Random Thoughts on Emulation and Retro Gaming

What follows are some very brief thoughts that are not worthy of an entire article.

I have owned a GPD XD for about a year now. It is by far the best handheld emulation device I’ve used. It plays the fifth generation consoles (PlayStation, N64) very well. Since it has a built in stand via the controller it also makes for an excellent device for watching movies during flights or lying in bed.

Hipsters have the market for buying old consoles all messed up. Everything is much more expensive than it should be. If you’re dead set on collecting you are going to spend some money, if you just want to play some games:

  • A Raspberry Pi 3 plays everything up to the fifth generations of consoles well. PlayStation support is excellent, N64 support is very bad. A Pi 3 and a PS4 controller makes for a very nice couch experience. Run RetroPie, its the easiest way to go.
  • A Nintendo DS will play GBA games. A Nintendo DS also costs a lot less than a GBA.
  • A 3DS can play DS games. A modded New 3DS can play GBA, SNES, GEN, Gameboy, NES, and more very well.
  • Nothing can emulate an original XBOX. Spend some money and get one that is pre-modded. TSOP is preferred since it makes it easy to change the hard drive.
  • A modded PS3 will play PSX, PS2, PSP, and PS3 games.
  • A modded Wii-U will play Wii-U and Wii.
  • A modded Wii will play Wii and GameCube.
  • You can buy pre-modded consoles on Ebay for not much more than a non-modded one.
  • If your PC is within 50 feet of your TV, a long HDMI cable and a PS4 or XBOX One controller will turn it into a great couch gaming ‘console’. If you also have a wireless keyboard and a mouse you’re in for good times.

Emulation on a Playstation Portable 3000 (PSP)

A PSP is a fun handheld. Compared to it’s rival the Nintendo DS, its more powerful, the games look better, and they are arguably more adult orientated.

As a long time PSP owner here is my impression of its emulation quality.

NES: Great
Gameboy: Great
Gameboy Advance: Good
Genesis: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
SNES: Poor. Lots of slowdowns. Sound is laggy or doesn’t sound right.
N64: Nope
Playstation/PSX: Great, if not close to perfect. The PSX emulator on the PSP was written by Sony. The quality is outstanding.
NDS: Nope
GameCube and above: Nope

I see a lot of recommendations online to use a PSP as a cheap SNES emulator handheld. Don’t fall for that. The SNES emulation is bad. It’s so bad I don’t even keep the emulators or ROMs on my PSP. I have never played through a game. I couldn’t even make it through the first level of Contra 3 because the sound of my gun was so high pitched it was annoying me.

If you want to play some PSP or PSX games, definitely get it. You’ll never go wrong playing a game on the original hardware it was designed for. PSX emulation is great, in my opinion it’s better than the PC emulators.

The biggest downside to a PSP is the battery. Batteries don’t age well and the PSP is getting old. Official replacement batteries from Sony don’t exist. Aftermarket batteries are horror stories (check out some Amazon reviews). Most people either stay plugged in all of the time or use an external battery like you would use to charge your phone in an emergency. I read an article of one guy who removed the UMD drive and soldered in two NDS batteries in their place. I’m lucky enough that my battery is in good shape, but when the time comes for a new one I’m a bit worried.

 

Game Prince RS-1 Handheld NES Console Review (Obscure Handheld)

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The RS-1 Game Prince is a handheld NES on a chip console with a 2.5 inch back lit LCD.

The Hardware

The Game Prince feels pretty sturdy. I was expecting it to be made of cheap plastic, but not so much. The console’s case is contoured so that it sits in your hand well. It runs on three AAA batteries. There is a headphone jack and volume slider. There is no cartridge slot for games as they are all built in.

The buttons and their layout get interesting. It has a PlayStation style D-PAD. There is no Select button. The A and B buttons are reversed. There is a turbo button you can use to assign a turbo function to A or B. There is a Reset button that allows you to reboot the device, essentially exiting a game and getting back to the game selection menu.

The lack of the select button isn’t a big deal. None of the included games rely on it.

The A and B buttons reversed is an odd thing. It really tripped me up at first, but then I got used to it. It’s not ideal, but it is workable.

The batteries last a long time. I’ve owned my Game Prince (or is it an RS-1?) for about three months now. After about 15 hours of play time I’ve went through one set of batteries and I’m working through the second. There is no battery meter. The use of AAA batteries isn’t a big deal for me as I use rechargeable Ni-MH batteries.

The Games

The Game Prince is advertised as having 152 games built in. Like most NES on a chip systems, this is a stretch. The majority of the games are copies of each other with different names or a single level only. For instance, Hudson’s Adventure Island exists as a full game. Each of the levels for the Adventure Island are also playable as if they are complete games.

The games that are included are a decent mix of early NES titles. Super Mario Bros, Mario Bros, Contra, Mappy, Galaga, Gradius, and the like are well represented. There are no games present that use a battery save feature like the Legend of Zelda, again something typical of a NES on a chip system. There are about 25 actual games.

There are some neat variations of the games though, fast Super Mario Bros. is fun.

The games play very well. No emulation glitches as they games are running on essentially the original hardware they were written for. The sound out of the Game Prince’s speaker is good for what it is. The buttons are responsive.

I purchased my RS-1 Game Prince from AliExpress for $19. For that price it’s definitely worth it just as a bathroom diversion.

Other Thoughts

I’ve been fascinated with NES on a chip systems since the first ones shaped like a N64 controller started appearing around 2004.  Ben Heck turned one into a portable way back when.

The A and B buttons being reversed really seems like an unforgivable sin at first, but I got over it within a few minutes of playing.

Being cheap Chinese crap, the menus on the Game Prince are littered with grammar and translation issues. Prassing start to begin or playing Dongkey Kong always makes me smile.

Game Prince's poorly translated menu

Woodi GBA and Woodi GBA Micro: Backlit GBA Clone (Obscure Handheld)

The Woodi GBA and the Woodi GBA Micro are portable game consoles that do a fair job of replicating their Nintendo big brothers.

If you want to skip the reading, here is a video showing off both systems:

 

Woodi GBA
Woodi GBA

The Woodi GBA looks almost identical to a Nintendo Gameboy Advance. The biggest differences are a reset button above the B and A buttons and a micro USB port on the bottom right edge of the case. When you turn it on you’ll see that is has a back lit LED screen, much like a GBA SP or NDS. The screen is bright and looks really good. It has a rechargeable battery.  The battery lasts about five hours.

The Woodi GBA has 26 games built in. These games vary slightly based on the color of the Woodi GBA you buy. It has a cartridge slot for accepting other games. As near as I can tell the only game available is the Woodi 28-in-1 cartridge that came with it. Keeping count that is 26 games built in and 28 on the cartridge, a total of 54. The games are all from the Nintendo GBA. The cartridges and slot are very similar to the Nintendo GBA’s, but are not identical. Nintendo carts will not fit.

When I originally bought the Woodi GBA I was hoping it utilized a GBA on a chip. After playing the games I’m sure that it is actually emulating them. While the games normally play at full speed there are times when there are slow downs. The sound quality is what really makes me think the Woodi is emulating. The sound quality is bad, really bad. The sound plays slightly slower than it should.

I purchased my Woodi GBA for $32 on AliExpress. For that price it was worth it. It’s a nice system to keep in the can.

Woodi GBA Micro
Woodi GBA Micro

Pretty much everything I said about the Woodi GBA applies to the Woodi GBA Micro. There are a couple of exceptions to that: the micro uses three AAA batteries and it has no cartridge slot. The batteries last a seven hours or so. Opening up both systems, they have the same circuit board, just the screen, case, odds and ends are different.

The micro USB port is just for show. It doesn’t charge the system. Plugging it into a PC does nothing. Looking at the circuit board, it is not connected to anything.

The Woodi GBA Micro has 25 built in games. These games are all from the Nintendo GBA and the Nintendo NES. The NES games are definetly emulated. You can push the shoulder buttons at the same time to bring up a PocketNES menu while playing.

I purchased my Woodi GBA Micro from AliExpress for $30.

I like to travel with the Micro. It’s cheap enough that I’m not worried about losing or breaking it.

How do they play?

For being cheap Chinese crap, both systems feel reasonably well built. I’ve dropped my Micro a few times and it looks as good as new. The buttons on the Woodi GBA feel good, the buttons on the Micro feel oddly springy, but work well. Both systems are near identical to their Nintendo made counterparts so they both feel good in hand.

The game selection on both systems is very good. You really can’t go wrong with classic GBA games. The games play OK. I touched on the sound problems earlier. Both systems remind me of PC emulators from 7-8 years ago… the emulation isn’t quite accurate. You notice things like colors being off or the tone of a sound being just slightly weird. I know some people who would be driven nuts by this, for me though it isn’t a big deal.  The games are fun and the system plays them well enough that I’m able to enjoy it all. Normal game saves work, after three months of ownership it hasn’t lost one of my saves. There are no save states like you would find in emulators.

Would I choose the Woodi versions over the Nintendo originals? That’s a hard question to answer… on a purely price and utility standpoint, yes I would choose the Woodi systems. $30 gets you a backlit, rechargable, GBA Advance with 54 games (builtin even,  no carts to carry). I can overlook some wonky sound for that. As someone who grew up with Nintendo and could be considered a fan, no. These systems are bad and morally wrong.

Other Comments

AliExpress isn’t for the faint of heart. It took twenty-seven days from the time I ordered until I received my systems. The first time out both systems were broken, the seller promptly sent me another set, letting me keep the broken ones. The new systems arrived twenty-three days later in good shape. The whole process was just under two months.

The Woodi Micro using AAA batteries isn’t all that bad. I use rechargeable Ni-MH batteries.  They last a long time.

I was really curious whether the systems were emulated or GBAs on a chip. All of the chips on both systems are either covered in resin or have the identifiers scratched out.

On being cheap Chinese crap… the game lists are poorly translated. I get a kick out of Castle Asia of Sorrow every time I start it up. The USB charger the Woodi GBA comes with is identical to an iPhone charger. Short of missing the Apple branding there is no difference in the look.

Castle Asia of Sorrow

Update 1/21/2016

All of the problems mentioned in the review above started to get to me. What really put me over the edge was the video/audio/controller lag in some games. The fifth world in Kirby’s  Nightmare in Dreamland is all but unplayable between the wonky sound and control lag.

I purchased these systems because I thought the hardware would be interesting to play around with, the games were inconsequential. I found that I liked the games and played them a lot though, go figure. I ended up buying a Nintendo DS Lite. It’s backwards compatible with the GBA and of course plays NDS games too. The difference in quality between it and either of the Woodi systems in night and day. There is no aspect done better by the Woodi systems than the Nintendo DS.

Would I still recommend the Woodi systems? If you’ve got $30 to blow, yes. If nothing else they’re neat conversation pieces. If you’re interested in playing games start to finish, go with an actual GBA or a DS. My vote is for a DS since they are half the cost used as a GBA and can play DS games too. The hipsters have the GBA market messed up in my opinion,  it is overpriced.

2014 BMW i3 Real Life Review

Four months ago I leased a 2014 BMW i3 with a range extender. I currently have 2100 miles on the car.

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It’s an electric car, that’s just how it works

The car’s range will vary greatly depending on how you drive, what electronics you have on in the car, and the weather. It’s summer now and with the AC running I can go about 70 miles on the battery. Last month I didn’t have to run the AC so hard and I could do 85-90. I understand from other drivers that winter weather will decrease the range to 50-60 miles depending on how cold it is. At highway speeds (70+) range is about 60 miles. With a gas car, steady speed on the highway is your best fuel economy. With an electric with heavy regen braking like the i3, in the city hitting some stop lights is the best for battery economy.

Range anxiety… I was so worried about getting stranded that I paid $5K for the range extender; a motorcycle engine in the back of the car that will charge the battery giving an extra 50 or so miles of range. I’ve used it once. In a gas car having 30 miles of range left warrants an immediate stop at a gas station, in the i3 it’s all good. It’s a weird attitude to have.

You’ll need to install a 220V L2 charger in your garage. The L1 charger that comes with the car will charge it from empty in 18 hours. An L2 charger will charge from empty in four hours. Between the charger and the electrician this was an extra $500 expense.

The i3 is an around the town car. It’s not the best choice for a weekend trip to grandma’s house.

What I don’t like

In the four months I’ve owned the car it’s spent 18 days at the dealer being worked on. I’ve had trim pieces come loose, BMW Assist stopped working, the rear seat came loose,  a drive train malfunction warning/vehicle stall, and awful tire noise. BMW of Northwest Arkansas has been good about getting everything handled under warranty and keeping me in a loaner car. Even so, wondering if my car is a lemon tickled the back of my brain often.

The i3 has very aggressive regenerative braking, so much so that’s its not often the brakes are used. This means that when you do use the brakes it sounds like you’re braking in a car that hasn’t been driven in a year. Lots of grinding and some squeaks.

The car forgets settings. Every time you start the car the radio volume defaults back to just slightly too quiet. The zoom on the nav will sometimes default out. The driving mode always defaults to comfort.

With blue tooth audio playback there is no way to play/pause from the steering wheel or iDrive. This is a thing with every BMW I’ve driven. Edit 8/21/15: An anonymous person was kind enough to point out that pushing the ‘power’ button on the radio will pause Bluetooth. The left and right rocker switch on the far right of the shortcut buttons is a previous/next track button.

The trunk is pretty small. It doesn’t look that way but you’ll have a hard time fitting an entire cart of groceries into it. The rear seats fold down though, giving you a ton of room to work with. You get more road noise with the seats down so you can’t keep them that way all the time.

The front trunk, the frunk, is a joke. It’s smaller than a case of beer and not water proof. I put the L1 charger that came with the car in a ziploc back inside of the frunk. I opened it up the other day and there were some old leaves inside. This is a $50,000 car.

The beep when you lock the car via the key fob is ear piercing. It is really loud.

Things I didn’t like that I fixed

You’re able to change a lot of settings on BMWs by ‘coding’ them. You connect to the car’s on board computer and change some settings. I’ve increased the size of the fuel tank (yes really), enabled turning on the gas engine at will, and changed the keyfob to open the trunk instead of the frunk.

The car came with white carpet floor mats. They looked great until the first day it rained. I replaced them with some all weather mats.

What I like

It’s fast. I always win the zero to the speed limit stop light race. The throttle response is instant. Acceleration is smooth, no gears to change.

One pedal driving. With the regen braking all I do to stop is let off of the accelerator.

The i3 drives like a proper car. It’s hard for me to put into words exactly what that means. If you’ve driven a proper car before you know what I getting on about.

I like the design of the car inside and out. Some people say the outside looks dorky or that the inside looks like it was made by Ikea. I would agree with those people. I like the way it looks. There is a lot of room on the inside.

I like that I don’t have to stop at a gas station once a week. I don’t care about the environment so much as I care about not wasting the time to stop and gas up.

You can fit two rear facing car seats in the back without the driver and passenger having their knees touch the dash. You would be surprised at the cars you can’t do this in; pretty much anything that isn’t a mini-van or full size SUV.

TL;DR

I like my i3. It’s not perfect, but then again I’ve never seen a car that is. I’m happy with the purchase and I have a lot of fun driving it.

IPEGA 9023 Bluetooth Telescopic Controller Review

ipega9023

 

The IPEGA 9023 is a bluetooth controller that allows you to mount a phone or tablet into it. The sides of the controller telescope out and then spring back in to grip what ever is in the center.

I bought my IPEGA 9023 for use with my Samsung Tab 10.5 tablet. I mentioned in my emulator review for it that I didn’t like the IPEGA because of button placement; turns out I was wrong about  that. It’s not the button placement I dislike, when you use the IPEGA 9023 with a device that’s heavy you (or at least I do) hold it in such a way that makes it uncomfortable. I figured this out while trying the IPEGA with a Samsung Galaxy S3. When using the smaller device the IPEGA works very well and I was happy with it.

Since then I’ve tried the IPEGA with an iPad Air and a LG G Tab 8.3. Both tablets fit into the IPEGA and are able to use it as a controller. Both tablets are heavy enough that I hold the IPEGA awkwardly and end up uncomfortable in a short period of time.

I’ve also tried the IPEGA with an iPhone 5s, Samsung Galaxy S3, and a Samsung Note 4. All three of those phones work really well with the IPEGA. I’m able to hold it comfortably for long periods of time.

Having your screen in the center of the controller does take a little getting use to though.

As a controller the IPEGA 9023 works well. Its definetly not on par with a PS3 or NVIDIA Shield controller, but it gets the job done. I’ve read some reviews online speaking about dead zones in the analog sticks, my controller either doesn’t suffer from this, or I’m not one to notice it.

All in all the IPEGA 9023 is a good solution to the problem of holding your phone and controller at the same time while playing games. Its not good for holding a tablet. Considering I bought it just for use with a tablet I’m a bit let down.

 

The one slim wallet to rule them all

After a string of Kickstarter slim front pocket wallets I’ve finally found a replacement for my Dopp Wallet, a Ralph Lauren Silk Tie Card Case.

Problems with the Kickstarter wallets

The biggest problem I had with the Kickstarter wallets was their durability. Each wallet I tried ended up with either frayed cloth or elastic after a few months of use. In comparison my Dopp wallet has been with me since I was a teenager and looks great. A secondary problem, considering I was searching for function, was that they tended to look dorky, I would point out that The Ridge wallet was an exception to the dorkiness.

The Ralph Lauren Silk Tie Card Case

Card case is an apt name for this as there isn’t much room for cash, photos, business cards, or the other things people keep in their wallets. As a guy who only carries a couple of credit cards and IDs its perfect. The wallet is leather with one side covered in silk tie material. It’s small, not much wider than a credit card. The thickness is about three credit cards.

I’ve owned this wallet for about three months now. There is no wear and tear evident. If anything it looks better now as riding around in my pocket has polished the leather a bit.

I’ve not found a thing I don’t like about this wallet.

You can buy the Ralph Lauren Silt Tie Card Case directly from Ralph Lauren.ralph_lauren_wallet

 

 

Amazon Fire TV and XBMC

My review of XBMC on Amazon’s Fire TV can be summed up easily, I’ve moved from my custom built HTPC to using a Fire TV for my day to day TV watching.

Commonly asked question I see about the Fire TV

  • It’s easy to install.
  • You don’t need to root the Fire TV
  • I have it plugged into a 5.1 surround system via HDMI. I didn’t have to go to any trouble to make it work.
  • I have about 3TB of media on an SMB share. My library is shared via MySQL. I had no problems getting this to work with the Fire TV. Navigating the library is just as snappy as my old HTPC.
  • The Fire TV will play a 1080p 5.1 surround sound movie without issue.
  • The Fire TV will play a 1080p MPEG-2 stream from a HDHomerun device without issue.
  • The Fire TV will play an USTVNow stream without issue.
  • The default remote map isn’t good. There are much better keymaps out there.
  • I could not get it to work correctly with a FLIRC and a Harmony remote. (See Cons below)
  • You can side load emulators. Anything up the PS1/N64 generation works. Though you’ll want to root it so you can use storage devices other than the built-in. This is much, much easier than getting emulators to work on other XBMC hardware/operating systems.
  • XBOX 360 and PS3 controllers work.
  • It’s by far the easiest way to get Netflix, Amazon Prime, and XBMC all on the same box.

Pros for the Fire TV

  • It makes no noise
  • It doesn’t produce any heat
  • It’s small. I have it hidden behind a photo 5×6 frame on my entertainment center.
  • It’s cheap! The Fire TV is $100. I spent about $375 on my HTPC less than a year ago. I thought it was cheap at the time.
  • You don’t have to jack with it much to get XBMC going. No custom hardware to put together, no OS install, ect, ect.

Cons for the Fire TV

TL;DR

The Amazon Fire TV is the best hardware to run XBMC on.

Emulators: Nintendo 3DS vs Samsung Galaxy S3 vs GCW Zero

I’m fortunate enough to own a Nintendo 3DS, GCW Zero, and a Samsung Galaxy S3 Android smart phone. At one time or another I’ve used all three to emulate classic game consoles and play games. How do they compare to each other?

Hardware:

Out of the box the GCW Zero is ready to go. The Nintendo 3DS requires you to buy a $40 DSTWO flash cartridge. The S3 needs a Game Klip and a PS3 controller.

The 3DS has the biggest screen. It also has two screen, this is important for playing DS games.

The GCW Zero is the easiest to pocket. The 3DS is just a bit too big for a pocket, it does well in a backpack. The S3 by itself fits easily into a pocket, the Game Klip and PS3 controller not so much.

The S3 with a PS3 controller has the best controls of the bunch.

The GCW Zero has the best battery life, about eight hours for me. The 3DS around four and the S3 2-3. It’s difficult to judge the S3 since its hard to use it for nothing else than playing a game for 3+ hours.

NES, Gameboy, and Gameboy Color games: All three devices play these games equally well.

Super Nintendo and Genesis Games: GCW Zero and S3 can emulate these darn near perfectly. The GCW Zero has trouble with SuperFX games such as Star Fox. The 3DS has trouble running graphically intense games at full speed. It works well for RPGs or other games where fast responses are not needed.

Nintendo 64 and Playstation Games:  The S3 is the only one that can emulate these. It does pretty well.

Gameboy Advance Games: All three devices can emulate Gameboy Advance with near perfection.

Nintendo DS Games: The GCW Zero cannot emulate DS and even if it did it doesn’t have a touch screen. The S3 can emulate the DS very well, though its screen will be split into two in order to emulate the DS’ two screens. The 3DS can run DS games natively and perfectly.

Other Consoles: None of the three devices have fast enough hardware to emulate consoles beyond the Nintendo 64/Playstation era. The 3DS can natively play 3DS games though. Consoles older than the NES run well on all three.

What about native games? The S3 has the entire Google Play Store to pick from. The 3DS has the library of 3DS and DS games. The GCW has some not so great Linux games.

Using it for things other than games: Hands down the S3. Being a smart phone its all good. The 3DS has a limited web browser and can watch Youtube. The GCW just plays games.

Which one of the three do I use the most? I use my Nintendo 3DS the most. The screen size, battery life, controls, DS and 3DS game support make it my favorite of the bunch. Its the one I take if I’m going on a trip. The 16bit console support is a bummer but the 3DS and DS support more than make up for it.

 

Simple Wallet Review

Simple Wallet

I’ve been using the Kickstarter funded Simple Wallet for about two months now. I like it well enough to use it daily but it’s not perfect.

The wallet is made of leather with an elastic pocket in front and an elastic band in the back. This gives you two pockets for cards/cash and the band in the back to supposedly hold your phone. The Simple Wallet is slightly longer and taller than a credit card. At this writing the Simple Wallet retails for $24.

What I like

It’s simple. True to it’s name the Simple Wallet doesn’t hold any surprises. It’s got a couple of pockets that are big enough to hold plenty of cards or some cash if you fold it in half.

It’s thin. Not as thin as a Crabby Wallet, but definitely thin enough for me.

The pockets are tight enough that you don’t worry about anything falling out. At the same time cards and cash are easy to remove and put in.

The Simple Wallet has held up perfectly to two months of heavy use. There is no wear and tear at all.

What I don’t like

The Simple Wallet isn’t what I would call pretty.

I don’t get the strap on the back. It’s supposed to hold your phone, but I just don’t get the point.

The price is a little high for some leather and elastic.

Summary

I like the Simple Wallet, it lives up to its name and does a good job.