Posts from July, August, and September 2007.

September 25, 2007...  You Say Halo, I Say Goodbye

Today, I bought a copy of the latest Halo game... and I've not even sure why.  You'd think that I would have taken Halo 2 out of its shrinkwrap and put it through its paces before stepping up to the sequel, but I guess I succumbed to all the hype.  The reduced price made it that much harder to resist... they were selling Halo 3 for $54.99 at the local college, a ten percent discount!

In the past, no discount short of "buy none, get one free" would make me consider picking up a first-person shooter.  However, my time with the Bioshock demo has me looking at the genre in a new light.  I wasn't sure what to expect from it at first, but the game turned out to be one of the year's best, with a refreshing deep sea setting and the best graphics to ever hit a game console.  If Halo 3 is even close to as inspired as Irrational Games' surprise hit, it will have been a worthwhile investment.

All right, let's shift gears from the present to the past.  I've added reviews of Mountain King and Wizard of Wor to the 52 Hunter.  These games are especially near and dear to my heart, gobbling up hours of my childhood in the mid 1980's.  If you don't own a 5200 but don't feel like going the emulation route, there's still hope... both titles are available for the Atari 8-bit computer line, and they're exactly the same as their 5200 counterparts, sans the irritating controller.  Whatever you do, don't miss out on these games... and don't make the mistake of buying the ColecoVision version of Mountain King!

September 20, 2007...  The 52 Hunter Debuts

There's new blood on the Blitz... a section dedicated to that most underappreciated of consoles, the Atari 5200.  It's a good history lesson and a nice companion piece to the 26 Hunter, so I recommend both young and old to give it a look.

I'm in a misanthropic mood right now, so I'm going to end this post on a high note rather than souring it with personal grievances.  Farewell to you all.

September 15, 2007...  Walking on the Moon (plus other game reviews)

In case you were wondering, and even if you weren't, here are a few of the games I've been playing lately...

MOON PATROL EX:  You know, I don't spend much time with cell phone games.  I don't feel that the average handset is well suited to interactive entertainment, but I'm willing to overlook my personal bias for this remake of a childhood favorite.  Unlike most cell phone conversions of 1980's arcade hits, Moon Patrol EX has been enhanced rather compromised, with more detailed graphics and a jazzed-up version of the already catchy soundtrack.  Here's the biggest surprise... the game even PLAYS well!  You only need three buttons to blast the looming aliens, bound over craters, and charge your way to the next checkpoint, and that's not too much to ask even from a crowded cell phone keypad.

SUPER COBRA (ENTEX):  Before Gradius, there was Super Cobra.  And there weren't too many good conversions of Konami's exciting helicopter ride, either.  One of the few ports that cut the mustard was the tabletop game by Entex... it's about as colorful as the average Virtual Boy title and there's only four stages (with the bank heist replaced by a less creative bombing raid), but it plays pretty well, and there's a perfect difficulty setting for practically every player.  Flipping the skill level switch and turning the speed dial on the right side of the unit lets you adjust the speed, ramping up the challenge or just letting you zip through the first round in the blink of an eye.  I don't know how it compares to Tomy's kissing cousin Scramble, but it fares pretty well against Epoch's Astro Command.

HULK: TOTAL DESTRUCTION:  Stop me if you've heard this before.  You're a genetically altered superhuman, wiping out crowds of foes and scaling tall buildings to collect the little green orbs perched on their rooftops.  What separates Hulk: Total Destruction from the subsequently released Crackdown (aside from the Halo 3 demo) is a heaping helping of violence... instead of keeping the peace, you're tearing it to bits with your bare hands!  It's a very cathartic experience, with the green menace effortlessly throwing boulders, ripping apart towers, and flattening tanks.  You want tough?  This new Hulk makes Lou Ferrigno look like Pee-Wee Herman!

SONIC AND THE MAGIC RINGS:  Nintendo, you're putting me in a really awkward position.  I want you to win the latest console war, and you're doing that, but I want to be comfortable rooting for the Wii, which I can't do when I'm not having fun playing it.  Third party developers like Sega keep pumping out lackluster games that make terrible use of the Wiimote, and you've done nothing to whip them into shape.  Sonic and the Magic Rings is just one example... to its credit, Sega has put more effort into this than the usual hackneyed GameCube port, but the control is an absolute mess thanks to its dependence on that increasingly aggravating Wiimote.  If this controller is supposed to make games more intuitive, then why does it leave me confused and frustrated in nearly every game that requires it?  Granted, I've only played a little of Sonic and the Magic Rings, but what I've tried so far doesn't leave me wanting more.

August 27, 2007...  Pre-Class Jitters (plus, classic console mods)

It never fails.  It doesn't matter if I'm thirteen or thirty-three... in elementary school or in college.  I can never get any sleep on the first day of class!  Here I am, bleary eyed and sleep deprived, sitting in front of my laptop when I should be lying in bed.  Yet I know that I'd just be staring blankly at the ceiling or the inside of my eyelids if I shut off the computer and tried to get some rest.  So here I am, updating my increasingly neglected site while grinding my teeth down to the gums worrying about what's in store for me this semester.

I should be glad that summer is finally at an end, though.  My college loan finally arrived last week, just in time to pay off most of my credit card bill, the rest of my income tax, and the textbooks I'll need to complete my classes.  There's even enough money left over for a small army of classic game consoles, along with the parts I'll need to make them Y2K compliant.

Actually, make that Y2007 compliant.  See, systems like the ColecoVision and Atari 5200 weren't designed for today's high-definition television standards.  They weren't even designed for the low-definition standards of the 1990s!  No, these consoles give you a single RF cable that supports both audio and video, and does neither particularly well.  I love a good classic gaming experience, but this is one part of the early 80's I have no intention of reliving.

Fortunately, I don't have to, thanks to the hundreds of young gamers who grew up to be electronics engineers.  Do a little hunting on eBay and you'll find A/V mods for every antique console under the sun, with the obvious exception of the Vectrex.  Some of these modifications are ridiculously involved... frankly, you'd be better off building a fusion reactor than putting this one together.  However, there are a few out there that can be handled by any schmo with at least a little soldering experience and enough bravery to take apart their old systems.  This Atari 2600 Jr. mod by hacker par excellence Ben Heckendorn could be finished in the time it takes to watch an episode of Star Trek... maybe half of one if you're watching Voyager or Enterprise and the show's too boring to distract you from your work!

August 19, 2007...  Unholy Diver (plus, adventures in Atari 5200 collecting)

I'm way behind on my updating duties, on both this site and the blog.  Honestly, I just haven't had that much to discuss lately.  Maybe things will pick up when college starts next week... at least, I sure hope so!

So I'm hearing rave reviews about Bioshock, that game where the deep-sea diver rescues kids from men armed with wrist-mounted wasps.  Frankly, I'm having a hard time believing that it even exists... that scenerio sounds more like a dream you'd have after a week of sleep deprevation.  I suppose seeing is believing, so I'll have to rouse my Xbox 360 from its months of hibernation and download the free demo.

What else we got?  Oh yeah, there's that Atari 5200 I just ordered from eBay.  This is going to be the second one in as many weeks... the last system cost me five dollars, but I got what I paid for if you know what I mean.  I should have more luck with this one, which the previous owner swears is in good working condition.

Of course, when it comes to the Atari 5200, procuring the system is only half the battle.  The next step is to find a controller that doesn't completely suck, and anyone who owns the console knows how difficult THAT can be.  Just ask that Angry Video Game Nerd guy!  There are options available to me, though.  The first is to buy the Wico Command Control joystick.  It's a refreshing departure from other game controllers of the early 1980's, with clean, fluid movement and just the right amount of resistance... but its Achille's Heel is a stupid 9-pin plug that makes it useless without the Y-cable included with the stick.  I do have the stick, but guess which part I'm missing?

The next option is to build an adapter.  I could either settle for a simple Y-cable for that Wico stick, or go all out and make an adapter that accepts either old PC joysticks or the Sega Arcade Pad, that Rolls Royce of classic game controllers.  Naturally, the most versatile adapter is also the most difficult one to build, requiring a handful of resistors and integrated circuits.  The frustration mounts when you consider that the instructions available online are incomplete, listing only half the parts necessary for the modification.

The only option that's NOT available to me is buying an adapter.  It's not that I don't have the money for it... it's just that nobody offers them.  Believe me, I've looked around!  There used to be a controller converter called the Redemption available on AtariAge, but it's since become a thing of the past... like the dinosaurs, or competent US presidents.  I guess it's solderin' time for me, then!  Here's the schematic I've got planned.  As you can see, it's not going to be an easy task...

August 11, 2007...  Re-Activator Debuts

There's a new sister site to The Gameroom Blitz... I call it Re:Activator, and it's a blog that exclusively covers classic video game systems and homebrew game releases.  It's a segment of the industry that doesn't get much press, and I figured it was time that changed.  Click the Blog link at the top of this page to give it a look!

August 10, 2007...  Super Sea Louse

I've added two articles to the History page, including a review of the trashy teen comedy Joysticks and a detailed look at the early beta version of Gunstar Heroes.  Both features were offered exclusively to members of a short-lived premium service on the site, but now, everyone gets a shot at them!

There's also a video review of Lead that repeats my earlier observations on the game.  If you want to see those musings brought to life through the power of moving pictures, this link's for you!

What else we got...?  Oh yeah, there's some not-so-good news about the online NES database.  After several hours of typing, swearing, then typing again, I discovered that the database software I'm using sucks in ways the human mind cannot conceive.  I never had any serious complaints about OpenOffice before, but Base changed that in a hurry.  When it's not freezing up, it's corrupting files, and when it's not doing THAT, it's throwing every error message under the sun in my face.  Fortunately, I'll have plenty of chances to shop for an alternative when college starts in a couple of weeks.

In collecting news, I've got an Atari 5200 and an Atari Lynx coming my way in a few days.  The original plan was to get a ColecoVision to replace the one I lost in Arizona all those years ago, but those systems have been going for boku bucks on eBay, so I went with the next best thing.  I have fonder memories of the 5200 anyway... I spent a lot of time sitting in front of that console colossus back in the mid 1980's, playing Wizard of Wor, Mountain King, and Moon Patrol until my eyes glazed over like a summer ham.  I have every intention of reliving those days, but the tricky part's going to be finding all the games I once owned.

I'll have more luck finding games for the Lynx... in fact, the system comes with six of them, ranging from the futuristic 3D shooter S.T.U.N. Runner to CyberVirus, one of the system's later and more impressive releases.  Now I've just got to track down Xybots and Roadblasters and I'll be set!

Wait, wait!  There's one other thing.  I just played Ephemeral Fantastia, which I purchased a week ago for the low, low price of two dollars.  The price wasn't low enough.  This has got to be one of the most schizophrenic role-playing games ever made... you'll be walking along for a couple of minutes, looking for armored crabs to slay, and all of a sudden, you're told that it's nightfall and sent to a castle on the other end of the island.  Hey, knock it off!  I'm not Scott Bakula, and this isn't Quantum Leap.  On the plus side, Ephemeral Fantasia introduced me to the super sea louse, which will go down in history as the best-worst enemy ever in an RPG.  Not only did I not know that lice live underwater, but that they come in regular and super-sized varieties! 

August 7, 2007...  Taking the Lead

Rez... on the Atari 2600?  Maybe not, but Lead is as close as you're gonna get.  Designed in Italy by hobbyist programmer Simone Serra, Lead is a shooter split into several different stages.  Each stage has a different goal, but all of them take place in a tight corridor that doubles as a musical scale.  Any onscreen events, whether it be shooting aliens or dodging meteorites, play notes depending on their position on the scale.  Blast an enemy on the left hand side of the corridor and you'll hear a high-pitched tone.  Zap a foe on the right and a low-pitched note is your reward.

Like any good twitch game on the 2600, the screen is tightly packed with threats, but in Lead, this not only makes the gameplay more intense, but enhances the astonishingly complex soundtrack.  This effect of "synthestasia" is more profound in early builds of the game (including Lead 1K, included as a bonus in the latest beta), but the new versions have a lot more flair.  Once you've finished a stage, your ship streaks toward the next one, and when you're struck by a stray asteroid, an EKG meter warns you that a flatline is just seconds away if you don't press the fire button to continue.  At the moment, pressing the fire button doesn't actually let you continue, but I'm confident that this flaw will be addressed in future builds.  Even with it, this has got to be the most exciting development for the 2600 since the introduction of Fred Quimby's Batari BASIC in 2005.

Before I go, I wanted to make three announcements regarding The Gameroom Blitz.  The first is that I've finished a new video review... click here to check it out!  The second is that I've added a history section to the site.  This handy page lets you check out past Blitz updates, from September 2001 to July 2007.  There are also a handful of articles from the early days of the site, brought back with new material that puts the rants on 1990's pop culture into perspective. 

Finally, I must regretfully announce the cancellation of Awesome NES.  All the content originally written for the book will be added to an online database similar to the rarity guides on Atari Age... that way, it can easily be revised and modified when necessary.  That just wasn't possible with the book, where any necessary changes broke the layouts of five or more pages, resulting in hours of monotonous editing.  On top of that, I wasn't really thrilled with the prospect of publishing a book that might be torn to shreds by its picky target audience.  If I make a mistake with an online database, it costs five minutes of my time to fix it.  If I made a mistake with a book, it costs thousands of dollars and leaves me with hundreds of unsellable first editions.  For someone with limited funds but plenty of server space, the choice is obvious.

August 2, 2007...  Man, That's a Short Post!

I don't have much to say, but plenty to post!  There's a new video review on my YouTube page, a recently rediscovered Saturn review, and two redesigned system pages.  Check 'em out!

July 28, 2007...  The Lost Rings Relaunch

Holy cow, it's been six days since my last update!  However, this should make it worth the wait...

I finished the design for the new Saturn review page, with a few changes to the mock-up I posted on the site a couple of months back.  All that brushed metal was giving me a headache, so I replaced it with the gold trim used on the spines of Japanese Saturn releases.  The steel in the original design has been relegated to the navigation bar hanging above each review.  There are six blue orbs inside the bar... they'll be used to return to the front page and access photos of the reviewed game, once I've set up the necessary links.

So far, I've only got one review dropped into the new template, but you can rest assured that more are on their way!  Maybe one of these days I'll even take a break from YouTube and write some new ones!

July 22, 2007...  The Crappiest Handheld Web Browsing Since the

So, just how many new Atari 2600 reviews are on The Gameroom Blitz?  Click here to find out!

Anyway, I just got paid, and decided to celebrate my newfound wealth with a handful of games.  My booty included Astro Boy and Namco Museum for the Game Boy Advance (I keep misplacing Namco Museum for some reason...), Sega Superstars for the Playstation 2, and Me and My Katamari for the PSP.  I've heard the latter game has more.  Aggravating.  Pauses.  Than a William Shatner.  Speech.  However, for nine dollars, I'm more than willing to put up with them!

I also stumbled upon the DS browser that everyone's been hating lately.  Hey, I couldn't resist... it was only twelve bucks!  Besides, it's really not that bad, if you can accept a 20th century web surfing experience come ten years too late.  There have been many advances in online technology over the last ten years, and the DS browser can't take advantage of any of them, even with the included expansion cartridge.  You can't even play WAV files, for cryin' out loud!  What is this, the friggin'!

There are many valid complaints you can make about this browser, but speed isn't one of them.  Let's try to keep things in perspective here... this is a Nintendo DS, not an Alienware laptop.  Frankly, I was surprised that it ran as quickly as it did, loading compatible sites at roughly 56K speeds.  My beef is that many web sites DON'T run on the browser, and the ones that do are mighty fugly until you switch to the overview mode (which switches OFF all the onscreen links).  In short, the DS browser is that "kind of sort of" Internet you've heard about in the Apple iPhone commercials.  It works in a pinch, but it'll be a painful pinch!

Welcome to The Gameroom Blitz, now completely Safari compliant! Except when it isn't. But hey, at least the index page is coming up properly, so that's a start! Hopefully it'll start working with Konqueror, too. Geez, what a pompous name for a web browser. It's a computer program, not one of the friggin' Masters of the Universe!

July 17, 2007...  Come on and Safari with Me

I just ironed out the issues The Gameroom Blitz was having with Safari, so Mac owners (as well as those PC owners crazy enough to eschew Firefox for that browser) can now surf the site with confidence!

July 16, 2007...  Talk Vex with Jess Johanson

Good news, everyones!  I've redesigned the review pages for nearly all the classic game systems on the web site.  The new Vectrex page in particular is a big improvement over the old model, looking great on Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and- HOLY CRAP!  Even Safari can't break it!  Now if only I could get that browser to properly display the index page...

Speaking of which, I've taken the liberty of posting links to all the videos in my YouTube account on the right hand side of the page.  My love for writing has started to fade after fifteen years (as you could probably tell from the dearth of fresh content on this site...), but producing and directing videos is an invigorating new experience for me, with possibilities that just aren't available in plain text.  Maybe it's just a phase, but even if it is, most of my creative energy will be devoted to making videos until it's out of my system.

All right, all right, enough about me.  There's some exciting news from Belgium, the land of French speaking musclemen and... uh... what else are they known for again?  Anyway, after many years of development, programmer Kristof Tuts has finally completed his clone of Galaxians for the Vectrex.  Vectrexians actually looks better than the already awesome beta version of the game once offered on Tuts' web site, with a polygonal introduction (!!!) and aliens redrawn to better match their arcade counterparts. 

However, this added polish comes with a heavy price... the game will retail for forty Euros when it's released on cartridge, which comes out to a whopping fifty-five dollars for us poor Americans.  And that's not even counting the shipping costs from Belgium!  Here's hoping that Tuts finds a more economical alternative for us cash-strapped US gamers, because as good as Vectrexians looks, it's hard to justify spending seventy plus dollars on it when designers like John Dondzila and Alex Herbert have released equally fantastic games for a small fraction of the cost.  As much as I love retro gaming, I'm not paying Xbox 360 prices for Vectrex-grade action.

July 13, 2007...  A Random Grab Bag of E3 News

Now that it's all over, let's take a look at the major announcements from this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo...

THE REAL SLIM SHINY:  The two years of speculation from Kotaku turned out to be true... more or less.  Although it doesn't feature a built-in flash drive, the slimline PSP does offer most of the other cool things that the rumors had promised.  The UMD drive is faster, thanks to extra RAM in the unit.  The battery life has been doubled despite a reduction in size.  And here's a shocker that nobody expected... the PSP's shoddy D-pad has been greatly improved, and there's a video port at the top of the system that eliminates the need for those kludgy third-party television adapters.  The only problem is that the system, despite all the improvements, hasn't really changed in appearance at all.  It's even shinier and a little bit smaller than before, but practically everything else is exactly the same... not a bright idea when you consider how radically changed the top-selling DS was in its Lite iteration.

CAN YOU DRIVE STICK?:  Soon you will thanks to Hori's arcade sticks for the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii!  These guys have been making arcade-quality joysticks for game consoles since the days of the Super NES, so they know their stuff ... and they certainly know how to make it better than MadCatz or Pelican.  The Wii stick matches the system's blue and white color scheme, while the Xbox 360's own controller includes a Virtua Fighter 5 theme, just in time for that game's August debut.  Both sticks will come in handy for those retro gamers who can't stand playing their old-school arcade favorites with the wimpy Wii wand or the awkward Xbox 360 pad.

THE FALL AND RISE OF THE PS3 PRICE TAG:  Just when you thought Sony was coming to its senses, along comes sneering SCE executive Kazuo Hirai to raise the price of the Playstation 3 back to $599.  Yes, yes, the new unit boosts the hard drive up from sixty gigs to eighty gigs, but it also drops the Emotion Engine chip that makes playing PSOne and PS2 games such a breeze.  Now Playstation fans will have to settle for software emulation, the same rotting albatross that had been hung around the neck of the Xbox 360 from the moment it was released.  Even without Ken Kutaragi at the helm, it seems like Sony's video game division just can't catch a clue about the repellant price of its latest console...

PERIPHERAL VISION:  Not much software was announced for the Nintendo Wii, but hardware is another story entirely.  In addition to the previously mentioned Hori arcade stick, Nintendo itself will release two new peripherals for its popular console.  The first is a 21st century update to the Zapper, a gun-shaped shell which houses both the Wii remote and its nunchuck accessory.  The second is a rocking board designed for use with WiiFit, Nintendo's latest out-of-left-field game designed especially for adults.  It's a risky gamble for sure, but then again, so were Brain Age and Nintendogs...

There's also the unconfirmed rumor that all models of the Xbox 360 will drop in price by a hundred dollars by the end of the month.  I'm not holding my breath on this one, but if it does happen, that will make the core model fifty dollars LESS expensive than the current cost-cutting king, the Nintendo Wii!  I'm all for it, man.  Cheap consoles are a good thing for everybody... unless you're Sony, of course.

HE'S COME UNDONE: Here's some shocking news about Jack Thompson... from the man himself! Florida's leading anti-fun lawyer has told Game Politics that the Florida Bar Association not only suspended his license, but forced him to undergo psychological testing before he can get it back. Of course, most of us don't need a test to know that this guy is totally nuts about Payday. - - - SMELLS LIKE TEEN SPIRIT: The Japanese have had Bleach games for nearly two years now, but thanks to Sega, Americans will finally get a chance to speak softly and carry a big sword as spirit hunter Ichigo Kurasake. The PSP release offers colorful 3D graphics, while the DS title was created by Treasure, the creators of Gunstar Heroes. Both games will be available in the fall. - - - HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?: Well, if you're Sony, you can go about one hundred dollars lower. The company has dropped the cost of the system to $499 in an effort to level the playing field with its more successful competitors. Although the price won't officially fall until the 12th of June, Kotaku reports that Target is already dropping the cost of its in-store units. - - -

July 7, 2007...  Jackpot! (also, E3 speculation)

Cool, check it out!  It's seven, seven, oh seven!  We're not going to see anything like this until... uh, August of next year.

And now, some bad news.  It looks like the video review will be late this week.  However, when you take a look at these two pages, you'll understand why.  It took much of the Independence Day weekend to finish this design, but it looks like it was worth the time and effort.  Looking back, it's hard to imagine how anyone could stand the previous layout, including the guy who created it!

That about does it for me, folks.  Hopefully there will be more to discuss in a week, after the Electronic Entertainment Expo has run its course.  Personally, I'm hoping for more news about that supposed slimline PSP that's been rumored for over a year now.  Will flash memory be built into the new handheld?  Will the screen's refresh rate be improved?  Will the speed of the UMD drive be given a boost?  Or is it all just a bunch of crap?  We'll all know in a week.

July 1, 2007...  RIP Tips and Tricks

As I was adding Mandi Paugh's review of the underground hit Puzzle Quest to the site, it suddenly occured to me that the review pages on this site are a total mess.  I have a funny feeling that before the year is through, I'm going to have to give them the full Web 2.0 treatment, adopting a layout that's attractive and loads quickly no matter what hardware you use to view it.  I'll also need to divide the review pages by system rather than manufacturer, because as it stands now the pages are so enormous that they take entirely too much time to edit.

Before I go, let's have a word of silence for Tips and Tricks.  I loved that magazine, especially during its golden years in the late 1990s, and it will be dearly missed.  Hmm... all right, that ought to do it.  Stay tuned, folks... a new video review is just around the bend!