Google Earth first made use of its rich global 3D visualization as a backdrop for a Carmen Sandiego tie-in back in March, but today there’s a new adventure to explore. After solving The Crown Jewels Caper, amateur home gumshoes are now tasked with finding out the secrets of The Keys to the Kremlin Caper, which kicks off in Russia, as you might’ve guessed from the name.
Google makes use of the Netflix re-imagining of the classic globetrotting Carmen Sandiego character, which debuted in a 1985 computer game released by Broderbund Software. The Google Earth version includes pixelated graphics and gameplay inspired by the original series, with the modern look that’s used in the Netflix show by educational publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
The game can be played on Android, iOS or desktop (via Chrome) and has a lot of the same charm and appeal of the original series, with similar educational value in terms of highlighting some key cultural and geographic details along the way as you investigate the case.
Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s …
If you’re of a certain generation, chances are you have imagined (or, at this point in your adulthood, built) your own home arcade that resembles something out of the golden ’80s era. One useful path to making this a reality, especially in tighter quarters, is the “multicade,” an invention that squishes multiple games into a single cabinet.
But what if your old-school gaming dreams revolve around something bigger and bulkier, particularly pinball? Until recently, your options were either buying a bunch of original pinball cabinets or building your own ground-up emulation solution. And the latter is complicated by the realities of how pinball plays and feels.
I’ve wondered how long it would take for that to change in the gaming-nostalgia market, especially as companies like Arcade1Up produce and sell more multicade cabinets for home use. The time for change is now, evidently, thanks to a handful of manufacturers producing pinball multicades. Arcade1Up in particular launched three distinct pinball emulation cabinets this year, each revolving around a different license.
Thanks to Arcade1Up, I’ve gone hands-on with arguably the most interesting product in its 2021 pinball line: a collection of 10 classic tables, all created by Williams during its arcade heyday but emulated for more convenient home play. What exactly does $600 get you in terms of emulation and build quality?
Time to get Mad and Medieval
Arcade1Up Digital Pinball (Attack from Mars)
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The Arcade1Up pinball system is largely the same across all three models released this year. Most of the physical cabinet is preassembled inside its box, and finishing the construction—which resembles a classic pinball machine, complete with buttons and a plunger—is simple enough with a standard screwdriver. The biggest catch will be getting the cabinet’s biggest, heaviest piece through doors or over stairs. This portion measures 34 inches long, 17 inches wide, and 16.5 inches tall. (Luckily, you can unscrew this base chunk in a pinch.)
Once fully built, this cabinet’s tallest backplate gets up to 60 inches in height, while the default legs bring the flippers up 35 inches from the floor. These include twistable feet that you can adjust to even out the set’s balance. At roughly 65 percent the size of a standard pinball cabinet, the Arcade1Up version will more likely fit in your favorite playroom, though it looks better in isolation rather than sitting next to an official table of the era.
Peek over the fake coin doors, and you’ll quickly see where Arcade1Up’s system differs hugely from the real thing: a 24-inch LCD panel, offset by a significant bezel all around (wood on top and bottom, aluminum on the left and right). Beneath the screen, Arcade1Up relies on an Android-fueled SoC, which pumps a 720p video signal to the screen, along with an analog receiver for the plunger, an accelerometer to sense your real-life “tilts,” and four solenoids that thump along with your gameplay. Two of them are positioned near the flipper buttons to replicate the sense of striking a pinball, while two fit deeper inside the chassis to replicate midgame bumps.
With the backplate attached and a single AC adapter plugged into a wall outlet, the machine is ready to rock. Part of the kit offers two crucial pieces to the pinball-emulation puzzle: a smaller LCD screen, which provides score information and midgame animations, and a pair of surprisingly robust speakers.
My virtual choice: The real classics
The backplate, by the way, is a printed poster that doesn’t change regardless of which virtual game you’re playing. My cabinet highlights the original Williams table Attack From Mars, while Arcade1Up’s two other 2021 models are decorated with Star Wars and Marvel characters, respectively. Sadly, for the Attack From Mars cabinet, Arcade1Up didn’t get a great source for the side cabinet art (especially on the backplate’s sides). Those images are a bit warped and low-res. Should your default home arcade have dim lighting, you may not even notice.
Power the system on, and after an admittedly overlong loading screen, Arcade1Up’s interface pops up, revealing a selection of 10 games as powered by Zen Studios’ digital-pinball ecosystem. The Williams machine I tested includes the following:
Attack from Mars
The Getaway: High Speed II
No Good Gofers
Red & Ted’s Road Show
Tales of the Arabian Nights
Should you purchase either of the other two 2021 models, you’ll get 10 virtual tables created by Zen Studios for previously released console and PC game collections, as opposed to recreations of real-life classics. That’s why I requested this model in particular. I was more interested in recreating familiar classics than playing Zen Studios’ digital-only inventions.
Here at Ars, we’re big fans of situations where emulation creates a classic gaming experience that’s actually better than what you could get with original hardware in some way or another. In the past, that has meant upsampling rotated sprites in SNES’ “Mode 7” games or adding “widescreen” support to NES games or mitigating the controller lag that was built into certain older consoles or overclocking an emulated SNES to remove slowdown without ruining gameplay timing.
The latest emulation-powered retro-gaming upgrade to cross our paths greatly simplifies an oft-overlooked capability built in to many Game Boy Advance titles. Namely, it adds the ability to play multiplayer titles in split screen on a single display.
This upgrade is the work of Robert Peip, a developer who’s spent years working on field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs). These days, Peip works primarily on the MiSTer FPGA an open source project that recreates classic gaming hardware extremely accurately through emulation “cores” that replicate every single logic gate involved in the schematics of the original system (most of Analogue’s high-end retro hardware is similarly powered by FPGA cores). Such cores are currently available for consoles ranging from the Odyssey 2 through the Neo Geo era and more.
Peip’s new “special version” of the Game Boy Advance FPGA core works relatively simply, running two GBA cores in a single MiSTer. As Peip explains, “you get 2 raw GBA cores, one connected to SDRAM, one connected to DDR3, communicating directly inside the FPGA. Sound is used from Core 1 only.”
Thus, games originally designed to be played on two consoles connected via link cable can now be played in split screen on a single MiSTer with a single connected display, as shown in this demonstration video. Peip says that “most multiplayer games should be supported,” a statement that presumably includes original Game Boy games (which work on a GBA link-cable through a supported secondary mode).
Playing these multiplayer GBA games on original hardware required two separate consoles, two copies of the game, and a GBA link cable, ensuring most casual players probably never even bothered (some GBA games offered limited multiplayer with just one cartridge). And while previous GBA emulators have offered link-cable support, even that required a LAN or Internet connection between two separate machines with two separate displays. While some RetroPie users have done a bit of finagling to get multiplayer games for the original Game Boy working via split screen, we’ve never seen a similar one-machine, one-display solution for Game Boy Advance multiplayer games before this.
Peip’s turnkey test core for multiplayer GBA emulation is currently only available by supporting his Patreon, and it is currently missing features like savestates, fast forward, and visual filters available on other GBA cores. Still, we’re excited to have a new, easier-to-use method to try the oft-ignored multiplayer modes in some classic portable titles. Now if we could only get split-screen support for those four-player GBA titles…
Peter Jackson’s next six-hour epic is finally coming out this year—and in a first for the acclaimed director, the film will launch directly to a streaming service. It will also be broken up into episodes.
The Beatles: Get Back, an expansive documentary originally announced for a theatrical run this August, has had its release strategy tweaked. On Thursday, Jackson and Disney confirmed that the entire project will launch exclusively on Disney+ during this year’s American Thanksgiving holiday. Each third of the documentary will launch on the streaming service on November 25, 26, and 27. As of press time, Disney hasn’t said how the film will reach audiences outside of Disney+’s supported territories. Neither Jackson nor Disney clarified how the original theatrical run might have worked or whether the global pandemic forced anyone’s hand.
Today’s news confirms that Jackson had an abundance of footage to work with. Roughly three years ago, the remaining Beatles handed him access to a musical holy grail: over 60 hours of previously unseen video recordings, mostly capturing the Beatles working on the album Let It Be and rehearsing for, and then performing, the band’s legendary 1969 rooftop concert in London.
Jackson stitched the footage together with access to what Disney calls “over 150 hours of unheard, restored audio”—meaning yes, somehow Apple Corps. still has some tapes in hiding after this many Beatles special edition albums, anthologies, video games, and Cirque du Soleil collaborations. For further context on the Let It Be recording sessions, the film will be paired with a physical book full of photos and original interviews, now delayed to an October launch.
Jackson’s comments in today’s news, as provided by Disney to members of the press, imply that he indeed sought to release a long documentary: “I’m very grateful to the Beatles, Apple Corps., and Disney for allowing me to present this story in exactly the way it should be told.” He also commented on the original documentary footage, filmed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg, as something that is “not nostalgia—it’s raw, honest, and human.”
The Beatles: Get Back will launch on a Thursday, thus breaking Disney+’s latest initiative of launching new series episodes on Wednesdays instead of Fridays. If anyone can break a newly sacrosanct Disney+ rule, it has to be the Beatles.
Listing image by The Walt Disney Company / Apple Corps / Wingnut Films