Ninstrument: The Object of My Obsession Has Abandoned Me


This is how nerdy I am:

Back in 2012, I typed the words “Rackmount” and “NES” into Google’s search bar and sparked an obsession that I still haven’t recovered from. And that’s a terrible tragedy considering what I learned today.

The search results delivered something called “Ninstrument,” a slab of music-making brilliance that incorporated the sound chips from two Gameboys, a Nintendo Entertainment System, and a Commodore 64. To non-chiptuners, this may sound silly, but it’s a professional piece of hardware that can even be mounted on the rails found in any professional studio or touring rig.

For chiptune musicians, it was the perfect piece of equipment.

Every so often, I would point my browser at Ninstrument’s website to get an update on the project, but news has been a little sparse since 2012. So this week, I decided to get some real answers, but now I’m a little sad.

According to Ninstrument’s Chris Blarsky, the device started to become too costly, and the company had to focus on other endeavors.

“We have fun making a lot of prototypes,” Blarsky said. “If they garner enough interest we move forward in to small and trial production runs. Sometimes we have to take a long hard look at the numbers and realize when a product will be too cost prohibitive to make. Such is the case with the rack mount prototypes. Too much cost makes the end price too high for the end customer.”

Bummer, right?

But I completely understand. Chiptunes have been experiencing a surge in popularity, but they’re still a niche. In fact, during our email exchange, Blarsky referred to the chip genre as a “niche within a niche.” And even that seems generous.

“In order to sustain a company you have to focus on making sure ends meet,” he explained. “No it’s not fun and takes away from your overall motivation, but if you manage it correctly it can be a lot of fun.“

And Nintstrument has been having fun. Blarsky’s team of brainiacs has already rolled out a surprising number of unique devices, and there are probably more in the works. I may never get that gorgeous piece of rackmounted ingenuity, but Nintstrument is soldiering on, creating things that any chiptuner would trade his kidneys for.

I should probably just start obsessing about one of those, but today’s news only makes me want a rackmountable Ninstrument even more.

Tim’s Top Twosday: Licensed Disney Games

Licensed games get a pretty bad rap, and many of them deserve it. They’re often plagued by low expectations and thought of as nothing more than cash-ins for movies or television shows.

So when a licensed game came along that didn’t suck the root, well that was a quite the feat. This week I’m going to discuss two licensed games where I feel the creators got it spot on.

#2 Disney’s Aladdin (Genesis/Megadrive)

tt_lic_1Thinking back, there were two main categories of licensed games that you could sort of count on to be of higher quality: Star Wars and Disney. (It’s funny now, I suppose, considering those two are in the same bed.) Disney somehow managed to have many quality games based on their franchises, and, in my opinion, none were better than Aladdin on the Genesis.

Combining solid level design and responsive, easy-to-learn controls with levels and music based directly on the film, Virgin Interactive really hit it out of the park with this one. To be fair all the Disney platformers on the Genesis were really good. but I think Aladdin was the best of the bunch.

There was also a version of Aladdin for Super Nintendo, but the levels seemed drawn out and repetitive to me, so I never enjoyed it as much.

#1 Kingdom Hearts (PS2)

tt_lic_0Disney showed that it’s not messing around with its characters with Kingdom Hearts, a mash-up of Final Fantasy and classic Disney characters. Taking characters like Peter Pan, Goofy, Tarzan and even Jack Skellington and putting them into a role-playing game? For years I wrote this one off as a bad idea, but when I finally played it, it blew my socks off.

Kingdom Hearts takes you to Disney locations from films like Alice in Wonderland and Hercules and does it with such class and charm that the result is overwhelmingly joyous. I got to see some of my favorite childhood icons rubbing elbows with Cloud Strife and Squall Leonhart, and that alone is worth the price of admission. Top that off with a surprisingly deep and enjoyable action-RPG, and you’ve got a uniquely well done concept.

And those are my top two licensed games from Disney. Be sure to come back next time, when I look at my Top Two Actors Who played a Live-Action Mario!

Rampage Is a Dinosaur Game, End of Story

rampageRecently, my co-worker Tyler wrote an article claiming that the NES classic Rampage is not actually a dinosaur game. He bases this idea on the fact that the dinosaur character, Lizzie, started out as a human that swam in a toxic lake, so therefore she’s not a real dinosaur.

My co-worker is an idiot. Rampage is clearly a dinosaur game.

[Read more…]

E.V.O.: Search for Eden Did Dinos Before They Were Cool

EVO2Strictly speaking, E.V.O. Search For Eden isn’t a dinosaur game — the game allows you to play as all kinds of creatures. Still, there are few titles that utilized dinosaurs as well as this under-appreciated SNES gem.

Some games let you control a character or two; E.V.O. puts you in control of life itself. A mystical manifestation of the Earth named Gaia (like in Captain Planet, but with less Whoopi Goldberg)  guides you through a plot that covers more than a billion years. During that time, you slowly influence the development of all biological life.

But some dark force is trying to screw with Earth’s evolutionary development (and it’s probably not creationists, because they haven’t evolved yet). You must stop this evil influence, save the Earth, evolve into a complex life form, and eventually join Gaia in Eden.

No pressure.

[Read more…]

Rampage Isn’t a Dinosaur Game: The Monsters in Rampage Were Apparently People

Rampage MonstersRecently, I was trying to make a mental list of dinosaur-themed video games, and a friend suggested Rampage as a nice fit on such a list. I was inclined to agree until another friend challenged its dino-game status.

Wait, what? How could Rampage not be considered a dinosaur game when one of the main protagonists is a dinosaur?! I asserted in no uncertain terms that Rampage was a definite dino-game, but when pressed my only “evidence” turned out to be a tenuous connection to another dinosaur-ape duo of Hollywood fame (inspiration, perhaps?) and the fact that, well, it looked like a damn dinosaur to me. I knew I needed more, and so to the Google I ventured.

rampageHey! Did you know that Rampage had a plot and even a backstory? I didn’t, and I played that game a lot as a kid. When I think about it, though, I probably didn’t notice the plot in much of anything those days. So yes, Rampage had a plot, and it tuns out part of that plot was to rob me of a dino-game.

“Lizzie” (along with the other monsters from the game) was a human being at one point! The lumbering dinosaur of my childhood was in fact a mutated young woman who had happened to swim in a toxic lake. At least, that was the original story. Subsequent games would tinker with the origin stories a bit, but the fact there were origin stories at all for this game still boggles my mind a bit.

It’s very likely that none of this is news to those of you who have actually read this far, but that I was ignorant of such an integral part of the game’s premise got me thinking about how much else I missed in those formative days. The lesson? The point? If there is one, it’s that we really need a lot more games with dinosaurs in them. And not just people who have become dinosaurs through some unfortunate incident, but actual dinosaurs.

The New Tomb Raider Game Had Better Have Dinosaurs in It

Tomb Raider DinosaurI’m going to be perfectly honest here: I did not enjoy the Tomb Raider reboot.

This is not because it was too linear in its attempt at an open world, nor was it because of the annoying quick time events that ultimately led to me rage quitting. No, my faithful friends and readers, I was displeased by Tomb Raider because of its lack of dinosaurs. That’s right, the game ultimately failed to deliver my requisite level of dino goodness.

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Resident Evil Remastered Makes Up For Lost Time

Resident Evil, Glass on TableI recently played the new HD remaster of Resident Evil and had a pretty swell time. It reminded me of the way I felt playing the original for the first time, and it managed to capture a good deal of the old magic.

[Read more…]

Retro Rewind: Remember When Gamers Went to Arcades?



If you were a gamer in the late 70’s, you didn’t spend a lot of time browsing the shelves at your favorite electronics retailers. You went to the arcade. These were the places to play games with your friends. In those days home consoles simply tried to emulate what arcade games were doing, because they were so popular, not to mention lucrative.

In case you’re too young to remember, arcades were also a catch-all for birthday parties in the ’80s and ’90s. Parents would load up their minivan with kids, buy a bunch of tokens, and order a handful of disgusting pizzas. It was an easy, albeit expensive, way to host a birthday party. And kids loved it.

And the machines weren’t simply screens with joysticks attached. They often simulated cars, motorcycles, and fighter-jet cockpits. The experience was unique and immersive.



Sadly, arcades are almost extinct. As console technology began to rival arcade machines, and internet gaming became commonplace, gamers migrated into back to their living rooms. A few arcades have managed to avoid extinction, but being a gamer means something different these days.

Who knows? Maybe the future will bring an arcade resurgence. But I wouldn’t start saving my quarters.

Tim’s Top Twosday: Arcade Conversions

ArcadeSome of the greatest games of all time made their debut at the arcade. In this week’s edition of Tim’s Top Twosday, I’m going to showcase two of the best conversions from arcade to console.

One caveat: I’m excluding games that were literally arcade perfect, like Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 on Dreamcast. I want to highlight games where programmers had to get creative in order to replicate the coin-popping experience. [Read more…]

Retro Rewind: The Sega Dreamcast

rr_dc_feattopSega’s final home console, the Dreamcast, is often considered to be “the last classic games console” – whatever that means. The console itself wasn’t a financial success, but it was forward thinking and powerful enough to run many arcade games of the time (like Street Fighter 3, and Marvel vs. Capcom 2), making it the perfect system for fighting fans who couldn’t afford a Neo Geo.

Having said all this, the Dreamcast was doomed from the start. While it was technically more powerful than its rivals, the PlayStation and Nintendo 64, it paled in comparison to the upcoming console generation, like the Gamecube, PS2, and Xbox. By 2004, the Dreamcast had been shuffled into the bargain bin.

The Dreamcast, which was called “Katana” while in development, was equipped with a dial-up modem and was built more like a PC than a typical console. It actually ran on Windows CE. This allowed for more flexible designs than had been seen by game systems of the time. The controller was also innovative. It featured a single analog stick, much like the N64, but shared more aesthetics with the PS2 and even more with the Xbox, which makes sense when you remember that Microsoft collaborated with Sega on the Dreamcast’s Windows-based operating system. This controller also housed a memory card called VMU or “Visual Memory Unit.” It had a small LCD screen that could display simple graphics and allowed the user to play certain mini games via a small controller on the front. In retrospect, it feels like a precursor to the Wii U’s Gamepad.


Sadly, it was not successful. Only three years into its life, the Dreamcast’s price was cut down to $50 in order to clear out any remaining stock. Sega had officially left the console market to focus on software. It’s a sad tale, but if it weren’t for this move, we wouldn’t have any Sega titles on Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo systems. And Sonic would never have been able to rumble with Mario in Smash Bros.

That’s the story of Sega’s last console. It was cool for the time but never really found its the groove. I think it was great that Sega left the hardware business on such a unique high note, though. The Dreamcast will always have a special place in gaming history.