Sunday, May 14, 2017

How many US original Xbox games are there? And why it's impossible to say.

I spend too much time thinking about console libraries as a whole which leads me to poring over many incomplete or inconsistent lists of releases. When someone asks "How many NES games are there" you could get 10 different answers for a variety of reasons. People like to put limits, or at least milestones, on what they're looking to collect such as "US licensed releases" since collecting every single piece of media would be close to impossible. The following is a list of types of releases some collectors may or may not "count", which is why release lists and numbers vary so wildly from source to source.

Regional releases
The set of games that came out in a region or country. Most often, US collectors are looking to get US sets rather than much more difficult worldwide sets. Sometimes people will count all the games in the US set, plus PAL and/or Japan exclusive titles.

Licensed games
Games officially licensed by the console manufacturer. The most basic type of game on a list.

Example: Super Mario Bros. (NES)

Unlicensed games
Games released during a console's lifetime that weren't licensed. Usually this doesn't count pirated games or homebrew games, only games released during a console's lifespan.

Example: Bible Adventures (NES)

Pirate games
Usually multicarts, hacks, or straight up bootlegs. These are so endlessly numerous and obviously unofficial that almost no one would count them as part of the full set in a console library, but rather interesting curiosities. Reproduction games kind of fall into this category, but since they're pirated games produced indefinitely on demand, I don't think anyone would consider them collectible. The collectible releases are specific to the time the console was originally out.

Example: 999999-in-1 (Famicom), Somari (Famicom)

Really Dubious Unofficial "Releases"
This is a separate category of pirated games that have more care put into them. Two examples are Rose Colored Gaming and Good Deal Games releases. Both of these companies spent some sum of money on unreleased protoypes with the intention of selling unofficial reproductions. I consider this slightly different from a standard AliExpress pirate game.

Example: RCG's ShadowHawk (SNES), PCEWorks PC-Engine Memories (PCE) pirate box sets.

Homebrew games
Unlicensed games usually released by hobbyists long after a console's lifetime. There isn't much difference between homebrew and unlicensed games, but many lists do not count homebrew releases. These can be somewhat hard to track since many get tiny production runs and some never sold in cartridge form may be put onto reproduction cartridges making it less clear what releases were "real".

Example: Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril (NES)

Competition cartridges
Nintendo World Championships, Star Fox Super Weekend, Atlantis II, etc. Competition carts have been a part of game collecting forever, but it's 50/50 whether they get included in set lists. Donkey Kong Country Competition Cartridge is an even more special case since it was sold via Nintendo Power, so some people consider it as an official mail order release that's part of the SNES set.

Example: Atlantis II (2600)

Non-retail releases
This is much more common with older games. It's a game or promo made for a console that may have been sold or given away, but not to the public. The Lightspan games on Playstation were sold directly to schools for example.

Example: Caterpillar S.O.S. (Colecovision)

There are various kinds on non-games on consoles. This can take the form of utility software, videos, network adapter software, accessory software, etc. You can really split hairs on these. The Colors of Modern Rock is not a game, but it is a Sega CD format disc. The X'Eye was packed in with a Karaoke sampler disc, but it's just a regular CD. This is a major category of items where what "counts" towards a full set is really subjective.

Example: Woody Woodpecker Vol. 1 (3DO)

Demos, Betas, Prototypes, Magazine Discs, Samplers, etc.
Many lists exclude these, but sometimes not. An interesting case is Christmas NiGHTS into Dreams, which is technically a demo but most people consider it a separate game.

Example: Playstation Underground

There are many types of variants. Label variants, not for resale games, version changes, different publishers, cartridge color, screws, etc. The very nitty stuff like product code and copyright year variants are often poorly documented and rarely on set lists. Major variants like gold/gray Zelda and Atari picture/text labels do sometimes show up separately on lists.

Usually if a certain category of games from this article doesn't show up on a full list of games, it's because the list creator considers that category a type of variant.

Example: Metroid (NES) "Classic Series" label

Collector's/Limited Editions and "big box" bundles
Some people count these editions as variants, some count them as separate releases.

Example: Halo 2 Collector's Edition (Xbox) and Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix Dance Mat Bundle (Xbox)

Same game, different name
There are a number of ways this can happen. Stadium Events was pulled from shelves and re-released as World Class Track Meet. There's also Chuck Norris Superkicks and Kung Fu Superkicks which was released without Chuck's license. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles become Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles overseas. Probotector is Contra but has significant graphical changes. Where you draw the line at what constitutes a new game and what is simply a variant varies collector to collector.

Example: Chuck Norris Superkicks and Kung Fu Superkicks (Colecovision) 

Re-released games under a budget label
Games that were simply re-released under platinum hits, greatest hits, player's choice, etc. Many set collectors only want original black label releases rather than both.

Example: Super Mario World (SNES)

Re-released budget games with improvements
There can be different levels of this. Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition is the Greatest Hits version of DMC3, but contains enough content additions and gameplay tweaks that they call it "Special Edition". Many GH releases include an updated version of the game with bug fixes. Greatest Hits Jet Moto 2, for example, decreases the player count and maintains a better framerate. Where is the threshold for where one of these updated releases count?

Example: Devil May Cry 3: Special Edition (PS2)

Multiple releases with different code versions
Either because the game was improved, changed, or something was removed you can see multiple releases of the same game. Sometimes it's a subtle -1 at the end of a product code with minor fixes. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas after the hot coffee incident was re-released with the offending code removed. The original release is now known as the "AO" version. The CBS Electronics published Victory on Colecovision has gameplay additions over the Coleco release. Does it count as a different game?

Example: Victory (Colecovision)

Multiple games re-released on one cartridge
This is definitely an inconsistently tracked item. Atari and Colecovision have double-enders where two games with individual releases are on a single cartridge. Some lists exclude these as variants. Almost every list includes NES carts like Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt though.

Example: Artillery Duel / Chuck Norris Superkicks (Colecovision)

Multiple games re-released on one disc
A package where each games had an individual release but they are put onto a single disc.

Example: New Super Mario Bros U + New Super Luigi U (Wii U)

Multiple games re-released on multiple discs
A normal sized (usually DVD box) release that contains multiple discs of previously released games. Some people differentiate this from single-disc releases because the discs themselves are actually the same as what was released before. These exist in budget label and black label releases.

Example (Budget): Tom Clancy's Classic Trilogy (Xbox)
Example (Black label): Outlaw Golf/Seablade (Xbox)

Box sets of re-released games
A box set wrapped around games that already exist individually on a platform.

Example: Mortal Kombat Kollection (PS2)

Box sets that include a game that never had an individual release
Xbox has two different box sets that include Grand Theft Auto 3 and Grand Theft Auto: Vice City but neither of these games had individual releases on Xbox. To further complicate things, Blockbuster received individual rental only copies of these two games. How do you track something like this on a list of games? Different sources handle it entirely differently.

Metal Gear Solid: The Essential Collection might fall under here as well, since it's a PS2 box set that includes a PS1 version of Metal Gear Solid.

Example: Grand Theft Auto: The Trilogy (Xbox)

Games that only existed as part of another release
Bayonetta on the Wii U is technically a bonus disc for the original release of Bayonetta 2. Because of this, some lists count Bayonetta in lists of Wii U games even though it never had an individual release. It's a very strange case and I can't actually think of another. Star Fox Guard is similar, but every release of Star Fox Zero includes it.

Example: Bayonetta (Wii U)

Multi-disc games where discs get counted separately
This is a dumb category but I've seen it happen. A game will have two discs, like Dead or Alive Ultimate on Xbox, and the two discs get counted as separate games in a full set list.

Example: Armored Core Nexus Disc 1 and Disc 2 (PS2)

Unreleased games
I'm not sure if this counts because it's usually an error on the list's part. This is very common with with community-edited lists like Wikipedia and RFGeneration. Bad release info for a never-released game starts floating around the internet, then all of a sudden everyone is copying off each other and that game gets put onto a release list.

Example: Kao the Kangaroo Round 2 (Xbox). RFG and Wikipedia currently say this game had a US release

How many US Xbox games are there?

When you apply all of the above to this question, it becomes difficult to agree on one answer. I think at an absolute bare minimum you have to say around 862, but probably more depending on what you want to collect. Here are some of the cases that make it difficult to agree on a number:

Grand Theft Auto 3 and Vice City
These two games were only released in the GTA Double Pack and GTA Trilogy. They did receive individual releases, but only for rentals as blockbuster. Do you count each game once even without individual releases? Do you count the box sets? Only one box set? Even neither of them?

Tetris Worlds: Online
This is just Tetris Worlds re-released with Xbox Live capabilities (you can see the orange banner on the box art). Whether this is a variant or different game is up to you.

Outlaw Golf/SeaBlade and Platinum Hits combo packs
Outlaw Golf/SeaBlade is a black label, single disc, unique release except for the fact that both games already have individual releases. There are a number of similar Platinum Hits packs such as Tom Clancy's Classic Trilogy. Even if you don't normally count PH releases, do you count something like Tom Clancy's Classic Trilogy which has no black label analog?

The three double-game pack-ins are also up in the air here. Does JSRF/Sega GT 2002 count?

Morrowind: Game of the Year Edition and MLB 2k5 World Series Edition
Both of these are updates to existing games with additional content. MLB 2k5 is a special post-season release, not some kind of collector's edition. I wouldn't count them as "variants" but some might.

Dead or Alive Ultimate
If you're an idiot you can count these as separate games, although I don't see that much.

Box Sets
Halo Triple Pack and the GTA bundles. Do they count in the number?

Big Box Bundles
The DDR Ultramix games all have big box dance mat bundles. The Karaoke games have microphone bundles. Do you list these separately from the game alone release? There's an actual skateboard that comes bundled with a rare release of Tony Hawk's Project 8. What do you do with that?

Collector's and Limited Editions
Xbox is before every single game had a CE release, but there's still Halo, Getting Up, NASCAR, Godfather, Jade Empire, four different types of Mortal Kombat: Deception, etc. 

The Xbox Live Arcade and Xbox Video Chat discs are kind of a black box release. Should they count?

Unreleased Games
This shouldn't affect collector's lists but does affect premade lists that are out there. Some games never released in the US that appear are SnoCross 2, Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2, Fuel, and Animaniacs. There's also ultra-rare releases like Action Double Pack: Halo/Brute Force. This is rare enough that pictures don't exist of the physical item online. I personally question if it was released.

This was meant more as a thought experiment than a real question. If you ask me, the answer is 868. I don't count any bundles, double-packs, re-releases, or non-games, and I count GTA3, VC, Morrowind GOTY, MLB2k5, and Tetris Worlds Online separately.

Monday, August 22, 2016

HD NES comparison: Analogue Nt vs. RetroUSB AVS vs. Modded Hi-Def NES vs Nt Mini

The Analogue Nt mini was just announced today and I couldn't be more excited. The past year or two has been the best year for NES since 1990. Not only are we getting these great remakes, clones, and mods but the homebrew scene is thriving!

The reaction I've seen to the Nt mini has been somewhat negative or indifferent due to the high price. As far as I can see though, it's nearly a perfect NES remake with every feature it could possibly have! The more praised RetroUSB AVS looks like a sweet console too at a very attractive pricepoint, but it's going to have some shortcomings. The 720p output means some amount of delay and imperfect scaling up to 1080p on most displays. No analog out means you can't use your fancy PVM or play zapper games.

The reason the Analogue Nt mini excites me is that it's a zero compromise machine like the original Nt, and because it doesn't use chips pillaged from old Famicoms it can be produced indefinitely as a modern NES! Despite the price, it looks like the definitive high end NES. The features and price are even attractive next to the original Analogue Nt, if you can get over the merely psychological difference of playing on an FPGA clone rather than original CPU and PPU.

Edit: It looks like color palette options were just added to the AVS. I don't think that alone puts it on par with the Nts, but the fact that new features are still being developed is probably a good thing.

For the record, I own an Analogue Nt, have an AVS on order, and currently have no plans to buy an Nt mini.

Analogue Nt Analogue Nt mini RetroUSB AVS Kevtris Hi-Def NES
Internals Famicom CPU/PPU FPGA FPGA Installed in a real NES
Resolution 1080p 1080p 720p 1080p
A/V Output RGB, S-Video, Component, Composite
RCA analog audio
HDMI w/upgrade
RGB, S-Video, Component, Composite, HDMI
Analog and digital audio
Famicom Expansion Audio With HDMI upgrade Yes Yes Yes
Game Support NES, Famicom, FDS NES, Famicom, FDS NES, Famicom, FDS NES
Famicom with converter
Controller Ports 4 (incorrect spacing) 4 (possibly incorrect spacing) 4 2
Region Support Region free
Limited to NTSC PPU
Region Free Region Free Region free with mod
Limited to NTSC PPU
Other Unique Features Machined aluminum case
Famicom mic support

w/HDMI upgrade:
Adjustable color palette
Speedrun timer
In-game menu
Under/overclock support
Adjustable audio channels
Machined aluminum case
Adjustable color palette
Speedrun timer
In-game menu
Under/overclock support
Adjustable audio channels
Famicom mic support
Bundled with wireless controller
Game Genie and Action Replay
Online scoreboard support
NOS Power and Reset buttons
Adjustable color palette
Speedrun timer
In-game menu
Under/overclock support
Adjustable audio channels
Notable Negatives First run units have sharp cart slot edges
Incorrect controller port spacing
Cart slot is loose and horrible
Incorrect controller port spacing Cart slot is loose and horrible Requires pro installation for warranty
Common Features Zero/low latency scaling
Compatible with all pirates and homebrew
Adjustable scanlines
Upgradable software
Zero/low latency scaling
Compatible with all pirates and homebrew
Adjustable scanlines
Upgradable software
Zero/low latency scaling
Compatible with all pirates and homebrew
Adjustable scanlines
Upgradable software
Zero/low latency scaling
Compatible with all pirates and homebrew
Adjustable scanlines
Upgradable software
Price $499 for RGB
$578 for HDMI
$??? on Ebay
$449 $185 $120-142 parts
~$85 for installation

Update 9/8/2017: After a ton of experience with the AVS and original Analogue Nt, I've started using the AVS as my primary NES. The Nt definitely has better picture and is more flexible on a 1080p TV, but it's not really noticible in motion (my game room TV is 720p anyway). The annoyances of the Analogue Nt added up too much for me. The cart slot is loose and horrible. A stiff breeze, or more realistically, accidentally hitting the cartridge with your controller cord is likely to freeze the game. I've had problems with a few games including Family Feud (freezes shortly after start), Spot (weird graphics in ending scene), and King of the Ring (glitches out during action, and eventually freezes). King of the Ring was fixed with a software update making me think these are software related. The problems occur with a flash cart too, it's not my cartridges. The other things all piled up. Power button on the back. Can't use a Four Score with it. I actually ended up using the PAL support on my AVS too. I don't think the Nt is a horrible product because the output is amazing, but the design of the console itself really sucks.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Best Video Game Systems to Collect For

As I'm nearing the completion of my NTSC NES collection, I'm thinking about what the best video game consoles to collect for are. My NES collection will never be truly done, but I do want to get some new focuses. In my mind, I don't think there will ever be a better system than NES but there are some contenders. It's obviously a highly personal decision, but factors like availability, library size, game quality and variety, console identity, and what I'll call "extendability" all determine how collectible a console is, at least to me.

What Makes a Library Collectible (to me!)

While not a requirement, I'd like to be able to find games for a console, at least some of the time. While the MicroVision is super cool, you'll never find a MicroVision game at the flea market or probably even the local game store. Resorting to Ebay to buy every single game isn't very fun and certainly isn't as exciting.

A minor point here is looking at the rarest games and seeing if they're obtainable. If you are a completionist you need to be ready for insane road blocks like Magical Chase and Stadium Events. Systems like the Game Boy and Genesis are much more reasonable to actually acquire 100% full sets of if that's important to you.

On the other hand, a good mix of rare and desirable games makes a console more interesting. The most collectible consoles are the ones with the Panzer Dragoon Sagas and Keio Flying Squadrons. The top shelf games are what makes a collection exciting.

Library Size

I think there's a sweet spot here. If it's too small, you'll just dump a bunch of money and finish it in a couple months. If it's something like PS2 with some 2000 or more games, it will be incredibly challenging (and thus last last a lot longer!). That comes at the cost of having to buy a lot of really bad games, sports games, and shovelware. Bigger libraries also mean more exploring unknown titles, which is one of the more exciting parts of game collecting.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Analogue Nt Review (without too much focus on video)

The Analogue Nt is a cool piece of kit that's basically a remade, improved NES made from scrap Famicom parts and Kevtris' sweet Hi-Def NES mod. You already know a couple things about it: It's pretty expensive ($500+ when new, $1000+ used) and it has great quality video. The Hi-Def NES mod is the heart of this console, not all of Analogue's accouterments. I've had a second-shipment Nt as my daily player for a month now and here are my impressions.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gift Ideas for Pinball Hobbyists and Players

I guess I'm writing this for the pinball layman: the girlfriend, boyfriend, parent, or wife of a pinhead who wants to get a gift for their pinball-obsessed person in their life but doesn't really know what they have or need. Maybe your Secret Santa said they want a pinball Christmas present? There are plenty of things in all prices ranges to get a pinball person. It's not like video games, books, or movies where you really have to know a person's taste to get the right gift. There's universally appreciated media and upgrades to machines that anyone would love.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How stripped down is Game of Thrones Pro?

Update 6/27/16: Just to throw it out there, GOT Premium has turned into one of my all time favorite Sterns (less the horrible art) and GOT Pro is good too.

Game of Thrones Pro was revealed to a collective "Ouch, that's it?" from everyone except the most die-hard wallet haters (or people who only care about the premium, or should I say... complete version). All of the buzz surrounding the game initially was primarily on the bad art, the enormous gap between the Premium/LE and Pro models, and generally bungled theme integration. And it's not just that the Pro is wildly different from the LE, the Pro is one of the most basic looking machines in a while. This would be potentially understandable while Stern was carrying us through the budget dark ages in the 2000s, but it was unexpected for an epic theme during a pinball renaissance. I think many of us expected this game to somehow compete with The Hobbit on features, which was probably unrealistic despite Stern pumping up MSRPs ever closer to Jesery Jack levels.

To be clear, the simplest pinball machines can be fun. Game features do not equal fun. Game features can slow the game down and can dampen a game with a lot of flow. I was just curious of the last time we saw such a simple game considering the whopping $6000 price tag on this sucker. It's a Steve Ritchie game, of course it's going to be fun. The reveal solely make me want to look at how much solenoid you're getting for your money, not how much fun the game is.

Monday, September 21, 2015

1966 United Aztec Big Ball Bowler notes

This one took a lot of measuring and convincing myself. I have a house with enough room for a bunch of pins, however ~20 feet of straight space is something I simply don't have. My garage is about 19 feet long and this bowler is 16'3" from end to end. Taking into account ~3 feet of space you need behind it to open it and ~3 feet of space you need in front of it at a minimum to play it, it wasn't seeming likely. I did find that if I put the back of the bowler right up against my garage door, blocked off a small section of my garage with the lane, and used the small entraceway to my garage as playing space I'd have enough room to play and I could open the garage door to work on it. It's really dumb and it takes up too much room, but that is the price of owning the king of EM games.