VGT – Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

When I was in junior high school, I had a friend named Andy.  We lived in the same neighborhood and I was often asked to “watch the house and feed the cats” when his family was away on vacation.  As a young teenager, I enjoyed having a place to myself and would often watch movies on their Sony Betamax.  They also had a Texas Instrument TI-99 with several game cartridges.  I don’t remember if the games were any good, but it was cool to have a computer all to myself.  Hmm…  They had a Betamax, which was an unsuccessful video medium – and a TI-99, which was an relatively unsuccessful computer system.  I’m not making any judgments, but I hope that Andy’s parents didn’t play the stock market.

Texas Instrument TI-99/4A

Texas Instrument TI-99/4A

Since becoming a retro game collector, I’ve been keeping an eye out for this classic computer from the 80’s.  I have a simple standard for collecting computers – they simply must have a game cartridge slot.  If it does have a slot, then it is no longer a computer in my eyes, but a gaming system.  I was recently at a friend’s garage sale.  I didn’t see a lot that I was interested in but casually asked if they had any older game systems they wanted to sell.  She remarked that she only had some old Texas Instrument computer that they have been storing in the attic since the 80’s.  She couldn’t get it right then but she promised to bring it by and we could make a deal.

Box Front

Box Front

She came by a few days later and I could not believe it – she still had the original box!  Unfortunately, it had severe heat damage but it was still interesting to see the original package and even a rebate sticker still on the box.  The back of the box was in much better shape and it showed how the TI-99 was supposed to be used.   The ultimate setup had the computer with a monitor, a voice synthesis module, joysticks, a modem coupler, and a huge expansion pack.  I’m sure that it would have costs at least $5,000 back then to have every component.

Box Back

Box Back

My newly purchased computer included the system, RF adapter (for connection to television), 2 joysticks (broken), a voice synthesis module, and 2 game cartridges.  I had all the equipment, but would it still work after storage in a hot attic for more than thirty years?  YES!

TI-99 screen

After searching for the right television connections, I turned it on and the TI-99 start screen came right up.  It had a friendly rainbow of colors!  Even though it gave me the option of programming in BASIC right away, I chose to turn it back off and load the first game cartridge: Ms. PacMan.

She's more than Pacman with a bow!

She’s more than Pacman with a bow!

The game didn’t look too bad and I was surprised to get decent sound as well.  But with broken joysticks, I had to try and play the game using the keyboard.  Normally, that would not be a problem except the computer has no number pad, so I had to use letter keys.  It was hard for me to remember so I died frequently.  I can play Ms. PacMan on much better systems – so enough of that!

Unsuccessful Wumpus hunting

Unsuccessful Wumpus hunting

The second cartridge was for a strange game called Hunt the Wumpus.  I did not have any instructions, but I wandered a maze until I was killed by the Wumpus.  This game had no appeal to me without some understanding of the game’s purpose.  I would have been very disappointed back in the eighties to spend a lot of money on a cartridge like this and then play it.  I couldn’t even get a decent picture of the maze, although the game seemed to delight in telling me how many times the Wumpus killed me.

Wumpus 3, Ted 0

Wumpus 3, Ted 0

What do I think of this as a game system?  Well, before I pronounce judgment I need to be on the lookout for more games.  There are plenty of them for sale out there.  I seem to remember playing Miner 49er on the system back at Andy’s house, so I’m definitely going to look for that one.  But so far, this is a game system that is a challenge to set up, has broken joysticks, and has either sub par games or games that I have better versions on other systems.  This one, for now, is destined for display on the shelf.  I made a short video on youtube about the TI-99/4A for you to watch below:

VGT – Playing Atari On My Colecovision

I mentioned in my previous post about the Colecovision, that when I purchased it, I received a bonus.  That bonus was an expansion module that allows me to play Atari 2600 games on my Colecovision.  Why would I want to do it?  That is a good question.  I already have an Atari 2600 that was given to me by a friend.  But now I don’t have to unplug my Colecovision from the TV and then set up my Atari!  Instead, I plug in the large awkward expansion module and then start playing River Raid with less fuss!

Expansion Power!

Expansion Power!

Why did Colecovision build such an expansion?  For one, it gave them the ability to truthfully claim that they had the largest game library of all the systems at the time.  It is amazing to me that they were able to build the expansion module (and later the Gemini) using “off the shelf” parts which prevented Atari from any legal recourse.  It is perhaps even more incredible that it still works today, almost thirty years later.

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Swordquest – Fireworld on the Expansion Module

The third party Atari joystick that came with my purchase does not work well, but I have several authentic Atari joysticks – and there is always the Genesis joypad.  I can’t say whether the Expansion Module worked better than an original Atari 2600 but it certainly worked the same.  I wonder what the cost was like back then?  Did a person actually save money by purchasing the Expansion Module?  I would guess that if was cheaper it was only marginally less.  But there is such a cool nerd factor in having one system’s games play on another.  That is just not supposed to happen right?  But I love that stuff.  I remember back in the mid 90’s when I connected a Gameboy expansion to my Super Nintendo – and then plugged my Super Nintendo into the TV card installed on my Pentium computer – and it worked.  I thought I was the coolest guy around – playing Gameboy games on my computer monitor.  It’s amazing that I’ve ever had a girlfriend, or even convinced a woman to marry me.

But wait, there's more!

But wait, there’s more!

The final bonus of my Colecovision purchase was that I actually received not one but TWO of them.  The second one seems to be fully functional except for the power adapter.  The controllers don’t seem to work perfectly but I hope to repair them with a good cleaning.  It just means more fun playing around with my childhood dream, the Colecovision!  Thanks for letting me share it with you.

VGT – Colecovision Discovery

I remember the first time I ever saw a Colecovision.  I was in junior high and was invited over to a friend’s house in my neighborhood.  We were friends but not necessarily best friends – that all changed when I saw his Colecovision.  I wanted to be his best friend for life!  When I was young, I did not have any of the newer gaming systems at my house.  Sure, we had a Pong clone but it just wasn’t as much fun as those newer cartridge based systems.  So what did I do?  I made sure that I had friends with game systems!  I don’t want it to sound like  video games were the ONLY reason I chose my friends,  because that is not true.  But most of my friends had similar interests – sports, computers, and video games.

When I saw the Colecovision, I could not help but to compare it to the Atari 2600.  The Colecovision was easily superior in both graphics and sound.  Donkey Kong looked, sounded, and played like the real arcade version (or at least closer to anything I had experienced up to that point).  The controller was a tad bit difficult to use, but it only added to the challenge.

The other day I was listing an item for sale on Craigslist.  Just on a whim, I decided to search using the term “Colecovision” and I was surprised to get a hit from a seller who lived just down the road from me.  He was selling a Colecovision and a “Super Intendo” for $70.  I was surprised that it was still available – but after reflection, it may be that it was because of the word “Intendo” rather than “Nintendo.”  Perhaps it wasn’t coming up in searches?  I don’t know.  We made arrangements for the sale.  He was a nice person who had played with the game systems when he was a boy.  He was cleaning out his attic and decided to sell his “Super Intendo”.  I decided not to correct his incorrect pronunciation of one of the most popular video game systems in history.  Both systems were in excellent condition, with several games.  Plus, there was a huge bonus item which I will discuss in a future blog entry.

Colecovision and Games

Colecovision and Games

The Colecovision needed some cleaning (the Intendo was in excellent condition) but I really enjoyed cleaning it up with cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.  I had to clean the contacts on all of the games but they all worked.  Of course the controllers were just as cumbersome as I remembered.  The side buttons did not work very well but I disassembled the controllers and cleaned them up – they worked good as new.  I had heard that you can play some Colecovision games with a Sega Genesis controller so I gave it a try.  You sure can!  The three best games I played were Donkey Kong, Galaxian, and Q-bert.   WarGames is based on the hit movie from the 80’s but it looked pretty complex.  I’m probably going have to search on the internet and figure out how to play it.  It looks like some kind of super complicated Missile Command.  I didn’t try to play Pit Stop but I assume it has something to do with racing and not going to the bathroom on a long trip.

It still runs great!

It still runs great!

As a collector, I have a mental list of certain game systems I would love to own.  The Colecovision was on my list.  I always wanted to have one to call my own.  Adding it to my collection is the fulfillment of a childhood dream.  Maybe now I will have friends who want to hang out at my house just to play it too!  Of course they would probably be complete nerds – but that’s OK with me!

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 – 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.

2014-03-03 06.14.17

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!”

VGT – How A Microsoft Surface Saved Me from the Brink of Death

Today is a special day!  My blog is also being posted on another great website: theologygaming.com.  Check out some of the many great entries that Zachary Oliver has been writing!

There I was, laying on the couch and struggling to breathe.  Congestion clouded my brain and fever raced through my system.  Well, maybe I didn’t have a fever – but I did feel extremely horrible.  It was just a bad cold but I know that there seems to be some flu and cold bugs floating around lately.  How was I on the brink of death?  I wasn’t able to find or play any video games during my four days of sickness!

At first it didn’t matter but after a two days I had viewed every movie or TV show that I ever cared to watch on Netflix.  I even watched two episodes of My Little Pony for goodness sake.  That doesn’t make me a brony.  I didn’t have the mental aptitude to play Assassin’s Creed 3.  Conner is trying to save his village from destruction (again) and that requires careful thought, planning, and various skills with blades – so that game was out.  Then I thought, “My iPhone, maybe that will save me.” – but the screen is too small and isn’t everybody getting tired of their iPhone these days?  It’s kind of funny but now when I see someone using the new Samsung Galaxy phones – at first I thought it looked ridiculous with such a large phone, but now, I look at my iPhone and it looks so small, so insignificant.  That’s marketing for you.

My Windows 8

My Windows 8

Then I saw it on the corner of my ottoman, my Microsoft Surface sitting there like a neglected friend.  Sure, when I bought the Surface I was just curious and I wanted to experience Windows 8.  It’s been a largely positive experience and I love learning new operating systems – seriously, I do.  But I just haven’t been able to love the device.  There’s nothing wrong with it, I just feel like Microsoft is trying to catch up to Apple iPad and they have a long way to go.  At first there weren’t many apps in the Windows 8 store, but the amount of downloads have picked up lately.  So I explored the Windows store and came across two old friends – available for free download.  My old friends were Microsoft Solitaire Collection and Minesweeper.  They were the perfect types of game for my Dayquil addled brain to play – and I was able to at least move one finger. Why weren’t these two Microsoft game staples already on my Surface?  Well, they just weren’t ready yet.  Perhaps the developers needed some extra time to make the games work better with Windows 8.  But now, both games have grown up since the days I played them on a 386 running Windows 3.1.  Both games instantly connected me to my Xbox Live account. Even though I don’t play online with my Xbox 360, I still have an active account and it is nice to know that I can earn achievements while playing these simple games.

No solitary confinement here

No solitary confinement here

For Solitaire, you are given the option of selecting from a wide variety of themes.  I chose a Western theme.  While the game was dealing from a deck of worn cards, I even heard horses neighing in the background.  I have always enjoyed the standard Klondike version but recently have started playing Spider.

Spider with a western theme

Spider with a western theme

Controls are simple and sensible – you use your finger to drag cards to where you want them to go.  The Daily Challenges are a lot of fun too.  There are three per day, and they are all challenging but solvable  – and there is no limit on attempts.

More than just a facelift

More than just a facelift

But Minesweeper saved my life.  Arkadium games  somehow took this simple game and gave it a facelift.  You can play it the same way you always have, but I was sucked into the Minesweeper Adventure.  In this game, you are a little explorer in a dark, treasure-filled cavern and you need to get to the exit.  The cavern is filled with gold, treasure, maps, weapons, enemies, and mines of course.  I played that game for a full hour without even noticing how miserable I was feeling. That’s the magic of a good game.  That’s the magic of a good movie or a good book as well.  Stories, games, and adventures take you away from thinking about yourself for a while.

More than just minesweeping

More than just minesweeping

As many of you know, I am a seminary student.  I still have a full-time job working in computers and technology, but I decided almost two years ago to work on getting a Masters of Divinity.  I take one or two classes per semester.  What am I going to do with it?  I don’t know exactly, but throughout my life I have often found myself working with children.  I enjoy preaching to kids.  It is a lot more challenging than you may think and I often use games and stories to teach them and get a point across.

Wild Man Ted leading a children's church

Wild Man Ted leading a children’s church

When I think about it, I’m doing for children the same thing that Minesweeper and Solitaire have recently been doing for me.  For a short time, I want to get the listeners to stop thinking about themselves – to set aside their own lives for a moment and think about something new and different.

I think Jesus was a master storyteller.  People loved to listen to him because he talked about subjects they could relate to.  Imagine how a farmer might have felt, sitting on a hillside and listening to Jesus talk about a sower throwing seeds on the ground – what a great story!  Or perhaps to be a shepherd and hear Jesus tell a story about a shepherd leaving ninety nine safe sheep to go and search for that one lost lamb.  At the very least. a listener with the hardest of hearts would come away feeling entertained.  However, for those who “had ears to hear”, how much more did they gain as they heard words of life coming from the lips of Jesus?