The Insane Engineering of the Gameboy

Nice video giving an overview of the classic handheld’s architecture. The opening may be a little bit harsh IMHO, but also not unwarranted. At least, the way that I look at it the hardware is closer to what a microcomputer could have passed for just over a decade prior, and devices like the Apple II or TRS-80 were hardly portable and battery friendly devices.

That’s a trend that I think largely tends to continue with really portable devices. I remember looking at data about the first Raspberry Pi, and decided it would likely be on par with a ten year old PC — except closer in size to a credit card than a microwave oven, and pretty darn cheap. Likewise, while I find the Steam Deck’s graphics very unimpressive, I find it amazing that someone crammed an Xbox One level of horse power into such a portable package.

It’s pretty darn cool how that sort of evolution plays out, even if my wrist watch literally has an order of magnitude more computing power than my first Personal Computer….

Apparently, one of the reasons Steam Deck’s underlaying technology owes to Nier Automata if the itnerviewlets at Proton and Tier: Automata – the unique story behind what makes Steam Deck tick, are to be believed. Which really doesn’t surprise me.

Steam Deck’s graphics and battery life in my opinion aren’t as impressive as achieving them in such a small, portable package. You get roughly Xbox One grade graphics from roughly Xbox One grade hardware, and x86 will never offer great battery life under heavy load. But it’s got one thing I love most of all.

Video games work on it. There’s a fair bit of video games on Steam that actually have a native Linux version, and unlike the support for macOS, it’s not quite a joke. But the vast majority of games are Direct3D based games for Windows that require DirectX. That’s how video games are written in this world.

Yet, Steam Deck runs them well as the hardware is capable. In ways that I was never able to achieve back in the day, now more than a decade in the past, using purely Wine and derivative solutions. So I find myself very glad now that folks made a video game with 2B and 9S 🙂

Actually, that reminds me: I’ve been debating picking up a copy of the game on Steam one of these sales. Haven’t played it since I was active on console, and I haven’t even bothered to hook up Deathstar One since moving thanks to getting Rimuru operational and Steam Deck largely taking over for both the ol’ Steam Link and Deathstar One.

Tomb Raider Remastered

One of the games that I’ve been waiting for has recently released, and largely consumed my Saturday plans. That’s of course, Tomb Raider I-III Remastered.

Whereas Tomb Raider: Anniversary took the settings and general concepts and made a decent to good Tomb Raider game out of modern technology, it quite rapidly bugged me. Almost nothing about the game connected with my childhood. So while I enjoyed that, it was also disappointing. And quite franky, I think that the 2013 – 2018 Survivor trilogy has become the best Tomb Raider games we’ve got since the original PlayStation.

Tomb Raider remastered however is *exactly* my childhood! It’s literally a 1:1, or as much as it can be with the PC’s save anytime you like system instead of the silly save crystals used in the Sony PlayStation release. Which quite honestly, I prefer the PC approach because you can say fuck it and reload a save right before a series of difficult jumps, or a room that’s liable to break your neck or cause drowning.

The original Tomb Raider was one of the games of its era that I enjoyed as a kid. Both playing it myself and watching my brother play through the entire trilogy. I loved that the game spent more emphasis on exploring and circumnavigating the tombs than on running around shooting things, which is more or less why I didn’t care for TR3 at all. The original is kind of unique among Tomb Raider games, and has never quite been replicated — it’s also one of my favorites 😁

One of the remaster’s better features IMHO is the ability to toggle between the remastered graphics and the classic graphics, similar to the remaster of Halo CE. In classic mode, it’s like looking at my childhood, if you had a crystal clear rendering to a 4K screen instead of a PlayStation hooked up to composite video and a tube TV, lol. In remastered graphics, the game remains very faithful and it is superbly respectful of what the original game looked like: while also improving upon it! The only alteration that I find obvious is that in classic mode, med packs use a green cross rather than a red, similar to modern releases of DooM ’93 and Doom II.

Something that’s also refreshing and horrifying is the mechanics. Literally, they are the same. This means you must play their way or you’ll find yourself leaping off a ledge in frustration. Stella’s Tips & Strategies page was actually a better crash course in remembering how the system worked than the tutorial. If you have any problems with the games mechanics, seriously hit up that page and the video of the running jump, and then go back to Lara’s house and practice until all of the jump exercises in the ball room are easily doable. If not, you’ll end up rage quitting before ever leaving Peru 😝. The mechanics aren’t hard, but are no longer natural, and seemingly require tank controls, and TR may be the only ’90s era game where those were actually a good thing compared to modern controls.

In fact, if you ever need a guide on a TR game, I highly recommend Stella’s site. We now live in the world of Google, Game FAQs, IGN, Wikia, and countless other just Google it and you’ll either find a walkthrough or a clue somewhere. But Stella’s guides are probably the best resource you’re ever going to find for the original Trilogy, and good options for any of the later TRs I’m sure.

Back in the day, we spent lots of time trying to figure out the original Tomb Raider. At some point, my brother probably bought the strategy guide because he usually bought those for every game. Heck, I can still remember Saint Francis’ Folly and the various puzzle rooms. Our mother never had an interest in video games or really, games at all. Us having questions about Greek and Egyptian mythology in our search for puzzle-room solutions was probably the closest she ever came to playing a game with us.

If you want to video game like it’s 1996, go play Tomb Raider!

What harm ever came from reading a book?

Sometimes games are hilarious, even if unintentionally. Playing Baldur’s Gate 3, I managed to make three savings throws in a row (DC 10, 15, 20) without being cursed by the Necromancy of Thay….and the game crashed as I try to stuff the book into a storage backpack.

Last night, I had encountered coffins while exploring an apothecary’s cellar, and lo and behold behind a secret passage I found some coffins! Thinking it must be vampires, I swapped one of my party mates for our resident vampire and went to investigate thinking he might offer some insight or gain som inspiration. Nah, it wasn’t vampires.

Skeleton leapt out of the box and soon a whole bunch of skelemen go running around triggering coffins and marching around like some kind of romanized dragur and I’m like what the fuck. And then I found the contents of the last coffin, which included a rock with “Nut Buster” scratched on it in claw marks, a dagger named the poo scraper that has clearly seen worse things than the abyss, and a skull named friend that was creatively used for a Cast Away reference. Then after a visit to a magic mirror full of riddles, and maybe a Harry Potter reference, I found the necromancer’s lab. Complete with a very Necronomicon inspired book behind a locked and trapped door, and looked it up on the wiki. Apparently you read it and get a perm boon or cursed for like fifty rolls or something.

At that point, I said screw it and decided to go to bed. Because I’m not such a fool as to ignore an obvious Evil Dead reference after what happened with the skeletons! And turns out, after a bit more of questing this morning it was worth while to go battle the spider to get the key to the book. Because who doesn’t want to fight teleporting, poison spewing spiders the size of Grog and their matriarch the size of a semi who summons swarms of spiders the size of small dogs!?! But compared to when I found their lair on my way to the goblin camp the first time, it was more “What the fuck did we just fight through” and less sucidal thanks to the level progression.

Having taken a lunch break and time to do other things, I eventually headed back to my various quest antics. And decided as I start wrapping up for the night to make a save point and try the book. When the game crashed, I laughed. When it asked to verify files because it crashed so hard, I really, really laughed 😀 😀 😀

Varying structure of MGS

A passing thought, from revisiting Metal Gear Solid after twenty years.

MGS2: Sons of Liberty, was pretty much an epic stretch of gameplay punctuated by boss fights to drive the convoluted plot forward.

MGS3: Snake Eater, was pretty much made with boss fights serving to section the various areas of the game as the plot moves forward.

MGS4, sadly I didn’t get to play, because it was a PlayStation exclusive and I haven’t owned one since the PS2. But I’m pretty sure, it must’ve had no shortage of annoying boss fights if Kojima was involved (^_^).

MGS5: The Phantom Pain, took more of a “What the fuck is this!?” method of leaping out of the closet and tossing an unexpected boss fight at you.

And then there’s the original Metal Gear Solid: a series of boss fights, punctuated by the rest of the game.

Metal Gear is kind of like James Bond movies, in its use of unique villains. except being a video game: they’re far more annoying IMHO. But I can’t help but feel that that the original Solid, feels a lot more like a marathon of boss fights compared to its sequels. Like SOL didn’t just add the features they didn’t have time to ship, it also brought a much needed focus on the core gameplay loop.

On the flip side in MGS1: we also get Kojima’s story at some of its finer moments in Metal Gear boss-battle mania. Sniper Wolf and Psycho Mantis’s boss battles aren’t very satisfying battles themselves, but they have well written finishes for Metal Gear villains. The difficulty is often skewed like mad, e.g., fighting Grey Fox is “Huh, is it broken?” kind of easy compared to Psycho Mantis’ zipping around the commander’s office despite being very similar fights. You hit the Ninja as he lumbers towards you and he’s stunned for ages. You hit Mantis, and you may have had to spray and pray to hit the bastard before he flys off again. Some are more strategic, such as going round two with Vulcan Raven where you can use claymores to counter the shaman’s mini-gun of death. And some are just kind of absurd but surprisingly well balanced, like fighting Vulcan in the M1 tank and Liquid showing up in a Hind-D. But if nothing else, the original game offers a lot of boss battles. And then to bracket it out some more, we get odds and ends like the elevator incidents :D.

Ahh, and next comes REX!

Return to Metal Gear Solid

One upside of it being the weekend and not spending all of it working on computer shit, is I finally get to dip my hands in the new Steam releases that just dropped early this week.

Metal Gear Solid is a game that I greatly enjoyed, but never really got all the way through since I had to borrow my brother’s copy. I haven’t played the original ‘Solid in about twenty years.

Breezing through the really short VR training pre-amble to see just how rusty I am, was a great feeling. Nailed most on the first go, just had to remember the speed difference between crawl and run. making it through the docks in the beginning in complete stealth was certainly better than I ever did as a kid when the game came out in 1999.

I really got into Metal Gear Solid after the dedicated VR Training missions disc was released. Out of 300 training missions, I think I had completed somewhere into the upper two hundreds. Basically everything except for the more challenging time attacks. In particular, I was fond of the simulations where you’re given a handful of weapons and get very creative in eliminating enemies that far out numbered the ammunition provided. Those were always the more fun “Who dares, wins!” simulations that left you breathing hard and finding unique ways to make the most of things. I guess, it would prepare me for how many times I’ve been jokingly told I have a roll of duct tape and a aluminum foil, only to have to make a satellite dish in twenty minutes 😋.

Curious about how well my memory has held up after twenty years. Good enough to be wandering around B2 thinking m “Hey, aren’t there claymores or C4 to kill you if you’re careless here? Ahh, it was pit traps. C4s for the walls.” Someways after the tank battle is where my recollections of the first game becomes more derivatives from reading the strategy guide twenty years ago rather than how far I got.

Metal Gear Solid 2 was the first in the series that I completed, and aside from the fun times mugging sentries for their dog tags aside, was enough of a trek that I don’t have as much interest in revisiting it as the first. Particularly due to some of the more annoying boss battles like chasing a fat man on roller skates around as he plays mad bomber.

Metal Gear Solid 3 is the one that truly impacted me, and thus, I’m very much looking forward to the upcoming remake. If they basically made the game the same thing but in the engine from MGS 5 and modern textures, I’d be happy.

In the mean time I’m enjoying the trip back to 1999s original entry in the Solid series of Metal Gear games. As such a fan of Big Boss, it’s especially a nice contrast revisiting it with Solid Snake and Meryl at the focal point.

In MGS, Snake is already the legend who defeated Big Boss twice and lived. We all know his attitudes and that reality always kills your expectations, if they’re not driven by the results. Meryl makes quite the foil, as the naive rookie yet to find her own path. It’s a dramatic contrast from Big Boss, whose naïveté paints the story of how his innocence is lost in MGS 3: Snake Eater, as he’s forced to define his own meaning to what it means to be loyal to the end. Becoming both the hero and the villain of future Metal Gear games.

A good first

Today’s the first time outside of gaming contexts that I’ve encountered someone familiar with Metal Gear Solid. Wow, it’s only taken about 20 to 25 years….lol

For some reason this just makes me remember an old post I read a zillion years ago, about you know your game is in trouble when X. In many cases, it was when some department came back asking are you sure the product is in 3D? — yeah, it was that long ago.

But the part that stuck was one quip, where people were standing around testing and noticed the face of Jesus Christ when looking at the wall textures. And no one had intentionally done it, it just kind of happened. Out of perhaps a few hundred posts (tweets wouldn’t exist for many years yet 😜), that one was kind of hard to top.

MicroSD cards

When I decided to grab a Steam Deck during the last sale, I opted to take advantage of the opportunity to get the 512 GB model rather than my default choice of the 256 GB. Overall this has worked out pretty well, since most of the games I’m more inclined to play laying in bed or sacrifice the power of 4 pounds of RTX for portability’s sake, on the whole tend to be on the smaller side. That is to say under 35 GB and often closer to under 10 GB.

On my Xbox One, aka Deathstar One, I’m used to the peasy 500 GB of storage being augmented by 3 to 4 TB of platter drives. Which made things a lot more roomy over the years as typical game sizes started to spring past 60 GB and toward 90 GB and beyond.

So much in the same way, the Steam Deck’s 512 GB of storage is rather small one you start loading larger games in the over 60 GB club. With about 200 GB of the 460-something GB capacity filled, I think this is a fair trade off between capacity and affordability. The 256 GB model, I suspect would feel pretty tight once you load modern “Big assed” video games on the device.

Effectively, I’m straddling the line between not having to care and needing to pay attention to what I install. For example a few more recent games the size of dual and quad layer Blu-ray discs, and I’d have cause to manage storage but for games measured in terms of CD-ROM or a few single or dual layer DVD, there’s enough capacity to be well stocked for a nice vacation.

I’ve been meaning to take a look at the cost of larger MicroSD cards since getting the ‘Deck. When I came across yet-another Best microSD Cards for Steam Deck article, I decided to take a gander since it would likely recommend larger cards. Then I realized a nice 512 GB microSD card cost about as much as the handful of 64 GB cards I bought a year or two ago, as a mixture of refitting vintage computers with non vintage SCSI/IDE drives and restocking my pool of memory cards for random Raspberries.

Racking up pretty nice results in Amorphous Disk Mark, I can’t help but think if SD slots weren’t as rare as they are, at these prices I’d start using the smaller sizes as modern floppy disks for those times I don’t feel like busting out my external NVMe to USB-C drive :D.

SIGNALIS – Survival Horror Done Awesomely

It’s relatively rare that a contemporary game invokes so much feeling of games like Resident Evil or Dino Crisis, yet don’t become overly difficult or annoying. Much less, one that tends to have a more entailing story than DooM or Zombie Master.

SIGNALIS on the other hand….wow. Not really into the pixel art inspired style, but I love the choice of a quasi top down twin stick approach (and tank controls for you gluttons out there). It even tickles my inner wonders for how much our future has in common with Blade Runner.

By and large though, I think SIGNALIS is the closest I’ve experienced to the original Resident Evil since the original Resident Evil and its Director’s Cut on the original PlayStation. One thing I also love, is that it draws a similar balance: there is plenty of opportunity to prefer running past and dodging the monsters out to eat^H^H^H slice your face off, and a fair enough supply of ammunition to shoot your way out of hostile situations. But both talents are advised given the ratio of enemies and ammunition. You can run past or blast most enemies, but certainly not all the enemies.

While the door animations thing in RE was somewhere between dull after its zillionth door more than suspenseful, the occasional first personification of puzzles and certain environments are neat. Somehow it manages to invoke both that classic survival horror genre “What the fuck am I supposed to do with this?” along with keeping it simple enough that the back tracking is not extreme, and like good ol’ RE, often if you explore everywhere it’s likely that some clue or solution will eventually present itself.

Being a fan of Metal Gear Solid, I also rather loved the radio frequencies bit :).

Since the games use of German exceeds my limited ability at reading it, and I’m unable to read the occasional Chinese characters that pop up; I’m also quite happy that the game manages to be quite friendly to those of us who can’t read All The Things ™ in the art language and need translation; or at least, with some effort there is usually enough English available that it isn’t a problem. More often you’ll be asking yourself what can you do in a puzzle than needing to worry about translation.

Also, did I mention it was great fun? Well, at least if you enjoyed some of the survival horror games around the turn of the millennium.