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  • Fujiya Thinking Games v1.0

    Posted on June 28th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    I thought that The Gentle Physics and Science of Hazardous Materials is about as obscure as off-market Famicom releases got, but I was wrong!

    Not much of anything is known about Fujiya and the (apparent) series of unlicensed Famicom games they released in 1987. The cartridge here is Fujiya Famikase Series 3: Shikou Game Shu (Fujiya Famicom Cassette Series 3: Thought Games Collection), and despite being number 3 of a series, the other two have yet to be heard from.

    Shikou Game Shu is a collection of four games, basically: checkers, concentration, poker, and Othello. The Othello game has an option where you can define whether the player with the most pieces on the board at the end wins or loses…and that’s about all that’s unique about the game itself. You can see more screenshots on this page.

    Fujiya, consisting of two men named Maeda who listed their address and phone number on the title screen, also released a Famicom Disk System disk copier circa 1987. This copier program included a couple of card games as well.

    I came across this release while doing some research into Hacker International, the company that was a thorn on Nintendo’s side for much of the late 1980s in Japan, after CRV linked to an interview with its president. I’ll tackle that interview in a later post, but for now — hey, guess what, collectors, I just found another game you need to complete your collection!

  • Gimmick! (Sunsoft, 1/31/92)

    Posted on June 10th, 2010 keving 6 comments

    Ah, Gimmick! Tomomi Sakai’s gift to platform lovers everywhere. I’ll never forgive the Famitsu reviewer who gave it 5/10.

    If you’re not familiar with the game, you may wish to view Frank Cifaldi’s annotated introduction first so you can appreciate all the things the new, improved TAS above is doing. Most notable to me was the shortcut in Stage 2 that mostly eliminates that long, boring trip to the pirate ship. Bravo!

    (I’m sorry updates haven’t been more full-featured lately. Lot of personal work occupying my time.)

  • Captain Tsubasa II (Tecmo, 7/20/1990)

    Posted on June 9th, 2010 keving 2 comments

    July 2, 2010. Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

    Japan’s national soccer team, led by astonishing ace striker Tsubasa Ohzora, has laid the rest of Group E to waste, upsetting contender Holland thanks to to their so-called “Mirage Shot,” “Slider Cannon” and “Cyclone” shooting techniques. They have now made their way to the quarterfinals, and bookmakers the world over quiver in their boots as they realize the 300-to-1 laughing stocks may actually have a chance to run away with the Cup.

    Now it’s the quarterfinal round, and only one obstacle dares to stand before Ohzora and his team of spiky-haired phenoms — Brazil, winner of five World Cups and a team whose goaltender is known as the “Dark Illusion” for his dazzling defending.

    The following video is exactly what it’s going to be like.

    Captain Tsubasa II is an improvement over Tecmo Cup Soccer Game in so many ways that it inspired fits of jealousy in me, back in the day, that it never got an American release.

    The little 20-second loops the game’s peppered with are incredibly catchy. I didn’t know until now that the “METAL YUUKI” who did the music for this sequel is the same Metal Yuki (aka Mikio Sato) who now produces the Tokimeki Memorial series for Konami. Quite a career shift there.

  • Mega Game 101, the Action 52 for the 21st century

    Posted on May 25th, 2010 keving 1 comment

    The next PC Engine game on the docket is Tengai Makyō ZIRIA, which is going to take a while, so why don’t we discuss this little sucker for a bit instead? (I find that when you’re shopping for fun gadgets, Fry’s and the Apple Store have nothing on the local Vietnamese supermarket.)

    After poking around the Internet for information, it turns out that the Mega Game 101 (メガゲーム百一式) has been on sale in Japan since January, mainly at discount-store chain Don Quijote, for the equivalent of about twenty bucks. It’s yet another plug-and-play game controller that runs off a standard Famicom-compatible all-in-one chip. There’s no cartridge port, and the device is meant to run on three AA batteries. (There’s a port for a standard AC adapter, but you’ll be bored of the thing long before the batteries run out, so…)

    Dozens of these devices have floated around Chinatowns and Big Lots over the past decade, but this one’s unique because all 101 games are original. Not good, mind you, but at least original. Most of the games are very short, control jankily, and feature plinky out-of-tune music. Some either reset at the end or seemingly go unplayable after a couple stages, much like a lot of stuff in the infamous Action 52.

    I’m a bit surprised that someone hasn’t gone and dumped the ROM on this sucker yet, but until then, someone on Nicovideo has uploaded a video digest of all 101 games. Part 1 is above. You may notice that any music that doesn’t sound China-janky was ripped from other games — WONDER RABBIT uses the bonus-stage tune from Nintendo’s Devil World, for example. The hero of DUNE WAR is one of the foot soldiers you get to run over at the very beginning of Konami’s Jackal.

    I’m a big fan of the realistic graphics on the POLICE DOG LASY title screen. Stick around for MAD XMAS, too; it’s worth it.

    Here’s part 2. Game 51 is an advanced lawnmower simulator, which makes me wonder if the designer is a closet fan of the ZX Spectrum.

  • “Can’t Wait for the Pole Vault Cartridge”

    Posted on February 14th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    Chicago Tribune December 11, 1987 Friday, SPORTS FINAL EDITION

    Copyright 1987 Chicago Tribune Company

    Now you can pretend you’re Carl Lewis, and you won’t even have to get a funny haircut.

    Bandai America Inc. of Allendale, N.J., has come out with “Stadium Events,” the second in a series of game cartridges in which people can participate.

    The game cartridges are used in conjunction with the company’s Family Fun Fitness control mat, which hooks into a Nintendo Entertainment System, which, in turn, connects with your TV set. It’s much easier than it sounds.

    Here’s how it works: The control mat is covered with large circles. You run in place on two of them. As you run, a computer-produced figure runs on the TV screen. As the little video guy approaches the hurdles on the screen, for example, you jump. The little man jumps, too. Jump late, or hit the wrong dot, and your little video man takes a dive and skins his little video legs.

    “Stadium Events” features the 100-meter dash, hurdles, long jump and triple jump. You can compete alone or against a computer opponent or another person running on the control mat.

    The Nintendo system is about $80. Bandai’s basic set-the control mat and a game cartridge-is $70 to $80. “Stadium Events” is about $30. It’s a small price to pay for fun, exercise and the chance to really bug the neighbors.

    Evidently neighbor-bugging is an activity in high demand these days.
    (Thanx to Mr. Cifaldi)

  • Terrifying NES User-Made Levels

    Posted on February 12th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    I would not want to be friends with anyone who made levels like these.

  • How Knight Rider saved Activision (sort of)

    Posted on January 18th, 2010 keving 3 comments

    A neat passage from an interview with Activision Blizzard head Bobby Kotick, printed in the February ’10 Game Informer:

    We had a guy in Japan who was an intern in our Japanese office. A very aggressive guy — an American who spoke Japanese. He would sell things that we didn’t actually have the rights to. The first one he did was Knight Rider. He went to one of the Japanese licensees of Nintendo and sold them the rights to make a game based on Knight Rider. We didn’t own Knight Rider! The deal he did was “You make the game, you get to publish it in Japan, and Activision gets to publish it everywhere else.” So he calls us and says “I just sold Knight Rider” — it was to Tecmo, I think [actually Pack-in-Video]. I said “How much did you sell it for?” He said “$400,000.” I said “That’s incredible, but we don’t own Knight Rider!” So we had to go get the Knight Rider rights.

    It turned out that this was going to be our little business. We’re going to sell rights of things that we could own, and the Japanese publisher will make the game, and we’ll sell it to the rest of the world. We did a lot of these. The next one he did was this old ’60s show Combat! How we got this one, I don’t know, but he got another $200,000 advance. Then, the thing that kept the company alive for the rest of the year was Shanghai. We sold Shanghai to everyone. If you had an LCD screen on your microwave at home, we sold you Shanghai! That got us through the end of 1991.

    It’s a fascinating little peek into the 8-bit era of the game business — even though Kotick’s misremembering a fair bit (and GI apparently didn’t fact-check his tale). Knight Rider was actually sublicensed by Acclaim Entertainment, something that Tom Sloper (a veteran game-industry guy who worked for Activision at the time) confirmed in a GDRI interview. Maybe Kotick heard the story and confused it in his memory such that he thought he was the actual licensor; I dunno.

    He is right, certainly, that Activision got heavily involved with Japanese sub-licensing in the ensuing years. But they never released a Combat! game — Kotick’s probably got that confused with Thunderbirds, a ’60s kids’ TV show and an equally oddball choice for a game license. What? There was a Combat! game? Well, set me on fire and call me Bernie! Still, that came game out in 1995, in Japan only, a fair bit after the 1991 timeframe Kotick was talking about. My apologies; I was still thinking in 8-bit terms — Thunderbirds was a 1990 game, after all.

  • Gauntlet (NES)

    Posted on October 5th, 2009 keving 3 comments

    Still too busy for my own good, but I thought I would share the video that made me really interested in TASsing in general.

    In a console library full of impossible games, Tengen’s NES port of Gauntlet always struck me as the impossible-est. It’s one of my favorite Tengen titles, yes — I love the way it heavily rewrites video memory in order to get tons and tons of enemies onscreen, which made things jerky but much faster than the flicker mess of Gauntlet II’s NES port. But it’s also incredibly difficult and I never even knew where to start with it.

    And yet it’s possible to beat it in 14 minutes, assuming you were a robot. It’s mesmerizing!

    Back to normal updates sooooon!

  • Hidden messagin’

    Posted on August 29th, 2009 keving 45 comments

    Programmers for 8-bit consoles, whether American, European or Japanese, stuck hidden messages — sometimes accessible, sometimes non- — in their games all the time.

    One of my favorite has always been the one thrown into Pachi-Com (パチコン), a very primitive pachinko simulation released for the Famicom in 1985 from Toshiba EMI. You can load the .NES ROM up in any hex editor to see a long message right at the top of the image, written in romaji:


    Nearly five percent of the entire ROM space is taken up by this inaccessible message, which I’ll take the liberty of translating:


    Mr. GOUHARA from JPM planning does absolutely nothing but gives me all sorts of crap anyway. SHUT UP, YOU IDIOT!
    DEG/NANA/KOYA from company “T” [presumably Toshiba EMI]
    You RETARDS say one thing, then something else later all the time. I worked ALL NIGHT working on what you told me to; don’t say to me “it was better before”! Who the hell do you think is going to play this, with its boring bonus stage and the balls that get stuck? If you use SELECT to put the JOY right, that’ll make it +1, you idiot! You’re a sound company; quit ignoring pachinko sounds and trying to put these weird sounds in instead! Do you WANT it to be this hard to hear the balls?! I’ve left the PREVIOUS sounds, so edit this if you want to hear it. Set hex address AFFC to 1FAF and AFC4 to E0EE to get decent sounds. (Tiger_V & Kugi) Company “T”, you idiots! GOU, you retard! Anyone can tell you what good sound is!
    Does company “N” develop with company “I”‘s PROS80? I’m AMAZED they can make stuff on that weird (3” floppy disk) machine! Do they trace the holes when drawing art, too? [i.e. Do they program graphic data directly without the use of any artist tools?] If you’re sick of tracing holes, I’ll sell Bear’s art machine (ROM) and debugger for 5 million YEN… Tel 03-864-6880 That’s cheap if you want pretty art!!!
    Why did they take out the 6502’s decimal mode [from the NES architecture]? It’s a decimal computer… Did they mess up the mask cutting or something?
    Anyone who happens across this is a pervert! There’s another message in the MSX Pachi-Com… If you’re a pervert, buy it and see! It’s in Okinawan dialect, though!
    by Y.S

    The secret message attached to Namco’s Erika to Satoru no Yumebōken, however, is much more infamous these days — and it’s accessible within the game, too. A cutesy, kid-friendly adventure that used the N106 sound chip Namco included with a few FC carts, the game has a long message (seen starting in 5:20 of the above video) that perhaps sets the bar internationally for this sort of thing.

    Its presence within the ROM image was known for a while, but it wasn’t common game-otaku knowledge until 2007, when hackers finally figured out how to unlock it within the game itself. The GDRI folks have taken an interest in it lately, too, because it establishes a link between Atlus and the games LJN released for the NES — the music that plays during the hidden message is taken from LJN’s The Karate Kid, although Erika to Satoru was coded by Atlus for Namco.

    It’s a long, convoluted code you have to type in, involving waiting half an hour after the game’s ending and then inputting all sorts of button combinations on both controllers at the right time, but it’s worth it to see the message, which I’ll again translate freely:

    Mmm, that’s a nostalgic song playing. Those were good times. Meanwhile, who the hell are these people with this project? I’m so glad it’s over. You think it’s nothing but good memories? Hell no! Let’s use this space to give out some thanks.

    First off, Kaoru Ogura, who ran off with some guy in the middle of the project. Yes, you, you bastard. Don’t show up at the office without showering after having sex 6 times the previous night. Next, Tatsuya Ōhashi. Yes, you, you bastard. Don’t give me your flippant shit — coming in late on the day we ship the ROM like nothing’s amiss. You can give me all the porn you want; I’m not forgetting that one. All that fucking weight you put on. No wonder you paid out 18,000 yen and still got nothing but a kiss out of it. Kenji Takano, Namco debugger. You are a part-timer; don’t dick around with the project planner. And finally, Kiyoharu Gotō, the biggest thorn to my side in this project. Yes, you, you bastard. Once I get a time machine, I’m sending you back to the Edo period. Go do your riddles over there.

    Ahh, that’s a load off…wait, no it’s not. Kiyoharu Gotō — yes, you, you bastard. Aaaagh, just disappear already.

    Come to think of it, some people were helpful to me, too. Mr. Okada, who took all the good stuff. I know all about your abnormal tendencies. Yamagishi, who swore off soaplands until the project was over. Go ahead, knock yourself out now. Iwata, who joined in midway and gave it all he had. Sorry I yelled at you. Keep hanging in there. Fujimura, Udopyu, you probably had it the worst of all. Thanks. I mean it. Gotō’s the one to hate here. Also, Takayama, Kudō, Suzuki, Makki, Kaneko, Aihara, Sato (the angel of my heart), Iga. Thanks, everyone.

    Yoko-G, good work. This game is dedicated to your wife’s birthday.

    If you type in another secret code after this message, you get a further note:

    Kazumushi, I’m sorry I couldn’t come back home much. I love you and always have. Hidemushi

    In late 2007, someone posted on 2ch’s retro-game board claiming to be one of the men behind the message. He had only a dim memory of how to unlock the message; the hackers took it from there to figure out the exact process. Here’s what he said:

    I’ll reveal here that I was Hidemushi’s co-worker at the time (don’t pry any closer, please). I heard all the stuff [written about in the message] from the guy himself, so it’s not fake. As obscene as it is I planned to take it to the grave without announcing it, but since someone peeked into the ROM and revealed the message, I went ahead and followed up with it. […] By the way, The Karate Kid is a NES game based on the movie released overseas. He was involved with the development of it. (Also, the girl we whined about who had sex N times the previous night programmed the mini-game events in The Karate Kid. She’s probably one of the few female programmers in the industry. Wish she didn’t have to tell me about how her boyfriend wipes the sweat off her back with a towel after every lay.)

    Aw, good times!

  • Lagrange Point (Konami, 1991)

    Posted on August 19th, 2009 keving 4 comments

    In the 22nd century, mankind built a set of outer-space colonies at one of the Lagrange points between the Earth and its sun. The three colonies — Satellite Base, Land 1 and Land 2 — was quickly filled with a large population of orbiting immigrants, building a new society and a true “second Earth.”

    Several years later, however, a mysterious, mutated life form escaped out of a Land 2 biochemical laboratory. The life form quickly spread across all of Land 2, killing countless citizens and mutating nearly all the plants and animals. It was no accident. Three of the five boardmembers of ISIS — the private firm running the colonies and its associated space ports — were staging a coup d’etat of the entire complex, and the mutant outbreak was only the beginning.

    Calling themselves the Bionoid Three, the three boardmembers — Oregi, Ledesma and Weber — formed an army of mutants they called the Creature Force. Tania, one of the remaining uncorrupted boardmembers, was quickly captured by Creature soldiers, but Togo, the sole ISIS leader left, formed a resistance group and declared full-scale war against the mutants.

    All this was going on unbeknownst to anyone on Earth, which had sent two investigation teams to the colonies without a response. Now Jin is leading expedition number three to Land 2. Will he survive?

    Lagrange Point is arguably the most large-scale RPG ever released for the Famicom. Just Breed is larger in size and Konami’s own MADARA was cut from the same cloth, but I think Lagrange wins over both for its complex SF plot, its well-detailed graphics (the enemies, at the least, are easily SNES-caliber) and the unique, trippy sound the onboard FM chip provided.

    Much of Lagrange’s plot was worked out as part of “Game Kobo,” a reader-participation feature launched to celebrate the 100th issue of Tokuma Shoten’s Family Computer Magazine. Famimaga and Konami solicited all kinds of stuff from readers for the game, from enemy character designs and dialogue for random colony residents to music, plot details, and even the name of the game itself.

    This was just at the point in Japanese game history where creators outside of the industry were beginning to contribute to games. Character designs were handled by Fujihiko Hosono, at the time a kid’s manga artist but now more well-known internationally for the much more mature (and interesting) Gallery Fake. Two members of REBECCA, an ’80s rock band in Japan, worked with Konami Kukeiha Club on the soundtrack. The resulting game easily won Famimaga’s FC game of the year in 1991, and even if the magazine wasn’t so directly involved with its development, you could see why they made the choice.

    The above video leads to part 1 of the first TAS I’ve seen for the game, taking you through all the prettier parts of it in just over and hour. Part 2 and Part 3 are also available. In order to get around the onerous level-grinding you’d normally need to equip the higher-power weapons in the game, this TAS takes advantage of an interesting bug. In battle, the bug’s triggered by confusing an enemy capable of landing several attacks in a turn; if this confused enemy kills a fellow enemy with attack no. 1, subsequent attacks in the chain will kill some unseen, nonexistent enemy that, for some reason, gives you $9,999,999 and about 40 experience levels in one go. Go about 12 and a half minutes into Part 1 to see it in action.