Thursday, December 31, 2015

Retro Gaming Console Nerdgasm

This is not an advert. This is NOT sponsored content! (Thanks South Park for my continued education.) I am stupidly, ridiculously excited about this new (to me) thing.

 
Meet my toy! This sweet little machine will play Gameboy games from the original brick all the way up to Gameboy Advance cartridges. It will play NES games. It will play SNES games. It will play the Famicom carts for those generations as well. It will play Master drive and Genesis games. It does all of this on one system. It connects to my tv with an HDMI cable and upscales (read this as smooths the rough edges) the graphics. It has a brick of a wireless controller that works well enough with all these game generations, but it also has ports to support corded controllers for the NES, SNES, and Genesis.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen the Retron is simply amazing. Feel free to delve after the real sales pitch at the manufacturer’s website here. Now that the generic gushing is out of the way, let me get to the real talk.
 
The Retron 5 is cheaper (even ignoring inflation) than the NES purchased in 1987 or the SNES on its release. I paid 139.95 for mine at McKay’s Used Books and CDs. I hear that you can also find these in Books A Million Stores and they are about $10 cheaper on Amazon.com. The price of this little beauty blew my mind. It has been worth every penny.
 
I unboxed it expecting to find a catch. Instead, I was further impressed. The HDMI cord is LONG… I mean around 6 feet. The power brick cord is slightly less but is still ample. The USB 2.0 cord that connects the controller to the console to charge is 10 feet. I didn’t expect a game built in and as far as I have explored there is not one.
 
Half a decade ago I stupidly sold off my collections…to “grow up” for my fiancee. The girl didn’t stick, but my stuff is still gone. Among that stuff were all my “vintage” video games. I have missed them terribly. The time has come to remedy that in the form of the great game hunt of 2016.
 
The night my wife and I picked up the system I owned 4 games that would play for the system. Perhaps ironically they may be the biggest money savers in the coming hunt. For Gameboy Advance I had:
 
Legend of Zelda: The Adventure of Link (screw you haters! I love this one)
Final Fantasy IV Advance
Final Fantasy VI Advance
Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past with Four Sword Adventures
 
Those are all (yes even the first one) great games and if I had to run them down in the original cartridges might cost me a pretty penny. I booted up the Retron, dropped in A Link to the Past and was almost instantly amazed at how great the Gameboy Advance graphics scaled up onto my flat screen. I loved the game…it was true to form. I didn’t love the blocky Retron controller. It is functional and wireless but it clicks a little loudly for my taste.
 
I solved this problem by switching over to a wired SNES clone controller. It functioned identically to the original in my memory. I felt 12 all over again. Hesitantly, I turned off A Link to the Past to play games with the wife. We had picked up a couple of platformers that I want to share with my oldest daughter. We bought:
 
Sonic the Hedgehog ($4.99)
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 ($2.99)
Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 ($10.95)
 
It’s worth noting here that I also bought two Tomee SNES clone controllers at $9.95 each for those of you adding up my purchases (like I am).
 
We both really wanted to play Super Mario World. In two stops I wasn’t able to run down the original SNES cart. I was able to get the Advance release, but I realized that we were not going to be able to play it 2 players. That wasn’t a big deal to me in the short term because when I grew up most of the games I enjoyed were single player and my friends and I shared and took turns.
 
I also realized that none of the system link features of Gameboy games are going to function on the Retron (that I know of). This means that yes I can play Pokemon on the big screen, but no I cannot trade Pokemon with real people on my Retron. It means that I will have to solo playthrough Four Sword Adventures (again). For the love that I give that system this is a small price to pay.
 
The Retron is the perfect solution to my retro game desires. Now I just have to track down the carts that I really want and a few controllers. It is very worth noting that while talking to a “game pro” at a local retro game shop I was told that Duck Hunt and other Zapper games will not function on a flat-screen TV. They require an old CRT. I really wanted to play Duck Hunt so I hope this isn’t true as it presents a difficult to overcome challenges.CRT screens do not have HDMI inputs. There may be an easy workaround or this may not be a problem. That will be the subject of a blog to come.
 
So… It is time to make a shopping list for the Retron. My goal is to get as much of this as possible during 2016 as cheap as I can make it happen. If you are reading this and want to work as my agent bless your heart and it might earn you a seat on the couch for retro gaming night. Here goes the list:
 
2 NES Controllers or Clones
1 NES Zapper Gun (yes I have to try the experiment but it is not a priority)
NES Games :
 
  1. Advance Dungeons and Dragons: DragonStrike
  2. Advance Dungeons and Dragons: Heroes of the Lance
  3. Advance Dungeons and Dragons: Hillsfar
  4. Advance Dungeons and Dragons: Pool of Radiance
  5. The Adventures of Bayou Billy
  6. Back to the Future
  7. Back to the Future Parts II & III
  8. The Bard’s Tale
  9. California Games
  10. Castlevania
  11. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
  12. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
  13. Contra
  14. Double Dragon
  15. Dragon Warrior
  16. Dragon Warrior II
  17. Dragon Warrior III
  18. Dragon Warrior IV
  19. Duck Hunt
  20. Excitebike
  21. Galaga
  22. Gauntlet
  23. Gauntlet II
  24. Ghostbusters
  25. Ghostbusters II
  26. Ikari Warriors
  27. Ironsword: Wizard’s and Warriors II
  28. Joe & Mac
  29. Karate Champ
  30. The Karate Kid
  31. Kid Icarus
  32. The Legend of Zelda
  33. Marble Madness
  34. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out
  35. Ninja Gaiden
  36. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
  37. Ninja Gaiden III: The Ancient Ship of Doom
  38. Paperboy
  39. Skate or Die!
  40. Spy vs. Spy
  41. Strider
  42. Super C
  43. Super Mario Bros.
  44. Super Mario Bros. 2
  45. Super Mario Bros. 3
  46. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
  47. Wizards and Warriors
SNES Games:
  1. Breath of Fire
  2. Clayfighter
  3. F-Zero
  4. Final Fight
  5. Gradius III
  6. Illusion of Gaia
  7. Killer Instinct
  8. Paladin’s Quest
  9. Prince of Persia
  10. Rival Turf!
  11. Secret of Mana
  12. Star Fox
  13. Street Fighter II
  14. Super Mario Kart
  15. Super Scope 6 (probably has the Zapper Gun problem)
  16. Super Star Wars
2 Sega Genesis Controllers or clones
 
Genesis Games:
  1. Altered Beast
  2. Art of Fighting
  3. Ghoul’s N Ghosts
  4. Golden Axe
  5. King of Monsters
  6. King of Monsters 2
  7. Mortal Kombat
  8. Mortal Kombat 2
  9. Mortal Kombal 3
  10. Phantasy Star
  11. Primal Rage
  12. Strider Returns: Journey From Darkness
  13. Shinobi III
 
The Gameboy games wishlist is going to be posted at a later date and time.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Magic: I have been doing it wrong

I do not like it when people self-diagnose. My most frustrating moments with this comes from people claiming to have OCD or ADHD (or any variants thereof) simply because they like things tidy or because they have trouble focusing. With that said, I understand how people feel this way, at least when it comes to Magic the Gathering.
Since I returned to the game at Gatecrash I have been endlessly organizing and reorganizing my cards in ever more elaborate systems. I am searching for a perfect method that puts the cards I want directly at my fingertips. There are about a million reasons for this, not the least of which is that frustrating thing I do when I buy cards only to find out I had multiple copies already in my set. If I were inclined to consult Doctor Google and self-diagnosing this malaise I would call it MTGOCD. I would be an asshole, but there it is.
If you have had the unfortunate experience of being near me while I brainstorm a deck you might apply a diagnosis of MTGADHD (you would be less of an asshole). While working on my standard landfall deck (which totally failed me last FNM), I had an idea for a commander deck, mentally built another modern deck, made a backup decklist to add blue to this deck, and finally wrote this blog. UGH!
I have both an MTG toolbox and a big case just for carrying all my decks. I have over 30 built. There is no way I could ever play that many. I mean that is an event-level amount of decks…and I carry them with me. That is stupid. Moreover, it goes against the original vision of the game. Richard Garfield developed Magic as a fill-in game for standing in the line at the movies or for while you wait on your game group to show up on game night. The entire point of a card-based game, at least to Dr. Garfield’s brilliant mind, was that each player only needed one deck which could easily fit into a pocket.
The game has evolved from that original vision, but I think I need to save myself from all the wasted effort I put into Magic. To do that I first need to figure out exactly what I need. Here goes the list:
  1. 2 standard decks polished for competitive FNM play
  2. 1 commander deck
  3. 2 competitive level Modern Decks
  4. 1 casual legacy deck
  5. 1-3 Pauper deck(s)
  6. 1 polished Assassins Deck
  7. 1 CUBE
So why is this my list? Allow me to explain. (God, I love talking to myself)
 
1. 2 Standard Decks- I LOVE FNM! I enjoy keeping up with Standard. The fact that the environment changes so frequently appeals to the deck builder in me. I want two Standard decks because I want two distinctly different approaches to winning FNM. I want to be able to change things up. I also want to be able to toss a friend the other POLISHED deck to play test against my own skill. For the record, this also means I am going to build 4 standard decks because the wife plays FNM with me. She is amazing and this more than scratches my need to deck build and experiment.
 
2. 1 Commander Deck- Commander is the format of champions. Board stability isn’t a thing. This is all about making Magic fun and having strict deckbuilding guidelines. Commander has one of the broadest card bases in all of the formats and can get VERY expensive. For that reason, it is worth polishing up 1 commander deck and sticking with it.
 
3.2 competitive level Modern decks- My thought process here is simple. One deck should come from the metagame. The other deck needs to be something to beat it that no one else is playing.
 
4. 1 Casual Legacy Deck- Legacy games end on turn one or turn two in the competitive world. I don’t want to play that game. Of all the categories I struggled most with this one. I like Legacy because I like old cards. I could scratch most of that itch with Commander, but sometimes I just want to play a regular game of “old school” Magic. The good news is I already have two built and we rarely play Legacy. Polish will come with time.
 
5. 1-3 Pauper decks- Casual is great. As a Tournament Organizer, it is the best thing to have running continually in the background. Running a Pauper League is great for new players and veterans alike. Pauper is cheap to build. Budget Magic is amazing. The reason I say 1-3 Pauper decks shall remain a mystery…and a tease for things to come at my shop.
 
6. 1 Polished Assassins Deck- The Great and Wonderful Erik Hess taught me this format. I spread his gospel lovingly. It is my favorite multiplayer variant. If you don’t know about Assassin’s you must come to me at the shop to learn. Muwahahaha
 
7. 1 Cube- All the drafting with none of the cost of buying the cards each time. Yes, please.
 

So, I have been doing it wrong, but I am going to fix that going forward.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Things that go bump in the night

Happy (a few days after) Halloween! I cannot help myself but post something spooky and Halloween related today. I have to give thanks (its a month early for that, ha) to my friend Schaye for the conversation that led to this post. Inspiration is a blessing no matter when or how it is received.
Halloween is arguably a holiday for kids these days, but it was not always. I do not want to spend the pages necessary to explain the alleged history of Halloween. If you are reading this you have access to Google and Wikipedia. Use them… or maybe you shouldn’t. Tonight is all about celebrating things that scare us and knowledge is the tool that humans use to fight off the fear of the unknown. When knowledge fails us we normally default to faith. For tonight, and for this post, it might be more fun to lay aside knowledge and faith. Have some fear…if only for one night and one post.
As a species, Humans are obsessed with the things that scare us a lot more than one night of the year. Horror movies, horror novels, obsession with serial killers, a fascination with cannibalism, and ghost tours are part of our lives year round. I had a friend who celebrated every aspect of horror. He had a library of scary movies in his basement that could have rivaled the selection at Blockbuster (when that was a thing). He collected every horror related comic book, novel, and game he could get his hands on.
I do almost exactly the opposite. I have never been a fan of manufactured scares. I am very, very open to the Zombie Apocalypse. I look at it as an Adventure rather than a scary situation. Sure there is fear in any adventure, but the fear is secondary to the excitement for me. As a writer, having an open mind and being willing to suspend disbelief for supernatural creatures and the occult is simply part of the job. I try very hard to be good at what I do so I put a lot of thought into why and how my beliefs evolved. As an adult why do I not still pull the covers over my head and pray for the scary thing under my bed or in my closet to go away? Why am I not afraid of the dark anymore? When did I start “knowing” and quit having true fear? Why as a kid did I believe in every soul-sucking monster and ghost? When did I lose that?
One of the go-to ideas that believers in the occult (particularly ghosts) go to is that cats, dogs, and babies experience the world differently than most adult humans. Your dog is not barking his head off at nothing. There is something there that is making her angry or scared. You simply cannot sense it anymore. You cat isn’t hiding in the kitchen cabinet hissing at nothing. There is some evil spirit hanging about giving him the fright of his nine lives. Most likely that evil spirit isn’t the ghost of the kitty catcher. It is probably some ethereal being of unknown purpose sustaining itself by feeding on the life force of your home. It is probably draining the happiness and vitality from your very soul while you fuss at the cat to quit being weird.
To illustrate my point I am going to embarrass myself and tell a non-scary story:
During the summer after 5th grade, I spent quite a bit of time with my friend Brandon. We played a Nintendo game now and then, but mostly we spent our time outside. We rode our bikes. We did a TON of walking. Today you might call us Urban explorers. We climbed a lot of fences to get a look at the neighborhood. We ate picnic lunches on rooftops of buildings. We had a lot of fun just bumming around as kids. We were always home before dark. That was a hard and fast rule that we didn’t dare break.
Because we still wanted to get a full day of adventuring we tried our best to get started early. We set our sights on exploring in an organized manner. Eventually, our goal became Fulton High School. We spent a few hours checking out the main building before finding our way into the stadium. When we got bored with running up and down the steps and messing around on the field we started prowling around for something more interesting. We found it in the form of a bunch of sheet metal frame buildings.
We spent a little time peeking in windows, and it wasn’t long before we decided that there were an army building weapons of mass destruction right there under our noses. We saw half assembled jeeps. We saw tons of strange machinery. It was years later when I finally saw Red Dawn, but Brandon and I were convinced that Knoxville, Tennessee was soon to be under attack. We believed it so completely that we sprinted back to my house and convinced my Dad to follow us back to the school.
Dad was very kind to us. He had gone to Fulton and knew that we had come across the shop class. Still, he walked the whole way reassuring us that if there was an invasion he would report it. He looked in the same windows we had and didn’t even make us feel foolish. He just explained.
Our imagination was able to concoct a completely insane story and get a real emotional reaction. Our brains didn’t have the knowledge necessary to make us disbelieve. Sure Brandon had probably seen Red Dawn because he did have HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax that he frequently sneaked to watch. The line between the fantastic and the real world was blurred for us both. To put it a different way, the adult brain develops calluses that prevent it from sensing things that it knew to be real when it was a child.
The difference is clearly evident when we consider children with Fire and the Dark. Both things are childhood fears that most people learn to get past as they grow older. They have some very big differences.
Anyone who has been around a significantly younger person (sibling, child of their own, niece, nephew, friend…whatever) has seen a kid get burned because they have no natural fear of fire. When I was 4 or 5 I grabbed a camp lantern with both hands. That was a pretty common injury at the campground growing up. Kids have to be taught to fear and respect fire. It normally takes getting burned a bit to hold on to that fear and respect. We are not born with pyrophobia.
Being afraid of the dark is just exactly the opposite. No one trains their children to fear the dark. In fact, most parents these days try to condition their kids to be more comfortable in the dark to avoid Nyctophobia. Yet, for most people, you come to fear the dark. You don’t necessarily even have the ability to say what about the Dark scared you when you were little, but the fear was very real. For most people, a nightlight was necessary for some time. It may have even taken years for you to sleep totally in the dark. Some people still fear it as adults.
If you look at the modern world we do quite a lot to light up the night. Daylight savings time is something of an example, but if you doubt this take a nice drive out into a dark countryside where you can look out over a goodly sized city. The lights from town give off enough light pollution to be seen from space. I put forth that this is a major example that most people are afraid of the dark in a very primal way.
Why do we fear the dark seemingly without cause right from the day we are born? Why do we not fear fire in the same way?
The answer in my mind is simple. On some instinctual level, we understand that long ago we have domesticated fire and taught it to serve us. Fire has become our companion giving us light, heat, and security. We want to be able to touch it because we associate it with happiness and life. That same understanding tells us that we have to use light and fire to keep the dark at bay. We cannot tame the dark. We can only hunker down and survive those dark hours until dawn comes again. We fear what, even with our “developed” adult minds that “know”, might be out there in the dark and coming to get us.

If you don’t believe me turn off all your modern comforts. Go somewhere completely dark away from any sign of civilization. Go where the night isn’t held back by the glow of modern lights. Go there alone. Close your eyes and start counting to 100. Do that and just listen. My bet is that you run back to your car or whip out your flashlight at the first thing that goes bump in the night….because you know it is there and you have just been hiding from it in the light.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Return of the Eldrazi

In the first Hellboy movie, Professor Broom says something to the effect of,” They’re back. In my lifetime they’re back,” when talking about the return of Rasputin and his evil followers. That sort of sums of my feelings about the Eldrazi in Battle for Zendikar. I am excited in a sort of horribly apprehensive way.
Confession time! I wasn’t playing Magic during Rise of the Eldrazi. I left sometime after Onslaught and I did not return until Gatecrash. Man, I missed a lot during that time. With Battle for Zendikar’s full preview hitting the website this Friday, I am putting a lot of thought into post-rotation Standard. Before I get into what I am thinking about the future I want to take a quick romp down memory lane.
Just because I didn’t play during the original Zendikar block doesn’t mean I didn’t get to feel the full might of the Eldrazi. As I was getting back into Magic I found friends at my job that were also big into the game. I sold my original collection and the cards I had were all Standard legal for that time. I built a strong Dimir mill deck and I was experimenting with Gruul aggro when I met these guys for the first time:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I think it was Ulamog’s Crusher that was truly my first Eldrazi experience. I remember seeing an 8/8 hit the field and thinking to myself that my deck wasn’t really strong enough to stand against it long in a beat stick style fight. The first time that Annihilator went off I damn near hit the floor. I cussed a lot. TS just sat with a big grin on his face and stayed on an almost relaxed offensive.
 
My now dearly departed friend knew I had not met the Eldrazi. He knew that there was almost nothing in my collection that could stand against them. I met most of the lesser Eldrazi before he started to slide in the Titans. Kozilek and Ulamog didn’t freak me out too much more than the lesser Eldrazi. I learned about exile type removal really, really quickly. Once my collection started to evolve to deal with them TS introduced me to new levels of pain in the form of:
 
 
 
 
I equate Emrakul, the Aeons Torn with rape. I cannot stop him from coming out with a counterspell the way I had handled the other titans or Eldrazi. My collection didn’t have any colorless spells (at that time) that could even target Emrakul. My way to deal with him was to build an Infinite Myr deck that could soak the Annihilator, target Emrakul with effects if necessary, and just out pace the nastiness coming into play. It worked about 50% of the time.
TS beating my head in with his Eldrazi also lead to an arms race which, admittedly, happens with Magic anyway. TS had a simple philosophy. He said that since the Eldrazi were colorless they could be worked into most any deck to great effect in much the same way that I have always been a fan of splashing in useful artifacts. I came to love the Orzhov guild and polished that deck until it shined. TS followed me into standard with the Theros block. I did my best to avoid dealing with Eldrazi and infect though they show up at the table from time to time. Slivers cycled in and cycled back out and I only made a few people hate them as much as I hate Eldrazi.
I learned to hate and fear Eldrazi in general and Emrakul specifically. I ran from casual and modern play and took refuge in Standard. Now new evil is about to invade my sacred lands. The Eldrazi of the original Zendikar block were also so expensive that I never saw myself building those decks. There were 9 total colorless Eldrazi. In the years of collecting modern and legacy cards since those casual days when I met the Eldrazi, I have only managed to get Kozilek in a pack of Modern Masters 2015. I have never run an Eldrazi in a deck. The question before me is simple, Will I run Eldrazi from the new set?
Lets take a look at what my options are and if I don’t want to run them how I will deal with them…
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
As I write this post there are 26 Eldrazi poised to release with Battle for Zendikar. That is almost 3 times as many as the Rise of the Eldrazi set. I cannot imagine a new Eldrazi release without a new Emrakul or Kozilek and they are not on the page yet. In sheer numbers I am terrified, but there is hope.
 
Annihilator is gone. Ulamog can exile 1/3 of my deck with a “worse than” Annihilator ability, but he can be countered. He can be exiled. He can be Pacified. Ingest works in a similar fashion to Annihilator but it exiles from your library rather than the field. That can be hurtful, but I believe it will be easier to work around. This may all change with the release of the full set preview on Friday.
 
From what I see now the most annoying Eldrazi (if you control Ulamog) will be Void Winnower. Luckily, most of the removal spells that come to mind to deal with him are odd numbered converted casting cost. Esper control and BUG control feel very strong to me. I am already built for BUG although I will probably be making some modifications with the new release.
 
WOTC fixed the colorless goes with anything problem by making some of the Eldrazi require colored mana in their casting cost.If I wanted to run EVERY Eldrazi listed here I would need to run every color except White. I don’t see a need for that. Running Grixis Eldrazi or Jund Eldrazi looks to be devastating. Jund of course has the most ridiculous options for mana. The mind boggles.
 

Even if Eldrazi is not my main Standard deck I think I am going to assemble one. The better I build it then better I can test against it. It will also be a tribute to a dead friend who loved to kick my ass with the Eldrazi. Enough writing. I am off to work on a decklist.