I’ve mentioned Kaze Emanuar’s efforts to make the best Mario 64 there can possibly be on its native hardware. He’s compiled it with optimization flags turned on, made its platforming engine much more efficient, and worked hard to minimize cache misses, which was a major source of slowdowns in the game’s code. Under his efforts, he’s gotten the engine running at 60fps (although not yet in a playable version of the original). While these optimizations are not the kind of thing that can keep being found indefinitely, he’s bound to run out of ways to tune up the code, currently he’s still finding new ways to speed it up.
He made a Youtube video detailing his most recent optimization find: getting the game’s trigonometric functions executing at their speediest. What is interesting is that the Mario 64 code already uses a couple of tricks to get sine and cosine results in a rapid manner: the game only uses 4096 discrete angles of movement direction, and contains a lookup table that covers each of those angles. But it turns out that this optimization is actually a mis-optimization, because the RAM bus hits incurred to read the values into the cache are actually more expensive than just figuring out the values in code on the N64’s hardware!
The video starts out decently comprehensible, but eventually descends into the process of figuring out sine and cosine on the fly, and the virtues of the various ways this can be done, so you can’t be faulted for bailing before the end, possibly at the moment the dreaded words “Taylor series” are mentioned. But it’s a fairly interesting watch until then!
Satellablog is a blog dedicated to preserving content from one of the least-documented portions of Nintendo video game history, that short period in their life where they distributed software via satellite broadcast, over the St. GIGA service.
Most of this stuff only exists, maybe, in company archives deep in the halls of Nintendo, and the data from the last broadcasts saved on aging flash memory cartridges held by subscribers. It is believed that all of the dumps that have been made available have come from those cartridges, and Satellaview is dedicated to finding them and making them available.
There are a number of interesting finds in this batch, including lost Dezaemon shooters, a cut-down version of Super Famicom RTS Bounty Sword, a non-playable demo of Elfaria II. But the most surprising thing in the collection is a number of dumps of a Satellaview version of Nintendo’s website circa 1999, one of the last things they made available over Satellaview! I had no idea that the service survived that long!
Have you ever heard of Cosmic Smash? I’d be shocked if you had. It’s the kind of thing that even I only know about from obsessive reading of obscure game blogs and Youtube videos. It was a Sega arcade game that got a release for the Dreamcast right at the moment the company was getting out of the console business. It had laughably bad timing, and it never made it out of Japan.
Yet, the game has gotten a cult following. You could deride it as merely a futuristic, three-dimensional take on racquetball and Breakout, but it’s one of those games where the style makes all the difference. Here’s some footage of the Dreamcast version:
Time Extension, one of those blogs that makes good posts so often that I’m tempted to tell you to read it instead, did an article talking with the creator of a spiritual remake called C-Smash VR, released for Playstation VR2 with a license from Sega and the blessing of the game’s original creators. It’s such an obscure game that I’d be surprised if it could be profitable, but we love rooting for underdogs here, even if I have a general antipathy for VR.
The degree to which these games have been changed from the original varies tremendously, from slightly hacks to repurposings to entire other games. In ToME, Angband was used as a base that would be completely rewritten, twice, and turned into something completely separate. Many of these games could have whole articles written about them. I’ve written at least one so far, on Zangband.
Looking through the chart, one can find two great jumping-off points from Angband’s source tree. One is PC Angband 1.3.1, largely because of being the original base of Zangband, and the other is Angband 2.8.3, which was the site of legendary maintainer Ben Harrison’s great cleanup of the code, which made it much easier to create variants than it had been.
Looking at the list, one might get the impression that this list also serves as a timeline, but that would be in error. Some variants would be updated over time, bringing in features from later in Angband’s development, and this chart doesn’t reflect that, and sometimes a game wouldn’t branch off from the newest version of the code. Please keep this in mind when looking through it.
A few interesting finds from the list:
Steamband is a complete reskinning in a kind of Jules Verne pulp steampunk style. It is what we might call a literary game, taking direct inspiration from a particular corpus of stories in the same way as Call of Cthulhu or Gygax era Dungeons & Dragons. In it, you start in a town in the center of the Earth, and try to ascend to the surface. It has some interesting ideas around the theme, but I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly because of its “race” system, which is easy to perceive as actually racist. I think its intent was to present the racial attitudes of the fiction works from which it was derived, which were really terrible, but it comes across, not to mince words, as gross these days.
There are two My Little Pony variants, based off of the “G4” version of the franchise that became meme popular for about 45 minutes of web time. Ponyband, a.k.a. My Little Angband: Dungeons Are Magic, derives from the popular 2.8.3 branch; Anquestria got its basis from the later 3.2.0.
ToME, a fairly popular variant, has the distinction of not only having a living homepage, but is also available on Steam and GoG. It has a free version, but other features are available to paying players. It’s a game that’s changed a great deal over time, starting out as Tales of Middle Earth. Now, little of its Tolkien basis remains, and its name has been retconned into “Tales of Maj’Eyal,” because you gotta have an apostrophe. Its page vaguely gives it an air of being an MMORPG, but I think it’s still a strictly single-player game. It is a game that, judging from comments, there is a great deal to get stuck into, but to my eyes it has a lost the simplicity of its origin, and it’s not an easy game to pick up. It is still under development though, and that is beyond laudatory for a game of its age and lineage.
Ironband is a challenge variant, intended to make the original game even harder. An “ironman” mode, preventing the player from going upstairs, forcing them to descend ever deeper, is part of the base game now. Ironband dates back to 2012, which may be before this mode was added, although I cannot date its inclusion conclusively right now. But whether is or not, by devoting itself to this mode of play, it is free to be completely redesigned around it. So, Ironband has streamlines the game in its service, removing races and classes, and giving the player all of their options at once. After the start of the game, there are no shops at all; everything the player gains after that point must come from the dungeon floor. Because all characters can use all things, there’s much fewer completely useless items. The “stat gain floor” phenomenon, where you have to grind on certain floors to get necessary potions to improve your attributes or risk almost certain death, has also been alleviated. Because dungeon progress is one way, it refreshes the skill points that your abilities require upon entering a new level, which is an interesting play decision: if you run out of SP, you can get them back by advancing a floor, but at the cost of increasing the game’s difficulty, possibly earlier than you’d want.
Bolo is a multiplayer tank game, originally for the BBC Micro but remade for classic Macintosh computers. It was a very popular online kind of game for awhile.
It had a popular resource page on the internet, called the Bolo Home Page, made by Joseph Lo and and Chris Hwang, that began as a student project and migrated to the site lgm.com. But then that site went down, and its domain was bought by squatters. So it goes.
Well, vga256 on Mastodon has remade the Bolo Home Page out of the records kept by the Internet Archive. A site composed of hundreds of static HTML pages has risen from the ashes, all (well most) links fixed up to point internally, its content restored as much as is possible. The Internet Archive, for all its greatness, frequently misses images and even whole pages, so there are holes in its record.
Still, most of its content remains. For people who wish to learn about this classic piece of electronic entertainment, a collection of hundreds of pages awaits you!
I’ve never played Bolo myself, I don’t know much about it, but some people it seems were very enthusiastic about it. I don’t think gameplay goes obsolete, it just falls into and out of fashion. Maybe this is a sign. Maybe it’s time for the Second Age of Bolo to begin.
Painter Seap has done a number of very short Kirby cartoons that use the sound from bits of Aqua Teen Hunger Force as the soundtrack. It’s surprising how natural Master Shake’s voice seems coming from out the mouth of King Dedede! Here is a couple as embeds:
They generally do good work, although sometimes they include unexpected games in a series? As an example, their video on Forgotten 16-Bit games includes DOS and Amiga titles that are often not considered part of the bitness wars, PC Engine games that should rightfully be considered 8-bit, and even a couple of romhacks, which are a whole infested kettle. Once you start including romhacks your field has gotten large enough that you could likely never be done including things. And their monotonous vocal presentation grates quickly. Still though, they do their research, and the information is good.
Something else you’ve probably noticed from the thumbnails above is that St1ka’s not at all above focusing on female skin as clickbait, in such a way that it sometimes makes one feel vaguely creepy when loading his videos. It’s not a huge portion of the content, although the 16-bit compilation does feature as one of its subjects the Super Famicom title Princess Minerva which is a bit, as they say, sus. He admits to doing this in the Modern NES Games video, which, fair? Youtube is a content meat grinder and people try different things to be noticed. Also, the titles are a bit incendiary once in a while, in a style that many Youtubers use, and that often turns me away from a video.
Still, the amount of content that St1ka’s provides may overcome the negatives for you. He certainly cares about the subject. It’s a fun series, and it’s very likely to point you to some titles you’ve never heard of before. I leave the question of clicking through up to you.
The Modern NES Games video provides no information on where to get these titles! I believe strongly in accessible text, so here is where they can be found and what they are. If you choose to pore through this, or watch the video linked above, you’ll quickly discover that not all of these are actually “INCREDIBLE.” Blame St1ka for the discrepancy.
Gold Guardian Gun Girl – While there’s a free demo version (Pixiv registration required), the full version is only provided in physical form, where it’s fairly pricey (around $60, but currently out of stock everywhere I looked). It’s homepage is in Japanese, and has links to where they sell it (when it’s available).
Alwa’s Awakening – A highlight of the video, it’s available in many places. Its home page lists them all, usually for $10. Of particular note is Steam, Switch and itch.io. While the original is made in a retro style, the actual NES version is on Steam, GoG and itch.io, also typically for $10.
Steins Gate – Was released as an extra along with the Switch version of Stein’s Gate Elite, which is $60.*
Legends of Owlia – Home page. Was available physically, but not anymore. The rom could be downloaded officially for free, but the link’s now broken. It’s been officially delisted. There’s an unlisted demo on Steam. It’s implied that they are okay with downloading it, if you can find it. Hey makers, if you’re reading this! Throw it up on itch.io and make a few extra bucks! You could make it pay what you want! There is no shame in that.
Gaplus – St1ka misspells it as Galplus. This was included as an extra on Namco Museum Archives Volume 2, on Switch, Xbox, Playstation 5 and Steam. But the whole package is $20, which is a lot for a port of a semi-obscure arcade game. I suspect this is actually an unreleased game from the Famicom days. The Mermaid will probably cover the arcade version someday. Also, if you’re going to plunk $20 for a collection of basic NES games, get the one that contains Pac-Man Championship Edition, that one rocks.
L’abbaye Des Morts – Please don’t ask me to pronounce it. Made, andremade, for a variety of platforms. A NES port is name-your-price on itch.io.
Jim Power: The Lost Dimension – Another game with versions for several platforms. $20 on Steam will get you versions for PC, SNES and Genesis, and the NES version is coming to that eventually. It’s also on Switch, and they sell some of these versions on physical media on Limited Run Games.
Gotta Protectors: Amazon’s Running Diet – Did I post about this before? Looks like I haven’t, possibly due to the conspicuous T&A factor. (We have some pride.) This was a basic NES game released to promote the latest release (Switch) in the Gotta Protectors series, which are a fun mixture of Gauntlet and Tower Defense, made by venerable game development house Ancient. The rom for Amazon’s Running Diet is free, but the official download link is hard to spot on the Japanese page of its creator-look for the image that says “Download English Version.” They made an updated version, Amazon’s Training Road, but it was only as a physical cart, and it’s no longer for sale.
Micro Mages – Physical for $40, on Steam or itch.io for $10.
Mystic Origins – A prototype for an in-development successor, also for the NES, called Mystic Searches. Available on physical media for $50.
Almost Hero – $50 on physical media. Why are so many of these only available on cartridges? I feel like they’re severely limiting their reach. I’m sure there are warez versions out there somewhere, but I figure, if they’re going to release games for the NES in 2023 and choose to restrict their work to people with real systems, it’s up to them. But seriously, why? itch.io is easy! Sell for $5 and let people emulate it. Who’s going to warez a cheap thing?
What Remains – Name-your-price at itch.io. Bespoke physical carts are for sale for $80 on their site, but through email contact.
Reknum Souls Adventure is available on physical media only, on NES (50 Euro) and Dreamcast (20 Euro).
Larry and the Long Look for a Luscious Lover – A NES remake of the original Leisure Suit Larry. Was released on physical media, is not currently available.
* It has become my policy not to duplicate egregious stylization in the names of commercial products, on the grounds that no one has time for that shit. The official spelling of Steins Gate is Steins;Gate, yes with a semicolon, but I can’t even bring myself to camel-case Youtube, Playstation, or Nethack (despite not even being commercial) these days, so I toss that misuse right out of my grammatical window.
Matthew Green’s Press The Buttons is a gaming culture blog that predates our efforts by many years. They don’t update as obsessively frequently as we do, but the find good things!
They found a couple of commercials promoting Link’s Awakening, which turns 30 years old this year, one from Japan and one from the United States. The Japanese one is light and fun and a joy to behold. The American one, well, has rap lyrics, and is poorly lit, and is mostly a guy singing to game footage. Nothing against rap, but if there was ever a Zelda game that was less befitting the approach that commercial gives it, other than maybe Wind Waker, this one is it.
Here’s the Japanese one, which at least presents characters actually in the game:
On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
Let’s get back to talking about other Zelda games than the 800-pound, battery-powered, flame-spouting, spike-studded elephant in the room.
I make no apologies for it: I love Zelda II: The Adventure of Link! It’s second only to the original game for me, and I’ve probably played it, in its unaltered form, more than The Legend of Zelda by now. Because you can play enough of TLoZ that it becomes kind of boring, but a game of Zelda II is never a guaranteed win. There’s just enough randomness in it to mess you up once in awhile, even for speedrunners, and while you can do things to account for it, you can never completely negate it. Bots, those blue blobs that jump at you, exist to humble overconfident players. They look like weak enemies, and don’t do much damage once you have some Life levels, but there is always the chance that they’ll ding you. I love that. It has a very high skill ceiling.
Zelda II has long been regarded as the black sheep of the series, like how many Nintendo series have second installments that play with the formula. It’s the only Zelda with an experience system, it’s the only one with a separate combat screen, and it’s the only one with a system of extra lives.
It is also the only Nintendo-made Legend of Zelda game, released pre-Breath of the Wild, that has never been remade in any way! Zelda I had BS Zelda, the first Satellaview one; Link to the Past had both a Satellaview update and one for GBA; Link’s Awakening has been remade twice. Ocarina of Time has Master Quest and the 3D version, Majora’s Mask is also in 3D on the 3DS, and Wind Waker, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword all have HD revisions. That leaves Zelda II.
To further heap laurels upon it, I say it’s the Zelda with the best combat! The newly-teenaged Link has a sense of weight and inertia to him that fits swordfighting well. It works so well that it seems like an obvious thing, but the fact that so few other games do swordfighting so well proves how difficult it is to get right. Breath of the Wild and its sequel have good combat, but silver-level enemies in it are just a bit too much of a damage sponge, and appear too often in the late phases of the game.
Now I’m bending the rules a bit by including this game because it’s not a romhack, it’s a fan remake. But it looks like a romhack. And the game follows Link’s movement from the NES game very closely. If he moves any differently than he did in that outing 36 years ago, I can’t point to how. Any skills you have from playing Zelda II will transfer over exactly, which is good, because they are hard won.
Unlike A2MR, the fan recreation of Metroid II: Return of Samus that Nintendo cruelly quashed, this game has only slightly upgraded graphics, it all looking like it could have been done with the original engine. It’s not, it’s made with Unity, and it pulls out just a couple of effects it’d have been hard, if not impossible, to have done on Famicom-level hardware.
Beyond that, the game’s structure is not greatly changed. The basic map of North Hyrule is similar to the NES game. There are differences, sometimes big ones, but the game still has the same feel, enough so that people who have played a lot of it on the NES will immediately know much where to go and what to do. There’s just a new wrinkle in some places.
ZIIAOL is, I must emphasize, an even harder game than Zelda II. It’s really made for people who are familiar with the original. To pick just a few instances of its higher difficulty: you only start with three units of health and magic instead of four, you must find three Magic and Heart Containers to improve that stat, there are new subquests and places to find, and some areas are slightly randomized. (The game also has its own built-in randomizer, if you really want to mix up your game.)
Yet, of many of the enemies that had tricks to beating them, the tricks still work. I’m thinking especially of its infamous knight enemies, the Ironknuckles, which sent a generation of kids screaming away from the TV. Yet, once you know their trick, to jump and hit them high on the way down, in the helmet, they become fairly simple to beat. The same trick works here, which is a huge relief. (If only it worked in the combat Timer game on the recent Zelda Game & Watch!)
Anyway. It’s free on itch.io, and if you have any interest in the original, or NES games in general, it’s worth it to give it a shot. You’re going to die a lot, but that’s probably going to be true of the original too. But they’re fun deaths.
Why is it called by its initials, “ZIIAOL?” My guess is, it’s probably to help it stay off of Nintendo’s radar. I have used the name from their itch.io post in case it helps them in this goal.
One of the coolest graphic effects from the original Metroid Prime was dynamic lighting from some of your weapons. Not only did it look amazing to see your shots light up surfaces as they zoomed down corridors and across rooms, but they even made the game a little easier in dark places. I remember at least once using shots to help me get a read on surfaces in a pitch black area.
It was such a distinctive feature that some people were a bit upset that it wasn’t included in the recent remastered version for the Switch, especially since it was included in the remake of Metroid Prime, in the Metroid Prime Collection released for the Wii. What happened?
Youtube channel KIWI TALKZ spoke with Jack Mathews, one of the programmers of the original version, in a Youtube video, where they revealed that the beam lighting effect was designed around a specific feature of the Gamecube hardware, that made it nearly free. They theorize that it could have been included in the Switch’s version, but it would have been much more costly there, especially at its 60 fps target. The Switch was designed, either cleverly or infamously depending on your point of view, around a mobile graphics chip, that was never intended to wow with effects, even those available to 22-year-old hardware.
It is interesting though, to think there are things the Gamecube’s now-ancient 3D chips can do easily that the Switch has trouble with. Mind you, the Switch does target a much higher resolution than the Gamecube, not 1080p but still 900, which is a lot more than the Gamecube which was aimed at standard def televisions. But on the other armored hand, it has been over two decades. Ah well.
The blog Get Info reveals some facts about Sony’s original game-playing videobox that are not well known! By weight, a lot of this blog is Nintendo stuff, so it’s nice to get some stuff up here about its competitor. They’re all revelations from the book Digital Dreams: The Work of the Sony Design Center by Phil Kunkel. I have no information if he’s related to The Game Doctor from Electronic Games magazine, Bill Kunkel, who passed away in 2011.
The two most interesting facts: it was designed based on the Macintosh Plus, and its plastic case contains a bit of violet to counteract plastic discoloring over time. Oh, why couldn’t Nintendo have foreseen this with the case of the Super Nintendo, it really looks bad when its plastic changes color!
Commodore users of a certain intersection of class and age will remember the Datasette, a custom tape player that early Vic-20 and C64 users could use to load and save their programs on standard “Compact Cassettes.” This was a very slow process, that was so timing intensive that the C64 had to blank its screen during it, because its graphics chip demanded exclusive access to memory while it got the needed data each frame to render graphics. Of course things were rather different in Europe, where cassette tapes were a much more viable medium, and tape loading could actually be faster than the 1541 disk drive (a notably flawed and slow design).
Scott walks through this unique period of home computing history. I still have tapes of old Commodore software lying around (because I rarely can bring myself to throw such things out). Maybe some day, if I can get my old Commodores working and displaying again, I’ll try them out and see if they work.
But fortunately, for commercial cassette software archived on the Internet Archive, you don’t have to go through such lengths! Although you can still wait for software to load if you want to! The IA offers emulated software for both the Sinclair ZX-81 and Commodore 64 that are supplied on virtual tapes, so you too can experience the exciting process of waiting for programs to load. In Scott’s words: “Incomprehensible! Mysterious! Uninformative! Welcome to home computing in the 1980s!“
I notice that much of the Commodore 64 software mentioned in the article actually had tape loading graphics. I can’t explain this. It kind of makes me feel cheated, from the many times I sat watching a blank light-blue screen. Presumably the UK coders who made much tape-based 64 software had, in their tape-loading bag of tricks, a way to overcome the VIC-II’s timing issues. I wouldn’t doubt it.