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Shovel Knight Review

Shovel Knight started as a Kickstarter project by ex-WayForward devs. WayForward makes amazing games – Duck Tales Remastered is incredible, as was Double Dragon Neon. These games were very inspirational to me in terms of style and music. This new team, Yacht Club Games, while not comprising of the entire WayForward team, was still able to get music from Jake Kaufman! All that aside, what made Shovel Knight appealing was the 8-bit ‘NES’ graphics and what looked to be Duck Tales gameplay. Instead of a cane, you have a shovel – the Kickstarter sold me. I backed that s**t up.

Shovel Knight looks and plays like an old-school NES game. As I mentioned, it borrows heavily from Duck Tales, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ve got parts Mario 3, Castlevania, Zelda II, Mega Man, among other games. It doesn’t out-right copy them (expect for shovel-pogo being a large part of the games dynamics), but does a great job being its own game. You attack enemies with a shovel, navigate dangerous platforming sections, just to get to the end of the stage and defeat the boss. There’s tons of loot through gems and coins (ala Duck Tales), with lots of hidden areas and secrets strewn about. With this loot you can purchase upgrades and new weapons. You don’t need these upgrades to finish the game, but it’s good to have them for completing “feats” and finding secrets.

Here’s some gameplay:

At times it’s tough but this is offset by your money counting as life. When you die, you lose some of your money which you can then try to get back. I’ve never died enough to run out of money though, but I have died more than 3 to 5 times in a single level, meaning I would have had to restart. Once I completed the game, I started the New Game+ mode which is a lot harder. Your health depletes much faster. Even with all the upgrades from your original game, this is much more of a challenge. I would have preferred a ‘lives’ system. Five deaths into a stage and I have to restart – this would add much more tension. I know WayForwards Duck Tales got knocked in reviews because of this difficulty, so I can see why Yacht Club Games opted for an alternate approach.

The music is incredible, once again done by the amazing Jake Kaufman. It sounds like something straight out of a Nintendo game. If I were to perhaps make a single gripe, it would be that it became too much about being chip tune music and not enough trying to be its own thing within the limits of the musical style. Does that make sense? Maybe I’m just being picky, but it’s something to think about.

In the end, this game is worth the entry fee of $15. I’d say more. There’s some promised DLC along the way to add new modes and characters, furthering the life of the game. Even in my first play through I didn’t find everything, so I can see more time being put into this. This review was based on the PC version – it’s also available on Wii U and 3DS with extra features.

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Homemade GameCube Component Cables Exist – How Can You Get One?

With the release of the Nintendo GameCube, or GCN, Nintendo did indeed have a digital out. The only way to get the component cables for that is through Nintendo themselves. These were made in extremely limited quantities and nowadays go for $150+ if you were to try to snag one now. The reason for this is because of a chip inside the cable itself that is required to allow the 480p output. I used to have one. Sold it in 2007 since I had the Wii, not realizing I lost the ability to use the Gameboy Player in 480p. And that is the argument:

Why do you need GameCube Component cables when the Wii can play GameCube games in 480p? Because of the Gameboy Player. That right there is a big deal.

So, I did a lot of research. For starters, the GameCube’s digital out port is literally a digital out port. Why am I emphasizing this? Well, the component cables display an analog signal, and that chip inside is a converter from digital to analog. The chip is manufactured by Macronix, and neither them nor Nintendo has released information on how to achieve the required operations with a homemade design. The digital out also does digital audio. There are available mods to also get that out of the GameCube. There is a Japanese Terminal-D cable that uses signal from both ports, and there is a way to modify the RGB cable to work as a component cable. It’s all rather complicated (link – do all that backwards) and will still cost you around $100 – not to mention that cable is also hard to come by.

An Iron Maiden fan from Texas (which we seem to have a lot in common) that goes by megalomaniac, seems to have created a 480p cable on his own. Thread here on the GC Forever forums:

With this successful initial testing, i now know i could potentially build these cables with audio and offer for sale. If i can keep costs down, we should be looking at a cost of about 45$ – 50$. Less than the typical going rate on ebay.

Eventually megalomaniac had stopped making these, as I’m sure it took a lot of time. Later in the thread was a message from another forum member, OzOnE:

Hi, all,

Thanks to the help of a VERY generous gc-forever member, we’ll be releasing a new PCB in the next few weeks. :)
(The parts for the two prototypes have just been ordered.)

It’s basically an HDMI output board atm, but we’ll look at adding analog RGB / Component output as well on the final version.
It also has some other extra features, which I can talk about just yet, but will be of interested to people doing portable mods. ;)

It will work for the Gamecube and N64 at first, but should apply to many other consoles where their digital video signals can be accessed.

Consoles like the Dreamcast / Xbox 1 / Wii will be tricky to hook up to, as their DAC pins are quite close together.
It may be possible to solder to them easier with a custom flex cable though (“modchip” style).

OzOnE.

So, it sounds like the idea was to move into a total, modern HDMI-style setup. I can see the need for that – pure digital. This started a new thread based on the new design.

The board is designed to go inside the console, Diminuendo.

It will use a direct digital connection to the DAC chip / Digital AV port to give a pixel-perfect image.

It’s not just a standard Composite / S-Video / Component / RGB to HDMI converter. ;)

I can’t give many more details as yet.
I maybe shouldn’t have said anything this early into testing, so I kind of put my foot in it a bit. :(

Let’s just say that coding / testing will be in progress over the next few weeks, and I’ll post a new thread when we have big news.

That is all.

OzOnE.

This moves away from the homemade cable and into full-on mod territory. That would take more time and money for all parties involved, so is that what it takes? If so, you may be better off forking over for the official GameCube component cable.

Since then, there hasn’t been much said on the forum. No cables for sale or progress on projects. That’s fine – this is a hobbyist sort of deal, and unless someone’s got the free time and money, they can’t necessarily devote their time to it. Other members would step up with ideas or questions and instead of any progress, it seems megalomaniac will fire-back in a stand-offish manner. Kinda hard to read or get any answers.

Then, from megalomaniac:

this thread is temporary locked for OzOnE.

please do not create new threads about this topic or request information since no further information is available at this time.
development will continue and updates will be posted here.

thanks

It looks like the community was getting somewhere with a homemade GameCube component cable and it sort of stopped. I’m sure there are other members willing to work together for this.

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Mario Kart 8 and Watch Dogs Impressions

I rented Watch Dogs for the PS4. I wasn’t entirely sold on the game and didn’t want to pay full-price on PC. It’s ok for me. Sometimes open-world games are just way too tedious for me, and I did just recently finish Second Son. I just wasn’t ready for another. My brother got it on PC and even recently unlocked the hidden E3 2012 graphics – it looks so much better. Why on earth was that stuff left out? Not optimized enough? Who knows – but I will eventually get it on PC.

As for Mario Kart 8, it’s Mario Kart. Better than the Wii version, but not as fun as the DS version (never played 3DS version). It’s polished and nice, but missing something. It seems this was pushed out at the last minute for the Wii U, as it’s just missing little details we expect. Very barren options and modes. The Battle mode has no arenas. I can usually play one cup, then I need to stop due to boredom. I think this was a “quickie” entry to help the Wii U before E3 and not a fully-realized version. It does have online multiplay with a steady network, but it’s just not enough for me.

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My Thoughts on E3 2014 and the Changing Landscape of the Industry

E3 came and gone, yet my hype was not met.

Microsoft: They did what they could. Phil Spencer hasn’t been boss long enough to show off what he wants to do with the xbox platform. He has great intentions and has been good on his word so far. But he needs more time. Perhaps Gamescom or TGS we will see more. There was nothing shocking or unexpected. The Conker pack for Project Spark was more of a slap in the face, if anything. We want a game – not assests for a DLC-ridden game maker. Though, Volgarr on XB1 is incredible.

Sony: Anything announced was already known. Nothing amazing – but there was a lot. Sony sure does have a lot of games and that’s always a good thing. But why not a lot of major, larger-than-life, AAA titles? I’ll get to that.

Nintendo: No amazing game announcements – sure. But, the atmosphere of the direct was so fun. The Robot Chicken sketches and humor was perfect/ The idea of a new Zelda is definitely exciting, but only a little was revealed. And that Star Fox teaser…just not enough. Nintendo really needs to churn out games at a higher rate and really not worry about 3rd party. I don’t have Nintendo consoles for 3rd party multi-platform releases anyway. I was really hoping for another main-line Mario or Metroid, but there are hints we’ll see it soon.

UbiSoft: Just more of the same from their IPs. Safe stuff.

EA: Who gives a f*** anymore.

The biggest take-away here, that I’ve been writing about for the best 5 years, and is more obvious than ever, is the AAA decline. Any AAA game being released by these big publishers will be from milked IPs. Rarely will we see new IPs and reusing old ones – if we do, the budgets may be smaller and the games may not exactly look ‘next-gen’. There’s a balance here that needs to be figured out, and is by some, namely Deep Silver. Get some great developers and really focus on a game for gamers. E3 may not be as exciting anymore because of the reliance on AAA games. Even media outlets only want to report on them for some reason and have only recently been covering ‘indie’ games as a norm.

Even with the bleak outlook this post may have, the gaming scene in general is as awesome as ever, with tons of cool and new games coming out. It’s nice to see Nintendo just sticking with it despite the doom and gloom.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Review

It really felt great playing a AAA, large-scale FPS based on an old IP. Wolfenstein: The New Order takes classic shooting gameplay and blends it with what gamers expect from modern games – narrative, looting, upgrades, and awesome gibbing physics. I can say easily that this is the best game of 2014 so far. It succeeds in graphics, gameplay, sound, and story. The New Order was developed by MachineGames, who consist of staff from Starbreeze Studios – the guys who revolutionized the FPS genre with Riddick and the Darkness. I wouldn’t say Wolfenstein is as revolutionary, but it makes up for it with being so much fun.

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The game is quite long with about 15 chapters. Levels tend to have multiple paths and slight back tracking. It looks more like a non-linear map from the classic Wolfenstein, but still a bit linear for the sake of moving the game along. The environments are completely varied – from the ocean to castles, to prisons, and much more. There is ‘loot’ around for pickup, mainly health, ammo, armor, collectibles, etc, all picked up by hitting a button. That’s how I discern loot from being just ammo and health you run over. As you play, you can get upgrades for health and weapons, and also unlock perks for how you play the game. This is similar to challenges in Call of Duty and can make firefights interesting if you are trying to clear a room with assault rifles akimbo without letting go of the trigger.

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The story is pretty interesting; an alternate time where the Nazis have taken control of the world. You still play as B.J. Blazkowicz but are introduced to many other characters to help move the story along. It gets strong in some parts, interesting in others, but there’s so much to playing the game that it would have needed to ramp up on the story line to keep me interested. Not saying it was bad though, as the mocap and voice acting is great. The music is surprisingly satisfying. I remember thinking at certain parts that the music is good. That doesn’t happen with me much when it comes western-style FPSs.

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It was a wild-ride that took me maybe 12-15 hours. There’s so much more I could do and collect. A choice early on in the game splits the timeline, making an alternate play through optional. Though, for as much content as I consumed, I’ll need a break before I get back to it again. If you’re looking for a good action game with a lot of content, Wolfenstein: The New Order is working asking price. I played this on the PS4, which I’m afraid to admit, but compared to the PC is was good enough. Nary a skipped from or screen tear.

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Wolfenstein: The New Order Impressions

This is perfect. You take the first FPS (though, could be argued) and make it modern day. They tend to reboot Wolfenstein every time a new game in the series comes out, but this one actually sticks true to its roots. So far, it works. Yes, you even eat dog food. Due to the nature of this site being ‘for fun’, I acquired a PS4 copy through GameFly, though I would prefer to be playing on PC – it’s just cheaper that way. But, I will say the PS4 version looks great…for id Tech5.

I’ve only played through the first level or so, but map layout is similar to the original – slightly like a maze. It’s intense, it’s bloody, and dual-wielding makes me feel like Ah-nold in Commando. They’ve really nailed it so far. Somestimes id Tech5 shows through, and the textures can be a little bland. Here’s a look at the first level, played by yours truly:

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Going Back to CRT For Retro Gaming Goodness

My modern television setup is clogged with modern hardware. It isn’t as easy to have have the old Sega and Nintendo consoles hooked up. And since now, in my lifetime, things in the past are considered retro, there’s been a big comeback. When browsing instagram I see pick-ups of VHS movies – that’s not really something I’d go back for. The look is nostalgic, but not good enough for me. These people will watch the VHS tapes on old CRT televisions. I don’t get that. But, CRT televisions are good for old-school gaming. CRTs have scan lines. This makes the older games look good because these games were designed with scanlines in mind. Here’s a little write-up about scanlines.

I was able to quickly find the best of the best – from Craig’s List. While I’d want the more obscure Sony PVMs, they cost a couple hundo and are hard to find. So, for consumer-grade hardware, I found a Sony Trinitron KV-24FV300. I could have used something a bit smaller, but definitely would not go bigger. This guy weighs around 80 pounds and I had to walk up a flight of stairs. Once I got it home it was time for a mean scrub. After 12 years, I don’t think at one point did the cheeto handler bother wiping the remote. I took that apart and threw it in the dish washer. The TV had smears on the screen. The power button, which is supposed to be silver, was black. But I got it cleaned.

Powering it on was another story. The picture was all warped. I thought it was done for. Searching online, I find out how to get into the service menu of the unit and mess with the picture. Now, there may still be an issue with the picture – but it’s not too noticeable. The right side is still slightly warped and I may have a professional look at it eventually, but it is fine for now. The colors are fantastic. CRTs are known for their blacks. But looking at 2D, hand-drawn pixelated art, is even better. There’s a reason things looked the way they did back then, and when playing a Capybara game or any other modern pixel art-style game, it’s more of a parody. I haven’t seen a modern game try to imitate the scanline look, except for Locomalito’s games.

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So, it feels good to have my dedicated retro gaming center. It just makes sense to have this separate from the modern stuff. And who knows, maybe my kids will want to try something out.

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What Does Microsoft’s XBox One Backtrack Mean?

It means we were right all along.

And by we, I mean gamers. But I guess not all gamers. See, there are those XBox fanboys who defended the voice-controlled behemoth no matter how ridiculous it sounded. And hey, I was a huge Xbox 360 guy. Sony’s arrogance from the PS2 success led to the PS3 disaster that Microsoft applied to the Xbox One. But, with the internet and social marketing as quick as ever, Microsoft has then applied that fix Sony made with the PS4, right on the same generation with the XBox One. But I don’t want to sit around and laugh at MS and be angry that they finally turned things around.

The Xbox One didn’t start off too well. Shuffling went on at MS and the XBox division, bringing actual gamer, Phil Spencer, as head. Now that he’s in charge, I’m assuming he’s busting out what the gamers have been asking for. No Kinect, $399 price-point, no more apps locked behind a Gold subscription, and offering some awesome titles for Games with Gold. We need to embrace that MS put Phil Spencer in the right position, but not thank them for not screwing us over anymore. It’s a fine line.

The future has now become awesome. We should be seeing some intense competition!

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Finished Second Son – Kirby Triple Deluxe and Sonic Lost World 3DS Thoughts

So I finished Infamous: Second Son on PS4. The story was pretty short, but with all that there is to do in the city, I think the length is perfect. I still find it to just be an ‘ok’ game. Best console graphics and great gameplay, but not much to it overall. Again, I can’t stress enough how amazing the visuals are. This sets a standard for future console releases.

I was able to nab a copy of Sonic Lost World on 3DS. Playing the Wii U version, it never really clicked. And to be honest, it still doesn’t on the 3DS – but something about the game is still fun, just frustrating. The 3DS version looks amazing though – visuals pulled directly from the Wii U. Very well done! The special stage uses the 3DS gyroscope and makes no sense. I was literally spinning my body in order to grab all the orbs. I must be doing something wrong. Anyway, there’s some charm to the gameplay here, I’m just waiting for it to click. It’s like a mash-up of Sonic’s fast daytime levels (memorization) but still requiring platforming.

I’m a fan of the Kirby games, and Triple Deluxe delivers as it should. It’s just straight-up Kirby. I haven’t gone past the first world, but there are some fun new powers. When choosing to play the game I noticed to other game modes, so it looks like this has a bunch of replay value. Even just going through the first world, this game is worth a buy.

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