Mamesaver

Did you ever look at your collection of legally-acquired of course MAME roms and thought to yourself, I wish I could turn the attract modes of these arcade games into a screensaver? I thought that, and then thought, I should try to create one!

Then I stopped myself, and thought once more: before creating one, let’s use Google to try to find out if someone’s already done it first, save myself a lot of work, wot wot.

As it turns out, someone has made one! Currently it’s only for Windows, sadly, and it requires the NET runtime. It also needs you to have a stock version of MAME already installed. But if MAME is set up so it knows your rompath, it’s smart enough to ask it where to find them. You can even determine the command-line options that MAME receives. It’s nice! Which is why I mention it here! You’re welcome!

GitHub: Mamesaver 3.0.

Long Hidden Two-Player Mode Found In SNES Super Punch-Out!!

The Twitter account Unlisted Cheats searches for and reports on undiscovered codes in classic games. They found a real doozy yesterday, about a secret two-player mode in the SNES game Super Punch-Out!! The news hit Reddit and has gotten up to 4,400 positive votes, so, folk seems really interested.

Bald Bull is one of those memorable characters who’s been in several games, but doesn’t get the respect he deserves. The crowd loves the Turkish Titan! And now you can play as him!
(Image credit: Mobygames)

(Note, for clarity, you have to say the SNES game Super Punch-Out!!, because Nintendo made a different arcade game that they also called Super Punch-Out!! Also, the exclamation points are part of the name. I’m not just really excited.)

To do it, Y+R must be held on controller 2, and Start pressed on controller 1. This loads a screen where any opponent may be selected

The opponent select screen. (Image credit: Unlisted Cheats)

Then, on the character info screen, hold B+Y, again on controller 2, and press Start on controller 1 to allow player 2 to control the opposing boxer.

The code even works on the version of the game on Nintendo Switch Online, so if you have an account there you can try it out without setting up an emulator or digging up an old cartridge.

It’s interesting to note the times that the big gaming sites reported on this. As of this writing (yesterday) and according to Google, Ars Technica reported on it 18 hours ago, followed by IGN (16 hours), Kotaku (15 hours), and then Eurogamer. Reddit says the post went up there 19 hours ago, and Unlisted Cheats posted it 20 hours ago. News travels fast in the videoscape.

The phenomenon of the cheat code has gone kind of out of fashion these days. They still exist, but tend to be more for debugging than anything, especially since interesting features can conceivably locked behind paid DLC gates and bring in more lucre to the mothership. I know of a particularly interesting code that news broke about some time back, but let’s give that its own moment in the sun, tomorrow….

Video: Easter Eggs in Classic C64 Cartridges

The always terrific 8-Bit Show And Tell shows us some secret codes for old cartridge-based C64 games that reveal they were developed by Andy Finkel. These are recent finds! I had the C64 port of Lazarian growing up, and much later I was surprised to find out I prefer it to the arcade version, the C64 version feels more polished and has better music!

Along the way we’re also taught about the super-obscure Commodore product the Max Machine, which is like a severely stripped-down C64 with a bad keyboard, no ports for storage devices, and only 2K of RAM, but including the C64’s iconic VIC-II and SID chips. It was designed solely to run cartridge software. The Max is mentioned on the C64 Programmer’s Reference Guide, where I saw it long ago and had to wonder what the heck that was about. Turns out the Commodore 64 has a compatibility mode that lets it run Max Machine carts!

The Max Machine only saw release in Japan, where it was very obscure. Just think, if Commodore had put a full 64K into that, maybe it could have supplanted the MSX? Well maybe not, but it’s interesting to think about!

Video: The History of Compile Shooters

AAH COMPILE SHOOTERS ARE SO AWESUM SQUEEEE

My favorite shooter of all time is Zanac on the NES/Famicom, with The Guardian Legend following not far behind. I have a softspot for the Gradius series, but Zanac is really something special. I think you can get a sense for how someone feels about shooters as a genre in general by what they think about Zanac, its powerup system, its adaptive difficulty, and above all its blistering speed. Zanac presents a lot of Compile’s greatest strengths as a maker of shooters unalloyed. It’s a great shame that its Playstation-only sequel ZANACxZANAC was never brought to the US.

It was just a couple of minutes into Shmup Junkie’s video that I realized that he gets it. He knows these are amazing games, hugely foundational and inspirational. Without Zanac the whole history of shooters would have gone in a different direction. Plenty of arcade shooters, especially the Raiden series, are obviously iterations on ideas first found in Zanac.

(BTW, my favorite shooters? Besides Compile shooters and the Gradius series in general, I also like Twinbee and 1943. I generally don’t like the modern ilk of bullet hell games, which seem to me to be more about responding to patterns than dynamically-arising situations. This is all just me, of course, but it is me, that means something I reckon.)

Alternate Title for Cobra Command

Just learned today from Jeremy Parish’s NES Works, Data East’s Cobra Command had an alternate title planned in case they ran with trouble releasing under that title, possibly due to its name’s similarity to that of the bad guys from the G.I. Joe cartoon show. According to The Cutting Room Floor, that title was, well, not so great:

Video: UCBVG Covers Nightshade

We link to U Can Beat Videogames once in a while here (in fact, here), and this week has an especially interesting installment, Beam Software’s cult classic NES game Nightshade. It’s a weird point-and-click adventure game, hugely ambitious and largely successful. Sadly it was released fairly late in the life of the NES. Nowadays it looks amazingly prescient, putting the player in control of a Batman-like hero with no powers at the beginning of his career. It’s an engaging combination of gritty and comedic, offering a Batman-style dark graphical look to its city, but also full of in-jokes, and some of the weirder character art on the system.

It’s arguably better to play Nightshade now than when it was first released. It has no save or password function, but that’s not so much an issue with save states. It’s available on Steam and on the Nintendo Switch Online service.

It does have the standard point-and-click style of obtuse puzzle sometimes, but there’s an abundance of cool ideas. You don’t have “lives,” but instead, when Nightshade “dies,” he’s thrown into a James Bond-style deathtrap. The first four times this happens, there is a way out of the situation, and if you can figure it out in time you get to continue the game with full health. (The fifth time, the trap has no escape.) Each of the traps is unique and a situation that appears nowhere else in the game.

Games With Blobber Mazes

Apple II Wizardry. All images in this post are from MobyGames.

In @Play yesterday I mentioned a number of games that use Wizardry’s weird world metaphor. They’re sort of like roguelikes in that the world is divided into a grid of discrete spaces, but instead of viewing them from overhead, you are given a first-person view from the center of that space.

You don’t move with the same kind of smoothly-adjusting motion as Wolfenstein 3D would bring a while later, but movement instead jerks along one space at a time, and you turn in 90 degree increments. These games all disorient the player just enough that mapping them becomes important, but can be easily mapped on graph paper. Your more fiendish RPG dungeons of the type have tricks they play on you as you explore specifically to disorient you, like teleporting you to an identical-looking corridor without telling you, or spinning you around randomly. Wizardry and Bard’s Tale in particular delight in doing this.

It’s such a distinctive and immediately recognizable way to represent dungeon exploration that I’m surprised there isn’t a fan name for it, like “shmup” or “belt scroller.” I’ve calling them blobbers, but those actually get their name from the fact that, if you are commanding a party of characters, they’re all considered to inhabit that one space. The term doesn’t really apply to the mode of movement, only the atomicity of your group.

I gave a list of a good number of games that offer this kind of movement, but shortly after I thought of a bunch more, and they’re such a weird and varied bunch that I figured I’d take it as an excuse to catalogue as many examples as come to mind, and say some words about them in passing.

In the beginning there’s the Wizardry games, of course. I don’t actually know if it’s the first of the type, but it’s the earliest I can think of. Wizardry games using this format include, I believe, the first seven in the series; the 8th (and last in the core series) finally switched to a full 3D engine. There’s also some Japanese Wizardry games, and some of them use the style as well, but I can only personally vouch for one. That’s eight in total.

There’s some games that use Wizardry-style mazes as only a part of the experience. Some of the Ultima games do this. The Ultima predecessor Akalabeth uses them, and I know Ultima III does too for its dungeons. That’s two more.

Might & Magic II for Genesis, image from MobyGames.

There’s two major series of Wizardly-inspired games. The original Bard’s Tale series were blobbers in the truest sense of the term. That’s four: I, II, III and Construction Set. The hugely underrated Might & Magic series also used them for both dungeons and their game worlds up to V. That’s nine more, for a running total of 19.

On the NES there are some surprising examples of the form. I already mentioned Interplay’s Swords & Serpents, a unique and probably doomed attempt to make a Bard’s Tale RPG on a ROM-based system. There’s multiple oodles (boodles! froodles! zoodles! poodles!) of interesting things about that game, like its character-specific password system and its four-player support, but we don’t have the time here to get into that. In fact, I could say that about nearly this entire list.

Two of the most ridiculous kinds of characters to explore 1st-person dungeons are a super spy (as in Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode) and lightbulb-tonguing uncle to a weird and macabre family (as in Fester’s Quest), both also on NES. Adding them to the pile brings us up to 22.

I mentioned Phantasy Star on Sega Master System and Arcana on SNES. There’s also Shining in the Darkness on Genesis and Double Dungeons on the TG16. There’s at least one Madou Monogatari game that uses the system, but I’m only adding games that I can remember without Googling or looking anything up, so I’m only counting it once. We’re now at 27.

Xybots

There’s 3D Bomberman on the MSX, an early experiment in the Bomberman series where the mazes you’re in are 3D. In the arcade there’s Ed Logg’s Xybots, which was intended to be a Gauntlet sequel but the play ended up being different enough that he changed it to a sci-fi game. Xybots breaks the rules slightly because your character is visible, but it’s still that kind of grid-based, first-person maze. More recently there’s, hm… at least five Etrian Odyssey games? That brings the count up to 34.

Some more miscellaneous RPGs I mentioned last time: Dragon Wars, Eye of the Beholder, and Dungeon Hack. I particularly like Dragon Wars and Dungeon Hack, although for completely different reasons.

Dungeon Hack

Oh! Let’s not forget about the D&D Gold Box series, which use 1st person grid mazes for dungeon exploration. That includes Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades, Pools of Darkness, Champions of Krynn, Death Knights of Krynn, Unlimited Adventures, and the Buck Rodgers game made in that style. There are other computer D&D games from the time, but they didn’t use that engine. These games also had other modes of exploration, and overhead-view combat, so they aren’t as tied to the format.

Finally there are some other miscellaneous games. Blobber-style mazes were a low-resource way of immersing the player in a labyrinth, even if there was nothing else in there of interest. My first exposure to the field was a C64 BASIC game called, natch, Labyrinth. I remember seeing a shareware DOS game called 3-Demon. The game that Strong Bad poked around in the Friendlyware video I linked last time is Killer Maze, and definitely fits the discretely granular bill.

It’s a good excuse to embed the video. (14 minutes)

So, all in all that’s 48 games completely from memory! But I’m sure there’s more; can you think of any others?

Wolfenstein 3D

When Wolfenstein 3D came out this entire style of world presentation immediately fell out of favor. Wolf 3D has very much that same kind of grid-based world, but no longer is your position locked to the center of each space. You can turn in angles of less than 90 degrees, and there’s more of a real-time immediacy to the game that’s a lot more engaging.

Wolf 3D pretty easily destroyed this genre. Almost no blobber mazes show up from that point on except for some edge cases that are explicitly calling back to the old style, like the later Japanese Wizardry games and Etrian Odyssey. It is interesting that, once computers became powerful enough to render worlds in a more fluid and immediate kind of way, it made these kinds of distinctive presentation shortcuts irrelevant. It’s kind of saddening.

EDIT: One I had intended to include but somehow left out is Dungeon Master, which xot reminded me of in comments!

@Play: A Reintroduction to Angband

Of all the @Play columns, which begin to approach 100 in number, I have only directly tackled Angband once. I admit, that’s a huge oversight. Our first treatment of Angband was on GameSetWatch, which now only exists on the Wayback Machine. A reprint of that column is in my @Play collection Exploring Roguelike Games, out in print through CRC Press, but that’s admittedly kind of expensive.

Don’t let this retro title screen fool you, these days, on Windows at least, Angband has full-color graphical tiles.

An Angle on Angband

If you’ve played a Hack-like, Angband (home page) will probably look fairly similar at first. It, too, is a grid-based dungeon exploration game where you fight lots of monsters and find objects with unknown properties that you must discover as you play. Both games have randomized maps, dangerous monsters with fearsome abilities, powerful magic items to use against them, spells you can learn and cast, and traps you must look out for. Both standard-bearer for the Hack series, NetHack, and Angband now feature graphical tiles by default, although they can also be played in the old ASCII-based format.

Where the games differ is in their general philosophy of what dungeon exploration means. While NetHack has lots of strong monsters, it seems to take the view that the dungeon itself is your greatest opponent. The puzzle of figuring out item identities is a larger part of the game, and NetHack offers both more uncertainty in identification and more ways to identify. NetHack has more set locations that offer specific puzzles players must overcome, like finding the Luckstone at the bottom of the Gnomish Mines, or getting past Medusa, or crossing the moat around the Castle; Angband has only one set location, its Town, although there are lots of special areas that can be randomly found within its dungeon levels.

NetHack’s dungeon cannot be exited without giving up the game, for even once you get the Amulet and escape, you’re thrown into an End Game that functions as a coda to your adventure; in Angband, you’ll probably leave the dungeon many times in order to avail yourself of the Town’s useful services. In Angband, this Town offers shops where you can buy and identify items, but the shops are all menus. NetHack’s shops have a physicality, in that they’re rooms in the dungeons, overseen by a Shopkeeper character, which allows players to steal from shops if they can survive the shopkeeper’s eyes and wrath. And, of course, NetHack has its iconic pets that can help you explore the dungeon and provide other services, while in Angband you fight alone.

NetHack’s has a stronger sense of place than Angband, where dungeon levels are much larger but also less distinctive, and anyway are forgotten once you leave a level. If you go downstairs then right back upstairs in Angband, you’ll find a completely different map waiting for you, with new monsters and items. NetHack’s dungeons persist so long as your character survives, and you can go back to a level after a long time and find it’s largely as you left it.

It’s possible to see a kind of rivalry between NetHack and Angband, but I think this is largely an illusion. Both games know what they’re about and are content to pursue it in their own way.

While NetHack has more name recognition, lots of people like Angband! It’s spawned several popular variants all its own. One of them, ZAngband, is basically its own game by now, with a ton of variants and other notable branch-offs.

The Legacy of Moria

While Beneath Apple Manor has many aspects of a roguelike, Rogue is still at the center of the roguelike genre. Rogue inspired Hack, and then, NetHack.

But also, Rogue inspired Moria, and in fact Moria predates Hack by several years. Moria may be the first “roguelike” game, in that it’s not Rogue itself but was clearly inspired by and derived from Rogue. Even the “direct” descendants of Rogue, like URogue and SuperRogue, came along after Moria. If there is another character-based game played on university computing terminals between Rogue’s release and Moria’s, word of it has not come down to me.

UMoria

Moria was created by (the recently deceased) Richard Koeneke. First written in a dialect of BASIC, then converted to one of Pascal, he left university and, like many other roguelike authors who exited academia, appears never to have worked on their game again. But he opened the game’s source, and some other people ported it to C, and called the new version UMoria. UMoria still exists, and can be downloaded to play locally or via a web browser.

The significance of Moria and UMoria on the history of computer gaming cannot be overstated. Rogue was popular yes, and has inspired a legion of games taking one or more of its aspects and running with them. But there is something fundamental to the core of Moria that has seeped even more deeply into CRPGs. Diablo’s credits mention UMoria as a direct inspiration, but more than that, the basic sense of Moria has become pervasive.

It is easy to forget now that there used to be all freaking kinds of RPGs, and early on games in the genre looked very different from how they look today. dnd and Oublette on PLATO systems have a slightly familiar kind of overhead view, with the walls of the dungeon around you drawn in lines, but monsters don’t exist outside of your immediate interactions with them. Wizardry, what is now weirdly called a “blobber,” has a grid-based world that is experienced in first-person, and this became a very common means of presentation, inspiring… well, all of these are purely from memory: The Bard’s Tale series, the Might & Magic series, Dragon Wars, Dungeon Magic, Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Hack, Swords & Serpents on the NES, the dungeons of Phantasty Star on the SMS, Arcana over on the SNES, a funky 3D version of the original Bomberman on MSX, and countless other games that presented the mazes without the monsters. Even Strong Bad has wrestled against one of the blobber ilk with his begloved hands. (“Who’s Strong Bad,” asks half of my audience. I know, I’m old.)

UMoria

In particular, it should be remembered that Dungeons & Dragons, which inspired this whole category, was not a solo game. Despite promises of solitaire play in the 1st Edition AD&D DM’s Guide, you really needed at least two people, a player and a referee, or “DM,” to play; most groups had multiple players, each playing one or more characters. This is still how D&D is most commonly played today. Rogue was one of the games that, by attempting to offer a solo version of the experience, put the emphasis on the solo.

But Rogue has other things going on in it. Its identification game is a work of genius by itself, and the way its systems work together make it special in ways other than just being a D&D simulation. Its descendant Moria, on the other hand, offers a more generalized RPG framework, and that is what has come to suffuse and infect nearly the entire rest of video gaming. What Moria did was generalize the solo fantasy RPG experience. Moria has multiple attack types, like fire, cold, and electricity, and resistances to them, has equipment items with add-on special properties, and has a bunch of generally plain monsters but with colors that identify their properties like they were palette-swapped.

In fact, I do not think I am being hyperbolic when I say that, due to Moria’s influence on Diablo, nearly every game now that features what they call a “loot system,” is actually offering a Moria-style loot system. It is that pervasive. And Angband, as UMoria’s direct descendant, has kept up that system and elaborated upon it for over 30 years now.

J.R.R. Tokens

Angband started out as mostly a themed version of UMoria. If the name Moria sounds familiar, like you might have heard it in a movie once, that’s because it comes right out of Tolkien. The Mines of Moria* are the dungeons of the game, and that’s why at level 50 the player fights a Balrog, trying to do a better job of it than Gandalf did.

* Off the subject. A fun game to play if you’re of a frame of mind is, when watching the relevant scenes in the movie of The Fellowship of the Ring, to refer to random things as “the Something… of Moria!” You can start from outside with “The Gates of Moria!” Say it like Gimli, with a gruff voice, and it helps if you can rouse yourself to try a Scottish accent. It’s more entertaining if it’s a bad one. Then: The Halls… of Moria! The Goblins… of Moria! The Hasty Retreat… of Moria! The Panicked Screaming… of Moria! I find that one can amuse themselves for quite some time this way.

Well you might have heard that there are other Middle Earth books than The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. One of these, cobbled together by John Ronald Reuel’s son Christopher Tolkien, is The Silmarillion. It’s a big collection of backstories and myths and legends of questionable canonicity.

You might remember that the Mines of Moria were not the final destination of the LotR books, but merely a stop along the way. If you read The Silmarillion, you’ll know that there were once even worse places in Middle Earth than that. One of them was a stronghold of Morgoth, called the pits of Angband.

That’s why you fight Morgoth in the game of Angband, on level 100, and his lieutenant Sauron, the same entity that was the big baddie in The Lord of the Rings, on Level 99. And what’s more, all of Angband is deeply drenched in token Tolkienness. It’s got a bunch of Tolkien monsters, both unique types, from the afore-mentioned end bosses down to Farmer Maggot and his dogs, to representatives of species like goblins, orcs, Ainur, and Maiar. A lot of the items have add-on properties like being a weapon “of Westernesse,” which in game terms means it’s quite good.

LotR inspired some iconic fantasy book covers.
These were scavenged off of Reddit.

Despite how deeply it plumbs the pits, If you approach it as a full adventure in Middle Earth where you can visit the Shire, smoke a pipe with Frodo and hang out with Strider, Angband will disappoint you. It takes the wonder and beauty of The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings series, and the Silmarillion, and uses them as basically a list of monsters and items. Some of the variants that I’ll get to later try to restore a bit of that, but for the most part Angband is a game of tactical combat, map exploration, and loot collection, and anything from the literature that doesn’t fit that purpose is left out. There’s no Land of Mordor, Where the Shadows Lie; no Gondor with its rich history, except where it involves special monsters and items; and no sad departure of the Elves to the West. (Writing about Tolkien involves capitalizing a lot of seemingly random terms.)

It’s not that Angband seeks to balderize Tolkien, but that it just has no place to use those aspects of his work. These are generic fantasy exploration and tactics games that have been given a coat of Tolkien Paint, probably by Tom Bombadil, who has had difficulty finding work lately.

Hey dol! merry dol! ring a dong dillo!
Painting by the Brothers Hildebrandt, borrowed from this page.

What Angband gets from the Lord of the Rings and its subsidiary books is a rich lore that it can just do with as it pleases. It lends weight to the games. Instead of just making up a bunch of monsters, which often falls flat, it puts on an Elven Cloak and seems richer for it. It’s not just Angband itself; there’s a whole family of Angband variants that work by replacing (or sometimes, just supplementing) the Tolkien stuff with material from some other author, from Roger Zelazny to Anne McCaffery to H.P.Lovecraft to Terry Pratchett.

That makes a good enough introduction! Next time, in a week, we’ll offer some early playing advice, then maybe a timeline of Angband and its versions, and after that will come the Herculean task of looking at some of those many variants. See you soon-adillo!

Scott Adams Q&A and Adventureland XL

One of the earliest companies that made a go of making and selling software for home computers was Scott Adams’ Adventure International, which was started based off of the success of his first game, Adventureland, way back in 1978, almost 45 years ago. Just to be clear, this is not the Dilbert Scott Adams! Adventureland predates Infocom and Zork, although not the original Dungeon written for the PDP-10. Adventure International would go on to make thirteen more games before going out of business in 1986 due to a declining market. Their old work is available for both download and immediate play via browser-based emulation from the Internet Archive.

The Q&A (about an hour long).

Recently Scott did a video Q&A over Zoom, the record of which is up on YouTube (listen for a certain familiar name to come up near the end-I was one of the spectators of the Q&A). One of the things revealed is that there is a modern remake of Adventureland, called Adventureland XL, on Steam for a mere $5! It’s in Early Access, and has been for some time, but they’re geared towards finishing it up for full release soon.

Adventureland XL is described as a “Conversational Adventure” game, which is to say, it’s driven by a text parser (although a better one than the old Adventure International games) and has text descriptions. But, like the original, it also has included illustrations.

Promo video for Adventureland XL

Scott works for a company called Clopas, which has a Kickstarter going for another new game called Stereotypical, to be made for iOS and Android platforms. It’s just getting started and has a month to go. They have a very charming pitch video! Please consider it, won’t you?

Another couple of items of interest came up in the Q&A. Scott Adams did games based on several Marvel properties at the time, which are Marvel’s very first computer game adaptations. They also made a graphic adventure version of cult movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, which The Retroist discussed here, and links a quick playthrough here.

A couple of other related items:

Mike Taylor has made available tools for using Ruby to compile your own adventure games using the old Adventure International engine, which you can find on GitHub.

And also mentioned at the Q&A is FujiNet, which is a line of network adapters (and other useful tools) that work with 8-bit computers. They work by handling all the actual networking within the device so it doesn’t strain the resources of their old processors. They can even emulate printers (so as to produce PDFs of output by the machine) and storage devices like disk drives, making for a nice all-in-one device.

During the talk someone mentioned what I think was a version for the Atari Lynx portable console, and even talked about using it to play Lynx Rampart with others over the internet, and since I am the biggest Rampart fan in the entire world, it felt like they were pressing my buttons specifically.

Oldweb: GameSurge

You may believe this or not as you please, but I actually don’t have much use for nostalgia. Some reminiscing about what once was is okay, but it’s very easy to take it too far, and verge off into ridiculous things like, say, claiming that casting a woman as the lead in a movie in a freakishly popular sci-fi film franchise is somehow retroactively ruining your childhood. We have no truck with that.

Zalman certainly got their money’s worth from that sponsored review on the front page, it’s probably been there for 19 years.

But we do try to recognize when things really were better. Not to devolve into the kinds of rhetoric our cave-dwelling co-blogger uses, the internet is easily seen to be in a less useful, less interesting state these days. Where it was once easy to Google up a plethora of simple freeware tools for most purposes, now rampant SEO and adverse purposes has made finding even simple tutorials for most computing tasks a maze of scams, farmed content, and even bots. When you do find something, more than likely it’s in the form of a YouTube video. A world of bloggers has largely been superseded, or at least made difficult to find by Google’s accursed algorithms and by social media and Stack Overflow, and a universe of fansites is being pushed into obscurity by Wikipedia’s sleezy cousin Fandom.com. And whatever you thought about the AIM/Yahoo/MSN instant messaging triumvirate, at least they didn’t lock off substantial content from the wider internet within a constellation of Discord servers.

I won’t claim that the older internet was better in every way (anyone remember ubiquitous pop-up ads?) but the lost hopefulness of it is tragic. Set Side B, in its way, hopes to rekindle some of that.

A contributing factor to the decay of the web is the cost in maintaining server space and connectivity. If you want to keep something up, someone has to pay money to run the internet connection, to store the site, and to pay your service provider for an IP address and the registrar for a domain name. Even fairly big sites like our dear departed ancestor GameSetWatch have vanished from the living web, now findable only by wandering the dim shadowlands of the Wayback Machine, and it’s foolish to think that even that will be around forever.

GameSetWatch was backed by UBM Media, now owned by an entity with the perfectly dystopian name Informa. You’d think they would have the pockets to preserve such a fondly remembered part of their legacy, but no.

“Ahead of the Game”

This is what makes me so pleased that GameSurge survives. I found it, like I did the subject of Monday’s post on the Interton VC 4000, by perusing the results of alternative search engine Wiby, which prioritizes sites with simple designs, on the grounds that they’re more likely to have interesting content. I’m not sure such an approach will scale with popularity, as it seems just as vulnerable to SEO optimizing as Google’s current mobile-friendly regime, but for now at least I’m finding it useful.

GameSurge is not an up-to-the-moment gaming news site. In fact, GameSurge currently hosts an article enthusing about the upcoming Dreamcast game Eternal Arcadia. As near as I can tell, not a byte has changed on the site since around 2005, and that’s just a late updating column. They don’t even acknowledge the existence of the Playstation 2.

And yet, it survives. Someone is still paying the bills. Someone still cares enough to keep the domain name up. It remains, frozen in amber, as it was back in pre-Gamecube days. The site doesn’t even have a favicon. It’s beautiful.

And like all beautiful things, it’s doomed. No one is going to resurrect this site and inhabit it again with new content. If they did, they’d have to change its design to convince Google to give it rank, which would ruin the charm. Whoever keeps it going, they will eventually give up pretending it’s a living thing and turn off the life support. When the lights go out it’ll be a sad day, but not an unexpected one.

So please, enjoy its old-school design sensibilities while you still can. Read their PC gaming strategy guides from the year 2000, and their arcade guides too. Take about two minutes to read their crappy review of Sonic Adventure. Check out their interviews with old PC industry figures, which may actually be a useful resource. There’s also the “Game Guy” column by Mike Walker, which seems to have survived for a while after the demise of the main site; its last article went up in 2005. And peruse its reviews of PC titles like Baldur’s Gate and Black & White.

And when you’re done, why not load up on much more recent gaming news from 1up.com and Joystiq? Geez, with such terrific site names I’m amazed no one’s bought them up and fleshed them out anew. Wait. I’m someone! I could do it! Let me make a call…. Hello? Engadget? I hear you have this domain name you might want to unload. I’ve got… um, 36 cents. Hello? Hello?

Did World War III ever get released? (checks) It did! And it’s on Steam! Cool?

Romhack: Raggedy Land with Ann & Andy

Here at Set Side B our purview is “Indie, Retro, Niche,” and we consider romhacks, of the niche, to be among the the nicheist. (Nietzsche-est?) But there are lots of romhacks, with more every day, and most just aren’t that newsworthy.

This one’s pretty interesting though? As the Romhacking.net entry mentions, Raggedy Ann, while once a pretty big pop culture property with an animated movie and two TV specials directed by Chuck Jones, has fallen into disuse for decades due to rights issues.

The linked hack, for Data East’s Famicom McDonalds tie-in game Donald Land, is an attempt by Garrett Gilchrist and Brooklyn Williams to simulate what a Raggedy Ann game from the NES era would have been like, using graphics and characters from different iterations. Here’s a scene with The Greedy, from the feature cartoon, that once inspired many a nightmare:

Pretty cool, and rather more ambitious than your standard pedestrian graphics swap!

Running DOOM on an IBM RS/6000 Under AIX

I’ve been rather taken by NCommander’s YouTube channel lately, in which he regularly tries to build and run old versions of Unix and software for it. He’s run an old boxed version of Debian 2.1, Internet Explorer 5 for Unix, the first Linux live CD (Yggdrasil), and–get this–even a version of System V made for the Commodore Amiga that was officially published by Commodore! It comes out of the box with NetHack 3.0! (Warning: that one’s a seven hour live stream.)

A highlight of the channel that falls under our jurisdiction is him trying to get DOOM running on an old IBM machine running old IBM Unix. Over an hour long, the video is a long sequence of sadness, involving misconfiguring hostnames, getting X running, discovering that IBM’s C compiler costs about $2,500, running into basic C functions IBM didn’t implement, building OSS for AIX (and buying a $10 license for that), and then the issues with building and running the game itself. So yes, add it to the long list of devices that run DOOM, but at what cost?

Well, to NCommander, $10 plus several days of time. To you, about an hour of entertaining (somewhat) learning about obscure computing esoterica!

NCommander at YouTube: What Does It Take To Runu DOOM On A $10,000 IBM RS/6000 From 2001?