Insane Game Prices at Half Price Books

Classic and retro game prices are on the rise. $30 for Pokemon Red and Blue is pretty normal despite being 20 years old and selling over 45 million copies. Super Mario World? $20-25 despite being the pack-in game for the Super Nintendo. It’s no wonder gamers want to know where they can get the best prices for (legitimate) games. Without fail, whenever I hear feedback from friends or YouTubers about where to find cheap games, I always hear Half Price Books come up. It’s not much of a surprise; Half Price Books sells more than just books and many items can be found for an incredible bargain. Just yesterday I paid about $12 for a handful of laserdisc movies, including Blazing Saddles and a sealed copy of The Birdcage (yes, I’m secretly an old man).

Last year I stopped by my local Half Price Books to see what all the noise was about. There were a few rows of modern and last-gen games, but most of it was the kind of stuff you probably don’t want to buy and prices that reinforce that feeling. All of the good stuff was, of course, behind lock and key. I was pretty outraged by the prices, went home, and quickly forgot about it. I happened to be nearby and decided to see if anything had changed.

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Let’s start with the elephant in the cupboard, the $150 Xbox 360. I need to say that again, slowly. One-hundred fifty dollar Xbox 360. I can’t even begin to wonder where they got a price like that or how long it’s been sitting in there. You can walk into a GameStop and purchase a Halo limited edition Xbox 360, Modern Warfare limited edition Xbox 360, and a generic white Xbox 360 that comes bundled with Battlefield, Modern Warfare, and Assassin’s Creed, all with cables, controllers, and warranty, for the same price as this one console. I’m just… beyond words.

Then there’s $50 for a PlayStation 2, $40 for a Wii, $100 for a Kinect (which are available en mass from GameStop for $20-25 depending on if it’s the original or S version)… I’ve been tempted to ask someone if these prices are accurate but I also have no intention of buying them, so I haven’t bothered.

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Then there are the games themselves. $20 for Tetris? One of the best-selling games of all time? $25 for Super Mario Bros. 3? $75 for Legend of Zelda and Super Mario World?! No, no no no no no. No. Even Hogan’s Alley is 2-5 times as expensive as the current eBay Buy-It-Now prices.

Maybe this is just the result of a rogue employee trying to get every penny possible out of game trade-ins, or maybe someone was looking up complete-in-box pricing when coming up with these prices. Who knows. If anyone has had similar or different experiences at their local Half Price Books I’d love to hear about it.

Pre-PAX Prime PC Preperations

A little over a year ago I decided to undertake a somewhat unique approach to water cooling: using surface area and evaporation to silently remove heat from the computer. If you want details, the build thread is here on the Linus Tech Tips forums. The long and short of it is, while it did work, summer temperatures made the water evaporate at an annoying rate and the cheap pump I was using generated more noise than I was happy with. That, and I couldn’t move my computer downstairs if I wanted to setup an HTC Vive.

I pieced together a massively overkill water cooling loop with the idea that excessive cooling meant less noise. The end result was this:

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I tried to make the diagonal lines work, but what I really wanted was something with a lot more 90-degree bends. The lines running into and out of the CPU cooler weren’t the same length, ran across the case at slightly different angles, and when combined with the mostly-horizontal line running from the radiator back to the reservoir, I was pretty unhappy with how it looked. The performance was fine, and I achieved a perfectly stable 4.4 GHz overclock with relative silence. The HZXT Hue+ also provided nice, ever-changing mood lighting which really set the build off.

This year I decided to bring my PC to PAX. There’s a LAN across the street every year, and I figured I could edit and post content without relying on my laptop, play some games, and just have a nice space to myself when I needed a break from the madness of PAX. This was the perfect opportunity to address some of the issues I had with the system.

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First up was the tubing. One of the issues I had with the tubing was how it ran all over the case and was visually too messy for my taste. To resolve this I wanted to move the radiator to the front of the case. Despite there seeming to be enough room, I just couldn’t manage to cram the radiator, fans, and reservoir all in the hard drive bay. My backup plan was to keep the radiator in the front, but rotate it so the inlet and outlet were now in the front of the case. This allowed me to make shorter, more direct lines between components and get those parallel 90-degree bends I wanted so badly.

Swapping the radiator back and forth was a massive pain in the ass because every time I would have to remove the bolts holding the fans on, reconnect them, realize I put them on the wrong way and have to do it again. Eventually, I got it all sorted and everything was fine.

Except when I realized I ran the water loop backward through the water block. Luckily that was an easy fix; I just had to flip the block upside down.

Now that the radiator lines are in the front of the case there is no room for a hard drive. The 3 TB hard drive now lives in the ever-cramped basement with all the power cables. Seems happy enough, but in the future, I’d really like to mount it at the bottom of the hard drive case under the reservoir.

The last thing I changed, which isn’t pictured, is swapping the OCZ SSD and the Hue+ controller. I had originally put the SSD in first and didn’t think about the aesthetics when I put the Hue+ controller in. The position of the massive black box started to wear on me over time, so I figured now would be the best time to swap all that stuff around. Now it looks much, much better.

I ordered a set of clear acrylic cable combs for the GPU wiring. It’s not supposed to arrive until Saturday, so if it doesn’t show up early I’ll have to install them at PAX. The last thing I ordered, which should be here the day before PAX, is a plastic scratch remover kit. My plastic case window has been through a lot, and I’d like it to look new before putting it on display for all to see (They’re rather prominent in the video below). Hopefully it gets here, hopefully it works, hopefully my loop doesn’t have a meltdown like in the dream I had last night.

Because pictures are kind of boring these days, here’s a short build video I took and edited in a hurry. There are chunks missing because the battery in my camera died, but all you’re missing is me struggling with the radiator. When I do my next rebuild I’ll tear the system down to bare components and do a complete build video from the ground up.

Retr0briting a white PS2 controller

This spring I came across a Japanese Playstation 2. Not just a Japanese Playstation 2, but a white Japanese Playstation 2. For like $50. Normally fat J-PS2s run $80-100 so getting a non-black one half that was pretty sweet. It even came with the original white controller. At least, it used to be white.

Yeesh.
Yeesh.

Yeah. It’s kind of gross. I’m not sure if it’s UV damage or smoke damage, either way it’s pretty nasty. Maybe it’s supposed to be pale yellow? Let’s find out.

Top half of the controller compared to the inside of the bottom half.
Top half of the controller compared to the inside of the bottom half.

Oh no. Hell no! Ew, ew, ew! Not only is it gross yellow, it’s also filled with dirt. Since we’re going to attempt restoring the plastic we’ll need to tear it apart and clean it anyway, so let’s do that.

I'm done.
I’m done.

How? How?! At least this is the last time this controller will ever be this dirty.

After the bath I mixed up some Oxy-Clean and hydrogen peroxide. The peroxide was only 3%, not the recommended 6-12%, and I didn’t have xanthan gum to make it into a easy-to-apply paste, so I just had to dunk the top half of the controller into the liquid  solution (I couldn’t fit both halves in the container) and pray.

Brightened top compared to the yellow and original white.
Brightened top compared to the yellow and original white.
Brightened vs as-is.
Brightened vs as-is.

It looks surprisingly good but it’s still not where it should be. I’m guessing it was because the hydrogen peroxide was too diluted. Time to try a more powerful solution.

The top half of the controller looks yellow because of the lighting.
The top half of the controller looks yellow because of the lighting.

Continuing my testing on the top half I gave it multiple coatings and sessions out in the sun and didn’t see much of a change. Most of the reports I’ve read claim that it only requires 60 to 90 minutes in the sun, but after 2 hours I wasn’t seeing much, if any, change.

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While not being white-white it’s certainly much better than it was (go back and look at the first picture again). I think this is as good as I’m going to get, so time to move onto the bottom.

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It was hard to make out in photos but the lightening on the bottom was a bit uneven. I recoated it and let it sit longer but didn’t get a better result. I think the liquid hydrogen peroxide diffuses the light, lightening the plastic more evenly than using the hair cream. Regardless, the controller looks white at a glance, especially with indoor lighting, and it doesn’t feel like touching it is going to give me emphysema, so overall I’d say this was a success. Maybe in the future I’ll find a really yellow piece of plastic I can chop up and do some scientific testing.

Gameboy Advance Restoration – Day 2

In the last post I had finished taking the Gameboy Advance apart and scrubbing it clean. It made no difference at all but the prep-work was important for the next step: hydrogen peroxide and lots of sunlight. Note: The photos in the previous post were taken with my DSLR; these photos were taken with my phone so they’re going to look quite a bit different.

I wasn't able to get all the air bubbles out so I had to weigh the parts down.
I wasn’t able to get all the air bubbles out so I had to weigh the parts down.

At about 8 in the morning I set the container out in the sunlight. It was supposed to be sunny all day long so I figured this would be a perfect time to test how well the hydrogen peroxide works. What I didn’t realize is that our patio would be cast in shadow around 9 or 10, and since I was at work I couldn’t move it.

I probably should have left it at this state but I figured there was more color to be brought back.
I probably should have left it at this state but I figured there was more color to be brought back.

So this is the result after basically a full day of shade. It looks pretty good (by which I mean it isn’t that greenish black anymore) but I was curious if I could get the purple back if I left it in direct sunlight. I rinsed the parts, replenished the hydrogen peroxide, and placed it somewhere it would get full sunlight all day.

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You can see the richer purple on the bottom of the system.

Once it was done I washed it again and put it all back together. It is purple, but it’s a faded, sort of ashy-looking purple; not quite what I was expecting.

With all the black banished from the plastic it’s time to restore the color. I had recently restored the plastic trim on my car using Back to Black, so I decided to try that on the GBA’s plastic shell. The bottle claims it repairs “light oxidation” but is “safe for all colors”, so why not give it a try?

Top half recently treated with Back to Black.
Top half recently treated with Back to Black.

The initial difference is pretty staggering. I was a little worried about the darker areas, not sure if they were stress marks or what, but it was just from there being a heavier layer of gel on those areas.

After a complete application.
After a complete application.

After treating the whole surface I buffed the remaining gel off and compared it to the correctly-colored plastic. In my mind it was looking a little better but comparing the before and after photos it pretty much looks the same. I noticed that where the gel was applied very liberally the color looked perfect before buffing and drying, so I did something a little crazy.

There's no kill like overkill.
There’s no kill like overkill.

Yes, that is exactly the color I was going for! Absolutely perfect! I knew it wasn’t going to last, but maybe it would at least help.

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Maybe… maybe a 5% gain? I want to believe it looks better but honestly it looks pretty much the same. At this point I have fewer options. I could:

  • Wet-sand the top layer of plastic to bring fresh plastic to the surface, but lose all texture and effectively ruin the shell.
  • Paint it, and ruin the shell.
  • Replace the case with a new one.
  • Live with the faded case.

The unit cost me $15, plus 2 or 3 more for a replacement battery cover, and another $2 for the hydrogen peroxide. Average price for a Gameboy Advance is $30. A new shell is roughly $15 shipped, so if I go that route I’ll have spent the same amount of money, if not slightly more (plus time and gas) but I’ll end up with a basically brand-new unit. Not sure what my next move is going to be just yet.

PAX South 2016 – Days 2 & 3

With a correct perspective on what PAX South is we were able to start making the best of it. At PAX Prime our focus was on finding the key booths, playing the games we were the most excited about, and finding the most relevant panels. Down in Texas, though, we were able to dedicate all of Saturday to walking the show floor and sampling everything the vendors had to offer.

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Yo, this is the convention center! At least, part of it. Seattle, step it up!

What games did we play? A few highlights would be a card game called Poop, Elite Dangerous, Cards and Castles, Freedom Planet (imagine if Sonic stayed 2D and 16-bit), Gungeon, Angry Video Game Nerd II: ASSimilation, a game like Mr. Driller but competitive, and a game where neighborhood kids use home-made weapons to fight monsters. We also entered as many raffles as we could which paid off big time. Well, maybe not “big time” but I did win a copy of Elite Dangerous and another member of our group won a SteelSeries mouse pad that’s probably the same size as her desk. Free games, free product (not just swag), beautiful weather, what’s not to love?

Frontier's Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.
Frontier’s Elite Dangerous booth. Boy have we come a long way since Descent.

I also go to meet some rad-ass dudes: Geoff Ramsey, who I was super awkward at but he was really kind and patient, and Matt Peak and Joel Rubin who are also really kind and patient. Seems to be a running theme with everyone at Rooster Teeth.

Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.
Matt Peak (right), Joel Rubin (left). Crouching because I tower over both of them.

Hardware vendors were out in force with booths from HyperX, Zotac, DXRacer, OCZ, EVGA, Intel, AMD, Gunnar, and even a standind desk manufacturer who’s name I can’t remember or find in the program. Basically every part you needed to build and enjoy a PC you could look at and talk to someone about. Zotac even let me hold their AMP! Extreme 980 Ti (which I mentioned in the last post). Pretty cool stuff.

It's a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!
It’s a magnet of the Zotac AMP! Extreme GTX 980 Ti! Adorable!

A sign of how the industry is moving, PAX South saw not only Twitch in attendance but also XSplit (used for streaming to services like Twitch), GameWisp (a 3rd party solution for allowing streamers to subscribe outside of Twitch’s program), and Hauppage (makers of video capture hardware). There were also multiple panels on streaming, advising on proper ethics and work habits for prospective streamers.

PAX just wouldn’t be PAX without the Omegathon. Our group makes a point of always watching the final round to bring our PAX weekend to a close. We were skeptical that the Penny Arcade folks could out-do themselves after Spy Party and Mario Maker wrapped up PAX Prime 2014 and 2015. But they did, in glorious 64-bits, with Rare’s GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. And because they’re evil they left the joysticks inverted.

After each winning one round and going 9 kills each in the third first-to-10 match, which included a 1v1 double-kill, Palpitatertot took the final kill and the victory over RugPisser.

[post video here]

Of course, video games and shiny video card’s aren’t what make up the soul of PAX, it’s just the shiny paint. The real reason PAX is so amazing is the people. People that run the event, you meet, and the friends to go with.

Our crew.
Our crew.

Our crew, the Juans of Gamelon, traveled thousands of miles and sacrificed sleep and sanity to experience San Antonio, at least within walking distance of the convention center. If I went by myself it would have been miserable.

Our King!
Our King!

There’s not much else to say. Games are awesome, friends are awesome’r. If you have the chance to adventure with people to a cool new place, do it. Do it, do it, do it!

PAX South 2016 – Day 1

The gaming club I belong to, the Juans of Gamelon, decided to make a pilgrimage to the Penny Arcade Expo. Except we already live in Seattle and attend PAX Prime every year. So instead we decided to invade the great Republic of Texas for PAX South in San Antonio.

Our flight over left at 11:00 AM PST and we eventually landed in San Antonio at 9:00 PM CT with a layover in Denver. There’s not much to say about the trip over, other than I got some quality time with Undertale and Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam.

Having attended the original two years of PAX and the last three years of PAX Prime I had certain ideas of what PAX was, of what it should be. It wasn’t really any of that, which is kind of nice. Even before getting here there was a marked difference in tone. Individual day passes were still available what must have been a couple months after going on sale; unheard of back in Seattle. (Edit: Friday and Sunday passes are still available!)

When we got to the convention center there was a long line to get in but it moved fast. Once inside and in the exhibit hall there was… space, a lot of space, separating the video games from the tabletop games. In the darken end of the hall with the glowing Twitch and Intel signs there was more missing. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo, Sega, Square-Enix, Bethesda, EA, Ubi; the place was completely void of AAA studios and publishers with the exception of Capcom. Even the well known indie guys like SuperGiant Behemoth were nowhere to be found. Instead we saw a lot more hardware manufacturers like Intel, Zotac, DXRacer, and Kingston (parading as Hyper X) and small studios making small games. While jarring at first I don’t know that I actually dislike it. PAX Prime is a madhouse; not compared to PAX South but compared to something on the scale of E3. PAX South, on the other hand, felt like a reminder of those first couple years of PAX when it was in Bellevue’s quaint Meydenbauer Center. Do you want to talk to someone that works in the studio of the game you’re looking at? They’re right there. Want to see where the lead developer gets their inspiration from? They’re probably 10 feet away. Want to play a card game called “Poop”? By god it’s right there with no line and a friendly person eager to show you how to flush. It’s like a kid wearing their parent’s clothes and I absolutely adore it.

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On the other side of the exhibit hall’s massive divide was the tabletop area, home to the Magic: The Gathering tournaments, various venders and studios, an PAX’s freeplay area where you can borrow virtually any game under the sun and make bitter enemies out of once close friends. This place was huge. Like, original Xbox huge. ‘Day-one patch’ huge. Not just huge, but full of gamers shuffling cards, rolling dice, moving figurines, cooperatively lifting objects with cranes attached to their heads… (yes, that was a thing). It was inspiring, like the shining yellow save points in Undertale. It just felt good.

* (The sound of shouty nerds fills you with determination.)

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So despite all of the would-be short-comings of the event I think I actually prefer it this way. It’s like a breath of fresh air after the chaotic holiday season. I can’t really blame the bigger studios for not making an appearance, either. With most studios shipping back in November or pushing back until summer it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to invest so much money when you’re not in a position to see a return on that investment.

It’s now 3:16 AM on what will be day 2 of PAX South in under 7 hours. Tomorrow’s missions are to get this article posted (since our free hotel wi-fi isn’t connected to the internet), win Zotac’s raffle, and play every indie game I can put my hands on.

Oh, and a side note: Zotac let me hold their AMP! EXTREME GTX 980 Ti, a 2.5-slot tall graphics card that taller, wider, and longer than any card I’ve ever seen. And it costs $650-$700. What in the…

Gym Battle Episode 2

Today’s trip to the gym was a little different than yesterday. The game felt a lot more grindy than it did yesterday which meant I was a lot more distracted by 2 Broke Girls on the gym’s TVs, which in turn made the game slower and less interesting. However, I did push through to Professor Sycamore’s lab, beating him in a battle, and receiving my second starter, Bulbasaur. Despite cycling for about the same time as yesterday I burned more calories and cycled further as well (stats below). I’m starting to think that, rather than major battles being my checkpoints, I should maybe start to look at milestones in the game. Maybe making my way through a cave system or arriving in a new city.

Oh. And apparently I can’t go the whole two hours anyway since my gym only validates parking for 2 hours. So 90 minutes it is.

Time: 90 minutes (187 minutes)
Calories:
325 (615)
Cycled:
15 miles (24.5 miles)
Badges: (1)
New Pokemon:
8 (30)

*Totals are in parenthesis.

Gym Battle Episode 1

My last job was at a car dealership taking photos and creating ad copy for their online advertising. This meant I was outside for six or seven hours each day, running from one end of the massive property to the other, climbing into and around all sizes of cars, trucks, and SUVs. I would also take the bus to work which added even more walking. Before that I had a typical desk job but frequented the gym that was across the street from where I worked. All this to say that, while not ripped, I’ve typically been active and somewhat fit. At my current job there’s been a lot more sitting and the only lifting I’ve been doing is the gallons of water it takes to refill my computer (I’ll do a separate post about that soon). I’ve gotten a little soft around the edges. In college you’d call it the Freshman 15 but at my work they often call it the Microsoft 20. I’m a little over six feet tall and at my peak fitness I was about 165 pounds. Now I’m 186 and none of that gain is muscle. It’s time for some of it to go.

I was largely inspired by Rooster Teeth co-founder Burnie Burns‘ system of keeping in shape; walking on a treadmill while gaming. During a Reddit AMA he answered a few questions about his weightloss.

I put a treadmill facing a wall, hung a TV on the wall and walked (slowly) while playing games.
Longest so far was ACIV, I walked 232 miles.
During my 60lb weight loss, my longest was when I walked 137 miles playing Fallout 3.

Don’t play FPS games. I almost crippled myself playing Halo once. I instinctively walked left when turning left and stepped off a moving treadmill.

I don’t have a treadmill but I do have a dusty gym membership. I’m not sure where I got the idea but I decided on erasing my save on Pokemon Y and challenging myself to get on a treadmill or cycling machine and not get off until I’ve beaten the next gym leader. I wasn’t sure if this was even possible since I doubt the game can be completed in 9 hours, counting the Elite Four and the Champion as a single gym encounter. So probably saying either beating the next gym leader or not leaving until I’ve walked/cycled for two hours. It sounds grueling and I’m sure it might be. I started this experiment yesterday and cycled for about 95 minutes, burning nearly 300 calories in the process. Hopefully my 3DS and I survive.

After each session I’m going to post some stats because, aside from being fun and interesting, they should also help track my progress and keep me motivated. Here’s yesterday’s.

Time: 97 minutes
Calories: 290
Cycled: 9.5 miles
Badges: 1
New Pokemon: 22