Monday, 21 May 2012

Max 330 Mega - intro, insight and family

Boys and girls, it would be pure sacrilege and blasphemous of me not to mention to most powerful cartridge based home console ever.

The 2D powerhouse, the ultimate fighting machine (literally), the VHS sized cartridge gaming monster, the one, the only – give it a boiling hot and extremely generous round of applause:

SNK's most prized creation - the Neo Geo.

This following waffle is eminently quotable and become law amongst gamers.

Neo Geo Max 330 Mega Pro Gear Spec Advanced Entertainment System

Of course, SNK already were arcade veterans as they had such classics as Ikari Warriors, Beast Busters, Psycho Solider et al firmly under their belt but they never had a home console brewing and bubbling, until now.

 

1990 was the year of its release and was stuff that only gamers or hugely rich kids could dream of owning in the comfort of their own mansions.

It’s quite amazing to think that it’s now 22 years ago (11 years since bankruptcy) since its release and its legacy lives on as SNK, albeit now as SNK Playmore.

Black Monday it was called, a very sombre day back in October 2001.

Later, the Brezzasoft and Eolith would erupt their geyser of shit.

Maybe that's a teeny weeny bit harsh but I'm still very bitter as around 2000, Garou 2 was nearly completed.

We'll always wonder what it would've been like and more.....

Although it no longer has its own console to develop games for, SNK Playmore creates pixels for the arcade and releases them for the PS3 and Xbox.

Those PS3 and Xbox efforts in contrast are virtually irrelevant when comparing them to the classics we all know and love that were released on the Neo.

The majority of which were made by the 'old' SNK and although they really tried, when the 'new' SNK came along, fans' broken hearts went some way into being rebuilt, but they never delivered that dollop of genius that the old guard always could.

Sorry 'SNK Playmore' but the games in the Noughties really showed this.

That's my whinge but regardless, the Neo Geo would encourage a cult following and be a connoisseur’s wet dream.

While everybody was playing Megadrive and SNES, the jaw-droppingly powerful black, sleek and memory hungry Max 330 Mega machine was doing more rounds than Ali in the arcades and if you were amazingly well-off, at home too.

While Sega and Nintendo’s bored everybody with the constant and petulant arguments with ‘the SNES/Megadrive is better because it’s got Sonic/Mario and it’s got superior graphics/sound shit’, SNK and the mighty Neo Geo didn’t even need to break a sweat in winning that war as at the time, it was clearly the most powerful games machine around.

It was marketed as a 24-bit machine with the other’s lagged behind with 1 byte or 8 bits below.  So it’s essentially 16 bits and it’s questionable if it really was 24 bits as its 8 bit co-processor handled sound and the CPU.

Whatever bits, what a machine.  OMFG, what a machine!

It truly was an Advanced Entertainment System.

However, this sort of power came at a price.  Such an astronomical one, I could never realistically believe such a purchase was possible.

Like many, the only way to access these games were in the arcades, but I would get my wish years later, on CD.  But that doesn’t mean I never played them on an AES.

I seem to remember when it was released in the UK; it was priced between £300 and £400.  That was just more ridiculous than marrying a three-legged ballerina.  I think you could buy the console with a stick and/or bundled with Nam 1975.

If that wasn’t bad enough, I think the games averaged between £100 to £150.  Yeah, that’s per game and not some kind of compilation.

Perversely, they would get more expensive depending on the game.  I vividly recall reading a review of Viewpoint in legendary console magazine Mean Machines and it cost a whopping £225.

I suppose looking back, it was an arcade machine so although those prices were obscene, you’d be looking at thousands for an individual arcade.

Regardless, it ensured that this beast was only available for disgustingly rich and famous.

At face value, size really did matter and that’s just talking about the console and joystick.  They were truly awesome specimens.

I found two things peculiar about the design of the AES and its stick.

The AES and its power switch.  You had to slide it to the left and not the right to power it up.  I just found that weird as that goes against all logic.  That’s like having to slide the SNES equivalent down instead of up.

As it was a console, not a great deal else to it as obviously on powering it up, there was no boot screen or OS. The machine itself had a fat circular Reset button, a unique and slim memory card slot and in comparison, the cartridge slot certainly ate too many pies.

If it had gone on a diet, those carts would be about as useful as a volcano guard made by Cadbury.
 
The joystick was awesome, but it was not w/o its peculiarities.  The main buttons were displayed as Pad A-D.  That just doesn’t make any fucking sense as the Select and Start buttons were just known as simply Select and Start and not Pad Select and Pad Start.

It sat snugly on your knees and those buttons were big, beefy and durable.  They had to be as they would take many a hammering.  The stick was micro-switched (nothing new of course) but even so, it was a nice touch for extra precision.  SNK really knew how to build these babies.

Unfortunately, the kidney shaped stick for the later released Neo CD was shockingly bad.  They even did away with displaying Max 330 Mega.
 
It really was like some of obscure organ and it just such a step backwards.  The Select and Start buttons were so minute, invisible has a hold new meaning.

For your knees, an ancient torture would have provided more comfort.

But SNK would redeem itself, as their first joypad was brilliant.  It had a D-pad, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the first of its type as it was more like a thumb raised thing (later used on the Neo Pocket).  The D-pad was also micro-switched.
 
Again though, SNK would not go cold turkey on the word front.  No more Pad but buttons C and D were on top.  I mean why?

C, D, A, B?  Major fuck up!

The arcade was known as MVS (Multi Video System) which was basically a Neo Geo but with up to slot six cartridge slots for each game.  The norm was usually a four game  MVS.  So punters could slam their money in and have the choice to play any of up to six different games - sweet.

While all home computer owners could only hope for a decent stab of a conversion of an arcade, SNK provided the only true arcade experience at home and having one was the stuff only dreams were made of.

You may expect nearly conversions, but no, exactly the same at home.  No missing animation frames, no shoddy music, no downsizing – the whole kit and caboodle.

Other consoles at the time merely provided blunted efforts.

You could forgive attempts on the SNES and Megadrive but even efforts on its 3D enemies proved futile.  They just looked muddy, banal and horrible.

Take Viewpoint on Playstation, it was browner than the C64 port of Mercs.  To put it simply, that was very brown.

The fighting games on Sony’s machine would suffer brilliantly....

In truth, the only machine that stepped up to the challenge of looking like the original was Sega’s Saturn.

However, RAM carts were essential to add some much needed beef.

The advertising campaign accused owners of other consoles of been ‘weenies’.

As you’d expect, SNK showcased the Geo’s specs and made comparisons to its inferior competitors.  A gorgeous beauty lost her sex appeal ever since her boyfriend bought one and before this, he couldn’t keep his hands off her...

Excellent stuff and controversial too, as no other console campaign dared to insult you by basically calling you a ‘dick’ for owning another system.




Wow, The Final Frontier was even quoted.  Were SNK secret Trekkies in disguise?

I guess I'm a real hot dog.

The MVS was unique in itself as it was able to accept a memory card which allowed you to save a game and then return to play it another day.  This could also be used on the home system.

It was the first machine to ever boast a portable memory device so to all you Sony fanboys who thought the Playstation pioneered this, you can now wipe that smug smile off your face.

Okay, Sony and Microsoft basically own the video game industry but even though they could build an entire city from the billions they own - even money can’t change history.

So the MVS and AES were the same technology, but the AES and MVS cartridges were useless if used on the wrong hardware.  This was due to slightly different pinouts and designed to piss arcade operators off.

As you’d expect, the specs just simply blew away the competition.

The meat was it could display up to 4096 colours on screen at any one time, from a palette of 65,536.  So that meant it could display the entire palette of the Amiga at any one time.

Its nearest challenger was the SNES, which had 32,768 colours but only 256 at the time.  This made the Megadrive virtually monochrome as that only had 512 but it would have a faster processor than the SNES... That is one black hole I’m not delving into.

380 hardware sprites, a chunky Yamaha sound chipset which allowed 15 channels of sound (7 of those were reserved for digital sound) and 2 CPU’s.  A 68000 Motorola running at 12 Mhz and a Zilog Z80 to hold its hand, chugging along at 4 Mhz.

Of course it’s primitive now, but in those days, sprites, colours and processor speed really meant something.

Despite the arrival of 3D behemoths, it would defy all odds and live on despite this heavyweight competition.

This was mainly thanks to the MVS, supremely awesome games and with each new major release, it created a ripple effect of excitement that would make the arcade market shudder.

The games would boast hundreds of megs, hence the various, (now famous) start up screens.

That jingle was so basic, but yet so effective.

Thanks to bank switching, it’d later boast it was capable of giga power.  Sadly, no game ever reached this milestone.

The game cartridges’ size was nothing of short of WTF.  They were bigger than video tapes and you just knew you were dicing with sheer power.

When comparing them to the size of other carts, that’s when you realise how big they really was.

What you can’t appreciate (unless in reality) is the actual weight.  There’s something very masculine and butch about the sheer mass of these beasts as it made a normal game cart seem also redundant.  

The power that hid beneath the black casing just oozed omnipotence.

The cases that housed that power were sturdy snaplock creatures and not a bit of cardboard in sight.


Any SNES owner will know that those cardboard flimsies would tear and get tatty - very quickly.

I only ever owned a Neo Geo CD.  I remember it well on the year of release in 1994.  I had a 3DO at the time and knowing that Saturday was coming, I saved up and traded that hunk of shit in for about £200 and I shelled out £399 on it.  I got two pads and chose Samurai Shodown 2 as a very nice starter.

To this day, thanks to SNK - I refuse to spell ‘Shodown’ correctly.

The CD console was a more affordable alternative to its costly cartridge counterpart but the loading times were slower than an elderly snail.

I found this was just a tip of the melting iceberg as when it struggled to the title screen, i thought that'd be virtually it, but no, everything else had to load - intros, demos, rounds, sequences, in fact; you name it, it had to fucking load it.

Don't misunderstand me, I never expected instantaneously loading but I certainly didn't expect a homeless sloth on a running machine powering that black box either.

This was mainly due to it only having a basic single speed drive.  I suppose they decided it would be too expensive to include a faster drive but boy, was it slow.

Although I got used to it, it would be a lie that I didn't want to choke that juggling monkey with its own balls.

Oddly, the games were sometimes inferior as some speech that was present in the original was missing.  Ninja Combat is such an example.

A possible lazy port?

But every cloud and all that would see there were some strange perks to be had with the CD.

Later games didn’t even get a CD release, because the CD just couldn’t entertain such a preposterous idea but there were some CD exclusives such as Samurai Shodown RPG, Ironclad and Crossed Swords 2.

As it was a CD machine, it had a boot screen which was nothing spectacular but had a certain charm to it.  You could now play normal music CDs (why would you want to but even so) and there would be various unique loading screens that obviously never existed on the AES.

 
I seem to remember Last Blade having many attractive examples and Metal Slug had a separate art gallery.

With any loading bar, when it was nearly filled, the air of excitement grew for the next instalment...

The music was sometimes, extraordinary.  The soundtrack on Fatal Fury 3 was a film score.  

Jin Chonshu's theme just had to be heard by your hammer, anvil and stirrup.  They will thank you and tingle like never before.

Amusingly, during one of the loading screens to Savage Reign, I’m sure Hayate gave away one of the most embarrassing hobbies a video game char could ever share with gamers.

It was definitely something like:

“After 5000 tosses, I hit the showers.”

I assume he meant his boomerang????

It didn’t need a memory card as it had a helluva lot of RAM (7 MB to be precise) so that was more than enough for storing a library of games.

There was another CD machine – the CDZ, which boasted faster loading times.  The storm cloud would see a design flaw that could sometimes cause the machine to burn-out, thus overheating and be no more.  Brilliant eh!

All models were region-free which was extremely handy as all SNES owners know (including me) was a right pain in the arse.

Borders, speed and convertors my friends, borders, speed and convertors....

Whatever, the ultimate Neo Geo experience would always be the AES as it had no such design problems, had instant loading which cancelled out the luxury of being able to make a cup of tea due to a seemingly eternal horizontal coulored bar chart.

I thought we'd left that shit with 8 bits?  Obviously not.

Although so far unsuccessful, I’m determined to own such an experience.

Ebay will come good one day...

Next in the Neo Geo family was the unexpected, albeit limited success and popularity of everybody’s favourite handheld.  Unless somehow, you’d be in denial and believe the Game Boy was really just a viscous rumour.

Nevertheless, the Neo Geo Pocket Colour was a great little machine boasting super deformed versions of classic sprites and their own games.

Oddly, there was a monochrome machine and the Colour was basically the same machine, but with....

Along with other nice exclusives such as Sonic, RPGs, Card Fighters and even oddities such as gambling games like Dragon’s Wild, there was even a link-up cable available that could be used with another Pocket for 2P action and certain games were designed so it could talk to a Dreamcast.

It prove fruitless as it was no match for the Game Boy but wow - it really gave it a go and was its nearest competitor.

Not bad considering Sega (Game Gear) and the Atari (Lynx) had previously failed.

Great fun while it lasted and I think Nintendo secretly commended SNK and their balls.

I believe that it ultimately failed due to a lack of third party support.

In an attempt to compete with 3D and other consoles at the time such as the Playstation and Saturn, they dabbled with the blasphemy that is 3D.

That dimension is everything the Neo Geo stood against but you can’t blame them in what would be an ultimately failed experiment.

In 1997, the Hyper Neo Geo 64 came into being.  There were less than ten games released for this arcade hardware and that really just says it all....

It lasted longer than a nervous virgin and I bet SNK knew it was doomed before it was even conceived.

I suppose it’s a very good thing to own if you know what you’re doing when hooking it up to a TV as the motherboards and cartridges are still available.

A small lump appeared in my throat for this failure as it must have been so demoralising for them not even to release ten games for 64 bits of hardware.

The specs weren't awful but there was obviously something missing in this machinery.

Still, there was a silver cloud behind this lining as SNK didn’t abandon the beloved Neo Geo and still made traditional games for the AES and that was just fine with me, and their loyal fanbase.

The Neo Geo AES outlived so many consoles and considering by the mid 90s, this was in the world of 3D – that’s an incredible feat.

Fourteen glorious years it stayed with us which meant only the Atari 2600 outlasted it.

Still, the 2600 never had to worry about competing with ground-breaking 3D visuals which is really a testament to how good the Neo really was.

I appreciate technology shifted a lot slower in those days when in comparison to now as consoles and graphics go out of date faster than a shit-hot PC graphics card.

So that’s a formal introduction to the Neo Geo, its depressing demise, and other members of the Neo Geo family that suffered a similar fate.

The legacy SNK left will never be forgotten.

I am just pleased as punch that I was old enough to appreciate what countless others did in their droves - the importance of SNK and Neo Geo.

I remember first reading about it in all the magazines and with them just incapable of not mentioning "Own a Neo Geo and you really do own an arcade machine in your own home."

Those who did in the height of its prime - I envy you but I'm also jealous as even though I did own a Neo CD, I'll always see it as an inferior machine.

In some respects - it was.

Still, 1994 and beyond would see SNK deliver the cream so at least I did own such delights (albeit in lengthy loading form).

The logo is just iconic, original and classic.


What other console would shock you with its meg count?  What other machine would have these attract screens?

  

There’s just one important thing to sound off about, the holy of holies – its games.

I mentioned Viewpoint costing £225 upon release, well how about years later, thousands for certain games such as Metal Slug, The Ultimate 11 and Kizuna?

Most recently, check this out:


I’ll mention the beef and onion gravy, divided into numerous sizzling chapters.

I’m unsure when they’ll appear so bear with me.

Its trumpet blew the music "The Future Is Now"....

Actually it's ...."In The Past"

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