Fact 1: the Japanese version of the Master System had an add on that provided FM synthesis sound synthesis, and greatly improved its music. Many US-released games have support for the add-on, but it was never released over here so that feature remained unused.
Fact 2: A later revision of the hardware in Japan (there called the Master System) had the FM chip built in. This version could even mix together the system’s default sound with the FM chip. And, if you turned the system on without a game inserted, it played a special version of the Space Harrier theme, programmed to take advantage of both chips.
Another JRPG post! That’s two in a row, and it’s about some quite interesting games, including a lost Shining Force game. The website JRPG Junkie tells us about some Sega arcade games that fit the mold that sound like they would have been interesting to have tried.
Quest of D was a dungeon crawler where the player’s inventory was collected as physical trading cards, that were scanned into the game in order to use them. Shining Force Cross was similar in concept but without the cards; it lasted until 2016. And finally there was Soul Reverse, introduced in 2018.
The world of Japanese arcade games from around this time is largely a big dark area to me, and right around the time when the US arcade industry started its death spiral. It was also a time when server connectivity and online updates came into vogue, meaning when the servers went down, many of them ceased to be playable. It’s really sad that this has become essentially a lost age of gaming, at least to people outside of Japan. We probably couldn’t play them then, and we certainly can’t now.
Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.
I’m going to be honest, I vary in my appreciation for TerminalMontage’s gaming-related Youtube animations. Sometimes I think they’re brilliant, other times I think they really try too hard to be edgy. At their best they use the purposely-janky animation to make a point about the subject. Previously I’ve linked to their Breath of the Wild “speedrun” animation, where some of the things that would ordinarily be kind of lolrandom inclusions were actually, amazingly, references to things players do in actual speedruns.
I think the pinnacle of their output has to be their depiction of the events of The Typing of the Dead, Sega’s side-sequel to The House of the Dead 2, which took that lightgun zombie-shooting arcade game and grafted a typing trainer onto it. It was one of the most memorable game experiences I’ve ever seen, not just for the crazy premise that entirely works, not for the ludicrous power of its word list, but because the boss fights were each reworked to fit into the style, and forced players to answer questions with the keyboard, or type ludicrous sentences to try to mess them up.
There’s Something About The Typing of the Dead takes the game’s premise and reworks it as if villain Goldman was a 4chan-style vomiter of memes, right down to having an Anonymous mask, and as such makes for a more effective villain than the actual game had. The computer-synthesized voices for the characters are on a par with the terrible voice acting in the game. Most of all, I’m pleased for the unexpected use of Whomst’d’ve at the end.
Now that I’ve finally managed to squeeze this video into Sundry Sunday, I look forward to never mentioning memes here ever ever again.
The sudden release of F-Zero 99, free to play for Nintendo Switch Online members, has brought Nintendo’s ultrafast racing series back into the spotlight after 20 years. (Well, there were some GBA games, but they don’t seem to be as much remembered these days?)
F-Zero 99 gets its aesthetic from the original SNES game, which is nice, but also feels like a bit of a waste. Nintendo created 26 new characters for F-Zero X, and the Amusement Vision team at Sega (creators of the Monkey Ball series!) made some more for F-Zero GX. And the cool thing is, none of the characters feel like an afterthought. Every one of these weirdos could star in their own video game. F-Zero GX gives all of them voice acting in their endings, and even their own theme song!
Most significantly, every F-Zero GX playable character has a short movie that’s unlocked if you complete all the Grand Prix leagues with them on Master difficulty. But that is a huge feat! F-Zero GX is ludicrously difficult even on lower difficulties, and some of the cars are more suited to driving well than others.
Of course, on Youtube you can find a compilation of all the pilot profile movies. Many of them are really silly. Here they are:
And as an extra, here’s a playlist of the 41 character theme songs from F-Zero GX:
It’s not really that deep a game, just a simple timed maze race, but it’s something, in case you got tired of Hang-On and Astro Warrior. Mike (no last name given), the maintainer of the blog Leaded Solder, decided to take that game and make a cartridge for it, so it can be played on any Master System, not just the early units that had it built-in. It’s a story of electronics work and 3D printing, of ColecoVision cartridge simultarity, roadblocks overcome, and ultimate victory. Here’s some appropriate music to listen to while reading it.
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.
Flash was easy enough to work in that many companies would produce Flash applets, even games, merely as promotional content, intended to be cheap and quick to make and ultimately disposable. Many of these games were lost when the websites they were a part of were taken down.
The Flashpoint Archive project, headed (I think) by BlueMaxima, has as its mission the preservation of these ephemeral creations. A post on Flashpoint will be coming eventually, but in the meantime I’d like to point out a 2021 Youtube video by (adjusts glasses) “Goober13md,” although I suspect that he may not actually be a medical doctor.
Goober13md’s beat is all things Monkey Ball. He made a video about the search for, and ultimate rediscovery, of three Flash games commissioned by Sega to promote the first Super Monkey Ball titles, as well as one for Super Monkey Ball Adventure (which Goober13md is understandably reluctant to mention by name). It’s an informative story about the difficulty of content preservation in a time, which is still ongoing might I add, where companies don’t see their web presences as anything more than transitory. Look look, see see!
Bad Game Hall of Game is an interesting blog that talks about failed titles without the snark with which they were usually treated in the early days of the Web, or the rancor of The Angry Video Game Nerd. Snark and furor drive hits, of course, so I can respect the desire to give games many regard as kusoge their due, whatever that may be.
Truthfully, there are lots of games that are perceived as bad that aren’t really so terrible, often due to the audience-chasing bile emitted by folk like Seanbaby and Something Awful. Games intended to be played for challenge, especially those from arcades and the earlier years of consoles, are kind of a pastime for masochists. When you lose, it often feels like it’s not your fault, but was it really? Was that hit telegraphed and avoidable? Was there some clever technique to be discovered, like jumping and slicing through an Ironknuckle’s helmet in Zelda II, that makes seemingly impossible enemies a simple matter to defeat? And when a game is intended to be played many times, not shattered in a single session but returned to many times, getting a bit further each time, isn’t it supposed to be a good thing that you may lose your first time out?
There are lots of armchair game designers, maybe even more than armchair movie directors, since players spend more time with games generally before they put them down, and it’s easier, theoretically at least, to make games yourself without the capital expenditure and outside labor that movies require. (I can tell you though, it’s still plenty hard.) And yet, they are the players, and if they’re not having fun, then the game is doing it wrong. Even if it’s because of some information or training the player hasn’t, in their life, gained, you can’t blame them. Maturity can help a player enjoy games they wouldn’t otherwise. But this is also true of any art form, and the opposite could also be said to be true, there are games where, I’d say, maturity is an outright barrier to enjoyment. It’s complicated. Maybe I’ll talk about this later.
In the article that Bad Game Hall Of Fame talks about that I find interesting today, the game in question is Sword of Sodan, the creation of Finnish demo coder Søren Grønbech, an infamous game with a much longer story behind it than your typical bad game, indeed extremely long. Out of curosity, I pasted BGHoF’s discussion of it into Microsoft Word, and it came up to 67 pages! It’s got two large sets of footnotes, goes back to the Amiga demo scene and gives insight into the difficulties of developing computer games, at the time, in the state of Denmark.
Sword of Sodan for the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, as it turns out, is a port of an Amiga game. Both games are extremely hard, but the Genesis version actually has more interesting design decisions behind it, in the form of its potion mixing subgame. You can hold up to four potions, each of one of four different colors, and can choose to drink any number of them at once. Drinking different combinations of potions has different effects, most good, some useless, a couple actually bad. (Hilariously, if you drink one of each color at a time your character immediately dies, and the game flashes a message on screen: “WINNERS DON’T DO DRUGS.” Gee thanks, William S. Sessions.)
67 pages is a lot to read about a game that few people might want to play, but it’s okay to skip around. I won’t tell anyone.
Have you ever heard of Cosmic Smash? I’d be shocked if you had. It’s the kind of thing that even I only know about from obsessive reading of obscure game blogs and Youtube videos. It was a Sega arcade game that got a release for the Dreamcast right at the moment the company was getting out of the console business. It had laughably bad timing, and it never made it out of Japan.
Yet, the game has gotten a cult following. You could deride it as merely a futuristic, three-dimensional take on racquetball and Breakout, but it’s one of those games where the style makes all the difference. Here’s some footage of the Dreamcast version:
Time Extension, one of those blogs that makes good posts so often that I’m tempted to tell you to read it instead, did an article talking with the creator of a spiritual remake called C-Smash VR, released for Playstation VR2 with a license from Sega and the blessing of the game’s original creators. It’s such an obscure game that I’d be surprised if it could be profitable, but we love rooting for underdogs here, even if I have a general antipathy for VR.
It’s certainly not an eternal question, but for classic game-players (I try to avoid the word gamer, ugh) it’s still a very good question: which is better, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, or Sonic the Hedgehog CD?
It’s a good enough question that even though Youtuber kiro talks’s video about the differences between them has several common things about to that I ordinarily consider flaws, that would ordinarily cause me to think not to link to it (especially its editing, its length, being drawn out, and asking leading questions), the question, and its answers, are useful enough that I’m linking to it anyway.
Because it’s really instructive to view the differences in design between the American and Japanese Sonic sequels! Yuji Naka helmed the American sequel, Sonic 2, but headed a team made largely of Americans, and although a lot of Western-made games for console Japanese consoles are bad, Sonic 2 is legitimately great! Meanwhile, IMO of course, Sonic CD has some interesting ideas and great moments (the time travel mechanic could have been awesome) but its level design is a bit lacking.
Not to seem either jingoistic, or its opposite, but it isn’t often that a mostly-American team from that time could show up a Japanese team on largely equal footing, and this is one time that it happened. But both games are very playable, and the differences are instructive of some fundamental differences in approach.
Sega was going through some internal strife at the time, which became more and more prominent in the later days of the Mega Drive/Genesis and especially in the Saturn era, and it could be argued that it meant that, while I believe the strife was largely over in the Dreamcast era, the company wasn’t in the place it could have been by that point, and it may have contributed to the system’s failure by its output not being strong enough to challenge the Playstation 2.