Labels for the Atari XE Prototypes

In the late 80s, the Atari XE line was the last hurrah for Atari’s 8-bit computers. The 65XE and 130XE closely matched the 16-bit Atari ST line, and the Atari XEGS was its own “diagonal style, pastel accented” console/computer hybrid that was doomed to compete with Nintendo, Sega and even Atari’s own 7800.

While short lived, 32 games (plus one demo cartridge) were released for the XE line before Atari diverted resources to the Atari Lynx. A mixture of new software and old, many of the titles were previously disk-only games, available on cart for the first time.

Anyway, to make a long story short, seven additional games were near completion, some of which were far enough along that circuit boards were produced. Three aftermarket Atari retailers — Best Electronics, B & C ComputerVisions, and Video 61 — each offer at least some of these games on cartridge, but often with homemade labels, so I decided to make my own labels.

When I printed one out, the label came out dark purple compared to an original XE-style cartridge, so I went back and made a batch with lighter backgrounds. In the photo below you can see the light blue version of my Xenophobe label. On the screen it looks too bright, but printed out it closely matches the original.

Here’s the new label next to Mario Bros

And here are all the labels in both shades of blue

You can download a zip file will all the labels here, and

You can download a PSD template to make your own here.

I used this glossy sticker paper, printing on high quality, and cut them out by hand.

Cheers!
Ben

Atari Super Label System 5200

NOTE: CLICK HERE FOR UPDATED LABELS

I recently produced some end labels for 1st party Atari 5200 cartridges.  I made them Text-Style for the earlier Atari games and Logo-Style for the later games.

Click Here for a PDF file of the labels or…

Click Here for a Zipped PSD file to make your own Text-Style labels.

I printed them out on Milcoast Glossy Water Resistant Sticker Paper, and cut them out by hand.  They’ve held up well so far.

Cheers,
Ben (le geek)

End Labels, Only for N64!

end-labels-only-for-n64Hi there.  It’s been awhile!  Sorry about that, I’ve been away – distracted by a rather large Lego project.  I’ve also swung back around to playing games on my Nintendo 64.  As many of my older CD Drive and DVD Drive based systems are getting finicky in their old age, a solid state cartridge-based system like the N64 has a certain appeal.

After introducing my kids to Super Mario 64, I starting hitting up some used game stores. One thing led to another and, all of the sudden I was searching the internet for N64 cartridge end labels.  User four_giants on Reddit designed and shared some excellent labels, with the game logos “blending in” to the cartridge tops, but upon closer examination, the files had too much JPEG artifacting to print cleanly.

So I made my own.  At first, I made one sheet of 45 labels for games that I either wanted to purchase or already owned, then added another sheet with other popular and/or well regarding titles, finally alphabetizing the lot for an even 90 labels.

n64labels
(Click to Download PDF)

If you would like to print out your own, click on the image above to download the PDF.  By the way, printing on glossy sticker paper is the way to go.

matte-bad-glossy-good
(Click to Enlarge)

Cheers,
Ben

The NES – an Outsider View

65c285088f37f7f0ea35781485903497I experienced the Nintendo Entertainment System from afar.  I first saw the NES in 1986, at a friend’s sleepover.  I was in middle school.  Corey had a system with Super Mario Bros, but he also had an Atari ST with a paint program … and a game called Airball.  Super Mario seemed fun and all, but I was fascinated by the color palette of the new 16-bit computer.  For example, at one point in Airball you enter a dark room where you need a flashlight to continue.  The screen wasn’t all black or all black and dark grey.  If you looked closely, you could still make out the room, it was just very, very dim.

airball-full-1701232155-01

I was hooked and my path was more or less set, right then and there.  I already had a Commodore 64 and I later ended up saving up for a Commodore Amiga.

I did play NES at friend’s places though.  The first games I really remember playing were Rygar, Elevator Action and Super Mario Bros.  In Super Mario, we would take turns going for a perfect score in worlds 1-1 and 1-2.  Later on with other friends, I would play a quite a bit of The Legend of Zelda, R.C. Pro-Am, Contra, Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!! and Castlevania: Simon’s Quest.  Out of all of them, Zelda was my favorite.  I would try to see how far I could progress on my friend’s cart, but my save would often erase, resetting my progress.  It wasn’t until the 90s that I finally got my own system and beat the game.  Also, in hindsight, if all I was doing at my friends’ places was playing NES, I must have been a lousy houseguest!

nes-actionsetNintendo has a reputation for saving videogames in 1985, which I think is overstated.  In 1984 the public was ready to call videogames a fad, but they were transitioning to computer games.  The NES certainly brought console gaming back from the brink, but had they not introduced the system, I argue that gaming would have continued on home computers.

Like I said, for the most part, I stuck with computer games, first on the C64 and later the Amiga.  Yet interestingly enough, Nintendo was so ubiquitous that many of my favorite computer games were ported to the NES.  A few examples are Skate or Die and Winter Games on the C64; Lemmings and Rocket Ranger on the Amiga.

I will always be more of an Atari and Commodore nerd at heart, but I certainly have fond memories of the games that the NES does best.  In fact, the three companies form a kind of trifecta for me.  With Atari and Commodore long defunct and Sega no longer in the hardware business, Nintendo is the only classic console maker still standing.

Gotta respect that.

Cheers,
Ben

Wise from your Gwave (New SHOCKBOX Inserts!)

inserts2016It’s been awhile, but I have some new Neo-Geo Shockbox inserts to share with you!  First up is an update to my Neo Driftout insert.  Back when I was getting feedback on the design on neo-geo.com, fellow insert maker NeoCverA pointed out that the car photos on the front would look better with a cell shading effect.  As I had already processed the images in Photoshop, I called in the insert done.  Well, over a year passes when I finally print the insert out and … damn it if he wasn’t right!

driftcompare

It took more tweaking that I care to admit, but here is the link to the new and improved one.  Thanks also to BIG BEAR for suggesting removing all wording from the front.  It was the right call!

The 2nd insert is more of a complete redo of my old Last Blade 2 insert.  My original insert consisted of the front artwork and the existing arcade flyer on the back, using the existing scanned artwork out there.

lastblade2-geek2-blog

As you can see, the flyer does not really match the cool “yellowed paper” look of the front cover.  So I went ahead and recreated the back, but in that same aged style.  I also worked in some origami textures.  I really like how it came out, and I hope you do to.  You can download it here.

Obviously I’ve slowed down, but I still have some inserts that I am working on, here and there, particularly Sengoku and Samurai Shodown II (which is one of my inserts that I cannot seem to get right – In my mind anyway).

That said, if you have any insert requests, please let me know in the comments!

Cheers,
Ben

Legos with Kids 101

legos101Legos are probably my favorite toy of all time, and I have had a lot of fun introducing and sharing my enjoyment of these little plastic bricks with my kids. When I was a kid in the 1980s, Lego sets were still relatively basic. There were only six brick colors – red, blue, yellow, white, gray, and black – and in terms of themes, you had Technic, City, Space and Castle. That was it.

Today, there are many, many Lego themes – both licensed and original – and sets have become more and more intricate and model-like. For the most part, this is great; the only problem is that it’s now way too easy to treat Legos solely as rebuildable model sets, and to forget that they are also building blocks that can be made into almost anything you can imagine.

Now there’s nothing wrong with enjoying Legos as model sets, but if you also want to encourage your kids to build their own stuff, here are a few tips I’ve come up with:

1) Find some plain bricks

bricksThe plain little square and rectangular bricks are the key staple of any pile of Legos. Freely building without instruction is a great way to experiment, and a great way to learn how to build creations that are structurally sound. With some luck and effort, you might be able to find some used Lego Bricks at a yard sale or from a friend or relative who no longer has a use for them. But if not, The Lego Group does still offer plain packages of bricks – you may just have to look a bit harder for them.

bricks2

2) Explore the Creator line

creator2The Lego Creator 3-in-1 sets come with instructions for three different models using the same pieces. (Many of The Lego Movie buildings sets came in similar 2-in-1 varieties.) They are available at almost any price range and encourage you to keep building and to learn different building techniques, versus simply putting your newly build model on a shelf.

3) Track down some base plates

baseplates1Having a set location for your lego builds to live is a great way to display your work. When the Town and Space sets were in their prime, you could buy various road and moon base plates, and then build out little towns or moon bases respectively.   While these are no longer offered, they are still available second hand. Luckily, Lego does still offer plain base plates in different colors that are compatible with the older plates.

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4) Get a brick separator

separatorThis tool is great! To avoid splitting fingernails, making tooth marks on pieces or, even worse, breaking pieces that refuse to easily come apart – three things that actually happened to me and my Legos – this is a must. The original design of the brick separator was a special order item, but the new and improved version is regularly included in larger sets. It is also available separately on the Lego website.

5) See what you can build with the pieces you have

You don’t have to buy anything new to improve your Lego skills.  Take apart one of your kits, preferably a small one, then see what else you can build with it.  Try to use as many of the pieces as possible!  Or mix all your pieces together and start from there.  Build from your imagination, or use photos of things you like as reference.  You may be pleasantly surprised with what you will come up with.

 

There’s more to Legos than just Ninjago, Lego Harry Potter, Lego Marvel and Lego [insert licensed property here]. You (and/or your kids) are very likely already making up your own stuff. With the tips above, you’ll have some tools to take your building to another level.

Cheers,
Ben

Want to read more of my Lego-related blatherings?

Click Here to Learn How I Sort and Store my Legos
Click Here to See How to Lego Like a Boss … Using the Internet

Atari on the Beach

atarionthebeachIn late spring, we took the kids on a week long beach trip.  When I checked the weather, it seemed likely to rain for half of it, so I thought it would be good to have a few indoor activities on deck.  I considered packing a tablet, but that would end up being solitary and anti-social, so I thought, “Why not Atari?”

I packed a Video Computer System, two joysticks, the required cables and some carts (a baker’s dozen) and away we went.

It turned out we did get a fair share of rain and with a bit of luck, the circa 1977 console hooked up fine to the modern flat screen TV in the condo, even if the bullets in Space Invaders were very blurry.

Both of my sons – aged five and eight – humor me from time to time by playing Atari with me.  My oldest saw the movie Pixels – a very dumb film that nevertheless captured a bit of truth about 80s arcades – and he will ask to play Q*bert or Centipede on occasion.  My youngest likes Atari, particularly if we play two-player games where I can take it easy on him or we can just be silly.  I figured with a captive audience at the beach, we might have some fun.

atarionthebeach-carts

I brought a mix of two-player games (Air Sea Battle, Boxing, Combat, & Freeway), decent arcade ports (Berzerk, Centipede, Dig Dug, & Space Invaders) and some of my favorite Activision titles (Crackpots, Enduro, Megamania, River Raid, & Seaquest).  In hindsight, I probably could have skipped the Activision games that weren’t two-player.

Boxing, Combat and Freeway were a hit.  Boxing, being basically a fancy version of Rock‘em Sock‘em Robots, is kind of the platonic ideal for a fun Atari game for all skill levels.  In Combat, we mostly stuck with the Tank Pong variants, the best parts of the game.  Freeway gets a bad rap for being a poor man’s Frogger, but it’s a fun two-player game in its own right with great sound, and since it restricts movement to up and down, Freeway is well-suited to younger players.  Air Sea Battle was more of a bust, and I’m not sure why.

atarionthebeach-spaceinvadersIn the arcade group, we tried Space Invaders first.  They gave it a proper go, including simultaneous two-player, but it proved to be too frustrating, most likely due to the blurry bullets.  Berzerk was also a bust, even the kids’ variation, but we found Dig Dug fun on easy – particularly once we made our own game of “Clear all the Dirt”.  Centipede was the clear winner in this lot, as both kids enjoyed playing the game.  My older son really stuck with it and was getting good at clearing multiple boards by the end of vacation.

My favorite Activision games were mostly duds, which makes sense in hindsight, as I tend to like their games that require constant movement and dodging from the player.  That’s a lot to ask of kids with small hands who are not used to Atari joysticks.  The exception was Crackpots.  The novelty of dropping flowerpots onto crawling bugs added a bit of theatricality compared to the usual spaceships, blocks and stick figures of typical Atari games.  Add movement that is limited to the left and right and add gameplay that is more about timing and pattern recognition versus hand-eye coordination, and Crackpots proves to be just kid friendly enough to hold their interest.

There was some frustration and fighting due to the different ages and skill levels, but overall, I’d call it a successful sharing of dad’s old junk on a few rainy days.

– Ben

A Packrat Moves. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next!

boxes1You may, or may not, have wondered why I have not blogged in over six months.  Well… it has involved the buying and selling of houses, it has involved moving, and – more relevant to you, dear reader – it has involved the sorting and packing of lots upon lots of nerd crap.

stack of shitThere’s a running joke among videogame collectors comparing the hobby to compulsive hoarding, or simply calling it “the disease”.  Now, there is a difference.  Collectors are genuinely exciting about their collections and are proud to show them off, while hoarders hold onto things indiscriminately – regardless of value – and are often not aware of their behavior.

So we’re not magpies, and we may be off-the-hook in terms of this particular medical disorder, but the fact remains that too much stuff can quickly become a burden, and when you have to sort and pack said “stuff”, the thin line between collector and hoarder becomes null and void.

So, I sorted and labeled and packed the lots of crap into boxes.

Call it what you will, a man cave, a room of doom, but my previous rec room was filled with old videogames, and later – after my sons were born – included Legos.  As nerd rooms go it was a fine one, if a little cramped and little too much like a comic book store with everything on display.  The space was not exactly inviting and it was never much of a room for the whole family.

For the new rec room, I was determined to create a friendlier environment.  Games and consoles would be out of the way, unless in use, and not everything needed to hooked up.  Stuff I rarely used, like old magazines, would be chucked or stored elsewhere.  It helped that it’s just a nicer space, and after laying the room out, I settled on sticking with a standard def set and I hooked up the Wii U, along with a PlayStation, a Saturn and a Dreamcast via a switcher.  An Atari 2600 is at the ready for coaxial delights.  To be fair, the whole room is primarily a dedicated Super Mario Maker station for my youngest … with the occasional garnish of Nintendoland or The Wonderful 101, but that’s as it should be.

new-rec-room

One happy accident of sorting through my junk is that I rediscovered my Saturn Arcade Racing Wheel.  I had held on to it mainly to play the import of Race Drivin’, which plays very close to the arcade when combined with the wheel.  This led to remembering how much I enjoyed the Sega Saturn, which led to tracking down some additional racing wheel compatible games, which led to Virtua Racing.

Virtua Racing Deluxe was one of my favorite games on the 32X when I had that system, yet I had steered clear of the Saturn version due to the mediocre reviews at the time.  Reviewers must have found the port to be primitive compared to Daytona or Ridge Racer, because playing it now, I have to say that Saturn Virtua Racing is great.  It may not have quite the coding polish of the 32X version, but the detail and draw distances definitely benefit from the more powerful hardware.  It also has twice as many tracks and a career mode.  The only rub is that I can’t quite decide if it plays better with the wheel or with the standard gamepad.

Other racing games I’ve since tried with the racing wheel include:

  • King of the Spirits 2 (import) – the graphics really push the Saturn hardware, but the courses all feature winding roads with sharp corners and I have yet to master powersliding in the game … at all. Still, I had a blast as a horrible driver.
  • Shutokou Battle ’97 (import) – this one has more of a Ridge Racer feel to it, but with a street racing vibe. I fared better, but will need to give it another go, or two, to see if I can improve.
  • Daytona Circuit Edition (import) – this third try at Daytona is the definitive Saturn version with even better graphics, draw distances and handling, plus it keeps the option of the original “Daaay Tooonne aaaahhhh” soundtrack. I stink at cornering in this game as well.

One thing I have noticed is that non-common Saturn titles have nearly DOUBLED in price since the last time I was actively playing the system.  It’s a bummer and there are some games that I used to have that I can probably never reasonably replace, but that’s how it goes.

So anyway, sorting though my nerd crap has led to what I hope is a more inviting space, with the bonus of actually starting to enjoy some of my old games, versus looking at them neatly stacked on shelves collecting dust.  Who knows what you might find if you go through your crap?

Cheers,
Ben

How I Sort and Store my Legos

lego-bannerI’ve had a few folks ask me how I sort and store my Legos, so – without further ado – here is what worked for me.

When I was researching a good storage system, I ended up going to Ikea and picking the TROFAST storage drawers. By the way, when going to Ikea, it’s a good idea to stop at the food court and eat some Swedish meatballs (with Lingonberry jelly). Also, be sure to hydrate yourself. Navigating the advanced “corn maze” that is the show floor can be intimidating, and you do not want your blood sugar getting out of whack as you inevitably get lost. That said, the drawers we are looking for are in the Children’s section. If you do not have a Hipster Wal-mart nearby, you could try The Container Store or some other place, the main thing is finding drawers that are of a decent size, are semi-transparent (ideally) and can easily be taken out and placed back as needed.

ikeaAs you can see here, this particular TROFAST frame holds nine drawers. They also make deeper drawers that are two to three times taller, and I use one of those to store my city road and space plates. I went with the white semi-transparent drawers to make it easier to quickly see what color bricks any drawer is holding.

In general, I sort by color, so that means drawers for White, Grey, Black, Blue, Yellow and Red.

lego-rgbI then designate a drawer for tires and wheels, a drawer for all Minifigs – including tools and accessories, a drawer for transparent glass and windows, and a drawer for odd pieces – like trees, flowers, flags, road signs, boat sections, motors, lights and power bricks.

lego-miscAfter that, I fill a drawer with the newer colors that aren’t the standard ones from the 70s and 80s, such as dark grey, orange, green and brown (I nickname this the Star Wars Drawer).

lego-swdThen a drawer for instructions and a deep drawer for base plates, as I previously mentioned, and that was pretty much my initial set up.

space-legosLater – particularly when I started building all these Space sets – I started to consolidate some of the fancier pieces into their own drawers to prevent me from having to dig all the time. I now have a drawer that has all of my pieces with stuff printed on it, be it a number, a grill, or the Space logo. I also store my parts that are obviously Space pieces in the same drawer, as there is overlap, and it really saved time. I also filled a drawer with all the pieces that have hinges or moving parts, including steering wheels and car doors.

lego-spaceThen, continuing with this line of thinking, if parts obviously go with wheels – like tire rims and car chassis – I put them in the wheel drawer.

You’ll find out that, much like a Venn diagram, many parts could go into more than one drawer, that’s just a judgment call you’ll have to make. You don’t need to follow what made sense for me, but in general, I sorted stuff I was always looking for into their own drawers, without going overboard. You could easily end up sorting stuff into too many tiny drawers, and find yourself staring at a wall of little drawers like you were hunting for a screw at Home Depot. I only have 15 drawers (and one big one) and it’s reasonably manageable.

So, if you’ve been keeping track, you may have noticed that the TROFAST frame holds nine drawers, and I use almost twice as much. I actually use two frames side by side, making a square-ish rectangle with drawers on either side. It saves space and makes a decent top for a small Legoland.

legolandlegoland2I hope this has been helpful to fellow lapsed Legomaniacs out there, looking for tips on how to store their bricks!

Cheers,
Ben