Raspberry Pi Bartop Arcade

Images can be found here: https://goo.gl/photos/eC5iNCz3eda9714A9

The original inspiration for this idea came from watching this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RcsKNryPAzw. It shows how to set up a Raspberry Pi with the Retro Pie linux distro. It was a simple matter to get it up and running once the parts arrived. Of course, you can just run it “out of the box” as-is, but i like to tweak things, so i spent a week or so digging around configuration files and making small changes here and there. All the instructions you need are either in the video or can be found via google searches once you know what to search on from watching the video. Once I had that up and running, it wasn’t too long until i wanted to build an arcade cabinet to house it in.

This is where things get interesting. Because i naturally started with the same set of videos from this guy on how he built his arcade cabinet (see the 3 part video series, starting with this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3QXLQ1UXqs). That’s pretty cool, but … wow, it’s also alot to chew off for a first project like this (at least it was for me), so i’m glad thhat he also had a video on building a bartop arcade cabinet. You can check that out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6IX27FILus&t=240s.

And from there you can pick your poison with about a hunded different people showing their own custom bartop arcade cabinets. However, I decided to stick to his since his tutorial on the electronics portion had worked out so well. I picked up a copy of his plans ($5 on his store, linked from the video above), and started buying all the materials and tools that i would need.

And for the most part, I followed his plans. But there were definite gaps that he has in his plans and videos that you just sort of have to fill in on your own. Which is why i started looking at other plans in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong – his plans are totally worth it, and the tools list he provide (with links to ebay and amazon for almost everything) are excellent, but it’s not perfect. Here are a few gotchas you’ll run across:

* his videos go very fast and gloss over a lot of things, some of which are covered in his plans, others which you just have to guess at

* one big gloss over is cutting the angles in the wood. i’m not good at just eyeballing stuff, so i went through a lot of trial and error everytime i had to make two pieces meet at an angle. other plans out there give you precise angles to cut the wood at for each piece.

* the link he gives for the routing tool to cut the groove in the wood for the t-molding is good, but the groove it cuts is just a tad too wide for the tmolding (with the link also provided by him). In the video is shows him having to tap the tmolding in with a rubber mallet. In my case, the tmolding just fell out because it was too loose. I had to use hot glue to get it to stay (but once in and dried, it looks fabulous)

* his plans don’t include anything about speaker grills. and without those, you’ll be listening to muffled sound coming through the wood. Several other plans (this video in particular), give a link to a great set of speakers to get off amazon and then using a 1/4″ drill bit, make a grid pattern on each side that the speakers can project from. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjN0kbcG9j0&t=355s

* another mising piece is a handle to carry help carry it with. The link above has that, and i would add a handle if i were to redo mine. it’s very akward trying to lug the thing around with nowhere good to grab hold of

* finally, his templates include the button and joystick layout that you print at full size, place on the control board piece of wood, and drill. which i did. and then i found to my dismay that his plans don’t actually fit (my wood was the corect size, the print was printed accurately, and covered the wood exactly). but he didn’t leave enough room for the joystick and the buttons to all fit. the joystick overlaps one of the buttons and thus you can’t attach it. I had to create my own template and make a new control board. not hard, but time consuming and a bit annoying that he didn’t seem to test his own plans.

But that aside, definitely watch his videos and use them as a starting point. Look at some other videos, see how others have done it, and then pick whichever method works best for you.

Good luck!

The Adventures of Feldon Grimshaw: The Ruined Keep of Hidden Vale

As I awoke this fine morning, I cast about for something to do. Adventuring of late had become rather routine. Wake up. Head into the swamp. Kill some giant spiders, wrestle the crocodiles, and slay the evil undead who dared to cross my path. It was all good and fine, and did increase my skills, to be sure. But today I wanted more. Something a bit more challenging.

As I was eating my breakfast (a tasty rabbit that had wandered into my camp as my stomach started to growl), I poured through my field notes and remembered seeing a ruined keep a few weeks back. I had asked about it at a nearby town and the locals informed me that it was haunted.

Said they:

“Originally a northern outpost of the Vale which kept a lookout for pirates and ruffians on the North Seas, it had fallen under a curse one day when the two brothers who were in charge refused entrance to an old beggar woman who had asked for shelter one night. Of course the old woman was a powerful witch. She cast a spell upon the keep. A terrible plague ravaged the men and one by one they fell. But the dead did not stay dead. Some came back as foul smelling zombies. For others, their flesh fell from their bones and they became living skeletons, doomed to continue their watch for pirates for all eternity upon the walls of the keep.”

“But the two brothers had the worst fate of all. They became powerful lich lords. The most powerful of the undead. But with all this power, they were impotent, as they were unable to leave the keeps throne room. It didn’t take long for the two brothers to go mad and they have been locked in an eternal battle with each other ever since. They continually fight, maim, destroy, and ‘kill’ each other in the worst and most painful ways possible, only to revive moments later and start it all over again. Even the legions of undead steer clear of the throne room.”

Receiving this information, I had decided to pass on this adventure at the time. But I just knew there must be treasure in that keep. Nobody had ever dared face the legions of undead guardians, let alone take on the two lich brothers. Surely all of the pirate ships they had defeated over the years must have held hordes of gold and jewels, which even now must be safe within the keep.

It was settled. I knew what I must do. After breakfast I polished my sword, donned my adventuring garb, readied my arsenal of spells, and made for the keep.

As I drew near, my spirits were high. The weather was warm and beautiful. The sun upon my face gave me courage. The wand at my side hummed with power. Nothing would stop me this day!

The first enemy to fall was a foolish bear in the forest surrounding the keep. I saw it long before it saw me, and i had decided to let it be. But (foolish beast!) once it spotted me, it charged. A quick blast of my “solar burst” spell put him down. I didn’t even bother to skin it. I had a castle to storm! Several wolves also had the misfortune to meet me on the path. Spells were too good for them. I simply whipped out my sword and took off their heads in a single blow.

Finally around lunch I arrived at the outskirts. The pathway was overgrown from unuse. There was a large stone bridge that crossed a canyon and lead straight to the keep. But sitting in the midst of the bridge was an enormous troll! Such a huge hulking beast would be quite the challenge. I had no doubt that I would prevail. But I didn’t want to spend the time or effort on him. My goal was the lich lords and their treasure, not a stinking troll who would likely have a few pieces of slime covered gold in his filthy pockets. Fortunately there was a small pathway that lead under the bridge and up the other side. I took this and easily avoided this unpleasant confrontation.

As I approached the keep, I noticed it was surrounded by a large moat. After discreetly circling around, I discovered 3 entrances. First, there was the main gate – which stood invitingly open. I discounted this immediately as a trap. Second, around to the eastern side, there was a breach in the wall where it had crumbled from age, the elements, and lack of repair (note: undead are terrible at home maintenance). This looked like a good option, but i opted for the third. From the western side there was a ladder which lead up to the main bulwark. It was guarded by a single skeletal archer. Easy pickings. I quickly and quietly dispatched the foe, looted his gold and crept along the defensive wall until I was at the closest point to the inner keep.

At this point, I had no choice but to announce myself. There were at least a dozen skeletal warriors milling around the grounds, keeping their eternal vigil. Fortunately I had surprise on my side. I cast several fireballs, rings of fire, immolation spells and fire arrows at the lot. Meanwhile, my unwitting yet faithful partner (an air elemental I had summoned to accompany me) was showering down lightning bolts, chain lightning and the like. They didn’t stand a chance.

Once the courtyard was cleared, I made my way to the inner keep. It was eerily quiet, but I could sense the malice on the other side seeping through the stone walls. Using a rusty key I had found outside the moat, I was able to move the lever and raise the gate. No sooner was it cracked open then hell itself was let loose upon me.

Expecting this, I had cast several healing spells moments before that had long durations and ongoing healing effects. It was good thing too, because there were just as many skeletons in the inner courtyard as in the outer. And these warriors were armed to the teeth with halberds, large heavy shields, and long rusty swords (I must remember to check the status of my tetanus shot!)

The battle was intense. Skeletons were dying all around me, but even with my healing spells doing their best, I was feeling weak, and I could tell that my magical reserves were getting low as I cast spell after spell. As the dust settled and the creaking of bones ceased, I stood victorious! My poor elemental had not fared as well and was nothing more than a memory.

Rather than enter the throne room, I took a few moments to rest, gather my strength, and organize my spells. It was a good thing for me that the lich lords never left (in fact were unable to leave) the throne room, or I would surely have met my maker this day.

Once I felt ready, I summoned another elemental, cast my healing spells anew, and entered the throne room, ready to face a fierce battle. To my surprise, the lich lords were easy to dispatch. True – every time they struck a blow on me, I reeled in pain and was alarmed at how weak I became. But my spells were having equally devastating effects on them, and I was casting spells faster than they were landing blows. When all was said and done, the lich lord brothers lie dead at my feet. I like to think they were thankful to finally find rest after the many centuries of pain and horror they had suffered at each others hands.

Greedy to find the treasure, I didn’t even bother to heal my wounds. Surely there was nothing left alive that would dare molest me within these walls. Oh foolish adventurer! Horror movie rules #1: NEVER assume that the monsters are all dead. As I traveled around the throne room looking for a treasure chest, I was beset upon by a skeletal archer who sprung up from the ground right before my eyes! He must have been hiding in the throne room for centuries trying to avoid the wrath of the lich lords. But now that they were dead, he seized his moment and attacked. My health dropped so low that all I saw was red … except for my health bar, which appeared to be empty. Thank the maker, it hadn’t quite dropped to 0. I quickly cast every single health spell at my disposal and was able to hold on long enough to hack the creature to death with my sword. And what did I get for my trouble? 14 gold coins, a broken bow and arrow, and some smelly corpse wax.

Where was the fabled treasure? In vain I searched the throne room, the inner keep, the outer keep, the rampart, the grounds inside and out and all around. There wasn’t a single chest to be found. Either it was all a lie, or someone had come before me and silently stolen the treasure ages ago. My only consolation is that I had a hand in breaking the curse of eternal torment on this place, and was able to send several dozen souls to their eternal rest.

Why I love Ultima but am worried about Shroud of the Avatar

I’m a big Ultima fan. My first Ultima game was Ultima IV back in my freshman or sophomore year of high school. It was my first expose to an RPG and it was awesome. The cool 8bit graphics. The cute midi sounds. But the story was epic. I kept a notebook with all of the things i found (there were no in-game journals back then). If you didn’t know how to do something, there was no internet filled with cheats. You had to figure it out or ask your friends if they knew. That was it. But i got through the game. I found all the hidden things. I replayed it 2 or 3 times as different character classes.

And never once did i own any property. I was an adventurer. Everything i needed was in my backpack. Some food, some weapons, some reagents. If i wanted a bed to sleep in or a nice meal, i’d find an inn or tavern. Those were the good old days.

After that, i played Ultima III, then Ultima VI (somehow I skipped Ultima V – i must have been pretty busy with school or something). Along comes Ultima VII (more than one of them even). Then Ultima VIII, then a retro pack with all the past games, so i played Ultima 0, 1, and 2. Still never quite got around to 5. Oh well. Of course i played Ultima IX. And finally a few years later, I even signed up to be a beta tester for Ultima Online.

Sadly, after a day or so, i couldn’t take it anymore. Running around digging for gold, chopping down trees, trying to build up skill points. It was kind of boring and i soon lost interest. I hear it got better. I don’t know – i didn’t bother to go back.

But now here we are, several years later (a decade perhaps?) and Richard is at it again. He starts a kickstarter for a new Ultima inspired game: Shroud of the Avatar. How awesome. Another chance to visit one of my favorite all time RPG series. Naturally i sign up so i can play the early beta a year before the game gets released. I follow the updates on a semi-regular basis. I don’t troll the forums for all the minutia (i have a day job now you know), but i keep up on what’s going on. And this is where things start to make me nervous.

For the last several weeks or months, all the talk and excitement has been about virtual property, virtual homes and castles and all the cool furniture you can put in your house. Really? REALLY? I’m an adventurer. I want to go out and slay dragons, rescue damsels, fight evil wizards and save the world. I don’t want to have to worry about bandits robbing my house, paying taxes on property in some city, keeping the grass mowed, and keeping up with the Jonses. That would completely suck the life out of this game.

I’ve played other games where you owned property. Most notably NeverWinter Nights and DragonAge. You don’t start off as a land owner, but if you get far enough in the game you end up with a castle and you have to take care of it. You have to pay for upkeep and defenses and workforce labor, and … those are pretty much the point in the game where i stop playing and move on to something else.

I sincerely hope that Shroud of the Avatar doesn’t require a home to be a fun game. If i can’t carry it in my pack, i don’t want it. It’s extra cruft that will hinder my fun, not enhance it. Having said that, of course i’m still going to give it a try, but the first time i’m forced to buy a house somewhere to continue progressing is the day i stop playing.

The Grid

Sparked by the recent Tron movie, i started thinking about the hyper-evolved 1980’s environment which is “The Grid”.  Couple this with an interesting podcast discussion i was listening to about how different generations are interested in different things, and i find myself with something to post. :)

Think back to when you were in your teens.  What was the cool new thing at the time?  For my generation, it was home computers.  Sure, computers had been around for decades as big giant mainframes and house-sized computers in universities and government buildings.  But it wasn’t really until the early 80’s that they became accessible to the masses through the likes of Atari, Amiga, and Commodore.  They were magical things.  The world suddenly opened up to me.  I had this little box that i could control.  I could play pixelated games in 4 colors.  I could write papers and design ascii-art banners and send them to a dot matrix printer.  It made little bleep sounds.  And the best part?  I could write my own programs to do anything i could imagine (well … limited to the sparse programming materials i could find at the time).

The home computer was a wonder.  To my parents it was a little scary.  They didn’t quite know what to do with it.  They coped, but it’s never really been a core part of their lives.  Now let’s rewind a generation.  What’s the cool thing when my parents were growing up?  Televisions in every home?  They probably thought that was the coolest thing ever.  To me, a tv is just a tv.  It’s always been there.  No big deal.  I use it, i like it, but it doesn’t inspire me.

Rewind further.  Radio.  You can actually hear what someone is saying hundreds or perhaps even thousands of miles away.  At the same time as other people all around the country!  They’re talking TO YOU.  Telling funny stories, playing old time music.  But to me (and to my parents i’d imagine), it’s just a radio.  You use it, it’s there.  Certainly not awe-inspiring like it was to the generation when it first came out.  We can go further back, but i think you get the idea.

Let’s instead move forward a bit.  My kids.  They have computers.  All around them.  I’ve got phones that are far more powerful than any computer i had growing up.  My kids have them, they use them, they’re convenient.  But so what?  They’re just things.  They don’t inspire awe or imagination.  They are inspired by other things (although i haven’t quite figured out what it is yet.  Smart phones, music players, the internet, mmorpg’s, youtube, facebook, 3d movies)?

There is no “grid” for them.  Which is why Tron is probably just another movie to people from before or after my generation.  Sure, it’s got amazing special effects.  The soundtrack rocks.  But the concept of programs that look and act like us living inside of a virtual city?  To me, it was something cool to ponder and imagine.  Could it really happen?  To my kids … ehh.  They don’t have the context of wonder that i had back in the early 80’s when PC’s were just coming into their own and the grid was an exciting and revolutionary idea.  And it makes me a little sad.  And also a little curious and excited to see what the next revolutionary awe-inspiring thing will be.

Scrabble rocks

Just a word of caution: This post may contain slightly vulgar material for the properly initiated.  Be warned.
Ok, best scrabble game ever!  We’ve had a scrabble game for years, but almost never played it.  It was one of those uber cheap cardboard boards.  And half the pieces were missing thanks to little kids not understanding the concept of putting pieces away after chewing on the box (obviously they weren’t actually playing the game!).  So my wife and i (and my son too, although he didn’t play any part in this tale other than approve of the selection and then haul the game around the store) picked up a “deluxe” edition of scrabble the other day.  The board is one these pivoting wheels so that you can rotate it around to face you when it’s your turn.  It also had indentations on each square so the tiles don’t get bumped around (very handy).  Oh, and it had all the tiles.  Nothing was missing.  Yay.
Sunday night rolls around and the time has come to break out the game.  The kids have been begging for days.  We split up into teams and have at it.  After the first game is over and the older kids are figuring out how to play, we start game #2.  This is where things get fun. :)  First, let’s talk about the winner and just get that out of the way.  I won.  By 28 points.  Don’t let Luann tell you any differently down in the comments.  She claims that she should have had an extra 30 points that i “robbed” her of.  You see, i put down the word “icy”.  Except that i said “icky”.  My son got a funny look and then said “challenge!”.  I couldn’t help but bust up laughing at this point, and then my daughter blurts in with “it’s icy, not icky”.  So he withdraws his challenge.  And herein lies the dispute, because on his next turn (which came before my wife’s), he “stole” her spot.  She claims it would have given her 30 points, and instead she was relegated to a much lesser word elsewhere.  This assumes she’s telling the truth, and that the rest of the game would have played out the same. . . :)
Anyway, after that we got into the habit of making funny sounding words that didn’t really match their spelling.  “sos” spelling “sauce” for example.   In fact, this gave us an idea for a fun variant: phonetic spellings allowed.  Not this game, but perhaps another day.  Who knows – could be a new fad!  So, onward the game rolls, and it gets down to the end where there’s not a lot of options left.  I have “man” in my hand and can’t find a good place for it.
But wait, what’s this?   A perfect fit.  And in go the tiles.
Luann and i bust up, the kids give us a funny look, and i quickly place the tiles elsewhere before we have to answer a bunch of sticky questions.  The game ends, i win again (by 28 points), and all is well with the world.
Scrabble – i highly recommend it!

Android Shisensho

For the past few months i’ve been working on an application using the Android platform (the gPhone). It’s a remake of a great game i use to play on my Palm and still play on my desktop in the palm simulator all the time called Shisensho. Since i liked it so much i figured “why not recreate it for my new android phone?”

After putting in a few hours here and a few hours there as time permitted, it’s finally finished. I’ve put it up on the android market, so anyone who has an android powered device or is running the emulator … feel free to grab a copy :)

The comments are pretty much as expected. Some people are just spam – all the apps get that. And there are many comments about “i don’t like it, the tiles are too small”. That was totally expected. I thought long and hard about how to deal with that, and in the end decided that there was no good solution – i can’t remove the number of tiles without changing the mechanics of the game, and i can’t make them bigger without only showing a subset of the board (which would change the dynamics of the game as well). So i opted for a unique input method. Rather than select what you actually pressed on, i am selecting the tile above where you press. That way you can see what you’ve selected. As expected here, many people don’t get that and think that the tile selection is “off”. Maybe i’ll make a preference selection so that you can either select above or at your click.

In any event, it’s kind of fun to see reactions. Mostly positive, a few negative (you can’t please everyone). Since i mostly just made the game for my own use, i don’t really mind if anyone else likes it or not. If they do, great. If not, oh well, i’m sure they’ll uninstall it :)

What spore has spawned

For eight years Spore has been in development, and finally released last week. I don’t play a lot of computer games, but this is one of the few that i’ve looked forward to. I’ve been following it for quite some time.

But once it came out, i was immediately put off because of the DRM that came with the game. You can only install it three times before having to call their tech support and beg them to let you install it again. That’s the bad side. The nice part is that you don’t need the CD in the drive to play.

For the average joe user, they probably don’t know and/or care about the drm. They just buy the game, put in their code, reigster online with EA and then play the game for a few months and that’s that. Good for them. But philosophically i just can’t support DRM like this. EA initially defended their stance saying “the music industry, such as iTunes, does the same thing”. uhm, HELLO – i can’t stand the music DRM either, and don’t support it.

Spore quickly becamse the most pirated game in history. The people who bought the game are stuck with a ‘crippled’ version and the pirates have a nice version that works great and has no restrictions. Well, except that you can’t go online to the sporeipedia to share creations with others. It is a cool feature.

So what’s a guy to do – support the DRM and buy the game, or go the illegal route and pirate the game? Or just not get the game altogether? Fortunately, there has been enough outrage online that EA has taken notice (or maybe they’re looking at the # of pirated copies and realizing they are losing a lot of revenue because of their flubbed drm decision). In any event, they have decided to pull back a bit on the drm and will release a patch that will allow you to ‘deauthorize’ a computer after you install, thus allowing you to install on another computer. This would allow unlimited installs on any number of machines. And still no cd in the drive. Bravo. They have also agreed to put out a patch that will eliminate the drm altogether at some future date when the game is no longer supported by them so that when they take down their spore authentication servers, the game will continue to work (thus i can still play spore in 20 years if i wanted to).

That i can live with. Let the spore begin!

Let the games begin!

An article came across my reader yesterday that caught my attention. “All video games to be free”. Holy crazy-talk batman. Did you just say that all video games will be free? Considering that the computer gaming industry is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, i was quite skeptical as to how this could be. So i read on…

The article starts out saying that the gaming industry loses a bazillion dollars a year due to pirating. In order to combat this, some companies (mostly in Japan right now) are giving away their games for free. Yes, that’s right – you can just go to the website and download the game.

Sounds great for the consumer. And maybe the company is getting gamer good-will, but … that’s not a very good business model. So what’s in it for the companies that are doing this? I’ll get to that in just a minute. That’s the really interesting and innovative part.

But first: the article goes on to say that because some companies are starting this, eventually it will spill over and all companies will HAVE to give their games away for free, because why would you pay $50 for a game when you can get another equally fun game for free? Good point.

Ok, so how can a game company give away games for free and hope to survive? Enter “micropayments”. Even though you can play the game for free (or at least part of it), it’s all the accessories and extras that you will buy to enhance your experience that will fill the game company coffers. Suppose you’re playing a racing game. You want a red car with a super cool flame paint job? $1.00. How about a t-shirt for your character with your face on it? Another $1.00. Walk into the virtual game-store and buy that barbarian character of yours a wicked-cool two-handed longsword of slaying for $1.75. Brilliant! I can totally see this taking off. There’s already precedent for this in second life where people sell virtual goods/services for real-world cash.

What do you think – genius or madness?