Have you ever played Defender? It’s amazingly difficult! It was described in Craig Kubey’s golden-era video game book The Winner’s Book of Video Games as like being locked in a closet with a swarm of killer bees, and the comparison is apt. It absolutely destroys inexperienced players, and the road to mastery is long. And yet, it can be mastered. People have flipped the score many times over, even if it’s difficult to see how.
This video (18 minutes) from Tim’s Tiny Arcade with Defender expert Joe Dearman explains some of the higher-level tactics of the game.
One thing it doesn’t explain, though, possibly because it’s a fairly basic piece of knowledge even if it’s not obvious at all, is the “International Date Line.” There is an invisible vertical line at a specific place in the game world where the internal coordinate system wraps around. When your ship is being chased by enemies, and you cross that line, pursuers suddenly drop their pursuit, because the x-coordinate comparison sends them all the way around the game world the other way. If you hang out around the IDL, you can immediately escape from chasing Swarmers and Mutants just by crossing it!
Sinistar was a game that had quite an impressive sound design. It borrowed a bunch of its sound effects from earlier Williams games, with which it shared common hardware that was originally design for pinball machines. A cockpit version of Sinistar, of which only around 200 units were made, was the first arcade game to have stereo sound. And of course all versions of the game have the Sinistar’s famous digitized threats and taunts.
While Sinistar’s main program source code was found and made available on Github, the source of the code that drove its sound hardware has long been lost. Youtube user SynaMax has done the best he could at recreating that code, and has made a video talking about the process, the sound design of Sinistar and other early Williams games, and even found unused sounds in the code.
Contained within the code is the revelation that the sound chip that drove the rear speakers in the cockpit version ran slightly different code than contained within the main sound ROM. The data from that version of the game was only dumped this year, meaning that the game running in MAME was somewhat incorrect.
Now that the right version of the chip has been dumped, the cockpit version of Sinistar now sounds properly in MAME. Although this does mean that users running up-to-date MAME have to refresh their romset for this version of the game. Such are the tradeoffs of MAME emulation.
Another revelation of the video was that the parametric sound generators used by Williams arcade games from that time often produced interesting noises if it was fed with random data. Sound programmers sought out different sets of numbers to give them, including by asking passers-by for numbers off the top of their heads and garbage values found in RAM when dev systems were powered up, in order to produce strange sound effects.
I feel like I should warn however, near the end of the video is mention of a bit of drama concerning the MAME developers, in getting code supporting the change integrated into the software. I’m not weighing in on this, not the least reason being I don’t know enough about it. But I feel like you should know it’s coming, ahead of time, before embarking on the 51-minute journey.
Cows have had a long history associated with pinball. Not that long compared to the whole range of pinball, going back to the Great Depression, but in the days of games with dot-matrix displays, it became a tradition to hide cows in pinball games in some way.
Just one example. In Attack From Mars, if you hit the Big-O-Beam ramp, sometimes the animal being enlarged is a cow. (If you can’t take your eyes off the game, listen for the woman saying “Would you look at the size of that cow?!”) Further, if you press the start button several times during this animation (each press will be punctuated by a MOO), it’ll turn the Saucer Attack minigame into Cow Attack, which is actually slightly easier I find; the hit detection is pixel-accurate, and the cows make for bigger targets. Here’s Cow Attack in action (one minute):
A history of pinball cows would take quite a while to explain, and that’s not the purpose of this post. No, what I’m here to tell you is that the legend of the Pinball Bovines has crossed to the makers of Metroid Prime Pinball on the Nintendo DS, which contains a cow! Here is video proof (33 seconds):
Remrod: “Indeed I am. I am renting two squash courts to store about 100 machines. But our DS version of pinball is more fun than the real thing!” (laughter)
Terasaki: “That’s right. There’s even an unexpected appearance from a cow.”
NOM: “A cow? What’s that got to do with Metroid?”
Barritt: “There was a pinball game in the 1980s called ‘Fire!’ in which a cow puts in an appearance. The game is about a huge fire that once broke out in Chicago. The cause of the fire was a cow kicking over a lantern. Ever since then, cows have become a fixture as hidden characters in pinball machines. This is well-known among pinball aficionados in Europe and the States, and perhaps around half of the pinball games released since then have featured a cow concealed in them. Naturally, we also put one in Super Mario Ball…” (laughter)
Terasaki: “If you do happen to find the cow, please leave it in peace!” (laughter)
The cow in the game has wings and flies around. Please, if you play it, respect this noble beast.
The Pico-8 is the most popular fantasy game console by a wide margin. We’ve already linked to Josh “cortex” Millard’s Ennuigi, which is notable enough to have its own Wikipedia entry.
Ennuigi was more of an extended joke than a game, though, while Pico-8 Moon Patrol is no joke; it’s substantially harder than the original arcade game, putting you up against harder obstacles earlier. Sometimes it doesn’t feel fair when a flying saucer drops a bomb at such an angle that neither speeding up nor slowing down could have avoided it in time, although it’s possible, in this version, to shoot down the bomb before it strikes you.
Give it a try! This video is my best run to date, getting through the first three sectors:
Blogfriend David Craddock has an article up at Ars Technica about the drama that went down back in the days when Mortal Kombat was a big hit of the arcade scene, and people schemed to make careers off of it. Even though it took in a lot of quarters pretty quickly and spawned several arcade sequels, it wasn’t the institution it was today. When it hit it big, the actors whose digital likenesses appeared in the game sued for royalties not received due to the sale of home versions of Mortal Kombat on the SNES and Genesis.
It’s an excellent article. David really did his research on this one! The end result is, most of the actors settled, but one, Dan Pesina, still claims to this day to have “co-created” the game, which seems ludicrous. It seems to me weird to keep at that in this era, with Midway long gone and the rights having moved to Warner Bros., but then, I have no stake in the matter? Ah well.
“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.
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 habitué 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?
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!