Archive for the ‘NES’ Category


Sunday, October 5th, 2014

Some time back I slapped together some hardware for the express purpose of capturing and streaming video game footage, which I’ve done a fair amount of (and I even managed to raise a couple of dollars for charity).

Lately, though, I’ve been going through some of my old NES games, getting them cleaned and testing them, and capturing some short clips for one reason or another, and then this happened.

The picture started freaking out. I played it anyway for a few minutes just to check out the scrambled mess that resulted, put it on Youtube, shared it around, and had some fun with it.

Then, the next night, I moved on to Castlevania III, and it happened again, worse, somehow.

So, why is this happening? Well, my NES is about 30 years old now, so the age of the hardware could be an issue, but that’s only a part of the problem.

Problem #1 – A worn out internal connector. The ‘Toaster’-style NES is probably the one most recognized by just about everyone who has even a passing interest in the NES. It had a funky method of inserting the games where you inserted the cartridge, and then locked it in the ‘down’ position via some internal hardware. This bends the receiving pins slightly every time you insert a cartridge, and, thanks to metal fatigue, they eventually don’t spring back into place as well any more. This means that eventually, those pins will fail completely and no games will work. Before that, though, they’ll just get intermittent.

Problem #2 – The 10NES lockout chip is fussy. You may not have heard about the 10NES lockout chip, but if you’ve spent a lot of time with the NES hardware, you’re probably familiar with one of the tell-tale symptoms of it being fussy: the flashing title screen. There’s lots of information about it on the Internet if you want to look it up, but most of the information seems to imply that you should just disable the chip completely, which I may do someday (sorry, Nintendo).

Problem #3 – Blowing in the cartridges. This is something that everyone (really, everyone) who played video games in the NES heyday knew about: game not working? Blow into it to ‘get the dust out’. Which, it happens, did work. For a while. Eventually, it stopped working, or it took more and more tries to blow out the ‘dust’. It turns out that blowing in the cartridges wasn’t such a great idea. It worked in the short term because the breath from your lungs contains some moisture, which got on the contacts, and that made them more electrically conductive, to the 10NES chip was satisfied and you went down the road playing whatever. But, electricity plus moisture can equal corrosion, and that’s what a lot of NES games are suffering from now.

Problem #4 – Improper cleaning. Since a lot of these cartridges are now quite old and many have not been maintained well, it’s not uncommon to find one with lots of corrosion or dirt or worse fouling up the pins. So, you’ll, of course, want to clean them to give them the best chance (and to not foul your system). The cleaner that I’ve always used and recommend is some isopropyl alcohol, a cotton swab, and some elbow grease (maybe also a screwdriver with a security bit, for good measure). That will take care of most forms of gunk that accumulates on cartridges. If you come across something that that won’t handle, you can work your way up to stronger stuff like pencil erasers, and even high-grit sand paper(!) in extreme cases. Some people advocate using things like stove cleaner as a routine step, but that makes me extremely nervous. I’m a huge advocate of using the least-potentially-damaging material first, and then working my way up to the tougher stuff if needed. Some people like shortcuts, though, and I get that. So, it’s possible that I got a cartridge that belonged to an overzealous cleaner who damaged some of the connecting pins on the cartridges.

Now that I look back on it, with the possibilities of everything that could and did go wrong, I’m impressed that I could even get the NES to work at all. Then or now.

NES Cleaning Kit

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

We’ve all been there. Practically since the old style NES was a thing, games almost immediately didn’t work right. The screen blinks, stutters, has scrambled graphics, whatever. There are lots of homebrew methods to get the problem fixed (most of which are not recommended) from blowing on the contacts (quick fix, not recommended), to cracking open the cartridges and using oven cleaner (quick fix, absolutely not recommended), to using high-grit sandpaper (substantial chance of ruining the cartridge immediately, not recommended except as a last resort in the most extreme cases), to a cotton swab and alcohol (generally recommended, but it’s kind of labor intensive, so most people hate to do it).

But let’s say you’re a kid in the 80’s and 90’s. You don’t really want to fiddle with any of the above methods. I mean, trying to find and use a security bit, then spend what could amount to hours taking apart and swabbing cartridges? No thanks! But, what if you had… This?!

NES Cleaning Kit Box

An actual cleaning kit? Manufactured and endorsed by Nintendo? Well, that could be just fun enough to be worth it.

Opening the box reveals a few interesting goodies.

NES Cleaning Kit contents

It’s got a usage manual, a little scrubber, and a vaguely NES-shaped cartridge thingy. The scrubber is made to clean the gunk out of your NES cartridges. You wet the dark end with either distilled water, or a 50/50 mix of water and isopropyl alcohol, then scrub your cartridge. Shockingly, this is the same method that I recommended above, only with a giant scrubby pad instead of a flimsy cotton swab.

The other piece is for cleaning on of the neglected bits when people clean their NES games, cleaning the connector inside the system itself. All that funky junk on the contacts of the games you’re wedging into your NES is also getting on those contacts inside the NES, keeping them from making good contact. And, if you’re like me, you don’t really want to take the whole NES apart if you don’t have to, so this lets you at least attempt to clean the innards of your system with a minimum of fuss.

And, given that the NES is coming up on 30 years old, I think that’s something that I can get behind.

Final Fantasy Map

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

You may or may not know the story behind Final Fantasy, and why, if it’s got ‘final’ in the name, that there are more than 14 games in the main series and lots of offshoots. And why most of the games aren’t actually sequels to anything. And lots of other questions. It’s interesting reading in its own right, but that’s not really what we’re here to talk about today. Today we’re going to talk about the first Final Fantasy game: Final Fantasy. Pedantics would like to remind you that the game is not called “Final Fantasy 1″, since most games that aren’t conceived as a series start out with a 1 in their name, but that’s an argument for another time.

The first Final Fantasy was your prototypical fantasy hack ‘n’ slash / adventure / light role-playing game that introduced us to pretty good idea of what a JRPG could be. In your box you got your game, your manual, and a few helpful maps and charts on a poster. Like this:

Final Fantasy Map Side 1

Final Fantasy Map Side 2

It’s kind of interesting how I got this thing. I was making my typical rounds around the city on a cool Saturday morning looking for a yard sale, when I found one that had a bin full of video game goodies for $2, this map included. I thought that was a pretty sweet score, so I held on to it. Even though this guy didn’t have a Final Fantasy cartridge, I actually already had one from another transaction, so I’m most of the way to having a complete set.

Oh, I’d also like to make some higher-resolution scans of this thing, but my scanner is too small and it won’t fit. So, sorry about that. But, hey, this is better than nothing, right?

Let’s Play!

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

Back around 2006 or so, some of the folks over at the Something Awful forums apparently decided to start playing through some video games and providing commentary via screenshots and captions. Which is a great way to vicariously experience a game while you’re browsing the Internet at work.

Then, sometime in 2007, the Video Let’s Plays started to appear. This was essentially the same thing, but instead of pictures and captions, we get full video and running commentary. Kind of like one of those old hint videos in the 80s/90s, but going through the entire game. (Without the commentary, it’s what’s called a Longplay)

There are lots of kinds of Let’s Play videos, but I think I can break them down into four categories:

  1. People who play through games just to get angry and yell/cry.
  2. People who play through games without a specific goal, just to play until game over (they may or may not complete the game)
  3. People who have a vlog, but with a video game playing instead of showing their face
  4. People who play through the game to completion, showing off gotchas, tips, and tricks, while providing interesting commentary

The barriers to making a Let’s Play video these days are absurdly low. All you really need is a game to play, a video capture device, a microphone, maybe some video editing software, and an Internet connection. Since I had all of those things handy (and there are about 7 million Let’s Play videos on Youtube already), I figured I’d dip my toe into the world of Let’s Play as an excuse to play through some of the games just kind of sitting around here, but I didn’t want to do any of the first three, since they’re pretty boring to watch. So, I figured I’d give #4 a try, which you can see below.

So, if you ever wanted to know what I actually sound like, or if I actually have any video game chops, now’s your chance to find out!

Their loss is my gain

Sunday, May 27th, 2012

We’ve all been there, right? Just minding our own business when we find out that a store is going out of business right now, everything is some huge percentage off, and we just have to get there before they close today… forever!

Well, that happened to me today.

Found out that one of the used video game traders in town was going out of business at the end of the day today and that it was all 85% off, so I headed on down and made a couple of additions to the ol’ collection

Now I just need to find time to play these. Good thing it’s Summer, right?