On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.
In the 90s, there was effectively two Segas, Sega of Japan and Sega of America. Unlike with Nintendo though, where it’s fairly obvious that the Japanese division called the shots, Sega was a little more evenly split. Despite the company mostly being known nowadays for their Japanese productions, Sega was originally an American company, founded in Honolulu making entertainment devices for U.S. military bases. Indeed, SEGA originally stood for SErvice GAmes.
The Japanese branch began to pull out ahead when they started making home computers for that market, but by the time of the Mega Drive/Genesis there was Sega Technical Institute on the American side, which employed some talented developers, including Yuji Naka.
The story of STI is part of that of Segapede, a game created by Craig Stitt. Originally pitched as a Sonic spinoff, it would eventually be cancelled, but not before a demo ROM was created, which saw the light of day for the first time late last year. Not only available is the ROM image itself, but the story of its inspiration, development, and ultimate cancellation, all on its suitably-named home hiddenpalace.org.
Please pardon our lack of a romhack review this week. It’s not always easy to find a good hack to review out of the tens of thousands that are floating around out there. In the meantime, classic remakes are kind of like romhacks, right?
Those who have been following us for the (gosh) nearly one year we’ve been in operation will have picked up on the fact that we love classic Atari. Especially we love classic Atari prototypes. In my humble opinion, Atari treated the output of their stable of brilliant creators with almost a dismissive attitude.
Developers would make a game completely from scratch, spend months working on every aspect of it, handtooling the assembly code, sometimes for hardware platforms that were created specifically to run it, devote their lives for a time to this project, test it in-house, get reactions, modify it, get it running, get approval to make cabinets and put it out on location test, then have all that work get destroyed. Oh well! Back to the drawing board. That’s what happened to AKKA ARRH.
The only record of all of that effort might end up being those few prototype cabinets put out on test and in the hands of the original developers, and the files in the Atari archives, which were pretty much left out to rot when the company was shut down, and would have been lost to us except for a few people who searched their dumpsters looking to preserve them.
Because of the value of those tiny number of cabinets, collectors guard them zealously, which puts them at cross purposes with the people trying to release the files and get them working in MAME. Two such stories lately have been the prototype for Marble Madness II, which we talked about last year, and AKKA ARRH. (Which, I think, is still one of the best game names I’ve ever heard. It’s fun to say!)
AKKA ARRH’s history is a long story. Long lost except for a few cabinets, somehow, we’re still not sure how, the code got dumped and leaked on the internet. However it happened, that event seems to have uncorked the bubble, with rights-holder Atari (not the same company as the old Atari) commissioning a full remake from Llamasoft and Jeff Minter, the creator of Tempest 2000 and probably the person best keeping alive the spirit of classic arcade gaming.
Minter’s remake of AKKA ARRH is now on Steam. It’s kinda pricey at $19.99, but it looks g r e a t, as you should be able to tell from the trailer below. An emulation of the original arcade game is also in the Atari 50th Anniversary Celebration package from Digital Eclipse, available on Steam and lots of other platforms, which costs more but also gets you many more games, and documentaries and flyers and lots of other plat*.
Seeing that little TM symbol after the logo is oddly heartening. It’s so nice to see this game given a full release, even if only digitally. It’s been a long journey. Welcome home, AKKA ARRH.
* Lately I’ve been chafing against the limits of language. Please excuse my made-up words, I’m kind of sick of having to turn to the same old synonyms, once again, at the moment. You should know what I mean by context here.
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
Hello blobs! Welcome again to our recognizable brand of snarky response to gaming media which I am given to understand has not been seen anywhere else over the past 30 years of the internet! I’m so original! Let’s get started….
Well it looks like Atari had the same idea we did regarding putting some of its neglected prototypes out there! Not only has their classic-era unproduced game AKKA ARRH (it’s fun to say!) playable in the Atari 50th Anniversary collection, but W. Shanklin at Engadget tells us it’s getting a remake! One quib with the article though, it says it didn’t get made because it was too hard, but playing it in the Anniversary collection I got rather a few waves in, on my first try? They got Jeff Minter on board for the remake, so you know it’ll be A. great, B. trippy, and C. have cheeky ungulates in there somewhere!
Zoey Handley at Destructoid sparks a dozen internet flamewars with their article listing the 5 best N64 games! Guess what you think they’ll be. My guesses are Mario 64, Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask, Star Fox 64 and, oh, Mario Party. The answers: Majora and Star Fox, but then they chose Ogre Battle 64, Banjo-Kazooie, and F-Zero X. Which, yes they’re good, but over Ocarina? (Well honestly I think Ocarina of Time is a little overrated, but it’s usually a safe bet? Oh well, to the next item.)
And Sorrel Ker-Jung at Destructoid reminds us that we don’t have to care about the “Game Awards.” They don’t even have a catchy name like the Oscars, Emmys or Tonys. I wouldn’t even trust them to come up with a good name, because it’d probably be something hamfisted and too-obvious, like the “Miyamoto,” or the “Wright.” Bah!
“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter
G4 TV is back, blobbies! Oh yeah let the good times–wait, it’s going away again. Mollie Taylor at PC Gamer has the deets. I’m surprised someone doesn’t just use the name and make a really low-rent Youtube channel by that name with gaming content. Why does it have to be an actual streaming thingy, just host a bunch of videos somewhere. Free yourselves from the bonds of linear time! Embrace random access! !drebnar back looked never I’ve and ,have I
Uh-oh! Another N64 game has been decompiled to source code! As NintendoLive’s Ollie Reynolds tells us, this time it’s Perfect Dark. FPSes are an interesting case for decompilation. Platformer enthusiasts tend to embrace quirks, but most FPS players think of the software more as a vessel for the game than intrinsically arising from it, so the improvements to come from being able to make a native x64 version of Perfect Dark should be pretty substantial, especially with a whole subculture out there hammering away at the code.
There are tons of interesting indie games coming out every month. Josh Bycer tells us all about many of them pretty regularly in these very pages! Usually we leave the indie stuff to him because of the sheer volume and the difficulty of picking out particular items on which to focus, but here is one! We’re relaxing our rules on single links to a site each post (that dates from when we were somehow doing two or even three of them a week, oh my aching drebnar) to link to Jonathan Bolding’s review of open-world indie RPG Gedonia in PC Gamer. It’s a big game made almost by a single person, and it’s only $15!
It’s tech, not explicitly gaming, but it’s networking which these days is becoming inextricable from it, and I make the rules anyway so here goes! Jon Broadkin at Ars Technica tells us the story of Los Altos Hills Community Fiber, a co-op delivering high-speed internet to residents of their town, which oddly doesn’t have complete access. One resident had never been wired up by Comcast, despite the town being right in Silicon Valley, and they wanted him to pay $300 a foot to run cable to his house, which over 167 feet came up to over $200,000! Nuts to that in specific, and to Comcast in general! In fact all huge internet conglomerates are evil. Power and bandwidth to the blobble! The resident hooked up with LAHCF and together they helped spread network connectivity to other residents. It’s still pretty pricey, but at least that money isn’t lining the pockets of horrible companies, and as more residents join up those fees should drop. It’s inspiring, drebnar!
Zoey Handley at Destructoid sings the praises of HAL Laboratory’s “New Ghostbusters II” game for the Famicom/NES, which never made it to the US. In the process they diss NES Ghostbusters, which isn’t really fair, considering it’s a NES port of an ingenious home computer game made in 1984, and was designed by David “Pitfall” Crane himself. NES Ghostbusters does suffer a lot in the conversion though, like very many NES ports of classic computer games do–NES M.U.L.E. is a travesty. Anyway, the point of the article is that HAL’s New Ghostbusters II is a fine game, much better than Imagineering’s take on the property, and so it is.
Ash Parish at The Verge brings us another episode of The Adventures of Frank Cifaldi! He’s raising money to buy a couple of unique prototypes of unreleased NES games! One works with the Power Glove, and was produced by Rare! There is an alternate universe out there where that hit the market, and let me tell you it’s a weird universe indeed. Pigs there have wings, and can fly right through the air!
It’s been known for a while that three classic-era Atari arcade games were produced by HAL for the Famicom and NES: Defender II a.k.a. Stargate, Millipede, and Joust. Nicole Express recently did her typically excellent job discussing them and what makes them interesting. Such as, among other things: they use music that was later reused in NES Punch-Out!!, they are subtly different between their Famicom and NES versions, Satoru Iwata may have personally worked on them, and they were developed as part of Nintendo’s pitch to Atari to have them distribute the NES in the United States.
Something that one might overlook reading the article, however, is the news that this isn’t the only version of Millipede made for the Famicom hardware. As an in-house project at Atari Games/Tengen, Ed Logg himself implemented Millipede for it, before they discovered that the publishing rights in the US resided with the other Atari, the one that got bought by Jack Tramiel.
The source was recently found on a backup tape from Atari, and hand-assembled. The resulting rom file can be downloaded from the AtariAge thread on it. It has no sound, because that hasn’t been implemented yet, the colorful alternate palettes of the arcade version are missing, there are some bugs (I mean program bugs, not enemies), and the DDT Bomb objects hadn’t been put in yet, but a lot of the game is still there. There are even multiplayer modes, supporting up to four players playing alternating or simultaneously! It’s especially interesting since Ed Logg assisted Centipede’s creator Dona Bailey in creating the original game.
Dylan Mansfield at site-favorite Gaming Alexandria tells us that there is now preserved an unreleased Famicom port of Taito classic arcade game The Fairyland Story! Fairies are rife around our offices, I have to tell you, they’re everywhere, getting underfoot and in the way of closing doors. Oh? This game is more to do with a more generic kind of fantasy world? I knew that.
Young witch protagonist Ptolomy clears a number of successive screens of enemies using her magic that can turn them into cakes! Released to arcades in 1985, it’s kind of an intermediate game between 1984’s Chak’n Pop and classic 1986 arcade hit Bubble Bobble. If you’re a fan of the arcade game you should check into this one, as many of the level layouts are different! The announcement post and rom is at Forest of Illusion. Unfortunately-named YouTube channel Hard4Games has a short video about the find:
This is not some fan game made to play like Marble Madness, but the real deal, a legendary lost prototype from the Silver Age of Atari Games! Cancelled because of the great arcade fervor at the time around fighting games, meaning little Atari released in that era performed well on test.
Word is that the rom has been released somewhere on the internet, although I do not know where. It had been known that all the surviving Marble Madness II cabinets were owned by old Atari staff or collectors who were averse to allowing the rom images to be released. Whether one of them had a change of heart or, as has been speculated with Akka Arrh, another legendary prototype, they may have been obtained through nefarious means.
Technically the rights are still owned by Warner Media, I believe. I’ve long been amazed that the current rights holders haven’t seeked out the owners of these prototypes and offered them a big payday to dump the roms and release something like a Midway Arcade Treasures 4. Sure, it’d only be a matter of time before someone broke the roms out of such a package, but they’d still sell a ton of units and the prototype owners would be properly rewarded for both maintaining their machines and for lost collector value, and importantly, the games would be out there among people who would enjoy them and be protected against further loss and obscurity.