Nintendo Direct Recap, June 2024

Well, it looks like another Nintendo Direct has come and gone. Coverage of current-day Nintendo things lies at the very edge of our tripartite purview, that of Retro, Indie and Niche, but in a way they are part of all three. Retro and Niche should be obvious; Indie, not nearly so much, but Nintendo is the least beholden of the three great console makers to the winds of trend, and even with their billions and billions of dollars they still at times manage to surface their long-held toymaker mindset. (At least, if you’re talking about game design. When it comes to throwing around their legal weight they’re the most corporate, the Disney of gaming.)

Well I’m not going to fight it. Here is my impression of every ever-lovin’ game presented in yesterday’s Nintendo Direct. Tomorrow I’ll get back to writing about random things, or Youtube videos about obscure arcade game. Those sound like something I’d do.

Here is the whole Nintendamn video, at 43 minutes loooong:

Overall: I really miss the days when Reggie Fils-Amie, Shigeru Miyamoto and, especially, Satoru Iwata would present these. Remember the time they had puppets represent everyone? Those three had chemistry. I still can’t say I approve of the reading of the narrator, who, nothing against him personally, is set at Smarm Level S.

So, the games. Titles link to the upload of just that part of the presentation on Nintendo’s Youtube account.

Mario & Luigi: Brothership. The series that bankrupted Alphadream, brought back to life. We don’t yet know if it’s a Nintendo in-house production or if another company’s making it, nor do we know if any Alphadream employees are working on it. Destructoid wonders about that too. I hope they get some credit for it, in some way.

Nintendo World Championships: NES Edition. News of this was leaked a bit early. It looks to be of similar lineage to the NES Remix games on 3DS and WiiU. It’s weird to see Nintendo embrace speedrunning, considering that that entire community was enabled and greatly furthered by emulation, but I guess if there’s money involved corporate qualms shall be set aside.

Fairy Tale 2. I barely know what this is, and I hate to tell you this, but I don’t care about you enough to go find out. It’s okay, we can still be friends.

I know it’s based off of an anime. I find it hilarious that the first words said in the trailer are “Let’s go, Happy!” Speaking of, the slogan of Koei-Tecmo now appears to be “Level up your happiness.” I have never lost my disdain for the engrish phrase “level up.” I dislike it nearly as much as “getting a Game Over.” That how I feel, it’s because I’m right, and the Great Trash Heap has spoken. Nyaaah!

FANTASIAN Neo Dimension. “From Final Fantasy series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi, and composer Nobuo Uematsu.” And from Square-Enix, natch. Maybe I’m just old (51 now) but sometimes I see a trailer for a JRPG and I just start to get a migrane. The plot has to do with restoring memories, which is like the plot of more than half of all JRPGs for the last thirty years. Someday there’ll be a JRPG plot where everyone knows who they are and is in complete control of their faculties for the entire story and it’ll be a frogdamn sensation. I haven’t even started on how it seems to be about a bunch of teenagers trying to kill God again. But I’ll say this for it: it makes unironic use of the word DIMENGEON, so I can’t hate it all that much.

Nintendo Sports SWITCH. The Switch successor to the incredibly popular Wii Sports tends to get forgotten about, but it’s still kicking… and swinging, and bowling, and now is getting a new sport in Basketball. So, now Miis can dunk. Setting all of that aside: what the hell is Spocco Square? Is it their version of (ugh) Wuhu Island?

MIO: Memories in Orbit. Nothing much to say. It seems to be an exploratory platformer where you play the part of a humanoid variation of a GLaDOS core. They don’t say anything about it in the trailer either, so I am absolved.

Disney Illusion Island update. The update is free, and it launched the day of the Direct. I also don’t know much about Illusion Island, but Mickey looks like a goofus, and I love it for that.

Hello Kitty Island Adventure. More often than you’d think, a Hello Kitty game comes out and it’s unexpectedly good, and this may be one more for that notable pile. It looks like it might be worth it for the customizable Sanrio character creator all by itself. Hello Kitty has long been the butt for a certain irascible breed of internet funnyperson. The Brunching Shuttlecocks once suggested the creation of a Sanrio fighting game called Hello Kitty, Goodbye Teeth. “She has no mouth, and she must pummel!” I’m still trying to round up enough figures to field a Hello Kitty 40K army.

I love how among this field of brainplush animals there’s the Evil Sanrio Character Kuromi, and of course, eternal malcontent BADTZ MARU, always too hip for the room. No sign of Aggretsuko tho.

Looney Tunes: Wacky World of Sports. On the other hand, I have absolutely no faith that this will even live on the same continent as good. Kids these days barely know what they missed, and probably think of Bugs Bunny as Michael Jordan’s sidekick (or even LeBron James’, because we live in hell). When me and my decrepit ilk roamed the wastes, Bugs Bunny and friends, still the best cartoons ever made and I will fight you on that, were on the air constantly. Now you have to go to MeTV Toons to find them, and you definitely should find them.

You probably should not find this game. I’m almost prepared to lay money on Bugs Bunny’s face on the box, if it gets a physical release at all, having American Kirby-Style Angry Eyes. Like Mickey and Donald got when they played Soccer, Basketball, Football, went Skateboarding and rode Motocross. (But not, strangely, when they played Golf.)

American game box art starring cartoon characters has had a long and angry history, except when golfing. Unless you’re Donald Duck, but he gets a pass as his fury, and his lack of pants, are his defining characteristics.

Anyway, so the trailer’s lead character is Lola Bunny, the one who was created for Space Jam, and that tells you nearly everything. I am prepared to admit, though, that it was good thinking to tape the tennis racket to the Road Runner’s wing. Attention to detail right there.

Among Us update. I refuse to comment.

Farmagia. Urp, another anime JRPG, every Nintendo Direct’s like half this stuff by weight. There’s so many of these games to get through and not enough to say about them. In the game’s lore the word Farmagia is the name of a profession, but it seems to be a synonym for Pokemon Trainer.

Donkey Kong Country Returns HD. Or, Donkey Kong Country Returns Returns. It’s been so long that the reboots of the reboots are being remade.

Dragon Quest III HD-2D. Ah! This looks interesting, Dragon Quest III was always the best of the early DQ titles, allowing you to actually create the characters for your party and run with a team of three Goof-Offs if you want, who cares if it makes your group insufferable and you doom the world, you do you. Instead of making it in the more recent style pioneered with Dragon Quest VIII, they’re using the Octopath Traveler engine, which looks like a great fit for it. Also announced are remakes of the first two games, in that same style, next year. It’s only a matter of time before the Famicom/NES Final Fantasy games get the same treatment, I’m sure.

The clip ends with Yuji Horii himself greeting the viewer, dopey haircut and all, and I say that with immense love. I’m happy that the same guy who designed the original Dragon Quest (and also the Portopia Serial Murder Mystery), who went to California to that early Apple II demo and saw Wizardry and Ultima there, is still helming the series after so long. I really think it shines through and makes Dragon Quest a special thing.

Richard Gariott doesn’t make Ultima games any more, since Electronic Arts keeps it and a great swath of other classic computer IP locked up. Andrew Woodhead and Robert Greenberg haven’t worked on Wizardry for decades, and Sir-Tech is long long gone. All of those missing creators is a huge shame, but Yuji Horii’s still at it, and we should all be grateful. Of course, it’s all possible because of Dragon Quest’s gigantic cultural influence in Japan. That influence is also why there’s so many anime series that adopt video game conventions without questioning them, and I can’t say I much approve of that, but I never said it was a bad thing I’m not in charge of the world.

I notice they’re still calling Loto “Erdrick” in Western territories. Dost thine other characters continue to speakest Elizabethan English also? Dost thou carest?

Funko Fusion. You know the thing about Funko Pops… they’s got dead eyes. At least these plastic monstrosities, being visual only, won’t be cluttering up the planet in a century. The whole gimmick of this game is that it’s a huge crossover of a long list of properties. Didn’t we already see that with Lego Dimensions? Are they still making movie-based Lego games?

The trailer puts a lot of focus on Freddy Fazbear’s Pop.

I’m not even halfway through the video yet! Let’s shift this recap into high gear.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 HD. Had been announced before. Multiple mansions, no Gooigi.

The New Denpa Men. The what now? Ah, was a 3DS game where you collect funky little guys with heads like the Prince of All Cosmos and have them fight in dungeons. I’m interested.

Metal Slug Attack Reloaded. Don’t get your hopes up, it’s a remake of a mobile game that only uses the aesthetics of the arcade classics. It’s got the animation of the games but tower defense gameplay. Tower defense games are not anywhere near as popular as they used to be, but I still scoff at them, scoff scoff, and I bristle when I hear someone describe my beloved Rampart as a tower defense game.

Darkest Dungeon II. I’ll be honest, I’ve never played either of the Darkest Dungeon games. You’d think I’d be all over them, like pretty on something that isn’t an ape, but no. There’s so many games that get made and nowhere enough time to play them all. I feel bad about it too. The trailer narrator tells us, with the most ominous tones they can muster through all the smarm, that your group must avert an apocalypse, but looking at the world they’re traveling through I think it might have already happened.

Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack new games. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past: Four Swords: Colon Confusion. (It’s good.) Metroid Zero Mission. (It’s GREAT.) Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. (Who owns the rights to Acclaim’s output now?) And Perfect Dark. (probably a result of the deal that brought Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye 007 to Switch). Perfect Dark even gets online multiplayer. It’s time for a new generation of players to learn to curse the Farsight.

Phantom Brave: The Lost Hero. Nippon Ichi, so probably a lot of fun. I’m just now halfway through the video.

Marvel vs Capcom Fighting Collection: Arcade Classics. I am not a fan of fighting games generally. I think the fighting game boom, while it resulted in a burst of popularity for arcades, by greatly diminishing the styles of games that could be popular, ultimately resulted in their downfall. And I’ve never even played a MvC game. But I’m still kind of interested in this. Capcom’s crossover fighters are the ultimate inspiration for the Smash Bros games, after all. A lot of people will be pleased to see this. Among all those fighting games, sticking out like a sore gun, is The Punisher, a lone belt brawler.

Super Mario Party Jamboree. I guess they’ve abandoned the numbering system for good. It was getting silly after 10 numbered games. I wonder who makes these now that Konami owns Hudson Soft. It features online play for up to 20 players at once! With 110 minigames, it looks like ZoomZike‘s gonna have his luck cut out for him on this one.

The Legend of Zelda: Echoes of Wisdom. THIS is the one the internet’s been abuzz about, even making it over to my other internet home at Metafilter. Why? Because ZELDA’S FINALLY PLAYABLE BABY! Not as an animate statue or in a romhack or in a weird CD-i game but as the genuine bonafide protagonist in a Nintendo-made title! What is more, it’s not a game in the Breath of the Wild style, a gigantic non-linear exploratory monsterpiece. It seems to signify that Nintendo thinks there’s room for both styles in new games. And it’s also made with the HD Link’s Awakening engine, which looked great! Even the gameplay looks really interesting. Zelda isn’t a traditional sword-wielder, but instead has a magic wand that can duplicate lots of different things, including enemies that will fight for her. I think people were hoping for a warrior Zelda, but I appreciate that they didn’t want to just make her Link but with breasts. (Isn’t that Linkle is supposed to be, anyway?)

There was also announced a new Switch system design to celebrate the game. As DoctorFedora on MeFi said, it seems odd to announce a new design when the Switch’s successor is supposed to come out only next year, but Zelda merch tends to be evergreen anyway.

Just Dance 2025. While I’m still sad that they aren’t still making Wii versions of Just Dance. The last Wii version was made in 2020; the line for WiiU didn’t even make it past 2019. The first Just Dance was a Wii game made in 2009, meaning there’s eleven Wii versions of Just Dance, released over that many years. They stopped making the Wii in 2013! But besides that, I don’t have a whole lot else to say about Just Dance.

LEGO Horizon Adventures. Before, they’d make Lego games that crossed over with movies; now, they make them crossing over with other games. You could always count on Lego to provide a cheeky irreverent take on whatever property they crossed with. While the gameplay is usually simple and kid-friendly, there were a lot of jokes for the adults playing along with them to get. I don’t know if that continues with the newer games, but I really hope it does.

Stray. Ah, the kittycat game. Everyone knows about this one, even me, although my tastes run more towards Little Kitty Big City. (A Q&A with its makers that I did should be up on Game Developer before long! Another fun cat game I did a Q&A about is Gato Roboto!) Even after the end of humankind, cats will still be knocking things off of shelves, and I’m certain that cats will outlive us. I’m not sure about dogs though.

Tales of the Shire: A The Lord of the Rings™ Game. This The Lord of the Rings™ game promise to be the enjoyable! Let us the all obtain the game when the it come out! Shall provide many time of the joy! Switch fun to have the entertainment when the play on TV occur! What the happy shall be!

How did that title even happen? And of course Nintendo’s promotional materials will all faithfully copy that extraneous The, because The Title of the Property is The Lord of The Rings™, and it MUST BE OBEYED, or else face the wrath of Melkor who is Morgoth.

I’d be done with this recap by now if I didn’t keep embarking on these cockamamie digressions, but they’re too fun to pass up. Trailer observations the now!

Everyone remembers the perfectly round doors that Hobbit dwellings have. But how many renditions of Middle Earth remember the doorknob in the center of the door? And how many remember that Bilbo’s ancestor Bullroarer invented golf, the sport with the power to quell even Mickey Mouse’s rage?

The promise of the trailer is that the game will let people experience life as a Hobbit. Was there ever a great demand for that? Most Hobbits, like Bilbo’s cousins the Sackville-Bagginses, were pretty insular and conservative. They’d probably have voted Tory. Bilbo and Frodo were exceptions, because of the fairy blood in their lineage from Bullroarer’s wife. Yes it’s true, I know Middle Earth lore, but, ah-ha, I never pretended to be cool! Bright blue my jacket is, and my boots are yellow!

Continuing the trailer, wow they’re really into this Hobbit home life thing. It’s essentially Halfling Crossing. No adventures at all. Nasty things, they make you late for dinner! The last shot of the game has Gandalf in it, so I guess the Wider World does factor in slightly, but it still doesn’t look like you get to do any burgling.

Ace Attorney Investigations Collection. The trailer itself notes that one of the two games in this package was never localized. I wonder if anyone’s gotten a distorted view of the legal profession from the Ace Attorney games? Phoenix Wright and his cohort spend a lot of time tracking down clues themselves, instead of brainstorming ways to restrict what young people do, which the media tells me is the common objective of all lawyers.

The Ace Attorney series is beloved by a lot of people. Like me, I am part of that lot. I still remember fondly the time when Phoenix called a parrot to the witness stand. Even sidekick Maya Fey, the girl who claimed to have two stomachs, was a bit worried about that one. That moment isn’t one from these games, but I’m sure there’ll be plenty of other instances. And these games star Miles Edgeworth, fan favorite yet also the most stuck-up person theoretically possible to exist. I want to see him call a parrot to the witness stand. Make it happen Capcom!

Uh-oh, he’s got that look in his eye.
…he is.

The Hundred Line: Last Defense Academy. The trailer opens with two anime highschoolers walking together. The boy has weird colored eyes, like many anime protagonists. The girl has an incredibly short skirt, like many anime girls. It’s gotta be a JRPG.

Then the screen flips to a flaming hellscape! Caused by oddly cute and colorful monsters! I knew it, it was only a matter of time: the Pokemon are fed up and taking over.

The narrator then tells us how Takumi Sumino’s life got turned upside-down. He’d like us to take a minute, to just sit right there, and listen to how he became the prince of a place called Bel-Air.

“A mysterious school mascot suddenly appears.”

I am having to fight the strong urge to just close the browser window now. I have to note that this trailer is being played straight. It sounds like the silliest thing on Planet Earth, but the cutscene doesn’t realize it.

As the trailer continues with its story about cute blob monsters attacking a school that the protag must enroll in, it becomes clear this game is

  • a high school-based time management sim like Persona, and probably also a dating sim,
  • that has grid-based tactical combat, and
  • has permadeath. Choice quote, spoken by a student in the game: “That was the first time I ever saw a person die….”

It’s like they found a second solution to the anti-life equations that led to Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.

I am somewhat joking here. Why? Because it’s easy. I could probably rewrite this whole recap and the jokes would be completely different. But all of these crazy ideas kind of make me want to see how they all fit together. We need more crazy ideas in gamedev, and these developers are clearly smoking the good shit. But, I still don’t think this one is for me.

“The creators of Danganronpa present…” Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaah now it all makes sense. Or as I should say, it doesn’t make sense, but in a really familiar way. It’s from Spike-Chunsoft. Listen, anything that helps this deeply weird company survive long enough to make more Shiren games is okay by me. So I approve of this… provisionally.

Romancing SaGa 2: Revenge of the Seven. Another JRPG, as I told you every Nintendo Direct has several of them. I think of how the Dreamcast had only like three.

The SaGa games are all bonkers, but they’re my kind of bonkers. This is a full remake of the Super Famicom Romancing SaGa 2, and not the Octopath Traveler kind of reimagining, this one’s been turned into a very different-looking game without pixel-art trappings. I may have to look into this one.

…and finally, after 41 minutes of video and four hours of writing…

Metroid Prime 4: Beyond.

We find out very little about the game from the trailer, it’s really just a teaser, but it’s glorious. It does leave me wondering though: after all this time and so many games, why are Samus’ main antagonists throughout still called just “space pirates?” They don’t even get a proper noun! None of them except Ridley has even a name. (He counts as one of them, right?)

Done! See you next the time!

What is a Game Dad?

I refer you to the question in the title. It’s not GamerDad, or The Game Dad Blog, or Board Gamer Dad, or Video Gaming Dad, or the Youtube channel GameDad. It’s a GameDad, as opposed to a GameBoy.

A Game Dad is a frankly awesome idea! It’s any portable, pocket-sized game-playing device that has a focus on emulation. I myself would say it needs physical controls, not a touchscreen, to control well, but that’s not part of the “official” spec given by Dan over at It looks like site owner Dan agrees with me to an extent.

Game Dad is not a brand name. No company yet calls their device a Game Dad, it’s more an adjective that you can apply to things. Two special cases: A Steam Deck is not a Game Dad because it’s not pocket-sized. A smartphone is not a Game Dad because it’s not dedicated to playing games. Game Dads shouldn’t be something you do work on, or will pester you while you play. Game Dads don’t host apps. Game Dads don’t try to feel you algorithmic bullshit. Most Game Dads, when you turn them off, they don’t go to sleep. They turn off.

The picture here, from the site’s header, might help to fix the idea in your head. Notice that unlike a Gameboy it has four buttons and dual analog sticks, but it otherwise looks a lot like a Gameboy.

Lots of companies make Game Dads, or Game Dad-adjacent devices, and you should be able to get a pretty good one for around $70. That will typically get you something capable of playing up to PS1-era games. N64 games are a little more challenging since its processor was weirder. But as the site says, the best Game Dad is the one that plays the games you want to play. Dan’s site is full of advice and opinions, and all of them are good. The one he has personally is an Anbernic RG353V/RG353VS. Both run Linux, but the V version also has an Android partition and a touchscreen, two features that Dan considers inessential to Gamular Dadiness, and lowers the price by $20 to about $78, but the more expensive one also has more RAM and built-in storage, if those things matter.

Please ignore that the page says that it “let you fondle admiringly,” the device is not emotionally needy.

At this moment a lot of the interest in retro gaming circles is in FPGA devices like the Analogue Pocket, which will be more expensive than this. This isn’t a device for complete cycle-accurate recreations, it’s for inexpensive, pretty-nice emulation for good-enough gaming fun.

By the way, Dan is on Mastodon as Yes, I’m still using Mastodon. You should too! I’m on Bluesky because I feel like I have to be, but I’m on Mastodon because I want to be.

Coleco’s Tarzan for the Atari VCS/2600 Found After 40 Years

The lost Atari 2600 version of Coleco’s Tarzan game, from the VGHF article

As reported in a post at the excellent Video Game History Foundation, a copy of the unreleased Atari port of the Colecovision Tarzan game has been found, bought from a former Coleco employee. It used an unusual bankswitching scheme, but has been hacked to use a more common system, and both versions of the ROM are available from the Internet Archive. Both are 16K, very large for an Atari game, but microscopic by the standards of data today.

The Colecovision version of Tarzan was a late release, and had unusually good animation for its time, and repetitive, yet atmospheric, music. Here’s a Youtube link of the first loop of that version of the game (5 1/2 minutes):

I tried a little of the 2600 version, and I couldn’t make out how to get further than a few screens in. That single button control scheme is a real hassle! Here that is (four minutes 1/2). Dig that opening theme song! Don’t dig that gameplay music, though. It didn’t sound as bad when I played it, I think it was an issue with the recording.

The article has a run that gets further into it (7 minutes):

Hare Basic for the Commodore 64

Our friend Robin at 8-Bit Show And Tell lets us know of this cool and free Commodore 64 BASIC 2.0 extension, of a sort, called Hare Basic. It’s a successor to an earlier version called Bunny Basic. Here’s the video, 48 minutes long. My comments on it follow below, which you can read either after having watched the video, or before, depending on of you have most of an hour to spare right now.

Here are the downloads, which are hosted on the creator’s Dropbox, so availability may fluctuate.

Commodore BASIC is, in many ways, the worst of all worlds. It’s a slow interpreted language, a variant of infamous Microsoft BASIC, and it has almost no machine-specific features, but it comes with the machine, and it’s burned into ROM. You can swap it out for extra RAM if you have a replacement OS or are running something in pure machine code.

I could go on for a long time about the problems with Commodore BASIC 2.0, a language I’m quite familiar with having spent much of my teens programming in it. Sometimes it feels like it was designed especially to run slowly. One example: it supports floating point math, which ordinarily would be a good thing, right? Use integer math for performance, and just use floats when you need decimals, right? But no: internally, Commodore BASIC converts integer variables into floats when doing any math with them, and converts them back to store as integers when it’s done. Wilberforce Trafalgar Franklin?! Why?! It does these unnecessary extra steps to do all arithmetic as floating point even when it doesn’t need do, and doesn’t offer a way to do performant integer math at all! Need I remind you that Microsoft BASIC is based upon software written by Bill Gates himself? I suspect that I don’t!

Hare Basic is a highly optimized subset of Commodore BASIC that can be switched on and off as needed. It has to be coded in a special way which might throw beginners for a loop: Hare Basic can’t abide whitespace, for example, only allows for variables of one letter in length, has no support for modifying strings, and contrary to Commodore BASIC can only do integer math. There’s lots of other differences too, and if you want to play around with it it’s essential that you study the manual.

But once you get used to it, it runs blazingly fast, sometimes as much as 10 times faster! And the best part is you don’t have to use it for everything. You can start out with a standard Commodore BASIC program, then enter into Hare Basic mode with a USR function call. You could write your whole program in Hare if you’re up for it, or just loops, or other places where performance is necessary.

Of course, this is ultimately an enhancement for a programming language that runs on a home computer made in 1984. It’s not what one might consider of universal interest. But it might be of interest to the kinds of people who read this site. It’s interesting to me, at least. Maybe I should dust off VICE and see what I can do with it? I haven’t coded on a ’64 in nearly three decades, maybe I should get back into that….

Wherefore Pac-Man’s Split Screen?

I did a search of the blog to make sure I haven’t posted this before. I’m really an obsessive tagger, and it didn’t show up under the tag pacman, so I think it hasn’t been seen here before. Let’s fix that now!

It’s a video from Retro Game Mechanics Explained from six years ago, and it’s 11 1/2 minutes:

Here’s a terse summary of the explanation, that leaves out a lot. Like a lot of 8-bit games (the arcade version uses a Z80 processor), Pac-Man stores the score in one byte, making the maximum it can count to 255. Since it doesn’t use signed arithmetic, it doesn’t use the high bit to signify a minus sign and so flip to negative at 128.

As an optimization, Pac-Man’s code uses the depiction of the maze in the video memory, itself, in the movement of both Pac-Man and the ghosts. If a spot has a maze wall tile, then Pac-Man can’t go there, and the ghosts won’t consider that direction when moving.

At the start of every level, the game performs some setup tasks. It draws the maze anew, including dots, Energizers and walls. One of these tasks is to update the fruit display in the bottom-right corner. It was a common design idiom at some arcade manufacturers, especially at Namco, at the time to depict the level number with icons in some way. Galaga shows rank insignia in the corner; Mappy has small and large balloons and mansions.

Pac-Man’s code shows the bonus fruit for each level, up to seven of them. If you finish more than seven levels, only the most recent seven are shown. If you get far enough eventually this will be just a line of Keys, the final “fruit.”

The code draws them from right to left. There’s three cases (the video goes into much more detail), but generally it starts from the fruit of six minus the current round number, draws it, counts up once and moves left two tiles, draws that one, and so on.

An interesting fact about Pac-Man’s graphics hardware is that the screen doesn’t map as you might expect to the screen! A lot of arcade games have weird screen mappings. Most consumer programmable hardware will map characters horizontally first vertically second, like a typewriter*.

In Pac-Man, the bottom area of the screen comes first in memory, starting at memory location hex $4000 (16384 decimal), and it doesn’t go forward like an English typewriter, but is mapped right to left. The first row of 32 tiles comes at $4000, and the second row is $4020. Then the playfield area is mapped completely differently, in vertical rows going down starting from the top-right of its region, then the next vertical row is the one to the left of that, and so forth to the left edge of the playfield. Then comes the score area at the top of the screen, which are two final rows mapped the same way as the bottom area, right to left.

From the video, this chart shows how Pac-Man’s screen memory is mapped.

When Pac-Man’s score counter overflows, it breaks the check for the limit for only drawing seven fruit, and causes it to draw 256 fruit. This is why the tops of keys are drawn beneath the upper-halves of the fruit at the bottom of the split screen. It also breaks the tile lookup for the fruit.

As it continues writing its missourced fruit tiles in memory, it goes back in memory each time to draw the next fruit, and after the fruit section of the display it keeps going to the left, into the area where Pac-Man’s lives are displayed, then it keeps going and overwrites half of the maze tiles. Then Pac-Man’s lives (and any empty spaces that indicate the lack of lives) are plotted, overwriting fruit after the first ones drawn and obscuring some of the memory corruption.

Since the game’s actors use that data to decide where to move, and where dots and Energizers are placed, it means they can move outside the bounds of the maze, and that there won’t be enough dots for Pac-Man to eat to complete the level. That’s what makes it a kill screen: if Pac-Man loses a life, a few dots will get placed in the maze as the fruit are redrawn, but it’s not enough to bring the dot-eaten count to 244, which triggers the level clear function.

If the fruit-drawing loop didn’t stop at 256 (another artifact of using 8-bit math for the loop), it’d go on to clobber the rest of the maze, the score area at the top of the screen, then color memory (which has already been clobbered by the palette-drawing portion of the loop). Then, going by a memory map of the arcade hardware, it’d hit the game logic RAM storage, which would probably crash the game, triggering the watchdog and resetting the machine.

The visual effect of the split screen is certainly distinctive, enough that since Bandai-Namco has capitalized on its appearance at least once, in the mobile (and Steam and consoles) game Pac-Man 256. I’ve played Pac-Man 256: it’s okay, but, eh. It’s really too F2P unlocky.

* Yes, I just used a typewriter’s operation as a metaphor for something a computer does. It didn’t feel acceptable to use another computer thing as the comparison, since ultimately the reason they do it that way is because typewriters did it that way too. I guess the fact that it’s English reading order would be better to use, but I’m really overthinking it at this point.

Doing Weird Things To A Sega 32X

The Youtuber: MattKC Bytes
What he did: Unexpected things to Sega’s aborted Genesis/Mega Drive add-on.
The address: here.
The length: about seven minutes.

The explanation: Did you ever play around with a 32X? Evidently not a lot of people did. It was straaaange. Unexpectedly powerful! A bit misjudged! Hosted a port of DOOM! Had a port of Virtua Racing that compares favorably with the Saturn version! Had that crazy hard-to-play Knuckles game that gave us Vector the Crocodile!

Have you ever hooked one up though? Its hardware is odd. It’s like a completely separate console to itself. The Mega Drive wasn’t made to support add-on processors and chips like that, so Sega used a clever solution: the 32X has its own video output, and also a video input. You plug the Genesis’ output into the 32X, and then the 32X into your TV. The 32X mixes the Genesis’ signal into its own, as if it were chromakeyed. Since the 32X cartridge supplies the program running on the Genesis as well as itself and they can talk to each other, the two processors and graphics chips should be able to sync perfectly, if awkwardly.

But: because the Genesis’ video signal emerges from that console through this external wire before reentering the 32X, it’s possible to do things to it while in transit. The Genesis supplies video timing information that the 32X relies on, so you can’t get a signal from the add-on without the Genesis’ AV plugged into it, but the Genesis does produce a viewable video signal that you can see on its own.

All the details are in the video, which has been embedded below for your convenience and amusement.

Romhack Thursday: DKAFE

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

We’ve not done Romhack Thursday for a while. As the winds of the ‘net, and my attention, blow around randomly, sometimes there’s more things that seem worthy of posting than others. This one definitely fits the bill though.

We’ve posted about 10yard’s intriguing Donkey Kong hacks Galakong and Vector Kong before. I don’t think they’re actually hacks in the classic sense of the term, modifications of a game’s software intended to run on its original hardware, or at least an emulation or simulation of it. Galakong might, and Vector Kong definitely does, rely on Lua support in MAME to produce, respectively, a version of Donkey Kong where Mario teams up with the ship from Galaga, and another version of Donkey Kong limited to the Girders stage, a.k.a. Ramps, but with sharp colorful line-drawn artwork akin to that produced by Atari’s later Vectorscan monitors.

10yard let us know that they have produced a front-end to a variety of Donkey Kong romhacks, 90 in total. It runs on Windows an Raspberry Pi, although if it runs on the latter I suppose it must also be possible to get it to work on Linux? Maybe?

It’s not just a front end though. It presents all of its mods through an interface that itself plays like Donkey Kong! You move Mario around the levels of the classic arcade game (they’re connected vertically), and each is littered with arcade machines. You can play them with coins collected them as DK rolls them through the boards, and also earned by getting good scores in each game. Collecting more coins not only gives you more chances to play, but it unlocks further games in the collection.

You download the package from the Github page linked above. You must also provide the MAME-compatible romsets for Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. and Donkey Kong 3. (It might work without without all of them, but fewer games will be available.) Of course, it’s up to you to rip, or otherwise provide, those files. If you provide them, it’ll handle all the patching for you automatically. It even includes its own custom version of MAME to play them.

Both Galakong and Vector Kong are among the hacks provided, but there’s so much more to see and play besides those, including Halloween, Christmas and Doctor Who themes hacks. There’s really too many to mention here, and I’ve only started unlocking games myself. I’ll leave you with the closing link, and some screenshots of the hacks included that I’ve managed to unlock so far.

DKAFE (by 10yard, for Windows and Raspberry Pi, on Github)

Most of the hacks include a screen like this one, that tells you what scores you must reach in order to earn coins. 3rd place usually isn’t terribly difficult to reach. For many games, a 1st place score will be reached around the time of the Conveyors board in Level 3.
This is the game selection mode. Coins you earn are rolled down the ramps from the top of the screen; you have to collect them in order for them to count!
Before starting each hack, you’re presented with a text description of the game and how it plays, and who made it.
Here’s Galakong, which has been linked from this site before. The game is slightly easier, objectively speaking, than standard Donkey Kong, but it’s easy to get your attention split between the ship and Mario and make mistakes because of it.
Pac-kong replaces the roaming fireballs with the ghosts from Pac-Man. They move mostly randomly, like the fireballs, did, but they’re much faster. You can become invincible by collecting an Energizer, which turns Mario into Pac-Man temporarily. Pac-kong’s one of the harder hacks present.
Donkey Kong Anniversary Edition changes the boards slightly, and replaces the bonus items with presents and balloons. In case you didn’t know: you can collect items off the edges of girders by jumping at them: if you hit the edge of the screen during your jump, Mario will be bounced back to around the place he leapt from, and will (usually) be unharmed!
Donkey Kong Wizardry changes the Girders level substantially. They add new pits to leap over, changes to the way the ramps tilt, and adds other surprises. You get an advantage though: if you press the Player 2 Start Button (the 2 key), it’ll freeze the fireballs for several seconds.
Donkey Kong Lava Panic adds a tide of deadly fluid constantly rising up from the bottom of the screen. It becomes important to get the lower rivets on the Rivets board before they become submerged!
The Halloween and Christmas-themed hacks change the Girder stage greatly. When barrels (or whatever analogue that hack uses for them) fall off of a gap in the middle of the screen, they may randomly decide to go either direction, adding even more uncertainty to Mario’s progress. Be careful!

Youtube Series: Inside the Famicom

It’s only two episodes in, but this series from the Youtube channel What’s Ken Making is already really interesting, with episodes averaging at around 16 minutes each. The first part is titled “The Design of a Legend,” which doesn’t really grab me much, but the second is about the main processor, “The 6502 CPU,” which Ken admits near the start isn’t exactly accurate. The Famicom/NES’s processor isn’t precisely a MOS 6502; it’s a Ricoh 2A03 in NTSC territories, and a 2A07 in others. The 2A03 is licensed from MOS, but lacks the original’s Binary-Coded Decimal mode, and includes the Famicom/NES’s sound hardware on-die.

Episode 1 (15 minutes):

Episode 2 (17 minutes):

That removed BCD feature. Why? The video notes that the circuits are right there within the chip, but have been disabled by having five necessary traces severed. The video notes that the 6502’s BCD functionality was actually patented by MOS, and asks, was the feature disabled because of patent issues? Was Ricoh trying to avoid paying royalties?

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.

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

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)