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Cleaning NES games and consoles

Anyone old enough to have played with an original Nintendo NES knows the problem: You plug in the cartridge, turn on the system, and get a blank screen and the power light blinks at you. The schoolyard fix is to take out the cartridge, blow into it, then put it back into the system. Then, with a little luck, you can play your game. The trouble is, that’s just a short-term fix. In the long run, it makes the problem worse and eventually the system can’t play games at all. The solution is to clean them. Here’s a process for cleaning NES games.

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Coleco Gemini: An Atari 2600 clone from 1983

I spotted it on page 597 of the 1983 Sears Christmas catalog. “Two big names play the same games,” the headline boasted. Next to the venerable Atari 2600, Sears presented the Coleco Gemini video game system, an Atari 2600 clone.

In 1982, Coleco built an add-on to make its Coleco Vision game system Atari 2600-compatible. Atari sued. Coleco poked the bear by making the Gemini, an outright clone. Sears had sold Atari 2600 clones before, but they were actually real Atari 2600s with a different label on them, supplied by Atari itself. The Gemini was more of a true Atari 2600 clone.

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What is retro gaming?

What is retro gaming? The specifics depend on your age, but it generally means playing vintage (retro) video or computer games today. The part people argue about is what constitutes retro.

There isn’t a lot of agreement or consensus about that, and I have some ideas why.

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What is a game cartridge?

What is a game cartridge? If you’re asking, you must not have grown up in the 1980s. But that’s OK. We’re happy to share our generation’s fun with you.

A game cartridge is a plastic case containing a circuit board, a connector, and a ROM chip. CDs and DVDs ultimately displaced them because they offered higher capacity at a lower cost. But in the 1970s and 1980s, the only lasers our game consoles had were the ones they drew on the screens in games about aliens. We liked our cartridges, even if we called them tapes sometimes.

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Atari 2600 power supply specs

The Atari 2600 power supply wasn’t as durable as the rest of the Atari 2600, which is nearly bulletproof. By far the most common issue with the Atari 2600 is a dead AC adapter. Fortunately, a suitable Atari 2600 AC adapter isn’t hard to find, even today.

After you replace it with something new, or at least newer, a dead Atari console usually springs right back to life. And if you’re wondering, the same problems apply to Atari 2600 clones like the private-label Sears Video Arcade and the Coleco Gemini and they can also use the same replacement power supplies.

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How to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV

Connecting old computers and consoles to not-as-old televisions is frequently a challenge. Sadly, the VIC-20, Commodore’s runaway bestseller from 1982, is no exception to that. Here’s how to connect a Commodore VIC-20 to a TV.

Unfortunately, there are fewer options for connecting a VIC than there are the slightly newer and more common C-64, but I’ll walk you through the options you do have.

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The Logitech F310 on Retropie

I went looking for a reliable, modern controller to use on my Retropie setup. I eventually settled on a Logitech F310, betting the Logitech F310 on Retropie would make a nice combination based on my experience with other Logitech peripherals in regards to their quality and value for the money.

The reviews I found suggested the F310 continued in this tradition, and I found enough people who said they got it working with Linux to feel confident I could get it working on the Raspberry Pi. And sure enough, I did.

I paid $18 for mine, and my first impressions of the quality were good. It’s precise, and button pushes register with a slight click. It’s no worse than a Sony, Microsoft or Nintendo controller, and if anything, I think I liked it a little better. A pair of Logitech F310s costs more than the Raspberry Pi board, but playing games is a lot more enjoyable when the controller does what you want it to do all the time, not just most of the time.

The F310 wasn’t a drop-in replacement for the controller I’d been using, though. I had to configure it for Retroarch, the software that provides most of Retropie’s console emulation.

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