Interview: Console Passion

By Damien McFerran - 30 Jun, 2010

Our modded Nomad running Virtua Racing - an event that shouldn't be possible but is thanks to Console Passion

Our modded Nomad running Virtua Racing - an event that shouldn't be possible but is thanks to Console Passion

One of the video game industry's most annoying practices is region lock-outs. We may live in a global village but as far as most console manufacturers are concerned we should be segregated and entirely separate. It's an annoying occurrence, especially if you happen to be a European gamer - those of us residing in the Old World tend to get games last, if at all.
In the case of retro machines this region lock-outs are a real pain. Take a console like the SNES, for example - many of the format's best titles were released in only one or two of the main territories - and if you own a standard PAL SNES you won't be able to enjoy all the machine has to offer.
The answer to this issue is modding. This process involves opening up your beloved console, sticking a soldiering iron inside it and hoping for the best. Of course it's a lot more technical than that, which is probably why you should leave it to the professionals - and that means UK-based Console Passion, which is operated by Andy Brown
Console Passion specilise in modding a wide range of retro consoles, including the SNES, MD, Neo Geo, Saturn and NES. You can check out some of the company's handiwork on these YouTube videos.
The proof is in the pudding when it comes to entrusing a complete stranger with your beloved vintage hardware so to put Console Passion to the test we sent off the Mean Machines Archive Sega Nomad, which is one of the harder machines to successfully modify.
The results were stunning - not only did Console Passion perform an excellent job, they returned the Nomad before we even had time to notice it was gone.
Pleased as punch with the work, we roped Andy Brown into a short interview regarding his company and the kind of stuff he gets up to.
Mean Machines Archive: The concept of modding old or outdated hardware must seem pretty alien to most modern gamers - can you tell us a little about what attracted you to it?

Andy Brown: I’ve always been someone who likes to takes things apart and tinker with them. Years ago, I had a SNES and wanted to play imports as they were meant to be played. Import adapter cartridges were OK but playing imports games at slow 50Hz PAL speeds just seemed wrong. I’d done a bit of electronics at school and messed around with a bit of soldering when I was into RC Cars when I was a kid so when I found a guide on the web of how to install a 50hz/60hz switch I thought I’d give it a go. Once I had done one console, I wanted all my others modded and it all built on from there. Nine years later and I mod consoles almost every day!

Which is the hardest console you've had to mod to date, and which would you say is the easiest?

It’s all down to experience really. the first time I open up a new console or try a new mod it seems a bit tricky, but once you get used to it any mod becomes easier. Some consoles are harder than others, not because of the mod itself but because they have so many parts to disassemble, or because they have fragile parts. We have just started modding Sega MultiMega/CD-X consoles which take ages so I’d say they are the hardest for us at the moment. Easiest console is the Nintendo NES as it’s a nice sturdy console and the mod is simple.

Being able to overcome region-lock systems and play a wider range of games is obviously one of the main reasons people mod their retro consoles but what other benefits are there?

With a lot of newer TV’s having the old RF connection removed, playing older consoles on LCD flatscreens and the likes is getting more difficult. I add RGB AV outputs the Sega Master System and PC Engine to allow you to connect up via a scart. Plus then there is the additional benefit of being able to play games at 60Hz rather than sluggish 50Hz us Europeans have suffered with for so long. Play Sonic at 60Hz - that’s fast! For me, owning import titles is a much more enjoyable experience than Western releases - the effort that goes into the presentation and artwork is much higher for Japanese released games.

With companies such as Sony and Microsoft using online measures to check for modded consoles do you think that eventually the demand for mods will dry up or do you think the retro market is robust enough to keep it going?

I think there’s a big difference between what I do and what CurrentGen manufacturers are policing for. They are more interested in companies who sell modchips to allow you to play backups, where I am making alterations to the consoles to play imports, improve the console by adding RGB output or additional AV connections. I don’t perform any illegal mods and that is stated clearly on my website. Long term I suppose as popularity for older consoles dwindles and current consoles become ‘retro’ the modding work I do will decrease as I will not be adding any mods to my site that can get me into hot water!

How long does it usually take for you to perform a mod? What's the usual turnaround for getting a console in and then getting it back to the customer?

It depends on the mod. Some take half an hour, some can take five or six hours. Then I have to test them. I usually leave them playing for at least a few hours to see if they freeze or have any overheating. Turnaround is normally 3-5 days but can get a bit manic at Christmas; the number of orders I have increases massively and so do my modding requests.

Do you offer pre-modded systems for sale?

Yes, we sell modded consoles as well as doing mods to customers’ consoles. Some of our most popular selling items are our modded consoles, especially the Sega Saturn, Sega Megadrive and Super Nintendo / SNES. It normally works out cheaper to buy a pre-modded console from us rather than to buy a cheap second hand console off eBay and pay for the additional cost of posting it to us.

You also offer the tools for opening up machines and performing the mods - do you get many people coming to you that want to do it themselves? Some of the work you carry out looks pretty intense and I'm not sure I'd be confident enough to hack away at my precious hardware without any experience!

A few people want to try it, and we are happy to assist in simpler mods, but when we sell the tools we do give a warning that we’re not responsible for any damage done! We get a lot of people asking us to repair jobs they have started and decided were a little too tricky, and we have had to repair more than one console that has been damaged as a result of a bodged modding attempt! We’ve also had our fair share of failures along the way!

Is there any particular machine you think that benefits the most from a mod? The Saturn, perhaps - thanks to the vast amount of Japanese software that didn't make it over here? Or perhaps the SNES, which boasts a considerable library of import classics?

That’s exactly right. The Sega Saturn and the SNES are the most popular modded consoles we sell due to the sheer number of import only titles, especially the Saturn with its large number of Japanese only shooters. What a lot of people don’t realise is, with the exception of RPGs almost all Japanese games are completely playable and even have a lot of English text. So not only can you play import only titles, but quite often rare PAL games can be found cheaper on import.

You currently offer services to mod a wide range of machines - do you have any others which are on the horizon?

As I mentioned before, with more HDTV’s having their RF connectors removed, adding AV connections to retro consoles is becoming very popular. We are testing and finalising AV mods for the early Atari consoles, then we’ll be doing the same for the Colecovision and Intellivision consoles once they are perfected. We are just adding the new MultiMega switchless mod to the site and NTSC Nintendo 64 RGB mods. Plus new modding ideas come out all the time, the net is awash with web pages from some really smart people who love tinkering with old consoles just like me!

Danny Lee T - 02 Sep 2010, 21:56 GMT

sheeeeeyt..(takes a long,sighing look over shoulder at stack of euroslow megadrive titles,harkens back to old japanese MD with plenty jap games long since swapped for snes with marioland in days of yore)..Would an english megadrive with tabs removed play jap games in 60Hz if fitted with modded AV output?? i also have a euro Megadrive with the "High def grfx/sound" + AV output on the arse end...Does this make any difference as i am nearly eppying out these days on the flicker i now seem to see in the glare of HD. never bleedin noticed when i was 13 but do remember pissing about with the contrast and brightness on me old portable telly back then about as much as i actually played the games!!.....oh japan...why have you forsaken meeeeeeeeeee

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