@Play: Omega in Overview

‘@Play’ is a monthly column which discusses the history, present and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

If you missed it, you might want to start with our brief narration of the beginning of Omega.

Omega is beloved of a small but devoted cadre of players. Like Alphaman, it is a prominent early roguelike with an overworld, but unlike Alphaman the world map is the same from game to game. In this it can be recognized as a predecessor of ADOM. It is probably the classic roguelike with the most detailed and interesting town, the well-named city of Rampart.

It’s finger lickin’… um, good?

The CRPG Addict, whose Sisyphean project is to play, complete, and write about every CRPG ever made, reviewed Omega in the early going, although his victory over the game was the easiest kind of win (retirement), and he cheated by restoring save files. Although it must be said, Omega’s own help text itself suggests that players back up their saved files if they’re having trouble, and there are some things about it that almost make me want to play that way.

Omega’s sense of difficulty is a bit unusual. It is overflowing with random events, some of them you can’t do anything about, and it’s possible for those events to kill you with very little warning. But if a character can survive the early going, there are also non-random resources that a knowing player can take advantage of that can help them get a leg-up on the game. In this way it’s like NetHack, in that there are counters to randomness, and a bunch of necessary lore to discover that greatly enhances one’s chances of winning.

Much of this lore has been saved in FAQs, spoiler files, blog posts, and comment sections scattered throughout the internet. Most of these sources remain out there to find, but the nature of the web and the intervening years have made them harder to find than they once were. I’ll present a list of links you can use to find them later, but I’ll gather the most important early-game for you once we get into its gameplay.

Omega is a game that has entertained players for many years. In its heyday it was a popular topic of discussion on the Usenet group rec.games.roguelike.misc. But it does have a number of attributes that have fallen out of favor with players nowadays. I’m not even talking about the typical things one has to get used to in order to play most classic roguelikes. Omega has some particular things you’re probably just going to have to acclimate yourself to if you’re coming to it from contemporary types of computer gaming. This isn’t to seem overly critical; there are a lot of interesting adventures to be had in its world, but there is a bit of a learning curve. But let me give you a broad overview first.

The Hedge Maze of the City of Rampart

About the Game

Omega’s origin is said to extend back to the late 80s, but records on the internet extend only as far back as about 1993. It was created by Laurence Raphael Brothers while he was at Rutgers University. He passed the torch to others to maintain the game at some time before 1993, but even version 0.90.4, the most recent version of the core code of Omega, lists his name in the source code as copyright holder. Lawrence Brothers has been known to sometimes get in contact with people who write about Omega, including the CRPG Addict.

In 1993 it seems Robert Paige Rendell picked up development of Omega. Erik Max Francis currently maintains the official Omega Distribution Page. While the core game has seen no development in a long time, ports for various systems have been made, including OS/2, classic MacOS and even a Windows port with graphical tiles.

Omega doesn’t present you with a great scenario at the start of play. It is more like a general setting, in TTRPG terms a sandbox that you investigate on your own. Your explorations are mostly directionless at the start. There is a character you can turn to that can provide players with a direction for their explorations, and you can also get quests from the Duke of Rampart, but the game doesn’t point you in their direction, and nothing forces you to heed their words. Omega is more like an adventure setting than a single mission you are trying to perform.

The game world is like that of ADOM, with an overworld, a sprawling sequence of above-ground terrain, with locations in it to find and explore that are in the same places every game. It’s the contents of these locations that are randomly generated every time you play. The dungeons are generated and persist, but only if you don’t enter another dungeon; if you go into the Goblin Caves, then leave and go to the Sewers in the city, when you return to the Caves they will have been refreshed. The layout will be the same, but the map will be forgotten, and the monsters will be different. A player can take advantage of this fact.

Lions lurk outside the city gates

The other kinds of locations seem to remain the same each time, although the city of Rampart, the main urban location in the game and the place where you begin play, has mostly the same map every game, but the contents of the buildings are mixed up when the game begins, and its hedge maze area is selected from one of a number of possible layouts. Rampart is the center of the game in many ways. Most of its guilds are based there, and to advance in them and get many of their benefits you’ll have to return to haunt their doorsteps. There are other settlements in the game, but none of them are anything like Rampart. It’s a cool location. It might be the greatest city in all roguelikedom.

The Layout of Rampart

Rampart is the largest city in the game, and where your journeys begin. It’s a good place to pick up supplies, decide which guilds and religions you want to join, and get equipment.

Places in Rampart with set locations, and randomly-placed locations once you’ve discovered them, can be moved to quickly with the Automove command (Shift-M). For more information on the city and places of interest within it, I must ask that you wait until next time. Until then, why not explore on your own, and see what you can figure out? All you have to lose is maybe twenty or thirty lives.

Basic Keys

?: Help. Provides a lot of information about the game and its systems. Refer to the ‘l’ option here for more keys that aren’t listed here.

  • numpad/vi keys: walk, bump into enemies to attack them
  • numpad 5: run
  • .: Wait 10 seconds, note this is twice the length of time it takes to move a step
  • ,: Wait a specified number of minutes
  • s: Search surrounding spaces for secret doors or traps
  • i: Inventory (explained further down)
  • x: Examine something in a location in sight. (very useful for distinguishing what monster or item is on a space)
  • g: Pick something up at your feet. (Think of it as ‘g’ain)
  • e: Eat something
  • q: Drink a potion (‘q’uaff)
  • r: Read something
  • a: Zap wands and rods (think of it as ‘a’pply). Note, to be used, most items must be worn on your person. You can’t just use items out of your pack, you have to get them out first.t: Talk to someone. This is used to greet some characters and threaten monsters. Talk with and greet a horse you own to ride it.
  • f: Fire a weapon or throw an item.
  • o: Open door. (used frequently)
  • c: Close door. (used less often)
  • m: Cast a magic spell. You specify which spell you want to use by entering its name. You only have to enter as many letters as to distinguish the spell from the others you know.
  • Shift-A: Use miscellaneous items or artifacts. The item that lets you escape the Arena when you win a fight is of this type.
  • Shift-F: Change your attack routine. (‘F’ight)
  • Shift-S: Save the game (supply the filename as an argument on the command line to load the game)
  • Shift-T: Tunnel through a wall (use in moderation)
  • Shift-M: Autotravel to a known location in your current town. Places that are the same from game to game are automatically known, randomly-placed locations must have been entered at least once. As with spells, you enter the place’s name, but only have to enter as many letters to uniquely identify your destination.
  • Shift-E: Get off your horse.
  • Shift-D: Disarm a trap.
  • Shift-G: Give an item to someone.
  • Ctrl-I: Look in your pack.

On Inventory
To use most items, they can’t just be in your pack, but must be in one of your equipment slots. Your “Ready Hand” slot and your three Belt slots can hold almost anything, and are good ones to use for single-use and miscellaneous items. I like to keep food in the ‘e’ slot of my belt.

  • x: E’x’change the up-in-air item with the one (if present) in one of your inventory slots.
  • s: Show contents of your pack.
  • p: Stash the up-in-air item in your pack.
  • t: Take an item from your pack.
  • d: Drop an item from the selected slot

—–

I’ve got much more to say about Omega, but this article is already much longer than I wanted it to be! There’s so much ground to cover that I’m increasing the post frequency of @Play for a bit, so you won’t have too long to wait for the next part. In the meantime, you might find these links to be of interest….

Salt and Sacrifice is a Sidegrade Sequel

DOUBLE THE SALT

Salt and Sanctuary by Ska Studios was one of the more solid 2D attempts at making a soulslike along with metroidvania progression. While the game wasn’t perfect, the mysterious world, disturbing character designs, and challenging gameplay made it a highlight of the year. With Salt and Sacrifice, the developers have experimented in a new way that unfortunately does drag things down a bit.

Mage Madness

The story finds you in a completely new area from the original. After being imprisoned for a crime, your only options are to either rot in jail or become an inquisitor who hunts mages. Taking the latter, you head towards the land of the mages, and in typical soulslike fashion, you’re killed within 30 seconds of playing. Revived via the pact you made, your only way to get free of your pact is to find a cure and take out every mage you see along the way.

The basics of the first game are here, as you are free to customize your character from a variety of weapons and gear that can be found or crafted. The original’s massive skill tree has been expanded with more classes and options. The class and armor perks are required for you to use weapons and armor pieces of certain levels respectively. Unlike the first game, your “eastus” flask here can be upgraded via crafting as opposed to specific nodes on the tree.

Right away, a lot of the more archaic aspects of the first game are gone. The faction/idol system of the first game — where you could set up bases for different groups by using consumable items is no more. But the real twist, and major gameplay difference between the two games, come with a new focus.

Monster Mage

The first game easily fit as a metroidvania soulslike, but with Salt and Sacrifice, the developers have taken inspiration from Monster Hunter. Instead of one hugely connected world, the game is split between different self-contained zones. While there are still major upgrades that add new tech hidden throughout the world, progress is now locked via “mage doors.” To open these doors up, you need to find, kill, and consume the heart of a certain number of mages.

The mages themselves act like the monsters from Monster Hunter — they will randomly go around the area causing trouble. Each mage has a set of attacks and summons they can use. As you do damage to them, they’ll warp around until you’ve done enough damage to trigger the boss fight. Killing the mage will reward you with the heart the first time you kill them and droppable resources. Like Monster Hunter, there is a random assortment of goods that will be given, and this is a part of a greater focus on crafting.

Most of your gear will come from crafting them out of the resources from mages. Killing a mage can also reward artifacts that come in different rarities and levels. As you explore each zone, you may also come across a book that will allow you to set up repeatable hunts, but the mages will also show up randomly as you make progress.

Boss fights range from easy to incredibly annoying to fight due to the combat system

Your two forms of major progress will come from unlocking more areas and finding inquisitor tools that take the place of the brands as your metroidvania unlocks.

All this adds up to a game that feels different than the first, but Salt and Sacrifice also shows the limitations of the mechanics and not in the best way.

Ragdoll Rage

The original’s combat system was good and served the purpose given the mechanics at work. With Salt and Sacrifice and the changes made to the overall pacing, we can see some major pain points with the transition to hunts.

Stamina, which is used for attacking and defending, feels very low compared to the first. It is very easy to run out even with a few basic attacks or dodging at the start considering how much gets thrown your way. The mages themselves fight with random patterns, but said patterns are not equal. Many of them have attacks that require your full attention to dodge, and the AI has a habit of spamming this attack several times in a row — making it near impossible to dodge everything or get in for a hit.

Here’s the big point, when your character is in the air or standing, their hitbox will take every attack that connects; you are only immune to damage when you are lying on the ground. For spam attacks, if one hits you, there is a good chance the next five will hit as well. Anytime the player is knocked into the air, you cannot always air recover out of it, and more than likely, you are going to take more damage while you are helpless.

It is very easy in this game to go from full health to dead from a single attack that either stun locks you, or all the individual projectiles connect and wipe you out. Fortunately, mage health does not regenerate when you die outside of the actual boss encounters, but the rest of the enemies come back.

One thing that doesn’t come back is your resources. For this game, your healing flask and ammunition for your range weapon require you to gather resources and craft them. In the first game, your flask would also be restored back to its capacity at checkpoints. This system is an odd choice given the difficulty and how easy it is to drain them. But these decisions emphasize a point about Salt and Sacrifice’s design changes and how it is far more grinding than the first game.

Grind Souls

The first game had grinding in the traditional sense of getting enough salt to unlock levels and get upgrade materials. Here, the amount of grinding has been increased. Not only do you need to grind areas for basic resources, but you need to grind mage encounters and their spawns for upgrade materials, along with different ones for the various weapons.

While the game will track a named mage during a hunt, you cannot set it to track wandering mages while you are exploring a zone. Good luck keeping track of one if they decide to warp while they are just slightly off screen from you. This could be forgiven if not for one major problem — the game has no in-game maps or guide markers. Trying to remember where all the heart doors are becomes frustrating when you start having multiple ones at different thresholds. When you die, there is no indication where your death spot is, and if you die from a fall, the drop point shows up where you landed, not where you fell.

Each biome only has one warp point at the start of it, and you can only do leveling up and gear upgrades back at the hub. I do like the shortcuts that you can open that allow you to quickly get back to certain areas, but there is still a lot of backtracking that will need to be done.

Feeling Salty

Salt and Sacrifice despite being the sequel feels like a step back and shows the limitations of the combat system. If you haven’t played the first game yet, I easily recommend that one for your 2D soulslike fix. This isn’t a bad game, but it just feels like two steps forward and three steps back.

If you enjoyed this story, consider joining the Game-Wisdom Discord channel. It’s open to everyone.

@Play: The Alpha of Omega

‘@Play’ is a monthly column which discusses the history, present and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

This is the beginning of our exploration of classic roguelike Omega. Instead of opening with a mere explication of the game and its history, I figured I’d offer some play examples through screenshots, and give a bit of the story of my experience with it, while explaining some of the points of the game’s beginning along the way. After all, my aim is to get you interested in this game, maybe even to try it out yourself, and a mere description of it is unlikely to push you very far in that direction.

A more detailed description of the game is coming soon-tomorrow, in fact. In the meantime, this short play was under version 0.80.2, which is the current “stable” version, and has been for over 20 years. There is a newer “development” version, 0.90.4, which is almost as old.

So, I started a new game of Omega. Starting characters are rated on the traditional D&D scale of 3 to 18, though they can become higher during play. A few rerolls resulted in stats that were above average across the board. While the highest was only 16, none was beneath 12. I accepted them and named the character Rodney. (It’s a lucky name. Bad luck.)

All games of Omega begin in Rampart. The layout of the city doesn’t change generally, but the location of some businesses and places does, as does the layout of its hedge maze. Rampart is safe to rest in, unless you gain the ire of monsters in the hedge maze. They won’t come out to bother you unless you go inside and they see you.

I decided to go for a chaotic build this time, which meant not being able to avail myself of the many benefits of Paladin-hood, but allowing my character to worship Set, who grants the spell of Invisibility when joining. Invisibility is helpful for escaping inopportune battle. It also means I can go ahead and rob the ATM right away instead of waiting until after joining up with the Paladins or a lawful religion.

This is a spoiler, but it’s one of the most-used plays in Omega, and it greatly helps you get characters underway. To rob the ATM, open an account (press Shift-O while interacting with it), choose a password, then press Shift-P and enter a different password than you entered. The ATM will tell you the police have been called an to “Press space to continue.” Press any key other than space. There’ll be a little display and you’ll end up with between 1,000 and 4,000 more gold. This will break the ATM, so you can’t do it again, and give you a bit of Chaotic alignment, but it’s not much and you can get it reduced easily by talking to the Archdruid, which you should do really soon anyway.

The ATM money is important for joining one of the magic guilds and the Thieves’ Guild, which are very expensive to a starting character, and help you pick up some bargains from the city Pawn Shop. My exploration of the city found the Thieves’ Guild in the upper-right corner of the city. I joined up with three guilds: the Collegium Magii, the religion of Set, and the Thieves’ Guild.

The Pawn Shop often sells useful random items, and its stock slowly changes as time passes. In this game its starting inventory included boots of speed, a terrific item that can make the early game much easier. It also had a scroll of spells. Reading a scroll of spells provides a chance of learning a random spell, which can also greatly improve a character’s viability. Sadly, this one provided nothing.

Having higher Dexterity, I decided to go with light weapons. The choice in Omega is generally between heavy bladed and crushing weapons, which use Strength, or light and missile weapons, which rely on Dexterity. I went with an epee, costing 100 gold, which turned out to be a great choice for this character.

Rodney’s various career tracks now underway, they visited “Commandant Sonder’s Rampart-Fried Lyzzard Partes” and bought 20 buckets (it’s easy to run out of food in the wilderness), and then stepped out of town for a stroll north to see the Archdruid. A chat with the Archdruid provides 250 experience points, enough to immediately advance a character to Level 3. A Level 3 character is far from omnipotent, but won’t be in danger of being fried by a cosmic ray, which happens in Omega from time to time. You can also get your alignment neutralized somewhat there, but I was leaning into Chaoticness.

Back in Rampart. A place to get a few extra gold pieces is fighting the first opponents in the arena, which is usually pretty safe if you restrict yourself to the first four. (Note, if you join the Gladiator guild, you’ll earn more money for your fights, but will also be advanced to harder opponents!)

There’s a general sequence of events in Omega’s early game that provides for optimal play. After robbing the ATM and advancing to level 3, I usually like to tackle the hedge maze. At level 3 the opponents here are usually not too bad, although there’s always the danger of encountering something hideously strong: I once got roasted here by a fire-breathing salamander. The traps here can also be dangerous for the unwary.

One reason for exploring the hedge maze is to get access to the Oracle, who eventually provides access to an important late-game location, but also gives advice on where to go and can reveal your alignment to you. When the game asks if you want to attack them, be sure to say No! You may also find a few random items and the entrance to the Sewers, an early dungeon.

Then it’s off to the Duke of Rampart to get the first quest, which involved killing the Goblin King. The Duke will only deign speak with you if you’re at least Level 3. Outside town, the Goblin Caves must be searched for in the wilderness, with the ‘s’ key, but are always in the same place: three spaces south of the city.

Here we see the result of casting Object Detection. It’s cheap to cast, and can provide aid in determining which passages to explore in dungeons. But mana points in Omega don’t naturally regenerate over time, only from gaining an experience level or other explicit sources, and so must be guarded jealously. One of the more horrible things that can happen to a magic-using Omegan is stepping on a Manadrain Trap, which can leave you helpless. If you’re not in the Sorcerers’ Guild they charge a ton of cash to refill your mana. It’s worth looking out for powtabs in the pawn shop, which restore mana when eaten.

The Goblin Caves have a winding kind of structure, and often have copper pieces embedded in the wall. You can tear down many walls by using the Tunnel command (shift ‘T’), but this produces a pile of rubble that harms you when you wade through it, and that takes time to dig yourself out of. It’s mostly useful for getting yourself out of passages where you’re trapped by neutral NPCs who block you and refuse to get out of your way. (Or you could just kill them, if you’re of chaotic bent.)

As you gain character experience, you also advance in all the guilds you’re a member of. The guilds provide extra benefits as you gain standing with them; the Collegium Magii teaches you the Identification spell, although if you’re a member of the Thieves’ Guild, item ID is pretty cheap there.

Advancing in a religion is a good source of spells. Several of these spells came from worshiping Set. I currently know only one combat spell: Firebolt. It isn’t bad, although it’s costly to cast.

Here’s an instance of some of that bad luck I mentioned! If you fail an attack particularly badly in combat, you may drop your weapon, or it may even break! This kind of tragic happenstance is all over the place in Omega. You just have to roll with it. If all you have is your hands you’re useless in a fight with ! It can be worth it to carry a spare in your pack.

A good test of whether your character is doing well is if you can easily defeat the chieftains in the Goblin Caves. A Goblin Chieftain is fast, and hits hard with their great axes. If you’re wielding a weapon not indicated by your stats they’ll put an end to your adventure very quickly.

While Goblin Chieftains are bad, Goblin Shamans, which look identical on the screen (a green G) are even worse! They can cast a variety of annoying spells, and can poison you, give you a disease (get this cured at the Healer’s in town) or even put you to sleep. That last one nearly ended the game by itself.

There’s identification scrolls and spells in Omega, and you can pay the Thieves’ Guild to identify things you’re carrying, but there are also random scrolls that outright identify an entire category of item. These are all identified as “Jane’s Guide to Treasure,” and they’re definitely worth purchasing if you find one in the Pawn Shop.

Some traps in the dungeons are particularly nasty. Abyss Traps can teleport you to a random location, and also tack on some damage too. I already mentioned how dangerous Manadrain Traps can be to a magic user. Disintegration Traps can annihilate a piece of equipment you’re wearing. The choices are either to search every space (and even that might not be enough) or hope for the best. If your Dexterity is pretty good, it’s usually not hard to disarm known trips with Shift-D.

It was a pretty good game, but it ultimately ended at the hands of a bog thing in the wilderness. Turns out they’re pretty tough. Who knew? Omega is of the school of game that teaches primarily by killing you over and over again. Each new monster is a fresh opportunity to possibly get slaughtered because you don’t know if it’s too strong for you to tackle, or the special trick to beating it.

Maybe that’s a good indication of what playing Omega is like? I have elided a lot. Tune in tomorrow for a more traditional introduction to Omega.

Nicole Express Presents: The World’s Most Popular Arcade Board?

Awesome retro gaming blog Nicole Express wonders, what is the best-selling arcade board of all time? It’s gotta be Pac-Man, right? It sold over 100,000 units back in the day, and every Ms. Pac-Man machine contains it inside it. But Nicole offers that it may actually be a bootleg board called the 60-in-1.

Image from Nicole Express

The 60-in-1 is often recognizable by its distinctive menu system, but it can actually be set to play one of its games in a stand-alone mode, in which case its menu never appears. It’s actually an ARM board running MAME, which means its games have distinctive quirks. All the information is there, so go acquaint yourself with ubiquitous gray-market arcade hardware!

Link: The World’s Most Popular Arcade Board?

Indie Dev Showcase (6/5/22)

For this indie dev showcase, I went with some of my favorite boomer, and not so boomer, shooters that I’ve played lately.

Sundry Sunday: Eleanor Rigby/Pokemon Battle Theme Mashup

From the depths of Mastodon, in that land of elephant people, four years ago josef posted a brilliant combination of a Beatles classic with some 8-bit Pokeflair. While the video seems gone from its initial upload, he reposted it on YouTube, which is what is embedded above.

News Roundup 6/4/22

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

It’s been a couple of days! Life has been busy on our planet, it’s zoobnok season and the florbs are all bemukked. You know how that is!

Jody Macgregor at PC Gamer tells us how to play Fallout and Fallout 2 to in the modern age. I’d like to remind folk not to forget the original Wasteland!

Also at PC Gamer, Jonathan Bolding mentions that the drought of information about an update of the the remake of Warcraft 3, called Warcraft 3 Reforged, may soon come to an end. Yawn… wake me when it’s news. Jonathan reminds us that Reforged is the game with the lowest User Score on Metacritic, with a 0.6. Wow!

Kate Gray at NintendoLife, an outfit we seem to link to a lot drebnar, brings word of Twitter artist Jim’ll Paint It, who works in the medium of MS Paint, who has done a wonderful drawing of the team of British archeology show uncovering a fossilized Link from Ocarina of Time!

Also from NintendoLife (is that spelled with a space?), Thomas Whitehead tells us of a romhack of Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 on Game Boy that adds color to the game, for play on Game Boy Color systems or emulators. They offer a demo video.

And another NintendoLife article! This one’s by both Whitehead and Gavin Lane, and offers advice on preparing your 3DS and Wii U consoles for the end of official support.

TheHustle’s Mark Dent has a piece about how the first video game easter eggs were acts of corporate defiance! That’s right devs! Stick it to the gloob!

GamesRadar’s Hope Bellingham lets us know that Animal Crossing: New Horizons doesn’t support dates after the year 2060. This might sound like one of those things we don’t have to worry about, and the article takes a derisive tone to players who might still be playing that long as dictated by the Game Journalism Style Guide, but consider: people now play games that are older than 40 years, Animal Crossing has always been a game that could be played for long periods, and there are a lot more years after 2060 than before. Of course, you can always change the system clock back, if you can bear living with your system thinking it’s the year 2020 again.

And along those lines, Logan Moore at comicbook.com (is that really their name?) notes that Sony is planning on sunsetting the PS4 by 2025.

Zack Zwiezen at Kotaku mentions that the upcoming Diablo Immortal won’t be released in Belgium and the Netherlands because of gambling laws concerning loot boxes.

Arcade Donkey Kong Romhacks

The website Donkey Kong Hacks has a number of interesting modifications of the original Donkey Kong arcade game. Some of these are intended for use in training, such as Free Run Edition (which removes all the enemies and deadly obstacles) and Skipstart (begins play at maximum difficulty). There are versions that only contain randomly-selected versions of the Girders (a.k.a. Barrels) screen, versions that change the maps, and more. Some, like Donkey Kong Wizardry, change the graphics and change the cutscenes too! The Readme for the Crazy Barrels version explains how to play these hacks in emulators.

There are other fan-made hacks floating around, some available as installable kits from the site DK Remix. Deranged Edition keeps getting harder after difficulty level 5, and Remix and Christmas Remix change the game up a lot, adding alternate maps, bonus stages, and some Rivets stages that fall apart as you remove rivets.

Vision BASIC for the Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 was, for its time, quite a wonder, an inexpensive home computer with 64K of RAM and excellent for its time graphics and sound capabilities. Sadly, it came with one of the more limited versions of Microsoft BASIC out there.

Microsoft BASIC had its strengths, but many of them were not a good match for its hardware. The C64 had no commands to take advantage of any of its terrific features. To do nearly anything on the machine besides PRINTing and manipulating data, you had to refer to a small number of cryptic-yet-essential commands: POKE for putting values into arbitrary memory addresses, PEEK for reading values out of them, READ and DATA to read in lists of numbers representing machine language routines, and SYS to activate them.

And getting the values to do those things required obtaining and poring over manuals and the venerable C64 Programmer’s Reference Guide. Even then, Microsoft BASIC was notably slow, especially when doing work with numbers, due to its dogged insistence of converting all values, including integers, into floating point before doing any math on them. So while BASIC supported integers, which required less memory to store, actually slowed the machine down due to the need to convert to and from floating point whenever an operation needed to be performed on them. This doesn’t even begin to get into the many inefficiencies of being an interpreted language.

Vision BASIC, an upcoming commercial compiled language for the Commodore 64, looks to remedy many of these faults. The above video is a nearly 40-minute explainer and demonstration of the system. It requires the purchase of a memory expansion unit in order to be used on a physical machine, but it can produce executable code that can be run on a stock C64 as it came out of the box.

It’s not free, and at $59 for the basic package it may seem a little high for a system for developing software on a 40-year-old computer, but that price includes the software on floppy disk and a USB drive. It’s certainly capable, and runs much faster than many other compiled languages on the system. It’s definitely something to look into for people looking to make games on the system without digging deep into assembly, and if you have a desire to do that it has a built-in assembler for producing in-line machine code too! It is an intriguing new option for Commodore development.

Indie Store Page Review for the Last Defense

Besides reviewing indie games, I also review store pages and provide help with marketing indie games. I’m always looking for store pages to review if you would like me to check out yours, please get in touch. For this episode, this is the game The Last Defense

Kimimi: TwinBee RPG

I’m a big fan of the work of Kimimi The Game-Eating She-Monster, who regularly finds the most interesting things to write about. Where she finds the time or energy I really don’t know. Maybe she eats batteries.

Recently she wrote about the obscure Japanese-only PlayStation game TwinBee RPG, coming on the tail end of that series’ anime-infused resurgence. A bit of a synopsis may be in order. Ahem:

TwinBee began as kind of the sibling game of Gradius, and had a similar, if somewhat less prominent, development in the years following its birth. It started as a kind of clone of Namco’s Xevious, which, as Jeremy Parish reminds us, was a lot more popular, and influential, in Japan than it was here.

TwinBee brought a number of advancements over Xevious: fun cartoony graphics, catchy music, two-player simultaneous co-op play, and, a thing that was very new to video games at the time, a powerup system. Not just picking up icons to increase capability either, but a skill-based system that involved juggling Bells with your shots until they changed color. It was a kind of counterpart to Gradius‘ more strategic system, but both games let players pick which abilities they wanted without just letting them jump right to full power.

TwinBee got three sequels on Famicom, including the game’s only official release in the US (other than a couple of Wii Virtual Console releases much later), renamed to Stinger. And all was well, for a little while.

Then, Konami decided that what TwinBee needed was a reboot, long, long before such things became ubiquitous. They restaged the setting to some time after the original games, and introduced teenage cousins Light and Pastel, and the infant Mint, to be the new pilots of the TwinBee ships. They kicked off this period with the arcade game Detana! TwinBee, which ramped all of the things that were special about the original arcade game way, way up.

TwinBee is one of those hidden bits of classic Konami lore that you have to know about to understand why people are fond of that period of the company’s history. It’s a far cry from the modern-day pachinko purveyor. Particularly WinBee pilot Pastel was a very popular character at the time, spawning a mini industry of products devoted to her.

Konami experimented with a number of alternate genres for TwinBee around this time. The best-known of these in the west is probably Rainbow Bell Adventure, a Sonic-style platformer for the Super Famicom/SNES that did see release in Europe, although in a degraded form. RBA is its own kettle of worms that we’ll probably talk about some other time. What matters to us is another of these experiments, and the subject of Kimimi’s article, TwinBee RPG, a self-insert kind of game thing, along the lines of the Game Boy Grandia game, or, on television, Captain N: The Game Master in the US, or Bug tte Honey in Japan.

These are all properties where one or more audience surrogate characters are warped through their television into Video Game World, and have Adventures. Indeed, the isekai style has long been with us. (Can flat-screens can serve as portals to gameworld, or does it have to be CRTs? You should probably check your TV’s settings for portal compatibility.)

Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster: TwinBee RPG

For more info, HG101 also did a piece on this game.

Here’s an extra, the first stage music to Detana! TwinBee, in all its amazing catchiness, composed by Michiru Yamane, who also wrote the music for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night:

Indie Store Page Review of Toaster Defense

This is a store page review of the indie game Toaster Defense. If you would like me to review your store page for a future show, please reach out.