Friday, February 26, 2010

A console-ation prize. Part 2

The problem goes back to that cost versus profit thing I mentioned in an earlier post. If we make a product like this we have to be sure there will be enough consumer interest to merit the thing. I don't want you to think that we here at CC are a bunch of penny pinching profiteers, but money does enter into it. We keep things as low price as we can, but there are a lot of costs to consider, not to mention the fact that we have to make a living.

So, let's say that we could throw the box together for around $150. The software would add no additional cost, but we would still need to charge for the service. We could potentially put the things out there for around $200 with one year of full service.

That is a chunk of change for the Retro-gaming experience. I'm certainly not saying it isn't worth it, I'm just saying it's more than I would want to charge. Now, our free systems would be playable for as long as you had the console, but the full service would need to be paid for each year. That adds another cost consideration.

We also have to think about the fact that in a few years time the console would be outdated and wouldn't be able to play the latest games on CC. That would mean buying the newest version of our console. You could probably count on doing that every three years.

That's the problem in a nutshell. I'm just not sure enough people would be interested in it to make it viable right now. In the long run I am sure we could get enough interest. Especially if we did manage to add a cartridge adapter port where different cartridge ports could be plugged in.

Like so many things it's a matter of time and money. At this point you may be asking yourselves “Why do you do posts like this? You dangle something in front of us just to slap it out of our hands! What's wrong with you?” Well, it's not really like that at all. I'm just sharing the things I think about with you. Lord willing, one day, we will have a CC console. We can't right now, but we have to work toward it. Without the idea you don't get the product. The idea comes first and that is what I am sharing with you guys.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A console-ation prize. Part 1

I mentioned two things while discussing the Atari Flashback. One was home-brewing which has been pretty well covered. The other was that we might consider making our very own Console Classix Console. It an interesting idea, but there are a few things that have to be considered.

First, is it feasible? I think it is. A number of small, low power PC-on-a-board type products are out there. (Embedded systems as they are known.) We could buy a unit that had all the things we needed in it. A good CPU, plenty of RAM, a solid state drive, wired and wireless network connections and a TV out port.

Hardware-wise it's really not that big of a deal. Get the system you need, wrap it in a molded plastic case and include a power supply to support it. Throw in a couple of low cost USB controllers and you are really rolling. We might even be able to do something really awesome like include a cartridge adapter module where you could put the right adapter in it and play your own carts.

Software also shouldn't be a problem. First off we could throw Linux on the thing. Provide our own splash screen and load directly into the browser app. Then we would only load X windows for the browser and the emulators as needed. It should be fairly thin and run relatively fast. (We would need to put a button on the front on the thing to take you back to the menu... a little thought would be required for that.)

The emulators themselves shouldn't prove any great difficulty. Most of the emulators we use now already have Linux builds ready to go. There would be a system or two that we would have to change out, but it would just be a matter of finding a good Linux emulator for that system. Once we had our list of emulators we would just need to get them working with our service.

The last piece of the software puzzle would be the CC Browser itself. Fortunately this last build was done with portability in mind. It is almost cross-platform ready. All told the software work shouldn't take more than a few weeks. It would also give us the added bonus of having a Linux version of the client up and running.

So, it seems simple enough. Get the hardware together, setup the software and get it out there for the public to buy. What's the big deal?

More soon...

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Art of Home Brewing. Part 2

Up to this point I've only talked about the Atari 2600, but don't think that's the only system that still has games being developed for it. The Genesis is still alive and kicking. In recent years we've seen a few new releases. You can take a look:

The NES is still out there:

I could go on, but you get the idea. The classic systems are still alive and well. Each of them offers something unique. People see that, which is why development continues.

Most of these developers have a few things in common. First, they love the systems they are coding on. Second they want to make a bit of money from their hobby. Third, none of their games have ever showed up at Console Classix. Why is this?

Well to start with Console Classix wants to make sure that the original authors of the games have made the money they are going to make before we pick up their games. I admit that we may offer the Wii virtual console a little competition, but I can talk about that later. For the moment just run with the idea that we don't want to cost any developers any sales. These guys have spent months (sometimes years) developing a game. We don't want them to loose sales because we offer it to the public.

In time we certainly plan to offer these games, but when and how is still very much up in the air. We need a way to offer the games and still encourage people to buy a copy for themselves. I think Console Classix could bring attention to these games as well as letting our fans play them. It's simply a matter of working out something that is fair to the developer and Console Classix and, of course, the gamers themselves.

Up to this point we've done very little on this front. We tried to contact one group (I'll leave out the specifics) and were shut down. They didn't like the idea of emulation. This was very shortsighted, of course, because we can offer the games with or without their blessing. We just wanted to work out a system that was beneficial to everyone. As they were so opposed to the idea we let it sit for the moment.

I'm not sure how to go about this. I'm not certain how we should start. For the moment I am going to put it back on the shelf. In a few months I may pull it out again. We have so much we are working on I can quickly get overloaded.

However, if any of you are home brewers or know a home brewer or feel driven to contact the author of some favorite home brew, Console Classix is ready to talk. We want to offer these games in a way that satisfies everyone. I'm certain we can work something out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Art of Home Brewing. Part 1

In my last post I mentioned home brew Atari 2600 games. Now, I know that most of you probably already know about these, but I feel I should explain before I go on.

For those of you who don't already know it, Atari 2600 development is alive and well. A number of new games come out for the 2600 each and every year. Most, if not all of them, are developed by home coding hobbyists. These hobby coders are known as home brewers. There are several remarkable things about this. The first is that the 2600 was released in October 1977 (Meaning I could have played it at the ripe old age of six months.) The system is thirty two years old and people are still writing games for it. The second, and perhaps more amazing thing, is that some of these games are really good. In point of fact, some of them are better than the games released during the 2600's height. Third, you can buy some of the really good ones in cartridge form!

Can't believe it's true? Take a look at Atari Age:

How can this be with a system that's as old as this? Well, most of you are retro-fans and you get it. However, again I'll take a moment to explain. The Atari 2600 represents an age in gaming. Although it is very limited as a system by today's standards it still has the ability to do one very important thing: It can still run fun games. Take Space Invaders as an example. The game play is very simple and the graphics are extremely limited. However, if you like that style of game then the Wii can't do it any better. Pitfall is an awesome side scroller. Adventure arguably represents the beginning of the adventure genre.

What all systems have in common is that all have their limitations. It is up to developers to work within the confines of the system they are working on. What this does is gives each system a very definite “Feel”. The 2600 was a good system and it still is. To this day I love playing Warlords with a few friends. The games for the 2600 are simple, they have to be. However, if that simplicity is worked into the game you get something that is not only fun, it's easy to play.

More soon...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Back to the Flashback. Part 2

I am sure not all Atari executives love the old 2600. In fact most of them may not, but they could at least look around and see what's going on. Here are a few points for the cartridges:

First, cartridges may very well last until the end of the earth. We haven't reached it yet, but since those games were first sold very few of the carts have ever worn out. You can go to almost any flee market anywhere in the country and there are Atari games that still work just fine. (In truth it's also easy to find a working Atari 2600, but it would be worth buying the new model just to get a better TV connector.) Second, new games come out for the Atari every year. True, they are developed by home brewers and hobbyists and only people that are into the scene know about them. However, who do they think was going to buy the Flashback? The same people that bought a Flashback are likely to be interested in buying new Atari 2600 games! Third, Atari could have released several more compilation cartridges. If they were marketed correctly they could have been sold online and produced in micro batches.

I honestly don't believe that Atari had considered the bigger picture on this one. Why mention all this now? A couple of reasons! The Flashback 2+ is suppose to come out later this month. Again, no cartridge port! (How can Atari keep seeing that there is a market for this thing and not see that there is a market for new carts... this is nuts!) Also, I've been looking at Console Classix own collection of Atari games. We need more. I need to try to work on this in the coming months.

It also makes me consider all the home brewers out there. Console Classix needs to find a way to work with them. I'll have to consider that a bit more. I may even do a post all about that. It also makes me think that a Console Classix Console might not be a bad idea. I wonder how the public would react to that.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Back to the Flashback. Part 1

You may remember that a few years back Atari released a product known as the Flashback. It was an Atari 2600/7800 type console thing. (For lack of a better description.) It came with twenty built in classic Atari games. I was very interested when it came out. However, when I went to buy one I noticed that it didn't have a cartridge port. What came with it was what you got. I was very disappointed. It went right back on the shelf and I went away thinking “So close, but not close enough.”

As it turns out there was a good reason it didn't have a cartridge port. The entire system was built around a Nes-on-a-chip. The games were actually emulated on the system. Obviously I don't have a problem with that in general, but in this case it just didn't make much sense. The game play wasn't true to the Atari and, of course, no Atari cartridges would work in it. End result: A slightly larger version of the joystick compilations that were out there already. It was an ok product, but it could have been great.

A little time passed and Atari released the Flashback 2. This was a great improvement over the first one. The console was based on an Atari-on-a-chip and the games played just like they had on the original. An added bonus was that it could theoretically play Atari cartridges! Atari even went to the trouble to include some of the newer, more popular home brew games out there. This was certainly to tip their caps to the very much alive classic Atari market. This was certainly a good sign. Atari seemed to recognize that it's old system was still alive and kicking. However, low and behold, no cartridge port...

To add to the frustration they actually designed the mother board of the thing where it would be easy to modify yourself. You can add your own cartridge port with very little effort. So, Atari seemed to know that people were going to want the port, they just didn't add it! You see, this is how close companies come and still drop the ball. They knew people would be interested, they just weren't willing to go the extra mile.

To be continued...

Friday, February 12, 2010

Sweet TG-16! Part 2

I strayed off my real point in the first post. The question was “Is Console Classix ever going to add the TG-16?” I am happy to say that the answer is yes. In time we hope to offer every system ever sold to the public. No matter what the system's success was someone is going to want to play it. We plan to preserve that experience for them. I myself am looking forward to the TG-16. I never got one as a child and I have a lot of catching up to do.

To add to this good news I have even better news. The TG-16 is, Lord willing, going to be one of our next systems. (It may be the very next one depending on how this work on the N64 goes.) Want better news than that? It's ready! Yep, the software is all there just waiting to launch. It's all done. 100% complete. Yes sir, ready to roll out the door. Any second now... Wait for it....

Ok, now the bad news part. We've got to buy games. We have Pac-Land and it works great, but one copy of Pac-Land isn't going to fill demand. We hope to have the games we need together by April. As soon as we've got the games the TG-16 is going up. We really want to get it out there. We hoped to do it in January, but we've had to push it back to April. (As I said in an earlier post, we are a small company, we've had a few financial hiccups, but we're working on it.)

Want to help get it out faster? Send us a donation! Send us some TG-16 games! If you send a game donation to us we will even give you free service for the amount of the value of the games along with your shipping cost. It's the perfect way to support Console Classix while making sure your investment goes right where you want it. If you are interested in sending us a game donation e-mail me here:

You want the TG-16 up faster? You can help make it happen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Sweet TG-16! Part 1

I decided to go ahead and post this because I got a comment asking about the TG-16. It truly was an excellent system. In many ways it was a very over looked system. Nintendo and Sega ruled supreme in the market that it hoped to fight it's way into. Sadly, as a system, it failed. (At least in America) Why? In my humble opinion it was a mater of games. Not that the games for the TG-16 aren't good, but there simply aren't enough of them. The system never got enough developers behind it to produce the quantity of games that people expected to see.

Many might argue that quality matters more than quantity. Although in theory that makes sense it doesn't work in real life. Let's look at the facts. First, believe it or not, some people actually like Hillsfar for the NES. Now, by making that statement I have drawn a line in the sand. One side is saying “You lie! No one no where no how ever liked that game!” the other side is saying “What do you mean 'some people'?!?!? It's a classic! It may be THE classic!”. Quality is a very subjective term. If you like it then it must be quality.

I would agree that most TG-16 games are quality products and I think that is a generally popular view among people who have played many of them. However, quantity is not so subjective a matter. Nintendo and Sega cranked out three news games for every one new TG-16 game. When considering buying a new system I looked at the games. I loved the TG-16, my brother and I had actually picked one up and were headed for the checkout. Then we talked about it, my Dad weighed in on it. When all was said and done the TG-16 went back on the shelf and we walked out with a Genesis. Why? Sega seemed to be more alive as a company. They had more games. We thought we could expect new games for years to come. We were right.

More on Friday...

Monday, February 8, 2010

N64 Where Are You? Part 3

The truth is that there is a good N64 emulator out there. It's called 1964 and the guys that developed it have done a very good job. The problem is that it is a little on the slow side. If we put it up now there would be many computers (my home computer being one of them) that would not run 1964 well. What I am trying to decide is whether the demand is so great as to excuse this limitation.

Nothing is perfect, I know that. Often it is better to get something out there as soon as it is usable then to work toward perfection. Many people would disagree with me, but look at Console Classix current track record. We started with roughly one hundred NES games. Our server app was a small application written to use an Access database. It locked up around three times a week and was desperately slow. We put it out there anyway and people began to play. They liked the idea enough to look past all the problems. They believed in what we were doing enough to invest their money in it. Now we have thousands of games and the service is much better. We were able to reach this point because we launched an unfinished product.

In point of fact, Console Classix is still “unfinished” and will be for a long time to come. I will consider it complete when we have every game ever offered for every system ever sold up to what is out at the moment. (We won't offer games for systems that are currently on the shelves. The companies that developed them need to realize the profits from all their work. We're here to preserve the past at a low cost, not hurt other companies financially.) So we offered a unfinished product, we are offering an unfinished product and we will continue to offer an unfinished product for a long time to come. So, what's the holdup on the N64?

The thing is that even though our service isn't “finished” it's still good. All the systems we offer are playable and enjoyable. I'm afraid to launch a system that only twenty percent of the current PCs will run right now. I don't want to tell people they can play the N64 for the low cost of $5.99 a month, oh, and the cost of a new PC. This is my dilemma!

We're a small company and we listen to our fans. So... What do you guys think?

Friday, February 5, 2010

N64 Where Are You? Part 2

To pick up where we left off, the N64 is certainly worth doing, but we have to consider another facet of Console Classix. We are a very small company. We only have one full-time developer and he's not the world's greatest. I can say that freely, because I am our full-time developer. This limitation means that we can't develop all the software that we use in-house.

Fortunately there are a large number of developers that are just as interested in game preservation as we are. They have given their time, effort and abilities to make classic console games playable on modern PCs. There are a large number of quality open-source emulators out there. (I'll go into more detail about “open-source” and “emulators” later. For now just run with the idea that it's software other developers wrote that Console Classix can use.) We have added support for the Console Classix service to the emulators that we use.

Basically, Console Classix just offers the game to the user. The software that allows the user to play the game on their PC was developer by other programmers. Although that has allowed us to grow quickly and add system after system by making use of software that other developers generously donated to retro-gaming, it also has a severe limitation. What if there isn't an emulator out there for the system we want to offer? We don't have the man power to develop one on our own. So, what happens? Nothing...

That has been the limiting factor with the N64. We own a large number of N64 games. We have dumped the data off of them and they are ready to work with the Console Classix server. What we haven't had is a solid, open-source, N64 emulator. For those of you that would criticize me for not developing my own I would simply say “Try it sometime.” It is very complex and my programming skills, although in some ways impressive, aren't good enough to undertake something like that on my own. (Well, not and finish it in any reasonable amount of time while, at the same time, maintaining CC.)

However, the time has come when we may have something that is “good enough”. The question that bothers me is this: How good is good enough? Well, I warned you when I started this that it might be three chunks. Looks like that is the case.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

N64 Where Are You? Part 1

This is a question that has been asked since we opened our doors in 2001. It's a valid question, a good question. It deserves a good answer. I think it's best to fully explain the situation so our fans can finally understand exactly why it is we do or don't have a certain system. This explanation may be a little long so I plan to break this into two parts (It may even end up being three parts). That is the reason I'm posting this on Wednesday.

First, I need to explain how Console Classix works legally. Many fans may already understand this, but bear with me. It's usually best to start at the beginning. Console Classix works like any other video game rental place. We can only ever have as many people playing a game as we own physical copies of. So, for instance, if we want to allow ten people to play Super Mario Brothers we have to own ten physical copies. That is why certain games can't be played at certain times. All the copies we own may be in use by other players.

As one can imagine this can cost a great deal of money. We currently offer over three thousand games and have over seven thousand physical cartridges. As large as these numbers may seem we still need more. Since our launch we have had to add more and more copies of games we already own just to fill demand. Even with that we still don't always have enough to go around. We try very hard to make sure that our fans never have to wait for a game, but with our current income we can only buy so much.

Whenever we are considering launching a new system we have to look at the cost of the games involved. How long will it take us to regain the money we've invested in that system? How long will it be before we have to buy extra copies to fill demand? Is the system going to be popular enough to merit the investment at this time? These are the questions we have to consider when we are looking at a new system. (The popularity doesn't matter in the long run. We want to offer every game ever sold to the public. Don't worry if you're the only person you know that ever liked that game. We still intend to get it when we can afford to.)

With the N64 the answers to these questions are obvious. It won't take long to regain our money. We will have to buy extra games quickly, but the increased income should cover the cost. The N64 would be hugely popular and it certainly merits the investment. So why haven't we added it? More on that Friday.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Oh Server, My Server

I know that in my last post I said I planned to do these every Friday, but I may have changed my mind a bit. I decided it would be good to do a post anytime anything unusual is going on. This weekend we had such an issue arise. Our server had a few lockups over the weekend. I tracked the problem to a lack of hard drive space (We uploaded a good deal of data Friday morning). I fixed it well enough to get us through the weekend, but I'll be working on a more permanent solution this week.

As many of our fans may have noticed we've done a lot to improve server stability. Over the course of 2009 we rewrote our server application from scratch, moved to improved hardware and updated all the client software including the Console Classix browser. Many of our former stability issues have been completely resolved. However, it's still a work in progress. Lord willing, after I make the changes this week it will make the service even more stable.