Chapter Select: Season 2, Episode 2 – God of War: Ascension

Photo by Jaime Spaniol, designed by Max Roberts

The God of War franchise enters the proverbial Colosseum with its multiplayer debut. God of War: Ascension was one of the PlayStation 3’s swan songs and it could have been the same for Kratos. Max Roberts and Logan Moore go back in time to 2013 to try and figure out what happened to the Ghost of Sparta.

Game Info

God of War: Ascension

Metacritic – 80/100

This episode was originally recorded on October 13, 2021.

Max’s Twitter

Logan’s Twitter

Researcher, Editor, and Producer – Max Roberts

Hosted by Logan Moore & Max Roberts

Season Art Statue Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash and designed by Max Roberts

Episode Cover Art Soldiers photo by Jaime Spaniol on Unsplash and designed by Max Roberts

God of War: Ascension Preview

With Season 2 of Chapter Select tackling the God of War series, I have spent some time digging around my files and tweets regarding the Kratos and his slaughter of Olympus. Turns out, I was embarrassingly excited for God of War: Ascension in 2013. I tried finding this preview I wrote back for my blog on MyIGN, but the whole backend is gone and I can’t find it on the Wayback Machine (here is the link, if you’d like a crack at it). Thankfully, I wrote it in Pages (sorry Jason Snell) and still have the file, albeit without whatever images I scrapped together.

With episode 2 of this season leaning into the last PS3 God of War game, I thought it’d be fun to share this. It really captures my excitement at the time, as well as the energy of the multiplayer mode during its beta. While the servers are still active today, it’s harder to gauge that 2013 experience nearly a decade later. So here is my entire God of War: Ascension “preview” that I published a few weeks before the game’s release in all its original glory.

Continue reading “God of War: Ascension Preview”

Behind the Pixel – GrandPOOBear Turned Playing Games from a Hobby to a Career

 

Part of creating The Max Frequency Podcast was to restore all the episodes of Behind the Pixel, an interview show I did in 2017 for seven episodes. These will be mixed into this feed so that the show can live on podcast services once more. Below are the original show notes, with some light editing. I hope you enjoy.

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David “GrandPOOBear” Hunt is a prominent Twitch streamer and Super Mario speedrunner. What started as a hobby as a way to kill time while healing from a snowboarding accident, Poo has gone full time as a streamer with an engaged community. From taking world records for notoriously hard Mario ROM hacks to saving the frames, Poo shares an inside look to the world of speedrunning and Twitch.

Follow GrandPOOBear on Twitch
Follow GrandPOOBear on Twitter
Check out Poo’s podcast Warp World

Dope Facts about David “GrandPOOBear” Hunt

  • Poo is always wearing a snapback hat.
  • His favorite game console of all time is the Super Nintendo.
  • Poo is married and his wife is one of the few people that still call him David.

Links to articles mentioned in the interview

(Listed in order of publication date)

“The worst people on the Internet are not representative of 99.9% of the people on the Internet.”

— David “GrandPOOBear” Hunt on Behind The Pixel

This episode was originally recorded on August 29, 2017.

Analogue OS Preview

Last weekend on October 16, 2021, Analogue revealed a new product. Actually, Analogue has revealed something on October 16 for the past 4 years (2017 – Super NT, 2018 – Mega SG, 2019 – Pocket, 2020 – Duo). Time to put that in my calendar for next year. For the fifth annual announcement, Analogue revealed not hardware, but software dubbed Analogue OS.

Being an operating system, I think Analogue OS is the company’s first truly unique offering. Other companies offer playing old game cartridges on modern displays, albeit technically poor, like a Retron console. Open-source platforms like MiSTer provide the same, if not better, level of FPGA-based emulation for multiple consoles, instead of one like the Super NT and Mega SG. Just like macOS is tailor-made for Mac computers or Android is made for Google’s Pixel, Analogue OS appears to be the software backbone of Analogue’s hardware going forward.

Analogue dumped a lot of screenshots and information about what the OS can and will be able to do. It will launch first on the Pocket, which is (hopefully) no later than 71 days away as of this writing based off the most recent delay. While far more difficult to fully gauge from words and images than actually using the OS, I wanted to dig in to the announcement and promise of Analogue OS. So, let’s start with Analogue’s previous software offerings and what they have previously shown off on the Pocket.

Continue reading “Analogue OS Preview”

Thoughts on Nintendo Switch Online + Expansion Pack

In the interest of integrity and transparency, I am a Nintendo shareholder. This does not influence my stance or opinion on NSO, but take that as you will.

Nintendo revealed the date and price of their new tier of Nintendo Switch Online during today’s Animal Crossing Direct. I have seen plenty of thoughts and opinions on Twitter and in my main friend Discord. I have my own “hot takes.” In the spirit of this site though, I am writing my thoughts here instead of some thread on Twitter.

Name

It’s a bad name. It’s a cute, historic reference. Still is a bad name.

Plan and Strategy

The plan was originally pitched as NSO with N64 and Sega Genesis games included. Now after the Animal Crossing Direct, we know that the new tier includes the paid DLC expansion Happy Home Paradise. I’ll talk about the pricing below, but first, I want to focus on the actual strategy and implementation.

Adding more consoles was always the obvious plan for NSO, even if the game offerings don’t include the obvious and become lackluster in the later months. Nintendo 64 was the obvious next step and Genesis is a pleasant surprise. With all the rumors circulating earlier this year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Game Boy games join the service before too long.

When that happens, what tier would those be added to? The standard membership or the Expansion Pack? Genesis fits in the higher priced level due to the associated cost of licensing. I understand the logic behind sticking the 3D N64 games there too, despite them all being 20~ years old. Does the Game Boy line get split between the two levels, with Game Boy and Game Boy Color being a part of the cheaper package and Game Boy Advance entering the more expensive one? I would hope not. One could only dream of GameCube games being added to the service someday.

The truly interesting bit is the day one inclusion of Animal Crossing’s paid DLC. It’s truly Game Pass in nature to include major first-party releases into the subscription service. But the DLC can be purchased by itself for $25. While Nintendo may incentivize players to upgrade for one year, how will they keep them paying year-over-year?

I would think that they’d continue to add new (and old) expansion content for their games. Maybe we see Breath of the Wild’s DLC get added. Maybe the Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Fighter Passes are included by the end of next year. Assuming Splatoon 3 has paid DLC, we could see that added as an incentive. It’s easy to imagine a future where new Mario Kart courses and drivers are offered as a reason to stay subscribed.

Nintendo also gets to keep their precious, full-priced sales on their first-party software, unlike Microsoft and Game Pass. With the inclusion of Happy Home Paradise, Nintendo may be offering a glimpse into their plans for bolstering NSO in 2022. The surge of new and upgraded subscriptions next month will be good for Nintendo, but I’m far more interested in how they will try to keep subscribers paying $50 or $80 a year.

Pricing

Yeah. They’ve more than doubled the price of NSO’s individual and family plans. While the entry plans will still be available at $20 and $35, respectively, the plans that include the “Expansion Pack” cost $50 and $80, respectively. Peter Spezia nailed the pricing on Episode 12: Twitter Tea Leaves on The Max Frequency Podcast.

Initially, you look at the price of Happy Home Paradise and say “Oh, the DLC is the $25 and the old games are $5.” And sure, that is technically true for the first year. But what about year two and so on? You could just buy the DLC individually and pay for the cheaper plan to enjoy online play. If I wasn’t in a family plan, that’s what I’d do.

What about those roughly 120~ million Switch owners that don’t have Animal Crossing and/or do not want the DLC, but do want those N64 and Genesis games? They have to pay double to be granted access. It’s a ridiculous ask for those types of consumers to pay for that.

Who knows what kind of money Nintendo is paying Sega, Konami, and Microsoft to include there games in perpetuity on NSO? This pricing doesn’t say to me that Nintendo is really taking a major hit on those fees, instead likely passing them off to their consumers.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow. Nintendo should expand the offerings in this plan in 2022 to retain folks that upgrade. Only time will tell with the Big N though.

Personally, I’ll be upgrading our family plan to the Expansion Pack. I want to have those N64 games with online play and upscaled graphics. I have a clear soft spot for the console, as it was my first. Plus, Abby will want the Animal Crossing DLC, so financially, it makes sense to upgrade at the discounted rate and enjoy it for a year. As for resubscribing in 2022, that’s going to depend entirely how NSO expands and evolves.

Chapter Select | Season 2, Episode 1 – God of War

Photo by SHOT, designed by Max Roberts

Season 2 sets a course through the myth of ancient Greece with God of War.
Max Roberts and Logan Moore travel back to God of War, not to be confused with 2018’s God of War. Has Kratos changed all that much since 2005? Does the quest for vengeance hold up?

Game Info

God of War

Metacritic – 94/100

This episode was originally recorded on September 25, 2021.

Max’s Twitter

Logan’s Twitter

Researcher, Editor, and Producer – Max Roberts

Hosted by Logan Moore & Max Roberts

Season Art Statue Photo by Simone Pellegrini on Unsplash and designed by Max Roberts

Episode Cover Art Coals Photo by SHOT on Unsplash and designed by Max Roberts

Announcing a Slight Delay

Some news about Season 2 of Chapter Select:

We have decided to uncouple Episodes 1 and 2 of Chapter Select Season 2. This Wednesday 10/13/21, S2E1: God of War will release as scheduled. S2E2: God of War: Ascension will be release two weeks later on 10/27/21. The rest of the season will follow in the same fortnightly manner. The dates have been updated in the announcement post to reflect this delay.

I am extremely sorry for the delay.

You may be asking “Max, why delay the rollout not even a week after announcing it?”

Logan and I thought we could do a double drop to keep the entire run within 2021. But we were trying to crunch Ascension in and it turned out not to be possible. As the creator and producer, I should have made the call upfront to do one episode at launch. I was excited to finally get the show out there and that excitement has cost some integrity. I am sorry.

I hope you all continue to look forward to the premiere this Wednesday with episode 1 and the rest of the season this year. I truly appreciate your support. I hope you enjoy.

Episode 1: God of War (PlayStation 2), releasing on October 13, 2021.
Episode 2: God of War: Ascension (PlayStation 3), releasing on October 27, 2021.
Episode 3: God of War II (PlayStation 2), releasing on November 10, 2021.
Episode 4: God of War: Ghost of Sparta (PlayStation Portable), releasing on November 24, 2021.
Episode 5: God of War: Chains of Olympus (PlayStation Portable), releasing on December 8, 2021.
Episode 6: God of War III (PlayStation 3) releasing on December 22, 2021.
Episode 7: God of War (2018) (PlayStation 4) releasing on January 5, 2022.

Chapter Select Season 2 is God of War

Photo by Simone Pellegrini, designed by Max Roberts

I am excited to announce that the focus of Chapter Select Season 2 is the
God of War series. First appearing on the PlayStation 2 in 2005, God of War, Kratos, and the Blades of Chaos are still a proud titan within the PlayStation Studios catalog. God of War has arguably never been more relevant than with the upcoming ninth game, God of War: Ragnarok for PS4 and PS5, thanks to the series’ legendary relaunch in 2018.

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You may have noticed a new link in the middle there — YouTube. I have decided to create a video version of Chapter Select going forward. I have to play the games anyway, why not capture them as I go along? I was actually recording gameplay of Season 1, Episode 1: Paper Mario, but lost some footage and then never picked it back up after a brief pause in production. Recording Sticker Star would have been tricky too. Thankfully, I have the means to capture all of the God of War games. You won’t see our faces: This allows me to use the same audio edit without odd cuts in the video. The gameplay will be what I actually did for the season, along with additional relevant clips woven in. I am very excited for folks to watch and listen to the show going forward.

As for this season’s slate of episodes, here is the order we have for Season 2:

“Why is God of War (2018) at the end of the season?” you may be asking yourself. We delve into this in the first episode, but Logan convinced me to go about Season 2 this way. Since the reboot/reimagining of God of War is so stark to the first six games, we agreed it’d be best to save the Norse iteration for the end. Plus, when God of War: Ragnarok comes out in 2022 (🤞🏻), we have a nice line-up throw in a new episode to the season.

Sorry God of War: Betrayal fans, I couldn’t convince Logan to play it.

As far as the seasonal and episodic art, I spent a ton of energy finding real pictures that fit the themes and environments or each game. Nearly every photo was found on Unsplash and is properly credited in the show notes. Like
Season 1’s art, I have taken immense pride in the theming and visual design you’ll find in Season 2.

I hope you are as excited for Season 2: God of War as I am. The first two episodes will be launching next Wednesday, with new episodes following in a fortnightly manner. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts! 

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Update: Episodes 1 & 2 are no longer launching together. The release dates have been changed to reflect that. For more about the delay, please read about it here.

GB Operator Thoughts and Impressions

This GB Operator was provided for review by Epilogue. I reached out and asked if they’d be willing to do so and they were kind enough to oblige.

It is a secret to everybody that I have spent plenty of time and money in pursuit of archiving my game collection and emulating it in high fidelity. From building my own MiSTer to buying premium products from Analogue to upgrading original hardware, I have fallen in love with digitizing my physical games. It provides me with a peace of mind, freedom of accessibility, and it’s just plain fun to tinker and experiment.

I think a place folks like myself often start out at is with the Game Boy line of systems and games. Spanning 32 years, Nintendo’s iconic handheld line is near and dear to many. I dove in head first with the Gamecube and its Game Boy Player: Real GBA hardware slapped on the bottom of Nintendo’s powerful cube.

One tidbit I picked up from My Life in Gaming was that through the power of homebrew I could dump my Game Boy Advance games and saves to an SD card. This method wouldn’t work Game Boy or Game Boy Color games though, due to the system booting directly into the relevant mode. Between waiting for my Analogue Pocket and building my MiSTer, I decided to use the hardware at my disposal to digitize my GBA collection.

This was a tedious process. I had to reset or power the GameCube on and off each dump. Some carts would work, others needed to be cleaned. Pokémon saves were different than other games. I figured it all out, but it definitely took time and research.

While waiting for the Analogue Pocket and its presumed ability to dump games like their other consoles, I learned about a new little device called the
GB Operator from a company called Epilogue.

This $50 “cartridge slot for your computer” removes all confusion from handling Game Boy games in a modern way. It tears down the barriers for preserving save data, just one dead battery away from vanishing. It makes playing these games in higher resolutions plug-n-play. The typical emulation process, which can be filled with forums, technical specs, and sketchy websites is refined to a clean and clear product. While it does not have all the features a user may want, the initial launch and 0.7 beta software promises a strong foundation for the future of Epilogue’s product.

The Hardware

I love the look of the GB Operator. The see-through plastic immediately calls me back to the transparent Game Boy consoles I grew up with. Without a screen though, the games and their labels face you and show themselves off for a change. You can finally see your funky colored Pokémon game in all its translucent glory or the bright pop of Metroid Fusion‘s striking blue label.

With the circuit board on display for all to see, Epilogue came up with a real nice design. From the black PCB to the flush ribbon cable that connects the cartridge slot to the board, it’s a beautiful object that I don’t want to tuck away when I am not using it.

Thankfully, the GB Operator employs the use of USB-C for its means of connection. It’s a small, but modern progression that makes me enjoy the GB Operator more. I did have an issue connecting it to my iMac through a Thunderbolt dock. Using both the provided USB-A to USB-C cable and my own USB-C cable, the GB Operator would not connect through my Thunderbolt dock at all. This meant that the included cable was not usable with my iMac at all. Thankfully, I had a slew of USB-C cables to chose from a directly plug into my iMac. If you’re computer only has USB-C ports (most likely only an issue for those on a Mac), you’ll need to have a C-to-C cable.

Once you do have the GB Operator plugged in, the LED will shine bright and you can start popping in cartridges. Well, you also need to download their Operator software.

The Software

The Operator software is the real brains behind the (GB) operation. As I write the review, it is currently in 0.7.1 beta across macOS, Windows, and Linux. Being in beta has led to some bugs and quirks. Epilogue does have a roadmap for Operator, which is comforting to see what is coming down the pipeline. Some of these near-term updates contain important features like borderless full-screen and support for “most common controllers.” For example, my 8BitDo SN30 Pro doesn’t appear in Operator (Bluetooth or wired), but my 8BitDo Arcade stick does show up. Other features coming are more esoteric, like using a Game Boy Camera s a webcam.

As for the current state of Operator, I has its cornerstone features in place to build upon. It reads games when placed in the cartridge slot, pulling in the artwork and a description. You can play the games using their version of the popular mGBA emulator. You can backup both the game and its save to your computer, or even upload a save to the cartridge.

That is the feature I wanted to dig into first. I grabbed all of my Game Boy and Game Boy Color games and got to backing up. Within three to five minutes, I had all 10 of them dumped to my SSD and transferred over to my MiSTer and the Delta emulator on my phone. Compared to the hour or so it took to transfer all 16 or so Game Boy Advance games with my GameCube setup, this was delightful. No fuss whatsoever.

There is even an upload feature for writing save data to the cartridge and writing a game to a rewritable cartridge. I tossed in my copy of Pokémon Blue, played through a battle, saved – all in Operator’s emulator. When I saved and ended the emulation, Operator prompted me to ask if I wanted to overwrite the save data on the cartridge. I did and immediately put the game in my Spice orange GBA. Sure enough, the save was updated to what I had just played on my iMac.

This feature alone is a night and day difference to what I have previously experienced. I allows me to access all of my Game Boy games, not just the GBA titles. I can move data to and from the games: This will make playing a game on my MiSTer then transferring it to my phone or the original game a breeze. With the power to dump the games, you are given the flexibility to use the ROMs wherever you’d like, which you may want to do until Operator gets more features.

Operator’s version of mGBA works functionally well. The games are crisp and appear to run initially at a 4.5x scale, based off my comparison between it and my macOS emulator application of choice OpenEMU. You can scale the Operator window, but without proper scaling tools/options, I was never sure what the games were running at.

The roadmap I mentioned earlier presents a paint by numbers picture of where Operator currently stands compared to fuller featured emulators. The early and important numbers are shaded in— actually playing the game, some controller support, rich sound — but all the tiny later numbers are still being worked on — shaders, scalers, cheat support, pausing the emulator, etc. Eventually, the pictures will look similar, maybe shaded differently, but I am confident Operator will be fully featured by version 1.0.

Another interesting bit I noticed was that the game cartridge has to stay inserted the entire time while emulating the game. Pull it out and the emulation ends immediately. This is just like non-jailbroken Analogue systems: to play a game, you need the cartridge to supply the ROM. Similarly, the GB Operator has to be plugged in for the Operator software to work. I wish Operator would create a game library and store my digital copies there. I would love for Operator to go in this direction and be a digital library of my collection that beautifully presents them and runs them. Maybe this is to prevent legal repercussions and encouraging piracy. I’m not quite sure, but the fact that I can still get the files off the cartridge and manage them how I see fit is a win.

Here are some of the other bits and bobs I noticed in my testing:

  • Some of the box art Operator would display for the game would be oddly colored or be the Japanese version (even for a NA cartridge). I’m curious what database these are pulled from, it even matched the art originally displayed in Delta on iOS. Thankfully, Delta let’s you change the box art. I hope Operator will allow that some day.
  • Similarly, the game descriptions occasionally had typos or grammatical errors. Some would be so long, that they’d be cut off and you couldn’t finish reading them.
  • My copy of Frogger 2 was unidentifiable to Operator. I could submit information via email so that the game could be included in a future update.
  • The GB Operator is quite sensitive to dirty contacts. I had to clean my copy of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins before it would be loaded by the device.
  • I had a similar issue with The Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap. This cartridge has always given me trouble for some reason, even with original hardware. After a cleaning, my GBA would load the game instantly, but the GB Operator took some finagling.
  • The GB Operator also offers reproduction cart detection. To test this, I went out and bought a reproduction of Pokémon Emerald. While popping open the cartridge makes it readily apparent that it was a fake, not everyone has the tools to do so. The software immediately recognized the reproduction cart and offered me the option to upload a ROM to the cartridge. 👀

The GB Operator is sleek, simple, and versatile. Even with beta software, the future of both the GB Operator and Epilogue is bright. For the enthusiast, it is an affordable tool for preservation, development, and emulation. For the lapsed fan that found a box of old games in their parent’s attic, it is a window to their past with modern accessibility. Epilogue has struck that balance beautifully. There is power in its elegance. The GB Operator truly is a “cartridge slot for your computer.”