When Nintendo and Knitting Collide

Over the years, there have been many crazy ideas for video game accessories – especially in the earlier years when game companies were trying to make video games appeal to a wider mass market. Given Nintendo’s push for the “casual market” with the Wii the past few years, its unsurprising that they would have been at the forefront of these kinds of radical ideas in the past. In fact, the little Japanese video game company that decided to “leave luck to heaven” single-handedly revived the ailing North American console market by marketing its quirky Japanese Famicom as the “Nintendo Family Entertainment System”, NOT as a video game console. It touted such unique features as the Power Glove, a controller you played by moving your hand, and R.O.B., your very own robotic Player 2 buddy!

Nintendo Knitting Machine

Back in August, Gamemaster Howard shared an early NES flyer that showcases what is perhaps one of the strangest gaming peripherals ever conceived: The Nintendo Knitting Machine! (Yes, Wii Bowling wasn’t the first Nintendo product to pique the interest of all those Grandmothers out there). Admittedly, this isn’t a new reveal – it was apparently demonstrated at WCES 1987 (Winter Consumer Electronics Show; from 1978 to 1994 CES apparently held both a winter and a summer trade show). Even so, since it was never released it seemed to have been relatively lost to history until now – just one of the many nuggets of early video game history brought back into the light recently by Howard.  Not being content with just sharing the picture, Howard dug up some old articles commenting about it:

Reporter’s Notebook : Atari, Nintendo Strut New Stuff at Electronics Show

Atari’s booth may have been the most bustling in the Convention Center’s West Hall, but Japanese video game maker Nintendo was drawing a crowd at an offbeat knitting demonstration.
Knitting by computer? Yes, knitters can throw away those needles. By draping yarn across a loom-like affair that interacts with the company’s home entertainment system, the user can knit sweaters, mittens, socks–you name it–complete with patterns. And no more counting rows. The computer does it all.
“We’re showing this for business feedback,” said Gail D. Tilden, advertising manager. “We’re using entertainment technology to appeal to a broader base.”

John Dvorak, Jan. 11, 1987, San Francisco Examiner

An interesting application at the CES show was a design tool for computer-aided knitting, of all things. You can for example design a fancy sweater with the computer. A special program turns the data into knitting instructions for a special Nintendo knitting machine that is expected to sell for less than $100. One fellow at the Nintendo Booth says the machine can crank out a custom sweater in about four hours. While that may be an exaggerated, this device is a runaway hit in Japan, and Nintendo hopes it will take off here.

Note: Howard confirmed that this peripheral was NOT released in Japan or any other territory. (See link)


Gamemaster Howard

Gamemaster HowardUnless you were a subscriber to Nintendo Power in the early 1990s (you can count me out) you’ve probably never heard of the comic strip “Howard & Nester.” It featured Howard Phillips, “President” of the “Nintendo Fun Club” (not to be confused with Howard Lincoln, former chairman of NoA) and Nester, the then teenage mascot of Nintendo Power, created by Howard himself.

Recently, Howard has been sharing early Nintendo memorabilia and the like via his Facebook page, Gamemaster Howard, including such things as early R.O.B. ads, brochures about the Nintendo AVS system, embarrassing photo shoots, and even some strips of Howard & Nester (including both the first strip and the last, unpublished strip).  Best of all though, he provides background and commentary on nearly everything he posts in a way that only someone who was on the inside of Nintendo could, so if you want to learn a bit more about Nintendo’s early days, I’d suggest going over to his Facebook page to check it out!  Especially if you’re interested in a bit of a Nintendo Power nostalgia trip, now that it’s confirmed to be ceasing production at the end of this year.

Neo Geo X

It’s been over thirteen years since SNK released it’s last piece of Neo Geo hardware, the Neo Geo Pocket Color, but on December 6, that clock will be reset with the release of the Neo Geo X. The handheld will come pre-loaded with 20 “classic” Neo Geo games including Metal Slug, Fatal Fury, and Last Resort.  It also features an “expandable game card slot” (which is reportedly a standard SD slot) so other Neo Geo games will be released in future.

Neo Geo X

The Neo Geo X will be sold in two different bundles. The handheld itself will set you back $129.99, but if you want the whole experience, the Neo Geo X Gold will set you back a total $199.99.  The handheld is the same in both bundles, but the Gold comes with a replica AES system which can serve as both a charging dock and as a way to play your Neo Geo X on the big screen (along with the included joystick controller – again a replica of the AES joystick).  Apparently, a second joystick can be bought separately to allow multiplayer gameplay like in the original versions of the games. More information can be found at it’s official website.

All that said, the Neo Geo X doesn’t seem to be so much a new system as a repackaging of the Neo Geo AES.  Similarly, the relatively high price point makes one think that it’s targeted only at those familiar with the Neo Geo brand and who would be willing to buy one purely out of nostalgia or for collectibility.  Similarly, it’s distribution in Europe is connected with Blaze Europe, who are best known to those across the pond as the makers of a series of portable Mega Drive systems of questionable quality.  That’s no reason to dismiss the Neo Geo X out of hand, though, and even if the system never sees any further release of games, it looks like it could be a great collector’s piece and a great way to play several Neo Geo games on-the-go.

Update: I came across this video today and thought I’d share: Neo Geo X GOLD Hands-On!

Website Updates

For the past week or two I’ve been doing my best to update the layout of the site, and now that I’ve got the biggest part finished, I’d like to highlight a few new aspects already in place and what I plan to do to finish it all up.

First of all, and most importantly, is the background image. I put the actual image together and uploaded it to the site a few months ago, but I just today got it fully working the way I’d originally intended (thanks to Cory of the ZetaBoards Resources Board). Basically, I attached an “image map” so that if you click on any sprite of a video game console, it will take you to its respective page for more information. There are still a few pages I have yet to create (see below) so those images don’t contain an actual link as of yet, but you can still hover your mouse over ALL of the video game consoles to see what they are.  I’ve test the image map in Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer and so far the only problem (besides displaying wrong in IEEdit: Because IE just doesn’t seem to like to display z-indexes properly, I had to disable all of the image maps on IE.) is that, because of the way Blogger creates the page, the image map stops just short of the bottom, so there are no links about 200 pixels or so at the very bottom of the page. Hopefully I can come up with a work-around in future, but for now I’m content with it.

The second (and final) big change with the site that I’d like to briefly mention is that I’m reworking the pages. Again, I’m a little bit limited by Blogger because they only allow a total of 20 stand-alone pages, so I’ve decided to make a page for each video game manufacturer to hold all of their video game consoles, instead of having an individual page for each console itself. I know that will probably make the pages rather large, but I can still link to each individual console and I’m hoping to come up with some sort of “move to top” button to help navigating through the page. All in all I think this new page set-up with be much better than what I have had. As for the manufacturers who have only made one or two consoles, I plan on putting them all on one page (or perhaps two or three separate pages, categorized by date/”generation”). I’m still in the process of this so you may come across the occasional “dead link” for now, but I hope to get them all sorted out ASAP.

El Quadinaros: Dual Analog N64 Controller

El Quadinaros

I was recently doing a bit of research on Nintendo 64 games that could use two controllers as a sort of ad-hoc “dual analog” controller system but one thing or another came up and I didn’t end up finding out enough information to warrant posting anything. Then just last week I came across this project by N64 modder extraordinaire, Sparky, and thought I had to share:

I think AMAZING is the right word. You can find Sparky’s build log of El Quadinaros on Bacteria’s Forum, here: StarWars Ep1 Racer N64 Controller – COMPLETED.

The Arcade Virtual Boy

The interface of the Virtual Boy Arcade machine by Tighe Lory.

Arcade Virtual BoyI ran across this project a few weeks ago and even though it doesn’t have much to do with system linking I thought I’d share it, just because it’s so awesome! Note: As far as I can tell, the Virtual Boy did have a link cable in development but it never saw the light of day.

You can read more about it on Tighe Lory’s Blog, but to boil it all down into one short, clichéd analogy: basically Tighe took life’s lemons (namely, a Virtual Boy with no stand, controller, or power supply) and made sweet, sweet lemonade! Not only does the cabinet look amazing, it also uses a custom, adjustable headset unit to replace one of the major drawbacks of the original, the headset stand. It was just recently put up for sale and sold for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2500, and even though I’d never be able to put down the money for something like that, I’m still a little disappointed that I can’t have a go on it myself. Check out the blog I linked to above for more pictures and info – it’s definitely worth a read through. Tighe also posted a detailed build log on the KLOV forums. Finally, he also uploaded a YouTube video of the cabinet in all its glory which is also embedded below:

Truly lateral thinking of withered technology if I’ve ever seen it. Gunpei Yokoi would be proud!

Reading Katakana (Japanese Writing)

The Japanese language is prevalent throughout the video game industry, especially with retro gaming. The surprising thing is, many of these words can be “read” by someone who doesn’t know any Japanese at all. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not expert at Japanese – I’m really not much more than a beginner, but I thought I’d share some of what I do know.

There are three different character sets in the Japanese writing system: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Kanji comes from Chinese characters and are what people typically think of when they think of Japanese – thousands of symbols which each represent different words, phrases, and ideas and which can be combined to represent even more. This article will NOT be talking about Kanji. The other two character sets, Hiragana and Katakana, are both a syllabary – more akin to our own romanized alphabet. There are only five vowel sounds in Japanese (compared to English where there are five characters representing vowels but more than twice that number of actual vowel sounds). Each character of Hiragana/Katakana represents a consonant paired with one of these vowels. The only difference between Hiragana and Katakana is that Hiragana is used to write native Japanese while Katakana is used to write “foreign” words. Thus Katakana could technically be used to write words from any language but, of the words I’ve run into at least, more than 90% of the time, they’re English words.

Now, ordinarily, this wouldn’t be all that useful – you may be able to pick out a word here or there if it’s written in Katakana and you can work out what it means, but the vast majority of Japanese is, in fact, Japanese. However, from what I’ve seen of Japanese writing in the video game industry, a great deal of the titles and names and whatnot are derived from English, written in Katakana, and can thus be fairly easily read even by someone who doesn’t know Japanese. Below is a chart showing all of the Katakana characters and their romanized pronunciation (Romaji).

  Romaji Katakana
a i u e o
K ka ki ku ke ko
G ga gi gu ge go
S sa shi su se so
Z za ji zu ze zo
T ta chi tsu te to
D da ji zu de do
N na ni nu ne no
H ha hi fu he ho
B ba bi bu be bo
P pa pi pu pe po
M ma mi mu me mo
Y ya yu yo
R ra ri ru re ro
W wa wo

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