HTP Episode 016 – Laurie Ulster


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Laurie Ulster was the Supervising producer for After Trek, and in addition, is a witty commentator and writer of many blogs and articles. In this episode, we discuss her experiences getting to step into fandom and appreciate genuinely good people working in Hollywood. During the episode, she misses the name of the host of The Math of Khan, which was James Grime.


Here’s where you can check out Laurie’s work:

Hello Movies Podcast, Pressfolios, Twitter, Trekmovie,


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HTP Episode 015 – Rob Flanagan

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Rob Flanagan is a veteran podcaster, with shows such as Popping the Cherrywood and Shitty Movie Night under his belt. The two of us spend a lot of time discussing the philosophy of podcasting, the fun of toy collecting as adults, and reviving old properties such as He-Man, G.I. Joe, and Transformers. Rob was recently named the Fusion “Fan of the Month“, and is really passionate about the growth of e-sports.


Here’s where you can check out Rob’s work:

Popping the Cherrywood Official Site, Twitter


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HTP Episode 002 – Klingon Pop Warrior

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Jenbom, the Klingon Pop Warrior, is a YouTube artist and favorite in the Star Trek fan community. In this episode, we discuss her character, the history of the Klingon Pop Warrior project, and how she’s turned a quick gag on the Improvised Star Trek Podcast into a way to raise money for the charity Extra Life.



Be sure to follow Jen at the following sites:
Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, klingonpopwarrior.com, and Extra Life


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Raise the Bar on Repros

If you’re a fan of the NES and SNES eras of gaming, we’re living in a New Golden Age.  Not only do we have the ability to get any games we may have wanted back in the day, but there are new games being made on a regular basis.  As if that weren’t enough, prototypes of previously unreleased games are now circulating, so you can play games that might have been best-sellers, but were almost lost to the pages of history.  And the best part of all of this is, you can take these games and play them on your original system, just like you always have.

The problem is, when fans put games into actual cartridges, it has usually meant destroying an existing game that had a compatible board.  Sometimes the donor game is an incredibly common title, on occasion it has to be a rarer game.  It’s unfortunate, but it’s been seen as a necessary evil if you want to play something like Earthbound or Legend of Zelda: Outlands on your NES.

I own a few of these games, and I’m glad that I do, as I’ve had hours of fun with them.  However, I think it’s time to say this:  we need to stop destroying old games to make new ones.  What we gain is no longer outweighed by what we lose.

The following video, from the #CUPodcast, sums up my feelings nicely:

In short, cutting up old games to make new ones was reasonable when that was the only way to do the job.  However, in 2016, we now have flashcarts  and reproduction NES boards and cartridge shells.   It’s now entirely possible to get that ROM onto your NES without ever harming an old game, so let’s stop doing it.

Why, you ask?  What’s the harm?  Aren’t there a bajillion NES carts out there, and lots of them made in the hundreds of thousands?  Well, yes, there were.  However, the number may be large, but it’s still finite, and lots of these have already found their way into landfills.  Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt might be an insanely common game, but taking care of the existing supply will keep it that way, to say nothing of genuinely rare games like Batman: Return of the Joker, another commonly used donor cartridge.

It just boils down to an issue of waste, in my mind.  If you have the ability to play a new game, without destroying an old one, why wouldn’t you?  Isn’t it better to buy an Everdrive than to slice up a rare game?  And if you’re a homebrew developer, wouldn’t it be better to use factory-fresh virginal boards than to re-solder EPROMs onto old carts?  We need to protect the hobby from ourselves.  Gutting donor carts might seem harmless now, but 60 years ago, so did sticking a baseball card into your bike spokes.  Nowadays, lots of enthusiasts mourn the loss of their extra 1955 Sandy Koufax.  Don’t be that guy.

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BitBox Game Case Review

There was a time when I didn’t think casing video games was a big deal.  Why?  Because I was under the impression that shelf space wasn’t a finite commodity, and that flipping through stacks of awkwardly-shaped plastic cartridges wasn’t a pain in the ass.  Now, however, I’ve hit a point where I realize my collection is only as useful as my system of organization allows it to be, so I’ve started to get serious about casing those games.  Plus, I’d rather keep the games protected from spills, accidents, and toddlers– all three of which seem to follow me.

When it comes to cartridge game cases, there are two major players: the Universal Game Case and the BitBox.  The primary appeal of the UGC is that it’s cheaper and contains brackets for a wide variety of cartridge sizes, with other cartridge styles being options after modification.  If you have an extremely large collection, or your collection consists of small numbers of cartridges from lots of different systems, you’re probably going to lean toward the UGC.

If, however, you’re like me and are very passionate about one system, and have a modest collection that means a lot to you, chances are you’re going to be a BitBox fan.  I say this as someone who was very skeptical about the design at first, but who was won over after holding and using them.

BitBoxes are available only from an independent vintage game store called StoneAgeGamer.com, and are currently available for the NES, SNES/SFC, and N64.  In contrast to the UGC, these are designed to be a perfect fit for one system’s games, rather than be a moderate fit for a dozen different cartridge designs.  What the design lacks in flexibility, it more than makes up for in elegance.

The BitBox itself consists of a black plastic clamshell case.  It’s entirely one piece, and if you’re old enough to remember Disney VHS tapes, is a lot like one of the cases those used to come in.  That’s a bit of a disservice to the BitBox, however, because the grade of plastic on a BitBox is far superior to that of an old VHS case.  Whereas those old cases consisted of a very thin, brittle plastic that would eventually crack around the corners, and would often indent with enough pressure, the plastic for the BitBox is thicker and springs back after being pushed.  They’re rugged enough to not weaken with repeated opening and closing.  I will even note that I tried to store a SNES game with a broken, jagged case in a BitBox, and while the jagged edge did poke into the plastic of the case, the material was strong enough to hold firmly and not tear.  The cases themselves are perfectly molded to the shape of the games, with gripping areas added to allow for easy placement and removal of the games.  They come out easy, but never flop out.  Even NES games, which have oddly-shaped cartridge variants, all fit into BitBoxes (I’ve stored Active Enterprises, Tengen, Color Dreams, and AVE games in mine with no issue).

Each BitBox has two optional (but highly recommended) components: the manual strap and the cover art.  The manual strap is an adhesive pouch which can be attached to the Bitbox to hold the game’s manual (each BitBox is intentionally designed to be large enough to hold the manual and the game simultaneously).  The strap is useful for keeping everything from spilling out each time you open the game, though it can make for a tight fit for games with very thick manuals.  The other component is the cover art.  Cover art slips into the front pouch and turns the BitBox from a plain black case into a shiner, better version of the game’s original packaging.  The art is sourced from The Cover Project and is available free to download, though Stone Age Gamer will print them as well for a modest charge.  (I always paid extra to get the higher DPI and color quality, and the results have been well worth it– pocket change today, looks great on my shelf forever.)  You’re also free to take the art to your local print shop or print it yourself, if that’s easier for you.

The end result is that my shelf looks like I have my SNES collection mint in box.  The only other way to achieve this would be to literally have the original boxes and use plastic cases to protect those and I’m sorry, but those original boxes are just too fragile to survive opening and closing every time you want to play a game.  UGCs are good for a quick and dirty solution, and yes, they’re several dollars cheaper than BitBoxes, but at the end of the day, BitBoxes just look and work the best.

If your collection is more than just a whim, and your games are a permanent part of your house, it’s time to get serious about taking care of them.  Use whatever tool best fits your purposes, but I lean heavily toward BitBox.

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Hack Review: SMB2 – 2nd Run

Super Mario Bros. 2 is one of my favorite video games, second only to The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.  It’s one of the first games I ever played, it’s one of the games that made me fascinated with video games, and I still play it on a regular basis.  I even love the GBA version.  The problem is, by now I know every shortcut, secret, and surprise there is.  SMB2 and I are old friends who know each other’s stories all too well.

So while I enjoy spending time with my old friend, I really, really wish I could play something new in the same vein.  Unfortunately, there are no sequels to this game.

“WAIT A MINUTE, AARON!  ARE YOU STUPID OR SOMETHING??”, I hear you saying.  “OF COURSE THERE WAS A SEQUEL.  It was called Super Mario Bros. 3.  You might have heard of it.  It was only one of the best-selling games of all time.”  Yes, that’s true, but that’s not the point I’m making.  Super Mario Bros. 3 was essentially a direct sequel to the original Super Mario Bros., whereas the American version of SMB2 was based on a Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic.  As much as I love SMB and SMB3, it’s the DDP style of gameplay I really love, and it’s DDP that never received a proper sequel.  So if you want a new game made in this style, you’re really out of luck.  It hasn’t been touched since 1988.

Well, not by Nintendo, anyway.

The ROM-hacking community, however, has had a field day.  I spent years avoiding ROMhacks, because when emulators first became popular, ROMhacking consisted of endless copies of Super Mario Bros. with the sprites changed into Transformers and penises.  However, that was ROMhacking in the early 2000s.  Today’s ROMhacking could be compared to a low-tech version of Super Mario Maker, a game that we LOVE in our house!  So when I discovered this, I immediately looked up hacks of SMB2.

The first one I tried was Super Mario Bros. 2: 2nd Run.  The author is named Recovery1.  So far, I’m absolutely loving this game.  I love how the levels are fresh and fun, but still pay homage to the original level design (including starting off 1-1 by dropping out of the door in the night sky, climbing a vine to a mountain area, having World 2 be a desert, etc.)  Difficulty-wise, I’d say the game starts off at the equivalent of World 3 in the original game, and goes up from there.  But honestly, what I love most about it is the fact that I DON’T know every twist and turn in the game.  I don’t know what’s coming.  Every new door and hill is an all-new adventure for me, and I haven’t experienced that since the 80s.

Are there flaws?  I might nitpick on some level design issues, where the original game might have an edge, but I’ll chalk that up to individual taste.  The only real issue that I’ve found so far is that the game tends to put a lot of enemies on the screen at once, which triggers slowdown at inopportune times.  It’s not a deal breaker, it barely qualifies as an annoyance, but it’s there.

On the other hand, I like the fact that the combat has a completely new dynamic to it.  2nd Run utilizes a lot more of the weapons that were rare in the original game.  When you pull up grass, you have a big chance of finding yourself holding a Bob-Omb or shell, and the veggies are comparatively scarce.  This leads to trying to attack enemies all at once, rather than one at a time.  And that’s FUN!

So how do you play this thing?  Well, first you have to modify an existing ROM of SMB2 with the IPS file of the new game.  This will generate a new ROM file.  You can either play that on your computer with an emulator and a USB gamepad, or you can slap it on a flashcart and play it on a real NES.

 

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Viva La 3DS!

So three months ago, for my birthday, my lovely wife surprised me with a 3DS.  Now, bear in mind that I hadn’t bought new gaming hardware since my Xbox 360, and that was 2008.  I admit, I’d nearly forgotten how much fun it was to pick up a brand-new console.  This is something that doesn’t translate well to PC gamers, who upgrade their systems a component at a time.  When you buy a new console, you have a box full of exciting new possibilities dropped right in your lap.  The 3DS was no exception.  Even though I’d wanted one, I hadn’t realized how much until I opened it up.

Some of my favorite features:

3D Camera:  Although I don’t use the 3D for gaming much, having the 3D camera is AWESOME.  It’s like the closest thing to a holodeck we have.

eShop:  I’m still a sucker for the classics.  Whenever I play on the road, there’s a good chance I’m going to be taking along Tetris, Donkey Kong, or Kid Icarus.  The eShop lets me download classic games (admittedly, from a limited selection) without hacking my phone or buying some grey-market Android portable.  With this, I get to play with real, Nintendo-made controls… and after being a customer for 25 years, I’m convinced no one makes video game controls as well as Nintendo.

DS Compatibility:  Thankfully, Nintendo’s continued their tradition of keeping portables backwards-compatible.  There are a lot of really good DS games I’ve missed, but thanks to the 3DS, I can still play games going all the way back to 2004.  To give some perspective, this means that my 3DS, partnered with my GBA, will play nearly every game from six different platforms spanning the past 26 years.  Now, I realize some people might say “Big Deal”, but in an industry where people are encouraged to throw out games that are a year old, I think that’s a sign of a company that invests in its customers, and strives to create games that will have value for years to come.

I’m not wanting to sound like a walking billboard for Nintendo, but I’m really impressed with this thing.  After spending the better part of the past year disgusted by the overhyped Xbox One and seeing the mobile market saturated with Pay-To-Win games, it was awesome to open up a box full of stuff that reminded me why I got into gaming in the first place.