Maker Monday: EmulationStation and RetroArch on Windows

I love my video games.  I can waste all kinds of time playing them, from old Atari to the (semi-) latest and greatest on the PS4 or Steam.  But lately, I’ve been trending towards the older stuff, and it’s actually led to some productive projects on my part.

I suppose it’s the truth about science and technology (and motivation): the enterprising slob will work hard now in order than he can be lazy later.

mqdefaultOne such project, which I just finished a few hours ago, involved running EmulationStation, a slick front-end navigation software that lets you glide between emulators you can run on your computer, on Windows.  Of course, emulation aggregators still being fairly new to me, I didn’t realize that was all it did until shortly before getting everything to work.  Fortunately, the searching I did led me to a YouTuber’s wonderful instruction video, which also showed me how to get RetroArch, which is what runs and manages the various emulators one may try to use while trying to play all those games of old.

In the past, running emulators was fairly easy, as you were often doing it one emulator at a time.  You could find an emulator for, say, the Atari 2600, download it, then download the ROMs (aka game files) for that system.  Once all that was done, you would run the Atari emulator, then use it to open the ROMs and play the games.  It was simple enough that I could do it with little effort.

And you can still do it that way if you want.  But as the number of legacy gaming systems grows larger and larger as the years wear on, having an all-in-one approach can be nice if you want to play on more than one system.  RetroPie, for example basically runs EmulationStation and RetroArch together, specifically for Linux and Raspberry Pi users, and it’s great.

6mlcyt1I wanted a similar experience, but for Windows instead.  That way I could put the full power of my PC behind the gaming, and run some of the more robust systems.  In this day and age, I knew it would be more than capable of running any of the systems RetroArch supports.

Now, in order to get this newer experience, some of the same old basics still apply.  You’re finding the software, downloading it, and getting the ROMs and loading them when needed.  But you’re going to end up doing some configuring on your own, and that can get a little scary at first.  As best I can remember, the list of tasks went something like this:

  1. Download the EmulationStation installer, and run it.
  2. Open the software, then close it out.  This generates the .emulationstation folder in Windows Explorer you’ll need to work in.  (ES itself doesn’t work yet, because you need to have a multi-system emulator to work with it. Like RetroArch.)
  3. In the .emulationstation folder, find the es_systems.cfg file.  Open it in Notepad.  This is where you’ll configure the display notes and data of the gaming systems you want to play.  (The YouTuber whose video I followed had a file I could simply copy and paste so I didn’t have to think too much about this, but you’ll need to configure it if you’re going to use different game systems than what he had on his file.  It’s actually not difficult to copy the structure and specify which systems you want to use.)
  4. Download a build of RetroArch from libretro.com that’s compatible with your version of Windows (32-bit or 64-bit).  Also download the cores.
  5. Go to the .emulationstation folder on your user directory in Windows, and create a new folder, named systems.  Inside the systems folder, create another new folder, retroarch.
  6. Extract the contents of the RetroArch build (it should be a zip file) to the retroarch folder you’ve created.
  7. Extract the cores to the cores folder that should now be in the retroarch folder.
  8. Add your ROMs.  You’ll have to go and find them online, and I’d recommend filing them into folders categorized by system.  Put your ROMs in a new folder (roms) in the .emulationstation folder.

It’s not an impossible series of steps by any means, but perhaps a touch more intimidating than it used to be.  My advice: take your time, pay close attention to the video or tutorial web page you’re using, and do your best.  I’ve been pretty successful at these projects so far, and it’s mostly been by being careful and thorough as I go.  For the most part, however, I’m finding these experiences great, as I both learn how these things work and feel satisfied that I’ve conquered another skill to add to my meager technological repertoire.

And of course remember, piracy is bad.  I know these games are old, and haven’t been sold in years, but video game companies still don’t want you playing them unless you own a copy of the games you download–and for some, even that isn’t good enough.  Just remember to game responsibly.

At this point, you should be good to go.  I’d recommend doing some play testing, and seeing how functions like saving and game navigation work, but based on the little gaming I was able to do, I’m for the most part pleased with how this project turned out.  It’ll be fun to recreate some of the gaming memories I experienced during my misspent youth.

Happy gaming!

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Happy New Year–Now Let’s Get This Ball Rolling

I need to see how possible it is to crop GIFs while retaining the motion, if only so I can clean up this post’s featured image some day.  Never forget, people: Google is your friend, at least if you can’t take multimedia classes.  I’ve learned a lot of DIY skills through Google (and YouTube, for that matter), and while I’m no expert, I’m smarter than before I started searching.

maxresdefaultAt any rate, as the doubtless imaginative title of this post suggests, I’m all full of New Year cheer, and eager to get underway with my resolutions.  All the more remarkable about it is the fact that, by and large, I don’t formally make resolutions, at least not during New Year season, as I find them arbitrary, trite setups for failure that can really be made at any point during a given year with equal importance.  And I’d say that’s still a relevant attitude I sport towards them in general, so it’s fair to say that I’m not going to be making any new resolutions for the coming year.

But new resolutions aren’t a requirement these days, as I have plenty of old ones I’ve either failed at or left behind, as well as existing ones that, while I haven’t failed, might do with a new twist.  Those are the resolutions I’m happy to focus on for the coming year. Here are some ideas

  1. Get healthy–or at least, heathier. Always easily said, I’ve had my ups and downs when it comes to getting fit and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. On the down side, I was diagnosed as being pre-diabetic last year, but as a result, I’ve implemented at least a basic exercise regiment that has stuck pretty well these last few months. My biggest enemy here tends to be stress, as it makes me go to comfort food whenever things get tough.  There are a few ways I can continue to improve and uphold this goal:
    1. Take up a more intense form of exercise, such as martial arts.
    2. Get better at avoiding sugars, such as sodas and desserts.
    3. Eat less in general, while doing more.
  2. Continue to write, and write more.  I once wrote in a blog every day for six straight months, and this was back when I had a full-time job, so I know I can do more writing than I recently have been.  I profess to want to write, and yet I way too often find myself wasting time on video games, Youtube, and other idle pursuits.  Stress, again, tends to be the enemy here, so I should probably look into ways to manage it.  Specific to writing, a few possible goals are spinning in my head, among them:
    1. Resurrecting 187,500.  This is a 500-words per day mandate, at the end of the year of which I should have 187,500 words written.  I’ll detail the rules of this self-created goal some other time, but it’s significant that each year I’ve tried to accomplish it, I’ve failed.
    2. Creating themed day posts for my blog. Madcap Mondays, Terrible Tuesdays, things like that.  We’ll see.
    3. Find a writing exercise every day, and do them.
    4. Work on my novel(s).
    5. Write X number of {short stories, articles, novel excerpts, etc.} per Y unit of time.  Taking suggestions on how much of what in what amounts of time.
  3. Work towards a writing career.  Similar to the previous resolution, it’s more focused on publication and earning income.  Some possibilities:
    1. Finish a novel manuscript and start shopping it around.
    2. Enter x number of writing contests this year.
    3. Find websites and magazines that pay for writing, and start submitting applications.
  4. Make things.  So many possibilities with this one.  Writing is technically included, I suppose, but I’m thinking in a more broad sense.  Some examples:
    1. Learn to play an instrument (make music).
    2. Create superhero costume parts/pieces (make cosplay).
    3. Raspberry pi/arduino projects (make fun and useful technology).
  5. Read more–or at least, consume more audiobooks and podcasts.  Aside from graphic novels, which I love, I just haven’t found much time to actually sit down and read.  I’ve found that audiobooks and podcasts have been much more conducive for when I’m doing things like exercise, driving across town, or simply working on chores, writing, or other tasks.  Some things I’ve considered:
    1. Ask friends for podcast recommendations.  Try out a new podcast every week, and expand my current base of podcasts.
    2. Listen to both fiction and nonfiction in audiobook form.  I’m loving The Dresden Files so far (James Marsters reads them!), and am almost done with Stephen King’s On Writing, which he narrates.
    3. Where possible, listen to these things for free.  Library cards are your friends in this endeavor.
  6. Educate and teach others.  I do this more or less every day as a librarian (case in point: want to learn how to use your tablet or smartphone to access your library’s e-books and e-audiobooks? I and other librarians can help you!), but I’m hoping to do so this year in a more formalized sense.  Some ideas:
    1. Host a program or programs at work on a topic I’m knowledgeable in.
    2. Participate on a panel at a conference or convention on a topic I’m good at.

Quite the list there, eh?  I’ve been working on a lot of these for a long time, and hopefully can just build on them as the years go on.  There may be more new ones as the year continues, and I reserve the right to modify or abandon these as I choose (at my own risk, of course–I’m sure if I eat too many more chocolates, I’ll go into a diabetic coma), but this is a good base from which to work as I try to make 2017 as good a year as I can.  It is my hope that each and every one of you can achieve the goals and dreams you set for yourself this year.

75cfb75b958e159f647988b804a4ce36aa1d2ace5be9328ddb1eaf505ec4e1e1Happy 2017, and may it be a great year for us all!  Now, let’s get this ball rolling, and knock it out of the park as best we can.

Yes, People Blame 2016 on Their Grief, and That’s Okay

It’s been a near-universal constant that 2016 has been a difficult year.  Between the deaths of high-profile celebrities and entertainers, as well as political upheavals, it pretty much goes without saying that 2016 was fraught with many an infamous moment. Heck, 2016 may be a hurtful year to you if you’re a rabid enough White Sox fan (something I say with authority–I’ve seen some appalling words and behavior from White Sox fans directed at Cubs enthusiasts).

It’s gotten to the point that people blaming the year itself has become the default response whenever we hear about another celebrity death.  It’s as if 2016 has become the personification of death and despair itself:

  • “Damn you 2016, don’t you DARE take Carrie Fisher from us!”
  • “I’m done with you, 2016.  WHY did you take Anton Yelchin from us?!”
  • “Omg, 2016, how could you allow a giant Oompa-Loompa to take the White House?”
These are certainly not the most rational of responses, but as most of them are fueled by grief, they make a certain amount of sense.  2016 is certainly the common denominator for a number of grief-inducing events, from the deaths of beloved entertainers such as David Bowie and Alan Rickman to the Brexit decision and the 2016 US election, depending on how you view your politics. A lot of people had a lot of emotional capital invested in these people or situations, and when they imploded or expired, it’s natural that a grief response would follow.
But perhaps inevitably, there is an emerging backlash rearing its head online.
I’ve lately been seeing a lot of posts denigrating people for “blaming 2016” for the terrible things that have happened over the last 12 months.  These sentiments are typically coached in terms of pedantic rationalism, with posters bemoaning people’s lack of self-awareness and sense of accountability; or in a simple grumpiness that “things happen” and that people blaming a year makes said poster sick.  I’m now just waiting for someone to swoop in with the “time is a social construct, and doesn’t really exist, and by blaming a unit of time for your problems you are showing how small you are,” argument.
Such posts may give their originators a temporary sense of superiority, or allow them to think themselves smarter than the average bear, but all it really does is show them to be far too concerned with how others grieve.  I think it’s a reasonable assumption that most of the people cursing 2016 don’t actually think it’s a person or entity capable of deliberately wreaking havoc on the things and people we love.  It’s an obviously irrational act, born from an emotion that is typically not known for inducing calm deliberation in those afflicted with it.
Step off and let people feel what they feel, for crying out loud.
 
2016 HAS been an unusually turbulent year, and some people choose to grieve by collectively blaming the year, much the same way they celebrate the fandoms they love. Just because one doesn’t see the appeal of Star Wars, Star Trek, or Doctor Who doesn’t mean that person should make fun of others for liking them.  By the same measure, someone doesn’t respond to these events the same way as others should not try to browbeat people into thinking and feeling the way they do.
better_than_youIf you’re one of those folks who feels the need to make these snarky response posts, take my advice and just let people grieve in the way that most fits them.  I know it may be a little annoying, but it’s not like it isn’t coming from a genuine place.  Trying to put people in their “place” for their venting only makes you come off as douchey, elitist, and far too concerned with others’s responses to things that don’t concern you. You’re just a half step removed from being a bully.

A Spoiler-Free Review of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

As a lifelong Star Wars fan, I’ll be one of the first to admit that I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to see Rogue One.  I was originally more excited about the Spider-Man: Homecoming trailer, but when that dropped on the internet, I held on to the fact that Alan Tudyk was voicing the droid, K-2SO.  It’s nothing personal, but the knowledge that Disney was going to make a Star Wars film every year, but a “main” title only every other year, I was waiting to get back into the exploits of the Skywalker clan, especially when I only got a silent 30 seconds of Luke Skywalker at the end of the last film.

rgjyqwmw7alhlucwpltbSo, with all that said, I was delightfully surprised to find Rogue One an excellent entry into the Star Wars mythos.  In addition to strong main characters with more than just memorable personalities, as well as a cleverly crafted plot that both sets up A New Hope beautifully as well as resolves a notorious long-standing question fans have had about that film, we also get a film that has a strong emotional core that does a good job of showing the high stakes that make up the conflict between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance.  It’s well executed, though far from flawless, and manages to be both fun and strong on substance.

With the exception of Empire Strikes Back, and possibly A New Hope, I would say this is the strongest film in the franchise so far.  The heroes are realistic, with strong motivations, and the villains are unsettling in how evil they are portrayed.  This Empire, personified in the character of Orson Krennic, is a far cry from the one that seems to merely go through the motions of doing villainous things, and instead we see a collective entity that derives a psychotic pleasure from crushing those who would oppose it under its heel in the most painful of ways possible.  It makes for great conflict, and gives viewers a reason to root for the ensemble of ragtag heroes, led by  Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO.

zz39a7930fThere are some flaws, though I would say they’re relatively minor.  A few of the cameos are good and add to the feel of the universe, though some just feel tacked on for sake of doing so.  The CG effects done for certain legacy characters were of varying quality, and occasionally took me out of the story–I think I would have preferred they re-cast the parts.  And finally, there were one or two physical challenge-style obstacles that had no practical place in the narrative, and just make people wonder what drunk designer could have possibly kept his job after placing said contraption where it ended up.

In many ways, I would liken Rogue One to Star Wars the same way I would liken Deep Space Nine to Star Trek: it’s probably the darkest, yet ultimately the most life-affirming of the franchise so far.  There’s an undeniable sense of the importance of giving your all to an important cause, no matter the personal cost.  It is without a doubt, perhaps not the best of the Star Wars films, but one of–if not the most–meaningful of them, particularly given the cultural and social climate we find ourselves these days.  Definitely worth a view for any fan of the franchise, and anyone who simply likes good storytelling.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas, But Not Until These Things Happen

For me, the holidays are a fairly arbitrary thing.  They signify the end of the year is approaching, and there are the requisite get-togethers, parties, and feasts that tend to happen around them.  Many of the other trappings–decorating the house, putting up a Christmas tree, wading into the warzones shopping lines to get gifts for others–are catch as catch can: I’ll do them if time/energy/money/inclination allow, but I don’t really think to do them that often.  The stress simply isn’t worth it most of the time.

There are, however, two conditions that have to be met before I personally get into “the Christmas spirit,” where I’ll allow myself to admit that it’s now the thick of the holiday season and maybe even start thinking yuletide thoughts.  This very personal, and therefore likely rather eccentric short list is something that has simply become a necessity for me over the years, and hasn’t altered in as long as I can remember.  If you want to get me to come out and go Christmas caroling with you–a doozy of a proposition in any case–then I’d suggest you make sure the following conditions already have been met.

5a2fe25f79d1cc38daaa3799445a51f3First, bring me the Little Debbie’s Christmas Tree Cakes.  And not just any kind, I want the GOOD ones, the chocolate ones.  I’ve seen a lot more of the white cream chocolate cakes in recent years, as well as an emerging green frosted variety, and I’ve never cared for them.  These confections are only made during the holiday months, and I start to see them between Halloween and Thanksgiving, when the year’s candy has gone on sale at the grocery stores.  I require at least a couple packages of these to chomp on throughout the season, to remind me both how sweet life can be at this time of year and how much I like to gamble with my blood sugar levels.

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Second, I must view at least one of the two most sacred of Christmas movies.
 There can be little argument that one of the best–if indeed not the best–Christmas films is Die Hard. Between the humor, action, and memorable lines and characters,  it’s a standout in a veritable sea of movies competing for your attention during any given holiday national-lampoons-christmas-vacation-11457season.  If Bruce Willis isn’t lecturing loudly to an emergency call handler about how he’s not ordering a pizza, he’s scrawling messages about how he now has a gun (ho ho ho!) to the assailants of the office Christmas party he finds himself at.  The other most sacred of Christmas films, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, is a shocking yet delightful documentary on just how stressful the holidays can be, as viewed through the eyes of Chevy Chase’s ever-suffering Clark Griswold.  Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong, and how he manages to make it through the holidays without losing his mind–or his family, for that matter–is nothing short of a miracle.

So, there you have it.  Insofar as this aspiring writer is concerned, it’s not the Christmas season–and I’m not in the “Christmas spirit”–until I’m sugared up on the chocolate Christmas Tree Cakes, and I’ve either seen Hans Gruber fall from Nakatomi Plaza or Randy Quaid kidnap Brian Doyle Murray for Chevy Chase’s benefit.  Those things, to me, signify the holidays.

NaNoWriMo, and the Benefits of Failure

It’s been about a month since I’ve posted anything here, and a lot has happened in that time.  Holiday stuff, family stuff, personal stuff, all kinds of stuff that has–of course–affected my ability to keep my nose to the proverbial grindstone where writing has been concerned.  With that said, I’m hopefully back to blogging regularly, and writing more consistently even when I’m not blogging.

As I mentioned in previous posts, I participated in NaNoWriMo this year, and managed to get a large chunk written of a novel that I’ve been spinning around in my head for years.  In terms of the stated victory conditions for NaNoWriMo–50,000 words of a novel written during the month of November–I technically did not win; my novel has come in at just under 40,000 words, and it’s not complete.  However, I’m not sure my failure this year is as complete as one might initially believe, even when one factors in the excellent pace I was maintaining at the beginning of the month, and the sudden drop-off at the end.

A number of factors have led me to consider that this failure might be one of the better things to happen to me, from the standpoint of one who aspires to write for a living.  Consider the following:

  1. The story that I’ve told this year is far more complete–or, at least closer to being completed–than the partial novel I wrote 3 years ago, when I “won” NaNoWriMo by getting 50,000 words pounded out.  That story, which still remains badly unfinished, was only to about the halfway point of the plot before I hit the word count minimum, and I haven’t had the gumption to go back and finish it.  This story, I’ve basically finished: there’s a beginning, middle, and clear end, and could probably work as it stands with a little bit of editing, polish, and a little more content.  I feel much better about this unfinished novel than the technical winner I wrote in 2013.
  2. I tried a new approach to this story that I hadn’t with the others–I wrote it in first person.  Typically, I’ve gone for the third person omniscient point of view, and even though I’ve gotten used to writing that way, I’m not sure it’s helped me over the years.  First person has allowed me to get into the head of my protagonist–no, it’s allowed me to express things through my protagonist’s viewpoint in a way that has just come off as more natural and relevant to the story I’m trying to tell.  It probably means I’ll be rewriting a lot of previously written stories, but I simply can’t get over how right it feels.
  3. My characters were talking to me.  This had previously only happened once previously, in a scene that still strikes me as one of the best character moments I’ve ever written.  It came about in that feeling of not actually having written it, but merely serving as the mouthpiece, or recorder, of your character’s words and actions.  That happened again during this story, and it resulted in some long-standing questions finally getting answered about several characters and their motivations.  It enabled me to get my characters to the final conflict, and has had significant bearing on the aftermath.  As I work to finish out the piece entirely, I look forward to hearing more from them.

I think the most significant indicator of this failure being in name only is that I’m still working to flesh this story out and finish it.  Consider it one of my New Year’s resolutions, but if I can get this story finished by the end of the month, I’ll think of this year’s NaNoWriMo as one of my most successful ever, regardless of whether or not I actually “won” or not.

A Sample from My NaNoWriMo 2016 Novel

For anyone who’s been awaiting my latest blog post, I realize the last couple weeks have been pretty barren.  I’m sorry about that, but I feel I have a good reason.  I’ve been working diligently on my novel for NaNoWriMo this year, and I just passed the 25,000 word threshold today.  That means I’m at the halfway mark, word count-wise, and it’s halfway through November.

With that in mind, I’ve pulled an approximately 500-word excerpt from my novel for anyone who would like to see what I’ve been working on in lieu of the blog (which will, I promise, have more regular posts when I’ve finished this monster).

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I didn’t know much about ammunition in general–I tended to prefer hand-to-hand forms of combat given the choice, though I wasn’t averse to using them if the situation called for it–but I knew demon killer rounds were some seriously high-power and destructive rounds.  They were probably all hollow-point, high-caliber, whatever the hell you say about bullets to make them sound cool, sexy, and high-tech, but they also contained traces of silver, holy water, garlic essence, and a number of other things that were generally known to be bad for most monsters.  They were a highly specialized item, and therefore not easy to get.  

“And, the organization cleared you for access to demon killer rounds?” I pressed, pretty sure I already knew the answer.

“I was able to requisition a couple of clips, here and there,” Alan said, his voice taking on a fluidic, almost evasive smoothness.  “For completely practical purposes, of course.”

“And just from where did you ‘requisition’ these clips?” I inquired.

“Spinner’s footlocker,” he said, his voice not bothering to hide the laugh.  “Last week.”

Oh, my hell.  I knew Alan could sometimes play a little fast and loose with the rules, but this was the first time I could recall him outright stealing something from someone.

“Oh, hell.  You’re kidding.  You’re kidding me, right?”

“What?” Alan asked innocently, his arms spread.  “They were extras.  It’s not like I left him with none.”

“I can’t believe you!” I exclaimed.  “You stole a man’s ammo!”

“Hey!” Alan shot back, as if offended by the accusation.  “First of all, I’m all about getting what we need, not what others think we need, regardless of who may think otherwise!”

I smirked sideways at the flimsy excuse, but kept silent.

“And second, what makes you think I procured these without Spinner’s permission and blessing?”

“Oh, I don’t know.  How about Spinner’s little talk about how they’re not for non-military personnel?”

I could see Alan rolling his eyes dismissively.  “Oh, sure,” he said.  “Bring that up.”

“You were the reason he brought it up in the first place!”

“They were pretty!” Alan shot back adamantly, as if that were all the reason he needed.  “Besides, it’s not like they didn’t end up being put to good use.  Right?”

I rolled my eyes and sighed, unable to argue that.  If Alan hadn’t had those bullets in his gun, that little tussle with the Omega Demon would have likely gone way differently–and certainly more bloody for the two of us.  I may not have approved of his methods, but I had to admit that Alan had made a good call in acquiring, however unethically, the rounds that had both allowed him to stun the Omega Demon and enabled me to tear its bullet wounds open with the enchanted crowbar.

“True,” I conceded.  “They definitely did some good back there.”

“Yeah.  Did you see the surprised look on that thing’s stupid demon face after it realized the bullets had actually pierced its stupid demon hide?”

“I did,” I answered, smiling.  “It almost makes up for the shocked agony on your face when you tried to swing your crowbar at it while it had a stoneskin enchantment up.”

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That’s it for now.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Please let me know if you like it, what you think so far, etc.

Happy writing!