Friday, December 5, 2014
In July, as a result of my book on Japanese game developers, I was invited to Montreal to give a keynote speech at the Game History Annual Symposium. As you can see from the itinerary it was an amazing two days, jam packed with fascinating discussions on the history of games, and methods of researching game history.
The majority of talks were excellent, with favourites including a talk on Space War and Warrior (the vector graphics one), plus one where speedrunners were examined as a means of digging up "gaming fossils", since they hammer games in ways that reveal a title's inner workings.
This blog entry relates to "Using Historical Video Games to Teach Computer Scientists" by Professor John Aycock (pictured).
The quick version is that he dissects old games in order to teach present-day students valuable skills. The problem being that students would otherwise graduate without working within a constrained environment, and many techniques used on limited hardware (such as the Atari VCS), are still used today. Games are fun, students like games, and so: "... the implementation of old games can be used as a vehicle to explain modern Computer Science techniques."
What caught my attention was that they would disassemble old games in order to understand how they work. At the end of the talk I asked if they discovered anything odd in the games. The answer given related to Chase the Chuckwagon, which had an unused piece of graphics, and two sections of code which - in the context of this game - did absolutely nothing. Likely leftovers from previous games, where code was borrowed. Three mysteries which intrigued me, because I am all about uncovering the "unknown".
My question, and the conversation with Professor Aycock afterwards, led to me receiving an email with the following:
"I got curious - and somewhat carried away - when you asked about hidden things in games, and I thought you might like to see the result:"
Strung Out: Printable Strings in Atari 2600 Games
"This report documents the raw findings from an exhaustive (and exhausting) analysis of a large corpus of Atari 2600 games to find printable strings. While similar reports have been conducted before , this is the most extensive survey so far, to the best of our knowledge. We intend to analyze these results from a higher-level viewpoint later, but this report serves as a permanent record of the data and the methods we used to acquire it."
"The results reported here are based on a corpus of 1816 Atari 2600 ROM cartridge images. Duplicate images were removed - the initial corpus, as acquired, had 1840 images - but some game images have one or more prototype images too. We have not removed these, because sometimes the strings are different between these versions."
For anyone who enjoys The Cutting Room Floor, this should prove very interesting. Surprisingly, despite programmers not being allowed credits in games, many have their named tucked away within the code. Some games have little jokes from those who made it, while others contain ending text or - in the case of edutainment title MegaBoy - the answers to puzzles.
It's a long document, and mostly raw data, but I'm sure a lot of people will get a kick out of it, and it will probably keep TCRF busy for a while updating the Atari section.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
HG101 State of the Union October 2014 - Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 2, more Patreon discounts, and a summary of last month's updates!
Hi everyone! Just here to give some updates about all of the goings-ons at the site for the past month.
A few people have asked if they were able to get copies of the Untold History of Japanese Game Developers book by donating through Patreon. Although HG101 promotes the book and we helped with its production, it's actually John Szczepaniak's project, so we're not at liberty to give anything away. However I've discussed it with him and he offered up discounts exclusively for Patrons at the $5+/month tier. For the book, you need to order directly from the Createspace site, as opposed to Amazon. The coupon will bring the price down to $29.99. Although you have to pay for shipping, overall it's about a $7 discount over the lowest price from over Amazon. Additionally, he's also offered discount prices for the DVD. It's normally 40 pounds but if donate, you'll be given access to a discount link which will lower the price to 30 pounds. If you've donated or are already a donor, I've already posted a section under "Activity" called "Discounts for Untold History of Japanese Game Developers", where you can find the coupon code and the discount link.
In the last couple updates I've discussed the Konami Shooter book, which is coming along nicely, but I also wanted to talk about the one every keeps asking me about: Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 2.
In the first volume, we focused primarily on popular franchises, along with a few other one-shots that we deemed noteworthy enough to include along with it, largely based on whether they were ported enough times. The main reason was, even though there is a "Volume 1" in the title, we weren't sure if the book would be successful enough to justify a "Volume 2", so we figured we'd load it with the titles most gamers were familiar with. The good news is that the reception was decent enough to justify a second volume, but on the other hand, the titles are probably not going to ring any bells. But that's okay! HG101 is about discovering new titles, and Sega put out a ton of interesting stuff in the 80s and 90s, most of which has been largely forgotten. So if you're the type that trawls through the MAME archives to find new and interesting things to play, this will definitely be for you, especially if you're a Sega fan.
The selection of games in Volume 2 falls into two basic categories:
(1) Arcade games from 1985 and prior. In the first volume, the earliest release game we focused on was Space Harrier, but there are a lot of games from before that period. These predated Sega consoles (at least the ones that were released worldwide, like the Sega Master System), so they be more familiar to Atari or Colecovision fans. The most prominent of these titles are Pengo, Turbo, Congo Bongo, Buck Rogers and the Planet of Zoom, and Zaxxon, along with others like Carnival, Borderline (AKA Underground), Up n' Down, and Subroc. There are a lot of other titles that fall into this category like Spatter, Flicky, Monaco GP, Ninja Princess, Super Locomotive, and many, many others. Sega also had a partnership with Coreland (in Japan) and Gremlin (in America) that put out a wide variety of strange, bizarre, largely unknown titles.
(2) Any arcade game from the late 80s and early/mid-90s that couldn't fit into the first volume. There were some titles like Bonanza Bros, SDI/Global Defense and Teddy Boy Blues that fell into the era covered in the first book, but we felt weren't quite well known enough to add in, since it would increase the cost to the point of unaffordability. Not all of these games were great. Some games like Bay Route, Tough Turf and Riot City are flagrant rip-offs of other titles at the time, but they're also really good rip-offs! Other games like Last Survivor, Dark Edge, Line of Fire, Laser Ghost and Rail Chase show off some extremely impressive technology, and occasionally have some really interesting ideas, that kind of games that are worth recognizing their efforts even though they're flawed.
Here are some very rough, early samples of what I've been working on:
I don't have anything close to a set release date for this just yet. There are two other books that will come first: the Konami Shooters book, which should hopefully be available at the beginning of 2015, and the HG101 Digest Vol. 1, a 75-ish page issue covering Bionic Commando, Strider, and several other features, will hopefully be available by the beginning of summer.
Some of the most noteworthy articles we've published this past month include: the first parts of Wizardry, the seminal CRPG series, coverage of which is still ongoing; Danganronpa, a series of stylish adventure games that totally justify the purchase of the Vita and are easily two of the best games I've played this year; Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban, a campy SFC run-and-gun similar to Choaniki; Pier Solar and the Great Architects, the recently released HD update of the homebrew (yet quite professional) Genesis RPG; Elemental Master, a fantasy shooter by the same folks as Thunder Force; Smash TV / Total Carnage, the ultra violet twin stick arcade shooters from the 90s; and System Shock, the first person shooter/RPG hybrid that inspired Bioshock, and is the topic of this month's Game Club 199X.
Upcoming articles for October and early November include Charlie Ninja, Puzzle Boy, Boppin'. 64th Street: A Detective Story, Sentinel, Yumimi Mix, Chimera Beast, Martial Champion, King of Dragon Pass, New Zealand Story, and several Halloween themed entries towards the end of the month.
As always, thanks for reading and for your support!
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
We've also introduced a long requested function to swap the white text/black ground to a black text/white background, to improve readability. There are still some pages using the old pre-CSS code that won't work, but most of the site has been updated to feature this. Thanks to Derboo and his behinds the scene wizardry to get this up and working!
Friday, September 5, 2014
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
Sunday, July 27, 2014
First off, I'd like to extend a tremendous amount of gratitude for anyone who's donated to our site's Patreon. We've been running it for about a month now, so I thought I'd line out some of the changes we've implemented that have helped improve the site.
For starters, and you've probably already noticed this, the front page has been completely redesigned. The main reason behind this is that it makes updating much easier, since we don't need to write huge descriptions every time we update. In the past it was just me updating the main page, and I often only had time to get everything together on the weekends. We originally promised biweekly updates when we met out $500 funding goal, but between myself and fellow site admin Sam Derboo, we've exceeded that and have been hitting closer to three or four updates on a weekly basis. The extra money has helped funding the additional work required to get these updates in order. We've also worked our way (mostly) through our large posting backlog, so submitted articles will appear sooner. In the past, it often took up to three months before articles were officially posted, which I'm sure irritated some contributors, but the increased manpower has helped us become more efficient.
Additionally, we've also revised the site Submission Guidelines, which also outlines our revised payment rates. Initially they were kind of loose, typically about $15-$25 per game covered depending on the length, but with the help of the Patreon, we've revised them to, at the very least, double their original rates, and in the case of the longer pieces, nearly tripled. It's still not quite up as high as professional sites, but as contributions to the Patreon increase, we'll be increasing these too!
Note that all Patreon contributors of $5 or more get free digital copies of the books. If you've already contributed, check out the first post we made for links to the PDFs. You'll be receiving a free digital copy of the Castlevania book once it's completed too. A revised Kindle copy of the Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is coming soon, as well as a previously unreleased Kindle version of Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 1. All contributors of the $10 tier or higher will get their names in all upcoming books, including the Castlevania one, so let me know if you want a different name added. All contributors at the $25 tier will also get a copy of the Castlevania book mailed to you, so make sure you have your address entered!
Finally, I'd like to share some previews of books that are currently in progress. The $2,500 goal is kind of a pie-in-the-sky goal that would allow me to work full time on these, and we're not quite there yet, but books will still be coming, albeit at a very slow pace. The Castlevania book should be out in the next month or two, so more details will be posted of that shortly, but in the mean time here are some other books:
HG101 Presents: Konami Shooters (Gradius, Parodius, TwinBee, etc.)
HG101 Presents: Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 2
HG101 Presents: Shin Megami Tensei
HG101 Digest Vol. 1 (includes full articles for Bionic Commando and Strider, as well as similar games, plus 80 JP PS1 games worth playing, a collectors guide to Genesis/Mega Drive games, the Dark Age of JRPGs, and more. Future editions will cover Taito arcade games)
I'll be posting more samples in the coming weeks so you get a feel of what we've planned.
Thanks again for all of your support, and we hope that the new HG101 will be deserving of your support!
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Games Reviewed This Issue:
Mega Man III - Capcom (NES)
The Immortal - EA (NES)
Deja Vu - ICOM (NES)
Gremlins 2 - Sunsoft (NES)
Dragon's Lair: The Legend - CSG Imagesoft (Game Boy)
Mercenary Force - Meldac (Game Boy)
Burai Fighter Deluxe - Taxan (Game Boy)
F-1 Race - Nintendo (Game Boy)
Super Scrabble - GameTek (Game Boy)
Please support my Patreon at http://www.patreon.com/countzeroor
Gamester 81's Miracle Piano Teaching System Review: http://gamester81.com/rare-snes-miracle-piano-review/
Thanks to NESGuide.com for gameplay footage of The Immortal and Deja Vu.
Wednesday, July 2, 2014
Games reviewed this issue:
Gauntlet II - Mindscape (Developed by Atari)
Nintendo World Cup - Nintendo (Developed by Technos)
Swords & Serpents - Acclaim (Developed by Interplay)
Previously Reviewed Games:
NES Play Action Football & Super Off-Road: Part 18 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXS2MO1--fI
Super Spike V'Ball: Part 19 - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ISzcZ-SBbuc
Other Things of Note:
Retronauts' Kunio-Kun Episode: http://www.1up.com/do/blogEntry?bId=9088701
"Of Dice And Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and the People Who Play It" by David M. Ewalt: http://ow.ly/ysvuk
Saturday, June 28, 2014
So let's say that it's 2008 and you've achieved your lifelong dream as an employee at Konami, the company that made awesome games like Castlevania, Contra and Gradius. Hooray! Except, you're stuck making garbage portable anime tie-in games instead. Boo! What do you do to pass away the time? Why, you sneak classic Konami minigames in an otherwise completely unrelated title!
There are a few DS games based off of Hayate the Combat Butler. The first one, Boku ga Romeo de Romeo ga Boku de, is a basically a visual novel, where you read lots of dialogue and occasionally interact with the touch screen. It seems pretty banal - except, at the end of each chapter, you can play a minigame, almost all of them just involve hitting objects with the stylus. The goal is to get a high score and increase your "Pathos", which is used for unlocking costumes and other things in the main game. The five minigames are:
Orbs spawn randomly around the screen. Smash as many of them as possible with the style.
Moai heads spit out a bunch of stuff, which also need to be smashed with the stylus.
Based off of the sumo pig boss from the mountain stage of Parodius, this panda trounces back and forth. He stomps on the ground, causing stuff to fall from the sky, which must be smashed with the stylus.
Hit the clouds and juggle the bells.
The most in-depth game, and the only one that doesn't require the stylus (though you can use it), you play a quick game of the Konami puzzle shooter Quarth, where you have to shoot bricks at falling objects, turning them into rectangles and causing them to disappear. The visuals here seem to be taken from the Ganbare Goemon DS title, which included a similar, but more in-depth, Quarth minigame.
If you want to play these, you can just speed through the text in the main game, then hit the Minigame option in the menu. Since they're randomly chosen, you may want to save the game (using the battery save, not the save state), play the game, then reset and reload if you want to try something different. Alternatively, I'm attaching some save states for use with DESMume .9.7.2 which will let you play each of the five games.
Also, if the score tallying sound effect at the end of each game is from the original Castlevania.
Most Tokimeki Memorial games also included unique shooter games - you can read about some of them here.