Will we ever see the ZXVega+?

Or MBison+ as we know him over here.

The sorry story of delays, legal wranglings, complaints and more delays regarding the ZXVega+ has begun to appear in mainstream media in the last couple of weeks. No longer just nerds arguing in forums and people shouting into the black hole of Twitter, even the BBC have reported on it (even if they did have to remove the article due to legal threats).

So what happened?

I came into the story quite late. Almost as late as the ZXVega+ devs, it seems (ho ho!). I heard about the ZXVega+, a handheld computer reimagining of the ZX Spectrum home computer from the 80s, when it was first announced as an Indiegogo campaign. It followed the ZXVega, a “computer in a controller”, which was also crowdfunded and successfully released. This original device was not without its problems, and I never wanted one despite my love for the Speccy because of them. Mainly, no keyboard.

The ZXVega+, initially at least, looked more interesting. A sleek handheld with a screen this time, and the ability to plug a keyboard in. Still, £100 was a lot for something my Nintendo DS already did, but it was nice.

ZXVega+ render
See? Looks good, yes?

That was over a year ago, and… things have not gone well since. I won’t begin to understand all the details, who was lying, who was telling the truth and what was and wasn’t promised, but the situation now is a shambles.

RCL, who are responsible for the device and the campaign, keep announcing delay after delay. Partners in the company have changed. There have been production issues. The rights to some of the 1000 games lined up for the ZXVega+ have been denied.

Their campaign promises refunds if backers are not happy, and boy are some backers not happy. Very few people who have requested refunds appear to have received them too. Why are people wanting refunds? Because RCL have very little to show for over half a million pounds worth of funding, and because they’ve not been successfully updating backers with progress.

In the last couple of weeks, they’ve finally managed to take some photos of the devices, and even edit together a couple of videos of them supposedly in action. I say supposedly, because as some people have pointed out, the videos appear to be just showing videos running – not the actual games or user interface. Key presses don’t correspond with on-screen action, and both videos show the same content albeit edited differently. Make your own mind up:

Then there’s the fact at no point, ever it would seem, have they managed to show more than three devices working at the same time. Some comments on the Indiegogo page suggest that they’ve only got three working prototypes.

Now there’s suggestions that the “group shot” published a little while back shows cardboard boxes that are actually hand-modified versions of the original ZXVega box.

ZXVega+ Group Shot
Look at the rough cuttings, making the”hole” in the insert larger.

What RCL need is transparency. They have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, by just telling everyone what’s actually going on. Stop threatening everyone with legal action. Actually show pictures of what you have. If there are delays, that can be tangibly explained away, most people will accept that.

“We don’t have any boxes so we mocked some up” – this is fine.
Boxes shoddily modified – this is not.

“We only have three working prototypes” – this is fine.
“Look at all these ZXVega+s! Oh but only three are ever turned on” – this is not.

“Everything is delayed. It might be months. We’re working hard. It’s harder than we thought. Here’s what we’ve done so far and here’s what we’re doing to make it happen” – this is fine.
“Stop complaining about us. We’ll get our lawyers onto you!” – this is not.

RCL are spending their time getting riled up about what people are saying and not getting on with it. If they want people back on side, they need to be open. Come clean. Explain who at the company actually does what and – much as I hate to single him out – explain exactly what Lee Fogarty’s role is. For someone who supposedly “just does their website”, he seems to know an awful lot more than that position would suggest. Show the people some proper proof – not shakey-hand iPhone videos (that were delayed so they could be “Hollywood quality” – they’re clearly not), or explain why you can’t. Be humble, be clear, be open.

And maybe file their finance report? That’d help.

On the other side, the angry backers (who have every right to be angry, sure) need to simmer down a bit. There have been some very nasty, personal and slanderous things from that corner and it’s not helping. All you’re doing, guys, is giving RCL more excuses to delay things and spend your money.

As for my question at the start: Will we ever see the ZXVega+? I hope so. I really do. I don’t think I’d buy one, but I want the project to succeed because of what it represents and what it may inspire in the future. Unfortunately at this point, even if they’re not (and I’d like to think they’re just naïve), they’re coming across as shysters.

My gut feeling at this point is, perhaps a year from now, a device called the ZXVega+ which resembles what we’re expecting but isn’t quite there, finally comes out. Not as polished. Not as slick. Missing features or altered specs. But something. And I don’t think anyone will be pleased.

Switchmas Eve

The night before Switchmas
And all through the house
Fingernails were bitten
And downed Famous Grouse

I remember the panic of the Wii U launch. Would it get dispatched? Would it arrive at work before home time? Just who the hell were Zavvi anyway? It seems like just a few days ago.

Today, I had confirmation my Switch was safely with the courier. There was some concern that it was going to be dispatched to where I wasn’t going to be, but that was changed this morning. Now, there’s the wait.

Last time round I could entertain myself hammering F5 (or CMD-R, for a change) constantly whilst crying into a bucket. With the Switch, though, it all seems to have gone well. Too well. There’s nothing to refresh, I know – or at least, I am told – it will be with me before noon tomorrow. It’s unnerving.

Just think. In 24 hours I should have a new Nintendo console connected to my TV, with the foul-tasting Zelda game card jammed in and I’ll be playing it. Playing it!

But what other games am I planning on getting? Well, it’s still not 100% on what’s going to be available right away. Almost certainly I’ll download Snipperclips from the eShop, and it’s likely Fast RMX will be purchased too. I really want to get Super Bomberman R, but that’s a lot of money for a game fuelled by in-app purchases, so I might wait a bit.

Further away, the indie reveal the other day showed a lot of great looking titles coming up in the next couple of months.

Shakedown Hawaii will be bought, and the very Advance Warsy game WarGroove is a certainty too. Pocket Rumble should be awesome if it’s close to the Neo Geo Pocket Colour fighters it is trying hard to be, and Yooka Laylee and SteamWorld Dig 2 are definites as well.

And Stardew Valley. And Blaster Master Zero. In fact, that’s plenty for a while, isn’t it? I’m not even thinking about other retail games yet!

Steam Link, or how I learned to play PC games again

No, I’m out of East 17 lyrics.

If you’ve been following me at all over the last ten years or so, you’ll know that I generally don’t play PC (or Mac) computer games. I haven’t done for quite some time. The constant upgrade cycle. The fiddling to get things running as well as possible. Console gaming on the sofa in front of a TV just being better. These all combined to put me off.

On occasion, I’d make an exception. Short games. Games, like Civilisation, that you just can’t play on a console. Indie game oddities I’d picked up cheap on Steam. Over time, through various bargains, the Humble Bundle, and free giveaways, my Steam library has expanded with hundreds (literally) of unplayed games. Many of which I know very little about.

Then, two things happened. I bought a new iMac, and I became aware of – and bought one when it was on offer – Valve’s Steam Link.

Are you not aware of what one is? Then let me explain. The Steam Link is a low powered device that plugs into your TV. It’s not unlike a PlayStation Vita TV, an Apple TV, or a Chromecast. It connects, over your home network, to another computer running Steam, and then using technomancy, displays your Steam games on your TV. You can use a standard controller, such as an Xbox 360 pad, to control your games.

Roundabout
Roundabout: It’s on the PS4, but the Steam version was essentially free. So I’m playing that one.

This means you can have a powerful and huge PC in one room, but play the games in another. It’s black magic, and when it works, it works fantastically. When it doesn’t, though

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve made a concerted effort to make my Steam Link work as well as I possibly can 1. Since I had to reinstall Windows 10 anyway, I set it up to try to negate as many issues as I could when playing games remotely. An unobtrusive virus killer, making sure Windows updates are installed well before I start to play, updated graphics drivers, and so on. A cheap unofficial Xbox 360 wireless receiver (which surprisingly works out of the box on a Steam Link) was purchased so my Steam Link box isn’t strewn across the lounge carpet so my wired 360 pad cable can reach.

A New Console

What I essentially have now, is a brand new games console under my TV. A massive library of mostly untouched games ready to go. Not only that, but the graphics card in my iMac is surprisingly capable. I’m not as up on my GPUs as I used to be, but it’s an AMD R9 M395. I can max out Bioshock Infinite and Total War: Warhammer on it, so it should be good for most things for a good few years yet. Especially since my TV is only 720p.

Oh, and I have a wireless keyboard and mouse for those games that need them, in case you’re wondering. It’s rare I’ll play those, however.

Now, it hasn’t been plain sailing getting to this point, and although I’ve been using it mostly without issue for a few weeks now, there are still problems. Last night, for example:

The issue could have been anything. I had to reconnect to my computer (and put in the authorisation code again as if I’d never done it before). Then reinstall Bioshock Infinite. Luckily this didn’t take long – I expect it found most of the files locally in the end. And then be completed baffled as to how, and why, the screenshot button had moved from Home+RB to Home+RT.

I now accept some odd issues, and work round others. This means I can just get on with pretending I have a new console and just play the games previously locked away. When it works, performance is great! I don’t notice any lag, and I don’t have a noisy computer warming the lounge. Hopefully this will continue!

Notes:

  1. I’ve not mentioned this yet, but it’s part of a drive to spend less on gaming this year.

My thoughts on the PlayStation Experience 2016

I believe the term is “hot take”?

Without even looking at the information about each announced (or re-announced) game, here are my immediate thoughts. Mainly in simple “yes” or “no” form, because nobody wants to listen to reasons these days.

  • The Last of Us Part II – No.
  • Uncharted 4: The Lost Legacy – No.
  • Nex Machina – Yes.
  • Horizon Zero Dawn – Yes.
  • Wipeout Omega Collection – No.
  • Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite – Yes.
  • Nioh – Maybe.
  • Gravity Rush 2 expansion – No.
  • PaRappa the Rapper Remastered – YES. YES. YES.
  • Patapon Remastered – No.
  • Loco Roco Remastered – Yes.
  • Knack 2 – HAHAHAHAHAHahHAhAHHahahahoh you’re serious?
  • Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy – A thousand times No.
  • Resident Evil 7 – No.
  • Let it Die – Maybe.
  • Move or Die – No.
  • Destiny: The Dawning – The Yawning, more like, amirite?
  • NieR: Automata – No idea.
  • Retro Mode in MLB The Show 17 – Nobody cares.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony – Probably.
  • Ni No Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom – Perhaps.
  • Pyre – What is this I do not know.
  • Dino Frontier – VR so No.
  • Windjammers – ABSOLUTELY YES.
  • Yakuza Kiwami – YES. Yakuza is BEST.
  • Yakuza 6 – ALSO YES.
  • Vane – *shrug*
  • Dreadnought – Nope.
  • Fallen Legion – No.
  • Games of Glory – No.
  • Persona 5 – YESSSSSSSSSS.
  • Absolver – Wut.
  • What Remains of Edith Finch – Yes.
  • Starblood Arena – VR so No.
  • Death Stranding – All sorts of Nope.

And there you go. Definitive, isn’t it?

Some Comments About This Week’s Apple iPhone Event

This wouldn’t have happened on Steve’s watch.

It is somewhat fitting that Nintendo made an appearance at an Apple iPhone announcement. Not because they’re similar companies, or are both in competition with Sony and Microsoft, or because I’m a fan of both. No, it’s because 11 years ago Nintendo made the same mistake Apple revealed they’d made this week.

Yes, I’m talking about the announcement that the new iPhone 7 won’t have a 3.5mm headphone socket.

GBA SP adapter
Remember these?

When Nintendo released the Game Boy Advance SP, it was lauded by many – including me – as a great improvement over the original Game Boy Advance. A lit screen, a clamshell design, and a rechargeable battery built in. Bafflingly, however, the power socket did double duty – you charged and powered the GBA SP with it of course, but as the SP didn’t have a headphone socket, you used the power socket via an adapter to plug your headphones in. A decision Nintendo didn’t repeat with the DS, DS Lite, DSi, DSi XL, 3DS, 3DS XL, 2DS, New 3DS or New 3DS XL. With good reason: it was bloody stupid.

And here is Apple doing the same thing. You can’t charge your phone and listen to music/games/podcasts/whatever you happen to be using it for at the same time. Why would you want to do that? Because smartphone batteries are rubbish, and with apps like Pokémon Go draining then ever so quickly, being able to charge (even if on the go with a battery pack like I do) is a must. In fact, I regularly walk listening to podcasts, playing Pokémon Go, powering my phone at the same time – with an iPhone 7, I can’t do that. In fact, I can’t even use normal headphones without charging it at the same time, unless I use an adapter to allow them to plug into the now all-purpose Lightning socket.

“Oh!” you cry, “But you can! You can use wireless Bluetooth headphones!”. No, no I can’t. Have you ever used them? The quality is poor unless you pay hundreds of pounds. They desync themselves. There’s interference. Worst of all – they need power, and so need charging themselves!

And have you seen those that Apple are peddling for ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTY POUNDS? They look like Pat Butcher’s earrings, need charging (and only last 5 hours on a charge), and are going to fall out and get lost so easily. They’re an option not even worth consideration.

Apple Airpods
No. Just no.

The lack of headphone jack was pretty much guaranteed to happen, given the leaks and rumours in the last few months. Less certain were the size and specs, and sadly there’s disappointment there too.

Not with the specs, though. The power of the device is great, and increased on-board storage (iOS devices never seem to have enough) is welcome. Improved cameras are nice too. No, the problem is that the iPhone 7, just like the iPhone 6, it just too damn big. I find my 5S a bit on the large side, to be honest, and a 6 is impossible to use with one hand. A 6 Plus (and therefore the 7 Plus) is basically a tablet in comparison.

I was relieved last year when they announced the iPhone SE, as it’s the same as the 5S in dimensions, but around as powerful as the (then) new 6S. OK, it didn’t have force touch or a couple of other new features, but it meant there was still going to be an iPhone for me when it was time to upgrade or replace.

But is that still the case? Nothing about a new SE was mentioned this week. No SE sized phone with mostly 7 innards revealed. Of course, it may still happen, but I don’t think the SE sold especially well so it may not. Even if it does, will it ditch the headphone socket too?

I’m not going to be looking for a new phone for a while yet anyway. My 5S has a year or two still in it (dependant on Apple’s usual built-in obsolescence trigger once iOS 10 is installed, naturally), so my fingers are crossed for something I can accept before then.

As for Nintendo springing an iOS based touch screen Mario auto-runner on us all… well. I think a part of me died, unsurprising as the Apple event was more like a eulogy than the excited announcement of a new child.

Give me your stuff (please)

My wife now, Dave

Hey! I had this great idea. Why not, I thought, ask you lot to give me stuff? Wouldn’t that be excellent? Imagine all the stuff I’d get!

That is, assuming you actually give me some stuff, of course. If every single one of my readers gave me some stuff, I’d have, ooooh, three whole stuffs! Three! Incredible.

Now that I’ve convinced you to give me some stuff, it’s probably a good idea to tell you what sort of stuff I want, because otherwise you’ll just send me dirty photos of yourselves and nobody wants that, especially not me. This is not even an attempt at reverse psychology. Seriously.

No, what I actually want is digital goods. Have a spare Steam key for a game I don’t own and want me to play and write about it no matter how terrible it is? Give it to me! Fancy bunging a few quid Nintendo eShop, Steam or Playstation Network credit my way, even if it comes with a request to buy a specific title to play and comment on? Mine! Have you written a game or piece of software and want me to look at it? GIEV CODE NAO. I promise I won’t sell it on eBay or G2A or something.

I’ve pretty much every console bar an Xbone, and have a Mac that’ll also play PC games, and I’m open to non-game stuff too. Anything digital – games, money, music, books, comics, money, films, money… anything. Just nothing illegal, nothing pirated – legit stuffs only.

Cheeky to ask for stuff? Yeah, but if you don’t ask, you don’t get. Besides, who doesn’t love the warm feeling of giving? Think of it as payment for several glorious months of me providing absolute drivel for your entertainment. Like Patreon or Flattr but with less work on my part because I’m a lazy, lazy man.

How about it? I’ll love you forever. Or at least a week, anyway. I’ll write about whatever you send me, make no promises it’ll be a good write-up either in terms of writing skill or in terms of how much I liked it, and you won’t get it back.

Interested? Tweet at me @deKay01 or fill the form in below. I thank thee.

(Featured image is from here, is unmodified, and used under this licence)

A Yodel Adventure

Throw a six to start.

We all know how disappointed we are when, straight off the excitement that some new shiny toy has been dispatched, we discover it is being couriered by one of the less reliable delivery companies such as Amazon Logistics, Hermes, or Yodel. The tales of how packages have ended up in hedges, in wheelie bins that have been collected, on roofs and at houses that don’t actually exist speak on behalf of these businesses, and I’ll avoid using any online retailer that uses them whenever possible.

However, that’s not always feasable, and sometimes – like last week – I’ve no way of knowing who will be tasked with bringing me my precious. Ages ago, I pre-ordered a PocketCHIP, and a couple of weeks back it was dispatched. I’ll talk about it in another post soon, but needless to say I was looking forward to it arriving. Then, the international courier passed it over to Yodel and it was all doom and gloom from then on in.

I’m happy to report that Yodel did actually deliver in the end, albeit a day late, but I amused myself with these parcel delivery statuses while waiting impatiently.

parcel

parcel2

parcel3

parcel4

parcel5

parcel6

parcel7

As the day of delivery came to a close, time was running out:

parcel8

And overnight, I feared for the safety of my package.

parcel9

parcel10

parcel11

Yodel

I was just about to give up all hope.

parcel13

When finally, my parcel arrived:

parcel14

Sonic Mania: Sonic Cycle?

It’s been a long time since a Sonic game interested me. After the disappointment of Sonic Generations – the most recent that got my hopes up for a return to past glories – and the massive mis-steps of Sonic Lost World and the Sonic Boom games (yes, they made more than one, somehow), he was dead.

But there exists the Sonic Cycle. It hasn’t applied in a while, because it requires a decent looking preview of an upcoming Sonic title to trigger it into action, and Sonic Boom never looked decent. However, this happened:

Just look at those sprites. That animation. It’s how a Sonic 4 1 perhaps would have looked on the Sega Saturn if they’d stuck to 2D.

From what I can gather, it’ll have both redesigned “classic” levels and new, sprite based old-style Sonic levels and bosses. It looks incredible and I want it now, but my excitement is tempered: I’ve had my heart broken before, and even though everything is positive right now – the devs have form, the graphics are awesome, it looks and sounds just perfect – the Sonic Cycle is real and I’m worried this will end up massively disappointing.

All of my fingers are crossed that Sonic Mania is the game I’ve waited 15 years for.

Notes:

  1. No, a proper Sonic 4 – not that crap from a few years ago.