The Nintendo PlayStation

Last year it came to light that someone, a family from the east coast, was in possession of a PlayStation. Of course, millions of families own PlayStations, but this one is different. It’s a prototype of the CD-ROM version of the Super Nintendo.

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In the 90s Nintendo had seen Sega and other hardware manufacturers turn to CD-ROM technology to store games and multimedia content. They decided to invest in a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo, much like the Disk System for the FamiCom, to enhance the capabilities of the Super Nintendo. Sony was already supplying Nintendo with sound chips and was a leader in home electronics manufacturing so the fit was perfect. Nintendo soon realized that, due to the licensing agreement with Sony, that they would not be receiving royalties for games sold on CD-ROM for the PlayStation. Behind Sony’s back Nintendo signed a new agreement with Phillips to create the CD-ROM add-on. During the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show, Sony formally announced it’s new console, which would play both Super Nintendo cartridges and CD-ROM games. The next day Nintendo announced, at the same show, that they would instead partner with Phillips. Nintendo would eventually cancel all plans for a CD-ROM add-on. This temporary collaboration is what eventually spawned the Phillips CD-i and its well-known Mario and Zelda games.

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Olaf Olafsson, founder and CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment, held onto his prototype PlayStation after being pushed out of his position at Sony. Later he would become president of Advanta Corporation, which would later collapse. For whatever reason, Olaf seems to have left the system at the company when he left. As the company’s assets were being liquidated a former employee, Terry Diebold, bid on an auction lot; one of the items happened to include this prototype PlayStation. Since then the system has sat in the family’s attic until it was dug out after the son mentioned having it in a reddit post.

Since then the family has toured all over the world, allowing news outlets and enthusiastic gamers to play with it, rather than keeping it hidden in a private collection. The system did have a few problems, however. The sound didn’t work from either it’s Super Nintendo multi-out connection or the dedicated RCA outputs. The CD-ROM drive appeared not to power on at all, and there were multiple failures during the system’s self-diagnostic check. Recently the family brought the console to well-known hardware hacker Ben Heck to document a tear-down of the unit and see if functionality could be restored.

Eventually, the family and the console made their way to the Seattle Retro Gaming Expo this year where, not only did I get to bask in its glory and take pictures of it, I also got to play it. The crazy thing is that literally anyone at the show could stop by and put some time on the system and get a personal demonstration of the hardware. The fact that it’s been damn near given to the gaming community is astonishing; I really can’t get over it.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of photos I took of it. Some things to note are the functioning LCD for the CD-ROM and the rear AV outputs, which is nearly identical to the original release of the PlayStation (model SCPH-1000).

Pokemon GO: How Long Does it Take?

There’s been a lot of digging around by the community to find out how Pokemon GO works, what the limits of the game are, and how to get there the fastest way possible. It’s been discovered that the (current) maximum level a player can reach is 40, though no one is known to have gone past 30. But why is that? The game has been out for a few weeks now, you would think with all the obsessive fans out there someone would have reached the level cap. I decided to do some digging of my own to find out why.

The experience points required to advance to the next level, at the beginning of the game, are trivial. Multiple guides online show how level 5 can be reached in just 30 minutes after creating an account. 30 minutes per 5 levels, doesn’t that mean that it should only take 4 hours to reach level 40? Bulbapedia has a list of the experience required for each level, but here’s a more visual interpretation of the data.

 

The chart on the left shows how much experience is required to level up between levels 1 and 19. Level 1 requires 1,000 XP, level 2 requires 2,000 XP, and so on. The chart on the right puts into perspective what kind of mammoth experience gains are required to advance between levels 1 and 40. The chart is essentially flat through 19, starts to pick up at 20, and by 30 it just takes off. So now that we know how steep the mountain is, how long does it take to climb? Let’s start with estimating XP gained per hour.

Let’s assume that you’re only catching Pokemon that are easy to evolve, making use of Lucky Eggs to double the XP gained from evolving your pest Pokemon. If you spend 2 hours catching nothing but Weedles and Pidgeys you will net yourself 12,000 XP (enough to get yourself to from level 1 to 5!) and 180 of each candy. This should get you 15 evolutions of each type. When you use your Lucky Egg it lasts for 30 minutes, and each evolution animation takes a while, so about one evolution per minute is about right. Evolving with the Lucky Egg will net you another 30,000 XP. You’re probably hitting up PokeStops while you’re playing (you’ll need to in order to get enough Pokeballs to keep this up) so let’s assume you’re in a park and can manage one stop per minute while catching Pokemon. That adds another 6,000 XP. Just to be generous let’s also assume that you’re getting good at throwing balls, so each capture has a “nice” or curveball bonus for 10 XP each for another 1,200 XP. So we’re at a total of 48,000 XP over the course of 2.5 hours (two hours for catching, 30 minutes for hatching) for an average of 19,200 XP per hour. I’m not taking egg hatching into account because it’s far too random and depends on the quality and quantity of the eggs, and how many incubators are in use. So if we overlay this data with the experience required per level we get this chart.

time-per-level

Under nearly perfect conditions it takes an hour or less per level until you’re at level 18, then starts to grow. 2.6 hours from level 20 to 21, 3.9 hours to level 22, 5.2 hours to level 23, 6.5 hours to level 24… 18.2 hours to get from level 29 to 30. Again, this is under nearly perfect conditions. You’ll be slowed down by trying to catch more interesting Pokemon, interacting with friends and fellow trainers, and actually enjoying the game. In all likelihood, you’ll be spending 2-5 times this long per level, which is why even your friends who are really into Pokemon GO are floating between levels 21 and 24.

And if you’re wondering how long it could ideally take to reach level 40, it’s 1,040 hours or 43 days of non-stop playing. If you’re semi-reasonable and only playing 8 hours per day that ends up at 130 days or over four months.

Pokemon GO: CP Gains During Evolution

I’ve been curious if there was a way to predict what the CP of a Pokemon would be after it evolves. Was it the Pokemon’s size? Current CP? Trainer level? I decided to start tracking different figures before and after a Pokemon’s evolution. With a very, very small sample size, I’ve learned that Pokemon who evolve into their final evolutionary form have much bigger CP.

Spreadsheet of science!
Spreadsheet of science!

I’ll be updating this spreadsheet to see if other factors, like trainer level, have anything to do with it. Maybe I’ll evolve some really low CP Pokemon to see if they catch up.

Pokemon GO: Gyms, Eggs, and Being Beefy

In the last post I talked about Pokemon GO’s basic gameplay mechanics and optimizing item use to gain maximum player level. Today we’re going to take a look at gyms, what they do and how to fight, how to incubate and hatch eggs, and what you can expect after power leveling.

So What Are Gyms?

After you reach level 5 you’re asked to choose one of three teams, Mystic (blue), Valor (red), and Instinct (yellow). Your allegiance has no effect on the game other than what gyms you can defend or attack.

Gyms are currently the only place in the game where you can battle with your Pokemon. They come in different levels, which I’ll explain in a moment, which determines how many Pokemon can be stored there. A level 1 gym can store 1 Pokemon, a level 4 gym can store 4 Pokemon, etc. Swipe left to see the rest of the Pokemon in the gym. If you come across a gray gym it means that no one has claimed it for their team, or the occupying team has recently been defeated and is up for grabs. To claim the gym for your team simply deposit one of your Pokemon in the gym.

Entering a friendly gym, controlled by your team, let’s you drop off Pokemon if it isn’t already full, or spar with your teammates’ Pokemon. Doing this increases your XP and your gym’s prestige level. Higher prestige results in a higher gym level, meaning more Pokemon can defend it from opposing teams. After your sparring match you’ll need to heal your Pokemon. Because it’s a friendly match your Pokemon are never knocked out, meaning you don’t need to use and recovery items.

Gyms controlled by other teams are a lot more interesting. In the friendly sparring matches you only choose one of your Pokemon to battle against the whole gym, one at a time, but here you’re selecting six. As your Pokemon’s hit points near zero, or if you have another one that has a type advantage against the opposing Pokemon, you can switch out during the battle. As you win battles the prestige of the gym drops, opposing Pokemon are kicked out, and eventually the gym become free for the taking. In suburban areas a gym might belong to a team for a few days at a time, but in busy areas with lots of trainers a gym might change owner multiple times an hour.

Defending gyms isn’t just for ego. Each gym you defend rewards you with coins, which can be spent on items like Lucky Eggs and Incubators, as well as XP. Individually each gym isn’t worth much, and bonuses can only be claimed once every 20 hours, so it might be worth the effort of finding a secluded gym without much foot traffic and claiming it.

So How Does Fighting Work?

The simple answer is that your Pokemon have two attacks, a primary and secondary. The primary attack typically does much less damage than the secondary attack. Quickly tapping on your Pokemon during battle will trigger its primary attack. While you’re doing this you’ll see a segmented blue bar near the top-left corner of the screen fill up. Once one of these segments is full you can tap and hold on your Pokemon to trigger its more power secondary attack. These attacks take longer to perform and can be dodged but can also deal massive damage.

The longer answer is that there are multiple attributes that contribute to the battle: CP, HP, typing, attack typing, and attack power. Since I haven’t defined these yet I’ll go ahead and do that now.

  • CP – Short for Combat Points, it’s a way to determine your Pokemon’s strength in battle.
  • HP – Short for Hit Points, this is how much damage your Pokemon can sustain before being knocked out.
  • Typing – All Pokemon have one or two types, such as grass, fire, flying, psychic, etc. Each of these types had strengths and weaknesses. Example, fire attacks do double damage to grass types.
  • Attack types – Each attack does damage of a certain type, like those listed above. These attack types typically correspond with a Pokemon’s typing, but not always.
  • Attack power – Each attack has a base amount of damage it deals before other calculations are done. A primary attack might have a power of 10 and a secondary attack might have a power of 50, dealing 5x the damage.

Like in the normal game, an attack with a power of 10 typically doesn’t do 10 damage. There are a number of calculations that are made to determine the actual strength of the attack and the damage dealt to the opposing Pokemon. We don’t have all the formulas and details for GO just yet, so here’s how things seem to work so far.

First off, CP rules everything. Even with a type advantage it’s incredibly difficult to take down a Pokemon with a significantly higher CP than yours. That is, against a CP 800 Weepinbell, your CP 700 Magmar is going to have a bad day.

Typing is the second most important thing to take into account. GO seems to follow the same strength/weakness rules as the current main Pokemon games, and it’s pretty easy to figure out who has the advantage. Fire attacks to double damage to grass types, but half damage to rock types. That said, Pokemon can have attack types that don’t correspond to their own typing. One example of this is my Slowbro, a psychic and water type, who happens to have Ice Beam, an ice type attack. Making sure you pair your Pokemon appropriately with the defending Pokemon of the gym is critical to getting the win.

Your Pokemon’s attacks and attack power will change during evolutions so unless it has already reached the end of its evolutionary line there’s no reason to pay too much mind here. Once you’ve got a gang of fully evolved Pokemon you can start evaluating which is going to be best suited for battling and start powering them up. Powering up your Pokemon increases their CP and HP at the cost of Stardust and candies. This can get very expensive so avoid powering up your Pokemon until they have a CP over 8-900 when caught, evolved, or hatched. They’ll end up stronger in the long run.

Speaking of Hatching…

Of the three ways to get new Pokemon hatching, or “incubating”, requires both the most and least amount of work.

Spin enough PokeStop medallions and you’ll get eggs along with your pokeballs and potions. Your eggs can be found by going to your list of Pokemon and swiping left. Tap an egg, then tap ‘incubate’, and select one of the incubators to put the egg in. Each egg has a distance requirement before it can hatch: 2, 5, and 10 kilometers. The game tracks how fast you’re moving so riding in cars won’t count for your incubating progress. The game also needs to be running for your progress to count, so keep that in mind before going out for a run. Eggs with longer incubation period result in stronger, rarer Pokemon, as well as more candies for that evolutionary line.

You start the game with one incubator that can be used unlimited times. As you level up you’ll receive additional incubators that can only be used three times each. If you’re going to hatch 2 km eggs they’re best put in the infinite use incubator since they hatch quickly and typically don’t have a lot of good stuff in them. You can choose to use them as you get them, wait to use them all simultaneously (which, combined with a lucky egg, can result in huge XP gains), or you can pay for additional incubators and go to town.

Life at a Higher Level

During your lower levels the temptation to power up seemingly strong Pokemon is overwhelming, but it simply isn’t worth it. Why? When I was a lower level, maybe 10, I evolved an Eevee into a CP 400 Jolteon and spent all my Stardust powering it up to a seemingly massive 660. Now, at level 18, 19, 20, I’m encountering wild Pokemon between CP 400 and 850 regularly. I evolved another CP 520 Eevee into a CP 1300 Vaporeon. That was without using a single mode of Stardust.

PokeStops are also dropping different items. They had started dropping greatballs but are now dropping ultraballs.

Basically, everything is better and I could have some pretty monstrous Pokemon if I had saved my dust and candies from pointless power-ups.

Pokemon GO: A Beginner’s Guide

Today I’m going to skip the rambling introduction and get right to the meat and potatoes.

What Is Pokemon GO?

GO is an augmented reality game, meaning it blends the game into the real world. Using your phone’s GPS you and your friends can search for Pokemon. All players share the same instance of the game, meaning that if one player finds a Pokemon other players should be able to find that same one in the same place. The main objectives are to collect Pokemon, train them to make them stronger, and defending your team’s gyms while battling other teams’ gyms. Also getting exercise and being social are important but that doesn’t really need explaining.

How Do You Play?

After downloading the game from the Google Play or iTunes App Store you’ll sign in with your Gmail account. Once you’re in the game you’re greeted by Professor Willow who gives you a brief overview of the game and its mechanics. You then get to choose your starter Pokemon, Bulbasaur, Charmander, or Squirtle. Which one you choose actually makes very little difference since you can’t go to gyms until your player level reaches five. Also, your starter’s CP, or Combat Points, are only 12 which is completely useless for battling or leveling up as I’ll explain shortly.

So now we need to catch Pokemon, but to do that we need Pokeballs. You get those by going to PokeStops and spinning the medallion, which drops items that are automatically added to your inventory. Once you’ve collected a bunch of Pokeballs it’s time to start catching Pokemon. Simply wondering around is usually enough to start some of your core catches: Pidgey, Weedle, and Rattata. For the first few player levels this is pretty much going to be your focus; spin, spin, catch, spin, catch.

“But that sounds boring!” I hear you cry. Yes, it might be hard not to evolve or level up that Krabby or Slowpoke you caught, but trust me, it’s worth it, and I’ll explain why later.

Tips For Catching Pokemon

In the bottom-right corner of your screen there’s a small list of nearby Pokemon. Tap this list to open a larger list of every Pokemon that’s around you. The number of footprints indicates relative distance each one is from you. If there’s a particular Pokemon in that list you want to catch, tap on it. The window will shrink and only display that Pokemon, along with its distance. If the number of footprints increases, or it disappears entirely, you’re going the wrong way. If the number of footprints decreases you know you’re on the right track. If there are no more footprints you’re basically standing on top of it. Look for russling grass in the game; this should give you a hint for where to look. Eventually it should jump out and you’re ready to catch it.

Once you’ve tapped on the Pokemon and the catching interface has appeared you’ll see the Pokemon and your Pokeball. Around the Pokemon there will be two circles; a white one that stays the same size and a green one that shrinks, gets big, then shrinks again. The basic goal is to throw the Pokeball into the white circle to catch the Pokemon, but you get more experience and a higher catch-rate for hitting the green circle. The smaller the circle the bigger your bonus.

You can also throw one of two ways. The first way is by simply dragging the ball up quickly with your finger and releasing. The second is by spinning the ball and throwing at an angle. This is a more difficult throw but gives you another boost to the catch rate.

Just like in the game, better Pokeballs will have better catch-rates. If you don’t have Greatballs, or if you really just want to make sure the Pokemon doesn’t get away, you can use Razz Berries to give a bonus to the catch-rate. They’re one-use items and only work each time you attempt to catch the Pokemon. This means if it pops out of the Pokeball you’ll need to use another Razz Berry to get the bonus again.

Leveling Up with Pidgey Power!

You can power up a weak Pokemon but you’ll end up using all of your resources, Stardust and Candy, and the end result will be a mediocre Pokemon and depleted resources. The best course of action is to simply catch a Pokemon that’s already strong and then level it up. But, in order to catch strong Pokemon, your player level needs to be high. So how do you do that? By taking advantage of an in-game item called Lucky Egg. This item doubles your player’s experience gain for 30 minutes. When combined with evolving Pokemon, your player level can make huge jumps. I went from level 10 to 14 in the course of about 10 minutes.

Each Pokemon caught gives you 3 Candy, plus 1 more if you transfer it to Professor Willow, for a total of 4. Pidgey requires only 12 Candy to evolve (a more typical amount is 50) and nets you 500 XP, or 1,000 if you’re using a Lucky Egg. By level 9 it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to have caught maybe 50 Pidgey, netting 150 Pidgey Candy. That’s enough for 12 evolutions. 10 evolutions times 1,000 XP each gives you 12,000 XP total, enough to hit level 10. Weedle is another Pokemon to use for quick leveling. They are at least as common and also require 12 Candy to evolve, so that’s easily another 12,000 XP, so you’ve gained another level. Repeat this for all the common Pokemon with low evolution costs and you’ll gain levels en mass. You’ll get another Lucky Egg at level 10, then again at level 15, so there are plenty of changes to bulk up.

Once your player level is up you’ll start getting better items from PokeStops, like Greatballs and Super Potions, and encountering Pokemon with higher and higher CP. Since you have hopefully not spent any of your Stardust you can start capturing monsters with a CP of 500+ right off the bat, which results in much higher CP in the long run.

Soldering and Desoldering guides

I’ve screwed up plenty of electronics trying to add or remove components with poor solder technique. Lifted pads, burned components, the lot. If I’m going to be attempting to repair and modify consoles and handhelds I should probably learn how to do things right. After searching YouTube I found these incredible guides filmed in 1980 and 1982 by PACE, Inc. These are definite must-watch videos if you’re interested in soldering.

Basic Soldering Lessons 1 – 9

Rework & Repair Lessons 1 – 8