Friday, December 5, 2014

Over 1800 Atari VCS games trawled for hidden stuff!

Everyone knows the Atari VCS, or 2600, depending on your preference. Everyone should know The Cutting Room Floor, which documents unused stuff hidden in games. Fantastic website, and they have 14 entries for Atari's system. Allow me to share a university professor's paper, which looked through 1816 titles for the system, in the hunt for hidden stuff.
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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:"

http://www.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~aycock/papers/atari.pdf
 

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 [3], 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.


Enjoy!

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.

You can find some reviews of the book/DVD at Eurogamer, Black Falcon Games and Borders Down.

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

HG101 State of the Union September 2014

Here's a summary of the stuff that's been going on with HG101 the past month:



After being in the works for over two years, the Castlevania book is almost ready for publication! We unveiled the cover artwork a little while ago, provided by Rusty Shackles, who does lots of fantastic video game crossovers in the style of comic books. I spent this past weekend fixing up small little issues and am waiting for the final proof. Initially I'd anticipated having it ready for sale at the end of September, but that's because I like to leave a "Murphy's Law" buffer in case something goes massively wrong. So far it's shaping up okay though, so if all goes well it may be available by next week!

Note that everyone who contributes to the Patreon at the $5 (or more) per month level will receive free copies of the PDF and Kindle copies - the PDFs will be sold for $5 alone and probably about $7 for the Kindle copy. Anyone who has donated $10 or more has their name appearing under the table of contents nearing the beginning of the book. The cutoff date has passed for any future contributors, but the same deal will apply for any future books! Anyone who's donated at the $25 level will receive free copies of the books shipped to them, which I'll handle after the final proof has been approved.

The retail price of the Castlevania book is $25, but Amazon has a tendency to discount them, so it may be cheaper once it actually goes live.

Since most of the work on the Castlevania book has been completed, I've been concurrently working on the Konami Shooters book. This will encompass articles for Gradius, Life Force/Salamander, TwinBee, Parodius, Otomedius, and the Konami Shooters article, which includes Scramble, Time Pilot, Gyruss, Axelay, Xexex, Thunder Cross, Space Manbow and others. All of them are being updated to fix up various stuff, and the Parodius and TwinBee articles have been almost entirely rewritten, since they were from the early days of the site. We're also featuring a section on the numerous minigames featured in Tokimeki Memorial and other Konami games (which I started several years ago but never finished, because I hate playing those games), the usual sections about trivia, reviews for a few Gradius inspired games like Satazius and Hydorah, a rundown of some clones and fan games, and a full list of soundtrack albums. Since there is still some work to be done I hesitate giving release dates, but if all goes well it should be ready by early 2015.

I have a feeling that the Konami Shooter book may not be as popular as the others, just because there doesn't seem to be a large English speaking fan base. The forums at Gradius Home World aren't too active and most of the folks on the Shmups forums seem to rally around more modern shooters. Konami did a very poor job in building an audience in North America by failing to localize many of their shooters (they did a bit better in Europe, where they at least tried with a few Parodius and TwinBee games). But if you're a fan of Konami in general it'll definitely be worth checking out! In the 80s and 90s, the company had the feeling of an extended family, with games often cross-referencing each other (especially Parodius, which the series was essentially built for), and I love drawing these connections together, even if they are for games that are not particularly well known.

As for other site news: last month we pushed past the Patreon threshold to allow us to bring back the Your Weekly Kusoge column and solicit submissions. Since its inception, we've published reviews of Contra: Legacy of War, Sonic's Schoolhouse, Spanish for Everyone, Muscle March, Midgard, and Gokuu Densetsu: Magic Beast Warriors. We've closed submissions for the moment since we have a little over a month's left that's still to post, but we'll be reopening them soon.

We also debuted a new series of columns called Inventories, a name which is more or less blatantly stolen from The AV Club. They're basically listicles, but with more effort put into the standard thoughtless clickbait that most people seem to use them for. For our first one, we've featured a list of over 70 video games featuring women in leading lady (or otherwise featured) roles. We'll probably be updating it in the future to include a few that we've missed - you can drop in to the article's forum topic if you seem any that we've missed and that fit into the requirements. Someday we'll probably also flesh it out to more to include more heroines from the rest of the 8 and 16-bit era, but we'll be focusing on other Inventories for awhile instead. They do take a long time to research and compile - this one here is the result of a year's on-and-off work between Derboo and I - but they should be a more regular feature going forward.

Finally, other articles we've featured include PS1 platformer Tomba, 16-bit era shooter Steel Empire and its recent 3DS remake, the indie Mercenary Kings, the offbeat SFC RPG Gokinjou Boukentai, a look at the early 3D games powered by the Freescape engine, the (very) early falling block puzzler Highrise, and unfortunately unlocalized Falcom PSP RPG Nayuta no Kiseki. And we've finished publishing a massive article on the original Mega Man series, making it one of the larger articles on the site. The Game Club 199X page has been expanded to include the video series, as well as a new podcast line focused on indie games, the most recent topic being the fantastic Sega inspired Freedom Planet. The newest episode of the main podcast focuses on the recently fan translated Game Center CX 2.

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!

As for the coming month, please look forward for articles on System Shock, Danganronpa, Wizardry (another very long article to be posted in multiple parts), Smash TV/Total Carnage, Elemental Master, and the usual kusoge and 500 Word Indies columns.

As always, if you like the work that we do, please check out our Patreon! Your contributions are always much appreciated!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Pathologic Kickstarter is live



It's already topped $100k at the time of writing, nearly halfway towards its goal of $250k. I backed it as soon as I heard. Read on to find out why.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pathologic Remake on Kickstarter



A remake of the fantastic survival game Pathologic is due to launch on Kickstarter (see the above video). If you've never heard of Pathologic, READ our lengthy feature on it. If you've already been charmed by its bleak landscape, read on!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mitchell Corporation arcade games available to license



A diverse selection of Mitchell Corporation's arcade back catalogue is up for grabs, to license and re-release on modern systems, including the phenomenal Cannon Dancer / Osman. Read on for details.


Sunday, July 27, 2014

HG101 State of the Union July 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

Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 30

This week I'm taking a look at Nintendo Power Issue #20.


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

Nintendo Power Retrospectives - Part 29

This week we're coming to Nintendo Power's final strategy guide issue, featuring a collection of games that support multi-tap.


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

Konami Shooters in Hayate the Combat Butler (DS)

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:

Gradius:
Orbs spawn randomly around the screen. Smash as many of them as possible with the style.

Gradius II:
Moai heads spit out a bunch of stuff, which also need to be smashed with the stylus.

Parodius:
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.

TwinBee:
Hit the clouds and juggle the bells.

Quarth:
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.