1-Bit Mechanistic Review

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Do you remember me asking you lot for free stuff a while back? Well, some of you were kind enough to send me free stuff. Free stuff like this – a CD (remember those?) of music tracks recorded using a ZX Spectrum (remember those?) beeper. Actually on a Spectrum. In this day and age. Wonders will never cease.

The beeper in the Speccy was never designed to be used for music, but some clever people figured out a way of fiddling with it to pump out some raspy excellence – notably Tim Follin. 1-Bit Mechanistic by Tufty (who presumably is a squirrel) takes the sort of thing Follin managed to a whole new level, with a full CD album of music unhindered by needing to, you know, have a game to process at the same time.

The first track on the album, Loading, is a musical approximation of the horrific squawking noise Spectrum tapes made when, er, loading. Somehow, the usual ear-splitting horror is – thanks mainly to a thumpy beat – transformed into a toe-tapping cacophony. It’s a mess, but of the sort you want to hear more of so it’s a shame it’s just 26 seconds long. No Speccy tapes loaded in 26 seconds!

Thumpy beats and hissy, rasping tunes are pretty much the order of the whole album, with most tracks impossible to listen to without some part of your body twitching with the beat. For example, the track So Cold the Night, an oppressive take on The Communards song of the same name, features a heavy bass line that forces you to tap along. It would work excellently as a “you’re approaching a boss” theme in a game too.

The title track, 1-Bit Mechanistic, sounds like a melody of a handful of other tracks somewhat distorted, of course, and only vaguely recognisable. This may be unintentional, but Duck Soup‘s Barbra Streisand, however, is quite clearly an influence.

As for the album as whole, it’s certainly my sort of thing but I suspect many people will find it hard going. The Spectrum’s music output is very raw and harsh, and without the context of an actual game to pair it with it becomes a difficult listen. You really should, however, especially if you’re a fan of the scene, or perhaps have enjoyed compositions from the likes of Anamanaguchi. There’s definitely talent here, and the knowledge that Tufty has produced this with such a limited system only impresses more – it’s just a genre that is somewhat demanding on the ears.


You can buy 1-Bit Mechanistic over on Bandcamp. CD for this review provided by Tufty.

No Man’s Sky Review

Shameless promo

Hello!

I did that thing I sometimes do, and wrote a review. As you have probably guessed by the title, it’s for that game I’ve mentioned just once or twice: No Man’s Sky.

I’m quite pleased with it too, so I asked to have it put up on Disposable Media where it might capture a few more eyes. If you’d like to read/share/print/moan about it, you can find it here.

I review the week’s singles

Where’s Pato Banton these days?

(This suggestion from @_Lee_ZX_ – nice underscore work there, Lee)

deKay reviews the week’s singles?

Now I’m going to assume, and it’s a pretty big assumption, that Lee is talking about the UK’s music singles rather than the latest postings on Plenty of Fish. Although that would be pretty good to do a post on, assuming I never want to write anything ever again. *makes notes*

There is a problem here in that several million (estimate) new singles are released every day, and there’s no way I’m going to review all of them. Reducing it to just those released this week that actually ended up in the UK top 40 goes too far the other way, with just 4 songs. I have decided, then, to review the current (as of the 26th August 2016) UK Top 10. If that’s not good enough for you, Lee, then I’m sorry. So very sorry.

Since this is my blog, I won’t be reviewing them by actually listening to them, my goodness no. That’s far too much work. I’ll be basing my review entirely on the title of the track. It’s as good as any other measure, I’m sure. This week then:

  1. COLD WATER by Major Lazer/Justin Bieber/Mø
    Lazer is spelt wrong and Justin Bieber in cold water just makes me feel sick. I’m not sure what a Mø is, although I did find out if you hold own the O key on a Mac for a few seconds then press the number 6, you can type it. Why anyone would sing about cold water is beyond me. Unless it’s from the Titanic soundtrack? It’s not, is it? BOUY/10
  2. LET ME LOVE YOU by DJ Snake Ft Justin Bieber
    Justin Bieber again? This wouldn’t happen in my day. I presume the song is about DJ Snake, who may or may not be an actual snake (how does he drive the decks?), asking our Just for permission to love him. You don’t need permission to love someone, you stupid boy/man/reptile. FORKED TONGUE/10
  3. DANCING ON MY OWN by Calum Scott
    I can see it now. Poor Calum’s mates have all copped off with some girls on a hen night, and Calum comes out of the toilets and returns to the dancefloor. After a few minutes it dawns on him that all his chums have gone. In fact, everyone has gone. It’s morning, Calum – you passed out on the bog again. There’s not even any music playing. Oh Calum. LONELY/10
  4. CLOSER by Chainsmokers Ft Halsey
    Pretty sure Halsey is a Pokémon, and smoking, let alone chainsmoking, is bad, OK? If they’re really chainsmokers, I would certainly stay away, my little Pokéchum, as passive smoking is a killer too. Unless it’s “closer” as in, someone who closes, in which case it’s perhaps a song about closing the cigarette packet and giving up. Either way, stupid song. FAG ASH/10
  5. PERFECT STRANGERS by Jonas Blue Ft JP Cooper
    Was Jonas in Blue, or is he one of the Jonas Brothers? And isn’t JP Cooper some financial investment company? None of this makes any sense. Nor does the title of the song, actually – unless it’s about two people who never meet. Perhaps Jonas never went to his JP Cooper appointment about what to do with the lump sum he was left when his grandma passed away. BANKERS/10
  6. DON’T LET ME DOWN by Chainsmokers Ft Daya
    I’ve never heard of anyone so far, apart from Justin Bieber and frankly, I’d rather not have heard about him. It’s Chainsmokers again, still unable to do without Nick O’Teen (best get Superman on it), and Daya is… who? In this song, maybe Daya is a car tyre and Chainsmokers are vandals. Right? Who knows any more. Modern songs are crap. DEFLATION/10
  7. HEATHENS by Twenty One Pilots
    That’s almost as many people in a single pop combo as Blazin’ Squad. Now there’s some proper music. Being pilots, they eschew the notion that God did not intend us to fly, and therefore are dubbed heathens. Blimey, that was an obvious one. 747/10
  8. ONE DANCE by Drake ft Wizkid & Kyla
    Wizkid was that C64 game wasn’t it? Sequel to Wizball? Seems he’s done good for himself. Drake, I’ve heard of – he’s the one that isn’t Chris Brown – and Kyla was in Final Fantasy I think. Not sure why they all have One Dance, but that dance is clearly going to be Morris Dancing. About time we had another Morris Dancing hit in the charts, I have to say. MAYPOLES/10
  9. TREAT YOU BETTER by Shawn Mendes
    I didn’t realise the Spider-Man film guy sang songs too. I expect this track is all about Peter Parker’s double life causing problems for his relationship with Mary-Jane, forever standing her up, putting her in harms way, occasionally getting her killed. Those sorts of things. And he’s promising to treat her better. Aw, Spidey. You can’t! Not while Doctor Octopus is still at large! WEBS/10
  10. TOO GOOD by Drake Ft Rihanna
    I know who Rihanna is! She’s the one who can’t spell her own name and has a bottom. No, the other one with a bottom. Who sings. No the other other one. Yeah, that one. This song is self-referential and is about how it is literally too good to go to number one, so ended up at number ten instead. And some people say the charts aren’t rigged! MILKSHAKE/10

8Bitdo FC30 Pro Controller review

Bluetooth retrogaming controller for all devices get!

Infrequently, I find myself needing a games controller for something. I don’t often play games on my Mac (or in Windows on my Mac), nor do I on my iPhone, and every so often I’d like to with a decent, wireless controller. I have numerous pads around the house that are wireless, including PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Wii, Wii U and Gamecube controllers, but I always have niggles with using them on other devices.

For starters, the 360 pad needs a dongle in order to talk to something other than a 360, and its dpad (the main control method I’d use for the games I’d want to play) is utterly dire. The Wii remote pairs with my Mac (or Windows on my Mac) fine, but obviously has few buttons. I could connect a Classic Controller to it, but that’s hassle. Although the Wii U Controller Pro supposedly syncs via Bluetooth with Macs and PCs I simply couldn’t get mine to do so, and like the PS3 and PS4 pads, it gets used for it’s designed purpose so often I’d need to do the resync dance after every Mac/PC gaming session. I have a third party PS3 pad which refuses to work with anything other my PS3 too, and it has a broken shoulder button anyway so that’s out.

Then, with the news of a Raspberry Pi 3 on the horizon, which I wanted to get to use as an emulation box, I decided to get a dedicated wireless controller for all these non-console devices. With some research, the 8Bitdo FC30 Pro seemed to fit the bill. Just look at it, for starters. Who wouldn’t want a controller that looked like that?

8bitdo FC30 Pro

It’s Famicom coloured with a great dpad and fire buttons (with the correct ABXY layout), analogue sticks which are clickable, and two buttons on each shoulder. With Start and Select too, it has everything (except analogue triggers) needed for pretty much any console game regardless of format.

There are also a couple of extra buttons, Power and Pairing, for turning the pad on and off and resetting the Bluetooth pairing settings. In the curve of the pad are housed two status LEDs, which change colour or flash to denote different settings and whether the pad is synchronised with a device or not. Finally, a micro USB socket provides a connection to both charge the battery and use as a wired controller.

FC30 Shoulders/MicroUSB

FC30 Pro Power/Pair

Unlike most Bluetooth controllers, the FC30 Pro has a number of different modes to allow it to be used with a variety of different devices. They’re chosen by holding a different button while turning the pad on, and have settings for Xbox 360 pad emulation, Bluetooth keyboard emulation, the ability to function as an iCade controller (for iOS, for example), and even touch screen emulation for Android devices. The latter requires a free Android app to configure it, but I’ve not tested it as I don’t have an Android device. The FC30 Pro even has a mode that works as a Wii remote for use on a Wii and a Wii U. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get it to sync with my Wii U, but it appears it should show up as a Classic Controller and thus work with any game that supports those.

I did manage to test it with several other devices, however. I used it in iCade mode with my iPhone, where syncing was easy and it “just works” in both Sonic the Hedgehog and Firebird Spectaculator. If it works with those, it should be fine with any iCade supporting app. One thing to bear in mind is that an iCade controller is essentially a modified Bluetooth keyboard, so if you’ve a FC30 Pro (or any iCade-simulating device) synced with your iPhone, the iOS keyboard may not always appear on screen. It’s a pain, but not a fault with the FC30 Pro.

Working as a standard Xbox 360 pad is only possible via Bluetooth on a PC. If you want to use it like this on a Mac you have to plug it into a USB port, which is a shame. You may need Xbox 360 pad drivers on a Mac too, which aren’t provided with the FC30 Pro but they’re standard for all Xbox 360 pads and easily available. Once set up in either of these two configurations, the pad just appears in-game as a normal Xbox 360 pad as you’d expect. However, because the Xbox 360 has the ABXY buttons the wrong way round, you need to mentally adjust that they’re backwards when using your FC30 Pro! There are also no analogue triggers, but that wasn’t an issue for the games I tested.

Another sync mode the pad has, is Bluetooth keyboard. Each button acts as a different key on a keyboard, making it ideal for use with emulators. On the Mac I use OpenEmu, and in there it was simply a case of configuring keyboard controls and then pressing the buttons on the pad as necessary. Initially, I did the same on EmulationStation on RetroPie for the Raspberry Pi 3 (it came out just after my FC30 Pro arrived!), until I realised that it actually supported Xbox 360 Joystick mode just fine. It’s a perfect controller for emulators in either of these forms.

There’s also a mode to enable the FC30 Pro to work with a Retron 5. I don’t have one, mainly because the controller it comes with is terrible, but if this mode works as I’d hope it’s another big plus for the pad. And now I might need to buy a Retron 5.

Available from 8Bitdo is the Xpad configuration tool for Mac and Windows, which lets you translate the buttons on the pad to keys on the keyboard. It’s great for those games or emulators which have keyboard inputs but you can’t redefine them. Initially I thought you could save this configuration to the pad itself but you actually have to have the Xpad utility running all the time for the translation to work. In reality this doesn’t really matter, and you can have different profiles stored for different games, which is handy.

Xpad

Importantly, how does the controller feel to us? Thankfully, excellent. Its build quality is close to that you’d expect with an official pad. All too often third party pads have off-centre sticks, wobbly dpads or mushy buttons, but those on the FC30 Pro are responsive and clicky in all the right ways. I’m not a superhuman lag detector like many people seem to be, but I certainly didn’t notice any. The creators seem committed to creating a quality product, and firmware is frequently updated to add more features: Wii compatibility, although non-working for me, was only added recently for example.

There’s a thread on the official forums about issues in the past with analogue stick deadzone, and the developers (with help from a customer) changed the way in which it worked, so they’re clearly keen to continue supporting and improving their products.

Overall, it’s an impressive bit of equipment. It’s flexible in use with its many different modes, feels good to hold, although is a little smaller than you might expect, and the battery life is impressive: I haven’t timed it but one charge lasted at least eight hours. At £30, it’s cheaper than most new controllers and well worth the investment. It comes professionally packaged too, in a great 8bit pixel themed cardboard box with little box compartments inside for the USB cable and, for some reason, a keyring and an adhesive hanger (presumably for hooking the pad onto your monitor or something). I can definitely recommend it.

fc30-6

Disposable Media

Last year, I started writing occasional articles for Disposable Media. Since we stopped doing ugvm magazine I’ve not really written much in the way of reviews, but sometimes I feel like doing so and it’s nice to have somewhere other than this blog (or my gaming diary) to put them. Especially if that place has a bigger audience!

So far I’ve four reviews up:

Gynophobia (PC)
Deus Ex Machina (PC)
Batman: Arkham Knight (PS4)
Pokémon Picross (3DS)

It’s well worth checking out the Disposable Media site itself too, which covers TV, film, music and all sorts in addition to games.

 

EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard

When choosing a data recovery program, the most important thing is whether it will actually recover your data or not. In my job I’m often asked to restore files that have been deleted or “lost”, and if there’s no backup (which, invariably on a removable disk, there isn’t), data recovery is the only way to go.

I’ve been testing EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard 7.0, to see how well it performs.

Recovery Wizard Home Screen
Recovery Wizard Home Screen

EaseUS’ product does two things I’ve not seen in other recovery programs. Firstly, it claims it can recover data from deleted, or reformated as a different filesystem, partitions. Secondly, when it searches for lost files, it can do so by type.

File types
File types

This is useful if you can remember it was a Word document but you’re not interested in anything else.

My main test was with a 16GB external USB flash drive. I’d previously used it on a Mac, and it had contained an installer for OS X Mavericks. I’d since formatted it as FAT32. I set about searching the drive with Data Recovery Wizard, looking for all types of deleted files.

Seaching for files
Seaching for files

After quite some time (which I expected, considering the job), the software came up with a list of found files. I chose to recover them all, and after an hour or so I had a folder on my PC, containing subfolders named by type of file:

recovereddatafolders

 

Each of these folders contained numerically sequenced files, all from the installer for Mavericks. I was a little confused that it didn’t name the files as they were originally, nor did it replicate the original file structure, but I reasoned that this information was probably lost since the partition table of the USB drive had been wiped and it was recovering Mac files from a Mac filesystem. The important thing was that the files were intact.

Recovered files
Recovered files

As a further test, I reformatted the drive again, this time as NTFS, and Data Recovery Wizard was again able to find, and restore, the deleted files. I don’t know if it restored all of them (as I don’t know what was there before), but certainly data was recovered.

Then I decided to try it out on a folder on a local hard drive. This drive is used as a temporary dumping ground for file transfers, downloads, temporary backups of things, etc. with files being added and deleted all the time. As before, I searched for all deleted files, and again it found lots of stuff – some of which I’d deleted months ago. I organise download folders by year and month, which is why the folders are named like this:

foundfiles
List of found files

I opted to recover some files at random, and this time the folder they were recovered to did recreate the original filenames and folder paths. Presumably it was able to recover this information as well in this case.

In summary then, Data Recovery Wizard 7 does what it sets out to do. I can’t say for certain under all conditions it would be able to recover all files (no software can recover all files 100% of the time), but it is easy to use and in my tests it was successful, so should be an option when you’re looking for a data recovery tool.

Disclaimer: EaseUS contacted me and offered a copy of their data recovery software in return for a review. I’ve no connection with the company and this is an honest opinion.

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