How I created my own retro gaming console for $100

pi1You guys know me; I am about the opposite of cutting-edge when it comes to technology. I simply don’t have time to keep up on the latest whatever, so sometimes it’s months or years after the fact that I’ll be hearing about something everyone else was already enjoying. Such is life!

Anyway, late last week I came across an intriguing article on “How to build an all-in-one retro game console for $35” that introduced me to a little computer called the Raspberry Pi. A tiny computer for $35 that had all sorts of ports and could run Linux and people were tricking out to do a wide variety of things? Sounded really neat, and I wanted to try my hand at one. My SNES console (actually two) are both on the fritz, I only have one workable controller, and half of my cartridges won’t work (not to mention that the battery back-ups inside of them aren’t working any longer). So to upgrade everything to a little emulator console was appealing to me, especially since I’ve bought these games two, three times over.

After doing some reading (and getting more and more excited about what the Pi could do), I landed on the Super Nintendo Pi page, which had a pretty straight-forward and detailed guide how to take a Pi and get a retro console up and running on it. The first step was to assemble my materials, and so I bought three things from Amazon: a CanaKit Raspberry Pi 2 (which not only had the Pi, but a microSD card, HDMI cable, and a protective case), a USB keyboard, and a SNES-style gamepad. All of that cost around $86.

pi2Yesterday I got everything in the mail (thanks to Amazon Prime’s free two-day shipping), and indeed, the Pi was insanely small. Like that picture up there? That’s probably life-size if a bit bigger. I put the case on, hooked it up to my TV (since I didn’t have a spare HDMI monitor and wasn’t going to spend another hundred or so on one), and got to work.

Actually, I realized that I didn’t have a card reader for the microSD card, so I had to make a trip out to Radio Shack (one of the few left right now) to get one, which tacked on another $6.

Now, I’m a total noobie when it comes to Linux. Never had to mess with it before, so this was a crash-course in how it works. The terminal interface was foreign at first, but soon it felt a bit like going back to the days of DOS and messing around with good ol’ config.sys and autoexec.bat. I started to learn some of the commands, and for a while things went swimmingly.

However, I did start running into snags — it wasn’t getting the updates that I needed and I couldn’t get my computer to FTP into the Pi to transfer the ROMs. Eventually I broke down and called my brother-in-law (aka “family tech support”) who taught me a few things about Linux and also helped me get the Pi hooked up to the ethernet (it wasn’t plug-and-playing, so there was an extra step we had to inject in order to get it online). From there it went great: I got RetroPie installed, transferred over the ROMs, set up the controller, and downloaded the artwork for each game for the menu.

pi3Everything loaded beautifully. Now when I turn on the Pi, it goes straight into the emulator and doesn’t require a keyboard at all. The last problem was that none of the games’ sound was working, which I fixed by swapping out the HDMI slots.

BTW, RetroPie doesn’t just have an SNES emulator; it’s more of an everything emulator. It works up to the N64/Dreamcast generation and back to the Atari 2600. It even comes with Doom installed.

Start to finish, it was about a three hour endeavor — and totally worth it. I spent the last hour before bed playing Contra III and TMNT and Zombies Ate My Neighbors. And Chrono Trigger twinkled its eyes at me playfully as well. Hopefully this system will last a lot longer than my decaying SNES!

MMOs made me a drug addict (clickbait!)

drugsAnd thus many of us 80’s gamers met our very first drug dealer…

So the other day I’m doing a bit of retro gaming reminiscing, and I end up racking by braing trying to think of this console game I read in a magazine where one of the big features was that you could mix up your own potions, but that many of them had nasty side effects — much like the bad drugs of the real world. I can’t recall what that game was, but my mind took a transfer off of that train and onto the post-apocalyptic line, which started at the Wasteland station and went straight through to Fallout 2.

If memory serves me, all of those games had the option to indulge in particular stimulants and other chemically induced buffs that would give you a strong edge in some way, but then cause withdrawal or worse if you stopped using. Because I didn’t want to fuss with the bad part, I never did become a drug addict in those games, but it felt a little risque that the option was even there (along with becoming a prostitute, selling your spouse into slavery, and other wholesome deeds that make me wonder for the mental health of developers).

The Witcher CRPG series also had a strong emphasis on drug use, in that you’d be mixing up cocktails that could both hurt and help — sometimes at the same time.

But what about MMOs? I mean, we are using ALL THE TIME in those games. We call them “potions,” but they’re just drugs that artificially give us more energy, stave off effects of sickness, or repair our health. Sure, they’re seen as the “good” drugs, the aspirin and Nyquil of the online space, but even so, should we be so dependent on them? Should we be chain-quaffing potions without a care as to what it’s doing to our internal organs?

narc_shot1How the Regan administration handled the war on drugs.

My SWTOR character uses “stims” by constantly injecting her thigh, which is something that I’ve only seen elsewhere in drug addicts or diabetics. Even if it’s intended to help, it has the visual imagry of someone who is so chemically addicted that they can’t get through a mission without shooting up.

Unlike the Fallouts of yore, drug use in MMOs is rarely, if ever, punished. Side effects? There’s not even a “do not operate heavy machinery after taking” warning to be seen. I think that the closest thing I’ve experienced was one of Guild Wars 2’s Christmas candies that gave my character a speed high, but would also cause a debuff afterward that would only be countered by (yup) more of that sweet, sweet addictive candy.

MMOs aren’t going to risk alienating audiences with controversial drug use outside of the safe, accepted blue-and-red potions — and players probably wouldn’t go for buffs that had withdrawal symptoms anyway. But in a roleplaying sense (because that is the R in our genre’s acronym), why aren’t drugs treated as such instead of magic Pac-Man energy pellets? Are we really to believe that a fantasy world has the kind of quality control where there would never be a bad batch of health potions? That an antidote pot might sometimes just not be enough and your character would die anyway?

Are all of our characters drug addicts and we just don’t realize or talk about it?

Is there a pharmaceutical conspiracy in Azeroth, Norrath, Tyria, and Telara?

Will they be coming for me next?

Remember… Spock

spockIt shouldn’t be a shock that Leonard Nimoy passed away today, yet it is. The original Star Trek cast has been pushing the upper limits of senior citizenhood over the past decade, with a few quietly slipping into the great beyond. And so it is that Nimoy joins DeForest Kelly and James Doohan in death while we remember.

I think that Nimoy was a hard-working actor and a gracious person who gave up fighting his Star Trek typecasting and instead played along with it to the delight of millions of fans. He was in more movies than any of the rest of them (including both reboots), directed a couple of them, had a cool bit in ST:TNG, contributed to Star Trek Online, and poked fun at himself on Futurama.

For me, Nimoy was Spock, and Spock meant a lot to my childhood. Well, Star Trek meant a lot, especially the old series, and I idolized Mr. Spock’s capabilities and mental prowess. I think I wished I was as in control of myself and my life as he was, and I remember getting through a shot at the doctors thinking, “Spock would take this without flinching.”

I loved how Nimoy gave Spock this dry, deadpan sense of humor that played off Bones so well. I liked how he was the logical half of Kirk’s friendship triad, thinking through issues and solving them methodically while Kirk would tackle them out of instinct. His sacrifice to save the Enterprise in Star Trek II never fails to make me tear up a bit, because he didn’t even pause when he saw what needed doing.

We’re sad because there goes a part of our past and our pop culture, but as with many of the great actors who have come and gone, we are left re-appreciating what Nimoy had accomplished in his life.

Are our TSW characters actually mute?

TSW players are well-acquainted with the fact that our characters never talk, and usually that’s mentioned as a way to both save money and to allow us to insert our own inner voices into that character (instead of having a VO artist do it for us).

But what if there’s another, possibly more interesting explanation?

I read this today and it kind of really makes sense: “The Bees took our voices, and that’s why we’re all silent protagonists in cutscenes. The blessing of the Bees comes with a price, possibly as far as losing almost all communication skills.”

Maybe that’s why our characters only communicate via facial gestures and hand movements, and why NPCs don’t seem too surprised (and are usually bemused) that we do not talk.

Just a thought.

RPS shows you how not to interview

peterI’m very late to this, but I’ve been stewing over the now-infamous RPS interview of Peter Molyneux and have to say a quick thing or two about it. There seem to be two reactions among both players and other media outlets:

1. Unabashed glee that an unpopular game dev was taken to task for his failings, lies, and pattern of hype. Lots of “He deserved it!” sentiments.

2. Abashed shame that Rock, Paper, Shotgun conducted an interview in such a manner, sympathies or dislike for Molyneux notwithstanding.

I am firmly in the second camp. Listen, we need hard, unflinching questions in interviews. We need journalists committed to rooting out the truth and not lobbing complete softball discussions. But this wasn’t just a keen-eyed reporter going for the next Pulitzer; it was a ticked-off fan getting to flame a dev on the phone and then post it, knowing that it would get a lot of hurrahs because Molyneux is in the doghouse.

It’s so unprofessional that I’m shocked that other outlets have been praising it. The interviewer is completely emotional and antagonistic, a fanboy trying to pick a fight instead of a reporter looking for facts and explanations. It didn’t matter what Molyneux had to say; it was clear from the very first question that this was a witch hunt that could only have one result.

Actually, it could have had two results: Molyneux could have hung up, and he really should have. He was far too polite to do so and too polite not to get into a fight with the interviewer.

This interview could have asked most all of the same hard, fact-seeking questions but done so without an angry, petulant, bullying tone and been so much better for it. RPS should take that interview down, stat.

Monday morning tidbits

sclNo one major topic for this Monday morning, so how about a bunch of smaller ones?

As heartbroken as I was to see BioWare can the promising Shadow Realms, I can now take solace in another title that was announced this past week: Sword Coast Legends. This is a straight-foward D&D title that not only has a single and co-op campaign, but another mode in which a player can assume the role of the dungeon master for his or her friends. This feature is what I was most excited for in Shadow Realms, so I’m eager to see how SCL might run with this concept. A more modern Neverwinter Nights, perhaps?

I finished up Seeds of Truth in Guild Wars 2 over the weekend, which brings my progress in the game up to… oh, December 2, 2014? So just a little over two months behind of the crowd, oh well. While I liked the time travel/play Caithe mechanics of it, the story was so much fluff that didn’t answer anything. Why did Caithe steal the egg? I don’t know, let’s go through three long missions to figure that out and still not have any sort of resolution. And one of those was a stealth mission! Listen, MMO devs, if you’re going to make me do a stealth mission, then there’d better be the best reward in the universe after it to justify the pain that it takes to get through these.

More faffing about on Alderaan in SWTOR; still stuck on that planet. Kind of wish I had had more time to take advantage of the 2X experience boost over the weekend, but I didn’t and oh well. I will say this: I am ready to switch to a companion that doesn’t speak to me only in Ewokeese. Unfortunately, right now my other options are a taller hairball that speaks Wookieese, a prissy non-combat robot, and Corso. I am going to have to hold out a little bit longer.

My computer’s hard drive is getting so dang full that I’m having difficulties keeping all of the games on it that I want. I could get another drive, but at this point I may be holding out for a new rig altogether. So I did take off WildStar, H1Z1, the a few other smaller titles.

As for LOTRO, I probably gamed the most there this weekend but I’m going to save thoughts on that until tomorrow.