Low End PC

Console Madness

How I became a gaming geek despite how badly I do at games.

- 2002.02.25

Firstly, may I apologize for my absence. It's like John Lennon once wrote. "Life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans." However, I do believe Lennon was talking about pleasant surprises, not stressful ones. Anyway, all that's over with, so let's get onto more pleasant stuff.

The article I did about the Sega Dreamcast and low-end Internet access was perhaps the most popular one I've done yet, so I'll follow up on it now.

I have gone totally bonkers over the Dreamcast. I don't know how much I've spent on eBay, and I have also spent about a C-note on new and used DC games and supplies at my local Funcoland. Add to that what I have dropped at Fry's on DC goodies and, yes, I have a serious obsession.

Gaming on a console is way more fun than on a computer. Why? Because you don't have to fiddle with anything to get a game to run. You just drop the disk into the drive, close the lid, and you are running. On a PC or Mac, games often require endless tweaking of drivers. Sometimes the game won't run at all, and you are stuck with a software purchase you can't take back.

With a console game you are assured that you will be able to run the game on your console if the game you choose is written for that console. Simple as that.

The Dreamcast is amazing. Running games like Shenmue or Ultimate Fighting Championship is incredible - the graphics are just that good. I have never seen a PC or Mac game look as good as the best Dreamcast games. Shenmue in particular is like watching a Pixar movie and being able to interact with it. Shenmue is also so complex, and you have to accomplish so many things, that I am going to have to buy myself a strategy guide for the game to find my way through it.

I don't like complex games. I like games where controls are simple, and it's easy to pick up the rhythm of the game. I know Doom has gotten a bad rep because of the connection between Doom and the Columbine murders, but I had fun with it when I still had a DOS machine. The controls were easy, the goals were clear, and the enemy characters had a nasty kick. The Doom equivalent in Dreamcast-land is House Of The Dead II. I remember that when the game came out people were shocked by the graphic violence, but now it looks almost quaint. Basically it's like being in the middle of Night Of The Living Dead - you have to smoke Zombies. With the regular controller it's almost impossible to play, but once you have a light gun - BOO-YAH. You are in business.

Another easy and fun to play game is NBA Showtime. All the 'leet gamers prefer the Sega-written sports sim games over this one because they actually like the complexity of the controls and how difficult they are to master. NBA Showtime is not very realistic; you are playing two-on-two, not with an entire five player team. You can play with a buddy, play an entire 4-person game with three of your friends, or just play alone with a CPU-controlled character watching your back. When you are playing Kobe Bryant and your cybernetic partner is Shaquille O'Neill, you are a happy camper indeed.

The graphics on this are lovely - not photo-realistic like Sega NBA 2K2, but kind of caricature-y and cartoony. This is the heir of Midway's arcade game NBA Jam, complete with all the exaggeration. It's fun.

The last game I will go into detail on is WWF Attitude. UFC has better graphics by far...it's also photo-realistic. Attitude is crude and has tons of bugs and was a direct port from the first PlayStation with all its faults. But playing Attitude is way more fun, particularly when you stop playing the prefab WWF characters and start building your own 'rasslers.

The Create-A-Wrestler section is fun, particularly after you get through a lot of the Career section and unlock a lot of the goodies the game gives you as a reward for surviving. Again, the graphics are crude; you can often kick and punch right through characters, and the only crash I have ever seen on a Dreamcast was in the middle of this game. But no matter, I have too much fun creating my wrestlers and playing them.

Anyway, other games I am enjoying include Virtua Fighter 3tb and Jet Grind Radio, and I still want to get Soul Calibur, although if Soul Calibur is as disappointing as Dead Or Alive 2 turned out to be (six bouts and you're done, including the Boss battle? Get real!), I won't bother. It's a hot ticket game on eBay.

There are a bunch of other games that people are telling me are "must get" games, and some are actually $10 new, such as Crazy Taxi, which GameInformer says is a "must get" game. And Dreamcast peripherals are inexpensive and sometimes downright cheap if you get them used at Funcoland or bid for them on eBay.

However, some peripherals that could make the DC a lot more powerful, like the Broadband Adapter (10Base-T ethernet) are so rare they fetch truly astronomical prices on eBay. One peripheral, the serial "coder's cable," is currently on the US Customs "banned" list because it can be used to pirate games. It's also a very important tool for developers of indie DC games - remember I talked about them last time I was on this subject? Never mind that the not-banned Broadband Adapter is much more efficient for moving games back and forth from the DC. Never mind that pirating DC games is silly because, except for a few of them, most go for a pittance ($5 to $15) on eBay. (Aside from that, piracy's bad, mmkay?)

Games that left me cold include Nightmare Creatures II, TeeOff (too bad, it seems like it's the only golf game for DC) and retro multi-game packs Atari Anniversary Edition and Sega Smash Pack. In the Dreamcast wrap-up article that ran in GameInformer, they said to avoid these titles, too. Blue Stinger, Elemental Gimmick Gear, Evil Dead. Hail To The King, (aww, but I like the Evil Dead movies!) Evolution, KISS Psycho Circus, PenPen Tricelion, Soul Fighter, South Park Rally, Sydney 2000 and Who Wants To Beat Up A Millionaire?

Also beware of any game which uses WindowsCE to run. The ports between Windows 9x and WinCE are usually pretty lame. Nightmare Creatures II is one. Caesar's Palace 2000 is also a WinCE title, but it somehow is not as annoying because there's no action involved except what's at the Blackjack table or on the slots.

To update the "get Granny on the Internet" front, two bits of news. One, there are a lot of complaints left on the Amazon Store that Planetweb's v3.0 browser is buggier than a NYC tenement, and Planetweb is flaky about fulfilling orders. I have yet to try their program because of these concerns, so I will just say that I still have no idea about what it's really like. If Planetweb wants to send me a reviewers' copy, they can do so at Box 2273, Van Nuys, CA 91404-2273.

However, Sega has also released a new version of their browser, which apparently was tweaked by their own coders. Programmers call this a "fork." The Sega Browser v2.62 has some of the same new features as Planetweb v3.0, including updated Flash support (although not as high-end as Planetweb), and it also has a few tweaks of its own, like Internet telephony using the Dreamcast Mic/Headset. It's also a lot cheaper - make a $6 call to Sega's 900 number (drop me an email if you want it) and it's winging your way postpaid in the U.S. The Planetweb browser costs $25 with shipping and handling figured in.

Guess which one I bought?

One other "get Granny on the Internet" tip. Find a VGA (any old VGA will do; it doesn't have to be SVGA) monitor and buy a VGA adapter box and a pair of powered speakers. This will generate the full 640 x 480 at 60 Hz that the DC will put out and make surfing the Internet a lot easier. Also, the games that can be played using the VGA box (you'll see indications on DC CD jewel cases of whether or not that's possible) are much nicer on VGA than on a TV.

I have been enjoying my experience with the DC so much I am now looking towards actually picking up a current-generation unit, too. Since Sony is both an RIAA and MPAA signatory, the PS2 is definitely crossed off my list. If the domestic version of the Gamecube was like the cool Panasonic Gamecube/DVD Player hybrid available (only) in Japan, I might think about getting it, but since it's such a limited device, it's off my list, too. Which leaves (cue Star Wars villain music) the XBox. From Microsoft.

Eew, you say? Here's my reasoning. One, there are literally thousands of PC games which will be easily ported to this console. Meaning there will be no shortage of games for this. Two, maybe DVDs won't run on the XBox right out of the box, but the add-on is just a trivial expense (by comparison to the XBox, anyway) and gives you a remote. Three, this machine has both ethernet and a hard drive right out of the box. Four, there is rumor that Microsoft is going to slash the price in November because they have an improved XBox/Son Of UltimateTV device on the way, and because they want to take Sony down like they did Netscape and OS/2 and all their other conquests. And five, Microsoft has already decided to eat the cost of the consoles. They already take a $300 loss on it now, and who knows how much of a loss they will take when and if they lower the price.

(Fade out Star Wars villain music, fade up Rebel Alliance music)

If Microsoft really and truly makes you gag, then by all means don't buy an XBox. I'm considering it, though. Too bad there isn't an MCSE discount on them.

Next time. How to work safely on your low-end (or even high-end) PC. LEPC

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