New Retro Arcade: Neon

New Retro Arcade: Neon (NRAN) is the type of thing you’ll either install and play for a few hours, or something you’ll go DEEP on.

What is NRAN? It’s an arcade machine emulator, with 35 empty arcade machines ready to accept ROMs, set in a neon-80’s/90’s arcade that’s probably way cooler than (but just as filthy as) any arcade that actually really existed. It’s basically MAME but modeled in 3D space, which I think ads to the arcade experience, but more on that later.

As you might imagine, since it’s a product for sale on Steam, NRAN doesn’t come with any actual arcade ROMs. Luckily, dozens of people have made their NRAN configurations available, and it’s really easy to end up with a fully-functioning arcade without putting any work into it. I suspect that if you’re 100% satisfied with someone else’s arcade configuration, your time with NRAN might be short lived, or at least shorter lived than my time will be. I had fun trying out games for the first time, like Final Fight, Street Fighter 2, or OutRun, but I wanted my arcade to be a collection of my favorites — not just the classics.

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The great thing about this game, and it’s dark side, is that you are the arcade manager — everything is customizable to your whim, and the moment you change one thing; one arcade machine, one poster, one VHS or cassette tape, I think you’ll be drawn down the rabbit hole.

After trying lots of arcade games for the first time I made a list of the machines I felt no love for, and was eager to replace them. I’ve mostly removed side-scrolling beat’em’ups from my arcade in favor of puzzle games like Puyo Puyo Sun and Puzzle Bobble, or Neo Geo classics like Windjammers and Neo Turf Masters. This is the easy part; with an internet full of ROM dumps you’ll have no problems finding the games you’re looking for. Problem is, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself also spending hours obtaining assets like cabinet art, and fine-tuning it in Photoshop just to make sure the texture maps onto the arcade cabinet the way you want it to. Games like Puyo Puyo never had stand-up arcade cabinet art, so I had to invent cabinet art using box art from various Puyo Puyo releases, and scans of arcade flyers advertising Puyo Puyo.

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Even if your desires are less esoteric, and you’re just hunting down the art assets for Donkey Kong, you’ll have a few steps to complete before the cabinet is perfect. You’ll want to set up the attract mode — the video that plays on the arcade cabinet before you actually interact with it and “insert coins.” Only it’s not as easy as uploading an MP4 ripped from YouTube, because you have to use video editing tools to render a 35 video  grid, which corresponds to each of your 35 arcade cabinets. Luckily, tools exist out there made just for NRAN that makes this process easier, but you’ll have to re-render the attract screens any time you introduce a new arcade machine, or rearrange the order of your arcade.

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And yeah, after spending 25+ hours customizing it, it will take on the personality of being YOUR arcade. How long you spend inside of it is completely up to your patience I suppose. I personally can spend an hour playing straight through the Puyo Puyo Sun campaign (using 40 continues, so anywhere from $10-20 in credits) or a dozen minutes playing OutRun before giving up out of frustration and taking that frustration out on a much more relaxing round of golf with Neo Turf Masters. This ability to storm off from one arcade game to the next is exactly what makes NRAN a superior arcade emulation experience than MAME. While great for video game preservation, having a list of practically all arcade games ever, MAME always felt like a clinical way to play arcade ROMs — which never bothered me with emulators for SNES or Gameboy ROMs. NRAN takes the MAME technology and brings it into this 3D space, where you can look at the cabinet art, your buttons and joystick,  and be slightly overwhelmed by the sounds of all the other machines going on in the background. When you’re tired or frustrated with one game, you can walk onto the next, or you can obsessively pump in quarters until you’ve beaten the game, all the while having a debate with yourself like “I really should turn the attract volume down on Street Fighter 2, those damn elephants are so annoying… but if that’s the way Street Fighter 2 was, I have to keep it that way.”

In New Retro Arcade: Neon nothing is easy, but everything is worth it. I might never be done fine-tuning my arcade. I’ll want all of the cassette tapes lying around to have music I want to listen to, I’ll want all of the VHS tapes in the cinema to have videos I want to watch, and I’ll want all of the posters to correspond with my personal nostalgic feelings. NRAN is so worth the effort that I put this together just in the hopes that it might reach other people who have a secret, untapped arcade curator inside them, that’s just waiting to put together their own personal arcade.

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What’s Up? (2/6/17)

January 2017
I’ve been away for a month, but I’ve had things in order so I guess there wasn’t much to talk about. Coming into 2017 there were just a few things on my to-do list, and all of January was spent focusing on those things. 1) Any weight gained during the holidays has been lost, 2) I went and saw the movies I was meaning to see, La La Land, and Rogue One, and 3) I started putting myself out there again, trying to be and outward social presence.

Gaming
I’m more physically active than ever before, I’m trying to be more social as well — so explain why “Gaming” is the headline here. Well, I suppose, given that I have lost weight, and that I’m making friends outside of the “Pitt Alumni” group, it helps to have something fun and concurrent to do at home alone. Though I haven’t owned a home gaming console in years, and have stuck to a modest laptop for the better part of 5 years, I have recommitted myself to enjoying the hobby of video games more regularly. I’ve been listening to, and watching, nearly 10 hours of Giant Bomb content a week, since 2008, so I never really left the world of video games, even if I stopped playing them as much. Though that being said, I feel like I could probably go for writing a review of Pokemon Sun (2016).

KonMari
I did something very drastic this weekend. I tidied my apartment with the help of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” Now, typical home tidying would have me finding new ways to hide clutter (shove this there, hide this in the closet, kick this under the couch). I exaggerate a little, but typically that’s how I’d “clean.” With the help of a little audiobook, I discarded most of my clutter, rather than hiding it. What’s more, she helped me redefine many of my possessions as clutter.

Shirts that were going unused, or that had no longer brought me joy, were in my closet for no reason. They were clutter. I’d say my apartment has about 30% fewer clothes in it now, than it did on Friday. I have not completed my work, though you’re supposed to do it all in one fell swoop. The hardest thing to do, would be to let go of some of these books. If a book does not make me happy, then why keep it? I know this will be the hardest step, because I think having a full book shelf is what makes me happy to have a bookshelf at all.

Dry Month
There’s a theme here; less is more. Less clutter, more happiness. Less weight, more movement. Less boredom, more fun. So something I’ve been meaning to try for a while is a dry, alcohol-free, sober month. Why do that? I love cocktails, I like inebriation, I like the social aspects of it!

Well, because less is more? And to an extent, I think drinking a little less, or none at all for a whole month, will give me greater appreciation for it, and greater clarity for how I handle things like stress, and what to do when I’m bored on a weekend. It’s too late to make February my dry month, but I’m eyeballing March. 31 Days of sobriety should also lead to a massive drop in calories consumed. I’m not committing to it yet, but when I do I have to make it public; making it public makes it harder to back down from it.

That could be part of why I keep a public blog like this. A private diary has no stakes. You can confess and make promises, but it’s private, so your confessions and promises only matter as much as you care about yourself? If I tell you, anonymous internet, that I’m going to stop drinking for a month, then I’d be lying if I didn’t follow through. Here’s another public promise: This February I will be reviewing Neon Indian’s “VEGA Intl. Night School” (2015) and La Roux’s “Trouble in Paradise” (2014).

What’s Up? (12/31/16)

2016 Was A Year of Personal Highs 
I understand 100% that 2016 sucked. It sucked for the world. For my family. For my friends.

And yet, 2016 was a huge year for me. Here are just 5 things off the top of my head.

1) Soylent and Weight Loss 
Drinking my lunch isn’t fun, but it’s effective. It means I get 400 calories of something healthy and balanced instead of, well, a sandwich, which is all I can think to have for lunch. Drinking Soylent is one of the reasons I’m down 15 pounds in 2016, and one of the reasons I’m going to weigh less than 170 pounds in 2017.

2) Running and The Outdoors 
Another thing that helped me lose weight and become happier is “discovering” running and the outdoors. Turns out, I don’t hate running, and Pittsburgh has beautiful trails to go running on. Developing a love for running outside means I saw tons of animals this year; birds I’ve never seen before, lots of deer, groundhogs and such.

3) Grimes and Philly 
Taking the Greyhound Bus to Philadelphia to see one of my favorite musical artists is one of my 2016 highlights not just because of the concert, but because of the journey. The Greyhound was weird both ways, the Air BnB was nasty but cheap, and I had a great time in the city — eating a cheese streak, seeing crazy people, and getting breakfast at the B2 Cafe.

4) Work and Lawrenceville
I’d be wrong not to put work as one of the major milestones of 2016. True, I began working in 2015, but a series of “promotions” this year really made things official. Work lets me travel to Pittsburgh’s best neighborhood, gives me something to do, and gives me the chance to spend some money in Pittsburgh’s best neighborhood. 2016 was the year I officially became inseparable from Lawrenceville, becoming a regular at several wonderful bars and restaurants.

5) Justice and Friends
A surprise invitation came in yesterday. The short version is: “Hey, I won tickets to see Justice in NYC, do you want to go?” Yes. Yes I do. Justice rocked Pier 94 with everything they had, from 1 in the morning, to a little past 3. Above all I was there with friends, and because of friends. It was a memorable DJ set, with an amazing crowd atmosphere, and physical sensations that I’ll remember as long as I live.

2016 In Movies

I saw some movies in 2016. Let’s review them all with Tweet-sized reviews.

Honorable Mentions: Movies I saw In 2016 That Weren’t Released This Year

  1. Ex Machina
    Seriously beautiful and atmospheric sci-fi that makes you think. You’ll remember the music, and the performances of Isaac and Vikander. 5/5
  2. Bladerunner: Theatrical Cut
    Iconic cyberpunk aesthetic meets noir detective with cheesy voiceover and all too happy ending. AI themes surface level interesting. 4/5
  3. Only Yesterday (1991 Japanese Release, Dubbed in 2016)
    Kids in the audience probably hated this slow-paced emotionally gripping take on how childhood haunts our adult lives – but I cried. 4/5
  4. The Big Short
    This movie will make you laugh, and it will make you angry. Bale, Carell and Pitt deliver great portraits of the 2008 financial crisis. 5/5

And Everything Else…

  1. Hail, Caesar!
    Funny movie seriously hurt by misleading marketing. I enjoyed the film but felt duped by the commercials and I can’t get past that. 1/5
  2. 10 Cloverfield Lane
    John Goodman will haunt your nightmares in this claustrophobic movie. I liked the controversial ending. More Cloverfield please. 5/5
  3. Captain America: Civil War
    Zemo is the best villain a Marvel Movie’s ever had, and this movie is a shining light in a MCU that I’ve been losing interest in. 4/5
  4. Star Trek Beyond
    The best character moments a Star Trek movie has had, and a fun movie to boot – but the movie seriously lacks a good villain. 2/5
  5. Weiner
    Have you ever wanted to see a man’s life fall apart on camera? Then this documentary about Anthony Weiner’s mayoral race is for you. 4/5
  6. The Magnificent Seven
    Nice to see an action movie with some real stakes. Love Denzel and Pratt, the villain is appropriately slimy, and the crowd loved it. 4/5
  7. Doctor Strange
    Cumberbatch and Swinton make this origin story more than bearable, but the best part of the movie is that it breaks the MCU mold. 4/5
  8. Arrival
    I was captivated by the logistical problem that was at the center of the movie’s conflict, and emotionally stunned by the ending. 5/5

What’s Up? (11/27/2016)

Formula 1
How about that? Nico Rosberg is the 2016 F1 Champion. It’s been 966 days since watching my first race, the Bahrain Grand Prix of 2014, and 966 days of hoping for this moment. 2014 was rough–a mechanical failure destroyed Nico’s championship dreams in Abu Dhabi. The next year was worse; in 2015 Nico barely challenged Lewis Hamilton, but he ended the race on a high note that gave his fans a lot of hope.

And 2016? It was a brilliant year to be a Nico Rosberg fan, I was sick to my stomach more than a few times, but it feels amazing to finally see Rosberg on top. He wasn’t the fastest driver this year, not the best over-taker, not even the best qualifier — but he was consistent, he kept his car together, and it took nerves of steel not to give this thing up when it came down to one last race.

As I say ‘auf wiedersehen’ to Formula 1 for a few months, I’m looking forward to the attention Nico will get in the off season. Mercedes is likely to sell special “champion” merch, and maybe Nico will even be lined up for some mainstream TV interviews. Vettel got to go on Letterman, and Hamilton got a 60 Minutes story so… one can hope.

 

What’s Up? (11/1/2016)

An Update 
I said before that “I’m almost coming on the 1-year anniversary of dedicating myself to a better, more exercise-filled life, but more on that 10/10” though it turned out that the one year anniversary of this event was in fact 10/19, not 10/10. Moot point, since I never wrote a blog on the one-year anyway. I do have something to say on the matter though, and it’s very self-congratulatory

From 10/31/2015 to 10/31/2016, I exercised on 52% of my days. I marked each day on a piece of paper, which I then translated into a graphic which very much represents the obsessive part of my brain. It’s not orderly, but blue squares are exercise, and white squares are skip days. Third row down? That’s December 2015. Of course that was my lazy month. workout-calendar-2

Still, the further down the rows you get, the more likely those blue squares are running days, and not biking days. Today, (10/31/2016 in actuality) I put in 3 miles of running, easily. I can undoubtedly say that running has become something I can’t imagine myself turning back on.

I freeze up what people ask what’s been going on in my life. Besides work? I guess this. Besides work I have put a lot of effort into reshaping my life literally and figuratively.