Sundry Sunday: The Soundtrack to Black Knight 2000 and Sword of Rage

There are three Black Knight pinball tables: Black Knight, Black Knight 2000 and the recent Black Knight: Sword of Rage. The first came from before music was regularly featured in pinball, but the latter two have amazing music. My favorite is the music in the second, by Dan Forden & Brian Schmidt, possibly the most epic metal sound track in electronic gaming history. That is not thoughtless hyperbole! Listen to it below! “You can do it you can do it!” There’s something about FM synthesis that lends itself to simulating electric guitar really really well!

This is a playlist of the 17 tracks from the game. If the voice of the Black Knight sounds familiar, I think he’s also the voice of the Mutoid Man from Smash T.V (“NO WAY! HUH-HA-HA!”) and designer of all three Black Knight tables, Steve Ritchie.

There is something about pinball that lends itself so very well to metal, and to characters like the Black Knight. Video games can be defeated and mastered in ways that pinball, real pinball, cannot, and that recognition mixes with, enhances, the Knight’s character.

Here’s a game on an actual table that demonstrates how the music comes together in play (12 minutes):

Black Knight: Sword of Rage also has an epic soundtrack, performed by Scott Ian of Anthrax and Brendan Small of Metalocalypse/Deathklok (oh, and Home Movies):

I think 2000 has the edge over it though? What do you think? This is not intended as a comment prompt (I hate those), but it’d be nice to get people’s thoughts!

A Double Review of Solar Ash and It’s a Wrap

This is a double indie game review of two different kinds of platforming with Solar Ash and It’s a Wrap, played with a retail key and press key respectively.

0:00 Intro
00:17 Solar Ash
5:34 It’s a Wrap

Apple’s Untaken Path

EDIT: I got the name of the chip wrong, as xot pointed out in a comment. I knew the right now but I always get it mixed up. Corrections have been made, here is xot’s comment:

“The 65C02 is a low-power CMOS variant of the venerable 8-bit 6502 with minimal extra abilities. The 6502 successor used in the Apple IIGS is the 16-bit 65C816. It was designed by Western Design Center in collaboration with Apple, Inc. The story that Steve Jobs held back the IIGS in favor of the Mac is popular because it perpetuates Jobs’ mythic status of being a petty, conniving villain … but it isn’t true. The Apple IIGS was created atop a heap of questionable design decisions. No one decision doomed it but its CPU absolutely held it back. The very boring truth is that WDC could not reliably supply ‘816 processors at the speeds they promised (up to 14 MHz). The IIGS is limited to 2.8 MHz because Apple needed a stable product, which unfortunately was way slower than it should have been.”

Some of this slightly contradicts what was said in the video, but not that far. Whether Steve Jobs was petty and conniving or not I will leave to the ages, at least for now.

It had Apple’s first color point-and-click interface, and it ran on a 65C816.

It was the Apple IIGS. It was released two years after the original Macintosh, three after the Lisa, and it worked surprisingly well. It came with 256KB of memory stock but could be gotten with a whole megabyte, and could be expanded to up with 8 MB–in 1986! It supported hard drives and devices could be attached to it via the Apple Desktop Bus. It ran at less than 3MhZ, but its processor was capable of going much faster, with the rumor being that it was a decision of Steve Jobs to limit its processor so it wouldn’t steal the Macintosh’s thunder. (Jobs had been forced out of the company by the time the GS was released, but these decisions are not so easily reversed?)

What’s more the Apple IIGS was made to compete with the Amiga, and so it had considerable audio-visual advantages over the black-and-white Macintosh. 4096 colors and a sound chip designed by the people who had created the SID. And while it had a mode that made it compatible with Apple II software, it used an OS that looked and worked a whole lot like a Macintosh. It was surprisingly capable as a gaming machine; it took a long time, but in 1997 an Apple IIGS version of Wolfenstein 3D was made, although running at a pretty low frame rate:

The 65C816, a 16-bit version of the classic 6502, was used in a number of platforms but ultimately didn’t have the reach of its predecessor. But if Apple had thrown more weight behind the GS, we could well be living in a world where 6502 variants still saw use outside of embedded and hobbyist systems, instead of the Intel and ARM chips that dominate the market today.

I’m thinking along these lines because Vintage Geek made a video about the GS’s virtues, and it’s interesting to speculate about. It really was a kind of wonder machine, and the last gasp of the Apple II line. Here it is (15 minutes):

The IIGS: Apple of Macintosh? (youtube, Vintage Geek, 15 minutes)

U Can Beat Video Games Video Directory

We’ve linked the Youtube channel of U Can Beat Video Games repeatedly in the past, most recently for their sprawling guide to Final Fantasy II(IV). Yet they keep making new videos. Just a few days ago they did a video on all of of Book I of Ys for the TurboGrafx 16/PC Engine, with one on Book II promised soon. And since they post (usually) weekly, if I did a post here every time they released a video, it’d become one-seventh of our posts!

Here is the video on Ys Book I, it’s 2 hours and 2 minutes:

And here is a directory of every game video U Can Beat Video Games has put up to date. I haven’t inlined the videos because there’s over a hundred!









  • Final Fantasy (NES)
    Part 1 (2h59m) – Part 2 (3h38m)
  • Final Fantasy Adventure (Gameboy)
    Part 1 (1h37m) – Part 2 (2h57m)
  • Final Fantasy IV (II in its original US release) (SNES)
    Part 1 (3h44m) – Part 2 (4h8m) – Part 3 (4h17m) – Part 4 (3h36m)




BEAT-EM-UPs (“belt scrollers”)










Bucky O’Hare (NES, 1h6m)
The Lone Ranger (NES, 1h57m)
The Adventures of Bayou Billy (NES, 56m)
Jackal (NES, 44m)
The Goonies II (NES, 48m)


MEGA MAN (a.k.a. RockMan)

GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS (a.k.a. Makaimura)

















EXTRA: Top Ten NES Missed Secrets (17m)

Home Computer Graphic Character Sets Compared

8-bit microcomputer graphics were, compared to the graphics cards and chips we mostly use today, pretty limited. While machines like the Commodore 64 and Atari 800 allowed for a fully programmable display, not all devices of the age provided for that.

One solution was what I am told is now called semigraphics, which means using generic characters that are pre-defined by the system in combination with each other, piecing together larger images from symbolic building blocks.

ASCII Art, that fading art form created to make imagines on terminal displays, is a form of semigraphic. The IBM PC character set supported semigraphics mostly through its famous Code Page 437, which provided a variety of line-drawing characters , but looking at it it’s evident that it wasn’t intended for general graphic use.

Different platforms from the time varied widely in their support for graphic characters. Let’s take a quick look at what the options were.


The base Apple II had a very limited character set:

Images in this post taken from Wikipedia

The Apple II’s character offers little opportunity for graphic use. Of course the Apple II is a miracle through and through for being designed almost entirely by one person, Steve Wozniak, and that includes its character set. Note that it doesn’t neglect reverse video, and even has hardware support for flashing characters. Still though, not much you can do with it other than repurpose punctuation and letters.


The PET and successors, by contrast have an excellent character set for makeshift graphics. The image above is of the Commodore 64 version, but the same graphics are used on old PETs, the VIC-20, the Commodore 128, and even the TED-based machines, the Plus-4 and Commodore 16.

While they’re not reflected in the above image, the whole character set can be reversed too. These machines reverse characters by, simply, duplicating the whole set in ROM as negative images.

PETSCII contains:

  • Four playing card suit glyphs
  • A decent set of line-drawing characters, with all intersections both sharp-edged and curved corners
  • Diagonal slopes, diagonal lines and crossed diagonals
  • Horizontal and vertical lines at different places in the character cells
  • Frame corners, which combined with the lines can make decent rectangles
  • Horizontal and vertical bars at several different widths
  • Half-tone checkerboards and half-character checkerboards (on PET systems these have a single-pixel grain, but on later machines the checkerboard squares are 2×2 blocks)
  • 4×4 blocks in enough combinations that, combined with their reverse versions, can be used to approximate a 80×50 pixel display with plain characters
  • Symbols for English pound and Pi

PETSCII is one of the most versatile character sets from the time, and you can do a ton with it with some thought and ingenuity. There used to be a Twitter account (in the days before the Muskening) that posted images of robots made out of PETSCII characters. And because the character set is included in ROM, one doesn’t have to create their own character graphics, using up 8K of system RAM to hold them, to have rudimentary graphics. (In fact, the original PET didn’t even support redefining the character set, so PETSCII was all you got.)


Did Atari consciously follow the naming of PETSCII, with their own self-branded ATASCII? Both are riffing off of ASCII, which stands for American Standard Code for Information Interchange. So I guess PETSCII, going by Commodore’s own claimed meaning for PET, means “Personal Electronic Transactor Standard Code for Information Interchange,” which is pretty terrible. But the ATA in ATASCII makes even less sense, since ATA obviously is just the first three letters in Atari.

While it has nowhere near the sheer number of graphic characters that PETSCII has, it had a decent number, including line drawing, slopes and diagonal lines and playing card suits. Of particular note is that the Clubs symbol has the same hole in its middle that it does in PETSCII.


Wikipedia doesn’t offer a screenshot chart of all the symbols of the TRS-80 set, but it does an HTML Table display, which the above is excerpted from. The only graphic characters it has are these off 2×3 cells, which are like the 2×2 blocks in the Commodore set but with an extra row. This gives its screen slightly finer resolution.

The TRS-80 had fairly basic graphics, it seems: those characters appear to have been it as far as graphics goes. The page I saw that described its capabilities even had a name for those blocks: squots. I think that’s a perfectly fine name for these kinds of boxes, whether it’s on a TRS-80, Commodore 64 or other machine.

Sinclair ZX-81

The ZX-81 had a very limited character set. While it has checkerboard and 4×4 block characters, their inclusion comes at the cost of an apostrophe, an at-sign, and even an exclamation point.

The following Spectrum removed the checkerboards, but added the exclamation point and apostrophe, as well as a lowercase alphabet. Still no @ though.

DOS Code Page 437

This is the one that most of you probably already know. It has its own version of squots, but they’re incomplete: it doesn’t have quarter-box or squot-grained checkerboard characters, tlhough it does have three forms of half-tone, a rather extra assortment of double-lined box characters, playing card suit glyphs, and a number of unusual characters up above that will be very familiar to anyone who played PC Rogue.

DOS Code Page 437 was in many ways the end of the venerable tradition of character set graphics. Neither the Atari ST nor Amiga had much use for general purpose character graphics, instead choosing to use their sets’ spare capacity for international characters, a noble offering, but less useful for graphic use.

It is worth noting some of the characters in the ST’s set, though:

Some miscellaneous glyphs like arrows, an X mark and checkbox, a bell and musical note, the Atari logo in two characters, a bunch of digital readout numbers, and four characters that seem to form a face. Here, I’ll piece it together for you:

Who might this handsome person be? It’s a little hard to make out at this scale, but it’s intended to be a pixel-art representation of “Bob” Dobbs, icon and symbol of the Church of the Subgenius!

It’s not a good set of squots, but it’s not bad.

Indie Showcase For 5/14/24

The indie showcases cover the many games we play for my Wednesday night streams and I’m always looking for games to check out for future ones. All games shown are either press keys or demo submissions.

0:00 Intro
00:14 Trifox
2:07 The Entropy Centre
4:30 Grid Force: Mask of the Goddess
6:43 Whateverland
8:49 Fabular: Once Upon a Spacetime
11:40 Chess Survivors

Episode 3 of BS Shiren the Wanderer Recovered

The Mystery Dungeon series of Japanese roguelikes, which includes the Shiren the Wanderer games, has a fair number of obscure entries. There’s “The Rainbow Labyrinth,” a mobile entry that toyed with adding F2P features and never made it out of beta. There’s a few other mobile remakes of early titles that can’t be obtained or played now due to their platforms being discontinued. And back on Super Famicom, one of the very first Mystery Dungeon games, a spinoff and modification of Furai no Shiren, was released for Nintendo’s Satellaview add-on.

Most Satellaview titles are extremely obscure now, with their only remaining remnants that aren’t languishing in a vault somewhere inside Nintendo (if they even exist there) being saved data files on aging flash memory cartridges in the possession of diehard Nintendo players and collectors in Japan. Satellaview was treated as a way of distributing disposable software, games and other programs that were tied to a specific date or time, so there are a good number of lost items for it, and many will probably never be recovered.

Entropy and bitrot are huge problems with computer software of all types, and it’s shocking how little most companies, even Nintendo themselves sometimes, seem to think about recording essential parts of their past. So any successful reclaiming of old data from the land of howling hungry ghosts is good.

Image from Satellablog

That’s why I’m remarking here that Satellablog, dedicated to recovering and making playable as much old Satellaview software as they can, has managed to obtain a copy of Episode 3, of the Satellaview version of Shiren the Wanderer, “Save Surara” or “Save Surala” depending on the tastes of the person romanizing the title. That means episodes 2, 3 and 4 have been found, leaving only the first episode.

Save Surara was a Soundlink title, like the releases of BS Legend of Zelda. That means they were intended to be played at the same time as a special audio broadcast, and contained events that were timesynced with that broadcast. Without the broadcast (which are usually lost now), Soundlink games can’t be entirely played as originally intended, but it’s still better than nothing.

Here is video of Episode 3 in action. It’s about 49 minutes long. It’ll have to be modified to get it into a state where people who aren’t into romhacking will be able to play it themselves:

With three episodes recovered, there’s still hope that someone in Japan saved a copy of Episode 1 on a forgotten flashcart resting in a closet somewhere. Frog bless all of you awesome hardware horders over there!