Tag Archives: retro

The Drawer of Redundant Technology

The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry

The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry

At last the festivities are over, the decorations have been put away, the cards and tree have been recycled, and I can finally play with one of my presents to myself - a home cinema kit. That’s not what this post is about, but it does need a little bit of a backstory…

A few years back, before my days of being a dad, I spent all of my free time rebuilding our house. I planned out the wiring and buried all the speaker cables for a surround sound setup in the walls, with nice banana plug sockets on the ends. About halfway through the build, we somehow managed to get pregnant - no idea where we found the time or energy for that. The impending arrival of ‘Oops,’ as she was then known, changed many of the plans for the house and a home cinema kit was no longer a priority.

Fast forward back to now and Dulcie is old enough to appreciate a good movie (even if they do all feature Princesses and Faeries) and needs to hear them in glorious 5.1 Surround Sound right? So I find the right system on eBay - it has to be silver and slimline to match the decor, with small speakers as the room isn’t very big - and it all arrives just before Christmas. So first chance I get when the living room is de-christmased, I start to set it all up. Now where did I put those gold-plated banana plugs…?

Oh yes, I remember, they are tucked away in that special storage area that all GeekDad’s surely have for such things - I call mine The Drawer of Redundant Technology. Yours may be a cupboard, or a box tucked away in a wardrobe, or perhaps a shelf out in the garage - maybe even the whole garage!

Wherever and whatever yours is, it is the place where that outdated camera lives. It is the last resting place of superseded iPods. It is a nest of tangled (or possibly neatly coiled) cables and wires of all types. Power adaptors for long lost mobile phones, a vast array of digital media storage devices, knotted and broken Headphones or Earbuds, spare parts for things that you don’t even own anymore - they can all be found within.

The Contents of The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry

The Contents of The Drawer of Redundant Technology by Nathan Barry

Here’s just a few of the choice items that my drawer contains:

  • A mouse for a Mac Plus - the Mac Plus itself in now a Macquarium. I always thought how cool it would be to convert the mouse to hold the air pump for the tank, but I know I’ll never get round to it.
  • A six-CD changer magazine for my car - hasn’t been used for about 8 years, since I got my first iPod
  • That very same iPod - a 2nd gen 20GB model, complete with a 12v power adapter and an iTrip
  • A 5″ floppy disk
  • A Canon Powershot camera with a busted LCD screen and lens cover
  • Pieces of that lens cover
  • 3 Apple power adapters - 2 x Firewire and 1 USB
  • 2 kettle power leads and 3 figure 8s
  • A 32Mb compact flash card - in my 6MP Nikon D70s, that only about 10-15 photos. It can’t have been enough for the camera it came with either, because there’s also a whopping 128Mb one there too
  • An old HP RPN scientific calculator from my school days - I remember spending ages first learning Reverse Polish Notation, then programming the formula to solve quadratic equations into it
  • A Darth Vader rubber stamp
  • And, of course, those gold-plated banana plugs

I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say that it’s time for me to stop hoarding useless crap, and that goes for more than the Drawer of Redundant Technology too. My shed is full of leftover DIY materials, electric drills that packed up, rolls of carpet underlay that are slowly rotting away, offcuts of timber that are far too small to do anything useful with even if I did have the time. My wardrobe is full of T-shirts and trainers that I just don’t wear anymore and my bookshelves filled with tomes that have been read and need not be read again.

Enough is enough I say, and this is my New Year’s Resolution - to the recycling center with you all!

Have you got a fabulous stash of redundant technology? If so, we’d love to see it. Upload a photo to the GeekDad Flickr Pool and tag it ‘redundanttech’ and we’ll post them up later for all to see.


Arkanoid – More Retrogaming for Your iPhone

Arkanoid for iPhone, photo by Nathan Barry

Arkanoid for iPhone, photo by Nathan Barry

One of my favourite old school games from the Commadore 64 era has found a new home in my pocket, courtesy of Tatio’s latest remake - Arkanoid for the iPhone and iPod Touch, available now from the US iTunes App Store for $4.99 and for £2.99 in the UK.

For those that haven’t played it before, the game is basically a fancy version of Breakout - you move your ‘Vaus’ ship left to right to bounce a ball up to the lines of bricks and knock them out one by one. There is a pretty lame backstory to explain what’s going on - the Arkanoid mothership is attacked and sends out the ‘Vaus’ on a recon mission to see what’s what, but it gets sucked into an inter-dimensional blah blah blah - but that’s really just uneccessary fluff and can be skipped over quite quickly.

Cover for the Atari ST version of Arkanoid, used under fair use via Wikipedia

Cover for the Atari ST version of Arkanoid, used under fair use via Wikipedia

The game takes the basic idea of Breakout and expands it by adding various power-ups ranging from enlongating and reducing your paddle width to multi-ball and a laser to blast away the bricks quicker. The level designs add some visual appeal and differing degrees of difficulty to the gameplay, and there are additional little ‘enemy’ ships that get in the way and add a bit of randomness to the path the ball can take.

I remember to original being one of the first games to take advantage of a new (at the time) way of controlling the onscreen action - the mouse. This made it much more responsive than the traditional joystick set up and allowed you to move the ‘vaus’ from one side of the screen to the other at great speed, much more like the paddle of the arcade version. This was especially useful if you happened to catch the ‘gate’ power-up, which jumped you to the next level, as you could just slide the mouse quickly to the right and not have to worry about the ball coming down before you got there.
It seems appropriate then that this new version is again making use of a relatively new input device - the iPhone’s touchscreen. To play, you simply hold your finger on the marker just below your craft and the little ship will follow your movements across the screen. Occasionly, I kept finding that my finger had strayed upwards and obscured the Vaus.This was a bit annoying, but I can’t have been the only one to do it as the controls still worked, and had obviously been designed to.

The first level of Arkanoid

The first level of Arkanoid

A lot of the level designs seem to be exact copies of the originals. I remember so many of them so well (including the Space Invader one) but others may well be new. One of my all time favourites is still there. It’s bottom row is made from the ‘metallic’ blocks (which take a couple of hits to remove), all except the the last one, which also doesn’t have any blocks in the rows above it. A carefully aimed first shot can take it out. Get the ball back up there and it’ll start bouncing around taking out block after block. Luck out and catch a ‘disperse’ power up (the multi-ball) and you can rest, safe in the knowledge that the level will pretty much finish itself.

One thing that has been improved is the progression through the levels. Rather than simply going from a to b to c as in the original, the new version has adopted an inverted pyramid, branching structure, which will greatly improve the replay factor as you can take a different route and find other levels you might not have played before.

And one thing that has definitely gone in the other direction is the background music. Actually, I can’t say that for sure as I can’t remember what the music used to be, but I’m sure it wasn’t the lame euro-techno-disco-trance it is now. You can get around this by choosing your own tracks from the options screen, but this seems a little limiting. It would much better to just let the iPod play in the background. The FX are perfectly fine, adding a nice plinky-plonk to the music and the power-ups now announce themselves with a nice 80s Cylon effect.

A nice addition to this version is a versus mode which is pretty much Breakout x Pong. Two players, each with their own Vaus go head to head on the same screen with a few troublesome blocks getting in the way of pure Pong action.

Overall, it’s a great bit of retro gaming fun from the days when simple gameplay was more important than fancy 3D graphics and is well worth the $4.99/£2.99.


No Place Like Hyrule

Zelda Spirit Tracks (image: wiiplaygames.com)

Zelda Spirit Tracks (image: wiiplaygames.com)

I know a lot of people bash Nintendo for courting the casual game market, but they still seem pretty special to me -  and not just because a write a few casual game reviews. I love the fact that their game worlds go right back to the days of Game and Watch and the NES. And when they roll out a new version it does justice to all that has gone before.

Zelda Spirit Tracks

Zelda on DS

Looking ahead to reviewing The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks from Games Basement I realized that these are as much sentimental experiences as anything else. Sure, the gameplay is great and the puzzles tax my brain, but it is hearing those same victorious tunes and iconic imagery that most connect me to what is going on in Hyrule. It’s the consistency of the world between games that gives them a last appeal.

I recently played Links Awakening on my old 90’s Gameboy and loved it. Once I’d found a copy of the game and dusted of the yellowing plastic of my first portable games machine I was away. The architecture, the sounds and the characters were like old friends even though this was my first play. Little things like opening a chest to find some rupees looked, sounded and felt just the same as it did in Wind Waker, Twighlight Princess or Phantom Hourglass.

Zelda on 90's Gameboy

Zelda on 90's Gameboy

Although I know Spirit Tracks will have plenty of surprises, I also love the idea of returning to somewhere familiar. The funny thing is that when I play a new Zelda game it also makes me want to revisit the older titles too. So here I am tinkering away at Links Awakening until I can start on the next chapter for Link and Zelda.