Classic Game Dev Andrew Braybook On Computer Conversions

Andred Braybrook is a legendary computer game dev from the Commodore 64 age, and before and after. In addition to the classic C64 games Uridium and Paradroid, which perform feats of scrolling that machine are really not designed for, he went on to many several other games, including the excellent computer ports of Taito’s sequel to Bubble Bobble, Rainbow Islands.

(Although Braybrook mentions that Taito hadn’t told him about the three secret islands that can appear at the end, so they got left out. They didn’t know about them either!)

Image from Braybrook’s blog

He has a blog post that details many aspects of he and his co-workers’ process back then that is fascinating to anyone with knowledge of these platforms, and even someone who doesn’t. Thanks to @acb@mastodon.social for the link!

Andrew Braybrook: How We Made Computer Game Conversions, from his blog

Video: “Bub” Plays Pac-Attack

“Bub’s Broadcast” is a YouTube channel put out by Taito, mostly to promote various Taito properties in Japan. “Bub” is a mascot character based off of Bub, a.k.a. Bubblun, from Bubble Bobble. It’s low-key, yet entertaining, fare.

This particular video is of interest though because Bub steps outside his usual stomping grounds, and plays Namco’s Pac-Attack, that Tetris-style puzzle game where you have to create paths out of falling blocks to guide Pac-Man to eat ghosts.

It’s in Japanese, but there’s English subtitles, and of special interest is that Bub reveals some possibly-unknown codes for the game. If you point at Hyper difficulty and hold L and R down when selecting it, the game will begin at Level 300 instead of 100. And if you hold Down and Right on the control pad while also pressing L and R, you begin near the highest possible difficulty, at level 900! Also revealed is that, if you charge up the Fairy meter all the way and a fairy comes out, but you don’t wish to use her ghost-clearing power, you can hold Up and press B repeatedly to cancel it, causing her to fly away and giving you 10,000 bonus points. It’s always interesting when these unknown game elements are revealed long after the games release!

Replay Burners: Bubble Bobble True Ending

Replay Burners, a Japanese-language YouTube channel that hosts runs of various well-played games, especially arcade games, is a true gem. Unlike other channels like MamePlayer, World of Longplays, or (especially) Old Classic Retro Gaming, the plays on Retro Burners are done without invincibility cheats, save states, or tool assistance, all these things I find greatly annoying. A Replay Burners playthrough is played as it would have in a real arcade, which is what makes it interesting to me: you aren’t watching a hypothetical run by someone with theoretical infinite reflexes, or someone who can just throw themselves at enemies without fear. You’re watching someone who has developed real strategies approach the game in realistic ways, and frequently the difference is huge.

That is what makes this one (well, two) credit playthrough of Bubble Bobble good watching. It’s not that they play “perfectly,” they lose their first life on Level 58 and go on to lose a number more. But they’re not just playing for survival but for score, a mode of play often neglected in this era of cheap points and speedrun celebrity. They play through every level: they don’t skip levels with umbrellas or the warp door on Level 50, even though they’re eligible for it.

They do use a couple of codes, but the great difficulty of Bubble Bobble is such that one can hardly begrudge them that. One of them, to play “Super” mode, actually makes the game much harder in the early going, and is necessary anyway to get the best ending. The total length is 62 minutes, but of course you can skip ahead if you just want to see the end. Most of the game is solo, but they bring in a second player at the very end since it’s required for the best ending.

YouTube, Replay Burners: 1986 [60fps] Bubble Bobble True Ending ALL

The Bubble Bobble Info Pages

There was once a time where game information was really hard to find on the internet.

Before Fandom née Wikia started automatically generating wikis for everything in existence, before even GameFAQs, which started in 1995 and is still chugging away after all these years, became sorta-big, there were the shrines sites. Some enthusiast (obsessive?) would build a website to document literally everything about the game they could find. Early free hosting site Geocities was a haven for that kind of thing.

Geocities is gone now, although much of its content has been preserved through the efforts of Archiveteam. By the way, if you’re feeling nostalgic for those days, or wasn’t around then but think it sounds like something you’d like to get involved with, I will just drop here this link to Neocities.

Not all of these sites were on Geocities, or other host short-lived free host. Some of them survive today. I personally think these sites are an essential part of the soul of the World Wide Web (yes, I’m old enough to call it that), and proudly link to some of them from our hard-wrought Links page.

One of my favorite of these shrines is the Bubble Bobble Info Pages, created back in 1998, and its companion site the Rainbow Islands Info Pages. It’s not just their old-school web design that I love, although that’s hugely charming to me. It’s that it’s the source of a great quantity of information on a couple of extremely opaque games.

The arcade game Bubble Bobble is absolutely filled with mysteries, most of which are practically undiscoverable without diving into the game’s code, and it’s known that even its manufacturer Taito lost its source code many years ago. This leaves BBIP as nearly the sole source for a lot of important game data.

My favorite of these facts is the information on how Bubble Bobble decides which special item to generate each game. These are not random but chaotic, influenced by unseen patterns, that gives a kind of sense of them. Some items tend to be generated on certain levels, but they’re not hard-coded that way, so that the player’s actions can influence them without relying on them.

The game keeps count of a huge array of things that the players can do or cause during the game. The number of times they jump, the number of times they shoot bubbles, the number of times the pop bubbles, the number of times they jump on bubbles, the number of steps they take, the number of times they wrap the screen, and so on.

At the start of each level, the game goes down the list, finds the first value that exceeds a certain limit (which generally increases with the game’s difficulty, both explicitly-set and dynamically-rising), will set that item to generate during that level, and resets the counter. Some of these things can only happen in certain levels, like screen-wrapping or popping water bubbles, and that gives the history of generated powerups throughout a game a shape, that the players can influence, even without knowing exactly how. These counters are not even reset when the game ends! They carry on to the next, and in fact a few of the counters probably won’t trigger for several games.

It’s a significant factor in what makes Bubble Bobble so much fun, but interestingly, it means it’s more fun when played in an arcade setting, where the actions of past players contribute to add uncertainty to the powerup schedule. This is a terrific design pattern that I don’t think nearly enough developers know about, and one of the few places in the world where you can find out about it now is the Bubble Bubble Info Pages.

Famicom Prototype of The Fairyland Story Discovered

Dylan Mansfield at site-favorite Gaming Alexandria tells us that there is now preserved an unreleased Famicom port of Taito classic arcade game The Fairyland Story! Fairies are rife around our offices, I have to tell you, they’re everywhere, getting underfoot and in the way of closing doors. Oh? This game is more to do with a more generic kind of fantasy world? I knew that.

Young witch protagonist Ptolomy clears a number of successive screens of enemies using her magic that can turn them into cakes! Released to arcades in 1985, it’s kind of an intermediate game between 1984’s Chak’n Pop and classic 1986 arcade hit Bubble Bobble. If you’re a fan of the arcade game you should check into this one, as many of the level layouts are different! The announcement post and rom is at Forest of Illusion. Unfortunately-named YouTube channel Hard4Games has a short video about the find:

Forest of Illusion: The Fairyland Story (Japan) (Prototype) via Gaming Alexandria.

Link Roundup 5/12/22

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

Greetings to all humans down there on planet Glorb-III, also known as Earth. Let’s get started, drebnar!

A lament from Reddit on how Streetpasses are impossible to get now. If only Nintendo had thought to include them on the Switch. Probably it’ll take another ten years before they realize what a good idea they had.

Chris Moyse from Destructoid tells us this week’s Arcade Archives release is Taito’s Fighting Hawk!

Kate Gray from Nintendo Life writes about the thing that all video game journalists are someday destined by fate to write about: Earthbound. It’ll happen here too someday, you can rely upon it. And Alana Hauges frpm Nintendo Life has some words to say about its sequel Mother 3!

From Polygon, Michael McWhertor enthuses about how great is the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, Shredder’s Revenge.

Chris Friberg of Den of Geek tells us his picks for the 15 best NES RPGs. #1 is Dragon Quest III! (What do you mean, don’t spoil it? I’m an alien, I spoil everything drebnar!) He also ranks Wizardry pretty high, he has great taste!

Over on Hackaday, Robin Kearey tell us about a reimplementation of the classic Tamagotchi using modern hardware!

Blake Johnson of CBR.com asks if a collection of the DS Castlevania games could ever be released? While the fan favorite remains Symphony of the Night, the DS games are excellent and retain many of its greatest elements.

The image in question, from History of Hyrule’s Twitter feed. Hi Melora!

Go Nintendo’s rawmeatcowboy points to the discovered female Link art from Japanese guidebooks that History of Hyrule uncovered! Hey, that image looks familiar! Meanwhile, comicbook.com’s Connor Casey tells us that professional wrestlers Steve Austin and Cody Rhodes disagree as to which is the best Legend of Zelda game, respectively, Breath of the Wild or Ocarina of Time. This may be the only time in my entire life that I’ve agreed with the opinion of earthling Steve Austin, although admittedly I’m a unicellular organism filled with an iridescent goo.

And Jules Wang at Android Police tells us that Chromebooks should be getting better Android support later, improving their game-playing experience. Between that and Steam Support, who needs a Steam Deck? (Answer: ME I DO YES I WANT ONE PLEASE SEND IT TO MEEEEEE)