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.

Chrontendo #60

Chrontendo’s back! Dr. Sparkle’s long-running journey through the entire library of the Famicom and NES continues. He’s been doing this for at least 15 years! Chrontendo got its start as a blog, then moved to a YouTube format, although every episode is also uploaded to the Internet Archive. Dr. Sparkle tries to complete the games he covers, meaning, sometimes it takes a very long time to construct an episode, especially when it contains a lengthy JRPG.

In addition to being generally watchable by anyone with even a passing interest in video gaming history, Chrontendo is a good series just to have on in the background while you do other things. What I’m saying is that it’s comfortable. Like Comfortable Doug! (warning: earworm)

Chrontendo 60 is subtitled “The Most Perverted Episode,” covers April through May of 1990, and features:

  • horse racing sim Kurogane Hiroshi No Yosou Daisuki! Kachiuma Densetsu,
  • a long section the original Fire Emblem and the series in general,
  • Rare’s PinBot, a very unique and interesting simulation of a real Williams pinball table with some unique video extras,
  • GameTek’s home version of the Nickelodeon game show Double Dare, which was also made by Rare,
  • the ludicrously-titled Dinowarz: The Destruction of Spondylus,
  • Imagineering’s Ghostbusters II,
  • Ivan “Ironman” Stewart’s Super Off Road, by Rare,
  • a very long section on the epic Final Fantasy III, from and by Square, which Dr. Sparkle proclaims to be the best JRPG on the system,
  • Kagerou Densetsu, a “sorta action RPG thing” published by “Pixel,” but we’re not sure who exactly that is, and may have been intended, it is speculated, to be a kind of RPG-ish sequel to The Legend of Kage, and
  • Nintendo World Cup (forgive me for not typing out the entire Japanese title), that weird Kunio soccer game that Nintendo published under their own banner, just with all the story and setting removed. It’s a decent soccer game even so.

With this episode, Dr. Sparkle is declaring a dividing point for the series. Up until now has been the rise of the Famicom; the rest covers its fall, what he calls the “Byzantine Empire” phase of the system’s life. This doesn’t mean the series is almost over though. Far, far from it.

Chrontendo #60 (YouTube, 2h 36m) – archivespreviously

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.

Digitizer

I’m a bit fuzzy on all this and open to correction, but….

In the UK, as far back is 1978, there was an electronic text service called Oracle, of no relation to the current-day owner of Java, OpenOffice, and VirtualBox. It was launched as a competitor to the even-older BBC service Ceefax that launched in 1974. In 1993 Oracle turned into Teletext, Inc. Teletext lasted for a good long while, up until 2009.

There is much more to that story, but we’re getting into the weeds. Our subject is the early teletype video game magazine Digitizer, a service provided on Teletext. Digitizer lasted from 1993 to 2003, a solid ten years full of typically cheeky 90’s British video game news content, delivered through the medium of ASCII text and artwork.

It’s a whole world of gaming enthusiasm from a lost era, and in it one can see the birth of a whole subculture. Some of these people are still writing today over on the site digitizer2000, although sporadically it seems. The site Super Page 58 has worked hard to archive as much of their content as they can, including a voluminous, yet still incomplete, listing of reviews.

And they liked the SNES port of Atari’s Rampart almost as much as I did!

The History of Digitizer, and Digitizer today.

Indie Store Page Review of Toaster Defense

This is a store page review of the indie game Toaster Defense. If you would like me to review your store page for a future show, please reach out.

Grog

Grog‘s subtitle is “The Reimagined Original Roguelike Game,” which sounds like it could have been an abandoned acronym. It’s made by Dr. Thomas Biskup, creator of the classic roguelike game ADOM, who played Rogue on an old PDP at Roguelike Celebration back in 2018. Your default name is Brak, which is probably a reference to the creation of fantasy author John Jakes, but it’s possible to amuse oneself by imagining Zorak’s pal traipsing cluelessly through the dungeon. “Oh, man!”

Grog‘s presentation is purposely old-school, a gray console window with ASCII characters for graphics. While it’s similar to Rogue, it has some interesting differences. It doesn’t support diagonal movement or attacks, for one. There’s 25 levels, with two kinds of enemies introduced with each new floor, we might call them a strong one, with powerful combat ability, and a tricky one, with a way to give you troubles in other ways. Secret doors are automatically searched for as you move.

The movement keys are WASD, traditional for DOOM, not the hjkl set derived from vi. The wait key is the space bar, and period is to wait until fully healed, so if you’re used to waiting with period and paging with space, you might want to consider changing your habits. To use stairs, use the ‘r’ key. Lots of items are used by pressing ‘u’ or ‘f’. Press ? for other keys and information.

The game asks you for your name, gender (while it defaults to male, you can enter any text!) and type (like, species). The game’s set up so that if you enter the same thing at all of these prompts, your character will generate the same way, deterministically.

Grog’s level builder is similar to Rogue’s, but it’s not limited to a 3×3 grid of rooms.

One thing about Grog that’s mentioned on its page is the game actually gets more difficult the more times you play. When a character dies, they may show up as a ghost on later runs, making things more difficult for you, and also when a monster defeats a player character they may get promoted into a unique individual, with added power and a name, that can show up on later plays! This customizes your copy of the game to an extent as you play.

Grog: The Reimagined Original Roguelike Game ($0)

Note, the download is hosted from Dropbox, which is notorious for rate limiting, so if you can’t get it immediately, maybe try another day.

ABAgames’ “Good Old Game Sound Generator”

Kenta Cho is a brilliant game maker, and he’s come up with a couple of generators that can generatively make short stretches of music, suitable for classic-inspired arcade games.

Short VGM Generator is on itch.io, and works by taking a pre-existing piece of music and attempting to make another piece of a similar style.

The Good Old Game Sound Generator is on GitHub, but for playing around you might be more interested in its Demo page. It takes a bit more effort to make something with it, but it’s a much more flexible tool. I must leave you to your own devices to make something of value, or at least of interest, using it.

The process that let him to create these tools is up on a page he made on dev.to. If you’re interested in generative music you should take a look!

Kimimi: Bounty Sword and Wild Card

Kimimi the Game-Eating She Monster (great handle!) has a knack for finding awesome Japanese games that Western shores missed 0ut on, and one such game is Bounty Sword, a Super Famicom JRPG with real-time combat, muted colors, and let’s not forget a fairy playing the role of player cursor. It’s worth your time to read, and maybe to contribute to her Ko-Fi!

Since I wrote that, she’s posted a review of another extremely interesting Squaresoft game, for the WonderSwan, Wild Card!