Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
Shiftylook was a great site with comics and animation based on Namco characters, with official permission. It’s been gone for several years now, but it was nice while we had it.
Some of its cartoons have managed to survive, transferred to other sites, and the entire run of their Mappy cartoon, 13 episodes at nearly two hours in total, is on Youtube, uploaded by Nicky. We’re highly cognizant here of the demands of maintaining a daily blog, and I probably should be spreading these out one a week, but eh, I’m sure we won’t run out of material any time soon…. Of everything Shiftylook put out, Mappy has an unusually high number of people fondly remembering it. I haven’t seen much of it, so there’s always a chance there’s something unfortunate in there. If there is, I’m sorry, but I doubt it could be that bad.
What pushes a game past the notability barrier, that makes it interesting enough for me to post it here? Classic arcade game remakes are always a good sign. Items for the Pico8 fantasy console are also a strong positive factor. These two elements combined well make it a must-post.
Especially when the game is Mappy. A great game from Pac-Man-era Namco, simple rules but, while surprisingly difficult, a little strategy can get you a long way in. Still, true mastery needs a lot more than that.
This Pico8 version is a good remake, although quite a bit harder. Guide Mappy of the Micro Police through each mansion, stealing back the ill-gotten gains of kitty-cat gang. Unlike many policepeople, Mappy is an entirely non-violent actor, and actually never arrests anyone; he just takes back their loot. And for their part, while the Mewkies and Goro (“Boss the Big Bit”) do knock Mappy out of they catch him, later media seems to indicate that neither side bears any real antipathy for the other. They’re just doing their jobs.
The thing that makes Mappy unique is its trampolines. While on a trampoline you cannot be hurt by the cats, but three bounces on the same one without stopping causes it to break. When you get off the trampoline it’s easy to get caught unless you use the doors as a defensive tool. Pressing the button (X in this Pico8 version) opens the closest door in front of you-you don’t even have to be near it. It swings out in the direction of its doorknob, and knocks out any cat near it on that side for a few seconds, allowing you to pass by. The light-colored doors also house the powerful Microwave, not here a cooking tool but a multicolored beam that launches out and sweeps cats it hits out of the level for a few needed seconds.
This remake of Mappy restores the Japanese name for Goro, “Nyamco,” a pun on the arcade company’s name with a cat angle: “Nyan” is Japanese onomatopoeia for “meow.” You’ll find that while supposed-boss Nyamco is as aimless as he ever was, wandering each level mostly randomly and hiding behind loot, the Mewkies are tenacious chasers, and here will quickly corner you if you don’t have a good plan. Even with its higher difficulty it’s a lovely port, and it’s free to play too!
Back in 2013, David Crane chimed in on a thread about Pitfall II. The Atari VCS (a.k.a. 2600) was not known for the quality of its music. For sound effects, especially noise effects like blasts and booms, it was fine, but its TIA chip didn’t have the frequency resolution to produce every musical note precisely, meaning some of it notes would sound a bit off.
There was technically a way to produce almost arbitrary waveforms, though like many techniques on the system it was processor-intensive. It involved changing the volume on one of its sound channels in real time to simulate the waveform of the sound you wanted to make. That was fine so long as you didn’t need the processor to do anything else, and sadly, on the VCS, just displaying graphics relied heavily on the processor.
David Crane managed to get decent polyphonic music out of the VCS by using Pitfall II’s DPC chip, which Crane created himself, as a co-processor that figured out the right values to set the volume to produce the mixed waveform for the music at a specific time, which the machine’s overworked 6507 CPU could then read and send to the right volume register in the TIA every scanline. The process is explained (to the understanding of a sufficiently technical frame of mind) here. I think I understand it myself!
The fact that David Crane is still around, and so willing to discuss the many tricks he came up with to make his games, is a great blessing, as is the existence of the AtariAge forums themselves, which are a trove of classic gaming information.
Nowadays this technique has been refined and utilized in homebrew cartridge productions. A particular standout is the music from Champ Games’ version of Mappy, which is frankly amazing. Check it out:
The long-running Atari fansite AtariAge sells a number of carts that run on classic Atari VCS systems that make it do things you might not expect that system could do. Some of the most impressive of these are remakes of classic arcade games that go far beyond what was possible at the time. A number of these were developed by Champ Games. Here are links to a number of videos showing them off, although sone of the may not currently be in their store: