Friday, December 10, 2010
They say dead memory cards tell no tales. In my case, a dead memory card means one of the greatest (maybe) RPGs ever made with RPG Maker on the PS1, Morishinden Chojin, will never be played by anyone. By the end of this blog post both myself and you, the reader, will have made a cat smoke an entire packet of cigarettes.
(images stolen from Mobygames and are NOT of Morishinden Chojin)
Yesterday I bought one of those PS1 to PS3 USB converter things, to back up memory cards. After 10 years of procrastinating I was finally going to give my RPG Maker games to the world. The adapter was overpriced at $20, but I had store credit I wanted rid of. It actually works like a piece of crap, though I did manage to back most stuff up.
Three memory cards didn’t register, one unofficial, and two official. I tried them on a PS1 unit and the official ones were fine (one contained my brother’s FF7 and 8 save files, the other my Japanese MGS and CV save data). The unofficial one, the red PSW card, held nothing. IT HAD DIED. Actually, I had suspected it had died about 2 years ago when I had trouble loading my Suikoden save file. Along with it went all my PS1 Goemon data, and my first PS1 RPG Maker creation: Morishinden Chojin.
This really upset me. Now that I’m in adulthood and concerned with everyday crap like taxes and federal gun smuggling charges, old save data from PS1 games are irrelevant. Except in this case it wasn’t just save progress, it was a beautiful thing which I’d created. A bright, shining kusoge which I should have protected more, and its loss was like coming home to find my collection of stolen Dali paintings up in flames. The memory card in question was given away free on the cover of a magazine which cost something like £3. Considering cards back in the day cost £20 or more, I thought this a bargain. Lesson learned: it’s cheap for a reason.
I must have made MC sometime around 1999/2000 – the ridiculous name was a result of me studying Japanese as part of my high school curriculum, and wanting something cool sounding. I can’t remember its exact meaning, something about forests of the dead. Regardless, it has nothing to do with the game. The games contains the following things: obfuscated design, a giant NAKED GUY with 1970s hair, a packet of cigarettes hidden in a chicken egg, Samurais on a Plane, Monkey Island-inspired INSULT KUNG FU, stealth sections with GRENADES, a rather clever spotlight section on a bridge, suicidal lightning samurai, long cut-scenes of ABSOLUTE GIBBERISH, a FIRST PERSON DUNGEON SECTION inspired by Dungeon Master (seen in the FIRST PERSON), plus a final boss battle where you need to FORCE A CAT TO SMOKE CIGARETTES after which he reveals that HE’S YOUR FATHER.
With the memory card dead and my data gone, this blog entry is the first, last and only surviving record of the game which never was: Morishinden Chojin.
It was a game where I set out to break all the rules.
You start on an aeroplane constructed from the medieval machine tiles available in RPG Maker. Some guy says he’s your commander and your mission is to infiltrate the enemy base, procure weapons on site, and then make a cat smoke cigarettes. There’s no explanation, you don’t need to know why. There’s also 3 treasure chests which contain a change of uniform and which allow you to play as either a Pirate Man, a Thief Woman, or a Big Orange Naked Guy with hideous 1970s style wig. Thinking about it now without the mind-altering haze of too-much-Pepsi in my system, logically the chests must have also either contained gender changing magic, or I had inadvertently given players the option to play in drag (honestly, I sincerely thought I could encourage women to play the game by offering a female character). The naked guy was a custom sprite I’d made. I actually just took the default silver robot sprite from RM who looked like a naked silver humanoid, and did a palette swap from silver to orange, then drew a big mop of hair on his head. The robot wasn’t anatomically correct, so you’re in effect controlling a genderless steroid fiend. In high school, the option to BE GORO (be naked) seemed like a funny idea.
BAD DESIGN ON PURPOSE
On the aeroplane was a giant egg, inside of which was an essential item to finish the game: a pack of Lucky Strikes cigarettes, for that smoooooth tobacco flavour. If you failed to look inside the egg, and then parachuted out of the plane, you couldn’t finish the game. I really liked the idea of including an item which made progress impossible without it – kind of like those old adventure games. I also wanted a game which tackled the taboo subject of smoking in a wholly irresponsible and inappropriate manner, especially since companies at the time were against tobacco usage in games and MGS was something of a strange anomaly.
I couldn’t do parachuting with the basic tools, so your guy falls to earth via the game’s built-in lightning animation. He starts in a forest which is easily navigated to an enemy base on a cliff side. Outside is an old man. I wanted to do a Custom Battle System, or CBS as the RM community calls it, since the default battle system sucks. I based it on Monkey Island’s insult sword fighting and Suikoden’s one-on-one duels. So the guy would say stuff like “Come and get me!” and that would be your cue to pick an option which implied defending, because he was powering up a special move. If you lost you had a good idea of what you should have chosen. RM has a fairly robust system of triggers and flag switches to play around with, plus multiple choice dialogue boxes, so with a little effort you could create lengthy dialogue trees with specific outcomes. Lose and you warped back to the forest. Three wins and he gave you a keycard to enter the base.
Next were two simple stealth sections. I created some basic mazes and put guards in it, but they were designed so that you could only enter their field of vision in a specific block, which was an invisible trigger switch which resulted in them walking down and capturing you, whereupon you reset to outside the base. There were also some fairly obvious places you could stand to then select and use an item (in this case grenades from a box). Doing so in the correct place results in the guard walking there to investigate, switching off the invisible trigger tile, and allowing you to move past. There were only two such puzzle rooms, but I was really pleased at how well they worked – it was clunkier than MG on the NES, but it was convincing in the game’s context.
Following the MGS theme, once beyond the guards was a long bridge where I’d used RM’s custom colour overlay to give the screen a dark blue hue, like nighttime. Next I filled the bridge with NPCs, except the sprite I used was a plain looking disc, coloured yellow, so it looked like a spotlight on the bridge. They moved randomly, and if you touched them the screen effect turned bright white, like you were spotted, an alarm sounded, and you were taken back to the start of the bridge. This was actually an ingenious idea which worked tremendously well. A couple of friends played it and they got caught a few times, totally freaking out when a spotlight came close. In truth, the spotlights couldn’t move into you – getting caught required you to push INTO THEM. So if you stood entirely still you’d never get caught, and it was possible to slowly move to the bridge’s end quite easily. Still, it was a perfect illusion of roving spotlights. At the end of the bridge there’s a giant explosion somewhere and the screen shakes.
I forget what came next, but you eventually came to another cliff’s edge, where the plane you were on had crashed (hence the explosion). There’s wreckage and flames everywhere, and plenty of dead bodies and blood splats (I think I made a custom blood splat tile for this). In the middle of the carnage I put RM’s pre-made sprite of a Samurai Sword in Puddle of Blood. Investigating it results in the samurai from the plane flashing down on lightning, and revealing that it was HE who betrayed the organisation, and there’s a cut-scene. All I remember of the dialogue is it was pure insanity, the likes of which only a sugar-high high-school student could invent. He mentions something about the secret of the cat and then shoots you to the edge of the screen, he explodes in a shower of blood and then you fall off the cliff’s edge.
(although I made reference to Snakes on a Plane at this entry’s start, I was obviously unaware of the film when making this game – I just thought samurais would be cool to include)
I seem to recall that you then wake up in what appears to be a Dungeon Master inspired first person dungeon / sewer tunnel, which is the best bit of the game. I’d created a bunch of custom graphics titles, plain coloured squares and a series of half-square triangles, which I then used to create the impression of standing in a water filled tunnel and looking down it. The custom tiles drew the tunnel shrinking into the distance, ending up as a black square, while I used RM’s built-in sprite invisible options, to make the main guy invisible. I made about 5 such rooms (normal corridor, dead end, right turn in the distance, right turn close up), with water for the tunnel’s base. It ended up looking “windowed”, since I kept a black border of nothing around it to conserve my limited tile memory.
Next, I placed 4 invisible tiles around the main invisible guy (who technically existed in the black border), and set each room’s 4 tiles up with a series of complex number triggers, to represent every possible position he could be standing in. It was so complex it took up all my remaining memory, because I distinctly remember thinking, ahh crap, I can’t make any more turns. In truth, there was about 6 possible spaces to stand in a linear tunnel which only had one turning point which led out the tunnel. But I reckoned with more time and effort, I could create some simple 3D mazes (like those from Mystical Ninja on the SNES), simply by drawing a maze on graph paper, assigning each standing spot a number, and then setting up the tile triggers to change each specific number to another, when one of the 4 tiles was touched, based on only around 8 possible rooms (dead ahead, left turn, right turn, etc etc etc). In the end I added the splashing sound effect each time you moved, to give the impression of walking through sewers (the floor tiles were the animated water ones – which proved tricky because the game didn’t want sprites walking on it).
SMOKE THESE, CAT FATHER!
Once out the tunnel you end up in a cavern. A quick walk through the maze leads you to an innocent looking cat. To finish the game you need to stand next to it and use the cigarette item. This results in RM style turn based battle against the wackiest looking boss I could find. He has 1 hp so goes down quickly. Afterwards you force the cat to smoke the whole pack, resulting in RM’s mist effect filling the screen, the cat coughs for a bit, then there’s a cut-scene where he reveals HE’S ACTUALLY YOUR FATHER.
Yeah, I have no idea what went on there. There’s more deranged dialogue, implying a sequel, whereupon the credits roll.
It had some great ideas wrapped up in an illogical story which, when I replayed it about 3 years ago, seemed somehow even funnier. I’m only sorry I couldn’t share it with you, because the convoluted workaround I’d created for 3D mazes was actually quite cool, and sort of really worked.
Sadly the memory card is dead, and the game lost. And even if I tried to remake it today, it would have none of the teenage energy I’d infused it with. If any reader wants to remake my creation, you have my blessing.
My second RPG creation was a game called Chef Island, based on the cooking minigame in Suikoden 2, which thankfully survived on another memory card. I never finished this game, but I will be making the save data available for anyone who wants it, in a future blog entry in the next few days.
You know what I'd really like to see? ASCII or Monkey Paw Games re-releasing RPG Maker on PSN, so we can all then create awesome games, use a USB key to grab the save data off our PS3's, then upload them online. The PS1 save-data is tiny (like 128kb or something).
FOR THE RECORD:
HG101 does not endorse animal cruelty. My family have owned several dogs and cats over the years, and we have always treated them (and all animals) with care and affection (to the point where neighbour’s pets would actually visit our house and refuse to return to their owners). Making a real cat smoke real cigarettes, is always a bad idea.