« May 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

July 30, 2007

Leaving Las Vegas...

Thanks Joe, John and Sean and the countless volunteers, alumni, vendors and attendees who made this CGE show a blast! NWCGE will be back next year in Las Vegas. As Elvis would have said: Thank you, thank you very much!

IMG_1068

Sunday Impressions From CGE

Snake gets packed 8BW & Co.

Bill Kunkel Keith Robinson and Glyn Anderson (Intellivision programmers)

Need a Vectrex bag? Puppy Pong aka "Doctor Pong" Q*bert wind-up toys

Joe, John and Sean - the guys behind the show! Stampede for the 50 Cents bargain floor grab!

OK, so I like Q*bert - isn't he a Q*t? Wrap-Up!

More Pictures From CGE2K7

Vectrex Pitcher's Duel, one-of-a-kind engineering samples Gold Sudoku cart for NES

Leonard introducing Al Alcorn ComputeHer, 8BW, Mel-Bot

Crystal is armed and dangerous - promo-sword for Xbox game Don't mess with the Snake Par-tay!

Joe from Atari2600.com announces the sale of the show exclusives Everybody say "Deeeeeeeegital Press Group Photo"!

Nick checking out mystery box o'crap Rarities at the swap session

Day One Of CGE2K7 In Las Vegas

Saturday had a full program: the show opened at 9:00 AM, with the swap room opening at 9:30 and the first keynote with Jay Smith (Vectrex) starting at 10:30. After some quick browsing for deals and the first batch of show exclusives I joined Jay's keynote. Together with Vectrex-fan Chris Romero Jay had lots of interesting stories around the birth of the Vectrex, the life and ultimately the demise of this unique game system. He also talked about some of the challenges and some of the resurrection and evolution attempts which ultimately were all doomed by the video game market crash in 1983/4.

Jay Smith, father of the Vectrex

During breaks 8-Bit Weapon supported by ComputeHer and Mel-Bot played some cool video game inspired tunes. Personally I like the setup from previous years (with the live drummer) better but 8BW, ComputeHer and Mel-Bot put on a great show!

ComputerHer, 8BW and Mel-Bot Activision programmers

After listening to the Activision keynote we took a quick lunch break and stocked up on some more classic games. The afternoon had keynotes by the Atari Programmers and a great session with Al Alcorn during which he did a nice PowerPoint show with some rare pictures. What impressed me was the family-type feel of these keynotes, the alumni were candid in their answers and talked freely about the screw-ups and trails and errors. Overall a great set of panels!

The evening brought the famous CGE auction which went way longer than expected. There were some fantastic collectables. From prototypes and limited edition cartridges to rare promotional items and even a full-size Solid Snake statue - this auction had it all! And since it was all for charity the bids went higher and higher, especially once the (in)famous mystery boxes (aka "box o'crap") were up.

John with two mystery boxes during the CGE auction Gold Mario and Crystal

The first two boxes were duds but the third box had a handful of prototypes in it! The fourth and final box went for $1500 and contained a absolutely mint Video Life with mint instructions - one of the holy grails of Atari 2600 collecting! This cart was over 20 years old and looked brand new - a fitting final mystery box! Throughout the event auctioneer John and spokes model Crystal provided lots of entertainment for a packed room

During the evening Tim of the Las Vegas Pinball Hall Of Fame had a party going - including shuttle service and of course the Digital Press CGE Afterpar-tay claimed its victims as well. The CGE party had video games, pizza, drinks, limited edition CGE shot glasses, Crystal and friends and a poker table with the occasional prototype in the pot to  heat things up.

Shots (out of limited edition CGE shot glasses) Nate taking the pot

July 28, 2007

CGE2K7 Ready To Go!

After peeking into the Alumni Dinner on the top floor of the Riviera the NWCGE group had dinner (good steaks @ Kristofer's) and decided to stop by the exhibition hall one more time: the museum had been re-arranged again, there is just to much classic videogaming goodness that needs to be displayed!

IMG_1114

I love this retro-setup: Atari 2600 with ancient wood-grain console TV, decidedly fugly retro-couch and some tables with LPs - looks good enough to sit down for a round of Ms. Pac-Man!

We also met Jarett from Packrat Video Games who had arrived and was in the middle of setting up. Also lots of cool German stuff at Y-Bot/Toby's booth, like Saba and Nordmende Arcadia 2001 versions complete with boxes in great shape!

And finally John Hardie told me that some of my pictures from the "Great Dig Dug Drop" made it into the official CGE program this year - cool!

July 27, 2007

Countdown To CGE2K7 In Las Vegas

Just a few more hours and CGE2K7 opens! We checked out the museum and the exhibit hall this morning - wow! The museum is bigger than ever and already they had to bring in extra tables for all the goodies. Of course Chris Romero is there with his Vectrex collection, we spotted LaserActive, Jaguar, Nintendo, SEGA, some Apple goodies, tons of Atari stuff and more. Tomorrow I'll just have to spend a few hours and take pictures of all these items, there is so much stuff!

Museum - work in progressChris Romero, Rik Morgan and ? looking at Chris' Vectrex collection Goodies everywhere - look at the Woz signature on the Apple

The exhibition hall is all filled with tables and the first row of arcade games is up as well! Rick and John arrived with half of the NWCGE stuff, Rob and Brad should come in sometime today with the rest.

Arcade game goodness

July 26, 2007

CGE2K7 @ The Riviera Convention Center

Checked out the Riviera Convention Center today - it's huge! And CGE has rooms Royale 5 though 8 which is absolutely gigantic. If you have been to the shows in the past: this here is noticeably bigger!

IMG_1047

Also: when you check in make sure to validate your little pink check-in ticket! Make sure it says Group CGEJL07 on it! Only that way are you guaranteed the upgraded rooms and the special event rate!

Borg Spheres, Klingons and Nerds - Oh My!

OK, so I like cheese. Cheddar, Gouda, Gruyère and cheesy Las Vegas shows and attractions. The "Star Trek Experience" at the Hilton is cheesy, but the good kind of cheesy that you pay extra for on your pizza. Nate and I signed up for the "Behind The Scenes"-tour and I was impressed. Our guide George Rieth was very good, patiently answered all the questions and willingly pointed out some of the more embarrassing things like mislabeled items, recycled props and sets etc. - quite humorous!

IMG_0997

Before doing the tour Nate assimilated two "Borg Spheres", fuming neon-green alcoholic drinks. These guys were pretty potent, yikes, but maybe the rides are more fun that way :)

IMG_1020 IMG_1022

Sure enough shortly after that Nate got assimilated by a Borg, ah well, he is part of the collective now.

Testing from my cellphone

Cool, the posting via the cellphone works just fine! Just in case they don't have wireless :)

July 25, 2007

Coming To You Live From Las Vegas...

Countdown to CGE 2K7 @ the Riviera Hotel & Casino! Four more days to the biggest classic videogame event in the US, the world? Nate, Tina and I arrived in Las Vegas today and while they are staying downtown at the Plaza (the site of previous CGE events) until the show starts I'm already at the Riviera.

IMG_0976

The hotel is decent but nothing special, the rooms are good with no frills and the casino has an arcade with some older games - but nothing classic. If you mention the special CGE code CGEJL07 you not only help out the show but you also get upgraded rooms at a special rate!

For the next few days I'll be blogging live from Las Vegas and the CGE 2K7 via the glorious Windows Live Writer.

July 22, 2007

PowerPoint Presentations On The Zune

One of the things that I started using my Zune for within days after I bought it is PowerPoint presentations. By using pictures as slides the Zune is surprisingly effective for this task if you follow a few guidelines and best practices. Going forward I will refer to JPEG-pictures as slides but from a Zune point of view these are of course pictures.

What Makes The Zune So Great As PowerPoint Presentation Device?

Now before you scoff at this idea look at what the Zune has to offer:

  • Zune has 30 Gigs of storage space – at 100KB a slide that’s roughly 300,000 slides that fit onto it.
  • Zune has external video output – both NTSC (US) and PAL (most of Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, parts of Southamerica), for more on NTSC/PAL check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PAL, also most SECAM TVs (France, parts of Africa) are able to process PAL signals.
  • Zune is small and compact – sure beats lugging a notebook around.
  • Zune can play a soundtrack to your slide show – if you are good at it you could even create a presentation narrative with cues for you to move on to the next slide.

Of course there are a few areas where the Zune falls short:

  • No variable custom timings for slide shows – I would love to be able to set times per picture/slide but the Zune only has a limited set of global timings applicable to all slides, that means you’ll have to do it by hand (or keep reading further down on Custom Timings and use a workaround).
  • Zune only supports JPEG slides – but  it’s easy to work around any compression artifacts by setting the quality of these slides very high (>95%).
  • No animations (goes along with the previous bullet) – no GIF animations, however there are a few things you can do with repeating slides that can simulate some basic animations surprisingly well – of course that means your number of slides can go way up.

Open questions:

  • Nobody at Microsoft was able to tell me if the Zune’s NTSC output is compatible with some of the other NTSC standards such as NTSC-J in Japan. Same for some of the other PAL standards like South America for example.
  • I also didn’t get a definitive answer about the Zune’s screen resolution through the external video output. However after a few test pictures I am convinced that it is indeed 640 x 480 ignoring overscan (see move on that topic below.
  • Finally: sometimes the Zune displays a "Zune ring" while loading pictures, I am not sure how to supress this other than just avoiding browsing through very large JPEGs. If in doubt do a test run!

If anybody knows the answers (and has valid sources) please let me know – thanks!

The Basic Process

The idea is to create your slides in PowerPoint, save them off as JPEGs, scale them down to Zune’s 640 x 480 external resolution and then synch them to your Zune. Along each step there is room for optimizing your slides to get the best possible output on your Zune.

Designing PowerPoints For The Zune

When creating PowerPoint decks you’ll have to follow some restrictions to get good output on the Zune:

  • Font Size – Check out the font comparison slides further down, everything below 12 points becomes more guess work than reading; you’ll also notice that sans-serif fonts like Arial appear more legible. If in doubt create a test slide with the fonts you want to use!
  • Textures – Avoid objects with very small high-contrast fill-patterns, especially any kind of hatching. The resizing of the slides can lead to some ugly moiré patterns in the final output. If you do encounter moiré patterns you may try to lower the contrast of the fill-pattern, run a smooth or slight blur on the large slide before re-sizing it or best: just pick a different pattern. Things that work well are low-contrast “marble”-patterns and gradients.
  • Horizontal Lines – If you plan on using an older CRT aka tube-based TV as your Zune output device avoid 1-pixel wide high-contrast horizontal lines. Ditto for horizontal hatching patterns! Thin horizontal lines will flicker horribly due to the interlacing of these TVs. Conventional TVs will “paint” the picture onto the screen in two passes: pass 1 paints all the odd lines = 1, 3, 5… pass 2 paints all the even lines = 2, 4, 6 and so on. This painting of 2 “half-pictures” repeats 30 times a second (NTSC). Say you have a 1-pixel wide black horizontal line on white background on picture-line 127, it will get painted 30 times a second when the odd lines are drawn. During the drawing of the even lines white background gets drawn in lines 126 and 128 so effectively you’ll switch between black and white 30 times a second à welcome to flicker-central, home of the eye strain!
    Solution: make your horizontal lines wider! A 5-pixel wide line for example will have 3 lines drawn on the odd lines and 2 lines drawn on the even lines – less noticeable!
    Even better: anti-aliasing will smooth out the harsh contrast between neighboring pixels so there will be less flickering. This will more or less happen automatically when your resize your slides to the Zune resolution, see below.
  • Backgrounds – Personally I like light backgrounds, when doing a presentation on a large screen it makes the room brighter and prevents your audience from falling asleep J Well, it doesn’t matter as far as the Zune is concerned, just avoid very detailed backgrounds with high contrasts or patterns and hatchings of any kind. Dark backgrounds can look good as long as the rest of the slide is designed to go with it.

Slide with dark background, smallest font size in that slide is 14 points. This would also be a great candidate for animation: Add year for year in four animation steps.

Exporting Slides From PowerPoint

After you saved a regular.PPT or .PPTX version of your deck proceed to save your slide deck as graphics. Pick a lossless format like PNG (preferred) or TIFF (which works but usually results in bigger files than PNG), don’t use JPEG (it’s lossy), don’t use BMP (files are much bigger than needed). Then chose the “Every Slide”-option.

This is where you will run into one a problem! By default PowerPoint exports slides in a resolution of 96 dpi (960 x 720 pixels for the standard 10 x 7.5 inches page setup). Since we want to scale these down to 640 x 480 later we need higher resolutions to keep aliasing artifacts at a minimum and improve image quality. Follow Microsoft Knowledge Base article #827745 (How to change the resolution of a slide that you export as a picture in PowerPoint) and set dpi to 200.

How big is the difference between a slide resized from 960 x 720 to 640 x 480 versus 2000 x 1500 to 640 x 480?

Resized from 906 x 720 down to 640 x 480.

Resized from 2000 x 1500 down to 640 x 480, looks much better, more legible. 

Resizing The Slides

Once you have all of your slides as 2000 x 1500 PNG files you’ll have to resize them to 640 x 480 resolution and save them as high-quality JPEGs. I prefer programs that support batch processing (I am too lazy to resize 100 slides by hand) and have a Lanczos-resampling algorithm implemented. Both of these requirements are fulfilled by IrfanView. For batch processing use the /resample option and make sure the Lanczos-filter is the default in IrfanView’s .INI file (ResampleFilter=5). It is easiest to start IrfanView and bring up the “Resize/Resample Image”-dialog, make sure the Lanczos filter is selected under “Size method”, quit the program and the default is set. Same for the JPEG quality, make sure the default is set to a high number like 95%. The quality difference between 95% and 100% is very small but file size may go up by a third! On the other hand go with 100% if you really need the best possible quality.

Synching To The Zune

Make sure your slides are still named in order (Slide001, Slide002…) and add them to your synch-list in the Zune Software. Keep one directory per slide deck and make sure there is enough space on your Zune.

Tips & Tricks

Here are a few ideas on how to make your PowerPoint presentations on the Zune even better!

  • Animations – Many PowerPoints look better with a few well-placed animations! When deciding on the timing of animations keep in mind that if you want your slide deck to run unattended (in slide show mode) the smallest time interval is 3 seconds! But for manual presentations it’s basically as fast as you can press the next button.
    The most effective PowerPoint animations on the Zune are call-outs, pop-ups or significant changes in general. Unfortunately small animations will get lost in a 640 x 480 resolution. Some of my favorite animations are arrows with animated textures indicating continuous data flow – don’t try that one the Zune! First of all unless the arrows are huge the animation is too subtle and second you would have to click through 20 – 30 slides to show a good animation – yikes!
    So, stick to some big, bold animations, mostly slide components appearing and disappearing. Forget fly-ins, rotations, anything continuous, gradual, looping – too much work!
    Some good examples are: sales bar charts by quarter – animate in four slides and as you present your narrative pop-in quarter by quarter, bar by bar (take the dark Cat Food Market Share slide further up as an example). Or present a three-tier network architecture – animate the slides to show tier 1, then tier 2, then tier 3 and finally all tiers together.
  • Custom Timing – Let’s say you want to create a repeating slideshow that runs without interaction but you need custom timing for each slide. For example you want to display slide 1 for 5 seconds, slide 2 for 10 seconds, slide 3 for 5 seconds and so on. Just find the lowest common time interval needed, in this case 5 seconds and repeat slide 2 once. So your new slide deck would be: slide 1, slide 2, repeat of slide 2, slide 3. Give it a try! With Zune’s soft-blend from slide to slide you will not notice the transition from slide 2 to the repeat of slide 2.
  • Time Intervals – The other problem related to timing for unattended slide decks is Zune’s limited amount of settings available: 3, 5, 7, 10, 15 and 30 seconds.  If your slide deck is heavy on animation you’ll have to pick 3 seconds but that also means that for your non-animated slides you’ll have to insert lots of repeats! Even with 3 seconds your animations will look slow and blocky but that’s the best you can do with the slide show timings. If you want faster transitions than 3 seconds you’ll have to run the slide deck by hand. Also: even when in slide show mode you can manually jump back and forth in your deck at any time!
  • Soundtrack – The Zune is capable of playing a soundtrack while displaying your slide deck. However it’s very tricky to synch up a soundtrack to specific slides if for example you want to use sound effects with certain slides. Because you’ll have to kick off the music first, then jump back to the Pictures menu and start your slide show. So leave at least a few seconds of fade-in while you start the deck. In my opinion the whole synching is too much of a hassle but give it a try if you have lots of time. For repeating slide shows don’t forget to set your music to repeat as well, unless you have a huge playlist of different songs that lasts for hours.
  • Slide Cropping – Here is something to try with existing slide decks: try to crop as much background around the text to make it more legible. Compare the text in the slides below, it is in Arial 10 points. Much more legible in the cropped slide and I still managed to get the ASUG logo in! If you don’t want to crop each slide by hand you can use tools like IrfanView to do batch processing, use the /crop=(x,y,w,h) option.

Looks good but the last few lines are hard to read and there is a lot of wasted space around the edges.

Same information, but due to cropping the text takes up more space and is more legible.  

  • Overscan – Depending on your display device you may have to leave a little bit of buffer around your text and graphics. Many older TVs, especially CRTs from the 80ies and earlier, are pretty generous with how the image is framed on the tube. If you want to be absolutely safe on even the crappiest TV you should leave a safety margin of 24 pixels on the top and bottom and 43 pixels left and right. The remaining area is what is referred to as “Title Safe” by television broadcasters. In reality most newer TVs are usually able to display the “Action Safe” area: leave a safety margin of 17 pixels top and bottom and 21 pixels left and right. Most modern flat panel TVs don’t have this problem, most projectors are fine as well but if in doubt just use the slide below and do some test runs on your output device.

Save this PNG slide, convert it to high-quality JPEG and use it to test overscan on your video output device!

  

Note how poorly this big-screen TV (only about 5 years old) performs! On the left there are about 40 pixels missing, on the top it is about 30 pixels! Compare that to a commercial DLP projector:

There are only 2 - 3 pixels missing on the top and the bottom and 5 or 6 pixels left and right!

 

And finally: I’d love to hear from you! Please let me know any ideas on how to make PowerPoints on the Zune even better! Also I would love to showcase any PPT decks that you think works really well on the Zune, however you have to be the author and grant me free publishing rights so I can post them here.

My email: zuneppt (at) cyberroach.com

Classic Videogame Goodness

There are two classic video game events coming up! First is the event that almost single-handedly propelled classic gaming into the spotlight: the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas!

Originally it started out 1998 in Las Vegas as a revival of the World Of Atari shows from the late 80ies and attendance was much better than anticipated. 1999 then saw the first Classic Gaming Expo, also in Las Vegas where it stayed for a few years before moving to the Westcoast. Now, for the 10th year of classic gaming goodness, the CGE is back in Las Vegas July 28th * 29th! This is the must attend event if you are interested in Atari, Coleco, Intellivision, Vectrex, Nintendo, SEGA and anything related to old skool gaming.

The second event coming up is known as the biggest and best in the Northwest:

This year it will be Portland on September 29th and 30th, 2007. So if you live anywhere in Washington, Idaho, Oregon etc. you should attend! As usual there will be tons of contests and prices and lots of classic systems hooked up for play!

July 06, 2007

What Are Those Things In The Header?

You may ask yourself: "What are these items in the header-graphic?". From left to right: A Vectrex console, Atari 2600 Joystick, Canon XTi and a bunch of 1st generation Zunes.

New Style

I was looking for a decent new style for this blog and since I am partial to b/w themes I liked Jennifer Maloney's http://www.thestylearchive.com/designs/fleur style. Based on that I changed a few things and here you go!