Overly busy, nonsensical and lacking in imagination

While I would love to dive into and give my two cents on the quality of Star Trek: Discovery as a show, the blog’s not really a place for that. I’ll comment on the designs of STD instead, similar on what I did for Star Wars. Well, the title really says it all, doesn’t it? Well, I’m going to give it a shot and aim to veer away from comparing too much to old Trek shows, mainly because this is a reboot all things considered and because all the designs are far too advanced for its time period. I’ll also concentrate on the Federation designs, because I don’t want to lose my mind with the Klingon’s.

I’ve seen some people on the ‘net using busy and complex designs as synonyms to each other. This isn’t the case. Busy design just means there is a high amount of unnecessary details, lines, cuts and whatever else elements that simply don’t sit right. There are some designers who can make busy work extremely well, but it’s usually the first way to fill in “blank” space rather than working over the designs overall.

The uniforms and force fields are probably a good example of this. The uniforms don’t look too bad at a distance, but whenever we get a close-up, we see that nothing on it looks set-in. Every surface has a texture of some sort on it.

The above shots shows three things; the areas on her sides are riddled with smaller Federation symbols for whatever reason, the Federation badge itself is split into two for no reason and houses ranking pips. Pips, which would’ve been great on the collar, but the collar is now wasted to look funky with its asymmetric design. This asymmetry forces the zip to be on her right side more, but as seen from this shot, it still angles towards the middle of the jacket. It looks stupid. If the jacket had been single-breasted, this would’ve worked. Hell, it would’ve looked great even. Now, with the symmetrical stripes on the shoulders and itty bitty Starfeet logos on the sides, it looks someone botched their day at the clothes workshop and called it a day.

Pants on the other manage to look like uniform pants a bit more, but the unnecessary zippers on the sides look stupid. This sort of vertical pocket is not very practical, so maybe it’s to let some air in. The stripes on the shoulders continue down the pants’ sides, which we don’t see here, but at least they’ve consistent with them. The boots look pretty terrible, with soles jumping out like they were just attached to a pair they didn’t belong to. Let’ not forget that even the boots have Starfleet logo on them. Twice.

Here also get to see the stripes running on the side of the pants.

The only time the uniform looks good is when it’s straight. Any other time there’s a wrinkle or its twisted by a body movement, it looks pretty terrible. All because all the things that should line up don’t, and the texture gets all messed up. The Starfleet symbols don’t help in this at all, and their removal would make the uniform look lots better. Centering the zipper would help a lot too, or at least making it straight.

The force field is a another good example of this. Let’s pass the whole thing that safety force fields didn’t exist at this point in the timeline like they’re portrayed here, and let’s ask why the hell it has all those little lines running in it. There is no logical reason for it other than separate it from other force fields we’ve seen thus far, and certainly does not look like the ones in any Star Trek. It’s a good example of business for its own sake. I could touch upon Klingon designs and all other examples I could muster, but we’re going to go over the word limit as is, so let’s move on.

If the designs aren’t busy to be filled with something, they’re nonsensical and impractical at best. Chairs are always a good example.

The chairs we see here are actually a contrary example of busy design, but they’re a good example of a chair that would be horrible to sit on. Because they’re made from one large piece, there is nothing to adjust on them. The edges are hard and the cushioning looks inadequate. These are the chairs used in classrooms and the like, where you have to have a universal, cheap as hell chair, except even those tend to have some angle to allow natural back curvature. These would make your back ache.

Then again, not everybody has a chair and there are no seat belts. That’s a terrible position to work your whole day. The fact that the station is not adjustable to height means it’s designed for human use, which is a terrible oversight in a universe where aliens serve on Federation vessels.  Also notice how  w i d e  the captain’s chair is

Also notice the paneling in the room filling each and every surface, except the floor which has a carpet, further mudding the scene down. It’s also in a Dutch angle, making it look terribly shot. Straightening it makes a better shot, even if you have to crop stuff out.

A trope in science fiction is that screens are transparent. Considering nobody really would like a transparent screen with high-brightness visuals on it, SF really should get away with it. But a massive screen with unnecessary borders, information and statistics you can’t even see?

Darkening the bridge is another trope that should be dropped, because nothing sounds better than having bright as hell panels in front of your face and then have the room darkened, blinding you for a time. Just like the Dutch angle.

There are two problems with screen like this. First is that nobody is able to see the information on the screen, not even the viewer. The only valuable information that’d be nice here is the meter running at the top of the screen, except it’s relevancy changes all the time, and all the people who needs this information sees it more relevantly on their station. The information on either side of the screen is largely irrelevant, just as is the larger information charts on the right. Hell, the square in the middle functions as some sort of shield against brightness differences, but it actually turns the brightness up, not down. I thought it was some sort of zoomed-in window, but the space in there clearly isn’t zoomed in and we saw that zoom-in function looked completely different. I don’t know what the hell it is, but it’s absolutely nonsensical and impractical. Drop the excess stuff allow the view screen function as a giant window. You get all the data on your stations.

I don’t really need to put different snaps up on how the design are lacking imagination. All the designs, from lighting to chairs, clothing and even colour choices scream of generic science fiction show. Without the Starfleet symbol floating anywhere, on the costumes, this would fit any science fiction show out there. The design work is lacking that heart. It’s not necessarily even lacklustre, but it’s very safe and sits nicely in the middle-ground of being forgettable. The photography and the way scenes are shot doesn’t help the matter at all. The series’ designs are already finished, and unless they managed to revamp things, it’s still gonna look terribly dull.

Let’s not forget the terrible desktop lamps we have here and that Sarek’s hologram is sitting on a table he should not know exists there. Does he know there was a table there and has an exactly same height table at the exact same spot at his house to sit on whenever Michael calls him? Maybe I should come back to this and do a comparative technology level review after the show’s over
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Review of the Month; Mayflash GameCube controller adapter

Mayflash is a Chinese producer of console and PC gaming goods. For at least decade and a half they’ve been producing adapters and dance mats, as well as the odd dongle for your WiFi needs. They have offered alternatives to officially licensed product pretty much all of their existence, and it’s not rare for them to offer adapters that would otherwise be too obscure for any other company to produce. It would seem that their philosophy has always been It has to work and be cheap, design be damned. I can’t really fault this philosophy, even if a designer’s heart bleeds because of it.

If you want to cut the chase with the review, I can condense it in one sentence; it looks cheap, but the insides are good quality and it works. However, if you want something more, let’s look at what’s on the outside first.

The dimensions of the box itself is 128 x 71 x 23 mm, with a . It is, all things considered, surprisingly small. However, it is also very light and prone slide every which way. All this makes a very portable piece of equipment, but it does feel a bit cheap due to this. The plastic used is rather standard and its matte finish makes it feel a pretty standard piece of tech. Despite this, due to the text and lightness the adapter does feel rather cheap. The lack of any sort of striking design, or moving the text to the bottom and leaving the top completely vacant, does add to the cheapness factor.

The controller ports have been marked with with dots, like in GameCube itself. However, they’re a bit too small to see, and you can see my haphazard attempt at painting them in the middle of the night didn’t exactly product the results. It would’ve been preferable to have the slots marked with paint, or have concave dots made on the plastic that the user could have painted himself. I can’t really say they do their job well enough, they’re just there. Better than nothing, but again Mayflash’s idea of skimping on the surface raises its head.

As said, the adapter slides on surfaces, but I’ve added few rubber pads to make it sit in place. Surprisingly, this little addition makes it feel a bit more quality product, but in the end is a useless addition. The box itself is held together with Phillips head screws, which is great. Not only it probably cut some costs off, but also allows the consumer to open it up, fix if anything’s broken or otherwise has a need for modifications or such. I’m somewhat surprised that Mayflash didn’t opt to use their logo on the top of the adapter, as their logo would’ve made a nice looking splash. However, I recognize that having nearly brandless piece of tech opens much easier avenues of surface modifications, some of which I’ll probably take advantage at a later date. Case modding is fun, after all.

While the controller ports themselves are the same as in the original GameCube, the inside that does the job is what matters more. I must say, this isn’t what I expected. While some bits here and there seem like they could’ve seen just a tad better soldering, all the components are of good quality and the tracing is nothing to scoff at. Compared to what sort of botch-job 8bit Music Power offered, this looks nothing short of great. It may not be as sturdy as Hori’s Famicom Mini Commander, but having a modern electronic device build as sturdily as they were in the 80’s is rather rare. This is really where Mayflash’s competence has come through most often. While the cases are pretty terrible, and I’ve had few of them just come apart due to shoddy design, the PCBs and function of the devices have always been between decent and top-notch.

The use for the adapter is, of course, emulation. Very few player would prefer using a GameCube controller elsewhere. Dolphin, currently the choice for GameCube and Wii emulation, offer native support to GameCube adapters and Mayflash is one of the best, if not the best, alternative option to the official Nintendo adapter. Hell, I’ll go for broke and recommend it over the official adapter anyway just because Mayflash’s adapter’s price is half of Nintendo’s and readily available from your local Internet seller. It also does allow change between Wii U and PC mode, which helps quite a lot of you’re aiming to use GameCube controllers for other games. I wouldn’t blame you, the controller is still pretty comfortable all things considered.

Of course, it functions just fine with Wii U, there are no problems here.

Just to reiterate, the box itself, and its terrible packaging design, are nothing to look at. However, what’s inside the box and how it functions is terrific. Just remember to go to Mayflash’s own site and download the latest drives, as Mayflash is a manufacturer that aim to tweak their stuff from time to time.

Review of the Month; Huion GT-220 v2 pen display

When I was initially writing this review last month, I came to a point where all I could say If you’re looking into moving digital drawing and painting, Huion GT-220 v2 fills that want with third the price of Wacom’s similar sized product. That’s the whole review in a nutshell, and expanding on that is slightly difficult. The reason for this not because Huion is worse product than its competitor, no. The reason for this that a pen display is only one-third of the equation. The second third is the software/s you’ll be using with the pen display, which doesn’t only impact what sort of lines you’ll be using, but also the digital tools you have in your use but also what you are able to do. Using Adobe Photoshop is a different thing from Paint Shop Pro or SAI. The last third is experience. You have may skill, which is easy to transition to digital realm in an extent, but you will always lack experience with any new given tool. If you’ve accustomed to work in a certain way with specific set of tools, changing to new ones will screw you up for a time, if not completely in certain situations. This applies to pen tablets doubly, as brands have fine but significant differences to them. We can always argue which brand has the best functions and why, but that’s always up to opinion.

To continue setting up personal point of comparison between tablets, my first proper drawing tablet was a version of Cybertablet M14 from early 2000’s. Before that I had used random huge, almost toyetic, drawing tablets on and off whenever I had a chance at certain schools. During the last decade or so, I’ve had an on-and-off relationship with Wacom’s tablets and pen displays. None of these had been what I’d call productive, as I always found myself being extremely limited for not being able to see where I was drawing. The fact that my eye-hand coordination was extremely hard to break made me abandon digital drawing altogether and concentrating on ink. TL;DR, I couldn’t get handle of digital drawing because the tip of the pen didn’t produce the line, it was the pointer on the screen.

Due to all this, this review will be more personal take on the item than previous, more objectivity driven reviews I’ve done. May that be a bonus or a detractor to you.

That said, any pen display would solve my problem. The problem just was that picking up a 13″ display would be too small when you’ve accustomed working on A3 size, but Wacom’s 22″ pen displays cost far too much for someone who always has to question his income. Thus, alternatives would need further research.

You can read GT-220 V2’s parameters at Huion’s own site, so I’ll be concentrating on the user experience and overall design of the pen display itself.

It’s hard to take good photos when you have no proper light, indoors or outside. Autumn is such a drab

First things first, I have a screen protector on, hence some of the bubbles and very slight scratching from the usage appearing in the photo. The design is very conservative in many ways, with it being a simple screen with nothing else going on with it. That’s a strength to GT-220, as this means there’s less things to break down on the outside.

The rubber bottom that serves at the basis of the display is meant to prevent shocks and raise it higher for easier access of the buttons on the lower right, as well as keeping the cords from the back from bending straight. However, this allows the display to pivot left or right if one is to lean unto it when working. I’ve solved this problem momentarily with thick cardboard rolls. This is not a problem for those who work in off the paper with only the pen touching the screen. I’ve found that this almost painting-position causes less stress and strain. This, in effect, is the only objectively negative point in the design of the piece, the rest are more or less subjective.

The back has two vents on both sides and one long line running near the top, otherwise they’re just your normal everyday plastic with texture. However, it’s good to show all the three leads you’ll need to run this pen display; the USB, the power and the VGA/DVI/HDMI. Without the rubber bottom, these would have to experience unnecessary stress, though it has to be mentioned that the way the rubber bottom has been installed is clearly an afterthought. Huion is using the same housing as they did with GT-220, so taking that into consideration the solution is understandable, but not wholly satisfactory.

Software installation was easy and there was not problems when following the guide. The software Huion delivers is rather spartan in function, but is efficient and does what it needs to do.

Pen configuration, pressure sensitivity, monitor select, test, calibration, settings import and export options. You don’t really need anything more with this tablet. Everything is very to the point. I’ve seen some claiming that the program does not save settings, but all that really is dependent on your screen setup. The pen display is recognized as a screen as long as you have it plugged to your computer and/or to the wall, even when powered down.  My setup is so that I have three screens, one of which is not always powered and recognized at all. This is relevant to the settings, as when you Export your settings, those same settings are imported every time you boot up. If you don’t Export your specific settings, the program will load up the default one. Now, because the pen display is the third screen I have, and the mostl-of-the-time-unpowered one is second, this means I need to check out whether or not the program recognized the pen display as the second or third screen. This also means that I can use the GT-220 as a standard, non-display pen tablet whenever I’d like to and draw to any other two screens.

The pen itself has lots of levels of pressure, which are all good and dandy. The tablet may not recognize angle of the pen, but that’s largely unnecessary. It’s a nice bonus to have, but this is one of the things you can work without just fine. You don’t miss what you don’t have. The pen’s light, and while others regard this a bonus, I would like to have slightly more heft to it. It feels just as cheap as any other pen I’ve used, but then again I would like everything to be made of steel. The pen display came with two pens and a USB charge cable (and a glove!) all of which is nice. The base contains a tool to pry a used tip off, with space for spare tips. Buttons are nice and clicky, just as you’d want them. The battery inside seems to have power for about three weeks worth of juice in it, but as usual with modern batteries, I’d recommend charging it after each use. During charging, a red light can be seen through the buttons.

The pointer does float somewhat off the pen’s tips, but this is not as straightforward as people tend to make it. There are three factors that affect how far your pointer is from the pen; thickness of the glass, the angle you are at and the calibration. You can muck around in the calibration and set your pointer into widely different positions from the tip, or spend a day like me and optimise the distance, only to change your posture and see the tip veering off a bit. How much the pointer lags behind the tip is within standard deviation compared to other tablets, and partially based on your hardware setup. The GT-220 doesn’t have any computing in it, so everything has to be done in your PC.

Speaking of buttons, the pen display lacks any of them outside Menu and settings. No shortcut keys to you. Whether or not you want them is up to you, but the lack of them is a plus to yours truly. Never cared for those anyway. The way I solved the lack of Ctrl+Z in one key press was to use a separate keypad and configuring that to host wide variety of macros, though I still tend to rush back and forth in Paint Shop Pro and using its on-screen buttons. Because how I’ve learned to utilise the pen as a tool in general, I have no need for a touch screen or quick macros, though I should get a better keypad with in-built macro modifier, like in Logitech G13. The total price would still be lower to Wacom’s 22″ displays, and you can use that keypad for variety of games, and with different settings, for variety of programs to boot.

The way the display reads the pen is really what you’d expect. The best way to showcase some of it is through it’s own Pressure Test tool.

Scribbles, always with the scribbles…

While not a draw tool in itself (hence the angles rather than smooth lines), the Pressure Test shows that with the above settings, the pen can do wide variety of thicknesses from the get go. While some prefer a heavy handed  approach to achieve thickness, I’ve set it one notch below middle way, meaning all I need is a light touch. The lines the display gives is very good, very standard, nothing to scoff at. A better example might something very quick, like a Pikachu done in Microsoft Paint.

Well that’s a piece of shit

Paint is something everyone on Windows can start up and make a comparison to. Paint limits the way line thickness works, but the that’s slightly beside the point. Here you can see that it does not do angles, unless I decide to do so. Pretty much everybody use a stablisation program anyway, but I’ve had a hard time getting my head around getting used to any I’ve tried out, be it Lazy Nezumi or something else. If you want something more wholesome, roll into Twitter. I do scribbles from time to time. Now that I think of it, in the previous transforming mecha design post I already used this pen display to quickly draw the examples. Nothing terribly exciting or decent, but showcases things a bit more.

This might be a good spot to say that a pen display does not make you better. It certainly give you better tools, depending on the software, but it’s up you just take up the pen and draw all day long, every day. Practice makes perfect, and perfection can’t be achieved.

The screen itself is nice. It’s bright enough to blind the ever living shit out of me, and the colours are satisfactory enough, hard to say how off they are without external equipment. I didn’t see any colour popping too much on top of another.

Part of the experience is, of course, with the screen itself. Huion uses a glass display, which is very sleek and very friction-less. It’s not like drawing on paper, but drawing with a tablet never is. Wacom advertises itself with its surfaces that have slight paper-like grit to them. Whether or not you value this is up to you, and you can pick up screen protectors with different grit to them. Again, to what you’re used to plays a big part. Once you learn to paint on glass, moving up to this kind of pen display is easy.

Huion GT-220 v2 might lack some of the capabilities its three times more expensive Wacom equivalent costs, I really have to question how much there is need for a touch screen function, macro keys on the display itself and angle recognition. Again, it’s all about how you’re used to work and what’s most efficient way for you to work rather than what’s available to you. Sometimes too many options and tools hampers the progress, and the core tools and the mastery over them is often more than enough.

At the moment, Huion is selling these pen displays on Amazon for some 510€. At this price, the GT-220 v2 is extremely good for starting to draw with a pen display or tablet in general. All that it lacks is luxury after all that only add to the price. Wacom enthusiasts will scoff at it, but Huion as a Chinese manufacturer has been catching their missteps along the way, and GT-220 v2 is their best piece thus far.

While I don’t have enough time to properly practice, for the last three months I’ve done all my drawing wants and need on the pen display. I’ve been happy that it works as expected, and the only thing that keeps things from being better is me myself.

Review of the Month: Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours Limited Edition/s

I was to review Huion GT-220 Ver.2 this month, but I realised that I’d need a lot more time with it before saying anything solid about it. Next month then. The second options was to review the tat that came with Dariusburst Chronicle Saviours Limited Edition package. I’m doing it a double though, reviewing both the Japanese Vita release and the PlayStation 4 Limited Run release. Let’s get on with the show then.

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The Japanese Vita release is a big box
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Limited Run’s box is essentially a carbon copy of the Japanese PS4 LE release

I have to start with the covers, because these things are pretty sweet. There are few iconic themes and illustrations with the Dariusburst sub-series, and both boxes do the game justice. Both portray the Legend and Next ship that defined the original Dariusburst with new takes on the classic bosses. It’s also nice to see some bigbox releases this day and age, even when it’s just for limited release products.

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Overall, the layout of the box is pretty good. Darius Odyssey, the book on the information of the whole series with an emphasize on the bosses, lays on top of the game case and music CD. While it would’ve been preferable to have the book behind the game and the disc so that you’d have a faster access to the game case, this is a doable solution.

Darius Odussey is a superb book. If you’re a fan of the franchise and have a preference for books of this nature, finding yourself one would something to consider about. Of course, there is a language barrier to consider about. Even if your linguistic skills aren’t up to the task, the pictures are nice.

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I had to edit my fingers out

The paper used is glossy, as per usual for these releases. This also means the page’s corners are easy to damage, and mine got a bit crunched from the sides during transit, meaning the base packaging itself is insufficient.

The music CD the Vita LE comes with is Original Arrange Soundtrack. It doesn’t contain any original tracks from the game itself, but contains music used for DLC stuff, meaning you’re missing a lot of good Zuntata music. While it can be understood, as the main soundtrack itself is sold separately and Zuntata really makes some decent dough on those, it would have been nice to have some Darius. I’ve got no qualms about having music from Space Harrier and Night Striker, which has a godly track titled Emergency Order, there is something amiss here. It’s nothing notable, but as far as included soundtracks goes, it misses the point a bit.

Overall, the Japanese Vita release was worth the money. Darius Odyssey was the money grabber in this one without a doubt. It makes an interesting conversation piece when your guests realise that all of the bosses have a seafood theme to them, and then you can proceed to wow them with your knowledge on mechanised sushi.

Limited Run’s PlayStation 4 release offers different contents, like the Japanese PS4 release.

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Uh, I’m not sure if they were arranged like this

You don’t see them, but bunch of Dariusburst CS capsule toys were stashed beneath both of these cases. The PS4 case may seem like something it would slide down in a moment, but they’ve managed to play the millimetre game well enough and it keeps the game’s case in place well enough.

There is no book this time around, but the Arrange Album is a new one. Again, we can DLC music from games like Death Smiles and Battle Garegga, of which Battle Garegga has an excellent remix of Into the Leaden Clouds. However, unlike with the Arrange Album in the Vita release, this sequel album has some songs from Darius games. They’ve been heavily arranged and carry individual composer’s tunes instead of relying on Zuntata’s own melodic trademarks. Both Arrange Albums are worth to listen to at least once and pick up your personal favourites from them, but I would recommend against purchasing either Limited Edition solely because of these music albums.

The game case is nothing special, but the main attraction of this piece is the two Silver Hawk capsule toys. Which is kinda backwards, because these two are just packed pieces of Shooting Game Historica toys and carry all the flaws a cheaply manufactured quick-pack toys have.

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The stand’s a huge upgrade from the original Silver Hawk figures from the first Shooting Game Historica

Limited Run’s Limited Edition came with Player 1 and 2 colours while the Japanese PS4 Limited Edition came with Player 3 and 4 colours. Whether or not they had a rerun or this release was provided from an excess stock is unknown, but ultimately this doesn’t matter. While I’m sure most people want the Red and Blue Silver Hawks, the P3 and P4 colours are now the rarer ones.

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Wings and cockpit were delivered in separate bags, as per capsule toys standards

The overall mould is good, but like with all toys like these, the tolerances are rather big. There are numerous spots where the pieces don’t align straight with each other without the use of glue, which I would recommend anyway.

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Because the tolerances are so high, the cockpit doesn’t sit in. You can see how it is turning to the right to the extent of the back right bit resting against the top. The turret on the left is also bending outwards due to cheap plastic used, though this is not a rare things with capsule toys. The cheapness also shows in the paintjob.

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Not the worst, not the best, but quality that doesn’t belong to a Limited Edition title

The cockpit is moulded in transparent blue plastic and then painted over with silver and red, or blue in the case of P2 colours. Due to the tolerances, the paint application is sloppy and the cockpit’s windscreen doesn’t come through as well as it should. It looks pretty terrible, and it would’ve been better if the windscreen was painted.

To be completely serious, the figures are a major letdown. Of course they wouldn’t make a new mould for this when you could cheap your ass out with this, but seeing the Japanese release did the same, it’s not exactly Limited Run’s fault. However, I would argue that Degica should’ve trumped the Japanese release and should have opted for the model kit of Silver Hawk. It might’ve had raised the price a bit, but it would’ve crowned the release. Now it’s just a drag.

Between the two releases, the Vita release gets a stamp of recommendation simply based on the book. However, it should be noted that PS4 version does have the book included as an extra on-disc that you can access in-game, but the most baffling part of this that the book’s completely untranslated. This is a significant miss on Degica’s part. The staff handling this project should have realised that they’d need to put the effort to translate it, though Degica and translations don’t really meet half-way through, it would seem.

However, if the book doesn’t look like your thing, then you’d better off with the standard release from Japan, or one of the digital options. It’ll be cheaper, and you won’t have a huge box taking your shelf space.

Or pick up Odin Sphere Leifthrasir ‘s limited edition for fifty quid on Amazon UK if you want a good limited release package.

Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final

This one has been in the making for some time, mostly thanks to Amazon Japan never shipping my piece. I had to resort to proxy services to get a new copy and the sound jack expansion elsewhere. Rather than keep bitching, let’s jump to the review right away and start with the usual stuff on what’s on the outside.

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World needs more pastel blues

Continue reading “Review of the Month; 8bit Music Power Final”

Review of the Month; Hori Mini Commander for Famicom

Hori’s been a long time on the third-party controller market. Usually they are of pretty high quality, offering relatively cheap price for a solid, no-nonsense controller that serves just fine. I’ve covered quite a few Hori product on this blog, and I have to say that I do have a slight personal bias for their products due to my good experiences with them. Hell, I still use my Rockman.EXE GBA softcase that was designed for the Game Boy Advance, because it’s so well made. Currently it houses my European 3DS.

This time we’re going back to one of Hori’s earlier third-party controllers, the Famicom Mini Commander. It seems like Hori has been doing smaller alternatives since the start. This controller also seems to be relatively obscure, and is the miniature version of the more well-known Hori Famicom Commander. For a more comprehensive review, we’re also going to open the controller to see what it has eaten.

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I’m also using large file size with these photos, because I’m sick and tired of gnat-shit size pictures that are all around the net. Notice how neat Hori’s old logo is. More after the jump

Continue reading “Review of the Month; Hori Mini Commander for Famicom”

Review of the Month; Battle Mania Chinese reproduction

What is a man to do if you want physical copies of games, but games are incredibly, stupidly high in price? Find cheaper alternatives or better deals. One consists of digital copies and reproductions, whereas the other takes time and impeccable timing when it comes to auctions and spotting those deals. Sometimes, reproductions can be a way to go, especially for titles that have no physical release or homebrew. Or when you can get one for a laughable price compared to what the real deal goes for.

During one of mid-night browsing sessions on eBay I noticed that a Chinese seller had Battle Mania in “perfect” condition for some 20€. Fully knowing that it would be a Chinese reproduction I decided to give it a go. While we could raise a discussion whether or not reproduction carts of twenty years old games that are not available anywhere any more counts as piracy, I’ll just slide the question aside for now and mention I already got the US version of the game.

So, does the item do any justice to the real deal? The comparison point I’ll be using is any other Japanese release of Mega Drive games I’ve got, mainly the excellent Devil Crash MD and an interesting SF Golf RPG game Battle Golfer Yui. Let’s get on with the show!

Honestly, I love this cover. It’s a good example of how games used to have low-level work done on them, yet came out great. The use of genre markers on the lower left should’ve crossed the pond, so people would not have invented multiple bullshit genres

The first thing we see here is that the case doesn’t really follow the Japanese style box because it has the rack hanger on the top. Second is that the plastic used on the box is cheap, as expected, but it could be much worse. It’s shiny, sturdy, but also very prone to warping under slig

ht heat. My copy has bulked out a bit, probably during injection phase. While it locks close just fine, it does look a bit strange on the shelf. The wrap is also extremely glossy and lacks the texturing a real Mega Drive case would have. The glossiness throws glares a bit too much and does feel cheaper. However it’s not exactly terrible, just cheap.

The back shows the bulking much better

The cover slip is very thin, good quality paper. It’s a good substitute to the one used on actual Mega Drive games, but the print quality doesn’t stand up to the task. This is understandable, as in order to have these prints, the seller must’ve first scanned the original piece. The only place you can see scan generation deterioration is on the text. The text is slightly blurry and soft, mostly because necessarily sharpening was not applied, thou in cases like this I would’ve re-typed the text in order to ensure that it would come out in better quality. The first impressions on the case is overall good for a Chinese reproduction.

The cartridge, however, is pretty terrible.

The cartridge opens up extremely easily, and even the slightest tug cracked the casing. I didn’t really care about the review at this point, and switches the casing with Art Alive‘s

This sort of generic cheap plastic is common with cheap productions. I shouldn’t have been surprised to see it used, but here we are. The plastic itself has a slight hue of grey to it and the parts don’t fit exactly perfectly to each other. Again, this is due to the material being that much cheaper and living during and after injection moulding. The label on the back you see there had to be peeled off through heat treating and suffers from the same scan degradation as the slip. This is disappointing overall. The cartridge really should’ve been the place where the effort should’ve been put into.

The scan degradation is most apparent on the cover label. While it looks decent on the first sight, the label is tacky and of low quality. The paper used here is thick and glossy photopaper, which doesn’t want to bend right and has really low quality scan on it. The real Mega Drive cartridges have very thin matte label on them with very high print quality on them (most of the time) and this comes off as a terribly lazy way to waste this kind of paper. It doesn’t help that the label’s too damn long.

That’s no good

So, the label was so long that it went far over the usual region where Mega Drive labels reside. Seeing Mega Drive games mostly used a standardised cartridge, this is a weird fault I can’t fathom. I had to cut out the extension out, and you can see both of the labels slowly peeling off. The thing with Mega Drive carts is that they have screw under that back label, and to open a cart you either have to peel off the label or cut holes.

The show doesn’t stop here, a complete package should come with a manual.

Oh for fuck’s sake

This is pretty damn terrible. Both print and scan qualities are low and the paper used is the same glossy photopaper as the label. It doesn’t sit well in the case and the ink hasn’t set on the surface. You can see scuff marks on the bottom, where the case’s tabs took ink out. The manual is overall terrible and not worth the paper its printed on, so I won’t be taking it out for any sort of photos. The contents are there, just in a very low quality.

So, if you took the cartridge apart, what’s in the inside? Good question.

Guess which one is which

A reproduction on a chip and it runs about the same as the real thing. It looks very cost-effective build. It has no weight to it and while it looks cheap, it… it really is. However, this is what I discussed previously about reproductions. It’s much cheaper to put a ROM on a chip rather than replicate the original pieces. Saves time, money and space. Of course, in order for the contacts to have something to stand on, you need to have something to it. This Chinese reproduction opted for a very interesting but sturdy plastic to add area to the PCB. It doesn’t exactly fit into a proper Mega Drive cart, but with some creative knife use it fits in just fine. Interestingly, the chip is so low that it interfered with the real cartridge and a slot had to be cut for it. However, the game sits well in a real console, regardless the cartridge its in.

The reproduction plays Battle Mania just as you’d expect. Outside the casing the ROM sits in, during gameplay there’s nothing that would make it stand out from the real thing. While that’s great, the fact that the thing its wrapped in is bit of a letdown does make me question whether or not I wasted 20€ for a review. It does look decent when it’s sitting on the shelf, and after changing to a proper cartridge it doesn’t feel as cheap. In the end, that’s what you get. The price does seem on the point in the end. With a tenner more the quality could be upped considerably, both in print and plastic, but more work should be on the computer to ensure the scans and their prints would stand up to much more intricate tests.