7DRL 2023: Blunt Quaternion

It’s a silly NetHack-themed game about exploring a dungeon, presented through a bunch of characters sitting around passing a blunt between them. It’s not really that hard, but there is a bit of strategy to it.

You and your pet sit around a campfire with other characters from that dungeon level and talk about things. Your character and your pet can say things like, they want to be less or more aggressive on the next level, or they want to invoke Elbereth, or they want to use an item; other characters may say things like telling you where fewer or more fights will be, or where treasure is. Or they may have nothing of importance to say.

Every time a character says something, they must pass the blunt, which when it’s depleted signals it’s time to go to the next level. (C’mon, you know all the characters in this dungeon have to be potheads.) All of the fighting and stuff happens in simulation between conversations. Your character or their pet may be wounded (observe their hit points when their conversation turn comes up), or even die at this phase. It’s possible for your pet to die but your character go on to win. It’s also possible for your character die and your pet go on to win the game, which is not something that can occur in NetHack.

It’s a very simple game, and as stated, not really that difficult. But it’s fun, and might give a chuckle to NetHack fanatics. It’s free and completely playable in browser!

Blunt Quaternion (itch.io, $0)

Type-in Games in Magazines

This is another huge topic that I should come back to later, but in the meantime here’s an article, mostly about the British type-in scene, from Wireframe Magazinne last year. It mentions the longest type-in game ever, Axys: The Last Battle (Youtube), an Amstrad program that had to be printed in five successive issues, and what it calls the best type-in game of all, Crossroads from COMPUTE!, although I’m dubious about that claim, there were lots of type-ins. It’s definitely great, though. It’s worth a read if you have the time, although who has enough of that these days?

This is Crossroads, yet another thing to add to the stack of future topics. If you like this, you might be interested in Forget-Me-Not, for iOS and Google Play and Windows (on itch.io)

The Rise and Fall of Type-In Games Listings (Wireframe)

Romhack Thursday: Race Drivin’ using the SA-1

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

Edit the Frog is back, with a new romhack! And this one’s really amazing.

We’ve mentioned before Vitor Vilela’s hacks that retro a SA-1 (“Super Accelerator”) into SNES games that suffered from slowdown. So far he’s done it with five games: Super Mario World, Gradius III (which really needed it), Contra III: The Alien Wars and Super R-Type. The fifth is the most amazing so far: Race Drivin’.

When the original Hard Drivin’ came to arcades it was pretty incredible, the first 3D racing game that didn’t use scanline tricks to display its track, that rendered it using an actual polygonal 3D engine. It used special custom hardware to make its track and physics possible. Race Drivin’ was less revolutionary, but only because the ground had been broken for it.

It was exactly the worst kind of game to be ported to the Super Nintendo’s infamously underpowered hardware, a 16-bit variant of the venerable 6502 running at about 3.5 mHz, just a bit over twice the speed of the NES. Even from the start, the SNES used in-card accelerators and co-processors to help complex games run: even though launch title Pilotwings made heavy use of the SNES’s “mode 7” graphics to display the game world, it still needed a DSP chip to help it with calculation.

https://github.com/VitorVilela7/SA1-Root/tree/master/Race-DrivinRace Drivin’ doesn’t use any accelerator, despite being one of the games most sorely in need of one. Asking a SNES to perform up to the custom mathbox chips in the arcade game was ludicrous, and so SNES Race Drivin’ is looked down upon by many, and probably unjustly: the coding is perfectly all right, it was just asking too much of the system.

Even with a SA-1 you’d think that Race Drivin’ on SNES couldn’t measure up, but Vitor’s hack does quite a respectable job! The SA-1 is essentially a second of the same kind of chip that runs the SNES, with a number of extra features bundled in. It also has some faster memory included on-die, and runs at triple the frame rate. Imagine if this had come out at the time: the SNES game is less than two years older than the arcade version! An SA-1-powered version that matched the arcade so closely back then would have astounded. I see that in a few places on the Super Stunt Track, it drops to 12 FPS instead of the 30 it holds at elsewhere, but it’s still damn slick.

Here is one of Vitor’s side-by-side comparison videos, demonstrating the old version (on the left) and the upgraded hack (on the right):

SA-1 Root: Race Drivin’ (github)

Now, on the Sharp X68000

The SuperGrafx is a failed system that had only five games, only three of which seem to be worth playing. The Sharp X68000 series of high-end personal computers, which were only released in Japan, on the other hand, is probably the popular gaming system Westerners have heard the least about.

As I said yesterday, the X68000 cost three grand, and that was just for the base system. If you thought the NeoGeo was expensive, hah. It’s price was justified in that it was a computer, indeed a workstation, and had a variety of software other than games. But it did still have a lot of games, including some of the best arcade conversions, including excellent ports of Rygar, After Burner, Strider, Final Fight, Street Fighter II and Detana! Twinbee, and a well-remembered recreation of the original Castlevania up to then-current aural and visual ideals. The X68000 even got conversions of Atari arcade games like Marble Madness, and even KLAX, that would I would have loved to have played back then.

The X68000 also worked a lot like a MS-DOS machine from the time. It ran mostly HUMAN68K as its OS, a DOS clone made by HudsonSoft, although it also had windowing OSes. Despite how it seemed in use though, it used Motorola 680X0-family processors, like original iteration of the Macintosh. But while it has a DOS-style OS, it’s a home computer with a dedicated sprite chip!

At times it feels like this blog is a recap of my gaming-related Youtube explorations, but I have no qualms about it when they’re as excellent as the two I have this time. One is a review of the “pro” version system from four years ago, from someone who went and obtained one:

Three years later, RMC returned with a more thorough exploration of a different machine of the line:

And this one is about emulating it, which is probably the closest most of us will ever come to trying out any of its software:

On the SuperGrafx

What is the SuperGrafx? Why don’t we remember it as well as its predecessor, the PC Engine/TurboGrafx 16, with which it was backwards compatible?

Sharopolis on Youtube digs into the system and its capabilities (17 minutes):

As you can tell by the video’s cover image: Amazing Power, No games. The SuperGrafx only had five games released for it throughout its lifetime, pretty harsh for a system that cost around $300 by today’s money. That cost, relative to that of the PC Engine CD, which was also expensive but could play CD games with vastly greater storage, was probably what doomed it. For those really seeking an arcade experience in Japan there was the Sharp x68000, famous at the time as the true enthusiast’s system with a good number of nearly exact arcade ports. It also cost around $6,000 in today’s money, and still $3,000 in then-money.

The system used the same chip as the PC Engine before it, a 6502 variant running at 7 mHz, meaning it was only a 8-bit system. But was that really so bad? The major 16-bit competition for it was the Motorola 68000, another venerable chip at the time that was used in the original Apple Mac, the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST. Yet the 68000 also had some more overhead. Many instructions on the 6502 completed in from two to four cycles, whereas the minimum cycle count of a 68000 instruction was four, with some taking up to 20. This, of course, is offset by the 68000’s greater number of registers and ability to work with two bytes at once for many instructions.

Its graphics were essentially two of the PC Engine’s graphics chip, with some circuitry to interface their outputs together. This description brings uncomfortable reminders of people deriding the Wii’s graphics as “two Gamecubes taped together,” but it’s a much closer description of the SuperGrafx’s graphics. But in practice this meant twice the sprites, dual-plane backgrounds, and double the potential colors on-screen at once, while the MegaDrive/Genesis infamously was still stuck with 64.

The SuperGrafx’s failure in the market was one of those inflection points of the growth of video gaming. If it had succeeded then NEC might still be a player in gaming today, and maybe Hudson Soft would still be an independent entity, instead of just another property for Konami to mine for nostalgiabucks.


Indie Games Plus’s Joel Couture, who’s kind of a friend of the blog, reviewed this silly exploratory platformer/horror game/dating sim. They admit that they’re running a campaign to promote it, but that it doesn’t affect their review. I believe them, because the premise is way too ridiculous and charming to pass up. I can assure you that I have no connection with them! It’s on the PS Store, the Xbox Store (if that’s what it’s called, I’m fuzzy on it), the Epic Store, and Steam, which is a store but doesn’t include the word store in its name. They say It’ll be in the Switch eStore eShop later on.

Images from the game’s Steam page.

You can choose to play either a male or female Dracula. I don’t see signs of a gender ambiguous version, but we are talking about a vampire here, they’re kind of notorious in popular culture for not caring a lot about what their partner’s sex or gender is. There’s 12 monsters across two genders and lots of species. Hey, it’s got Cthulhu in a dress!

Admittedly there’s lots of games that don’t live up to a great premise. The memory of the $4 I wasted on Animal Fight Club still sticks in my craw. The Steam reviews are mostly positive, with some people complaining of jank and some implementation issues, so you should know about that going in. But it’s only been out a week so far, so it’s likely to improve in the coming months. It’s up to you if you want to jump the gun now or wait to see if it gets better, but its presentation is charming already, tastefully sexy and playful without being raunchy. I can appreciate that!

Romancelvania (Indie Games Plus review – PSXboxEpicSteam)

Sundry Sunday: Louie Zong’s Garlic Jam

Louie Zong makes a bunch of fun song videos! Once in a while they’re game related. This one’s a short album made with Warioware D.I.Y’s composition feature. Even though it’s only about 12 minutes long, there’s ten songs squeezed in there, and each come and gone so soon that none have the opportunity to bore your brain.

The Nintendo Font

Youtuber T2norway educates us on a very commonly used font for Nintendo products from around the Gamecube era onward, especially remembered for its use in Wii Sports and other Wii software:

New Rodin

The video’s only four minutes long but the basic gist is that it’s actually two closely-related fonts, New Rodin and Shin Go, both based on a typeface created in 1975 called Gona. They have been called the Japanese version of Helvetica. They see frequent use in Japan in media, on signage, and of course in games too!

What’s the deal with this font? (Youtube, T2norway, 4 minutes)

Lowlights of the Game Awards

One of a number of great gaming blogs you should be reading is A Secret Area, which has been around for awhile now. Back in December they did a piece covering the worst off all of the instances of The Game Awards, an institution so prestigious that this may be the first time I’ve even heard of it.

The most fun of the Oscars and other award shows is mocking the whole awful affair, and the Game Awards are no different. Please, have a look and enjoy!

Lowlights of the Game Awards (A Secret Area)

Metroid Planets

Edit the Frog is still taking a break from covering romhacks, there’s thousands to sift through on romhacking.net, but in the meantime, here’s a fan-made, browser-playable version of Metroid! Although it looks a lot like the NES game, it’s no hack, but a from-the-ground-up reimplementation.

We all know what Zebes looks like by now, right? All of the screenshots in this post are from the early areas of “Novus,” the new world to explore in Metroid Planets.

It was made specifically to help overcome the limitations of the NES platform, so Samus animates much more smoothly, there’s particle effects, multi-directional scrolling areas, built-in mapping, and the music uses later, more orchestral versions of the original’s music, although with an option to switch to the 8-bit originals. (I find that the music is a bit reluctant to play in the current version, though.) There’s other interesting features new features to find as well.

Freed of the NES’s dire memory limitations, Novus’s world can be a lot more colorful.

Most interesting is a built-in randomizer mode, and a second, alternate planet to explore! It’s designed along the lines of the original Zebes (here called “Zebeth,” a nod to the on-screen Romanization of Zebes in the NES game), but has some new elements, including areas that scroll in all directions, and new bosses!

Metroid is approaching 37 years old, and it was looking a bit long in the tooth three decades ago. Yet it’s still remarkably atmospheric for its age, and I find there’s something evocative about how the game’s world doesn’t feel designed like a challenging obstacle course for the player, like it just exists on its own and doesn’t particularly show any care for the player. There are some item gates, but like the original NES Legend of Zelda, many fewer than you’d expect, especially compared to their SNES sequels.

Just another day… IN SPAAAACE.

Screed time! Will Metroid still be played 20 years from now? I think so, although I find that most of the internet energy around these classic NES games now is focused on speedrunning, randomization and romhacks, and two of these three things Nintendo is actively fighting against. It’s a good example of how copyright law and corporate control has the potential to hold back both fan interest and property longevity. The rights to these games should be released to the public, while there is still a public that cares about them. Nintendo would probably get more money out of it, in the long run, from making sequels anyway.

Novus has much more item gating than Zebeth. A place like that, where I’ve fallen (and I can’t get up), and can’t go down either because of a low passage… I wonder if the Maru Mari, a.k.a. “Morphing Ball,” is somewhere close? It would be a fan-made Metroid world if the designer didn’t try to be a bit tricky with hiding it, now would it?
Freed of the NES’s limited tile space, areas can be a lot more varied. The elevators on Novus are a lot more interesting! The lava here is animated, and it hurts to move through those flows!

Metroid Planets