Internet Archive adds trove of cheap LCD handhelds to its emulation collection

During CES, the single piece of electronics I spent the most time with, apart from my laptop and camera, was a Mattel Dungeons & Dragons Computer Fantasy Game handheld. This decades-old device held the attention of John Biggs and myself through quite a few drinks as we navigated its arcane interface (eventually slaying the dragon, thank you). These cheap handhelds, sold as impulse buys at drug stores and Toys ‘R Us (RIP), are the latest thing to be collected and emulated in full by MAME and the Internet Archive.

At first when I heard this, I was happy but not particularly impressed. They’re great little devices — mostly terrible games, albeit a nostalgic kind of terrible — but how complicated can they be?

Oh, quite complicated, it turns out.

Unlike, say, an NES ROM, these little gadgets don’t have their graphics palettized, their logic isolated, etc. No, each one of these things is a strange and unique little machine. They must be carefully taken apart and their logic teased out by experts.

For one thing, the graphics aren’t pixels accounted for digitally. They’re etched into the liquid crystal system, to be activated when a charge runs through them. In other words, all the graphics are right there on the same screen, arranged like puzzle pieces.

So you may remember Space Jam looking like this:

But the LCD layer looks like this:

All that is hard-wired into the electronic part, where the logic resides telling which pieces to light up and when.

I won’t go into the details — read the interesting Internet Archive post if you’re curious. Basically it was a ton of hard work by a bunch of dedicated folks on the MAME crew. Incidentally, thanks to them and everyone else who’s kept that project going for years and years.

The only thing that’s missing is the interface — that is, the plastic. These things were great not because they were actually great games, but because they cost like $10 and would keep your kid occupied on a road trip for a few hours while they got beaten over and over again by the first three enemies. The cheap plastic enclosures and gaudy decorations are part of the fun.

No one wants to play this:

But this?

I’d definitely bug my mom to get me that. In fact, I think I did.

You can check out the scores of games the teams have already digitized at the Handheld History page, and if you’re in an emulatin’ mood, check out the other gazillion systems you can play in the browser in Archive’s Internet Arcade and Console Living Room.

Marijuana soda startup California Dreamin’ wants to replace booze

“Enjoy a light, social high,” says the funky bottle of California Dreamin’ cannabis -infused sparkling pomegranate juice. Launching today at Y Combinator Demo Day, California Dreamin’ is serving up an alcohol alternative that still gets you lit, but without the same hangover or health issues.

Each bottle contains 10 milligrams of THC — an industry-standard dose of the psychoactive chemical in marijuana. The company only uses sativa, the more energizing, euphoric type of pot, compared to the more body-relaxing indica variety. That’s compared to some competing marijuana beverages with as much as 100mg — enough that a single sip will get you high and a bottle will lay out all but the hardiest stoners. “We want it to be a light, head high feel,” says Seven Cities Beverage Company aka California Dreamin’ co-founder Amy Ludlum. “We don’t want to give anyone couch lock. We want it to be social.”

Meanwhile, the taste marries fruity sweetness with a hint of earthy plant life complexity that will titillate long-time cannabis fans. Bottles come in other flavors, like tangerine, grapefruit and cranberry apple, and will retail for about $8 to $10 each. Cases are rolling out to recreational dispensaries in San Francisco, like The Barbary Coast, over the next week.

California Dreamin’ has succeeded in creating a beverage with the light-hearted brand, logical dosage and agreeable taste to be something you can drink casually and socially, not just when you want to get ridiculously high. That makes it a better alternative or complement to drinking alcohol. It’s certainly not for everyone. Paranoia, anxiety and post-high grogginess are all common side-effects of sativa, and you shouldn’t drive while blazed. But there are plenty of people who want an option to unwind that doesn’t involve a literal poison, or smoking a burning plant that can hurt your lungs.

The only problem is that California and other states with legal recreational marijuana ban the sale of anything cannabis related anywhere that serves alcohol. That means you aren’t likely to see California Dreamin’ in a bar any time soon, but you could throw a pretty fun backyard barbecue. But with 1 million medical marijuana users out of 28 million California adults, and with over half of the voting population supporting cannabis legalization, there’s plenty of room to build a brand in this space.

Inebriation is America’s true national pastime. You could see it as people just seeking an escape from daily troubles, but it’s also a way to shift our thinking to get a new perspective on the world. Considering how much we pay for entertainment that’s merely stimulus we filter through our perception, $10 to pleasantly alter that perception is not a half-baked idea.