Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Mod Diary: NintendAxe Part 1

Having completed a handful of mods in the Harmonix Stratocaster and Red Octane Les Paul guitar controllers I have decided that it is time to tackle the big kahuna: the guitar controller built into an NES Console.

There is the rough idea of the body of the guitar. It is something that I am still working on in my head. But till the time comes to start cutting into 23 year old Japanese plastic lets look at something a little less major. The directional controls for the guitar will come not only from the up and down action of the strum bar, but also from a functional directional pad like one would find on the face of a Les Paul, Strat, or Xplorer. Unlike the strummer assembly that I will basically be cutting out of a Les Paul and gluing into the face of the NES case I have opted to create the control interface from something not on an already produced guitar contoller:

Here is the NES Controller... inside out. D-Pad on the left, buttons of the right, start and select in the middle, the NES controller is the grandpappy of modern gaming interface. Every controller you have sitting in your entertainment center is more or less and more ergonomic version of this controller with more buttons. The plan is to wire the guitar controls of the Les Paul into face controls of the NES controller with the directional pad correlating to the guitar D-Pad, start and select to start and back and A and B functioning as the Xbox A and B buttons or green and red keys on the guitar respectively.

The first step of this mod is to hard wire the fret buttons of the LP into the logic board of the guitar. In the LP there are 8 wires that run from the fret board and to hard wire I just lined up the wires, snipped off the bits of silicon used for the detachable neck feature, and soldered the connections directly together with a bit of speaker wire.

To figure out how to set the A and B button on the Nintendo controller I needed to figure out which wires resulted in which kind of button press. For future notice here is how the wiring on the LP fretboard works.

(Like I said before, there are eight wires running from the body of the guitar into the neck.)

Closing the circuit between wires 1 and 8 results in a green button press, closing 2 and 7 produces a red. These are the two most important to the project. Connect wires 2 and 6 and you get a yellow fret press, and if 2 and 5 are closed it is a blue press. To activate the orange button connect wires 4 and 5.

So the next step was first to cut the cable from the NES controller itself (yay wireless!). Then I very carefully scrapped the coat of whatever it is off of the top of the printed copper leads running into the A and B buttons. The next step was the drill a very small hole near where I scrapped so as to stick a wire through and then solder it down to the board itself.

After that it is as simple as soldering the wires into the corresponding fret wires. The next portion on the other hand was not particularly difficult but definitely more nerve racking. In the LP the main logic board of the controller, the brains more or less, are on one circuit with all kinds of transistors and such on one side and the contacts for the directional pad and Xbox button on the other. In order to reconfigure the Les Paul directional pad it is required that you solder directly on the logic board, something I was nervous about primarily because if you cook the logic board it is time for a new guitar. Luckily the contacts themselves are straight copper contacts and as long as you give them enough heat with the soldering iron they accept the solder well.

This is the point of no return basically. This thing isn't going back inside the LP, and now we gotta wire up the directional buttons on the NES controller with the extra wires off of the now octopus-esque LP logic board. Like before it is a matter of uncovering copper, drilling holes and soldering down the wires. However, unlike the A and B button, the directional buttons of the NES controller have individual leads for one pole of each button and share a lead for the other one. As such some of the copper needs to be removed to prevent weird shorting between the buttons.

And there ya go. One NES controller wired into the Xbox LP controls.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Madden Moments: Too Late

The 2007 NFL season left fans with countless memories. Who can forget Brett Farve's Play-Action Bomb which gave the Packers an overtime win in Denver? Or perhaps the tight end post route which led to the Dolpins' lone win of the season.

Now, imagine playing those moments yourself. Not excited yet? But... But you could win a game as the worst team in the league! You could, throw a touchdown pass! What's that? You do that already, multiple times per game? And as a team of your choosing?!

If this doesn't sound like a useless enough feature, the rosters used are the 2008 season. So Farve isn't in his own moment, instead Aaron Rodgers is the quarterback. And the Dolpins have Ronnie Brown, who was out for the season by this point. These cutesy moments are hardly a selling point for Madden. Why not just include video highlights of these moments?

Why do we even call it Madden anymore, he's not even a commentator! The game could just as well be called Collinsworth 09. Since they are the lone NFL licensed game, at least they could call it NFL Football '09: The Officially Licensed [Inaccurate] Roster Update Edition.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Where am I Going to Put Another Drum Set?

Last week Game Informer Magazine revealed the first information on Activision's Guitar Hero 4.
Here is the gist of it in one image-

Yes, this fall consumers will be given the chance to play Guitar Hero as a full fledged band game. Of course the question I am asking myself is- if a person wanted to play a full band music-sim game, wouldn't they be doing it already? I mean the game already exists in every way shape and form in EA's Rock Band. When the game released back in November with a hefty $169.99 price tag there were those who were willing to pay the price and those who were not. Those people felt content sitting back with Guitar Hero 3 trying to mash through the sloppy note charts, forced battle mode, and wide-open timing window.

It seems to me that Activision is playing to an audience that in some ways no longer exists. Anyone who wanted this game has it already and those who don't have it didn't want it to begin with. Furthermore, it is going to be something tantamount to pulling the teeth of those who already have a Rock Band drum set to add a Guitar Hero drum set to the cluttered entertainment room. We know that gamers aren't going to be given a choice because Activison has already shown their stance on cross compatibility.

For Neversoft's sophomore effort to be successful they need to set the Guitar Hero brand apart from Rock Band enough that it can draw those unwilling who were unwilling to put down the money for a full featured band game last year. I don't see it happening.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

GTA IV, MGS IV, and Halo 3?

I finally found a way to appreciate Halo 3...

Check it out on Profundo Verde.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

So, you may have missed this...

But a new game from a small-time developer named Rockstar came out today.

It is called Grand Theft Auto IV, and as the numerical designation suggests, it is the fourth in a series. What the numeral does not hint at is that there are actually eight other games in the same series, not counting ports to the Game Boy Advance.

The general gist of the series is that you, the player, are stuck in a terrible situation and must utilize every ounce of human spirit to survive and thrive in a living, breathing metropolis. The city around you is populated by other desperate individuals, as well as criminal influences and law-enforcing police.

But how is a person, at their wit's end, going to take control in an environment completely alive? Well, guns and hookers should do the trick.

GTA IV, as I will call it, seems like a living top-notch film. The world is the player's to conquer.

But, since I am at work and could only play the game for a half hour last night, I will save my official review until a later time.

First Impression: almost too much to take in (at 1:30 a.m.).

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Monday, April 28, 2008

The Duke Nukem Forever Deveolopment Cycle Turns 11

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the announcement of 3DReams' Duke Nukem' Forever. Frankly, I can't think of a single thing to say about it. This game has been in developement for so long that not only has the original audience of Duke Nukem' 3D moved on, but it faces the task of answering this question upon release: "What about this took 11 years to construct?"

To put it in perspective, since 1997 Rockstar has released upwards of eight Grand Theft Auto games. This includes Grand Theft Auto 4 which is coming out in less than four hours here in Missouri. It is a game that has collected neigh universal praise in the few days since the review embargo lifted. I for one, welcome my new electronic overlord.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Who needs the Hall of Fame...

...When you're on the cover of Madden!? Brett Favre is the cover athlete for Madden this year, and in general this is a relaxed "hmm" reaction. Maybe even a "Meh".

People who believe in the Madden Curse also relish in watching the Curse's victims do their best to avoid their due fate. Like viewers of a slasher movie, the followers of the Curse realize that, like Llewelyn Moss or Laurie Strode, the cover athlete's fate may face delays but is never escaped.

Thus, having a retired (sorta) athlete instead of say, Eli Manning or David Tyree (both of whom deserved the honor given their heroic Super Bowl performance), the bloodlust of Curse fans will not be quenched this year. Or will it!? Luckily, Kotaku claims to have dispelled the myth of the curse of the Madden. Let's quickly ask Donovan McNabb, Shaun Alexander, and Michael Vick about that, hmm? Each was a cover athlete. Each was caught by the Anton Chigurh that is the Madden Curse, and each has had career-threatening actions taken recently, even after the injury suffered had subsided. McNabb already has a replacement in waiting, Alexander has been cut and is waiting for another team, and Vick is in Federal Prison.

The curse may have been dispelled by science, but ask any of the players affected and see if they would be willing to do another cover next year. (They may all be willing to by the end of this season, as there is a chance all three will be unemployed!)

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Point-Counter-Point: DC vs. Mortal Kombat

What is this?
I found myself wracked by a myriad of emotions upon seeing this very image. Something like confusion bordering on horror mixed with disappointment. Was it a joke? In some ways it makes sense. Somewhere in the line of Mortal Kombat's convoluted storyline, which involves an extra dimensional "Otherworld" which is controlled by vaguely Asian/Feline demon types that decide they need to cross over into the "Earthrealm" in order to destroy the world, enslave humanity, and steal everyone's souls in the most generically evil way, the plot had to cross paths with someone else's intellectual property. The DC Universe is equally muddled in its own mythology, so much so, that the entire universe had to be restarted in 1985 in order to get things making sense again, and that involved creating a multiverse where there are different worlds in which some fictions "really" happened and some didn't.
I assume on one of these Earths is where we will have Superman fighting a guy with spikes coming out of his wrists and so on. I would think that a C-List franchise (such as MK) seemed more likely to come up against something equally mediocre in quality. I'm thinking Mortal Kombat vs. Clayfighters, at least then they could keep the only original trademark of the series- people ripping each other's limbs off and spouting blood.
It simply makes no sense that DC Comics (perhaps DC Komiks for this outing) would tie themselves to this brand and this developer. It is like Disney letting the publishers of Juggs magazine put out a line of childrens books starring Mickey Mouse and a woman called "Chesty McGrue". I mean, Capcom vs. DC would be fabulous, they even have a history in making these types of games with their Marvel vs. Capcom series being among the most lauded fighting games in the history of the genre. DC would be giving their babies into the hands of a capable developer and at the same time the product could advertise itself as a sequel franchise to an already wildly popular set of games.
This concept reaks of inappropriate combining of worlds, like Abbot and Costello meet the Mummy, or Solid Snake running around in Super Smash Brothers. In fact, I think DC Meets Mortal Kombat would be a better description of the whole affair, maybe we could hope for the best that after a short exchange both parties go their seperate ways without even concieving the word "sequel."

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moneysink Tuesday: Screaming for Vengeance

Hey, remember all that time about nine months ago when Harmonix revealed that not only was Rock Band going to be awesome, but we were also going to all be downloading "Who's Next" by the Who day one - minute one. Now five months later rockers have yet to receive "Who's Next," but we have received the first full album from Harmonix's music gaming Mount Olympus in Boston.

Judas Priest - Screaming for Vengeance (image CO Wikipedia)

You can find the full track list above. Those familiar with Guitar Hero will remember "You Got Another Thing Comin'" from the first outing, and "Hellion/Electric Eye" from Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the Contractual Obligation.

At 12oo MS Fun-Bucks (~$14.00) it is a tough pill to swallow for the gamer with tight purse-strings. If you're a crazy Judas Priest fan or looking for a good metal fix in your band, then this is going to be a good day for you. If you think Rock Band needs Death Cab for Cutie, maybe you should pass. Out of all the tracks I'd suggest the previous Guitar Hero tracks and the title track.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Problem With Red Alert 3

Red Alert 3 is coming soon, but the one major failure of Red Alert 2 is now the complete and undenied focus of its sequel. Ignoring the vast success with ground combat, and the limited balance brought by some air units, EA has decided to be different rather than great, and focus on the naval combat in their newest outing.

As an RTS gamer who cut his teeth on Age of Empires (before there was a Rise of Rome, let alone an Age of Kings), I was shocked and awed by Red Alert 2. The fast paced action, the ginormous army size (no 50 unit population cap here) and the cut-throat multiplayer (engineer rush, dolphin rush).

Limited Ore resources emphasized forethought (no secondary, unlimited resources here as in Generals). Keeping most of the conflict to strictly ground forces (no air-to-air combat, with the exception of the Rocketeer) kept the focus on fast offense and strong defense, yet the power of offensive units benefitted from a balancing following the defensive juggernaut that was Command and Conquer: Tiberian Sun.

The one flaw that angered me then, and to this day remains the major gap in RA2's armor is Naval combat. One can dominate most water maps with nothing but a superfluous amount of dolphins. In fact, most maps involving water were simply a race to dolphin supremacy.

GTA IV? Call of Duty IV? Forget 'em. Electronic Arts realizes that to defeat these behemoths they need to deploy something different. They need navies! Horrible, unbalanced, robotic navies!

Thank goodness Westwood is gone. Had the former members not found tremendous success elsewhere, they may be bothered by what has happened to their storied franchises under EA.

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Gamestop Trip Imminent!

It is finally time. Only eight more days until GTA IV releases, and I am finally off to pre-order my copy for 360. While I'm there I will be sure to check out their 25% off of used 360 games coupon, which if for some reason you get your news from me, rather than Kotaku, here is that very coupon for your enjoyment:
Click Here for a Larger Version

The Coupon Code, for those who would rather copy and paste is: EBC3005410.

Happy hunting!

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

Counter-Point: Why MKDC will probably Fail... Epicly.

The new Mortal Kombat has history stacked against it.

  1. Every Mortal Kombat game has failed to live up to its rivals' gameplay.
    1. Fatalities are the main attraction to Mortal Kombat.
    2. Fatalities DEFINE what Mortal Kombat is, and how it is different than Street Fighter.
  2. Every Batman game (with three notable exceptions) stinks.
    1. And even the three exceptions are basically rehashes of other games.
  3. Fighting games (MK) and beat-em-up games (Batman) are both genres nearing extinction.
    1. There are simply too many games with too few innovations.
There, I kept this one simple for you. But the biggest reason of all is to follow:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the number one reason that Mortal Kombat will fail despite the inclusion of DC Comics characters:

Look at that animation! Look at the lighting! Perhaps it is a long way away, but if the game plays are crummily as it appears it will, then the game will fail due to the final big reason:

It simply is not good.

(For those disappointed, please console yourselves with this beautiful Work of Art.)

Good day, sir.

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Point: Why the new Mortal Kombat game has great potential.

As I have covered earlier, Superhero games like those involving Batman, are inherently limited. This is due especially to dealing with such well-defined characters. If a game involves Batman lighting up Gotham gangs with a machine gun, and then going back in time to fight Nazis, the gameplay may be enjoyable but the characterization is completely lost. Game designers are extremely limited to options when creating Batman games.

What does Batman do in an average movie or comic?

  1. Investigates crime
  2. Punches bad-guys
  3. Ties up bad-guys who get taken to jail
This is not a fun game.

Motives, ideals, and political statements are great for movies and comics. Knowing that you are "doing the right thing" while repetitively punching cookie-cutter bad-guys does not add to the experience at all.

Similarly, as I explored yesterday, Mortal Kombat has remained bound by the very niche it brought to the market in 1992. Fatalities brought people to the arcade cabinets, but because of poor evolution, Fatalities are the only thing bringing people back to Mortal Kombat games.

This is where the new Mortal Kombat gets interesting. No Fatalities (DC doesn't need the flak of Batman disemboweling people with his batarang). By focusing instead on the fighting elements and taking away the "looking forward to the Fatality" mindset, gamers will instead focus on the characters and the fighting strategy. This brings MK much closer to Soul Caliber and Virtua Fighter status.

Bringing characters like Batman and Superman into the same arena as Scorpion and Sub-Zero combines two fan-bases (which overlap certainly) into one market. This greatly increases revenue potential, meaning designers should get more time to develop and a bigger budget. (Just as Hollywood blockbusters start with large budgets due to the market potential)

Also, by putting Superheroes into a game which has character development (sorta) and some semblance of a story line (a bit), but which involves strategic combat (Kombat), the gameplay loses the cookie-cutter bad-guy curse which plagues most Superhero games. Batman's punches and kicks are suddenly the focus, rather than the limit, of the game. This enhances each nuance of the attacks, while forgoing all of the poorly-integrated "investigation" and other goofy attempts to bring more life to the same beat-em-up gameplay we've seen since the first Batman games.

So, to break it down: Reasons Mortal Kombat (with DC Comics) has a chance to be greater than either a Mortal Kombat game or a DC Comics game:
  1. Mortal Kombat gameplay makes the limits of other DC games suddenly an advantage
  2. Batman and other characters bring great fan-power to the series.
  3. Developers of Mortal Kombat are experienced, and aren't racing to release (I hope!)
  4. No Fatalities means the gameplay may actually be good (maybe)
What was that? I hear a counter-point coming soon!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Failure of the Mortal Kombat Franchise

Mortal Kombat games have, since the pinnacle of the series at Mortal Kombat II, added the following features:

  1. Combos (stolen from Street Fighter) (1995)
  2. Weapons (1997)
  3. 3D Graphics (1997)
  4. 3D Gameplay (2002)
  5. Tetris (2005)
Keeping in mind that Mortal Kombat II was released in 1993, it has been over the course of 15 years of boredom that Mortal Kombat's designers have attempted to adopt every major development of other fighting games from Virtua Fighter to Soul Caliber. But yet, they cannot seem to overcome the fact that everyone who plays Mortal Kombat does so to quickly get through the fighting and oogle at the Fatality at the end of the match.

To overgeneralize, the gamer who has not grown bored with the Mortal Kombat franchise is kept interested only in blood-lust and gore. The fighting is stale, and the storyline has been reduced to pulp-level rehashing worthy of professional wrestling.

The situation is one which stems from the initial success of Mortal Kombat in the arcades. The shock-value, controversy, and general gameplay enjoyment came from the violent Fatality that awaited each contestant at the end of a match.

Though the Fatality was the initial source of interest that separated Mortal Kombat from the other members of the fighting game genre (most specifically Street Fighter II), it soon became a burden borne by each game to follow.

Less time was spent on creating a functional and exciting gameplay experience, while more time was poured into creating the most hideous and shocking Fatalities possible. Soon, much like in the shock-genre of Slasher films, the ludicrous overtook the visceral. It was no longer shocking to see limbs and gore, so soon Arcade Machines were dropping from the sky upon defeated opponents. Friendships and Babalities paved the way for Animalities and Brutalities. The five seconds of ridiculousness at the end of a match overshadowed the fighting aspect of the game itself.

Since Mortal Kombat 3, the series has fallen to the back of the pack of fighting games as Virtua Fighter, Soul Caliber, and Super Smash Bros. have gained supremacy. But Street Fighter is returning soon, attempting to reclaim dominance of the market it created. And Mortal Kombat is following just behind it, ready to steal any great ideas it brings to the market.

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Failure of the Superhero Genre

Though there exist a few notable exceptions, superhero games in general fail to impress, especially when based on feature films. Batman has suffered more consistently than most, with instant classics such as Batman Forever, Batman Begins, and the non-film based, and artistic pinnable, Batman: Dark Tomorrow. In fact, with the arguable exception of Batman: The Animated Series The Adventures of Batman and Robin, only one Batman game has garnered any semblance of critical or popular praise. That game, of course, is the impossibly hard (and succinctly named) Batman.

The problems affecting Batman video games are the same today as they were twenty years ago, and before. These failures are not limited to Batman games, but span the whole of Superhero, and beyond that, licensed games. Everything from movies to television shows, from comic books to biblical texts, have faced these following issues which are analyzed at the detail level using Batman as the example.

Batman games have traditionally suffered from two flaws. The first is related to development time and effort. The second is simply a symptom of the character, himself. Development times have always been an issue for licensed games, back as far as the famous incident of 1982. Despite the widespread understanding amongst gamers and designers alike that licensed games are simply a cash cow pushed upon desperate parents, crummy games are made based on popular movies and other media each year. Children want to play as Batman, Superman, or Shaq, and parents want their children to be quiet so they can hear the latest developments on Survivor. So too is effort a non-factor in designing licensed games, children who know better don't play the games, and children who don't also don't complain. Thus, the cycle continues, and Batman can't get a good game.

The limits of the Batman character are as follows:
  1. Batman refuses to kill anyone. Most of the time.
  2. Batman's main weapon: The Bat-Punch.
  3. Gadgets, Gadgets, Gadgets.
During game play, if Batman can't kill anyone he is limited to non-fatal weapons. This may seem obvious, and it is, but if Batman can't use explosives or firearms, he is severely limited in terms of creatively dealing with enemies. I guess he could negotiate, but for the sake of action he usually prefers to negotiate with fists and batarangs. The punching gets old quick, and when his gadgets are all limited to specific situations (such as swinging from pre-designated "swing points," etc) they actually limit the game play, rather than open it.

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Momentus Calamity and Madness Abounds.

Last night I was stunned by what seemed to be a rumor of both ridiculous and Homeric proportions. It seemed that a new Mortal Kombat game was looming on the horizon, but rumor had it that a cross-over was imminent. With DC. Detective. Comics.

The image displayed at the time was an obvious photoshop, with a familiar MK character on the left and a blacked-out Superman profile on the right. The great Gods would not allow such a convergence of my childhood nostalgia, I thought quietly to myself while ignoring the hope which welled in my soul. It is impossible. Fatalities cannot be reconciled with the likes of Truth and Justice. Little Bruce Wayne's promise to his parents is not honored by murder, especially in a tournament atmosphere.

As has been reported with much vigor on a slow news day, an earthquake struck in Illinois today which had far-reaching effects as far north as Milwaukee. I was caught unaware of the event, slumbering through the 4 a.m. occurrence with visions of Batman-plums dancing in my head.

As a child of the Midwest I have been told often of the possibility of earthquake. For generations, youth in the region have been warned that "the big one" was imminent and once again the "Mississippi would run backward" given the force of the coming devastation.

At 5.2 on the Richter scale, my mattress was plenty soft to shield me from the mild vibrations. It was not until I woke that the true magnitude of the event shook me like so many cerebral aftershocks.

The motive behind the anger of the Gods revealed itself, springing forth from computer monitor not at all devoid of a thunderous rage. Indeed, the dark alliance of my two childhood obsessions has come to creation, and thus inspired wrath from above.

This development of providence brings about a new age of reason in a world so lacking. Why bother to continue development of sub-par titles in Batman and Mortal Kombat flavors, despite the very substance of the games never growing from their 8- and 16-bit counterparts respectively? Instead, combine the best of the two franchises and remove the glass ceilings which has held each back.

In forthcoming posts I will analyze where each franchise has gone wrong. Later, I will conclude with a discourse on the coming Mortal Kombat Online, and what it means for Mortal Kombat, Detective Comics, gamers, and the industry.

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