VGT – Sega Master System in 3D

After discovering some Master System 3D glasses in a box filled with Game Gear items, I was driven to find some 3D games for the Sega Master System.  I found two cartridges at Gamers Alley in Cramerton NC.  First, I tried out 3D Maze Hunter and then I played Zaxxon 3D.  I made a video of my experience.  Unfortunately, you can’t experience the 3D like I was!  The video quality isn’t so great but hopefully you will get a taste of what it must have been like to play 3D games back in 1988.  Enjoy!

VGT – XBox One Timeline (Part 2)

The latest Xbox One setup

The latest Xbox One setup

This blog entry is a continuing story from my first timeline about the Xbox One.  Click here to read it.

In late January, I was feeling good and decided to reconnect my Xbox One in the living room.  So what if it can’t play a DVD in sync.  I have a DVD player right?  Besides, I really wanted to play a game designed from the ground up for the next generation.  Did I really buy an Xbox One so I could play Assassin’s Creed 4 and Peggle 2?

Throughout February, I decided that we were not watching cable TV downstairs often enough to justify the expense.  We watched the Olympics on NBC and NCIS on CBS – both nationally broadcasted channels.  Plus, my wife noticed that the voices were not syncing to the pictures.  It worked correctly when directly connected to the TV, so I knew the problem was the HDMI input on the Xbox One.  We decided to return downstairs cable box to Time Warner.

Feb. 22 – I received the HomeWorx  HW150-PVR from Amazon.  It is a digital converter box that is compatible with the Xbox One.  After installing it and connecting it to the Xbox One, I was able to watch over-the-air (OTA) television that would respond to channel changes by voice.  Again, this feature is really great – when it works properly.  If there is a room full of people or activity in the kitchen (cabinets closing or pots clanging), it does not respond well to voice commands.  Regarding the HW150-PVR, it has been an interesting device.  It calls itself a PVR instead of a DVR which means that I can connect an external storage device (in the photo below I have inserted a 16 Gig memory stick) and record over the air television.  I can also pause live television.  This feature works well but it is not user friendly and doesn’t compare at all to the DVR experience.  You have to specifically program the time and channel that you want to record, and even though I set it up for recurring once a week it did not record again after the first time.  I’m sure there is something I did wrong but it is not clear.  Even the remote is confusing.

A close up of the digital converter box

A close up of the digital converter box

Mar. 1 – Feeling crazy on a Friday night, I go to a local game store and purchase a used copy of Ryse: Son of Rome, a true next generation game.  The game is pretty fun and does look fantastic.  However, in the week following, I find the screen freezing up and the Xbox One is extremely hot.  This starts to happen even when watching tv as well.  Then I notice AGAIN, that the TV sound and video are not synchronized.

Mar. 2 – I contact Microsoft support through their website chat.  Since I am clearly under warranty, they send me another system through a program called Advance Exchange.  When it comes in, I just swap machines and ship the defective one back at no charge.   If I do not return the defective system, I may be charged for it.  That is reasonable to me.

Mar. 7 – The replacement arrives and the next morning I install it.

Mar. 8 – During the install, I discover that the replacement Xbox One is endlessly looped in an update.  After completing the update, it tells me that it may restart – then it turns off and never comes back on again.  When I manually turn it on again, it acts like I’m turning it on for the first time.  It updates and shuts off.  Rinse and repeat.  I chat again with the Xbox One technical support.  They send me instructions for an offline update.  It involves putting the update on a USB memory stick and holding certain buttons down while turning it on.  The instructions say the Xbox One will make 2 “turn on” sounds but mine makes 1 “turn on” sound and then 1 “turn off” sound.   After that, the system bricks.  I can’t even get the green Xbox power one screen when I turn it on.  I chat back with Microsoft.  I am told my case is going to be turned over to the Advocacy Team, who will contact me.  I am assured that the end result will be my complete satisfaction.

Mar. 10 – After no contact, I chat again with Microsoft and am told the I would be contacted by the end of the day.

Mar. 12 – Still no contact.  I connect again through chat and I am told that the issue has been escalated and that I would hear something soon.

Mar. 13 – Still nothing.  I contact them again and inform them that I am shipping back the replacement unit since it is bricked.  I don’t want to keep it any longer than necessary.  I am once again assured that I will be taken care of and there will be no charges.  When I mention that it is taking a long time, I am told that is a normal timeline for Microsoft.  I am told to be sure to check my Junk Mail folder, just in case I have been contacted.  I check it.  There is nothing from Microsoft there.

Mar. 15 – I still have not heard anything, and now sadistically am committed to wait it out just to see HOW LONG it will take for Microsoft to take care of a good customer.  It will give me something to write about right?  In the meantime, I have my super hot original game system that still freezes up and plays television out of sync.   But at least I can create art on my laptop using Microsoft Paint!

I made this myself with MS Paint

I made this myself with MS Paint

I think we can all see where my son gets his artistic talent.  Let me compare something he posted on Facebook.  Compare the talent.  You be the judge.

3D Drawing using Maya by Nathan Loring

3D Drawing using Maya by Nathan Loring

I look forward to writing a blog post with good news from Microsoft.  I still believe in them and I like this product.  I can’t wait to get the same experience that my friends are having with it.  For now, I am just in limbo.

VGT – Grieving Over A Lost Brother

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.”  Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)

Brothers.  I have two of them and they are both older than I am.  There is a certain bond that brothers share.  Perhaps it comes from years of making each other miserable.  When we were young, we fought often as brothers – but when the time came we would join together to face any crisis.  Today as adults, we enjoy going on adventures that include golfing, skiing, and mountain biking.  We love to sit around a fire and talk about days gone by.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I first heard about the game Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons when I was on a Theology Gaming podcast with my friend M. Joshua Cauller who has a great website called Love Subverts.  He talked about the unique control scheme for the game in which each brother is controlled by an analog joystick.  The game is designed for a single player to control both individuals on the screen.  The game is available on several platforms including Steam for $14.99.  However, this past week I turned on my PS3 and discovered that the game was a “free” download for PlayStation Plus members.  Since Josh made me curious, I downloaded the game and after a short download time (It wasn’t very large compared to the file size of other modern games) I was soon playing the game.

Death is immediately an important aspect of this game.  At the beginning of the story I discover a boy at the grave of his mother.   He mourns her loss and blames himself for her death.  If that isn’t depressing enough, I quickly discover that the father of the two brothers has become sick.  They take him to the doctor who informs them that there is no hope unless they get some sort of magical elixir from a tree of life located far away.  The two brothers set off to find the cure that will hopefully save their father’s life.

The first part of the game is basically a tutorial in which you learn how to control each of the brothers as they make their way through the hometown.  From what I understand, this was also the demo release of the game.  I encourage you to try this game – even if you played the demo of this game and were disappointed.  This starting level does not reflect the quality of the game as it goes forward!

Brother helping brother

Brother helping brother

The adventures continues as they climb up the mountain with the help of a troll-like creature.  They venture into some caves and caverns.  While inside, they rescue a female troll who turns out to be a spouse of the troll to helped the boys earlier.  It was touching to see the two creatures reunite and embrace one another.

There are giants in the land

There are giants in the land

After the caverns, they find themselves in a land of giants.  They explore a huge room in an enormous castle.  They find a captured griffon-like creature in a cage sitting on a giant desk and set it free.   The griffon flies them from the castle to the next stage of the story – the aftermath of a huge battlefield of fallen giants.  I found this part of the game particularly unique and interesting.  Also, it is important to note that by this point in the game I was completely comfortable with the controls of the game.  I was able to move the older brother with the left joystick and the younger brother with the right joystick almost in perfect harmony with one another.  I was climbing, jumping, and swinging with relative ease.

Griffon ride

Griffon ride

The final stages of the game contain some spoilers SO PLEASE STOP READING IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE THIS GAME FOR YOURSELF.

However…

I was so affected by the story that I must write about it.  The two boys rescue a young woman who leads them on an escape route through freezing water and slippery ice floes.  It is clear that the older brother and the girl are attracted to each other.  They flirt and even kiss one another.  Then she leads them into a cavern and what a surprise!  She morphs into a deadly Spider Queen.  I hate it when that happens!  The two brothers work together to destroy her – but in the process the older brother is bitten and his life is in peril.  They see the tree of life in the distance and slowly make their way to the base of the tree.  The younger brother goes on alone to the top of the tree and fills his canteen with the sap of the tree.  He makes his way down and tries to give his brother the cure but it is too late.  His brother dies in his arms.

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What happens next is what really had an effect on me.  You see, I had been playing the whole game getting used to the controls.  But now there was no brother to control with the left joystick.  He was gone.  He was dead and never coming back.  The younger brother had to dig the grave, put his brother in it, and then bury him.  This gave me a unique feeling of grief.  I have experienced grief and it is remarkably similar.  The person that you are so used to being with is suddenly gone.  It isn’t fair and the suffering is intense.  Just that lone left analog joystick gave me all those feelings.

Finally home

Finally home

The younger brother makes his way home quickly with the help of the Griffin-like creature.  He arrives close to his home but has to swim across a body of water.  In the past, he had to rely on his older brother to swim but now his brother is gone.  However, he summons up the strength and the only way he gets across is when I press the older brother’s action button.  Finally, He makes his way up the path and collapses at the doorway of the doctor’s house.  The doctor administers the elixir, and his father recovers.  So the journey comes to an end with the father saved but a brother lost.  There is a feeling of success but also an intense loneliness.  The game ends with an emotional cut-scene of the father and the remaining son standing at a pair of gravestones.  The father begins to cry and the credits roll.

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A father, son, and two gravestones

Playing through this game was a worthwhile experience.  It had a similar feel of games such as Ico or Shadow of the Colossus.  The controls were hard to get used to – but that actually became an essential part of the game.  I would play through the game again just to wander through that battlefield of slain giants.  This game gets a Video Game Theology score of 8 out of 10.

VGT – Game Gear Gold

I was wheeling and dealing at a local video game store.  This is not always a good thing because I often try to wheel and deal without having any knowledge of the actual value of the items.  I discovered a box filled with Sega Game Gear stuff and made an offer of $50.  Sold to Wild Man Ted!  I took the box home so I could go through it thoroughly and was thrilled to discover not one but FIVE Game Gears in the box with approximately 30 games and other peripherals.  Dollar signs started to roll in my head!  I went to get some AA batteries (a lot of AA batteries!) and began to test the hardware.  It did not take long to discover that I had exactly zero working game systems.  However, it looked as though I had enough working components  make at least one, if not two – fully working games.

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One man’s trash…

Fortunately, the Game Gear is held together almost entirely by phillips head screws, with the exception of a single “security screw”.  I ordered the special screwdriver on Amazon and was soon looking at the guts of several machines.  The 1994 technology was actually pretty impressive.  After far too many hours spent taking each one apart, reassembling, testing, and failing – I finally had some success.

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Taking it apart is easy…

The photo below is a little dark, but I wanted you to see the screen of the one good Game Gear created out of five bad.  The game on the screen is Road Runner Speedtrap.  Did I make a good deal?  It was probably just a break even deal, especially when I consider the hours spent tinkering around.  But I learned a lot and I have a special appreciation for the device.  Even though I already own a Game Gear, it feels good to know that there is another fully functional vintage game system out there.

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What was my motivation?  I have respect for Sega.  I was always a Nintendo fan, but in retrospect I find it impressive that Sega was in the battle for video game supremacy – slugging it out with the Goliath-like Nintendo.  In the competitive handheld market, Nintendo had the lead with the Game Boy – a technically inferior product that still came out on top.  How infuriating it must have been for Sega to lose the popularity battle with a back-lit COLOR screen against a small, monochrome, tilt it just the right way so you can see it Game Boy!  There are reasons why they lost the battle.  With advanced technology came a higher price tag.  Back in the day, I could not afford the $149 price tag of the Game Gear.  Yet, somehow I managed to end up with TWO of the cheaper Game Boys.  Then, there also was battery life.  The Game Gear is a battery hog, and I am lucky to get 5 hours from 6 AA’s.  Meanwhile, the Game Boy rocks on for 10 hours from 2 AA’s.  Of course the final blow, THE GAME BOY HAD TETRIS.  I still play that game (and playing “Columns” on the Game Gear doesn’t compare).

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So now they stand side by side.  Once mortal enemies, they now swap old war stories as they rest in my collection.  Here is my Game Gear – rescued from a box of broken down machines, restored, and now proudly displayed for all to see – and play if they want to.

Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Some versions translate “workmanship” as “masterpiece”.  I like that.  This verse makes me feel a little bit like that old Game Gear.  It was broken and unwanted, yet rescued and put back together.  God does that with us.  He sees the value when no one else does.  he doesn’t even care if it is a “bad deal” for him.  He rescues us and he restores us.  He turns us into his masterpiece.  He looks at us and says, “Look what I did!”