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Technology and Devices

I Now Own Far Too Many Consoles

It started with the PS2. I wanted one. I was 20 and this was nearly two years ago. I’ve owned a PS4 since 2014 but now I wanted a PS2 as well. Finding one on eBay was a trivial matter and I found mine for about £40 with a bunch of PS2 classics like ‘BRATZ: Forever Diamonds’ and ‘Charlies Angels.’ PS2s are cheap because of how ludicrously successful the system was back in the day – the christmas after the PS3 came out the PS2 was still the best selling console. I had no idea what path I was walking down, and how easy and tempting each step is. My name is Henry Vincent, and I have a retro-console problem.

CEX is a good shop. Hull has two of them for some reason. I would go to both of them everytime I could be bothered to walk into town. I wouldn’t buy a game every time I visited, I just wanted to look at all the games they had and got excited about what I found, so then I’d have to convince myself that I don’t need the Futurama game because I remember it being bad and not in a fun way, and other people seem to agree, but it’s still just so tempting. Although sometimes when a really bad game is exactly 25p I won’t be able to stop myself.

How could I turn away from such a awe-inspiring sight?

One fateful morning, a few months after getting my PS2, during a typically self-inflicted student-life sleep-deprived state, I wandered into the now-defunct Hull branch of Granger Games to find – to my amazement – a PlayStation 1 behind the glass. Now, the PS1 isn’t that rare in itself, but this was the very first original PAL version, with the RCA jacks on the back, RF video support (lol), and – most importantly, the PlayStation controller. Not DualShock, not even Dual Analogue – the first PlayStation controller, with no analogue sticks and no vibration. I’d never seen one before. I was barely aware of their ever having existed to be honest; we always had DualShock when I was a child. And all of this for a mere £22. I couldn’t believe it. I should have gone to sleep; I was exhausted – but instead, I bought the console.

Okay, yes – obviously, I already had a console that could play PS1 games perfectly well (even better you might argue) – the PS2. But that never seemed right to me. It seemed to me that if I can play PS1 games on an actual PS1, that’s better isn’t it? Apparently that makes me what’s known in the retro console community as an ‘original hardware person’. I don’t want backwards compatibility or emulation when I can experience a game authentically, on the hardware it was built for, experiencing the quirks of the system, using the actual controller the game was designed to work with and the actual disk – the full experience that is more than the game itself – there’s an important meta side to the game. No matter how complex and technically accurate your emulation experience gets, you’ll never have the true feeling of pushing the power toggle button in, hearing the clunking and whiring, and seeing the bootup animation, and then hoping the game will actually load past the PlayStation logo because sometimes it doesn’t so you need to try with the PS1 upside-down. You can’t beat that feeling with any kind of backwards compatibility or emulation.

You’d think that it would be annoying that you sometimes have to turn the console upside-down to get it to detect the disk – but I love that about it; it’s such a bizarre quirk that you don’t get with modern hardware. I mean – I don’t want that to be a ‘feature’ of my PS4 but I think it’s cool on the PS1 as a charming oddity of my model of the system. Although I would like to get the slim version (confusingly called the PSOne) which doesn’t have this problem (it also looks cool as frick).

After a month or so of being perfectly happy with the quality of my gaming experience with the then three PlayStations I owned, ‘the algorithm’ got to me. Youtube recommended me a video titled “Getting the Best Picture from your PlayStation 1 Games”. I was mortified; I’ve been playing PlayStation games as a scum-lord using disgusting, dirty composite video. It was lucky then that my room had a TV with a SCART input that supported RGB. I could use a nice RGB video signal from both my analogue-only consoles. It required me to buy some slightly expensive new cables, but the video quality was quite well improved – so I was happy.

Needed to make sure my two new boys got home with me nice and comfortable.

A fool I was! As soon as I was content again, I watched NakeyJakey’s Halo videos. Great – now I need an Xbox. Furthermore, it occurred to me that I had every PlayStation apart from the PS3, so now I need one if only to complete the set and not have a weird gap in my collection. I didn’t even have a particular game I wanted to play on it! Then one of my housemates had an Xbox 360 which he didn’t want anymore, so of course I bought it off him! What do you think I am? Some sort of person who wouldn’t do that and would instead be satisfied by the things they already have? I’m not some sort of Buddhist who seeks satisfaction from within, I’m exclusively about external pleasures.

Okay, then I took it to a level of ‘OG hardware’ that was too far. I sourced a CRT TV in Hull for £20 which accepted RGB input and seemed to be decent quality. Because ultimately, you’re not getting the full experience if you’re not playing these games on a display from the time. I was pretty happy with it for a few months. It looked okay and it gave me the nice tingly feeling of better times gone by.

Am I taking this too far? Or not far enough?

But… you know… it is quite big… and everything looks fairly fuzzy on it. It didn’t even have the blessed scanlines coveted by the retro console community. I mean if it were a Sony Trinitron I’d be fighting people off with a pointy stick, even if they weren’t fighting me – but this display ultimately just disappointed, so I sold it for £25. So at least I’m an entrepreneur. 

I think I’ve worked out what all of this is about. Some number of years ago, my cousin got some vinyl records for a Christmas present. I remember my Mum and my Aunt asking why he’d want records in the modern day, considering that we now have CDs and streaming services which are quite obviously better in all possible ways. He said that they’re ‘just nice to have.’ I catch that drift. In a world where more and more of our lives exist digitally, it’s a becoming a novelty to actually own real stuff – especially entertainment stuff. Holding a vinyl record in your hands and realising that this thing contains the sound you’ll listen to and nothing else… it feels authentic. In some ways, these old consoles have that same sense of authenticity. The PS1 plays PS1 games. That’s all it does. That’s all it’s designed to do. It was built from the ground up to process polygons and draw an image on the screen, play some sounds and accept user input. Playing these same games on my PC – a device that was designed to do any number of different tasks feels sort of not real. A game was not made specifically for this hardware, nor just for this kind of input. It’s hard to explain, like trying to describe what it means for sound to be ‘warm.’

I know that it’s probably just a phase, but it’s one I’m enjoying right now. I now have way too many games to play and I’ll probably never get through them all because the library is expanding faster than I can consume it, but in some ways just owning some of them is nice enough for me. Playing older games has given me an appreciation for the design choices of modern games, and for how much things have improved and also how much has been left behind over the years. Games of today are better than games of twenty years ago, not exclusively, but generally, and I can say that now. I got over the nostalgia of it all ages ago – now I’m just playing these games and appreciating them. I gave up on the CRT because once the nostalgia wore off, I realised I didn’t really like it, but these consoles and these old games are pretty cool if you ask me even after nostalgia has faded. Thanks for listening and have a nice day. I will one day learn to end these things well. Until then, peace out.

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Comment Games

My Day at EGX 2016

Every year, I go to EGX. It’s a tradition that’s last about four years now. It started when I found out about it from a friend and learned that it was about a thirty-minute journey from my house in London. It’s moved to Birmingham now, which means my pleasant thirty-minute journey has changed to a stressful three-and-a-half hour journey – and all because Earl’s Court is gone (also, you could argue that the NEC is a more appropriate location for a UK convention as it is located more centrally in the country – but on the downside, it means you have to go into Birmingham). I usually go with my brother, but this year he couldn’t come for a plethora of reasons, so I spent the day on my own. So, with no one else to share my experience this year with, I thought I’d just write about it.

 

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Oh, the things you see.

 

I love the experience of going to EGX; I feel suddenly I’m with a whole massive room full of thousands of other people who are a bit like me in at least some small way, of all different ages and backgrounds. I like listening to conversations and finding that people are talking about the Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Dishonoured or loads of other games, they may even be talking about being excited to meet the Yogscast, or Syndicate (I have no idea why you’d want to meet him after recent events). To put it simply, EGX is one of the only places where that small part of my life feels less alone; it reminds me that there are other people – real people, in front of my face – who also spend a few hours every night watching the same YouTube videos that I’m watching, it reminds me that there are other people obsessing over their PC builds and other people who play far too much Skyrim to be healthy. It reminds me that I am part of a community – that’s why I go to EGX every year, and that’s why I still went when they moved the event to Birmingham – that’s right, it’s so good, I’ll brave having to be in Birmingham for eight whole hours.

This year, I planned to go to EGX as soon as tickets were available. I didn’t spend really any time at all thinking about what I’d being doing about the time EGX was on – I just assumed I could fit my life around EGX. I bought tickets for the Friday, and then as soon as I could, I booked tickets for the train. If I’d known about a show on that night by the YouTube group Hat Films, I’d have gone to that, but it was too late; my ticket home was booked.

 

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This is a very cinematic queue shot.

 

After I’d travelled the three hours to get to the NEC, I started on the labyrinth that is the epic twenty-minute journey between the train station and the halls where EGX was being held. If you’ve not been to the NEC via train, you should know that the train station, the airport and the NEC are all one building. It’s bloody massive in there. I spent the time walking along and finding my way. For most of the walk, there aren’t any signs pointing you to EGX, but that’s fine – just follow the gamers. How can you tell who are gamers and who aren’t? Strangely enough, that doesn’t prove much of a challenge. The NEC is so massive, that at any one time, multiple exhibitions are going on. When I was getting close to the hall I needed to go to, I, surrounded by some other gamers heading to EGX, approached a man who clearly worked for the NEC – based on his uniform, who stood next to a signpost which pointed off in two opposite directions – one pointing to the cycling convention to the right, and the other to EGX on the left. The man took one look at us and must have thought, “are these people into cycling or gaming?”, clearly, the answer was obvious to him as he called to us, “The entrance to EGX is in hall 8.” If I were a lesser man I’d have been offended that when he looked at my toned, athletic body he didn’t instantly assume I was after the cycling show.

I’ll give this to the NEC, there is a hell of a lot less queueing to get in than when the show was at Earl’s Court. You walk in, show someone your ticket and they give you a wristband and when the event opens, they just let everyone walk in and try to spot anyone who hasn’t got a wristband. When event goers walked in this year, they were given the gift of Tornado energy drink. I never go understand this connection between energy drinks and gaming, but I will admit that Tornado is the only energy drink I’ve ever had which I can bare the taste of – believe it or not, I actually drank the whole thing. If I were to start drinking energy drinks, I’d drink Tornado (can I have ad money now, Tornado?).

When I do get into EGX, I like to spend an hour walking around and seeing what’s on offer; eight hours go by quickly when at EGX, so you need to prioritise and find out what you want to invest your precious time onto looking at. It would be great if you could have a go on all the AAA titles, but in my experience, you’ll probably have trouble squeezing more that two into your visit, especially if you want to do anything other than playing the AAA titles.

 

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Not sure I do want to have a go on that to be honest.

 

This year, the over 18 area was almost completely not worth going in at all as far as I’m concerned; unless you really want to spend three hours queueing to get a go on Titanfall 2, Gears of War or Battlefield One – not very worthwhile if you ask me. The only redeeming feature of the area was the small stand set up to promote South Park: The Fractured But Whole. I’d have had a go on it if it weren’t for the Nosulous Rift you had to wear while playing. If you’ve not played The Stick of Truth (the first South Park game), you should know that one of the main game mechanics in that game is the ability to produce flatulence at will. This is a feature that has been carried on to the new game, and, to promote this new game, the developers built this device which, when one produces flatulence in game, squirts a rather nasty smell into one’s nose, for immersion purposes, and to add to that, one’s face is broadcast to a large screen above one, so all may observe one’s reaction for general amusement. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that, and in any case, I will buy the game when it comes out; I really liked the Stick of Truth.

 

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Another cinematic queue shot.

 

Moving on to the regular area, I noticed one game I was vaguely interested in, and that was Dishonoured 2. I only played a couple of hours of Dishonored 1, and I can’t actually remember why that was. I’ve seen a full playthrough on YouTube, however, so I do know what happens and how the game is played. I entered the queue, thinking that it wouldn’t take very long; the queue as far as I could see only went around the corner of the booth – I thought it’d take 30 minutes at most. When, after about 25 minutes, I finally got around the corner, I saw the endless zig-zagging maze of tenser barriers that was the rest of the queue. By that point, however, I felt that I’d been in the queue so long, it’d be a sign of weakness to leave then. It took a further hour in the queue to get in.

Why the people who’d set up the event didn’t allow us to use keyboard and mouse will forever haunt my wonderings. The game was being demoed on PC, yet they only allowed me to have an Xbox One controller, which meant I had a tough time getting through the whole level in the half an hour I had, simply because I am terrible at first-person games when using a controller; I only ever use keyboard and mouse. I was just about to get the final part of the level when someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me my time was up.

If you’d like my thoughts concerning Dishonoured 2, here they are put simply: it’s pretty much the same as Dishonoured 1 except with some new features, like being able to play as Emily, a skill tree system and new abilities. Do I think that’s a bad thing? No. Dishonoured 1 was a good game, and I think the attitude of taking a good game and adding new features to it is a good one. I don’t mean Call of Duty or FIFA style, where the game isn’t really changed at all, only graphical changes and maybe a new gun or football team (and this year, managers!), I mean new game mechanics and improvements to old ones to make the game more enjoyable. It’s why I liked Rise of the Tomb Raider – it’s pretty close to the previous game, but with new features and improvements to old ones. I like that system of making sequels. I will probably get Dishonoured 2 on November the eleventh, the day it comes out.

 

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I’m trying to point out that there are a lot of queues.

 

After doing that, I decided then was my time to go and meet the Yogscast. I’ve been a fan of that lot for quite a long time now I think about it, but I’ve only ever met HAT Films at a convention before. The experience of actually meeting these people who you’ve been watching videos and live streams of nearly every day for the past 5 years is a slightly bizarre one, to say the least. You think you know these people, because you do to an extent – you know some random things about their lives from the stories they’ve told, on the way over on the train I was listening to the Triforce podcast where Lewis was talking about weird things that have happened to him at conventions, and previously he’d been talking about dealing with his landlord and giving away details about the flat he was living in, but when you’re standing in front of him and actually talking to him, you suddenly realise that you don’t actually know this person, and he doesn’t know you at all.

 

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Actaully a very nice T-shirt.

 

In spite of that, Lewis actually was excellent at making conversation with the people who came up to meet him. He asked me a couple of questions and was very confident. He somehow made it very easy to talk to him, which is a real talent. We didn’t talk long, however, as there was a big queue behind me. I moved through Duncan, Kim and Turps, none of whom I talked to at all really other than saying hello and asking each other how the other was. I’m used to this; I am pretty awful at conversations, especially if I’m expected to lead it, and also it should be said that they were all about to have a break, so they were looking a bit worn out.

The other half of the Yogscast that was there was on the other side and required a different queue. This side had only just started so the energy with all of them was much higher and they seemed more enthusiastic. I met Hannah, who was very friendly and eager to talk, Caffcast, who was equally talkative, Vadact, who I’d never heard of and didn’t really say anything to me and of course, HAT films. Trott laughed at his own signature because he felt it wasn’t as good as anyone else’s, Ross was cheerful and friendly, and I actually had a 30-second conversation with Smith about Dishonoured. All in all, meeting the Yogscast was a very worthwhile thing to do.

 

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Thanks, Sony, the backlight really makes taking a picture easy (Not! Lol!).

 

After that I had lunch and decided to have a bit more of a look around the place for my next adventure. I saw the new PS4, which is indeed smaller, and I saw the PS4 Pro, which I think looks a bit weird to be brutally honest, but whatever. I then had a look at all the different PC stands like Scan who were trying to flog their very fancy looking PCs for a lot more money than I’d ever pay for anything ever. I was slightly gratified that most PCs they were showing off had the same keyboard and mouse combo that I use, I suppose Corsair was sponsoring them.

I then moved on to have a look at the Retro Arcade, featuring genuine retro things, like ZX Spectrums, Commodore 64s and a BBC Micro, what I have one of. They also had a couple of Xbox 360s and PS3s. It’s too soon; I’m not ready to accept it. I spent quite a long time here, looking at all the different old gaming machines, like an original asteroids machine which I played quite a lot of.

By the time I’d torn myself way, there were only about 40 minutes left of the convention, and that’s when I found, tucked away in the corner, Horizon Zero Dawn. I really wanted to have a go on that, but I was too late; they’d accepted their final group of people. I’ve really wanted just to know what that game is and if I should get excited about it. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to wait until the game has more information made public, or when it is reviewed – what a struggle life is.

It then wasn’t long before the event was closed, and I was heading home. I’d had a pretty great day out, even though I didn’t feel I’d achieved very much, but you could say that is what makes a day great. I’m for sure going back next year, and probably every year – it’s not something I’d miss, unless they moved it to Swindon or somewhere.

This post ended up a lot longer than I thought it’d be. This is why people have editors, I suppose, but because I don’t, you’ll have to manage for now – poor you.