Sunday Funday and the Philistine Cart

 

 

menacetitleBack in the 1990’s, game developer Color Dreams produced a dozen or so unlicensed games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Let me restate that: In a darker, more primitive time, some monsters formed a development company and created awful “games” for the NES, which they inflicted on poorly-informed parents who wanted cheap games. These games were of such low quality that Nintendo refused to grant them license to publish games for their system. Color Dreams reverse engineered the lockout chip present on every NES cartridge and made their games anyway.

torn

One of these abominations was their 1990 game Menace Beach, in which you must guide the skateboarding protagonist against an army of ninjas and Elvis impersonators to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend from Demon Dan. Between levels your girlfriend alternates between pleading with and taunting you, as her clothing becomes torn and tattered, eventually falling away.

slatwall

Hey, is that… slatwall? Oh, man. I have this… thing… for retail fixtures.

The game itself, despite some interesting mechanical innovations, was mostly a cludgy, mediocre platformer. Your character could punch, jump, and execute a spinning skateboard attack by jumping and then attacking in mid-air. The character sprites had poor hit detection but were thoughtfully animated, with the ninjas moving through a variety of stances and the Elvis impersonators gyrating their pixelated hips.

The game was not very good, and even the inclusion of the weird fetish cutscenes wouldn’t have been enough to make it memorable. What the game became is more interesting.

menace1

You see, Color Dreams had a problem: Retailers who carried unlicensed game cartridges for Nintendo systems risked the wrath of Nintendo of America, who could revoke a distribution agreement if they found out that the retailer was selling these sub-par games. If you were a buyer for Wal-Mart or Electronics Boutique, you wouldn’t risk killing the cash cow of NES games to bring in a bunch of mediocre wanna-be games. It would be like a tabletop game store risking their status with Wizards of the Coast by breaking street date on a Magic: The Gathering release, or by selling the promotional give-away cards. Oh, wait. They do that regularly. Sigh. Moving on.

Somewhere in what I can only assume were the very sticky offices at Color Dreams, a solution was found: Market the games in Christian bookstores. These bookstores weren’t interested in mainstream video games, anyway, so they had nothing to lose. Color Dreams created a new label called Wisdom Tree and started rehashing their secular games with a Christian theme. One of these games was a hack of Menace Beach called Sunday Funday.

sundayfunday

The player’s character was redrawn to be carrying a Bible. The punch attack was removed, with both ground and air attacks being that skateboard spin move. The ninjas and Elvis impersonators were replaced with generic white dudes and gourmet chefs. And Taunting Bondage Damsel? Replaced with a fully-clothed Sunday School teacher who berated you for being late and urged you to make best possible speed to church.

teacher

Not quite as much care appears to have gone into this particular piece of artwork.

Sunday Funday also shipped with a fairly uninspired MIDI Karaoke rendition of 4Him‘s song The Ride. Now, having grown up in a Christian household and exposed to/afflicted by Contemporary Christian Music, I can tell you that 4Him wasn’t the worst Christian music ever, and The Ride was a fairly popular song on an album that sold pretty well. I have to wonder if Benson Records knew the kind of people they were dealing with. I’d very much like to talk to whatever label employee agreed to have the song included with the game, but I fear that I may never get the answers I desire.

the ride

Extra credit: Click here for an extra little slice of weirdness. I got nothing.

In high school, our youth group sang a version of Amazing Grace set to the tune of Peaceful Easy Feeling, with the verses being from John Newton’s hymn and the chorus coming from the song by the Eagles:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see

And I’ve got a peaceful easy feeling
And I know you won’t let me down
‘Cause I’m already standing on the ground

Catchy, but hardly theologically correct in a church that preached total depravity. I scribbled down what I thought was a more appropriate chorus, and we tried it:

And I’ve got a broken, humbled spirit
‘Cause I know that I’ve let you down
But Father you have placed me on solid ground

It was a terrible flop. We put the new words on the overhead, but nobody cared, and everyone sang the version from The Eagles in defiance. Our pastor would later express regret for having approved either version of the song, calling it a “Philistine cart”. We all got the reference: Israel, having gotten possession of the Ark of the Covenant back from the Philistines, were given special instructions for how to return the Ark, including a new cart. They disregarded some of these instructions since it appeared that the cart the Philistines had used for their half of the trip seemed perfectly serviceable. When an ox pulling the cart stumbled, a man named Uzzah reached out to keep the Ark from falling, and, being in violation of the God-given instruction not to touch the Ark, promptly snuffed it.

The lesson given by preachers is that we should take care when mixing the mundane and the divine, but even if you’re not a believer, you can see the point. As Hank Hill would have said, Christian video games don’t make video games better, they just make Christianity worse. While it’s unclear whether the publishers of Menace Beach and Sunday Funday experienced any smiting as a result of their terrible Christian video game, they certainly didn’t receiving any temporal blessing from it, either: The company continued to be hounded in court by Nintendo, and both games were produced in such low quantities that they are now collector’s items worth well in excess of $100.

And now you know the story of Sunday Funday and the Philistine Cart.

Seeking Bad Examples, or, There but for the Grace of God

My wife and I honeymooned in this town, and we revisit it frequently when we want to get away from the shop. This week we’re out here with another couple, which is fun. Tonight the other three in our group are doing an Escape Room. Since I’ve got an aversion to being locked in a room, even for play, I decided to sit it out and spend the evening downtown, visiting businesses.

A local game store was recommended to me by another retailer, so I went to have a look-see. As I walked in, two occupants briefly suspended their conversation to say “Hi” to me, then went right back to talking. The store was probably 2,500 square feet or so, and mostly consumed with tables. There was a calendar of events poster from Wizards of the Coast that went out of date two months ago. The merchandise section was about 150 square feet of sloppily-piled, but at least mostly current, merchandise. I looked around for 90 seconds, then turned around and left. A hasty shout of “Was it not what you expected?” hit my back before the door closed.

Sadly, from the sub-prime location and $150 unlit sign, it was exactly what I expected. I didn’t introduce myself because I didn’t want to offend the clerk. Besides, he seemed busy. I asked my friend about it and found out that he’d confused this store for another, less terrible, one.chair

Later, I visited a used book store. It’s run by one elderly lady and her tiny dog, and she spends all her time making yarn in the center of the store. I visit it every time we come to town, just out of disbelief that it’s still around. Is she living on a big life insurance payout? Does she have a reverse-mortgage arrangement for the very valuable real estate? Is it a front for a government safe house? I’m not sure, but she’s still there after at least eleven years.

As always, I was confronted first by a small, angry dog. The owner advised me not to be friendly, but just keep moving. I stepped around chewed-on chicken bones that were piled in the floor and walked on.

“Hi! Where is your science fiction section?” I asked, looking as always for more copies of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress to give away.

“We don’t have much, but come here, I’ll show you.”

“Oh, I don’t want to interrupt your work.” I said.

She looked up at me with annoyance. “I wasn’t going to get up. I was going to tell you where to go, if you’ll listen.” She pointed with her nod, since her hands were busy with the spinning wheel. “Go down until you see the hat rack, and turn left, then take the aisle on your right.”

I thanked her and walked back into the store, stepping around loose boxes and piles of yarn. I wasn’t seeing any hat racks.

“Didn’t listen, did’ya? Turn around and come back, then turn at the hat rack, then it’s the first aisle on your right.”

I turned around and, sure enough, there was a crocheted hat sitting loose on one of the bookshelves. I turned right, then right again, finding the section.

“Life is better when you listen, isn’t it? I can never get anybody to listen.”

Biting my lip, I examined the shelves. No Heinlein at all, save two copies of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls. I poked around for a bit but, fearing that she was becoming grumpier with me by the minute, soon wished her a pleasant evening and left. She asked me not to bring a messenger bag with me, next time.

I’ll be back without the bag next time. This has become a tradition.

My dad used to say something about businesses he saw being run poorly. “Whatever it is that the owner wants out of that business, I guess they’re getting it.”

I never asked him what he meant, but I think I can give it a shot. In our industry, retailers are constantly fretting about the Big Bad of Amazon, Books-A-Million, and digital delivery. The response is frequently that we should endeavor to beat them with superior customer service and attention to detail. Everyone says that they care about making a great customer experience, but we’re all hypocrites on one level or another. Maybe it’s poorly-merchandised shelves, or dirty bathrooms, or employees that don’t greet and engage every customer. My shop could use some cord-hiding, a coat of paint in the bathrooms, and a fresh wax job.

On some level we all have things that we give up on, or at least tolerate with no definite plan for improvement. Visiting businesses like these helps remind me that, much as every person is the protagonist in their own story, every owner of a terrible business has perfectly rational-sounding excuses that allowed their business to decay to this point.

After looking at these pictures? I’m going to buy some paint when I get back to the store.

Tolerating Imperfect Business Relationships, or, Dancing with Dirtbags

2016-04-08 11.46.34If you are in business for more than a day or two, you’ll run into vendors that consistently fail to deliver on their promises. Maybe it’s a tabletop games supplier who frequently gets your orders wrong, never has what you want in stock, and doesn’t return your calls, anyway. Maybe it’s a comic book vendor who frequently damages your books, or charges you to ship a quarter-inch catalog in a medium flat-rate box. Maybe it’s a parts supplier who takes forever processing returns and then hoses you on half of them.

Your options in these situations always fall into one of these categories:

  1. Scream and cry on the phone to a customer service representative. Write long, public Facebook posts about how awful this vendor is. Concoct Machiavellian schemes to play your bad vendors against each other. Travel to your vendor’s offices and key some cars.
  2. Make reasonable requests of your vendor, complain when standards aren’t being met, and move your business elsewhere when you find that you no longer want to do business with them.
  3. Accept the mistreatment.

#1 is right out, of course. We’re professionals, right? Except that, uh, I may have flown off the handle at vendors one or eight times when I was just starting out. Every slight was a personal offense. Long emails were written. Empty legal threats were made. The light of those burning bridges lit my path for years and can still be spotted in the distance when conditions are just right. There are vendors with whom it would be mighty convenient to trade with now, but who will likely never return my emails again, because I was a jerk.

#2 is how it’s supposed to work. I address a behavior that I find unacceptable, and the vendor either shapes up or gets replaced.

But what happens when that vendor is the only place to go for what your business needs? What do you do if eliminating that vendor will result in a significant loss of income?

You go for #3. You accept the mistreatment. Oh, sure, you should find ways to mitigate the damage it causes, but ultimately you’re making this decision because it’s a win for you.

That win for you can frequently be assigned a number, and I call that number the Dirtbag Dividend.

I have game suppliers who didn’t treat me the way I want to be treated. I asked that they change the behavior. The behavior didn’t change, so I don’t do business with them, uh, except when I need to get something only they carry. I’d rather swallow my pride and accept the fact that I’m going to have to carefully check everything I get from them. My reward, my Dirtbag Dividend, is the money I’ll make on that item that I couldn’t get elsewhere.

The dominant comic book distributor has a nasty reputation among store owners for being difficult to deal with, for frequently shipping damaged items or shipping undamaged items in silly ways. This is frequently the FIRST thing that comes up when someone asks about comic books. Many store owners will tell you that they stopped carrying comics rather than deal with this distributor. And yet, many comic stores continue to exist, and many hybrid stores make comics a part of their mix and make good money doing it. I’ve seen their numbers, and the profit is real. That profit is their Dirtbag Dividend, though calling it that may be unfair. I’m beginning to suspect that this particular distributor does the things it does because it deals with thousands of unique SKUs that change every single month and have strict release schedules.

We deal with phone parts suppliers in China. The defect rate is about 12%, and they hose you on about half the returns. Between getting hosed on rejected returns and pulling teeth to get the good returns pushed through over months, I figure it adds 10% to the cost of the parts. I could deal with American resellers of the same parts and have them deal with all the hassle, but it would cost 30% more on the front end. That 20% gap, even at my low volume, is enough to make the difference between driving an old Chevy and a new Lexus, or maybe the difference between toiling to make one store work and rolling toward expansion to multiple stores. To earn it, I have to go to sleep at night trying not to think about the fact that my rep lied about the condition of the parts I returned. It hurts, but the Dirtbag Dividend makes it all work out in the end.

I recently heard a theory that a guy who runs a restaurant is angry sometimes. A guy who runs two restaurants reaches peak anger: He is ALWAYS angry about something. The guy who runs six restaurants isn’t angry about anything anymore. That old cliche about having the serenity to accept the things you cannot change? There’s money to be made wading through that serenity. Money that your peers might be leaving on the table. Take that money and serenely live better than your peers with it.

Cutting Bad Inventory, or, I Am the Captain of MySQL

3If you’re a game store owner without a computerized inventory, there’s lots of things you’re missing out on. If you’re a tech-savvy game store owner without a computerized inventory that you can tinker with, you’re really doing yourself a disservice.

In the used game business, what you’ll find is that you’ll never get enough of the good games, while you’ll have the crappy games coming out of your ears. In theory, with per-item variable trade valuation (I should write an entry on that), your payouts should be high enough on good games to attract them, and low enough on the crappy games to keep the volume at a trickle. In practice, I pay 56 cents for Allstar Baseball 2004 (Playstation 2) and still get ten copies a year in trade. A customer lugging a plastic tote full of PS2 games into the store usually doesn’t care what he gets for most of them. He is only here because he saw the Facebook ad and thought he might get a few bucks. His backup plan if you don’t take the games is throwing them in your dumpster if he’s a nice guy, or dumping them in the parking lot if he’s a jerk. His real concern is making sure that he gets his useful plastic tote back.

So your otherwise healthy game store will slowly grow a stable of undesireable games. Like a mold.

What to do? You can pull duplicate titles, but doing so blindly may hurt your stock of games that sell surprisingly well even if you’re frequently left with many copies. My lackeys used to try to pull copies of Halo 2 for the Xbox and put them in the dump bin. No! Bad lackey!

What you want, then, is a way to look for games that you not only have too many of, but which also suck out loud when it comes to actually, you know, being sold. In SQL, it will look something like this:

select item_name, (quantity_in_stock – 1) from items
where item_category = “Playstation 2”
and quantity_in_stock > 1
and sell_price < 10
and (select coalesce (sum(qty), 0) from transactions where type = “Sale” and transactions.item_number = items.item_number and DATE >= NOW( ) – INTERVAL 365 DAY) = 0

We want the item name and the quantity in stock (minus one) for all games in the “Playstation 2” category where we have more than one copy, the price is under $10, and where the number of copies sold in the past year is 0.

After a few seconds of crunching, this gives us the following list of games:

Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano 2
Allstar Baseball 2004 2
American Chopper 1
American Chopper 2 Full Throttle 1
Ant Bully 3
Athens 2004 1
Bloodrayne 1
Bode Miller Alpine Skiing 1
Bombastic 1
Boogie Bundle 1
Buzz!: The Hollywood Quiz 1
Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 3
Dance Dance Revolution X 1
Dead or Alive 2 1
Downhill Domination 2
Escape from Monkey Island 1
ESPN Football 2004 1
ESPN Major League Baseball 2K5 1
Eve of Extinction 1
EyeToy Play 4
Fantastic 4 Rise of the Silver Surfer 1
Fantavision 1
Flow Urban Dance Uprising 1
Ford Racing Off Road 2
Full Spectrum Warrior 1
Full Spectrum Warrior Ten Hammers 1
Genji Dawn of the Samurai 1
Ghost Recon 2 2
Greg Hastings Tournament Paintball Maxed 3
Gretzky NHL 2005 1
Gungriffon Blaze 1
Hard Hitter Tennis 1
High School Musical 3 Senior Year Dance 1
Hot Shots Tennis 1
Hummer Badlands 1
Jet X20 1
Jimmy Neutron Attack of the Twonkies 1
Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol 1
Kengo Master Bushido 1
Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events 1
Let’s Ride Silver Buckle Stables 1
Madagascar Escape 2 Africa 1
Madden 2001 1
Madden 2003 2
Madden 2004 2
Major League Baseball 2K6 1
Midway Arcade Treasures 1
MLB 07 The Show 1
MLB 10 The Show 1
MLB 2004 1
MLB Slugfest 2006 1
MVP Baseball 2004 3
MX vs ATV Untamed 1
NASCAR 08 1
NASCAR 2001 1
NCAA Football 09 3
NCAA Football 2002 3
NCAA Football 2007 1
NCAA March Madness 2005 1
NHL 2003 1
NHL Faceoff 2003 1
NHL Hitz Pro 1
NPPL Championship Paintball 2009 3
Over the Hedge 1
PBR Out of the Chute 1
Puzzle Challenge Crosswords and More 2
Real World Golf 1
Rock University Presents The Naked Brothers Band 1
RTX Red Rock 1
SBK: Superbike World Championship 1
Ski and Shoot 1
Ski-Doo Snow Racing 1
Spy Hunter 2 1
Star Trek Encounters 1
Summer Athletics The Ultimate Challenge 1
Summer Heat Beach Volleyball 1
The Incredible Hulk 1
Tiger Woods 2004 2
Tiger Woods 2005 1
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 1
Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero 1
Tony Hawk 3 1
Top Gear Daredevil 1
Top Gun Combat Zones 1
Unreal Tournament 3
Warriors of Might and Magic 1
World Championship Cards 1
World Series Of Poker 2008 1
XG3 Extreme G 3 1
XIII 1
X-Men: The Official Game 1
Legends of Wrestling II 1

Gah. What a load of hot garbage. This removes 120 PS2 games from our inventory. Each DVD case is half an inch wide, so we just cleared a bit over one full four-foot rack of games. If I wanted to clear more space, I could take away non-duplicated games that we haven’t sold in two years. I plan to do this tomorrow to gut our much-hated PSP section.

It’s tempting to spare some of the games on the chopping block. Dead or Alive 2? That’s a good game! And yet, we have more than one copy and it hasn’t sold for a year. We could be mislead by coincidence: Maybe it was out of stock for a year and then we received two in trade yesterday. If in doubt, consult an item history report for that game.

See? We have had at least one in stock since November 2014, with no takers. I’m not going to get rid of both, just my extra. That extra copy was bought from a customer for 99 cents, so it’s no big loss.

Upside: If you report your inventory value to the IRS as something like 50% of retail value, and you’re employing per-item variable trade valuation, you’re about to come out way ahead by clearancing out this type of garbage inventory, which typically consists of items that you paid 10-20% of resale value on, as opposed to 30-70% for titles that you actually want. The retail value of these games is about $500, but my trade value on them is only about $70. If I sell them for what I’ve probably got in them, I win at tax time, to the tune of my marginal tax rate times about $180 of reduced inventory value.

Don’t overdo this just for the fun of it. At least, don’t cut as severely as I am cutting, here, unless you are hurting for space. By dumping my extra copy of Dead or Alive 2, I’m betting that no more than one person will come in looking for a copy before I get another in trade. I may lose that bet. That customer may find another game to buy, or he may decide that my store sucks and he’s never coming back. I’m weighing the downside risk for that particular game against the half-inch that the case takes up on my shelf, and deciding that I want the half-inch.

You can cut too deep. I feel like the best thing to do is cut until your space squeeze is *almost* fixed, and then stop. The culling can get too fun, at least for an anti-hoarder like me. It’s important not to cut off the entirety of the long tail. But when you’re working with under a thousand square feet of retail space, the last little bits of inefficient, unwanted merchandise are the best place to start cutting. Technology can help you place the knife more efficiently.

Replacing a Joystick Mechanism on an Xbox 360 Controller

Employee note reads, “derpy left thumbstick.” Further inspection reveals a joystick mechanism that fails to return to center under normal pressure. Luckily, we have a spare part from another controller!

Of course, I mention that I should try not to forget to re-install the vibration motors, then I leave them out at the end of the film. Don’t worry, I remembered right after I stopped recording and got them in.

I’m not good at this and I have next to no training. Next time I’ll work on keeping the work in the center of the frame and mumbling less.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-chargers

This was a Magic Prerelease weekend. Even though I no longer spend a ton of time behind the counter, I was at the store all weekend, and it was full of people. I came home exhausted and sick of smiling and being switched-on socially, so I decided to fix some electronics. We’ll start off with an easy one: A Pokemon battery replacement.

2016-01-07 22.06.15

We used to do these by prying the battery off of the tabs, then electrical-taping a new battery in place, counting on the tight fit to maintain electrical contact. Since I set up my workshop at home, I’ve found that I enjoy doing it properly. This is probably not worth my time, but I feel better about it after.

2016-01-07 22.06.58

Are lithium cells still susceptible to overheating and exploding when they’re fully discharged? I have no idea. Let’s not find out, okay? Heat up the contacts until the solder flows, then lift the battery off, one side at a time.

2016-01-07 22.08.54

Remove the excess solder using a desoldering braid (unless you’re a slob) and solder the tabs onto the contacts. You can get the correct tabbed coin cells from digi-key, but you’ll have to bend the tabs slightly to account for the cell sitting on top of a chip instead of flush with the board.

2016-01-07 22.14.42

I put it back together, plugged it into my GBA SP, and… no dice. Disassembling the game again and inspecting it, I found no signs of damage or extra solder joints. I scrubbed the contacts down with alcohol and a Q-tip…

2016-01-07 22.20.12

Reassembled the game, and…

2016-01-07 22.20.58

Ta-da! Okay, easy win. Next up is a GBA SP that my lackey indicates has trouble charging. He says that the system charges, but stops charging when you wiggle the cable.

2016-01-17 19.38.32

Also pictured is my new $6 set of tri-wing drivers. Yeah, I’m kind of a big deal. I remove the battery door, and…

2016-01-17 19.40.51

Ew. That is just REALLY not a great sign for lithium batteries. I know that my ultimate problem is likely to be a cold solder joint where the charge connector sits on the board, but I’m not going to proceed with the battery in this sorry shape. I placed an order for a $2 (including shipping!) battery from Hong Kong, and put the project into a bag with a note stating that it’s waiting for the battery.

2016-01-17 19.41.47

Next up is a Nintendo DSi system that we bought today. My lackey sheepishly told me that he found a problem after the customer was gone. Demonstrating, he powered the system on, then tapped it lightly against the counter, whereupon the power cut off. Now that I’ve gotten it home, I can’t get it to power on or charge at all.

2016-01-17 19.43.15

I don’t think the lackey can really be blamed here, since it’s not like we’re going to give every piece of electronics a thump test before accepting it. I cleaned the battery and tested, finding that the problem persisted. I removed the battery cover and battery, then nine screws holding the housing together. The housing lifted off easily, but I could see two connectors running from it to the motherboard. Popping those loose, the case came free.

2016-01-17 19.50.47

Now, I’m absolutely an amateur at this stuff, but it seems to me that this sort of problem is most likely to be at the place where components connect together, since surface-mounted components on a solid-state board with no moving parts are usually pretty boringly reliable. Poking around, it appeared that the battery terminals were on a daughterboard connected to the motherboard by a ribbon cable and power line. Hey, neat! That board also has the directional buttons and the power button.

2016-01-17 19.56.20

I disconnected the daughterboard and took a good look at it. It appeared that all of the power for the whole system originated in those three connections going to the battery terminals, and the two connections going to the motherboard. All five solder joints looked pretty tired. I wondered if one of them had gone cold. I thought about checking continuity, but decided instead that it would be easier to just replace the joints on all five connections. The way I looked at it, this was as far as I was willing to go for a system that is worth about $55. If this wasn’t the problem, that would mean that there was some other failure on one of the boards, and that falls beyond my current skill level.

2016-01-17 19.58.47

I don’t have shots of the re-soldering because some combination of hurry, fatigue, alcohol, and dealing with a small board caused me to shorten the black wire a little bit. The solution may or may not have involved the tiniest bodge wire I’ve ever been guilty of applying. I finished the repair and put everything back together.

2016-01-17 20.18.45

Hey, it’s charging! My elation was short-lived, because when I powered it on, the screen powered up and then immediately went black. While I pondered this, I remembered that, when a Playstation Portable has a completely dead battery, it won’t boot up without having a few minutes to charge. I guess it requires more amperage on startup than the charger alone can provide. I spent a few minutes cleaning up, then came back to the DSi and tried again.

2016-01-17 20.21.05

Success! What’s more, no amount of thumping it around seems to cause it any sort of problem. That’s one for the win column!

My final bit of work tonight was a controller that didn’t have a note, but did have very sticky, unresponsive buttons.

2016-01-17 20.28.29

Opening it up and getting it apart, I found sticky residue all over everything.

2016-01-17 20.34.50

Every bit of this controller was covered in grit. I wonder what sort of stories it would tell if it could speak? Most likely it would say something like, “Please kill me. Every moment that I exist is a brutal agony.” Well, not today, little guy! I completely disassembled the controller and cleaned everything with a damp towel.

button

 

While re-assembling the controller, I noticed that one of the battery terminals is sitting a little derpy. Can you see it?

2016-01-17 20.50.32

The cold solder joint strikes again: This controller was working only because the spring and solder were pressed up against the contact on the board. Indeed, as soon as I touched the wire, the whole thing fell out. I removed the old, crappy solder with braid, then put the spring back into place and soldered it back in. It took a little extra flux to get the solder to flow onto the wire, but you can see the shiny new connection on the right here:

2016-01-17 20.58.10

Good to go. By the way, I’ve instructed my employees to stop putting the big price labels on controllers and handhelds. They’re tough to remove, which isn’t a problem for DVD-cased games, but becomes really irritating when you want to clean off a controller for use. We actually got a one-star review for this stuff. I suppose it’s warranted. Kinda.

2016-01-17 21.07.08

We only sell these controllers for $26, we buy them for between $8 and $11, and we currently have 15 of them in stock. Was this really worth my time? Probably not, assuming I would have been doing anything productive at the time otherwise. But hey, I find the activity soothing, and there’s at least a marginal benefit to my business, so I’ll keep doing it.

Scrub them toilets, boss.

There came a point a couple of years ago where I could afford to pay a lackey to work for every hour that the store was open. Then we grew to the point where we always had two lackeys working, and sometimes three or even four. This freed me from the tyranny of the need to be behind the counter to keep the store open, and changed my entire job.

December was bananas for my store. We beat our best month ever by about 30%. I’m happy to have the money to pay some bills, but the wear on the staff and the store is easy to see, so I’m glad that the crush of traffic is slowing down a little. With school back in session, we’ve got our mornings and early afternoons back for doing all the administrative crap that keeps this place from falling apart. These are responsibilities that are secondary to ringing up customers and putting new inventory onto the shelf from trade: deep-cleaning, doing inventory, sorting cards, and price-updating. I’ve been trying to spend a couple of hours every morning helping my lackeys catch up.

12507460_1043251739070733_7494327553362274591_n

This morning, after paying payroll taxes and settling up with the state on December’s hefty Sales Tax collection, I grabbed my laptop and went out into the store to inventory our Xbox One and Xbox 360 sections. I set up a standing-height folding table with my laptop, set it up to do an “hot inventory” of the two categories (allowing customers to shop a section that is being inventoried), plugged in a barcode reader, and started grabbing handfuls of games from the shelf to scan into the system. Then it occurred to me that it would be much faster to just scan games directly on the shelf. I grabbed a USB extension cable from the PS3 section to give my reader more range, and started scanning.

My Executive Lackey saw me doing it this way, and commented that it made much more sense than the way we’d traditionally done it, which involved toting armfuls of games across the store to a computer to be counted. I agreed, and was quite proud of myself, until I looked back at the laptop to realize that about 75 games ago I’d scanned a barcode which for some reason had failed to result in a database hit. This had caused the system to stop clearing the input field, meaning that I had a several-hundred-character-long string of numbers which meant absolutely nothing. I figured out where I was supposed to be and started scanning again. As I moved across the wall, I had to scoot, scoot, scoot the table across my waxed floor. At one point I got in a hurry  and tripped over my USB cable, nearly yanking my laptop off of the table.

Several good things happened as a result of this adventure:

  • My employee saw a better way of doing something, born of a fresh perspective from someone who hadn’t done it in a while.
  • I realized that we needed a rolling utility cart if we were going to do inventory this way. The cart can also double as a Clearance Table when we need one of those.
  • I realized that we could also use a wireless barcode reader.
  • I realized that the inventory screen needs the option to play a sound announcing the result of a barcode scan. Maybe it could be Kronk saying “Got it!” for success, and Yzma saying “Kronk!!” for failure. We never added anything like this before because, as a measure to prevent my employees from getting lost in YouTube, I had removed the speakers from the point-of-sale computer. Now that we always have multiple employees present, that sort of misbehavior is probably less tempting.

If you’re the boss, it’s true that ideally you need to spend more time working on your business than at your business. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve perfected any particular process in your operation, and certainly don’t think that your employees will ever be motivated and empowered enough to do as much good for your business as you can. You need to try to get in some lackey-work, even if it’s only when someone calls in sick or there’s a labor shortage. Let your employees do the mundane lifting that you hired them to do, but make sure that you’re doing it often enough that you can spot potential improvements. That means that you need to do the supply checklist once in a while, put out some trade, and yes, clean the bathrooms.

Cleaning out the returns cabinet

Ah, our first catch of the day:

2016-01-04 22.24.12

Employee states that it won’t turn on. Betcha the battery contacts are either corroded, dirty, or damaged.

2016-01-04 22.24.23

Called it. A little love with a Q-tip dipped in alcohol, and…

2016-01-04 22.26.58

It’s always nice to start with an easy win. You should take the batteries out of your electronics when you’re not going to use them for a while.

2016-01-04 22.28.02

Employee note says that this wired 360 controller doesn’t power on. Let’s take it apart and see what’s going on.

2016-01-04 22.32.03

Mr. Multimeter says that we’ve got continuity from the USB end all the way to the four contact points, so the controller is getting power, it’s just not doing anything after. That officially puts it in the “too much trouble” category, but I’m feeling froggy, so I remove some of the more common failure components for repairing other controllers or for other projects.

2016-01-04 23.01.11

The harvest is two clicky joysticks, two vibration motors, and a shoulder button, removed only because it was in the way of one of the joysticks. The oft-misplaced breakaway part of the cable will go back to the store. The rest goes into the bin.

2016-01-04 23.05.53

We’ve got TONS of leftover Xbox 360 hard drives, but they’re all for the first-generation fat systems, instead of the newer slim models. A lot of fat 360 consoles died to the Red Ring of Death, so there’s a surplus of power supplies and hard drives out in the world. We buy them for very little but there’s not much demand for them at any price. In the land of more modern hardware, however, users are so hungry for hard drives for their 4gb 360 slim consoles that they’re willing to pay $65 for a 320gb upgrade. With a $4 enclosure bought from China, the 2.5″ hard drives from the old fat enclosures work just fine in the newer systems. I’m asking $45 each for the converted hard drives. I bet we sell a bunch of them as folks realize that they should have listened to our warning about buying Grand Theft Auto V (which needs hard drive space) with a system that didn’t come with a hard drive. I made four. If they sell well I’ve got another dozen to convert.

2016-01-04 23.07.03

Employee states that the left bumper button isn’t clicky.

2016-01-04 23.21.59

Examining the white buttons, I can see the problem. Can you? The left button still clicks, but it’s about a millimeter shorter than the right button, so the shoulder button doesn’t fully engage it before being stopped by the body of the controller. Now, I DID just salvage a shoulder button from another controller, but replacing it is going to mean desoldering the left trigger assembly, desoldering and replacing the button, then re-soldering the trigger assembly. That’s a lot of trouble for a $30 controller, and every thing that you monkey with is one more thing that can go wrong. I decide to try the easy solution first: I put a dab of super glue on the button, wait a few hours, put another dab on, and let it sit out overnight, propped upright in my board holder.

2016-01-04 23.35.13 2016-01-05 13.36.37

Looks like that added the correct amount of height to the button. I also replace the thumbsticks while I’ve got it apart, because the old ones looked pretty tired.

2016-01-05 13.40.36

That seems to do the trick. After assembly, the left and right bumper feel identical. I’ll keep an eye out for this one to come back, but I think it’ll be a solid repair.

2016-01-05 13.47.34

Employee states that there’s a sticky button on this Wii remote. My observation is that ALL of the buttons are sticking when you press them. It’s probably just some spilled liquid. I haven’t done a Wii remote before, so we’ll give it a go.2016-01-05 13.48.48

My normal tri-wing bit from my security bit set gets these two screws just fine, but there’s two at the bottom that are deeper inside the case. In a pinch, you can use a 1.5mm flat-head screwdriver, as long as you’re careful. Once the screws are out, you can use a flat tool like the iSesamo to get at the latches inside the case and release it.

2016-01-05 13.53.58

Ew.

2016-01-05 13.54.29

Ew, ew, ew.

2016-01-05 14.51.14

I remove all of the buttons and clean them with alcohol. YUM.

2016-01-05 14.57.17

Back together, and good as new!

2016-01-05 15.40.30

Super Nintendo in the returns cabinet with no note on it. Seems to work great for me. I have GOT to get a better game than Play Action Football to test with.

2016-01-05 15.41.30

Employee note says that there’s a glitch that causes menus to disappear. Now THERE is an interesting failure! Sadly, it seems to work fine. The culprit was likely dirty contacts on the game that was played, but it’s impossible to know if the lackey reproduced the problem on his own, or just took the return, issued a replacement or store credit, and sent the customer on their way. December was busy. I’ll ask a lackey to test two or three other games to see if they can reproduce the failure. If not, back onto the shelf it goes.

2016-01-05 15.43.26

NES Advantage controller with no note.

2016-01-05 15.46.47

All buttons work fine for both player 1 and 2. Anticipation is one of the worst NES games I’ve ever seen, and we’ve got dozens of copies of it. I should turn some of them into Raspberry Pi cases or something.

That’s all for today. Some of the less-technical diagnosis and repair should be happening in the store instead of my workbench at home, but my employees have been absolutely slammed with holiday traffic this year, so this is my way of taking some of the burden off. As things return to normal, they’ll be doing more of this stuff.

I hope that this is at least mildly interesting. I think that most of it is pretty boring, but my friends are telling me that they like looking at old gaming stuff and watching me tinker. I guess I’ll keep it up until the affirmation stops flowing.

Replacing the thumbsticks on a Playstation 4 controller

Sony’s DualShock 4 controller is, in my opinion, the best-feeling controller in the history of ever, but it’s not perfect: Sony put cheap, crappy thumbsticks on it, and the covering on those thumbsticks frequently peels off in short order. Sony will replace the controller if you have this issue, but YOU pay for shipping, it takes over a month, and they won’t even talk to you unless you can prove that you’re the original owner. Way to fail, Sony. I had a half-dozen of these to repair for the shop, so I figured I’d document the last one for you.

2016-01-02 21.33.00 2016-01-02 21.33.09

You can get replacement thumbsticks on eBay or Amazon. I’m actually using aftermarket joysticks meant for the Xbox One that work great on the PS4. I’m using these because I like them a lot more than the factory sticks, and because I kinda had 50 of them on hand already.

2016-01-02 21.33.16

To start, unscrew the four Philips screws on the back. You’ll need a small driver. Many manufacturers like to hide screws behind stickers, but Sony, bless them, put all four where you can see them.

2016-01-02 21.33.30

This is the worst part of the repair. Once those screws are out, you have to separate the two halves of the controller body. You start this by squeezing on the joint like this:

2016-01-02 21.34.27

Then you pull on alternating sides of the controller until it comes loose, usually with a loud snap that makes you think you’ve broken something. While you’re doing this, watch for a little round rubber piece which may or may not fall out. You’ll need it at the end, so be mindful.

2016-01-02 21.34.41

Uh-oh. On the first five controllers I repaired, all four shoulder buttons stayed attached to the top half of the controller, where they belong. This white controller has some slight differences in design, however, and the trigger buttons popped out of place, going with the bottom half instead of staying with the top. We’ll put those back in place in a minute.

2016-01-02 21.35.06

Before you do anything else, you’ll need to pull out this ribbon cable. You can do it with your fingers if they’re small enough, but I used needle-nose pliers. It won’t take much force at all to pull it out.

2016-01-02 21.35.49

Okay, let’s take a look at the triggers. We have to get those springs on each into the proper position. If you didn’t manage to detach yours, just keep scrolling.

2016-01-02 21.38.25

The triggers themselves have a space on the post that faces the USB plug when they’re installed. Hang the spring on it like so, propping up the bottom side with your finger.

2016-01-02 21.39.06

See the little slot I’m indicating with my screwdriver? That’s where the bottom part of that spring should rest. With that in place, snap the trigger downward into place. It should feel correct when you press it, even outside the case.

2016-01-02 21.39.51

Pull the battery away carefully, then pinch the battery connector and pull it out of the plug. This reveals the final screw we need to remove, indicated here:

2016-01-02 21.40.39

Once that screw is removed, we have another ribbon cable to remove, in the upper-right area of the board.

2016-01-02 21.41.23

You can remove this with pliers or tweezers, like so:

2016-01-02 21.41.47

Keep the joystick face-down for now unless you want to chase buttons everywhere. With the joystick facing away from you, reach around and press in on the thumbsticks. The board should lift up and away from the shell. You’ll have to maneuver it around a little to get the thumbsticks free of the casing, but once you do that, you should be able to pivot the board toward you, being careful not to pull on the vibrator power leads.

2016-01-02 21.42.14

The bad thumbsticks will lift straight off.

2016-01-02 21.42.33

Press your new thumbsticks down onto the connectors. See how the post has two flat sides? Your replacement sticks should have at least one flat side, and that will inform you about how to orient them. It shouldn’t take much force to push the replacement thumbsticks onto the posts.

2016-01-02 21.43.01

Flop the board back over and insert the thumbsticks through the holes, then secure the board to the body with that one center screw. We need to reattach the ribbon cable at the top, which runs to the touchpad. I find it best to grip the tab firmly with needle-nose pliers or good, broad tweezers, and push it into the connector. It should not take much force to connect it properly as long as it’s lined up and you’re pushing it straight in. If it gets lopsided, STOP, remove the cable, and try again. This is what it should look like when correctly installed:

2016-01-02 21.45.14

With everything more or less stable, this is a great time to take a toothbrush to the edges and seams of your controller, since they’ll never be easier to clean than they are right now. This controller is filthy, but since I have to do six of them, I’m leaving the cleaning for my lackeys to do later. It’s good to be the king.

Plug the battery back in (it’ll only go one way) and re-place the battery in the tray. If during any of the preceding steps, a little round rubber plug fell out, you’ll need to replace it near the upper-right corner of the battery. Just below the “RESET” text. The plug has little wings which will help you align it correctly. The five black controllers I did previously had this round plug, but this white controller has an equivalent plastic piece attached to the battery housing. They look similar, though, so here you go:

2016-01-02 21.45.52

Now we need to connect the ribbon cable from the bottom half of the body to the connector on the top half. You’ll probably have to do some gymnastics and feel pretty silly trying to find the right angles for everything that will allow you to plug the cable in, but you should be able to do it with just your fingers, like so:

2016-01-02 21.46.40

Here’s what it should look like properly installed. Again, you want it to go STRAIGHT in. Don’t try to push harder if it’s lopsided.

2016-01-02 21.47.23

Maneuver the bottom half of the controller so that the triggers poke through it, like so:

2016-01-02 21.47.57

In this poorly-focused picture, you can see that the posts on either side barely block you from putting it back together. Bend them in just a hair and the whole assembly should come together with a very satisfying click.

2016-01-02 21.48.07

If the battery had any charge to it, your controller just had parts of itself amputated and reattached and is very confused. Use a paperclip to press the reset switch, which is through the hole I’m indicating here:

2016-01-02 21.48.42

Replace the four screws in the back, and you’re done!

2016-01-02 21.50.38

Put the old thumbsticks in the trash, where they should have gone during the DualShock 4’s R&D phase.

2016-01-02 21.52.21

Replacing the power jack on a Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Disclaimer: I have no formal training and make no claim to being good at any of this. Constructive feedback and suggestions are welcomed. I’m figuring this stuff out as I go.

2015-12-29 20.43.30

A common failure of SNES consoles is the barrel plug for power. The barrel part snaps off when stressed, leaving the system inoperable. It’s certainly possible to tack onto the two pins without the connector and have it work, but that’s no good when you want to sell it. I can’t remember whether we bought this system as-is for pennies on the dollar, or bought it at normal value and then realized our mistake. Either way, the value of a working system is about $75, and the value of a non-working system in a retail environment is approximately zero.

2015-12-29 20.43.40

Luckily, replacement power plug assemblies are available on eBay for about $12. I used the search term “SNES power repair”. You could get the cost down to eight bucks if you’re willing to buy ten at a time. Now that I’ve done one I might grab the bundle and keep them in the repairs cabinet.

2015-12-29 20.45.16

You’ll need the security bit to remove the special screws on the bottom. Search “NES security bit” to find the set of one 3.8mm and one 4.5mm bit for under $6 shipped. If you also grab the “nintendo tri-wing screwdriver” you’ll have pretty much everything you need to get into every Nintendo case and device. All six of the external security screws are the same, so just keep them all together. I really like magnetic mats and cafeteria trays for this sort of thing.

2015-12-29 20.50.40

Sadly, you have to completely remove the main board from the system in order to access an upside-down screw holding the power jack assembly in place. Just make sure you lay out the screws in the order in which you found them on the board, and you should have no problems. There are three types, so compare by length and color.

2015-12-29 20.50.49

Here’s that upside-down screw that we’ll need to remove. Desolder the legs to the power jack, working it out at an angle. Be careful about the RF Out jack. You have a little bit of wiggle room, but not much. If you break the RF jack off the board you’ll have to re-solder it, which is annoying. If you break it off and don’t want to mess with it, the system will work fine without it, but you won’t be able to use the (inferior) RF adapter, and will only be able to use the (superior) AV cable. Since we’re reselling this particular console, we want it to be right.

The solder used in these systems has a very high melting point. I had to crank my cheap Weller station all the way up to make it flow. If you’ve got a cheap non-adjustable iron, you may not be able to get this done.

2015-12-29 20.58.52

Use desoldering braid to remove the old solder and clear the way for your new connector. Again, high temperature is required.

2015-12-29 21.04.15

Carefully work the new part back in at that funny angle, re-attach the silver screw, and make happy little Hershey’s Kiss shapes with your solder on the legs. Now’s a great time to clean up the flux around the solder pads, as well.

2015-12-29 21.16.31

A tip for the eject button lever: The little spring wire is asymmetrical, and there’s a correct orientation to line it up with the bottom hole. The top part of it slides into a divot instead of forcing you to play games with pliers to make it fit, which I think is thoughtful.

Before you put the screws back in, take this opportunity to give the case a good scrubbing. There’s lots of seams and moving parts, and they’ll never be as easy to clean as they are right now.

2015-12-29 21.17.39

Success! Embarrassingly, I don’t have any SNES games in my house with which to do a final test. I don’t expect any problems, though, and will remind my lackeys to test the system before cleaning it up and packaging it for resale, just in case.