Sundry Sunday: Megalixir

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

A really recent one this time! BitFinity, a.k.a. Matthew Taranto, who made Brawl in the Family and a fair amount of Waluigi music, animated and wrote this terrific little song about item hording in Final Fantasy VI, sung by Taylor Robinson.

Sundry Sunday: Shinra’s New Boss

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

Newgrounds videos aren’t as easy to embed as with Youtube, but once in a while I find one that’s worthy enough to try. Plus, it’s a Final Fantasy VII animation, and that’s a type of fandom that we cover here extremely rarely. Rarely enough that… I’m not sure we’ve ever exhibited Final Fantasy fanwork here, other than the occasional romahck. Huh.

Well, here is a short Flash animation, rendered into video of course because of our cold and heartless age, from Newgrounds, of a bit of audio from Team FourStar’s Final Fantasy VII Machinabridged Episode 10.

<iframe width="800" height="450" src="https://www.newgrounds.com/content/embed.php?id=LFfBM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Shinra’s New Boss (Newgrounds, 47 seconds)

Final Fantasy Artist Yoshitaka Amano Draws Cuphead Characters

I’ve been trying lately to take it easy on the Youtube posts, but in this age of the internet they seem unavoidable. This one though, I think is unquestionably worth it, a six-minute video of the illustrator of classic Final Fantasy games (whose work mostly came through in monster images and manual art) doing a piece for the cover of the CD soundtrack in preparation for Cuphead’s Japanese release. The early moments of the video are preliminary sketches that show them getting used to the characters; the work he settles on is a Final Fantasy-esque interpretation of Cuphead and friends (and enemy). Thanks to NoxAeternum to finding this and posting it to Metafilter!

Romhack Thursday: Final Fantasy for MSX, in English

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

There was a period during the 8-bit era where games best known for being on the NES could get ports to other machines. Most of the ports we got in the US and Europe were not that great. There were a fair number of classic NES games with lackluster home computer adaptions. Even the best of these, like Mighty Bomb Jack, Castlevania and Life Force for the Commodore 64, usually paled compared to their NES counterparts.

I put the blame for this on the cartridge format. While a much more expensive media for releasing software than disks or tapes, it had the great advantage of being enormously flexible. The whole phenomena of mapper chips and other in-cart add-on hardware on the NES had no counterpart on the C64 during its heyday, even though there was really no reason the ’64 couldn’t use the same kinds of chips that the NES used.

Things were a little different in Japan on their native microcomputer platforms. While anemic ports were certainly possible there (like the infamous Super Mario Bros. Special) a fair number of console games got pretty good computer ports. Many of the best of these were for the Sharp X68000, a system I really must cover in detail soon, but the MSX platform got a fair number, many due to the efforts of Konami.

Both Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy for MSX ports with their own unique properties. Today’s post is about Final Fantasy, which recently got an English translation, and which in play and structure resembles its NES original to a large degree. It’s even a slight upgrade, with more colors in its characters and able to make use of an MSX sound expansion cartridge for improved music.

The game was reimplemented from the ground up, so it’s even missing many of the bugs that the Famicom original, forged out of raw bytecode as it was by consummate hacker Nasir Gebelli, is known to have. It would probably be the definitive early version of Final Fantasy if it didn’t play painfully slowly. You can’t see it in these screenshots, but instead of the world sliding smoothly across the screen as on the NES the terrain snaps by in eight pixel steps, and your party also walks more slowly than on Nintendo’s machine. And while it’s not as bad as loading times in the Playstation 1 Final Fantasy games, the game still lingers on a blank screen for several seconds when fights begin and end, which will drive you nuts before long.

The English translation patch that FCandChill put together basically just uses the NES game’s script, so no surprises there. These days games in the style of those early JRPGs are quite out of style, but if you still have a hankering to play a game that basically demands that you grind out levels to have a chance and where you will almost certainly total party wipe at least once during your run, you could do worse.

English translation patch of Final Fantasy for the MSX2 (romhacking.net)

How Do You Say “Bahamut?”

Drew Mackie’s Thrilling Tales of Old Videogames brings up the issue of frequent Final Fantasy summon and sometimes optional boss monster Bahamut’s pronouncation, and tells us its mythological source wasn’t pronounced ba-HA-mut, but instead, ba-ha-MOOT.

Bahamut is one of the oldest traditions in Final Fantasy, going all the way back to the first game, where much of the game’s bestiary came directly from the Dungeons & Dragons books. Yet Bahamut was not fightable in that game, they wouldn’t fall into their standard role of challenge encounter until the third Japanese game. Like many D&D creatures, and JRPG creatures too, Bahamut was a borrowing from a mythological source. They were one of the entities upon whose back the world is carried. Observe:

Which of these entities is “dragon king” Bahamut? The person is just an “earth-bearing angel.” The bull is Kuyuta. Bahamut, or “Bahamoot,” is the fish. What’s more, it’s thought that the name derives from Behemoth, from the book of Job, despite Behemoth not being a fish. But Final Fantasy already has a Behemoth….

None of this proves much of anything. RPG writers, both tabletop and videogame, have long just pulled anything out of mythology, and sometimes more recent literature, that they wanted and just used it, regardless of author, age or culture. Gary Gygax had a Monster Manual to fill, he didn’t have any internet to help him fill it, but lots of other people enthusiastically used his bastardization, to help them compile their own bastardizations. That’s what most game lore is when you get right down to it: it’s bastardizations all the way down.

This is just a fraction of the edifying enfo, er info, in the article, a link to which awaits you here:

Bahamut and Behemoth: One And The Same? (Thrilling Tales of Old Videogames)

News 2/2/2022: Konami, Link to the Past, Listicles

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

My cell walls are feeling kind of rigid at the moment due to a computer issue that caused me to lose the first draft of this post. All of my witty remarks, lost to the electronic void. You missed out on my entertaining usage of the phrase “odoriferous blorpy.” Truly we are in the worst timeline. It’s all left me feeling kind of cranky, let’s get through it quickly this week.

Ted Litchfield at PC Gamer on a RuneScape player playing a minigame for eight years and turn turning in all his progress at once. RuneScape is an early MMORPG that began in 2001.

Several things to do with Konami, a once-great publisher that’s become pretty hidebound lately:

Dustin Bailey at GamesRadar: fans are working on a PC remake of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. I’m sure this won’t get obliterated by legal threats. They should have gone with the cheeky route taken by The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest. The article mentions that its creators consider the fact that many townsfolk lie to you to be a problem, instead of awesome as it really is.

Charles Harte at Gamespot organ Game Informer says Dead Cells’ upcoming Castlevania-themed DLC is really big.

Also from Charles Harte, Konami is shutting down their recently-released game CRIMESIGHT, not just removing it from the Steam store but even making it unplayable. Great way to reward people giving you money, K. It’s not even a year old yet!:

Tyler Wilde, also from PC Gamer, on a $2,000 game on Steam and what it’s about. Summarized: it costs $2,000 but is short enough that people can finish it within the return period, and it amounts to a screed against women. Blech!

Dean Howell at Neowin: a fan-made decompilation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past can now be compiled for Windows and (presumably if your device is jailbroken) Switch.

Christ Moyse at Destructoid tells us that Taito’s classic The New Zealand Story is coming to the Arcade Archives series. Gandalf could not be reached at press time for comment.

Two listicles:

Zoey Handley at Destructoid on the 10 best NES soundtracks. The list is Bucky O’Hare, Kirby’s Adventure, Castlevania 3 (Japanese version), Contra, Dr. Mario, Super Mario Bros. 2, Mega Man 2, Castlevania II, Journey to Silius, and… Silver Surfer?

Gavin Lane and the NintendoLife staff on the 50 best SNES games. The list is compiled algorithmically from reader scores, and can change even after publication. At this time, the top ten are, starting from $10: Donkey Kong Country 2, Earthbound, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV, Super Mario RPG, Yoshi’s Island, Final Fantasy III, Super Metroid, Chrono Trigger, Zelda: A Link to the Past and Super Mario World on top.

Tom Phillips at EuroGamer mentions that the original developers of Goldeneye 007, recently rereleased after 25 years on Switch and Xbox platforms, were a bit miffed that they weren’t asked to participate in the festivities. At the time most of its developers were completely new to the game industry, and they’ve been generally snubbed by its publishers in talking about the new versions. Does feel pretty shabby, Nintendo and Microsoft!

Andrew Liezewski at Gizmodo talks about the graphics in an upcoming Mario 64 hack made by Kaze Emanuar. I’ve followed Kaze’s hacking videos quite a bit (I think one’s been posted on Set Side B before), and the optimizations they’ve made to Mario 64’s engine are amazing, not only eliminating lag but great increasing its frame rate and making it look better to boot.

And, at Kotaku, Isaiah Colbert reports on various things being done to celebrate Final Fantasy VII’s 26th birthday, including official recognition in Japan of “Final Fantasy VII day” and a crossover with Power Wash Simulator. Maybe they can do something about cleaning out all the grunge from Midgar, that city could use a bath.

News 11/9/22: Lego Zelda, AI Art, EA Software Patent

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

Lego is banning new Ideas projects based on The Legend of Zelda, according to Chris Wharfe at Brick Fanatics. The reasoning given is a bit vague. It could either be because Lego is working on their own Zelda sets (and they already have a working relationship with Nintendo, making the popular Super Mario sets), or it could be that the rights to Zelda models were sold to someone else. Either way, it may mean we get Zelda models through some company eventually.

A pretty good Link model from Lego Ideas! From its project page.

PC Gamer, Andy Chalk: Final Fantasy XVI’s using excuses to not have Black characters. Specifically, by claiming the game’s world is based on medieval Europe, despite Black people existing there. Grumble, grumble!

Old school blogger Mark Frauenfelder of good ol’ Boing Boing mentions illustrator Hollie Mengert discovered her work was used without her permission to make AI-generated work, and the model that utilized her work released as open source by MysteryInc152. It links to an original article by Andy Baio at Waxy. Someone explain to me how AI-generated work isn’t legally a derivative work based on every work it’s trained on? That seems like it’s just obvious.

From Andy Baio’s article-the left is Hollie Mengert’s work, the right, the output of the AI model trained from it.

Rich Stanton at PC Gamer writes that EA’s been granted a patent on game controls that change based on how well the player does. Software patents are bad on principle, that is a horse that I will always flog despite this awful situation having existed for literally decades now, but getting past that, for now. This seems at first like just another version of adaptive difficulty, which is also something that seems like it’s kind of a problem when it happens without notifying the player or giving them a say in it. I know I know, “Kent Drebnar, get with the 21st Century.” Maybe I’ve been hanging out with the Gripe Monster too much lately. The article goes back into the history of these kinds of effort, going all the way back to Compile’s Zanac, although I would argue that’s not so much adaptive difficulty as a system that the player can strategize to manipulate. Zanac is terrific, by the way.

Bryan at Nintendo Everything mentions that Sega is hiring a Sonic “loremaster,” presumably someone who knows the history of the many forms of the character. Said role will assist in creating new content and characters in the Sonic universe. Sounds like a tall order given the many varied and contradictory versions of the property there’s been, but I’m sure there are people out there who are up to it. Good luck, whoever they pick!

News 10/6/2022: Deku Stick, Stadia’s Demise, Chaos;Head Noah

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

Ollie Reynolds at Nintendo Life reports on why the Deku Stick item in Link’s hands looks different between Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. It has to do with a subtle texture reference error.

Oli Welsh, demonstrating that there’s nothing good that can last, tells us that three Disco Elysium developers have left the company. Details are scarce, but it seems it was not by choice. Is it possible that there’s an NDA involved, or else, a non-disparagment clause?

At TechCrunch, Devin Coldewey claims that Stadia, Google’s streaming gaming service that they just finally killed, died because no one trusts them to keep anything alive. I still remember (and tend to repeatedly mention) how frustrated I was when they killed Google Reader back in 2013, in order to make way for a social networking service that no one remembers, and that feeling never really went away.

Chaos;Head Noah, screenshot from Mobygames

Kyle Orland at Ars Technica mentions a visual novel Spike Chunsoft is releasing for Switch that they’ve cancelled for Steam, due to mandated content changes by Valve. The game is called Chaos;Head Noah (their punctuation, not mine), and was originally released for the Xbox 360, with a Vita re-release, that both received very restrictive ratings. Later releases had an edited script which allowed it to be released with a lighter rating, which an anonymous source says is the version to be released on Switch (and not on Steam). Chaos;Head Noah is a sequel to the previous Chaos;Head, and both are part of the same series as Steins;Gate.

The mainstream gaming press suffered another blow. John Walker writing for Kotaku mentions that the ubiquitous Fandom wiki empire, formerly known as Wikia, has purchased a variety of other websites, including Gamespot, GameFAQs, and Giant Bomb, in addition to TV Guide, Metacritic, Cord Cutters News and Comic Vine. The NetHack Wiki changed over from Wikia many years ago, yet Fandom’s out-of-date version of it still confuses Google search results today. And it doesn’t feel great that so many properties have their primary source of knowledge about them owned by one business, which now engulfing a much larger percentage of the fan media landscape. I point you again to the line in our sidebar that says, “Just say no to Fandom.com!” And yet, if you want to find information on some things, Fandom sites are largely inescapable.

Final Fantasy V, image from Mobygames

Marshall Honorof at Tom’s Hardware goes through the six English releases of Final Fantasy V and tells you which is the best to play-although, pointedly, it is challenging to buy these days. It contains a screed about game preservation that I am entirely on board with.

Video Games Chronicle’s Jordan Middler discusses a Bloomberg report that controversial Activision chief compliance officer Francis Townsend has stepped down, a former Bush administration officer who was unpopular with both fans and employees for not addressing reports of harassment.

The Final Fantasy IV Door Stack Glitch

The Final Fantasy series is loaded with bugs throughout. A full recounting would be much more than a longpost’s worth, but here is a quick description of one specific example, from Final Fantasy IV (originally II in the US, but most people now will probably think of it by the Japanese numbering anyway).

The door to the pub is push-type, potentially causing Problems.
Image from mynockx’s guide on GameFAQs.

Some RPGs, instead of coding area transitions all as a sequence of doors and destinations, instead use a form of stack to record where the player was when they entered the door. “Stack” here is a term from computer science, a data structure consisting of a region of memory and a pointed within it. Data can be “pushed” onto the stack, which means putting some number of bytes onto it and advancing the stack pointed by that number. Stacks can “grow” either up or down, meaning when the pointer advances, it’ll go in that direction. When the data is needed again, it’s read off the top of the stack, then the pointer is pulled back to its original position.

So how the door stack works is, when a player enters a location, say enters a town from the overworld, their location before entering is “pushed” onto the stack and they are then moved into the town’s entrance. When they exit the town, their old location is “pulled” from the stack, leaving it empty. (Actually, the data is still there, but because the stack pointer has been decremented, it’ll be overwritten the next time the player enters an area.)

Why use a stack? Well mostly it’s a convenience thing for the programmers. A door’s location can either be “into” an area, or “out of” it. “In” doors have to know where they’re going, but “out” doors just have to know they’re going outside. But it helps in one particular instance; if a game has a spell or item like “Exit,” “Outside,” or “Warp,” it can work simply by pulling every location off the stack until it gets to the last one. This means the programmers don’t have to have every location “know” where a given area is on the World Map. Just rewind the door stack until you get to the last location on it, that must be it.

Well there’s a subtle bug in some locations in Final Fantasy IV where some transitions that push when they should pull. One such transition is the one to the pub in the Dwarven Castle. When you enter the pub, the way in is pushed onto the stack; when you exit, instead of pulling that location off, the way out is pushed onto the stack.

There’s only so much memory reserved in a stack, which for old games is usually implemented as a single page (256 bytes) of memory. The pointer into it is thus one byte long, and so if the stack fills up, it wraps around. If you find such a door, and go through it enough times, you can cause it to overflow on purpose, with unexpected results.

This can be taken advantage of in Final Fantasy IV by overflowing the stack, then going through a pull-door, which causes the game state to be read from unexpected memory. Speedrunners (you just knew they’d be involved) use this to flip rapidly to the end of the game. Most players will never notice this very subtle bug, since when you return to the world map the game knows enough to completely clear the stack.

Something I’ve noticed about the 8- and 16-bit Final Fantasy games is, if there is a potential for an obscure bug somewhere, there is almost certainly going to be an example of that bug somewhere in that code. A lot of these bugs are only visible to a player with obsessive observation or repetition. This results in spells with unexpected effects, stats with no function, features that don’t operate, and item duplication bugs. Truly, it was an age before unit testing.

Final Fantasy Wiki: 64 Door Hierarchy Glitch

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

Sundry Sunday: MST3K & Rifftrax Gaming Clips

You’ve made it another Sunday! For making it this far, why not take a break with some fun things? The whole point of Sundry Sunday is to be a low effort thing for the end of the week, but to be honest I couldn’t resist putting in a little extra work on this one.

It might not be evident on the surface, but the classic riffing show Mystery Science Theater 3000 has roots deeply entwined with video games. The show’s staff were known to spend off hours playing Doom against each other on a company LAN they had made for that purpose. During the show, they produced a clip that was distributed on the PlayStation Underground magazine CDs in which they riffed on some of Sony’s artsy commercials from that time (above).

After the original run of the show ended, some of the cast and crew drifted for a bit, doing various projects. One was a short-lived web comedy magazine called Timmy Big Hands, which we might look at some day. Show leads Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy and Bill Corbett did a couple of other things together, like a four episode movie riffing project called The Film Crew, before they eventually settled into doing Rifftrax, a project the three of them work on to this day.

While at Rifftrax, they’ve produced at least two game riffing clips. The first was made for sadly-departed gaming site Joystiq, and riffs on Mega Man, Final Fantasy X, Sonic the Hedgehog and, especially, something from the Metal Gear Solid series, which I would think is the perfect fodder for such video merrymaking:

Afterward they made another short clip for IGN riffing on Gears of War 3:

Rifftrax makes their living producing and selling clips making fun of shorts and movies, and one of those is the 1993 schlockfest Super Mario Bros. I call it schlock, but it’s one of those movies that critical opinion has slowly been coming around on over the years since its release. More and more it’s being seen as a competently-made and entertaining kids’ sci-fi fantasy movie perfectly of a piece with the era in which it was made-it’s just not a very good adaptation of the games with which it shares a title.

Rifftrax sells the whole Super Mario Bros. riff, complete with the movie on which it’s based, on their site. I highly recommend it, but IGN presents a nine-minute clip teaser from it on YouTube:

Link Roundup 5/1/22

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

Late submissions for juried independent game festival Indiecade are open until May 15th.

C.J. Wheeler for Rock Paper Shotgun: Perfect World Entertainment absorbed by Gearbox Publishing.

Mitchell Clark for The Verge tells us that Apple claims right to remove software from App Store if they aren’t downloaded recently.

Brian of Nintendo Everything reports that Aspyr is open to ports of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, including unreleased Wii versions. The source is this tweet.

“Dreadknux” of Sonic Stadium writes of fan art that adds the movies’ Agent Stone to images stills of other Sonic properties.

Brendan Hesse of Gamespot, speaking for site staff, offers a ranking of 14 Final Fantasy games. From worst to first, the ranking, all according to original Japanese numbering and not including the MMORPGs:
2 < 15 < 13 < 3 < 1 < 9 < 4 < 8 < 7 < 5 < 7 Remake < 10 < 12 Zodiac Age < 6

This is a little towards the technical end of things, but Sudden Desu on Twitter has created a framework for developing Mega CD (a.k.a. Sega CD) games, available from GitHub.

I’ve seen it elsewhere, but I’m linking to Eric Van Allen’s report for Destructoid, on Disney Dreamlight Valley, a lifesim with Disney IP. I’m imagining it as being like Animal Crossing, but with Disney characters. Do you know how annoying a neighbor Tigger would be?

Dennis Payne of Gaming On Linux tells us of a Dungeon Crawler Jam hosted by dungeoncrawlers.org, with some interesting output!

Ian Walker of Kotaku tells us of a mod for Final Fantasy VII Remake that brings Yoshitaka Amano-like designs to the generally un-Yoshitaka-Amano-like Barrett!

8 Eyes (image borrowed from MobyGames)

Alex Donaldson of VG247 snidely and suitably mocks the Denuvo DRM in the upcoming Sonic Origins for protecting the digital virtue of the original Sonic games, which have long been widely traded on the web.

Adam Conway at XDA lets us know of Skyway, a work-in-progress Nintendo Switch emulator made specifically for Android.

Christian Donlan, writing on Eurogamer, lets us know of Playdate games available on itch.io!

It fell to Sean Hollister at The Verge to inform us of a hack of a Fischer-Price toddler game controller to make it suitable for playing Elden Ring. Was it made by foone? It wasn’t, it was Rudeism? Cool.

And Steve Watts, writing for Gamespot, has, to mark the 35th anniversary of the release of the original Castlevania (the game not the anime), a listing of games not-too-subtly inspired by it, like 8 Eyes for the NES. Although this reviewer feels compelled to note they left out The Transylvania Adventure of Simon Quest!