Sundry Sunday: The Incredible Shrinking Hedgehog

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

Mashed has a fun animation up on Youtube starring Sonic, his pals, and his enemies, where they’ve been, um, ensmallerd to itty bitty size. It’s a standard Saturday Morning kind of plot, but the voices are good, the writing is funny, and the animation, by Painter Seap, is sharp. It’s 5 1/2 minutes long, and it’s embedded below. Just so you’re properly warned, it ends on a cliffhanger, but it’s a fairly minor one.

Wheeler Dealers Has Been Preserved

The news comes to us by way of Apple cracker 4am’s Mastodon account. Wheeler Dealers was a cassette release, a format not as well understood as the Apple II floppy disk formats, but it’s playable on its Internet Archive page.

Its title screen gives it a copyright date of 1978, making it only slightly younger than the Atari VCS/2600. Wheeler Dealers was the first published game by M.U.L.E. creator Dani Bunten. Designed for four players, it came with a special controller to allow four players to participate in auctions on an equal footing. If played in an emulator, they often have settings to allow the buttons to be remapped to joystick directions, and from there to specific keyboard buttons.

It’s a stock trading game, written in BASIC, and much less polished than M.U.L.E. would be. It barely has graphics and has no single-player mode. I find it hard to control in the IA’s web-based Apple emulator. Basic stock trading games seem really simple these days. I think Wheeler Dealers (or “Wheeler Dealer$,” according to the title screen) is mostly interesting these days has a herald for M.U.L.E., which I find holds up really well to current-day tastes. Dani’s real-time auction mechanism would be honed to a fine edge in M.U.L.E., which to this day is probably still the best multiplayer auction mechanism in any game.

Dani Bunten left us long ago now, back in 1998, but her absence is still keenly felt. One of her last projects was a Sega Genesis/Mega Drive port update of M.U.L.E., which was infamously scuttled when publisher Electronic Arts insisted, as a condition of publishing, a mechanism by which players could directly attack other players with weapons. It is far from the only terrible action that EA would be responsible for, but it’s certainly one of the worst.

@Play: Which Is Better, Ring Mail or Splint Mail?

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

Gary Gygax was a weird person. I won’t get into his life or history or, the casual misogyny of AD&D character creation, or the Random Harlot Table. But he did know a lot about medieval weaponry and armor, and to some degree this obsessive interest seeped out and infected a whole generation of nerds.

How useful is this armor in protecting someone? Five. It is five useful. (Image from National Museum in Krakow)

I know which is generally better: leather armor, studded leather armor, ring mail, chain mail, splint mail, plate mail or plate armor. I know that, although in life each is different, battles are random, and there’s countless factors that might determine who would win in a fight, the order in which I have given them is roughly how effective they are, because it’s the order that Armor Class increases, sorry decreases, in classic Dungeons & Dragons.

While the list of armors is presented, in practically every Player’s Handbook, with their effects on protection right there in order, unless you’re steeped in the material, it is not obvious, just from reading the names of the items, which is supposed to be better than another.

Splint Mail was rare in Europe during the medieval period. It’s also really hard to Google Image Search for without ending up with pictures taken from D&D material!(Image from Wikipedia)

This is a considerable roadblock, and one I struggled with for a while, when I first tried to learn to play Rogue, because that game expects you to know how effective each piece of armor is. You start out with Ring Mail +1. You find a suit of Splint Mail. Should you switch? People who play nearly any classic roguelike are going to run against this eventually. Even now, some games just expect you to know the relative strengths of each.

If you decide to take the chance and try it on, to Rogue’s (and Nethack’s) credit, it tells you immediately how effective the armor is on the status line, and you can compare its value to your past item. To Rogue’s (and Nethack’s) detriment though, if the new armor is cursed, you’re stuck with it, until you can lift the curse (to a new player, unlikely) or die (very likely). And then, unless you’ve been taking notes, you’ll still probably forget the relationship between the two items, meaning you’ll have to guess their relative value again later, and deal with the same risk.

Classic D&D tended to give short shrift to the intricacies of real-life armor use, simplifying a complex topic beyond perhaps what was appropriate. AD&D attempted to remedy that by going overboard, giving each armor ratings according to its bulkiness, how much of the wearer’s body it covered, how much it weighed and how it restricted movement. Gygax’s tendency towards simulation is responsible for some of the most interesting parts of the game, but it didn’t help him here I think.

Most classic roguelikes, at least, use the “bag of Armor Class” approach to armor, which is probably for the best. Nethack probably goes to far in the Gygaxian direction. If you find Plate Mail in Nethack, you’re almost entirely better off just leaving it on the ground, even despite armor’s huge value, because it’s simply too heavy. Even if you can carry it without dipping into Burdened status, or, heaven help you, Stressed, its mass and bulk lowers the number of other items you can carry before you reach Stressed, and carrying many other items is of great importance. This is the secret reason that the various colors of Dragon Scale Mail are so powerful in Nethack: it’s not that they have the highest best AC in the game (though they do), it’s that they’re also really light! Even if you don’t get the color you want, it takes concern about the weight of armor completely off your list of worries.

The use of armor underwent revision throughout D&D’s development. (This page lists the changes in detail.) For reference, the relative quality of D&D, and thus roguelike, armor goes like this.

NameNew-Style Ascending Armor ClassOld-Style Descending Armor Class
Leather Armor28
Studded Leather & Ring Mail37
Scale Mail46
Chain Mail55
Splint Mail & Banded Mail64
Plate Mail73
Plate Armor82

Why the difference in values? Up until the 3rd edition of D&D, Armor Class started at 10 and counted down as it improved. 3E updated a lot of the game’s math, and changed the combat formula so that AC was a bonus to the defender’s chance to be missed instead of a penalty to the attacker’s chance to strike. Because of that, now it starts at 10 and counts up. The changeover was a whole to-do, I assure you, but now two editions later we barely look back. Back in that day others were confused by the system too, and even Rogue used an ascending armor score. But Nethack, to this day, uses original D&D’s decreasing armor class system.

If you compare those values to those used in 5th Edition, you’ll notice that even the new-style numbers don’t match up completely. As I said, while the relative strengths have remained consistent, if not constant, the numbers continue to change slightly between versions.

That concludes this introductory level class. You’re dismissed! If you’re looking into the relative effects of different polearms… that’s the graduate-level seminar, down the hall.

Vivian in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is Trans

She is! She always has been!

Image from abadidea on Mastodon, who got it from Nintendo Life

I had heard this fact but wasn’t sure if it was actual lore or fan-canon, a character who had been adopted by the community as trans. But as it turns out she always had been in the original Japanese, and in some localizations. Nintendo of America censored that aspect of the character for the US audience.

It’s funny. Those of us in the US who “consume media” that’s been localized for international audiences sometimes hear of those countries where one aspect or other has been papered over, like making Steven Universe’s Ruby a boy so her and Sapphire’s relationship would play better in countries with more homophobic cultures. Show creator Rebecca Sugar pushed against those localization decisions by, when the characters got married, making sure Ruby was the one in the wedding dress. It’s a decision that may have shortened the show’s run (the last season feels rushed), which reflects poorly on producer and airer Cartoon Network.

We in the US can tut at this, and look down upon those “less enlightened” places. Well, here’s a case where it was done for us, to us. And it’s been remedied in the new release, not a change, but the removal of a change. Vivian isn’t a bit character either, she’s an important part of the story.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is the highlight of the Paper Mario series, its gameplay is terrific, and it’s story is hilarious and surprising, much better than a Mario game has any right having. It has many fans, and I’m sure most of them didn’t know either. When they play through this and find out about Vivian, I think it’s going to spark a number of conversations. It may also spark a few realizations.

Pixel Memories Dioramas

Clivefrog77 makes these nice gaming dioramas, often based on European Commodore 64 games, and sells them on eBay. He has a page on Google Photos. I’m not sure if all of those are his, but a lot seem to be.

Rags to Riches

International Karate +

Great Giana Sisters
Dan Dare
Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja

Hempuli is still at it

Hempuli is the brilliant creator of the rule-breaking-and-making puzzle game Baba Is You. That is not the subject of this post, but I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

No, the post’s subject is a series of things they’ve made since. Yes, I said things. I said it and I meant it!

They’re all: (free|wonderful|insane|playable in browser|available on itch.io). There’s twenty-three of them, and they’re all ludicrous ruminations on the idea of Sokoban. We’ve posted about Hempuli’s improbable series of Sokolikes before, but they keep making them, and so now there’s 23.

The basic rules are: there are blocks, and you can push them. If all the Xs on the level have blocks on them at the same time, the flag activates, but it stays active only while every X is occupied. If the flag is active, you can step on it to complete the puzzle.

But there are also buttons. If all the buttons of a given color have boxes (or players) on them at the same time, then certain gates in the puzzle open. Some puzzles have water. Don’t step in that. Boxes will usually float on top of water though.

In (nearly) all the puzzles, the arrow keys move your little Sokoperson, the R key resets the current puzzle, and the Z key reverses your last move. Keep pressing Z to keep going back, until you reach the puzzle’s start state.

Those are the basic rules, but don’t be surprised if they’re upturned in some of these games. Hempuli is diabolical, and sometimes the basics don’t apply, or are turned on their head in unexpected ways.

From Mountris. The character is about to make a surprising mistake.

In Mountris, some of the blocks you push are Tetris shapes, that move as a single unit. Think carefully about the implications of that.

Upon seeing this early puzzle in Permaban, my mouth said, unprompted, “What fresh hell is this?”

One interesting thing about these games generally is how they often break one of the central rules of Sokoban, that you can’t push two or more blocks at a time. In many of Hempuli’s variants you can, but in some of them you can only do it in certain circumstances.

Hell, continued: From the aptly-named (?!) Nabogorf. Notice, this one has a different Undo key. Why do you suppose that is?

As I review these games in order, I’m struck by how they keep getting stranger. Evidently the process of making Baba Is You disconnected some important limiter in Hempuli’s brain, and so now they’ve become a portal, spewing forth constant matter from the Elemental Plane of Puzzles. Weep for them… but also, enjoy the results of that, both now and almost certainly in the future.

From Mayban: Oh, there’s color now. What does that mean? What’s about to happen? Why am I shaking in my seat?
Automount turns the game on its head. But they all do, so that statement is meaningless. This one turns it extra on its head. With cherries on top.

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!

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!

NINTENDO

SUPER MARIO

THE LEGEND OF ZELDA

METROID

STARTROPICS

OTHER

RPGS

FINAL FANTASY

  • 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)

DRAGON QUEST

NIHON FALCOM

OTHER RPGs & RELATED GAMES

BEAT-EM-UPs (“belt scrollers”)

TECHNOS

OTHER

KONAMI

GRADIUS

CASTLEVANIA

CONTRA

METAL GEAR

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES

OTHER

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)

CAPCOM

MEGA MAN (a.k.a. RockMan)

GHOSTS ‘N GOBLINS (a.k.a. Makaimura)

DISNEY

OTHER

TECMO

NINJA GAIDEN

OTHER

SUNSOFT

RARE

WIZARDS & WARRIORS

BATTLETOADS

OTHER

LJN

STAR WARS

ICOM ADVENTURES

THE SIMPSONS

Uncategorized

and…

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.

Apple

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.

PETSCII

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.)

ATASCII

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.

TRS-80

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.

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!

Sundry Sunday: Waluigi Sings “Rainbow Connection”

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

It’s Waluigi, and he’s singing “Rainbow Connection.” You need more? Are you not entertained?

It’s from Matthew Tarando, aka. Bitfinity, the one who made the Brawl in the Family webcomic. It’s not the first of their works to make it to this site, and it probably won’t be the last.

The Muppet-like version of Waluigi is a highlight. He looks like Dr. Don from Point Blank, a.k.a. Gun Bullet! It feels like it’s come full circle, since Point Blank is essentially WarioWare with light guns!

Dr. Dan and Dr. Don, oft-emperiled protagonists of countless rapidly-shifting scenarios.