Joysticks Are Better

August 27, 2008

That’s my final verdict after weeks of playing arcade style games with multiple input types on multiple platforms. If you want to play an arcade game, you need a joystick.

How did I arrive at this conclusion you ask? (I know… you didn’t ask…) There were a number of games that proved the point, but it was best illustrated when playing Raiden Fighters Jet.

Raiden Fighters Jet may be my favorite shooter of all-time. It was created by Seibu Kaihatsu in 1998. It’s essentially the place where the Raiden series of games came to an end as Raiden III and Raiden IV were developed by a different group. I’m a strong believer in the ownership of a series by a particular development team, as it’s the very rare example where a sequel by another studio even comes close to the original titles. That’s especially true with shooters, which have a very distinct feel to them that comes from the people involved in making them. If you’re like me, you know a Treasure game when you play one without ever seeing a developer splash screen. Raiden has this same quality because of Seibu Kaihatsu.

That’s peripheral to the issue at hand, but if you ever get the chance to play Raiden Fighters Jet, do so. It’s awesome.

As for the joystick, it was pretty simple. I downloaded MAME and a ROM of the game to see what the emulation was like. The game is available at my local arcade, but I honestly hadn’t looked at MAME in years and thought this was a great opportunity to take a look at it again and see how far it has come. Needless to say, MAME has come pretty far. The list of emulated games is ridiculously long. It also would provide me the chance to play a game at home with different controllers and then go back to the arcade and see which was best. The arcade won, by a mile.

I easily scored higher and lasted longer on a single credit in the arcade than I ever could at home. While the sounds aren’t quite right in the MAME version, everything else seemed pretty close. It’s possible that the timing is off a bit, and that would certainly cause me issues at home, but scorewise, there was just no comparison between playing with a keyboard or a Playstation controller, and playing in the arcade with a joystick and dedicated fire and bomb buttons.

The controls are just tighter, with instantaneous response. My selected jet zips through bullets with ease when I’ve got joystick control. Shots are fired much faster with arcade buttons, too. And bombs can be dropped in life-saving situations where at home I became all thumbs at times. I have always been a huge proponent of playing each original game on its own hardware and once again I felt like that opinion was reinforced. Emulation doesn’t just rob you of the satisfying feeling of topping the scoreboard in your town, it also removes the pinpoint control you get there.

I also think there’s a psychological barrier to enjoying arcade games when they’re played at home, but that’s probably a post for another day. I was much happier to play for ten minutes on one quarter standing at the arcade than I was to fire up the game for free. MAME and emulation in general has completely devalued the experience of arcade gaming, and I sort of hate it for that.

Anyway, you can’t beat a joystick for arcade gaming. All those Neo Geo games I’ve been buying are played with one too, and the fighters especially are designed with that lever and buttons in mind. Moves that would be hell on a gamepad come out like worms after the rain when you’ve got those sweet sticks in your hands. I’ll never go back again, and am contemplating building one of my own for future arcade style action on various platforms.


I Took the Red Pill

August 23, 2008

That’s right, the rabbit hole goes this deep already…

Bigger, Badder, Better

Bigger, Badder, Better

So what are they? From left to right…

  • Neo Turf Masters
  • Robo Army
  • Art of Fighting 2
  • Samurai Shodown II
  • Crossed Swords
  • Ghost Pilots
  • King of Fighters ’94
  • World Heroes
  • Samurai Shodown
  • Super Baseball 2020
  • World Heroes 2 Jet
  • Fatal Fury Special
  • Magician Lord
  • Art of Fighting
  • Baseball Stars 2

Once I get the new TV stand built and the other consoles set up, I’ll post a pic of that too. I’m already using an analog monitor for the games. It’s the best picture quality you can get for these older systems. Believe it or not, it’s a Commodore 1084S that you would have found on many an Amiga or C64/128 user’s desktop back in the 80’s. I’m hoping to hack a cable for RGB input in the future, but right now I’m using composite. It’s still a massive increase in picture quality over even the Sony Trinitron I was using before.

What you really notice on these old monitors is how the reds don’t bleed into all the other colors the way they do on standard television screens. The edges are sharper, but not to the point of looking “computery” the way they do on a PC in MAME without filtering/scanlines. Sure, the MAME look is truly the way the sprites looked on someone’s screen when they were initially created, but the free anti-aliasing you get from a TV or monitor was a part of gaming in the 80’s and 90’s. That’s something I can’t give up because it’s more exact with that little bit of “smudge” for lack of a better word.

RGB is the best you can do for all these older systems, but there are no cables available that aren’t hacks of some kind. Usually you have to build it yourself. Even just talking about this reminds me that the monitor is analog, and I feel like one of those guys who enjoys records more than CDs because “something is lost” when you go to digital. Since I’m also one of those who likes the sounds of records better than CDs (and way more than MP3s), I guess this is just my way of bucking the digital world in videogames too. Heh.

On a completely unrelated note, I haven’t done anything for Crispy Gamer lately but that should change in the coming months as more games start hitting the shelves. I’m already on for two unreleased titles and hope to do a lot more. Expect to see those links appearing here from September to January/February.

People Really Do Win at Gametap

August 9, 2008

I’ve been buying a bunch of classic games from eBay lately. A particular seller was clearing out what seemed like an entire collection of Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, Master System and Sega CD games. Buy more than one and pay only $1 for each additional game’s shipping. That’s usually too good a deal for me to pass up, especially if the games are semi-rare. You can grab one or two of those higher priced titles and bundle in a bunch of common stuff and pay a very reasonable price. Last week’s winnings included Alisia Dragoon, Atomic Runner, Bio-Hazard Battle, Combat Cars, and Newman Haas IndyCar Racing. Only the first two cost me more than a couple bucks each, but it was nice to throw in a couple other items with them.

Since I’ve been doing all this eBay buying, boxes have been arriving fairly regularly. However, we were on vacation the week before and I pretty much avoided the Internet as much as possible during that time. I didn’t expect to receive anything this past week, but a box showed up for me on Thursday. I honestly had no clue what it could be. Imagine my surprise when I opened it and found this…

A winnar is yuo!

A winnar is yuo!

Yes! Contest winnings!

The week before we left for vacation, I spent a Monday evening playing H.E.R.O. by Activision for the Atari 2600 on Gametap. Every Monday they have a new high score contest and there are prizes for the top ten scores in the current week’s game. I stumbled onto the promotion a couple months ago and wanted to pariticpate sometime but just forgot or didn’t have the chops to enter. Dig Dug was the week before and I couldn’t get back to a reasonably competitive level in that one, so I decided to wait for a later contest.

H.E.R.O. was the one. I didn’t start playing the game until that Monday. I flicked it on for the first time around 5:30 or so after work. I was in the top ten by 7 PM, but not real firm. I took breaks here and there throughout the evening and by maybe 11 o’clock I knew I was solidly in the top ten. I really didn’t know if there were better prizes for better positions in the list so I kept playing right up to the deadline of midnight. I managed to unseat someone right at 11:55 to claim sixth. It was very cool. More amazing was the fellow who won posting the best score in Gametap’s history, nearly matching the Twin Galaxies record for the game.

I figured the prize would be either A) lame or B) never arrive. A Gametap t-shirt and water bottle aren’t all that bad for a night of playing a great game from the past. The included certificate was a nifty bonus. It’s one of those things that no one cares about except those of us who participated, but it certainly beats playing the latest five hour blast-fest and watching cutscenes all night long. H.E.R.O. holds up really well after all these years and would make a pretty cool retro remake if someone were so inclined.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot about the contest on August 4. Galaga was the game and I’m a pretty good Galaga player. Maybe next time…

Anyway, if you want to see the contest page and me in the list, look for Grimrod on the right at this page…

Retro Living

August 4, 2008

It’s been, what… three months since the last post? That may seem like a long time to those of you who bothered to follow the blog, but it’s really flown by for me. Every time the bug to update bit me, I’d be busy with something else or just didn’t feel like anyone would really care what I had to say. So I didn’t post and just kind of faded into the background for awhile. I’m not sure I’m ready to emerge really. I’ve been keeping up with Qt3 and NeoGAF sporadically and find that I’m just not much interested in a lot of the games people seem excited for this Holiday season.

That was pretty much summed up in the latest issue of Game Informer when it arrived. The preview section looked like the same game for fifteen consecutive pages–each page browner than the last one with pretty much zero deviation. It’s completely depressing to me.

I’ve pretty much made a complete break from that current world of videogames save those that fit my current rekindled love for fighting, shooters, beat ’em ups and side-scrolling action games. Yes, all of my gaming lately has been the traditional console and arcade kind. I’m in love again with the simpler action of arcade-style baseball, the straightforward power-up collection and avoidance of scrolling shooters and the special moves and one on one immediacy of fighting games.

I’m enjoying gaming a million times more than I was before this retro wave washed over me. I’d sit down at the computer or in front of the PS3/360 and find myself plumbing the downloadables for simpler games that didn’t require me to wade through hours of recorded dialogue and heavy handed storytelling. I wanted to push start to play, not play a tutorial for three hours before the real game started. Basically, I turned on Ikaruga one night and woke up to what I loved about console games in the first place, the immediacy of instant action, fast reflexes, and unparalleled hand-eye coordination needed to be a champ.

This revelation has come at a monetary price, but one I’m happy to pay. I re-purchased (for the third and final time) a Neo Geo AES home console via eBay. The transaction wasn’t as smooth as I’d like, but I’m in love with that machine again. It reconfirmed just how important those games are to my formative gaming obsession, and how timeless their gameplay and even graphics are in the face of the brown out that’s consuming nearly all of gaming (certainly all of western game design). So far I’ve got eight titles in my library and plan to add plenty more. World Heroes, World Heroes 2 Jet, Samurai Shodown, Baseball Stars 2, Magician Lord, Fatal Fury Special, Art of Fighting, and Super Baseball 2020 are the titles. It’s a fighting heavy lineup, but that’s part of what makes the Geo the machine it is. Shooters are on the purchase list next, but I’ve already gotten more than my money’s worth from those. The controllers are still fantastic to hold and as precise as ever. Best of all, these games are in vibrant color!

My retro raid didn’t stop there though. I’ve been adding other eBay finds of the Genesis, Sega CD and Sega Saturn variety. Mostly I’m filling holes in my collections there, with things like Thunder Force III, Formula One: Beyond the Limit and Fighters Megamix. Some of this stuff would be easily accessed through Nintendo’s Virtual Console, but I’m also finding myself drawn to the old controllers these games were played on. The simplicity of a solid gamepad or joystick and three to six buttons controlling all the action is so much more welcome than the analog sticks, and eight or more button action of modern games.

It’s not that I can’t play those games. I’m probably more adept at current titles than 85% of the gamers playing them. I just don’t care to learn how to control something so I can play it once for six to ten hours and then never play the game again. I want to be challenged by the game, not its controls. I want to play, not watch.

That’s not to say there are no games on the horizon that interest me. Street Fighter IV is high up there. I cannot wait to play it. King of Fighters XII is also way up there with its high resolution re-imagining of the series. There are a few things coming to PlayStation Network and to Xbox Live’s Marketplace that I’m sure to buy. Even among the brown wars, a couple titles stand out a little. Still, it’s the retro stuff that makes me most excited. Mega Man 9, in full 8-bit glory? Bring it on.