Chrontendo 68!

Dr. Sparkle’s epic, Sisyphean journey through the entire library of the Nintendo Famicom/NES, Chrontendo is back! This episode has the subtitle, “The games will get worse until morale improves,” and is it ever fitting. Here it is, more about it beneath:

This episode presents ten games from June of 1990, well into the glut of NES games when many companies with no business being in the games business dipped in their toes, much as they did at the end of the Atari 2600’s reign. Even though Nintendo was supposedly guiding the library with their benevolent white-gloved hand, those of us who were alive then and lived through it know better.

The games:

  • Bandit Kings of Ancient China (a.k.a.. Suikoden): Dr. S has some fun with the opening of this one, where he confuses it with a different, much later, much prettier game called Suikoden. This one is another of Koei’s many historical sim strategy games, ports of computer games. These games aren’t actually bad, but they are definitely an acquired taste, and they’ll destroy you if you aren’t prepared. I wonder how these games look internally? There doesn’t exactly seem to be a huge Koei historical strategy sim romhacking scene. Internally I imagine them being a giant maze of 8-bit math routines and text tables. If NES-era JRPGs are anything to go by, lots of menu-based games like this are riddled with subtle bugs. Someone should look into that. Someone other than me.
  • Kickle Cubicle: Also not that bad a game, a fairly charming port of an arcade puzzle game. Someone should have told Irem that no one was making good NES games around this time, because this is a highlight of the episode. Sadly it’s not to Dr. Sparkle’s tastes, but he admits it’s not really that bad. (Apparently he got beat up by Koke the Eyepatch-Wearing Chicken.)
  • Moero!! Judo Warriors: A judo sim from Jaleco’s “Moero” series (which doesn’t contain Moero Twinbee as one might think or hope). Many of the Moero sports games got localized to the US under different names (the baseball one became Bases Loaded). It’s largely a redo of an earlier Jaleco judo simulation.
  • Jeopardy! 25th Anniversary Edition: Agh, another of the avalanche of Rare-developed game show adaptions from the NES era. At least Jeopardy still exists today so you roughly know what’s going on, as opposed to the hates of Double Dare or Remote Control. No great shakes, no, but at least look at the spinning words “Anniversary Edition” on the title screen. Rare would often put that bit of unnecessary polish into their work. Despite their efforts though, this is not a game that plays well with a gamepad.
  • Heavy Shreddin’: A snowboarding game from Imagineering, it’s pretty basic.
  • Cabal: an adaption of an arcade game, programmed by Rare. (But remember, there is no cabal!) You might call it an Operation Wolf-like, but with destructible terrain. On the NES it’s not a lightgun game, even though it looks like it wishes it were one.
  • Silk Worm: Another arcade port, on the NES is lacklustre side-scrolling shooter where you can play as a helicopter or a jeep. Keep in mind, as you watch the footage of this, that Super Mario Bros. 3 came out the year before in Japan.
  • Arkista’s Ring: the cover seems to promise at last the Zelda where you play as Zelda, but no, it’s not an exploration game at all. Not really bad, but not a system highlight. As Dr. Sparkle says, the game pulls a Ghosts ‘n Goblins on you, making you compete all the levels four times at higher difficulties. Hm.
  • Rad Racer II: Pretty much a track update of the original Nasir-developed Rad Racer, and Square’s last non-RPG game for a long time, as well as their last Famicom game. Rad Racer was a modest hit when Nintendo published it for the NES, so Square probably sought to capitalize on that with this US-only release.
  • Rocket Ranger: A port of the Cinemaware computer game. Cinemaware’s gimmick was making games that mimicked the experience of movies, and this one’s no different. In actual play it’s just a minigame collection within a simple strategy framework.

And as an extra, Dr. Sparkle presents his 1990 arcade round-up. Games covered are Sega’s Alien Storm, Moonwalker, GP Rider and Columns, Atari’s Batman, Race Drivin’ and Pit Fighter, Capcom’s Mercs, 1941 Counter Attack and Super Buster Bros., Konami’s Aliens and Parodius Da!, Namco’s Final Lap 2, Irem’s Air Duel, Williams’ Smash T.V., SNK’s Beast Busters, and-oh wow!-Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden!

Chrontendo 68 (Youtube, one hour 28 minutes)

|tsr’s NES Archive

It’s been a long time… before Hardcore Gaming 101, before Kotaku or the Angry Video Game Nerd, before 1UP, Joystiq and a bunch of other sites still living and defunct, there was |tsr’s NES Archive. While it only lived for four years, hasn’t updated in 23 years, and all of the images are broken now (a huge shame for some of the features), it’s still online, still ready to give you their humorous take on old video games. Long may it continue beaming out its snarky message. Consider that the time between when the NES was released, 1985, and |tsr’s archive shut down, 2000, was only 15 years. And that time isn’t getting any longer, while the time since it shutdown is. I’ve said it a lot here lately, but: time is cruel.

A few notable features there:

The images, I note, are not broken so much as forbidden access. It’s possible that tsr’s web host, Atari HQ, still has them but has misconfigured the site. Atari HQ is still up, but now seems to only be an aggregator for other sites’ content. I wonder if an email to the right person might restore access to that entire swath of early web and videogaming history, or if they’re completely asleep at the switch?

Surviving the Early Game in Tears of the Kingdom

It’s rather harder to survive the early game, I found, in The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom that it was in Breath of the Wild. There are many more enemies, they’re stronger, your weapons are weaker, and there’s a lot more kinds of enemies. I got killed over and over in the early going, while I could engage small groups of Bokoblins pretty easily in BotW. And if you encounter a cluster of Gloom Hands while you still have only four hearts, you’ll probably want to teleport away from there if you can’t immediately climb up out of reach. (What are Gloom Hands? You’ll know them when you see them.)

I wrote up a list of tips for the early game in a MeFi thread, and I realized hey, that’s the kind of content I should be putting here! So here they are. There’s minor early gameplay spoilers here, necessarily.

There is probably little here you couldn’t get from the gaming bigsites, Kotaku and its ilk. But my belief is, if you get this information from someone small, it feels a lot more like a friend is passing along some advice they gained. And after all, the people who have the strategy guides and help articles on those sites probably had the advantage of having completed the game during the press embargo period. I assure you, I had no early access.

  • Shrines, each giving you a short puzzle to solve for an upgrade orb, are even more important here than in BotW, because the monsters are harder and you need those hearts. There’s a bunch of shrines around the new town in central Hyrule. Unlike the first game where people could dedicate their character all to stamina, I think you’ll find that hearts are more useful in the early game.
  • If you have full hearts, you will nearly always survive any hit with at least a quarter-heart left, but you have to have full hearts. If you get bodied by an unexpected attack and left with a quarter-heart, immediately eat something that brings you back up to full to regain that protection (not too hard when you only have four hearts), then get away from it.
  • BotW had an unexplained mechanic where you gained invisible “experience points” as you killed enemies, but they didn’t improve you, they improved the monsters. That’s why the easy, low-health red versions of monsters like Bokoblins and Moblins, and the slightly easier basic Lynels, became rare in BotW after awhile. As you defeated monsters, the world would upgrade foes to blue, black, and eventually silver versions (gold in the Master Mode DLC). I think it’s likely that TotK has a similar process, so by avoiding conflict while you’re weak, you also keep monsters manageable for a while longer.
  • On the other hand, the Fuse power lets you get stronger weapons a bit earlier. And bomb flowers, as attached to arrows, seem a bit stronger than the bombs from the Bomb Rune in BotW. (Certainly, it’s easier to kill yourself with them.) It’s satisfying to send a bomb flower into the middle of an enemy camp. Bomb Flowers are one of the most useful things you get out of caves (and, eventually, from exploring the Depths).
  • As I’ve noted, it’s possible to miss the Paraglider quest and make the early game much, much harder. Many shrines in particular expect you to have the Paraglider. To do the quest to get it, you have to head to Hyrule Castle at the beginning and talk to a certain NPC who’s at the end of the path after the gate.
  • To improve your armor, you have to get the Great Fairies out of their flower buds, which takes more than a cash payment in this game. It seems to be a lot easier to miss important subquests in this game. The quest you need to start upgrading your armor requires that you go to the Lucky Clover offices in north-western Hyrule, near the Rito village, and talk to Penn. (Penn is terrific, BTW.) That’ll start you getting a music group back together (it makes sense in the story), which involves some building with Ultrahand at each step, but just doing the first step opens up the first Great Fairy and lets you upgrade your armor a bit, which can be a huge aid. Note though, in addition to the ingredients, the G.F.s also charge you a bit of money for each upgrade.
  • Money is rather harder to come by. As in BotW, most of your cash comes from selling gemstones. And as in BotW, a lot of those rupees end up getting spent on meal ingredients and arrows. The problem with selling gems, though, is that you’ll eventually need them to upgrade some of your armor.
  • Getting your battery improved takes ages it seems! You need 100 crystal charges for each extra bar, not each extra battery. At first, the only way to get those is in chests of 20 in the Depths and bought 10 at a time for Zonaite in that one store in the tutorial sky area. If you want to improve your battery faster, there’s a place to exchange it faster in the Depths beneath Kakariko.
  • But I’d hold off on exploring the Depths until you’ve built your hearts and stamina up a bit. The rewards you get for exploring the Depths are (other than the Bomb Flowers you find) mostly different from those you get from exploring the overworld and sky. There don’t seem to be any shrines in the deep underground, so you won’t get hearts or stamina that way! Instead you mostly get Zonaite, which you won’t even have a use for at that stage, and some chest contents that have armor and 20x crystal charges. Also you’ll need a lot of brightbloom seeds to explore the Depths to any great degree, which you’ll find mostly in caves in the overworld. Be sure to hold onto that Zonaite though, you’ll be wanting a lot of it eventually….
  • In the Depths, you’ll find these strange frozen-in-time dark figures, each carrying a weapon. When you examine one, the figure vanishes, leaving the weapon behind. What isn’t obvious at first is these are undecayed weapons. Don’t just use them as-is though, fuse something to them to make them even stronger and more durable.
  • When you find the Abandoned Central Mine in the Depths, don’t leave it until you find the researchers had the (easy) boss fight. There’s something very important there.
  • The most useful, relative to both power and frequency with which you find them, item I’ve found to glue to your stuff is Bokoblin horns, especially those from black Bokoblins. I’ve got a ton of those, and they provide a nice strength bonus. Remember you can sort your materials by how much power they’ll give you if you fuse them to weapons, it’s a good way to see what you can use effectively without being in danger of running out of them quickly.

Sundry Sunday: Super Mario Mayhem 64

Silly videogame fanvids are a rather more involved to construct than you might think. What may seem like a jumble of abrupt cuts, nonsensical references and silly sound effects takes a huge amount of time and effort to put together.

This video may be composed of silly images and animations, but beneath the hood there is real artistry in it. One of the first shots is a remake of the 3D flythrough from the beginning of Super Mario 64. See for yourself, the whole video’s about nine minutes long:

At the end, creator Spicevipe says it’s their last video game animation ever. We wish them well with their future efforts!

Super Mario Mayhem 64 (Youtube, 9 minutes)

Tears of the Wild, Breath of the Kingdom

Like most of the game-playing internet, I picked up Tears of the Kingdom and played a bit of it. It’s good! The opening tutorial seems to be slightly harder than Breath of the Wild’s (that cold water is instantly deadly to fall into now). That there’s a bunch of secret stuff to find even before you get out of the tutorial is awesome. I found a “Bottomless Cave” area that actually gave me a couple of real enemies to fight.

I’ll probably be obsessing over this game for a while, so I figured I’d make a special recurring feature for the blog about it, complete with its own pixel art character. May I introduce Röq, an inhabitant of Set Side B’s unnamed alien home planet who’s fixated on triangles, since they’re vaguely triangle-shaped themself. (They work out in order to sharpen their corners.) Please don’t mention they look like a Hershey’s Kiss, they’re very sensitive about that.

I know it looks like I’m trying to make an ostentatious point with pronoun use in this paragraph, but the fact is, no one on the Set Side B planet seems to have a gender! Except maybe The Gripe Monster, that one’s definitely male.

Here’s a few screenshots and videos from my first morning of play:

Just so you know who she is. BTW, how is she still a princess when her pop iced it a century ago? Coronate her already, she should be Queen Zelda, she’s not a My Little Pony or owned by Disney!

BTW, I bring this up only because strangely I’ve never heard anyone comment on it… why the hell is Zelda not an old woman?! Link was in stasis for a hundred years but Zelda was alive and fighting a psychic battle against a giant misty slime pig all that time. Impa became a prune! Zelda must moisturize.

Link, like many heroes that have the misfortune to be played by me, spent the first few minutes of his life tearing around the starting cave like a dog with too much energy.
Legwear? It’s obviously just a miniskirt.
This should be a moment of terror! If it weren’t for the music and the camera angle and Link’s carefree angle it’d be obvious he was about to be turned into a twink smear with pointy ears sticking out. He lands in a pond, but water hurts to fall onto!
Gargantuan lily pads should breed terrible frogs.
Oh hello birdie how’d you get up here? Do you want some seed, I think I–OOF

Stay tuned for our dubious hero’s continued badventures.

3D Zelda II Revisited

With Tears of the Kingdom released soon, some people have been speculating, based on leaks, that it and Breath of the Wild actually take place on the “downfall” timeline of Hyrule, the very first games to follow chronologically from the two NES Zelda games.

It’s a good time to revisit one of the weirder, and unexpectedly well-made, fangames out there, a FPS re-envisioning of Zelda II. This was originally release to the internet in 2010, but it turns out its creator Mike Johnston updated it back in 2019, to include some of the initial overworld areas of the original game. He included a couple of shops too, which are not in the NES Zelda II game, so the player can get a few aids to make the game easier. Have a look at some of these screenshots:

Sadly Johnston is a bit dismayed by Nintendo’s absurdly litigious defense of its oh-so-sacred properties, even if they are pushing 40 years old now, and has no plans to continue working on his project. I can’t blame him, and am glad for what he’s given us. Thanks Mike!

Zelda II FPS (browser playable, $0, requires Unity)

Someone Runs Mac OS 9 on a Nintendo Wii

The narrator has a moderate case of Youtuberitis (symptoms evident: over-gesturing with hands, annoying shtick; absent: ending sentences in an undertone like they were John Cleese playing a TV presenter), but it’s still an interesting and even informative video about making software, and hardware, doing things they really weren’t designed to do.

One piece of the puzzle for getting this insane project working was Linux on Wii; another piece was the fact that the Wii and late versions of Mac OS Classic both use PowerPC processors. It doesn’t work perfectly, but as they say, it’s amazing that the Nintendog talks at all.

Make Random Items Appear Where You Want In Animal Crossing New Horizons

It’s three years after the release of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, famously introduced to a human contact-starved world right when efforts to contain Pandemic 2020 were at their height, unlike now when the world has largely decided to let the immuno-compromised fend for themselves. This isn’t the place to say what I think about that, but it is the place to write something that, had it been known in 2020, might have helped people out a lot.

The following is paraphrased from my Mastodon thread on the matter.

Every day, the game hides up to 10 100-bell coins, 5 wasps nests, and 2 random furniture items in trees on your island.

If you care about finding any of these things, there is a way to make the game put them where you want them. Selling wasps and items made from nests can bring in about 10,000 bells a day. The furniture can be given to villagers to help increase friendship. The coins aren’t worth much, admittedly.

Doing this, you can easily get the items you want each day without searching among all your trees. I use it to get the two random furniture pieces each day.

To make this trick work, you must have _exactly 17 non-fruit trees on your island_, enough to generate all the randomly-placed tree items. They can be cedar or other, plain trees.

If you don’t discover one of these items on a day, it’ll be left there for following days. It only places new items if the old ones haven’t been discovered, up to the maximum of each type. The trick relies on this fact.

Decide which of the categories of items you want to lock down the location of. Starting from that location, shake each tree until you find one of the objects you care about. In the example images I use furniture (the leaf icons), since those are a type of item it’s useful to search for quickly. You’ll probably want to have a net on hand, and maybe some Medicine, in the likely event you find one or more wasps’ nests.

Once you found the kind of item you want, stop shaking trees for that day. On the next day, all of the items you discovered will be found among the trees you shook that day, just in different places. Now, shake only the tree you want the item to appear in. If it’s not the item, keep shaking the trees you had shaken before until you find it. With luck, you’ll find it before you shake them all. Now stop shaking trees again.

Doing this day after day, you can get the item narrowed down until it appears where you want it to be generated. Once it appears there, stop shaking for that day, and then don’t shake it again on following days. Start over with another of the type of item you want to narrow down.

By working like this, probably within a couple of weeks you can get all the items you want generating where you want them. So long as you don’t shake any other trees, those will always produce the ones you want. If you shake other random trees, you’ll introduce uncertainty into what’s generated.

In this way, I have produced two trees that always produce furniture every day, generally without fail. This trick has been tested for months on my island.

The only drawback that I can find is, a couple of seasonal events (Christmas and Easter) are known to disrupt it, since they can repurpose some of your trees as non-random types for a little while. When the event ends, you’ll probably have to set it up again.

Sundry Sunday: Super Mario Bros. Played with Live Instruments, Again

Playing the Super Mario Bros. theme live with a variety of instruments has been an internet video staple for a couple decades now. Here it is with accordion and a harp-like instrument called a bandura:

Thanks to Kevin Rothrock for finding this, and to Maks for finding it on Youtube!

What’s Yahtzee Up To?

Yahtzee is Ben Croshaw, the guy who has been making The Escapist’s Zero Punctuation for going on 16 years now. He’s the last vestive of the version of The Escapist before they went in on Gamergate, which it seems like he managed to weather by staying in his lane. While his videos aren’t the pass-around fodder that they used to, it’s kind of comforting sometimes that he’s still around, offering his highly opinionated and profane takes on video game-related things.

Croshaw’s videos cover a very mainstream-populist, triple-A beat that does not often intersect with ours, and frankly often puts me at odds with his opinions. But once in a while he covers a topic that sort of intersects with one of our remits or Retro, Indie or Niche. That’s what we present here today: three times in recent memory that he covered something we generally care about.

Metroid Prime Remastered (generally dismissive)

Mario + Rabbids: Sparks of Hope (unexpectedly positive)

Sonic Frontiers (says there’s a couple of good ideas that it then ruined)

PannenKoek2012 Returns: Crashing Super Mario 64 With Pendulums

PannenKoel2012 is the Super Mario 64 enthusiast (that’s the only word I can think of that matches) who has been working on reducing the number of A button presses needed to finish the game. They haven’t gotten it down to zero yet, and likely never will, but by resorting to increasingly extreme measures they continue to figure out ways to get it down. I think they’ve been working at this project for over 12 years; the oldest video on their Youtube account is that old.

Of arguably more interest than their quest, though, is its interesting byproducts, which is a series of Youtube videos, on both their main channel and alternate channel UncommentatedPannen, which not only explain how their many subtle and effective stratagems work, but also a number of aspects of how Super Mario 64’s engine works, and even basic principles of computer science. These videos are so in-depth that they have their own wiki to track the concepts they use, to explain turns like Parallel Universe (PU) and Pedro Spot.

When I say they return, it’s not that they ever left, but it’d been a while since they had a solid explainer. Now they have one, it has spoken narration instead of the text that marks many of the best videos, and the production values have even increased a bit:

In this video, a clever way to manipulate the pendulums in Tick Tock Clock to crash the game after 39 1/2 days of playing also takes into its sweep an excellent explanation of many of the systems compilers use to represent numbers and their limitations.

And here are a number of those interesting videos (by no means complete) that they’ve posted in the past: The Art of Cloning (17m29s) – Walls, Floors and Ceilings parts One (37m23s), Two (32m5s) and Three (37m26s, all three together being a pretty through explanation of how Mario 64’s platforming system works) – Blinking (eyes, 8m40s) – Floats (9m23s) – Pause Buffering (8m7s) – Pitch Conversation and Yaw Velocity Conservation (15m15s) – Sleeping (Mario, 7m25s) – Random Number Generation (12m37s) – Wall Hitboxes (6m50s) – Releasing Objects (5m18s) – How Holding Objects Really Works (12m1s) – Units, Speed and Sense of Scale (4m41s)

How to Crash SM64 Using a Pendulum (Youtube, one hour 12 minutes)

Editorial: Where Are Retro Games Going?

This editorial doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of this blog. However, blogs don’t have views anyway, so what would that even mean?

I was sitting and watching some Zelda: Breath of the Wild videos in a Metafilter post by Fizz, from streamer PointCrow. I was going through the usual generation shock–I the hyper-frenetic editing, zooming visuals with added sound effects, slow zooms, constant cues telling me how they want me to feel, combined with his constant state of hype and excitement, they were wearing on me. But that’s probably just my age? As much as it pains me to admit it I’m not young anymore, having just turned fifty last month. Maybe it’s just the style of popular youth media now Somehow I don’t think it is, I don’t see everyone doing that. I suspect it’s really Youtube’s algorithm that prioritizes engagement really really hard, that pushes some people to those lengths. Anyway, I don’t intend to make this into a screed against PointCrow, who obviously works very hard to succeed, and does have some interesting videos. By all means watch a few if you want. That’s not the point of this post anyway.

Movie notwithstanding, does anyone care about Super Mario Bros. anymore, for its own sake?

It was while watching it that I started to realize how insular these kinds of video can be? If you don’t know anything about Breath of the Wild, a lot of it will be impenetrable to you. That may be why there’s so many videos about this game in particular. There’s like a while little genre of BotW videos that show off tricks, odd corners of the game, and amazing feats in it. I post about them here sometimes even.

My worry has to do with the phenomenon of retro (from our perspective) gaming in general. We often hear people talk about games like Super Mario Bros. and the original Legend of Zelda as if there were some kind of timeless classics, which is a bold statement to make even approaching 40 years out from the Famicom’s launch. Timeless is timeless, and in centuries will anyone know or even care about it? The jury is still out of course on whether humans will still be around in that time, but let’s presume they will be.

It’s a tricky and devious game for people not prepare for it, but the original Legend of Zelda is surprisingly playable now.

In fact, let’s restrict out scope to the relatively near future, maybe 20 years from now. Will people still care about the 8-bit era of games around that time?

We have some reason to believe that they aren’t played as much now as they used to be. NES-era games, on the Switch, are no longer sold individually, like they were on the Wii and Wii-U, but in bulk, as part of a subscription. That seems to indicate, I think, that they haven’t turned out to be as much of a selling point individually as before.

My hope is that they will, and I think games like Super Mario Bros. do have some qualities that don’t just expire like the milk left in the fridge for a month. But they don’t exist in a vacuum, and what gives me cause for concern is the ways in which these games are experienced now.

I think that retro games still fill a useful niche, in that they’re solidly-made and challenging games, with a distinctive look and sound, that don’t have gigantic playtimes. Super Mario Bros. will not claim weeks of your life. Even the longer ones don’t demand as much of your attention and times as a AAA-title Square Bethesda WA Microsoft Co Inc. And indie games, while often worthy, are often a risk to spend money on. Many NES-era games are well known to be playable and interesting, which is how they got to be popular in the first place.

My concern, though, is that as the people who grew up with these games age, their original context is being increasingly lost. Less and less often, the people who play and think about these games didn’t come to them from mostly personal, pre-internet perspectives, but as something brought to them by other people, meaning, not just hearing about them, but being pre-spoiled regarding their gameplay, and especially from watching streamers and speedrunners.

What, I wonder, is the ratio between people playing games as intended, and those purposely trying to break them in a variety of ways, and do superplays? Are new game players inundated by streaming culture? Do they get the sense that 8-bit games are only interesting if one tries to blow them up? And in the future, will people continue to find their way to games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda, and appreciate them for what they are?

Is there perhaps space out there for people just doing normal runs of retro games? I wonder if I should give it a shot.