Wednesday, August 31, 2011

PS3 Sixaxis on a x64 Windows PC

Whatever the hell you do, under NO circumstances use MotioninJoy – that stuff reeks of pure dodgy. Instead let us show you the safe way to use your PS3 controller on your x64 Windows PC. In my case, I was running Windows 7. First there’s a rant, so if you want the solution, just skip to TAMAMY DRIVERS.

Having decided to play Xenoblade Chronicles on PC hooked up to my HDTV instead of the Wii on my SDTV, I needed a controller. There are plenty of safe and easy options for those using the older x86 (32bit) versions of Windows, such as XP. My main rig is x86 XP, but the PC I borrowed for Xenoblade was Windows 7 and x64 (64 bit). Problem: most drivers designed for x86 will permanently disable all your USB ports if you try to put them on a x64 computer (I don't know why, apparently they just do). They will mess you up.

This blog post is to correct a misconception on the internet – an attempt at undoing a dangerous fallacy. Googling for info on the above will reveal countless websites all proclaiming the pleasures of a website/program called MotioninJoy, which allegedly allows use of the Sixaxis on x64 Windows.


They state quite clearly that because their drivers are unsigned you need to boot x64 versions of Windows while holding F8 and then from the menu choose to ignore mandatory signature enforcement. I did this. Then I downloaded it, did a virus scan and then ran it.

Anyway, after running it, suddenly ESET, NoScripts and a couple of other safety countermeasures were giving off RED WARNING LIGHTS and KLAXON SOUNDS – this little trollop was trying to access servers in Zhiang province, or god knows where in CHINA. All I know is suddenly I’ve got a wall of Chinese names and server numbers because apparently I’m trying to connect to something I shouldn’t be and a dozen dirty sources are trying to connect to my system. So I immediately cut the hard line on my rig and shut it all down.

Let me tell you how I roll: I do not allow random programs to connect to unknown servers in countries on the other side of the world known for their dodgyness to download crap I don’t recognise. For all I know they were uploading the digital mind of CHAIRMAN MAO onto to my rig, or viruses, Trojans, root kits, or worms.

One website claims you can install it offline, by downloading another pack of files, but this disables use of the joysticks. What the hell is the point of that? If I didn’t want analogue joysticks I’d use my Saturn pad. They force you to go online so they can potentially rodger you senseless. Seriously WTF is up with them trying to force you to connect to Chinese servers to download random things you can’t even see. Let me use an analogy. You wouldn’t expose your genitals to a hornet’s nest, would you? You might not get stung even if you did, but why take such an unnecessary risk? Do NOT trust MotioninJoy.

Regardless, it’s all redundant, because there IS an alternative, a solution that allows Sixaxis usage with analogue joysticks on a x64 system, and it doesn’t require destroying your PC, and it’s free and totally excellent.


Japanese coder Tamamy has made drivers that work on Windows XP, Vista and 7, on both x86 and x64. You have to manually install them after connecting your control pad, but they work well. Although being unsigned, same as MotioninJoy’s drivers, means you need to boot while F8 each time you start your computer (again, same as MotioninJoy).

Even so, you can plainly see the INF files that comprise it (unlike MotioninJoy), plus it doesn’t connect to the internet and you have full control over it (unlike MotioninJoy). This is the perfect solution in my view.



Please note, I used them without problem on Windows 7, but obviously use caution with this kind of stuff. Myself and HG101 can’t be held responsible for misuse.

On an ironic side note, the mods at DC-Emu, a forum I have long realised to be filled with denizens of wrong logic (the Katana Dev Kit and Smash Pack says hi fellas!), actually locked the thread on Tamamy’s drivers. While Googling for info on this I came across a DC-Emu thread on them, where everyone was chatting, happy as Larry, on how best to use them. Suddenly a mod comes along and locks the topic, saying: “Enough of this, enough of this, MotioninJoy is out now, everyone stop talking about this and move along and use that instead – no more talk of Tamamy, go and connect to Chinese servers and use MotioninJoy like the good proles that you are. Move along now.”

I actually pictured the mod with an Orwellian era moustache and truncheon, goading the slackjawed forumites into submission.

Frankly I think that’s a travesty. MotioninJoy is not only garbage, but it’s dangerous garbage. And they were openly advocating its usage, while trying to turn people away from a safer and more trustworthy source of drivers, where you have full control over their implementation, and you know precisely what you’re installing. They even locked the goddamn topic on it, effectively censoring any discussion of Tamamy’s drivers. Madness, pure madness!

For Sixaxis use on a PC, use Tamamy’s drivers.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Replacing a PS2 laser

When my PS2 stopped playing dual-layered games I thought a laser replacement was the answer. It reality it turned out to be an arduous nightmarish adventure involving guns, drugs, naked ladies, and a crazy dude from Czechoslovakia. Actually, apart from the Czech, most of that is an exaggeration, but still, it’s worth reading.

I have an old fat PS2 with Messiah chip, which for a long time was the best way to play import PS1 or PS2 games on a PS2 system. It loaded everything you threw at it, even Betamax tapes (not really). But mine was an old model that had seen much use and I discovered it couldn’t play dual-layered DVD9 games. One guy on a forum actually said that the original Messiah chip prevents the PS2 from booting DVD9 games. I don’t know about this, but when Rogue Galaxy was released (the first DVD9 I had tried in my life) I had to buy a brand new slim to play it, and then I modded the PS2 to use Swap Magic for my Japanese and American imports.

The problem is: Swap Magic can’t boot import DVD9 games. Which was fine, since I didn’t own any (dual-layered PS2 games are fairly uncommon). Until I acquired Sakura Wars, a Japan/US exclusive RPG which was DVD9. The fact the UK never got it I suppose is payback for America not getting Siren 2, which we did and which is in my opinion the best game on the PS2. Seriously, if you can play PAL DVD9 games, please play Siren 2. It’s really special.

Anyway, I asked on forums and was recommended to buy a cheap £5 laser. Which I did. I watched some videos and read some tutorials and it seemed easy enough. The laser arrived, and the first problem was they’d sent it without a protective covering. It was just loose in the envelope, rattling around. No doubt scratched to hell I’d assumed. I was rather annoyed at this, since a laser is a fragile thing.

I stripped the machine, lubed the gears to remove the “farting tray” problem that can crop up, and then I installed the laser. Some tutorials recommend calibrating the laser, but I tried it first without doing so. Nothing. Then I tried calibrating both up and down, on the two tiny screws. Again nothing. Then I tried tweaking the height screw on the one side, to alter the angle and height. Hell, I tried altering everything. I spent an entire Saturday doing this, tweaking the damn laser, and it refused to work. The laser move back and forwards and made some noises, but it couldn’t seem to read anything. Putting my old laser back in it worked just fine, loading standard non-DVD9 games.

INSTALLATION TIP: use a bit of blutac to hold screws to the end of your screwdriver, if it’s not magnetic.

I emailed the store and complained about their shoddy packaging. They apologised and offered a refund, agreeing to pay my return postage. So I sent it back, and got a refund for the item and my postage, which was nice of them. Then I bought another one off the same store, since they assured me they’d send a new one, better packaged. True to their word it arrived well packaged. I then spent another day without success – the damn thing still wouldn’t work! At first I worried that I shouldn’t have bought the cheapest I could find. Some places charge £20 for one. Then I wondered if I had the wrong model of laser, but I triple checked various sources online and it definitely was the right one. So I asked again for a refund, saying I wouldn’t buy from them again.

I also emailed some of the people who’d left positive feedback for the item – I got hold of two of them, and both said their lasers didn’t work either, but they’d left the positive feedback before installing them. Just as I logged in to my email account to mentioned this to the store, it turns out they’d emailed me, saying that they’d been receiving so many fault reports on the lasers they were going to send out a mass refund and I didn’t even have to bother sending it back. Apparently the entire batch was bad! Which was very nice of them to do. Lovely people.

So I looked for another store selling lasers, and found a guy in the Czech Republic offering cheap European postage, so bought one. Arrived in a nice little box, well packaged, but again it didn’t work. This time it didn’t even make any noises – it was utterly dead. Now, I am fully aware some lasers require de-soldering, and I checked the solder points, they were find. This was just a dead unit that the PS2 ribbon cable didn’t even recognise as being there. So I emailed the guy asking for a refund, having decided to quit this malarkey. And here is why I hate eBay. He said he’d only refund me I left him good feedback. I didn’t feel like the drawn out process of reporting him to eBay so stupidly, foolishly and naively agreed. Whereupon he promptly refused to refund me.

The filthy sonnovabitch!

I threatened to report him and he sent back some snarkey message about how they were the last of his batch he was sending out and so he didn’t care if they didn’t work. I couldn’t work out whether he was saying he knew they didn’t work, or he didn’t plan on selling anymore so didn’t care if I complained.

Anyway, I opened an eBay complaint against him, and suddenly his tune changed, since eBay got back saying he would give a refund if I returned the item. Problem is, under eBay policy this is only valid if I return it insured mail, with a tracking code. I checked the price and this would cost more than the item itself cost me to purchase. If I sent it back as is, without a tracking code, I’m sure the bastard would claim he never received it. There was no way to contact eBay and explain the situation, so I had to eat the loss. Bastard.

So, out of pocket, with two broken lasers, a faulty system and still no way to play Sakura Wars, I settled on a foolproof solution:

I bought an American PS2! It was only £40 delivered, truth be told, which is an OK price, and it does mean I can now play all my US imports without disc swapping. Best of all, it runs DVD9 games just fine.

The moral of the story: don’t trust people on eBay.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Great interview with creator of Psychic World and Outrun 2019 on GDRI

A couple of days ago, GDRI has posted a huge interview with Tsunemoto Sugawara for their 5th anniversary, who worked at Hertz on classic games like Psychic World / Psycho World, Hydefos, Lenam and Outrun 2019. The interview is from two years ago, but hasn't been posted in its entirety until now. There's tons of background info on this little known developer and its games, and even some concept sketches for Psycho World, so check it out.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Update 8/28 - Might and Magic (pt.1), Muchi Muchi Pork, Bushi Seiryuuden, Esper Dream, Jackal, Isle of the Dead, Akane the Kunoichi, Gimmick!

I expected to wake up without power after being in the path of Hurricane Irene, but it appears the worst of it my area has been some downed branches, so that means I can actually update this fine Sunday afternoon! The biggest article we have is a feature on the Might and Magic series. I've wanted to cover more early CRPGs around here, and this one is plenty long running. Currently the first six out of the main nine series are covered - there are numerous spinoffs (including the Heroes of Might and Magic series, itself a successor to King's Bounty), which won't be covered in this particular article, though if anyone would be willing to take up the mantle I would gladly be interested in posting it!

There's actually a lot of shorter articles to get up this update: Muchi Muchi Pork is a Cave shooter from about four years ago that was ported to the Xbox 360 a few months back. Back earlier this year when I was working primarily on the adventure game book, I played a lot of this during my breaks, and ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought it would. I wish I could've gotten it up sooner, because all of the main import shop appears to be sold out and the second hand market is already inflating the price on this one.

More Konami 8-bit stuff too: Jackal, best known as the game where you ride in a jeep and run over little guys; and Esper Dream, two Famicom action-RPGs. The first is an interesting experiment, while the second I have no reservations calling one of the best RPGs on the system. Most games of the era have aged rather poorly, what with their slow battle systems and tedious grinding, but Esper Dream 2 is remarkably quick and surprisingly fun, with some excellent graphics and music courtesy of the VRC6 chip, the same one found in Akumajou Densetsu (Castlevania III). Another rather innovative RPG is Bushi Seiryuuden, a late release by Game Freak for the Super Famicom, which trades the usual JRPG combat in favor of a side-scrolling (though still turn based) format.

Also up is Gimmick!, one of Sunsoft's last games on the Famicom. I was searching for this during my trip to Japan, but the only copies I could find were over 10000 yen, so I just gave up and purchased the 600 Sunsoft Memorial version on the Japanese PSN. (I did however get lucky and found a boxed copy of its sorta partner Game Boy game Trip World for about 900 yen though.) It's a brilliantly designed, cutesy game with a fantastic soundtrack, though it gets ridiculously hard as it goes along.

I've also been wanting to cover more XBLIG stuff, since there are now some great games on the service that tend to get lost in the shuffle, so this update we have Akane the Kunochi, a decent 2D action platformer. Finally, we've got the fifth part of the 21st Century Pinball article up, and Your Weekly Kusoge is Isle of the Dead, a schlocky FPS/adventure game hybrid which was developed for shock value alone.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Space Station Osaka - A Japanese Retro Video Game Bar with an American Twist

A few weeks back in my "shopping in Japan" post, I mentioned a retro video game bar called Space Station Osaka. Now I am going to talk about it!

Space Station Osaka is located in Amerikamura, located not too far from the Shinsaibashi and Namba stations in Osaka. It's right down the road from the huge Mandarake Grandchaos store and is roughly next to Tako Tako King, a ridiculously friendly takoyaki joint with a large octopus above it - keep an eye out for the puyos (those blobby things with the eyes) on the door sign. (The map points to the Sun Bowl, one of the bigger landmarks in the area, but just walk down a block or two - when walking south, it's on the right side on the second floor.)

I had run into the proprietor, Matt Bloch, at PAX East earlier this year, where he had laid out the concept. Rather than solely focusing on Japanese retro games, it pays respect to both Western and Eastern classic gaming. There are a number of TVs hooked up at the bar, each one with two connected systems, the American system and its Japanese counterpart, consisting of a NES and Famicom, a Super NES and a Super Famicom, as well as a Genesis and a Nintendo 64. There's a healthy selection of cartridges for all systems located nearby - roughly 40 per region/platform, as a guess - including most of the essential titles for the platforms, and some generally goofy stuff as well. In one of these pictures, you can see me "enjoying" a game of Super Back to the Future II. Amusingly, they also have a NES copy of Dragon Warrior IV, in case you want to pull a very, very long all nighter. Prior to my visit, I had never actually played a real Famicom, having just played cartridges with a converter on my NES, so I got to have a more authentic experience. There's also a TV behind the bar running footage of various NES games.

There is also a small library consisting of some English and Japanese books and magazines (including the HG101 Guide to Graphic Adventures, awesomely enough!) as well as larger TV in the corner with all of the current gen systems and a good selection of recent games. The place is nicely decorated with boxes from all manners of 8 and 16-bit titles too. It's not too large, but it's a very cool place and well worth checking out. Since the owner speaks English it's also a bit easier to navigate and relate to than the standard Japanese retro bar. Doors open at 8 PM. There is no official website yet, but you can check out their Facebook page. Here are a few more pictures, though these were taken from my iPod instead of my regular camera, so they're pretty crappy and blurry. Still, they show off the color dark neon color scheme decor:

I also discussed with Matt some of the issues of running a video game bar. Namely, the cafe Famicom City in Shibuya, which recently (and mysteriously) closed down a few months back. While they are in the processing of relocating and setting up, no one is entirely sure why they were shut down to begin with, but people we conjecturing that it was either because (A) it openly used "Famicom" in its name, or (B) because you had to pay to play the games. Most bars/cafes (including maid and cat cafes) charge you to hang around for a certain amount of time, in addition to paying for drinks, so maybe there was some kind of legality issues when it came to games. There's no cover charge at Space Station Osaka, so there's no issues with that.

It also made me wistful that such a place would open up in the US. It might be able to function in New York City, and I'm surprised something like this hasn't already popped up amidst all of the trendy Japanese spots around St. Mark's Place (and no, Barcade in Brooklyn or the new location in Jersey City doesn't count, since arcade games have been part of the bar scene since practically the inception, but consoles haven't), but the distribution of liquor licenses here in New Jersey can make it difficult for a regular joe to set up shop. I'm not sure about the rest of the USA, but the number of liquor licenses is limited to each municipality, which is usually based on the number of residents. You cannot simply apply for one either - you have to obtain it from someone who already has one, which usually requires going through a broker and paying a substantial amount of cash. (By substantial, I mean often in the six digits.) There have been cases where corporations come in and have tried to bully location establishments out of their licenses - like the world really needs another Applebees - and as such the startup costs make it extremely difficult to pull off. I've seen places like this pop up in London too, like LOADING, and it's a shame that various liquor regulations have drastically reduces the viability of such operations. Beer and sports have long gone together, so the concept of liquor and video games isn't that far off - why should it be so difficult to be able to hang out with a bunch of friends in a common place, play video games and get sloshed?

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Update 8/20 - El Dorado Denki, Jigoku no Renshuu Mondai, Satazius, Hermie Hopperhead, Astal

Today's one of those updates where I alienate pretty much everyone in favor of following my own obtuse interests. When I was on vacation I found a series of books that detailed, in depth, numerous early Japanese computer adventure and RPGs, which I find fascinating. For now, I've featured two of the more interesting ones: El Dorado Denki, published by Enix back in 1985, which features a copious helping of Amazonian catgirls (NSFW warning on this one), and Jigoku no Renshuu Mondai, where you play as an angel exploring hell and meet up with famous celebrities like John Lennon, Marilyn Monroe and someone who appears to be Jesus. Hmm. (We also have a whole classification of games where you explore hell.) It's also been awhile since we've covered any doujin stuff, so here's a review of Satazius, a Gradius-inspired shooter that also takes several pages out of other classic shooters. It was also one of the only non-Touhou doujin games I could still find on store shelves everywhere. I have nothing against the games, technically, but it sort of feels like a plague over there.

Coincidentally, we have two more articles that fit into a vague theme: Astal, from Sega, and Hermie Hopperhead, from Sony. Both are 2D sidescrollers released in the early days of each party's respective 32-bit systems to demonstrate their sprite handling capabilities. Astal flopped and no one has heard from him again, while Sony never even bothered to bring Hermie to America, despite the many protests by the magazine Die Hard Game Fan. Admittedly, neither game is brilliant, although Astal is quite pretty. And we're catching up with the 21st Century Pinball article, adding pages 3 and 4 (there will be 8 total), including a look at the splendid Pinball World. Your Weekly Kusoge is Blomby Car, an overhead arcade racer with a puzzling name from some company no one has heard of. It's not an abjectly terrible game, but it does have a hilariously tenuous grasp on important things like "color" and "physics" which make it feel somewhat odd.

Also, the fine folks at Adventure Classic Gaming posted an interview with me about the adventure game book you see advertised at the top. It's mostly about the adventure game scene as it was then and is now, but also details some of the history behind the site, too.

Finally, we'd like to pay our respects to composer Ryu Umemoto, who unfortunately passed away earlier this week at a young age of 37. Although he had been composing for a long time, scoring adventure titles like YU-NO and Eve Burst Error, he had only recently found international recognition with his works on Cave games like Espgaluda II Black Label, Akai Katana, Nin2-Jump, and Mushihime-sama Futari Ver 1.5. His contributions to the video game music scene will be sorely missed, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family.

Mr. Gimmick review in EGM July 1992

I've been prepping an article on Sunsoft's excellent Famicom title Gimmick!, which very almost made it to the United States back in 1992 under the name Mr. Gimmick, but was cancelled. However, it was released in Scandanavia in very limited quantities, and it was reviewed in the July 1992 issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly. (The NTSC prototype ROM has also been dumped, but apparently you can only play it for now by purchasing a $45 repro cart.) At any rate, I was curious what EGM had to say about the game, but couldn't find anything on the net other than the scores, which were surprisingly low. However, I found the mag in my stack o' mags in the attic and scanned it, for all to be ashamed at what a terrible magazine it was back then.

The full text is transcribed below:

Mr. Gimmick is Sunsoft's latest NES title. You play the part of Mr. Gimmick, a green blob with special magical gifts. His main weapon is a mystical star that forms over his head to seek out enemies. Collect bottles that give Mr. Gimmick new powers like fireballs, invincibility, and powerful bombs. The five levels are beautifully detailed with pastel colors while the bosses will present quite a challenge to Mr. Gimmick.

Steve: Here's a game with a cool theme that could have been explored in a hundred different ways. Instead it's a repetitive attempt at the action genre with difficult that is obviously geared to the wee sprites. Kids games don't have to be completely lacking, however, and more time could made this one a winner. 5

Ed: OK, so it looks cutesy and seems like a great game for a 7 year old, but wait. Instead, you get a very challenging game that requires a great deal of technique. It starts off easy, but that is only practice. Get farther into the game and you'll have quite a challenge. Definitely a sleeper. Give this one a try! 8

Martin: Mr. Gimmick has a few cool options to the game play and the cute theme will attract younger players. I can't get excited about moving a little booger around the screen though. The graphics are OK and the sounds are decent but other that that [sic] the game play is very simple and needs more variety. Not bad, but not great. 5

Sushi-X: Mr. Gimmick is one of those games that the kiddies can relate to. The levels are nicely detailed for a NES game but with only five levels the variety just isn't there. The music is kind of catchy but wears this after a while. The game plays rather well however. The score would have been higher if it wasn't so easy. 4

Okay, you have to understand that most of the above is factually incorrect. Gimmick! is not only a brilliant game (if you can't wait for the article, then watch this excellent annotated longplay), but it's also ridiculously difficult. Like, up to the levels of Ninja Gaiden and Battletoads difficult. Three out of the four reviewers clearly didn't play the game for any length of time, if at all, only to dismiss it as "kid" stuff because it looks bright and cutesy. There are also six levels (seven if you count the hidden final stage, which requires incredible skill to get to) so they seemed to have based their review off an incorrect fact sheet of some kind.

This attitude was sadly rather common in the magazine, which at the time was very dismissive to 8-bit games in favor of flashier 16-bit titles. (The forgettable Super Bowling for the SNES in the same issue got a 7, 8, 8 and 7, for context.) You also have to remember that this same magazine actually gave numerical scores to each system in their yearly buyer's guide, which is possibly the biggest thing you could do to troll readers back them. Of course, there was no internet to complain, although that was one of the specific reasons why myself (or, rather, my father, since I was ten years old) subscribed to Video Games and Computer Entertainment over EGM.

Friday, August 19, 2011

R.I.P Ryu Umemoto (1974-2011)

Sadly, we all experience days with incredible loss and unimaginable pain, it's inevitable and you're never prepared. No matter how many times it happens, each loss feels as painful as the other, clouding your mind, blinding your conscious with emptiness and hopelessness. For me, today is one of those days.

On August 17th, Ryu Umemoto passed away quietly. He was 37 years old.

To me, Umemoto changed my views on music at a very early age, being one of the first examples I experienced that made video game music into the standout piece, and lifted the game itself onto a higher level of emotional and spiritual content. Umemoto was a never ending stream of music, taken from deep within his own heart and experiences in life. His music reflected him note for note, and its details were safely stored in his little notebook, holding diagrams and memoir notes of his life to use in his compositions. Over the last few years, we had become good friends, trusting each other with life and dreams, eager to help eachother to reach our highest potential in our respective careers. Umemoto was such an open, giving man, never letting anyone make him the center of attention, he was always interested in you, your life, your hopes, your dreams. As detailed on Hardcore Gaming 101, the time I spent with him is one which I will never forget, and his words and friendship is one I will always hold onto deep within.

Ryu Umemoto was also a big fan of Hardcore Gaming 101 after having been introduced to the site by our article about his stay in Europe. Frequently, we would send emails and tweets, and he would keep up with new articles, as well as go back and look at older material. He once expressed excitement over the potential of seeing Eve Burst Error or YUNO featured on the site. They will, my friend.

My heart is still heavy, and my emotions still a mess. Feelings of utter sadness come and go in midst of happy memories and great laughs. Ryu Umemoto was a friend and a brother, he will be missed.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Update 8/12 - Super Robot Taisen (Classic), Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, The Sword of Etheria, Mission: Impossible, Prinny, Prince of Persia

Alright! Now that my vacation and resulting super jet lag are pretty much over, we can resume updates as normal, more or less! First up is a fairly large look at the Super Robot Wars Classic series. There used to be a running joke in the forums where someone new would come in and want to write about this series, never minding that there are well over fifty installments and spinoffs, each of which require numerous screenshots. The whole project is a bit too expansive, but SilverStarRipper has done a fantastic job of compiling what's known in Japan as the "DC series", showing how they began up until the beginning of the PSOne era. It also includes a briefing on all of the various anime/mecha shows on display, since they're pretty much the crux of the series.

Next up is Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Capcom's brief series of 2D fighters and one of their few games that used the CPS3 system, outside of Street Fighter III and Warzard. The rub of this game is that each character has a partner called a "stand", visible next to your fighter, which attacks along with your character. It's based on the long-running manga series, of which only parts of which were translated into English (although that arc corresponds to this game, so it all fits together) and can affectionately be described as a goofier version of Fist of the North Star where most of the people are named after American pop bands. Also, one of the fighters is a tiny puppy (named after Iggy Pop).

On the Konami front, we have two titles: Mission: Impossible, one of the handful of US-exclusive NES titles put out by the company, which was based on the 1988 revamped TV series which was quickly forgotten. It takes some pages out of Metal Gear, though it's not terribly well balanced and is difficult to play. The other is slightly more recent, the PlayStation 2 action brawler The Sword of Etheria, otherwise known as OZ ~Over Zenith~ in Japan. I was familiar with this game for a long time, since the music was composed by Michiru Yamane and it sounded a lot like a Castlevania game, but only recently gave it a shot. Even though it was localized for European release, it never hit North America, which is a huge shame, because it's easily one of the better overlooked action titles on the system. It also has some very curious (and tenuous) inspirations from The Wizard of Oz.

Rounding out the rest of the regular updates is a review of the Prinny PSP games. We gave this its own separate article rather than updating the Nippon-Ichi SRPG page because, quite frankly, it needs a drastic overhaul, mostly to update with the numerous PSP ports the company's been released. The Prinny games are actually action-platformers as opposed to RPGs, and are quite brutal, in many ways reminiscent of Ghosts n' Goblins.

For our Spotlight Article, derboo dug out Prince of Persia and gave it a huge revamp. I had originally written these back when The Sands of Time had come out, and kept it updated through The Two Thrones, but then got overwhelmed and lost interest. This redone version not only picks up where I left off but drastically expands it with notes from Jordan Mechner's design diary, screenshot comparisons of over 25 different ports of the original game, reviews of the not-too-shabby Disney movie, and many strangely erotic cellphone ports. I can say with great confidence that this is now one of the best articles in the entirety of HG101, and is most definitely worth checking out.

Finally, Your Weekly Kusoge is Koneko Monogatari. They wouldn't make a terrible game about cute little kittens, would they? This sad Famicom Disk System distressingly answers that question. It mostly came to my attention because it's based off the movie known in English as The Adventures of Milo & Otis, as a licensed tie-in a bit different from the norm.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Who framed created PITMAN?

Read another thrilling crime story in Hardcore Gaming 101's Video Game History Casebook #3, in which private investigator derboo finally succeeds in solving his first case.

You might have read our article on the unique Game Boy puzzle game Catrap from last year. It contains a lot of research on the game's origins—in Japan the game is known as PITMAN, and constitutes a remake/sequel to a very old game that designer Yutaka Isokawa submitted to a magazine called Oh!MZ back in 1985. With its source code printed, the game spawned a number of adaptions in the following months and apparently became popular enough in Japan to warrant the revival five years later, as well as an inofficial GBA remake in 2004 and a number of mobile games.

So far little story is going along nicely, until a reader named hitchhikr contributed a post on our forums that threatens to shatter its very foundation: In 2004, he made an MS-DOS port of PITMAN, not based on Isokawa's code, but rather a version that one Sylvain Bizoirre, founder of, had programmed to demo his own interpreter MBasic in 2001.

The catch: A little comment at the top of the 2001 source code saying "a MBasic adaptation from a game I wrote for the Sharp MZ 80K computer in march 1984." Isokawa's PITMAN was printed in August 1985, but his HuBasic source code for the Sharp MZ-700 and MZ-1500 models is labeled 1985.3, still a whole year after the date given by Bizoirre. Neither mentions an original version or even an inspiration, that would make one of the two guilty of plagiarism. But is PITMAN a French game or a Japanese game?

Although mostly identical in their gameplay mechanics, the HuBasic and MBasic source codes are structure very differently—almost as if either version was programmed without seeing the source code of the other, despite both being freely viewable, as Basic programs used to be compiled at runtime with pretty much all 8-bit home computers. The binary level data, however, is exactly the same—save for the fact that Bizzoire's game ends after 22 levels, while Isokawa made it a whooping 50, which would favor the notion that his game could be an upgrade of Bizzoire's. Both feature a level editor (which the 2004 DOS version by hitchhikr omits).

Now what could each programmer's motives look like? Bizoirre wouldn't have much of a reason to consciously fake authorship—in 2001 he just included PITMAN as a simple program to demo his interpreter, nothing important. That also means, however, that he not necessarily would have cared much about its exact origins—he made have found the code among his old files, confused the date, forgotten that he had based it on another's code. Just a bit far fetched, but not impossible.

The stakes were a bit higher on Isokawa's end, at least after his code was printed in the magazine: PITMAN, so it appears, became the most meaningful work in his portfolio until today. Revealing that the game that essentially kickstarted his professional career was in fact a mere convertion at this point probably would have had serious consequences.

Pitmania Unlimited (Mobile)

"Geez, derboo!" You might wanna say after all this fishing in the dark. "Just shut up and ask the guys, willya?!" Well, it's not like I didn't try. Unfortunately, Sylvain Bizoirre apparently has not so long ago made major changes to his life, cutting his ties to the retro computer community entirely. Yutaka Isokawa keeps an online presence, though he stopped posting in fall 2010 and I couldn't get any reply to my emails. It's as if both have fallen off the face of the earth just in time to escape my questioning.

We're nonetheless getting to our happy ending, though, as one keyphrase finally came to my mind: Circulation of Knowledge!

The question remains, after all, as to how Isokawa would have learned about Bizoirre's game in the first place, or vice versa. The French programmer at one point contributed a bunch of photos and coverscans of the Oh!MZ magazine to a Sharp MZ fan page, which shows that he at one point probably had access to the 1985 version. (The collection in the last photo looks large enough to be complete.) If he had seen his game claimed by someone else, wouldn't that have him caused to react in any way? Given, in the 80's (though it is not known when Bizoirre would have acquired the magazines, there has to have been some kind of information flow) it would have been much more difficult to communicate. If Isokawa on the other hand indeed took Bizzoire's game and built upon it, how would he have known about a French homebrew game to begin with?

As it turns out Sylvain Bizoirre used to be president of the French Sharp User Club, the Sharpentiers, from 1982-1986, and editor to the club's own magazine focused on the Japanese manufacturer's range of computers. La Revue des Sharpentiers is fortunately preserved online (at least from issue #5, but #13 contains a complete index of past contents), and combing through the issues finally brought up some result in issue #15—November 1985.

"PITMAN est un jeu inspiré d'une revue japonaise et adapté au S.BASIC. Il fonctionne donc sur MZ 700 et MZ 800 en mode 700 avec BASIC 700."

or translated into English:

"PITMAN is a game inspired from a Japanese magazine and adapted to S.BASIC. It works with MZ 700 and MZ 800 in 700 mode with BASIC 700."

This conversion retains the structure of Isokawa's original code, and also retains his credits. Although it remains a mystery why Bizoirre decided to leave that out in his 2001 reprogrammed version, and how did he get the March 1984 date, we can now safely assert that Yutaka Isokawa is indeed the original creator of PITMAN.

Catrap (Game Boy)

Source Codes:
Isokawa's Original HuBasic Source Code scanned from Oh!MZ August 1985
French S.Basic Source Code from Sharpentiers #15 (November 1985)
Bizoirre's MBasic Source Code from January 2001

I'm trying to get the original version running in an emulator, but it's proving more difficult than I thought, because I can't access many of the necessary special characters in HuBasic, as it replaces their mappings with its own functions. Might try my luck with the French S.Basic version later...

Friday, August 5, 2011

Video game innovations

A while ago I wrote about the German games mag M!Games and their monthly column "Who invented it?" Over the past two years they've collected an impressive amount of who-did-it-first information. Even for those that cannot read the magazine itself, this is worth having around for reference, so here is a complete list of the topics covered so far and their respective pioneers. I didn't to any additional research, all credit belongs to M!Games. This also means they take the credit for mistakes, though, only corrections I knew from the top of my head are included in the notes further down below, so be sure to check them out in the expanded text. Have fun:

06/2009 Grappling Hook: Spider-Man (1982), Bionic Commando (1987) *
07/2009 Heroine: Ms. Pac-Man (1981) *
08/2009 Destructible Environments: Space Invaders (1978)
09/2009 Voice Over: Crazy Climber, Berzerk, King & Balloon (1980) *
10/2009 Parallel Worlds: Yume Koujou Doki Doki Panic (1987)
11/2009 Censorship: Commando vs. Space Invaders (1985) *
12/2009 Rockstar Attitude: Journey (1983)
01/2010 Optional Extra Weapons: Sundance (1979)
02/2010 Double Jump: Dragon Buster (1984) *
03/2010 Boss: Phoenix (1980)
04/2010 Quick Time Event: Dynamite Deka (1996) *
05/2010 Literature Adaptions: El Diablero, The Hobbit (1982)
06/2010 Level Editor: Pinball Construction Set, Lode Runner (1983)
07/2010 Splitscreen: Drag Race (1977) *
08/2010 Sniper Rifle: Hostages (1988)
09/2010 Slow Motion: Requiem: Avenging Angel (1999) *
10/2010 Sidekick: Planetfall (1983)
11/2010 Auto Health Regen: Strontium Dog and the Death Gauntlet (1984), U.N. Squadron (1992) *
12/2010 Saving: Colossal Cave Adventure (1975) *
01/2011 Aim Assist: Cyber-Cop (1992)
02/2011 Holding onto ledges: Strider (1989) *
03/2011 Dolby Surround Sound: King Arthur's World (1992) *
04/2011 Special Attacks in a fighting game: Street Fighter (1987) *
05/2011 Licensed Game: Superman (1978)
06/2011 Blood: Shark Attack (1981)
07/2011 Co-op: Space Invaders (1978) *
08/2011 Optional Vehicle Use: Front Line (1982) *
09/2011 Ragdoll Physics: Motocross Madness (1998)

06/2009: they put Bionic Commando on the podium because it wasn't a central element in Spider-Man, which is somewhat inconsistent with later entries
07/2009: debatable: the advertising for Crazy Balloon (1980) suggests a female protagonist, but she isn't actually recognizable on screen.
09/2009: all released in 1980, they didn't know which came first
10/2009: means censorship in Germany vs. original versions
02/2010: Jump Bug (1981) and Antarctic Adventure (1983) are named for letting you influence the jump length in mid-air
04/2010: WRONG: Warp's D (1995) already contains one QTE scene. Dragon's Lair (1983) is disqualified because the main gameplay relies on the mechanic we now know as QTE rather than having special sequences, even Ralph Baer and Howard Morrison's Simon (1978) is mentioned
07/2010: Astro Race (1973) already has the players on seperate portions of the screen, but there's no scrolling or other indicator as to the players' physical location in the game world
09/2010: WRONG: The watch item in Castlevania: Rondo of Blood (1993) already slows down time (while it merely stopped enemy movement in previous titles), Time Trax (1994) also gave the player the power to slow down time. Requiem, by the way was released March 31st, incidentally the exact same day The Matrix opens in cinemas
11/2010: they originally named U.N. Squadron (SNES version only), but corrected themselves in the following issue
12/2010: on home consoles: The Legend of Zelda (1987)
02/2011: WRONG: Fire Rock (1988) for the FDS predates it, as well as Ninja Gaiden (also 1988 in Japan), Prince of Persia (1989) is mentioned by M!Games, but dismissed because they're looking for a life-saving automatic mechanic.
03/2011: it's the first game with officially declared Dolby Surround, they suspect that the effect was there inofficially in earlier games
04/2011: kinda WRONG: Galactic Warriors (1985) features three playable characters, each with a standard punch & kick, but also an individual special attack, but it's not executed by a special command
07/2011: not in the original arcade version, first introduced with the Atari VCS port
08/2011: WRONG: Ultima (1980) let players travel around on horses, boats, even jet cars and space shuttles. Some - but not all - of them were required to solve the game