Scott Hanselman

Retrogaming on original consoles in HDMI on a budget

April 13, '18 Comments [2] Posted in Gaming
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Just a few of my consoles. There's a LOT off screen.My sons (10 and 12) and I have been enjoying Retrogaming as a hobby of late. Sure there's a lot of talk of 4k 60fps this and that, but there's amazing stories in classing video games. From The Legend of Zelda (all of them) to Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, we are enjoying playing games across every platform. Over the years we've assembled quite the collection of consoles, most purchased at thrift stores.

Initially I started out as a purist, wanting to play each game on the original console unmodified. I'm not a fan of emulators for a number of reasons. I don't particularly like the idea of illegal ROM come up and I'd like to support the original game creators. Additionally, if I can support a small business by purchasing original game cartridges or CDs, I prefer to do that as well. However, the kids and I have come up with somewhat of a balance in our console selection.

For example, we enjoy the Hyperkin Retron 5 in that it lets us play NES, Famicom, SNES, Super Famicom, Genesis, Mega Drive, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, & Game Boy over 5 category ports. with one additional adapter, it adds Game Gear, Master System, and Master System Cards. It uses emulators at its heart, but it requires the use of the original game cartridges. However, the Hyperkin supports all the original controllers - many of which we've found at our local thrift store - which strikes a nice balance between the old and the new. Best of all, it uses HDMI as its output plug which makes it super easy to hook up to our TV.

The prevalence of HDMI as THE standard for getting stuff onto our Living Room TV has caused me to dig into finding HDMI solutions for as many of my systems as possible. Certainly you CAN use a Composite Video Adapter to HDMI to go from the classic Yellow/White/Red connectors to HDMI but prepare for disappointment. By the time it gets to your 4k flat panel it's gonna be muddy and gross. These aren't upscalers. They can't clean an analog signal. More on that in a moment because there are LAYERS to these solutions.

Some are simple, and I recommend these (cheap products, but they work great) adapters:

  • Wii to HDMI Adapter - The Wii is a very under-respected console and has a TON of great games. In the US you can find a Wii at a thrift store for $20 and there's tens of millions of them out there. This simple little adapter will get you very clean 480i or 480p HDMI with audio. Combine that with the Wii's easily soft-modded operating system and you've got the potential for a multi-system emulator as well.
  • PS2 to HDMI Adapter - This little (cheap) adapter will get you HTMI output as well, although it's converted off the component Y Cb/Pb Cr/Pr signal coming out. It also needs USB Power so you may end up leaching that off the PS2 itself. One note - even though every PS2 can also play PS1 games, those games output 240p and this adapter won't pick it up, so be prepared to downgrade depend on the game. But, if you use a Progressive Scan 16:9 Widescreen game like God of War you'll be very pleased with the result.
  • Nintendo N64 - THIS is the most difficult console so far to get HDMI output from. There ARE solutions but they are few and far between and often out of stock. There's an RGB mod that will get you clean Red/Green/Blue outputs but not HDMI. You'll need to get the mod and then either do the soldering yourself or find a shop to do it for you. The holy grail is the UltraHDMI Mod but I have yet to find one and I'm not sure I want to pay $150 for it if I do.
    • The cheapest and easiest thing you can and should do with an N64 is get a Composite & C-Video converter box. This box will also do basic up-scaling as well, but remember, this isn't going to create pixels that aren't already there.
  • Dreamcast - There is an adapter from Akura that will get you all the way to HDMI but it's $85 and it's just for Dreamcast. I chose instead to use a Dreamcast to VGA cable, as the Dreamcast can do VGA natively, then a powered VGA to HDMI box. It doesn't upscale, but rather passes the original video resolution to your panel for upscaling. In my experience this is a solid budget compromise.

If you're ever in or around Portland/Beaverton, Oregon, I highly recommend you stop by Retro Game Trader. Their selection and quality is truly unmatched. One of THE great retro game stores on the west coast of the US.

The games and systems at Retro Game Trader are amazing Retro Game Trader has shelves upon shelves of classic games

For legal retrogames on a budget, I also enjoy the new "mini consoles" you've likely heard a lot about, all of which support HDMI output natively!

  • Super NES Classic (USA or Europe have different styles) - 21 classic games, works with HDMI, includes controllers
  • NES Classic - Harder to find but they are out there. 30 classic games, plus controllers. Tiny!
  • Atari Flashback 8 - 120 games, 2 controllers AND 2 paddles!
  • C64 Mini - Includes Joystick and 64 games AND supports a USB Keyboard so you can program in C64 Basic

8bitdo-sfc30-pro-controller-gamepad-538219.4In the vein of retrogaming, but not directly related, I wanted to give a shootout to EVERYTHING that the 8BitDo company does. I have three of their controllers and they are amazing. They get constant firmware updates, and particularly the 8Bitdo SF30 Pro Controller is amazing as it works on Windows, Mac, Android, and Nintendo Switch. It pairs perfectly with the Switch, I use it on the road with my laptop as an "Xbox" style controller and it always Just Works. Amazing product.

If you want the inverse - the ability to use your favorite controllers with your Windows, Mac, or Raspberry Pi, check out their Wireless Adapter. You'll be able to pair all your controllers and use them on your PC - Xbox One S/X Bluetooth controller, PS4, PS3, Wii Mote, Wii U Pro wirelessly on Nintendo Switch with DS4 Motion and Rumble features! NOTE: I am NOT affiliated with 8BitDo at all, I just love their products.

We are having a ton of fun doing this. You'll always be on the lookout for old and classic games at swap meets, garage sales, and friends' houses. There's RetroGaming conventions and Arcades (like Ground Kontrol in Portland) and an ever-growing group of new friends and enthusiasts.

This post uses Amazon Referral Links and I'll use the few dollars I get from YOU uses them to buy retro games for the kids! Also, go subscribe to the Hanselminutes Podcast today! We're on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and even Twitter! Check out the episode where Matt Phillips from Tanglewood Games uses a 1995 PC to great a NEW Sega Megadrive/Genesis game in 2018!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The perfect Nintendo Switch travel set up and recommended accessories

November 2, '17 Comments [11] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I've had a Nintendo Switch since launch day and let me tell you, it's joyful. Joyous. It's a little joy device. I love 4k Xboxen and raw power as much as the next Jane or Joe Gamer, but the Switch just keeps pumping out happy games. Indie games, Metroidvania games like Axiom Verge, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (worth the cost of the system) and now, super Mario Odyssey. Even Doom and Wolfenstein 2 are coming to the Switch soon!

I've travelled already with my Switch all over. Here's what I've come up with for my travels - and my at-home Switch Experience. I owe and use these items personally - and I vouch for their awesomeness and utility.

BlueTooth Adapter

51hXseaPR-L._SL1000_

This TaoTronics BlueTooth adapter fixes the most obvious problem with the Switch - no blueooth headset support. If there is ever a Switch 1.5 release, you can bet they'll add Bluetooth. This device is great for a few reasons. It's small, it has its own rechargeable battery, it charges with micro USB, and it supports both transmit and receive. That's an added bonus in that it lets you turn any speakers with a 1/8" headphone jack into a BT speaker. Again, tiny and fits in my Switch case. I pair my Airpods with this device by putting the Airpods into pairing mode by putting the case button, then holding down the pairing button on this adapter, which promiscuously pairs. Works great.

Switch Travellers Case

91rXJJEHSyL._SL1500_

I have a Zelda version of this case. It's very roomy and I can fit a 3rd party stand, a dozen cartridges, BT adapter, headphones, screen wipes, and more inside. There's a number of options and styles past the link, including character cases.

Switch Joy-Con Gel Covers

61V4rW65TlL._SL1000_

These gel-covers - or ones like them - are essential. The Switch Joy-Cons are great for children's hands, but for normal/larger-sized people they are lacking something. It's not the cover, it's the extra depth these gel covers give you. I can't use the Switch without them.

HORI Compact Playstand

61Ly9jIq-cL._AC_

This is an airplane must. I want to use my Pro Controller one a plane - or at least detached Joy-Cons - so ideally I want to have the Switch stand on its own. The Switch does have its own kickstand, but honestly, it's flimsy. Works when the world isn't moving, but the angle is wrong and it tips over easily on a plane. This playstand folds flat, fits in the case above, and is very adjustable. It also works great to hold your phone or small tablet for watching movies, so it ends up playing double duty. Plus, it's $12.

Switch Grip Kit

gripkit

This one is optional UNLESS you have little kids and Mario Kart. When you're using Switch Joy-Cons as individual controllers, again, they are small. These turn them into tiny Xbox-style controllers. They are plastic holsters, but the kids love them.

HDMI Type C USB Hub Adapter for Switch

hdmiadapter

This can replace your not-portable Switch Dock. I didn't believe it would work but it's great. I can also fit this tiny Dongle in my Switch Case, and along with an HDMI cable and existing Switch power adapter I can plug the Switch into any hotel TV with HDMI. It's an amazing thing to be able to game in a hotel on a long business trip with minimal stuff to carry.

BASSTOP Portable Switch Dock

31-q00P0AWL

Another docking option that requires some assembly and disassembly on your part is this Portable Dock. It's not the dock, it's just the plastic shell. You'll need to take apart your existing giant dock and discover it's all air. The internals of the official dock then fit inside this one.

What are YOUR must have Switch Accessories? And more important, WHY HAVE YOU NO BUY SWITCH?

* My blog often uses Amazon affiliate links. I use that money for tacos and switch games. Please click on them and support my blog!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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RetroPie and X-Arcade Tankstick - The perfect Retro Arcade (plus keybindings and config and how-to)

June 7, '17 Comments [4] Posted in Gaming
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Eight years ago I stumbled on the husk of an old arcade cabinet and along with my buddy John Batdorf, proceeded to reclaim the cabinet, refinish, paint, and turn it into a proper MAME (Multi-Arcade Machine Emulator)

As an aside, a bit after helping me this project, John happened to start an amazing business making furniture with reclaimed wood, check him out at http://deercreekfurnishings.com. Amazing stuff, truly.

X-ARCADE TANKSTICK + TRACKBALL: WITH USB

Last week I build a RetroPie into an X-arcade tankstick. This is my best retro arcade yet because it's got HDMI out and I can take it to friends' houses. That said, I'm going to briefly go over my other systems because they may be more attractive for your needs. If you have no patience, scroll down.

A full size MAME Cabinet - The Complete MAME Cabinet How-To

I wrote up a complete 7 part series on making your own MAME Arcade Cabinet. It's super fun and will only take a few weekends and perhaps a few hundred bucks.

  1. Cabinet and Power
  2. Monitor and Mounting
  3. Control Panel
  4. Sound and Lights
  5. Paint and Art
  6. Computer Hardware and Software
  7. Success and Conclusion

When I made my first MAME cabinet I put a small "Shuttle PC" inside. The MAME system is in my office and runs to this day on Windows 7 with a HyperSpin frontend.

Software Disclaimer 1: There's all sorts of iffy legal issues around emulating arcade games with boards/ROMs you don't own. This series of posts has nothing to do with that. I do own some original arcade boards, but if you want to emulate arcade games with MAME (Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator), you can search the 'tubes. What I'm doing here is putting a computer in a pretty box.

Hardware Disclaimer 2: Many folks that build arcade cabinets have a purist view of how these things should be done. They will prefer original Arcade CRT monitors and more expensive, higher quality parts. I am more of a pragmatist. I also have no idea what I'm doing, so I've also got ignorance on my side.

There's been a huge amount of work done in the last few years to reconcile the dozens of emulators and systems and the nightmare of keybindings, menus, and configuration. My first MAME machine was a few hours to install and literally weeks of messing around with the settings of various emulators. I started with the legendary v1 "X-Arcade Tankstick" that had was effectively a PS2 keyboard. I took it apart and built it into my MAME system's control panel. I then needed to tell each individual emulator the key codes for up, down, left, right, a, b, x, y, etc. Each emulator had a different configuration file. Some were INI files, some XML, some freaking magic.

It's a lot to ask in 2017 to dedicate a complete PC to a retroarcade - in fact, it's just not necessary. A $35 Raspberry Pi 3 (or even an overclocked Raspberry Pi 2) has enough power to handle all but the most complex emulators.

Tiny Raspberry Pi Powered "CupCade"

Later I discovered RetroPie and built a tiny "cupcade" with plans from AdaFruit.  It is/was a tiny little thing that with just a basic menuing system but it got me thinking about how powerful the Raspberry Pi is. The AdaFruit site has all the plans and parts you can buy. I had a local makerspace laser-cut the case. Assembly was just a weekend.

AdaFruit's CupCade

Hyperkin - An off-the shelf RetroArcade Console

We also picked up a Hyperkin Retron console. This is a great legal way to plan retro games because it requires actual cartridges. We buy our games at Retro Game Trader. If you are EVER near Portland you HAVE to stop and check it out. It's insane.

There's a old joke about building a retro arcade machines - Is it more fun to play retro arcade games, or is it more fun to build a retro arcade machine with a cool front-end where every keybinding works in every emulator but you never get around to playing games?

A RetroPie inside an X-Arcade Tankstick

There's a whole series of gotchas that took me a few weeks to work through when taking a Raspberry Pi, RetroPie software, and an X-Arcade and getting them to work well together.

THIS blog post is going to be a collection of all the stuff I wish I'd known BEFORE I started on this path. Even one of these tips would have saved me an hour, so the collection of them is days of googling, forum reading, and trial and error.

Start with this 7-part short video series (they are less than 10 min long, so it's not so scary) on the X-Arcade with the RetroPie.

Parts List

You'll want at least these things to start.

  • Raspberry Pi 3 - Don't skimp, get a 3. Yes you can use a 2, but you'll be far happier with a 3.
  • Raspberry Pi 3 Heatsink Set - Raspberry Pi's can be persnickety. Spend the $5 and get a heatsink.
  •  128gig high-speed microSDXC card - Get the largest and fastest microSD card you can get. Class 10 is ideal.
  • 2amp+ powersupply with a 5 foot microUSB cable. Make sure your powersupply does at LEAST 2 amps. Less and your Raspberry Pi may not boot up with keyboards or mice attached.
    • Remember that the goal here is to be able to plug this into your TV while you're sitting near or on your couch. You might even want a longer cable.
    • Make sure the microUSB powersupply cable length matches your HMDI cable length. You're only as useful as the shortest cable between these two.
  • PS2 keyboard - Yes, PS2. I picked one up at Goodwill or a local Thrift Shop. You'll need this to program the X-Arcade Tankstick. You change its mode switch, press a button on the controller while simultaneously pressing a key on the PS2 keyboard. You'll repeat this until all your keys are set.
  • Also, you can never have too many cable ties.

And finally, last but not least. An X-Arcade Stick. You can get them with or without a Trackball (which acts as an independent mouse and uses its own additional USB cable). As I mentioned, I'd long-been a fan of all X-Arcade products. Their stuff is legendarily reliable and built like, well, a tank. They're fantastic in that you can even get adapters for your X-Box, X-Box One, Wii, Dreamcast, whatever.

My brother recently found an X-Arcade stick at a local thrift story for $30 and grabbed it for me. I opened it up and noticed it was the PS2 version from years ago. Fear not - you should be aware that there is the PS2 X-Arcade that requires a PS2 keyboard be attached, and there's the newer USB version.  Here's the epic part - and reason #564 why I love X-Gaming as a company - you can upgrade the electronics in your v1 X-Arcade stick with a simple board for $35. And I did just this. This kit takes any existing X-Arcade to the latest hardware and you're going to want the latest if you want your X-Arcade to work smoothly with RetroPie.

I took the back off the X-Arcade and threaded the HDMI cable and USB micro cable through the back holes. I 3D-printed a case (the yellow cage in the photo below) for the Raspberry Pi but really any case will do as long as wires aren't touching wires. There's an RS232 cable and the vestigial green PS2 male that you can tuck away in there. I used the remaining hole to keep the purple PS2 female connector handy as it'll be used for "programming" the keys for the X-Arcade.

Hey it's a Raspberry Pi 3 shoved into an X-Arcade. That's not very sophisitcated.

Yes, it's janky, but all I had was electrical tape. Ideally I'd get a rubber gasket for the wires to keep the tension off the Raspberry Pi and make it more "kid safe."

Photo Jun 06, 11 46 29 PM

Again, follow these videos. If you're a little technical it's pretty straightforward stuff. The general idea is this.

  • The Raspberry Pi uses the SD Card as its hard drive.
  • The X-Arcade is a keyboard and you'll have the PS2 keyboard temporarily plugged into it for setup.
  • The Raspberry Pi 3 is best not only because it's fast but it's also got built-in WiFi. If you use a Raspberry Pi 2, you'll need a Wifi adapter.
  • With your computer, you will use Win32DiskImager to copy a pre-made image of RetroPie to the SD Card.
  • You'll put the SD Card into the Pi, connect the X-Arcade via USB to the Pi, connect the PS2 keyboard to the X-Arcade , connect the Pi's HDMI to a monitor or TV, connect the power, and boot up.
  • You'll follow some on-screen prompts (again, see the videos) and setup RetroPi.
  • You'll program the X-Arcade to act as a keyboard.
  • Then you'll see what works and start debugging.
    • Debugging often consists of using putty and/or Bash for Windows to ssh into the Raspberry Pi. The user name is pi and the password is raspberry so that's usually "ssh pi@retropie" then the password.

Little Gotchas when Hooking up RetroPie and an X-Arcade

Now to the little details that took me weeks that will hopefully help you.

  • Xarcade2Jstick vs standard keyboard mapping - Some people swear that the X-Arcade stick will/can get detected as a joystick using a user-space driver called Xarcade2Jstick. This driver is built into Retropie now and it takes your keyboard/xarcade and "lies" to the system and makes it look like two gamepads. Some folks swear by it. I fought with it for a week and decided that since I understand keyboards, I would just stick with keyboard mapping. Your mileage may vary, but the good thing to know (and try) is that if your system "just works" when you boot up, then perhaps Xarcade2jstick worked amazingly for you and you can skip a LOT of this mess. Sound off in the comments.
    The gent who made the videos also believes that keyboard mapping is more reliable and recommends this "non-standard" set up and programs it in "bank 2" of the X-Arcade. That means the toggle switch is in the second position inward, away from the serial point when you program it. He recommends this layout and I've used it also. This is a screenshot from his video.
    Keyboard mappings are in the linked to Zip file
  • NOTE: I needed to go into optional components in RetroPie setup and specifically disable xarcade2jstick. You can re-run RetroPie-setup from the command line as often as you like.
    cd RetroPie-Setup
    sudo ./retropie_setup.sh
  • Keyboard Bindings for RetroArch compliant emulatiors - Now, I think I understand this, but if I get it wrong, let me know in the comments. There is an organization called "libRetro" that comprises the libRetro library, the RetroArch frontend that runs libRetro programms, and Lakka, a Linux that's meant for retroarcades. You don't need to sweat Lakka as you used a default RetroPie image. But RetroArch you'll be hearing a lot about. Remember earlier when I was complaining about all the trouble configuring emulators? RetroArch has scoped, nested config files (with includes) that allow you specify your config and keyboard/gamepad/joystick mapping once and then participating emulators will "just work." 
    Another way to look at it is this. In the past you needed lots of emulator programs from lots of people with lots of config that was all different. Retroarch tries to unify all of this so there's "cores" for each emulated system that Retorarch calls out to for the emulation.
    Follow the videos, but you'll basically go to /opt/retropie/configs/all and edit retroarch.cfg to support the keymapping above. MOST of the emulators will pick these settings up. But not all. More on that in a second.

    Like this:

    input_player1_a = t
    input_player1_b = r
    input_player1_y = q
    input_player1_x = w
    input_player1_start = num1
    input_player1_select = num5
    input_player1_l = e
    input_player1_r = y
    input_player1_left = left
    input_player1_right = right
    input_player1_up = up
    input_player1_down = down
    input_player1_l2 = u
    input_player1_r2 = i
    input_player1_l3 = nul
    input_player1_r3 = nul

    input_player2_a = j
    input_player2_b = h
    input_player2_y = d
    input_player2_x = f
    input_player2_start = num2
    input_player2_select = num6
    input_player2_l = g
    input_player2_r = k
    input_player2_left = a
    input_player2_right = s
    input_player2_up = o
    input_player2_down = p
    input_player2_l2 = l
    input_player2_r2 = z
    input_player2_l3 = nul
    input_player2_r3 = nul

  • Exiting Games with the Xarcade controller - One of the most common questions I saw in the forums was "I can move around in the menus and launch and emulator but I can't exit it!" Folks were forced to pull the plug and hard reboot which isn't a sustainable solution. The xarcade has a "flipper" (imagine a pinball flipper's controlling button position) button on each side. The standard hotkey for exiting an emulator has historically been pressing the Player 1 start button PLUS the left flipper button. That's the 1 and 5 keys together if you look at the diagram above.
    You'll want to go to /opt/retropie/configs/all and edit retroarch.cfg and confirm that you have these lines somewhere:
    input_enable_hotkey = num1
    input_exit_emulator = num5
    Then launch emulationstation (or reboot), launch an emulator, and press P1 and left bumper/flipper. You'll also come to know the left and right flipper buttons as the virtual "insert coin" buttons for Player 1 (P1) and Player 2 (P2) respectively.
  • Some emulators don't listen to RetroArch settings - Depending on the RetroPie image you downloaded, you may find that some emulators don't listen or respect your core retroarch.cfg settings. Or, perhaps the defaults buttons don't feel right. For example, Sega controller buttons are two rows of three buttons each. You can override your settings to make your xarcade more intuitive. Go to /opt/retropie/configs/megadrive and edit the retroarch.cfg in there. Note that it includes the MAIN "all" retroarch so you're just overriding some settings on an emulator by emulator basis.

    # Settings made here will only override settings in the global retroarch.cfg if placed above the #include line

    input_player1_a = y
    input_player1_b = t
    input_player1_y = r
    input_player1_x = w
    input_player1_l = q
    input_player1_r = e

    input_player2_a = k
    input_player2_b = j
    input_player2_y = h
    input_player2_x = f
    input_player2_l = d
    input_player2_r = g

    input_remapping_directory = /opt/retropie/configs/megadrive/

    #include "/opt/retropie/configs/all/retroarch.cfg"

  • MAME isn't working at all with the Xarcade - This hit me and I see lots of folks struggling. If the MAME core/emulator you're using doesn't integrate with RetroArch, you may need to manually keymap within MAME itself. Use the attached keyboard (while it's still attached) and when inside MAME press Tab. You'll go into the "Input (general) and go down the line one at a time and remap the keys. It's NOT obvious that you have to press and hold the buttons on your XArcade before MAME will pick up the new mapping. It's also not obvious that if you press AGAIN and hold that you can tell MAME another alternate key. In other words, the "OR" key. As in "1 OR 5" if you like.
    You might like to know that mame-advmame stores these configurations in /opt/retropie/configs/mame-advmame in *.rc files. For example, I had advmame-0.94.0.rc and wanted to be able to exit MAME from my xarcade. If I had a keyboard attached, I'd press "ESC" but with the Xarcade I wanted "Player 1 plus Left Flipper" to work. Then I wanted either "Enter" to confirm, or the main button for Player 1. I ended up with this. Again, this is for non-RetroArch advmame, but it makes the larger point in case you run into these kinds of emulators.

    input_map[ui_pause] keyboard[0,enter] or keyboard[0,tab] keyboard[0,up]
    input_map[ui_select] keyboard[0,enter] or keyboard[0,q]
    input_map[ui_cancel] keyboard[0,5] keyboard[0,1] or keyboard[0,esc]

That pretty much covers all the hairpullingout of the last few weeks. The result is very nice though. I hope you make one also!

Photo Jun 07, 12 58 22 AM


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild are an ABSOLUTE JOY

March 12, '17 Comments [21] Posted in Gaming | Reviews
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I bought a Nintendo Switch last week with my allowance and I'm utterly smitten. It's brilliant. It's absolutely brilliant.

The Nintendo Switch is FAB

Now, to be clear, I'm neither a hardcore gamer nor a journalist. However, I am someone who grew up on Mario, enjoys Retrogaming and my Xbox One, and most of all, I know genius when I see it.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a wonderful example of the very best that video games can offer as an art form in 2017. - Me

It may be the best video game ever. And it is because it borrows so much from the decades of refinement whose shoulders it stands upon.

Let's break this down into two halves. First, Zelda (which is available on WiiU and Switch), and later, the Switch itself.

If you don't feel like reading this, just trust me and buy a Switch and Zelda and bask in the hundreds of hours of joy and wonder it will bring you. It's the most fun I've had with a video game in recent memory. I also profoundly recommend the gorgeous hardcover The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: The Complete Official Guide Collector's Edition. The maps, the art, and the gentle walkthroughs are more fun than googling. The kids and I have enjoyed exploring the wilderness with the giant map unfurled in front of us.

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

It's HUGE. It's estimated at 360 square kilometers. They are saying it's 1.5x the Skyrim map and may be larger than Witcher 3. A cynic could call Breath of the Wild derivative, but an optimist like me says, well, they stole every game mechanic that was awesome over the last few decades, and made the near-perfect game. I love that this is a console launch game that is polished and has at LEAST 100 hours or more for the completist.

Zelda is gorgeousWhat is Zelda like?

  • Just Cause - Fly off a cliff with a paraglider, fly over a raging river and land on an elk, tame it and ride it. Because you're awesome and you can.
  • Witcher 3 - Massive map, armor sets, crafting and more.
  • Assassin's Creed - Climbing because...it's fun. Getting maps by unlocking towers and jumping off.
  • Grand Theft Auto - The first massive sandbox without loading. You enter a new area and get a brief subtitle announcing you're in a new "neighborhood" and then you wander.
  • Skyrim - The Elder Scrolls was the first video game I played where I climbed mountains "because they were there" and really had a sense of wonder when I got to the top. Draw distance!
  • Shadow of the Colossus - There's amazing HUGE boss fights that involve climbing the enemy, racing after monsters with horses, and sometimes going inside them.
  • Bard's Tale - Because I'm old.

Complaints? Honestly, if I had to truly nit. And I mean really nit I'd say the durability of weapons, particularly swords, is annoying. I would make them last maybe 50% longer. Also, moving in and out of Shrines has a load screen that takes 10-15 seconds. But really, that's like saying "I wish Beyoncé was 5'8", not 5'7". I mean, REALLY. Beyoncé. Shush.

The Nintendo Switch

It's portable. Just like in the ad, you can pull the Switch out and leave. In my video below I also switch to portable AND have to re-sync the controllers, so there is one additional ceremony, but it's easy.

It feels like a console when it's plugged in. I've got it plugged into my TV and from my couch it looks as nice as any of my devices. Sure, it's not an Xbox One playing Tom Clancy: The Division. But it's a brilliant tradeoff for a device I can simply pick up and go outside with (which I've done, with considerable appreciation.)

I'm surprised that folks are complaining about the gaming resolution, frame rates, battery life, older processor, or said "it's just like an iPad with an HDMI cable." Here's why:

  • Resolution - Zelda runs at 720p (the native res of the touchscreen) at 30fps. It's just 6.5" and 720p is just fine when it's a foot or more from your face.
  • Battery - I got an easy 3 hours out of it. If you're on a plane, carry a cable and extra battery. If you need to portably game more than 3 hours, take a break. ;) Seriously, though, given my appreciation of it's portability and power and experience this is reasonable. One can always complain about battery life.
  • Frame Rate - When you dock the Switch and run Zelda over your TV the resolution is 900p and sometimes it lags. If you're in the forest, and it's raining, and there's a bunch of enemies around there will totally be moments of 20 fps. But it passes. And it's still gorgeous. A small price to pay, and we don't know if it's fixable with a software patch. Given that launch titles rarely use the new hardware in an optimized fashion, it's more than reasonable to give them a break on this.
  • Older Processor - The Switch is using the older Nvidia Tegra X1 processor. As a business person this makes sense. It's a $300 device. It's not reasonable to expect all day battery life and 4k gaming on a device that weights two-thirds of a pound.
  • Innovation - Yes, you can plug your iPad into your TV. But most folks don't. And the iPad and iOS clearly haven't tried to optimize for this scenario. Apple has scandalously under-supported their MFi Controller Spec, even though the SteelSeries is brilliant. Frankly, Apple handed Nintendo a huge opportunity by not making a proper controller and supporting MFi better with Game Devs. The Switch might not exist if I could BlueTooth Pair any controller to my iPad and play Skyrim on an iPad. Oh ya, I'd have to have an iPad with expandable memory or a cartridge slot. ;) The Switch is a new category of device. It's not an iPad.

It's a fantastic device for the price and the promises, for the most part, were kept. That said, a few gentle warnings if you do get a Switch.

  • If you put the joy-cons on backwards they might get stuck and you could perhaps damage the system.
  • The joy-cons have these little wrist straps as well, and to be clear if you put these on backwards you're in trouble. Make sure you line up the plus + signs. There's a + on the right joy-con and a - on the left one. Use the correct strap for the correct joy-con.
  • If you slam the Switch into the dock it's possible you could scratch the screen. I always treat $300 equipment like it cost $300. Be somewhat careful.

My Recommended Nintendo Switch accessories (I own each of these)

These accessories are by no means required (the Switch has everything you need out of the box) but these are all 4+ star rated and I've purchased them myself and appreciate them. Yes, I've gone overboard and my $300 Switch is now a $500 Switch BUT I HAVE NO REGERTS. ;)

  • Some kind of Carrying Case. I have the Zelda Special Edition case, but all the cases that are official Nintendo are excellent.
  • The Nintendo Switch Pro Controller. If you're going to hook your Switch up to the TV you might consider the pro controller. The Switch does come with a quasi-controller that has you pop the two joy-cons into a harness to simulate a typical Xbox/PS Controller but the ergonomics are exact by any stretch. The Pro Controller is fantastic. It's 99% the same as an Xbox Controller and includes (quietly) the full 360 degree gyro support that (I believe) Switch Games will be known for (see the second above on gyro in Zelda.)
  • Joy-con Grips. This was a frivolous purchase but a good one. I've got big hands and the Joy-Cons are NOT comfortable when turned horizontally and used for any period of time. These little holsters turn them into tiny Pro Controllers and make two player a LOT easier.
  • Compact Playstand. The Switch has one major hardware design "flaw" in that it can't be charged while it's using its kickstand. This little folding playstand is nice because it's 3-in-1 and can also perfectly fit a 3DSXL.
  • Large 128g EXTRA-FAST microSDXC SD Card. The Switch has only 32gigs of internal space and if you (theoretically) downloaded Zelda you'll use 13gigs. I can see myself using up a LOT of space in the next year so I got this 128G SD Card. And it's FAST.
  • 6 pack of Microfiber Cleaning Cloths  - I can't stand a dirty touchscreen. Can't. I have two dozen of these spread around the house, my car, my backpack. Can't have too many given laptops, TVs, and iPads.
  • USB C cables - Both the Switch and Pro Controller use USB C (finally!) so pick up a few USB C cables that you can use to charge in a pinch from your laptop, existing car charger, or portable battery. I only buy Anker Batteries.
  • A Zelda Amiibo - Amiibos are these little figurines with an RFID/NFC dealie inside. They are registered to you and they can "light up" features in all kinds of games. In Zelda specifically you can (a little later in the game) use them to get daily food and other bonuses. Plus they look nice on your desk.

My Predictions for the Nintendo Switch in 2017

I'm looking forward to seeing what the Nintendo Switch can become. I think/predict we'll see this on the Switch in 2017.

  • A thrilling Indie Game Community. Yes, the launch titles are weak. There aren't a ton of launch games. Call it a soft launch. But give it a few months.
  • Virtual Console - The ability to play SNES/NES and other games via some kind of emulation from Nintendo. We have already seen NEO-GEO games show up in the last few days! I can imagine we'll see a Mario Collection going back 30+ years.
  • Video Apps - If they add Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon, then I'll be taking my Switch with me to
  • A USB-C to HDMI cable - I don't want to take the dock with me on trips, so I'd love a USB-C to HDMI cable from Nintendo (It'll need their magic box/chip) to free up my bag.
  • A great balance between AAA Games and "classic" games. If Zelda and Shovel Knight are any indication, the future is bright.
  • Continued updates to the online experience. I suspect we'll get firmware and store updates quarterly.

But at the same time, what's the nightmare scenario? Nothing happens. No games come out and I have a $500 Zelda-specific device. I'm totally OK with that give the joy of the last week. So between the worst-case scenario and the best case, no matter what happens it's awesome and I'm a satisfied customer.

* I've used Amazon referral links here. Please use them and you'll support this blog and my Amiibo Habit.


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Solved and Fixed: StreetPass stopped working on Nintendo 3DS XL

January 25, '17 Comments [1] Posted in Gaming
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Nice to meet you! says my MiiYes, this is kind of a silly blog post but it's been bugging me for months so I wanted to get it out there in case it helps someone who is googling for the answer!

I have a little Nintendo 3DS XL (the "new" one) that I bought for long trips. It's a great little device with a large library of games, plus it plays SNES classics like Super Metroid. All in all, I'm thrilled with the purchase.

It has wifi, and both Netflix and Hulu in a pinch for the kids, but it also has some really cool social features using a proprietary wifi connection called "StreetPass." The nutshell is that if you pass by someone (within 30-40 feet in my experience) their "Mii" avatar will jump into your game console and bring with it data from other games.

There's simple stuff like Puzzles, there's mini games like Find Mii, and StreetPass enhances more complex games like Mario World or Resident Evil: Revelations by adding in whole new components. In Resident Evil you'll get communications and weapons drops from your colleagues who are apparently fighting zombies at the same time as you. In Shovel Knight you can race the "ghost" of another player. It's safe and anonymous.

If you travel it's even cooler as you'll StreetPass people in airports and collect their countries or states of origin. I carry my 3DS to conventions and all over the world. It's a hoot.

BUT. A few months back it stopped StreetPassing. Nothing happened, ever. I made sure everything was updated, turned it on and off, but nada.

Recently I fixed it and I'm sure it will fix StreetPass for you also.

  • Go into Mii Maker and design a secondary Mii. Doesn't matter what it looks like. I did it quickly.
  • Switch to that secondary Mii. You won't lose anything.
  • Exit Mii Maker, then go back in and switch back to your original Mii.
    • I surmise that this clears things out and re-writes some settings for you.
    • I also changed my Mii's hat and outfit just to make sure it was re-written completely.
  • Head over to Mii Plaza and you should be all set.

My system started StreetPassing within a few hours.

Photo Jan 24, 9 59 42 PM

I hope this helps someone because as a traveller who really digs StreetPass, having it not work was really harshing my mellow. By the way, I REALLY love this "DreamGear" rubber case I got for my 3DS. It changes the shape of it, makes it larger, almost like an Xbox controller. That's an Amazon link that you can use that will help me get more 3DS games. ;)


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.