Displaced Gamers on Mega Man 3 Glitches

A bit of scanline flickering is a fairly common problem on the NES. Even Super Mario Bros. 3 had it, and that game was made by Nintendo themselves.

Game graphics in the 8- and 16-bit ages often came down to tricky hardware manipulation. The art of doing raster effects, changing the registers in the video hardware so as to divide the screen into different sections, ultimately comes down to timing. On the Atari VCS/2600, nearly all the graphics had to be done that way, but it was still a useful technique for over a decade after that.

A lot depends on the specifics of the video chip, a custom-built piece of silicon developed for the express purpose of taking graphics defined in memory and folding it, like electronic origami, into a shape that the TV would perceive as a broadcast signal. At that time, while it might still have been possible with clever coding, CPUs weren’t nearly fast enough to do that job themselves and still produce acceptable graphic quality and run game logic. (If you want to see what it would be like, I refer readers interested in doing it the very hard way to the amazing Freespin demo, which runs on a 1541 disk drive, and no video hardware at all.)

Older NES games used a supported bit of hackery called the “Sprite 0 Hit,” a signal the PPU would send at the moment the first of the system’s 64 sprites began to be drawn. By watching for it, games could do rudimentary raster effects on a system not designed for them. The issue there was processor time: the Sprite 0 Hit feature wasn’t hooked up to an interrupt line, so the program had to continually watch for it, checking a memory location repetitively over and over until it changed. Some games spent large portions of their runtime in a tight loop checking for the Sprite 0 Hit. Since, from the program’s perspective, the signal might come at any time, the loop needed to be tight, meaning the game couldn’t spend that time doing other work or else it might be delayed in responding to the extremely time-sensitive signal.

The MMC3 mapper had a special function though that could time out when a programmable scanline was reached, and send the processor an interrupt request at that time, greatly freeing up the processor for doing other things with that time. But not all programmers understood the best way to use it, which is why Mega Man 3 has some scanline glitching in a couple of very visible places, in the pause window and on the level select screen.

Displaced Gamers’ Behind the Code series, which we’ve linked to multiple times in the past, has done an exposĂ© looking into how Mega Man III’s glitches happen (28 minutes), and even wrote some code that erases all trace of them. As usual for Behind the Code, the explanation is fairly technical, especially of the fix, but the first half of it is fairly comprehensible. No one says you have to watch the whole thing. Or, indeed, any of it, but I always enjoy them!

Mega Man’s Score System

Looks like we’re on another Youtube binge, ayup ayup. This time it’s another hopeful video constructor asking us to consider the oddity of the score system in the original Mega Man (a.k.a. Rockman).

When you post as many Youtube videos as I do, it’s easy to form opinions about their style. That of “TheRetroDude,” as he styles himself, is interesting, it’s still hyper-edited in the way that so many Youtubers loathsomely adopt, but it’s not nearly as distracting as those. He keeps the volume down, as well as the number of swoopy objects tearing around the screen like a toddler newly introduced to Toblerone.

He has good points about how extraneous the game’s scoring system is too, although his misgivings could be laid against many other games. In Super Mario Bros, score is mostly a spacer before toppled turtles start giving extra lives. I think that score isn’t a bad addition to a game as long as it’s implemented thoughtfully, yet for too long it hasn’t been. Even in the NES days it was included to give players a short term goal to aim for, when they didn’t really need it.

What would a good scoring system look like, one that rewarded skill? Well–

  • Losing a life would reset score to that at the last passed checkpoint, eliminating point pressing from lives.
  • Extra lives at game end would be worth a bonus each.
  • Game timers are worth a small, yet substantial, award at level end, to prioritize fast play over slow.
  • Awards should be given for score, most typically extra lives, but others are possible too.
  • Replaying levels, and other means of “minting points,” earning arbitrary scores, should be ruthlessly eliminated. If the player can replay levels indefinitely then think about if your game really needs a score, and if it does, don’t allow players to earn more points from replaying them without costing them the points from that last pass.

Two games that come to mind that do scores well are:

  • ZANAC on the NES, being a scrolling shooter without checkpointing score is generally fair, although it is possible to warp backwards does break the no-replay rule, and
  • Star Fox 64, which only adds a level’s score to the player’s total at its end. SF64 is a game obviously designed around score attacks.

Where was I? Oh! Here is that video about Mega Man’s scoring system.

Mega Man 1’s Really Weird Score System (Youtube, 9 minutes)

zandravandra’s List Of Mega Man Romhacks

It’s too light to make it an official Romhack Thursday post, but it is Thursday, so…. or rather, it was, yesterday, when this was slated to go originally, except Fully Ramblomatic premiered and I figured I should strike while that iron was hot. This iron, after all, is more malleable at lower temperatures.

Alex Zandra on Mastodon, @zandra@mastodon.social, who is @zandravandra on Cohost, put together a list of her favorite Mega Man romhacks that looks pretty interesting.

The games are (in order through the series): Mega Man Speed Bomber, Rollchan No Constancy, Rollchan At The Tokyo Olympics, Mega Man 4 Voyage, Mega Man 5 Double Jumper, and Rockman 6 Spirit of Hackers. The closest I’ve come to playing any of them was Rockman No Constancy, before Roll was put into it. There are lots of hacks that are difficult even to play, so curated lists of them are very useful!

Alex Zandra’s list of Mega Man Romhacks (cohost.org)

News 1/5/2022: DidYouKnowGaming, Pocket Card Jockey, Unionization

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

Hiya hiya hiya Earth pleps, it’s your favorite alien gaming newscaster, here again with all the news that’s fit to blorp! Let’s get underway–

Ethan Gach at Kotaku notes that Nintendo had a video from DidYouKnowGaming about a failed pitch for a Zelda game that Retro Studios put together, but DYKG managed to get it reversed! Judging by the fact that like 90% of the posts on this blog seem to be about Nintendo one way or another you might think we’d be on their side in this, but nuh-uh! Nintendo abuses copyright law way too much, it’s good that this video was allowed to stand, yet it’s bad that ultimately Nintendo doesn’t suffer from these egregious actions. They can effectively throw out these legal threats with impunity, and their fans will just forgive them every time! I know that it certainly makes us feel a little bad about talking up their games so much!

So, more Nintendo stuff. At NintendoLife, Ollie Reynolds says that 2023 will be the year of 3DS GamePass. They even got an unshaven video maker on their staff to make the case for it. I mean, we’d like nothing better than to see that, but Nintendo themselves largely gave up on the 3DS and all its features years ago. It’s a nice thought though!

Pocket Card Jockey
Official image, from the Mobygames site

Also from Reynolds, good news: Pocket Card Jockey is getting a new edition! And they call it Game Freak’s secret best game! Yes, sweet vendication! And to think they gave its 3DS incarnation a “solid” 7 out of 10 at its release. But wait, there’s also bad news: it’s not coming to the Switch! It’s an exclusive release for Apple Arcade! Seems pretty boneheaded to me, but I don’t have an internal skeleton so what do I know?

While we’re on the subject of folk with heads of bone, Chris Moyse at Destructoid tells us that, in one of the most ridiculous decisions within memory, Square-Enix is doubling down on blockchain support in their games.

Mega Man Battle Network
Image from Mobygames

We love it when we can link to an article outside our usual stable, so here’s an article originally published in Japanese on Rockman Unity, translated into English and presented on Rockman Corner, an interview with the director of Mega Man Battle Network Legacy Collection about its upcoming release. Those games don’t get nearly the love they’re due, and it’s nice to see them given another chance to shine. Particularly, we’re told that the link cable battle play of the original games has been replaced with online matchmaking!

And to continue the upbeat tone at the end of our post this week, an article on Vice from Emanuel Maiberg about the formation of the biggest union in the US games industry!

Indie Fangame Constructor Mega Man Maker Approaches V1.8

Mega Man Maker (available for PC, Mac and Linux) is a fan project to do for Mega Man what Super Mario Maker does for Mario games, and it’s very well-made! It has a huge variety of levels available on its website to play, although what seems to be an account creation bug makes it difficult to tell you about them from experience. In addition to Mega Man (a.k.a. Rock), it allows Proto Man, Beat, or fan-favorite character Roll to be included in levels, each with their own special abilities.

It has a pretty cool tutorial as well, in which Dr. Wily and Dr. Light explain how the editor works. Their pixel artist really nailed that air of playful malevolence in Dr. Wily, who seems like he’d be fun to know if it weren’t for constantly trying to take over the world. Have a look:

I feel I should mention that it doesn’t contain all of the classic Mega Man series’ enemies and bosses, nor does it allow you to string levels together into a Mega Man adventure itself. As did Super Mario Maker, and SMM2 before its world creator update, it’s focused on designing single levels, although you can make them quite large, even big enough to be a whole adventure in itself.

Version 1.8 is due to come out in a few weeks, with a whole bunch of new features, and its creators have been busy hyping it up. We look forward to trying out the new version!

Mega Man Maker

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: