A Star Wars Galaxies History Lesson

Watching massive layoffs happening at multiple big tech companies, Wizards of the Coast’s current licensing debacle (it’s what, their third?), and the Age of Owner Idiocy happening over at Twitter, I think right now it’s worth going over some of the big game properties that have been harmed, ruined, wrecked and generally destroyed by clueless executive edicts.

For some reason MMORPGs are particularly rife with this. City of Heroes was a popular game that was shuttered completely because NCSoft decided they didn’t want to run it any more, at all, full stop. Oh, and no one else can run it either. I seem to remember, two long eons past, that WorldsAway, an early graphical service I was an avid member of once, was racked with management argument over whether it wanted to be a virtual world or a chat service, and in the process technology just left it behind.

This kind of thing happens all the time. Recently I was reminded by a Metafilter thread of the story of what happened to Star Wars Galaxies.

All images in this post from Mobygames

This recent article at PC Gamer is basically a love letter to Star Wars Galaxies’ early days. It highlights its great sense of immersion, something that has been lost from MMORPGs as World of Warcraft’s massive success drove everyone to make their games much easier to play, regardless of other factors. It also mentions its many design missteps, which make it seem almost inevitable in hindsight that, eventually, the game’s design would be completely overhauled.

Before the change, called by the management the NGE, or New Game Enhancements, Star Wars Galaxies had a classless, skill-based system. Jedi powers, particularly, were notoriously difficult to unlock. They required that players find very rare Jedi Holochrons in the game that would tell them what they had to do to awaken the Force in their character. It was a demanding system that meant most players would never become Jedis, but it kept Jedi powers special, ensuring that they wouldn’t overwhelm the game universe, especially important since SWG was set at a time, between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, when Jedi were thought to be almost extinct.

Lots of players wanted to be Jedi but couldn’t, but the game had become known for making a difficult design choice and sticking to their guns, and if players did achieve Jedihood, it accorded them a level of respect that was rare in MMORPGs. Anyone can reach max level in an MMORPG if they just spend enough time playing, but this was something special. And Jedi characters had permadeath on; if one perished, it was gone.

Among those that remember that period in MMORPG history, the New Game Enhancements are an infamous example of game mismanagement. Even now over a decade after the game’s closing, the fallout of Sony Online Entertainment’s decisions can still be found scattered throughout the internet. Here’s an article at Massively Overpowered. One at Wired. Engadget. An AMA with a former community manager on Reddit.

In short: the game switched to a class-based system, Jedi were made an ordinary starting class, and gameplay was made much more action-oriented. While locations remained the same, the underlying gameplay was completely changed. It immediately lost a large portion of its userbase. It gained some back over time, and continued along for six years after, but the popular perception was that it was a grave misstep.

Server-based games like MMORPGs are in a difficult spot in cases like this: the pre-existing game basically ceases to exist, even for players who preferred it. There is no going back for them. People who didn’t enjoy that style of play had no choice but to like it or lump it. Meanwhile it has to build a membership anew based off of its new form, while overcoming all the negative press around its change of direction.

The pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies spawned a fan recreation using the old gameplay soon after the gameplay changed, called SWGEmu, and it’s still running today with two servers. People who liked the later system, which was still in place when the game shut down, have had no recourse until relatively recently. Now a new fan-led effort, Star Wars Galaxies Legends, looks to revive the game as it stood when it closed, NGE systems and everything. SWGEmu’s website is just a forum system; SWGL’s, by contrast, is surprisingly slick by the typical standards of a fan project.

That’s a lot of words to write about a game that, in either form, I have never played, but that’s how much people care about Star Wars Galaxies, in both its forms, and Star Wars in general. I hope both are running decades into the future.

The Works of Joshua Bycer

You might have notices the videos of Josh Bycer in these electronic pages. He does us all a wonderful service by seeking out interesting indie games and presenting them to us, often several to a video, as well as interviews with their developers and sometimes other topics too.

What you might not know is that Josh has a number of books in print on game design, out through Routledge! If you have some spare cash, you might want to check these out! Sure, it is blatant pimping, but Josh is a deserving subject, and he graciously lets use a lot of his work, it seems like the least I could do, plus some of you may find these very interesting!

20 Essential Games to Study: “The purpose of this book is to look over the past 35 years of games to discuss titles whose design deserves to be studied by anyone with an interest in game design. While there are plenty of books that focus on the technical side of Game Development, there are few that study the nature of game design itself. Featuring a mix of console and PC offerings, I purposely left off some of the easy choices (Mario, Starcraft, Call of Duty, Overwatch) to focus on games that stood out thanks to their designs.”

Game Design Deep Dive: Horror: “The Game Design Deep Dive series examines a specific game system or mechanic over the course of the history of the industry. This entry will examine the history and design of the horror genre and elements in video games. The author analyzes early video game examples, including the differences between survival, action-horror, and psychological horror. Thanks to recent hits like Five Night’s at Freddy’s, Bendy and the Ink Machine, and recent Resident Evil titles, the horror genre has seen a strong resurgence. For this book […], Joshua Bycer will go over the evolution of horror in video games and game design, and what it means to create a terrifying and chilling experience.”

Game Design Deep Dive: Roguelikes: “[…] examines the history and rise of the often-confusing roguelike genre. Despite being more than 30 years old, the roguelike genre remains a mystery to a lot of consumers and developers. Procedural generation, or having the game generate content, has been a cornerstone and point of complexity since its inception. The 2010s saw an explosion of new designs and examples, along with a debate about what a roguelike is. The genre found its way back to mainstream audiences with the award-winning Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. Since then, roguelikes have revolutionized the way we see and design games. Author and game design critic Joshua Bycer explains the differences between the various roguelike designs and give a detailed blueprint showing what makes the best ones work.”

Game Design Deep Dive: Free-to-Play: “Game Design Deep Dive: Free-to-Play continues the series’ focus on examining genres with a look at the history and methodology behind free-to-play and mobile games. The genre is one of the most lucrative and controversial in the industry. Josh Bycer lays out not only the potential and pitfalls of this design but also explores the ethics behind good and bad monetization.”

Game Design Deep Dive: Platformers: “This book examines the history of jumping – one of the oldest mechanics in the industry – and how it has evolved and changed over the years. The author looks at the transition from 2D to 3D and multiple elements that make jumping more complicated than it looks from a design perspective.”

AGDQ 2023 Selections #1: Sunday and Monday

I didn’t get to watch AGDQ realtime this year, but here are some selected videos from the first two days that might be interesting….

Splatoon 3 Any% led off the show (1 hour 30 minutes):

Followed by Breath of the Wild Any% in 29 minutes, always a crowd pleaser:

Symphony of the Night All Bosses on the Xbox 360 version:

Borderlands: Game of the Year Edition Enhanced, Any% Unrestricted (1:47):

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky Randomizer, 10 Dungeon Blitz (1:03)Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe:

Ax Battler: A Legend of Golden Axe 100% on Game Gear (29m):

Bomberman 64: The Second Attack Any% (37m):

Superliminal All Collectables (51m):

Shovel Knight Dig Any% Race (45m):

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge Co-op 2v2 Any% Arcade Chill Race (that was a mouthful, 1:25):

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales Any % (2:50):

and Fable Anniversary (1:32):

We’ll pull out a few more next week!

Sundry Sunday: PAC-TOM

suckerpinch, a.k.a. Tom7, is a regular presenter at SIGBOVIK and no stranger to the intelligent-but-fun video presentation field. This isn’t the first time we’ve posted his work here, and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Previously he’s run automated tournaments of extremely stupid chess-playing algorithms, wrote programs to try to learn to play NES games by watching memory, and tried to generalize the idea of uppercase and lowercase letters in order to make hypothetical letters that are more uppercase and more lowercase. Among other things.

This time he tells us of the culmination of a sixteen year project to walk down every street in Pittsburgh. Come for that, stay for the moving Pac-Man costume he makes for himself at the end!

How I Ran the Length of Every Street in Pittsburgh: PAC TOM (Youtube, 32 minutes)

Goldeneye on Switch Online and Xbox One

Ordinarily this would be the kind of thing that intrepid blob reporter Kent Drebnar would cover here some week, but this is too big to hide as just one of several links in an omnibus post. At long last, one of the biggest N64 games of all is getting a rerelease on Switch Online (oh, and Xbox One as well), even if you have to get the Expansion Pack to play it. It should be playable when, or soon after, this post goes up! It even offers widescreen support and online play!

All images in this post (except for the last one) from MobyGames.

While it couldn’t save the system in the face of competition from the Playstation, there is no denying Rare’s Goldeneye 007 moved an awful lot of Nintendo 64 consoles, and until now, 25 years later, unless you wanted to pirate it, the original cart and system was still the only way to play it. It remains the most iconic James Bond video game ever made, and it may still be the most popular. They got so much right when making it, both with respect to the franchise and to doing a console-based first-person shooter right.

WARNING: the following paragraph will make little sense to people who weren’t both N64 players and internet readers at the time when it was new:

The spirits of countless N64 IGN readers rejoice this day. a golden eye is an eye tat is golden! Sadly, all record of eye tat boy is gone from their current website, Google is of no use at all in ferreting record of it out of the present-day web, and it’s too much trouble to dredge its memory up from the Wayback Machine. So it goes.

The gaming landscape has changed so much since then. When shrinkwrapped Goldeneye 007 boxes first saw store shelves, Rare was on their way to becoming one of Nintendo’s most beloved second parties. People largely came to see them as like a British branch of the company, then the Stamper brothers wanted to sell, Nintendo somehow said no to buying, and as a result the company began largely to languish, until around the time Viva Pinata came out. Since then, the people who made it left Rare and went on to make the Timesplitters games, which are still fondly remembered.

Such is N64 Goldeneye’s legend that Activision once actually released another James Bond game by that name, that actually wasn’t a port or remake of the original but was more of a reboot of it, with the Daniel Craig version of James Bond included.

Goldeneye 007’s twin release on both the Switch and Xbox platforms must have required some deep licensing mojo, but perhaps not even as much needed to wrest the rights for a rerelease of a James Bond movie tie-in game from the Broccoli family, as well as the likeness rights from Pierce Brosnan. With that many owners looking for their pieces of the financial pie, the stars must have aligned mighty right for the game to see the legal light of day again. Someone, please go check R’lyeh! Cthulhu must be about to awaken!

“a golden eye is an eye tat is golden!!!!”
(image source)

GoldenEye 007 Shoots Its Way Onto Nintendo Switch Online This Week (Nintendo Life)

Romhack Thursday: Two Translations of Idol Hakkenden

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

Most of the things we’ve presented here so far have been play hacks, or occasionally graphics hacks, but there are lots of hacks that exist purely to translate games into other languages. This week we offer two of these, both translations of Idol Hakkenden.

One of these, and arguably the much more playable, is from LIPEMCO! Translations and was made in 2018. (Say it aloud with me: “LIPEMCO!”) It is a fairly direct translation that keeps all the references to Japanese culture, and has much more text.

The other is from 2020, and is from Polinym of Woolsey Fan Company, which retitled it Pop Star Debut. It’s less technically impressive, with brief text that enhances the feeling of crazy logic that suffuses the game through.

Opening to Pop Star Debut
Notice how, due to sprite mirroring to save memory,
Erika/Sabrina’s one sock keeps switching legs

Portopia-style adventure games are all heavily menu-driven. Portopia was written by a young Yuji Horii, who would adapt the style into the combat system of Dragon Quest and, soon after, became an ultra super rich person.

But in those ancient days there were a lot of games that used a Portopia-style system to present adventure stories, and a lot of them were on the Famicom. Not a lot of them made it overseas, but sometimes we’d get glimpses of the style, like in Princess Tomato of the Salad Kingdom, or the adventure sequences of The Goonies II and Dr. Chaos. The popular NES ports of ICOM Simulations’ computer adventure games Shadowgate, Deja Vu and The Uninvited could also be considered of this style, even if the games themselves started out on the Macintosh, in English.

While Portopia was a murder mystery, some of these games, like Idol Hakkenden, were not. It’s pretty much just a traipse through a linear plot where you help a fairly dopey young girl to become one of those media-destroying pop culture sensations. Take a look at the fairly hype intro movie I included above for a sense of it. In it, protagonist Erika (Sabrina in this translation) dances to the theme song, alternatively spinning before monitors showing her face, the lava pit of a volcano, and outer space. I don’t think two of those three settings actually appear in the game, but I haven’t made it through the whole thing yet, so, who the heck even knows?

These kinds of adventure games are known for being sometimes a bit random with the actions that are needed to advance the plot. To pick just one example (this is from Pop Star Debut, it does make a little more sense in the other translation, although not much more):

  • Early in the game an item that can be looked-at is a Rock (it’s an Ashtray in the more accurate translation), suddenly appearing on the list of things that can be examined in a room despite Sabrina having visited that location before, when it was Rockless.
  • Looking at it causes her to react in disgust. A passing old man compliments her on her tidiness, and gives her tickets to a planetarium show. The Rock, meanwhile, vanishes again. (They’re probably filming another Fast and Furious movie.)
  • While at the planetarium, you can speak with one of your entourage, a girl named Sonya, who tells you that she has an idea: you will need a nutcracker. “Like the ballet?” asks Sabrina. We hope.
  • So you go back to the Lobby, and ask the lady there for a nut. They sell “Fortune Nuts” there, ah. They don’t have nutcrackers, but you’re told “Aquariums have them.” Standard aquarium equipment, certainly.
  • The aquarium does not, in fact, have a nutcracker. What they do have, however, is an otter named Kip.
  • Kip cannot open the nut himself. But one of your followers, if asked, will tell you he might could do it with a Rock. Like, the one that was in the Lobby?
  • When you go back, it has reappeared, in the Take list, and it can be picked up. Then you can bring it back to the Aquarium where, if you perform a song for the otter, it will deign to open the nut. The lyrics go, and I quote: “Kip! Can you? Big jaws! Klap! Snap! Open my nut Oh! Kip! Please! Yeah!!” I am given to understand that in Japanese the lyrics matched music that played in this sequence, but it was too difficult a task for the translator to manage. The first translation’s version of this sequence is presented below.
  • The song communicates to the otter the nature of your request, and he agrees. Sadly, it breaks his teeth, and also the fortune sinks to the bottom of his tank. Some other means must be sought to retrieve it and learn its no-doubt essential wisdom.
The otter song in the first translation has lyrics that match the music

And the game continues from there.

The group sponsoring the Pop Star Debut release, the Woosley Fan Company, borrows its name from 8- and 16-bit era Square translator Ted Woosley, who gained some notoriety for his loose, but distinctive and energetic, translations. It was he who added the well-known “You spoony bard!” line to Final Fantasy IV (a.k.a. II) in the US. The description of the hack mentions it’s not a literal translation, but tries to convey some of the same energy. It turns out that the translation takes a lot of liberties.

The hardest thing about writing a fan translation is not always the language itself, but squeezing the changed script into the memory space of the original game. Japanese is a more compact language than English, with concepts generally expressible using fewer glyphs. Pop Star Idol uses many subtle cheats to get its script to fit, including condensing common digraphs into one character. Even with these savings, some of the translated text seems rather terse. The first translation expands the rom size by over 100K to fit a more accurate translation, although Pop Star Debut’s much abbreviated text is entertaining in its own (largely unintentional) way.

Both versions have places where you’ll probably end up just trying every option available to you to find the trigger to advance the story, but that’s pretty much what you have to expect from this kind of game. So long as you’re prepared to accept this, and bring along a great deal of patience (especially for Pop Star Debut), Idol Hakkenden is a fun glimpse into a style of game we mostly never got to see in the U.S.

One more thing: Pop Star Debut did go the extra mile of creating an English PDF of what the manual might have looked like had their translation been released as an English NES release. It’s included with the hack!

Cover to the simulated manual

Idol Hakkenden Translation (romhacking.net)

Pop Star Redub Fan Localization (romhacking.net)

“LIPEMCO!”

itch.io: Squirrelativity

You’d think there’d be more unique types of puzzle games than there are. For every genuinely new idea there’s a dozen Tetris-likes. Even genuinely unique puzzle games often have another game as a basis, like how Baba Is You starts from a foundation of Sokoban before launching off to the depths of Ridiculous Space at Ludicrous Speed.

I can’t claim to have comprehensive knowledge of all kinds of pre-existing puzzles, but Squirrelativity seems unique enough to be really interesting..

Made for Ludlum Dare 52, it’s a free game with only 15 levels, but they’ll have you mystified long before you reach the end.

One team of squirrels has a tree growing up from the bottom of the board, the other has a tree growing down from the top. How it grows, though, depends on how you draw their branches. The bottom tree’s branches can only go up, and the upper tree’s branches can only go down. Each set of squirrels can only broach their own branches.

In the middle of each board there are a number of green seeds. A color of fruit will grow out of the seed, depending on which tree touches it. However, each squirrel’s tree makes the fruit that the squirrels of the other tree likes. It also drops down according to that tree’s gravity. That is: the blue squirrels’ tree grows up, and produces red fruit that drop down, and the red squirrels’ tree grows down, and produces blue fruit that drops up. Got it?

The screenshot I took demonstrates how the fruit falls. Neither tree can grow branches through a space containing a branch from the other tree, and each level can only end if you both get all the seeds, and each team of squirrels get the same number of fruit as the other. The delicate balance of squirrel power must not be overturned!

Squrrelativity, by cassowary (itch.io, $0)

Masahiro Sakurai talks about Kirby Air Ride

Just about everyone respects Masahiro Sakurai! I’m no different! He’s made some wonderful games, and even his more obscure works are really cool and fun!

I’ve linked to his series on game design before, released on Youtube with Nintendo’s help. It’s really popular! We try not to link too frequently to the same series or blog, instead waiting to find something in it that connects with me personally, in the hopes that whatever it is will be something that connects with my readers as well, and that’s why I’m linking to him talking a bit about Kirby Air Ride.


Like The Speed Rumbler, I feel like I have to say something really specific and detailed about KAR. (What a cool and appropriate acronym, both in the context of Kirby and Speed Rumbler!) Especially City Trial, which I think is just waiting for some interested party to revisit an expand. In the meantime though, enjoy Sakurai talking about what may be the most unique Kirby game, even in a series containing Star Stacker, Pinball Land and Tilt ‘n Tumble.

Masahiro Sakurai on Creating Games: Kirby Air Ride (Youtube, 7 minutes)

Gaming Hell: The Speed Rumbler

We’ve been meaning to do an Arcade Mermaid article on Capcom’s very difficult late-80s arcade game The Speed Rumbler, since it’s a stand-out inclusion on Capcom Arcade 2nd Stadium on current console. This article is still coming, but in the meantime you can read Gaming Hell’s own take on this sadly unknown yet really cool game.

There’s a lot to like about it, but my favorite thing about The Speed Rumbler, known as Rush & Crash in Japan, is the CAR meter:

*CAR*

There is no reason that I know of to put the word CAR in a red splash, other than that the word CRASH in its arcade title screen is also within one. It somehow seems appropriate in the game though, since sometimes just rolling through things is as useful as shooting them.

If I wrote more about Speed Rumbler here I’ll just be using words I’ll have to repeat when I write about it myself, so go read Gaming Hell’s article!

Gaming Hell: The Speed Rumbler

Kimimi on Korokoro Puzzle: Happy Panechu!

Kikimi the Game Eating She-Monster’s blog is on the short list of blogs we watch for interesting stuff, and she’s found a winner this time! Korokoro Puzzle: Happy Panechu! is a Japan-only GBA puzzle game that uses a similar kind of tilt sensor as found in Kirby Tilt N Tumble.

It’s a game that involves moving colored blog creatures around to connect them in groups of four or more to clear them out, which sounds pretty typical at first. But doing this also creates bombs that you can also connect, to make them into bigger bombs, and clear out larger fields of clutter as you do so, as voices proclaim things like “So happy!” and “Mega happy!”

The tilt sensor comes into play in that it allows you to determine from which side of the screen new objects enter from.

Korokoro Puzzle only got the one entry, but we have it from Kimimi’s that it hides a whole lot of gameplay within its little rectangular case.

Kimimi the Game-Eating She-Monster: Happy! So happy! Mega happy!

CD-ROM Compilation Search Engine

Set Side B often verges into adjacent tech areas, especially for older software, especially when those areas happen to contain a lot of games. This is just a note that the always-great Jason Scott of the Internet Archive has a great post about Discmaster, which is hosted at the IA, and is a search engine into the contents of a bunch of old CD-ROM file compilations. Many of these were shareware collections put out by companies like Walnut Creek, intended in the age immediately before the internet to put out collections of shareware, but sometimes bundling freeware, or libre-free software.

The error, presented in class Web Gray and Times New-Roman.

Some of these files are very hard to find on the wider internet. When I visited Discmaster myself it was down for an upgrade (it’s a bad sign when your filesystem runs out of inodes) but I look forward to scouring its archives often in the future!

DiscMaster (Internet Archive)

Random Pac

Pac-Man is rightly heralded as a classic, not just the best-selling arcade game of all time at over 100,000 units (even more when you consider every Ms. Pac-Man arcade machine has the elements of a Pac-Man machine inside it), but it’s solidly well-designed. All of its elements come together to produce a solid test of skill and strategy.

It’s not perfect though. The game possesses two major flaws that, in retrospect, made it a little less interesting to play now. The ghosts behave deterministically when they’re not vulnerable, meaning that patterns work against them and turning the game into a test of memorization and execution. And, every level’s maze is the same, which gets kind of monotonous. Tellingly, while Pac-Man was extremely popular for its time, its GCC-made follow-up Ms. Pac-Man had a much longer life in arcades, and it addressed both of these issues with the first game: ghost movement at the beginning of boards is randomized, and it had four mazes, instead of the original’s one.

Random Pac is a fan game, available on itch.io and made by Luca Carminati, that also solves the issues, and a bit more simply: it randomizes the maze for each level. This one change makes the game immune to memorization, and makes each level a kind of situational puzzle, as the player must use the maze layout as best they can to avoid being caught.

It’s not the only change made, but the others are, for the most part, in line with that one. Since the game is much less likely to extend endlessly, extra lives are awarded multiple times, first at 10K then every 50K points, instead of the once, by default, of the original. There are bonus levels in place of the intermissions that can be worth a considerable number of points.

The fruit bonus items that showed up twice during each level of the original game may now appear up to four times per level, which can be worth the majority of the player’s score if they can get up to the 5,000-point Key boards. Getting all four Keys is 20,000 points, which is two-fifths the way to an extra life by itself.

The game increases in difficulty a bit more slowly than classic Pac-Man. I’ve been to the 7th Key level; in the original, on the the 5th Key board, and from the 7th Key on, ghosts no longer become vulnerable when eating an Energizer (a.k.a., a power pill). Vulnerable times kept decreasing in my 7th Key game, but hadn’t cut out completely yet.

Another difference, and I’ll be going into some deep Pac-Man internals here. In classic Pac-Man, ghosts have three states, Scatter, Chase and Vulnerable. If Pac-Man doesn’t eat an Energizer, ghosts periodically enter Scatter state for a few seconds, then change back to Chase. You can tell when ghosts change between these states because they all reverse direction.

In most boards there are two Scatter periods, and the timers, both for entering Chase and Scatter, freeze while an Energizer is active on any ghost. In Random Pac, the timers don’t freeze; Chase and Scatter periods continue even when the ghosts are vulnerable. This makes Energizer timing very useful for decreasing the amount of danger you face: a short way into a Chase period, eat an Energizer and disrupt their pursuit! By the time they catch back up to you after it wears off they may be time for them to Scatter!

In place of intermissions there’s a bonus round that asks you to eat as many randomly moving targets as you can in 35 seconds

Ghost AI seems to be mostly the same, although unlike classic Pac-Man, each ghost doesn’t seem to have a set “home” location. They don’t intend to chase Pac-Man during Scatter, but instead fixate elsewhere on the board. The Orange Ghost’s Chase AI also makes use of its home location, making its behavior much less predictable, although it’s still easily the least threatening ghost.

Random Pac was Luca Carminati‘s first classic game remake. Since then, they’ve made many others, including Tutankham Returns, which we’ve linked to before. They’re terrific!

Random Pac (itch.io, $0)