Remember EYEZMAZE and GROW?

There was a time when these short Flash games were the toast of the internet. There is very little cultural memory online for anything that isn’t absolutely huge (and almost no quality control over the things that become huge) so no one talks about GROW anymore, or its Japanese creator On, which is a tremendous shame.

EYEZMAZE took a tremendous blow when Flash shut down. I really hate how people generally accepted its demise as good and necessary when it obliterated so many great things, like Homestar Runner’s original website, that are only now sort of becoming available again. There were serious problems with Flash, it’s true, but not all the reasons it was shoved out the airlock were good ones. Fortunately On has converted many of his games to work with HTML5.

The art is great for its own sake, but the games, available by clicking on the icons at the top of the site, are the highlights, and foremost of those are the GROW series. I was going to link them individually here, but most of them are GROW in some form of other. You should probably start with the first.

The object is to figure out the best order to click on the various items to add to the GROW planet. Every time you add something, things that were already on the planet may “level up” depending on the other things that are with it there. Some things being added too early may harm the development of other things. Usually there’s one specific order that will result in a perfect score (and an animation that goes with it). Figuring it out, using the visual clues from your failed attempts, will usually take many tries, but a run through only takes a couple of minutes at most. All off the GROW games take this general form, although most of them aren’t as complex as the first.

Bitrot has not been kind to GROW. There was an Android version of Grow RPG that appears to have succumbed to Google’s awful app culling policy, where if something isn’t updated, for whatever reason, in a certain time they just delete it. (Not nearly enough has been said about his hostile this is to software preservation. It’s horrendous.)

On has had health struggles over the years, which have interfered with his creation of new amusements. He still seems to be up and active though, and we hope he continues creating both his games and his art for a while to come.

EYEZMAZE (some games may require Ruffle)

On’s Twitter feed

On’s Bilibili page (Bilibili is a Chinese video site)

Stockfish

Sometimes I feel that we lean on the Retro portion of our remit a little too heavily. Josh Bycer (Website! Twitter! Youtube! Discord!) helps by providing much of the Indie.

That leaves Niche. The romhack scene, which we’ve started covering regularly on Thursdays, fills out that in that area a bit, but there’s still a lot of subcultures out there that could use a better look.

Icon for Stockfish

One of them is that around internet board games, and the biggest of those is, of course, the game of chess. The basis of chess is subtly different from that of video games, or even most other board games. Chess is deep enough that there’s a sense of mathematical purity to it. Petty human considerations seem to be disregarded in favor of finding the objectively best moves to make given a situation.

This is the road that has led us to the phenomenon of the chess engine, a computer program that plays chess. For a few years now computers have been known to beat the best human players, but far from ruining the game, the best human grandmasters now use computer programs to train. And far from requiring a supercomputer like Deep Blue, now ultra-high-level computer chess is in the reach of the ordinary user (who happens to be handy with a command prompt), in the form of the open-source engine Stockfish.

Stockfish is only a chess engine; it has no UI. Instead, graphic chess playing programs include it, interfacing with it through the Universal Chess Interface.

By the way! Did you know there’s a such an object as a Universal Chess Interface? Truly, as my pal the King of All Cosmos says, Earth has a lot of things.

Stockfish is thought to be the strongest chess-playing engine in the world, and you can use it yourself on your own computer! Maybe it is the future after all.

Live A Live Remake Changes

Live A Live is currently the toast of the Switch, with over 500,000 in sales since it was released. Not bad at all for a remake of a Super Famicom game from Square’s classic era that had never made it out of Japan until now.

AustinSV on Youtube presents a video that goes into some detail about what was changed between the versions. If you’ve played the original (I’ve played a fair bit of it through the popular fan translation from Aeon Genesis), you’ll know a few things were definitely tweaked. I remember the Prehistory, by far the funniest chapter, being rather more risque in its humor, although the fart jokes and poop flinging were left mostly intact. Some of the changes are really interesting; they translated the whole Middle Ages chapter in iambic pentameter!

Which Version of Live A Live Should You Play? The Original + Switch Remake Reviewed & Compared (Youtube, 16 minutes)

Metal Slug M.I.A.

\An awesome fansite about this history of classic hardcore NeoGeo run-n-gun series Metal Slug, there’s lots of information and screenshots scavenged from Japanese gaming magazines about its development!

Early screenshot of a development version of Metal Slug, scavenged from Gamest.
All images in this post from Metal Slug M.I.A., which has many more of them!
Early in development, you spent the entire game in the Metal Slug tank.
You could rescue soldiers who would then help you in battle, such as the one in the white uniform in this image riding on the Slug.
Beta screenshot of the final boss fight with General Morden.

Metal Slug M.I.A.

Nintendo Direct, September 2022

Nintendo released a new Nintendo Direct yesterday, and everyone in the gamesphere is posting about it as they always do. I suppose we should say something too. While it’s not directly related to our subject matter, Nintendo is as niche as a major game publisher gets, so I believe I can find room for it.

First, here’s the video if you care to watch it yourself (the relevent part is about 45 minutes long, I’ve cued it up to the content):

In summary:

Not to bury the lede like Nintendo usually does, the last trailer was about the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, subtitled Tears of the Kingdom. I think they should just call every game Magical Thingumy, but no one ever listens to good sense. The given release date is May 20, 2023, so, not much longer to wait. Despite the closeness of its release, even less was presented about the game than the last time it showed up in a Nintendo Direct!

Fire Emblem Engage seems to offer crossovers between characters from prior games, including Marth himself, Mr. Fire Emblem, the hero of the first game. I mean all the big game companies seem to be falling over themselves to cross their games and even series together into a thick homogeneous paste, why should Nintendo be any different? Arguably they started the whole trend with Smash Bros. anyway. Fire Emblem has been to this well once before with the mobile app Fire Emblem Heroes. Release date: January 20.

A crossover between Fitness Boxing and Fist of the North Star, the anime property no one’s been clamoring for. “Box with familiar characters.” Sure, like, um, that guy. Hatatatatatatata! I’d explain more, but you’re already dead.

OddBallers, a party game for up to six players. Tunic makes it to Switch, where it should probably have debuted. Remakes of Front Missions 1 and 2 (first time out of Japan for the second), with 3 coming in the future.

New release Splatoon 3 (what, it’s out already?) is getting its first Splatfest. Mario Strikers Battle League is getting new characters Pauline and Diddy Kong.

Octopath Traveler 2 is coming and it looks the same, and a new Final Fantasy Theatrhythm (with a ton of DLC of course).

The original Mario + Rabbids took a lot of people by surprised with its deep gameplay, and it even somehow made the Rabbids more fun than annoying. Other than a couple of minor gameplay features (exploring, Sparks), and maybe playable Bowser, the only really new information was its release date of October 20. I mean, there’s pre-order bonuses and a season pass, but it’d almost be more news if those weren’t going to be offered.

Let’s keep rolling with that farming theme. Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life is getting remade as Story of Seasons: A Wonderful Life. Why change the brand? Are there rights issues around the original? Turns out, yes. Jessica Thomas lays it all out for us at thegamer.com.

More farming! New games called Fae Farm and Harvestella. I guess if you’ve completely exhausted all of Stardew Valley’s many many features and updates and are still not farmed out, there you go. You could also go out and get some seeds and plant your own garden, unless you live in the city, you poor soul. Still, this way has far less back-breaking labor, and you don’t have to smell manure.

Even more farming! Your feed trough runneth over! Rune Factory 3 is being remade, and another Rune Factory series is coming.

Playing these things since the Atari VCS days has inoculated me against a lot of hype, but the me that played Goldeneye back in college would have been thrilled by this.

A bevy of new N64 games is coming to the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack, including, Pilotwings 64, Mario Parties 1-3, Pokemon Stadium 1 and 2, 1080 Snowboarding, Excitebike 64, and, amazingly, Goldeneye 007 with online multiplayer. I am practically certain that rights issues will have required that it be modified in some way, but that it has managed to come out at all is amazing considering the James Bond property’s owners, and that Nintendo and game creator Rare are nowhere near as close as they were back then. I’d like to know the story behind its rerelease. Honestly, the original came out twenty-five years ago. If this had made it out on Gamecube or even Wii it would have been a sensation, but FPSes have advanced so much since then. Well, nostalgia is a powerful drug. (Yeah, I said it.)

Along those lines. In addition to Octopath Traveler 2, the fandom dairy farm department of Square Enix is rereleasing Final Fantasy VII Crisis Core on Switch. I am apparently the only person in the gaming world without an abiding affection for Final Fantasy VII (the load times put me entirely the hell off the original game when it was new), so I can only watch from the sidelines. S-E also released (yesterday) the oddly-titled Various Daylife. I’m Somewhat Minuteinterested!

Speaking of fandom milking, prepare to low mournfully at the news that Mario Kart 8 is getting still more DLC tracks! And Capcom is releasing cloud versions of various Resident Evil games. Moooooo.

Wii Switch Sports is finally getting its Golf mode, released in a free update, before the end of the year, with 21 holes. I don’t know why they just didn’t wait to release it when it was finished, especially since Golf was the standout mode in Wii Sports, but I guess it’s common practice to delay a major feature or two on release now so a game can get a sales boost by announcing that feature later. There’s a spreadsheet deep in Nintendo’s marketing department that lays out the financial advantages of doing so. They keep it in a folder next to all their demonic contracts.

Shigeru Miyamoto appeared for a moment to hype the animated Mario movie releasing in the Spring, and the Nintendo World amusement park in Japan, and a new one opening soon in Hollywood, California. It’s kind of amazing to think that this is the very same Miyamoto who designed Donkey Kong in the early 80s, at a very different Nintendo. He devoted a lot of time to explaining the smartphone ARG Pikmin Bloom, even though it’s not particularly new. He mentioned that Pikmin 4 is coming out, but very very little about it.

Radiant Silvergun is being remade. Actually, has been remade, and should be out by the time you read this. It’s being released by “Live Wire Inc.” The word Treasure wasn’t mentioned at any time during the game’s brief appearance in the video.

Finishing up. Intrinisically co-op 3D platformer It Takes Two comes to Switch two, er, too. Fatal Frame: Mask of the Lunar Eclipse. Another Xenoblade Chronicles 3 DLC update. A new Spongebob Squarepants game, sure why not. Factorio is coming to Switch. Ib. (Ib? Yeah, Ib) Atelier Ryza 3: Alchemist of the End & the Secret Key (what the hell is an atelier anyway and why do so many JRPGs have them?), Just Dance 2023 (sadly not for the Wii), Bayonetta 3, Master Detective Archives: RAIN COODE, Sifu, Endless Dungeon, a remake of Tales of Symphonia, Life is Strange: Arcadia Bay Collection, Romancing Saga: Minstrel Song Remastered, Lego Bricktales, Disney Speedstorm, and Fall Guys: Season 2. Kirby Return to Dreamland Deluxe returns to the classic 2D-style Kirby gameplay.

This Direct’s hype score: 3/10. The only substantive announcements were Fire Emblem Engage and N64 Goldeneye 007! We knew Zelda was coming already, and all the other Nintendo things were either brief teasers or we already knew they were coming.

Wake me when it’s May.

1,000 Blank White Cards and Dvorak

We’re getting into some weird elements of electronic gaming here, in the form of games that are not actually electronic, but spread amongst the World Wide Web. These are two similar games that became semi-popular-ish, relatively speaking, in the naughts.

Sadly, Pikachulu’s (?) card is cut off in this archived version. Nice rendition of a playing card though.

To play either, you need a deck of blank index cards, practically-speaking at least two available friends (the more the better), writing implements for everyone, and some quantity of alcohol also helps. It technically can be played by only two people, but they’re both party games, and two people makes for a rather poor party.

1,000 Blank White Cards was one of the victims of the shutdown of Geocities (R.I.P. 1994-2009), that bastion of early web culture, or whatever substituted for it. These days Neocities is a useful replacement for it, and really deserves its own post, but that’s neither here nor at a spot roughly 30 feet from me that I’m going to call “there.”

An archive of the site in PDF form was saved by someone in academia and can be found here. Warning: contains edgy early-internet comedy. Content warning for mentions of tentacle rape, ass thorns, Hitler as a car mechanic, and a crude drawing of someone simultaneously experiencing diarrhea and vomiting. You had to have been there, but in retrospect, you’re better off for not being there. None of it is intended seriously at all. It’s exactly the kind of vibe Cards Against Humanity goes for, for whatever that’s worth, although crucially you don’t actually have to play it that way, and index cards tend to be cheaper.

The point of both 1,000 Blank White Cards and Dvorak is that you customize the game as you play, building a deck for your group that grows larger the more times you play one of them.

Dvorak example cards, from the website.

Both games involve people drawing upon their inner Magic: The Gathering designer, and both making up and illustrating cards. 1KBWC is the sillier of the two, but Dvorak seems only slightly more serious. Both games lend themselves to cross-referential cards, like the one in the first image that refers to other monkey cards. It’s possible to get really complex with cards (“All cards with an L in the name have all the numbers written on them effectively doubles for the rest of the game, if it’s a weekday.”) but that seems like it’s going against the spirit of the play. If a particular kind of card in the Permanent Deck turns out to be really powerful, it’s just begging for someone to take it down with a later card, so games like these tend to be self-correcting over time.

1,000 Blank White Cards (PDF archive) – Wayback LinkSurviving Mirror

Dvorak Wiki: Rules

Find The Spam

Find The Spam is an internet legend at this point, like zombo.com and Homestar Runner, although it’s much less well-known. It is a game, sort of. It is fun to play, for a couple of seconds at least. I won’t spoil any more, go see it now.

You could see it as a riff on hidden object games, although it predates them by two decades. While the Wayback Machine‘s earliest archive of the site is from 2001, it already had over 1.3 million views by that point. My own recollection is of seeing the site on a Windows 3.1 installation, meaning it may go as far back as 1994.

A recreation showing how the site would have been presented at the time.

The joke is slightly ruined on current machines. Viewed on older graphics cards (with resolutions of 800×600 or even less) the user would have to scroll down a little to see the image, and so would have time to read the intro text before it is revealed. Weirdly, on my Samsung tablet even more of the page is visible on first load, the screen seems positively anxious to spoil the joke for me.

By the way, can you tell I’ve been on an early web binge lately? You can expect more old-timey game sites in the near future….

Find The Spam

Zelda Classic & ZQuest

It’s hard to believe that Legend of Zelda fangame construction system Zelda Classic and ZQuest is 23 years old. Many such systems have fallen by the wayside during that time, but Zelda Classic continues on. Its first versions were made for DOS, but it continues to see improvements to this day.

ZQuest has this weird interface where they rolled their own controls for everything. The dev system seems to be rendered in Allegro.

Zelda Classic and ZQuest are made specifically to make overhead view action-adventures in the Legend of Zelda style, to the extent that it has graphic sets taken directly from the games and many items that work like their console counterparts.

It even simulates many of the quirks from the various Zelda series titles. And yet, it doesn’t require you to abide by them. Pretty much every technical or creative limitation of the 2D Zelda series has an option to disable it if you like, but if for some reason you consider it intrinsic to the experience you can keep it too.

The graphics can be completely changed out. With it, you can make a game that doesn’t look anything like a Zelda title, which I suspect is why it’s been able to survive 23 years in a legal landscape overseen by a Nintendo increasingly draconian in its approach to guarding its intellectual property. Still, it’s pretty heavily aimed at making Zelda fangames, right down to having pages and pages of checkboxes for every known quirk of Zelda engine behavior.

Look at that gloriously pedantic list of quirks! The ZQuest developers are awesome.

While it does offer a scripting facility (which it’s difficult to find documentation for), ZQuest is mostly a construction set type of program. You place tiles and enemies, lay out overworlds and dungeons, decide what items to include, and go. The program itself has little in the way of documentation but the site has a tutorial that should help one get started. I strongly suggest, if you are interested in creating for this system, that you read it.

Fan projects going on for this long suggests a kind of mania, but the ZQuest people are serious. They even forked Allegro to fix bugs and adapt it for their purposes. May they keep it going for another 23 years and beyond.

Zelda Classic & ZQuest

The MOS 7600/7601 Pong Chips

Now here’s a Commodore console I’d wager you haven’t heard of.
(Images from Old Vintage Computing Research.)

In a bygone age, the video game industry largely consisted of “dedicated” machines, that could play the games they were made to play and nothing else. Customers would buy devices costing $100 or more in 1970s dollars that could only play Pong and maybe a handful of other games, and that was it. It was a weird time.

There was a whole cottage industry of special chips devised by fabricators back then, that a manufacturer could buy from them, build a plastic shell around with AV connections, a few switches, and controllers (often hard-wired to the machine), and just like that have a console read to sell. The company General Instruments in particular sold a lot of these chips. Many of the details of this era can be read on the website Pong Story.

In addition to GI, Texas Instruments, National Semiconductor, and even MOS Technologies, makers of the 6502, got in on the dedicated video game chip business. MOS’s angle was to make customized chips that had a bit of built-in ROM that could run small programs without having to have a separate chip to store game code.

My, what big numbers you have.

This was a fairly brief in the history of video gaming, and only a few consoles were made using these chips, all of them very obscure today. The always great blog Old Vintage Computing Research recently hunted down some of these consoles and tried them out. It’s a big article, and it makes for fascinating reading, to those of a certain mind. Of those, I am one. I suspect that you might be one too!

News 8/23/22: Falcom, DLC, Playing Cards, Shipping

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

News posts has been light lately. I’ve been worried I’ve been starting to congeal. Even alien blob creatures get older. Well let’s go with what we have–

Kerry Brunskill at PC Gamer breaks the news about Startrader, a shmup made by Falcom for the PC 98. Falcom was mostly known for its classic and unique RPGs, while the PC 98 was mostly known for its erotic anime-styled games that could somehow make full-color pictures (yes, often of naked women) often with only 16 colors and a whole lot of dithering. Startrader went against both the RPG and eroge trends, but still managed to host some amazing artwork.

How did they do that in 16 colors?

At NintendoLife, Kate Gray suggests 3DS and Wii U DLC you should get, if you can, before their eShops shut down. Games discussed include Fantasy Life, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Spirit of Justice and Dual Destinies, the many songs of Threatrhythm Final Fantasy and its Curtain Call sequel, and Fire Emblem Fates.

Kotaku’s Luke Plunkett brings us a sad story of a couple of packs of Nintendo playing cards from the 50s, that were bought at auction but, once opened, turned out to have been ruined by age. The arrow of time is one-way, sad to say. Ow, my nucleus!

And it’s not game related, but a friend-of-the-blog suggests, from Benj Edwards at How-To Geek, this guide for shipping fragile electronics.

Hand-drawn Map of The Legend of Zelda

It’s another hand-drawn map of The Legend of Zelda from a guidebook, again from History of Hyrule! It was made by Takako Toshima and published in Newtype magazine in Japan.

Along these lines, it’s a good time to revisit Mapstalgia, a defunct blog made by Josh Millard (cortex from Metafilter), that’s filled with player-made maps of this sort!

The World Record In Hatetris

Let’s start by getting you up to speed. It’s one of the most well-known video games in the whole world at this point, but people who’ve lived under rocks might not know about Tetris, the block falling puzzle game created in Russia and popularized first by Spectrum Holobyte, then by Nintendo. Favorite game of both diehard Japanese arcade players and Steve Wozniak.

Tetris blocks, a.k.a. Woz’s Bane

While the increasing speed and rising pile are what directly end games, a lot of the difficulty of Tetris comes from the pieces that are generated by the software. Famously, it’s known that completely random Tetris is doomed to failure, that it’s been mathematically proven that there exist sequences of blocks that are unsolvable, but aside from that nearly all sequences are survivable.

One thing that can help a player survive is the sequence of the blocks that are generated by the game, which is really getting into the weeds. A consistently varied collection of pieces helps out a lot. Early versions of Tetris just picked any block, and sequences of the same piece could easily happen. Recent years have seen an effort by the official stewards of the game, The Tetris Company, to standardize it, and one of their edicts is to use a “bag” system, where the game tries to ensure that all pieces will appear over a short period of time, to try to keep the game fair while still acceptably random-seeming.

At the other end of the field, Hatetris is a fan-made form of Tetris that seeks to increase difficulty by picking the least-survivable block, the one least able to fit in with the rest of the bit. (It’s not the only such version, another is Bastet.) Casual players usually find it impossible more than one or two lines.

Warning sign of obsession: making graphs
Image credit: https://hallofdreams.org/posts/hatetris/

Yet recently there has been surprising progress in surviving this worst-universe version Tetris. Getting the World Record in HATETRIS explains the work done to maximize scores in this version; the current record is 86 lines. Helping their work is that the Hatetris isn’t random at all, but actually completely deterministic. The piece that must stack the bin the highest is always chosen, so it can be predicted and, to some extent, accounted for.

And with an ocean of computing power out there now, sloshing about over everything, it was probably only a matter of time that someone would look into optimizing adverse Tetris. What, I ask you with growing concern, is next?