Collecting Arcades: My very own NBA Jam machine for $350

I was 12 years old when NBA Jam was released in arcade form. I remember the first time I saw the game at showbiz pizza. It had unbelievable graphics beyond anything else at the time, and amazing forever memorable gameplay. Who can forget the first time they saw someone “On Fire”, or heard the snarky announcer’s “Boom-shaka-laka!”? I played the game rabidly when I could. Even when I lost, I wanted to jump right back in and play again. The game was an arcade sensation that was the first to have more than a billion dollars in quarters pumped into it.

The arcade version in action.

NBA Jam came out during the last few years of arcade bliss. Consoles were quickly catching up to and eclipsing the Arcade experience. NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter 2, these were the closing chapters to a golden era of the arcade version of a game being far superior to the eventual port.

At the age of 12, I wanted that NBA JAM machine at home. I distinctly remember asking a local arcade’s employee how much such a machine costed. The employee looked at me like I was crazy, then dropped the bomb: $3500 on the low end, $5-$6K was the norm. I decided that I could settle for the home version of the game and put the thought of owning such a machine out of my mind for good.

The following year I played my game gear versions of NBA Jam, and NBA Jam TE every day after school for hours at a time. Years later my brothers and I would drain hundreds more hours into 4 player NBA Hangtime (a later sequel in the series) games on the Nintendo 64. To say that NBA Jam has a special place in my heart and memories would be an understatement, but I also never forgot that the machines cost $3K, so I let my 12-year-old dream fade and settled with crappy console ports and revisions that never quite lived up to the real deal.

The game gear version, not quite the same, but the SNES/Genesis versions weren’t much better.

Now, 20 years later, I own a NBA JAM arcade machine, and the machine did not cost $3000+. The machine (actually a NHL Open Ice cabinet) costed $300, and the NBA JAM game was a mere $30.

When you search around on Ebay or Craigslist, you will easily find arcade listings that confirm the $3000 price tag, and you’ll find suckers who pay as much just as easily. The truth of the matter is, as the arcade business winds down, the value of a machine is going down with it.

The trick to finding a reasonably priced cabinet is that you have to know where to look, and what to look for, and be patient.

Know the basics of the arcade business

Back in the day, when 1MB of on-board ROM was $1000, a NBA Jam cabinet with a fancy high quality 25″ monitor, and 300 pounds of 3/4″ plywood did indeed cost $3500 or more.

Arcade owners would buy arcade cabinets, and as games got old, the owner would simply switch an easily-pluggable game board out, put a new sign on the top of the arcade, and call it a new game. For example NBA JAM, NBA JAM T.E., the NFL Blitz series, and NHL Open Ice all use the exact same cabinet design.

It was not uncommon for an arcade owner to buy Mortal Kombat 1, then later paint over the cabinet artwork in black paint, stick the Mortal Kombat 2 marquee in the top of the arcade, put the MK2 board in, and call it a MK2 machine. This doesn’t mean Midway did not sell original Mortal Kombat 2 cabinets, they did, often times it was more cost efficient to simply buy an upgrade kit instead.

Today when you’re buying an arcade, the upgrade kit route benefits you. You can look for a completely original cabinet (called a dedicated cabinet) with the original game. Or you can piece together a gutted cabinet for $100, with a monitor for $150 and joysticks/buttons for another $100, and then just buy the board for the game you want.

In my case, I had no interest in restoring or otherwise fighting against technical issues with a half-working cabinet, so I searched for an NBA Jam compatible machine in good shape, and just stuck my NBA Jam board inside and called it a day.

Know where to look to research

Your research will start, continue, and end, at the Killer List Of Video Games website and forums. KLOV is the #1 arcade collecting community on the web. KLOV has an excellent index of arcade games, a great database of members looking for and selling machines, and a super friendly and intelligent community of people pouring everything you’ll ever need to know into the KLOV Forums.

Start by looking at the index page for your favorite arcade game, such as this one for NBA Jam.

Pay special attention to the parts of the page mentioning how common the game is, and the links to the KLOV member database listing KLOVers who own or want to own or want to sell their arcade. If you see dozens of owners, and the game’s pretty common, you can usually expect to pay less than $1000 for a good quality machine. There are exceptions of course, such as a fully restored top quality game from 1982, but common mid-90s stuff is fairly prolific and easy to come by, and thus: cheaper.

After reading up on your arcade’s index page, join the KLOV forums as a member, so you can search forum topics for your game. There you will find discussions of common issues with the game, and information such as what game cabinets work well for the game if you can’t find a dedicated (original) cabinet.

Know what to look for and what can go wrong

General Important Info:

  • Wikipedia’s great Arcade Cabinet page has some great starter info.
  • An arcade cabinet weighs 300+ pounds. That’s a 80-100LB monitor, and a whole lot of 3/4″ particle board to make sure the machine isn’t going anywhere. If you plan to fetch one, bring 3 strong friends along.
  • The back of the cabinet has a locked door on it, if you purchase an arcade you will need to have the keys to get into this door to get to the monitor’s adjustment controls, the game boards, etc.
  • The front of the cabinet has a coin door. Inside that door, there’s a collection of important diagnostic buttons and buttons to add free credits. The key for a machine (both coin door and back door) may be hanging on a screw peg in that coin door. You need that key or a good screwdriver and some muscle to be able to unlock the coin door.
  • The machines I’ve encountered have this 4-button panel inside the coin door. One of the buttons simulates coins dropping in (for free credits). Another puts the game into a diagnostic/setup mode where you can change game settings, calibrate light guns, adjust sound volume, set games to free play, and more.
  • Cabinet dimension information is available on the web, many are about 6’1″ tall, just tall enough to barely not stand up in a 10′ U-Haul truck.. so go for the 14′ 🙂
  • Generally speaking, a standard arcade cabinet can fit through a doorway, unless of course it has a really wide control panel on the front for 4 players, like NBA Jam, or Ninja Turtles. No worry in this case though, the control panel pops right off, assuming you can get into the back of the machine through the door to release control panel latches and screws.
  • When you go to pick up an arcade, bring along the following items: flashlight, notebook, pen, and a screw driver set with adjustable tips with crazy ends like hex tips (it’s mostly flathead/phillips, but you never know..). Don’t forget the transportation essentials: a pickup truck or u-haul 14′ rental, blankets for padding, ropes and tie downs, and an appliance dolly.
  • Don’t buy an arcade without inspecting it first. Turn the game on, try all the buttons, see how the monitor looks, adjust it a bit if necessary, make sure the game plays for a number of minutes, and so on.

About Game Boards:

  • A *LOT* of arcade games are basically little motherboards with a processor, and various ROM/RAM/sound/etc chips. These are called PCBs. Many arcade collectors own one or two arcade cabinets, and several PCBs. For example I have an NHL Open ICE 2 on 2 cabinet, and PCBs for NBA Jam, NFL Blitz ’99, and Police Trainer. All four games work great in my cabinet.

    NFL Blitz (w/ HD) on left, Police Trainer on right.
  • Later 90s games, such as War Final Assault, Police Trainer 2, and others are more like full on computers, with a full computer mother board, video card, hard drive, and so on. Some, like NFL Blitz and Killer Instinct are simply a PCB + a hard drive.

    WAR has a PCB, a sound PCB, hard drive, and video card.
  • Likewise, early 80s games and earlier may have a interesting assortment of circuit boards and wiring mess that you won’t see in the mid-90s era.
  • There’s a great standard connection called JAMMA that most games connect to. The JAMMA connector is basically a long strip with a standard pin configuration. Plugging the JAMMA connector to a game board is simple, and the simple act of plugging that in gives you the following: power, video, sound, controls. It’s as easy as plugging a nintendo cartridge into a NES… most of the time..
  • Like those old NES games or any computer motherboard, the games typically have a little watch battery on the PCB. This battery keeps saved data alive, and is a simple $5 fix if you find your game settings or high scores are not saving between power cycles.
  • Older games like Pac-Man, Defender, etc, may be pre-JAMMA, and require a great deal more research to understand how the wiring works.
  • Some games have a bit more than the JAMMA standard provides, for example JAMMA provides for 2 players and 3 buttons each. A game like Street Fighter 2 with 6 buttons per player will have another little place on the board to wire in a connector for each player’s extra buttons. My 4 player NBA Jam cabinet has player 3 and player 4 controls on a little wire harness that simply “just works” on all of my midway NBA Jam variant games (NFL Blitz/NHL Open Ice). Hooking that midway player 3 or player 4 harness up to a non midway 4 player game like The Simpsons or X-MEN may not be as easy.
  • Some game boards are notoriously finicky or will give you hell in various ways, especially early 80s and before type games. Tempest is one you’ll hear about often. Mortal Kombat 2’s sound board goes bad pretty quickly and often. Some capcom games had a per-machine encryption key stored in battery-powered memory, 5 years later when the CMOS battery (nicknamed the “suicide battery” on these boards) ran out of juice, the board was useless. Good stuff, and, fortunately, not the norm. In most instances, a PCB will work great for years to come.
  • Sometimes a board’s capacitors or chips go bad. People on KLOV know how to fix these issues. Heard of MAME and arcade ROMS? Those zip files for the roms contain digital images from physical ROM chips or Hard Drives from the actual arcade machine. If such a chip or HD goes bad, KLOVers have equipment to make a new ROM chip to sauder in, and some KLOVers even sell compact flash replacements with IDE adapters for certain games with aging hard drives.
  • Some games have more than one board. When a game has a seperate board, there’s inevitably a custom way to wire between the main board and that board. For example my NBA Jam sound board requires a rediculous harness that goes from one port on the main PCB to parts of 3 ports on the sound board. If you’re the enterprising type, you can make your own wire harnesses within reason. My buddy and I were able to decipher a schematic from the manual and figure it out (shown below). On the other hand, KLOVers, various online collectors (such as Bob Roberts), and retailers sell common replacement wire harnesses for popular games.
  • There are game manuals available, these manuals often sell on ebay for $10-$15 a piece, but KLOV members mention several online websites with scans of manuals. These manuals can be critical for things like understanding how to wire one game’s control wires to another game’s board, or knowing which switch out of a bank of 12 switches makes the game be in Standard video resolution rather than Medium resolution.

About Monitors (and how they can kill you, no joke):

  • There are a number of differing monitor types, but the two you will hear about most often are standard resolution and medium resolution. Many arcade games from the mid-90s and before are standard res or lower, some around that period are medium res. Often times medium resolution games have jumper switches on the PCB that’ll make them work with standard res if that’s what you have.. you don’t get the same luxury going the other direction, so if you want several games, consider sticking to standard res in the cabinet you find.
  • Some games use a horizontally mounted monitor, and others (especially older games) use a vertical mount. (thanks cdjump!)
  • The monitor is open-backed inside the cabinet and can hold a 25,000 volt charge that can kill you if you touch it wrong, even when powered off. Be aware of this, and be very careful to leave the monitor alone unless you know what you’re doing. The topic to search for is “anode discharge”, and this CRT Safety PDF mentions the problem in passing. Be aware that many KLOVers insist on doing the anode discharge several times in a row before messing with the monitor, and doing the discharge again before plugging the machine back in.
  • Monitors can go bad over time, often times needing either a capacitor replacement (called a ‘cap kit‘), or something called a flyback repair. If you’re looking at a machine with a crappy monitor, a new one can cost $150-$200 without shipping, they’re on KLOV for-sale forums all the time. Alternatively a local TV or arcade repair man may be able to do the cap-kit or flyback fix. I highly recommend having a professional do any monitor work, because, again, there are stored voltages that could kill you when screwing with the monitor.
  • Monitors are not the same as your 25″ $100 sharp CRT from a few years ago, there’s a reason the machines costed $5K when they were new, and a high quality monitor with differing hookups than your antenna TV from back in the day is part of that reason.
  • Most monitors have focus/brightness/contrast adjustment control panels connected to them, you can find this by getting into the arcade through the back door.
  • Arcade Monitor Repair and Arcade Repair Tips are great resources for learning about common problems with monitors.

About Controls:

  • Joysticks and arcade buttons are cheap. Like, $3 for a brand new arcade button cheap. You can find them online with aid from KLOV info. One way to find retailers is to search for “Happ” (a manufacturer of some common arcade control parts). Some popular choices are Groovy Game Gear, or Ultimarc
  • Not all machines are the same, and some quite old or rare machines have parts that are not easy to find. This includes controls parts. If your machine is 8-way joysticks and buttons and that’s it, you’re in pretty good shape. If it’s monkey ball with a custom joystick in the shape of a banana.. finding a replacement joystick may be a bit of an exercise.
  • If you’d like to have one cabinet and many arcade boards, consider getting something that has 2 joysticks and 6 buttons per player, like a street fighter cabinet. Most arcade games are 2 player or less, and use anywhere from 0 (bubbles) to 1 (joust) to 2 (many games) to 3 (nba jam and variants) to 5/6 buttons (mid-90s fighter games).
  • If you’re looking at light gun games, know that in general light guns have 4 wires, and depending on the arcade machine these wires may be configured in different orders than the arcade board expects, a simple trip to radio shack and a quick look at schematics will help resolve this. There’s a “Happ” wiring standard that’s fairly common, for example my Police Trainer uses this.. unfortunately my guns are non-HAPP, so another bit of wiring magic was required there..

Know what works for you

There are options. You can buy one arcade cabinet and switch out the game boards inside. You can purchase a $3500 MAME machine from an online retailer, or you can collect several cabinets for each game you’re interested in. Further, if you’re really handy, you can restore or convert a junked out cabinet into something much better, like this guy, or this guy. Arcade Cab is a great resource for do-it-yourself cabinet building.

Know how to search & what to pay

Finding arcades can be tricky if you don’t know the right tools to use. Here are some suggestions

First, I would recommend subscribing to these two RSS feeds from KLOV in your Google Reader:

Next, I would recommend setting up an Ebay saved search in the arcade/jukeboxes section with keywords for games you’re interested in.

Lastly, Craigslist has a pretty neat feature where you turn a search into a short-lived RSS feed, but their force-you-into-one-city-per-search UI from hell can be cumbersome. For example, I live in Austin and at one time I had to go setup the same 3 RSS feeds for 7 different craiglist subdomains: austin, waco, san antonio, houston, college station, dallas, fort worth.

It’s much easier to just setup some Google Alerts, which email you when new items show up in Google’s search index. Each alert’s settings should look like this:

And a little google kung-fu will go a long way.. instead of “NBA Jam Arcade”, try “NBA Jam Arcade” or “NBA Jam Arcade”. I’d recommend setting up such alerts for both Ebay and Craiglist, as Google’s better than either site at finding content in their listings.

With your searches in place, be prepared to wait. You need to wait so you can see how often your game or games become available. You need to wait so you can see how people price the game and how the price falls very quickly when they’re moving and don’t want to deal with the arcade.

Know that something in really great condition, like a restored Robotron cabinet in great condition from 1982 can be pricey ($2K or so). Similarly something relatively new like Mario Kart GP may still command a $6K price tag b/c it will still make money in an arcade. For common stuff though (NBA Jam, Street Fighter, Contra, etc), if it’s more than $1000 per cabinet, even in great shape, you’re probably getting ripped off. You’ll see numerous humorous threads on KLOV for sale pointing to ebay and craigslist listings with these rip-off prices.

Once you know the price range for your game, try to find it local. It can cost several hundred dollars to ship an arcade freight across the country, or u-haul it back home from somewhere hours away. Consider looking up the game on the KLOV index again and seeing if the DB has any KLOVers in your area looking to sell.

One last tidbit on buying: Auctions and liquidations are fairly common. Do some research on KLOV though about some of these auctions. Some recur fairly often, and some are run by some dicey liquidation companies where KLOVers have noticed the same shill bidders from the company itself artificially driving prices up.

Know when to stop

Arcade collecting isn’t for everyone. The machines are bulky, heavy, and can have technical issues beyond even super geek understanding. They burn a lot of power, put off a lot of heat, and if they’re in the garage and you live in Texas, like me, you basically don’t play them from the months of June through September 🙂

If you’re going to start collecting arcades, I’d suggest being a bachelor or having a really understanding wife as prerequisites to the hobby. I’d also seriously suggest checking out some of the more recent arcade collections available on consoles. Namco, Atari, Midway, Williams, and more publishers are releasing better and better ports of their arcade classics every few years. In particular the Midway Arcade Treasures on Gamecube and PSP are damn near perfect.

Consider this: Robotron on a new 50″ plasma TV with a gamecube controller in the comfort of your living room may go over better with the wife than spending double the money for a unsightly arcade cabinet that’ll take garage space for years..

About My Collection

Around the time I was considering the NBA Jam machine, my wife and I were considering moving to Seattle, so I canned the arcade machine idea for a year. Instead, I bought an a320 and felt satisfied with many nostalgic moments relived playing my Game Gear NBA Jam port.

We later decided Seattle wasn’t in the cards, so last summer, in 2011, after several failed attempts at NBA Jam or NFL Blitz machine acquisitions, I found someone in San Antonio selling an old NHL Open ICE 2 on 2 cabinet. I knew Midway made the cabinet exactly the same for all three games, so I went for it. $300 later, I had my NHL Open Ice Cabinet. That night Open Ice was ripped out of the cabinet, and a newly purchased $30 NBA Jam PCB from a KLOVer who lives nearby was in the cabinet.

The sound harness was missing, so my buddy and I fixed that, and there were some other little learning experiences as well, but the monitor is in great shape and only a few buttons needed repair. The machine isn’t exactly a looker:

..but, the fact that the cabinet’s beat up made it easy for my next acquisition. My wife’s favorite game is Police Trainer. The PCB typically runs for $100+, and Happ guns typically go for $50 a piece, but watching searches on ebay turned up a real deal where I got the PCB for $20 and a pair of non-happ guns for another $30. A few wiring adventures later, and a slight cabinet mod to stick the guns on the side.. my wife had a pretty good 33rd birthday surprise. To this day Police Trainer is the most popular game with anyone who visits (no love for the original NBA Jam it seems..).

This past spring I picked up a NFL Blitz ’99 PCB for $70 on ebay. Arguably the game is not much different than the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube ports of the series, but there’s something magical about playing 4 player games on the arcade with my brothers.

Another game I lusted after for years was even worse off than NBA Jam. In the late 90s the FPS genre was coming of age and there were only a few attempts at arcade entries to the genre. Atari’s WAR Final Assault being one of them. Like NBA Jam, WAR was fairly lenient on the quarter gobbling. For about $2, two people could deathmatch for 2 or 3 minutes, with loser paying another $1 to continue. WAR was being ported to the nintendo 64, and I was very much looking forward to the port, but the port was canceled before release, so the only way to own WAR is to own the machine.

Worse, the best part of WAR is the multiplayer, which requires more than one machine. I had google alerts running for about a year on the machine, and found a pair in really good shape this summer for $500, again in San Antonio. Now the garage has three cabs.

And the kitchen has a mini-cab. I purchased the iCade and various arcade collections on my iPad and I must say, for the past year the iPad has been a convenient browser for my wife, and a TumbleOn device and not much else for myself… that is, until I bought the iCade. Playing these classic arcade games with real arcade controls almost makes me think I’ll be able to hold off on purchasing a generic mame cabinet for a while..

Family Tech Support Myths: Don’t login as an Admin user

It’s time again for another family tech support mythbusters episode. This time we’ll tackle the premise that it’s more “secure” to login to your system as a user rather than an administrator.

The idea to limit your logged in privileges on a system is a sound one, provided the system that enforces privileges actually works. Often the reason a system is compromised has little to do with a user being logged in as admin or not, it’s more basic than that: it’s just a simple security hole that skips right on by any sort of privilege enforcement system.

When a virus exploits the security of a machine, it really doesnt matter that said “security” has you running in user mode or admin mode. If its compromised, the system’s compromised.

The argument for not running in admin mode is kind of like this:

You’re in the middle of a jail or fortress, with big concrete walls around it. There’s a big red button to open a massive steel re-inforced front door. Running in admin mode, you have the ability to press that big red button, and running without admin mode (As a user) you arent allowed to press that red button. This sounds good, being a user is obviously safer, because nobody’s coming in through the door b/c you can’t press the button easily.

Except the enemy comes in with an armored tank, through the concrete wall on the side of the building. The red button, and admin/user level login meant nothing because the problem wasnt the red button and your ability to invite the enemy in, the problem was the enemy completely subverted the entire security system in some other way that was unrelated.

Now, obviously, if “you know what you’re doing” (tm family tech support geeks everywhere)”, there are benefits to properly locking down a machine, enterprise I.T. departments do it all the time, and it helps to some degree. The concept’s not completely off-base.

The concept falls down when the “you don’t know what you’re doing” users think this and other security measures will magically protect them on their home computer. The reality is, when your parents or non-tech family members run their computer at home, they’re still going to click on that anti-virus-looking popup, and it’s still going to compromise the system even though they’re not logged in as admin.

Worse, they’re going to become accustomed to right clicking everything and saying “run as administrator”, then complain at you because everything they want to do that involves their cd-rom or nearly any aspect of the system requires them to “run as administrator”.

Administration rights, great in concept, perfect in an environment where people know what they’re doing. Not a silver bullet for home users. The only way to protect home users is to educate.

Fixing EMMA’s coverage.out.file System Property

If you’re using EMMA for java code coverage report generation, you may quickly jump to EMMA’s property reference table in the documentation. There you will see documentation such as this:

Property: coverage.out.file

This would lead an average java developer to quickly attempt using EMMA with a JVM arg such as:


Unfortunately, you’ll discover that EMMA ignores your system property. This is because EMMA uses a non-standard “system property” lookup scheme which entails differing prefixes on system property names depending on execution context. The lookup scheme is is documented here (in the “EMMA property lookup order.” section).

Instead, on the command line, the JVM arg should be:


But pay special attention to the EMMA property lookup order doc mentioned above if you need to specify the properties in other ways, such as via ANT.

Tough Luck: The comics industry is crazy.

Remember way back when, in high school, when your friend introduced you to that great album that you instantly fell in love with? Remember going down to the record store or perhaps online and buying a copy of that album you liked so much? How did that go?

What happened if the record store didn’t have the album in stock, did the clerk tell you “tough luck“?

Did the clerk tell you it was too bad that you liked that band and that it was unfortunate that you didn’t come by when the album was in stock earlier that month, b/c the album was only printed once, in limited quantities? Did the clerk try to upsell you after your big let down, something like “but now that you’re into music, you can buy another bands music coming out next month!”?

Does this situation sound absurd to anyone? If your friend had shown you a comic book instead of an album, this is most likely exactly how your first brush with the comic book medium would go.

The thing about the comic books is, they have continuity. With albums, continuity of the musician’s work from album to album isn’t really critical. You can pick up 2 out of 4 albums and have a good time. Then we have comic books. With comic books, missing an issue in the middle of a series can cause some serious disconnect.

So which industry would you guess will reprint their medium as long as it sells? The music industry where continuity is of no concern, or the comic industry where continuity is key to customer retention?

I’ll give you a hint: The comics industry is insane.

For the past few months I’ve been thinking about checking out the upcoming Before Watchmen comics series. I had no idea how complicated buying a comic book could be.

I’m not an avid comic book fan, so I did what any average consumer would probably do, I checked out the DC Comics website, searching for a way to purchase or pre-purchase a subscription to the series. DC does offer subscriptions to a limited number of their series’, but not the one I was interested in, so I asked my friend how I could get a “subscription”.

In comic books, it’s not called a “subscription”, it’s called a “pull list”. To pre-order or subscribe to a comic book ahead of time, you go down to your local comic book store and ask the clerk to save a pile of comic books for you by “pulling” the comics from the shipment before placing the rest of the copies on the shelf. Don’t have a comic book store near you? Tough luck.

Suppose you had never heard of a “pull list” and were one of many consumers who just assumed subscriptions didn’t exist? In that case you may head down to your local comic book store when the issue was released to pick up a copy. If the store sold all of their copies of the issue you’re interested in, and your issue was a best seller, it may be reprinted the following month. If your issue wasn’t a best seller, well, tough luck.

If you missed the first issue in the series due to tough luck, would you care to come back to pick up the second issue?

Suppose a really great comic came out 3 months ago, and a friend tells you about it, months after it was printed.. not a best seller? Tough luck.

Suppose you’d never read a comic book before and you read a few issues at a friends house and wanted to collect the series yourself, but the series was printed four years ago, tough luck. …Well, maybe not, most ultra-popular series’ will be reprinted in a Trade Paperback several months or years after the series is released, again, usually only if the series was a best seller. Otherwise, tough luck.

Presumably, the single-run comic book way-of-things is an idea hinged on the scarcity/collectors-item angle. The amazing thing is, the industry persists this way, today, in the digital age. Many of the comic book publishers are jumping into the digital age with digital distribution of their comic books, so you can read a series on your computer or iPad, but if you want a physical copy of an issue, even weeks after it was released.. you may run into a bit of tough luck.

It’s no wonder that the comic book industry has been a bit of a niche entertainment sub culture for so long. Hell, it’s a miracle that an industry predicated on the concept of luck combined with continuity has survived at all. The barrier of entry into the ‘system’ of collecting comic books is so high that many would-be fans simply won’t-be.

FrameUtils – Objective-C Frame Utilities

Games Like Pikmin

Pikmin is the greatest game ever, I think.

For those unfamiliar with the game, it’s basically a simplified RTS game, with a focus on resource gathering and multi-tasking. That is, the enemies that you encounter are not consistently coming to demolish your home base with constant aggression, instead you take them on at will, taking your time building your army between battles.

The basic premise to the game is that you’re a spaceman, Olimar, who’s crash landed and needs the Pikmin to help him rebuild his spaceship so he can fly home. When Olimar crash lands on the Pikmin planet, 30 pieces of his spaceship are spread across 5 different levels in the Pikmin world. As you play through the game you encounter three different colored Pikmin species: blue, red, and yellow. Red Pikmin can survive flame, while blue can survive water, etc. A given piece of the spaceship may be behind a body of water, across a wall of flames, and to retrieve that piece safely you’ll need to alternate between Pikmin types.

Like all RTS games, the trick to the game is limited resources and micromanagement. Pikmin are weak little creatures by themselves, but you can have an army of 100 at a time. Numbers will not win the game though, a fair bit of strategy and timing matters a great deal in the game. You’ll use your Pikmin to attack enemies, break down walls, build bridges, and bring treasures home. You can break a wall down with 10 Pikmin, but such a task will burn 20 minutes, the same wall will come down much faster with 85 Pikmin. The same rule applies for other tasks such as attacking enemies or bringing treasure home.

The game is beautiful. The Pikmin and Olimar are about 1 inch tall, and the Pikmin world has a striking resemblance to earth. As you play, you’ll guide your Pikmin through lush green gardens, dreary underground caverns full of pools of water, and otherwise, and the eye candy never stops.

A major draw of the game that few knock-offs get right is the ability to multitask. That is, the game is very much non-linear. You can beat the original Pikmin game in some 5 hours or less once you’re familiar with it, because you can set one troop of Pikmin to do one task, while you travel elsewhere with another group working on another task. The challenge becomes attempting to fetch 3, 4, 5 pieces in a single “day” (15 minutes) of game time. Some days are best spent taking your army of 100 Pikmin to vanquish monsters and collect treasures that’ll spawn more Pikmin reserves, while other days could be spent preparing all paths to pieces, allowing a massive 5 piece day a bit later.

The downside to Pikmin? There are only three games in the series.

In the years since Pikmin’s release, there have been a few almost-as-good games released, and there doesn’t seem to be a consistent list of knock-offs anywhere else on the web, so, behold, the list of games like pikmin:

Games Like Pikmin

  • There are three Pikmin games.

    The original Pikmin game was released in 2001 on Nintendo Gamecube (amazon link). Later, a version with motion controls was released on the Nintendo Wii (amazon link). The Wii can also play gamecube discs, with a gamecube controller – and IMO the gamecube controls were a bit more precise when you become an experienced player.

    Pikmin 2 is a much larger game in terms of game time. Like the original game, it was originally released on the Gamecube (amazon link), and later with motion controls for the Wii (amazon link).

    Finally, the latest game in the series, Pikmin 3 (amazon link), released in 2012, brings the Pikmin series into the HD-TV era. It was released on the Nintendo Wii-U system.

  • Little King’s Story (Nintendo Wii version linked, a Playstation Vita port is available as well.)

    Little King’s Story is a great Pikmin clone on the Wii. You play a young king who directs his various subjects to do tasks. Like Pikmin, you can set various subjects to do a bit of work and go on to do something else with another set of subjects. I own a copy of Little King’s Story and have enjoyed it quite a bit, almost as much as I enjoy the Pikmin series. A sequel to the game is coming out on the Playstation Vita in Japan, and hopefully in the United Stats shortly after.

  • Eco-Creatures: Save the Forest (Nintendo DS)

    Eco-Creatures is the first Pikmin knock-off on a portable system. Like Olimar, the main character is fairly weak and cannot accomplish much on his own, but he has armies of squirrels and other creatures he can accomplish much with. Surprisingly, the game allows you to have 100 minions at once, which is an impressive technical feat on the DS. I wrote a in-depth review about the game years ago here: Yes, Eco-Creatures is like Pikmin on the DS. If you are a Pikmin fan, I would *highly* recommend this game. If you enjoy the first title, there’s a sequel that was only released in Japan, it will play on a US DS or 3DS (DS games are not region-locked, though 3DS games are). The sequel is titled Ecolis: Aoi Umi to Ugoku Shima, and appears to have a fair bit of Japanese text in it, understanding what to do in the game may be difficult if you do not know how to read Japanese.

  • Overlord (XBox 360, PC) (Released as Overlord: Raising Hell on Playstation 3)

    Overlord seems to be a direct rip-off of Pikmin, but a bit more linear in gameplay style. Overlord’s visuals are stunning. Overlord has been characterized as a mix between Fable and Pikmin. In the game you are an evil Overlord who reigns destruction via his minions (like Pikmin) and you can choose how much destruction you will cause as you make your way through the game (a bit like Fable). Unlike Pikmin, which seems to be a thinly veiled commentary on human nature wrapped in a cute package, Overlord is overtly, and humorously evil. There is also a sequel, Overlord 2, which many reviews indicate is not as good as the first game in the series. A prequel, Overlord: Dark Legend was released on the Wii. Be careful of the Overlord:Minions game for Nintendo DS, this is a Lost Vikings type game, not a Pikmin knock-off.

  • Army Corps of Hell (Playstation Vita)

    This newcomer from Square Enix was created by some of the same people who worked on the original Pikmin game for Nintendo. Reviews caution to not take the over-the-top style of the game seriously, it’s meant to be humorous. Reviews also caution that the game may not be “as great” as Pikmin, in that it’s a bit repetitive and not free-form / open-world style like Pikmin.

  • Adventures of Darwin (Playstation 2)

    Adventures of Darwin is a budget-level title that was released with a $20 price tag, when Playstation 2 games were normally $40-$50. I bought a second-hand copy of the game years ago and could not figure the game out, which reviews say is about par for the course for the game. Nevertheless, Adventures of Darwin is definitely a Pikmin clone, albeit a low-quality one.

Do you know of another game like Pikmin that should be listed? Please, email me!

WIJL: IOS Memory Management Part 2

Music Roulette – Free for the month of March

Music Roulette is going on sale for the low low price of FREE for the month of march.

Music Roulette helps you pick random music to play from your IOS device’s iTunes Music Library. It makes the process of choosing something random fun and easy, and choosing to play or shuffle an entire artist or album is just as easy as deciding to play the chosen song. When you open the app, album covers flash by like a fast-paced slot machine, and you choose an artist/album/song by tapping the “Stop” button. If you don’t like the selection that you picked, simply select the “Pick Again” button and give it another go.

When you find something you like, simply select the “Play” button, and then choose from a variety of playing options such as playing the song’s album, or shuffling the artist, or just playing the song itself. Music played with Music Roulette is actually played using the standard IOS Music player, so you can jump out of Music Roulette and the music will keep on playing, as shown in the video below.

The Story Behind Music Roulette

I love music, and I have lots of it on my iPod Touch. When I want to listen to something, I’m not very good at finding something new to listen to. I find myself automatically choosing the same old top ten favorite albums, or something I purchased in the past 6 months more often than not. Listening to the same 5 albums for months at a time gets tiring, and the stock IOS Music app makes shuffling to a song and then playing the album for that song a bit tedious. I wanted something different. I wanted an application that made rediscovering old forgotten favorites both fun and easy, so I made Music Roulette. With Music Roulette it’s fun to watch the covers flip by and choose a song, and it’s just as simple to play a given song, album, or an entire artist with just a few taps. I like it quite a bit, and I hope you will too.

Cool Stuff: Remote Desktop (VNC, RDP, etc)

See that? That’s my desktop this afternoon. If you look closely you’ll notice that a few of my desktop applications look a little odd. This is my mac mini’s OSX desktop, with Windows in the left application window, and another OSX in the right window. The trick here is that those two windows are my two other computers. This is what’s called “Remote Desktop”, and it’s awesome.

Remote Desktop is essentially a program for your computer that shares your screen and lets you control the computer from another computer. A few other terms for “Remote Desktop” that you may have heard of are VNC, or RDP.

Setting Remote Desktop up on your computer is easy, you’ll need to do two things: allow remote control on the computer you want to control; and install a remote desktop application on the other computer.

A word of caution: Enabling Remote Desktop on your computer means that anyone on your network (behind your router) can connect to, view, and control your computer. Most of the Remote Desktop technologies have password protection to prevent unauthorized access, but some Remote Desktop technologies do not protect (encrypt) the password or screen data as it passes over your network, so be careful not to use Remote Desktop on a network with untrusted users, as you don’t want someone to know your VNC password or snooping on your screen sharing session.

One important caveat about Remote Desktop solutions is that differing technologies dont necessarily mix well. Microsoft’s Remote Desktop service speaks a different language than Apple’s Remote Desktop service, and VNC is a third and different protocol altogether.

If you’re connecting from one OSX to another OSX, consider using Apple’s built-in Remote Desktop service and the built in Screen Sharing app (located on your system’s hard drive here: /System/Library/CoreServices/Screen Power users may be interested to know that you can enable and disable Apple’s Remote Desktop Service via SSH.

If you’re connecting from OSX or Windows to Windows, consider using Microsoft’s built in Remote Desktop service (Win 7/Vista instructions) (Win XP instructions), and a free Microsoft RDP client.

The built-in Windows Remote Desktop service is only available in Pro editions of Windows and higher, so if you have a home edition (such as Home Premium) of XP/Vista/7, consider the VNC alternative detailed below.

If you’re connecting with any other configuration, such as from Windows to OS X, or perhaps from your iPad or something, use VNC. You can enable the VNC service in OS X easily (it’s already built into the operating system), and on windows you can install something like TightVNC. There are a number of VNC clients for both Windows and OS X, I recommend these:

I’m especially fond of TightVNC. It has a reverse-VNC feature where someone can connect a client to your VNC server and you control their desktop instead of the other way around. Another great feature is the TightVNC web server that lets anyone with a browser run a Java VNC client that automatically connects to your VNC server.

If you’re helping friends and family with their computers, VNC and/or RDP setup can be a bit complicated for your non-I.T.-savvy family, instead consider something as simple as a Skype Screen Sharing session, or a VNC-in-the-browser solution such as LogMeIn or GoToMyPC, these have much simpler installation instructions than any of the RDP/VNC options presented earlier.

Remote Desktop is an amazing bit of power-user technology that makes managing and using multiple computers very simple. It will save you time, frustration, and help you make better use of your household computers, all without switching your keyboard and monitor or position back and forth between them.

The Beauty of &&