Sundry Sunday: Very Short Pizza Tower Cartoon

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

This is a very short animation with a couple of Pizza Tower characters. It’s a mere triffle, and the joke’s pretty silly,but it’s spot on, of the game’s style, and in the appearance of an early 90s cartoon show, of the type that the game’s animation itself seeks to emulate. It’s gotten an absurd number of views, like nearly half a million, in six days. Now, maybe it will get a few more.

“Four feet! Get it? Get it??”

Pizza Tower Cartoon (Youtube, 25 seconds)

A Forum Post About the Dithering in Return of the Obra Dinn

Dithering is a method (actually, several methods) of simulating more shades or colors than the hardware is capable of, by producing an array of dots that generally match the colors. One of the qualities of the classic, original Macintosh platform, which used a black-and-white monitor, was the way that it used dithering to give the impression of grayscale shading.

Nowadays most display devices are capable of, in Mac terminology, “millions of colors.” Macs are far from the only devices to have used dithering, but it’s a quality particularly distinctive to them.

There is an excellent article, here, written for developers but clear enough that many non-coders can understand it, that explains how its done, and demonstrates many styles of dithering. Interested readers may also enjoy this article, also on dithering. These pieces, all by themselves, are enough reason to make this post, but they’re not really the things that I want to draw attention to today.

The indie hit Return of the Obra Dinn, from five years ago, is notable because it’s a 3D game, but it uses black-and-white dithering, applied in real time, to do its shading as an aesthetic choice, and the effect is striking. Not just for the dithering, but because the dithering is stable; its dots don’t jump around in a randomish manner, but tends to look like an applied texture, even though it’s generated by an algorithm. You can see for yourself in this trailer:

The cool thing is (and I think it’s linked from one of the articles I presented above), the creator of Return of the Obra Dinn, Lucas Pope, wrote about dithering in a post on TIGsource while the game was in development, and he explains the experiments he ran to get the shading to work and be stable. I recommend graphics programmers to it without hesitation, and others might find it interesting to. I know I do! Have a look!

One of Lucas Pope’s dithering experiments

Forum post describing dither experiments done for Return of the Obra Dinn (TIGsource)

Shiren the Wander 6 is Out in February!

Chunsoft has announced a new Shiren the Wanderer game, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, for Nintendo Switch, due out on February the 27th! Some of the most popular columns from @Play on GameSetWatch were the screenshotted play I demonstrated of the fan translation of Super Famicom Shiren, and if the comments on the trailer are something to be trusted, there’s still a diehard group of fans out there.

Interestingly, the theme of this one is “back to basics,” suggesting that some of the greater mutations of the more recent games, like the Night rules, equipment experience and such, will be pared back. Some of those rules I like and some I don’t, but I have said that more recent Shiren games, while fun, feel like they’re lacking something. Some of the series enhancements starting from around Shiren 4 (which never got an official English release) I have issues with, particularly, monsters always going straight through blind intersections if they have no knowledge of Shiren’s location, allowing the player to take advantage of the AI to avoid conflict; and that Shiren’s healing rate actually decreases, not just relative to maximum HP but in absolute terms, as he gains experience levels. These are relatively minor qualms though, and most players won’t even notice them.

Here is that trailer:

Some noteworthy elements are the return of Shiren’s lady friend Asuka (who despite appearances is several years older than him), and of giant-sized boss battles, possibly using some of the engine enhancements done to facilitate large Pokemon in Rescue Team DX. I also appreciate that the story appears to be a naked grab for loot! It’s always felt to me that a wanderer’s life is, or should be, a hard-scrabble existence, and while our rogueish characters may affect the fate of the world, they’re still usually in it for themselves. That way, if they fail (and they fail often), you can laugh at them more than feel sorry for them.

I keep trying to do more @Play columns but other work continues to get in the way. I have a fair number of subjects to write about now though, not the least of which being my ill-advised decision to buy the super-skeevy Omega Labyrinth Life on Switch. I feel like paying money for that might have gotten my name on a list somewhere, so I might as well get some column inches out of it!

Romhack Thursday: Doom on a Commodore 64, kinda-sorta

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

Look at that title and marvel a bit. Doom on a C64! What an idea. How could it even be possible? What an age we live in. It is a time of wonders. Children are our future.

Of course there’s more to it than that. There is a whole class of “retro” game that amounts to implementing the actual game on separate hardware, and using the supposed host platform as a glorified display and input device. That’s what’s going on in this case. Doom is really being run on a Raspberry Pi in a plug-in cartridge on a processor that’s underpowered by modern standards but far outpaces that of even Doom’s base configuration, and is thousands of times more powerful than the Commodore 64 to which it pipes its output.

But there’s still some technical interest in the means. The device that runs it is a “RAD Expansion Unit,” a DIY device that emulates a C64 RAM expansion, and apparently can even take over from the 6510 CPU and drive the system’s hardware directly. It works by writing to the VIC-II video and SID sound chips itself.

There was still a lot of coding work required to make this possible. A C64 has somewhat decent sound hardware, but the VIC-II chip has severe limitations on what it can display. The Raspberry Pi has to take the game’s display and port it, in real-time, to a graphics chip that can only display up to four colors (out of only 16) in each character cell, and that’s by sacrificing half of its horizontal resolution. Doing that on the fly itself is a noteworthy hack.

Could it be possible to run DOOM on a C64 without such assistance? At native resolution, ha ha ha: no. The memory limitations are too grievous, so at the very least you’ll need a RAM expansion.

I’ve mused at times on whether it might be possible if one uses the character screen as a kind of super-low-resolution graphics mode, each 8×8 character block representing either a 2×2 pixel grid (so, a resolution of 80×50) or a single pixel (40×25). Even at such a resolution 60 fps is probably out of the question, for it takes a lot of cycles to change every tile every frame, but maybe at 30 or 20? 15, 12, 10? (60 is divisible by a lot of numbers.) I will leave that question to people who are more current with C64 assembly coding.

Here is a demonstration video:

Doom on C64 – A playable tech demo for the RAD Expansion Unit for Commodore 64/128 (Youtube, 19 minutes) – Github repository

Super Play Magazine’s Top 100 SNES Games

Lists of the best games for various platforms has been a fixture on the internet since it was opened up to the general public. Every big gaming site, those still with us and those gone (R.I.P. Joystiq) feel the urge to make them periodically. After all, they combine several popular article themes: they’re listicles, they’re about video games, and they make definite-seeming yet inherently subjective statements about things that geeks have over-strong opinions about. They’re the ideal hit-getters for pop culture sites really, whether they focus on games or not.

Even in print, these lists weren’t rare things. Super Play Magazine, from the UK, did such a list in April of 1996, which was reproduced in HTML text by the site RVGFanatic in 2010.

Why would such a list interest us now? Well, most of these lists have a strongly US-focused vibe, and the UK had a somewhat different scene than we (me being American) did. So there are a number of very interesting games on the list that generally don’t appear in other places, including a few Japanese ones. And they included SNES Rampart, so I’m automatically kindly disposed to it.

Of particular note, besides Rampart: three Parodius entries, two Micro Machines games, Pop’n Twinbee, Cool Spot, Samurai Spirits, Hebereke’s Popoitto, Spike McFang, SNES Side Pocket, Xandra’s Big Adventure, Pugsley’s Scavanger Hunt, NFL Quarterback, World League Basketball (made by HAL!), The Chaos Engine, Street Racer, Super Smash T.V., Lemmings II: The Tribes (but not Sunsoft’s excellent SNES port of original Lemmings?!), Sensible Soccer, R-Type III, U.N. Squadron, SNES Civilization, Out To Lunch (I hadn’t even heard of this before!), Mickey’s Magical Quest, Cannon Fodder, Plok (the Pickford Bros. rule) and Equinox (also Pickford-made, and also highly underrated).

Super Play Magazine’s Top 100 SNES Video Games (RVGFanantic)

Roguelike Celebration Preview Videos

A little while ago Roguelike Celebration, this year on October 22 and 23 (later this month!), did a short preview as a promotional event. I mentioned this before, it came and went, and now the talks are online.

Nic Junius: Play as in Stage Play (38 minutes):

David Brevik on the Making of Diablo (30 minutes):

And, Aron Pietroń, Michał Ogłoziński on Against the Storm (35 minutes):

Gamebase 64 is in Trouble

According to this forum post, classic Commodore 64 database and information archive site Gamebase 64 has been stricken by the death of their webmaster Steven Feurer, and unless they can find someone to replace him soon, and likely provide alternate hosting too, their site will follow him into the Great Beyond.

As time passes, these kinds of events will happen more and more often, so please, if you maintain a website, of any kind sure but our remit is games so let’s say game-related site, please take measures to ensure its continuity in the unfortunate event of your passing. And if you can help Gamebase64 out, please consider it?

Bye, bye, Gamebase64?