Sundry Sunday: Gyruss Themes

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

While there are examples of excellent music from the classic era of arcades (Frogger comes immediately to mind), I don’t think there is much that can equal that of Gyruss’ arrangement of Bach’s Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor. Here it is, isolated from the rest of the game’s soundtrack, from Youtube uploader StyleK226 (1 1/2 minues):

Wikipedia tells us that the arcade arrangement is reminiscent of a version of the song from the British band Sky, titled just “Toccata” (4 1/2 minutes):

If you only know Gyruss from the NES port, you might be surprised that it’s an almost entirely different arrangement from the arcade version! Maybe it was changed because of the similarity to Sky’s version. Some people prefer that one, it’s got a bit more variety, although I think the arcade’s is a bit better. Judge for yourself (3 minutes):

The Toccata is only used for the intro and the first warp on each planet, which is a bit of a shame, the rest of the music isn’t bad, but it’s not Bach. In Japan, Gyruss was a Famicom Disk System game. The FDS had extra sound hardware, and the result is an upgraded version of the NES soundtrack (14 minutes in all):

There’s been a number of fan versions of the Gyruss soundtrack, although most of them seem to be inspired by the NES port rather than the arcade original. Here’s a metal medley of that particular musical mutation (3 minutes):

As commenter @Fordi says, “What I love is that Intro / Stage 1 is a genre cover (metal) of a game’s adaptation (Gyruss) of a genre cover (Sky – Toccata) of classical music (Toccata and Fugue in Dm).”

Sundry Sunday: Dig Dug Explained Stupidly

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

It’s pretty short, at a minute and a half, but here is a brief and silly explanation of the classic arcade game Dig Dug. That’s all!

SjASMplus

No image this time. There’s nothing to take a screenshot of! SjASMplus is, simply, a cross-platform assembler targeting the Z80 platform, the processor that runs many classic arcade games. (I refuse to say “powers,” that’s not what that word means!) If you have interest in writing new games for old arcade platforms, it’s something you’ll need.

It’s the holidays still, and I’m trying to unwind a bit. I’m failing, but at least the effort is there: the effort to reduce effort. Maybe someday.

Cam’s Pac-Man Fun Page

From the linked page. Piranha is one of a whole category of Pac-Man bootlegs that try to obscure their origin.

I’m considering writing more on the subject of the male-gendered Pac, which I assume is a mere matter of social custom among the Pac-People since they have no genitalia or clothing. Pac-Man bootlegs, in particular, are bizarre and wonderful, even if they often aren’t very fun to play.

But Cam has a nice page devoted to Pac mutants. And these old Geocities-style pages need much more love these days, so for now I’ll link to them. Have a look!

A little remarked-upon aspect of these Pac-legs is how their character name is strictly determined by how many letters long it is, so that they can fit on this screen in the same amount of space that PAC-MAN did.

Names For Bootleg Pac-Man Ghosts

From a bootleg made by “SegaSA / Sonic.” Appears to have no relation to the Sega we know, or its spiny progeny. One of the few bootlegs that gives Pac-Man himself a nickname.
From a bootleg made to work on Moon Alien hardware. These are the “alternate” official names for the ghosts. Are they direct translations of the Japanese ghost names? Those are remarkably ugly ghost colors: hence, this remark.
These boring names are from “JPM bootleg,” I assume that is its maker.
From NewPuc2, Set 2. The best bootleg names I’ve seen so far, by a wide margin, even if they have nothing to do with their colors or personalities. I can almost forgive the misspellings.

Dan Fixes Coin-Ops Repairs a Baby Pac-Man

Over on Mastodon, Dan Fixes Coin-Ops has been documenting an epic quest: the repair of a Baby Pac-Man machine.

It’s one of the non-Namco Pac-Man spinoffs that Bally/Midway released in the wake of the original’s extremely high popularity. I’d like to remind readers that while Namco has been the sole beneficiary of Pac-Man’s heights lately, the original game, at first called Puck-Man in Japan, was not popular there. The spin-offs, console ports, handheld games, trading cards, stickers, clothing, cartoon show, Christmas special, breakfast cereal and unnumbered other items, that was all Bally/Midway’s doing. Toru Iwatani created and designed it, his team made it into a game and cabinet, Namco released it in Japan to middling success, and from there Bally/Midway got behind it and turned it into one of the most gigantic video game hits there’s ever been, a machine that at one point had one hundred thousand units.

Now, I’m not going to deny that their effort led to some erasure of knowledge of Namco’s existence at the time. All those Pac-Man machines and spin-offs mentioned “Bally Midway Mfg. Co.,” with nary a mention of Namco. But it’s undeniable now that erasure is happening in the other direction: a search over the History page on official Pac-Man website has no mention of Bally at all, even though the page acknowledges that the game was “a major hit in the United States.”

Some of that success leaked back to Japan and fueled some Namco-made sequels: Super Pac-Man, Pac N Pal, Pac-Land, Pac-Mania, Pac-Man Arrangement and eventually Pac-Man Battle Royale and Pac-Man Championship Edition, and more recently things like World’s Largest Pac-Man and Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship.

Bally/Midway made their own sequels. One of those, Ms. Pac-Man (created by GCC), came to eclipse the original in popularity, but in addition to their licensing of Super Pac-Man and Pac N Pal they made Jr. Pac-Man (also from GCC), as well as Professor Pac-Man and this game here. The one Dan Fixes Coin-Ops repaired. Baby Pac-Man.

Baby Pac-Man is a game that only could be made by Bally, because it’s a video game/pinball hybrid.

Bally, together with the company that would buy them, Williams, is arguably the greatest pinball maker there’s ever been. Up until around 2000 (a heartbreaking year) they made wonderful machines like The Addams Family, Twilight Zone, Attack From Mars, Star Trek: The Next Generation and quite a few others. In 1982 though pinball was in a slump while video games had reign over arcades. The decision to make a game that connected one of the greatest arcade games of all with pinball must have seemed obvious. (It wasn’t their only attempt to capitalize on their golden license with a pinball table, witness Mr. & Mrs. Pac-Man, which I’m informed was released eight months before Baby Pac-Man.)

The combination of an arcade video game and pinball makes for a unique experience. It also makes for a game which breaks down even more often than your standard arcade game, as the thread notes: there’s three computers in the thing, and it’s subject to all the typical arcade game problems, all the typical pinball problems, and special problems with the portions of the machine that connect the two halves together.

The thread begins memorably:

In case y’all were tired of hearing about popular Fediverse people making bad decisions, just thought I’d let y’all know I bought a 1980’s hybrid pinball/videogame tonight

I bought a god damn Baby Pacman

Like this isn’t for a client, I’m not working on it to earn. This game COST money. This is my game now, I paid for it and it lives in my house. I’m not gonna get to give anybody a bill.

This is such a perversion of the natural order of things. I’ll probably route it one day, but for now this is an arcade machine that I SPEND money on!

It’s taken me a little while to get it into the house and have a chat with the mate who sold it to me and let the littleun have a go and put her to bed and fix a couple things and have a go myself so I’ve not been catching up on my notifications, I saw some questions so I’ll do a little thread on it over the next couple of days

I cannot stress enough that you should not buy one of these things

Folk who like 80’s pinball want stuff like this or Haunted House and you shouldn’t buy a Haunted House either

These are games for pinball techs or people with money to hire pinball techs or very close friends of pinball techs

Except Baby Pac-Man needs you to be friends with an arcade tech too.

He finally got it working after three months of work, and what a journey it is. He did it for love of the game: while Baby Pac-Man is dissed in some circles it’s a genuinely interesting game. But to like it, you have to abandon the relatively lenient expectations of classic arcade video games. Pinball is inherently unfair, and that unfairness oozes out and coats even the video portion of Baby Pac: the ghosts don’t waste time in coming after you, and you start with no Energizers: you have to earn them in the pinball portion, which for the most part you can only visit once per life/board. You can return to the video portion temporarily though by locking the ball in a scoop.

Here is the full thread (to date) in Masto Reader, which is a Mastodon version of Threadreader. It takes maybe half a minute to collect the posts and present them though, so to read the whole saga you’ll have to be a little patient.

An interesting video about Baby Pac-Man (although with some bad sound) District 82 Pinball’s here (12 minutes), which covers the tech and gameplay:

And Joe’s Classic Video Games’ demonstration (25 minutes):

Dan Fixes Coin-Ops: Baby Pac-Man Repair

District 82 Pinball’s Baby Pac-Man play and tech tips (Youtube, 12 minutes)

Joe’s Classic Video Games on Baby Pac-Man (Youtube, 25 minutes)

JRPG Junkie Describes Lost Sega Arcade RPGs

Another JRPG post! That’s two in a row, and it’s about some quite interesting games, including a lost Shining Force game. The website JRPG Junkie tells us about some Sega arcade games that fit the mold that sound like they would have been interesting to have tried.

Quest of D (image from JRPG Junkie)

Quest of D was a dungeon crawler where the player’s inventory was collected as physical trading cards, that were scanned into the game in order to use them. Shining Force Cross was similar in concept but without the cards; it lasted until 2016. And finally there was Soul Reverse, introduced in 2018.

The world of Japanese arcade games from around this time is largely a big dark area to me, and right around the time when the US arcade industry started its death spiral. It was also a time when server connectivity and online updates came into vogue, meaning when the servers went down, many of them ceased to be playable. It’s really sad that this has become essentially a lost age of gaming, at least to people outside of Japan. We probably couldn’t play them then, and we certainly can’t now.

Dungeons & Deckbuilding: Sega’s Lost Arcade RPGs (JRPG Junkie)

The Lost Sound Code of Sinistar

Sinistar was a game that had quite an impressive sound design. It borrowed a bunch of its sound effects from earlier Williams games, with which it shared common hardware that was originally design for pinball machines. A cockpit version of Sinistar, of which only around 200 units were made, was the first arcade game to have stereo sound. And of course all versions of the game have the Sinistar’s famous digitized threats and taunts.

While Sinistar’s main program source code was found and made available on Github, the source of the code that drove its sound hardware has long been lost. Youtube user SynaMax has done the best he could at recreating that code, and has made a video talking about the process, the sound design of Sinistar and other early Williams games, and even found unused sounds in the code.

Contained within the code is the revelation that the sound chip that drove the rear speakers in the cockpit version ran slightly different code than contained within the main sound ROM. The data from that version of the game was only dumped this year, meaning that the game running in MAME was somewhat incorrect.

Now that the right version of the chip has been dumped, the cockpit version of Sinistar now sounds properly in MAME. Although this does mean that users running up-to-date MAME have to refresh their romset for this version of the game. Such are the tradeoffs of MAME emulation.

Another revelation of the video was that the parametric sound generators used by Williams arcade games from that time often produced interesting noises if it was fed with random data. Sound programmers sought out different sets of numbers to give them, including by asking passers-by for numbers off the top of their heads and garbage values found in RAM when dev systems were powered up, in order to produce strange sound effects.

Devs using more recent parametric generators like bfxr, LabChrip, ChipTone, sfxia, rFXGen, wafxr and jfxr can produce noises by similar means using those programs’ Mutate or Randomize buttons!

I feel like I should warn however, near the end of the video is mention of a bit of drama concerning the MAME developers, in getting code supporting the change integrated into the software. I’m not weighing in on this, not the least reason being I don’t know enough about it. But I feel like you should know it’s coming, ahead of time, before embarking on the 51-minute journey.

Rescuing the Lost Code and Stereo Sound to Sinistar (Youtube, 51 minutes)

Arcade Heroes Updates

Every once in a while I take a look over at what’s happening in the arcade side of gaming. Usually I’m left feeling pretty sad. The age when there were dozens of cool arcade concepts being released every year was very long ago at this point. For arcade video games made in the US, the only two companies I’m aware of that are doing anything substantive are Raw Thrills (who are ubiquitous) and Play Mechanix. I mean, there’s also Incredible Technologies, still making their yearly Golden Tee updates. And of you consider screened slot machines to be a kind of “video game” then sure there’s more–but I don’t. I don’t consider them to be video games.

Promo card for Bandai-Namco’s upcoming Bike Dash Delivery (Images in this post from Arcade Heroes)

All of this is just from a cursory look, mind you. I haven’t had the will to follow the current-day arcade industry, from any country, for a good while. The demise of Atari Games and Midway took a lot out of me. I’ve carped a bit about Raw Thrills a bit, but honestly that’s probably just how upset I am that Atari is gone. A lot of the games that are made seem to be things like driving or light-gun games, usually with a big-cabinet or ride-like component. Mind you, a local arcade has two Raw Thrills Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles machines, but they’re so inferior in play to Konami’s classic cabinets, even running on thirty-year-old tech, that I’m embarrassed to watch them on their behalf.

But there are a few interesting newer games in arcades. Two places local to me have interesting Space Invaders-themed light gun games, that use a large bank of LEDs for a screen. And… well, that’s actually about it, as far as recent games I’ve gotten my own hands on that I find remotely interesting.

But the blog Arcade Heroes, which makes the arcade scene its beat, sometimes uncovers some games I’d like to have a play on, if I ever were to encounter one, which seems mostly unlikely, alas.

For example. While I find them theme on most current pinball releases to be a bit lacking, for example focusing on rock bands consisting of senior citizens, in the case of the upcoming table based on Spinal Tap, that actually makes the machine more entertaining instead of less.

Charles Entertainment Cheese, and his old boss, Atari founder Nolan Bushnell

Bandai-Namco has a game coming up called Bike Dash Delivery, which actually allows players to (gasp) actually explore a little, instead of being stuck on a set course like so many other arcade titles in these sad times. The article mentions both Crazy Taxi and Propcycle, both machines beloved by me, so I’m rather hopeful this game will make it to the States!

Kevin Williams has a recurring column on the arcade scene over there, and his most recent is a retrospective on the years of 1982 and 1983, the end of the “classic era” of arcade gaming. Whether for history or nostalgia, it’s worth a look.

DragonCon 2023: Arcade Things

More low-effort posts about game things spotted at Atlanta’s pop culture mega-convention.

A Cosmic Smash cabinet!

That recent arcade port of NES obscurity Mr. Gimmick!

A 2007 arcade version of Rhythm Heaven, completely in Japanese! This was perhaps the coolest game at the convention.

Sadly blurry in this shot, but: Space Invaders! Without the color overlay though. The monitor didn’t work for like two entire days, too.

Twilight Zone pinball, this picture being of the time I nearly completed the door but lost my last ball before collecting that hated Question Mark! (Don’t worry though, the next day I came back and did it, and played Lost In The Zone. I left with the #2 score on the machine–although oddly, it seems someone else who plays these games also has my initials? JWH? Their Terminator 2 machine’s scoreboard is full of JWH but I’ve never played it!)

The games were brought this year by Save Point, who mostly provided Japanese games and some pinballs, and Joystick Gamebar, which provided a good number or retro arcade machines and more pinball, including that Twilight Zone.

Two of the people who helped bring us the games from Joystick Gamebar this year, Winston (left) and Brian (right)

I’ve got hundreds of pictures that I’ve yet to sift through. More tomorrow!

Chris Trotter’s History of Atari

The Atari brand has been in so many hands, and been used for so many things (including, most recently, NFTs and hotels) that making sense of it all is maddening. Christ Trotter on the atomicpoet Pleroma instance made a fairly lengthy series of posts laying it all out that, to my eyes, is accurate. He may actually know more about their history than I do, although pride makes me loathe to admit it!

The whole thread is useful, but here’s the first post on it, presented as screenshot because WordPress doesn’t yet support embedding that kind of thing directly. I don’t know why it’s so blurry, that seems to be WordPress again.

Chris Trotter’s Capsule History of Atari (atomicpoet.org, a Pleroma instance)

romchip.org: Battling Entropy In Restoring Arcade Machines

From the article, a photo of the inside of an original Pac-Man game. The insides of most arcade games are usually a stark contrast to their externals, even upon release, but time is often unkind to them.

I’ve been working on diversifying our link game a bit, so here’s a more academic article, one with an actual bibliography no less, from the site romchip.org, by Kieran Nolan on restoring arcade machines. I’ll let the link speak for itself this time!

Arcade Entropy (romchip.org)