Friday, August 26, 2016

I lost my man cave!


I am now caveless. it's a sad state of affairs for a nerd. I have nowhere to display my nerdly wealth--Batman paraphernalia, my signed-by-Stan Lee and hand-colored Spider-man newspaper strip, my arcade cabinets and etc. I'll have to put my consoles in the living room and have a section of the garage for the rest, but that separation just feels wrong somehow. Worse, it isn't done yet.

You see, I moved out of my three-story home into one without a basement. It was my decision, so I can't blame anyone but myself. I just need to complain. I don't even technically own the new house, so I can't begin construction of a new cave until all the paperwork goes through. Right now my comic books are sitting inside a closet, unread and unloved. On the bright side, that closet is behind a shelf that opens up like the one in the old Batman TV show. I'm looking for a Shakespeare bust to put on the shelf that I can modify with a button.

The garage is huge and will make a great replacement cave. My dilemma is temporary. It still sucks! My wife is allowing me to build a cool shelving unit for most of my game systems in the living room. I'll be able to play NES on a projector screen. I'll post photos when it's all done. That said, when she wants to watch TV, I can't game. I guess that'll be better for my marriage, though. Any nerd who manages to find a wife who tolerates his hobbies is lucky indeed. Plus, I got her hooked on Lego video games and the occasional RPG, so she sympathizes with me a bit.

I traded my man-cave for two acres, a pool and a huge pond. Sadly, the pond needs to be treated for green algae and the pool needs a new liner; I can't fix either until my mortgage officially goes through. Maybe I can put up a sign next to the pond that says "Crystal Lake" and hang a hockey mask from it.

Ooh! I just figured out my next woodworking project!

Don't feel too bad for me. I still have everything I need to make myself a new Nerdhole, even if it isn't quite a hole anymore. I just miss my perfect little corner of nerd-paradise.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Do video games turn today's youth into quitters?


I am 42 years old, so I'm entitled to the occasional fit of "good old days" ranting. To me, the 1980's were halcyon days. Sure, we had no cell phones, no Internet, and no disc-based gaming. Video games were, at best, cartoonish or badly-pixellated renderings of objects and people that you interacted with on a 2D plane. You tended to see a bit of interference in the background of your TV set from other channels as you played on channel 3. Still, the games were fun back then. Plus, you actually had to have some skill to play them.

You were constantly challenged by the games you played. All games were in essence a form of competition. You were out to beat your last high score, or even better, your friends' high scores. There were levels, but most games had no end to them; they just looped around, at least until Super Mario Bros. changed that paradigm. Even then, you had to beat the game using only a set number of lives and continues.

You tried and failed and tried again and again, or you realized that you had wasted $50, which in that time was a small fortune to a kid. So you sat Indian-style on the living room floor for hours struggling through Bionic Commando. The first few times you failed to make it through, but eventually you learned the proper techniques and tricks and your skills developed to the point that you actually finished the game, to be rewarded with an awesome end-scene:


The point is that video games back then were challenging. You often lost, but you had to keep trying until you got it right.

Nowadays, video games are risk-free ventures. I say this as someone who loves these games, but notices that the difficulty factor is very low. Skyrim is crazy awesome, but the worst thing that might happen to your character is that he'll lose some nice loot and have to start back at the last auto-save. Don't get me started about the Lego games... The only challenge is from the brick-earning sections after you've finished the main story line. They remind me of the Barney game on Genesis.


 We bought this game for my baby brother, who soon realized that no matter how hard you tried, Barney couldn't be killed. If you jumped off a cliff, Barney would float back up holding a balloon. No enemies existed to do him any damage. There was no danger in the game, and even my baby brother got bored with it within a day and went back to trying to pass the first level of Sonic the Hedgehog.

So now, as a middle school teacher, I deal with a bunch of kids who are utterly distraught if they make mistakes. They don't want to have to struggle or work for a win. The concept of trying and trying again is alien to them. If they can't grasp and idea or skill the first time they try it out, they want to give up. "I can't do it!" they cry after one attempt.

It's the video games, I swear!

These kids need to play Dark Souls. Now, there's a game that will put some hair on a young man's chest! That game makes you fight for every win. If you fail to beat the first-level boss, you start all the way back over at the very freakin' beginning. For the first several tries, you despise the game. Some choice vocabulary may even depart from between your lips if you're not careful. That all just makes the final victory even sweeter, provided you stick with the game long enough to enjoy it. It's a life lesson that most kids haven't learned.



So recently I decided to introduce my kids to the world of the Atari 2600. I made them play each game enough to gain a fair amount of skill. To up the ante, I had my two youngest compete against each other for high scores. They played Pac-Man, Galaxian and Frogger. Now they want to keep playing because they enjoyed getting better and better with each try. It was a pretty sweet idea for family night if I do say so myself.

I asked them what they learned and they said that you need to keep trying even when things were difficult. I told them that was called perseverance. Then we ate some ice cream. After that, they asked if they could keep playing Atari and I gladly obliged.

Kids these days need a lesson in perseverance. It's a quality they sadly lack. It's an essential quality of a self-sufficient adult. I know video games aren't exclusively to blame, and I'm not suggesting Bethesda make the next Elder Scrolls nigh-impossible to beat. However, may I suggest that we play some of the classic, challenging games with our kids? Dust off the old Atari, NES or even Sega. You'll be pleasantly surprised!


P.S. Just for kicks, here are the games we played:






Monday, July 28, 2014

Why Every Gamer Needs a Dreamcast


The Sega Dreamcast set first-day sales records when it debuted on 9/9/99. It boasted the first 128-bit processor in a game system, built-in online connectivity, an innovative memory card that doubled as a miniature hand-held gaming device, and a proprietary disc that could hold one full gigabyte of information. It ran a version of Windows CE for easy programming, or programmers could access the CPU and GPU directly. Its GPU was a special version of the PowerVR processor used in PCs of the time. Its processors could render up to 7 million polygons per second, making it almost 20 times as powerful, polygon-wise, as the Playstation 1.

When the next wave of 128-bit systems hit, they were billed as much more powerful than the Dreamcast. Let's check the numbers:

Nintendo 64 - @100,000 pps (polygons per second), but with major additional graphic effects
Sega Saturn - @200,000 pps, slightly fewer depending on the effects used
Sony Playstation - @360,000 pps depending on the effects being used

Sega Dreamcast - @7million pps
Nintendo Gamecube - @16 million pps
Sony Playstation 2 - @66 million pps
Xbox - @100 million pps

Nintendo Wii - @65 million pps
Sony Playstation 3 - @333 million pps (as assessed by outside testers)
Xbox 360 - @500 million pps

By the way, none of these maximum polygon counts reflects what's actually going to happen in a game situation. In a game, you might see about half of the benchmarked pps being used, largely to avoid overtaxing the system and messing up gameplay. Notice a few things, however.

1. Out of the three 32/64-bit era systems, the N64 had the most amazing graphics, but could render the fewest polygons per second.
2. The Dreamcast and Gamecube numbers were not far apart.
3. Gamecube graphics were indistinguishable from most PS2 and Xbox graphics.
4. Games that really pushed what the Dreamcast could do would look right at home on the other 128-bit systems.

Some examples:


Dead or Alive 2
 
 


Ferrari F355 Challenge
 
 
Sega GT
 

Shenmue
 

Skies of Arcadia
 
 
 
Soul Calibur
 
 
However, let's not spend too much time rehashing ancient history. (I may have done that already.) Modern systems (Xbox One, PS4) put anything before them to shame, and they haven't even begun to push what the machines can do. It's not all about the polys, or the Teraflops or whatever. It's about the games. The Dreamcast was the first game system to create convincing graphics. I remember my father-in-law watching us play UFC and asking who was winning, and being surprised it was a game and not a Pay Per View match.
 
There's another, even more important reason to own a Dreamcast -- it emulates other systems very, very well. If you want to back up all of your old Atari 2600, NES, Genesis, and NeoGeo Games, the Dreamcast can and will play them, all this without having to mod the system.
 
That's right, no modding!
 
Yes, I know your PC can do all of that as well, maybe even your cell phone. But there's nothing quite like laying back on the couch with an actual console controller in your hand, playing games on an actual TV. The Dreamcast also makes a great base for building an arcade unit. (I'll show mine off in a later post.)
 
Last but not least, the Dreamcast was made to run in VGA mode with a special attachment, and that signal can be upconverted to 1080p with the right equipment. This means it will look right at home on your HDTV.
 
Additionally, because of the ease of use of the Windows CE operating system, people are still making games for Dreamcast. My favorite homebrew site is theisozone.com. There you will find all the tools you need to back up your games from older systems onto discs that play on Dreamcast, plus a host of new, homebrew titles, some surprisingly awesome.
 
If, like me, you are a gaming nerd, you NEED a Sega Dreamcast. Luckily for you, they are cheap, plentiful, and easy to find. (Click here to find one.) Take my advice, friend, and enjoy yourself.
 
 

 
 
 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Xbox 360 Backwards Compatibility: Which Games and Why It Matters

                                                                                    





I must confess to never selling off my old systems when they become "outdated." Therefore, the issue of backwards compatibility isn't a big deal to me. When I decide it's time to upgrade to a newer system, that particular feature won't be an issue.

However...

If you bought an Xbox 360 and were not the owner of an original Xbox (the nomenclature of the Xbox One bugs me), you missed out on a whole bunch of awesome games, games that tend to look even better when played on the Xbox 360. However, not all original Xbox games are compatible, so I've decided to post a list of games that I know for sure (I've tested them all) are indeed compatible. One caveat: some games might require an update via Xbox Live to be compatible, but most of these were tested while unconnected to Xbox Live.

 
COMPATIBLE GAMES plus A-F Game Rating
 
Atari Anthology -- B
Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 1 and 2 -- A
The Bard's Tale -- A
Batman Begins -- A-
Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu -- B
Blinx: The Time Sweeper -- B
Blowout -- B
Breakdown -- A-
Brute Force -- C
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe -- C+
Circus Maximus: Chariot Wars -- B-
Conker: Live and Reloaded -- A- (a bit crude and offensive at times)
Counter Strike -- C
Crimson Skies -- A
The DaVinci Code -- C-
Dead or Alive Ultimate Discs 1 and 2 -- A
Dead or Alive 3 -- A+
Destroy All Humans! -- B+
Doom 3 -- A+
Dreamfall -- A-
Dungeons and Dragons Heroes -- A-
Elder Scrolls: Morrowind  -- A+
Fable: The Lost Chapters -- A+
Farcry: Instincts -- B
Forgotten Realms: Demon Stone -- A-
Fuzion Frenzy -- B
Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows -- A-
Goblin Commander -- B+
Grabbed by the Ghoulies -- A-
Guilty Gear X2 -- A
Half Life 2 -- A
Halo -- A+ (duh)
Halo 2 -- A+ (ditto)
The House of the Dead 3 -- A+ (with gun)/B (using controller)
Hunter: The Reckoning -- A-
The Incredibles -- A-
Indiana Jones and the Emperor's Tomb -- A
Intellivision Lives -- D
Jade Empire -- A+

Justice League Heroes -- A+
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King -- B
Lord of the Rings: The Third Age -- A+
Magic: Battlegrounds -- C (if you're a Magic fan, A-)
Marvel Nemesis  -- A-
Max Payne -- C+
Max Payne 2 -- B
MechAssault 2 -- A+
Mega Man Anniversary Collection -- A+
Metal Arms -- A
Mojo! -- C+
Mortal Kombat: Deception -- A- (bonus points for the mini-game)
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon -- A+ (major bonus for the mini-game)
Namco Museum -- C
NFL 2K5 -- A- (extremely playable)
Ninja Gaiden Black -- A+
Oddworld: Munch's Oddysee -- A
Outrun 2006: Coast to Coast  -- B+
Panzer Dragoon Orta -- A+
Phantom Dust -- A (bonus points for being unique)
Project Gotham Racing 2 -- B+
Psychonauts -- A+
Quantum Redshift -- A
Return to Castle Wolfenstein -- B+
Scrapland -- B
Sega GT 2002/Jet Set Radio Future -- B/A+ (both games on same disc)
Sega Soccer Slam -- A
Serious Sam -- A- (mindless fun)
Shenmue 2 -- A+ (insanely interactive game world, awesome story)
Showdown: Legends of Wrestling -- A
Simpsons Hit & Run -- A (Simpsons meet GTA)
Simpsons Road Rage -- B- (Crazy Taxi clone)
Sonic Heroes -- A+
Sonic Mega Collection Plus -- B
Soul Calibur 2 -- A+ (bonus points for Spawn)
Splinter Cell -- A
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow -- A+
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory -- A+
Star Wars Battlefront -- A
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic -- A+
Street Fighter Anniversary Collection -- A+ (includes SF3)
Super Bubble Pop -- B+
Syberia 2 -- B (A if you've played Syberia 1)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles -- A
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2X -- A+ (best in the series from a purist's standpoint)
Tork: Prehistoric Punk -- A-
Ultimate Spider-Man  -- A
Unreal Championship 2  -- A+
Wrath Unleashed  -- A (medieval combat chess)

My original plan was to include a list of games I tested that were not backwards compatible, but since I hadn't tested them all while connected to Xbox live I couldn't be sure they didn't have an update that made them work. Wikipedia has a very detailed list, but you might find this one more useful as it only contains games I find to be worth playing and each is rated. Still, there are certainly a few left out, so double check before buying.

The point is that with the added original Xbox games, the Xbox 360 is loaded with awesome content. It wouldn't be very hard for an aspiring developer to create a compatibility app for the Xbox One that lets it play both original Xbox and Xbox 360 games; the CPU is certainly powerful enough to handle the emulation. Let's hope someone goes to the trouble. I'd certainly pay $5 - $10 for the download. The same goes for the PS4. Imagine an app that lets you play games from PS1 - PS3. Again, at $5 - $10 a download, you'd make a killing!

Well, if you think you're out of good 360 games to play, take a look at this list, the ratings, and the genre. You're bound to find a hidden gem or ten worth your time. Enjoy!





 



Friday, July 4, 2014

What's up with the title?



When I decided to make a blog about my not-so-serious interests (my other blog, The Use of Reason, is all about politics and social issues), I had to go through several names before finding one that was both fitting and, well, available. Even this title is in use in another configuration: mine has a DASH between the words "the" and "nerdhole," whereas someone else is already using the whole thing run together.

The Nerdhole is what I call my basement, or man cave. The walls are covered in comic book paraphenalia and collectible super hero toys. There are two homemade arcade units. I have a projector screen for my newer game systems and an old-fashined entertainment setup for the older ones. There is a home gym (not as nerdy, but fun) on the other side, and one foosball table and one air hockey table tucked away in another area. It's technically underground, thus a Nerdhole.

I intend to post fun things here, like video game reviews, instructions about how to build your own arcade units, and generally nerd out on whatever pops into my head. There will be lots of handy links to help out with things. The comments section will serve as a forum for anyone interested enough to post something. All-in-all, I just wanted a forum in which to share my fun.

Well, I hope you enjoy the blog. I know I will.