Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Retro Modification: GBA Console(ish)

By Heath Aldrich
It's not purple, it's indigo.  
Nintendo has always been good at giving us gamers ways to enjoy their Game Boy games at home.  The Super Nintendo had the Super Game Boy, which was a cartridge adapter that allowed you to play Game Boy games on your TV, in color.  Nintendo skipped a generation with the Nintendo 64, all that system had was the transfer packs for Pokemon Stadium.  In 2003 Nintendo released the Game Boy Player for the Game Cube, and the heavens rejoiced.  This allowed you to play the entire back catalog of Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance games on the Game Cube, sans a few of the peripherals.  The Game Boy Advance is an incredibly complex machine, and it is very difficult to emulate because of that, so the Game Boy Player had to be almost an exact copy of the system.  The only drawback is that it needed a boot up disk to pass the Game Cubes hardware, and those disks are getting harder to come by.

One night, I was lying in bed playing Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga on my GBA SP, the clam shell front lit version of the Game Boy Advance, and I was getting frustrated with the washed colors on the screen.  I remembered that there was a newer model made that had a back lit LCD screen like the DS Lite, but the people who have those were selling them for about $50 and up on Ebay.  That is ridiculous amount to pay for something I already own.  I realized that the vast majority of games I would be playing is RPG's, and that I really should be looking for a Game Cube with a Game Boy Player, so I can enjoy the games on a bigger screen.  After I started my search for that, and got out bid a couple of times, my brain started to turn. "Why don't I figure out a way to mod a GBA to play on my TV?"  This seems like a totally doable process, but there is very little info on the process of doing this, because, as I found out later, it is almost impossible.

My goal seems simple, mod a GBA to plug into a TV and to have an external controller port so I can play for extended hours and not feel the portable gaming fatigue.  Little did I realize, but I was taking on a project that was way over my head.  I decided I wanted to modify an original NES controller to have L and R buttons for the external controller.  I like the look and the feel of them, and as I have stated before, old Nintendo products are almost indestructible.  To my surprise, I was unable to find any tutorials for that mod, I kept on thinking to myself "There is no way that I am the first person to think of this."  That was a thought I kept on having as my search continued.  Each piece to this puzzle is hidden, and every new revelation led me to believe I was never going to be able to complete this project, until I found this video.
My heart started to pound, as I watched this video over, and over again.  That kid had figured it out.  When no one else had, he did.  Luckily for me, he gave a brief description in the comments about how accomplish this.  While albeit vague, it gave me hope to continue on in my search on how to get this attached to my TV.  This was particularly frustrating because, almost every search lead me back to the same place, Game Boy Player and a Game Cube.  You might now be asking yourself, "Why is he so hellbent on making a GBA console, when there are clearly easier, and more readily available ways to play Game Boy Games on your TV?"  The answer to that question is simple, and two parts: 1)  Moving parts break, solid state tech is way more reliable. 2)  I like to tinker with things.  I was still very perplexed by the lack of info I was pulling up on how to hook the system up to TV, and then I got smart and typed "GBA console" into Google, and was pleasantly surprised by what I found next.  I found a person named Kon who had done almost the exact same mod I wanted to do, only 7 years earlier.  Here is the link, http://www.konlabs.com/articles_data/gba_console/index.htm I recommend worshiping it like your new religion.  He bluntly hits you with everything you need to achieve your goal, whether you have the skills, or not.

At this time, I must again state, try any modifications to your hardware at your own risk.  I will not be held responsible if you mess up your gear, and hopefully you can learn from my mistakes to save yourself the stress.

This is a generic NES Controller, I got it for $6 off Amazon.com
The NES controller was a pretty high tech piece of equipment for how simple it is.  Nintendo decided to use a complex clock mechanism, like how a keyboard for your computers works, to make this whole project harder on us in the future.  I am not exactly sure why, so I will claim it was to hinder our progress.  That means instead of having 9 (up, down, left, right, B, A, select, start, ground) wires running from the controller to the console, they used only 5.  We need to have 11 (the addition of L and R buttons) wires for this mod. To further explain, one thing needs to be demistified for you, all a button is is a circuit, a circuit that is always on.  In order to activate the button, you need to break the circuit, and send the current to ground. Pretty simple, huh?  Underneath the black cross, and red buttons, that we have all mashed for many years, are little silicone forms that have that black, hard spot in them, that rests on the circuit board.  That hard black spot is a conductive material that send the breaks the circuit, and sends the signal to ground. With this principal in place, all you need to do is figure out what wire connects to the ground, and isolate the button contacts from the rest of the circuit.
unmodified board.
As with all circuit boards, they are designed to have a level of efficiency that humans can't produce, so there is a level of elegance to them that should be admired.  Have you taken time to gaze at the glory of the NES controller and understand the flow of the current?  I will try to break it down for you, so it will speed up your learning curve.  On this particular board, the ground connection is the metal strip that goes all the way around the board, and also connects to all of the contact points.  DO NOT BREAK THAT CIRCUIT!!! That is one of the most important parts of the board.  You will need to take a razor blade and scratch out the copper in 3 spots on this board: 1)  On the 5 thin copper lines that connect to the directional buttons and select, which is in the center of the board. 2)  The thin strip that is coming of the start button. 3)  The two runs that connect the A and B buttons.
Board with 3 circuit breaks, one for directions and select, one for select, one for B and A
Once you have done that you will be ready to solder new leads to the test points on the board, and wire out to a connector.  The test points are the pencil sized exposed copper pads that are just before that actual button pad.  To get L and R in the mix, you will need two momentary micro switches. Modify the controller case to fit the switches, and solder wires to the connector, and to the ground.  Pretty simple, by the time you are done with this mod you should have 11 wires running to the connector.  I chose to use 15 pin VGA connectors because they have enough room to work on, and is not easy to get the ports wired up backwards.  You should use cable ties or shrink tubing to keep your wires under control.  And you should have a working GBA controller.

GBA Controller Mod:
Are you confused yet?  So am I.
The Game Boy Advance is a beautifully designed machine. The already compact device gets even smaller as you remove the case, and in order to do that, you need a triwing screw driver.  Once you get the back off  you will need to remove 2 more screws to get to the front of the GBA's circuit board.  Please take care to not scratch circuit board, or twist the ribbon cable.  Now, refer to Kon's page and look at the circuit board layout, this is where it gets tricky.

Memorize this.

Kon recommends using 28 gauge wire and a fine tip soldering iron, I second that.  I made the unfortunate mistake of using 22 guage solid core wire, because that is all that Radio Shack had, and I will explain my mistake a bit further on.  All of the contacts that you will need to solder to are labeled on the board, but they are very small, very close to other contacts, and very fragile.  Plan your coarse across the board, I went left to right, and wired my connector to suit.
Here is where I made my fatal flaw.
It is a good idea to hot glue the wires to a surface to keep them from popping off the test points. I did it to the back case, but I had gotten a bit a head of myself.  You see, I found a GBA TV converter on Ebay, and I needed to replace the back case with their new one.  When I went to remove the wires from the case, the test points broke off the board. FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK.  Leaving this portion of the mod incomplete.  I could probably solder the wires to the actual button pads, but I would then run the risk of ruining the entire board, and I would have useless system.  So, I buttoned it all up and moved on to the last part of this mod.

GBA TV Converter:
The final piece of the puzzle, the GBA TV Converter.
This took me the longest to find online, but turned out to be the easiest part of the mod.  Innovation made this converter so it is about as plug and play as you could get.  All it is is a new back for your GBA with a ribbon cable that clips on to your existing hardware.  It only cost me $30 from Cheap Game Stuff on Ebay.  The only thing you need to know is that the stock Converter is for the first generation GBA's, that have a 40 pin ribbon cable. This is clearly marked on the board right next to the ribbon cable connector.  For newer systems, you will need an adapter which you can get from the same ebay store.  Follow the broken engrish directions, and you will be playing your Game Boy games on your TV in no time.

Not what I had planned ,but it will do.
This was a project that took me months to line up all the pieces, so I am a little dissapointed that I messed up the controller mod, but their is always next time.  Even with the GBA Converter attached to the back of the GBA, it is surprisingly easy to hold and to play, and will make long sessions of playing old Gameboy games much more comfortable.  The games look pretty good because they are connected to the TV by a S-video cable, and the Game Boy sounds, sound great in stereo through the TV.  I guess I will have to wait till I stumble across the next GBA to try the mod again.  All In all I would give this mod a difficulty of 6, mainly because of all the small soldering.  If I was to rate it off of research alone, this project would have been a 10 in difficulty.  I hope this helps you with your GBA mods, and would love to see pictures of your final projects.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Episode 17: Hardcore Day and Softcore Nights

Welcome back to the First World Podcast.  This week, we are joined by a guest host, Mike from Action Nerds: Go! and we try to figure out what every gaming site/magazine/journalist has tried to figure out, what is Hardcore gaming?  In our now playing, Mike talks about mobile gaming.  Dan finally plays New Super Mario Bros. U, and liked it.  Greg gets us caught up on some huge titles for the Xbox 360, Dishonored and Halo 4.  Heath fixes a Virtual Boy, and dies a lot while playing Super Hexagon.  We finish up with a great Triple Barrel Shotgun round where we talk about what video game characters clothes we would like to wear.

As always, subscribe to us on iTunes or Podbean, like us on facebook, follow us on Twitter @1stworldpodcast, and send us your emails at firstworldpodcast@gmail.com

HDG... and M

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First World Podcast is
Dan Clark - Editor/Producer/Co-Host
Heath Aldrich - Producer/Media/Co-Host
Greg Braun - Co-Host/ Hockey aficionado

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Retro Repair pt. 2: Virtual What?

By Heath Aldrich
Batteries not included
In 1995, one year before we all lost our minds over Mario 64, and our future home console was still named Ultra, the big N was trying to change the face of portable gaming, by covering the faces of the gamers.  The Virtual Boy was the planned successor of the most popular portable format since the paper back book.  The original "toaster sized" Game Boy came out in 1989, and changed the public's perception on what video gaming can be.  Road trips were filled with 50% less fighting between sibling, and 90% less "are we there yet(s)?".  Train rides to work were more pleasant as you would bury yourself in Tetris blocks, and smoke breaks were no longer for just smoking.  So, why wouldn't Nintendo want to try to repeat their success?  The early 90's were a interesting time, technology was starting to accelerate at an alarming rate, ask anyone who tried to keep up with PC's.  There was this "future" that all science fiction writers had been prophisizing about for years, virtual reality, where we could live inside the game.  Anytime a movie in the 90's showed "future technology," it was always someone wearing goggles and gloves, listening to really loud techno music. When Nintendo announced that they were releasing a black and red, virtual reality, gaming head set called the Virtual Boy, I was already brainwashed to want one.  The problem was, the Virtual Boy wasn't the future, it was barely a step up from the Game Boy.  Unfortunately, the Virtual Boy was a failure.  Maybe it was the fact that it only 14 games came out in the states, or the fact that the only color the lenses could produce was red, or that there was no comfortable way to play it, or the simple fact that you looked absolutely ridiculous playing it.

Is Virtual Boy the only Hipster proof system?
The Virtual Boy had a very short life, being released in mid August, and discontinued in December before it's first Christmas season was over.  Nintendo was quick to cover it's tracks by sending out a PR smoke screen that stated that the Virtual Boy was never intended to be the next Game Boy, it was intended to be a toy.  A $180 toy, that has $30 games that plugged into it.  Most of the kids who got it for Christmas, played with it for a week, and then boxed it back up, and put it in the closet never to be enjoyed again.

The weird thing is, even though the Virtual Boy was down and out, it quickly became a collectors item, and in much smaller circles, a homebrewer's wet dream.  Nintendo hardly flinched at killing the system, and some of us gamers couldn't let it go.  My uncle C.W. was one of the lucky few who received a Virtual Boy for Christmas, and promptly moved on with his life.  17 years later, I remember that he had one, buried in a closet somewhere, and I knew that it had to see the light of day again.

As I said in my last retro repair post, Nintendo products are made out of a rare material called Nintendite.  Well, Nintendo's stock pile must have been running low, because they were saving it for the Nintendo 64, so they opted to use a less rugged material to build the Virtual Boy.  For the most part, the Virtual Boy is built pretty well, but in order to achieve the stereoscopic effect, the system had to be designed drastically differently than other Nintendo products, making it comparatively fragile.  Out of the many design flaws the Virtual Boy has, there appears to be one that makes itself known.  In order to keep production costs lower, Nintendo used glue to attach the ribbon cables that power the lenses.  As time passes, the glue becomes fragile, and separates from circuit board, causing migraine inducing glitches in one or both of the lenses.  In extreme cases, the cable can separate from the board, leaving you to figure out how to reattach the cable to the board.  When I powered up my VB for the first time, I was so excited to relive my youth, only to have the right eye, bugging out.
This is the inside of  the Virtual Boy.
With the nerd rage thermometer rising, I hop on the Googles to see it anyone else has had this issue.  Again, the internet is the wonderful wealth of information that it promises to be. I instantly found this forum called Planet Virtual Boy, and realized that there were still people out there who actually care about the continuing legacy of the Virutal Boy.  In the forums, I realized that this was a common issue, and the fix shouldn't be anymore difficult than the Game Gear repair I just did.  I watched a number of videos on YouTube to see how to do the repair, and if you have the same problem, and are checking out this blog for advice, stop now, and search YouTube for better instructions. The solution to this problem... Remove the lenses and bake them in the oven. Yes, bake them in the oven.
That bastard ribbon cable, go fuck yourself.
Using a oven feels very arcane to me, sort of like using a hammer to fix the Mona Lisa, but all advice led me to that conclusion.  Before you could start on this project you need to know one thing.  In order to keep people from stealing their design, Nintendo added one more security feature that had not been in previous systems, they added super deep wells for the security screws, so you need a longer bit to remove the bottom case.
I got this from Amazon.com and it worked like a charm
Once the case is open, your main goal is to not fuck anything up, because the motherboard is now only attached by the cables that it powers.  That's right, the motherboard is floating in the case, the only thing that keeps it mounted it is the bottom part of the case.  From hear, it is pretty easy, unscrew the two screws that are directly on the circuit board for the lenses, do not unscrew anything else, or you may never get the VB re-calibrated again.  Second, grab the paper tab and ribbon cable, and pull.  The cable should come right out, and you should be ready to bake the lens.  If you remove both lenses, be sure to put them back in the right spots, I am not sure if it makes a difference, but I would not risk getting them mixed up.
The is the screen of the VB.  If this was still being made, nerds would be making jewelry out the failed screens. They are really stunning in person. 
Next you preheat the oven to about 170 degrees, and place the the lenses, screen up on a baking sheet, and let them sit in the oven for about 5 minutes.  Please watch a video on this before actually baking the lenses, this will visually give you the sign that they are done, so you don't over cook them.  Pull them out of the oven once the glue is reactivated and place them on a flat, cool, surface, and press the circuit board at the ribbon cable joint for a couple of minutes to re-adhere the ribbon cable.  Once the lenses are cooled down, they ready to be put back into the VB, and you are ready to play some red games in 3D.  It is too bad the the repair process doesn't make the games any better, but at least now, you will be able to know that you are keeping the memory of this failed system alive so future generations will not make the same mistake.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Episode 16: Ultimate Collection HD

Welcome back to another exciting episode of the First World Podcast.  The move from Studio 1-1 to Studio 1-2 has proven to be a smart move as the Gamers 3 get more comfortable in their new surroundings.  Heath is still grinding on Earthbound and Kingdom Hearts: Dream Drop Distance, but is also distracted by repairing his old Sega Game Gear.  Greg, is transcending to a higher level of enlightenment as he is experiencing The Walking Dead through tantric gaming.  Dan spent some time splashing around with water in Fluidity: Spin Cycle, and warped from planet to planet in his new favorite game, FTL.  With the news of the October release of Pokemon XY, Dan shared his thoughts in a new blog entry called Catch and Release, and you should read it.  Then the Gamers 3 discuss the trend of HD "remakes" of last generation games, and whether or not they are helping our industry.  We wrap things up with our favorite segment. the Triple Barrel Shotgun round, where we as the question;  What are the 3 worst jobs in the video game universe?  Let us know in the comments below.

As always, subscribe to us on iTunes or Podbean, like us on facebook, follow us on Twitter @1stworldpodcast, and send us your emails at firstworldpodcast@gmail.com

Thank you for joining us again!

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First World Podcast is
Dan Clark - Editor/Producer/Co-Host
Heath Aldrich - Producer/Media/Co-Host
Greg Braun - Co-Host/ Hockey aficionado

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Show Notes - One Hundred Million Dollar Episode

Hey friends!

We didn't leave a couple links in the main post for the last episode that we wanted to.

First, if you want to learn more about the state of AAA game development check out this fantastic series of articles by Polygon.com.

Second, here is the link to Dan's review of Darksiders II for the always informative and great VGchartz.com.

Finally the musical selections for this episode:

Song 1: Soundshapes - Cities by Beck (PSN)
Song 2: Batman Arkham City - Main Theme (PS3,XBOX360, WIIU)
Song 3: Kingdom Hearts Series - Simple and Clean
Song 4: Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning - Troll (PS3, XBOX360,PC)
Song 5: Metal Gear - Alert (!) - (NES)

There ya go! We have another episode recorded and baking in the oven (or waiting for me to get to the coffee shop for some mad editing time) and we'll be back this Friday with a great episode about remakes and reboots! Have a great week!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Catch and Release (loving and leaving the world of Pokemon)

Dan Clark

Recently, during a highly anticipate Nintendo Direct, Nintendo announced the first new Pokemon games for the 3DS, Pokemon X and Y.

 This news was met with a chorus of cheers from long time Poke-holics and Nintendo fans around the world. Not only is this the first Pokemon on the fledgling portable (in desperate need of a heavy hitter), it's also a cash boon for the Big N, who can always count on a new Poke-generation to bring in massive revenue. Yes, everyone was excited...except this guy.
This guy!

Don't get me wrong, I'm not a hater. I have just come to the realization over the past couple years that the Pokemon franchise I once obsessed over with the best of them, has long passed me by. A quick history on me and Pokemon. In late 1997, Nintendo Power started talking about a game that had taken Japan by storm called Pocket Monsters. At this time in my gaming life I was an unabashed RPG lover and the glimpses of fierce battles and  a multitude of monsters to collect, I was in! My friend Derek and I even carved a Gengar pumpkin for Halloween that year based entirely on the pictures in the magazine. 

When the game finally arrived in 1998, I picked up Blue version on day one and began my adventure. I was not disappointed and the game lived up to everything I expected. I relished hunting for wild Pokemon to join my crew, grinded like crazy before each gym, and thrilled at trying to catch the 3 legendary birds. 
Seriously, why was Articuno so f'n hard to catch?!
At around this same time the cartoon Pokemon series hit Western shores and at first, I was all aboard. I remember rushing home to catch the adventures of Ash, Misty and Brock, most vividly (for some reason) the episode on board the S.S. Anne. 
Probably because that episode feature this badass guy up here, Gyarados

Fast forward a bit to 2000 and Pokemon Gold and Silver debut in NA, and just like before, I was there day one. But this time something had changed. You see, I liked the show alright, I thought the movie was well done (especially the classic outtakes  which have apparently been scrubbed clean from the internet, trust me they were hilarious), and I had plenty of friends who enjoyed the game as well. But that's just it. I loved the game Pokemon as an RPG, but the mythos and explosion surrounding the series was starting to wear on me. I didn't want to collect the cards, I didn't want attend a convention, see the Pikachu car, or even watch the show anymore. It all got to be too much.
Seriously, WTF?

So I stopped. I didn't finish Gold, and when the next generations came out on GBA, I didn't even have a desire to play. Oddly enough though, during this time I replayed Blue. It was amazing still. 150 monsters to collect, a simple yet engaging story and world, it was just how I remembered. Still, I went better part of a decade without playing a new, mainline Pokemon game (or any of it's increasingly insane number of spin-offs. What the heck is a Trozei?). Finally in 2011 Pokemon Black and White came out, and at the tender age of 27, I thought I had totally finished with the series. Then I started seeing more reviews and impressions online claiming that THIS was the Pokemon game to bring the old fans back into the fold. After years of adding more and more Pokemon to the pantheon of collectible critters, they were scaled back to a cool, new set of 150 Pokemon to collect, and more mature, deep story. This was a Pokemon game for the Pokemaniacs and former Pokemaniacs alike. So after a long time away, I purchased Black version and dove into the world of Pokemon once again.

At first, I was subtly convinced. The world of Pokemon Black is pretty, yet simple. I instantly felt comfortable in my surrounding with my new best friend (Oshawatt). And for about 20 hours I remembered everything that had made me love Pokemon to start with, and sadly, what drove me away.
How could I not choose this adorable dude? 
While Black and White certainly stripped things down and brought the series more towards the originals, It also kept many of the extra bits from previous games that began to bog down the experience. Carrying items, day/night/season cycles, and various new ways to evolve your little friends/slaves. Again I said, "it's too much!" It's not that you have to use these mechanics, I suppose I could play any of these games just by collecting a crew, leveling up, and fighting my way to the end, but I constantly got the feeling that I wasn't playing this game "correct". More disturbingly, I wasn't sure I understood what the "correct" way to play was.

What it comes down to, I think, is the outside pressure of the movies, shows, cards, events, media, etc surrounding this series had totally clouded my ability to look at it how I once did, a simple, strategy, RPG. I couldn't bring myself to NOT try and collect 'em all, even though I didn't really want to. I tried to enjoy the Pokemon Theater. I could no longer think of my character as an extension of myself, but thought of him as Ash. So sadly, after giving it the old college (middle school?) try, I gave up on what will probably be my last attempt to re-ignite that spark for the series that had started with simple articles and pictures back in 97.

So will I be trying Pokemon X/Y when it is launched? Probably not. I will see the reviews, listen to the podcasts, probably even spend some time learning about the game and the plethora of new gladiatorial beasts that will be introduced. But I'm not sure what could bring me back to the series if even the streamlined Black and White could not. Maybe it's just nostalgia, maybe subconsciously I don't WANT to like the newer games,  maybe I just don't get it, but I don't think I will be able to find the same joy and solid gameplay that Pokemon Blue gave me.
Silly Squirtle, you are BONED!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Episode 15: The Hundred Million Dollar Episode

Two weeks off from recording, did you miss us?  We missed you.  Welcome back to the First World Podcast, a conversational podcast about gaming.  For our first podcast of the year, we spend some times talking about the games that we have been playing over our break.  Greg got to play a lot of games over the break, Soundscapes seems to be his favorite. Dan and Greg, both, got to spend some time as the caped crusader, Batman in a little place called Arkham City.  Heath got to clean up Studio 1-1 and start on his dedicated gaming place.  In this week's topic, we discuss triple A game development, and the cost associated with it.  Heath probably made up most of the statistics he brought up, but they do sound good when spoken.  For our final segment, the Triple Barrel Shotgun round, we ask ourselves what were our biggest gaming appointments?  Please let us know in the comments below.

We also are announcing our new segment called Challenge Mode!!!  Where, every month we will start a new challenge, whether that is playing a notoriously bad game (like this months challenge) or it is playing ultra difficult games.  If you have any challenges for us, or you want to take part in the challenge, please email us at firstworldpodcast@gmail.com

As always, subscribe to us on iTunes or Podbean, like us on facebook, follow us on Twitter @1stworldpodcast, and send us your emails at firstworldpodcast@gmail.com

Thank you for joining us again!

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First World Podcast is
Dan Clark - Editor/Producer/Co-Host
Heath Aldrich - Producer/Media/Co-Host
Greg Braun - Co-Host/ Hockey aficionado

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Retro gaming: A changing hobby from gaming to repair

By Heath Aldrich

When I first picked up that grey piece of plastic, with red buttons on the right, and a black cross on the left, I knew that I never wanted to put that rectangle down.  Luckily for us gamers, we didn't have to.  Nintendo Entertainment System's were made out of a very rare, very resilient material called "Nintindite"...  Well, not really, but that grey box that was purchased when I was a child still works.  My NES has been dropped, kicked, hit, left in a dusty machine shop office, moved, neglected, and forgotten about, and it still works.  It has problems, like anything that has been around for the better part of three decades, it needs a bit of love.  The other thing that is lucky for us retro gamers is that the internet is a wonderful place for resources on maintenance and repair on our old consoles.  Do you remember the days when there were a plethora of options on the repair of your home appliances and electronics?  I do, my mom kept a 13" color TV alive for years by the occasional tune up to keep those tubes glowing.  In recent years, most places won't even touch your consumer electronics for the simple reason, designed obsolescence.  It is harder and more expensive to fix than it is to buy a new one.

I have been recently trying to rebuild my retro gaming collection.  That means long talks on the phone with my mother and brother on "who gets what" and "who's is who's", and the treacherous shipping in between the West Coast and the Midwest.  Ebay works for that obscure title, and second hand stores for others.  Dan got a job as manager for a local thrift store, so he keeps his eyes open for things I might like.  With anything that is coming from a source that isn't the first owner, or a specialist who handles only retro games and systems, sometimes you encounter broken or damaged pieces.  I realized, very quickly, that if I am going to try to grow my collection, I am going to have to learn how to repair my collection.

This is great find!
Recently, I acquired a tested, and working Sega Game Gear, complete with eight games, all in box.  My history with the Game Gear is storied to say the least.  I NEEDED a Game Gear in the early 90's.  That color screen, Sega master system quality graphics, I knew that this was the way of the future.  After I ripped out a couple of teeth, sold my Game Boy, and saved my money, the Game Gear was mine.  The only problem was that the system had the worst battery life, making it the worst choice for a portable system, and I would eventually sell my Game Gear collection to get my Game Boy back again.  All of this was flashing through my mind as I was swiping my debit card, and all I wanted was to have a better experience with it then I did when I was young.  I got it home and inspected the system.  The overly large, greyish black plastic body was covered in tiny scratches and kid grease, this system was a child's best friend for many years.  I pressed the buttons and had flashbacks more powerful than a hippy from the 60's, I needed to play it.  Turns out, in my modern household, we don't have a need for many batteries anymore, so I didn't have the six AA batteries to power the system.  Amazon.com had a generic power supply, so all I had to do was wait.  Power supply in hand, I plugged the system in and powered the system up for the first time. To my instant shock, there was no sound, not through the external speakers or the headphone jack.  All I wanted to hear was the iconic bit sampled "Say-Gah", but there was only the awkward silence of a nerd getting ready to rage quit.  The next thing I noticed was that the screen looked like my Game Gear had been drinking all night, it was blurry and full of tracers.  Calmly, I set the system down, and made sure that the power supply I had was the right voltage, and everything checked out.  I picked up the phone and called Dan to see if he noticed anything wrong with it, all he could say is that it worked like a champ for him.  I felt like I was stuck, and reliving the nightmare of my childhood, the curse of the Sega Game Gear.

After letting myself cool off a bit, I curled up around my smartphone, and scoured the interwebs to find out the answer to my problem.  Instead of the search being a long, drawn out process, my first Google search gave me all the answers, and more.  This is the great thing about the internet, communities that are formed around the things we love.  Turns out, the Game Gear has a series of capacitors that tend to go bad after awhile, and I had read other people had problems once they used a power supply instead of batteries.  So, the short answer is that I need to replace some caps, no biggie, the question is, which caps are bad?  And, where do I buy the caps I need?  For some reason all my phone was pulling up was UK sites, and that wasn't really helping me find a price for the capacitors, so I figured I would try Amazon.  To my surprise, a seller called Classic Retro Games had a Sega Game Gear Capacitor Replacement Kit. $16 later, I had the parts I needed, now, all I needed to find out was which ones to replace.  YouTube is always the first place I look when I am searching for tutorials, because I am a very visual learner.  I was fortunate to find a guy named Stig,who had two comprehensive video guides on how to replace the caps on the main board and the sound board, so thank you very much Stig.  Also to my surprise, Stig said that most of the time only two caps (per board) were the culprits of the lack of sound and blurry screen.  My search was complete, I had the answers, the parts, and the directions on how to fix the problems

With the links above, you have all the information that I had before I started the repair.  I am not trained in electronic repair, nor am I a proficient solderer.  All I have that separates me from other gamers, is that I have no fear of opening up anything and figuring out how it works.  If you are using this as a guide, stop it, I will not be held responsible for you ruining your Game Gear.  But, if you are cut from the same cloth that I am, and you have the same lack of fear that I do (or if you just want to see how my repair went), then read on.

These are the tools I used.
I highly recommend that you buy yourself a set of Helping Hands, it will really help you on the sound board fix.  If you are not familiar with them, it is the device that has the alligator clip hands, and the magnifying glass, worth their weight in gold.  If you are planing on doing much retro console/game repair, I also highly recommend that you buy a Video Game Tool Kit, most video games and game consoles use security drivers to keep people for reverse engineering them, and the Game Gear has one security screw, smack dab in the middle of the back.  Otherwise, all you will need is a soft spot to work on, a variable wattage soldering iron, solder, wire clippers, and a small set of needle nose pliers.

The unbelievably sparse insides to a Sega Game Gear.
After you remove all of the screws, the Game Gear opens up surprisingly easily, but then I was underwhelmed by how little there is on the inside of it.  I stared at it for awhile; 1) To determine which version of the console I had.  2) To figure out what the hell I was looking at?!?!?!?

Heath, perplexed.
I had never seen capacitors encased in little plastic boxes. To the untrained eye, they looked like tiny microchips, but realistically almost the only thing that can be worked on, on the Game Gear board, is capacitors.  In a move to reduce the amount of visual clutter, I removed the entire main board from the shell.

In Stig's video, he shows you where you should start replacing the caps.  I told myself that I would see how hard it would be, and how long it would take me to replace the two caps on the main board.  The problem with the caps on the main board, besides the fact that there are a shit load of them, is that there are tons of little silicone things all around them. In Stig's video, it looks like there is space around the caps, and not many things too close to the soldering points.  There is literally an eight of an inch or less in between components, and you are dealing with a soldering iron that is capable of melting metal, talk about nerve wracking.  30 minutes later, I had the first two capacitors changed, time to move to the sound board.

That little board with all of that crap on it, that is the sound amplifier. 
The sound amplifier circuit is a mess.  I thought that components were close on the main board, but I never have had to cram so many things into such a small foot print.  The main difference on this board is that the capacitors are flat mounted to the PCB.  Let me paint you a picture to help you understand how hard this was to work on:  Imagine that the capacitor is a tree, and the legs of the caps are the roots.  The capacitors on the main board are mounted so the "roots" are exposed, making it easier solder, and desolder.  The caps on the sound amplifier are mounted at the the base of the "tree", giving you no room to desolder the points, it is almost like you have to dig through the PCB to get to the "roots".  DON'T DIG INTO THE BOARD!!! I was using that as an analogy.  I finally was able to remove the capacitors and get the new ones soldered into place and that took about 45 minutes. My neck, and back were sore from having to stay hunkered over for so long.  Now it was time to put all of my soldering skills to the test and reassemble my Game Gear.  To keep myself from freaking out when I screwed everything back together and testing it, I nestled the pieces together and plugged the power supply in.

Everything worked, and on my first try to boot!  I will say that, unfortunately, the capacitors on my main board will not nestle back inside the case without causing damage to the caps or the case or both, so I will have to cut out a hole in the left side battery compartment to give my home brew fix some space to work, which means that I will not be able to take this with me as my portable game system, but I couldn't afford to keep the damn thing in batteries even if I wanted to.  On Heath's patented difficulty scale, I would give this fix a 2 out of 2 balls, mainly for the fact that there is not much room to work, and all of the components are very sensitive to the heat of an soldering iron.  Pretty good for my first hardcore electronics repair, if I do say so myself, but I am not looking forward to replacing the other capacitors on the board as they will inevitably fail.