Thursday, December 8, 2016

Spin the Knob, Roll the Ball, Drag the Puck : Rotary-Based Video Game Controllers

A rotary encoder is a wheel that sends positional information as it is moved.  The rotor or disk looks like a wheel with spokes and holes.  The wheel is attached to a shaft which is moved.  The movement can be tracked electromechanically or optically.  Electromechanical rotary encoders send information as an electrical circuit is made and broken by movement of the rotor.  Optical rotary encoders send information as the spokes and holes of optical transmitter/receiver allow and break an infrared beam.

A rotary encoder can be found at the heart of several input devices, namely spinners, mice and trackballs.  The earliest arcade spinners, such as those found on Pong and Breakout, were just knobs stuck on the shaft of a potentiometer.  Movement would typically be calculated by measuring the charge or discharge time of a resistance/capacitive circuit. These knobs could be moved in either direction to a stopping point, they could not perform a full 360 degree rotation.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Diagonsing and Fixing DOS Games - King's Quest VI and the Sound Blaster 16

On Friday, I sat down at my 486DX2/66 computer and decided to play a little King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tommorow.  KQ6 is definitely one of Sierra's best games and it had been a long time since I last tried to play it through.  I had the floppy version installed on my hard drive, so I started up the floppy version.  Unfortunately, it took the whole weekend to track down the problem and implement a solution for it.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Windows 3.1 - The Dawn of Windows Gaming

Microsoft Windows released Windows 3.1 on April 6, 1992.  This was the first version of Windows that Microsoft really designed for gaming applications and was available to purchase at retail.  (Windows 3.00a with Multimedia Extensions was available from OEMs).  Windows 3.1 main draw was its support for multimedia, essentially sound cards, MIDI devices and CD-ROM audio.  Unlike the text command line parser of DOS, Windows was a graphical operating system with nary a command prompt in sight.  Most control was accomplished using a mouse.  For the first time users could easily access more than one program on a PC through the task switcher because the operating system was built for multitasking.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Arcade Games Potpourri

Donkey Kong

Where is the Original?

Donkey Kong's historical importance cannot be understated.  The huge international success of Donkey Kong was closely tied to the rise of Nintendo as a force in the video game industry.  It also marked the first of many masterpieces by Shigeru Miyamoto.  It also made important legal precedent with Universal City Studios, Inc. v. Nintendo Co., Ltd., 746 F.2d 112 (1984) giving games more freedom to take inspiration from popular culture without risking being sued.  The game was widely ported and the NES version is very good, especially in the Original Edition version released by Nintendo with all four stages at times for the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console.

Donkey Kong Arcade

Friday, November 11, 2016

A Better Alternative to the NES Classic Edition

In the final entry in what has turned to cover way too much blog space, I am giving my reasons why I cannot recommend the NES Classic Edition (CE).  The CE has a lot going for it, an attractive price, a cute look, the official throwback factor, 30 classic games, a good replica controller.  But it has a few downsides.

The first is obvious, the cables are way too short.  They are only 2.5' long.  An original NES controller is over 6' long.  If you want to play with the CE while sitting on the couch, you will need either a long HDMI cable or controller cable extenders.  A 25' HDMI cable will run you about $15 on Monoprice, but the controller extensions coming out for the CE run $10 each.  If you want to play a two player game, that is another $10.  Ultimately, the problem can be fixed, but the fixes will turn a $60 device into a $90 device.

The second is equally obvious, the console is not upgradeable.  When you finish playing those 30 games, what then?  It will be back to the Virtual Console.  Want to play Mega Man 3, Castlevania 3, Startropics 2, Ninja Gaiden 2, Contra or Tecmo Super Bowl?  You may have to wait for something like the CE 2.0 Edition.  Given that Nintendo included virtually all its first party classics in the existing CE, the game lineup in the CE 2.0 would prove interesting to say the least.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Godzilla - International Obsession

When Toho first began offering their Godzilla films for release for U.S. markets, it would supply a  copy of a Japanese print.  The U.S. distributor would then make whatever edits and additions it deemed appropriate, dub the film into English and release it.  Typically the print would be sent to the U.S distributor without text credits, leaving the inclusion of credits to the local distributor.  

However, by the mid 1960s Godzilla and other Toho films were increasingly offered in two versions, a textless version suitable for alteration and an International version which could be put into theaters or on TV immediately.  International versions could be sold to other English-speaking countries or non-English speaking countries where it would be easier to dub the film into the local language by translating English instead of Japanese.

An International version of a Godzilla film is characterized by several features.  First, the Japanese credits are translated into English.  The typeface used will invariably be white.  Second, the film will be distributed uncut from its Japanese version.  Third, the film will be dubbed into English in Tokyo (until 1972) or Hong Kong (1972-2004).  International versions were deemed appropriate for the TV and home video markets, but more quality-conscious distributors like American International Pictures, New World Pictures and Sony Pictures decided to commission new dubs for the films they released theatrically. 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Reasons for Owning a Gravis Ultrasound - Sound Quality Comparisons

It is an unfortunate fact of PC retro gaming that the Gravis Ultrasound cards are very expensive to buy off the second-hand market and the auction sites.  You may ask why should I want one, my Sound Blaster and my Roland does the trick for me.

For most games, you would be correct, the GUS is not especially impressive.  Some games, like anything using the DOOM engine, mix all the digital audio in software and then send the result to the sound card.  This eliminates one of the most important advantages of the GUS, mixing multiple streams in hardware at reasonable bit-sizes and frequencies.  In this instance, the GUS is no better than a Sound Blaster 16.  In benchmarks, it is actually worse than a SB16.

But for other games, the GUS can have a distinct advantage.  In these games, all audio, music, speech and sound effects, is digitally generated and mixed.  The Sound Blasters must mix this audio in software, but the GUS mixes it in hardware.  The result is always a higher quality sound from the GUS than an SB, even if the SB is a Pro, 16 or AWE model.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Video Potpourri II

Sometimes, one needs to discuss related subjects that do not by themselves warrant a full blog entry.  Hence the video potpourri series, in which I can talk about aspects of display technology.

I.  Composite Artifact Color Emulation

Composite artifact color emulation has been around for a long time.  Unfortunately, in many cases it just isn't very good at trying to replicate the look of a composite monitor.  Simple schemes just assign a color arbitrarily to a group of two or four monochrome pixels.  Mainline SVN DOSBox tries to simulate CGA composite color as if it were a VGA mode.  The colors are reasonably accurate to the real IBM CGA cards, but the text color fringing is rather blocky.  There are custom builds that use filtering and 16-bit color to give a more subtle impression of the composite color, but it still looks much, much cleaner than the real image.  You can obtain a custom build with better composite color emulation here :