News 9/22/2022: Lunar Lander, Service Shutdowns, Dirty Dwarves

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

It’s not been a great day on our distant planet. The glorps on the neighboring island are playing their brachiis again. It makes my audio-sensing apparatus quiver painfully. You humans are lucky to just have ears, drebnar. Anyway, down to bidness.

Wayne Williams, BetaNews: A game that lets you play Lunar Lander in the Windows File Copy dialog box.

Alana Hauges, Nintendo Life: The 3DS and Wii U are losing their ability to connect to Facebook and Twitter, or to share screenshots. Entropy ruins/services loved meet their end/goodbye useful features. A haiku!

Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo: The Analogue Pocket gains the ability to play Super Nintendo games. But how long will it be before it, too, goes obsolete? Aw, don’t mind me, I’m just feeling my ages. It cannot accommodate SNES carts, so it runs rom image files, and uses an unofficial core, although it doesn’t need any jailbreaking to do so.

Mobygames is a godsend for screenshots like this.

jeremy1456, Infinity Retro: a list of hidden gems for the Sega Saturn. On it: Darius Gaiden, Dark Wizard, Dark Savior, Enemy Zero, Galactic Attack, Golden Axe: The Duel, Highway 2000, Last Bronx, Legend of Oasis, Sky Target, Scorcher, SCUD: The Disposable Assassin, Shinobi Legions, Steep Slope Sliders, and Three Dirty Dwarves. I’ve always been tickled by the title of Last Bronx. I suppose it must be a sequel to a game called Penultimate Bronx. I think the writer overstates the Saturn’s 3D prowess, it came at that awkward time where 3D was just getting underway, but the Saturn was a sprite-pushing powerhouse, hence all the 2D games for it.

Rockstar Games is disappointed

John Walker, Kotaku: Rockstar responds to the GTA6 leak. The leak is only of video footage, not of the game itself, but Take-Two is already attempting to use the DMCA (which you’ve certainly heard me rant about before) to scrub it from the internet. Grand Theft Auto 6 is not Retro, Indie, nor Niche, so we are not inclined to say much about it, except to say that intellectual property laws are a labyrinth of awfulness, and I will not stop railing against them so long as there remains goo in these cell walls of mine.

Bill Toulas, Bleeping Computer: Hackers compromise Steam accounts using a “browser-in-browser” phishing attack. They trick people using fake login forms to get them to reveal their account information. Particularly targeted are the accounts of professional gamers, who are tricked into signing up for a fake tournament. The accounts are then ransomed for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ah, this age we live in.

Finally, Vikki Blake at Eurogamer: Sega is abandoning the Yakuza brand and replacing it with Like A Dragon, in order to accommodate the gameplay in games like the feudal spinoff Like A Dragin: Ishin.

Sonic 2 Boss Hit Box Bug

While we’re on the topic of 16-bit Sonic, revealed last year by Lapper on Twitter, and recently boosted by Classic Sonic Deconstructed, it turns out that, because of a misplaced hitbox, you’re completely immune to the bomb attacks of the boss of Chemical Plant in Sonic the Hedgehog 2 if you’re crouching.

This is the boss’s only attack. If you’re standing on the middle platform and just duck when he’s attacking, you’re completely safe.

Original tweet.

Sonic Retro’s Physics Guide

tl;dr: The description of the physics and implementation details of the 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games hosted at Sonic Retro is complete and amazing.

This is one going out to all you developers out there, either current or aspiring.

It’s amazing to me how fussed, nay, obsessed-over the 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games are even to this day. There are a lot of good things about them, and arguably the best is their platforming engines, which are among the best in the field. They take advantage of the processing power of the Genesis/Mega Drive, fueled by a Motorola 68000 processor, the same processor as the classic Apple Macintosh, clocked only slightly slower. This was basis of Sega’s infamous “blast processing” slogan at the time, touting how much faster the Genesis was than the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was somewhat unfair, as SNES carts often came with supplemental chips in them that acted like co-processors, and was of a completely different architecture as well with different characteristics, but it did make the Sonic engine possible. A lot of the credit also goes to Sonic programmer Yuji Naka, who is legendary in game coding circles for a very good reason.

If this is the kind of discussion that makes your heart race, we’re glad to have you reading Set Side B! If it’s not, that’s okay. I’m a bit stymied myself, even though I love dives like this.
(All images in this post from Sonic Retro.)

The result of the Genesis’s power and Naka’s expertise was a game engine with, yes, raw speed, but also a lot of nuance. If you jump and land on an enemy or monitor, you can control the height of your rebound, no matter how fast you were going when you hit it. If you jump while on a slope, you don’t jump straight up but away from it, which takes some getting used to at first but can be taken advantage of. There’s lots of fun little cases like these, and figuring them out, and their implications, is the source of a lot of the joy of playing Sonic the Hedgehog for the first time.

Those two places where the slope only intrudes slightly into Sonic’s ground tile are what get me.

I’d even argue, without the solid engine, and great level design taking advantage of it, all of Sega of America’s marketing efforts, which formed the foundation of the media juggernaut that Sonic has become today, with several cartoon series and comic books, and two successful movies and a third one in the works, would have been for naught.

Judging by the later 2D adventures, the nuances of Sonic the Hedgehog’s engine are difficult to grasp without a good amount of effort. It is likely that Sega themselves don’t have the institutional memory to understand how they worked, which is why they went to Christian “The Taxman” Whitehead, and others from the fan game community, to make Sonic Mania, which has a faithful recreation of the original games’ physics.

Why has no one made a Sonic half-pipe trick skateboarding game?

Bringing it back around, the obsession of the Sonic fan community has produced a number of disassembles of the game’s code, which have served as the basis for a wide array of romhacks of rather shocking levels of quality. I wrote about many of those in the Someone Set Up Us The Rom ebooks (ahem).

They also served as the basis for the subject of this post, the physics descriptions at Sonic Retro. Here is basically all you need to make a Sonic-style platformer. Synthesizing this and putting it into practice is a formidable task on its own, but it’s a doable one, and you don’t have to read source code (other than your own) to do it. To those who attempt this task, we salute you! And let us know how it goes!

Sonic Retro: Physics Guide

News 9/13/22: Velma, Host Mode, Monocraft, VMUs

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

From Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at The Verge. More news on Billy Mitchell, retro game record holder and villain of King of Kong. Now, in addition to having his Donkey Kong record stripped from him then reinstated, he has been accused by forensics experts of having used MAME to achieve two of his Donkey Kong scores that were represented as coming from arcade hardware. It has to do with differences between how MAME and the arcade machine build their game playfields for display when a level begins. It’s interesting reading! Mitchell has sued Twin Galaxies over defamation over how he achieved his records, which this evidence could play a role in.

At NicheGamer, Fingal Belmont presents a list of 24 3DS games to get before its eShop closes. There are ways to get new software on a 3DS after the store closes, but they aren’t legal means, and won’t get any income to the games’ creators, and we all want that!

Ryan Gilliam writing for Polygon tells us that Velma in the WB Smashlike Multiversus no longer “calls the cops” on opponents, instead bringing in her friends’ van the Mystery Machine to carry them off. To explain: Velma has a special game mechanism where her opponents sometimes drop clues when they perform attacks. If Velma can collect enough of them, it summons a vehicle (formerly the police, now the van) to cart that opponent away.

The font Monocraft

It’s at Kotaku that Ashley Bardham reports that Twitch is ending their “Host Mode” feature. Through this feature, a channel that isn’t stream itself can choose to host another stream, a loved feature that enables one channel to “raid” another, granting them all its viewers. Twitch says the feature is going away on October 3.

Blogfriend Benj Edwards writing at Ars Technica informs us of a new coding font by Idrees Hassan based off of the typeface used in Minecraft. It’s an OpenType font called Monocraft, so it should work in Windows, macOS and Linux, and it’s available here.

Andy Chalk writing through PC Gamer explains that Crystal Dynamics has managed to reclaim ownership of the Tomb Raider and Legacy of Kain franchises after Square Enix let them go, and Eidos Montreal owns the Deus Ex and Thief series.

Image from Wikipedia, credited to Evan Amos

And at VG247, Alex Donaldson tells us of an Indiegogo project to make an updated version of the Dreamcast’s iconic VMU memory cards. The updated devices will be compatible with the Dreamcast and the original cards, which had an LCD screen that could run simple games, and could even be connected to each other to trade information, but will have more powerful hardware and better screen resolution. The project is here.

News 6/9/2022: Multiversus, Pinball, Roguelikes

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

We’ve been distracted here at the news desk lately. A couple of our planet’s moons regularly collide with each other, causing both to reverberate and flex in a disconcerting way that causes them to warm appreciably, and will inevitably cause them both to disintegrate, resulting in major tidal trauma on the planet’s surface that our scientists insist “is nothing to worry about.” It’s still difficult not to be concerned, but I’m sure things like that happen on Earth all the time. Let’s get to the important stuff: video game news.

This building, the Sega Sammy corporate HQ, appears to be made of glass. They’d better not throw any stones! (image from Wikipedia, owned by TarkusAB and used under CC BA-SA 4.0)

Ollie Reynolds at NintendoLife notes that Sega Sammy’s finances are looking up this quarter, due both to the release of Sonic Origins (yay) and pachinko machines (boo). Jeepers Horatio Chrysler, it’s like gambling is slowly swallowing up every aspect of computerized gaming. It’s devoured most of Konami and all of former gaming stalwarts Bally, Williams, and Midway, is responsible for gacha mechanisms in mobile, and is behind several of the most odious aspects of that whole NFT thing. At least Sonic Origins is doing well.

Owen S. Good at Polygon chimes in with this week’s legally-mandated Multiversus news, noting that it’s getting ranked and arcade modes. I mean, on one hand it’s completely obvious that the game is the result of the same kind of soulless corporate mandate that resulted in the execrable Space Jam: A New Legacy, a movie that somehow took a 90s movie based off of a series of sneaker commercials and made the concept worse, but on the other hand it’s got Steven Universe in it. With the parent company in disarray, cancelling nearly complete $90 million dollar movies in order to take a tax writeup, it’s amazing WB, now WB Discovery, can do anything right at the moment.

At Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech reports on 1Up’s new pinball cabinet, which provides emulated (well, simulated) versions of several classic Bally/Williams games in digital form. No video pinball game can hold a candle to real pinball, because of framerate limitations, because of the importance of nudging the machine, and because pinball is cool because it’s a physical ball shooting around the table. Still though, most people can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a real table. The unit is one of three pinball products they’re releasing, with this one offering 10 games running Zen Studio’s engine. The headliner is Attack From Mars, but most of the games are really solid, including some underrated classics like Junk Yard and No Good Gofers. Sadly, Machkovech reports that White Water suffers from stuttering and input lag, which speaking as a habituĂ© of Wet Willie’s, is unacceptable for that game. For the record, the other games are Fish Tales, Medieval Madness, Road Show, Hurricane, and Tales of the Arabian Nights. So, no Funhouse. I dunno, for $600 you’d think they’d just include all the games they had the license for?

Not mentioned in the article: NetHack

Cameron Bald at PCGamesN was just asking for our rancorous commentary when he wrote what he claims are the best roguelikes and roguelites on PC. I mean we host @Play now, honor demands that we chime in! The list is Hades, The Binding of Isaac, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Cells, Don’t Starve, Downwell, Into The Breach, Slay the Spire, and Spelunky 2. While, yeah, they’re all good games and I’ve nothing bad to say about any of them, they’re all commercial roguelites. Nothing about NetHack or Angband or anything. Oh well.

Whew, that’s a high commentary-to-link ratio. Let’s continue the list next time. Toodles!

F-Zero AX on Gamecube

The last “major” F-Zero game released was back in the Gamecube, the sterling, yet extraordinarily challenging, F-Zero GX. What tends to be less remembered was it was a dual release. At around the same time, Sega released on Nintendo’s TRIFORCE hardware an arcade version called F-Zero AX. In the US arcades were pretty moribund around that time, so it tends to be a lot less recognized on these shores. The AX machine bore a Gamecube memory card slot so that players could take their save files to the arcade unit and use their custom vehicles there, and take data from that version back home. The AX version also has tracks and vehicles not in the GX version.

What tends to be even less well known is that nearly the entire arcade version of F-Zero AX is right there on the Gamecube disk! Back in 2021, Romhacker Elfor constructed a patch for the Gamecube version that, if played in an emulator or somehow made readable by GC hardware, can boot directly into that version of the game.

There are some differences from the arcade version in this revealed version of game, many of them related to music tracks left off the disk. More recently, Anthony Ryuki made a patch to restore those tracks, and bring the Gamecube AX version even closer to the arcade experience.

Official Pokemon on a Sega console? (only sort of)

Do You Know Gaming’s subseries Region Lock has turned up a number of Pokemon games that they made for Sega systems in Japan! The Pico and Advanced Pico Beena systems were home to a few edutainment titles that taught through a variety of minigames. With no actual Pokemon gameplay, these titles are mostly curiosities today, but they are curious ones! Curious curiosities!

It’s pretty light as far as videos go, and more than a little click-bait-y, but it does show off some extremely obscure software.

Surfing with a Dreamcast Web Browser in 2022

The Sega Dreamcast was ahead of its time in many ways. It was possible to load web pages on a Sega Saturn Net Link, but the Dreamcast had a built-in dial-up modem and came with a web browser included in the box. In the US it was created by PlanetWeb; Japanese users got DreamPassport, . Further, several games had built-in web browsers to connect with websites online that offered hints, forums, DLC and special functionality. Sonic Adventure allowed you to upload the Chao from your Chao Garden to a day care service. All of those services broke when a game’s servers were taken down, although in the case of Sonic Adventure, a fan bought the domain when it expired and put up the original content so that Dreamcast consoles can find it.

While several versions of the PlanetWeb browser were released during the system’s short life, they all have some pretty significant limitations. The Dreamcast itself only has 26 MB of RAM, of which only 16 MB is of general use. Plus many sites rely on scripting, which the Dreamcast wasn’t equipped to handle even at the time. On top of it all few people use dial-up internet any more, so that modem isn’t too useful. The Dreamcast Broadband Adapter is an effective workaround, but is hard to find. The Dreamcast also had keyboard and mouse peripherals release for it to aid in internet use.

Dan Wood on YouTube recently plugged a Broadband Adapter, keyboard, and mouse into his Dreamcast and took it online with a 2008 browser release, and the video above shows the results. If you’re curious to see how much the web has changed since then it’s worth the 22 minutes out of your day it takes to watch it. (Less time, if you speed the video up! Another minute less if you skip past the ad!)

How many people used the Dreamcast for serious browsing? It was a fairly clunky experience even back then, when most web pages were fairly lightweight and most didn’t rely on scripting. I had it back then and I only put it in a few times. The PC experience was much better even then. Internet Explorer launched in 1995, and of course Netscape Navigator and Mosaic came before. Compare that to the Dreamcast’s 1999 release date for some hint that, even though it was the first console that was internet capable out of the box, it was already a little late to the party.

That’s okay though. We’re publishing a gaming blog in 2022. Old things are okay with us.

A few more links if you want to find out more: Sega Retro’s page on the Dreamcast Web Browser, here’s a Wayback Machine link to how the browser’s default landing page would have looked at the time, and here’s an archive of how the page looked in 2010, near the end of its life, after a fan had taken it over.

Browsing the Web on the Sega Dreamcast in 2022 — Is It Possible? (YouTube video, 22 minutes, contains Squarespace ad)

News 7/4/2022: Gilbert’s Sonic Pac-Mom

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Jay Peters at The Verge reports that, sadly, personal attacks from griefers have caused Ron Gilbert to stop posting updates on the development of his upcoming Monkey Island game. Booo! Don’t be a Gripe Monster, friends!

On NintendoLife, Damien McFerran mentions an piece in the next issue of pay fanzine Lock-On by Undertale and Deltarune creator Toby Fox, about the impact of the Japanese series Mother, known in the US as Earthbound.

Destructoid’s Chris Moyse mentions the remake of Pac-Man World mentioned at Nintendo’s indie-focused Direct has Pac-Mom instead of Ms. Pac-Man, pushing her further down the memory hole. The issue seems to be a rights issue around the character, who was not created by Namco but instead by classic indie arcade designer GCC, who has licensed her exclusively to AtGames.

It was a few days ago, but at Kotaku Jeremy Winslow posted about Simon Thomley, a.k.a. “Stealth,” of Sonic Mania developer Headcannon, about how he has complained that their work on Sonic Origins was done under time crunch, and they were not allowed to debug their work before release, and even that integration with the final product introduced new bugs they were not responsible for.

News 6/29/22: Steam Stolar Fall Gay Bob Hacking

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

K. Holt at Engadget says Valve has doubled production of Steam Decks, meaning those on the waiting list will have less waiting to do.

Bernie Stolar
Image from VentureBeat

At VentureBeat’s subsite GamesBeat, Dean Takahashi sadly reports that Bernie Stolar, former President at Sega of America, has passed away at the age of 75. Alana Hauges of NintendoLife notes that his early career was in co-op, before joining Atari and working on their Lynx portable system. Later at Sony, Stolar helped shepherd the Playstation and franchises such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, before leaving to help Sega launch the Dreamcast.

After going free-to-play, the player base of popular battle royale hit Fall Guys‘ has ballooned to 20 million! But Eric Van Allen at Destructoid tells us that there is some tension among long-time players over changes to its currency model. At GameRant, Rory Young has more, including an observation made by one of the players: under the new system, a player who loses five matches in the first round ends up making more than a player who wins a match after five rounds!

Space Bob vs The Replicons

Graham Smith at Rock Paper Shotgun tells tales of the 2018 indie game Space Bob vs The Replicons (Steam), described as like a 2D No Man’s Sky, but didn’t do well on its initial release. Its creator had a heart attack a week after it hit Steam, then left the games industry. But he’s back, and has announced a big update. Its developer is Intravenous Software, and they’re on Twitter!

Sharang Biswas at Eurogamer posts an essay for Pride month about fanfiction and mods made by the gay community. (Note: slightly NSFW image)

Jeremy Winslow at Kotaku tells us that Blizzard has announced that, when Overwatch 2 releases, it will replace the original game, making it unavailable to play! Progress will carry over, but 6V6 matches will be sunset in favor of the new version’s 5V5 teams.

Finally, we have received word that venerable roguelike NetHack has been inducted into the Museum of Modern Art, as part of its Never Alone exhibit! We’ve seen it mentioned on PC Gamer, Reddit, and Slashdot — remember them? DevTeam member Jean-Christophe Collet muses on the distinction on LinkedIn.

News Roundup 6/15/2022

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

The gaming internet has been abuzz with the Wholesome Games Direct presentation, a huge collection of low-key and adorable amusements that only want your love! Please adopt one today!

The most notable thing I noticed about Patrick Arellano’s article for CBR.com about 10 games that inspired copycats is, Rogue isn’t one of them!

Boone Ashworth at Wired Magazine says Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, is slowing its hardware plans. I also hear from its parents that it’s putting away its leather jacket and sunglasses, but still plans to get that tattoo.

At Rock Paper Shotfun, Katharine Castle tells us about Stray, a game where you play as a cat in a post-apocalyptic world full of robots. Some are mean, but some are friendly, including one your kitty protagonist wears as a cute backpack! It mentions that the platforming involved is unique in that it prevents you from upsetting notions of feline grace by just not allowing you to make bad jumps. I mean, that’s okay most of the time, but what if I wanted to play as a kitty klutz? Believe me, they exist.

Interesting news from Muhammad Ali Bari at Twisted Voxel on Crash Bandicoot 5, being developed by the always-wonderful Toys For Bob!

We post a lot of articles from Nintendo Life here, we have noticed, to the degree that we are considering a limit to the number of times a single site can be featured in a single news post. Well, we haven’t done that yet, so the three Nintendo Life posts this time out:

Brian at Nintendo Everything presents a translation of some text from Nintendo’s recruitment site, talking about the creation of all the furniture in Animal Crossing New Horizons, much of it done by outsourced labor.

Video Games Chronicle notes, through the auspices of Jordan Middler, that Diablo Immortal has the lowest user Metacritic score in history: 0.2! It seems to be a huge pushback against its play-to-win aspects. There might be a bit of a pile-on effect going on there, but it’s a significant sign of how public reaction to it has turned.

CBR.com’s Patrick Arellano presents a list of ten mistakes that still haunt Sega. Many times these lists are pretty light, but this one makes some significant points, especially about the rancor between the Japan and U.S. branches of the company around the Genesis through Dreamcast era.

And Popkin at Boing Boing presents the Game Boy that survived a bombing. They don’t make ’em like that anymore.

Link Roundup 4/27/22

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

Gavin Lane of Nintendo Life: Playnote gets a Flipnote Studio-style art app.

Jay Peters of The Verge, also on Playnote. Its makers wonder if its seasonal distribution model will be appreciated by purchasers of its becranked yellow joybox.

Ollie Reynolds of Nintendo Life: UbiSoft to shut down server support for a number of older titles.

Florence Ion (cool name!) of Gizmodo: Google Play is getting data safety settings.

Ollie Reynolds of Nintendo Life, again: Lego to release a huge new Super Mario set.

Thomas Whitehead of Nintendo Life (lot of items from them today): Game Freak to offer employees option of four-day workweek. Awesome!

Wes Finlon of PC Gamer: Moneyfarm Square-Enix unveils a new $11,600 statue of Terra from Final Fantasy VI riding Magitech armor that caused series creator Hironobu Sakaguchi to basically go WTF. Remember, back when he designed the first game in the series, Square was facing issues whether their little game development operation could survive.

“Master Blaster,” if that is their name, at Sora News 24, on Sega trying to bring eSports into Japanese high schools with a Puyo Puyo Boot Camp. “Listen up maggots, you’re going to spend the next hour setting up combos and fighting Draco Centauros until you get it right and I don’t want no backtalk or I’ll bust you down to facing Nohoho again!”

Rhys Wood of TechRadar: An Elden Ring demake for Game Boy is in the works.

Luke Plunkett of Kotaku: Super Mario movie delayed, Miyamoto promises it’ll be worth the wait. Aww, it’s just like that apocryphal quote often attributed to him. This reporter is overjoyed, the last one ended on that cliffhanger, Daisy was back from Dinohattan and needed Mario and Luigi’s help again, no doubt because of some scheme hatched by Koopa. I wonder how they’ll manage to bring Dennis Hopper back from the dead to reprise his role?

Alana Hauges, also from Nintendo Life: Sega plans to delist classic games from some platforms (but not Switch) in anticipation of the release of Sonic Origins.

And Ryan Dinsdale of IGN tells us Sony is creating a game preservation team, of which this reporter can only say, IT’S ABOUT FREAKING TIME.