Sundry Sunday: Dig Dug Explained Stupidly

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

It’s pretty short, at a minute and a half, but here is a brief and silly explanation of the classic arcade game Dig Dug. That’s all!

Chrontendo 64

Dr. Sparkle is back with the 64th installment (Youtube, 55 minutes) of his quest to review every NES and Famicom game. He’s pretty far in! In about ten episodes, he figures he’ll reach the launch of the Super Famicom, which won’t be the end of his journey but will probably mean he’s in the home stretch.

In the meantime, ten games from 1990 are in this episode. They are:

Puss ‘n’ Boots: Pero’s Great Adventure – Technically a retread of a previously-covered Japanese game, this version has substantial differences so Dr. Sparkle decided to cover its U.S. version separately. A very easy game until the last stage where it jumps in difficulty, and then the final boss is absurdly hard. Dr. S expresses confusion why a game made to be so easy that it’s obviously intended for young children would become nearly impossible right at the last second. Personally, I suspect it was done because NES game publishers were terrified of the game rental market.

Wit’s: A Japan-only release, this is basically a de-luxe version of Snake, where your enemies have special abilities that you have to account for. Suprisingly, it’s an arcade port!

Captain Tsubasa Vol. II: Super Striker: A weird RPG take on Soccer, published by Tecmo and based on a manga and anime series. Instead of controlling a player or players completely in real time, the action pauses frequently and asks you what to do. The main screen is mostly animations down on the soccer field. It’s a unique take on soccer, but it’s not the only one: this is the second game to play like this on the Famicom. The Captain Tsubasa game series continues even today: the most recent releases, Dr. Sparkle tells us, are on PS4 and Nintendo Switch, although I don’t know if they take the menu-based RPG approach.

Jyuouki: This is simply a licensed Famicom port of Sega’s Altered Beast, and a pretty bad one at that.

Mahjong G-Men: Nichibutsu Mahjong III: Yet another Mahjong game, although with some interesting features, if you’re into Mahjong. That’s not Mahjong Solitaire, a.k.a. Shanghai, the Activision (and formerly PLATO) computer game where you remove tiles in matching pairs from a tableaux, but the Chinese Rummy-like game using tiles instead of cards. It also has a weird Tetris-like subgame involving Mahjong tiles.

The Pennant League: Home Run Nighter ’90: Yet another Famicom baseball game.

Dr. Mario: The classic Nintendo puzzle game! I always thought it was a bit inferior to Tetris, but then most games are, and that didn’t stop me from playing a ton of it long ago.

Pictionary: Based on the board game, and coming from infamous American NES publisher LJN. Dr. Sparkle is a bit harsh on developer Software Creations, but I think this effort looks pretty well-made to me. It’s not a classic, and it’s actually not really so much Pictionary as a kind of variation on the theme, where players play mini-games to reveal parts of a drawing and then try to guess what the drawing is of. It looks much like one of Rare’s many game show and board game adaptations and creations, and in fact if it weren’t for the Software Creations credit I’d have assumed that Rare made it.

Bigfoot: From Acclaim and developed by Beam Software. It’s fairly well polished for a Beam Software title, but has some weird ideas to it, including a weird control scheme for the events that involves tapping left and right on the control pad. I think the idea has a bit of merit, but that it was probably the wrong place to use it. A Bigfoot game would mostly be bought or given to kids, who would be the absolute last demographic you should expect to master a non-standard control scheme. I’m not one of those people who thinks making a game that goes about its play differently than most other games is always a terrible idea (see: most of what I’ve ever written about roguelikes), and I can kind of see why they did it, trying to make a race game that’s more than just holding to the right. It probably could have used a bit more iteration though.

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll: A game from Rare that they actually put a lot of effort into, and it shows. And some people really like it, it’s definitely got a cult following. Dr. S isn’t part of it, due to the difficulty of getting used to SRnR’s isometric style. I think what happened was, they had these routines laying around that they used in implementing NES Marble Madness, and decided to do another game that controlled in that kind of way. I think the game was poorly suited to a digital control pad; if it were controlled with an analog stick, or at least a digital control where diagonal movement is easier, I think it’s possible that some people who hate Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll might be able to enjoy it better.

Anyway, here is the whole episode, start to finish:

A Guided Tour of the NES

This tab has been open on my browser for literally months, so I’m finally excising it from the bar….

A while back the site HackADay did a teardown of the NES, going through how to take it apart and reassemble it, and going through some of the elements of its assembly. It doesn’t go into a lot of detail, but that lets it be fairly short, at only nine minutes.

NES Hardware Explained (HackADay post, Youtube video)

Sundry Sunday: Megalixir

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

A really recent one this time! BitFinity, a.k.a. Matthew Taranto, who made Brawl in the Family and a fair amount of Waluigi music, animated and wrote this terrific little song about item hording in Final Fantasy VI, sung by Taylor Robinson.

Technology Connections Examines Pinball Machines

Back in October, and again last month, the popular Youtube channel Technology Connections, which in the past has explicated the workings of the popcorn button on microwave ovens, an 80s home TV censorship device, and the marvels of heat pumps, among many other topics. The channel is great, a primary example of how to do Youtube explainer videos right. But, we’re mostly about games here, and they don’t often cover those. Until he recently did some videos on old pinball machines!

October 2023: How the 70s-era “Aztec” Pinball Machine Works (50 minutes)

December 2023: The Step-by-step Logic of Old Pinball Machines (43 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: Stop-Motion Promo for Metal Slug Awakening

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

I’ve always been a little ambivalent about Metal Slug. Not about its gameplay, which is excellent, but about its theme. It’s been said that it is impossible to depict warfare without glorifying it in some way. I think there is some truth to that, and there is no question that the Metal Slug games depict the hell out of it.

I think the Metal Slug makers recognize a bit of that, because of how humanely the enemy soldiers are depicted. They’re all trying to kill you, but they’re far from snarling villains. When not actively trying to bring about the end of Marco and Tarma (and Fio and Eri)’s lives, they’re chatting with each other, having a meal, sunning themselves on the deck of a ship, using the toilet or just hanging out. When they spot the invading players, they often react in terror. Sometimes you don’t want to shoot them, even when they’re climbing on your Slug and trying to throw a grenade in the hatch. Even their leader, General Morden, is not the typical villain. His backstory says that dissatisfaction with corruption in the Regular Army’s ranks, along with the loss of his wife and daughter due to an act of terrorism, was what caused him to launch his rebellion, and his solders admire his leadership.

It’s almost enough to make one want to overlook the questionable aspects of his army’s symbology, for which I can only thank my lucky frog the usual suspects haven’t latched onto. Morden is rehabilitated a bit in the endings of Metal Slugs 2 and 3, where he’s betrayed by the Martians he joined forces with, and helps the player’s commandos defeat, but its true that he’s always the antagonist at the start of each later game. Metal Slug, for all its sci-fi, zombie, magic and other trappings, is still a game about depicting conventional warfare, no matter how one-sided and improbable it may be.

Ah, as is often my habit, I used the subject of the post to write a short essay on some aspect of gaming. I hope you don’t mind. Here is the video, a stop-motion recreation of a typical Metal Slug scene, made by official entities to promote a mobile game. It seems appropriate to the subject.

Metal Slug: Awakening | Full Stop Motion Video (Youtube, 1 1/2 minutes)

Sundry Sunday: Stop-Motion Kirby Dance

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

The Youtube channel Animist did a stop-motion recreation of the famous Kirby victory dance a couple of years ago. (Well, one version of it, there’s many.) Most of the 9 1/2-minute video depicts the making of, including showing off the toys that were used, so if you just want to get to the finished version use this link. Here it is in full:

Making Kirby’s Victory Dance in Stop Motion (Youtube, 9 1/2 minutes)

Mega Man’s Score System

Looks like we’re on another Youtube binge, ayup ayup. This time it’s another hopeful video constructor asking us to consider the oddity of the score system in the original Mega Man (a.k.a. Rockman).

When you post as many Youtube videos as I do, it’s easy to form opinions about their style. That of “TheRetroDude,” as he styles himself, is interesting, it’s still hyper-edited in the way that so many Youtubers loathsomely adopt, but it’s not nearly as distracting as those. He keeps the volume down, as well as the number of swoopy objects tearing around the screen like a toddler newly introduced to Toblerone.

He has good points about how extraneous the game’s scoring system is too, although his misgivings could be laid against many other games. In Super Mario Bros, score is mostly a spacer before toppled turtles start giving extra lives. I think that score isn’t a bad addition to a game as long as it’s implemented thoughtfully, yet for too long it hasn’t been. Even in the NES days it was included to give players a short term goal to aim for, when they didn’t really need it.

What would a good scoring system look like, one that rewarded skill? Well–

  • Losing a life would reset score to that at the last passed checkpoint, eliminating point pressing from lives.
  • Extra lives at game end would be worth a bonus each.
  • Game timers are worth a small, yet substantial, award at level end, to prioritize fast play over slow.
  • Awards should be given for score, most typically extra lives, but others are possible too.
  • Replaying levels, and other means of “minting points,” earning arbitrary scores, should be ruthlessly eliminated. If the player can replay levels indefinitely then think about if your game really needs a score, and if it does, don’t allow players to earn more points from replaying them without costing them the points from that last pass.

Two games that come to mind that do scores well are:

  • ZANAC on the NES, being a scrolling shooter without checkpointing score is generally fair, although it is possible to warp backwards does break the no-replay rule, and
  • Star Fox 64, which only adds a level’s score to the player’s total at its end. SF64 is a game obviously designed around score attacks.

Where was I? Oh! Here is that video about Mega Man’s scoring system.

Mega Man 1’s Really Weird Score System (Youtube, 9 minutes)

Pac-Man in Three Patterns

PacStrats on Youtube has a video that gives three patterns that will take a casual player all the way to the kill screen at level 256.

I say casual because this doesn’t attempt to produce a “perfect” game, of 3,333,360 points. This is because it doesn’t attempt to eat all four ghosts on every Energizer while that is possible. It actually ignores the ghosts when they’re vulnerable. There are patterns for that on PacStrats too, but you’re not going to be able to do it by memorizing just three patterns. You can really push your personal limits, and that of your free time, trying to get better at video games, and most of us have a point where we have to say that’s enough, and then go and read a book/buy groceries/have sex/something else. The three patterns in the video below are a nice middle ground.

It isn’t easy to devise a Pac-Man patterns, and it’s much harder to come up with a small number of patterns that cover all the levels. Patterns work because the movement of the ghosts is completely deterministic, depending on how Pac-Man moves. If you can move Pac-Man with frame-perfect accuracy, then the ghosts will oblige you by always responding in the same ways. The frame-perfect requirement is eased up a lot by the nature of Pac-Man’s motion. So long as you don’t reverse directions or delay, Pac-Man can only change direction at intersections. So long as you have the joystick, or whatever ludicrous controller setup you’re using, pressed in the direction you want to go next three frames ahead of the turn, your gluttinous circle’s progress will be on track for that pattern.

So, if you try to perform a pattern and it doesn’t work, what went wrong? Most commonly it’s because you hesitated at some point, failing to make a turn at least three frames in advance. Sometimes that’ll be okay, but two of the ghosts, Pink (Speedy/Pinky) and Blue (Bashful/Inky) use the direction that Pac-Man is facing in their AI calculations, and that can change much more rapidly compared to his location in the maze. Even being a single frame off in your timing can produce a situation where Pac-Man will be facing a direction that will cause them to take a different path at a choice. Also, some of the motion of the ghosts is determined by the amount of time that’s elapsed in the current level, and if Pac-Man’s in a subtly wrong position then it can be disastrous later on.

The periods over which the patterns are good are the first four levels (Cherry to second Orange), levels 5 through 20 (first Apple through to 8th Key) and from 21 onward (9th Key to the kill screen). The actions of the ghosts are not the same throughout the run of each pattern. The second pattern, in particular, works over so many levels mostly because its creator, through trial and error, happened upon a pattern that’s good for so much of the game. Because the travels of the ghosts will be different on different levels, it’s important not to get spooked because they are moving differently than they did on previous levels. So long as you move Pac-Man through the patterns assuredly, without delay, and at least three frames in advance, then he’ll clear the boards in succession for as long as you care to keep going, until level 256, where Pac-Man’s All-You-Can-Eat buffet closes its doors.

Unfortunately, PacStrats has made their pattern video non-embedable, so if you want to see these patterns in action you’ll have to click through to the video’s Youtube page.

Beat Pac-Man Using 3 Simple Patterns (Youtube, 20 minutes)

The End of Blaseball Blexplained

It has now been over seven months since the end of Blaseball, that shining star of lockdown that burned brightly but ended suddenly. Stories will be told of its brief reign, and memories zealously hoarded. I’m amazed that no one else has definitively moved in to take its place with their own take on splorts, it seems to be an opportunity waiting to be filled, but until such time as it happens, the concept, along with the game itself, continues to Rest in Violence.

The planets orbiting Blaseball’s many suns continue to orbit, their surfaces unwarmed but still hosting faint signs of life. The Blaseball Wiki remains online, explaining the absurdly twisty intricacies of a game that no longer exists, and The Society for Internet Blaseball Research still hosts statistics and information related to that dearly missed pastime.

One of those planets is Blaseball Blexplained, a Youtube series that doggedly and diligently presented season recaps of Blaseball’s many crazy seasons. Since Blaseball’s ending, they’ve slowly continued their recaps, and have now finally finished their last Expansion Era summary, of the Hellmouth Sunbeams. It is around 16 minutes long. It present the final recantation of the nearly un-understandable events that marked the final seasons as did all the others, throwing out references to Black Holes, Feedback and Fax Machines, counting on you to know what the hell all those things mean. You do, don’t you? ‘Course you do.

So, one last broadcast from Blaseball Explained, favorite fake sport summary channel, now broadcasting exclusively to the Hall of Flame.

Farewell, Blaseball. In your memory, I proclaim: hail Namerifeht.

The Monitor, friendly guardian of the Hall of Flame and concessions operations
(Image from blaseball.com)

P.S. The Society for Internet Blaseball Research (SIBR) has a page of information on how the fates of Blaseball, early on, intersected with that of the Pacific Salmon Treaty of 1985, and of a mysterious face named by fans Salmon Steve. Here is that page.

Sundry Sunday: Shinra’s New Boss

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

Newgrounds videos aren’t as easy to embed as with Youtube, but once in a while I find one that’s worthy enough to try. Plus, it’s a Final Fantasy VII animation, and that’s a type of fandom that we cover here extremely rarely. Rarely enough that… I’m not sure we’ve ever exhibited Final Fantasy fanwork here, other than the occasional romahck. Huh.

Well, here is a short Flash animation, rendered into video of course because of our cold and heartless age, from Newgrounds, of a bit of audio from Team FourStar’s Final Fantasy VII Machinabridged Episode 10.

<iframe width="800" height="450" src="https://www.newgrounds.com/content/embed.php?id=LFfBM" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>

Shinra’s New Boss (Newgrounds, 47 seconds)

Figuring Out Yars’ Revenge Code From Its Graphics

What is Set Side B about? We talk about old arcade and NES games, Nintendo things, weird gaming-related videos, ancient MMORPGs, and other weird and idiosyncratic things largely as they inspire us, much as how beta particles and gamma rays inspire random atoms as they pass through them, causing mutations and cancers along the way. (Alpha particles are too bulky to pass through, but that’s really just highly energetic ionized helium anyway!)

One foundational aspect of what we choose to highlight, though, are the extremely technical things, and wow, in that regard today’s link delivers. The brilliant Youtube channel Retro Game Mechanics Explained, which appears here semi-frequently, did a video on the Atari VCS/2600 game Yars’ Revenge that has to be seen to be believed, if not always quite understood.

It’s been random floating game knowledge for a while that the “Neutral Zone” area in Yars’, a flashing and coruscating band of lights that serves as something of a safe zone for the player’s bug, was the direct result of reading the game’s own code out of memory translated and displayed on screen. After all, machine language opcodes are just data, and the VCS has such a hugely limited address space that any reuse of that data is helpful.

RGME went through the graphics displayed on-screen and tried to see how much of the game’s code could be pieced together using it. The answer was, a fair bit, but not all. The process is really the most interesting part about it. Here it is:

Of particular note, the top comment on the video (because it got pinned there by RGME) is from Yars’ Revenge creator Howard Scott Warshaw himself!

In passing, let me just comment for a moment on what a weird phenomenon Yars’ Revenge is? It’s the best-selling original (non-port or license) piece of software for the old Atari. It’s such a weird artifact. It’s not a traditional style of game design. It’s got atmosphere, and strangely evocative sound. And it has that odd easter egg that can just outright end your game if you’re not careful. It really feels like an object of its time, that couldn’t have both come about and be as popular as it was in any other age. It didn’t inspire many imitators. But, it did come about, and it was popular, and I’m glad that’s true.

I watch this video and I wonder that it seems targeted so directly at me personally, that I wonder if anyone else might enjoy it at all. But then I look at its view count and see it’s approaching 200 thousand in around two weeks, so someone else out there must like it too. So: please watch the video, if you care about bits and bytes, opcodes and operands, and Exclusive-Ors. Or want to learn about those things. If neither is true for you, I’m sure there’ll be something more to your tastes tomorrow.

Reverse Engineering Game Code from the Neutral Zone in Yar’s Revenge (Youtube, 41 minutes)