Video: Its Programmer, On SNES DOOM

I’ve been doing a lot of high-effort posts lately, even for things that should be fairly quick. Working to make this more sustainable, here’s a laid-back post that’s mostly just a Youtube video of a talk between the guys of Digital Foundry and Randy Linden, coder of the SNES port of DOOM, which uses the SuperFX chip to make the hardware push polygons at a rate that, while not stellar by PCs-of-the-time standards, at least not abysmal.

Let’s run down the differences of hardware:

PC running MS-DOS: targets VGA monitors, displays all its pixels in software, but makes up for it with a minimum requirement of a 386 running (if memory holds up over nearly 30 years) at 33 mHz.

SNES: Its processor is a much slower workalike of the 65C816, a 16-bit version of the 6502, running at 3.58 mHz. While it makes up for its slower clock speed with a simpler design, meaning instructions complete generally in fewer cycles, it’s hard to make up for that 10-fold difference in speed.

Their use of specialized graphics hardware was an important advantage, at the time, of consoles over personal computer hardware. Even many standard home microcomputers, like the Commodore 64 and Atari 800, had dedicated graphics hardware that helped games run better than what most PCs could do. Even when VGA came out, the standard had no hardware-level support for scrolling or sprites.

Consider what it takes to scroll a screen without hardware support: something in the system has to be able to move every pixel from one spot on-screen to another. The NES pulls this task off by having a bank of memory that its PPU can be pointed within, meaning the memory could stay in the same place, and the graphics chip would just work from a different region within it. Sadly, this technique is not amenable to 3D graphics, which usually do require every pixel on the screen to be recalculated every frame, either in software or hardware.

The SNES is known for having a rather slow chip for its time, but more demanding games tended to make up for it with co-processor chips included on the cartridges. The most well-known of these are the DSP-1, which functioned as a math co-processor; the SA-1, which was basically a second 65C816 running at around triple the speed and with a few added features; and the SuperFX, which ran at about the SA-1’s clock speed but functioned as a graphics accelerator. (The later SuperFX 2 ran at twice that speed.)

These were far from the only add-on chips included on Super Famicom and SNES carts. Since the SNES had a much larger address space than the NES’s 6502-clone, the need for mapper chips was much less, but these co-processors were used in a number of more notable games to help it make framerate goals.

Hm. Well, I tried making it a laid-back kind of post. Ah well, back to playing Live-A-Live.

DF Retro: The Making of Doom on Super NES – The Original ‘Impossible Port’

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.

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….

Things That Could Get A SNES Game Rejected

The complete official SNES Development Manual, from Nintendo of America, is up on archive.org. This document contains a wealth of technical information on the system, its peripherals, and extra chips like the DSP-1, the Super FX and the SA-1.

The book also contains interesting information on the licensing and approval process! Some things specifically listed as potential issues for approval (page 1-2-4 to 1-2-5) are the player being able to get somewhere without hope of escape, the inability to pause somewhere during gameplay, “inconsistent scoring methods,” calling the controller or cartridge by unacceptable terms like “joystick” or “cassette,” accidentally leaving Super Famicom-style colored buttons in depictions of the controller, and whether there are vowels in the password system.

News 7/6/2022: Technoblade Overwatch Amico Shlorp

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

It’s everywhere, but Kacee Fay at Dot Esports is one of the many to note: Mojang adds a tribute to popular deceased Minecraft YouTuber Technoblade to their splash screen. We posted about Technoblade’s passing a few days ago.

TechRadar’s Callum Bains reports that social features are coming to Overwatch 2. The news broke in a Reddit AMA with its dev team.

Hopping over to Kotaku, Luke Plunkett finds a site with downloads for every English-language SNES manual. Here’s the site itself. The files are hosted on archive.org, and the formats include PDF and PDF with OCR’d text.

The news has been going around the web, but the first place we saw it was Nintendo Life, where Ollie Reynolds wrote about the trademark expiring for the Intellivision Amico. It’s looking increasingly likely that it’s just not going to come out.

Ed Nightingale at Eurogamer brings word that Twitch will soon allow streamers to identify their streams with custom tags, which I’m like, welcome to the entire rest of the galaxy for well over a decade? We here at Set Side B add tags to our posts quite profusely. It’s part of the major religion on my home planet, drebnar! “Thou shalt always add all the tags ye can think of to thine content,” Book of Shlorp, 12:2.

And at GamingBible in the UK, Mark Foster reveals that Sony has filed for a patent relating to using PS3 peripherials on the PS5. So, they’re patenting having their devices work with their own systems? That’s pretty cool, I guess. The implication of it is that Sony is moving forward on their plans to offer PS3 emulation. The patent doesn’t mention all the devices by name, but includes illustrations of a variety of gadgets including the EyeToy and the PSP Go.

U Can Beat Video Games: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

U Can Beat Video Games (their YouTube channel) has only been around for a bit over a year, but they’ve already covered a lot of challenging games. It serves as a complete video playthrough, often revealing all the game’s secrets, and has remarkably restrained and helpful audio commentary by YouTube standards.

UCBVG videos cover the entire game, and can be long. The most recent, the covering A Link to the Past with a second part, is nearly two hours but it uses YouTube’s timeline annotations to mark any potential trouble spots you may have. Even if you’ve mastered the games he covers, I find it relaxing to watch anyway to refresh my memory on these decades-old amusements.

To date, UCBVG has covered 70 titles across the NES, SNES, Game Boy, and Mega Drive/Genesis. Some highlights include their videos on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES (the first game on the channel), Mega Man I, II, and III, The Legend of Zelda, its second quest, and it’s sequel, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, Legacy of the Wizard (a.k.a. Dragon Slayer IV), Castlevania and Simon’s Quest, Blaster Master, Punch-Out!!, Ninja Gaiden and its first sequel, Clash at Demonhead, Metal Gear, Crystalis, Wizards & Warriors and its sequel Ironsword, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy (in two parts), Actraiser, The Guardian Legend, Kirby’s Dream Land (including Extra Mode!), the weird and unique The Magic of Scheherazade, Sonic the Hedgehog, and even the notorious Battletoads, among many other games.

They update weekly, so why not take a look!