Posted on April 30th, 2013 1 comment
I mentioned in Episode 1 of FUN that Masayuki Uemura, chief hardware designer for many of Nintendo’s consoles, did an interview with Weekly Playboy magazine in Japan last week to commemorate the Famicom’s 30th anniversary. (I said that the Famicom came out 1982 in the podcast; it was actually July of 1983.)
As Uemura explains in the interview, he began work on the console that became the Famicom in 1981, not long after Donkey Kong hit arcades:
“I was in the arcade-game development department, and the president at the time [Hiroshi Yamauchi] sent us a missive to ‘make something that’ll let you play arcade games on your home TV’. I, personally, really didn’t have any prospects of success.”
“The Game & Watch series was flying off the shelves at the time, so I figured Game & Watch was where our company was going to go for a while to come. Just the fact you could carry those around and play whenever you wanted, I thought that was huge. What’s more, they were taking more and more people away from my department to work on Game & Watch, so my team only had three people in it. So we were given this mission when it was already like we were fighting a losing battle. I still have my notes from the early stages of the project, but it’s filled with all of this pessimistic stuff, like ‘I don’t see any future in this’.”
Posted on April 26th, 2013 2 comments
Someone on the Something Awful Forums’ retro thread finally followed through on his threat to get a Famicom Titler, a device that a lot of collectors have heard of but few have seen in action. (I got to play with one once but it was years ago.)
Released by Sharp in 1989 (the third hardware device released by them under Nintendo license after the Twin Famicom and the C1 TV-and-FC-in-one), the Titler is a 43,000 yen monster that, in addition to being an FC, lets you edit home video and add assorted computer-generated audio and visual effects to them. There was a small boom in these sorts of amateur-oriented titling devices in 1980s Japan, mainly targeted to parents with camcorders who loved videotaping every major moment of their child’s life. (These people were everywhere. It’s no accident that America’s Funniest Videos was a concept originally licensed from Japanese TV. And speaking of which, did you know that the US-based stereotype of the Japanese tourist snapping pictures of everything he sees dates back to at least the 1930s?)
Along those lines, it’s got S-Video and composite audio/video inputs and outputs like a regular TV, as well as a full set of editing software when you select “Edit” with an on-console switch and turn the power on. The built-in software lets you do things like add scrolling messages to home videos, put in still graphic images (there’s a whole line of built-in themed images, ranging from “A day at the beach” to “Our child’s graduation” to “Tanabata“), or add voice-over narration. The user enters the content of message scrolls via the stylus and very tiny touch pad on the console itself; voice-overs are handled using the microphone on controller 2. Flipping the “superimpose” switch on the console puts your finished titling work on the video image. If you want, you can also play an FC game and superimpose that over the video too; the Titler displays your home videos wherever the FC is generating the color black.
Perhaps more interesting to collectors is the fact that the Famicom Titler is the only official Famicom console to have native S-Video output. To accomplish this, Sharp developed the RC2C05-99 chip, a version of the RP2C02 PPU used in the FC upgraded to provide RGB output. This RGB output is converted into composite or S-Video for output from the console. Getting the system to output straight RGB is a fairly straightforward modification, and some hardware hackers have even salvaged the Famicom Titler PPU in order to install it into regular FCs for convenience’s sake. (Due to this new PPU, a small handful of games (like Just Breed and Paperboy) are incompatible with the Titler, and a few others, like Bubble Bobble, have graphical glitches with their color palettes.)
The Titler’s existence was never greatly advertised, especially considering it came out just before the Super Famicom in Japan. Sharp offered brand-new systems in their catalogs until at least 1995, however, and a warehouse find circa 2000 led to a fairly large number of systems making their way to collectors over there as well. The prices have been edging up lately, though, and a complete-in-box sample went for 165,000 yen across 42 bids on Yahoo! Auctions Japan in January of this year, a price that even most Japanese collectors thought was way out of hand.
The above video is a small demonstration of what the Titler can do, including goofy still images, scrolly messages, and superimposing FC games on top of other video imagery. The original video is of After Burner for the SMS for…reasons.
Posted on April 24th, 2013 No comments
I figured out how to embed Nicovideo files into this site again! It’s a world-class party for all of us!
Genpei Toumaden is one of the most artistic games of the ’80s, one that still resonates with a lot of gamers over there. Impenetrably Japanese in a good way (as opposed to the possession-of-underage-material kind of way), it covers the exploits of the reincarnated Taira-no-Kagekiyo as he tries to recover the three sacred treasures of Japan and defeat his historical nemeses — Minamoto-no-Yoshitsune (the laughy guy who jumps around and throws knives), Benkei (the huge guy), and Minamoto-no-Yoritomo (the last boss).
It’s trivial to get a high score in Genpei, since the game’s packed with little bugs and exploits you can use to play forever and vex the arcade operator. Instead, some gamers have gone on a quest to finish the game with the lowest score possible, an effort that’s been going on for a couple decades now. (These efforts are further inspired by the fact that a lot of things you’d expect to award you points don’t, such as taking energy-recovery candles and defeating Yoritomo.)
The human record is more-or-less 8200 points, which has been refined to the point where the ReplayBurners video posted a couple weeks back includes a table of every point in the game where Kagekiyo has the terrible misfortune of scoring some points. With the power of tools, however, the TASser above has brought that down to 5800 points — scoring points only for nabbing the three required treasures, defeating Benkei three times, and slashing a frog. (He claims that he’ll try getting rid of the frog later, but ran into desyncing problems midway this time around.)
Along the way, he dodges every other major enemy in the game, gets within one candlewick’s length of dying multiple times, and generally makes the numerous denizens of Japanese mythology look like idiots.
Even if you don’t get what’s going on, you gotta love the music, penned by the incredibly prolific Norio Nakagata.
Posted on April 17th, 2013 No comments
Happy “now we can all play EarthBound cheaply and legally” day! I doubt this will do much to lower the price of complete-in-box examples of the game — collectors are always going to be loons that way — but the days of your beat-up loose cartridge with the ripped label fetching you $120 will hopefully be over for a few years, at least.
To celebrate, here’s a TAS from a couple iterations ago. This is no longer the fastest, but I find it the most entertaining in terms of the rather surprising turn it takes just before input ends.
Note: Of course, don’t watch this if you care about having the ending spoiled to you. Mother fans are anal that way.
Posted on April 17th, 2013 3 comments
Here’s the first Popeye video game ever made — the Game & Watch one, which Nintendo officially released in August of 1981. This was five months after the arcade release of Donkey Kong and about half a year before Donkey Kong Jr.
It’s fairly well known at this point that Donkey Kong got its start because Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi had to come up with a new game to replace the slow-selling Radar Scope. What’s lesser-known is that this replacement game was originally meant to star characters from the Popeye cartoons, a license that Nintendo had retained for a number of years by that point. What’s even lesser-known than that is that the Popeye world — in particular, the 1934 short “A Dream Walking” — was the direct inspiration for the entire game.
Here’s Yokoi talking about it, as quoted in the book Game no chichi – Yokoi Gunpei Den, a biography published in 2007:
“There was this Popeye cartoon where Olive was sleepwalking or something, and she was walking through a construction site. Whenever it looked like she was just about to step off her foothold, there’d be this other platform that would show up just in time. That scene really impressed me. I figured we could do a lot with a construction site, so that’s where we took Popeye. Once we decided to have a construction site be the game background, Miyamoto suggested that we have the player dodge barrels rolling down from up above. At that point in time, the ladders were there to just allow you to dodge the rolling barrels; once they passed by, you’d climb back down and then the platform you were on would start climbing again. It was a pretty simple idea at first.
You had Popeye on the bottom left, then Bluto and Olive up top. The question was how to get players to realize that they were supposed to get Popeye climbing upward. We first figured that if it looked like Olive was kidnapped, the player would naturally bring Popeye closer to her. Still, Miyamoto gave a lot of thought to players who still wouldn’t quite realize this what to do. Ultimately he decided that while you were jumping over barrels coming at you from above, you’d also have fire coming at you from behind, chasing you. You’d be forced to climb upward no matter what. Thus, the screen setup itself provided a sort of how-to-play description for the player.”
That book says Nintendo had to scrap Popeye — and Miyamoto then had to invent Jumpman, Pauline and DK — because they couldn’t get clearance in time from King Features Syndicate. I could have sworn I read somewhere that Nintendo themselves made the decision because the arcade board didn’t have high enough resolution to realistically portray Popeye’s likeness in sprite form. This is backed up by the fact that the 1982 Popeye arcade game features very high-res sprites for the time. I have no way of backing up this statement, though, since I probably read it 15 years ago and it was in some doujin publication that I can’t remember the name of any longer. Oh well. Sounds plausible, at least.
(Miyamoto himself talks about this a little in the Iwata Asks for New Super Mario Bros. Wii, too.)
Posted on April 15th, 2013 2 comments
Chimera Beast is a very obscure shooter, and not just because it’s a ’90s arcade game released by Jaleco. It’s even more obscure than that, and that’s probably why the fact that it’s currently available for play at the Mikado arcade in the Takadanobaba section of Tokyo is actual news to some people.
As the opening demo explains, you are an “Eater,” a grotesque alien creature who can either shoot down enemies or consume them in order to power up its body. Different foes transform your guy’s shape in different ways, giving him a selection of fire patterns and charged attacks. (Consuming an enemy also recovers a little energy.)
It seems like a forgettable shooter, given the relatively large size of your ship and the general blandness that generally pervades Jaleco products from the early ’90s. However, it actually demands a lot of precision. Bullets fly all over the place in later stages, but both your tail and the mandible-like thing you can shoot by pressing the “consume” button cancels enemy shots, so you have to strike a balance between careful positioning and delicate maneuvering in order to keep your life consumption as low as possible.
That’s probably why it never got released in Japan, where it was shown off at the AOU show in 1993 and subsequently disappeared despite being 100% complete. Japanese sources claim it was released overseas, but MAME lists it as “prototype” and I certainly never saw it in the Philadelphia-area arcades of 1993. (Or any other Jaleco title, either. They may have never had a distributor for the region, because I honestly can’t think of one I played before MAME came along. It was news to me that Astyanax was originally an arcade title.)
Normally something like an old arcade board from an obscure shooter showing up at a Tokyo arcade wouldn’t be news. But the debut has been accompanied by the launch of a mystery Twitter account, @chimerabeast, that’s apparently manned by one of the developers. He’s been uploading pages from the original design document and fielding questions from the general public, some of which are maniacs and/or masochists when it comes to playing this game down to the roots.
Have a poke around if you’re interested in more detail after watching the video above, which gets the “good ending” (although it requires a few minutes’ worth of boring procedure before defeating the last boss in order to get it).
Posted on April 8th, 2013 2 comments
Called Yoshi’s Road Hunting in Japan, which is a much apter name I think. The landscape is so flat and barren, I’d be hard pressed to call it a safari really, any more than I would call a trip across I-70 in Kansas that.
Yoshi’s Safari, that most whimsical and cartoony of the games that supported the Super Scope 6 TV-bazooka, is pretty easy. With a real-life rifle, anyone of average coordination can beat it in two or three hours. Yet the TAS (freshly posted today) takes distressingly long to get all the way through. Ah well.
The game is also worth noting because the American release in the fall of ’93 marks the first time Nintendo of America called Princess Peach “Princess Peach”, a fair while before Super Mario 64 cleared the air once and for all. She had been called that in Japan since ’85, but you know the sort of goofy stuff NES manual writers came up with all the time…
Posted on April 6th, 2013 10 comments
The story of Lode Runner on the Famicom — the game that turned Hudson from a computer-oriented developer to a console-oriented one for the rest of its existence — begins in 1983, when president Yuji Kudo decided that they needed to start making games for Nintendo’s new console. Toshiyuki Takahashi, the “Master” of all 8-bit gaming in Japan and a guy working in Hudson’s sales department at the time, wrote about it on his blog a week ago.
“Game cartridges were all manufactured at Nintendo’s factory, and you needed to pay half the manufacturing costs at the time of making the order and half on delivery. This took a vast amount of money, and the figures we had dangling before us were such that we’d easily go under if it didn’t sell. So, naturally, we needed a known quantity whose popularity we could be sure of.”
Having been involved with games for Japan’s assorted 8-bit PCs for several years by that point, Hudson had numerous close connections with American game publishers. They decided to pore through the licenses they had at the time and port one of them to the Famicom.
“As we made our selections, one of our criteria was that it needed to have a lot of stages. Most games in 1983 basically just had three stages that repeated over and over again. It was hard to fit any more into the limited memory space of the time, but we figured that if we were going to go in on this, we needed something that would surprise gamers. So we wanted a game with lots of stages, that still didn’t take up a lot of memory, and would probably become popular. Around that time, Lode Runner was just beginning to get a worldwide following, so that was a top candidate from the start.”
Lode Runner was ideal for this sort of thing since its simple game world of blocks, bricks, and ladders could be easily compressed to a small space. However Shinichi Nakamoto, the programmer who handled the Lode Runner port and went on to be involved in many other FC and PC Engine titles, wasn’t convinced.
“He said that giving it the same-looking screen as on the PC wouldn’t be acceptable for kids. He ported it so that the character sprites were the same size as in other games, which had the side effect of making each stage too big for a single screen. That’s why he had it scroll right and left, and this turned out to be a big hit within the office. Lode Runner on a single screen offered a mixture of action and puzzle elements, but this way, you also had the thrill of not knowing when an enemy robot might pop up from outside the screen. It made it more fun as a game. However, Brøderbund needed some convincing — they said ‘This isn’t Lode Runner‘. I don’t know exactly how they were convinced to come around, but I think it was just our president constantly hammering on them what our impressions were inside the office.”
Development of the Famicom Lode Runner reached its closing stages in the spring of 1984.
“At the time, in order to get Lode Runner distributed, we had to go through a toy wholesaler called Shoshinkai which Nintendo introduced us to. Myself and Nakano, my boss in the sales department, went around to all the wholesalers across Japan in order to introduce the product to them. Nakano could have gone by himself but we thought it best to show the game in action as we did our little presentation, so I put on a business site and basically went on these day trips around Japan daily for about two weeks. And the thing everyone always asked us was ‘Isn’t the Famicom from Nintendo? Are you sure you can just make games for it?’ There was not much understanding of the concept of a third party yet in 1984. Nakano would have to explain that we had a license from Nintendo and it was all on the up and up.
So while he was explaining this and outlining our sales plans and so forth, I’d play the game for them and answer questions they had. I had the impression that people really liked it, especially the fact that both this and Nuts & Milk (which we were showing off at the same time) had 50 stages and let kids make their own levels to boot in edit mode. With the level of orders we got, we probably could have placed an order for half a million cartridges and just raked it in, but with the sort of finances Hudson had to deal with at the time, we could only afford to produce 300,000 — and that was combined for both of those games.”
Hudson wound up going through this entire shipment of both Lode Runner and Nuts & Milk in about a month, midsummer 1984.
“After the launch, we had heard about this toy distributor conference being held at the Prince Hotel in Akasaka, so we brought in a TV and Famicom and held a presentation. There were four people — me, Nakano, Nakamoto, and Mr. Osato over in PR. So we did the whole thing, and after the end of it, one of the distributors asked us something like ‘You have a game packed with all of these hot-button features and you only produced 300,000 of them? Are you seriously trying to sell this, or what?’ I remember Nakano struggling to come up with an answer, because he couldn’t exactly lay out the whole truth to them.”
Posted on May 19th, 2011 2 comments
Sorry about all the videos lately. I keep on coming across games I want to talk about.
Shinobi might be my favorite among all the ’80s Sega arcade games. It’s a tough choice — it’s competing against both Space Harrier and Out Run, after all — but I have to go with this one. There’s no better personification of the era it’s from. It’s got 16-bit visuals, FM sound, side scrolling, and lots of ninjas. Yet it’s so much more refined than every other ninja game of the time. The music’s got this very smooth, muted groove to it that’s more Miami Vice than fighting game, and that reserved feel extends to the graphics, too — very few bright colors, no innocent bystanders, no trash on the ground, some kind of Warhol thing going on in the first stage’s background. In the flash and blare of late-’80s arcades, it stood out in the way that it didn’t stand out. Taito’s The Ninja Warriors is kind of similar in visual style, and I’d like to think that’s not an accident.
Like Gradius and Dragon Spirit, Shinobi is an arcade game that Japan’s Gamest magazine spent several issues in early 1988 dissecting apart like a frog in bio class. Nothing is random to enemy placement or movement patterns in this game, and as long as you’ve got a good memory and enough coordination, you can finish the entire game without remarkable trouble.
If you’re a master (like the guy who recorded this real-time play is), then you go through as many stages as you can without using a shuriken. I was in awe of this the first time I saw a guy do it at my local arcade over two decades ago. I didn’t think it was remotely possible, even though the idea should’ve occurred to me long ago — after all, the color-coded ninjas that appear starting in Mission 2 are a lot easier to defeat at close range with punches or your sword. All of the non-boss stages in this video are completed without using shuriken, although the player does use ninja magic strategically once or twice.
Humorously, not even this player can successfully complete any bonus stage apart from the first one. Even if you know the pattern, it requires the sort of precision last seen with some of the hairier Pac-Man routines Ken Uston printed in his book. (The player in this video gets killed by the very last guy in the third, though, heartbreakingly.)
This playthrough takes around 16 minutes, which is longer than the TAS record of 10:30 or so, but watching a human do this is a lot more fascinating to me. (You might want to look up the TAS on YouTube anyway, though. It features a very clever method for skipping most of the third boss battle.)
Posted on May 17th, 2011 1 comment
This playthrough of Rastan doesn’t have the highest visual clarity on the net, but it’s both very quickly played (while not losing a life) and is based off the Japanese version, which has a great deal of story content that was cut out for the US and European versions.
The symbolic music for this game, one that became quite a bit more popular in the US than Japan, was the debut effort of Masahiko Takahi (Mar.). He was involved with a number of Taito arcade titles in the late ’80s and early ’90s, including Night Striker and Superman, the arcade the one they released in 1989. He went freelance after that, and I’m having a lot of trouble finding out what he’s done since his Taito days, sadly.
Looking back, Rastan took a pretty standard gameplay formula and executed it to perfection. That’s still true today, even though a good player like this one can pretty much blow the game right open, making even the bosses look like fools.