Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
I’ll admit it, there’s this cable that goes into my brain directly from Youtube, and I use it to cut the number of game-related things I have to post daily on this site by a full seventh. I know you all suspected it, I’m just confirmin’ it. I’m like a vermin, for confirmin’. I’m a squirmin’ vermin for confirmin’! In German! No, no let’s not write Shecks my language skills cannot kassieren.
Record scratch you know who does fun cartoons sometimes? Doobus Goobus. Like that other person, Pringus McDingus. I’d understand if you mixed them up from their names. But DooGoo posts more often, and longer things! Just a little less polished. Pringus has a really appealing art style, while Doobus traffics in the internet’s default art style: purposefully ugly. Nothing against that as a style, just calling a misshappen spade that thing that it is.
The requisite preamble now complete, please enjoy five Sonic the Hedgehog characters using profanity at each other in an entertaining manner.
The New York Times doesn’t add new games to its stable, alongside the daily crossword puzzle and Wordle, often. Spelling Bee is one I enjoy a fair bit when I think to look at it.
A newcomer to their game collection that’s in beta testing that seems interesting is Connections. It’s not a word game, at least not in the sense that a game involving manipulating letters is. It’s more a game of categorizing.
You’ve given a field of sixteen cells in a grid, each containing a word. The words relate to each other in four distinct groups, each containing four of the words. They’re all scrambled up so their positions in the grid don’t relate to their connections. To solve the puzzle, you must figure out which words connect with each other.
To help you, if you manage to pick four words that belong together and click the Submit button, the answer will be confirmed and the category identified, and the words will be removed from the grid, leaving only the words yet to be sorted, making it easier to deduce the remaining categories.
In the first puzzle I did, the words, mixed up here to preserve for you the opportunity to do it yourself, were:
OKLAHOMA HIP PACKER THEM
COWBOY ELBOW SPIRAL WRIST
AIRPLANE RAVEN MOTHER SHOULDER
SHELL KNEE BOWTIE BRONCO
There is only one solution to each puzzle, where every category has four members. Following is the solution and one way to arrive at it, so skip past this paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled:
NFL players: BRONCO, COWBOY, PACKER, RAVEN
Pasta shapes: BOWTIE, ELBOW, SHELL, SPIRAL
Joints: HIP, KNEE, SHOULDER, WRIST
Movies with “!”: AIRPLANE, OKLAHOMA, MOTHER, THEM
The categories seem to be chosen so that some of the words could possibly be part of more than one, so you’ll have to use the fact that each only contains four to narrow them down. In this case, ELBOW is a joint and a pasta shape, but there are four other joints and only three pastas. If you don’t categorize clearly, you might figure that OKLAHOMA might fit in with the NFL players, but Oklahoma doesn’t have an NFL team, and anyway the category is composed of singular versions of sports team names that are plurals, and OKLAHOMA doesn’t fit that pattern. The hardest category here is Movies With “!”, which is very hard to get without eliminating the other categories first. This is what makes it a proper puzzle: solving one part of it helps narrow down the rest. If you got the other three categories correct first, the remaining one is handed to you. I got this one by first picking out the NFL players, which is pretty simple as there aren’t many ways to use the word BRONCO; then the pasta shapes; then from what remained the joints; then I was left with the movie titles with exclamation points.
If it’s like the others, the NYT will be making a new Connections puzzle available daily. I look forward to trying out more of them.
Connections (New York Times link, a subscription is probably necessary to play, alas)
Goblin Bet is a website that presents an endless sequence of D&D 5th edition monsters fighting each other one-on-one. You bet pretend gold pieces on the outcome. Like the similar-in-concept Salty Bet, none of the money is real, you can’t pay for extra currency and it can’t be exchanged for anything. In fact, the game won’t let you drop below 50 gold, so you might as well bet all-in if you get to that point.
The game follows a rough tournament structure. It starts with eight low CR creatures 1/8th to 1/4th, that fight each other in a branching kind of format. (There is nowhere to view the bracket, this has been determined largely through observation.) The winner gets to advance to the 1/2 CR round, where it might die quickly, but it might not. Most monsters are granted one added advantage randomly from a variety, and some of them are pretty powerful.
The brackets continue: 1 CR, 2 CR, 3 CR, and up and up, until around the 16 CR range. The higher the Challenge Ratings, the harder it is to figure out the winner of each match. A few abilities, in the combat system the site uses, are ludicrously powerful. We watched a Giant Crab stop over two complete brackets, at one point taking out a lion, because it had an ability, Stong Grappler, that was basically inescapable, so once its opponent was grappled, it just got advantage on all its attacks, and the opponent had disadvantage. In 5th edition D&D terms, “advantage” means, when you roll, roll two dice, and use whichever value is higher, and “disadvantage” means roll two dice and take the lower value. It’s a huge factor.
A lot of the fight outcomes come down to things like this, which you have to pick up by watching many matches. Flight, to give another example, is pretty strong, because it lets a creature keep attacking and retreating, forcing opponents without missile attacks to sprint sometimes to keep up, wasting turns. Often there will be fights where the outcome will be decided by whoever rolls better; it’s best to save your pretend money when that happens, and wait until there’s a fight with a clearer outcome.
It’s surprisingly addictive, and there’s an included chat that’s often pretty entertaining. I’ve enjoyed it anyway.
Last year we put a spotlight on a Commodore 64 remake of possibly the most popular Odyssey2 game, K.C. Munchkin. Well, here’s another, of Space Monster, a.k.a. Alien Invaders – Plus! I assure you, the exclamation point there belongs to Magnavox.
The Odyssey has gotten more talk on this site than its much-more-powerful successor, which was still kinda weak compared to its competition. People still talk about the Atari VCS/2600 even now 45 years after its introduction; the Intellivision still gets some love; but who talks about the third place system, the Odyssey2? Fourth if you count the Colecovision, but that machine, released in August 1982, was only on the scene for a relative instant, the Crash already fomenting by that time.
Alien Invaders – Plus (I’m going to leave off the bang now thanks) was Magnavox’s attempt to capitalize on the gigantic success of Space Invaders. The box didn’t hide its inspiration, outright saying: A fiendish new dimension comes to one of the most popular arcade games of all time! By that time, the market had already determined that Atari’s miraculous licensed version of Space Invaders was probably the best, a game that, while subtly different, actually improved on the original in some ways. Similarly, while everyone now can play the original Space Invaders in MAME if they’re inclined, Alien Invaders – Plus (which Craig Kubey in The Winner’s Book of Video Games derided as Space Invaders – Minus!) is more interesting for the interesting departures from the arcade game, and the Commodore 64 remake mimics them faithfully.
At first it looks vaguely similar to Taito’s arcade hit. There’s rows of aliens in the sky, there’s a roundish alien going back and forth above them, you have a base at the bottom that can move back and forth and shoot up at the enemy, and there’s even shields above it that can be dodged behind for safety.
The first difference comes from the aliens themselves. In Space Invaders, while they looked different and were worth different amounts of points, they all behaved exactly the same. Here, each of the three rows of foes plays by different rules. The bottom-most are just barriers, they can’t be destroyed but they don’t shoot at you either. Any shot that hopes to hit targets higher up on the screen must get through them. The middle row are yellow laser cannons, and they shoot down at you. The top row are red humanoid robots that operate the cannons. The wandering eye-like alien at the top is called the “Merciless Monstroth,” but I’m sure its mother loves it just the same.
Like Space Invaders, the alien formation rains down bombs on you, and it’s easy to get hit. Unlike Space Invaders, there’s a limit to how far the aliens can descend, right above the shields, and you’ve never in danger of being overrun. If you wait beneath a shield you cannot be shot, but neither can you shoot the enemies. Also, in each row, all you have to do is hit either the robot or the cannon in order to stop them from shooting down at you.
To finish a level, you have to shoot all the robots and cannons on the screen. This will cause the Merciless Monstroth to get serious about you, swoop down from the top of the screen and hover just above your shields, trying to bomb you. At that range dodging its shots is very difficult, and it’s evasive of your shots, but you can still zap it safely with a well-timed shot as it reaches your base’s horizontal position.
Your reward for doing all of that is one single point. Your score is just how many boards you’ve cleared. No bonus points or anything like that are awarded.
If your ship gets hit you don’t perish immediately. A little person is revealed to have been moving it. If you can move it to beneath one of your shields and press the fire button, you’ll be given a new base! This, however, costs you that shield. The shields are basically your lives; if you run out of them, and your base gets destroyed again leaving your guy, then you’re essentially screwed. Your little base-inhabiting person has no weapons of their own. If you get down to no shields left before destroying all the aliens, M.M. will sense its opportunity and swoop down at you early. Destroying it at this time, or while its at the top of the screen, before all the other aliens are obliterated doesn’t clear the wave; the game will just send another one out, again and again, until you’ve finished the job.
If your base person is shot while outside of a base, you don’t quite die. Instead, the enemy gets a point. While you’re trying to get to ten points yourself, the enemy is also trying to get to 10, and the side that gets there first “wins the game.”
Despite all the chances the game gives you, it’s really hard! You’ll find the green circles block most of your shots, and the cannons are really good at predicting where you’ll be and aiming a shot there, and the enemy shots move quickly. Since reforming your base costs you the shield you’re beneath, often you’ll get your base back and lose it again immediately as the barrier disappears.
The Commodore version was created by demo group Second Dimension. It’s worth playing in preference to the Odyssey2 version if only because C64 emulation is understood than Odyssey2 emulation. There’s multiple Commodore emulators, at least, while only one Odyssey2 emulator that I know of.
Here is the Commodore 64 version is action, from the channel C64 Masters on Youtube.
This is just to remind people that the (extended) deadline for Roguelike Celebration 2023 is coming up on us very soon, July 15th! If you have an interesting story to tell about roguelikes, a roguelike game to show off, or even just something involving procedural generation, please consider giving them a pitch! The conference has been virtual the past few years, and it is again this year, so you can stream your talk from wherever you live!
I’ve presented twice, may do so again this year although frankly my talks have always run over, I always have so much to say and the time is over before I’ve even gotten to a literal tenth of it. They do a lot to keep roguelikes in the public mindspace. If you have something to say there, I hope you’ll consider applying.
Owner of Game Wisdom with more than a decade of experience writing and talking about game design and the industry. I’m also the author of the “Game Design Deep Dive” series and “20 Essential Games to Study”
Displaced Gamers‘ Behind the Code series doesn’t get new videos often, but they’re always great. This one is more technical than usual, but I don’t think it’s really all that technical. It’s about how the NES processes and renders its sprites, particularly explains why there’s a eight sprite per scanline limit, and even reveals a couple of games that use that limit to produce special effects!
The gist: while each scanline is being prepared for display, the NES’ PPU looks through the entries for the machine’s 64 hardware sprites in order, finds the first eight that will display on the current line, and copies their attribute data to a small area of internal RAM. There is only space there for eight sprites, so, the NES cannot display more than eight sprites in a single scan line. Any later sprites in the primary attribute data won’t have room to be copied, and so the PPU won’t be able to display them.
One thing it notably doesn’t cover, however, is how games implement priority shuffling to cause sprites to flicker instead of not display at all. The video suggests that that might be coming in a future video….
Time Extension has come up here a lot lately, hasn’t it? It’s because they so often do interesting articles! This one’s about the propensity of Japanese games to use medieval European game worlds, the kinds with a generally agrarian society, royalty, knights, and their folklore counterparts elves, dwarves, fairies, gnomes and associated concepts.
They often fudge the exact age they’re trying to depict, with genuine medieval institutions sitting beside Renaissance improvements like taverns and shops. Nearly of them also put in magic in a general D&D kind of way, sometimes institutionalizing it into a Harry Potter-style educational system.
Notably, they usually choose the positive aspects of that setting. The king is usually a benevolent ruler. It’s rare that serfdom and plagues come up. The general populace is usually okay with being bound to the land. The Church, when it exists, is sometimes allowed to be evil, in order to give the player a plot road to fighting God at the end.
Hyrule of the Zelda games is likely the most universally-known of these realms, which I once called Generic Fantasylands. The various kingdoms of the Dragon Quest games also nicely fit the bill. Final Fantasy games were among the first to question those tropes, presenting evil empire kingdoms as early at the second game.
John Szczepaniak’s article at Time Extension dives into the question by interviewing a number of relevant Japanese and US figures and developers, including former Squaresoft translator Ted Woolsey. I think the most insightful comments are from Hiromasa Iwasaki, programmer of Ys I and II, who notes that this Japanese conception of a fantasy world mostly comes from movies and the early computer RPGs Wizardry and Ultima, that the literature that inspired Gary Gygax to create Dungeons & Dragons (which in turned inspired Wizardry and Ultima), especially Lord of the Rings and Weird Tales, were generally unknown to Japanese popular culture. Developer Rica Matsumura notices, also, that there is a cool factor in Japan to European folklore that doesn’t apply, over there, to Japanese folklore.
It’s a great read, that says a number of things well that have been bubbling up in the back of my head for a long time, especially that JRPGs recreated both RPG mechanics and fantasy tropes at a remove, that they got their ideas second hand and, in a way similar to how a bunch of gaming tables recreated Dungeons & Dragons in their own image to fill in gaps left in Gary Gygax’s early rulebooks, so too did they make their versions of RPGs to elaborate upon the ideas of Wizardry and Ultima without having seen their bases.
Reddit has been severely wounded. I’m sure it’ll keep going for a while, there’s still a lot of people who use it, but it no longer feels like an unalloyed good, it’s obvious that its owners care more about profits than their unpaid mod staff, and a lot of the best users, the ones who produce the really interesting posts and comments, are leaving for other climes.
And… I’m glad. Even though I used Reddit, and Twitter too, I felt bad for doing so. Single websites should not be such a large part of the internet. These are ultimately reimplementations of older ideas of course, community discussion sites go all the way back to Usenet, which predates the World Wide Web by nearly a decade. The main reason anyone cares about them is that there’s already lots of people there, and their value grows as more people are involved with them.
Anything that breaks the hold of bigcorps over substantial pieces of the internet is a positive thing, IMO. All those people who are leaving Twitter for Bluesky or Threads, I feel like I need to warn them, it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be put back into this situation again, no internet site of service run by venture capital, or put under the gun by shareholders and “fiduciary duty,” can escape being ruined. It is an impossibility, the drive for ever-greater profits will inevitably ruin them. This ends the editorial portion of this post.
The most promising alternative to corporate ownership and control at the moment is the “Fediverse,” a collection of sites that all talk to each other and interoperate. Whether it’ll be the solution to the capitalist internet remains to be seen, there’s lots of challenges ahead for them, but one small current win is a post on lemmy.world’s Games board, asking users for their favorite obscure games. It’s got rather a lot of comments of people, all reminiscing about their favorites. It’s worth a good look, for you’re both certain to find people who love the same neglected titles that you do, and a whole bunch of games to investigate that you’ve never heard of before. It’s a marvel.