Friday 11 October 2013

Tool: Dreamcast Collection Spreadsheet

This is a simple spreadsheet to keep track of your collection of Dreamcast games. It contain a list of every North American release, independent release, and a few European releases that never made it to North America. You can set whether you own each game or not, leave a note regarding its quality, and it will automatically count them to let you know how many games you have in your collection and how many you are missing. There is even a second spreadsheet to keep track of official hardware that you own, in case you are trying to collect all the hardware as well.


Excel Version
OpenOffice Version

PS. Apologies for the site being all but dead for so long. I have been very busy with my studies. I'm concluding something that has been eating the majority of my time. So there will hopefully be more posts in the near future.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Review: Hanzo VGA Box and Scanliner

The Hanzo is a VGA box with a built-in scanliner made for the Dreamcast. A device that greatly increases the picture quality from the system and something that every Dreamcast enthusiast should own. Seeing games like Skies of Arcadia, Phantasy Star Online, and even the recently-released Sturmwind in 480p truly is the way Dreamcast games were meant to be played.

For those not in-the-know know, the Dreamcast was capable of outputting a 480p VGA signal straight from the console without any modification. It did, however, require a separate device that plugged into the standard A/V port to allow this. At the time it was basically used to play the Dreamcast on a computer monitor, projector, or high-end CRT television. Fast-forward to today where everybody has high definition TVs with VGA support, it's no wonder the price of VGA boxes has skyrocketed in the past couple years.

The Hanzo does not fail at its promise and the picture looks amazingly clear, crisp, and colourful when compared to the standard Dreamcast A/V cables. The difference is almost unbelievable on a modern flat panel LCD. Yet another reason the Dreamcast was ahead of its time.

Screenshot compare of standard A/V (left) and Hanzo (right)
A large complaint that some people have with the VGA signal on LCDs is that 2D sprite-based games or games made in lower resolutions don't look authentic on modern TVs. Those types of games were usually made for arcades where CRTs were the norm and they had a very distinct look to them because of the presence of scanlines. Scanlines are basically gaps, or blank horizontal lines, produced on a CRT because of a combination of low native game resolution and interlacing on the monitor. The Hanzo attempts to remedy this complaint by allowing you to introduce visible scanlines to the picture, recreating the look of classic arcade games.

Screenshot compare of no scanline (left) and scanline (right)
I'm not a big fan of artificial scanlines; I prefer the bright, crisp look of the native picture but for those of you who absolutely love scanlines, the Hanzo does a great job. It even gives you the option of putting the scanlines on the odd lines or the even lines depending on your preference and the ability to change the size of the scanlines which I'm told looks better when the picture is upscaled.

The Hanzo itself feels to be of high build quality. All the plugs and switches seem to shield the sides enough so that I don't feel it's a big deal that the box is not fully enclosed. The plexiglass on the top and bottom looks pretty slick too with the logo laser-etched into it. From what I understand, beharius (creator of the Hanzo) hand builds these. It's nice to know someone actually spent the time to produce a quality product instead of mass-producing cheap crap.

This all sounds amazing right? Well there are some caveats to using a VGA box on the Dreamcast.  Mainly that not all games are compatible. Some early games were shipped with a flag on the disc that prevented them from booting into VGA. The Hanzo lets you get around this by setting one of the switches to 15KHz(480i) mode to bypass the check, then switching back to 31KHz(480p) to enjoy your game. Other games are completely incompatible with VGA.
For a complete compatibility list click here.

The slight compatibility issues aside (most of the incompatible games are crap anyways) I am enjoying playing my Dreamcast on my HDTV in beautiful 480p. Especially Sturmwind which I just received last week and am currently working on a review for. So stay tuned!

A big shout out to beharius for creating such a wondering product at a decent price. I believe he is working on an official website for the Hanzo so I will link to that as soon as it's up.

Thanks for reading.

Monday 11 March 2013

Article: Camerica - A Brief History

While shopping at a flea market not too long ago with a friend we came across a vendor selling a strange looking NES cartridge (the one in the picture above). Neither of us had ever seen something that looked like it. The vendor thought it was worth a lot of money so we decided to look into it. As it turns out the cartridge was nothing more than a sample Camerica game: The Ultimate Stuntman. One of only a handful of unlicensed games published by Camerica.

Back in the late '80s, during the time of the NES, Nintendo had a pretty onerous publishing license. They restricted publishers to only 5 titles per year and they had to be NES exclusive for two years. On top of that it could sometimes be quite difficult for companies to actually get a hold of the cartridges for their games because Nintendo had to produce them all. Some publishers took this as a sign to start releasing unlicensed games whereby they could produce they're own cartridges and release them without permission from Nintendo. Camerica, of course, was one of these publishers.

Built into every NES was a so-called 'lockout chip' preventing games from being played unless a corresponding chip was present in the cartridge. To get around this Camerica would send small voltage spikes to the lockout chip, freezing the chip and allowing their games to be played on an unmodified NES. Nintendo, not happy about this, sued Camerica several times but lost in each case and was eventually ordered to pay Camerica for damages.

Camerica released 15 NES games in total mostly developed by Codemasters. All of them used Camerica's unique catridge shape and were painted a shiny gold or silver colour not unlike the the original Zelda and Zelda II carts. On the backside of each game was a small switch that allowed the user to play the game on an NTSC or PAL NES, essentially making them region-free.

During Camerica's brief run they also produced an arcade style joystick for the NES with a very strange triangular shape as well as a wireless controller. Their most popular device though, was the Codemasters-developed Game Genie which they were able to release in Canada due to their close relationship with Codemasters. In America though, the Game Genie was sold by the Galoob toy company.

Near the end of 1992 Camerica released their final product: the Aladdin Deck Enhancer. It was basically a cartridge cradle that housed game RAM and the lockout bypass circuitry. Smaller cartridges would be placed into the cradle and the whole thing would be placed into the NES. Camerica hoped that by not having RAM and the bypass circuitry in every cartridge they would be able to produce cheaper games. However by the time of its release the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis were already out so it never sold very well. Eventually leading to the closure of Camerica.

Unfortunately for Camerica they were one of the many companies that never made it out of the NES era. But it's always interesting to learn something new about early gaming.

Thanks for reading.

Monday 4 March 2013

Review: Street Fighter X Tekken Fightstick Pro

In this review I'll be looking at the Street Fight X Tekken Fightstick Pro (Xbox 360 version) arcade controller from Matcatz. I should say upfront that I'm not much of a fighting game fan nor am I particularly good at them. However, I am told that Madcatz arcade controllers are the gold standard for fighting games. Most of my playtesting was done playing SHMUPs.

This controller has several nice features that really add value. If you look at the top right of the controller, next to the Xbox button, you'll see 2 toggle switches. One of them locks or unlocks the turbo feature while the other lets you choose whether you want the joystick to act as the left or right analog or the dpad of the standard 360 controller. Which is handy if you're playing a game that only supports the analog stick for movement. Looking again at the top of the controller you will see the turbo button and 8 LEDs which correspond to the 8 face buttons, letting you know which buttons currently have turbo enabled. There is a fast and a slow turbo mode that you can individually apply to any of the face buttons.

Madcatz has used arcade quality Sanwa buttons on this controller so there's no need to worry about wearing things out within a year. These parts were originally designed for arcade cabinets after all. I'm not a fan of these buttons though. They feel spongy, like you're pushing them down until they stop. There's no breakaway like there is on say a standard 360 controller face button. That's personal preference I'm sure but even after using it for many, many hours it still feels strange.

The joystick on this controller is also a Sanwa so again, there is no need to worry about wearing it out too quickly. It is amazing and an absolute joy to use. The tension on it is perfect for my liking and I simply love the way it clicks from the switches inside. That is not to say it is perfect for shooting games right out of the box. Since this controller is marketed as a fightstick, Madcatz has put a square gate on the joystick. A square gate restricts the joystick movement as if it was inside of a square (instead of a circle like a standard analog stick) with the 4 corners at the diagonal positions. This is great for fighting games because it makes diagonal movement a lot easier but is quite annoying in shooting games. If you are so inclined it is possible to replace the square gate with an octagonal gate which I will probably end up doing sooner or later.

If you're wondering where the start and back buttons are they are placed on the backside of the controller. A nice way to make sure you never accidentally press them. Also hiding in the back is a small compartment that holds the cable. Being able to completely put away the cable is great because it's pretty long and would be a pain to deal with otherwise. The art on the top of the controller looks pretty cool as well, displaying several Street Fighter and Tekken characters.

So if you're a fighting game fan the Fightstick Pro is a great choice and has everything you would want in an arcade controller. But if you're a shooting game fan like me, or want something to play arcade games with you might want to find a controller without a square gate to save you the hassle of replacing it yourself.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday 27 February 2013

Game: Snake DC

I've recently tried my hand at Dreamcast development and have had some moderate success. I ported my very simple snake game that I originally wrote for the GPH Caanoo. It's not very difficult because I was trying for more of a zen-type deal.

So if you have a Dreamcast and enjoy snake please give it try.

Download here.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Review: Magical Drop V

Magical Drop V is the next installment in the cult Neo-Geo puzzle-battle franchise. Creating a true sequel to the almost perfection of Data East's Magical Drop III is a tall order but the developers at Golgoth Studio have taken on the challenge, and have had a fair amount of success. Adding in modern elements such as online play and leaderboards, MDV is an interesting sequel.

The gameplay behind MDV is, as with most puzzle-battle games, easy to learn. To give a quick description of Magical Drop: 7 columns of differently coloured bubbles (4 colours not including special bubbles) fall from the top of the screen. The player controls a small jester-looking character at the bottom of the screen that can grab as many bubbles of 1 colour as wanted then throw them back. If the player creates a vertical row of 3 of the same colour bubble then they, and all touching bubbles of that colour, are cleared from the play area. If a single column of bubbles reaches the bottom of the play area or if your opponent fills their quota of bubble popping first, it's game over.

The challenge comes in being able to form combos by quickly clearing away bubbles in succession and being able to capitalize on your opponent's drop pattern. Speed is the key element in Magical Drop, it's fast paced gameplay is what garnered so many fans of the series. And for the most part, this has remained intact for the sequel. It really feels just like Magical Drop III.

So what does MDV offer that the prequels didn't? Well, as mentioned earlier, online is probably to biggest reason I was excited for this game. Unfortunately there is almost nobody playing online. You would be extremely lucky to get into a quick match. Even if you do manage to get into a match, it's not the best experience. With a game as quick as Magical Drop lag is an issue and MDV suffers from some serious lag issues. Sometimes the game will even completely drop both players from the match, making the online portion of MDV a frustrating experience.

I'm sure anybody who has played Magical Drop on the Neo-Geo has, at one point, wanted to change the quota. Well, in MDV, you can and it's pretty awesome. I have experimented with different quota sizes and found 300 to be the most enjoyable. Any larger than 300 and the games seem to go on for too long if you are evenly matched with your opponent.

Some interesting new modes have been introduced as well such as Two vs Two and a 4 player 'king of the hill' mode. Which would be interesting if there was anybody online to play them with. One very neat thing is the introduction of 'Bruce' to the roster. Choosing him during character selection will allow you to play, the previously unreleased Data East Neo-Geo game, Ghostlop in place of the standard Magical Drop. It's a novel feature and a novel game which deserves a try but I can't say I'm a fan and I don't think it makes up for the cut to the roster from MDIII.

Magical Drop V is a little disappointing. The 'story mode' is simply an arcade mode, the online is a ghost town, and to top it off the roster of characters has been reduced. Golgoth did get the gameplay spot-on though and that really impressed me. At the time of writing this Golgoth just announced a large patch titled 'MMXIII' (2013 in Roman numerals) which is touted to improve online play and add some more single player options. I just hope it can get more people online!

Magical Drop V is currently available on Steam.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Review: Gunlord

Gunlord is a Dreamcast and Neo-Geo game created by the German developer group 'NG:Dev.Team'. They're the guys responsible for Last Hope, Last Hope – Pink Bullets, as well as Fast Striker, all of which are scrolling 2D shooters developed with the Neo-Geo in mind, and ported to the Dreamcast. Gunlord touts 16-bit graphics with 9 huge levels to explore and non-linear action. I'll be reviewing the Dreamcast version.

Now, onto the game. Gunlord differs from NG:Dev.Team's previous releases in that it is not purely aside-scrolling shooter, although if you like those there is a nice surprise in the game, more on that later. Gunlord features awesome run'n'gun style gameplay very similar to the classic game Turrican. Offering several different weapons including: the classic spreader, a bounce shot that causes your bullets to bounce off objects, and the 'phoenix' which shoots waves of fire at your enemies. In addition to the 3 basic weapons, you also have the 'dragon whip' that you can shoot in any direction for a limited time until your energy meter at the bottom of the screen is depleted. Not to worry though as it slowly recharges over time. This is probably your most valuable weapon because it does high damage and also destroys enemy projectiles. If you ever happen to get yourself into a pickle though, you're able to use the 'fire flash' which is a limited quantity item that clears the screen of all harmful projectiles and most enemies. As if all this isn't enough the character can also curl up into a ball reminiscent of Samus from the Metroid series. While curled up you can move quickly across the ground and can drop bombs to harm enemies. This move seems a little out of place as the only times I have used it is to get through passages that are too small for the character to walk through. It may come into play more in later levels but from just the first 4 levels it seems out of place.

The levels in Gunlord are, for the most part, linearly structured, as in there is only one route to the boss,but there are many places to explore. It really reminds me of the old Metroid game for Super Nintendo but not quite as open for exploration. Since the game presents a counter at the bottom of the screen for purple gems scattered throughout the levels, you will find yourself searching every inch of the levels in an attempt to collect all the gems (something that is not easy to do I might add) and increase your high score. Gunlord features an online ranking highscore system: at the 'game over' screen you are presented with your score as well as a code that you can then enter at the Gunlord website to show off your score and compare yourself with others. It would have been nice to have online rankings in-game but, obviously,the Neo-Geo has no online capabilities and frankly neither does my Dreamcast since I no longer have a dial-up ISP. So this is a nice solution I think. High scores are also saved on the VMU.

The shooting and jumping feel fantastic in Gunlord. All the weapons feel powerful and give the character areal sense of strength. Jumping is great and you are able to easily and precisely control the character to land where you want. There is no frustrating platforming in Gunlord; it's all about runnin' andgunnin'. This all adds to the feeling of fairness in the game. If you got hit, it always feels like your fault and not the game's. Which makes the game's challenge enjoyable instead of frustrating,and this game is challenging. Fortunately Gunlord offers two game modes: original and arcade. The gameplay in both of these is exactly the same with two exceptions. If you run out of lives and use a continue on original mode then your character will spawn exactly where you left off. But in arcade mode, you will be forced to start your current level over from the very beginning. Arcade mode also has a timer which counts down to your death. Collecting gems increases your total time remaining, adding a nice little challenge to an already difficult game.

Artistically Gunlord is amazing with massive boss sprites, tonnes of on-screen madness, lots of frames of animation all running at a full 60fps, and a pumping soundtrack. However, I feel the palette for the game is a little strange. Just look at the regular edition box art, you can barely read the title of the game! It can be difficult at times to see smaller enemies and projectiles. That's probably my biggest complaint. Each sprite individually looks gorgeous but when they are all put together on screen it can get a little messy. But with 9 massive bosses and several mini-bosses Gunlord truly is a great looking game.

A very nice surprise that NG:Dev.Team threw into this game is level two. This level is a quick, and I do mean quick, side-scrolling shooter level. You can definitely tell the guys who made Gunlord have lots of experience with shooters. Playing through this level really made me sad I never picked up Last Hope or Pink Bullets.

So if you're a fan of Turrican, run'n'gun games, want a real challenge, or just want a reason to hookup your Dreamcast again, Gunlord will do you well. NG:Dev.Team also has a new vertically-scrolling shooter in the works, NEO XYX, coming out for both the Neo-Geo and Dreamcast. I'm really excited for that one.

If you want to grab a copy of Gunlord head over to NG's website at and get yourself a copy. At the time of writing this they're sold out of all versions save for the limited edition Dreamcast version which comes with the game's OST.

Thanks for reading.