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  • Doing Genpei Toumaden the score-thrifty way

    Posted on April 24th, 2013 keving 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.

  • Let’s talk about Popeye’s contribution to video-game history

    Posted on April 17th, 2013 keving 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.)

     

  • Chimera Beast (Jaleco, 1993)

    Posted on April 15th, 2013 keving 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.)

    chimera beast

     

    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).

  • Shinobi (Sega, November 1987)

    Posted on May 19th, 2011 keving 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.)

  • Rastan Saga (Taito, March 1987)

    Posted on May 17th, 2011 keving 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.

  • Did you enjoy your adventure full of actions?

    Posted on May 6th, 2011 keving 6 comments

    Rocket Coaster is a compilation of software packages released by Taito for their D3BOS arcade system, which Taito first introduced in 1991 despite what that previous link says. Short for “Dynamic Direct Dimension Burst Out System,” the hardware combined a fully-enclosed motion simulator, a laserdisc player, and some 68000-based hardware to allow for interactive rides and the like — a VT simulator of sorts, a genre that had a mild boom in the early ’90s with things like Virtuality and Sega’s R-360 system.

    Unlike the R-360, though, Taito’s D3BOS allowed for no user input — it was just a ride, allowing punters to climb in, strap on, and enjoy getting whirled around a bit as they watched the best CGI 1991 could offer them. Titles were themed along the lines of roller coasters, dune buggies, spaceships, and even skiing. Although there was no gameplay whatsoever, the ride allowed two people to climb on at the same time, which I suppose makes it good if you’re out on a date in Odaiba or somesuch.

    The system was deployed chiefly in Taito-owned arcades and Cannonball City, a small indoor theme park the company ran in Machida, Tokyo that attempted to recreate the atmosphere of an American city. The complex only lasted a year or so, and the system — which sold for around 15 to 20 million yen each — lasted about as long.

    Chances are the D3BOS would be completely forgotten were it not for Taito taking some of the footage they made for it and repackaging it into Rocket Coaster, a racing game for Pioneer’s LaserActive system. A complete playthrough is above. It’s half an hour long, but if you like early CGI and background music with a lot of orchestral hits, it’s a must-watch.

  • Don’t do that

    Posted on August 4th, 2010 keving 16 comments

    Sorry I haven’t updated much. I’ve had a lot of work lately. That and I had to beat La-Mulana, because my friend did and I have to prove that I’m still better than him.

    I do want to continue with the Gradius hijinx, though, and so here’s a video of a bug from the original Bubble System version. Essentially, if you defeat the boss of stage 6 before the scrolling stops, the game moves on to stage 7 while retaining the enemy data from the old level. This leads to assorted strange things. The bug was fixed for the later ROM-based releases.

  • Ten million points

    Posted on July 28th, 2010 keving 4 comments

    I’d like to talk about Gradius for the next few entries.

    The original Gradius arcade game, officially released May 29, 1985 to arcades, is a milestone to both the genre and the industry at large. Outside of Japan, though, I think a lot of people are more likely familiar with the NES port, which is frankly not all that great when compared to the other ones that hit Japan home systems — the MSX version is wonderful, for example, but I’ll get to that later.

    Gradius is also the sort of game where nothing random ever occurs, and you can therefore put together patterns to get your ship through the entire game without going anywhere near danger. You can see the basic pattern for the first loop through the game in the video above, a simple “I busted out my PCB for the first time in a while” job that thankfully includes the entire “Morning Music” startup sequence.

    In the mid-80s, achieving a score of 10,000,000 points in Gradius was seen as something of a status symbol. The feat takes about 7-8 hours of straight playing and requires you to beat the game and loop through the stages 20 to 21 times, depending on how diligent you are with padding your score when possible.

    When Gradius came out, this was seen as a superhuman feat, because when you die, you lose all power-ups and restart at a checkpoint which often ensured another rapid death. This is especially true in the second or third loops, where for a while, gamers considered it completely impossible to recover and survive if you died after certain checkpoints. Since Gradius is strictly deterministic, however, arcade maniacs eventually figured out patterns for how to “recover” from every checkpoint in every level of the game — pull them off correctly, and you’re guaranteed to survive long enough to get your power-ups back every time. These patterns were originally disseminiated in assorted self-published doujinshi, then reprinted in monthly mag Gamest when it debuted in 1986. They made achieving 10 million points less of a god-like challenge and more of an Asteroids or Defender-like test of concentration and perseverence.

    The above video is an example of a ten-million-point run, sped up 9x so you can watch the whole thing in about 45 minutes. The player dies several times during the session, but has no problem reaching the mark because he’s got the patterns ridiculously well down for every stage. It’s an oddly mesmerizing movie to watch.

  • Out Run (Sega, September 1986)

    Posted on March 30th, 2010 keving 5 comments

    What red-blooded ’80s boy, no matter which side of the ocean he lived near, didn’t have a poster of the Ferrari Testarossa in his bedroom? One that always depicted the supercar of all supercars framed around a matte-black background, maybe with a few white clouds of smoke around the sides for effect? Anyone who didn’t was a dweeb, a dork, a Sega Master System owner, and no doubt they’re the ones busing your table at the Steakountry Buffet this evening. Make sure to give them a decent tip, because c’mon, man, they had a hard life, they’re driving beige Camrys, they don’t know no better.

    Since few of us have actually sat inside a Testarossa, it’s not well-known that the Italian speedster can operate at its top spec speed of 294 km/h on literally any type of road surface — tarmac, sand, grass, the Pacific Ocean. Yes, the Ferrari Testarossa is fully submersible. Italy, you know, it’s a very high-water-table country. Flash floods kind of creep up on you. It’s a safety feature.

    Yu Suzuki, being a man of refined automobile tastes, naturally knew that. That’s why, if you carefully shift gears in a high-low-high pattern on the edge of the road, you can run over any sort of terrain you like in Out Run for up to seven seconds without any speed penalty while the game tries to figure out where you’re going. It’s a feature (I wouldn’t dare call it a bug, for doing so would suggest that the Testarossa is not the divine vehicle for the soul which it is) that became household knowlege in Japan after Gamest and other mags brought it up in their strategy guides in 1987.

    Unfortunately, the timing behind this move can be pretty tricky, and most gamers flailed away at the arcade cabinet’s gearshift like a hummingbird trying to search for just the right technique. This led to a lot of broken gearshifts and signs in Japanese arcades threatening to kick punters out of the establishment for gia-gacha (gear-rattling) play. MAME, and automatic rapid-fire, make it a lot easier these days.

    The same trick can also be pulled off in Turbo Out Run, but in no other Out Run game after that — an homage to the original Testarossa model getting phased out of production in 1991, no doubt. Right? Right?

  • Rad Mobile (Sega, February 1991)

    Posted on March 9th, 2010 keving 25 comments

    I’ve got fond memories of this. It wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that it’s my favorite “sprite-scaling” arcade racer of all time; certainly it’s the pinnacle of the sub-genre, which got its start with Out Run back in 1986. It’s packed with awesome little details, from the hilarious voice work to the way your avatar adjusts his gloves right after the start of the game — and no, you can’t control the car while he’s doing this.

    The first game on Sega’s System 32 platform (and therefore the first 32-bit arcade game ever), Rad Mobile is neat partly because of its sheer length. A successful trip through Out Run takes about six to eight minutes; crossing the USA in Rad Mobile takes up to eighteen. It’s a test of concentration, especially in the later stages where the roads narrow and get packed full with cars driving at high speed and switching lanes without signaling — a very realistic simulation of East Coast traffic, even today.

    Sega released a port called Gale Racer for the Saturn in Japan, but it’s not very good — I mean, the cars are 3D models, for Chrissakes.

    Also worth noting: This game actually beat out Sonic the Hedgehog, the Genesis game, to market by about five months, making this (believe it or not) the character’s video-game debut. Wikipedia has no citation for this, but my copy of Famitsu DC’s Sega Arcade History — itself a collector’s item these days, going for 5000 yen or so in the aftermarket shops — confirms the dates.