Category Archives: Retro

Blast from the past: Gameboy Advance

Back in 2001 Nintendo unleashed on the world the incredible Gameboy Advance – or GBA for short. The GBA was the successor to the enormously successful Gameboy Colour and went on to consolidate Nintendo’s position as being the top dog in the gaming market. Gameboy Advance

The console featured a 32-Bit processor and a 2.9 inch full colour TFT display with a 240×160 resolution. One flaw in the design was Nintendo’s decision not to include a back light for the display. This meant no playing in the dark which was a bit of a downer. This wasn’t the end of the world however with a simple clip on light rectifying the issue.

The GBA was one of Nintendo’s best selling handhelds ever. It was a little unnecessary, in that the Gameboy Colour was still selling like hotcakes, but Nintendo were determined to stay ahead of the curve.

There was little competition for the GBA other than the Nokia N’Gage and the Neo Geo Pocket Colour. Whilst the N-Gage failed to really convince anyone it was a force to be reckoned with, the Pocket Colour had the potential to wipe the smile of Nintendo’s face. Ultimately though, and for a number of reasons, it failed to really take a chunk out of Nintendo’s sales.

Personally I never owned the GBA – but my brother did. I remember the first time I ever experienced F-Zero. It was utterly awesome. I was totally won over by the stunning graphics and amazing gameplay and played for hours and hours (to the annoyance and frustration of my brother).

Other popular games included Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap, Metroid Fusion, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Advance Wars and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2. There was such a wide range of awesome GBA titles available, and even Sega endorsed the system with the release of Sonic Advance. 31590658-2-440-overview-1

No one can deny the success of the GBA but it was eventually replaced by the SP in 2013. The SP wasn’t a brand new console but rather an improved version of the GBA with a new clamshell design and rather crucially it sported a front-lit display. The SP was also massively successful and in 2005 it was again refreshed by means of a new and much improved rear-lit display.

Remembering Nintendo’s Virtual Boy

Back in the mid 90’s the Virtual Reality craze was taking the world by storm. A new generation of games consoles promised processing power like never seen before and we were led to believe that virtual reality (VR) was finally on the verge of becoming mainstream. Of course our expectations were way too high and consumer VR never really materialised. The technology of the day was bulky, uncomfortable, underpowered and grossly expensive. There is however one piece of hardware that stands out from the crowd. This comes in the form of Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.  Virtual Boy

In 1995 at the height of the VR craze, Nintendo released its first standalone consumer VR system – The Virtual Boy. Although the Virtual Boy was initially only available in Japan, it later became available in the US for a tidy $180. Although not massively expensive, the Virtual Boy was more costly than some games consoles of the time. It was also riddled with problems.

Ultimately the Virtual Boy was doomed from the beginning.

The virtual Boy was slated as being the worlds first 32bit gaming console. Although Nintendo was heavily engaged in developing the N64 at the time, the Virtual Boy was still more powerful than the current 16bit systems. The system incorporates two LED displays (one for each eye) and creates a 3D effect via two rapidly oscillating mirrors. Although graphics were rather limited by the red monochrome display, it was praised for its high resolution – 384 x 224. The whole system was powered by 6 x AA batteries.

Although described as a portable device, the Virtual Boy was far from such. It had a bulky cumbersome design which required being set up on a flat surface to use. It was not truly portable in that you could not sit it on your knee and play it on the bus, for example. As such, it was far from a comfortable gaming experience with users ofter having to hunch over to play.

Another issue derived from Nintendos decision to use monochromatic screen technology which incorporated only red LED’s. Nintendo claimed that this helped to keep costs down but in reality it just made for a very miserable gaming experience. Literally everything was red, black or something in between. This slightly undermined the 3D effect and made the experience less immersive.

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Unfortunately, users of the Virtual boy complained of eye strain, sickness and general unease during gameplay. This was largely attributed to the monochrome display and poor design ergonomics. Although Nintendo had incorporated pauses into gameplay it did little to improve the overall experience.

Another nail in the coffin resulted from a serious lack of games – only 14 were ever available in the US!

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Whilst the Virtual Boy did not deliver the virtual experience that we expect today, it did go some way in creating a unique and immersive gaming experience with had not been seen before. Unfortunately because of the various issues with the system Nintendo just couldn’t shift enough units. Even subsequent price reductions did little to increase sales and Nintendo struggled to get developers on board.

Ultimately the Virtual Boy was a commercial disaster and was discontinued in the US in early 1996. The Virtual Boy did however show Nintendo’s commitment to innovation and certainly paved the way for the immensely popular 3DS – a truly portable 3D games console.

Top 10 most intuitive smartphones ever

Since an early age I have always loved mobile phones. I always had to have the latest device and loved that feeling of unwrapping that new phone for the first time and opening that shiny new box. I still do. Unfortunately it’s a bit of an expensive affection but I don’t think there’s any better feeling. It was mobile phones that really got me into technology but it wasn’t until phones became ‘smart’ that I really started to become obsessed. What I find amazing is how technology is getting so much more powerful but at the same time smaller and more power efficient. Technology is moving on so much and the next innovative thing is only every just around the corner. That’s what I love so much. Trying to guess at what is coming next. Smartphone developers know only too well that consumers love to show off these new technologies and will market devices accordingly. I am a massive sucker for this marketing and as such always have to have the latest thing.

Of course some developments in technology are more intuitive than others and it’s not necessarily the most successful developments which have the biggest impact. The Nokia N90 for example was not the most successful device in the world but for me it is one of the most intuitive as it captures the imagination. The LG Optimus 2X was not the most successful device either. What it did do however was show what mobile processors were capable of and for that reason it also captured the imagination. This is a personal list of smartphones which I feel have had that effect. Some have been more successful than others but what they all have in common is intuitiveness. I’m sure the most intuitive smartphone label will be up for debate but below is a top 10 collection of devices which have really showcased what I love about technology.

1. Apple iPhone

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No top 10 list of influential phones would be complete without the revolutionary iPhone. The original iPhone revolutionised the smartphone experience by bringing hardware and software together in perfect unison. The iPhone was an instant success. Launched in 2007 and featuring such innovative features as pinch to zoom, the iPhone was the coolest kid on the block resulting in queues of hundreds waiting to own one. The original iPhone was the first in what is now one of the most desirable product lines in the world and made Apple a household name. The iPhone set the benchmarks for which every other company aimed at.

2. HTC One

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No list would be complete without the stunning HTC One. Easily my favourite smartphone ever. The One had an unprecedented build quality and design and included intuitive features such as the ultra pixel camera and boom speakers. This to me is just the perfect package. The best of everything brought together in a stunning aluminium body. Easily as well built as the iPhone but much cheaper. The One will go down in history as one of the smartphone greats. It’s yet to be seen wether the One is enough to turn around HTC’s fortunes. This doesn’t change the fact however that the HTC one is possible the finest smartphone ever made and like the iPhone sets the benchmarks for all future flagships.

3. T-mobile G1

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T-mobile G1 or HTC Dream as it was also known was the very first Android smartphone. The G1 was officially released in 2008 and showcased the brand new Linux based operation system – android. In was mainly well received and featured good build quality and sweet features such as notification management. It also had a full pull out qwerty keyboard and boasted top notch integration with Google services. Android is now one of the biggest and best operating systems in the world but none of this would have been possible without the G1.

4. Nokia N90

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You may be a little surprised to see the N90 in my top 10. Perhaps not the most popular N-series phone but easily one of the most intuitive. Unfortunately this was one of the phones that I wanted desperately but never actually owned. I was totally mesmerised by the slick twisty display that turned the whole thing into a camcorder. For me this device showed what smartphones were capable of. It was just so cool. Massively expensive however. I don’t know why I loved this so much, it was just so desirable. My mate had one and I would have done anything to have owned one. The Nokia N90 was a true gadget phone that easily deserves to be in my top 10.

5. Palm Pre

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I think the Palm Pre was one of the most underrated smartphones ever. The pre had a beautiful pebble like design with that amazing sliding qwerty keyboard and intuitive operating system. To me WebOS was one of the finest operating systems of its time. Like Android WebOS was based on Linux and focused on the user experience. All this made the Pre one of the biggest threats to the iPhone and initial sales when it was launched in 2009 were very promising. The device never really gained popularity here in the Uk however and subsequent releases failed to gather momentum. Those of us who remember using WebOS will remember that buttery smooth interface and sleek design. I’d love to see it again running on a mainstream device.

6. LG Optimus 2X

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The LG Optimus 2X was the first smartphone in the world to feature a duel core processor. The device featured a decent LCD IPS display and 8GB of Ram. It was revolutionary in that it featured Nvidia’s latest Tegra 2 CPU and also featured a HDMI out port. I owned this phone for a short while and really loved it. I remember being amazed playing Samurai ll Vengeance for the first time and being able to play this on my telly through the HDMI. It’s hard to believe that this device was only released in 2011. Smartphone technology seems to have developed so fast in the last few years. Unfortunately the 2X was soon overshadowed by Samsung’s amazing Galaxy S 2. This was more powerful and featured a much improved display. However the 2X was the first to the market and therefore beats the S2 into my top 10.

7. Samsung Galaxy Note

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Samsung took a huge risk with the Note. Nothing like this had been seen before and the note could have quite easily flopped. Fortunately however it didn’t. The Note was hugely successful and samsung effectively created a whole new market which it still largely dominates today. The Note is to the phablet what the iPad is to the tablet. What I find interesting about the Note is how attitudes have changed. In today’s consumer market bigger is in fact better. People don’t really like small displays anymore. When your someone who consumes a lot of media, surfs the web and play 3d immersive games then what you need is a huge window to that world. Even Apple took note with the iPhone 5 having a bigger display. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the iPhone 6 is bigger still. The samsung Galaxy note makes it into my list because it redefined mobile computing and changed the attitude regarding what is deemed acceptable.

8. HTC Desire/Google Nexus one

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Quite simply the HTC desire was one of the best phones I ever owned. The Desire was the whole package – what we used to call a “iPhone killer”. The Desire had it all; a clamshell design, AMOLED display, half a gig of RAM, a five million pixel camera and also shot video in 720p HD. This was a fine example of what HTC were capable of. For me HTC have always been the most competent at taking the latest and best smartphone features and cramming them all into one super cool little package. I always found this device a true competitor to the iPhone and it was a fine example of an early Android handset kicking ass. I have cheated a little here by adding the Google Nexus One. Although a separate entity, the Nexus One was the original Google smartphone. Based around the same hardware as the Desire the Nexus One cost more and was less popular. It did however start what is now an exceptional line of raw android devices.

9. Samsung Omnia HD

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The Omnia HD was the first smartphone to record video in 720p high definition. It seemed like quite a hefty device at the time but is rather small compared to today’s flagships. It featured a lovely 3.7 inch capacitive AMOLED display and a brilliant 8mp snapper. The Omnia HD ran on Nokia’s now extinct Symbian operating system and came in 8 and 16GB memory sizes. I remember people laughing when they saw the size of this phone. That beautiful quality video playback shut them all up however! The design and build was pretty robust too but the shiny coating became a bit of a finger print magnet.

10. Motorola RAZR

Motorola RAZR

The Motorola RAZR was originally launched in 2004 as a non mainstream fashion device. Thankfully however the price was eventually lowered for domestic markets and by 2006 the RAZR had become the fastest selling phone ever. Back in 2006 Motorola were once of the big smartphone manufacturers and with the RAZR they were on to a winner. The RAZR’s unique selling point was its immense slimness. Nothing like this had been seen before and even today the device looks cool. Unfortunately that slim screen did have a tendency to crack but this takes nothing away from the innovative design. The RAZR was like the iPhone of its time – that must have gadget that everybody wanted to be seen with. There were many improved versions of the RAZR released but the original will always have a place in my heart.

I have really enjoyed putting this list together and I’m sure people will want to disagree. Please feel free to comment and let me know what you think.

Blast from the past: Neo Geo Pocket Colour

Awe what a cute little piece of gorgeousness the Neo Geo Pocket Colour (NGPC ) was. Of all the hand-held games consoles I ever came into contact with the NGPC was easily my favourite. With that amazing little compact chassis, choice of cool colours and kick ass line up of arcade games the NGPC had everything going for it. Even those compact little games cartridges added to the quality and appeal of the console. The NGPC was well ahead of its time and unfortunately came to an end in its life prematurely.

Launched worldwide in 1999, SNK’s 16-BIT console the Neo Geo Pocket Colour was a direct competitor to Nintendo’s Gameboy Colour. Considered as one of the biggest challengers to the Gameboy, the NGPC had a faster processor and better battery life. It was available in six awesome colours at launch: Camouflage Blue, Carbon Black, Crystal White, Platinum Blue, Platinum Silver, and Stone Blue. The NGPC was different to the Gameboy Colour as it sported an analogue stick on the left and the controls were quick and sharp. Although Nintendo had a renowned backlog of games, SNK had a lot of experience in the arcade market and as such released some superb pocket editions of popular games, such as metal slug and Sonic Pocket adventure.

Unfortunately SNK was bought by a rival company in 2000 who decided to make the console exclusive to the Asian market. This coupled with a lot of competition from Nintendo and the Pokemon franchise and due to some poor marketing decision resulted in NGPC being discontinued. The console did however continue to go on sale in Japan until 2001. What I remember about the NGPC was how much better than the Gameboy Colour it was. The NGPC was able to challenge the Gameboy like no other console had been able to do before. It was therefore such a shame that this brilliant bit of kit was not able to live a full and fruitful life.

It’s not all bad news however. This year Neo Geo released an anniversary edition of the NGPC – the Neo Geo X Gold. This comes In a sweet little package with docking station and games card, analogue stick and pre-loaded with 20 games. This is the first console since the end of the Neo Geo brand in 2004. You can purchase this for about £174.99 from play.com.

With thanks to giantbomb.com and denofgeek.com

If anybody else owned a NGPC I would be please let me know what you thought.

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Nintendo playstation – an unlikely alliance

The sony playstation 1 was launched in 1994 to international acclaim. It simply blew away the competition with the likes of Nintendo and Sega failing to gain support for their N64 and Saturn consoles respectively. What may not be known is that playstation 1 was very much based on joint efforts between Sony and Nintendo. This is the story of the SNES-CD.

In 1991 Nintendo had been trying to extend the popularity of the SNES by adding a CD ROM capability. Originally striking up a licensing deal with philips the two companies developed a CD ROM add-on for the SNES. This turned out to be massively unsuccessful and Nintendo eventually broke with philips. Nintendo subsequently approached Sony to continue this project and both worked together to create the SNES CD attachment. At the same time Sony also planned on creating its own branded home entertainment system incorporating Sony’s own CD technology and nintendo’s cartridge based Console. This project was dubbed the Play Station. The play Station console was able to play both SNES cartridges and Sony’s newly developed CD format. This new CD format would also be used in the SNES-CD attachment. The Play Station was officially announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 1991 but only about 200 prototypes were ever created. Unfortunately an earlier licensing deal between sony and Nintendo meant that Sony would have full control over all games that would be programmed in the new CD format. As Nintendo saw this as their domain they thought this completely unacceptable and secretly went back to philips to revive their previous Project, but with full license over the games. Following Sony’s announcement of the Play Station at CES Nintendo and philips announced their new joint project the very next day.

Funnily enough Nintendo claimed that this newly revived deal with Philips wouldn’t effect the relationship and joint project between themselves and Sony, and attempted to sue Sony when they decided to go solo. Eventually in 1993 sony ended any agreement with Nintendo and launched the ‘Playstation’ – the most popular console ever released.

It is interesting to think how different the games market could have been today if Nintendo and Sony had released the Playstation together. Sony clearly gained so much more from the joint project than Nintendo. Sony who had previously no experience in the games market had gained a lot of knowledge and experience from working with Nintendo and this was paramount to the successful release of the Playstation. If Nintendo had not been so greedy and had not subsequently snubbed the CD format then they may not have been in the decline which they find themselves in today. Furthermore had this relationship not broken apart Sony may not have dominated the games market and may not be such a significant entity today!

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Sega Pluto.

I just love looking back at games consoles which could have been. As an old school Sega fan I was dead excited recently to learn about one of sega’s unreleased concepts – Pluto. An ex Sega engineer recently lifted the lid on the Sega Pluto, the console which could have bridged the gap between the Saturn and the Dreamcast. Spec-wise the Pluto seems the same as the Saturn but with a built in modem. This could have made the Pluto well ahead of its time. Apparently there were only two ever built.

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Blast from the past: Atari Jaguar

As a kid I owned a Sega Megadrive. I loved it dearly and spoke openly with my mates about my loyalty to Sega. It was funny back then in the early nineties; you either swore allegiance to Sega or, in the enemy’s case Nintendo. My brother owned a Super Nintendo and we fought bitter battles for console supremacy. Of course there was no doubt that Sonic was way cooler than Nintendo’s strange Italian plumber! Back then Sega and Nintendo had a massive monopoly on console gaming and these 16bit beasts were at the cutting edge of what consoles were capable of. There was however a huge competitor capable of wiping Nintendo and Sega off the face of the world. The Atari Jaguar launched in 1993 and marketed as the world most powerful gaming console was a major threat to the likes of Sony and Ninty. Why then did the 64bit powerhouse from the future prove to be such a commercial failure?       

 
Atari  had been making popular games consoles and computers since 1984 and enjoyed a pretty solid reputation. It was however well known that unless they could offer a competitive rival to match the super popular Megadrive and Snes then the company would likely be doomed. Bearing this in mind Atari went one step further and designed a mega-console. A console that was capable of trumping the competition and more.  Unbeknown to Atari the Jaguar would not only be their last ever console but would almost bankrupt the company. There are of course many reasons for this, but we can have a look at some of the key issues;
 
Third party support
 
History has shown us that what makes a games console sell is its games catalogue. It is vital to have a good range of games at release to make a console successful. It is similarly as important to ensure you have developers on board and a decent catalogue of future games. What made this particularly difficult for Atari was that the Jaguar was notoriously difficult to develop games for. Not only was the console riddled with bugs but initial poor sales figures made the platform very undesirable to developers. Although the console did have a few good games including Doom, Wolfenstein, Rayman and Alien vs Predator, It was just not enough to keep the platform afloat. Many of the games were rushed out and totally rubbish or massively delayed. This major lack of support from developers proved to be one of largest nails in the Jaguars coffin.
 
Competition
 
Although the Jaguar did enjoy a modest marketing budget of $3Million Atari struggled to compete. The Snes and Megadrive had already enjoyed huge success and in 1995 Sega released the Saturn and and Sony released its first ever console the Playstation. Although both were only 32bit, it was argued that the Jaguar wasn’t actually a true 64bit console. Sony were the ultimate winners of this console war and enjoyed enormous success.
 
Hardware and focus
 
Let’s not forget that god awful controller. It was totally rubbish; far too big with way too many buttons. Furthermore, the cartridge based medium that Atari opted for presented many limitations.
Another issue was that Atari seemed to lack focus. Rather than putting most of their efforts into the the console itself, They spent too much time thinking about new ad-on’s and future developments. 
 
Perhaps ultimately the Atari jaguar was just too far ahead of its time. It had so much potential but just couldn’t deliver. Its a shame really because when Atari finally threw in the towel it had been in the process of developing a new console; the Jaguar 2. It was suggested to have been 2 to 3 times more powerful than the Playstation! Who knows what it may have been capable of and where Atari may have been today. Imagine an Atari rival to the current next gen games consoles! The Jaguar will however live on in our hearts and does in fact enjoy a bit of a cult following today.
 
If you ever owned an Atari Jaguar then please share your experience.

Blast from the past: Sega Dreamcast

Who remembers the excitement of The Sega Dreamcast being released? With that unique and intuitive controller and that cool little visual memory card accessory? I never owned one personally but my brother did. He used to hate the way that every time he came home from college I would be in his bed room playing Resident Evil Code: Veronica. I loved that game dearly.

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The Dreamcast is yet another example of a product which was ahead of its time. Released globally in 1999 it way more powerful than Sony’s Playstation and Sega’s own Saturn. Sega really needed to make amends for its failing Saturn console and all seemed well when the Dreamcast kicked of with strong sales figures.  Unfortunately for Sega however the much anticipated Playstation 2 was just around the corner. This posed a major threat to Sega and unfortunately hit Dreamcast sales fatally.

The Dreamcast was officially discontinued in March 2001 and Sega pulled out of the hardware market all together. Like with the Atari Jaguar we really need to consider where Sega Could have been today if it had Continued making hardware. As a long time Sega fan I would love to have seen Sega making next gen consoles today.

The Dreamcast was pretty revolutionary as far as games consoles go. It was the first to be released with a built in modem (who remembers ChuChu rocket?) and the first to output video in Enhanced-Definition 480p. Strangely, the Dreamcast had no operating system installed. The operating system was actually loaded onto the system via the games discs. Microsoft had done a lot of work with Sega developing a version of Windows CE. It was not however the most widely used operating System. Either way the Dreamcast was revolutionary and demands our respect.

One thing is for Sure; with game’s like Crazy taxi, ChuChu Rocket and Shenmue the Dreamcast will gown in history as a gaming masterpiece.