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Bill Loguidice's picture

A few videogame, computer and related things (or "things I learned") I've been doing in the past few days of "vacation"

I've been on vacation from work with the wife and kids at home since last Friday (until the 30th), so I've actually had time to do some videogame, computer and related things I've been meaning to do for a very long time. As I mentioned in another thread my wife had a cookie party on Saturday, so I took some time away from all the ladies with my dad by retiring to the basement and getting his help with finishing upgrading/repairing the modified Hero Jr robot and PAL-based Exidy Sorcerer, as well as repairing a spare Nintendo DS Lite in an aftermarket case and Microsoft Xbox 360 wireless controller.

Hero Jr

The Hero Jr needed a mismatched rechargeable battery swapped out (about 1/3 the size of a car battery) and Y2K ROM upgrades put in. Once we figured out how to remove all the casing, it was relatively easy to swap in the new battery. Shockingly, even without charging, the robot went through all of its self-tests (sonar, light sensor, sound senor, driving, etc.) successfully. The ROM chips were a bit more difficult, but once we took the head casing off and removing a stacked circuit board it was just a matter of pulling two chips and placing the two replacements in the socket. Easy, though of course it took many tries to plug certain wires back into the correct spots--in this case it was the sonar test that was failing before we figured out how to resolve it. Anyway, running through the tests and having everything work was quite nice and of course the girls were very excited to have the robot finally working and doing his thing (it's tough to make out his speech initially as it's speech synthesis circa 1983/4, but you quickly get up to speed). The one last thing I tried was the multi-cart I got, which has all of the cartridges ever made for the Hero Jr, which mostly consists of games and programming options (you plug either a classic computer, terminal or modern system with Hyperterminal into its RS-232 port and program it that way (it has a special BASIC as well as a more advanced language)).

I've been using the robot in its various built-in modes and some of the programs from the multi-cart, but haven't been able to do anything particularly profound with it as of yet, as it really requires reading the documentation, particularly the programming part. Not sure when I'll get to that, but it's at least ready to do stuff with which it wasn't for the longest time since I got it. I'll do a real blog post on it at some point with video and what-not. (As an aside, Amazon had the R2-D2 robot for like 40% off for a few hours, so I jumped on that as a consolation prize for not being able to afford the Ultimate Wall-E robot, so the girls will have a new robot to go along with the Hero Jr for Christmas)

Exidy Sorcerer

A long time ago I received a VERY expensive Exidy Sorcerer and BASIC cartridge from The Netherlands. What the seller failed to tell me was that he cut the power plug before shipping, so there was no plug-in end. It's the PAL version of the Sorcerer, but there's a relatively straightforward conversion process to NTSC (and in fact the other way for NTSC machines), which essentially involves cutting some traces, retracing some more circuits and putting a new plug on the cut end of the power cord. Unfortunately, it requires a level of electronics sophistication I just don't have at this point and it was too much to tackle with my father. Luckily I was able to get an NTSC Exidy Sorcerer for a relative steal (with disk drives that may or may not be matched to it) recently (it should arrive soon), so I can use the PAL one as a parts machine. I have various software items for the computer (on cassette), documentation and a huge custom S-100 expansion box with 8" disk drives. That's another computer with little info available on the net begging for some real good video and blogging coverage. (By the way, technically I can just put a 220v plug on the end and just use my power converter to make it work here, which is the easiest way of getting it going. In fact, I just need to track that end down so I can wire it)

Nintendo DS Lite and Xbox 360 Controller

My girls each got used Nintendo DS Lites from a friend of the family (my wife's co-worker, after her boys got new ones). Amelie, my oldest, who's four, plays with hers regularly and has some age appropriate games. My youngest, Olivia, who's two and a bit destructive, broke hers pretty soon after getting it. The copper ribbon connector at the hinge got busted. Unfortunately, there's really no way that my father or I could figure out how to repair that type of connection, so we crossed it off as another "not happening". Not sure what I'll do with the unit, but it's pretty much a lost cause. (both of those Nintendo DS Lite's were placed in aftermarket cases and exhibit the standard limp hinge syndrome, where it only stays open in the fully extended position)

As for the Xbox 360 controller, it's a third controller and unfortunately has a faulty stick. You need a special bit to remove the screws and unfortunately the one I have can't fit in the narrow pathway, so I unfortunately need to get a special tool or an extender to reach in there. Another failure.

Hulk Blu Ray Movie and Metal Gear Solid 4 on the PS3

We got the Blu Ray version of the latest Hulk movie from Netflix. I can't say I was into seeing it, as I liked the Ang Lee one before it, but was a bit burnt out on the whole Hulk concept. My wife wanted to see it though (Ed Norton fan) so I of course acquiesced. In short, I was totally surprised as it kicked butt. A great, great film, right up there with my favorite super hero films of all time. Unfortunately the disc had some damage on it and we weren't able to see it all the way to the end. Netflix is sending a replacement which should arrive on Tuesday, so we'll be able to see the rest of it. I can't wait.

I also got Metal Gear Solid 4 for the PS3 from Gamefly, which is another one I was putting off spending time with. In short, it's technically impressive, but I couldn't wrap my head fully around the controls or get good situational awareness. It was also of course cut scene heavy (the classic "why am I WATCHING cool stuff instead of DOING cool stuff). I sent it back along with the damaged Hulk disc. It's just not for me.

My Multi-game Arcade Machine (very out-of-date photo: http://farm2.static.flickr.com/1184/606398762_4a1dfa01bd_o.jpg)

This is the one I've been working on for a few days now and I've just finished up all I'm going to do on it for a while. Right now, my machine, which is running Windows XP SP 2 behind it, is primarily a MAME system (and a jukebox for when we work out, among other things), and I've always intended adding Visual Pinball (PinMAME) and Daphne, the laser disc emulator (particularly the former since my machine has pinball-specific buttons) to create the perfect trifecta. Sadly, Visual Pinball doesn't seem to work right specifically with XP SP 2 (it crashes after exiting from a table) and I can't update to SP 3 because it causes an unrecoverable error on my system (not that that would necessarily fix the issue anyway), requiring a very annoying system restore. Future Pinball left me flat as an alternative, so I passed on that as well. I also couldn't get Daphne working right (it didn't seem to point to the right things even though they were apparently all there). This despite having complete sets of both Visual Pinball and Daphne on CD/DVD, and trying the latest versions. So very disappointing there and a waste of a lot of time.

Also, while it has two 8-way joysticks, a four way joystick, a trackball and a spinner, in addition to a plethora of buttons and a light gun, it does not have a steering wheel. I was trying to figure a way to retrofit some plastic wheels I have on the spinner, but essentially it didn't work out (suction cups for instance are too floppy). So the spinner has to double as a steering wheel until I can figure out some type of clamp system (I'll probably try to find and rig something like that in early January). It actually works well enough in games like Pole Position and Super Sprint that I think I could be happy if I can't figure out a sufficient system that I can pop on and off (I don't want to resort to a USB wheel because I haven't seen a free spinning one, which is necessary for certain games like the aforementioned Super Sprint).

Still, even as just a MAME machine and the other things that it does, it's a wonderfully authentic system and I do hope to somehow at some point get a decent and intuitive hard-drive installable pinball and laser disc arcade game setup. Who knows though (there has to be certain considerations for my ArcadeVGA card and monitor, obviously, which support very specific things). Regardless, I'll continue to enjoy it on a regular basis.

On the plus side, all the work on the arcade machine gave me plenty of quality time with the Marvel pinball machine (also shown in that very old photo), giving me a new appreciation for it, even though it's only roughly 3/4 scale. I certainly need to provide proper future coverage of both just like for the other stuff mentioned above.

Next steps

Not sure... I still need to see if I can get the Videobrain computer working and I need to test my recent acquisition of an Ohio Scientific computer. Many, many possibilities and still time for it all...

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