Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Break time! Dark Cavern for tha Atari 2600

Tuesday, March 27th, 2007

[Break Time! is a series of posts about video games that Rick has spent entirely too much time with over the years.]

One of my hobbies is collecting and restoring old video game systems. Not arcade machines, since I don’t have a house nearly large enough for a bunch of arcade machines, but consoles.

As a kid, I owned an Atari 2600 console – which gave me years of entertainment until it had an unfortunate run-in with a thunderstorm. Many years later, I bought a secondhand Atari 2600 at a flea market, then dug my old cartridges out of the attic. I was bitten by the collecting bug, and now I have a “library” of old game consoles and their games.

There are some who say that Atari 2600 games were the best games ever made. I am not one of those people. As someone who owns nearly three hundred different Atari cartridges, I’ll go on record to state that most of the Atari 2600 cartridge library is complete crap. The only entertainment value many of these games had was the “wow” factor: you could actually control the images on the television screen!

In 2007, most of the Atari 2600 game library is worthless – unless you’re interested in the evolution of video games. But there are some games that stand out; games that were more than just moving blocks around on the television screen. Dark Cavern, by Mattel (a.k.a. “M Network”) is one of those games.

You are a man in an unfortunate situation. You have a gun, and are thrown into a dungeon populated by spiders (which paralyze you), bulletsuckers (which … suck your bullets away), and killer robots. The robots chase you around the dungeon relentlessly, and shoot at you if they “see” you. You can shoot back at all of these enemies. There’s a catch: You can run out of bullets, but the robots have an endless supply.

You can scrounge up more bullets by picking up a flashing “gun” that appears occasionally in the dungeon. This is often harder that it sounds; the gun often pops up in the midst of a gang of robots, and disappears if you don’t claim it quickly enough. Such is life in the Dark Cavern.

On the easiest difficulty level, you initially battle only two robots. Once you blow away enough robots, the game sends out three robots at a time. Then four. The robots get faster as you kill more of them. They also get “smarter”. Earlier robots can only shoot in the direction they’re facing. Later robots rotate their heads to face in all directions – making it impossible to score an easy kill by sneaking up behind a robot.

(These screen shots were taken on the highest difficulty setting – four robots with rotating heads.)

As you run, hide, and shoot, you hear the roar of the robots prowling the dungeon – a sound that changes depending on how many robots are in the maze. If you’ve managed to blast all the robots, it’s eerily quiet – until the next batch of smarter, faster robots thunders in to kill you.

All in all, Dark Cavern is a surprisingly intense game. It’s one of the rare group of Atari titles that will actually entertain you in 2007. Or at least, it will entertain you until the killer robots blow you away. And they will blow you away. This is an old-school game which cares nothing for your self esteem. You will not win.

… but you might get a high score.

Additional note: Dark Cavern is one of the few games of its era to have “friendly fire”. The robots can and will occasionally shoot each other trying to get you. In Dark Cavern, a bullet is a bullet.

Childhood dreams, revisited

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Ask any kid who was old enough to hang out in an arcade in the early eighties what he would really love to have in his house. Chances are, the answer would be … an arcade game. Or, many arcade games.

More that twenty years later, home consoles barely break a sweat delivering the graphics and sound that we could only get at the arcades back then. But there’s still something about an arcade machine. Maybe it’s standing up in front of the machine. Maybe it’s the large control panel right up beside the screen, where the arcade sounds can blare in your face. I don’t know what it is – but there’s something

Back in 2005, I happened across the Big Electronic Games Ltd. Midway Arcade at the local Target, which promised to deliver a multi-game arcade system to the living room. The Midway machine was a disappointment. The monitor was small and of very low quality. As a result, the games looked awful. The games didn’t sound very good, either. But above all else, there was the asking price: $499. That’s a lot of money to blow on a machine that plays twelve games on a small, blurry screen.

In late 2006, Target carried another Big Electronic Games Ltd. product – the Konami Arcade – this time with a lower price of $399.

$399 is still steep, but this was Target. Target eventually puts things on clearance. Deep clearance. As a result, here’s what my living room now looks like:

[Konami Arcade]
Patty says that Cate’s going to “grow up in the funhouse”!

The machine comes partially assembled in a single, smaller box that I was able to fit easily into the back of my Jeep.

The Konami Arcade has three sections. The middle section, with all the electronics, joysticks, and screen is pre-assembled. The top and bottom sections have to be assembled after unpacking. Assembly was fairly easy – everything is pre-drilled so that you only need a pair of screwdrivers to build the machine. One gripe I had about assembly was that one of the pre-drilled holes was drilled at the wrong angle, so one screw (out of the many that hold the machine together) wouldn’t sink properly.

The bottom of the machine is a storage cabinet with two small shelves. (This is done, perhaps, as a selling point to whoever in your house doesn’t play video games?) But enough about storage and shelves. It”s time to talk about the games.

The Konami Arcade comes with a dozen games, all from the eighties.

  1. Hyper Sports – Konami (1984)
  2. Time Pilot ’84 – Konami (1984)
  3. Shao-Lin’s Road – Konami (1985)
  4. Jungler – Konami / Stern (1981)
  5. Super Basketball – Konami (1984)
  6. Vs. Castlevania – Konami / Nintendo (1987)
  7. Blades of Steel – Konami (1987)
  8. Green Beret – Konami (1985) (released as Rush’n Attack here in the US)
  9. Contra – Konami (1987)
  10. Frogger – Sega / Gremlin / Konami (1981)
  11. Gyruss – Konami (1983)
  12. Scramble – Konami / Stern (1981)

(dates from the Killer List of Video Games and the attract modes of the games)

Not a bad list, though if I were designing this machine I’d have replaced Blades of Steel and Super Basketball with Gradius and Lifeforce.

You control all of these games with two sets of 8-way joysticks and buttons:

[Konami Arcade joysticks]

You can see six buttons on the panel for each player (a holdover from the Midway machine?), but only the top three buttons are actually wired. The lower three buttons don’t even “click” when pressed like the upper ones do.

You play the games on a 15″ screen mounted into the cabinet. Unlike the Midway Arcade’s screen, the Konami Arcade features a higher-resolution computer monitor as the display. How do I know? Take a look.

[Konami Arcade monitor]
This system uses a computer monitor mounted sideways into the cabinet. You can adjust the monitor’s settings if you turn your head a bit.

As a result, the screen display is nice and sharp – with no flickering or dot crawl. I wish the monitor was a little larger, but I have no complaints about the picture clarity.

Game sounds come out of a front-facing speaker mounted on the front panel. The volume is adjustable (and can be turned off entirely). At lower volumes, some of the games have distorted sound – Contra is particularly bad at the two lowest volume settings. Turning the volume up makes Contra‘s sounds much less distorted, but is not an option when the baby is asleep.

To start a game, select from the menu, and hit either the 1P or 2P start button to get to the game.

[Konami Arcade menu]
Select a game from the menu

When you hit either start button, the game begins immediately (after a 1-2 second pause while the game loads), rather than simply going to the game’s attract mode or coin inserted screen.

I’d prefer a way to select a game that would take you to the game’s attract mode, but I suppose that I can get used to the way the Konami Arcade starts games.

When a game is over, you get to enter your initials for a high score (if that particular game supports initials), and the game goes briefly into attract mode. After a few seconds, the machine goes back to the game select menu. I think the machine would “feel” more like the arcade if the games would stay in attract mode longer.

High scores are saved, even after you turn the machine off. You can access the high scores from the main game menu by pushing the joystick to the left or right … because bragging rights are important.

How are the games? The ones I most remember (Time Pilot ’84, Gyruss, Scramble, and Green Beret) seem pretty faithful to their arcade counterparts. The controls respond well; in other words, my dying was my own fault and not a lack of response from the buttons or stick. The graphics are sharp and look good. The sound (aside from the distortion problem in Contra) was passable, but could have been better.

You can pause the games during the action by holding down the two game start buttons together. This brings up a menu which allows you to adjust the volume, blocking the game graphics. Since I was using a digital camera, I couldn’t get pictures of any fast-moving game graphics. I was able to manage a couple of shots of the attract modes of two of the games. (I blocked out the family initials – it’s not a graphics glitch in the games.)

[Konami Arcade Time Pilot '84]
Time Pilot ’84

[Konami Arcade Gyruss]

To sum up, the Konami Arcade is a vast improvement over Big Electronic Games Ltd’s Midway Arcade machine from 2005. It still costs too much at $399 for a purchase, but it’s worth a look if your local Target is clearing them out for under $200.

On the minus side, the sound from the Konami Arcade is disappointing. It’s loud enough, but isn’t as clear as it should be – especially at lower volumes. The games don’t display their attract modes long enough for you to figure out the controls (if there’s a game you don’t remember well) before going back to the main menu. And, of course, there’s the small monitor.

On the plus side,. the small monitor does give a decent picture, the controls are responsive, and the machine saves your high scores for future bragging. The assortment of games gives you a little something for everyone (side-scrolling shooter fans excepted – Scramble is no Gradius). You can also move the machine easily – should you decide you want the machine in some other room, you can disassemble/reassemble it into its three sections and move it very easily. And, it’s just cool to have a stand-up machine in the house.

Since the system incorporates what appears to be a standard computer monitor, I wonder how difficult of a project it would be to convert the Konami Arvade into a MAME cabinet – replacing the guts of the machine with a small PC. But that’s a project for another day – I just got this thing and I don’t want to tear it apart just yet! 🙂

The GP2X – First impressions of the do-it-yourself handheld game system

Thursday, April 13th, 2006

Ever on the lookout for a new video gaming toy, I imported a new Korean handheld gaming machine (via Lik Sang) – the Gamepark Holdings GP2X. What’s unique about this handheld system? Unlike most systems, the makers of the GP2 want people to poke around inside it and make software for it. Also, the thing runs Linux – meaning that development tools for the console should be cheap and easily accessable.

My GP2X arrived yesterday. So how cool is it? Read on …

In the box

[GP2X and box]

The GP2X comes in a nice, if a little small, cardboard box. Inside the box, you’ll find the GP2X itself, a USB cable for connecting the GP2X to a PC, 2 AA batteries, a plastic screen protector, and a combination Korean/English manual. THe unit itself, surprisingly, does not come with an AC Adapter – which you will probably want to get if you get a GP2X. I ordered an AC adapter, a TV-out cable, and 1GB SD card along with my GP2X.

First impressions

Right off the bat, you know that this is a hacker toy. Like most handhelds, the LCD screen is proteted by thick plastic so it doesn’t get accidentally broken. Unlike most handhelds, you have to put this thick plastic protector over the LCD yourself. This is good and bad. It’s good because if you happen to scratch up the thick plastic, a replacement is cheap to buy and put on the GP2X. (Ask any PSP owner about scratches!). It’s bad because, well, you have to do it yourself and it’s easy to get dust or a fingerprint on the bottom where you don’t want it.

[White on yellow screen]

When you first turn the unit on, you’re greeted by a "Loading" screen that takes quite a while (10 seconds or so) to go away. You’re then left in the menu above, which can be navigated with the joystick and B button.

Who thought it was a good idea to use white on yellow for the menus? Did nobody think about using contrasting colors so you could read the menu?

Aside from the poor main menu color scheme (which you can eventually change by downloading skins), navigating the menus isn’t bad. The system even has a test option where you can verify that the screen, joystick, and buttons work correctly (mine did – yay!).

You’ll probably notice that the GP2X display flickers a little bit. This can be adjusted, and it’s not really that noticeable unless you like to stare at the menu screens all day.

What can it do?

The GP2X is billed as a "Personal Entertainment Player", which means that it is designed to play music, movies, and games. Since it comes with none of the above pre-installed. you’ll need to download games and copy music and/or movies to the GP2X before you can have any fun on the system.

Where do you get games? Try out the archive at, where you can download games and emulators that allow you to play games written for other systems on the GP2X. For fans of classic arcade games, there’s a MAME port.

[MAME for GP2X]

There are also gamss that Linux users will be familair with: The Ur-Quan Masters (Star Control II), Kobo Deluxe, Paradroid, Frozen Bubble, Quake, etc.

Now that you have your games, emulators, music, and movies, you need to get them to the GP2X. This is likely where you will begin running into some of the … rough edges of the GP2X. The USB connection of the GP2X is flaky, and you will probably experience problems if you use the GP2X in high-speed mode. If you’re running Linux and need to transfer files to or from the GP2X, you can force the system to use USB 1.1 (slower, but more reliable) by running this as root before plugging in the GP2X:

rmmod ehci_hcd

This disables high-speed USB and forces the GP2X (and everything else, for that matter) to connect at USB 1.1 speeds. Even then, the GP2X USB connection can be flaky. Your best bet to get stuff to and from the GP2X is to hook an SD card reader to your computer and transfer files to the card using the card reader instead of the GP2X.

Once you’ve got stuff on your GP2X’s SD card, you’re ready to play.

Playing movies

[GP2X box side]

The side of the box advertises that you can play DiVX, XVID, MPEG-4, MP3, and OGG formats. You might think that you could just copy many of your video files to the SD card without re-encoding them like you do on the PSP. Well, if you think that, get ready to see this screen a lot.

[Not supported file]

Unfortunately, the GP2X doesn’t seem to live up to the side of the box. I wasn’t able to get the GP2X to play the MPEG4 files I use on my PSP. It wouldn’t play WMV files either, or mpg files. What worked for me was to convert my files to XVID with MP3 sound using ffmpeg. Something like this:

ffmpeg -i princeofspace.dvd -s 320x240 -vcodec xvid -acodec mp3 -b 192 -ab 32 -ar 22050 -r 14.985 pos.avi


[Prince of Space]

Not everything on that command line was necessary – I was just trying to fit a 90 minute episode of MST3K into less than 175 MB of space, all I had left on my SD card. The most important parameters were likely the -vcodec xvid -acodec mp3 parameters.

It would be really nice if the GP2X supported more common video file formats. It’s not as bad as the PSP about video formats, but it is more finicky than I’d like it to be.

Playback of video was as expected. And unlike the PSP, you can play back to a television.


I tried a few MP3 files (no OGG, as my car stereo doesn’t support OGG). Music played back fine over the internal speakers of the unit. Sound was a bit louder from the GP2X than from the PSP, but sound from the internal speakers seemed to be mono instead of stereo. Like the PSP music player, the GP2X’s player seemed fairly basic.


I tried some games on the system, and the experience was about as you’d expect from a handheld. Controls aren’t as good as a laege console, but my only real complaint with control on the GP2X would be that the joystick doesn’t seem responsive enough, making controlling your player in games like The Ur-Quan Masters more difficult than it should be.

[Kobo Deluxe for GP2X]

The quality of games on the GP2X isn’t up to the offerings of the Nintendo DS or the Sony PSP, but that’s hardly surprising. It’s a new system, and all the games you can download are done essentially by volunteers. With time, the quality of games and emulators should go up. Even now, though, you can pack a fair amount of entertainment onto a 1 GB SD card.


Happily, the GP2X can run on two standard AA batteries. Unhappily, it chews through batteries like the TurboExpress or Sega Nomad does. You will want two sets of rechargable batteries and an AC adapter for the GP2X. Either that, or you’ll want an unlimited supply of AA batteries around. Let me put it this way – since yesterday, I’ve burned through three sets of (luckily rechargable) AAs. I figure that at the moment, a standard set of rechargable NiMH batteries will last around 2-3 hours. (And you thought the battery life of the PSP was short!)

When the batteries in the GP2X get low, a warning LED lights up. The GP2X also starts to behave erratically and may crash, so don’t game without fresh batteries!

The GP2X can’t recharge batteries internally. To use rechargable batteries with the GP2X, you need an external charger.

Supposedly, the quick battery drain is because of a firmware bug. We’ll see if a firmware release lengthens battery life when another firmware release comes out.

Simple coolness factor

What other handheld game system out there lets you drop to a shell and run commands?

[shell output]

In summary

If you’re a casual gamer, you’d probably be better off staying away from the GP2X for a while. It’s new, and it’s not really a "put in a game and play it" system like the PSP or Nintendo DS. Plus, it’s got some annoying bugs like the battery problem to work out.

On the other hand, if you want a handheld game system that you can customize and hack on without worrying that the manufacturer will do something sneaky to try and stop you (ahem, Sony PSP), then the GP2X is a must-have. Once the system’s been out a while and the bugs get worked out, it might even become a system that just about anyone would enjoy.

Childhood dreams – The Vectrex

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

[Vectrex logo]

Some of my favorite arcade games from my chlldhood were Major Havoc and Star Wars. Both of these games featured vector graphics, which meant that the lines and curves drawn by the game on the screen were vivid and sharp, withoiut the blockiness that plagued the graphics of many early arcade games.

Even though the Atari 2600 and Intellivision let us kids play arcade games at home, they couldn’t deliver anything as neat looking as the vector games from the arcade. For that, you had to go to the arcade and put in your quarters. Or, if you were very lucky, you could get your parents to buy you a Vectrex, a system from GCE that brought vector graphics home.

My Vectrex

Unlike the other home systems of the time, the Vectrex sported a built-oin monitor and sound system, making it much more like a true arcade system than the Atari or Intellivision offerings. Looking at it, you might even mistake it for a black version of an early Macintosh computer.

[Vectrex from the side]
Side view of the Vectrex

The Vectrex drew curves that didn’t end up looking blocky, as you can see in this screenshot of Pole Position. Diagonal lines were also sharp.

[Pole Position]
A curvy road from the Vectrex version of Pole Position. If you look closely enough, you can also see me with the camera.

Graphics on the Vectrex were bright and vibrant, but only came in one color – white.

[Vectrex Star Trek]
Dead meat in Vectrex Star Trek

I didn’t take a picture of it, but to get color in a vectrex game, you placed a colored overlay on top of the screen, much like some of the early arcde games and handheld games did. The overlays were removable, but I figure a lot of people didn’t bother with the overlays when they played the Vectrex. The overlays dimmed the screen and tended to get scratched in storage.

I saw the Vectrex for the first time in my hometown mall’s toy store in 1983 and immediately wanted one. My parents didn’t pay much attention to that want, probably because the Vectrex was expensive and I already had an Atari 2600. Fair enough, I suppose – but I did get my own Vectrex in 1997, along with a multi-cart that contained all but one of the original Vectrex games. I’ve also managed to scrape together some of the original Vextrex games with boxes, instructions, and overlays. It only took fourteen years from when I first saw the system on display!

Here, almost ten years after that, I still have my Vectrex. As you can see, it still works – despite being over twenty years old! The volume knob is a bit touchy, but the buttons and controls work well, and it’s still fun! I wonder what my children will think of the Vectrex …

Some thoughts on the Sony PSP

Monday, April 10th, 2006

I’m on spring break for the week, so I’m trying to get away from academic things for a few days. On that note, here are some musings about really important stuff – video games!

I picked up a Sony Playstation Portable (PSP) this past December when my wife and I were visiting Las Vegas. It’s quite a neat little machine, sporting a beautiful (and relatively large, for a handheld gaming system) solor screen, built-in stereo speakers, a USB port, wireless connectivity with a built-in web browser, etc. Oh yeah, and it also plays video games. This post will give my impressions of the PSP after having had it for a few months.

General impressions

The PSP seems to be a fairly well-built device. Admittedly, I have not dropped my PSP on the concrete yet or deliberately mistreated it, but it doesn’t break when carried in a jeans pocket, for instance. It can also do a lot of things, as I hinted to above. I think the main problem with the PSP, though, is that it may be a “Jack of all trades”, but like the saying, it is a master of none of them.


Ironically, gaming is probably the PSP’s weakest point – unless you have a PSP with revision 2.00 or earlier firmware. If all you have are Sony-provided games, you will probably be looking for something to do with your PSP. There just aren’t many good PSP games out there. I mainly play RPGs / action RPGs / old school games on my main consoles. On the PSP, you have the choice of a few RPGs, but none of them could even remotely be considered must-buy games. PoPoLoCrois, for instance, is a passable – if a bit tedious – RPG experience, but doesn’t do a whole lot that RPGs from the Genesis/SNES era couldn’t do. There’s really nothing on the PSP that could compare to, say, Star Ocean: The Second Story or Grandia on the original Playstation.

The graphics and sound in the games that the PSP has are very nice. Untold Legends: Brotherhood of the Blade, for instance, has very impressive graphics. And truth be told, it’s a pretty good time-waster if you’re on a long trip and not doing the driving yourself. But it’s not really any better (or substantially different) than the host of other hack-and-slash games available on every modern console.

UMD discs are also a bit of a pain. The PSP, unlike every other handheld currently out there, runs its games from a little DVD-like disc called a “UMD”. This presumably makes games a lot cheaper to produce (though you won’t see that reflected in game prices), but adds the twin problems of disc read errors and loading times to handheld gaming. One thing you really don’t expect from a handheld is to have to wait for a game to load. The whole point, in fact, of the handheld is instant gaming. Gaming wherever and whenever you want it, and the PSP misses that boat a little. On the plus side, picking up a game where you left off is almost instantaneous, provided you don’t run out of battery between when you put your PSP to sleep and when you wake it up again. I’ll have to admit that I did experience some glitches here with Untold Legends locking up after trying to continue a game in progress.

The PSP is also equipped with a memory stick duo slot, which makes saving games a breeze and ideally would let you run games from the memory stick so that you don’t have to carry around a pocketful of UMDs. Unfortunately, no Sony-made games appear to support playing from the memory stick. If you want to play games from the memory stick, you’ll have to stick with “homebrew” games and/or emulators and hope your PSP’s firmware is old enough to run them.

The controls of the PSP also leave something to be desired. The D-pad of the PSP is difficult to perform diagonals on, making control in some games imprecise. (I’ve tried several PSPs, and it doesn’t seem to be just mine.) When available, the analog thumbstick works a lot better than the d-pad, but it seemed sluggish on games like Bosconian in the PSP’s Namco classics collection. The other buttons, though, work well enough.

Honestly, if gaming is your only reason to buy a handheld, buy a Nintendo DS or a Gameboy Advance. The game library for either of those systems simply blows away what you’ll find on the PSP. In addition, the systems and games are cheaper.

If you’re an older gamer, though, you might find the form factor of the PSP to be better – with its bigger screen and easier-to-hit controls.


If you’re wondering what to do with sll that memory stick space since Sony doesn’t seem to want to let you stick games on there, you can load the PSP up with MP3 music. The PSP is a passable MP3 player, although if you are expecting a well-thought out interface with lots of features, you will be disappointed. There are almost no features for organizing music. Basically, you just dump tracks onto the PSP (it’s seen by your computer as an external USB drive where you can crag and drop files) and play them.

A plus with using the PSP as a music player is that it has internal speakers. True, they are fairly weak speakers, but you can use the PSP without headphones.


Another way to use your memory stick space is for movies. True, you can buy movies specifically for the PSP on UMD discs, but why would you want to buy movies for the PSP when they are more expensive than DVDs and not watchable on your television?

That’s right. The PSP has no TV output, so forget watching PSP movies on your television. (Yes, there are a couple of low-quality and expensive options for adding TV-out to the PSP, but why bother?)

More bad news: Sony didn’t make it extremely easy for you to move video to the PSP, since it only supports a very limited range of resolutions and video encoding methods.

The good news is that software makers have come to the rescue. There are packages available for Windows that can convert video to the required PSP format for you without much fuss. Under Linux, the package ffmpeg can convert video from most any other format you have (DVD, for instance) to PSP format. Depending on what quality you want, you can get anywhere from a single movie to 6+ hours of video onto a 1GB memory stick. (If anyone is interested, I could post a “HOWTO” for getting video onto the PSP using a Linux machine.)

This is probably what I use my PSP the most for – a portable movie player. You can carry several movies on the memory stick, so you’ll have something to watch on the go.

Web browsing

With the version 2.00 firmware, Sony has put a usable web browser in the PSP – making it a simple, easily carried web browsing appliance. The browser worke well and supports Javascript, but you won’t be able to access things like streaming video, since the PSP doesn’t support many video formats. Neither Flash nor Java is supported, rendering some sites unusable. On the plus side, the screen is very easy to read on the PSP, and most pages that don’t require Flash or Java are rendered well.

Very large pages won’t fit into the PSP’s memory, triggering the PSP to complain about the size of the page and then display only part of it. Ebay’s search pages do that, as do some other pages with lots og images.

Still, I was able to check e-mail anf surf the web from inside one o the malls in Vegas on the PSP. Neat.

Book reading

Since the PSP functions as a web browser, you mught also expect to be able to read e-books on it. Sony apparently didn’t think of this possibility, but it can be done. You have a few options:

  1. Use a homebrew book reader, which requires you to be running an older version of the PSP firmware.
  2. If the book is in text file format, open it with the web browser. This will only work reliably if the e-book is very short due to the PSP’s memory limitations.
  3. Write a script to convert the e-book to split HTML pages, which you can then read on the PSP without the memory errors. This is what I’ve done. If you want the script (a short python script for Linux – might run on Windows too if you have Python), let me know and I’ll post it.

With the HTML files, you can use the PSP as a passable book reader. Using the large font makes the text very easy to read. It’s too bad Sony didn’t provide some book-reading software with the PSP.


If you have a Sony camera that takes pictures to a memory stick duo, you can use the PSP to view the pictures. Alternatively, you can copy pictures from your computer to the PSP and view them on the PSP. This feature isn’t all that useful to me, but then again I don’t have a Sony camera.


My overall impressions? The PSP is a very cool device. Unfortunately, Sony has gone out of their way to limit the device so that many people won’t really use it for much of anything. The game library is too small, and most other functions of the PSP are limited. If you’re a gadget freak like me, pick one up used. If you want to play games, get a Nintendo handheld instead.

Teaching the teachers?

Thursday, February 16th, 2006

CNN has a short article about a school district in Wilmington, NC that has spent about $20,000 on Sony Playstations (hopefully, they meant PS2s here). They got, according to the article, 23 machines.

They must have one heck of a game library, with $15000+ left over for games. Can I come over to play?

The most amusing thing to me, though, was this snippet.

But not all the teachers took to the video games — one became so flustered that she didn’t want use them in class, principal Sharon Sand said.

Maybe they were just pretending so that they could take home some of those games. Nevertheless, students stepped in to save the day!

So on Wednesday, students gave advice on plugging in the machines, using the software and navigating the buttons.

Bravo, students! This just go to show you that teachers will respect student expertise!

(Can I get some of that federal money for videogames? I’m sure I could tie Dragon Quest VIII in with the colligative properties … somehow!)

Childhood dreams

Friday, November 18th, 2005

If you grew up when I did, you may have dreamed about owning your own arcade. I certainly did. This was back when people actually went to arcades (they were everywhere) to pump quarters into games like Missile Command, Major Havoc, Tempest, Robotron, Defender, and Pac Man. These days, anyone can have arcade-quality games in their home – by buying either a PC or one of the many consoles out there. Heck, you can even buy a joystick that contains one to a dozen old arcade hits.

But something’s missing from these games, good as they are: the old stand-up arcade experience. I was in Target today and I saw one of these. It’s one of the 12-in-one arcade games that you could buy in joystick form, but it’s in its own arcade cabinet!

Target had it plugged in, though it was sitting a bit precariously on a shelf with some televisions. It’s got a built-in monitor and speakers, two joysticks, and an assortment of buttons. And it’s got a price tag of $499.99 (which I didn’t actually discover until getting home and looking the machine up on Target’s web site).

[Little arcade machine!]

I had a little time to play with the unit before my wife dragged me away, kicking and screaming.

The machine is a little … small for adult players. Its size is about the size of one of those mini Neo-Geo arcade systems you might find in a Pizza Hut. The monitor, though, is tiny. The cabinet is the right proportions for an arcade cabinet, but in a real arcade machine most of the space is taken up by the screen. In this cabinet, it’s almost as if the screen is hiding out at the bottom, hoping you won’t notice it. Also, almost all old arcade games have the screen mounted so that the long side of the screen is vertical and the short axis is horizontal. This cabinet has the screen mounted as if it’s a television, which means that most of the games included in the unit would have to be modified to fit the screen size. One of the big pluses of having an arcade cabinet is supposed to be playing the games as they were meant to be played – or so I thought.

The quality of the screen was also disappointing. It didn’t have that crisp look that a real arcade machine would – or even that a television hooked up with an S-video or composite cable does. Some of the displays looked blurry and were hard to read. Whether the machine was improperly assembled or whether tht’s just the quality of the machine I don’t know.

The buttons felt flimsy. They would have felt more at home on a game of Simon than on an arcade machine.

That “Big Electronic Games Limited”logo on the front is also very cheesy. Less self-promotion, more game art, please! (After all, the folks this is aimed at will track down the product!). I wonder if that is a sticker that can be left off or removed.

The actual games seemed pretty faithful to their original arcade versions, aside from the screen issue. I tried out Sinistar (at which I still, after all these years, suck) and Rampage and they at least looked familiar. The small blurry screen hurt Sinistar more than Rampage. The games included are Joust, Defender I and II, Robotron, Rampage, Splat, Satan’s Hollow, Tapper, Bubbles, Wizard of Wor, Timber, and Sinistar.

As much fun as the nostalgia factor is, though, I’d have to say that a better experience can be had by just buying a onsole and a couple of the classic game collections that are available for the Playstation, PS2, Xbox, or Gamecube. You’ll get more games and, provided you don’t hook your console up to a Watchman, you’ll actually be able to see them. Five hundred dollars will buy you a console and all the classic game collections (much more thn twelve games) with money to spare.

Now when these go on clearance and are half off, it might be another matter entirely. But for now, having a stand-up arcade cabinet in my house will have to remain a childhood dream.