Sundry Sunday: The “Music” of Crazy Bus

Remember Crazy Taxi? How they got licensed punk music from Bad Religion and The Offspring for it? Remember how awesome that was? I’m not even a music person mostly, but I could still recognize that the soundtrack of those games was special. (I’m talking about the arcade and Dreamcast versions-other versions may or may not have that soundtrack, probably due to licensing issues.)

You want to know what game doesn’t have a great sound track? Crazy Bus.

Crazy Bus is a homebrew Sega Genesis/Mega Drive game that was created as a test for the programmer’s BASIC compiler. It wasn’t meant to be a real game. As a result, its soundtrack is almost a masterpiece in cacaphony. Listen for yourself… but you’re going to want to turn the volume down for this one.

It’s awe-ful-some. I encourage you to play it for for friends, family, co-workers, prospective employers, random strangers and household pets. I’m certain nothing bad will come of it!

News 12/28/22: ASCII Dwarves, eShop Shutdowns, Ecco the Dolphin

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

Computer issues kept me from filing last week’s report. That is the reason. It is not true that I got so drunk at a Globmas Party that my chemical composition was 50% alcohol. Don’t listen to those rumors! Let us begin.

Image from PCGamesN

Dwarf Fortress’ Steam Edition is still the toast of the gaming blogoglobe! A recent update lets you use the original version’s ASCII graphics instead of the high-falutin’ new pixel art skin. So proclaimeth Ian Boudreau at PCGamesN!

It’s funny. Corbin Davenport writes an article at How-To Geek titled Atari’s New Gaming Console Isn’t Dead Yet. But it’s URL is: https://www.howtogeek.com/855757/ataris-new-gaming-console-is-dead/ Don’t you love how URL slugs can reveal a piece’s working title? The article itself is more about how it’s mostly dead, so someone call Miracle Max.

Gavin Lane at NintendoLife discusses the upcoming shutdown of the 3DS and WiiU eShops. You haven’t been able to add funds for a while through the stores, although you could still add them using the Switch’s shop then use that money to buy there. The piece mentions that Nintendo has been almost anxious to close the shops, due to poor sales of the WiiU. You’ll still be able to download purchased software… for a while.

Also at NintendoLife, Liam Doolan interviews a couple of people at Wayforward about River City Girls 2! It turns out that planning began almost immediately after RCG1 wrapped up.

Tom Ivan. Video Games Chronicle. Microsoft and Activision have filed responses to the FTC complaint about their merger being anti-competitive. Creatures of my species are capable of merging together into one blobby whole, which is admittedly quite fun on a boring Saturday night, but none of us are corporations that control massive segments of the console gaming market!

Related, Jezz Corden of Windows Central reports that Microsoft is claiming that Sony’s influence will prevent four specific games from ever reaching the Xbox console platform: Final Fantasy VII Remake, Final Fantasy 16 (shouldn’t that be XVI?), Silent Hill 2 Remake, and Bloodborne.

And finally, at The Ringer, M.D. Rodrigues writes a long piece about the legacy of the Sega Genesis Ecco the Dolphin games.

Sundry Sunday: Christmas Nights Into Dreams

The Sega Saturn was one of the first consoles to feature a built-in real-time clock. Most systems now have one, so I’m kind of surprised that very few games make use of it. Animal Crossing does, sure, and some Pokemon titles have time-of-day features (which they had to include their own clocks in the cartridge hardware to support), but few other games bother reading the date.

One prominent example of a game that did was the Christmas demo version of Nights Into Dreams. Ordinarily just a single-level of the full game, the disk had a number of special modes that would crop up at different times. December was one of them, which triggered Christmas Nights mode, with special cutscenes and graphics. But it also had special events for playing during November or January (“Winter Nights”), New Year’s Day, and April Fools’ Day. Especially notable was an unlockable mode that allowed playing as Sonic the Hedgehog, in what is his first true 3D outing!

This video shows off all of Christmas Nights Into Dreams’ special modes, and you don’t have to fiddle with your computer’s clock to see them!

News 12/15/22

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

Scott Stein at CNet (they’re still around) says his favorite gadget of the year was the Playdate.

Wes Fenlon at PC Gamer says that Tarn and Zach Adams, have become millionaires from the Steam release of Dwarf Fortress. Earth blogger John Harris, a.k.a. rodneylives, says they’ve communicated with Tarn several times, including a couple of interviews at Game Developer (formerly Gamasutra), and that this could not have happened to nicer people. The article notes that, despite the windfall, they’re being cautious with the money. Steam DF was made specifically because the brothers need healthcare, and whatever long tail DF has is pretty much it, since they aren’t making a sequel or expansion pack.

Image from Mobygames

At Inverse, Mo Mozuch describes the accomplishments of Carol Shaw, creator of Activision’s Atari VCS hit River Raid, one of the first vertically-scrolling shooters, and early woman pioneer in gamedev.

Rock Paper Shotgun’s C.J. Wheeler tells of a situation where the developer and publisher of The Outbound Ghost are feuding, which resulted in the game being temporarily pulled from Steam. Lead dev Conrad Grindheim has accused publisher Digerati of unethical practices, and Digerati claims to have been “blindsided” by the accusations.

Anthony Wood at IGN has a piece noting that, while Sonic Frontiers certainly has vocal detractors, that hasn’t stopped it from selling 2.5 million copies!

Image from PC Gamer

There is a great article on PC Gamer from Corwin Hayward about controversy with a certain extremely rare mount in World of Warcraft that, due to a couple of bugs, became extremely unrare among a small base of players for a short while. It’s a primer about the way the game’s loot system has been perceived and exploited for over a decade, and how it finally resulted in the relaxing of a whole category of ultrarare mounts. The article is long but very rewarding!

NPG’s Megan Lim speaks with Atari founder Nolan Bushnell on 50 years of Pong. Bushnell’s always been a bit of a huckster figure, but I’m glad he’s still kicking and talking with folk.

Scott McCree at Nintendo Life has a review of River City Girls 2 from favorite developer Wayforward! His premise is that it’s great, but ultimately not really differentiated from the original that much?

Pitfall II: Arcade Version

Have no fear, we’ve not forgotten about Arcade Mermaid, our regular classic arcade feature. I don’t think this post is quite the right material for it, but it’s still very interesting.

People who played the Atari VCS, later renamed the Atari 2600, will no doubt remember David Crane’s seminal Pitfall!, one of the greatest, and certainly one of the best-selling, games for the system.

Pitfall’s huge success spurred the creation of a sequel, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, which is certainly among the most technically brilliant games for the VCS. We recently covered how one of its best tricks was how it managed to get music out of the Atari’s TIA chip that few other games were capable of. That’s not all it did. Pitfall! was one of the very first exploratory platformers, and Pitfall II expanded its focus greatly. Some might call it the first Metroidvania, although it doesn’t have the item-based progression gating usually associated with that genre.

It does have great design ingenuity though. It gets its challenge not through limited lives but its huge and complex system of caverns. In fact, it abandons lives entirely, replacing them with a checkpoint system, another possible first. Getting “killed” never ends the game, instead, it just costs points and returns the player’s surrogate Pitfall Harry to the last cross he touched. So anyone, given enough time and effort, can finish the game; they might not have a good score when they do it though, which still leaves room for players to improve.

Pitfall II, with its huge world and great music on a system not known to be able to support either, powered by a custom microchip that Crane himself designed, called the DPC, would undoubtedly have been a giant hit if it had been released a year before. Sadly, it came out right at the end of the VCS/2600’s life. Crane had hopes that the DPC would help revive the system but, sadly, it became the only game to utilize it.

But that wasn’t the end of Pitfall II. While it was designed around the limitations of the VCS, it received ports for several other systems, including the Apple II, the Atari 5200 and Atari’s 8-bit computers (which both had a secret second world to explore after finishing the first!), the Commodore 64 of course, Colecovision, MSX, SG-1000 and ZX Spectrum. It even got a kind of NES port, called Super Pitfall, which was programmed by anonymous NES contractor Micronics and is widely regarded as terrible. And then, there was the arcade version.

Sega’s arcade version of Pitfall II is more of a recreation than a port! It’s divided into levels and goes back to the standard arcade paradigm of limited lives. Its first level resembles a condensed version of the first game, with some extra hazards built it. The game world is both smaller and harder than the original, to make it harder to master and thus entice players to put in more money. You can see for yourself in the below playthrough, a deathless run up on the Replay Burners channel. Videos on Replay Burners are done cheatless and without tool-assist, so you can be assured that an actual player performed this run and not a control script. The video is about 27 minutes long.

News 11/9/22: Lego Zelda, AI Art, EA Software Patent

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

Lego is banning new Ideas projects based on The Legend of Zelda, according to Chris Wharfe at Brick Fanatics. The reasoning given is a bit vague. It could either be because Lego is working on their own Zelda sets (and they already have a working relationship with Nintendo, making the popular Super Mario sets), or it could be that the rights to Zelda models were sold to someone else. Either way, it may mean we get Zelda models through some company eventually.

A pretty good Link model from Lego Ideas! From its project page.

PC Gamer, Andy Chalk: Final Fantasy XVI’s using excuses to not have Black characters. Specifically, by claiming the game’s world is based on medieval Europe, despite Black people existing there. Grumble, grumble!

Old school blogger Mark Frauenfelder of good ol’ Boing Boing mentions illustrator Hollie Mengert discovered her work was used without her permission to make AI-generated work, and the model that utilized her work released as open source by MysteryInc152. It links to an original article by Andy Baio at Waxy. Someone explain to me how AI-generated work isn’t legally a derivative work based on every work it’s trained on? That seems like it’s just obvious.

From Andy Baio’s article-the left is Hollie Mengert’s work, the right, the output of the AI model trained from it.

Rich Stanton at PC Gamer writes that EA’s been granted a patent on game controls that change based on how well the player does. Software patents are bad on principle, that is a horse that I will always flog despite this awful situation having existed for literally decades now, but getting past that, for now. This seems at first like just another version of adaptive difficulty, which is also something that seems like it’s kind of a problem when it happens without notifying the player or giving them a say in it. I know I know, “Kent Drebnar, get with the 21st Century.” Maybe I’ve been hanging out with the Gripe Monster too much lately. The article goes back into the history of these kinds of effort, going all the way back to Compile’s Zanac, although I would argue that’s not so much adaptive difficulty as a system that the player can strategize to manipulate. Zanac is terrific, by the way.

Bryan at Nintendo Everything mentions that Sega is hiring a Sonic “loremaster,” presumably someone who knows the history of the many forms of the character. Said role will assist in creating new content and characters in the Sonic universe. Sounds like a tall order given the many varied and contradictory versions of the property there’s been, but I’m sure there are people out there who are up to it. Good luck, whoever they pick!

Sundry Sunday: Super Brothers by Guitar Vader

Every song on the soundtrack of Jet Grind Radio (a.k.a. Jet Set Radio) is out of sight. One of the most memorable (they’re all memorable, but even among this group) is Super Brothers by Guitar Vader, a cheeky riff (in lyrics) on Super Mario Bros., in a Sega game.

That’s all. That’s enough.

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!