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? (6/7/14)

Nico Rosberg won Pole Position in Montreal today, Godzilla was fun, and for the third week in a row my foot hurts: let’s breakdown the weekend.

Bahrain, Shanghai, Barcelona, Monte Carlo, and now – Montreal. For once the race is at a reasonable time I don’t have to wake up for – 2PM. Thank goodness~ and my favorite driver this season, Nico Rosberg, took Pole Position by a mere fraction of a second over Lewis Hamilton. I don’t know if this is a track that allows for a lot of passing – but I’m excited for tomorrow. Go Rosberg, Go Vettel, Ricciardo, Kvyat, and Vergne! Mercedes! Red Bull! RACING! Meanwhile the rest of the United States watches the NHL, the NBA and the N…Horse Racing. The NTRA. The Triple Crown… whatever. I knew CaliChrome wouldn’t win, but I didn’t know the owner would blow up about it – now, I haven’t seen the race or said explosion yet – but I will, eventually.

What I saw instead was Godzilla. It was okay. Moving on.

Oh man, I had something important to write about in the final third of… right! Breaking down the weekend. So tomorrow, ostensibly, I’ll swap a broken pair of headphones for a new pair at no added cost; get a screen protector maybe, and check out a cool/shady basement-run used video game store. Basically, it should be a fun day – and it’s all going to end with the Battle of Castle Black.

I’d love to write more, but I’m missing a hockey game and would like to go by beer. Which is a bloody thing I can do now! 

What’s Up? (10/28/13)

So here’s something that literally just happened: I was browsing Reddit when I saw a post about Animal Crossing from /r/AnimalCrossing, and thought to myself “Oh no! I forgot to check the campsite in my town!” I stopped what I was doing, which was already procrastination from work, to go turn on Animal Crossing. I very specifically chose not to say, “turn on” instead of “play” because, how could I really call what I’m doing “playing?” I’m turning on a game, so that I can go talk to a dude – a horse named Elmer (which is morbid of you, Nintendo) – and convince him to move into town. I treat it more like a responsibility than something I’m doing because I enjoy it, but of course I do enjoy it, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this.

…That being said this Elmer guy is pretty interesting, and we’re playing some games of wager and chance, which are pretty addicting.

This week has been low-key, which was nice for a change. Busy, but not overwhelming. Fun, but not crazy. This week will be the exact opposite, guaranteed. Two exams, guests staying at the apartment, another 21st birthday, Halloween parties, the usual writing workload, shopping in order to be well stocked for guests! Oh my goodness! A challenge of a week! I’m excited, and nervous… so let’s do this!

Nuzlocke Challenge: A Short Reflection

I’ve been done with my Pokemon Emerald Randomized Nuzlocke Challenge since June 2nd. Whether a result of the rules of a Nuzlocke Challenge, or because of my logs I’m not sure, but this experience has lead to a deeper bond with my Pokemon team than any previous play-through. “Deeper bond” might sound weird, even creepy, but all that really means is that for the first time ever I’ve completed a play through of a Pokemon game and can remember which Pokemon were on my team, and what their names were. Paying close attention to the game’s dialogue, and strictly following the Nuzlocke death rules made Pokemon Emerald funnier and darker at times, and sometimes darkly funny.

There’s only one place to go after this… starting tonight I present my second installment of the Nuzlocke Challenge…

Nuzlocke Challenge 2: Electrode Boogaloo 

What’s Up? (9/4/13)

Week two of this Fall Semester is going by fairly well! I am a bit exhausted, but it’s going well. The exhaustion has nothing to do with class so much as it has to do with having a very significant first weekend here at Pitt. This apartment I’m at is awesome, my roommates are awesome, and  I got myself a pair of pink shorts and you know what? I was right. I do totally look alright in them. I’ve been playing a lot of guitar, and have put in a little over two hours so far over at the Pete using the Rowing Machine. Life is good, so far. There’s tranquility in the mind, maybe not in the soul.

It’s going to be a short entry, but I just wanted to throw something here for the sake of never going a week without posting some sort of content.

X-COM: Enemy Unknown (A Song of Ice and Gunfire)

I am now twelve hours deep into X-COM: Enemy Unknown. Here are a few things I’ve learned about the game since the last time I wrote about it: It’s totally sucks to lose one or two dudes on a mission, but if you lose two of your best guys you might consider reloading a game. You don’t always have to take on a mission as soon as it’s available, as in, you might not want to take on an alien base without a few laser rifles. Watch out for Chryssalids, and when in doubt start dumping rockets at what you want dead.

My squad consists of six soldiers now, I can’t recall all of their names but I do know their nicknames at least. There’s Maria “Ice” Buskirk from France, and she’s an assault unit – she’s the most hardcore soldier on the squad and she just gets up close and kills EVERYTHING with her laser shotgun. Then there’s “Rattlesnake” a Japanese sniper, who probably has the least amount of kills on the squad but comes through when you need him. Brock “Whiskey” Sesay is a medic from Nigeria, and a second medic from Mexico “Doc” Gonzalez make up the support unit of the squad. Emile “Werewolf” Roux is another assault unit from France, but I sometimes equip him with a laser rifle instead of a laser shotgun, so he can deal damage from afar. And finally, new to the team but rising fast in kills – is Lauren “Knife” Brown, a heavy weapons unit from Australia. She’s the newest to the team but undoubtedly one of my favorites, with a mohawk cut and a laser minigun / rocket launcher combo she looks like one bad-ass motherfucker.

Of course A Song of Ice and Gunfire is incomplete without it’s casualties. Victor “Pointman” Garza; a heavy unit from Mexico who managed to survive 20-something missions after the tutorial mission, was killed by a Chryssalid, turned into a zombie and put down by his own former squad. A pair of seasoned Ukrainian soldiers met their untimely demise in another operation, and of course there are many, many rookies who don’t make it past their first mission.

As X-COM enters the July of 2015 there are a few things of note: North and South America have fallen into utter chaos and have withdrawn from the council, while Africa, Asia, and Europe are doing a-okay. Better than okay, actually – winning the war against the alien threat for the most part! We have satellites over The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, Japan, India, and South America. By August 2015 we should have satellites over Nigeria, Egypt, Australia, and China – effectively giving X-COM complete coverage over the eastern hemisphere.