Category Archives: Hardware

A Decade of Dual Screens – 10 Years of the Nintendo DS

I remember seeing the original GameBoy back in the early 90s.

Display Case #3

GameBoy units at the Nintendo Store

My youngest cousin, some 22 years my junior (which is about the same age difference as between my father and I) had one back then.  While I was mildly interested in it due to the fact that she had the Elevator Action cartridge, which faithfully reproduced the arcade game of the same name that I played in my own youth, overall my reaction was tepid.  I had a computer with a 17″ color monitor that played a myriad of deeper, more interesting, and much more colorful video games than the chubby little monochromatic brick battery hog from Nintendo.

But I had made the jump from arcades and consoles ages before the GameBoy showed up.  I dribbled a bit with a Sega Genesis when somebody gave it to me, but other than that I was strictly a computer gamer.  So the GameBoy was something off in the periphery.  I have vague recollections about changes in form factor, the arrival of color, and the advent of what might be the defining game for the platform, the Pokemon series of games.  Though the latter first came to my attention via the trading card game, which brought me to the TV show, and the finally to the realization that it all started as a video game.  That was at approximately the Pokemon Yellow stage of the series.  One of my nieces had a GameBoy Advance SP, which seemed like a flimsy bit of hardware.

And it still wasn’t of much interest.  The internet and online gaming was where it was at for me.

Then, on November 21, 2004 Nintendo officially launched the Nintendo DS in North America.

Again, something on the periphery of my gaming.  It was a big deal and, thus, hard to ignore.  The news bled through and I remember wondering how a two screen system would work and what advantage it would provide.  I think the fact that the unit had more buttons on it that its predecessors made a bigger impression on me.

Of course, by that time I had a daughter of my own, though she was far too young for that sort of thing.  But time passed.  I remember us being at Toys R Us one day when she started playing with one of the DS units on display.  It had Pokemon Diamond running on it and my daughter was transfixed by the idea of wandering the countryside in the game.

Not too long after that, we were preparing for a flight to Hawaii to visit family (my daughter has been to Hawaii more times in her few years than most people will go in their whole lives), when we discovered that the video player, used to maintain our sanity by keep our daughter busy, was no longer holding a charge.  It would not be an option for this trip.  Faced with six hours of “are we there yet?” my wife sent me out specifically to buy a Nintendo DS and a few games in order to keep our daughter busy during the flight.

And it had to be pink.  This was the era of the Nintendo DS Lite, the overhaul of the original hardware and maybe the best packaging Nintendo ever did.

I remember the bit about the color, because when I got to the store, they only had blue units.  So I bought a blue one because, what the hell, right?  My wife wasn’t having that, and when I arrived home with the wrong item she called around, found a pink unit, and sent me out to exchange the red unit for the pink.  That was a little over six and a half years ago.

The whole thing was a big hit, and I was as interested in the Nintendo DS Lite unit and the Pokemon game running on it as my daughter.  Within a few weeks I had my own cobalt blue Nintendo DS Lite and a copy of Pokemon Diamond as well.  I remain impressed with the unit to this day.  It is solid, the screen is crisp and clear and colorful (though a bit small for my aging eyes these days), the battery life is excellent, and the built in WiFi and connectivity with the Wii was a master stroke.

And, of course, Pokemon.

There have been a few other games we have enjoyed on the DS hardware at our house.  The Mario Kart games have been good, and my daughter has played a lot of Animal Crossing.  But the mainline Pokemon RPG games have been the mainstay of the hardware for us, the reason for having the units.  There are now five DS models in our home, all of which still function.  We have the original two DS Lite units, a DSi XL unit my daughter got as a present, and then a pair of 3DS XL units, which followed the same pattern as the originals, as once my daughter got one… and started playing Pokemon X… I had to have one too.

Overall, I have to say I remain impressed with the design and functionality of the hardware.  I have had the DS Lite out in order to transfer Pokemon between versions of the game as well as to withdraw quite a herd of Pokemon from Pokemon Ranch, and it was still a solid, comfortable device to use.

And I am clearly not alone in my admiration of Nintendo’s dual screen handheld.  Over 150 million units of the original DS line sold during its life, making second only to the PlayStation 2 in console hardware sales, and another 45 million 3DS generation units have sold as well.  That is nearly 200 million units, or nearly 400 million screens.

Nintendo seems to run hot and cold with its living room consoles.  The NES and SNES were both hot, but the GameCube was not.  The Wii was on fire, but the Wii U hasn’t found its killer app.  The game pad controller seems like a weight around the console’s neck.  They should have left that sort of thing to the handheld side of the team, as they did with the Wii.

But on the handheld front, Nintendo has been dominant for years.  How much of it was hardware and how much of it was the games… especially Pokemon… I couldn’t say, but the combination has been a winner for Nintendo for a long time now.  And there is a new 3DS unit on its way to consumers next year.

The New 3DS

Colorful buttons and a second analog control

Over at The Verge they have a timeline of Nintendo portable devices, most of them hot, a few of them… well… not.

Stability

I think we’re there.

I was actually standing in the aisle at Fry’s pondering what RAM to purchase when I decided against buying it.  I realized at that moment that I needed to account for everything that was drawing power directly from the power supply that went south on Sunday afternoon.

And, it turns out, that was the right move.  I pulled out the nVidia GTX650 ti and ran with the on-board video for a while.  I had to turn down some of the video settings in World of Warcraft, but otherwise it seemed to run fine.  I then dug out my old video card, the nVidia GTS 450 that I originally put in the system back when I built it, because I never throw any of this stuff away, and it ran find as well.

I brought Vikund back to Stormwind and had him flight flight paths up and down the Eastern Kingdoms, loading up textures and pallets along the way, and everything seemed to go okay.

Vikund on a blood elf mount

Vikund flying down from the northern island to Booty Bay

The video card seemed to be the weak link.  I pushed my luck and loaded up the empty RAM slots to give myself as much memory as I could manage, ending up with 12GB running.  I had 18GB on the old motherboard, because it had some triple interleave scheme for RAM, so I had to buy and install them in groups of three.  However, that idea seemed to fall by the wayside about as quickly as the processor socket on the old motherboard… which seemed to be about 30 minutes after I purchased it.  So I have one extra 2GB and one extra 4GB DDR3 DIMM.  I’ll put them in a static bag in the closet next to the processor I pried out of the old motherboard, in the spot left by the now active video card.  I may need one of the other some day.  Or they may just sit there like those 256K SIMMs I have from 1987.  Anyway, things ran well for the afternoon.  The system was stable.

And that is about all you can ask most days of the week.

Granted, I just about had a heart attack a few hours later.  I left the system idle in my office while we were cleaning up the house for Thanksgiving, and when I came back the system was powered down.  Obscenities were uttered as I just knew I had missed something.  Then I powered the system up and it turned out to have just gone to sleep.  I hadn’t changed the power saver settings.

So it is just down to downloading and installing software.  And updates.  I am not sure I will ever see the end of updates from Microsoft.  I was well past the 300 mark this afternoon, but this evening they found 177 more hidden away.

WindowsUpdate

Life in the Windows lane I guess.

I think the biggest short term pain will be recreating my iTunes library.  All my playlists are gone.  I had a lot of playlists.  And a lot of songs ripped from CDs.  We still have the CDs, so it will be back to ripping.

But the basic games I play regularly, those are all set.  EVE Online and World of Warcraft are running.  I am even back up on GSF coms, thanks to their newbie friendly guides.  I should be in for fleet ops on Friday.

So the uncertainty seems to be past.  Now it is just a very long list of tasks.  But that I can handle.  I am good at that.  It is the uncertainty… a couple hundred dollars in and not being sure that anything I bought up to that point was a good idea or was going to solve the problem in the end… that gets me down.

The Fault in Our Hardware

On Sunday afternoon I knew I had a dead power supply.  So I replaced that.

That evening I was pretty sure I had a toasted motherboard as well.

Doing research on Monday I figured out that my old Intel Core i7-950 required a socket no longer readily available.  So I headed on down to Fry’s for a new motherboard and processor.  I ended up with a Gigabyte GA-Z97X-UD5H and an Intel Core i5-4590 3.3GHz Processor, both of which were on sale at the moment.  Not sure if that i5 was a step down from the older i7.  My hope was that it was at least on par with four years of updates.

It Also Gets HBO

All of this is junk now…

Then I spent Monday afternoon and evening putting everything back together, only to be stuck for an hour trying to get the system to boot.  I was worried how Windows 7 might behave with new hardware under it, so I got out the install DVD and tried to update it or, if I had to, install a fresh copy of the OS.  Only after tinkering with that did I discover my next problem.

My system had two 1TB drives in a RAID 1 configuration, which is essentially two drives mirroring the same data, so if a drive goes bad you still have everything.  I mean, what are the odds of both fucking drives dying at once?

The odds are greater than zero it seems, as I found that neither drive would spin.

This is where my heart begins to sink and I start feeling sick to my stomach.  Up until this point it was all just a technical issue.

I have external drives hooked up and key data backed up elsewhere.   All of our digital pictures from the last 15 years are copied to multiple drives.  But a lot of my files were not backed up.  I had not, for example, moved screen shots or notes in Notepad ++ or any number of other things off the main drives for a while.  All of that is gone.  Lots of data, lots of images, lots of notes and knowledge.  I had full installs of Warhammer Online, City of Heroes, and Star Wars Galaxies.  Not that those are all that useful, but I won’t be getting those back.

And don’t get me started about my iTunes library.

That means everything had to start from scratch again.  There will, no doubt, be a blog post about what games I choose to install again and which games I let fall by the wayside.

I went out again and bought a 240GB SSD and a 1TB drive.  No more redundancy, but at least a faster boot time.

I got the operating system installed, then the drivers for the various devices on the motherboard, and then started loading the updates.  So many updates.

I got browsers install, but with the data loss all my bookmarks and whatever stored passwords I had are gone, so it is pretty much up to my memory at this point.  For example, I bought Microsoft Office online and should be able to install it again… only I cannot remember the account I created for that.  That is in a saved email somewhere, gone.

I am happy now that Trillian, which I use for IM, saves your settings at their site.  I was able to get up on IM quickly enough.

Eventually I got to the point where I thought I could install a couple of games.  I chose the two on my active list, EVE Online and World of Warcraft.  WoW has a new expansion running and our guild is back and online a lot, including Gaff, who returned to WoW, while there are two CFC deployments going on in EVE and constant pings for fleets.

However, I noticed a new problem.  The system, which comes up fine and appears to run well, restarts without warning every so often.  This happens rather quickly if I run WoW, I cannot, as a measure of time, harvest garrison resources before the system begins to chunk, giving me less than a minute’s warning that it is going down.   But this restart also happens with EVE or if I just leave the system sitting idle, it just takes longer.

At this point I have replaced everything except the video card, the RAM, and the case itself.  I suspect there is an issue with the RAM.  When I first loaded up the motherboard it indicated a fault initializing until I swapped around a couple of the sticks.  So it is off to Fry’s again at some point today to buy another pair of DIMMs.  But if that doesn’t solve the problem, then I am hosed.  I don’t know what I will do then.  I will have blown my discretionary budget on a bunch of parts that do not add up to a whole.

Computer Down

After a morning of playing around in Draenor, I went off to do other things, leaving my computer sitting idle.

I came back a while later to find it off and unable to power up.  I figured it was probably the power supply, as the whole thing had been making some odd, high pitched noises when I started up that morning.

I ran down to Fry’s and picked up a new power supply, took the old one out, blew out all the dust bunnies while I was there, installed the new one and… nothing.

Well, not nothing.

The unit starts to power up.  The fan on power supply starts to spin for a second, and then everything stops, save two LED on the motherboard.

Motherboard lights...

Motherboard lights… yellow and green

I have been digging around to find out what that might mean for a Gigabyte GA-X58A-UD3R motherboard, but haven’t had any luck.  I opened a ticket with Gigabyte, but I do not expect they will get back to me quickly during a holiday week.

I have pulled everything out, pared down the motherboard to the bare minimums, and no change in behavior.  Then I put everything back, piece by piece again, and still no luck.  The power supply looks good (I went out and got a second one just to make sure it wasn’t the first one I bought) and various components such as RAM or the video card or the various fans have no effect on the status, so I am at a loss as to what to try next at the moment.  This is, of course, made more difficult by not being able to use my computer to look things up.

I hate to chuck the lot, but I am not sure I can pare this down to what needs to be replaced.  Just a new motherboard seems like a possibility, but then I thought just a new power supply was all I would need a few hours back.

Anyway, there will likely be a dearth of posts as there won’t be much video game playing while I work on this.  Not the way I wanted to start a week’s vacation.

Civilization – The Siege of Madrid

We setup our game for the usual time.  Loghound, who had faced a trying week, was uncertain if and when he might be able to get on with us, but since the AI will keep the game going in the absence of individuals, we kicked off at our usual time.

Potshot, Mattman, and I were all online and in the Google hangout.  Potshot started up the game and sent invites out for us to join.  I hopped right in the game and clicked the “ready” check box.  An odd aside, the ready control never works the first time I click it.  It selects and unselects on the first click, but then works correctly thereafter.  No idea why.  But while I was doing that, Mattman was having some issues.

He was trying out Civ V on a laptop… an older pre-Lenovo logo, IBM ThinkPad laptop… in hopes of being able to join in on games while he is traveling for the next couple of sessions.

I remember my old ThinkPad T42 quite fondly.  It was one of the nicer laptops I have been issued over the years.  I miss having a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, as I tend to work on things that lend themselves well to lots of vertical space, but do not benefit much from a wider screen. But considering the IBM logo disappeared from the ThinkPad line at some point in 2007, and that Civilization games are traditionally tough on the generation of processors current when they ship (Civ V can bring my quad-core i7 to its knees when it feels like it), this seemed like it might be an exercise in the purest form of optimism.

While Mattman struggled to get Civ V loaded, Potshot and I started off the nights game, picking up at turn 301.

I started off the evening with one simple goal.  I was going to break my isolation and come into contact with all of the other civs in the game.  That would open up trade and diplomatic possibilities as well as filling out the “unmet player” spots on the scoreboard.  There were still six civs with whom I had yet to come into contact according to the scoreboard at the end of last week’s round.

r2wk3turn300score

My hope was, with research leading to the compass, which would give me the caravel unit, the first ship that doesn’t need to stick to a coast line, that I would be able to sail out and find everybody else.  Scouts were not working out, as I had them mostly deployed to keep the barbarians at bay.  And the few I let go explore inevitably ran into more barbarians.

More after the cut.

Continue reading

Small Items for a Cold Friday in March

It is even a bit chilly here in Silicon Valley.  I put on a jacket last night.  And there has been some rain this week, breaking up the run of warm and sunny days we have been experiencing of late.  Not enough to end the drought, but enough to keep the lawn watered.

It is Friday and I have a bunch of little, half-started posts and other tidbits that I am going to roll up into a single entry.

It Is Just Landmark

SOE, in a good move, decided that their Minecraft-like building game, with a promise of things like science fiction areas, wasn’t Norrathian enough to be considered an EverQuest title.  So it is now just Landmark.

LandmarkChange

This is not only how I have been referring to the game for a while now, but something that was part of my 2014 predictions.  Go me.

Now SOE just has to do something about the whole EverQuest Next name, something I brought up in another Friday post.  That is a cute name for development, but not so good as a shipping title.  Unless it is also going to be EverQuest Last, the name could become an albatross around their neck at some point.  Fortunately, we now have precedent for a name change.

Thank you Landmark! 

The Gamification of Texting

A friend sent this link to the Android version a keyboard addon for mobile devices.  As you master the Fleksy keyboard and its various functions and features, you will earn achievements!

Apple product owners may get a chance to join in as well,  as Fleksy is updating the iOS version for achievements as well.  To use the Fleksy keyboard, your app must be “Fleksy enabled.”

How Old is Your Hardware?

Pasduil wants to know.  He’s taking a survey.  You can find it here.

Bully Bullied by Bullies?

Erotica 1, the pilot behind the EVE Online controversy du jour, the Bonus Round recording (I could not recommend that you follow that link), has chosen to withdraw his name from the Council of Stellar Management elections scheduled for next month.  In his statement, after opening with a paragraph that included the line, “Some people just can’t be reasonable…”, he complained about Goons and “white knight carebear moral highground people” and threats to his physical safety (but no reference to this), then said he was withdrawing because his passport had expired.

This is where we all shout, “Didn’t want that seat on the CSM anyway!”

That CSM Election

It is coming up.  Should you care.

Candy Crush IPO

King, maker of the game everbody loves to hate, Candy Crush Saga, and one-time trademark troll, went public this week.  According to some, the IPO failed.  It failed because the opening price… the price King got for its shares… was $22.50, but afterwards the price dropped down to around $19.

In a way, this seems like a perfectly fitting IPO for the company.  King got the maximum value they could for their stock, filling company coffers, the founders and early investors who were in for a tiny fraction the IPO price still got their big cash-out opportunity, and the people and institutions who jumped on the stock at the IPO price got told they could sell now if they wanted to buy a $3 per share unlock or they could wait until whenever the price went up again.

A Farewell to Runic Games?

I was already wondering what was going to become of Runic Games.  We haven’t heard much from them, except about what they are not going to do.  They are not going to make a Torchlight MMO.  They are not going to work on anything new for Torchlight II.  They are not going to have a Mac OS version of Torchlight II.

So when two key founders leave to form a new studio, one might not seem rash wondering aloud if Runic Games is not going to be shipping anything else ever again.

Did burnout from Torchlight II kill the company, or was it Perfect World Entertainment buying in that did it?

Obligatory Shock About Oculus Rift Post

So yeah, yesterday after the markets closed, Facebook announced they were going to buy Oculus VR for $2 billion. Oculus VR is the company currently working on the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset.

And then a corner of the internet exploded.  I figured I ought to mark that moment in time so we can come back and revisit it later.

Sudden, and potentially rash statements were made.

A general revulsion with all things Facebook was expressed by some.

Basically, all the dislike of Facebook… and there is much to dislike about Facebook and it methods and its founder’s outlook… bubbled forth.  Answer this question: If Mark Zuckerberg asked you to strap this to your face…

Into the Rift

Into the Rift

…which movie would come to mind?  Aliens?  Clockwork Orange?  Lawnmower Man?

Would you envision fun things happening or bad things?  Or just boring things?

So we are currently in the shock phase of this announcement, which is making the whole “Disney buys Star Wars“thing look pretty tame, at least in our little corner of the internet.  After all, for a lot of people the Star Wars series was already ruined by episodes I-III, so what else could Disney do?  But a lot of people were pining some pretty big hopes on Oculus Rift being a step into the future of gaming.

And now Facebook has it.  Are we going to get Candy Crush Saga VR?  FarmVille 3D?  Are we going to get any sort of VR gaming experience at all out of this?  Zuckerberg isn’t exactly big on video games.  His past actions have been about extracting money from those games that choose to live in his domain.

Ars Technica already has a column up about what Facebook might do, which includes a lot of promises about what won’t happen… from the guy who no longer controls the company… so the brightest bit in that seems be the fact that Facebook bought Instagram and hasn’t destroyed it yet.  Maybe Zuckerberg will just leave them alone.

Then there is the Kickstarter aspect of the whole thing.  Oculus VR raised $2.4 million of its funding via a Kickstarter campaign… just before Disney bought Star Wars, to bring that back around.  People who gave money at that point forked it over for very specific reasons.  This was the way it was pitched:

…the first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games.

For video games.  That is what they said.  Will they keep saying that a few months after the acquisition?  And will it matter if more developers step away because of Facebook?

While Oculus VR likely has no legal/financial obligation to do anything but send out the promised T-Shirts and early units that people were entitled to for their pledges, do they have any sort of moral obligation after taking Facebook’s money when it seems likely that the vision sold will not end up being the vision pursued?

And, finally, there is the “Why sell to Facebook?” question.  Why would Oculus VR sell to a company that has so little interest in video games and so much invested in collecting and selling our data?  Were things just up for the highest bidder?  Were there too many strings attached to other offers? Did current investors force the move to cash out?

Because there had to be other offers.

Anyway, among other things, this puts the whole “CCP moving closer to Sony” thing in a new light.  Was the word already out that Oculus Rift might be moving away from video games?  Was CCP hedging its bets?  Is Sony’s Project Morpheus the new leader in that arena?

The Sony project was interesting when Oculus Rift was there as well, but alone it seems destined to become yet another proprietary piece of Sony hardware.  Sony VR will require you to purchase a PlayStation 4.  And that may keep Oculus Rift in play even with Facebook looming large over it.

As the dust settles after the big shock, people are starting to muse about what this really means.  I suspect we will be doing that for a while.

Of course, every such announcement has its bright side.

And then there is the humor aspect.

We shall see how this all develops.  If nothing else, I have a tickler now to check back on this in a year.