Monday 12 August 2013

Experience 90s gaming in a new way - NEO GEO X

For many of us the Neo Geo was untouchable at home, the closest we got to it was maybe in the arcades where we played the fast and furious array of games on a Neo Geo Arcade cabinet. Perhaps someone’s older, richer brother had a AES – but they then maybe sold it on for it was an investment as much as a video games console. 

The choice of a Neo Geo meant having a big wallet and dedication to seek out the carts if that was your thing. Many of us (GamesYouLoved included) stuck with the other 16-Bit consoles and were contented and actually very happy with the technology and gaming experience they brought to us at home. However – something niggled and chewed away at us.

If only we could afford a Neo Geo – just those words SNK Playmore brought a dream-like state over us. We even got the sales guys to demo the Neo Geo AES in the dedicated electronic stores in Tottenham Court Road in the 90s. However the money was tight so it was a Japanese (Asian) Mega Drive for us though – and that was pricey enough. Its worth noting the American launch version went for $649 back in 1990! The platform style didn’t give way to 3D graphics of the mid 90s either, and it held its own for many years with games even after the console itself ceased production in 97.

So what’s changed?

Well SNK has - and with the help of on the distribution and support side, they have brought a new wave of Neo Geo gaming to us now. This is in the form of the new Neo Geo X console. Or should we say a pocket rocket of handheld power that is the Neo Geo X – at home, at work or holiday or anywhere you want to take - it has it all. We have seen the odd video or blog about ‘its not the same as the original’ or the picture and sound doesn’t hold up and the quality isn’t good. Well – we say ‘rubbish to that’ Plus also if you have an extensive and expensive Neo Geo collection perhaps you might want to knock this product as its affecting your investment!!

And in fact not all original Neo Geo owners agree with this anyway. One of our facebook viewers Adrian Thompson owns an original AES console, dedicated cab MVS (Jamma) and a new Neo Geo X. Talking to him about why all 3 and why add the Neo Geo X to his already extensive collection - its’ all about an added dimension..something exciting, new and innovation which is what gaming is all about.

Under the hood...

The technology is all there but it's the experience we care about and we have put it to the test. At home you gotta have 2 controllers (second controller sold separately) for the multiplayer action of Metal Slug, King of Fighters, Fatal Fury and the amazingly fun and entertaining play of Super Sidekicks.

With a HDMI cable from the main console unit (via the handheld) the picture is pin sharp with 1080p upscaling and sounds as clear as anything. We even connected it to a Marshall amp for the output on Metal Slug – the thing was war-like!

Out and about with the Neo Geo X...

Away from home play this is where the Neo Geo X comes into its own. Not only can you take it (with over 5 hours gaming time of one charge) on the train, bus, coffee shop or to a family event where you need some ‘gaming me time!’

It also acts a handheld console that plays directly into the HDMI connection into a TV. This was particularly cool when we have been on a road trip to some events where an overnight stay means the usual TV channels and no much else on. Our delight was hooking this up to the 50" TV in the room and playing hardcore Neo Geo games like Samurai Showdown and Fatal Fury before a gaming event. What else could you ask for..

 Not muchn more, and the price – a fraction on the original is a must.

 To buy: Get £10 off using the code GYL10

Saturday 10 August 2013

Silicon Dreams - A Retrospective

Where would we be without electronics?  Using Electrical circuitry to solve problems for a variety of requirements by means of semiconductor components to control electrons, it’s such common thing that it’s mostly taken for granted, and rarely is it celebrated.

In July, GamesYouLoved were lucky enough to be invited along to the Silicon Dreams in the heart of Leicestershire, to celebrate, remember and learn about the age of electronics and hopefully understand its future. A month after the event, after all the computers, components and gadgets have been packed away or taken back to the museums from whence they came, and the dust once again settles on the diodes, we take a retrospective look at the event and what made it tick.

The event was held at Snibston Discovery Museum in Ashby, in the heart of Leicestershire.  The purpose of the event, as the name suggests; to celebrate the ‘age of the silicon chip’, and the evolution of electronic entertainment. It featured an extensive list of exhibitors; from from collectors and completionists to originators and tech-geeks, all keen to share their knowledge and let punters ask questions and interact with their exhibits. The weekend was packed with a variety of activities and talks from key speakers of the computing world. The exhibitor list read like a who’s who in British computing, featuring not one but two of UK’s computing museums; the Centre for Computing History, and Retro Computer Museum, featured talks and input from some of the scene’s most respected minds and even included entertainment from 80’s electro popsters Heaven 17. This was right up GamesYouLoved’s street.

The location couldn’t be more apt, with the event spread nicely throughout the technology museum, which itself hosts a range of science and industry exhibits. GamesYouLoved attended the event on an unusually scorching Saturday, but despite the Barbeque weather the place was a hive of activity with people of all ages enthusiastically exploring and interacting. Exhibits provided an extensive history of computing, showcasing pretty much every computer and console one could remember and many you probably wouldn’t. From the education based Commodore PET 201 (Personal Electronic Transactor) and BBC micros to countless consoles and game systems. Bits of nostalgia were dotted everywhere whisking you back to a day when electronic entertainment was still fresh and exciting, from classic synths, the first games systems (Binatone TV Master) to Betamax top-loading video players.

GamesYouLoved asked Simon Hewitt (Event Organiser) where it all started:

“The clientele that came to vintage computer festival 2 years ago, wanted a similar or follow-up event that celebrated old computers and the legacy of the silicon chip rather than just gaming. We wanted to achieve all of that and make it appeal to a family audience also.”

The next event did just that, by bringing together various factions of the computing community and guest speakers, to demonstrate what their remit was all about and share their passion to potential new audiences. "It doesn't stop there - we'll also have film-related entertainment, arts activities and - of course - electronic music.”, the website promotes.

Simon had worked hard to bring it all together, and the smooth running of the event was down to Simon and his crew’s hard work and determination.

“It’s all really exciting..” Simon enthuses, “..We’ve got a talk from Martin Ware of Heaven 17, one of the godfathers of British electronic music. We’re following this up with a live performance by a band called Northern Kind- a newer synth duo along the same lines, and rounding things off with a performance by Heaven 17. It’s a way to wind down and relax after overseeing things throughout the day as well as adding a bit of a ‘rock and roll’ element. It’s also in keeping with the retro theme of the event.”

And the Simon’s favourite game?
“We’ve had a comp running on Chuckie Egg and that was always a favourite of mine. I had an Acorn Electron and a Spectrum and I preferred the Spectrum version. I’ve even got it on my android phone!

Whilst there, GamesYouLoved GamesYouLoved spent several hours getting involved in the extensive collection of computing systems. Limited run or unsuccessful systems are a part of the evolution of the home entertainment system and GamesYouLoved always find these more interesting because they often still had a part to play in the scene as a whole. We all may remember the likes of Atari’s Jaguar or Panasonic’s 3DO - but perhaps less the French cassette based systems: Matra Alice 90 (a Tandy TRS-80 clone) or an Exelvision Exl 100, or Micronique Hector 2HR, or Philips VG5000.

Moving around the event GamesYouLoved asked the owner of these (and many more gems), Steve Perry, about his collection:

“I've brought a variety of systems along. I just think it’s important that people see them and get chance to use them. A lot of collectors keep their stuff hidden away, stored in boxes, never sharing them and I don’t really agree with that. It’s important for the scene as a whole, and I know you’ve got emulators but it can never replace the look and feel of interacting with the real thing. I’ll always prefer to play on the real thing. I suppose it’s like watching something important on television. It’s always gonna be better to watch it live than a recording.

I’ve probably got about 130 systems at the moment give or take a few non-working ones. Ive got 3 full size arcade cabinets in the living room…”

GamesYouLoved then asked Steve Perry where it all started for him?

“I guess it all started at a RetroVision event, one of the first retro gaming events. It was all quite Llamasoft based with Jeff Minter, and as a homage to his games a group of people from the YakYak forum, started this event called RetroVision and over the years it got more and more generic incorporating different games, different consoles and systems. I went to one in Oxford, took along a Playstation 2, just the one system. The next event I took a few more systems along, and then more after that and it’s just grown, and kind of got out of control.”

Back to the event...
The event was also a great way of promoting the hard work of 2 museums, who are currently playing a big part in Britain’s growing retro games scene. Centre for Computing History, and Retro Computer Museum both have extensive collections of computing and gaming systems from years gone by. Centre for Computing History is a registered charity and has only recently found a home in Haverhill near Cambridge. Their aim is to not only celebrate the impact computing has made on the way we communicate and absorb information, but to generate interest in computing and programming in the younger generations. This made them a perfect exhibitor for the event, as not only did they bring along an array of classic hardware, but they could inform and engage visitors with relevant knowledge and information.

Retro Computer Museum or RCM were also integral to the event supplying an extensive selection of home computing and gaming systems, all set-up and ‘ready to go’ allowing visitors to lose themselves completely in retro gaming if they so wished. Andy Spencer was good enough to give us a walk around and background on all the machines they’d brought from their base in Leicester. His passion and enthusiasm was infectious reminding GamesYouLoved of what gaming of old is really about. Similar to the Centre for Computing History  RCM are also a charity relying on donations and the hard work of volunteers to sustain itself.

GamesYouLoved  also spoke to  Dylan Smith, who had devised an Ethernet networking system for the Sinclair Spectrum, allowing for LAN multiplayer gaming. The theme of the event was becoming more prevalent the more involved GamesYouLoved  got. Old meets new. Sure, it’s important not to forget where computing’s come from also applying a fresh approach, simple and exciting things can occur.

GamesYouLoved also spoke to Chris Smith, writer of the book ‘The ZX Spectrum ULA: How to design a microcomputer’

He went on to say

“There’s still a barrier, especially with the younger generation, using this equipment. So what I decided to do, by way of investigating the ULA- the custom chip in the spectrum, I managed to build my own spectrum, using basic principles using common parts you can find in places like Maplin.
This celebrates how the spectrum chip works, because there’s not really any documentation for that. I then documented this into a book, documenting the whole design. This examines not just the ULA, but looks at how an 8bit computer was designed in the 80’s using the spectrum as the case-study.”

I asked whether he thought gaming had a part to play in all this. Surely gaming helped get the most out of the hardware and push things?

“In gaming, especially when you’ve got such limited resources, whether the ZX spectrum or any 8-bit machine from that era, producing games which had playability and were better than the last was key. It was all about improving and producing things that were better so things didn’t stagnate, you had to innovate.”

Chris himself used to work for the developer MicroGen and would keep an eye on the gaming scene because of its importance to the Spectrum scene;
“I used to subscribe to Crash magazine. Bearing in mind that at the time there was no internet and no ‘in your face reporting’,  I would buy the magazines to keep up with what people were doing in advancements in games. .”

And when GamesYouLoved asked about his favourite gaming memories:

“I used to play some games on the spectrum but it was more to gauge what programmers were doing. I s’pose I was more of a watcher than a player. If I was pushed though, my favourite game would be either Sabre Wulf or Nightlore. I played Sabre Wulf and awful lot. Scuba Dive (Durrell)? I loved that game. And Stop The Express.”

Since the event, The Centre for Computing History has opened its doors and Simon has confirmed there will be another Silicon Dreams event. Simon is currently looking for sponsors for the 2014 event and is providing up to date news about the progress of things via the website: and their Twitter page:

Thank you to everyone who help organise and contributed to the Silicon Dreams event from the GamesYouLoved Team

Find The Centre for Computing History and Retro Computer Museum on our friends page:

Sunday 4 August 2013

Looking at the Mad Max game with a different name - By Michael Westgarth

Beyond Nitendome

One glance at Outlander and the Mad Max inspiration is obvious.

The car, the endless stretch of road, the orange and brown colour scheme of the oh so familiar Australian post-apocalyptic wasteland. Our nameless hero is even rocking the leather jacket, jeans and sunglasses combo. It's more than likely that Outlander was a failed attempt by developer and publisher Mindscape to renew the Mad Max license following their official Mad Max NES game, but that's not important. What is important is that Outlander mixes two very common gameplay types and throws in a survival twist, resulting in a unique and challenging game often overlooked by even the greatest Super Nintendo enthusiasts.

As children growing up with the Sega Mega Drive, my younger brother and I would look forward to visits from our uncle who would reveal to us what we considered at the time to be truly exotic games on his SNES. Even though the likes of Super Mario World and Star Wing wowed us, there was something oddly attractive about Outlander. Funnily enough, I specifically remember asking my uncle what the game was about, only to get a reply along the lines of, “It's like Mad Max.”. Our blank faces, however, required a more detailed description.

Initially, Outlander looks like nothing more than a racing game. In fact, the game starts with no introduction, no story and no instructions – Just your car, the road, and the orange mountains on the horizon. Drive a small distance however and you'll soon be attacked by motorcycling bandits. That's right, it's boomstick time. Your car is equipped with a front mounted machine gun used for taking out oncoming bandits, however, when motorcyclists drive along side you a small screen will appear showing you a side-on view of the bandit in question, allowing you to line up and fire a shot from your shotgun. The assault continues as you wind around corners, dodging road blocks and trying to block off bandits chasing you from behind using your rear view mirror. It won't be long though until you run out of fuel, health or ammo, at which point you can park along side the road in order to scavenge for supplies on foot.

The ability to park the car at any time and start a 2D side-scrolling section amazed me as a child at a time where the games I was playing had clearly defined stages consisting of one type of gameplay. This didn't make Outlander any easier though. Each stretch of road is interspersed with towns in which food, ammo, armour, nitro and other bits and bobs can be found in relative abundance – just so long as you can take out the town's aggressive inhabitants with your shotgun, or failing that, your fist. Completing a town acts as the end of a stage, totting up your score and giving you a password. Stopping your car before a town will result in you walking along side the road itself, battling motorcyclists and dodging land mines – all for a fraction of the items found in a town.

Outlander is a game about survival, a fact that made it impossible for my younger brother and I to get very far when playing it. The game would always give you just a little less ammo than you really needed and just a little a less fuel than it took to get you to the next town. In addition to this, running over one too many road blocks or crashing into a bolder would quickly send you to the 'Game Over' screen. We'd often ask our uncle to play it so we could watch the game in action, begging him to run over sheep at the expense of his health, because running over sheep in Outlander was very funny.

Returning to the game in my adult years has opened my eyes to the addictive balance of 3rd person driving, 2D side scrolling and survival elements Outlander offers. Throw in a few cool and catchy tunes and some decent use of the SNES's ability to scale and you have yourself a rough diamond of a game that can be found for next-to-nothing prices. It's by no means a masterpiece – my nostalgic memories of the game helping to patch over some of its shortcomings – but this Mad Max wannabe is certainly worth checking out.

Thanks to Michael Westgarth for his review.

Michael Westgarth is a videogames writer and journalist whose works include articles for Sega Addicts and Geek Insider.

Links to his work:

Friday 2 August 2013

Skeeball Should Be in the Olympics!

Skeeball is one of the most recognizable games of the past 100 years.  

The objective is simple enough, even for the youngest of gamers to understand, yet the skills necessary to compete at the highest level, or obtain the arcade’s high score for that matter, requires an immense amount of practice and precision.

Unlike Skeeball’s second-cousin-once-removed, bowling, simply hurling the ball down the lane in a semi-straight line will not result in a respectable score. To truly master the art of Skeeball, rolling the ball down the center of the lane won’t give you the points necessary to obtain legendary status. Only painting the corners, where the big points reside, will tally up your score properly. Beyond simply aiming, there’s a depth-perception component to the game of Skeeball that bowling cannot compete with. Skeeball is the ultimate combination of bowling and a game of H.O.R.S.E. Let’s be honest, not all Olympic sports require an incredible amount of athletic ability. Of course the majority do. But then there’s archery; an impressive skill that entails an incredible amount of practice and training. Not necessarily athletic ability though.

To claim Skeeball should automatically be eliminated from the Olympics because of the lack of athletic ability necessary makes the argument invalid. The IOC (International Olympic Committee) holds a vote after each Olympic year to decide which sports will be included at the following Olympics. According to Rule 48 of the Olympic Charter, a maximum of 28 sports can be included. Think back to the games you’ve seen televised: curling, sailing, and archery, to name a few. Adding a sport to the Olympic roster is based on its world-wide popularity. Of the people reading this article, were any of you on your school’s curling team? That’s not to say all the sports mentioned aren’t great fun, impressive to watch and entertaining.

One could argue however, based on popularity alone, Skeeball is one of the most recognizable sports of last century. Simply put, the guidelines placed upon which sports will be included in the Olympics are loose at best.  Playing arcade games, of any kind, requires a certain level of skill; hand-eye coordination being amongst the most obvious. Timing, dexterity, concentration, speed, anticipation, accuracy and multitasking are all sport-related (and real-world) skills the best gamers master. Skeeball, we can argue, requires the greatest combination of prowess. Understanding velocity, inertia, rotational physics, and the lane’s terrain are all crucial to becoming a Skeeball expert. Skeeball is like taking a free throw by rolling it down a bowling lane and off a ramp – 9 times in a row. Turn on ESPN 2 on a Tuesday at 3 in the morning, and you’ll find all sorts of interesting “sports;” Darts, billiards, poker, spelling bees, fishing. Is Skeeball really that different than any of these? 

And even if we can’t agree on adding Skeeball to the Olympics in 2014, the discussion should at least be opened to including video gaming of some sort, in the future. 100 years ago, saying snowboarding should be in the Olympics would have either raised eyebrows, or led to being asked, “what’s snowboarding?” If curling is in the Olympics, and poker is on ESPN, then the least we can do is let the conversation begin.

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