantastic bosses, challenging difficultly level, screens full of laser fire. Tie this to the hugely infectious Disco motif and you have a winner on your hands.

Last up is Fast Lane from Konami.

You will have seen something like Fast Lane before. Games where two icons travel in different directions around the same basic maze style track, one collecting dots, the other trying to prevent them doing so, exist in their dozens on Mame alone.
I don't know how old this style of game is, I'm fairly sure I remember playing a variant of it on a Game & Watch style device, but what Konami have done with it here is take that old idea and turned it into a fantastically addictive arcade puzzle game.
The first thing they've done is to imbue the game with simple, detailed, effective graphics.
You travel the map in a close approximation of a Ferrari GTO, your enemy(s) come at you in a blue 'Bigfoot' style monster truck, and all about the course are girls in bikinis on roller skates who hold the game's power-ups. The sprites are tiny but each is remarkably characterful.
The powerups work in the tried and true Pac Man style - variations on the theme of the hunter becoming the hunted - albeit very briefly.
A favourite touch for me is the design of the power up menu at the top of screen. It lists "Normal - Jump - Shoot - Attack - ? - Flash" in the classic Konami style that will be familiar to anyone who has played Gradius or any of its many sequels or spin offs.
Fast Lane isn't a game that will show of your Mame cabinet in all it's glory. Nor is it the most original game ever made.
But it has hidden depths, is incredibly addictive, and most importantly of all - it's a hell of a lot of fun.

#Retrogaming #Gaming #Mame #Arcade

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - E is for...

I've made a bit of a rod for my own back.

I keep finding games I've never heard of that, after a little research, turn out to have been fairly recently re-released in classic collections or on XBox Live or PSN.

This means, by my own rules, I can't include them, and unfortunately there's a whole bunch of games that fall into this category in the E bracket.

So a quick recommendation for Esp Ra.De. and EspGaluda from Cave, Eco Fighters from Capcom and Exzisus from Taito.
You should find and play all of these games if you haven't done so already. They are excellent.

With that out of the way, on to three real hidden gems, the first of them being Equites.

This vertical shooter from the dark days of 1984 is an early example of mixing up the genre a bit.
Your robot fighter guy walks up the screen blasting all in his path as you would expect.
The mix up comes by giving you the ability to jump or hover to defend against attackers from a higher plain.
Certain parts of the levels require you to do this to clear dividing walls, other areas use the two tier element to turn levels into a simplistic kind of 'canyon run'. 

As well as the two above ground tiers there are occasional tunnel entrances marked on the landscape. Walking into these take you to a third tier; underground corridors. 
These sections don't actually change much from the outside environments aside from removing the ability to jump, but they do offer the opportunity to enjoy some fun enemy destructions.
It's a great game and, for it's age, the attention to detail imagination on show is pretty impressive.

Next up is Enforce from those prolific boys and girls at Taito.

It's a bit basic this one, you walk into the screen (I think you're in control of a mech, although it's never really made clear.) blasting everything in sight with one of two weapons. A standard chain gun on the right and a more powerful plasma type thing on the left that has to charge between volleys.

It is simple and a little repetitive but it has a balls-out mania to it that I can't help but love a little.
It also features a hilarious example of that old Video Game trope; the damsel in distress. 
Simpler times, happier times.

Finally, Explosive Breaker, fairly standard v.shmup fair, you head up the screen, flying through space, shooting the alien bad guys. So far, so average...

No I didn't just photoshop a picture of an Apache Gunship onto a screenshot of Axelay. that's the first level boss of this shooter set in deep space.
It's like they did a whole game and then, when it came to designing the bosses, they couldn't be bothered and just scanned in a bunch of images from Warfare Magazine.

You only have to play the game for about ten seconds when this happens...

That, if can't quite make it out, is an aircraft carrier.

It's not always an aircraft carrier, oh no! 
On one play-through I saw a Jaguar jet at this point in the game, on another it was an eighteenth century sailing ship. 
And they all move about the level as if they have been cut out from photographs and are being pulled across the screen by an invisible thread.

They say it's a fine line between genius and madness, and I'm not sure which of those two things best describes this game, but you should certainly find out for yourself.

#Gaming #Retrogming #Mame #Hidden Gems

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Setting up a test rig

Without really planning to I've had a weekend of tests and trials, with largely positive results.

I mentioned at the very beginning of all this that over the past few months I've been building rustic/industrial furniture from pallet wood. I've been working through a few pieces that need finishing off recently, one of which was this "Monks Bench".

The back section of this is double thickness, two pieces of wood screwed together.
Due to the unevenness of the wood there were gaps nearly 5mm thick in parts of the join - so I used this piece to test the two part resin filler I'll be using to finish the cabinet..

It works phenomenally well. When fully dry it's like working with fine sandstone, or that chalk you get in a puncture repair kit.
My god does it stink though.

With that win under my belt I decided to celebrate with a session of Outrun - only to discover, when cranking the volume for Magical Sound Shower, that one of the speakers is blown.
I took a hacksaw to it to see if there was anything I could salvage but it's broken for good.
Luckily this isn't a complete disaster.
The Amp I bought is only single channel anyway, and the remaining unit pumps out a good meaty sound - and to put a positive spin on it, it will save space in the cabinet. Just need to remember to set the output to mono output on the PC when I get it.

Lastly, I decided to throw together a mock up control deck using some scraps of wood I had knocking about in the garage.

I know what you're thinking, the buttons are arced the wrong way... I did say I threw it together.

I've learnt a lot about the space needed for the cabling and buttons, the hole size I need for the Joystick, and it's helped me to allay my fears that 120mm strip of timber wouldn't provide adequate space for all the controls - it does - in fact it's pretty much perfect.

Then there,s the button arrangement, obviously these being upside down was a mistake, but it's helped me with something anyway.
This diagram shows the two buttons I plan not to have and their rough replacement position.

This may not be a conventional layout but it allows me to use the 4 central buttons in a diamond as a second set of  up/down/left/rights for playing twin stick shooters and other games that require two joysticks.

I did have one worrying mishap when putting the jostick together.
You'll notice on the left there is the start of another button hole, such was my eagerness to get this thing made that I tried to put a hole through a steel screw.
The holesaw is a little battered - these things usually cost about a tenner, a tenner that my budget won't cover, so I guess a little brute force and maybe a tickle with a sharpening stone might be in order.

#mame #retrogaming #arcade #gaming

Friday, 18 October 2013

Setting my heart a flutter...

My controls arrived - gutted I used that terrible pun in the previous entry now - but anyway, MY CONTROLS ARE HERE!

 Quite excited.

Shame that picture isn't time stamped because about 2 hours later it looked like this...

Do excuse the horrible carpet - the perils of rented accommodation!

Had some fun and games with the amp, partly due to me forgetting that I had a HDMi cable plugged into my laptop that was preventing output to the headphone socket, and partly due to having to figure out which of the wires from my butchered 12v supply was positive and which was negative.
I resolved this second issue by connecting them both ways around and eliminating the one that smelt the most burny.

Took a while to figure out the joystick wiring too. 
My beautifully cheap Chinese encoder pcb is, predictably, labeled in Chinese. So I was starring at it confusedly until I happened across this diagram:

Internet 1 - China nil

After that it all went together beautifully and I was able to test it using the configuration tools built into windows.

I've been really lucky on the whole with these components.
I bought the joystick 'blind', not knowing the brand or quality, but having checked it out the reviews are resoundingly positive. It's an almost identical clone of a more expensive unit apparently.

Additionally, the 'stem' of the joystick is a little longer than you find on many examples - this is unplanned but perfect - the wood I will be building my controls into is 20mm thick so the extra length works brilliantly.
On the flip side - I've discovered that my speakers are sealed units - no screws to dismantle it - but this this is nothing that can't be rectified by a hacksaw and/or hammer.

All in all I'm delighted with these purchases, I'm on leave next week and will be knocking up a prototype control board and testing everything with my software.

Is all coming together very nicely.

#retrogaming #gaming #mame

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - D is for...

Dragon Blaze is first up, a rather gorgeous vertical shooter from Psikyo.
This game features all the usual v.shmup attacks with one very cool addition.

Each of the selectable characters rides their own dragon, the game offers the payer the ability to dismount at any time, sending his or her familiar of to attack enemies or collect power ups.
It's a relatively simple update of a classic idea but it offers some great opportunities for tactical use that really set this game apart.

Way back in the first one of these entries I mentioned my fondness for sprite scaling. This is in evidence again for this next choice.
Dark Edge is a Sega fighting game released not long after Capcom entirely changed the game with Street Fighter II.

It was a very early example, maybe even the first, of introducing a second axis to proceedings.
Characters move into and out of the screen as well as left to right. The fights rotate along the axis too and this often creates a viewing angle not dissimilar to that used for Street Fighter IV and DOA on the 3DS.
Is all a bit mental, but all the better for it.

Finally we come to Drift Out 94.
Top-down racers are enjoying a bit of revival of late, thanks largely to the surge in gaming on tablets and phones.

Drift Out shares a formula with 1000 Miglia, the game that inspired my Mame cabinet project, so it should be no surprise to see it here.
It update the mechanics with more speed and more spectacular crashes. The graphics don't quite have Miglia's charm, but the sprite renditions of (now classic) rally the cars are still excellently done.

A quick mention of the Dungeon & Dragons games (Tower of Doom & Shadow Over Mystara) as they were recommended in the comments of a previous entry.
They are great games, and you should play them - but the prevalence of the franchise and their recent re-release as the Chonicles of Mystara bundle means I don't think they fit the bill here.

#retrogaming #gaming #MAME

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Mame Hidden Gems - C is for...

I'm fairly sure, after doing a little research, that if I described a game in the 'Cotton' series as a "Hidden Gem" in Japan I'd get some very curious looks.
Nevertheless, only two Cotton games have been released in the west, which makes Cotton 2: Magical Night Dreams a hidden gem in my book.

This 'cute-em-up' replaces the usual 'lone space ship in last stand to save humanity' with a young witch, on a quest for sweets.
It's a beautifully drawn and animated throughout. A fairly unusual twist is that it will occasionally will mix up the direction of scroll but a more important and notable distinction is the smart power up system - and as far as shmups go, smart power up systems are always worthy of note.
The particular one allows you to capture enemies if you defeat them with a charge shot. At which point their frozen sprite can be manipulated in a number of ways to increase your power/health/combo etc.
There's also the ability to reach out and grab them (and other items) and lob them at the bad guys.
All in all it's like no H.Shmup you've played before and well worth your time.

"How is this not better known!?" is something I find myself asking the TV quite a lot at the moment - but I don't think it applies to anything more than to The Cliffhanger: Edward Randy.

This game has the irresistible force and structure of a classic Saturday morning matinee, every moment of every level is a set piece. Whether that be fighting atop speedboats, aeroplanes or cars, the action is relentless and the style irrepressible.
Edward himself is an Indiana Jones-esque protagonist, not least in his use of a whip as a primary weapon. The whip is also used to attach to the scenery and to instigate a special spinning attack.
I'm a bit of stickler for challenge in videogames, you'll often hear me whinging that modern games feature too much hand holding and are more like movies than games.
In this regard Edward Randy make me a massive hypocrite. And I' couldn't be happier about it.

Good haul for C, because last up is Change Air Blade - something very rare indeed - an entirely unique game.

Change Air Blade combines the mechanics of a vertical Shooter with those of a 1-on-1 fighter - something I'm almost certain has not been done before or since.
As with vertical shooters you sit on the bottom of the screen firing upwards.
As with fighters the other half of the screen belongs to your enemy.
The controls get quite complex. Each basic attack has two levels and there are three types of collected specials. Furthermore, each of these has a different function if you collect the 'Change' power up which switches you from the bottom to the top of the screen (or vice versa).
The games party piece comes when you switch to the top of the screen and activate the massive, half screen filling, 'Super-move' that you can see in the image above.

#Retrogaming #MAME #Gaming

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Setting the direction(al controls)

I didn't plan to start every entry with the word 'Setting', it just sort of 'happened' and now I feel the need to crow-bar it in every time. I say this, because I realise the title above is horrible nonsense!
I promise to try harder in future. Anyway...

Another order placed!

This morning I ordered my Joystick and buttons set from Ultracabs.

Whilst browsing the site I saw the cheap little amp and remembered that I have an old pair of speakers, they give great sound and are the perfect size.

The amp requires a 12v power supply but I have a whole bunch of those in a box in the attic, I'm sure I can cannibalise something. This replaces the powered speakers I was going to buy. It's not only cheaper but I'm sure the sound quality will be far superior too - and buying it from the same place as the other stuff has saved me shipping. So it's Win-win-win.

I also ordered a additional single black button for 'Coin'.
As I won't be using the Player Two start button I shouldn't need any extra wiring.

If I have enough wires for both I might install the 2P button tucked away down the side.
As the base unit will be a full function PC I'll be able to have bluetooth controllers hooked up should the need for multiplayer arise.

Last night (Technically early this morning) I finished the mammoth task of playing every game too.
About 1300 have made the first cut, meaning I've deleted over 7500 roms - and I still have a little weeding to do. Ideally I'd like to get it down to an even thousand.

So everything is coming together - now if only I didn't have to wait until the end of November for that PC I could start building the damn thing...

Budget update:
Total Budget:                    £50
USB Encoder                   £10.18
Joystick/Buttons               £11.99
Amplifier                          £6.99
Single Button                    £1.19
Shipping                           £5.50
Remaining Project Fund:   £14.15

Not a lot of cash left - especially considering I've earmarked £9.99 for the filler I'll need to finish the wood... doesn't leave much room for movement.

#Mame #Retrogaming

Monday, 14 October 2013

MAME Hidden Gems - B is for...

Boogie Wings

I'll say that again.

Boogie Wings

Whatever you're picturing this game as, having read that title, I can pretty much guarantee that you're wrong.

Known in Japan by the no-less-awful title of The Great Ragtime Show, Boogie Wings is among the very best games that I'll be writing about.

In essence this is (yet) another side scrolling shooter, set in World War One-ish era you pilot a Bi-plane against scores of themed enemies in the usual manner.

So far, so ordinary.

A core feature of the gameplay is that hanging from a chain behind your plane is a hook. With a little skill you can pick up boxes and other items from the ground and, with some deft flying, use them to attack with. It's a great addition to the usual formula.

And then you get shot down.

So you continue on foot... shooting at the enemies with a pistol!

Until you find a motorbike...

or a jeep...

or a Pogo-stick...

or a giraffe...

Boogie Wings is in my top ten games of all time, it came out 20 years ago but before last month I hadn't ever heard of it.
This is the point of this.

Also, a quick mention for Bullet.

This is essentially a twin stick shooter. It's a lot slower than usual for the genre and, like me, it's a bit old and basic looking.
Fortunately, unlike me, it's imbued with more than it's fair share of charm, so I say it's worth a look.

#Retrogaming #MAME #Gaming

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Setting the stage...

The project finally has physicality!

Look who was waiting for me when I arrived home from work yesterday!
Isn't she glorious?

My girlfriend said that Helen, the woman who donated this 1996 Gateway 2000 CrystalScan monitor to my cause, seemed to have quite the emotional attachment to it - good job I wasn't there to tell her what happens next...

Really is in very good condition. No where near as much dust as I expected, and none of that greasy kind you get in some appliances.
So here's my top tip if you're freegle-ing - wait a day to get a bunch of offers in, then go for the person who writes in the best English.
Also, Freegle, sooooooo much better than Freecycle. By the time my post had past moderation on Freecycle I'd already had half a dozen offers through a post I made at the same time on Freegle.
And even since it got through that moderation I haven't been contacted by anyone at all through the Freecycle listing.

Really impressed by the resolution it chucks out, If you can't quite make it out on the image it's doing 1280x1024 with a 60hz refresh. Don't really know what I was expecting, but it wasn't that.
Played through a few games to get the colours set up and it looks stunning.

This image illustrates that you shouldn't try and play Afterburner and take pictures at the same time. It also illustrates how great CRT screens are.
Earlier this year I bought a 21" CRT Bang & Olufsen TV from eBay to hook all my retro consoles up to - I really can't stress enough how much better pixel art looks on one these screens compared to any LCD/LED/Plasma.

#MAME #MAME Cabinets #Retrogaming

Friday, 11 October 2013

MAME Hidden Gems - A is for...

Lots of classics in 'A' Afterburner, Arkanoid, Art of Fighting, Altered Beast...

Not interested in those though, I'm more interested in the likes of A.B.Cop...

You'll know of Chase H.Q. the 1988 classic that saw you chasing down bad guys in a Porsche 928 Turbo. Well it seems that Sega wanted in on that action and came up with A.B.Cop - a game that takes the same premise and ramps up the speed and crazy by replacing the Porsche with a jet bike (eerily similar to the one in the open scene of the Star Trek reboot movie).
It also replaces 'Ralph, the Idaho Slasher' with an eight foot punk shooting fire and wielding an enormous mace... How to improve a classic - Sega style.

Pushing the boundaries of what could be a considered a 'Hidden Gem' is Alien vs Predator.

Capcom receive more requests to update this game than any of their other side scrolling beat-em-ups, so I guess I'm really stretching the definition... but I don't think enough people have played this excellent, gorgeous game so it's staying in.
It's also the only time that the human star of the original AvP comics appears anywhere outside that series, worth a mention on it's own, considering the size (and dubious quality) of the IP.

Lastly, another stunning side scrolling brawler - you'll be seeing a lot of these.
Armored Warriors has turned up a couple of times under other names, whatever you call it though, it's an absolute beauty of a game.

Here you're piloting a choice of 4 incredibly detailed Mechs against a whole bunch of enemy incredible detailed mechs on a series of incredibly detailed battlegrounds.
The USP of Armored Warriors comes when you destroy a bad guy and parts of his mech might litter the the battlefield - because you can pick them up and use them to upgrade your own unit. Arms, legs, integrated weapons and more are interchangeable - you find yourself picking on the toughest bad guy in a crowd just to get his sweet Drill Arm upon defeating him.
And just when you a game can't get more awesome, there's a tag team move if you're in multiplayer too.

#Retrogaming #MAME

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Setting the standard - MAME Hidden Gems - 0-9

This is my first installment of a series on which I'll be picking out games I'd not heard of previously from my play-through of every working rom fur MAME.

Rather than doing a top 100I I'll be picking a few for each letter of the alphabet, and what's the first letter of the alphabet? 

That's right...  Numbers!

This Pseudo-section is dominated by Capcoms rather excellent 1942 and it's myriad sequels, spin-offs and clones - but you'd have to be pretty wet behind the ears to consider those in any way obscure.
At the time of writing I've played through about 4500 games, having done so I've reserved a special place on my sh-t list for Space Invader clones.

This notwithstanding, my first choice is '99: The Last War.
It doesn't really do anything that special to be honest, but if you, like me, believe that the loss of sprite scaling effects was too high a price to pay for 'proper' 3 dimensional graphics, then you'll have some fun with this one.

Also not winning any originality prizes is 64th Street: A Detective Story.
It's basically a familiar stroll down the Streets of Rage, but the 30's USA setting (criminally underused in videogames) and fun characters make it worthy of mention.

Predictably I've saved the best for last.
1-on-1 Government is something akin to a basketball game crossed with a 3D fighter.
It has simple controls that are, like the very best the medium has to offer, simple to pick up but hard to master. With a little practice the game makes you feel like Wesley Snipes/Woody Harrelson (delete as per your preference) and most importantly of all, one of the characters has a squirrel on his head.

Setting myself up for a fall...

So I've made a mistake, quite a big one.

As I said before, I'm going through all these games deleting the ones that don't make the grade.
I'm also deleting files that are duplicated. It's not unusual to see several 'revisions' of the same piece of software in Mame, and I don't like the clutter...

As a prison security guard in the the Simpsons once said. "Well, I'm an idiot."

Now I knew that sometimes Mame games needed more than one file to work - at least - that's what I'm telling myself...

Basically I now have the the occasional game in my 'keeps' folder that doesn't load anymore because I deleted the "Parent" that makes it work - Whoops.

It's not really the end of the world, I was planning to play through of all the selected games again to set up the controls to match what I will have available on the cabinet - now, when I do this, I can also spot the games I've broken and reinstate the missing files.
Emuparadise lists which roms are required to run reach game on their pages, so their site will be an invaluable tool in redressing this cock-up.
'Invaluable' sounds like it should mean the opposite of what it does mean...

Edit: In other news - I've spent the first money from my budget.
This morning I ordered the USB encoder for the Joystick and buttons - They're coming from China so it'll be a while before I see it.

It comes with 13 cables... this is strange number... I'm a tad concerned that they are only providing enough for 6 buttons and a spare...

But anyway...

I guess I'm officially underway really...

Total Budget:                    £50
USB Encoder                   £10.18
Remaining Project Fund:   £39.82

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Setting up the software

The PC won’t be with me until November – So that’s out as a starting point.
The Monitor is arriving Friday, so that’s out, for now.
Can’t order the Joystick and Encoder until the 15th, and then have to wait for delivery. Out.
Without any of these I can’t start building the cabinet. That’s out too.

So what can I do?

I can start selecting my games.

I got myself a pack of roms, there are approximately 9000 files in the pack.
Granted not every file is a game, there are Bios files and other technical stuff, but mostly its games.

What I’ve done in the past with emulators, what I think most people do, is go through and pick out the games I get most nostalgic about and play those. Ah Space Harrier, the memories...

But, going back to how this all started, I wanted to find the games I hadn't played yet, I wanted to discover new-retro experiences.

So I did what anyone would do in the circumstances, I Googled it.
‘MAME Hidden Gems’… ‘Obscure MAME’… that kind of thing… you know what I found? The same 9 or 10 games repeated over and over – Apparently everyone should play ‘Juno First’ (You really should actually).

So I did what anyone would do in the circumstances, I started playing the games. All of them.

I’m still deciding where to go here – I might run another blog parallel to this one – The Hidden Gems of MAME – something like that, or I might just include them in here. But anyway, for now…

I've installed MAME onto the laptop I use for everything. I don’t actually have it set up like a laptop, it’s stashed behind a unit in my games room, plugged into the TV, and accessed usually through one of my tablets – I really need a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard but never quite get around to buying them.

After firing up M.A.M.E. through the mGalaxy front end on the laptop I then use the excellent ES FileExplorer app on my Nexus 7 tablet to bring up the contents of my M.A.M.E. rom folder through my home network.
I use mGalaxy because it lists the games as the file names, this makes finding them on the tablet a lot easier.

And then I go at them, select a game, if it doesn't work at all I delete the file using the app right away, if it does work I’ll play it for a while (I try to do at least one ‘level’ of each) and then decide if it’s a keeper or not.

Additionally, and this is what inspired this blog really, I've been noting down the games that take me by surprise.
Sometimes these games have a great core idea that makes them stand out, others are interesting takes on established genres, but generally these are the games that I've never heard of before, the games that make me feel guilty for having not played previously. These are the games where quality, originality, creativity, and challenge are more important than big name franchises or gimmick controls.

Basically, these are the games that inspired this project.

So, going through alphabetically I've just reached the ‘Ns’.
I've deleted anything that that didn't work, or was just plain terrible. There have been over 3000 of these.

Getting on for a thousand have made the cuts so far. Many of those are well known greats; 1942, Double Dragon, Marvel vs Capcom, etc.

Quite a few aren't though. More than I expected are those special games I keep on about, and despite having to trawl through seemingly endless Donkey Kong Clones and dozens of practically identical, untranslated Mahjong games (Why do they all have you play against schoolgirls?) these hidden gems are keeping me hugely excited about building my own cabinet. 

So I happily to suffer the pain of Gals Panic - because it turns out Hyper Duel is just a letter away…

Setting the target

You can buy M.A.M.E. cabinets. They're not expensive.
You can buy flat pack cabinets and put the bits in. That's not expensive either.

The other thing it's not, is much fun.

What I figured would be more fun was building a M.A.M.E. cabinet for as little money as possible.
Originally I was going to use my ASUS Transformer Tablet and deconstruct a USB joystick - but then I figured the quality wouldn't be that good, so that's another factor then - the quality.

Cost? Quality? Starting to sound like a project now... So lets 'define the scope' shall we. (Guess who went on a Project Management course recently?)

The scope is to build a good looking, high quality M.A.M.E. cabinet.
It must be a self contained unit.
It must have a good quality Joystick, and a minimum of 8 buttons.
It needs a CRT screen - the games I will be playing were designed for a 4:3 ratio and scanlines - LCD's don't come with either of these.

Most importantly of all, I want to do all this for a budget of £50.

To break that budget down broadly:
£15 for a Joystick and Button pack from Ultracabs.
£10 for a USB encoder for the Joystick and Button from eBay
£8 for amplified speakers
£10 for hard finishing filler
£7 F-factor

The more astute among you will have noticed some missing elements from that list - I'll address them one at a time...

1)The material for the cabinet.

I've been building furniture from pallet wood for most of the year.
Back in the spring I hadn't done any carpentry since school. However, fueled by an addiction to Pinterest my girlfriend decide I should try my hand at building a bookcase out of pallets that she could get for free from her dad's place of business.

It turned out pretty well.

6 months later we have a bookcase, a TV Unit, a kitchen unit, a fitted pantry, and a storage bench.
I've also sold a couple of coffee tables and birdhouses on eBay.
Turns out I can do this carpentry thing - especially with the two heavy boxes of my Grand dads old tools - and a barely used router - that my brother shipped down from Bedford for me.

As the pallet wood is of variable quality everything I've made so far is in a Rustic/Industrial style, this won't do for my M.A.M.E. Cabinet, hence the chunk of budget on finishing filler.
This stuff dries to a rock hard sand-able finish, the idea is that - when all is said and done and after a coat of paint - you won't be able to tell that the material is wood at all.

2) The PC

My girlfriends brother works for an insurance company in the tech department - I had planned to tap him up for any faulty PCs or Laptops he came across that could be cheaply repaired.
However, the subject came up in conversation with an old boss who advised me that he had a few old small form-factor PC's that were no longer required. I could have them gratis. Perfect.

3) The Screen

Freegle. I created an account at 9am, posted a 'want' for a 14 or 15 inch CRT monitor at half 9, and by home time the same day I already had 6 different people offering me their unwanted units.
One kind Freegler dug the monitor and all the cables out of the loft, cleaned them, and even offered to deliver... all before I'd even said I'd take it. Nice. (Cheers Helen!)

So that's my scope.
Take the above.
Turn them into a working M.A.M.E. system cabinet.
Spend the equivalent cost of one new PS3 game.

So, where to begin...

Setting the scene...

So about a month ago now, when it wasn't dark when I woke for work and and it seemed every girl in the street was wearing daisy dukes, I took a long slow train from the South Coast of England up to the cultural Mecca of Leicester.
My mate Dave had invited me to Retro Active, an event at the Phoenix Cinema that aimed to pair a whole load of old and obscure video games and systems with a whole load of old and not so obscure films showing on the big screen.

How could I say no?

 I came home from that weekend with two things very certain in my mind:
1) Taiko Drum Master is the greatest video game ever made! (Ever!)
2) I was going to build a M.A.M.E. cabinet.

To not bore those that are in the know and not confuse those that aren't - Put very simply M.A.M.E. is a computer program that let's you play old arcade games, things like Outrun, Final Fight, Afterburner... You know, good games... on your PC or laptop. The name is an acronym for Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator.

I'd known about M.A.M.E. and the practice of building a pc running the software into the cabinets of old arcade machines for many (too many) years - but at Retroactive I saw bar-top style cabinets for the first time and I think it was this smaller form factor in particular that inspired me the most.

That, and 1000 Miglia.

Here's the thing, there was a great article on Eurogamer a little while back about how the best games experiences are a pairing of software and hardware - Be that an XBox and Halo, a PC and Crysis, or a Gameboy and Tetris. There is an alchemy that happens when the two are perfectly paired that is almost indefinable - a chemistry that links the machine, the programme and the player in a way that is very hard to describe.
This happened to me with that bar-top M.A.M.E. cabinet and 1000 Miglia, a game also known as The Great 1000 Miles Rally.
It's fast, it's fun, it's far from easy, it's absolutely beautiful, and I'd never heard of it before.

Everything I love in a videogame.

By this point in the Reteoactive proceedings I was drunk and Dave had discovered that by restarting the cabinets (There were 4 on a table just next to the cafe... and the bar...) it would bring up a list of available games - hundreds, maybe thousands of titles all built in and ready to play.
This wasn't new to me, I'd had similar set ups on various PC's at home, emulators of every kind with vast swathes of games at my fingertips - but something about that little cabinet and that little game changed my perspective.

All of a sudden, I needed this in my life.