News 11/16/2022: Freezing Metroid Prime, An Exploding Oculus Set, Mario Galaxy Melancholy

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Sickr at My Nintendo News found a Twitter thread where former Metroid Prime dev Jack Matthews talked about a situation, after the game’s development, where Nintendo told them that there was a “bad batch” of Gamecube processors in the wild that Metroid Prime would work incorrectly on, with glitchy animation. The game pushed the hardware’s memory bandwidth pretty hard, and it was the only game that would reveal the problem. Nintendo’s solution, rather than replace the affected systems, was to get Retro Studios to get the game working properly on the bad chip. Further, Nintendo only had one dev kit that used the bad chip, and in order to get the situation to occur the had to keep it in the freezer! They had to freeze the kit in the break room while burning a disk for it, then run it back into the studio and save the game in as many places as they could in 15 minutes. Then they had to make their fixes and burn the new code while freezing it again. This was to get the game so that it would work with the bad chip as, being in the days before software updating, Nintendo’s “fix” for the problem was to send this new version of the game to disk and send it to affected customers. Seems weird to me, but it makes for a good story!

Metroid Prime (image from Mobygames)

The news has gone around a bit, but Kyle Orland at Ars Technica tells us that Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey has created a headset that’s designed to kill the wearer if they fail in the game. It uses explosive charges to detect when the screen shows a certain shade of red used in the Game Over screen to “instantly destroy the brain of the user.” Oh, joy. Luckey says it’s just a piece of office art at the moment, but it has actually been constructed. It seems almost designed to be game news blog fodder, something to keep Oculus talked about while Meta is going through its recent troubles. Anyway, we’re fans of permadeath as a design concept here, but this seems like it might be taking it a bit too far? And how do you even test it? Oh, also, why on earth would anyone even want to create such a horrible thing?

Steven T. Wright at Gamespot talks with someone who taught himself how to to repair old CRT monitors for use in retro game setups. There is considerable demand in repairing these old CRTs, since classic games look and (because they have minimal display lag) play much better on them. Particularly old professional-grade monitors like PVTs, which were quite expensive when they were made, are great for this. Some of his information comes from old personal homepages, another legacy of the oldweb that we’re finding ourselves increasingly obsessed with.

At The Verge, Andrew Webster reviews Digital Eclipse’s new Atari 50 compilation, which he calls “the best attempt at a retro collection I’ve ever experienced.” Digital Eclipse does great work! It’s full of interviews and the context around the games. Sadly games with licenses, which includes the infamous E.T. on the VCS/2600, are not included. Also, later arcade games that were made after Atari was split into home electronics and arcade companies are not included, so anything in arcades from Marble Madness on won’t be in there, which is a huge shame.

Super Mario Galaxy (image from Mobygames)

And, also from Gamespot, Grace Benfell talks about how Super Mario Galaxy’s setting and melancholy air brings a depth almost completely lacking in other games in the series. It’s a nice and meditative piece.

Video: The Pikmin Series Explained in Nine Minutes

The Pikmin series consists of three games so far (plus Hey! Pikmin, which doesn’t fit in with the core play of the other games, and the Pikmin subgame in Nintendo Land, which is extremely non-canonical), and so like any story-driven game property that’s survived for awhile it’s accreted a shell of lore that new players may feel like they have to break through if they want to fully enjoy it.

There’s a whole genre of explainer videos on Youtube to help players crack into these nuts, of various degrees of quality and/or sarcastic intent. Many of them are hyper-edited and obnoxious, and so I’m reluctant to link to them, but the one embedded above, from Chase Kip, is relatively chill and entertaining. So if you want to know what the heck is up with these Pikmin games, please check it out. Despite the thumbnail, it really isn’t about Olimar and the Pikmin’s sculpted bodies, at least, not that much.

Thumbnail grid generated by extract-grid-overview

(As is Nintendo’s style, each game doesn’t really require past knowledge to understand, as they not only explain everything that needs to be explained within the game itself, but even contains a tutorial that previous players will have to get through to re-teach them everything they’ve learned before. But, this doesn’t stop some people from feeling like if they start playing in the middle of a series like they’ve missed out on something.)

What We’re Playing 9/24/22

rodneylives (John Harris): Still working on Live A Live (just started the last chapter), Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Pinball FX 3 (Party Zone, Funhouse, High Speed II: The Getaway), Party Zone pinball (grand champion on local machine, at Pinball Palace)

Josh Bycer: Shovel Knight Dig, trying to find time to start Death Loop.

philnelson: Cult of the Lamb, Splatoon 3, and Fallout: New Vegas.

If you’ve been playing or watching something you enjoy and want people to know, tell me on Twitter (I’m @rodneylives), preferably with a hashtag like #whatimplaying, which I’ll take as permission to relay here.

Metal Slug M.I.A.

\An awesome fansite about this history of classic hardcore NeoGeo run-n-gun series Metal Slug, there’s lots of information and screenshots scavenged from Japanese gaming magazines about its development!

Early screenshot of a development version of Metal Slug, scavenged from Gamest.
All images in this post from Metal Slug M.I.A., which has many more of them!
Early in development, you spent the entire game in the Metal Slug tank.
You could rescue soldiers who would then help you in battle, such as the one in the white uniform in this image riding on the Slug.
Beta screenshot of the final boss fight with General Morden.

Metal Slug M.I.A.

5/17/22: What We’re Playing

rodneylives (John Harris): As anyone who’s been following me on Twitter will be able to tell, I’ve been obsessed with Bee & Puppycat: Lazy in Space. I haven’t felt this way about a show since Steven Universe. In games, I’ve played a lot of The Speed Rumbler on Capcom Arcade Stadium 2 (if you have it, check its internet scoreboards for my name!), and am working on an Arcade Mermaid post about it. I’ve been through five scenarios in Live-A-Live. And then there’s Animal Crossing New Horizons of course.

GWBycer (Josh Bycer): Mentions that he’s been going through Curse Crackers, For Whom The Belle Tolls, and Tinykin.

If you’ve been playing or watching something you enjoy and want people to know, tell me on Twitter (I’m @rodneylives), preferably with a hashtag like #whatimplaying, which I’ll take as permission to relay here.

Video: tom7’s Harder Drives

tom7, aka suckerpinch on YouTube, is a freaking genius. I don’t believe in geniuses, but he is a strong counter-argument, I will admit.

His modus operandi is to take some absurd premise and carry it to its logical conclusion, usually using some form of technology along the way. He then makes a video about it. Sometimes the video is in connection with a paper he’s written for SIGBOVIK, which is an entire oil tanker full of worms that I really don’t want to get into here, suffice to say it’s hosted on the site of the Association for Computational Heresy.

The PDF of their 300-page record of proceedings calls itself, “The fifteenth annual intercalary robot dance party in celebration of workshop on symposium about 26th birthdays; in particular, that of harry q. bovik,” about which all I can say, honestly, is, woof. I encourage you to go to that side and read, or at least try to read, some of their papers. You will come to feel like a complete imbecile, but you’ll probably be entertained.

AnYwAy. This post isn’t about SIGBOVIK but about tom7. The post above is about his questionable quest to construct mass storage devices out of unlikely things, like masses of Nintendo Tetris emulators, or a mass of used COVID tests. In the past he’s done fascinatingly-insane videos on bad chess algorithms, generalizing the concepts of uppercase and lowercase, created a number of weird bikes, or (to stick with the blog’s theme) teaching a computer to play Super Mario Bros. in a fairly silly way, which at least will teach you what lexicographical ordering means.

Found via a Metafilter post from user zengargoyle.

News 8/19/2022: John Deere Doom, Ship of Harkinian, E.T’s Legacy, NFL Blitz

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Rich Stanton at PC Gamer reveals how a hacker has not only circumvented John Deere’s controls that prevent farmers from repairing equipment they ostensibly own, but have gotten Doom to run on them. It’s also a good rundown on John Deere’s exclusionary practices and the attempts they’ve made at defending them.

Jim Normal’s post at NintendoLife reporting that internally at HAL Kirby Star Allies and Kirby and the Forgotten Land were both considered as part of a single larger project is pretty light, but is worth it for director Shinya Kumazaki admitting that Kirby is “a strange and surreal thing.”

The Verge has a longer article by Derek Hill about Zelda fan project The Ship of Harkinian, which while based off of Ocarina of Time was constructed off of a clean-room, open-source reimplementation, and isn’t distributed in a form that can be run, but must be compiled using resources from a supplied rom file for the game.

I need to convert this AVIF file from the game’s promo page to JPEG ASAP

At The Inverse, the headline on a David Grossman article breathlessly tells us “You Need To Play The Most Exhilarating FREE Game On Nintendo Switch Online ASAP.” It’s Tetris 99, which is cheating a bit since most of its features are locked off if you don’t fork over the lucre. Also by David Grossman at The Inverse, “You Need To Play The Most Overlooked Horror Game Of All Time On Switch ASAP.” It’s Castlevania: Bloodlines. The article’s title outright says Castlevania and not horror, for some reason. They like to make with the hyperbole over at The Inverse.

At The Escapist, making the best of its second life after recovering from its old Gamergate phase, Jesse Lab laments that “I Wish We Had More JRPGs Like Live-A-Live Than Xenoblade Chronicles 3.” I can appreciate that opinion, as a one-celled lifeform with a rudimentary brain I have difficulty with weird invented combat mechanics, and every time I’ve tried to make sense of Xenoblade Chronicles 2’s weird systems my functional limitations become apparent.

Image from Mobygames

It has now been forty years since the release of the game of E.T: The Extra Terrestrial on the Atari VCS/2600, so it must be time to rehash once again whether it killed the nascent video game industry or not. This time it’s a video post at IGN without an obvious credit, which takes the provocative (but accurate!) take that while E.T. is flawed due to being pushed out the door by Atari before Howard Scott Warshaw had sufficient time to polish it, it has many good qualities and shows real vision. My take: Atari games were glutting the market, but it seems unlikely that they could have also killed American arcades, which were also being glutted with machines released by fly-by-night companies, and probably in the end it was capitalism that killed the beast.

Do you remember NFL Blitz? Hell yeah! Midway’s smashmouth take on football akin to what they did for NBA Jam! It was awesome, it… wait… isn’t pro football undergoing some kind of reckoning about how many of its players die young due to damage received during their careers? Polygon’s Owen S. Good reports both that 1up is working on an NFL Blitz revival cabinet, and also that in recognition of football’s changing attitudes it’s modifying the original game in some ways to reduce the violence, such as by disabling the “late hits” that was part of the original releases.

At Rock Paper Shotgun, Alice O’Connor brings forth news of Backpack Hero, a game we’ve been aware of for a while, which sort of combines roguelite randomized situations with spatial inventory shuffling. It also uses the term “roguelikelike,” which we appreciate.

Our regular report from Kotaku is from Claire Jackson, about that voxel remake of Doom that’s been making the rounds. Finally, after 30-or-so years, you can see its sprites as smoothly rotated as its environments.

News 8/12/2022: Re-Volt, Pac-Movie, MOS7600

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Graham Smith at Rock Paper Shotgun tells about the return of Re-Volt, an RC Car racing game from the Dreamcast age that many regarded as fairly lackluster, but has nonetheless gathered a strong fanbase. It’s for sale again on Steam and GOG. While the game itself isn’t terrific as it is, fan-made mods that improve it require ownership of the original to function.

At GamesRadar (warning: will harass you to subscribe to their newsletter), Dustin Bailey (which may be a fun pseudonym) lets us know that the Coconut Mall reprise track from the DLC of Mario Kart 8 has been “improved,” in that the cars in the parking lot at the end of it now drive around getting in your way like they did back in the Wii version, and in fact are now even more annoying, doing pointless doughnuts in the lot just to piss you off. And yet, the drivers are Shy Guys, not the system Miis that drove the cars in the original, which in my bulbous eyes is still a downgrade.

Jesse Belinsky at The Verge contributes a personal essay about how the Animal Crossing series helped them explore their gender. They especially note how the pandemic gave them the push they needed, an event which will be remembered for years to come as a pivotal moment in time, I think at least.

Coming soon, just in time for… 2023?! They might have missed this property’s best-by date.

In sillier news, at the Hollywood Reporter, Mia Galuppo tells us that Bandai Namco is trying to get a Pac-Man movie made. Pac-Man’s relationship with media has been a strange journey. In Japan it originally didn’t do especially well, but in the U.S. it quickly set arcade cabinet sales records, partly due to the stewardship and marketing acumen of U.S. licensee Bally-Midway. They commissioned several sequels that were unauthorized by original creator Namco, most of which have been stricken from the records, except, for a time, Ms. Pac-Man, created by GCC as a hack of the original game that would go on to eventually surpass it in lifetime sales. Namco would in turn adapt several aspects of the Pac-Man expanded universe for their own use, notably Ms. Pac and aspects of the first Pac-Man TV show, a pretty dumb cartoon made by Hanna-Barbera back in the period where they’d adapt anything for a buck. Namco made Pac-Land, an important early scrolling platformer, using the characters, music, and art style from that cartoon. In recent years rights issues have caused Bandai-Namco to reject Ms. Pac-Man too, creating a rights-unencumbered replacement character called “Pac-Mom,” which presumably will feature in this movie. All of this is just to demonstrate to you how incredibly twisted and fraught Pac-media has become, and I haven’t even gotten into the second TV show, Pac-Man and the Ghostly Adventures, which I’d rather not discuss. I will note, however, that because of Pac-Man’s inclusion as a character in Smash Bros. 4 and Ultimate, the first Pac-Man cartoon show in some small way lives on in Smash Bros’ Pac-Land stage.

Hamish Hector at TechRadar (that’s a different site from GamesRadar, right?) writes that there’s never been a worse time to buy an Oculus Quest 2. Considering that dumps more money into the hated trough of Zuckerberg, I can’t think that there’s ever been a good time.

Image, from Old Vintage Computing, of the box from one of the MOS 7600/1 systems

Jenny List at Hack-A-Day points to a long and interesting post by Cameron Kaiser on good ol’ Blogger blog Old Vintage Computing about MOS Technology’s early entries into the Pong system-on-a-chip market, the MOS 7600 and 7601, which were programmable, meaning, they could run code, and systems that used them. It makes for fascinating reading to my gelatinous brain.

And at PC Gamer, Christopher Livingston relates how the developers of survival MMO Last Oasis decided their genre “sucks,” and reworked it to be PvE instead of PvP.

Video: The Interton VC 4000

I was looking around the web through alternative search engine Wiby, which I find can be a good way to get out from beneath Google’s oppressive crush of SEO and pandering, a.k.a. tHe aLgOrItHm, and wow did it come through. It brought my eyes to the small yet hopeful gaming site Retro-Sanctuary, and their YouTube channel, which presented something I had never heard of before: a super-obscure old German game console called the Interton VC 4000, created by a hearing aid manufacturer!

From Wikipedia, used under CC BY-SA 3.0, user Evan-Amos.

Look at those weird controllers! They’re like calculators with a joystick attached, but they’re analog, and unlike the Atari 5200’s infamous ‘sticks they’re self-centering! And this was made in 1978! Interton was owned by Phillips, who also owned Magnavox, who made the Odyssey and (later) the Odyssey 2. The VC 4000’s tech was licensed to other companies for making their own versions which, in an unfortunate prelude to the NES era of game production, couldn’t use each other’s cartridges because they were different shapes.

“No dear, we have Atari at home.”

As the guys in the video point out, most of the games for the systems were copies of early Atari VCS/2600 games, but often just different enough to be interesting for their own sake.

YouTube, Retro-Sanctuary: Console Look-Back 1: Interton VC 4000 Review and Games, found via Wiby

Arcade Mermaid: Pepper II

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Arcade Mermaid is our classic arcade weirdness and obscurity column! Once a month we aim to bring you an interesting and odd arcade game to wonder at.

Released in 1982, a couple of years after a little game called Pac-Man, Pepper II is a maze game set in a four-screen world. You’re a blobby angel thing called Pepper, obeying an edict from the Powers Above: zip up four screens’ worth of boxes. The box borders are made of un-zipped zippers, and by zooming around each one it’s zipped up and captured, filled with a pattern.

Opposing your efforts are a bunch of roving eyes and a weird pink creature callled “the Whippersnapper.” It was the golden age of arcades, and realistic scenarios were on the outs for a time.

Its box-surrounding play looks similar to Amidar at first, but it’s really quite a different game. Amidar‘s enemies move according to a set and inviolate plan, but the eyes of Pepper II rove mostly randomly, with a slight bias towards chasing you. Amidar only lets you attack your enemies once per board, after you’ve surrounded all four corners, but Pepper gets this power after capturing just one of the corners, or the box in the center, up to five times per maze. This means that you’re invincible a lot of the time! Play carefully and you’re almost always invincible, which is important because you’re really vulnerable when you’re not. There are up to three more enemies after you at a time than in Pac-Man, and their unpredictable meandering means you often get caught right as you’re finishing a box.

Pepper’s world isn’t a single screen, but consists of four interconnected mazes. The arcade manual calls them cubes, and when you clear one you get a little cube icon in the bottom-right corner of the screen, but it isn’t a cube really; there’s only four sides. The game world is more like a horizontal strip. When you go off-screen to the left or right, you enter the next screen in the strip, but if you go up or down you skip ahead/behind one screen. From Screen 1, left goes to 4, right goes to 2, but both up and down go to 3. Enemies don’t have an off-screen existence beyond a few seconds after you change mazes, but your progress on other screens is remembered, so you can solve each maze a bit at a time if you choose.

The best thing Pepper II has going for it is its speed. It is incredibly fast! It makes Pac-Man feel creaky by comparison! Surrounding an energizer box gets you only four seconds of invincibility, but it’s long enough to surround multiple other boxes.

Pepper likes to overshoot intersections, and even with attention you’ll still probably miss them sometimes. When you enter a new maze, enemies enter from the four sides randomly after only a second, and at the game’s speeds this makes them very dangerous at that time. You could start capturing a box, and by the time you’re all the way around it a roving pair of eyes have both entered and moved over into your path. The eyes are not focused pursuers, but their large number and randomness make them plenty deadly enough.

The Whippersnapper is a little special. When you activate an energizer you can destroy the eyes for points, but will just pass through the Whippersnapper. The Whippersnapper exists to prevent you from zipping up tracks randomly. It undoes your work as it moves through the maze! Once you’ve completely captured a box it’s safe and cannot be unzipped, but until then it’s easy for it to mess up your work. It also moves much faster than the eyes.

There’s a couple more nuances to play. If you go back over your own trail you’ll unzip it. There are bonus items you can surround for ever-increasing bonuses as the game continues. The energizer in the center of the board flips between a stronger version that also kills all the enemies on the screen. These play quirks don’t really amount to all that much. Pepper II is a game about careening at full tilt around a board, clearing it piece by piece, and frantically racing between energizers to keep your invincibility going, and the other details tend to get lost in the rush.

Extra lives are awarded at 40,000 and 80,000 points. A good early score is around 50,000. I can regularly break 200,000, clearing two cubes, but the difficulty goes up rapidly from there. Both as you continue in each board and as the game goes on the enemies speed up a lot, and starting with the second cube the unzipped trails turn invisible for short periods.

About Exidy

Exidy was founded by in the very early days of arcade gaming. Some of their better known games include Star Fire, Mouse Trap, and Venture. They were never known for their graphics, although some of their products were among the earliest arcade games to use digitized sound. Many of Exidy’s games made up for their lack of visual flair with strong gameplay fundamentals. Venture, particularly, is a minor classic. Exidy was known to court controversy at times, with games like Death Race, in which the player runs down pedestrians, and the excessively-gory Chiller, where the player uses a light gun to dismember helpless victims in a torture room. Chiller received an unlicensed port to the NES by AGC (“American Game Cartridges”).

Coleco ported Mouse Trap, Pepper II, and Venture to the Colecovision console, where they were met by an appreciative audience. Their port of Pepper II is especially good. It’s very much like the arcade game, just a little slower.

Exidy games from the time of Pepper II tend to have a visual look akin to DOS games played through a CGA card. Pepper II is like this, but it certainly can’t be called slow. It takes sharp reflexes just to get around its mazes.

Famicom Prototype of The Fairyland Story Discovered

Dylan Mansfield at site-favorite Gaming Alexandria tells us that there is now preserved an unreleased Famicom port of Taito classic arcade game The Fairyland Story! Fairies are rife around our offices, I have to tell you, they’re everywhere, getting underfoot and in the way of closing doors. Oh? This game is more to do with a more generic kind of fantasy world? I knew that.

Young witch protagonist Ptolomy clears a number of successive screens of enemies using her magic that can turn them into cakes! Released to arcades in 1985, it’s kind of an intermediate game between 1984’s Chak’n Pop and classic 1986 arcade hit Bubble Bobble. If you’re a fan of the arcade game you should check into this one, as many of the level layouts are different! The announcement post and rom is at Forest of Illusion. Unfortunately-named YouTube channel Hard4Games has a short video about the find:

Forest of Illusion: The Fairyland Story (Japan) (Prototype) via Gaming Alexandria.

Indie Dev Showcase 6/18/22

Each indie showcase highlights the demos and developer submitted games we play here, if you would like to submit a game for a future piece please reach out.