Review of the Month: Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller

The stock three-pronged Nintendo 64 controller is a peculiarity, to say the least. Whatever Nintendo’s approach was with it, be it designed solely to play Super Mario 64 or just try to separate itself from the rest of the controller crowd, it has ended up as rather infamous. To cut to the chase, it’s not very good as a general controller, and its shape doesn’t exactly fit the hand as intended.

Enter Retro Fighters’ Brawler 64 controller, which was Kickstarted a while back, to which I threw some money at just for this review. Intended to be competent, modern replacement for the stock N64 controller, the Brawl 64 opts for the now-standard pad design and placements, while also carrying the action button setup from the stock N64 controller. There is a follow-up campaign coming up with updated firmware and hardware for translucent shells

Probably needless to say that the controller was tested on real hardware

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Games on your wall

There’s a Kickstarter up called Linked to the Wall, which aims to create game cartridge wall mounts. The driving idea they have is that games are made into similar form as paintings, framed to the wall. The idea seems to be solid in principle, but there’s few problems, one logistic, that they are either side-stepping or haven’t thought about.

Looking at the prototypes they have, I have to question why do they need to create separate wall mounts to different cartridges. They want to streamline and eliminate all possible manufacturing problems by creating a solid piece of plastic, which is understandable and admirable to a point, but also tells me they want to produce these as cheaply and fast as possible. Designing a wall mount that would be adjustable according to a cartridge’s width isn’t terribly hard. Designing it well is somewhat challenging. Smaller cartridges, like the Game Boy, Game Gear and GB Advance carts would require a smaller solution, one they are also offering, but again with a different mounts for each cartridge. Their design is also lacking Famicom cart design.

Let’s take a look at the depth of the cartridge connectors’ grooves between a Famicom, NES, Mega Drive, Super NES and N64 game carts. To measure the depth, I am using metal ruler that starts from 0mm at its end and a caliper to measure the width of the connector groove.

The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The depth of a Famicom connector groove is just shy of 12mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm
The width of a Famicom cart is 85mm

Let’s put the NES images up before we compare the two.

19mm, perhaps just slightly over
19mm, perhaps just slightly over
10.5mm
10.5mm

The Famicom cart is shallower than its Western counterpart on either direction. The width is not a problem with either of these in the design they are currently using. The depth is a minor inconvenience, but 10mm is more than enough build a prong that holds  NES cart in place. The plastic thickness is not a problem either, as long as the prongs are not made of too rigid material, which is a given. An adjustable arm could allocate both FC and NES carts just fine, as their design currently places the cartridge on two prongs that supports both front and back with one additional support column going into the groove. This additional piece is what keeps the cart straight, whereas the main prongs take the carts’ weight.

Their prototypes have been 3D printed and it shows. All the larger cartridges they have are slightly slanted forwards. This means they don’t only need to invest into material research than just create injection moulds.

The Mega Drive carts' groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width
The Mega Drive carts’ groove is different shape between Western and Japanese versions. However, their backs are the same width.
9mm
9mm
Just a shy of 91mm
Just a shy of 91mm

The Mega Drive carts’ groove depth is a bit shallower than either FC or NES carts’, but the width is between NES’ and FC’s. Because the MD cart is shallower, the support column would need to be 1mm shorter, but at this scale and weight that’s not an issue with the right material.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
97mm, I most likely jammed the instrument a bit too hard in

Super NES/Famicom cartridges have the same width and depth across the board despite their different outer appearance between US and EUR/JPN region. The NES still has the widest groove, meaning SNES carts shouldn’t pose a problem with an adjustable arm.

11mm in depth
11mm in depth
71.5mm in width
71.5mm in width

The N64 has similar depth to the FC carts, but a Mega Drive cartridge still beats it. It’s width is the smallest, which means the adjustable hand should be at that size, minimum.

Let’s say that the adjustable arm is a design where there’s basically two tubes inside each other and you pull them out. If the minimum width is 70mm, it’s has enough room to spread at least 40mm either direction, adding a whopping extra 80mm to the total width, making the arm at 150mm at maximum, an unneeded amount. The needed width could be marked down with slots a peg slides into or with a small screw, both low in profile if done right. Another option is to position the adjuster the point where the mount is secured to the wall. Just have two slaps of plastic that you screw together at whatever distance from each you want. They wouldn’t even need to make large change in their current design to accommodate this.

If you have an access to a 3D printer, you could actually just use these measurements and do your own mounts if you wanted.

With Game Boy and GB Advance games, you have the exact same width and depth with both cartridges and there’s no good reason why to have separate mounts for both of them. Have the support wedged slightly into the connector groove and it would keep either GB or GBA carts in place.

A thing that I haven’t mentioned at all is thickness. For the record, here are the measurements for the carts used:
FC – 17mm

NES – 16.5mm

MD – 17mm

SFC/EUR SNES – 19.8mm in the middle, 17mm at screw point

US SNES – 20mm in the middle section, 17mm in outer sections

N64 – 18.9mm before tapering out

Having the main supports elongating to 18mm should be just fine, keeping the mount low profile. With the adjustable design, you could have the support prongs holding the cartridge in place with similar level of low profile.

The design given in the Kickstarter also leaves the cartridges’ connectors all open for further oxidation. While this is supposed to be a solution to problem of having games in boxes, which is really a non-problem to begin with, at least in these boxes the games were sealed from excess moisture and other unwanted materials floating in the air.

The problem of connectors being exposed is not really all that easy to solve without additional design tweaking. To keep the production as low as possible, you really can’t have luxuriously separate pieces that would seal the grooves, as they have a different height. The height with Nintendo’s cartridges’ are pretty solid 10-12mm, with N64 having the largest height, but also the thickest wall. Mega Drive’s height is same as N64’s; 12mm. The wall thickness is not the same across the board either. An adjustable solution for this would not be too low profile. A solution would be to have the lower support be thin enough but strong enough to be adjusted according the width and height, but as mentioned that’d skyrocket the costs both in design and production.

They also have basically opened some of the game boxes in their examples. These cardboard boxes are hard to come by as it is, and opening them as such ruins them. I hope they used a scan copy from the Internet.

I also have to question their advertisement slogan “Turn your games into unique wall art!” seeing there are thousands of these games out there.

Of course, you could also do what I did to throw some of my games to the wall and save some room while you’re at it. Just pick some shelves from Ikea and put your games on it. You can put more games on the wall that way, save some money and protect them from dust. Plus, when you’re tired with them you can use the shelves for whatever else than just stash the frames and mounts away.

Not saying this is the best solution, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best
Not saying this is the best solution or the prettiest, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best on the long run

Perhaps it would be best for you not to be successful in game industry

Everybody wants to make money and be successful, right? Well, outside the game industry that seems to the ruling idea. Not only the game industry hates success, but it seems that people who play games hate successful games too.

Wired had an article on Flappy Bird and it’s short history. As someone who doesn’t give two shits about mobile PC gaming, which is different form handheld gaming, Flappy Bird went under my radar, thou I have seen it being played almost everywhere. The article nicely states how the game industry, or the people who call themselves as the game industry journalist, have no goddamn idea what the hell is going on or what makes a game successful. Any casual bystander can tell you why; It’s fun.

What makes Flappy Bird fun is that it’s  simple and wants you to keep trying again and again. The game is hard, but not impossible. It rewards you for trying again, and you feel the joy of getting one more point.

It follows the same simple principles that early arcade games did that paved way to the game revolution. The Best games have always spawned from simple ideas with great execution. Flappy Bird has both. After trying the game with a friend’s phone, I can’t say but the game isn’t doing nothing wrong.

Because Flappy Bird became a success, the game industry hates it. It does not go with the grand vision of video games the game industry and the game industry journalist have. Flappy Bird shows how out of touch the industry is from the general consumer. Flappy Bird, for all intents, hit the Blue Ocean once it took wind. A great product will sell itself. Word of mouth is the most strongest way anyone can have his product out there. TV commercials are for propaganda, inside-industry reviews lie and are worthless pieces of garbage, random pop-ups are annoyance and practically everybody have AdBlockers installed in order NOT to see the banner ads. I hope you have yours on while you’re reading this blog. But when a friend tells another about a good product, and this person tells to three people and these three tell to three… it explodes. Social media allows one person to spread his views on a subject like a wildfire. Naturally, advertisers use this method to virally get their own propaganda out, but in many cases they’re way too overt, especially on forums and image boards.

Flappy Bird didn’t became  a hit through bots as some suggest. It was just a simple and addictive game to play that didn’t took too much attention away. It could be whipped out, played for a moment and then put back. It’s a happy person’s game, someone who wants to play a little here and there. It isn’t a game you spend sixteen hours of watching some awful Lord of the Rings or Star Wars copy living itself out, but something that is active for that short burst of time again and again. Not that people couldn’t sink multiple hours in it in one go, but then we’d had to question other things with this person.

I am sad to notice that Dong Nguyen got flak from the industry and the users. However, perhaps all the attention was unwarranted. The product speaks more than the actions of the person who made it in most cases. Nguyen seems to be a happy fella that wanted to have his dreams come true is some way, but modern game industry doesn’t allow people like him to become a success, not with a game like Flappy Bird. That is sad and wrong. I wish the game industry will have a time, when products are allowed to become successful, to go against the self-destructive behaviour it has nowadays. Flappy Bird wasn’t a million dollar Tripple A game, but it’s success was nevertheless in the same calibre, or even higher when you take notice the amount of time it was out and the resources that must’ve cost Nguyen to develop the game.

Shouldn’t the game industry follow the same model; simpler, more addictive games with lower production cost and yet with great gameplay? Ah, you’re right dear reader. It costs millions to develop a game nowadays, and to make those millions make more millions back in return takes years and hundreds and hundreds of workers in order to put out a game that will shatter screen with their 4k high-definition visuals and 7.1 sound that has music licensed from the most popular bands. Then there’s this one guy who makes a game with something like five bucks and starts raking fifty thousand bucks per day for it.

I bought a used Nintendo 64 recently. I have no interests in the current console generation, so I decided to give the N64 a chance. Yet, whenever I recheck what games I might want to hunt down, I always dismiss the same games; StarFox 64, Super Mario 64, Donkey Kong64, Pilotwings 64… I have no interest in majority’s of Nintendo’s N64 library, because they are those multimillion games that barely make their budget back. The games I seem to have most interest are games like Bomberman, Mischief Makers and Robotron 64, games that are more about that similar arcade-style get-in-get-out mentality than Super Mario 64. There’s few exclusives that I want to check out, namely Super Robot Wars 64, but all of these games are exclusivities that have no staying power or attraction outside selected group of people.

Flappy Birds is an anti-thesis of N64 and its games, and it seems the more anti-N64 a game or a console is, the more successful it will be. I hope Nintendo will be moving towards NES and Wii kind of gaming in the future with Wii U now that they have admitted that the problem with Wii U is the quality of the games. Well, if you want to sell games more, the quality needs to be up there, up to the infamous Nintendo Seal of Quality. Perhaps Nintendo or some other company may want to employ Nguyen for their game department and listen to him. He might have some nice insights that have been long lost from the industry. He might as well end up spouting same indy garbage about art most indy devs do.

It’s a sad situation when I want the game industry be successful, and the industry then shuns the successful people away. All I can ask is What the fuck is wrong with you?