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12:04 PM on 01.10.2009

Video Game Setup (an overview)

One of my favorite things reading on the c-blogs is the various gaming setups. I believe it tells a lot about what type of gamer you are. Since I have not posted in a very long time (i.e. June!) and I motivating a friend of mine to write more, I thought it would be fun to show everyone what my gaming setup looks like. I get a ton of ideas on refining my setup from various posts, and I hope this gives a few of you ideas on your gaming setup. So with out further delay, here are various images on my setup:

Everyone’s setups are slightly different due to various issues (i.e. cost, size of room, electrical connections) and my unique circumstance is that I live with a non-gaming fiancée (who loves HGTV a little too much). Because of this, I have to ensure that my setup is clutter free and matches the rest of the room. Hence why there are no games lying around! Also this is the only TV in our condo so it needs to be functional for all of our needs. Here is the previous image with some labels to clarify everything.

The TV is a 32” LCD Vizio brand, which is nice for the price of the TV. In the future I would like to pick up a Samsung LCD that may be a little larger, but 30-40” is perfect for my viewing distance. I have installed a small backlight behind the TV for watching movies in the dark, which really helps out in reducing eye strain. The one thing I really wanted to do is make sure everything is connected to both the TV and the 5.1 Receiver. This way I can use Dolby Pro Logic decoders to get surround sound on some of my games (i.e. Wii, cube, and PS2 games). I got two 1980’s wood grain 3-channel side speakers, a subwoofer, a center channel and two rear satellites (see couch picture below). Those old speakers are still perfect after like 25+ years of use and I love how they look. I have really paid a lot of attention in get the audio setup working, and I am really proud of it. It really paid off when I got to play Twilight Princess and Okami in surround sound. I think you really do yourself a disservice when you skimp out on the audio aspects of gaming, and I would encourage everyone to try Okami in 5.1, it is simply amazing!

The gaming computer is hooked up to the TV and receiver as well so I can play various MAME arcade games with people via gamepads using a USB hub. Is also lets me play most of my PS1 games via emulation (more on that below). I have connected my PSP to the entertainment center too, since I did not picked up a PSP for “on the go gaming” but because of the great library they have coming out. Other notable things include that the NES, SNES, Cube, and PS2 are connected to an upconverting DVD recorder, which then outputs to the TV and receiver. This method actually removes a lot of pixel artifacts and color distortions people often complain about when they connect their older systems directly to their TVs. When I get some more time I am going to post a blog about this in detail (but who knows whenever that will be!). In a nutshell, the upconverting DVD player applies a software filter to the video signal when converting it to 480p, which actually removes a lot of the issues that people have experienced. I hear also VHS recorders can do this too if you don’t have a DVD recorder. Sadly I don’t have a 360 or a PS3 yet, and I am still debating which system I am going to pick up.

Above are two pictures of the seating arrangement of the room and various notable artworks. I can’t really put up all my video game posters, so instead I framed some of my favorite artwork. This actually works well with non-gaming friends who come over since most of them treat this as regular artwork (like paintings and photos) and are great conversation starters. Also in the couch picture is my gaming buddy, Brock Samson (of Venture Bros. fame). Some of his favorite games to watch me play are Twilight Princess and Okami, I think because he likes seeing and hearing the dog-like sounds!

Below are pictures of my most notable games for the various systems of mine:


SNES: (really proud of this collection)

PS1: (another collection I am very happy with)

PS2: (yes the greatest 2D fighting game of all time is there!)




Besides that I got a pretty extensive emulation selection for older systems (i.e. Dreamcast and older). I actually prefer to play all of my PS1 games via emulation instead due to better upscaling, sound compatiablity, and load times. What I really like is that since I got my gaming computer connected to the entertainment center, my playing experience fells authentic to the console (i.e. TV, game pad on couch). Besides the normal collection of NES, SNES, and Genesis collections, notable PS1, Saturn, and Dreamcast games I have recently imaged from friends:

Radiant Silvergun

Triggerheart Exelica

PS1: (Really proud of this collection)
Castlevania Symphony of the Night
Chrono Cross
Dragon Quest VII
Final Fantasy Tactics
Final Fantasy VII
Lunar Silver Star Story Complete
Lunar 2 Eternal Blue Complete
Star Ocean – The Second Story
Suikoden I
Suikoden II
Tales of Destiny I
Tales of Destiny II
Valkyrie Profile

Well besides that I got a nice collection of older computer games (X-com series, Syndicate, various D&D games,…) but I am really proud of my console collection. In the future I plan on picking up a 360 or a PS3 as well as getting two more large 1980’s speaker sets (still stored at my parent’s place). I hope whoever reads this blog gets some inspiration to work on their gaming setup, because this setup is a product of the ideas I got from Destructoid. Also I am open for suggestions on future improvements and feel free to contact me for any questions on my setup or help on your own setup. Thanks for reading!

-mike!   read

3:11 PM on 05.31.2008

If you love it, change it: Secret of Mana

Secret of Mana is one of my favorite multiplayer games. It basically satisfies all three of my requirements for an awesome game:

1) Sprite based gaming
2) RPG adventure
3) Multiplayer gaming

I think the most important requirement was the fact that I could play with 2 other friends at the same time helping each other out. For a kid growing up in the nineties, this led to a lot of really late night sleepovers adventuring through the world of Secret of Mana. The story was captivating, the diversity of weapons and spells were vast, and the graphics were beautiful. The one major flaw I saw in this game that sometimes ruined the multiplayer fun was the fact that every time you wanted to switch/use an item, weapon, or spell, one had to access the ring menu list to select the desire outcome. This led to the game pausing momentarily while the player chose what he/she was looking for. During the normal monster fighting parts, a momentarily pause was acceptable. However when a boss battle occurred, the amount of stopping to select a spell or heal often made the flow of the game very hard to understand. This was especially frustrating when the game has more or less a real time combat approach and not a true turn based system. When this monthly musings topic came up I thought of two different ways to change the item/spell ring system so it would be more accessible to a real time combat system.

Retroactive Solution) Utilizing a Gameboy (GB) or Gameboy Advanced (GBA) Link Up

This method is obviously not possible to correct the problem when the game originally came out, but I think an individual item menu screen via GB or GBA would be a great idea. There was the GB player for the SNES and GB-GB communication was possible so it could have possibility been option, even though very remotely. Even tough Crystal Chronicles may not have been a great game as a whole, I really did like the use of the GBA for character control. When I played Crystal Chronicles I would always think this is how Secret of Mana should have been. The player would be able to select items, spells, or weapons on the fly within the GBA screen without interrupting the other players and thus making combat more fluid and possibly more complex. The downsides that I see from this method are 1) It is a retroactive solution to make a GB or GBA perform certain functions that they were not capable of at the time of the game release 2) this is a very costly method, 3) I don’t think a GB has enough buttons to properly handle Secret of Mana’s gameplay, and thus would require a GBA (was not out at the time of the game). However, if SquareEnix made a remake of this game that utilized a GBA or even better a DS for player control, I would be in favor for this option.

More Reasonable Solution) HUD Modification

This method would simply place a simplified ring or selection system next to the character’s health bar for the character to select the proper spells. Secret of Mana’s button mapping was very simple, and there were many unused buttons that could have been used to scroll through a small list of times or spells. As seen in the picture above I have the item/spell/weapon selector in the region colored, and the player would use the L,R, and Select (I don’t remember if these buttons were unused) to choose which ring and item in each ring on the fly. Think of Super Metroid’s secondary weapon list (missles, bombs, etc…) but more complex. The technological capabilities of the SNES to be able to handle the additional user input from three sources all at once is a good concern and could be what limited the implementation of this system. Another concern would be the added screen area consumed by the addition to the HUD. However, I believe this would be a more acceptable solution for the ring system at the time of the release of the game.

Even though with this setback, Secret of Mana is one of my favorite games, and probably my favorite multiplayer game. One really needs to get 2 friends together to full enjoy this game and even though the combat may be choppy due to all the stopping for item select I highly recommend playing such a gem!

- Mike   read

9:42 PM on 05.14.2008

Thank You Dyson!

Dear Dyson,

So I took a chance and went to a Goodwill today, and the trip was very pleasant. Even though this particular Goodwill did not have any game systems, they had a bunch of Games for Windows games. For $6.99, they had Viva Pinata, Gears of Wars, Sim City 4, Ages of Empires 3, and The Sims 2. I don't know if Microsoft donated a bunch of games recently, but there were like 30 like new Viva Pinatas and other games.

I have always wanted to pick up a copy of Viva Pinata, but since I do not have a 360 I was out of luck until recently. Sadly buying a new copy at Best Buy is around $39.99, so when I saw this for only $6.99 I totally was all over it. So now I am a proud owner of Viva Pinata, and I can't wait to install the game and try it out! Needless to say, my experience with Goodwill was awesome, and I will definitely try out other stores to see what other small treasures they have. I highly recommend anyone to at least stop by a local Goodwill to see what hidden gems you can find.

Again, thank you Dyson! Your wisdom is infinite!

Mike   read

10:12 PM on 04.13.2008

Capcom vs. SNK 2 Voice Over Clip

This may be old news for some but I just saw this and I couldn't stop laughing during the whole clip. I am a huge Capcom vs. SNK 2 fan, and this clip just hit home for me since one of my favorite characters is Terry. The clip has numerous characters in there including Geese, Ryu, Bison, Guile (I think), and others. The video was created by the same person who made the whole Dragonball Z OVER 9000 video (which I love too). If you are a fan of the Capcom vs. SNK series, I hope you enjoy this little piece of voice over.

And also..."GEESE!!!" /shake fist!


-Mike   read

8:36 PM on 04.12.2008

Gaming's Guilty Pleasures: Lenneth Valkyrie

Valkyrie Profile for the PS1 is probably one of my favorite games because of how easily attached you can become to the various characters in the game. The character that I became totally attached to was Lenneth Valkyrie, the main protagonist. It is an odd feeling when one becomes attached to a character in a story whether it be a book, movie, or game. In this case I fell for a battle maiden of Odin, which has often led to very awkward discussions with friends.

To better explain why I consider Lenneth my gaming guilty pleasure I should probably tell you a story on how I actually got to play Valkyrie Profile. It must have been around 2004, and at the time my friends were playing Final Fantasy X-2, and I can’t even describe my hatred for that game. In my opinion, even though X-2 used females as main characters, which is definitely a nice turn of pace, to me they behaved too feeble, too childish, too scantly clad (you are fighting monsters why are you not in full plate armor!), and too fitting for a stereotypically female role; all things I despise. I remember one late night after watching a friend play I made it my personal quest to find a RPG that had not only a female main character (sorry SquareEnix but by Final Fantasy X, I was also sick of your feminine male looking characters too), but she had to be badass and know it too. I stumbled upon Valkyrie Profile that night, a PS1 Enix game about a valkyrie warrior named Lenneth and I remember that the in game trailer I saw was similar to this:


I guess what really hit me home was the beautiful voice over Megan Hollingshead performed in the trailer. It was from that moment on I knew I “had to find out who Lenneth was”. However Enix did not release a lot of copies of Valkyrie Profile so it became an instant rarity. I remember browsing Ebay at that time, seeing copies going for $40 - $120, and having my heart sink to the floor due to the fact that I could not justify spending that much money on a used game.

Three long years passed, with no success in finding a moderately priced game. I had just gotten out of a World of Warcraft addiction that lasted nearly 2 years. However my desire to play Valkyrie Profile kept increasing. Like most solutions, I finally resolved this dilemma after a long night of heavy drinking and partying. I remember walking home in during a cold Minnesotan January night thinking to myself there has to be a way to play this game via emulation. I been playing emulated NES, SNES, Genesis, and Master system games for almost 4 years by then, there must have been finally some PS1 emulation by now. By the power of Google I was able to slowly download the game via partial winrar files which took me the better part of 3 hours. I remember going to bed late that night with the feeling similar to having Christmas morning coming; I knew that the next day after three years I will have my Lenneth Valkyrie!

More advanced video game system emulators (i.e. PS1, N64, Dreamcast) are nothing like the NES, SNES, and Genesis emulators that I was accustomed too. It took me nearly 12 straight hours of configuring, remapping, and driver modding to get Valkyrie Profile working. However, playing the game as Lenneth was probably one of my favorite gaming experiences. You get to play a strong character (which I like), who is female (which is a nice change of pace), who is a battle maiden for Odin himself (AWESOME!). Her nature at times is so cold, so omnipotent, and so inhuman you are driven into the story wanting to know why she is like this and will she actually have a more feminine side to her. Her journey that she embarks down is so memorable I will not forget it for anytime soon. Nowadays, I repeatably cite Lenneth as one of my favorite characters out of any medium, I often cycle my computer’s wallpaper with a picture of Lenneth, I hacked into my phone so I can put a Lenneth wallpaper, and I have already told my girlfriend that if we ever have a daughter her name should be Lenneth.

As you can see, Lenneth is my gaming guilty pleasure. My boyish infatuation with a female valkyrie named Lenneth who knew how to kick ass and take names took me down a very long, winding, and yet fulfilling journey. A three year long desire to play a game can sometimes make you do some crazy stuff, like learn how to use PS1 emulators, which I do feel at times a little guilty not picking up the game now even though I definitely can afford the game. Furthermore, having friends and family seeing pictures of Lenneth on my computer and phone, and not having wallpapers of my girlfriend of 5.5 years often lead so very awkward discussions, but awkward in a good childish way. Thankfully my girlfriend is very understanding, so no matter how guilty I feel about thinking about how magical, how strong, how memorable Lenneth Valkyrie is, I always know she will always have the number 2 spot, right underneath my girlfriend.

Hope you enjoyed my large wall of text! What I wonder is if you have ever had a similar experience with a character, whether it by male or female. Has there ever been a game character that you ever connected on a personal level too? Furthermore, now that you think back at it, even though it does seem kind of like a guilty pleasure, would you not want it any other way?

And for anyone who has yet to play Valkyrie Profile, I leave you with the PSP FMV opening trailer for it...I love this trailer!


- Mike   read

2:04 PM on 03.29.2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – The Hook Shot

We often remember video games from a few defining scenes or pictures. When I think of a video game, there are always one or two images that are first recalled that describe my feelings about that game. Those few fleeting images engrained in our heads basically sum up our view/meaning of the game to us, and often what helps define what types of games we play and our playing behavior. I figured a fun thing to do would be every so often post a screen shot from some of my favorite games describing why the screen shot posted means so much to me. So for the first entry in these screen shots I figured I would post a pretty well known, easy to describe example, and my favorite power up in A Link to the Past - the hook shot.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words - Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – The Hook Shot

Like many, the Legend of Zelda series is one of my favorite video game series. Everyone has their own favorite moment in each game and that is often accompanied by a defining picture that they can remember. For me one of the most defining snapshots that I can remember is when I first obtained the hook shot in A Link to the Past, or what I like to call the “Harbinger of Doom.”

I enjoy all the various power ups in the Zelda series but the hook shot, in my eyes is the end all be all of power ups. It is basically the Swiss army knife of the game. For instance, if I did not already have a problem going around breaking every pot even when I am maxed out on hearts, rupees, bombs, etc. this just makes my destruction even more efficient. Instead of actually physically going up to the pot I can just sit back from a far and rain down unholy metal destruction. Got an enemy in your way you want to stun or damage? Done! Why use you sword when you got the hook shot, you can sit half way across the screen and attack. Why use the low tech boomerang to get you drop item? Use the hook shot! Need to go from one ledge to another but don’t know how to do it? Hook shot is there to save the day. If I was able to attach a bomb at the end of the hook shot, I think you could probably cover about one half to three fourths of all the obstacles in the game (just guessing).

The whole idea of using a hook shot in a Zelda game is ludicrous to me, and that is why I love it. Magic mirrors, bombs, arrows, ladders, potions, I can get reason that out from a fantasy perspective, but then the developers throw in a steam punk style of metal technology into the picture. Imagine if you were an NPC in the game of Zelda. Not only do you have this teenage elf running up and down town at incredible speeds, he then raids into you house destroying all your ceramic pots in which you hid your retirement funds, blows holes in the sides of mountains, snatches friendly fairies and stuffs them into oxygen deprived bottles, but then on top of it he can some how fire a metal bolt hundreds of feet directly at you chickens. The whole idea to me of the hook shot is over the top and I love it! The hook shot is the ultimate weapon of doom for any inanimate or animate object in the game.

Furthermore, obtaining the hook shot in A Link to the Past is one my favorite parts in the game too. In getting the hook shot you get you see first hand the effects of light and dark world interaction, the water dungeon has the perfect gaming atmosphere, and the boss battle is one of my favorites because you are required to use the hook shot. Typically water dungeons in any Zelda game are my favorite because they (A) are incredibly difficult and complex, (B) often contain the hook shot. One of my requirements for any Zelda game is to have torturous water dungeon, and it better have a hook shot for the reward. If there is a hook shot in a Zelda game, it is always placed in one of my item slots regardless if I need it or not, you never know when there is some pot to be broken, some enemy to be stun, or some person/chicken that needs to be terrorized. I remember Twilight Princess fondly because of dual hook shots. It is a shame that I could not use both regularly on enemies or pots though…that would have been awesome.

Well that is the end of my discussion on why when I think of A Link to the Past, the first thing I think of is the hook shot scene. I hope you enjoyed my little trip down memory lane and hopefully you remember fondly the hook shot like I do. If not, what is your favorite Zelda powerup? What is the first power up that comes to mind when you first think of any Zelda game? If you were somehow living under a rock all these years and never played a Zelda game, what is your favorite power up in any game? My absolute favorite power up in any game is obtaining the “Crissaegrim” sword in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It did not have the highest attack power but it did attack like ten times at once and had no cooldown timer. You could basically just walk through each area tapping the attack button and destroy everything. It should have been called the “I Win” button or the “TRUE POWER” button!


Around 797 words, so yeah…not really a thousand words.   read

11:41 PM on 03.25.2008

First Post! Review of Xpadder, a Gamepad Binding Program!

After about a year of just reading posts, I felt that I should contribute to the community to kind of say thanks for all the good posts and reviews that I have read. I have been a long time gamer, got my NES when I was five back in 1988 and have been hooked on console and PC gaming ever since. I jump back and forth when playing newer and older games, the last game I beat was Phantasy Star 1 (Thanks RetroforceGO!), and now I am working on The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. I typically stick to RPGs, platformers, shmups, and RTSs. Furthermore I love playing under appreciated games for some reason that never took off in America (i.e. Valkyrie Profile (PS1 version) is probably one of my favorite games). I figure a good game is good regardless how old, how primitive the graphics, or how small the total file size of the game is.

As you can see the personal space is kind of under construction right now while I get the proper layout down, but I figured I would make my first post a quick review about a neat little program called Xpadder which basically maps game controller buttons to keyboards on PCs so you can use gamepads where gamepads are not natively supported. I have heard a few people complain about lack of gamepad support for demos or games so I figured I would help everyone by reviewing this program. So hopefully you enjoy!

Impressions of Xpadder

I often find with certain not emulators and older pc games the lack of useful gamepad support. Often beta versions of emulators or demos of games only support keyboard support, which makes it often uncomfortable to play the game as intended. Furthermore, some programs have unreliable gamepad support, so setting up a gamepad can sometimes be frustrating and time consuming. I remember a Chad Concelmo article about a fan remake of Metroid II and saying that playing the beta was at times uncomfortable due to the lack of gamepad support. I have had this problem a few times myself with various games, but luckily I found out about a neat little program called Xpadder.

To people who don’t know about it (which I hope is a lot because this review would be kind of pointless then), Xpadder is simply a middle man program that binds gamepad buttons (digital, analog, triggers, you name it) to various keyboard bindings. This then circumvents the issue of a game/emulator not having gamepad support. The program is free for personal use, and very easy to install and setup. So whenever you have Xpadder running and you press a gamepad button, it will be registered as a keyboard button instead. The main program can be downloaded here and comes in a small zip file. A good tutorial that I used to setup my controller can be found here.

When starting the program, Xpadder first searches for any gamepads connected to the PC. You then set up key bindings for each button on the controller. The Xpadder website also has a bunch of controller images so you can properly illustrate where each binding goes to on your gamepad (see image below). There are separate tabs in the configuration window that sets up analog sticks, d-pads, buttons, and triggers, and Xpadder will intelligently determine if you are properly binding all correct types of control buttons and mechanisms.

The image I show below is the keyboard bindings for my Logitech Dual Action gamepad. You can setup up multiple keybinding profiles for a controller as well as setup different bindings for other controllers too. From what it looks like you can actually bind four controller at once (hopefully you have enough keypad buttons to accommodate!) so you can play multiplayer games. I haven’t tried this yet since I only have one gamepad. However, I have been using Xpadder for about 2 months now and I have never had any problems with it. It always detects my controller with no problem, and never really has any conflicts with programs/emulators. The one thing you need to watch out for is accidently binding a button that a program uses to create a movie or saves the game. I had that happen when I first started using Xpadder and that was quite a disaster!

Anyways, hopefully you liked my initial impressions of the Xpadder gamepad binding program. I figured it was about time that I gave back to the community here for all the good months of reading useful reviews and other random tidbits. And if you did not like the review, just take a look at my avatar, a picture of my fat but lovable beagle, Brock Samson (yep that’s his name…it was that or “The Monarch”). You cannot hate that adorable face!


P.S. Sorry for any grammar mistakes!   read

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