Atari Games Email Archive

Posted to Metafilter by Going to Maine, it’s definitely the kind of thing of interest to me and probably our readers. A link is a link, no matter where it came from. This site is an archive of messages made by Jed Margolin from the Atari Games corporate email server, from July 11, 1983 to when he left the company on September 15, 1992.

Particularly, read the last message from this post on the end of the U.S. arcade boom, of which this is an excerpt:

Atari Email Archive

Note: we saw the Nintendo Direct with the trailer for the (newer) Super Mario Bros. movie, but there’s not really to comment on? Maybe we’ll talk about it later, when we’ve learned more.

News 10/6/2022: Deku Stick, Stadia’s Demise, Chaos;Head Noah

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Ollie Reynolds at Nintendo Life reports on why the Deku Stick item in Link’s hands looks different between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. It has to do with a subtle texture reference error.

Oli Welsh, demonstrating that there’s nothing good that can last, tells us that three Disco Elysium developers have left the company. Details are scarce, but it seems it was not by choice. Is it possible that there’s an NDA involved, or else, a non-disparagment clause?

At TechCrunch, Devin Coldewey claims that Stadia, Google’s streaming gaming service that they just finally killed, died because no one trusts them to keep anything alive. I still remember (and tend to repeatedly mention) how frustrated I was when they killed Google Reader back in 2013, in order to make way for a social networking service that no one remembers, and that feeling never really went away.

Chaos;Head Noah, screenshot from Mobygames

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica mentions a visual novel Spike Chunsoft is releasing for Switch that they’ve cancelled for Steam, due to mandated content changes by Valve. The game is called Chaos;Head Noah (their punctuation, not mine), and was originally released for the Xbox 360, with a Vita re-release, that both received very restrictive ratings. Later releases had an edited script which allowed it to be released with a lighter rating, which an anonymous source says is the version to be released on Switch (and not on Steam). Chaos;Head Noah is a sequel to the previous Chaos;Head, and both are part of the same series as Steins;Gate.

The mainstream gaming press suffered another blow. John Walker writing for Kotaku mentions that the ubiquitous Fandom wiki empire, formerly known as Wikia, has purchased a variety of other websites, including Gamespot, GameFAQs, and Giant Bomb, in addition to TV Guide, Metacritic, Cord Cutters News and Comic Vine. The NetHack Wiki changed over from Wikia many years ago, yet Fandom’s out-of-date version of it still confuses Google search results today. And it doesn’t feel great that so many properties have their primary source of knowledge about them owned by one business, which now engulfing a much larger percentage of the fan media landscape. I point you again to the line in our sidebar that says, “Just say no to Fandom.com!” And yet, if you want to find information on some things, Fandom sites are largely inescapable.

Final Fantasy V, image from Mobygames

Marshall Honorof at Tom’s Hardware goes through the six English releases of Final Fantasy V and tells you which is the best to play-although, pointedly, it is challenging to buy these days. It contains a screed about game preservation that I am entirely on board with.

Video Games Chronicle’s Jordan Middler discusses a Bloomberg report that controversial Activision chief compliance officer Francis Townsend has stepped down, a former Bush administration officer who was unpopular with both fans and employees for not addressing reports of harassment.

Romhack Thursday: Vs. Super Mario Bros on NES

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Nintendo is a company with a long history, having gotten started making playing cards. They jumped into the video gaming market, like a lot of companies, making dedicated consoles that were released only in Japan. It was the release of the arcade game Donkey Kong that started them on the path to becoming the worldwide success they are today.

Title screen for the Vs. Super Mario Bros hack

The sales of Donkey Kong, and successor games like Donkey Kong Kr., Donkey Kong 3, and Mario Bros., put a lot of Nintendo cabinets out there. In the mid 80s there arose a market for upgrade kits, an alternate set of internal components for an arcade machine that could make it into a new game for players to enjoy. Simultaneous with the success of the Famicom and NES, Nintendo sold a kit called the “Vs. System” that their old cabinets could be converted into, as well as dedicated cabinets that used it.

Among the software Nintendo made for their Vs. cabinets, so they made special arcade versions of many of their NES cartridges for it. Many of these are expanded versions of the originals, with new features. We’ve already looked at Vs. Castlevania, a version of Castlevania remixed for the Vs. Unisystem by Konami. One of these updated versions was of Nintendo’s first huge Famicom hit, called Vs. Super Mario Bros.

Hey, that flower’s supposed to be a 1 Up Mushroom!

Vs. Super Mario Bros. seems, at first, a lot like the original game. It’s got a high score screen and some other minor changes. Players familiar with the Famicom/NES version will find that it changes significantly as they get further into it. Many later levels are completely changed, and much harder. When Nintendo released the Japan sequel to Super Mario Bros., they used levels from the Vs. System port to help flesh it out.

Many changes were made to the game to support arcade play. “Loops” where players could farm extra lives were toned down or removed, extra lives in general were reduced in number, and warp zones don’t take the player nearly as far into the game. Another change made was to add operator adjustable difficulty, allowing the cabinet owner to set how many coins were needed for an extra life.

SUPER PLAYER’S

Through emulation, Vs. Super Mario Bros is completely supported in MAME. But for technical reasons, you can’t just play MAME roms in an NES emulator. If you’d like to play it in the emulator of your choice, or have a means to get it running on actual hardware, creator BMF54123 applied all of the play changes of the arcade version back into the NES version of Super Mario Bros., and even added a title screen that allows you to apply the same difficulty settings that were available to an arcade operator.

Expect a number of tricks that would later get reused in the Japanese sequel to Super Mario Bros.

If you’ve never played Super Mario Bros before… then wow, I’m impressed you even found this blog. But also, this is perhaps not the best way to experience the game now. The demands of arcade design make for a much more challenging experience than the original. If you’re very familiar with the home versions, though, it can be an interesting new way to experience it.

Vs. Super Mario Bros for NES (romhacking.net)

Tacticon 2022 Indie Showcase

This is our coverage of Tacticon 2022 covering indie games, all games shown were either press keys or demos.

@Play Extra: Inner Details of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are interesting offshoots of the mainline Mystery Dungeon titles. They make clear a stark difference between primacy and popularity: if you only care about sales, then there is no question that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are the main games, because their sales vastly outweigh the other games. The games in the second generation, Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, are the best-selling Mystery Dungeon games of all. You have to know that there’s around 30 other games, many much older than the Pokemon flavor, in fact older than Pokemon itself by three years, to know the whole story.

Yet the PMD games are still Mystery Dungeon titles, and they play very similarly. They’re graphical roguelike dungeon-crawl games, just, you, your teammates, and your opponents are not generic fantasy creatures, but Pokemon. That is, specific fantasy creatures. Trademarked ones, in fact.

Because PMD’s fairly popular, you’re more likely to find investigations into its internals than the Shiren or other Mystery Dungeon games, just from the number of people who exist in its audience with both the will and skill to investigate. Yet, those internals are close enough to the MD standard that they even provide insight into how classic Mystery Dungeon operates.

YouPotato TheZZAZGlitch’s usualy video stomping grounds in Pokemon, but they have a fondness for PMD, so they’ve made a video on how the first generation (Red/Blue Rescue Team) generates its dungeons, and what do you know, many of these floor types are also very familiar to me from my time exploring the Shiren games, and it doesn’t seem a stretch at all to presume they’re run by the same, or at least a very similar, algorithm.

And YouTuber Some Body (who has a low number of subscribers, maybe folk should send them some love?) has two videos explaining how the AI in those games works. The first is of more general (well, less niche) interest (the one above), while the second is more about covering exceptions and edge cases.

Video: Reconstructing an Arcade Centipede

This is really well outside the realm of simple repair, as the video demonstrates, the machine is basically totaled. There’s no monitor! The power supply is obviously kaput! They get it working though. HAPPY END!

The repair process was involved enough that they did a separate video for fixing the board itself.

Joe’s Classic Video Games: Repairing a Completely Destroyed ATARI Centipede Arcade Game From 1980, Will It Run? (45 minutes)

How we Repair an Atari Centipede Arcade Game PCB With Minimal Test Tools – Simple Schematic Theory (49 minutes)

EGX 2022 Demo Showcase

For this video, I’m looking at the various demos I played that were featured at EGX 2022 on steam’s showcase. If you would like me to look at your game for a future video, please reach out.

Set Side B September 2022 Recap

Some of the posts we published last month:

Sept 1: We only had one @Play post in September as other things competed with my time, but it was a good one, on the history of Angband!

I probably was at this locale unveiling! Up in the cloud with an eye on it, in the top-right corner! We could usually only have six avatars physically in a locale back in those days but the robed ones (called oracles) could override that limit.

Sept 6: We linked to the Reno Project, which seeks to preserve information on early and foundational virtual worlds Lucasfilm Habitat, Club Caribe, WorldsAway and its variants and descendants, a matter of which I have some personal experience.

Sept 7: We pointed to Nicole Express’ post explaining NES Mappers!

Sept 8: A true classic of one-person gamedev tools, the Zelda Classic engine and its editor software ZQuest! It originated way back on DOS but is still being worked on today! Amazing!

Can you do it? Can you succeed at the internet’s ultimate challenge? Can you FIND THE SPAM?

Sept 9: I’ve been doing a lot of looking back on old web games personally as of late, and we look at a quick and very dry joke on the formula, probably going back to at least 1994, Find The Spam.

Sept 13: Final Fantasy IV has an unusual bug concerning how it handles doors leading into buildings that we examined, in a post on its Door Stack Glitch.

Sept 17: Sonic Retro’s guide to that series’ physics!

Sept 19: Also to do with Sonic the Hedgehog, did you know that game’s Chemical Plant Zone boss is much easier than it first seems?

GROW is GREAT!

Sept 28: Remember the GROW games, from EYEZMAZE and On?

Sundry Sunday:

Adam West in the PS1 Golden Nugget game! Crash Bandicoot commercials and live-action videos from Japan! Cutscenes from Pepsiman! Strong Bad plays DOS text adventure Vampire Castle, with illustrations made by The Cheat!

This song is an amazing earworm, even if you don’t speak Japanese at all

Josh Bycer’s indie dev posts:

Top games of Gamescom! Demo SpotlightVideo 1Video 2Video 3Video 4

Indie Showcases! 9/129/219/239/28

Zachtronic’s final game, Last CallFashion Police SquadA review of Moonlander’s Steam store pageRogue Command developer interviewGenfanad developer interview

Romhack Thursday, a new feature we began last month:

Advanced NES Rom Utility and Metroid romhack Junkoid

To find more invigorating posts, please look through our well-stocked sidebar. Many of our posts aren’t the sort to spoil, so as we put up more content, you’ll find more there to discover!

Thanks for reading Set Side B through the month of September! We will continue bringing you the most interesting finds from the Flipside of Gaming.

Sundry Sunday: Mario Twins

This one’s really going back a ways. The description on this 2012 video says it’s a Newgrounds classic, and I was not a habitué of that site then, I’m sure it goes back to at least 2005.

It is a type of meme video that long time internet layabouts will recognize the irreverent take on some property, in this case Super Mario Bros. done up in a whimsical yet somewhat profane way. The highlight of the audio, though, comes after the introduction, where performers Group X do a voiced rendition of playing Super Mario Bros., including music and sound effects, back by drum and cymbal (and, later, bass). Being a part of gamer culture from that that you can expect some coarseness (like a crude Flash animation of poop being tossed at a toilet). Some people like that kind of thing I hear, I can’t tell you why.

The attributes of early Flash animation are prominently on display, like copious use of tweens. Flash is still around as an animation tool, and I presume tweening is still available, but with the death of browser-based Flash (not counting Ruffle) recall of the unique crappiness of badly-made shape tweens is rapidly fading from internet memory.

Well, there it is. Hey, it’s Sunday, I’m not supposed to be stressing about posts made today!

Remembering Orisinal

We’ve been remembering old game sites lately, not the big ones like Newgrounds, but the little ones. Specifically, Ferry Halim’s Orisinal.

I hesitate to offer that link because everything on Orisinal is programmed in Flash, and not in way that works great with secure Flash emulator Ruffle, but the site survives today, even if it’s difficult to play anything on it. The games to the bottom of the list are more likely to work well with Ruffle.

Orisinal is a collection of very simple games with a laid-back vibe. Nothing too demanding or upsetting. Just a lot of clean and fun amusements for passing a few minutes in a pleasant way.

Bubble Bees

In internet terms, Orisinal is ancient, and the internet is not forever. Quite the opposite in fact. The oldest games on it date to around 2000. That it’s still up, even if it hasn’t seen much new content in over a decade, is a miracle. I keep harping on this I feel like, but things vanish from the internet every day, and the Wayback Machine can’t catch all of them (and itself isn’t guaranteed to not disappear someday). Enjoy it while you can.

Cats

Orisinal

Genfanad Developer Interview

For this perceptive podcast, I spoke with Andrei Krotkov who is working on the MMO Genfanad to try and bridge the gap between the live service games of today and MMOG design of the past. Due to google hangouts causing problems, my voice is not going to sound right for this cast. We spoke about the design of the game, trying to make a MMOG in 2022, and more.

Video: Its Programmer, On SNES DOOM

I’ve been doing a lot of high-effort posts lately, even for things that should be fairly quick. Working to make this more sustainable, here’s a laid-back post that’s mostly just a Youtube video of a talk between the guys of Digital Foundry and Randy Linden, coder of the SNES port of DOOM, which uses the SuperFX chip to make the hardware push polygons at a rate that, while not stellar by PCs-of-the-time standards, at least not abysmal.

Let’s run down the differences of hardware:

PC running MS-DOS: targets VGA monitors, displays all its pixels in software, but makes up for it with a minimum requirement of a 386 running (if memory holds up over nearly 30 years) at 33 mHz.

SNES: Its processor is a much slower workalike of the 65C816, a 16-bit version of the 6502, running at 3.58 mHz. While it makes up for its slower clock speed with a simpler design, meaning instructions complete generally in fewer cycles, it’s hard to make up for that 10-fold difference in speed.

Their use of specialized graphics hardware was an important advantage, at the time, of consoles over personal computer hardware. Even many standard home microcomputers, like the Commodore 64 and Atari 800, had dedicated graphics hardware that helped games run better than what most PCs could do. Even when VGA came out, the standard had no hardware-level support for scrolling or sprites.

Consider what it takes to scroll a screen without hardware support: something in the system has to be able to move every pixel from one spot on-screen to another. The NES pulls this task off by having a bank of memory that its PPU can be pointed within, meaning the memory could stay in the same place, and the graphics chip would just work from a different region within it. Sadly, this technique is not amenable to 3D graphics, which usually do require every pixel on the screen to be recalculated every frame, either in software or hardware.

The SNES is known for having a rather slow chip for its time, but more demanding games tended to make up for it with co-processor chips included on the cartridges. The most well-known of these are the DSP-1, which functioned as a math co-processor; the SA-1, which was basically a second 65C816 running at around triple the speed and with a few added features; and the SuperFX, which ran at about the SA-1’s clock speed but functioned as a graphics accelerator. (The later SuperFX 2 ran at twice that speed.)

These were far from the only add-on chips included on Super Famicom and SNES carts. Since the SNES had a much larger address space than the NES’s 6502-clone, the need for mapper chips was much less, but these co-processors were used in a number of more notable games to help it make framerate goals.

Hm. Well, I tried making it a laid-back kind of post. Ah well, back to playing Live-A-Live.

DF Retro: The Making of Doom on Super NES – The Original ‘Impossible Port’