Brian Cronin Developer Interview

For this perceptive podcast, I spoke with Brian Cronin to catch up and talk about his next project: Business Challenges at the End of the World and using an AI to generate the art for the game.

Play it on Itch

Video: Easter Eggs in Classic C64 Cartridges

The always terrific 8-Bit Show And Tell shows us some secret codes for old cartridge-based C64 games that reveal they were developed by Andy Finkel. These are recent finds! I had the C64 port of Lazarian growing up, and much later I was surprised to find out I prefer it to the arcade version, the C64 version feels more polished and has better music!

Along the way we’re also taught about the super-obscure Commodore product the Max Machine, which is like a severely stripped-down C64 with a bad keyboard, no ports for storage devices, and only 2K of RAM, but including the C64’s iconic VIC-II and SID chips. It was designed solely to run cartridge software. The Max is mentioned on the C64 Programmer’s Reference Guide, where I saw it long ago and had to wonder what the heck that was about. Turns out the Commodore 64 has a compatibility mode that lets it run Max Machine carts!

The Max Machine only saw release in Japan, where it was very obscure. Just think, if Commodore had put a full 64K into that, maybe it could have supplanted the MSX? Well maybe not, but it’s interesting to think about!

Sundry Sunday: Lore Sjöberg’s Five Most Guilt-Inducing Games

We previously offered Lore’s first video Alt Text piece for Wired Magazine, where he rated Legend of Zelda weapons, so as your reward for making it through another week of the unbridled horror of 2022, here’s another game-related bit he did, about his picks for the five most guilt-inducing games.

It’s interesting that, with video games being such an imfamously fast-moving field and all, three of the picks are just as relevant today: Animal Crossing, The Sims and World of Warcraft, and, holy cats, this was made 14 years ago. The other two are Nintendogs and Lemmings, both series that could stand to be revived.

So thanks Lore for your video, and thanks Wired Magazine for not taking these down, and thanks to you for caring enough to watch a video about video games that’s nearly old enough to qualify for a learner’s permit!

Video: The History of Compile Shooters

AAH COMPILE SHOOTERS ARE SO AWESUM SQUEEEE

My favorite shooter of all time is Zanac on the NES/Famicom, with The Guardian Legend following not far behind. I have a softspot for the Gradius series, but Zanac is really something special. I think you can get a sense for how someone feels about shooters as a genre in general by what they think about Zanac, its powerup system, its adaptive difficulty, and above all its blistering speed. Zanac presents a lot of Compile’s greatest strengths as a maker of shooters unalloyed. It’s a great shame that its Playstation-only sequel ZANACxZANAC was never brought to the US.

It was just a couple of minutes into Shmup Junkie’s video that I realized that he gets it. He knows these are amazing games, hugely foundational and inspirational. Without Zanac the whole history of shooters would have gone in a different direction. Plenty of arcade shooters, especially the Raiden series, are obviously iterations on ideas first found in Zanac.

(BTW, my favorite shooters? Besides Compile shooters and the Gradius series in general, I also like Twinbee and 1943. I generally don’t like the modern ilk of bullet hell games, which seem to me to be more about responding to patterns than dynamically-arising situations. This is all just me, of course, but it is me, that means something I reckon.)

Sundry Sunday: Classics of Game

Welcome, and congratulations! You’ve made it to another Sunday. Your reward this week is… well, it’s something.

Classics of Game is the premiere contextless video game WTF channel. It’s a curated sequence of game clips, every one the cause of compulsive head-scratching. The embed above is a playlist of all (currently) 174 clips. Even if you know a lot of games, the chances are great you won’t know more than 10% of these. Good luck!

Video: The History of the A-Button Challenge

It’s now been some years since pannenkoek2012’s “A-button challenge” videos hit the scene, introducing the internet to hyper-obscure Super Mario 64 glitch concepts like the HOLP and Parallel Universes. For the record, those videos can be seen here and here, and if you haven’t seen them before, you are in for a ride. Videos like the Walls, Floors, and Ceilings series (37 minutes, 32 minutes and 37 minutes) are not only interesting in their own right (to people of a certain mindset) but are a good introduction to concepts for writing your own 3D platforming engine.

These videos are all ultimately in service to the A Button Challenge, a long-running quest to try to complete Super Mario 64 with a few presses of the A button as possible. What may seem like a completely spurious pastime, it turns out, has been an obsession with some players since not long after the game first came out!

The origins and history of the A Button Challenge are explained by a surprisingly long and deep series by YouTube user Bismuth, totaling over four hours of video and, as I write this, isn’t even complete. I’m not sure how many people would be interested in watching so much on such a niche endeavor, but pannenkoek’s videos have been popular enough that I figure they must be out there, and some of them may even read this blog, so here goes!

Scott Adams Q&A and Adventureland XL

One of the earliest companies that made a go of making and selling software for home computers was Scott Adams’ Adventure International, which was started based off of the success of his first game, Adventureland, way back in 1978, almost 45 years ago. Just to be clear, this is not the Dilbert Scott Adams! Adventureland predates Infocom and Zork, although not the original Dungeon written for the PDP-10. Adventure International would go on to make thirteen more games before going out of business in 1986 due to a declining market. Their old work is available for both download and immediate play via browser-based emulation from the Internet Archive.

The Q&A (about an hour long).

Recently Scott did a video Q&A over Zoom, the record of which is up on YouTube (listen for a certain familiar name to come up near the end-I was one of the spectators of the Q&A). One of the things revealed is that there is a modern remake of Adventureland, called Adventureland XL, on Steam for a mere $5! It’s in Early Access, and has been for some time, but they’re geared towards finishing it up for full release soon.

Adventureland XL is described as a “Conversational Adventure” game, which is to say, it’s driven by a text parser (although a better one than the old Adventure International games) and has text descriptions. But, like the original, it also has included illustrations.

Promo video for Adventureland XL

Scott works for a company called Clopas, which has a Kickstarter going for another new game called Stereotypical, to be made for iOS and Android platforms. It’s just getting started and has a month to go. They have a very charming pitch video! Please consider it, won’t you?

Another couple of items of interest came up in the Q&A. Scott Adams did games based on several Marvel properties at the time, which are Marvel’s very first computer game adaptations. They also made a graphic adventure version of cult movie The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension, which The Retroist discussed here, and links a quick playthrough here.

A couple of other related items:

Mike Taylor has made available tools for using Ruby to compile your own adventure games using the old Adventure International engine, which you can find on GitHub.

And also mentioned at the Q&A is FujiNet, which is a line of network adapters (and other useful tools) that work with 8-bit computers. They work by handling all the actual networking within the device so it doesn’t strain the resources of their old processors. They can even emulate printers (so as to produce PDFs of output by the machine) and storage devices like disk drives, making for a nice all-in-one device.

During the talk someone mentioned what I think was a version for the Atari Lynx portable console, and even talked about using it to play Lynx Rampart with others over the internet, and since I am the biggest Rampart fan in the entire world, it felt like they were pressing my buttons specifically.

Sundry Sunday: Take Me Home, Mario

Well, it’s Sunday again. The world around us is burning down in flames. As I write this [warning: U.S. politics rant], the overturning of Roe v Wade is fresh in memory, with the obstructionism of two particularly terrible Democrats, as well as every single Republican in the Senate, and the traditionally hard road to climb for the incumbent party during midterms, making it seems like nothing will be done about it for a while in the future. It’s pretty bleak, and it was all done by thoughtless, horrible people thinking they’re in the right. This is going to ruin tens of thousands of lives.

Well for a moment at least, let’s try to console ourselves with a silly remix of a small part of Take Me Home Country Road with Mario in it.

Running DOOM on an IBM RS/6000 Under AIX

I’ve been rather taken by NCommander’s YouTube channel lately, in which he regularly tries to build and run old versions of Unix and software for it. He’s run an old boxed version of Debian 2.1, Internet Explorer 5 for Unix, the first Linux live CD (Yggdrasil), and–get this–even a version of System V made for the Commodore Amiga that was officially published by Commodore! It comes out of the box with NetHack 3.0! (Warning: that one’s a seven hour live stream.)

A highlight of the channel that falls under our jurisdiction is him trying to get DOOM running on an old IBM machine running old IBM Unix. Over an hour long, the video is a long sequence of sadness, involving misconfiguring hostnames, getting X running, discovering that IBM’s C compiler costs about $2,500, running into basic C functions IBM didn’t implement, building OSS for AIX (and buying a $10 license for that), and then the issues with building and running the game itself. So yes, add it to the long list of devices that run DOOM, but at what cost?

Well, to NCommander, $10 plus several days of time. To you, about an hour of entertaining (somewhat) learning about obscure computing esoterica!

NCommander at YouTube: What Does It Take To Runu DOOM On A $10,000 IBM RS/6000 From 2001?

Sundry Sunday: Mario Frustration

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday! We’re turning the blog floor into a giant MUD PIT.

It’s your reward for sticking with us (the blog, and the world) for another week. And the monster truck of content we have for you? The video Big Foot? A blast from early in the last decade, Mario Frustration, a humorous voice-over of a play through of one of those absurdly difficult Mario romhacks, back before Ninendo co-opted that whole genre with the Super Mario Maker series.

This video went viral a while back, but it’s actually a voice over of an earlier video. I have a URL for it (it’s http://www.quixoticals.com/2007/04/most-frustrating-super-mario-mod-ever.html) but I’m not linking to it. Firefox doesn’t like that site, probably related to outdated encryption, and I remember it looking a bit dodgy the last time I was there. YouTube is probably a better showcase for it.

There is some “adult” language in there, in the Modern Internet Style, and some salt, but overall it’s not nearly as ireful as the Angry Video Game Nerd could be in the day.

Tutankham Returns

Tutankham Returns (itch.io link, $0) is a port/expansion of the classic Konami/Stern arcade game Tutankham. While Tutankham had only three levels, this has seven, but otherwise is much the same kind of thing. Compare the above to the original. It matches the original’s sound, graphics, and presentation exactly! The games have especially good sound design.

Creator Luca Carminati has a number of other recreations of classic games in itch.io, some, like a version of Tutankham Returns, for the Commodore 64. (Yes, it’s another Commodore post!) Of particular note is Bagman Comes Back (video, C64), a port of another neglected classic, with 24 different maps, compared to the original’s single three-screen board. Luca has been in this for a long time; he has a collection of Amiga games on itch that he made starting back in 1995!

Video: Classic Game Repairs

The YouTube channel Classic Game Repairs fixes and restores old arcade units, especially those from the classic age and before. There’s a number of such things out there, but this is a whole channel of nothing but! Many of the units are really old too, like from the 70s. Those are a whole slew of games that are much in need of current-day love.

The video linked above is of Universal’s Mr. Do!, which is kind of like more-awesome Dig Dug. Most of these videos, I should make it clear, are not of gameplay footage, but of circuit boards and soldering irons, but that kind of thing is like ASMR to me. Maybe it will be to you too?