Bad Game Hall of Game: Sword of Sodan

Bad Game Hall of Game is an interesting blog that talks about failed titles without the snark with which they were usually treated in the early days of the Web, or the rancor of The Angry Video Game Nerd. Snark and furor drive hits, of course, so I can respect the desire to give games many regard as kusoge their due, whatever that may be.

When you know it? It’s simple.
When you don’t? It’s unfair.

Truthfully, there are lots of games that are perceived as bad that aren’t really so terrible, often due to the audience-chasing bile emitted by folk like Seanbaby and Something Awful. Games intended to be played for challenge, especially those from arcades and the earlier years of consoles, are kind of a pastime for masochists. When you lose, it often feels like it’s not your fault, but was it really? Was that hit telegraphed and avoidable? Was there some clever technique to be discovered, like jumping and slicing through an Ironknuckle’s helmet in Zelda II, that makes seemingly impossible enemies a simple matter to defeat? And when a game is intended to be played many times, not shattered in a single session but returned to many times, getting a bit further each time, isn’t it supposed to be a good thing that you may lose your first time out?

I took these screenshots myself for this post. See what I do for you.

There are lots of armchair game designers, maybe even more than armchair movie directors, since players spend more time with games generally before they put them down, and it’s easier, theoretically at least, to make games yourself without the capital expenditure and outside labor that movies require. (I can tell you though, it’s still plenty hard.) And yet, they are the players, and if they’re not having fun, then the game is doing it wrong. Even if it’s because of some information or training the player hasn’t, in their life, gained, you can’t blame them. Maturity can help a player enjoy games they wouldn’t otherwise. But this is also true of any art form, and the opposite could also be said to be true, there are games where, I’d say, maturity is an outright barrier to enjoyment. It’s complicated. Maybe I’ll talk about this later.

URG URG URG URG AIIEEE

In the article that Bad Game Hall Of Fame talks about that I find interesting today, the game in question is Sword of Sodan, the creation of Finnish demo coder Søren Grønbech, an infamous game with a much longer story behind it than your typical bad game, indeed extremely long. Out of curosity, I pasted BGHoF’s discussion of it into Microsoft Word, and it came up to 67 pages! It’s got two large sets of footnotes, goes back to the Amiga demo scene and gives insight into the difficulties of developing computer games, at the time, in the state of Denmark.

Almost nothing gets through these giants’ defenses, and your encounter with them puts one on either side. As a connoisseur I must say, the frustration is exquisite.

Sword of Sodan for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, as it turns out, is a port of an Amiga game. Both games are extremely hard, but the Genesis version actually has more interesting design decisions behind it, in the form of its potion mixing subgame. You can hold up to four potions, each of one of four different colors, and can choose to drink any number of them at once. Drinking different combinations of potions has different effects, most good, some useless, a couple actually bad. (Hilariously, if you drink one of each color at a time your character immediately dies, and the game flashes a message on screen: “WINNERS DON’T DO DRUGS.” Gee thanks, William S. Sessions.)

Many games of the time talked the talk, but Sword of Sodan would outright kill you if you got too experimental with your potions.

67 pages is a lot to read about a game that few people might want to play, but it’s okay to skip around. I won’t tell anyone.

Bad Game Hall of Fame: Sword of Sodan

Press The Buttons Finds Two Link’s Awakening Commercials

Matthew Green’s Press The Buttons is a gaming culture blog that predates our efforts by many years. They don’t update as obsessively frequently as we do, but the find good things!

They found a couple of commercials promoting Link’s Awakening, which turns 30 years old this year, one from Japan and one from the United States. The Japanese one is light and fun and a joy to behold. The American one, well, has rap lyrics, and is poorly lit, and is mostly a guy singing to game footage. Nothing against rap, but if there was ever a Zelda game that was less befitting the approach that commercial gives it, other than maybe Wind Waker, this one is it.

Here’s the Japanese one, which at least presents characters actually in the game:

A Tale of Two Link Commercials (Press The Buttons)

Dev Credits In Arcade Default High Scores

Waxy points us to a post on the blog The History Of How We Play (at thehistoryofhowweplay.wordpress.com, natch) explaining the practice of arcade game developers putting their initials on the default vanity boards of arcade machines, as some small way of getting their names into a public piece of software they had created, at a time when many companies tried to keep that knowledge secret. As the article says, this process slowly receded, as both arcade games relied less on high score chasing for their appeal, and as arcade games began to get actual credit sequences for players to see.

A few of their many screenshots:

Missile Command. Dave Theurer’s star shined so brightly for awhile.
Missile Command was a framebuffer game, which explains how the initials could be out of alignment with the letters of “HIGH SCORES” above them.
The two main people responsible for creating Centipede aren’t even at the top of the list, DCB is Dona Bailey (one of the very few woman’s names on the list) and ED is Ed Logg.
Atari’s Quantum was created at GCC by Betty Tylko, one of the other woman’s names. The fancy cursive “Betty” is because Quantum, being a vector trackball game, let you use it to draw your name into the first place score, something that would never happen today because some people would not be able to resist drawing a dong.

Arcade Authorship – High Score Table Credits

Another Retro Blog: Retro365

If blogging is ever going to come back from its loss to social media, it’s going to have to be from going more social itself. By that I mean links between blogs, making it easier to surface sites to others. Not only directly, but by helping to raise each other’s Google rank, although I think time has shown that Google is a fickle friend to people producing material for the Web, any site prominence you gain can easily be wiped away the next time they change their algorithm. Bigsites naturally get traffic just from being established, and other sites try to become big by gaming their placement with hyper artificial SEO techniques. Meanwhile us littlesites have to succeed largely by being interesting and direct views, as well as what traffic we can gather through followers through RSS, social media, Patreon and other sources. And there’s no reason not to help each other out. We’re not in competition between us. Any cross link, wherever, strengthens us all.

Here’s one from me. Retro365 has a vast collection of gaming media from the earlier days of home computing, and has been going for about three years now. They’ve got lots of demonstrated software on their Youtube channel. If you have an interest in learning about, or just seeing this stuff, they’ve got plenty for you.

Here’s a few choice items from their channel. There’s the classic CGA DOS game Paratrooper (the player doesn’t last long, only a minute):

Dungeon! for Apple II, published by TSR themselves in 1982 (32 minutes):

Oil’s Well for the Atari 400 and 800, a variant of the arcade game Anteater (8 minutes):

And a complete playthrough of comedy adventure game classic Sam & Max Hit the Road for PC (an hour and 47 minutes):

Retro365 blog, and on Youtube.

Press The Buttons and Power Button

Friend of the blog Matthew Green had a bout of ill health recently, but seems to have weathered the biological storm, and is back and ready to roll once more. So it seems a good opportunity to plug his gaming blog Press The Buttons, and his podcast Power Button.

Press The Button has been around so long that it was a thing while @Play’s former home GameSetWatch was still updating, and even got linked from there once or twice. And Reset Button just uploaded their 345th episode! Were here are hoping they keep the lights on there for a long while yet.

Matt Sephton’s Blog, “Get Info”

Us remaining (or even new!) blogs in the distant future year 2022 have to stick together, so I feel it’s important to point you to the blog of Matt Sephton, which is on a variety of tech and tech-adjacent topics, including sometimes games!

The particular item of interest there that I want to point you to today is on the obscure Japanese handheld P/ECE, released in 2001, which is a lot like a foreshadowing of Panic’s quirky elite gamer fixation/lust object, the Playdate. It too was a purposely-monochrome device in an age of color, and it also hosts a range of quirky homebrew games. It even still has a website!

Re:

f special note is that it was a place that notable and prolific small-game homebrew design genius Kenta Cho, a.k.a. ABA (Twitter), released their wondrous work even way back then! And where else can you find a demake of Rez that pits you against a malevolent Microsoft Outlook icon?

Please, check out all of these far-flung and varied links!

Matt Sephton’s blog, Get Info, and its article on P/ECE.