Romhack Thursday: Metroid + Saving

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

What is the ultimate fate of the library of the NES? Right now a lot of people who played it in their childhood are still around. We won’t be around forever. Once we’re all gone, or even mostly, will anyone still care about them?

I don’t believe that game design goes obsolete, but novelty is a big driver of game enjoyment, and what was once popular can fuel a nostalgic appreciation. Once both of those things are gone, will NES games be able to win new generations of players to their side?

Metroid + Saving’s file select screen, showing collected items

I think there is reason to be hopeful in this area. After all, lots of speedrunners are focused on these games, and many of them are fairly young, not even having been born yet when the NES was new and Nintendo Power was in print. Still, there are some games that are a bit player unfriendly, viewed through modern eyes, and one of them is Metroid.

The original Metroid is a difficult game to enjoy now. It’s got a gigantic game world for a NES game, but no mapping option at all. To win the player must explore, find a lot of items necessary to winning, probably find some more that make winning viable to a non-expert, and fight countless monsters that can very quickly end the player’s session. While the player can continue as many times as they wish, they always resume at the entrance to the area they were in with only 30 health, so to survive long enough to resume their explorations they usually must spend a lot of time grinding for energy balls, a process that can take quite a lot of time.

Added is a basic wall jump feature! The time’s really tricky, but since the game was designed without one, it works out okay.

Nintendo generally doesn’t remake their older games, except occasionally with graphic upgrades, such as with Super Mario All Stars. The gameplay, however, they leave alone. But they did remake Metroid, as Metroid Zero Mission, which added a lot of the later niceties that Super Metroid introduced, has a much more logical game progression, and even has an expanded end game. It seems to indicate that even Nintendo thinks Metroid is a bit hard to get into.

The map reveals the layout of the whole game, but except for a few cases, you still have to search out important items.

There is a whole genre of romhacks devoted to fixing the more unfriendly aspects of older games, and one of the most successful of these hacks, in my opinion, is snarfblam’s Metroid + Saving. It’s recently gotten an unofficial update by SimplyDanny, which is slightly friendlier, but both are substantially more playable games to people who aren’t inured to classic Nintendo difficulty.

The first thing it does is get rid of passwords. People playing with savestates may not care, but there is a lot to be said for approaching these games as they were intended by their original makers. And Metroid’s first release, on the Famicom Disk System, did have save files! So the save functionality (if you’re playing on an emulator or supporting flash cart) isn’t a revision, it’s more of a restoration. You lose the JUSTIN BAILEY password, but it’s not like the original game isn’t still out there.

The door transitions have been made much faster!

But Metroid + Saving has a lot more going for it than just that. It has a map! In the original it appears when you pause, but SimplyDanny’s version also puts a small map inset in the upper-right corner of the screen. It’s not the first classic Metroid hack to add a map (that might be Parasyte’s Metroid Automap patch), but its inclusion here is well taken. It’s hard to express how helpful a map function is to new Metroid players. It changes the nature of the game, keeping a lot of its challenge, but reducing the frustration, and also helpfully providing hints as to where secret passages may lie.

Missile doors take fewer missiles to open!

The new unofficial addition also restores all your energy when you begin a new session, makes random health and missile drops more common, and makes the game subtly easier in a few other ways. The Ice Beam has been strengthened considerably, a change I don’t agree with (it seems too powerful now), but it does greatly reduce the number of shots you must pump into late game enemies.

If you tried out Metroid before and found it its diamond-hard surface too difficult to break, you should give this version a try. It’s still challenging, oh yes, but a lot more accommodating to newbies. It is a version of Metroid for the ages.

Metroid + Saving 0.3, made by snarfblam

Metroid + Saving 0.5.2, modified by SimplyDanny

Metroid Prime’s Save System

Zoid Kirsh on Twitter (while Elon Musk hasn’t completely wrecked it yet) tweeted about how Metroid Prime’s save system works. Metroid Prime save files are less than 60 bytes long! A single Gamecube memory card block is eight kilobytes, so it’s a bit overkill, but it’s still nice when a developer is frugal!

Image, of Metroid Prime’s inventory screen, from Mobygames.

The way they explain it is that the game has a number of “world layers” which determine what is spawned in each area when it’s loaded. Which layer is active when a room is loaded is determined by a single bit in the save. That, plus some basic stats like health and ammo, and the record of object scans, all take up very little memory when bit-packed.

If Metroid Prime’s save file were 59 bytes long, that would mean it had 472 bits to work with. The passwords used by the original Metroid only stored 144 bits of data!

Romhack Thursday: Junkoid

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

A hack of NES Metroid, Junkoid doesn’t offer many changes to the original game besides graphics and area maps. Most of the engine changes it has are pre-existing patches made by other people. It uses the Metroid map and save game patch, but only offers a map for the starting region. Fortunately, while it has some cool secret areas to find, its mazes aren’t particularly complex, and I was able to complete it without keeping any maps on paper.

Junkoid’s premise is that the game world is a dream had by its protagonist, which is its excuse to provide a variety of imagery without any great coherency to it. One area seems like it’s drenched in blood, which I am not usually a fan of) Another like it’s a cloning factory, dedicated to making clones of the heroine, but its boss is a penguin that acts mostly like Ridley.

For the most part it’s not too difficult going, but I found that the final boss could be very frustrating. It uses Mother Brain’s coding most as-is, and doesn’t have the Zebetite gates immediately before it so you can get by with fewer missiles, but it’s very easy to get tossed around by the various hazards of the final area, and the boss’s weak spot, which can only be harmed by missiles, was a bit too finicky when registering hits. Still though, I can vouch that it’s possible.

Have some more screenshots:

Junkoid’s Romhacking.net page

Video: GoldenTorizoCode

This is a channel on YouTube of various Super Metroid glitches and weirdness. A lot of it is pretty deep magic, and they tend to throw around evocative terms like Murder Beam, Chainsaw Beam, and even Spacetime Beam. Those links are useful in understanding what in the burning acidic heck the narrator is talking about. Knowing and caring about the gameplay of Super Metroid is, of course, required for comprehension.

But if you do know about Super Metroid, and you do care about learning about some of the more ridiculous glitches in videogamedom, then you’re in for something that is a reasonable approximation of entertainment.

The name of the channel refers to a debug feature left in Super Metroid’s code, that can be pulled off without hyper-obscure tech, although in the process it’s likely to crash your game. When you enter into the room of the of the bosses, the Golden Torizo, if all of the face buttons are held down during the transition, your equipment will be overwritten by a number of items. The code gives you all of the beam weapons in the game, which is good, but also turns them all on at once, producing the afore-mentioned Murder Beam, which will likely crash the game, not good. The opposite of good.

Here’s links to a few of these videos: an unused enemy called a Bang, activating “God Mode,” and how to obtain and use the end-game weapon Hyper Beam against bosses. It is some pretty intense geekery, but that’s sometimes what flows out of the faucets around here.

News 9/1/22

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

It’s been a bit difficult getting consistent signals from Earth lately, and what has gotten through hasn’t been of too much interest to my gelatinous brain. Maybe some of this might pique your interest?

Jonathan Bolding at PC Gamer says that playing dual-screen with a Steam Deck proves the Wii-U was a good idea! I knew it! What they’re talking about is the ability of a Steam Deck to play dual-headed via HDMI out. This play style is explicitly supported in Wii-U emulator Cemu. The article also notes that Valve has stated that the Steam Deck has out-performed sales estimates, which is good! After the Steam Link and Steam Controller were put on sale for ultra-cheap, I was feeling bad about scooping them up as Valve was clearing out stock. Not too bad, though.

SMB3 Scribe’s tile selector

Here’s some news from a different source than usual. At romhacking.net, creator Michael Nix has been working on a pair of GUI rom editors for Super Mario Bros. 3! One, SMB3-Foundry, is for editing levels, and the other, SMB3-Scribe, edits overworlds. A game like SMB3 is a bewilderingly complex beast under the hood, and the strictures of platform, rom space and development time sometimes force unorthodox decisions, like hardcoding some object placements. There is an article to be written some time about the lengths NES carts had to go through to encode their data, which was usually done using a kind of domain-specific data compression.

SMB3 Foundry’s level editor

I have been avoiding linking CBR.com for a bit because of some excessively clickbait headlines, but a recent device change has reset my killfile, so they’re back. Shane Foley from there reports on series nadir Metroid Other M having one level that made it worthwhile. The “level” in question is in fact the entire postgame; up until the main boss, the whole game is heavily on rails, with full exploration only possible afterward.

At Polygon, Nicole Carpenter mentions the content warnings on new indie title I Was A Teenage Exocolonist, which has a number of traumatic events in the game, but is quite upfront about what will occur, going so far as asking the player if they’d like to be spoiled regarding which characters die, or may die. It is a heartening development.

Keith Stuart at the Guardian has a retrospective on gaming on the Commodore 64 at age 40. That old huh. Naw, that doesn’t immediately paralyze me with fear.

(Note: the Guardian is in one of those phases where they nag you with a huge yellow subscription ad. It can be easily closed, and not nearly as bad as some sites out there, but it happens. One article I checked this time-I will not link them-had autoplaying overlaid videos in the corner, which resulted in them being ejected from this post. Bad web designer, no biscuit!)

Baba Is You

Shaun Musgrave at Touch Arcade lists the best recent iPhone game updates. Mentioned are Baba Is You (yay!), Genshin Impact, and Mini Metro (yay again!).

Destructoid’s Chris Carter lists Switch games that make substantive use of the right Joycon’s IR sensor.

Blogfriend Kyle Orland at Ars Technica reports on Fabrice Breton, creator of indie game Brok the Investigator, and their efforts to track down Steam key scammers, curators who would ask devs for free Steam keys but then sell them. As usual from Kyle it’s great and informative reading!

From Alice Newcome-Beill at The Verge, a report on a new version of a Switch Pro controller from 8BitDo, who seem to make good products, although they note they have not yet received the controller for testing.

I’m sure I won’t see this image a thousand times over the next few months drebnar.
(Source: Lorcana’s official Twitter feed)

And for our weekly eyeroll exercises, it’s been reported everywhere but GamesRadar hasn’t been seen in these pages yet so let’s give the link to them: Benjamin Abbott relates that Disney is releasing a Magic: The Gathering style trading card game going by the name of (roll your eyes now!) Lorcana. I’m already brainstorming jokes to make about it as they leak its features over the coming weeks!

News 5/7/22: Diablo Immortal, Toy Story pinball, Metroid music takedown

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

Paul Tassi at Forbes (really? wow) mentions that it’s been discovered that not only does Diablow Immortal have significant pay-to-win aspects, but also contains measures that drastically decrease drop rates if you get too many rare items in a day.

Anthony Culinas over at The Beta Network reviews cute platformer Grapple Dog! Verdict: he likes it, mostly!

At Rock Paper Shotgun, C.J. Wheeler talks about Obsidian’s murder mystery game Pentient, which is illustrated in a style akin to medieval manuscripts! It’s always nice to see a game eschew the boring push towards photographic realism.

Gizmodo’s Andre Liszewski brings up a new controller from 8BitDo that puts all its buttons on the face. No shoulder buttons remain! It’s intended for accessibility purposes, although that doesn’t mean anyone can’t use it. And it’s only $35! Sadly it only works with the Switch and Android devices, although I don’t see why it couldn’t be put to use on PCs too? Is it blocked from working on PCs somehow, and for some reason?

Lauren Morton at PC Gamer mentions Backfirewall, a puzzle game set inside a smartphone with an outdated OS. It’s mentioned that it has a demo on Steam.

Samuel Claiborn at IGN brings information about Jersey Jack’s upcoming Toy Story 4 pinball machine, designed by Addams Family and Twilight Zone designer Pat Lawlor! I have a friend who’s really jazzed up to get their hands on it, and has preordered it, despite it selling out in three minutes and costing $15,000!

Under our new policy of one link to a major news site per news post, we have Ollie Reynolds covering Nintendo’s typically hamhanded takedown of fan content, this time of fan remixes of Metroid music. Sheesh, N!