Tuesday, September 25, 2012

MAME Review SegaSonic The Hedgehog

MAME Review
  Now that the cabinet is complete, I finally get to actually use it and play some games.  I thought I might review some games on there, and possibly for other games I have on other game systems.  For my first review I picked a game that caught my eye while I was wading through my list of arcade games.  Part of the fun of finishing an arcade is getting to go through and test to make sure all the games work. This would only be hard work for someone who doesn't like games. Luckily for me, I love playing old arcade games. Luckily for you (or maybe unfortunately for you?), I'm also nerdy enough to love reviewing them.
SegaSonic The Hedgehog
   Pretty much everyone has heard of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was a staple of any kids video game collection in the 90's. But, not everyone has heard of SegaSonic the Hedgehog. It was released in Japan in 1993 and had a limited release in the UK, and some other English speaking countries.  Released in between Sonic 2 and Sonic 3, the game stars Sonic the Hedgehog along with Mighty the Armadillo, and Ray the Squirrel.  You may never have heard of the other two characters, and you are not alone.  Ray would only return to the Sonic world in Knuckles Chaotix, and Ray has not returned to any Sonic game as of 2012.

The game is different than the typical Sonic games most of us know, in that the player(s) control Sonic, Ray, or Mighty with a trackball and one button.  This type of interface for the Sonic games is unique, and I find that it fits the Sonic brand perfectly.  Why wouldn't you want to control Sonic (who spends half his blazing fast runs in ball form) with a ball, unless you just hate the trackball interface for games, then I could see this not making sense to you.  The game is displayed in a top down isometric format where you can move sonic and his cohorts in a pseudo 3D plain in all directions with the trackball.  This view format would not be revisited until Sonic 3D blast, which came out on the Sega Genesis 3 years later, and the trackball interface has not been revisited since.  The trackball is used to guide sonic and his friends throughout the levels, and the one button will allow your character to jump; precise timing is needed to pull of some of the quick gaps that come up in your way.
  Moving the trackball left will move your character left, and moving the trackball right will move your character to the right, and the rest is true for all the other directions.  Most of the levels are laid out so that a diagonal motion with the trackball is needed to allow your character to go in the correct direction of the track.  I do not know why the designers chose this, as I felt it was more difficult to keep rolling the trackball at an angle rather than vertically or horizontally.

Level Design
  The basic premise of the game is that Doctor Robotnik has captured your character.  After breaking out of your cell, you are then rocketed out of Robotnik's lair by him.  Why he captures you just to shoot you around the island, I still don't know.  Of course all the dialog is in Kanji (Japanese lettering) so I am just going off of the animation, and the few words that are in English. 
  All the levels start with Dr. Robotnik initializing some type of hazard that slowly creeps up on you as you run to the end of the level.  This is incentive for you to move fast, or as I like to call it, the "motivational" hazard.  However, this does help to keep the pace of the game moving along quickly.  You then need to guide Sonic along the level, which can change direction from time to time, but there is no time limit, except for the "motivational" hazard that will kill your character should you move too slow.  I found these hazard to increase and decrease in speed when I would run faster or slower, but they would eventually catch up to me if I was too slow, or would stop completely.  There are additional hazard that will come from below, above, and from the sides of the course. 
  Within each level are rings that you can get, although I found this hard as they pop up quickly, and if you do not already know the level layout you will have to hit the brakes and turn around to grab them.  Once you reach the end of the level you will be given a percentage total of how many rings you have collected. If you collect enough, over the 50% level, you will be given a ring bonus, which entails more points, yay!  These points, of course, increase your score, which is something all arcade players are a slave to. 
  All in all I like the level design. Each level features different obstacles and hazards to avoid, and the course changes up enough on its direction that they do not feel stale after a few levels.  It keeps you on your toes, and has you smacking the trackball as quickly as possible to beat your "motivational" hazard from behind you, as well as keeping your finger on the jump button in case anything should pop up, or fall beneath you.

  The graphics for this game are great, especially considering the game was released in 1993.  Sonic and his pals look very good, maybe the best I have seen in this perspective.  As stated earlier the only other Sonic game I can think of where we have this view field for him is Sonic 3D blast, and this topples those graphics in comparison.  Although to be fair, Sonic 3D blast was running on Sega Genesis/Mega Drive hardware, and this arcade was running on the Sega System 32 hardware, which is a much more powerful system than the home console.  There was a release of Sonic 3D Blast on the Sega Saturn with improved graphics, and I still think that these arcade graphics top the Saturn version on 3D blast.
  All the animations when the characters are jumping look very fluid as well as when they pick up speed and start to run very fast.  All the levels are varied with great depth perspective. Whether you have Sonic running along the high walls of a volcano or swimming beneath the river from a mountain, the perspectives are all great.

  The difficulty of this game is pretty high, as should be expected with most arcade games.  If you are unfamiliar with the level design be prepared to fall and die a lot.  Having said that, it is still a fun game, and even better the second and third time around.  The fast paced game play will keep you moving and trying to hit all the lines of rings that you can.
  The developers at least gave some slack and decided to give a warning when your character is getting too close to the edge. If you run up to an edge Sonic will start to wobble and then fall after a few seconds.  If you are quick enough you can spin the trackball in the opposite direction and Sonic will run away from the cliff...of course, this doesn't help with the "motivational" hazard coming from behind. It can make for some intense moments when you're trying to race Sonic through the course. 
Final Thoughts
  SegaSonic the Hedgehog is a unique game in the Sonic the Hedgehog series.  It has a fun control mechanic that works well with the franchise, and also keeps the fast pace arcade fun that it is going for.  The graphics still hold up after all the years and the pick up and play availability of the game compliments it's aggressive difficulty level.
  If you have a chance to play this game do not miss out.  It is tons of fun, sadly the only way you may get to play it would be in a MAME cabinet.  Not many arcades of this are around, and most of re-purposed.  The MAME experience is still great though, so if you have a chance go for it!  What's your favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game? Thanks for tuning in!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Media Center Part Duex

Aeon Nox
  In XBMC you can choose different skins for the front end.  A skin is how the front end handles the presentation of all your media, in short.  The XBMC skin I use is called AeonNox.  This is a branch of the Aeon skin that has had several incarnations since its inception.  I primarily use this for the speed and look.  The only other skin that I really like is the Neon skin, which is also fast and looks good.  Here are a few shots of the Home menu, where you can pick what you would like to view, i.e. Movies, TV Shows, Music, Pictures, etc.

Here is where I can access all the settings for XBMC, which includes which skin I am using, RSS feeds, and how to handle subtitles, etc.
I have the skin setup to show different photos every time I go through the menu.  Here is another shot of the TV Show selected in the main menu, with a different picture for the background.  
 I have around 15-20 pictures for each category.  Most skins come preloaded with fan-art for the main menu, but I like to customize mine with these.  If you are interested you can find good fan-art at htbackdrops.  Let's drill down and select the TV Shows from the main menu.
Here I have all my TV Shows with Logos and fan-art.  All of these are downloaded by either the basic XBMC or a few plugins that can be downloaded from the XBMC repository (app store).  If I wait on a TV Show then after a few seconds information will pop up and tell more about the show.
Now let's select Futurama from the list of TV Shows, and we see the different seasons I have listed out with cover art for each season.
Selecting a certain season will then list out all the episodes I have for that season.  All of these views, from the TV Show layout, to the season layout and finally the episode layout can be customized with different skins, and also within each skin via menu options.  Again, this all handled within XBMC so all you need is your remote to get this great level of customization.
Let's go back to Movies, and select that from the main menu.
Here I have a semi-wall view that shows the cover-art/poster for each movie, Information on the movie, and also fan-art for each movie.
There are other plugins that you can use to access streaming media from the internet, and I use this quite a bit.  If you go over to the XBMC forums and find blue-cop, he has some fantastic streaming plugins.  You will need to download his repository and install this in XBMC.
I have placed all my steaming media plugins into one place and then created a shortcut on the main menu labeled, Internet TV.  I then grabbed some fan-art to show this, and I was good to go.  In case you all are wondering, yes I have cut the cord, and no longer use cable as I stream everything or just buy it on DVD/Blur-ay and watch it then.
  Well that is all I have so far for my media center.  Once I start working on my multi-seat setup I will document that here, which should be fun.  Until next time, thanks for tuning in!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Media Center

Media Centers

  Media Centers, for those not in the know, are computers rigged up and fashioned to mainly do one thing, store all of your media.  These are also referred to as HTPC or Home Theatre Personal Computer.  This can range from Movies and TV shows, to Video Games, and Pictures.  There are several free and pay options when it comes to this, and many are very accessible right out of the box.  
  Here is a list of some of the applications that you can use if you are thinking of starting a media center. 
Beyond TV (PVR Func. Pay)
Boxee (Free)
Kaleidescape (Pay, A LOT)
Windows Media Center (Pay/included in Win XP-7, PVR Func.)
Media Portal (Free, PVR Func.)
XBMC (Free, unofficial PVR Func.)
There is a more complete list here from wikipedia, although this just covers PVR based media centers.  I will go over one application, which is the one I use, and that is XBMC. 
  Now I was a previous user of MediaPortal, but I switched over to XBMC after not liking the speed of MediaPortal, and I found the user interface to be better for XBMC, having said that it has been a number of years since I used MediaPortal, and things could have changed.  If you are looking for free PVR functionality, I would recommend MediaPortal as it does this fairly well, and the community is stellar.  I had a great amount of help from them and I appreciate it greatly!
  XBMC used to stand for Xbox Media Center, which is were its roots began, they soon moved off the Xbox only platform and thus changed it to just XBMC since it was not just Xbox that the program would run on.  Fun side fact, a developer for XBMC, when it was on Xbox, branched off and created MediaPortal, the more you know! 
  XBMC is a free to use  program that has fantastic off the shelf functionality.  Right from the get go, you can configure your movies, TV Shows, Pictures, and Music to search for MetaData and fanart for a nice look.  There is also, what I like to call, an App store functionality, which are called plugins in the XBMC community.  The great thing is that you can access the list of different plugins for XBMC right through the user interface with your remote.  I found this very cool, as with other Media Center applications you would normally need to download the app/plugin online, then install, and then reopen the media center application.  This user interface addition makes browsing so much easier and fun.  You can also look at different skins for your liking and download those as well.  The skin options for XBMC run the gamut from colorful and eye catching to sleek and efficient, so you have your veritable pick of how you want your front end to look.

My Setup 
  I have included some pictures of my current setup of my HTPC.  As I stated earlier I use XBMC, which I will cover in a later post of skins, plugins, etc. and I have a single seat setup, or just one PC.  I will be going to a mutli seat setup with my current PC acting as the server and streaming XBMC to (hopefully) a Pivos XIOS, which is currently in beta with XBMC.
 Single seat setup with my flat screen and HTPC.  I do not have the computer in the entertainment center since it is just too big, and cables were getting bent, and I got sick of worrying about/moving it around so I just stuck it outside.  
  This is a Origen æ remote.  I had to do quite a bit of searching for this remote, but I finally found one that does volume punch through.  This remote will learn the TV Power, and Volume buttons and automatically use those instead of the computer volume control.  I found this crucial, as I can set the computer volume to full, and then just control the TV volume.  Too many times did my wife and I have to walk over to the TV to turn the volume up when some one was whispering in a movie (having already turned the PC volume to the max), and then quickly turn down the computer volume with the remote when they blew up...which happens a lot in movies I found out.  This solves the problem of that with having the TV volume the only one adjusted.
  Here is the PC setup.  I have a Radeon HD 5670 and 5.5 Terabytes of space.  I also have a tuner card which I use for PVR capabilities but this is not hooked up at the moment.  This is running on an ASUS board which has worked well for about 4-5 years now.  
  Well, that is all for me right now, I will show further XBMC setup etc. later and also plan on going into multi-seat setup when I start it.   Thanks for tuning in!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Arcade Is Complete

Marquee is in
  My Marquee finally came in from GameOnGrafix and I was not disappointed.

 I taped the marquee to my glass plate front with scotch tape and it holds up pretty well.  The light shines through now, and I am good to go!

So, as promised, here is a video showing the arcade, plus some better photos of the arcade, I hope you enjoy it.  Thank you for following on my MAME adventure.  I believe the next thing I am covering is the Media Center setup I have currently.  Let me know if you guys want me to go over anything else.  I do have a small game collection.  Thanks again!

...And here is the video.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Making The Arcade More Awesome

How Do You Make An Arcade More Awesome?
  You add cup holders!  My brother had 4 left over cup holders from his arcade build and he was nice enough to give them to me.  I will be adding these to the sides of the arcades for all four players.

These cup holders fold up, so I can still get the arcade through doorways if needed.

I started by testing out where it felt natural to pick up and place a drink. 

I then got one screw in to the side and leveled out the cup holder and screwed in the other four screws.

One more added and I have player one and three's cup holders.

Rinse and repeat and here are player two and four's cup holders.
Works pretty well!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Put The T in T-Molding

Applying T-Molding
  My T-Molding has come in.  I searched around a good bit to find this stuff, and I was able to get my T-Molding from ebay for about $10.  This was the best deal I found since Home Depot or any other local hardware store around me doesn't sell the correct type of T-Molding I need, and any other online store I checked I was looking around $20 bucks with shipping to get the T-Molding here.
The T-Molding I got was black and I got 20' of it.  This was more than enough that I needed to wrap the control panel.
  I stated earlier that the smallest router bit I could find was 1/16" which is too large for the T-Molding to fit snug, so I will need to apply hot glue to have this stay.  I got help from my wife (Thank you!) to assist me with applying this. 

  Basically she applied the hot glue and I followed behind her with the T-Molding, we stopped on the two front corners of the CP So We could apply more glue and pressure since these bends put more resistance on the T-Molding. 

 I also divided the CP up into three parts, the control panel was cut at an acute angle for the T-Molding and this would just not stay on, so I cut little strips for these two back areas.

It didn't take long for the hot glue to dry, and also applying this adhesive is rather forgiving if you screw up.

  Here is the finished shot with what I have so far.  I am still waiting on my marquee to come in, but it should arrive shortly, and I also have one more add-on for the cabinet before I am done.  Thanks for tuning in, until next time!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Make Shift Marquee

Making A Marquee
  So I have my marquee art that I made myself, and after a bit of tweaking I was ready to send it off to GameOnGrafix for them to print it out.  Before I sent the finished copy though, I decided to print off my rough draft and create my own marquee for testing purposes for the arcade. 
  I took left over vector art that I had gathered for my control panel art, and just threw something together.  I then went and found PacMan font online and used this to make my "logo."  So with that done, I then printed out the marquee spanning three sheets and taped these together with cardboard backing. 

Here is the finished product.  Not too bad for a make shift marquee while I wait for the other one to come in the mail. 

  Next, I mounted this behind my glass marquee on the cabinet and tested out the light
...And nothing showed through.  The cardboard is too thick for the light to come through and illuminate the marquee.  I am fine with how it looks currently since this is only temporary. 
Here is a nice full shot of the cabinet so far.  My T-Molding has arrived and I will be placing this on, after that I have the marquee and maybe a few other things and I will be done with this project.  Thanks for tuning in, until next time!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Artwork Arrives

My Artwork Arrives
  My artwork has finally arrived.  I had them mail it straight to my house, and it only took them one day to print.  Kudos Office Depot!
The artwork came in a tube, which I rolled out to gaze at how good the artwork came out.

T-Molding Cutout

  First, I need to cut out my T-molding for later.  I have ordered the part but it hasn't gotten in yet.  I bought a 1/16" bit for this, which I know is too big but it is the only one I could find even that small.  I could not find the smaller bit size, so I plan on hot gluing the t-molding in place when it arrives.

  I used the routing table from my friend and cut a straight line on the sides and from of my control panel.  Thanks again for all the advice and hardware Taylor!

Placing Black Borders On The Control Panel
  Next, I need to finish the control panel before I apply my artwork, so I de-buttoned and joysticked the control panel, and started working on hooking up my coin buttons.

  My artwork does not perfectly fit onto the control panel so I decided to paint a black border around the top of the control panel to not be as obvious.  I also spray painted the bottom of the CP to help with the coin up buttons.

Setting Up The Coin Up Buttons
  I need to now place my blocks of wood for the front of the control panel, which is were I will be placing the coin up buttons for each player as well.  I have cut out three blocks of wood from my MDF sheet and I will be placing these below the control panel and drilling a button hole for each player.
I used some L brackets to attach the coin up blocks with some 1/2" screws so they do not go all the way through the MDF wood. 
  Now that I have all three blocks set up and all the buttons wired I am able to apply the artwork.
Here is a shot of the control without the artwork laid upon it.
And here is a shot with the artwork laid upon it. 
 Does it look alright, Pac-Man thinks so!

Applying The Artwork.
  I will be using Super 77 3M glue to apply the artwork to the control panel.  Once again my lovely wife helped me with this step, and I recommend two people for applying such big artwork.

  First, we applied the glue to the artwork and also the control panel.  We then laid down one corner and had one person applying a lot of pressure with their arm flat on the artwork to the control panel.  This was kinda like a roller pin, to give you a good idea of what we were doing.  We wanted the artwork to go on flat and with no air bubbles left in it. 
  After applying the artwork, I went back over it and made sure there were no air bubbles.
 Here we have the applied artwork.  It really does look way better than I thought it would.  Onto cutting the holes!
Cutting Control Panel Holes
  I used an exacto blade and trimmed off any artwork that was hanging over the side of the control panel.  Here are the remnants of the side scarps.
   I then went through and cut out all the holes for the buttons and the trackball.
Trackball hole is cut!
Here are all the holes cut for the control panel. I now am going to seal the artwork.
Sealing The Artwork
  I looked for a long time for very thin sheets of plexiglass or plastic, but I could not find a sheet big enough and thin enough for what I wanted.  The plastic had to be thin so my trackball will be tall enough to use when going through the plexiglass.  After a long debate, I finally decided I would just seal the artwork with Mod Podge, which my wife suggested.  I know, I know, my artwork can still get damaged, etc. but honestly, I am not expecting this to last forever, and my friends are pretty responsible...?
  With this decided I went and got a small can of Mod Podge for $5 from Hobby Lobby, the Matte kind.  I then applied thin layers to the artwork, around 8 or so, with a small paint roller and let them dry for 5 minutes between coats.  This actually gave it a good matte look, and I am proud of how it came out.
You cannot see it as well, but the high gloss finish has been toned down and I think it looks more like a traditional arcade with the coats of mod podge placed upon it.  Now to add the hardware.

 Adding The Hardware
Buttons and Trackball are on and it is looking good.  The only bad part is Ken will be cut off from the joystick. :(
Here is the whole shot of the control panel.  Now I need to applying T-Molding and work on the Marquee.  Almost done with this bad boy, but now I am going to test out the rig!
Thanks for tuning in!  Until next time!