Sundry Sunday: Ken Woodman’s Mexican Flyer and Space Channel 5

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

I find myself looking back upon the Dreamcast’s library, which was outrageously experimental. Sega tried so many things to see what would stick, but sadly few of them did, even though they’re really cool games.

There’s probably no better example of this than Space Channel 5, which I sometimes like to call “How Many Ways Can We Remix Mexican Flyer?”

Mexican Flyer is a real song, that existed long before Space Channel 5 and the Dreamcast. It was first published by Ken Woodman and His Piccadilly Brass in 1966 on their album That’s Nice. Here’s audio from Youtube (2 1/2 minutes):

Space Channel 5 remixes it several ways. Here’s the beginning, which is a fairly straight rendition. (That link was made with Youtube’s Clips feature, which doesn’t embed too well in WordPress.) Here’s the start of the second level (5 minutes):

Space Channel 5 isn’t a very long game, with only four levels, and although there’s alternate sections of a couple of levels that unlock after finishing the game and a subgoal of rescuing all the hostages, it doesn’t have a lot of replayability. It’s an enjoyable trip while it lasts, though.

It ends with a (mostly) a capella version, about ten minutes long:

And here’s the music isolated without the gameplay sounds overtop it (3 minutes):

Ken Woodman passed away in 2000, only a few years before Mexican Flyer began its video game afterlife. He also did music for a couple of British radio productions, and arranged music for Shirley Bassey, Tom Jones and Sandie Shaw.

Doing Weird Things To A Sega 32X

The Youtuber: MattKC Bytes
What he did: Unexpected things to Sega’s aborted Genesis/Mega Drive add-on.
The address: here.
The length: about seven minutes.

The explanation: Did you ever play around with a 32X? Evidently not a lot of people did. It was straaaange. Unexpectedly powerful! A bit misjudged! Hosted a port of DOOM! Had a port of Virtua Racing that compares favorably with the Saturn version! Had that crazy hard-to-play Knuckles game that gave us Vector the Crocodile!

Have you ever hooked one up though? Its hardware is odd. It’s like a completely separate console to itself. The Mega Drive wasn’t made to support add-on processors and chips like that, so Sega used a clever solution: the 32X has its own video output, and also a video input. You plug the Genesis’ output into the 32X, and then the 32X into your TV. The 32X mixes the Genesis’ signal into its own, as if it were chromakeyed. Since the 32X cartridge supplies the program running on the Genesis as well as itself and they can talk to each other, the two processors and graphics chips should be able to sync perfectly, if awkwardly.

But: because the Genesis’ video signal emerges from that console through this external wire before reentering the 32X, it’s possible to do things to it while in transit. The Genesis supplies video timing information that the 32X relies on, so you can’t get a signal from the add-on without the Genesis’ AV plugged into it, but the Genesis does produce a viewable video signal that you can see on its own.

All the details are in the video, which has been embedded below for your convenience and amusement.

JRPG Junkie’s Review of Skies of Arcadia

It’s not completely positive, as they point out the game’s high encounter rate and the slowness of battle, but gosh there’s a lot of awesome things in Skies of Arcadia that don’t seem to have ever been revisited in other games.

The main overworld is one in which you have an airship and fly around a world that has floating islands but no real ground. Sure, that’s been done by other people, and more than once, and fairly recently too, but SoA brought some really interesting nuance to it that gave players good reason to explore, like interesting optional subquests. You could find mysterious locations out in the world and sell them to the Explorer’s Guild for extra money, but only if you’re quick enough to stay ahead of rival ships also looking for them. There was also an alternate form of combat, ship-to-ship (and sometimes ship-to-huge-monster) battles, that played out very differently from the JRPG norm. All the extra things to do gave the game this weird veneer of simulationism, which I always find interesting, even if it was largely an illusion.

Skies of Arcadia was originally a Dreamcast release, one of only two substantive JRPGs made for that system (the other was Grandia II), and fell victim to the Dreamcast’s short life and subsequent exit from console manufacturing by Sega. It did get a remake for the Gamecube, but that was the last we’ve seen of Skies of Arcadia, other than character cameos in Sonic racing games.

JRPG Junkie: Back to the Backlog – Skies of Arcadia

Space Harrier Theme on Japanese Master System Hardware

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.

This is that:

JRPG Junkie Describes Lost Sega Arcade RPGs

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 (image from JRPG Junkie)

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.

Dungeons & Deckbuilding: Sega’s Lost Arcade RPGs (JRPG Junkie)

Sundry Sunday: There’s Something About The Typing of the Dead

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.

Something About the Typing of the Dead [Loud Sound Warning] (Youtube, 4 1/2 minutes)

F-Zero GX Pilot Profile Movies

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:

F-Zero GX: All Pilot Profile Movies (Youtube, 28 minutes)

Romhack Thursday: Snail Maze in a Cartridge

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Early Sega Master System units released in the US had a small game included on the system ROM. It’s not as cool as the Space Harrier music with FM synthesis included on some Japanese Mark III units, but it’s at least a playable game.

Snail Maze, a really simple game (image from article)

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.

Breaking out of the Snail Maze (leadedsolder.com)

Romhack Thursday: Segapede (not really a hack)

On Romhack Thursdays, we bring you interesting finds from the world of game modifications.

Screenshot of Segapede prototype (image from hiddenpalace.org)

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.

The Story of SegapedeSegapede Prototype ROM (hiddenpalace.org)

The Copetti Site: Architectures of Recent Game Consoles

From the site, a diagram of the architecture of the Wii U’s Game Pad

A good old-fashioned website! It’s hope to information on the construction of a wide variety of console platforms! Docs on the NES, the Sega Master System, the PC Engine (a.k.a. Turbografx 16), the Mega Drive (a.k.a. Genesis), Gameboy, SNES, Saturn, Playstation, Virtual Boy (yes), Nintendo 64, Dreamcast, Playstation 2, GBA, Gamecube, Xbox, DS, PSP, Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii and Wii U.

The Copetti site: Architecture of Consoles

Preserving Monkey Ball Flash Games

Adobe (formerly Shockwave) Flash had a good long reign on the web as the premier means of presenting snappy interactive content without requiring repeated trips to the server. For ages, Javascript wouldn’t cut it for many purposes. Being tied to a full authoring environment helped it gain in popularity. Whole careers were built off of creating Flash content for the web.

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!

The Super Monkey Ball Flash Games That Were Lost For Over a Decade (Youtube, 29 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: Brooklyn Nine-Nine, But It’s Sonic

Sundry Sunday is our weekly feature of fun gaming culture finds and videos, from across the years and even decades.

A while back we posted Community, But Sonic, a fun little Youtoon from frequent Sundry Sunday appearator Pringus McDingus, of Sonic characters animated to audio from Community.

Along those same lines, here’s an animated storyboard of Sonic characters aniedited to fit Brooklyn Nine-Nine audio, from Doig & Swift. (Words in italics may not have actuality.)