Response to Hyper’s Complete History of Racing Games

hyper_220_cover_front

I want to pre-empt this post with a foreword.

I continue to admire Hyper’s presence in the Australian market – it’s amazing that it continues to hit shelves each month with plenty of great content and coverage of the gaming sector and flies in the face of the downturn being experienced locally and overseas. Even in the wake of US stalwarts, our amazing piece of home-grown gaming journo goodness still comes out each month. Amazing stuff. So this post isn’t meant in any way to take a jab at the magazine, because I have a huge amount of respect and nostalgia-infused love for the publication.

I finished going through the Complete History of Racing Games special in the February 2012 issue (#220) this morning and wanted to write my thoughts on the piece. On the whole, it’s a very nice read – there was great attention paid to the early development of the genre in the arcade and at home, and I really liked the attention given to the home computers of the 80s (especially the C64!). My issues come with a lack of coverage and a bit of bias once things heat up and we hit the mid-90s.

On the arcade side, Virtua Racing was given it’s due, but Daytona was given less attention than Ridge Racer. While the latter’s important as a response to Daytona, the impact Daytona made was enormous as it arguably became the peak of racing games in the arcades, with no title that followed proving as successful. In fact, the success of Daytona was a huge boost to the Model 2 arcade platform Sega used in the mid-90s and saw it become one of the most successful arcade platforms ever, easily putting it in the same realm as the MVS and the Naomi. Namco still did well with Ridge Racer and the System 22 platform, but it is no way comparable to the magic of AM2′s accessible creation.

Another area of contention was the complete disregard to the Saturn. Multiple paragraphs are dedicated to the PSone, and that’s fine – the machine played host to some amazing output from Psygnosis, Polyphony Digital and Namco. But the only mention of the Saturn is comparing Daytona USA to Ridge Racer at launch; while the comparison is apt that the Daytona port looked several shades of rubbish, the game actually plays really well, surprisingly so (especially when played at 60hz). The Saturn also played host to an amazing port of Sega Rally, but going beyond that is a bit of an arguable stretch. Sega Touring Car had a lot of promise, but CSK ruined it with the frame rate issues, and Tantalus’ port of Manx TT didn’t do the machine any favours (though it’s still really cool that an Australian developer got the opportunity to do the port – they also handled the House of the Dead, Wipeout and Wipeout 2097 ports). Daytona USA CCE was highly anticipated, but ultimately failed to deliver in the gameplay stakes (though technically, it looked really nice).

I guess there’s nothing wrong with the amount of space dedicated to the PSone, but it does show things to be a little one-sided. Even Mario Kart 64 rated barely a mention, which I thought was a little odd.

The last issue I wanted to point out was the lack of time dedicated to the Dreamcast or Sega’s arcade movements post-Sega Rally. Model 3-based games such as Daytona USA 2, Scud Racer and Sega Rally 2 were part of the final wave of arcade games where the arcade visuals were unable to be matched at home. While Crazy Taxi earned a mention, it was distinctly offhand – Criterion’s Burnout series arguably owes more than a little inspiration to Crazy Taxi, so it’s a little disappointing when the latter gets a lengthy (and deserved) amount of attention despite the former’s influence and success in the arcade and at home. Also on the DC worthy of discussion are Daytona USA 2001, as it was the first game to almost nail improving on the arcade original’s visuals with almost getting the handling perfect (Daytona HD wins the prize for getting everything perfect) and Le Mans 24 Hours for bringing 24-hour racing in real-time for the DC (plus it was developed by Melbourne House and also looked very pretty). In addition, Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham Racing is given acknowledgement, but the spiritual predecessor, Metropolis Street Racer on the DC, is given none.

Beyond this though, there’s no mention of OutRun 2/SP/2006, which brought the OutRun franchise back to life in the arcades (powered by the Chihiro board, which closely resembled the Xbox architecture) and also came to home consoles.

Now that I’ve written this little whinge out and have looking it, two things are apparent.

Number one, where I’ve decried Playstation bias in the original article, it’s clearly obvious I’m being just as bad (if not worse) with my bias towards Sega. Thus, my arguments above can be taken as tentative at best if my grand vision for the article was to have the space dedicated to the PSone retracted for Sega ramblings.

Number two, most of the above, when not defending the Saturn, has focused on arcade gaming, which in the late-90s was in serious decline; Napieralski rightly gives the reader a literary cue that discussion was naturally going to start focusing on home platforms instead of covering the last desperate sighs of the arcade sector, so the lack of coverage is definitely acceptable (and to his credit, the Initial D and Maximum Tune series’ were given mention to cap off the discussion).

So, I’ve effectively gone around in circles and have espoused in areas that probably didn’t need to be expanded in the original article. Except for maybe MSR ;)

But then again, this is the internet, where passionate discussion on unnecessarily niche topics are allowed to flourish. Thus, it’s better to look at this as purely a response rather than a criticism of the article (hence the title of the post). Accordingly, with this in mind, props to Napieralski and Hyper for giving some dedicated space covering the history of the genre, as it made for an otherwise great read :)

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Overhauling the Sega Astro City – Part 2, audio amplification and fans

I’ve already got the ball rolling in part 1 of this series, so let’s move on to part 2 – audio amplification and fans.

In line with the previous post, I want to add a way to have a stereo amp in the cabinet to take care of line-level sources and enhanced stereo sound (e.g. Naomi, CPS-II, Sega Model 3, etc). So, in the spirit of making the cab as universal as possible, I need to look at adding in a small amp that can be switched on or off as required, and be able to direct either amplified sound off the JAMMA cable or amplified stereo output as required. So, this is what I’ve come up with:

Audio wiring

It’s not all the difficult – I’ll need to rewire the 4-pin connector that goes from the speakers at the top of the cab so that they’re separated into stereo channels, then create a little switch to roll between a split dual-mono amplified output (from the JAMMA harness) or stereo output from the stereo amp, which in turn is powered off a 12v source (with switch to control when it’s on) and grabs its input directly from the PCB (Naomi, Model 2, etc).

This then means the audio can be setup in the cab when inserting a new board. All I’ll need are a pair of stereo RCA cables to run form the CPS-II or Naomi boards (and make a stereo RCA adapter for the Model 2/Model 3 boards) and run them off a pair of 12v mono amps I already have around the place, and I should be good to go.

The other addition I’d like to add is a stereo controller I can mount on the cab to adjust the output before it goes to the speakers as required – there’s currently a cheap knob the previous op added to give this kind of functionality, but it’s not a true stereo actuator, and doesn’t do much except distort the audio :P

Of course, the great thing with this setup is that it won’t cost much at all to add this kind of functionality. To make it clean though, I’ll plonk the lot into a small project box and mount everything inside it. This way, I can use the same project box to run a 12v switch to selectively power the 12v fan I got with my Model 3 kit before. And to make sure I don’t mangle my hand again, I’ll also grab a pair of 120mm fan guards to avoid any more stupidity :)

Thus ends part 2 – part 3 will deal with the lovely scope creep and deciding what to do with my monitor :D

To keep track of the whole project, just use the Sega Astro City Overhaul tag – the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Overhauling the Sega Astro City – Part 1, power supplies

I’ve been meaning to write something up on this long-winded project for a while now, so here I go – not sure how many parts there’ll be to this job, so we’ll just have to wait and see :)

I’ve recently been looking at the existing setup inside my Astro, and can’t help but feel that it needs some work. The wiring is a bit of a rat’s next at times, I don’t know where all the cabling’s going, I’ve had to beef up to wiring on the 5v connections to increase the PSU’s output, the PSU itself is on the way out, as is the existing arcade monitor.

Where things got to a bit of a head was with regards to power issues – I’ve recently grabbed a Naomi and currently have a couple of Model 2 and Model 3 boards that need a reasonable amount of juice on tap. So, I figured that maybe I should investigate rewiring the way the power supply worked. The problem here was finding a power supply that couple happily take everything from a mid-80s PCB all the way through to resource-hungry Model 3 and Naomi setups. This left me with two options:

Option 1 – Parallel PSUs

Parallel 3 PSU wiring

In this case, I’m taking the 240v AC supply, chaining it across my existing 15A arcade PSU, chaining it to another 15A PSU and finally chaining it to a 3.3v PSU I bought a while back. From here, I then wire it to a distribution block, which connect to suit Naomi, Model 2/3 or JAMMA.

The pros with this is that all I need is another PSU (cheap and accessible), it runs off 240v (no need to run it through the transformer), and doesn’t require too much tomfoolery.

However, against this is – will it actually work on games that need a full load? What if one fails? Is it really safe to be mixing too PSUs together to get this kind of power distribution.

This then leads to option 2:

Option 2 – Dedicated PSU

Sega SUN PSU wiring, original plan

In this case, the aim is to grab a Sega Sun power supply, since they are great pieces of kit and are certified to power anything you can throw at them.

There are some challenges with this – cost (they’re more expensive and more difficult to get locally), only 110v (therefore would require some extra work on hooking it into the transformer), no -5v output.

In the end though, I decided to go for the above setup – fork out the extra for the PSU, grab a Negatron to introduce a true -5v connection where necessary for older boards, and run them all off a distribution block.

However, after chatting with some more experienced arcade builders, I decided to change the model a little – instead of having a big distribution block, I decided to simply create a handful of male JST plugs for each connection (e.g. JAMMA, Model 2/3 and use standard cabling for the Naomi) and hook them directly into the JST power plugs on the PSU. The following is the final run:

Sega SUN PSU wiring, take 2

So, I figured if I was going to start rewiring some areas of the cabinet to accomodate the PSU and make the whole setup more universal, there are two other factors to consider – amplification for line-level sources and getting the 12v fan from the Model 3 setup up and running when needed – you’ll see these (as well as switches to accomodate them and the Negatron when needed) have been added to the above diagram.

But I’ll stop here before I get too carried away – part 2 will deal with more of the planning behind this project.

To keep track of the whole project, just use the Sega Astro City Overhaul tag – the whole series will be added to it over time.

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Squeenix, why isn’t RayStorm HD available outside Japan on PS3?

RayStorm HD

I don’t quite understand why RayStorm HD isn’t available outside Japan on PS3. So I went and grabbed a pre-paid card and bought a copy through the Japanese store. Probably cost a lot more than it should when you consider the markup assigned to obtaining a Japanese PSN card, but I reckon it was worth it. Plus, I was able to get the Playstation port of Thunderforce V – I’ve played that to death on my Saturn and was always curious what the port was like, so it was a convenient arrangement.

Anywho, Square Enix’s idiosyncrasies aside, how’s the remake? Very nice indeed (as Yakumo over at Retro Core would say!). I haven’t put a stack of hours into it at this stage, just fitting in the occasional session when not hammering through Afterburner Climax or other gear on the PS3. The HD visuals look clean, uncluttered and the 16:9 playfield works really well – this last bit was my biggest concern going into it as breaking out the boundaries of a horizontal shooter already squeezed to a 4:3 aspect ration (rather than tate, or 3:4 ratio) to an even broader ratio may have messed up the balance RayStorm managed to achieve from back in the day.

While the decision to forego any crazy/fancy new effects may turn off the new breed who haven’t spent much time with the original FX-1B version or the Playstation “port” (though the FX-1B shares its hardware design with that of the Playstation, not unlike Namco’s System 11/12 or Capcom’s ZN-1/ZN-2 platforms, hence why I’ve put the word ‘port’ into quotations), I think it’s a very tasteful update to a solid game… though I still prefer the original Layer Section to its sequels (i.e. RayStorm, etc). So instead of having all sorts of filters, high polygon counts, motion blurring and so forth, we’re presented with slightly updated models and textures that reflect the exact same aesthetic as the original, only without jagged polygones or blurry textures. This is especially noteworthy with the low-poly waterfalls in level 3 :)

And that’s pretty much it – there’s an arranged mode and some unlockables to keep things interesting, but probably the best feature introduced to take advantage of the current hardware platform are the leaderboards that not only post your high score (mine will be down the bottom if they register at all! ;) ), but also allow you to save and upload your replays. This is excellent, since it allows rubbish shmup fans (like myself) to see how it really should be done ;) Aside from this, it’s still RayStorm, so if you didn’t like it before, you probably won’t now unless your tastes in gaming have altered accordingly.

The only question left is – why the worldwide snub for PS3 gamers? Hopefully this’ll be rectified in time. The PS3 needs more Japanese shooters on it – I’d love some Otomedius on our machine, as well as the R-Type remake that came out a while ago, then there’s the Naomi ports (like Ikaruga and Triggerheart Exelica), and so on.

Still, we do have the Söldner-X games which are pretty awesome, but I wouldn’t mind sharing with XBLA if PSN can get a couple of those exclusives in return :D

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