Sundry Sunday: From AGDQ, A Dog Replaces R.O.B. in Gyromite

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

This week’s fun video isn’t decades old, in fact it’s from just a few days ago, from AGDQ.

The NES title Gyromite, a.k.a. Robot Gyro, is a very interesting game from a design standpoint, possibly more interesting than it is to actually play (although I think its music is very catchy). It’s never been rereleased by Nintendo, for the probable reason that it relies on the accessory R.O.B. to play.

R.O.B: It’s not just that funky Smash Bros. character! (Image from Wikipedia, taken by Evan-Amos.)

R.O.B. was a motorized accessory that activated servos in its arms depending on light signals sent to it from the screen. No cords went from R.O.B. to the NES. It used photoreceptors in its “eyes” to detect the screen signals, which were ultimately caused by player input on the controller. A fairly roundabout means of control, honestly.

Only two official R.O.B. games were made, and Gyromite (Going by its Japanese name “Robot Gyro” according to the title screen) used the “gyro” accessory for play. A platform is placed in front of R.O.B., on which you place the controller for Player 2.

On the controller is a device that spins the “gyros,” colored weighted tops. By manipulating the arms with action on Player 1’s controller, making them swing around and opening and closing the claws at the right time, you can cause R.O.B. to lift the spinning gyros from their platform, then set them down on the NES controller’s buttons. In the game, this caused colored pillars to rise or fall according to the control signals.

R.O.B. with gyro setup. Image from the blog Nerdly Pleasures.

While manipulating all of this, you also have to watch out for the action of the game itself. Gyromite is a simple platformer, but one without a jump button. The difficulty comes from having to essentially play two games at once, the platforming on screen and manipulating R.O.B. to position pillars in the right places in space and time.

R.O.B.’s motions are not simple to command either. It takes time for the arms to pivot between their destinations, time that must be accounted for in the on-screen action, and while the tops spin for quite a while they will eventually have to be collected and set back on their pedestals so they can be spun back up to full speed, or else they’ll topple over on the button. This doesn’t produce a failure state in the game. It’s just left to you to pick the top up yourself and put it back on its stand to be spun again. R.O.B. isn’t capable of such feats of dexterity.

There’s a lot more to say about R.O.B., and how it was mostly distributed as part of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s “Deluxe Set” in the U.S., the more expensive version that didn’t come with Super Mario Bros. Instead of that, let’s talk about how, due to the fact that R.O.B. is just a fancy-shmancy way to press controller buttons, that you can replace it entirely with some other mechanism, or indeed, even animal.

That’s what happened Wednesday at AGDQ, where Peanut Butter the Dog, with coaching from JSR_, left R.O.B. gathering dust in the closet as they played through Gyromite Game B.

They didn’t make it all the way without running out of lives, but they picked back up and kept going. And that doesn’t detract at all from Peanut Butter’s skills, or amazing doggy focus. They are intent on reading those hand signals and getting those tasty treats. So while they didn’t earn a world record, for “Dog playing Gyromite Game B,” their accomplishment is of definite note.

There are around four minutes of introductions at the start of the video, so if you want to jump right in to the run, begin here.

Gyromite by Peanut Butter the Dog & JSR_ in 26:24 – Awesome Games Done Quick 2024 (Youtube, 33 minutes)

Best of Next Fest 2023 1/20/24

And at long last, the end of this particular Next Fest, but there are more to come.

Best of Next Fest 2023 1/19/24

Editor’s Note: Our presentation of Josh Bycer’s NextFest finds continues. Tomorrow will be the last in this sequence, I think.

Best of Next Fest Showcase 1/18/24

More games from Next fest 2023 worth checking out.

Best of Next Fest 2023 1/17/24

Editor’s note: There’s a backlog of Josh Bycer’s Next Fest posts that I need to clear out, so the next few days will be devoted to them. Please enjoy!

Dark Arts of Pinball: Deathsaves

So we covered bang backs back on Saturday. Let’s look at another tournament-illegal pinball maneuver, the deathsave. Here’s video from PAPA showing a couple being successfully performed (1 minute):

It’s another trick that involves the machine being bumped forcefully from the front in a specific way, this time to save balls going down the right outlane. I’ve never done one myself (even if I could muster the force, I don’t really want to). There are tables, including Rocky & Bullwinkle and The Last Action Hero, that are even set up to recognize when they’ve happened and reward it, or at least inform the player: I saw what you did there.

It prioritizes players with sufficient strength to shove the machine hard enough, and risks damaging it, so it’s illegal in tournament play. Due to the nature of tilt sensors, which are typically plum bobs with a conductive ring around them, depending on the details of the table it need not even incur a tilt warning, although it could run afoul of the slam tilt sensor, a separate device. Tilt sensors exist to allow some nudging but punish excessive use, and tilting results in the loss of a ball and any bonus. Slam tilt sensors are designed to protect the hardware itself, and immediately end the current game, which forfeits even the chance to enter initials. Essentially it resets the game’s computer. So, be careful with that.

Dark Arts of Pinball: Bang Backs

An unalterable law of pinball is, when the ball slips between the flippers, or goes down an outlane, it is lost, too bad so sad, cue the bonus count, unless you tilted when you tried to save it, that is.

But this is not actually true.

There are a small number of what we might call “dark arts” in pinball, techniques to save balls that otherwise would not be saveable. This is one of the things that’s interesting about pinball. It’s not like video games where everything that happens is the result of processors moving bits around. There is room for things to happen on a pinball table that the game software has no control over.

One might even make a case, if they were feeling argumentative, that the scoring and the rules have an at-best incidental influence over the real game, which takes place purely in the physical realm. This isn’t completely true: the software awards extra balls, controls playfield toys, enforces tilts, and otherwise manipulates the game’s Newtonian world, but it is true that, if the machine is in working order, and the player never misses their shots, that they can play indefinitely, and even score popcorn points for hitting low-value targets. Pull that off long enough and you can earn arbitrarily high scores, but I hope you’re good enough to hit the same shot over and over thousands of times, though, not to mention have the spare time to do it in.

A consequence of this is, lost balls can be rescued, in a number of ways. One of them is the bang back.

When the ball goes down the left outlane, along the side and bottom of the playfield, if the left flipper is raised and the right flipper left down, a sudden forceful blow by the player’s hand against the lockdown bar at the right spot can impart enough force to the ball to cause it to leap up onto the right flipper, and back into play. Even though the machine “knows” the ball went down the outlane, due to triggering its switch, it generally won’t penalize the player for doing this. The ball-ending event is it coming to rest in the trough, the receptacle for out-of-play pinballs beneath the playfield. Until the ball reaches it, it’s live.

Bang backs are a dark art because they enable extra-long turns, and also the force required to execute them risks damaging both the machine and the player’s hand, and so are illegal in tournament play. But they can be pulled off pretty consistently, as this video from the PAPApinball channel (1 minute) demonstrates:

Another dark art of pinball is the deathsave, but let’s save that for later….