Saturday, 19 January 2013

The past week

Monday was a national holiday and a day off so we made the most of it by going out on Sunday night in Osaka. On Monday we woke up late and went round my mate's brother's house to play Xbox, then in the evening I met up with one of my old professors from Kobe Uni. We went to a bar in Nishinomiya that had decent foreign beer.

I was having a better time than this photo lets on

The next two days I was working in Akashi, then Shinsaibashi. In a previous post I mentioned the 'Enjoy! 60 Second Service' that McDonald's is currently running, and in Akashi on Tuesday I went to McDonald's at lunch time to order three Chicken Crisps. They made two of them in time but couldn't make the third and so I got a free Big Mac coupon - pretty cool.

Friday was another rare day off and I met up with my Spanish-speaking friend to practise Spanish. After that we went back to his girlfriend's place and he cooked Mexican food and we stuffed ourselves with tacos.

Today was a long day in Umeda (10am-8pm) and I handed in my letter of resignation before finishing. During the past week I booked my tickets to California and Chile and my travel insurance. There's not too much paperwork that needs to be done before leaving for Chile, which is cool.  Everything's getting a bit more real now and I need to knuckle down with the Spanish. 

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Wednesday, 16 January 2013

SDLMAME and a light gun working on a MacBook Pro

A few weeks ago, for one reason or another, I got thinking about an arcade game called CarnEvil. I remember playing it at a bowling alley in Stafford when I was about 11 or so, and it left quite an impression. The game is set in a haunted amusement park and features a variety of horror-themed enemies, and I thought the whole freaky carnival vibe was great. I've never seen another CarnEvil machine since then, but the other day I did a bit of research and realised you can run the game using MAME. However, there was little information on getting MAME and CarnEvil working on a Mac...

I downloaded the CarnEvil ROM and chd. file and installed SDLMAME for Mac using this tutorial. There wasn't a lot of information on how to correctly position the ROM and chd. file within the SDLMAME folder to get it to work, but this is the setup that worked for me:


As you can see, the 'carnevil.zip' ROM file is in the ROM folder, then I created another folder inside the ROM folder called 'carnevil'. Inside that I put the 'carnevil.chd' file. I loaded up SDLMAME and was surprised to see that CarnEvil ran pretty much perfectly on my MacBook Pro. I couldn't play it as you basically need a light gun, but I could watch the intro and even keep inserting credits to see the game levels.  That wasn't enough though - I wanted to actually play the game, which would require a light gun. 

I did some research and there weren't that many options, but the Arcade Guns PC Light Gun seemed to be getting a lot of praise. There were reviews of it on YouTube and it was apparently pretty easy to set up and use. However, nowhere did it say it would work on Mac, so I emailed Eric at Arcade Guns and asked if it was likely to work. He replied that the guns work on Linux, and Mac OS X is also a Unix-based OS so there shouldn't be any problems. He said I wouldn't be able to configure the gun, as the configuration software only runs on Windows, but that he'd set the gun to 'Joystick Mode' before sending it out to me so it should be OK.

The gun came in the post within about a week and I waited till I had a bit of time as I anticipated it wasn't going to be simple. First I plugged in the gun and the IR sensor into my two USB ports, but according to the manual I should have been able to control the cursor with the gun straight away; this doesn't seem to be possible on my MacBook Pro, probably something to do with the trackpad being part of the internal hardware. Anyway, I loaded up SDLMAME and pointed the gun at the screen and found that there was some kind of interaction - moving the gun did affect the crosshair on-screen - but it was jumping out all over the place and not following my movements. This was a good sign though, as now I just had to calibrate the gun properly.

You get two manuals with the gun - the Arcade Guns user manual and the AimTrak setup guide. Following the instructions on page 4 of the setup guide I tried holding the trigger for five seconds on my desktop screen, as this should start the calibration process. This didn't work, but after trying different combinations of buttons I figured out that you hold the large button at the back of the gun for around five seconds. Reading the user manual now it does actually say that, but in the setup guide it says to hold the trigger. 

So I could get into calibration mode, but this takes a long time to get right, and as I said, you can't control the cursor on my Mac using the gun, so even after you think you've calibrated the gun you can't tell until you load SDLMAME and check - basically the gun is only active in SDLMAME but can't control the cursor on your desktop. 

What works best for me is sitting about four or five feet away and turning off all the lights so the room is dark, but even then sometimes it doesn't work right - you end up with an erratic crosshair, or one that doesn't travel to certain parts of the screen. I got it calibrated pretty nice the other day and I haven't changed it since then. 

However, the first time I got it calibrated pretty good I noticed it still wasn't perfect. I realised the cursor was centring on the vertical and horizontal axes too easily. Basically it got stuck in the middle of the screen. I emailed Eric and he knew what was up - you just need to set 'deadzone' in MAME to '0'. As I open SDLMAME up from Terminal I just type './mame64 -jdz 0' every time now and that does the trick ('jdz' controls the 'deadzone' setting). 

So now the crosshair was responding well to my movement and most of the hard work was out of the way. Next was to configure the controls for CarnEvil


Above is how I've set up my controls. To assign the gun as an input you need to change 'Lightgun X Analog' to 'Joy 1 A0 Ultimarc'. You do this by moving the gun from left to right across the screen very steadily. You then set 'Lightgun Y Analog' to 'Joy 1 A0 Ultimarc' by moving the gun from the top of the screen to the bottom. 'P1 Button 1' is your trigger and 'P1 Button 2' is your reload, which I've set to the large button at the back of the gun (originally CarnEvil was off-screen reload).

As you can see, pressing 6 on my setup enters 'Service Mode', and you have to enter this menu to calibrate the gun once again in CarnEvil  I haven't got any keys assigned to for Player 2 anymore, but in CarnEvil's calibration mode you need to calibrate both guns to complete the process and save the settings. I only have one gun but you need to make CarnEvil think you're calibrating both guns. You can assign any buttons to Player 2 and complete the whole calibration process, but then just turn off Player 2 after you're done.

I can't think of any other problems I encountered. I was surprised that the whole thing works this well to be honest - the light gun is a great little piece of technology. There's so many variables, especially when this wasn't intended for Macs, but it works and it's a lot of fun. The only thing that would be better is two guns so that two people can play. Eric was really helpful so if you have any problems you can email him through the Arcade Guns website. 

Finally, I've put a couple of videos of me using the gun up on YouTube to show that it can be done. First a quick explanation, and then some footage of me playing Jurassic Park:



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Saturday, 12 January 2013

Wii U

I'm now back at work after our week off, which flew by way too fast. On the last day of the break a few of us went round a mate's house, drank wine and played Wii U. It's only just been released but this guy's girlfriend had already bought one, and it's a lot of fun. We played a game called Nintendo Land, which is a collection of Nintendo-themed minigames. The Wii U has a special controller, which is basically a handheld screen, and one player can use this while the other players use standard Wii controllers. This allows for games such as Luigi's Ghost Mansion on Nintendo Land: the player with the screen is a ghost and can see everything on the screen. The other players are armed with only a torch and don't know where the ghost is but have to avoid being captured. They can only see him if they shine their torch on him, often when it's already too late. Mario Chase is a lot of fun as well. 

The Wii U is so far removed from the consoles I grew up playing, but Nintendo still rely on all the old franchises I know, so the Wii U still has that Nintendo magic. If it had come out a few years ago I probably would have been all over it, but I barely even realised it had been released. Nintendo and video games was a big part of my growing up, and probably the main reason I came to Japan, but these days I don't pay any attention to it.

Now that I'm back at work I've started my almost daily visits to McDonald's. I'm still a big fan of the 'Chicken Crisp'. I buy three, which comes to 300 yen, and it makes for a cheap, filling meal. Ironically, when we got our wages on Thursday there was a 500 yen McDonald's gift card in the pay packet as our 'New Year bonus'.


At lunchtime McDonald's have recently started doing this thing where if you don't receive your order in under 60 seconds you get a free item from the menu. They even get an hourglass out and set if off to prove it. Most McDonald's here always seem really busy, but apparently profits have been falling, so I guess they've always got to think of new ways to attract customers.

Speaking of fast food, after work on Tuesday a friend took me to a pizza place in Shinsaibashi. It's called I Love Pizza and everything is 500 yen. Unless you go to Shakey's, pizza in this country is ridiculously expensive, so 500 yen is pretty decent. And the pizza at I Love Pizza isn't crappy Japanese-style stuff either - it actually looks and tastes like it was made in a traditional pizza oven (I forgot to check whether it actually is). The interior is kinda ghetto, as the seats are made from beer kegs, and it's kinda cramped inside. I had the four cheese pizza and it was OK - it had some kind of sweet syrup on, which I wasn't a fan of - but I'd definitely go back and try again. The size of the pizza is small but so is the price, and there's gotta be something else on the menu that would suit me.

I've been studying Spanish a lot in my spare time lately, and I've been planning for Chile and a short stay in California as well. The date for my first orientation in Chile has just been announced (March 2nd), so it's not long till I go now. Need to book my flights soon. Might do that this weekend. We have Monday off, so it's another long weekend.

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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

New Year

I'm on a week-long break at the moment. It started on Saturday and it feels great to finally have some time to chill.

On Saturday me and a couple of mates went to Hankyu Nishinomiya Gardens and spent the day as mallrats. We messed around with the toys in the toy shop, played the pianos in the music shop and ate some great food. We ate gelato at MILKISSIMO where they had loads of cool flavours. One of the best things about food in Japan is the crazy flavours they have, and I always take time to try the wacky stuff. I had the apple pie, chocolate orange and fresh corn flavours and they were all good - the fresh corn one had real corn in it. For tea we went to a place called Sasebo Burger. It was 980 yen for one of their hamburgers, but it was a really good size and tasted great. Definitely wanna go there again.

Before tucking in

In the evening we headed back to Umeda to meet a couple more people and did all-you-can-drink at an izakaya. The service was pretty slow, as is usually the case with all-you-can-drink, probably intentionally so, but we kept the staff on their toes and made sure to get our money's worth. Then we went to Shinsaibashi and ended up at a couple of our regular spots before heading back to Juso.

The next day we went to see The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey at a cinema in Umeda. I've never watched a LotR film all the way through - I once tried, got bored and stopped watching - but I enjoyed The Hobbit a lot, so I'm gonna give LotR another shot. It was good to hear loads of British accents in the film, especially northern ones. Those kind of things stand out when you live in a foreign country.

On the 31st my friend invited me to her family's place in Kobe. Her extended family was there and we went out to a restaurant to eat shabu-shabu and chankonabe. I don't often get the chance but it's always good to get away from your own place and have a taste of Japanese family life. It's also one of the first times since coming to Kansai that I've had to use a lot of Japanese, as most of the family didn't speak English. One of my friend's cousins is ten years old and it somehow transpired that his dad wanted me to cut this kid's hair in the same style as mine. So when we got back to their place after dinner I shaved this ten-year-old's head while the family watched the KĊhaku Uta Gassen. He seemed happy with it, and when we were leaving I waved to him and he patted his head back. Was pretty funny.

At night we returned to Osaka and I went out to meet some friends in Nanba. These ended up being the same group of friends that I'd hung out with last New Year's Eve at a house party in Sheffield - it was then that I started to think about coming back to Japan. We hit the usual bars, which are getting a bit tiresome to be honest, but we did the countdown, danced to disco music and had a good time until around 8am the next day.  On New Year's Eve and New Year's Day the streets of Osaka were strangely empty. I've never seen the place so quiet, and it makes a good change because I'm not a big fan of the busyness of Osaka.

So it's 2013, and people have asked me what my resolution is. I don't usually make them cos I'm a pretty motivated person and if I want to do something I'll do it anyway. If I had to make one though it'd be to study Spanish. I've only got a couple of months left here before moving to Chile, so I need to learn quickly. I need to book flights, buy insurance etc. as well.

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