Saturday, May 28, 2011

How To Clean A Sega Saturn Controller

The picture doesn't do it justice - this is nasty.

So, you've bought a new Saturn controller and the original owner seems to have dunked it in a pitcher of Kool-aid.  Or, you kept a controller in your attic and it looks like a tiny animal lived and died in it.

Or, in this case, it seems to have been rolled around through mud.  Or dog crap.  Or both.

The controller in question is a Model 2 Sega Saturn pad, purchased at Goodwill for about $2.50.  Before the tag sale, it was $4.99 - I can't imagine why no one wanted to take it home with this thick layer of god-knows-what encrusted on and inside of it.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Remove the sticker while you're at it.

First, there are five screws, all easily accessible.  No stickers or rubber plugs to remove.  Easy stuff.

Looks much cleaner on the inside.

Next, pull off the back case of the controller and remove the circuit board.  If you're cleaning this controller because the buttons don't work, now would be an excellent time to verify that the cable shown above is firmly seated and the internal shoulder buttons are clicky.

The little black spots are what make electrical contact with the circuit board.  Clean 'em.

Remove the rubber pads from the buttons and D-pad.  If these are covered in, say, fruit juice, you'll want to clean them extensively.  If they're just a little used, like these, all that needs to be cleaned are the black pads.  Use something non-abrasive and be gentle.  The older these controllers get, the more likely the piece is to break or the black pads to separate from the plastic.  If this happens, you'll either need a new pad or a whole new controller, so be careful.


Turn the controller over and the plastic buttons will fall right out.  Don't lose them.  You'll want them all.

Removing the D-pad.

To remove the D-pad, gently pry the white plastic cross inside away from the main assembly.  It'll come out easily, and the D-pad should drop right out.

God, what IS that?

Now you can see just exactly how disgusting this controller was.  So, now that it's disassembled, let's get cleaning.

Soap: not just for cleaning out your mouth.

The buttons and D-pad can be placed in a bowl of soapy water and left to soak.  They're just plastic, so dish soap is just fine for removing just about anything that ails them.  Once they've soaked, or if they don't need to be soaked, take a toothbrush or scrubbing brush and give them a once-over in order to get into the cracks and embossed letters on the face.

Cleaning the guts.

This part's especially important if something has been spilled inside the controller - clean up the circuit board with rubbing alcohol and a cotton swab.  If your controller is not a spill victim, simply rub the contacts clean, as shown above.  Mine weren't all that dirty - seems all the dirt collected in the contact pads.

The outer shell can be treated the same way as the buttons - soap and water will do the trick just fine.  Take your toothbrush or scrub brush to get in all the cracks, button holes, and anywhere else that's nasty.

Let it dry.  Seriously, do it.

Before reassembling the controller, be sure to let the parts dry.  A drop of water in the wrong place can cause a short or completely destroy your controller, so ignore this warning at your own peril.  If you aren't able to let it dry completely before reassembling it, at least be sure to let it dry completely before using it.

Great, now that it has all dried, let's do what we did above... but backwards.

D-pad first.

Put the white plastic cross piece back where it belongs, and use your finger to hold it in place.  Line the D-pad assembly up with the hole in the cross piece and press them back together.

You can't screw this up, trust me.

Put the plastic buttons back in place.  It's impossible to put the buttons in the wrong place due to tabs in each one that will only fit in their designated spot.  Ever played Roogoo?  Yeah, it's easier than that.

Pads: check.

Place the pads back where they belong.  As shown, there are small guide holes at the bottom of each to ensure they're attached properly.  Be sure to put the side with the black tabs up, as these will make contact with the circuit board.

Last chance to check if that cable is tight.

Lastly, place the circuit board back in, face down, lining up with the plastic tabs protruding from the case.  Line up the cord in the slot and reattach the back.  Screw it all back together, and you're done!

SO much better.

That's all.  Now that you've got a clean, working controller, enjoy some arcade fighting games with the best D-pad of the 32-bit era.

Feel free to leave a comment with any questions or concerns.  Have fun!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Goodwill Hunting - Atari Flashback2

Actually a lot cooler than I expected.

Normally, I have a strict anti-clone policy when it comes to my collection - and by extension - this blog.  So the prospect of owning an Atari Flashback never really appealed to me.  After all, plug and play games and clone consoles are almost always sad shadows of their original hardware.  When I saw this system at Goodwill, I passed on it.  And passed.  And passed.

When the tag color of the week changed, I revisted.  Sadly, this was not on sale, but it got me thinking.  The joysticks had the original connectors, and they looked pretty nice, so I went home and did a bit of research.

I found that, yes, the joysticks are directly compatible with the original 2600, and $9.99 for two joysticks of this quality is pretty good, even for knockoffs.  And, of course, I needed some for the 2600 I picked up and cleaned up a while back.  So, I snapped it up.

After using the joysticks, I can't even call them knockoffs in good conscience.  These are full-on reproductions, slightly different in appearance, but they feel fantastic.  The console itself was the biggest shock - to my eyes and ears, the colors and sounds are perfect.  Everything is dead-on.

So, I did some more research.  As it turns out, this is not your average NOAC (Nintendo on a Chip) Atari knockoff.  This is a researched, revamped modernization of the hardware in the original Atari 2600.  All it's missing are a some undocumented opcodes - but, of course, anything that wouldn't work isn't included.  The games that are there are just perfect - as soon as I get some of their cartridge-based counterparts I'll put together a comparison video.

Bootleg knockoffs of this system are out there in the wild as well, so keep an eye out.  That said, if you can track down an original, it's worth a look.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Killer Craigslist Score

There hasn't been much movement in my collection lately - but, a couple of days ago, I bought a pretty fantastic grab bag of video games on Craigslist, all for $40.  Here goes:
That's two NES systems, one apparently a repair project.

First off, two NES systems, both of which seem to have been serviced.  Sadly, though, they seem to have been serviced by someone without the slightest clue what they were doing.  One had a faulty latch in the cartridge tray which he 'fixed' by removing the springs so the cartridge just drops.  Ugh.  The other... I'm not really sure what he was trying to do.

Regardless, one reconditioned cartridge connector later, one of them is in perfect working order.  The other will be in working order once I replace the defective cartridge tray.

Games included were Star Wars, Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project.  Also included but not pictured was a grey Zapper - no controllers or AC adapters included.

Woo, PSOne with LCD!

The stars here are the Playstation One with LCD, and another black label misprinted Final Fantasy VII.  This one is in far better shape than the copy I had, so this one goes in the collection while the old one goes to ebay to recoup my costs.  Also included was a Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, in a Crash Bandicoot Warped case for some reason.

The original model Playstation pictured here is an enigma.  Consider this:


You can see in the picture above that our previous owner installed a chip.  Vertically.  Since the case wouldn't fit back on with this vertical chip in place, he cut a hole in the case and wrapped the edges in electrical tape.

So, okay.  People make mistakes where soldering irons are involved.  It's ugly, but it works, right?

Yes, this is a real thing I own, thanks to an old friend who knows me very well.

Well, no, not really.  I popped in my copy of 'Minimoni Shakka To Tambourine Da Pyon!' and got the familiar "Please insert a PlayStation format disc' screen.  I also tried a burned disc, which also did nothing.  My copy of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete booted right up, though, faster and smoother than my old Playstation.

So, the question remains - is it installed badly, or does it just not do anything?  I don't care enough to dig in and find out - this thing has no resell value and will be relegated to the parts pile.

As a side note, the PSOne LCD's backlight doesn't work, and something seems to have come loose internally and is just flopping around inside.  The PSOne has also been opened; the warranty seal has been breached.  I'm terrified to open it up - who knows what manner of badly installed devices I'll find in there?  The LCD repair, however, will be a topic for another blog entry some time later.

Also, Sega stuff.

Lastly, this grab bag of stuff also included Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine (AKA Puyo Puyo), Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Bust-a-Move 4 for the Dreamcast.  I already own Sonic 2, and it has little value, I'll be hanging on to it in case I need something to give away with a later Genesis repair and resell.

Also of note, there was also some great PS2 stuff, but that's a little too new for our tastes.  Next generation I'll come back to it.

Had a great Craigslist experience?  Tell us about it in the comments!

Friday, May 6, 2011

What's Retro? What's Classic?

Ah, the days of RF switches and rabbit-ears with aluminum foil on the end.

As a site that's focused not on gaming in general, but on retro or classic gaming, the question is often posed - how do you define a classic?  Where's the cutoff point?

Is Nintendo's NES a classic?  Unquestionably.  How about the Sega CD?  Without a doubt.  Atari 2600?  Did you hit your head?  Of course it is.

What about Sony's PlayStation?  Here, the line begins to blur.  Many claim that the 32-bit CD era is too modern to be considered retro.  On the other hand, there are those that think that the Xbox is an old classic.  It's purely subjective, and I don't think anyone's really wrong.

Here's my philosophy: don't worry about it.  Buy what you want, play what you want, and enjoy it.  Isn't that what it's all about?

...oh, you wanted a better answer than that?  Fine.

I define a classic or retro console as any system that is two generations removed from the current generation.

Why?  Consider this:

When Nintendo's NES took America by storm, people would refer to the Atari 2600 and other systems of the day as the classics, as these were the earliest consoles accepted by the masses.  There wasn't really any farther back to go.

As the Genesis and SNES began to ramp up, no one considered the NES or Sega's Master System to be retro consoles - they were just too fresh in everyone's minds.  Most gamers still owned and played one of them.  What was classic?  The Atari 2600/Intellivision/etc.

Enter Sony's Playstation, Sega's Saturn, Nintendo's N64.  Now, the NES is considered a classic. 

As the Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube made their appearance, the SNES became retro.

Why?  Well, there's an interesting effect here in the US.  The trends, fashions and focus of our nation are always turned back by 20 years.  In the 70's, the 50's were hip.  In the 80's, the 60's were in.  In the 90's, the 70's were hot, and in the 00's, the 80's made a comeback.

The children of that era have grown up and become nostalgic for the things they had when they were young.

This, I think, drives what's considered to be a classic - the 20-year gap started the ball rolling, and 2 generations became the norm - this is the basis for what appears on this site.  After all, I play and collect modern games as well, but there are plenty of blogs that are more than happy to tell you all about those.

"But Jerry, but Jerry," I hear you say.  "You talk about the Dreamcast, and that's technically only one generation removed!"

The Dreamcast had a hard life, okay?  Let it die with honor and accept it as a classic.

Feel free to comment with your interpretation - I'd love to hear dissenting opinions!

Goodwill Hunting - Final Fantasy Legend II

Finally, something to play on my Super Game Boy.

When you think back on Square's 8-bit legacy, it's easy to forget that a total of four games were released on the Game Boy, all of which were labeled as Final Fantasy games, but none of which were part of the series proper.

Final Fantasy Legend I-III are actually the first three titles in the SaGa series, followed up by Romancing SaGa games on the Super Famicom and the Saga Frontier games on the Playstation.  At the time, Square was a household name in Japan, and a serious and focused contender in the RPG scene.  In the US, however, the only Square games we'd ever seen were King's Knight, the Rad Racer series, 3D World Runner, and Final Fantasy.  It's easy to see why they latched on to the Final Fantasy name here in order to sell cartridges.

This copy of Final Fantasy Legend II was found at Goodwill for $2.99, hiding under some PC games that had been haphazardly tossed about.  It needs a bit of cleaning, but the cartridge and save battery are working as they should.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Cutting Edge of the Past - Games at CES 1994

Today we skip forward a few years and examine the advancements on display at CES in 1994.  Witness the birth of the ESRB, Commodore's last stand and the beginnings of what would eventually become the Nintendo 64.

These clips were taken from an episode of Computer Chronicles - the original episode is just full of great stuff about the computers and phones of the day, but I've cut it down to just the relevant pieces.

See how many glaring inaccuracies you can spot in these clips!  I found at least three.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Playstation RPGs - A Collection In Progress

Oh, the hours these games have eaten.

My wife and I don't always see eye-to-eye on this classic gaming stuff, but the one thing we can agree on is this: PlayStation-era RPGs had it right.  These were the glory days of Squaresoft, but they weren't alone - Japanese companies were churning out hit after hit, and some of the best role-playing games ever made landed here.

Our (that's right, 'our') meager collection of RPGs barely scratches the surface of what's out there, but isn't that what this blog is all about?

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete is a holdover from my original collection, one of the games I couldn't bear to part with.  Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Anthology, Final Fantasy Chronicles and Chrono Cross are games I married into (score!).

I once had a copy of Xenogears, but my young, naive self loaned it to a friend of a friend - not one of my brighter decisions.  Of course, I never saw it again.

This copy was purchased at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo last year for $35.  The Final Fantasy VII was purchased there, too... at only $30.

Oh, and it's the black label misprint version, too.

No, you can't borrow it.