All posts by jeff

Sony PS Vita

The PS Vita is probably my favorite handheld system of all time. And that’s saying something, because when it comes to handhelds, I’ve been a loyal Nintendo fanboy for many years. But the PS Vita really is about all you can ask for from a handheld, and I actually feel a bit sad for Sony that it didn’t catch on a little better.

It actually did pretty well in Japan, and mine is a Japanese system, bought on one of my trips there. At the time, there were rows and rows of PSP games and accessories at every electronics store (I bought mine at a BIC Camera), which was completely opposite of the situation in the US. Even game stores in the US only had maybe one shelf devoted to PS Vita games, and you were lucky if an electronics store or department store carried it at all.

But what’s not to like here? It’s small, it’s insanely powerful (basically a pocket PS2), it has a beautiful and high-resolution touchscreen, excellent physical controls, built-in wifi with online play, and it gets pretty incredible battery life. It is all the things every Nintendo handheld ever was and a lot more. It is everything every competitor to Nintendo always tried to be and failed. It makes me want to take America by the collar, shake it and say “What more do you want?!”

The game library’s actually pretty incredible too, especially when you add in all the PSP and PS1 games you can play on it. But even its own library includes stuff like Persona 4: Golden, Virtua Tennis 4, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Dead or Alive 5: Ultimate, and the amazing Puyo Puyo Tetris, to name just a few of my favorites. The cross-console ports look and play just like the real thing, with basically no loss of fidelity (none you’d notice, anyway).

It’s just a fantastic little system, and one I can see myself still playing many years down the line. With mobile phone gaming really cannibalizing handheld gaming sales these days, I have my doubts that anyone’s really going to top the PS Vita anytime soon. I’d love to be proven wrong, but at the moment the PS Vita really is the ultimate handheld.

Commodore Amiga

DSCN0143

I’ll state the obvious: this computer is yellow. And not yellow in the way I like my stuff to be – it’s the nasty yellow of bromide interacting with UV light. This is the yellowest system I’ve ever owned, and maybe partly as a result, I just never “took” to it. It was hard to look at, and I just never felt like doing anything about it (I know all about retr0bright). It was a gift from my brother and I was still highly appreciative, especially since my proceeds from selling it went to purchase my Apple IIGS. I feel that was a fair trade, and I ended up with the computer I really wanted.

I know the Amiga is more powerful, but I also know that it has less available software (ie. games) and frankly, I just don’t know how to use it. It took me probably 2 hours of fiddling around just to get the main desktop screen you see above. I am just not an Amiga guy, and at my age I don’t have the patience or really the desire to become one.

This was the very first Amiga model, and it was just called “Amiga”. No number at all, although it was later designated the Amiga 1000, after the 2000 and 500 were released. It wasn’t even really called the “Commodore Amiga” anywhere (although colloquially, it certainly was).

This is all the stuff I had with my Amiga:

DSCN0150

Some decent software, most of which I never got to work. I don’t know if I’m just an idiot or if it was really broken – all of this stuff’s old, and disk media is fragile. This particular Amiga also seemed to have some issues – all the connectors felt a bit loose and wonky. But it’s thoroughly possible I was just “doing it wrong”.

I do like the design of the Amiga, and the fact that the keyboard hides away in its own little doghouse under the main system. I also confess that I really wish I kept that monitor – I’ve realized now that it’s sort of the holy grail of vintage monitors and will run with pretty much anything. All of the other vintage computers I have will work with it, which is not something possible with really any other monitor. I’m trying to source another one for a reasonable price right now.

Incidentally, I did have the box for this system as well, and you can see what the Amiga was supposed to look like:

DSCN0154

Apple IIGS

SAMSUNG

If you’ve read my Apple IIc post, then you know I’ve always been an Apple II guy. I’m not going to repeat myself about why I chose an Apple II back in 1984 or rehash my long history with the platform itself, but the IIGS is actually a new addition to my collection. So it’s worth writing a bit specifically about it and how I’m using it these days.

Some time after writing about my IIc, it died. After one of my periodic visits to the attic to bring it down for my latest nostalgia trip, its hard drive began erroring out on every single disc. And not simple failures to read, which usually indicate dirty heads (easily cleaned), but real I/O errors – the nasty things that cause Apple drives to yell at you in an ear-splitting manner. Probably fixable by just replacing the drive, but not worth it for a vanilla IIc that I’d have to cannibalize another one for anyway.

So I bought this IIGS, because it’s the best Apple II available and I wanted one when they were first on the market anyway. The IIGS was Steve Wozniak’s last real hurrah at Apple, and if he’d had his way, it would have been serious competition for Steve Jobs’ Macintosh. But Jobs saw the Mac as the future of the company and so neutered the system’s 16 bit 65C816 CPU to run at 2.8mhz rather than its native 4 or 5mhz, which limited what Apple could do with its graphical operating system (that ran in color, unlike the Mac) and also made it slow and somewhat painful to use.

It was a shame, because the Commodore Amiga and Atari ST line were the system’s direct competitors and they were both more powerful than the IIGS. That said, the IIGS did have better sound capabilities than either one, and it was fully backward compatible with all Apple II software and most of its hardware add-ons, in addition to running its own native 16 bit software. So it’s still the best Apple II to own today.

There are various methods these days of using hardware emulation to load programs on the Apple II, including the IIGS. I personally use both ADT Pro to transfer disk images directly from my PC, as well as a Floppy Emu that I’ve purchased. The Floppy Emu lets me store disk images on an SD card, and given how storage capacity has increased over the years, it’s pretty easy to fit every Apple II program ever made on a single $15 card. So I highly recommend either a Floppy Emu or similar storage option – new and old technology working together!

Microsoft Xbox

Another crappy picture, but then it’s tough to get good shots down in the little hole where I used to keep my active systems. This is a launch Xbox, a little bit worse for wear but if I cleaned it up a bit it’d look good as new. The hard drive in it screams like a banshee, and I’m sure if I’d kept using it long enough, it’d fail and take all of my game saves with it. I really hate the whole idea of having a hard drive in a game console, honestly – with the main audience for consoles being kids or young adults, you just know these things are going to be mistreated and PC hard drives are not known for their toughness. Couple that with the optical drives that are almost required in today’s systems and you’ve got a recipe for unreliability. Today’s systems are fragile to an unacceptable level with all these moving parts. I’d like to see a move to built-in solid state memory for game saves next time around, with the option to buy memory cards (same as now) if you ever run out.

I say this is a launch system, but then what’s a Controller S doing on top of it? Well, I simply bought one, that’s all – the original canned ham controller is in my accessory drawer as viewed on my games/misc page. That’s also a Madcatz Microcon controller sitting on top of the system next to the Controller S – this is the controller my wife uses when she plays with me, as it’s even a little bit smaller than the Controller S. Almost too small for me, which is amazing for an Xbox controller (MS themselves were apparently pretty amused when they saw Madcatz demoing these things at E3 – they didn’t think it was possible to make a controller smaller than the S). The Microcons are pretty cool, though, for all systems – they feel solid and snappy, and are perfect for people with small hands.

Here’s the launch system box, I have no idea if they ever changed this or not:

(That weird blue light is just the reflection from my TV, which was on at the time.)

When MS first announced the Xbox I actually thought it was kind of cool to see an American company finally get back into the game console business – first American console manufacturer since Atari bowed out in what, 1992? And there really hadn’t been a serious American system since 1984, when Coleco, Mattel, and Atari all exited the market nearly simultaneously (temporarily, in Atari’s case… but they never returned to glory). So I was pretty stoked for the Xbox initially.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the system in reality, though. It is just a PlayStation 2 with slightly better graphics. People these days bicker over whether Xbox Live is better than Sony’s open network, or whatever, but honestly, in 15 years nobody will even remember that debate. All they’ll remember is the games, and while the Xbox has some good ones, it doesn’t really have anything truly unique. It has also played its part in “dumbing down” the video game industry into a Hollywood-style hit- and sequel-driven business that is almost anti-innovation. All of the Xbox’s popular games are either sequels or they’re games in well-established genres that simply follow genre conventions.

The reason that I have an Xbox is because if there is a multi-platform game, you can usually count on the Xbox version being the best. But I am completely indifferent to the system itself.

JVC V-Saturn

 Now, here’s an example of why every collector should visit Japan at least once, and preferably multiple times, with as many empty duffle bags as you think you can carry full on the way back. I’m lucky enough in that I have family there now so I’m actually required to visit every now and again, and I try to make the most of it whenever I do. There are actually many systems, accessories and games I regret not buying when I was there (such as a NIB Famicom top-loader for $25), but you do have to draw the line somewhere and two arms can only carry so much. This, however, is a system I’ve wanted for a long time so when I saw it sitting there in a cabinet full of used games for only around $15 I had to pick it up.

1,780 yen, about $15, and no, I have never taken the system out of its plastic and probably never will. I have no real reason to, as I have a perfectly good common American Saturn; this thing’s just to have. I have no doubt it works, as they don’t sell broken used systems in Japan – every system is tested prior to marking it for sale and any defects must be clearly noted on the label. Stores there also will generally not accept any cosmetic defects, so it truly is a collector’s paradise.

There’s honestly nothing all that special about the V-Saturn, it’s just one of the several Sega Saturn variants marketed under other brand names – I hope to collect them all eventually. Not only Sega sold Saturns but also JVC, Hitachi, and Samsung at the very least. The rear label actually makes me think JVC produced this system themselves rather than simply re-branding it:

Another, closer view of the system itself – I’ve always thought the Saturn was a nice-looking console:

Sears Video Arcade

I picked this system up more or less on a whim, but it’s become one of the pride and joys of my collection. This is an original 1977 Sears Video Arcade – the “heavy sixer”. Atari made these both under their own brand name and under the Sears brand name in order to be sold in Sears stores, and they only made the “heavy sixer” model for one year. Not particularly rare but becoming less common these days, as it seems most of those that remain serviceable have by now officially changed hands from the average consumers looking to dump them to the collectors (like me) that highly prize them.

I got mine through Ebay, an auction run by some guy who obviously knew nothing about this stuff, had a blurry pic that didn’t identify this as a heavy sixer at all (I thought I was just buying a common 6 switch model), and no real description. My final bid was around $13. You’ll never do that well today on a system like this. They are still available there, but the ratio of buyers to sellers favors high prices these days.

It came to me in a pretty sad state of affairs – dusty, dirty, nasty looking. A good bit of cleaning with a full roll of paper towels (add about a buck to the total price I paid), an alarming number of Q-Tips, and some Windex, and the result was this fine looking bit of machinery:

Rear label fully intact, serial number visible (box and label match):

My unit also still has its box (pictured above) and all of its original accessories, such as the original spring-loaded joysticks (note that it does not say “top” at the top of the dotted ring around the base of the stick as it does on later versions of the stick):

…the original Sears-branded paddles:

…and the original grey power supply:

Unfortunately, the power supply’s busted but I keep it because it’s rarer than the system itself. These power supplies are notoriously unreliable so most people with heavy sixers have replaced theirs. (I just use another 2600 power supply when I actually play games on this thing.) All the other accessories work perfectly.

I love this system; it’s easily one of my favorites. Just look at it! It’s a tank with that 1/4″ thick plastic base, and that faux-marble woodgrain! I think it’s even better-looking than the Atari-branded VCS.

I leave you with one more closeup pic of my baby – worship the woodgrain:

Sears Video Arcade II

 This is another interesting Sears-branded Atari system, although unfortunately (for me, anyway) this is one of the few unboxed systems that I have, and one of the controllers has a busted spring. It’s a really cool system but I probably will replace it at some point.

The Sears Video Arcade II is actually just a re-branded version of the much sought-after Atari 2800. If you’re not a collector, you may not know there even is such a thing as an Atari 2800 – it was Atari’s attempt to crack the Japanese market fairly late in the 2600’s lifespan. They redesigned the 2600 system and its controllers for a more modern appearance and better functionality (keeping the system 2600-compatible), and released it there in limited quantities. It sold poorly, and Atari pulled out of Japan in fairly short order. Today, a real Atari 2800 is the rarest of all commercially released Atari consoles. (In fact, it’s the only Atari console that could be legitimately called rare – all other 2600 variants, and all other Atari consoles, are pretty common.)

IMG_1721

Incidentally, I’ve told this story before and was laughed off without pics, but I finally found the one I took – here’s a boxed Atari 2800 practically sitting on the floor at Super Potato in Tokyo. I passed on it like an idiot – I will almost definitely not see one again. The price was ¥31280, or about $272 at the time. Practically a bargain.

I’m not sure if it happened before or after the 2800’s release in Japan but at some point, Atari approached Sears to see if they’d be interested in selling the system in the US, and Sears bit. Like the original Video Arcade, they branded the system a Sears system and put it on sale (cosmetically, the only real difference between the 2800 and the Video Arcade II is the name plate, and there is no functional difference).

Atari later used the 2800’s case for the 7800, with some minor changes. This was the first of Atari’s “wedge” designs.

My console itself is in great shape:

Another low serial number, and note that unlike most of the later 2600 variants, this one’s built in the USA:

I’ve been told the Japanese-marketed 2800 was built in Hong Kong.

Probably the coolest innovation in the Video Arcade II/2800 is the controllers. They’re comfortable to use and they include both joystick and paddle functionality in one:

The controllers are labeled Sears on the front but Atari on the back:

The apparent weak link in these controllers is that inside, the “spring” for the fire buttons is simply one small piece of slightly bent wire spanning the width of the controller, pushing on each button. On one of my controllers, this piece of wire is broken. The controller itself works but it is impossible to press the fire buttons. Seems like a simple fix but also seems like something that would break easily again.