Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
I’m going to be honest, I vary in my appreciation for TerminalMontage’s gaming-related Youtube animations. Sometimes I think they’re brilliant, other times I think they really try too hard to be edgy. At their best they use the purposely-janky animation to make a point about the subject. Previously I’ve linked to their Breath of the Wild “speedrun” animation, where some of the things that would ordinarily be kind of lolrandom inclusions were actually, amazingly, references to things players do in actual speedruns.
I think the pinnacle of their output has to be their depiction of the events of The Typing of the Dead, Sega’s side-sequel to The House of the Dead 2, which took that lightgun zombie-shooting arcade game and grafted a typing trainer onto it. It was one of the most memorable game experiences I’ve ever seen, not just for the crazy premise that entirely works, not for the ludicrous power of its word list, but because the boss fights were each reworked to fit into the style, and forced players to answer questions with the keyboard, or type ludicrous sentences to try to mess them up.
There’s Something About The Typing of the Dead takes the game’s premise and reworks it as if villain Goldman was a 4chan-style vomiter of memes, right down to having an Anonymous mask, and as such makes for a more effective villain than the actual game had. The computer-synthesized voices for the characters are on a par with the terrible voice acting in the game. Most of all, I’m pleased for the unexpected use of Whomst’d’ve at the end.
Now that I’ve finally managed to squeeze this video into Sundry Sunday, I look forward to never mentioning memes here ever ever again.
It’s a quick and fun free game on itch.io! It was made for a game jam in 48 hours, with an updated build released a while after. It’s only been out for three months but it’s already become pretty popular, with its fun graphics and gameplay and appropriately frenetic music. It’s a good thing to mess around with for Spooky Month.
You’re the skeleton lord in charge of a five-level dungeon, but a knight has invaded your domain and means to destroy you! Rally your lollygagging skeleton minions, to both lead them to the safety of the downstairs and destroy as many of the gem-laden pots on each level as you can, before the knight gets to them first and smashes them to raise its experience level! If you can’t play it (that Windows thing, argh), here’s a playthrough on Youtube . (9 1/2 minutes)
You start each floor with one skeleton near the upstairs. The knight will arrive in just a few seconds, so use the mouse pointer to get it the hell away and guide it to other skeletons, who are just bumbling around having skeleton thoughts, and alert them! The skeletons with the yellow eyes are active, and will try to reach your pointer.
You’ll quickly discover that skeletons aren’t very smart (no brain, you see), and will often get caught up on walls. If the knight is close behind, you might have to abandon some. The skellies also stumble sometimes, like undead Pikmin. If you can get them to the downstairs, all of the active skeletons that touch it will leave the level and join your horde at the bottom of the dungeon, all but one. The last active skeleton cannot leave the level until all the other skeletons have evacuated and all the loot is gone.
Two things increase the knight’s level: killing skeletons and getting the gems out of smashed jars. If you can get a skeleton to run into a jar first, it’ll break and the gems inside will probably disappear before the knight can get to them! But if the knight is nearby it might grab the gems before they vanish!
The HUD has a lot of information that can help you out. The red arrow on the left side points the way to the downstairs. The left side also tells you how many loot jars and skeletons (“enemies”) are left on the level; both numbers must reach zero, either because of your actions or the knight’s, to move to the next floor. The lower-right corner has a “Knight Cam” that shows you what the knight is up to. It doesn’t tell you its location in the dungeon, but it can still be helpful in figuring out what it’s doing.
Clicking the mouse button will cause all of the active skeletons to jump, dodging any attacks the knight might make until they land again. (Be careful not to click outside the window!) The knight can attack on the move, and smashing a skeleton to bits doesn’t even slow it down. You can’t attack the Knight until the end of the dungeon, so don’t try to gang up on it. The knight also snatches up gems just by being near them, for it has one of those auto-pickup features. It sucks.
Fortunately, the knight isn’t any smarter than the skeletons, and it tends to go after the target that’s closest to it. You can even see its AI: its target path is shown onscreen as a thin line. It changes color, from white to yellow to orange, as it gets closer to whatever it wants to destroy.
If you’re having a bad game and want to start over, you can press F2 to do so. There is no “Are you sure?” prompt and it happens instantly, so be careful with that key.
The knight isn’t done until every skeleton is gone and every loot jar is smashed. It always pathfinds to the closest thing to break, so you can keep it distracted by leaving a jar in an out-of-the-way place for it to waste time running to.
You can see the knight’s level at the bottom of the screen, with a red bar indicating how close it is to gaining an experience level. Every skeleton you escape with is 10 HP off the knight at the end. If you can get to the end with the knight at level 9 or less you have a good chance of winning.
Nethack uses the system time-of-day clock to affect the game in modest ways. It figures out the phase of the moon, and if it’s a full moon the player’s “base luck,” the number at which it starts and tends to trend towards, is +1. Luck affects the game in many minor ways, most notably affecting the to-hit chances of striking monsters. Full moons also affect werecreatures and the chances to tame dogs, but those effects are highly situational.
Playing on a new moon has one effect, but it’s a big one. If you’re fighting a cockatrice and you hear its hissing, and are not carrying a lizard corpse, then you always begin turning to stone, instead of there only being a one-in-ten chance. This is what is called a “delayed instadeath”: you don’t die immediately, but if you don’t take immediate action it’ll happen in the next few turns. That’s the next few turns from the game’s perspective: various events may conspire to prevent you from getting that action at all. (The Nethack Wiki’s page on petrification is instructive.)
If you do get the turn, one of the things you can do is eat a lizard corpse, or that of another acidic monster. (Eating dead monsters raw is something you just end up doing often in Nethack.) If those aren’t at hand, what usually works is prayer, provided that you haven’t prayed too recently, your patron god is not angry with you and you’re not in Gehennom. Ordinarily, if you haven’t been playing badly, your god isn’t mad at you. If you’re in Gehennom you’re in the late game anyway, and probably have had ample opportunity to obtain one of the several ways of halting impending calcification.
Prayer is nearly a universal panacea, if it’s available. But there is one other thing that can block prayer: if your luck is negative. Even if it’s by just one point, prayer will never work.
That’s where the only other date effect in Nethack comes into play: on Friday the 13th, your luck defaults to -1, the opposite of the full moon effect. So, unless you’ve increased your luck by one of a number of means, prayer will never work on Friday the 13th. And today is both a new moon night and Friday the 13th. Other uses for prayer won’t work either: if you’re weak from hunger? Too bad. Low on hit points? Sorry. Punished with a ball and chain? Not going to work. Wearing cursed levitation boots? LOL.
Days that both have a new moon and are a Friday the 13th are rare. The last one was in July of 2018, before that November of 2015, and the one before that was in 1999. So, um, if you’ve been thinking about trying out this weird old roguelike game you’ve heard about, you might want to wait a bit. Until tomorrow, anyway.
On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
It’s another video! And it’s Nintendo related! I bet you’re just thrilled!
This is one, however, is far from something the Big N would approve of. Snooplax goes into great detail in explaining the history of hacking Super Mario 64, the first 3D game to really have a substantial hacking scene–I don’t count things like DOOM, since to a degree it was made to be extensible. Nintendo never dreamed that people would do the things to the Mario 64 engine that they have, which has included optimizing it to the extent that it can run at 60 fps on original hardware!
Seeing all these hacks together in one video is rather inspiring. There’s been not one, but at least three, major Super Mario 64 level editors, with different degrees of flexibility and detail. What enthusiasts have done with the engine over the years is surprising, and there’s no end in sight, so please enjoy this look back at this prolific scene.
Let’s get the video embed out of the way first. Pow!
Super Mario Bros. 3 has two significant minigames (outside of two-player mode), and the inner workings of both are explained in this video.
In most worlds there are “Space Panels,” which provide a slot machine minigame for extra lives. If you’ve ever tried them, you might have noticed that it’s extremely difficult to win anything at it. Well, the video explains why that is: there’s a significant random element to stopping the wheels. In particular, the last wheel has so much randomness in when it actually stops that it’s actually completely random what it’ll stop on! So much for timing!
I have a theory (which I explain in a comment on that video) that the slot machine game was made so random because of the quality of the reward (it’s possible to earn up to five extra lives at it), and because they had played around with life-granting minigames before. Doki Doki Panic, which got reskinned for overseas markets at Super Mario Bros. 2, has a slot machine game, “Bonus Chance,” that appears after every level. With good timing and practice Bonus Chance can be mastered, earning up to five extra lives for every coin plucked in the level. I have managed to abuse that game to earn so many extra lives that the game ran out of numbers for the tens’ digit of the life counter, sending it into letters of the alphabet. There’s certainly no danger of that in Super Mario Bros. 3.
The second minigame has the player match cards from a grid of 24. Each pair of cards found earns a modest prize, from as little as 10 coins up to a single extra life. Most of the awards are powerups for the player’s inventory. The player gets two tries, but if they don’t clear the board it’ll carry over to the next time they play. Attempts at the card matching board appear every 80,000 points the player earns, making it the only Super Mario game to actually reward scoring lots of points.
The card matching game is one of the most interesting minigames in all of the Mario series. There’s only eight layouts for the cards, the second and fifth cards of the middle row are frequently both the 1UP card, and the last three cards on the bottom row are always Mushroom, Flower and Star, in that order. This means the minigame can be mastered, and even if you don’t memorize all eight layouts to deduce where the prizes are, knowing the three cards that never change usually means it won’t take more than two or three attempts to clear the board, netting lots of powerups.
Retro Game Mechanics Explained looks into why the card matching game works the way it does, and discovered some interesting things. There’s actually code in the game to do a much more thorough randomization of the cards, but it goes unutilized. The full details are in the video, but in summary:
The board always begins in the same state,
the last three cards on the bottom row are left unchanged, probably on purpose,
the first way the other cards are scrambled shifts them one space in sequence, and is only done one or three times, three times in total,
and the other method of scrambling them, which involves swapping around three specific cards, is done exactly once between each shift.
The only variation in the steps is from the choice of whether to shift once or thrice, each of those three times. Thus, there are only 23 possible layouts, that is, 8. There is a loop in there to potentially vary the number of times the cards are swapped (the second way to scramble the cards), but the way it’s written the loop is never used, and the cards are swapped only once each time.
What I also find interesting is, this isn’t the only Nintendo to use a minigame that involves mixing up hidden prizes. Kid Icarus’ Treasure Rooms also have a limited number of layouts, which vary for each of the game’s three worlds. The player can open pots in the room to collect minor items, but if they open the wrong pot early, before opening all the others, they find the God of Poverty, and lose everything they’ve found. If they can save that pot for last, though, the final pot will instead contain a pretty good prize, which can even be a Credit Card item that cannot be obtained otherwise.
The way they’re designed, both Mario 3’s card-matching game and Kid Icarus’s Treasure Rooms have tells, specific spots that can be revealed to identify which of the limited number of boards that version of the game is using, and that the player can use to get all the prizes. Also, there are Nintendo-published guides that reveal all the layouts, in Nintendo Power for Kid Icarus (recounted on this charmingly old-school webpage), and the Nintendo Power guide for Super Mario Bros. 3 (on page 10), so Nintendo had to have been aware of the limited nature of the board layouts, and may have actually intended them to be defeated with a good strategy.
It’s been making the rounds, but I feel it’s worth echoing. When the DS and Wii online servers shut down, it was forced because Nintendo’s partner who maintained the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection Servers decided they didn’t want to do that any more. This is Nintendo’s own decision here.
The big game affected here is the first Splatoon, which still has, for now, free online play with the purchase of the game. Also affected will be Mario Kart 7 and Animal Crossing New Leaf for 3DS.
There will be some who will shrug over this, saying Nintendo shouldn’t be expected to run these services indefinitely. Sometimes they will shrug quite loudly. I am not one of them. I think online servers should be kept going for much longer than most companies run them. I think this should be considered part of the contract they entered into when they sold the game. It is true that 3DS and WiiU games had free online server access, that Nintendo’s multiplayer subscription service began with the Switch. But I still think the way I do, and I also think it’s foolish to think that, just because it’s a paid service, that Switch servers will be kept running for any longer than the 3DS and WiiU servers were.
My concern is an issue of software preservation. These kinds of games and services are in danger of being outright lost in their current form, like many MMORPGs, and iOS and Android games for previous versions of those OSes. I feel very strongly that this software should be remembered and made available for future generations. It’s true that there are efforts to reverse engineer these kinds of services, but there is no guarantee that they will be completely accurate, or even successful at all, especially if they rely on secret algorithms and information housed on the official servers.
Ah well. Get in those free splatmatches while you can. Their days are numbered.
Falcom is possibly the greatest Japanese game publisher that’s barely known in the US. Recently Ys sequels have changed this a bit, but their earlier titles are still a hole in the knowledge of even some Western RPG fanatics. At least, I never had much of a chance to learn about them, other than through Hardcore Gaming 101’s as-usual excellent descriptions of the Dragon Slayer series.
Xanadu is a Dragon Slayer game. It’s actually Dragon Slayer II, but it plays nothing like the original. Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family, is one of the very few Dragon Slayer titles to get a release over the geographic and cultural divide, as Legacy of the Wizard on NES. It doesn’t play like the other games either. It was a tradition to make every Dragon Slayer game play very unlike the others. The way I see it, the series was as much about coming up with a new system to explore and master as it was about having new scenarios and locations.
Xanadu is also a ridiculously obtuse game, which is in keeping with the original. Lots of the Dragon Slayer line expected you to do obtuse things, things not explained to you, to proceed. I’ve played through Legacy of the Wizard, and can verify that it was hard, but compared to Xanadu it seems like a model of straightforward play. In Xanadu, right near the start, there is a place where you fall down a hole, walk left five steps, then double-back right to scroll a secret shop onto the screen, the only place in the entire game where you can buy and sell magic items. Its inventory system doesn’t use words, it’s just a sequence of numbers, indicating quantities, and you’re just supposed to know the order of the items they represent.
Xanadu, like some other prominent RPGs, is secretly about resource management. Each monster you find on the world map screens (which are side-view!) can only be defeated and looted a limited number of times. If you run them out, and are left without the items needed to finish the game, you’re just stuck. You can also get stuck in some areas if you just move the wrong direction. You can save and load the game, but doing so carries costs in gold pieces! The only way to escape this temporal-economic trap is to make a backup of your game disk, and restore your copy from it. I like this idea, I’ve always found the grind-until-you-win nature of many present-day RPGs a bit unappealing. I kind of wish more games now would take inspiration from some of these early efforts, where each game could have a radically different play style, and require the player apply some real strategy to win, but maybe without being quite so user-hostile.
Youtube channel Basement Brothers made a nice retrospective of Xanadu, and managed to complete the whole game, although by following a video walkthrough. It’s an essential window into a whole universe of RPGs we were denied at the time.