Sundry Sunday: Megalixir

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

A really recent one this time! BitFinity, a.k.a. Matthew Taranto, who made Brawl in the Family and a fair amount of Waluigi music, animated and wrote this terrific little song about item hording in Final Fantasy VI, sung by Taylor Robinson.

I think, when you find a blog that’s been around since 2009, and is still being updated somewhat in 2024, that itself is worthy of celebration, and that is the case with It’s maintained by May Kasahara, a member of the venerable community webblog Metafilter (where I can also be found posting and commenting as JHarris).

Blogs come and go. Bloggers come and go too; sometimes they lose interest, but sometimes they pass away, such might be the case with oneswellfoop, a.k.a. Craig Wittier. There was a recent Talk post there about the many members who have passed away.

This is not a Metafilter focused blog. I mention all this to say that people’s blogs, and being around to blog, that’s precious, people’s writing is important, it’s a part of them, and I’m happy whenever I encounter it, whether the blog gets 10 readers or a million of them. But it’s nice when people go by there and read them, and I hope that you’ll be inspired to read Brainscripts, and other blogs, and if you don’t already, that you’ll learn to cherish that they exist. They won’t always, their bloggers won’t exist always either. Neither will I, and neither will you. So let’s all enjoy what time we have here left!

But let’s not be too maudlin. May Kasahara also has an page, with a variety of fun projects on it, like Mary Sue’s Character Casino, and Daisy Doom, and Senpai Simulator, and Legend of Cascadia! I am more than happy to spread the word.

Super Mario Sunshine’s Substitution Cipher

Are you surprised by that title? It isn’t obvious that there even is one, but Youtuber 2CPhoenix makes a strong case that there is, that’s (mostly) consistent across the game’s signage! Here’s their video on it (9 1/2 minutes):

These kinds of ciphers aren’t to common in games, but they’re not unheard-of either. The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker uses one for the Hylian language, which it even translates for you if you play through the game a second time, and there’s at least one other such language that’s used in Breath of the Wild for Shiekah artifacts. And of course, working out a cipher that’s used in many locations is a major late-game puzzle in Fez.

The “language” of what are possibly the Noki in Sunshine Mario Sunshine is one of those things where, like Bubble Bobble’s Bubble Alphabet, the letters are actually heavily stylized versions of our familiar Latin alphabet, meaning, if you kind of take your brain off the hook slightly and just try to read the glyphs like they were words, you can get a bit of a sense of what they’re saying. Or at least I can. A little.

It’s enough to make one want to take a second look at the fakey-letters in some other Nintendo games, such as the Splatoon and Pokemon series….

An Ad From Compute Magazine #001

This is an ad, on the first page of the first issue of Compute Magazine, for “the pet program” from “softside software,” names all in lowercase. I have no idea if any copies of these programs remains in existence in our universe, but two places to look would be’s FTP archive and the Silicon PET Archive, and even in this era of the internet there are a fair number of PET software archives remaining.

Softside was far from the only company to put out its hopeful shingle through the pages of early computer magazines. At the time, magazine publishing worked with a lead time of several months. It is possible that Softside Software had gone under even by the time this ad saw print, but then again maybe not. A forum thread on AtariAge mentions several BASIC games sold by a “SoftSide,” apparently an Atari 8-bit magazine-on-disk, but they were based in New Hampshire, and the Softside of the ad was in New York.

Notes on the programs proffered:

  1. Graphics Pac 2: I’m not sure what they mean, as the reference I’ve found claims the PET didn’t have a bitmapped display, but there were several models, and further add-on cards that added bitmapped displays, an 80-column mode, and even (gasp) color. A simple “Microsette” itself would not be enough. We are near the end of the PET’s reign as Commdore’s core product though.
  2. Assembler 2001: It is easy to laugh this off nowadays when assemblers are mostly free software (and thank frog for that), but this was before that, and before the internet. $16 is a great price for an assembler from that time.
  3. Bike. Apparently it was a Hammurabi/Lemonade Stand style game, where you made business decisions through simple menus and entering figures. Maybe someday someone will write such a game about running Commodore. You might scoff at the warning that “Bike is dangerously addictive,” but standards were lower then. It was 1979; Wizardry wouldn’t be published until 1981. “Worth a million in fun, we’ll offer Bike at $9.95.” I admire their chutzpah.
  4. Pinball. “Dynamic usage of the PET’s graphics features” would have meant using its hardcoded, unchangable ROM graphics character set, with no sprites. “With sound!” That would mean its simple piezoelectric speaker. Don’t expect Raul Julia’s voice, or even Gorgar’s, to talk to you from the machine.
  5. Super Doodle. Certainly of no relation to Omni Software’s popular Commodore paint program. Super Doodle lets you use any number of colors so long as they’re black or green, and a resolution of 40×25 characters. “Why waste any more paper.” Well probably because loading your notes off of tape would take too long.
  6. Driving Ace. Offers two games for $9.95. The description doesn’t give a good sense of what they were like, but there are essentially only three kinds of racing game: scrolling in one direction (Monaco GP style), one screen or scrolling all around (Sprint style), and 3D (Pole Position through to Ridge Racer to F-Zero). I presume one of these is like Sprint and the other is like Monaco GP; I don’t think the PET was capable of even a slight approximation of 3D, but then, Pole Position’s hardware shouldn’t have been capable of what it could do either.

The ad is from Compute Magazine, most often stylized as COMPUTE! with an exclamation point, grew out of The PET Gazette in 1979. That former publication centered around the computing devices from Commodore International’s subsidiary, Commodore Business Machines. CBM had been around for over two decades up to that point as a maker of typewriters, adding machines and calculators, but in a maverick move by its co-founder and president Jack Tramiel, they bought MOS Technologies, which had just startled the nascent computing world by creating an ultra low cost microprocessor, the 6502. Tramiel had learned from a bit of a bastard move by Texas Instruments, who used their ownership of much of their supply chain to release a line of calculators that sold for less than Commodore’s production costs. Now, Tramiel owned the company that produced the chip that would soon launch the personal computing revolution, and could make other chips too, and Commodore was set to soon pull off Texas Instruments’ trick on the home computer industry with the VIC-20 and Commodore 64.

But until then they made other computers. They made the KIM-1 “single board computer,” and the PET 2001 and other machines with the PET branding. The PET Gazette’s audience was originally those machines, but burgeoning success convinced them to publish a more generalized 6502-focused magazine, and that magazine was Compute.

I have more to come on Compute, which in many ways was the archetypal type-in program magazine. It was far from the only one; other magazines offering type-in software at the time, names now even more obscure than Compute’s, were Creative Computing, Family Computing, and Commodore’s own publications Commodore Magazine and Power Play. Compute would for a while languish somewhat in the shadow of its own sister publication, borrowing part of its name from its predecessor, Compute’s Gazette, which focused on Commodore’s computers, the VIC-20, the Commodore 64, and later the Commodore 128.

The PET Gazette was founded by Small System Services Inc., and was published out of a shop, the Corner Computer Store, in Greensboro, North Carolina. Presumably that changed as the subscription rolls increased. Eventually Compute would be sold to ABC Publishing, a subsidiary of the broadcast network, and it would continue happily for several years. When its fortunes began to wane it was sold, first to Penthouse Publishing (really!), where its logo was redone to resemble that of its own publication Omni, then later to Ziff-Davis, who only wanted its subscriber list anyway; I don’t think they ever published an issue. As it became clearer that the future would be MS-DOS and Mac, its focus shifted, but they kept up their small systems focus for surprisingly long. I don’t think the Penthouse era provided any coverage that wasn’t DOS, Windows or Mac, but it would take time to check. Corrections later, if necessary.

Technology Connections Examines Pinball Machines

Back in October, and again last month, the popular Youtube channel Technology Connections, which in the past has explicated the workings of the popcorn button on microwave ovens, an 80s home TV censorship device, and the marvels of heat pumps, among many other topics. The channel is great, a primary example of how to do Youtube explainer videos right. But, we’re mostly about games here, and they don’t often cover those. Until he recently did some videos on old pinball machines!

October 2023: How the 70s-era “Aztec” Pinball Machine Works (50 minutes)

December 2023: The Step-by-step Logic of Old Pinball Machines (43 minutes)

The Return of Reus And Abbey Games

For this perspective podcast, I spoke with Adriaan Jansen from Abbey Games to catch up about how the studio is doing since our last conversation. We spoke about the challenges of creating Godhood, Renowned Explorers International Society, and more. For our main topic, we talked about recreating Reus with its sequel, and how the studio is changing things up compared to the first.

Cosmic Collapse Level After Sun

A few days we linked to Cosmic Collapse, a Pico-8 Suika Game clone that, I claim, is better than the original, or its many many other clones. Its graphics are less cloying, its music is much better, its physics are livelier which adds a greater element of skill, and it has missiles awarded at different score levels that can be used to destroy individual planets.

Cosmic Collapse’s bin is slightly smaller than Suika Game’s, and to compensate a bit for that its “winning” “planet,” The Sun, is only the 10th item in the game, unlike of Suika Game’s Watermelon, which is the 11th of its orbular objects. Nether game really ends at that point, it’s the kind of game that continues until you lose, but it serves as a thematic success point.

But as it turns out, as revealed by a comment by creator Johan Peltz on its page, Cosmic Collapse has two levels beyond sun. The first is a rather striking animated Black Hole object! After a lot of playing I finally managed to get to it. Here is a screenshot:

Pretty neat! The comment from the game’s creator mentions that there is a level past it, but that they don’t think it’s possible to reach. I don’t think it is either: to get to the Black Hole you have to have two Suns, and to get to that you have to have one Sun plus one Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Earth, Mars, Mercury and Pluto. (I think it’s Pluto. What would it be if it wasn’t Pluto? Ceres?)

So, to get to the last object, you’d have to have a Black Hole plus a Sun, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Earth, Mars, Mercury and assumed-Pluto, which probably won’t all fit in one bin. My guess is it’s a guest appearance by some galaxy or something. Maybe someone can look at the game’s resources and find out what.

In addition to playing to get to Sun/Black Hole/Whatever Follows, it’s also possible to play Cosmic Collapse for score. The best way I’ve found to do that is to use missiles to destroy the largest objects when it becomes evident that you can’t do anything more with them. My highest score is nearly 15K. Indefinite play doesn’t seem quite possible, as missile awards come less frequently at higher scores, but it’s still fun to see how high one can get. (That’s not meant as a drug-inspired euphemism. Or a Donkey Kong-inspired one, either.)

Addendum: After writing this, I managed to get to Black Hole again, and got video of what it looks like in motion, which is pretty cool: