Hope you’re all rested and refreshed to face the new week!
This weekend we celebrated Ethel’s 1st Birthday, with lots of presents, treats, games, and fun. It was pretty rainy, but we made the most of it with plenty snuggles and baking birthday Pupcakes with banana, carrots, peanut butter, and extra PB on top for “icing”. She absolutely loved them, and since we made so many we also made sure to deliver some for the nearby family puppers as thanks for all the birthday presents she got.
Our wee dog Ethel recently got spayed, so there’s been less post activity while we keep an eye on her recovery from the surgery. She has absolutely hated wearing the infamous Cone of Shame, so we got her a far too cute recovery suit that’s essentially a onesie pyjama that she seems to love. Matt is getting lots of work done and Ethel is healing up great so far, so we should be back to more regular posting soon as she keeps getting better and better.
Here’s an entirely accurate depiction of the events that transpired at the vets – as told by Ethel, and visualised by Matt.
Hey guys, I refurbished my old NES consoles, so you can see some photos of that below.
Here’s a list of upgrades that I gone and done, and that you yourself can easily try:
• I took the controllers apart to replace the silicone bits inside – replacements are super cheap on eBay. They work as good as new now. The main difficulty was that the tiny screws on the controllers didn’t unscrew very well.
• Just for fun I replaced the faceplates on two of the controllers with unofficial ones from eBay. They’re not as high quality as the original ones, but they look pretty cool if you don’t inspect them closely.
• I took the game cartridges apart to clean the connectors – this requires a special screwdriver. There’s a lot of different methods for cleaning that people swear by, but I tried a regular eraser, and then rubbing alcohol.
• I took the consoles apart for cleaning – I’ve got one PAL and one NTSC. The first runs at 50 frames per second and the second at 60. I snipped their region locking chips, so they can both play pretty much any game now, but at different speeds. Apparently, this also makes dirty games more likely to start-up correctly, since they will keep resetting if they don’t satisfy this chip. The snipping is actually super easy – you can see in the circuit board close-up photo exactly which pin you need to cut. That’s all there is to it.
• Taking an NES apart is very simple, and regular screwdrivers are all you need. Putting it back together is trickier, as some parts overlap in unintuitive ways, and plastic parts may have warped a bit due to age. Luckily there’s plenty of YouTube videos that will guide you through it if you get lost.
• I took out the component that connects to cartridges and gave it a light scrub with some fine sandpaper, straightened the connectors with a pick, and then I boiled it in water. Combined with cleaning the carts, most of my games start up on the first try now!
• One of the NES consoles had an unreliable power button. I figured it was just dirty inside, so I took it apart (carefully bending some small bits of metal to get in there), and that was indeed the case. I learned how to use a multimeter to check for electrical connections, and this allowed me to test if the power button was working without needing to put it back into the console. Now it works like new!
And as a little bonus at the bottom, you can see some new NES games I bought. These were published in the last few years! I gotta say that buying new, unlicensed NES games on cartridges in 2021 isn’t exactly great value for money unless you like collecting rare novelties to show off to your friends, much like vinyl records. But that’s the point I guess, and in my opinion, it’s preferable to collecting old, official NES games, since you’re supporting the creation of new content for the NES!
• Micro Mages feels like a very modern platformer game with smooth controls and a reasonable difficulty level, despite being the same size as the original Super Mario Bros. And it’s multiplayer – up to 4 players if you have a multi-tap!
• Project Blue is a good-looking and polished Metroid-style game, but the difficulty is very retro – you have to beat the game in one go, 1-ups are rare, and the easiest difficulty setting is still challenging. At least it gives you unlimited continues!
• Nebs and Debs could pass as a real, early NES game. The controls are a little bit stiff, and it sends you back to the beginning when you game over. Getting better at the game is a lot like Mario – you need to memorise where all of the 1-ups and shortcuts are, to stand a chance at beating it.
It’s been snowing almost nonstop since yesterday as we are all absolutely loving it! We both miss the snowy winters of Canada and Finland so whenever we get more than a dusting in Glasgow it merits celebration. Ethel absolutely loves the snow as well so we’ve gone on big snowy walks and played a lot in the garden. She will dig in the snow for hidden sticks and chase after snow balls, but her favourite thing is catching snowflakes in her mouth and finding the tastiest patch of snow to munch.
Oh, and digging through the snow to find my dropped phone.
As is my yearly tradition, here is a rough summary of my year:
• Me and Ronja went on a weekend trip to Killin, a small town in the countryside of Scotland. On the way back I got the car stuck in some snow in the mountains. Some passers-by let us use their shovel, and we were back on our way. I should be more careful in future, but I’ve since got a new set of tyres for my 18-year-old car, so maybe that’ll help.
• I finished off the big version 2 update for EBF5, which added a ton of new content and re-playability to the game. People could now play it for hundreds of hours if they wanted to, and the game has continued selling very well. If you haven’t revisited the game since that update came out, you totally should.
• Me and Ronja got invested in US politics this year, and were eagerly following the election news, including the democratic primaries and caucuses. It looked like Bernie Sanders had a chance. What an optimistic start to a nightmare of a year.
• Wildfires, World War 3, race tensions, and Brexit dominated a lot of the news. And the year was just getting started.
• The coronavirus plague obviously defined the entire year. In retrospect, everything that happened seems so obvious and predictable, but in the first few weeks I assumed that governments and people would take the proper precautions to limit the spread and damage. Oh, how naive I was. Two weeks before the first national lockdown, I realized we were in for a wild 18 months or so before a vaccine was developed and distributed. Ronja has a bad immune system, so we were way ahead of the government’s guidelines. The UK has some of the worst virus stats to date, so we have to be extra careful. Meanwhile in Finland, things have been pretty much normal.
• We got a Nintendo Switch early on in the year. I was not impressed by the hardware – it was just a portable WiiU! The screen is so reflective you can’t play outside, the controllers give you hand cramps, and it didn’t even come with a stylus! The games were okay – but nothing that couldn’t already be done on the WiiU. The game I looked forward to the most was Smash Ultimate… but due to the virus, I never had a chance to bring friends round to play it. But on the other hand, Ronja played Animal Crossing for hundreds of hours, so we still got our money’s worth in the end.
• I continued playing Nintendo ROM hacks, including GBA and N64 stuff, and even made some quick edits to Pokemon Fire Red myself! If copyright laws were reasonable, Nintendo’s oldest games would be public domain by now, and anyone could have a shot at making new commercial versions of Mario and Pokemon. I’d love that.
• My plans to visit every major theme park in the UK this Summer were cancelled. Scotland’s biggest theme park closed down due to poor attendance and the coronavirus. But then they re-opened after selling a bunch of their rides. Scotland’s biggest rollercoaster is gone. It was one of the worst rollercoaster’s in the world, according to enthusiasts, but I’m still gonna miss it.
• This year I’ve been doing more art just for fun, rather than work – including pencil drawings, pixel art, vector art, and bigger Lego projects.
• I started work on porting EBF5 to Android using Adobe AIR, and made a decent amount of progress. The game is currently in a playable state, but needs some more optimization and user-interface adjustments. I didn’t finish it this year because I got sidetracked with other work…
• I played Age of Empires 2: Deluxe Edition, for around 500 hours, usually with my brother and some friends. We got reasonably good at 4v4 matches. It’s cool to see a 20-year old game still alive with regular updates.
• Me and Ronja of course also joined in on the Among Us craze, and we had enough friends playing it that we could easily set up 8 to 10 player games. We never took the game very seriously, and usually got drunk while playing it. The best part was thinking of edgy nicknames like MrPooPiss, Titler, FrontBum, BloodFart, or FetusYetus.
• I got a drill and learned how to use it! I mounted some hanging flower baskets in the garden, and a coat shelf in the hallway. Other minor home improvements included: Upgrading all lights to LEDs, renewing the smoke detectors, and replacing cupboard knobs.
• Garden improvements this year include painting the shed, repairing some old fences, planting a cherry tree, and building a totally new fence. I also scavenged a perfect wooden gate from some neighbours who were throwing theirs out. Very convenient. We also made friends with the local cats and squirrels.
• Most socialising this year was done over Zoom – we went to the pub online, essentially. Occasional real-life visits were permitted, but we always kept things outside to be safe.
• I spent £3,000 on a new VR-ready PC and a Valve Index. Was it worth it? Not really – I could have spent less and not noticed much difference. Most software can’t even take full advantage of my new 12-core CPU. But I can put it down as a work expense, and half of that money would have gone to taxes otherwise.
• My favourite single-player games this year were easily Doom Eternal and Half Life: Alyx. Amazing next-gen stuff that I’d love to play more of.
• My entire exercise routine has been replaced with Beat Saber this year. I’ve gotten pretty good at the game, and there’s only one official level I can’t beat, and that’s Ghost on Expert+. I doubt I’ll ever beat it.
• Me and Ronja celebrated our 30th birthdays, as did many of our friends. We sadly couldn’t make a big deal out of it.
• My family got us a fancy barbecue for our 30ths. I knew nothing about cooking, but it turns out it’s fairly straightforward and hard to mess up. You just heat stuff up and check it occasionally. We had socially-distanced garden dinners almost every week over the Summer, usually with my brother and his girlfriend. We also learned what happens when you don’t keep the barbecue dry and clean…
• I started working on re-releasing all of my old Flash games on Steam, including EBF1, EBF2, Adventure Story, Bullet Heaven, Brawl Royale, Mecha Dress Up Game, The Kitten Game, Cat Cafe, and a bunch of prototypes and minigames. The games mostly remain the same, but have some new quality-of-life features, and have had copyrighted content replaced with original content. A couple of the games also have completely new content. Once again, this project was not finished this year because I got sidetracked with other work.
• I pulled my old NES stuff out of the attic – I’ve got both PAL and NTSC versions of the console. I disassembled them, cleaned them up, cut the region-locking chips, replaced the springs on the controllers, and everything works almost as good as new. Games usually start up on the first try.
• I bought some modern NES games, and some Chinese carts containing ROM hacks, and I’m having a fun time. It’s cool that people are still making new content for such an old console.
• Halloween was much less eventful this year – we did the usual cooking and pumpkin carving, but there were no trick-or-treaters or guests, so we had time to rewatch some old horror films.
• My office is looking better than ever – the plants and Lego mosaics on my desk add a lot of color. I’m considering buying an expensive chair that should last decades, and hopefully do my health some favours… but it’s not safe to go out and try some chairs at the moment.
• Towards the very end of the year, I started working on an unexpected update to EBF4! I’ve wanted to publish EBF4 on more platforms for a while, but there was a long list of bugs and features I wanted to fix first, so that’s what this update is for. EBF4 is getting a lot of quality-of-life features from EBF5.
• Me and Ronja got a dog! It’s a 7-month-old Staffy and Frenchie mix, and is quite well behaved already. She’s consuming a lot of our time at the moment, but this should gradually settle down. She has yet to meet my family’s other dogs, so I’m curious to see how that goes.
• Christmas was fun despite the lockdown limitations. We exchanged food and messages with family members, without getting too close. Me and Ronja binge-watched Lost, which I’ve never seen before, but I remember it was incredibly popular when I was a teenager.
And that’s about it.
Honestly, I am not optimistic about the future. Most of the bad news from this year was predictable and preventable, and seeing how poorly our human civilization has handled it, I’m concerned that the coming years won’t be any better. This could be the start of a disastrous decade – but I hope I’m wrong! Maybe the coronavirus vaccine will be super effective and delivered swiftly. Maybe Brexit won’t end up being a big deal. Maybe we’ll take climate change seriously. Maybe Joe Biden won’t be a corrupt, corporate sell-out. Haha.
Either way, I think me and Ronja managed to have a fun year despite being stuck in the house for most of it, and we’re fortunate enough that we don’t have to worry too much about what the future may bring.