This is a sort of follow on of my post from 2019, Personal Goals and Single-Use Plastic. Looking back at that one, I have continued to build on my use of sustainable products and could probably do a new post about those. Also considering the things I talked about wanting to do in the future, I have achieved some of those too. Not least in finally building myself an arcade machine as a substantial hardware project.
As I wrote about in that previous blog, I still set myself goals every year, and have a reasonable success rate. They are personal though and not all ones I’d choose to share. For 2021 though, I decided to do something meaningful about those vague health ones. I decided to try the Couch to 5k programme. This got a particular boost when I realised that if I used the NHS provided app, I could choose to have Jo Whiley as my running buddy.
I originally started back in January, unfortunately I was only 4 runs in when I got sick with Labyrinthitis. After that it was a long time before I was even comfortable walking about again. I picked it back up in May, but I went almost back to the beginning and restarted with the second run in the programme.
The programme itself is fairly straight-forward. Running 3 times a week for 9 weeks, building on your progress. The first week is a series of 1 minute runs with 3 minute walking breaks. By the last week you’re running for a solid 30 minutes covering approximately 5k
Today saw me complete the programme, and I am pretty proud of that.
I still don’t actually like running, but I do like how I feel afterwards. I shall continue, aiming to just maintain running for 30 minutes 3 times a week.
Played a few games, bought some stuff. Let’s call it a success.
Games completed this month
Octopath Traveler – Switch
As with Bravely Default this is another game that has multiple levels of completion. In June we rolled credits on the main storyline, but the game continues. Hopefully we’ll see this here again in July, but it is getting harder.
I bought the digital edition to use up some store credit, but you can get the physical one from Amazon*
Games played during June
Nanotale – PC
Still been playing a bit of this, and do hope to complete it. I seem to get lost a lot more than I did in Epistory which is a bit tedious. The typing mechanic is still really fun though.
Super Bomberman R Online – PC
As suggested last month, I did move to playing this on PC. Played a few more rounds and still enjoying myself. I don’t really like the different character powers & stats, but it’s good fun regardless.
Forza Horizon 4 – Xbox Series S and PC
Felt like dropping back into this for a while after seeing the trailer for Forza Horizon 5 in the E3 presentations. Still my favourite racing game, looking forward to the new one.
Dungeons & Dragons Dark Alliance – PC (GamePass)
This is pretty terrible, and a buggy mess at times. However played co-op with a couple of friends has been entertaining. We all have GamePass so we didn’t have to pay for the game, certainly helped with the enjoyment.
Quake Champions – PC
I suggested last month that I might try to get back into this. One of the purchases below encouraged me to give it a try. It is still great fun, but I’m so out of practice it’s a bit of a slog trying to climb the rankings again. I may play a bit more but not sure how much patience I’m going to have for the practice required.
What’s been on the arcade?
Ten Pence Arcade Podcast have a double-header this month, with Mr Do’s Wild Ride and Mrs Dynamite. I have played a bit of Mr Do but Mrs Dynamite requires the latest version of MAME which I can’t run on the cabinet yet so I haven’t tried that. I have, however, been playing a lot of Super Street Fighter 2 on it though, so there’s that.
Mario Golf Super Rush – Switch
Pre-ordered last month and it came out at the end of June so I did manage to get it downloaded. Haven’t played it yet so we’ll find out how it is in July.
This* is the physical edition if you’d rather not get it digitally
I’ve fanicied an ultrawide monitor for a while, but they had been a bit out of my budget for the spec I wanted. Finally found one at a sensible price that ticked all the boxes. It’s a 34″ Ultrawide curved display from Iiyama, 144hz refresh, 1ms response time, 3440×1440 resolution. It’s this one if you’re interested in the rest of the specs.
I got mine from Currys because I had a discount code that made it <£400, but otherwise it is cheaper on Amazon*.
Nex Machina & The Name of the Game Documentary – PC
Although I bought and played this on the PS4 when it came out, after recording & releasing our Twin Stick Shooter podcast, I felt like getting back into it. As discussed on the podcast, the PC version is supposed to be better, so thought I’d check that out for my self. Grabbed it along with the making of documentary in the steam sale.
More Pinball FX3 tables
After setting up my new monitor above, I’ve mounted one of my older 24″ widescreen displays next to it, in a vertical (TATE) orientation. The better to play pinball and some vertical scrolling shoot em up games. The extra Pinball FX3 table packs are in the Steam sale, so I grabbed the Williams Volume 2 pack, so I could play the Black Rose table. Pinball games are still great played fullscreen on a vertical display.
A Guide to Japanese Role Playing Games – Book
Perhaps a surprise purchase for someone who can count the number of JRPGs played on one (well two now) hand. However, this seemed like a comprehensive guide to most of the genre, and I thought reading it might help me pick out other games that I’ll enjoy, avoiding the rest. If you’re interested, they sold out but are due to be reprinted and on sale again in October from bitmap books.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
The best deals on Prime Day sales tend to be (unsurprisingly) on Amazon’s own products and services. To take advantage of these deals you do need a Prime membership. If you haven’t already, you can just take up a free 30 day trial and the deals will be valid.
If you are looking to buy books and would rather support independent local bookstores, then it may be worth looking into Bookshop.org instead.
The links here, like elsewhere on my blog, are affiliate links where I get a small payment if you use them and buy something. Thanks.
Amazon’s own range of devices are frequently a solid choice for personal electronics. I use a few myself that are on sale for Prime Day 2021 and easy recommends.
Kindle Fire Tablets
Although these can be a bit annoying if you want to use apps that are not available in the Amazon app store, it is relatively straight forward to install the normal Google Play store onto the devices. These days you can basically convert them to just run as standard Android tablets. That said, they are excellent value for money specially if you wait for them to be on sale. As usual they are reduced for Prime Day.
I have used a couple of these, and one is still in use as my main tablet now. I don’t do any 3D gaming on it, but use it for watching all the main streaming services, reading comics & PDFs and for playing card and board games.
This is the latest version of the kindle fire I have myself. For reading digital comics, the 10″ screen means the whole page fits comfortably on screen and is as close as you can get to the experience of reading a physical comic. It’s also reliably in use every Sunday as I stream Red Zone on it while watching the Dallas Cowboys game on the big screen. Not to mention watching NetFlix in the bath.
Oh and if you go for the one with Special Offers / Ads to save a few quid, you can always pay the extra later to have them removed.
A new addition to the range is this “Plus” model of the HD 8. While I happily used the HD 8 for ages, the extra RAM and improved battery life of the Plus seems well worth the slightly extra price. It is likely to be longer before you’ll want an upgrade.
Although reading comics is much more comfortable on the HD 10, if you’re going to carry the tablet around a lot the HD 8 is probably the sweet spot for display size vs portability.
I don’t have kids myself, but now know a few people using these as an option for small children. They seem pretty robust and have plenty of options for parental control. There is also the slightly smaller HD 7 option which is a bit cheaper too.
Increasingly redundant as more people move to Smart TV’s or connect other set top boxes with media apps like Blu-ray Players & game consoles, the firestick is still one of the better options for accessing apps on your TV. I’ve gone for the 4k model here, as even if you don’t have a 4k display, that bit of extra performance in the device should make it a bit snappier to use.
If you’re a bit of a techie there are plenty of modding options for Firesticks too, but personally I just have one set up to access Netflix, Prime and Britbox on my aging bedroom TV.
The original Amazon device. Earlier models of these didn’t have any kind of light, with the “e-ink” displays doing their best to replicate paper. These now have a built-in front light. Not quite as nice as the ones below but still a solid choice for getting started with ebooks if like me you don’t enjoy reading on your phone. Oh and the free trial of Kindle Unlimited is well worth it. You can read quite a bit in 3 months. Just remember to cancel if you don’t wish to keep the subscription after that period.
This is the kindle I use myself, and is the e-reader I’d recommend. The latest model of it even boasts being waterproof. The kindle oasis is nice but I’m not convinced it’s worth the significant additional cost, and isn’t currently on offer.
Alexa and Friends
Since my Black Friday post, I’m gradually coming round to these. Not least because enough of my friends have them that if they were spying, they’ve already got me covered. I’m going to embrace it and get myself an Echo Show 5 to replace my aging DAB radio alarm. There is a fancier Echo Show 8 that is new this year and also discounted, the new model of 5 isn’t on offer though. The 8 is probably worth a look if you’d like to have one of these for video calls.
Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good value proposition if you read a lot (and are not concerned about having books to keep on the shelf). Some of the included digital magazines are pretty nice too for reading on a tablet. New subscribers can currently get Three Months Free instead of the usual shorter trial.
Amazon Music Unlimited
I still struggle a bit with the way the music streaming industry treats artists, although I’m not sure Kindle Unlimited is much better for authors… However, they are a good way to discover new music, and listening to other people’s playlists is fun. Just remember if you want to support the bands you love, go see them live (if that’s ever a thing again) or buy their merch from them direct.
Prime Day has a free four months trial (instead of the usual 30 days) for new subscribers.
Audible via Amazon
The subscription model for audible is very odd. Rather than it giving you access to a library of books to just listen to (as you might expect) it is pretty much a subscription to get an audiobook a month to keep. If you are into audiobooks it’s certainly worth taking a trial and using it to claim the free books before cancelling. Given the high prices of audiobooks in general, the subscription is pretty good value anyway. The current offer is three months for 99p, which translates to at least 3 free audiobooks during that period.
Currently the various add-on Prime Channels for Prime Video can be had for 99p a month for 3 months. The two I like are Shudder and Starzplay, Shudder is a dedicated horror movie and TV show channel. Starzplay (not to be confused with the content from Starz that got added to Disney+) has a lot of current tv and its own content. Currently the only place to see the Power spin-offs, all of Black Sails and the surprisingly good TV spin-off of the Step Up franchise, Step Up: Highwater.
Also the 3 in 1 creator pirate ship is pretty cool, although I was hoping for a deal on this one.
I personally moved over to Samsung for my smart watch, when I got one free with my Galaxy S10. The Galaxy Watch Active2 seems to be a good price for prime day. There are also discounts across the fitbit range if that’s more your scene. Including the Fitbit Versa 2 that I’ve heard good things about.
This is the router I have, and it is excellent. Sure it also looks ridiculous but that’s part of the charm. It’ll be overkill for most people who are perfectly happy with the hub supplied with their broadband package, but if you’re looking for something with a bit more power and customisation, this is a solid choice.
Amazon Warehouse is where they clear out items that have been returned, for whatever reason. For Prime Day there is an additional 30% off. If you don’t mind things being “nearly new” it is certainly worth browsing. The goods are still guaranteed and the descriptions will tell you what condition to expect. I purchased my PSVR setup from the Amazon Warehouse Black Friday sale a few years ago, for about £100 less than RRP. The outer box was ripped but inside it was all mint, and the device still had all the plastic covers on.
Decided an update for this post was necessary. Some minor text updates and a new entry. If you’re interested in the original list (it’s pretty similar) you can read it here.
Number 5 – Octopath Traveler (Switch)
I’m still playing this at time of writing, but over 60 hours in and confident of its position on this list. It’s not going to topple my top 4, but I’m still having a great time. Playing in parallel with my ex-wife, sharing tips (and a variety of game over screens) over What’s App, a process we first followed playing a game further down this list. If anything the main thing Octopath suffers from, is that the game further down came out after and improved on it so much. If we’d played them the other way round I would probably hold this in higher regard.
The choice of eight protagonists to form your party of four is interesting, but in reality you need to keep swapping one out to progress the various stories, which just becomes a bit annoying in trying to balance levels. Octopath Traveler is now on GamePass, and available for Xbox and PC as well as the Switch version I’m playing.
A game I played mostly by chance, got a bargain on release without knowing anything about it and fired it up just to see what it was. I was blown away by the graphics, it was easily the best looking game I’d seen so far on a console, and at first was just playing to admire the aesthetics. I got sucked in though, and it became the first JRPG I ever saw through to completion. The story was ridiculous, which I suspect may be an essential criteria for a JRPG, and the costume designs left me questioning the usefulness of such armor in a swordfight.
I really liked the combat though, and the timing based boost you could give to your attacks was surprisingly satisfying. I sometimes think I might replay this, but then I laugh at the thought of me replaying anything, never mind a 40+ hour epic, and the impulse goes away.
While you can probably find a second hand copy kicking around, you can also buy this digitally here, and it does seem to go on sale quite often. It’s an Xbox 360 game but plays great on an Xbox One or the new Xbox Series S / X.
Number 3 – Panzer Dragoon Saga (Sega Saturn)
Played through this for the first time back in 2017, and I am amazed how well it has held up. I was a big fan of Panzer Dragoon and Panzer Dragoon Zwei first time round on the Saturn, and this is doubtless the main reason I took to Saga the way I did. The art style was consistent with the previous games, and immediately felt like a comfortable return to that world.
The shift to turn-based combat was a concern before I started, I didn’t know how the previous rail-shooter style would translate. I need not have worried, the combat is superb, with the two basic attacks being lifted straight out of the other games to feel instantly familiar. The need to constantly keep re-positioning around the enemies and the bonus to attack speed granted for attacking as you move ensures that the combat remains engaging.
I found the controls in general to be very well done, particularly in the parts where you’re navigating the world on your dragon. When revisiting early 3D games you often have to make allowances for the controls and/or camera, but I can honestly say I had no issues with either.
While the story here is no exception to my understanding of the JRPG norm, I did find myself happily reading all the subtitles and enjoying the many cut-scenes. This extra flavour for the world is a big part of why I’ve gone back to playing the original games, and why I’m optimistic that I might even beat them this time round.
Bit of a nightmare recommending ways to play this. Not sure how well it runs under SEGA Saturn emulation. Best option would probably be a modded SEGA Saturn and downloading it (is what I did). It’s a pricey game to buy second hand if you can find one.)
Number 2 – Bravely Default 2 (Switch)
This did come very close to toppling number 1, played through this recently and loved it. This was the game I played alongside my ex-wife before Octopath Traveler and having someone to discuss progress, strategy and which are the best outfits very much helped. The characters and various systems in Bravely Default 2 are very satisfying and improve on the first game in every way. You can even see the blueprints of Octopath in this, and again they have all been built on and improved to make this.
Frankly if Bravely Default 2 had Chopin, it would probably take the top spot.
At time of writing you can still get the nice bundle with stickers, poster and postcards from Amazon*.
Number 1 – Eternal Sonata (Xbox 360)
Or, the one time I liked cel-shaded graphics.
I know about as much about JRPGs on the whole as I do Classical Music. The only composer I really like is Chopin, so the premise of this game immediately had me intrigued. The game is set inside a dream Frédéric Chopin has while he dies of Tuberculosis. Yeah. We’re well set up for another nonsense story, but this one did really hook me.
Until Eternal Sonata, I always found cel-shading to be a bit of a novelty. It’s such a perfect fit for making the whole game feel like an elaborate cartoon. It’s joyful, twee and yet manages to be interestingly educational at the same time, as along with the story cut-scenes it also has video history lessons relating to Chopin’s life. (From reading some commentary these weren’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it)
The music in the game is obviously Chopin influenced, and accordingly spectacular. There are very few game soundtracks I listen to outside of playing the games, but the 4 disc album produced for this is still a staple on my iPod.
I remain annoyed the PS3 release afterwards had extra content, as I didn’t want to start over from the beginning after I completed it on the 360. I think I’d happily replay it now though if it was given a refresh for the modern consoles.
I’ve heard plenty of critique about Eternal Sonata, more than one person declare it “the worst JRPG I ever played”. I take some amusement from this, as it seems likely that as a generalisation, I can still say I don’t like JRPGs, and perhaps I like the ones I do because they are outliers within the genre.
Bravely Default (3DS)
I gave this a go when struggling to find something other than Animal Crossing or Mario Kart to play on my 3DS. Discussions about it described a game with a similar feel to Final Fantasy VII which made me think perhaps I’d enjoy it. I was aware of the “outrage” at the changes made for the Western release from the anti video game censorship crowd, but they all seemed like changes for the better to me, so figured I’d give it a go.
I mostly enjoyed the game for maybe 18 hours. The story was nonsense and even with the localisation there was a a sufficient creepy ‘ick’ factor that never quite went away. (I think it was hard to distance from the fact that these characters were originally written to be 15 years old). However, the gameplay mechanics were fun, and I liked the ‘job’ system in building my party. It all got a bit grindy and dull though, and I just lost the will to come back to it.
Final Fantasy VII on the original PlayStation was my first JRPG, and apparently, the first one many of my friends played too. This game was a fairly major event back in a high school, and for a while it seemed everyone was playing FFVII. I was quite enjoying it, albeit a departure from my usual choice of game. I do remember that trying to navigate the world map while also dealing with random encounters tested my patience, but the whole thing collapsed when my memory card corrupted around 20 hours in. I appreciate in the grand scheme of things, 20 hours isn’t very long, but that was pretty huge for me at the time, and certainly more than I’d be happy to play over.
I pretty much swore off the genre after this, and it would be quite a few years before I was to try them again. I am considering playing the remake though, and giving it another chance as a modern game.
*Can’t update an old blog post without throwing in some affiliate links. If you buy something from one of the Amazon ones on this page, I’ll get a small cut. Thanks.
Nothing finished during May, but I did punt one game into the sea. So there is that.
Games played during May
Octopath Traveler – Switch
After playing the demo at the end of April as mentioned last month, we went ahead and picked this up at the beginning of the month. At time of writing I’m 50+ hours in. It’s not quite as good as Bravely Default 2, there are certainly areas that were improved between the games so they feel a bit unfinished, but it feels familiar to play and I’m really enjoying it.
I bought the digital edition to use up some store credit, but you can get the physical one from Amazon*
Nanotale – PC
A game I was kindly given an early access code for just before the pandemic. I started to write up a preview but never got chance to play properly with demands from work. Early impressions have been good and I did really enjoy the demo I played back at Rezzed 2019. The game is properly finished and out now on Steam, so I may do a more full review once I’ve completed it.
Battlefield V – PC (GamePass)
After the multiplayer in Modern Warfare lost its draw for me, and neither Warzone or the new Call of Duty appeal, I have been craving a new multiplayer shooter. Managed to convince one of my gaming groups to give this ago. However they quickly bounced off (just as I was getting into it) the PVP element given the steep learning curve for new players, and preferred to play the co-op missions. Can’t say I enjoyed that as much so doubt I’ll play much more. Considering going back to Quake Champions for my PVP fix.
Tetris Effect: Connected – PC VR (GamePass)
Still not well enough to play any proper VR at length, as vertigo symptoms linger. I did manage to play half an hour of the PC version of this at least. I am still keen to try the new multiplayer elements, but to ease back in I just did a couple of rounds of the standard modes.
Super Bomberman R Online – Switch
I adore this, but it being on the Switch while I’m heavily invested in a full on JRPG has meant I haven’t really had chance to play. I think I’m going to install it on PC and see if I get to it more on there.
This month the cabinet has mostly seen me play more Lasso, and then Viper Phase 1, in line with the featured Ten Pence Arcade Podcast game.
Mario Golf Super Rush – Switch
After trading in some games etc I had a decent amount of store credit with GAME. I swapped this for Nintendo eShop credit, and bought the weird “2 game vouchers” thing. Basically means you get two first party games for a bit under RRP. Octopath Traveler up above was the first game I picked up with them, and have used the other to preorder Mario Golf. Hoping it’s good!
This* is the physical edition if you’d rather not get it digitally
Shadow of the Tomb Raider – PS4
I was so glad this was free on PS Plus and I didn’t pay for it. This game is terrible. So disappointing after the two previous games but I couldn’t get through it. Think I maybe played 4 or 5 hours worth before giving up.
If you don’t believe me, and want to try it yourself, it’s on Amazon here*
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
I did it, completed another Japanese RPG, first one since 2017. Sort of completed it twice too. Also including a couple of playthroughs on the arcade cabinet.
Completed this month
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
Well it happened, 137 hours later and I completed this with the true ending, and all characters max level and max jobs. About 50 hours after first ‘completing’ the game and rolling the credits. Really enjoyed myself with this. My ex-wife was playing it too and having someone to discuss progress, strategy and which are the best outfits very much helped. We’ve lined up a similar game to play next (foreshadowing for further down the page) and It looks likely I’ll break the tradition of one JRPG every four years.
Technically cheating since usually for arcade games of the “shmup” variety I would only consider a game completed if I’d done it on one credit. However, I’m not as concerned about brawlers, so I’m going to consider them finished once I’ve rolled the credits on my arcade machine, so I can log them and get on with my day.
Metamorphic Force – Arcade
As above, another arcade brawler played through. I only found out about this game recently, and was surprised how good it was. Sort of like if you take the animal transformations from Altered Beast and put them in a good game.
Games played during April
Pac-Man 99 – Switch
Just as surprising on arrival as Tetris 99, and almost as good. Pac-Man 99 is another ‘free’ Switch game that you can play as long as you have a subscription to Nintendo Online. Due to Bravely Default 2 taking up almost all of my gaming time this month I haven’t spent a lot of time with it yet, but I very much enjoyed what I played so far.
Still giving the arcade machine a lot of love. I’ve mostly being playing Lasso as the new Ten Pence Arcade Podcast game. Also been spending a bit of time playing the original Pac-Man, after playing the above on Switch.
I don’t usually play many demo versions of games, but this month I played two that surprised me. R-Type Final 2 and Octopath Traveller.
R-Type Final 2 Demo – PS4
Of the two demos, this was the disappointing one. It did the exact opposite of what a gameplay demo is supposed to do. When I first heard this would be coming out, I assumed I’d be getting it day one as I did enjoy the previous game and am always up for a new shmup. However, playing the demo it seemed very bland, and the visual effects somehow reminded me of 90s indie PC efforts produced in “The Games Factory“. Decided I’d wait for a sale.
The game then came out to average reviews with a hideous Season Pass for DLC that made the whole thing smell of “nostalgia cash-in”. I’m out, still likely to pick it up eventually in a sale, just not any time soon.
If I haven’t put you off, both the PS4 and Switch editions are here on Amazon*
Octopath Traveler Demo – Switch
Conversely, this was a much more positive experience. As mentioned at the top, we tried this demo as an option for something to play post Bravely Default 2. As this is from the same developers (indeed it was their previous release) it was immediately familiar and agreeably suitable. Full game incoming* for May.
The Longing – Switch
The good folks at Application Systems Heidelberg were kind enough to give me a review code for this one, I love the premise so look out for a blog about it once I’ve spent a bit of time with the game.
Doom Eternal – PS4
This popped up on Amazon for a fiver, and I couldn’t resist even though it was already installed on my PC from GamePass.
Nothing completed this month, which is much more like me to be honest.
Games played during March
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
This is pretty much all I’ve played aside from arcade stuff on my cab. Think I’m at around 90 hours in and closing on the ‘ending’, but I have very much been enjoying myself. Already wondering where it’s going to land when I revise my Top 5 JRPG’s list.
Have spent a decent amount of time playing on the arcade machine though, mostly Black Tiger and Darius Gaiden, playing along with the Ten Pence Arcade podcast. As well as a lot of Robotron 2084, Smash TV and Robotron X as research for the latest episode of Maximum Power Up, Twin Stick Shooters.
Also rediscovered the game Bubbles in conversation during the recording of the above show, so I’ve been playing that too.
NBA2K Playgrounds 2 – PS4
I’ve had my eye on this for a while, mostly out of curiosity. It popped up on sale cheap for a physical copy on PS4. I grabbed two copies and sent one to a friend, and we then found time one evening to start playing a season together online. It’s great fun, really captures the 2v2 mayhem of classic NBA Jam but with more modern functionality. Looking forward to playing it some more.
Well that didn’t take long did it. Talked myself into spending a bit more money on the cabinet and replaced the Raspberry Pi3b+ with the Pi4 4GB* model. I was very tempted to get the 8GB but everything I read suggested that would be overkill for what I needed. A good chance I’d have been fine with the 2GB version but happy to stick with the 4GB.
I did have to pick up a different HDMI and power cable which were pretty straight forward, but the two main purchases were the Pi itself and the Flarc case* for it, which also helps keep it cool quietly. I picked all the parts up from The Pi Hut for around £85. There are decent bundles* available too but there wasn’t one quite suitable for what I wanted.
I had to get a new build of the RetroPie software suitable for the Pi4, but was minimal effort setting it up using the same usb flash drive with roms I’d configured for the Pi3b+. It was all worthwhile as it has meant I could add Dreamcast fighting and shmup games to the cabinet, as well as expanding how many MAME games it’s capable of playing.
You’ll also notice in the image at the top of the page I upgraded the cabinet with a bar table*. Having somewhere to rest my drink has made all the difference, very pleased with this one for the money and goes nicely with the bar stools I picked up previously.
A few games completed during February, generally 2D stuff that has been okay to play while I have been unwell. Games like Gears 5 are on hold until I’m free of all vertigo symptoms.
Games completed this month
Airborne Kingdom – PC
This was probably the most perfect game I’ve played for recovery. It’s a slow paced city builder style game, except your city is floating through the sky. With the game speed on the default, I was able to keep it running and make progress just playing very casually. It’s just a very pretty, relaxing game. Although I suspect the newly released “hard mode” probably makes it a more stressful experience, I think I’ll give that a miss.
Beyond Blue – PC
Turns out I was almost at the end of this after the last time I played it anyway. Another relaxing ambient game, that is a cross between the old Endless Ocean games on the Nintendo Wii (which were great) and a wildlife documentary. The other thing this has in common with Airborne Kingdom above, is that both are games I bought from the Epic games store, so I now have 100% completion of the games I’ve paid for on there. Yes I have only bought those two.
Raiden V – Xbox Series S
Sort of cheating since to properly consider a shmup completed, you’d be looking for a single credit (or even a single life) run through. However I’m a bit more relaxed about these pure console ones where there is enough involved in terms of story etc. On my shmup day described further down, I played this straight through and rolled credits, collecting plenty of achievements on my way.
Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath – PS4
As mentioned last month, I went on to playthrough the story DLC from the Aftermath expansion. It was good fun and certainly worth a go after finishing the main campaign.
Pretty much in line with what the reviews said, this seems okay but is disappointingly not as interesting as Until Dawn. I’ve played the first hour or two, and was sort of enjoying it. However I haven’t felt compelled to put it on again which I guess is pretty telling. Maybe I’ll get back to it before it leaves Game Pass.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 – Xbox Series S
I haven’t bought this yet, hard to justify for the price of entry when I own the first game on PC, PS4 and Switch. However it had a free to play weekend on Xbox, so I gave it a go on my new Series S. It’s still great, and does have a decent amount of new content so I will get it, but will stick with the Xbox version so I at least have it on a different platform to the original.
Shmups PS3, PS4, Xbox
I spent one Saturday in February just having some quality time with the arcade sticks. I hooked up my Cronus Zen and Hori 360 stick to the Xbox Series S (partly to make sure that all just worked on the new console – it does!) and had my PS4 Arcade Stick on the go for the games I played on both PS4 and PS3. As well as Raiden V, I also spent some time playing Raiden IV, Gradius V, Darius Burst Chronicles, and a short burst on Radiant Silvergun to remember why I gave up on that.
Fifa 21 – Xbox Game Pass (Trial)
I remembered that Game Pass now comes with EA Play, which includes 10 hours access to the latest EA Sports games. Having had some fun playing Madden 21 on my PS4 during the past year, I thought I’d give this a go. I did enjoy myself for a few hours on Ultimate Team, sort of piecing a side together and doing the single player challenges. I played two games online with my Nephew though and remembered why I gave up on these. I’m not interested in putting in the time it would take to be viable against other people, so I’ll leave that there.
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
This came out as planned at the end of the month, but I managed to play quite a bit over the last weekend in February so included it here rather than among the pick ups. Really enjoying myself so far, although there have already been a few challenging spots. Hopefully I’ll get to the end this time, rather than abandon it half way through like last time.
Of course this was the big one for February, and also dominated my games played at the end of the month. If you haven’t already read it, I wrote about it in the MAME Arcade Cabinet post (part 2).
Capcom vs SNK: Match of the Millennium – Switch
Another of the Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) games being ported to Switch, and while there are others they’ve done I still want to pick up, I couldn’t wait for this. This is one I never had myself when I had my own NGPC console, but I always wanted it. Lovely little fighter. I’m still hoping they’ll bring Neo Turf Masters Pocket over soon, and it would be nice to see the Card Fighters and Metal Slug games as well.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
Following my previous post, helpfully referred to as Part 1, I thought I’d just run through the build process. The assembly was partly done in order of when items arrived, and partly what I felt up to doing. Realistically, this could be all done in a day if you had all the parts to hand. I spread it out over a few weeks.
The first thing I did was start to configure the RaspberryPi 3b+* I already owned for use inside the cab. After I’d ordered the bulk of my parts from Arcade World*, the flat pack kits had a 5 day lead time while they were being cut to order, I was excited and wanted to make a start. The RaspberryPi was all I had to hand while I was waiting.
I took the Pi out of the arcade stick housing it was in before and took a couple of minutes to adjust the cabling of the stick so that it is now just a usable USB arcade controller to use with my PC or whatever. I used this stick for the initial config, and also later when it came to testing the monitor I picked up.
In choosing the front end for my system, I had a bit of a look around all the pre-built images on Arcade Punks etc. to see if I could find one with a suitable collection of mostly arcade games along with a theme that wasn’t ridiculous. I could not.
I chose to just build my own setup, with a basic install and curate my own game selection. A few people were suggesting alternatives to the RetroPie software for me to consider, namely Recalbox, Lakka, and Batocera. Fortunately this comparison article was handy for just running through the differences, and after a bit of reading, I decided RetroPie was still the most appropriate for me. I did a fresh install of the latest version of RetroPie as the one already on my SD card was a couple of years old.
I’d only got it hooked up to my working from home monitor, but knew I would be putting a 4:3 or 5:4 ratio screen in the machine, so I played a bit with the shaders in the setup to find something suitable for that screen. It looks a bit silly in the pictures below, but I’m really happy with it in the finished system. Scanlines and a bit of a curve to the display, to get it looking close to how the games would have looked on an original cabinet.
After copying over a starter collection of ROMs, mostly just my favourite shmups and brawlers, and a complete set of NEOGEO games, there wasn’t much else to do except play Neo Turf Masters, and wait for parts to arrive.
Start and Coin Buttons
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long, my Arcade World* delivery arrived about a week later. All the buttons and joysticks arrived a day before the flatpack kit, along with the button decals I’d ordered from eBay. So first up, adding the art to the buttons. Fairly simple to do, just be patient prising the button caps off and try to line the decals up where you want them. Happy with how they turned out, even if Player 1 is slightly losing his head.
Once the kit had all arrived, I decided a sensible place to start was the separate riser. Nice small parts, easily done on my own sitting on the floor. Also the joins are all done using modesty blocks, which is the same for the full cabinet. Was a bit of a practice before the main event. With the ongoing vertigo symptoms I was not in a hurry to work with the bigger panels of the cabinet.
Next up, and one of the most fun parts, putting the buttons and joysticks in. This was also the only part I needed to break out my drill. The control panel has holes pre-drilled for the buttons and joysticks, but when the mounting screws go for the joysticks are only part drilled as there are different fittings available. I just had to line up the correct ones for my mounting plates, and finish the drilling through. Was straight-forward, and I had a spare piece of wood handy that I put under panel while I drilled to reduce the likelihood of damage to the control panel surface.
I also played around with configuring the IPAC2 interface before I attached it to the panel. Didn’t entirely register what I was doing though, but once it was all assembled I hooked the Pi back up to my work monitor and figured it out. Quick shout out to my good buddy Ross here, for sharing the below image before I started, using this I managed to orientate both sticks the right way up first time (up, down, left and right aren’t labelled but each need a wire connecting to the IPAC2.
Initially hated doing this, but after I’d got used to it I quite enjoyed myself. I did the riser box first then the control panel, and gradually some of the panels for the cab itself over the course of a few days. It wasn’t too bad, but I did need to buy a rubber mallet. If anything it is nice to now own a rubber mallet. It was also fortunate that I owned a hot glue gun. As much as all the guides say you don’t need glue, and the t-molding will just stay in place, they’re wrong. (Likely that’s true working with ‘proper’ cabinets, but with the grooves cut in this board, it just popped back out when you went near a bend). A bit of hot glue in the trouble spots soon sorted it though.
Now we’re talking. I was still held up waiting for the monitor to arrive, but with the drama in getting that I mentioned on the last post I decided to make a start without it anyway, and assembled the basic frame over a couple of days. Again it was probably only an hour or two of work, I was just taking it steady.
When the screen finally arrived, I first set it up on the table, using the Pi and Arcade Stick mentioned above. Wanted to do a bit of testing before I went through the process of mounting it inside the cabinet. Was delighted that the HDMI to DVI cable I already had just worked and required no extra effort. At this point I settled on the “Arcade 1Up” 5:4 theme for Emulation Station. I was also testing the speakers from PC, I know a lot of people complain about “hiss” using the 3.5mm audio output on the pi, but there was no sign of that here so I decided to stick with these.
The monitor has a built in USB hub, so I moved the flash drive with my games up to that, immediately solving the problem of it running hot and raising the temperature of the Pi. Also provides convenient power for the marquee light (and also the Pacman lamp that now sits on top of the cab). Both lights now switch on when I power up the cab, and switch off when I shutdown RetroPie and the monitor goes into standby. Perfect.
That done, I took the screen and mounted it to the backing panel to fit into the cabinet. Again this was easy just standard VESA fittings. I also moved the cabinet out into the lounge as we approached the final stretch. Knew I wasn’t going to feel up to lifting it onto the riser on my own, so I gave it a temporary home till I had help. The T-molding on the base of the cabinet means it also slides easily so I didn’t need to lift it at all.
The real fun, putting it all together, and everything working. There was a bit of a delay while I waited for the art for the marquee to arrive, so it was in place for a couple of days without the art, but playable. I’ve since taken the top off the little Raspberry Pi case to help keep it cooler, haven’t had any temperature issues anyway. Once the art was added I was able to get it lifted in place onto the riser and get on with the business of playing it.
The one bit I’ve done since writing the last post, my friends were kind enough to pick up a few sheets of this heavy black card from The Range. I may have another go and do it a bit neater, but my first attempt at cutting out a screen surround / bezel went well and I am pleased with the results.
The machine is pretty much ‘done’ although I’m sure I’ll continue to tinker with bits here and there. I’ve been investigating the Raspberry Pi 4 models, and it seems that the 8GB version doesn’t offer any benefits for RetroPie so I may upgrade to the cheaper 4GB model sooner rather than later. Mostly as it is able to run a few later games than my current system.
So during February I fulfilled a bit of a personal goal. I have wanted to put MAME into an arcade cabinet for around 20 years, and have simply wanted my own arcade machine since I was about 10. (A little longer than 20 years). A while back I built my “RetroPie joystick in a box” which was a bit of a proof of concept to see if I thought I could do the full thing. Fast-forward to Lockdown 2021, of which I’ve spent most of the year suffering with Labyrinthitis and ongoing vertigo symptoms. As mentioned in my January Games post, I decided to divert the funds I was holding for my PS5 into this project. Largely because they’re still difficult to get hold of, and the vertigo is keeping me from playing most modern games anyway.
Thankfully, the procrastination really paid off. This process is relatively straight-forward now, compared to what was involved 20 years ago. To be honest, I probably could have done the entire build in a day, but being unwell it was nice to have something to work on over a couple of weeks when I felt up to it. As you can see from the image, it’s complete apart from needing a surround for the monitor, to cover the insides (and the DELL logo).
The main issue that has always put me building one of these, is the woodwork. I’m fairly confident about the wiring etc involved, but not the crafting out of wood. Fortunately, there are a number of providers who sell kits for this very thing. If you can assemble IKEA flat pack furniture, you’re most of the way there.
One of the first considerations, is what size machine to build. While there are lots of nice setups using modern widescreen TVs, these are more useful if you’re going the PC route and are going to play newer games that support higher resolutions and widescreen images. However, as I was going to use a RaspberryPi for the processing, and limit myself for gaming up to the late 1990s, a smaller 5:4 ratio screen was a better option. I found a kit for a 3/4 size cabinet, along with an addon for a riser box to lift it up so it is comfortable to play standing up.
You’ll see I had a few bits already, but I’ve listed all the components of my build below with links. As usual, those marked with a * are affiliate links. For the bulk of the build I returned to Arcade World UK*, where I picked up the parts for my previous RetroPie project, and also my PS4 Arcade Stick mod. As you’ll see from the photos, my colour scheme is loosely based on Bubble Bobble, green for player 1, and blue for player 2, with green for the T-Molding (trim).
When I first thought about doing this, I was going to just buy the minimum amount of stuff I needed to get something up and running and playable for just 1 player, using some parts I already had. I probably would have saved about £150 off the initial cost, but it would have remained a work in progress for the foreseeable future. I made the decision to buy everything I wanted to make a cabinet I really liked.
This is the riser* to lift the cabinet higher. If you just intend to play seated (or for some reason you’re building one for children, you probably won’t need one of these)
I took the same approach to buttons on the cabinet as I did when I did the RetroPie joystick. The 6 “action” buttons for each player are Sanwa OBSN-30 Screw In Arcade Buttons*. Admittedly I haven’t tried a lot of buttons to compare, but all the parts on my PS4 fight stick are Sanwa too, and I love that.
When I did my RetroPie joystick, I just got a basic USB encoder* from Amazon, you could probably use 2 of these to accomplish the same control setup. However, with this build I wanted something better regarded. I went with this bundle of an IPAC2 complete with all the wiring* I’d need for my buttons. The IPAC2 has more than enough connections for me to do a 2 player system with 8 buttons each.
I had intended to get 2 of the same sanwa stick* I previously used in my other 2 projects, but at the time of ordering they were out of stock. I didn’t want to wait though so I had a read up on what else was available. I eventually settled on this Seimitsu LS-38-01 stick*, it’s basically the same as their LS-32-01 joystick, with a modification to make it much stiffer. I read a few positive reports from people who like similar games to me, and was convinced. I definitely prefer it to my sanwa stick for 2D Shmups, but I think I prefer the sanwa for games like Street Fighter. I am not good enough at either for it to really matter though…
In order for this stick to fit the control panel in the kit I purchased, I needed to select the SE Mounting plate option. I also added the H5P cable, which easily wires to the IPAC2.
This is the green trim* around the edges of the cabinet. Arcade World helpfully tells you how much to order for each of their kits, I added the 2 amounts together for both the cabinet and riser, and ordered 35 feet. I didn’t waste very much when I was installing it, and probably have 1 or 2′ leftover. Happy to report that their estimates are a good measure.
I already had two of this RaspberryPi 3b+ model*, otherwise I’d suggest a bundle like this one. It’s definitely worth having an official PSU as variations in quality of USB power supplies have been known to cause issues with gaming on the Pi. I took the Pi out of my RetroPie joystick as I don’t expect to use that any more now I have a cabinet. (I’ve just converted that into an extra USB fight stick for my PC).
At some point I may upgrade my machine with an 8GB RaspberryPi 4*, but shelling out another £80 when I already had one that would do most of what I wanted seemed a waste. Maybe there will be another revision or something that makes more sense.
For the marquee (the Bubble Symphony picture at the top) I was originally looking at various options on etsy. Once I realised all the sellers were in the USA, would cost me the same again in shipping fees and take forever to arrive, I started looking elsewhere. I found the very helpful team at Arcade Art Shop who had a huge selection of art, and were more than happy to print my preferred design to the dimensions I supplied for my cabinet. I went for this Bubble Symphony design, printed on the flexi-film, and it just popped in behind the plexi that came in my kit.
I had also been thinking about getting vinyl art for the sides and control panel as well, but now I’ve assembled the system I think I like the plain black panels with just the marquee.
As mentioned above, I wanted art for my Start and Coin buttons. I got the arcade button decals with the COIN design from this account on eBay. Very happy with how they turned out.
For the light at the top behind the marquee panel, I picked up a little 5V USB LED strip. Not sure how long this link will last, but I went for this one, with the options White, Clear and 35 cm. Looks great installed, and draws power from a USB slot on the monitor.
I originally purchased a DELL 1917S from eBay, but this was the one spot of drama where the seller said it was shipped, then when it still hadn’t turned up a week after delivery, I contacted them and three days later they just refunded me without a word. Then relisted the item. There is always one…
I then found a DELL 1914S from someone else for £20 cheaper which arrived next day, so it worked out anyway. The only really issue with this screen over the other, was that it didn’t have HDMI input, so I had to use one of these cables* to connect via DVI. I had one of them handy anyway.
I briefly looked at a variety of options for amps and separate speakers that could be wired to the top of the cabinet. However this was likely to cost around £50 by the time I’d factored in powering them, and given the quality of audio you can expect from 90s arcade games, I wasn’t keen to spend that. What I did instead was chuck these speakers from my PC* inside the cabinet (where I’m very happy with how it sounds for now) and spent £35 on a nicer 2.1 set for my PC. I generally limit how carried away I get with sound, out of respect for my neighbours. If I do decide to go the amp & speaker route, it’ll probably be something like this bundle*.
I already had the one that I was using with my RetroPie Joystick, and it conveniently sits unobtrusively on top of my cabinet. It is very handy to have a keyboard for tinkering with the software. Couldn’t find the exact model, but it’s sort of like this tecknet keyboard*, and I imagine it would be just as effective.
*update* I have now made up a surround from heavy back card, and will include photos in the part 2 blog post. The card was £1.50 a sheet from the local “The Range” and friends kindly picked some up for me given my continuing inability to walk that far. I have a few more sheets of it, and think I could do a neater job, but I’m pleased with it already and it now looks much more like a finished project.
For the moment, I’ve just got a fairly heavy duty extension cable in the cab. Mostly because it was what I had to hand, but also because I needed quite a long cable to get to the socket in my office, and I needed something I could easily take the plug off and put back on, to run it through the hole on the back panel. I will replace this with something a bit lower profile later.
I think that’s all the components. Build post is now up here as Part 2.