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  • 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.

  • More on Tokuma’s Mario Guide

    Posted on May 4th, 2011 keving 6 comments

    Back on Monday I talked a bit about Tokuma Shoten’s Super Mario Bros. strategy guide, the one that sold 630,000 copies in 1985 (1.3 million overall, in the end) and became the bestselling book in Japan for two years straight. What I failed to mention — because I completely forgot — is that you can read the guide today even if you don’t know Japanese, because Nintendo of America translated it verbatim into English and sold it via the Fun Club News and early issues of Nintendo Power under the name How to win at Super Mario Bros. (This book was never sold outside of mail order and is now extremely uncommon, but .cbz scans are available on the net thanks to Retromags.)

    The book was entirely written and designed in house by the editors of Tokuma’s Family Computer Magazine in Japan. The first half of the book was largely recycled from coverage originally printed in the November 1985 issue of the mag, while the writing and screenshot-snapping for World 5-1 through 8-4 was handled by Naoto Yamamoto, who was a part-time writer that mostly worked for Technopolis, Tokuma’s computer hobby mag, at the time.

    Here’s a word or two on the ’80s Japan game-mag scene from Yamamoto, courtesy of his weblog:

    “We had planned to launch the guide in Japan with a run of 130,000 copies, but we already had plans for subsequent printings before the book was even released. Tokuma Shoten at the time held itself up to a very refined and literary image as a publisher, so it often divided up publication into several divided releases so it could produce a large number of printings and claim that as a status symbol for the book.

    Famimaga continued on with strategy guides for Pac-Land, Mach Rider, Twinbee and Spelunker, but there was no such thing as a specialist strategy guide writer at this point. They would get written by production outfits that dealt in children’s magazines, or by part-timers hired by those outfits if they had no previous game experience. I moved on to Pac-Land right from Super Mario, and I remember that the sample ROM Namco gave me to work with had a completely faceless Pac-Man in the game. They told me it was in order to keep the ROM from leaking out somewhere in the middleman process, but of course I couldn’t take any screenshots off of that thing. I wound up having my bosses go through these tense negotiations with Namco in order to get me a usable ROM, and ultimately the schedule got so tight that I had to spent four straight nights staying in the office.”

    If you think spending four straight days playing the FC version of Pac-Land sounds like fun, think again.

    “I wound up passing out in the office, I guess because of all the fatigue that had accumulated since that summer, and I was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The hospital was really close by, to the point that the rest of the editorial staff arrived before I did, which became a funny story at parties afterward. I received some gifts and new clothes and such, and ultimately I rested up for about four days. Thus, the release date got delayed. Afterwards — and not that I was the reason for it or anything — but subsequent guides were written by outside production firms. They still had me running around for them with the Twinbee guide, though, since they had trouble finding anyone to play through the game’s ‘second quest’ and they needed screenshots.”

    How much money did Yamamoto earn for co-writing the most successful book in Japan for two years running?

    “The Mario guide was done entirely in-house, so I received no royalties for it outside of my hourly salary. My writing fee, in other words, was zero. Outside of physical production, [Tokuma] spent zero yen making the guide and sold such a vast number of copies of it. I did receive royalties for the English version, though, which arrived in my bank account a long time later — a grand total of 5,555 yen [about $37 in 1987 dollars].”


  • Mario Mania I (1985-6)

    Posted on May 2nd, 2011 keving 3 comments

    How popular did Nintendo’s Family Computer become after Super Mario Bros. was released on September 13, 1985? So popular that, as it turns out, a third-party Super Mario Bros. strategy guidebook was the top selling non-manga book in Japan for the entire year of 1985. And 1986.

    Super Mario Bros.: The Complete Strategy Guide (スーパーマリオブラザーズ完全攻略本) was produced by the editors of Tokuma Shoten’s Family Computer Magazine, the highest-circ game mag in Japan until Famitsu hit it big in the late 1980s. Simultaneous day-and-date guide releases alongside games didn’t really happen until later, so this book didn’t hit shops until October 31 — and still it managed to sell 630,000 copies before the end of the year. What’s more, the 10th best-selling book of 1985 in Japan was another SMB strategy guide — Futami Shobo’s Super Mario Bros. Secret Tricks Collection (スーパーマリオブラザーズ裏ワザ大全集), shown below.

    (In what was perhaps a sign of the times, the book that Tokuma’s Mario guide beat out to be #1 in 1985 was the Japanese translation of Iacocca: An Autobiography.)

    Mario Mania didn’t truly take hold in Japan until 1986, though. In that year, Tokuma’s guide was again the top-selling book in the nation, with Futami’s getting bumped up to third place. What’s more, those two books were joined by five other guides in the top 25 — strategies for Twinbee, The Goonies, Spelunker, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken. In 1986, you could sell anything Famicom-related and rake in massive profits, basically — and then it happened all over again in America two years later. I knew I was born too late.

    Sadly, the guidebook boom faltered in subsequent years as competition increased. From 1987 onward, the only strategy guides that made Japanese bestseller lists were Enix’s official guides for whatever Dragon Quest title they most recently released.

  • The Goonies (Konami, December 1985)

    Posted on April 28th, 2011 keving 3 comments

    It doesn’t seem to be all that commonly known, but the first Konami game based on The Goonies wasn’t in arcades or on the Famicom. It was released for the MSX, a couple of months before the FC cartridge (largely coinciding with the film’s theatrical release in Japan), and it’s actually a wholly different game.

    You wouldn’t know it from the graphics, perhaps, but you are controlling Sloth, the deformed Fratelli brother that winds up befriending the gang and saving their hides in the movie. There are five stages, and in each one Sloth has to rescue all seven Goonies, locked behind doors which he has to find keys for. It’s actually a pretty complex game, one with an experience-point system (fill up the gauge to regain a little vitality) and a grand total of 27 items to power-up (or power down) Sloth with.

    The stages are similarly convoluted, involving warp doors and areas that take up multiple screens vertically and horizontally. In this way, it reminds me more than a little of a sort of prototypical Castlevania. The basic idea’s pretty much the same — explore creepy stages, find hidden items, defeat enemies, that sort of thing.

    You can find the rest of the stages on YouTube as well. If you have the patience, stick around for the ending after Stage 5 is completed — it’s so charmingly 8-bit.

  • Spelunker (Irem, 12/6/85)

    Posted on April 27th, 2011 keving 4 comments

    Spelunker is infamous (in Japan, at least) for featuring the wimpiest hero in video games, a guy who cannot survive a fall of half his body length and who blithely falls right off of ropes and ladders unless you specifically order him to jump off instead. In the hands of the right TASser, however, the dude suddenly acquires Mario-like powers.

    The main trick to this updated run lies in an obscure bug involving the “drug,” the hidden bottles of red liquid that are revealed when your explorer passes through certain points in each map. Drugs double your speed for a limited time, but it turns out that if you pick up a second drug just before your current one expires, the timer will go offline and you’ll keep the speed boost for the rest of the game.

    There’s a side effect to this, however: You cannot board the left-right moving boat in the third section while in double-speed mode, effectively preventing you from going any further. The workaround involves exploiting another obscure bug: If you tap A repeatedly to climb a rope or ladder quickly, the game (for whatever reason) will not reset the Y coordinate it uses to determine whether you’ve fallen to your death or not. As a result, as long as you get the A-button timing right, you can jump off the rope and fall as far as you want as long as you don’t tumble below the starting point where you first “boarded” the rope.

    This TAS uses that bug to essentially force the explorer into the boat. In the process, he also shatters everything I thought I knew about the Spelunker. Maybe he deserves to be treated seriously as a video game hero after all…

  • Atlantis no Nazo (Sunsoft, 4/17/86)

    Posted on April 26th, 2011 keving 1 comment

    A full TAS run of the mid-’80s Famicom platform game, one that has a remarkably detailed English Wikipedia page. It’s so detailed, in fact, that I’d like to meet the guy who decided that translating all the info on the Japanese wiki-page would make for a fun afternoon. I have the impression that he (let’s just assume he’s a gentleman) and I would have a lot in common.

    Atlantis no Nazo is a famous game in Japan for a number of reasons — it’s incredibly hard; your hero controls very wonkily and his weapon is extremely difficult to control; there are warps that’re found only by deliberately committing suicide; a couple of stages flash constantly; there’s a “Black Hole!” stage that is an immediate Game Over if you are unfortunate enough to visit it; and so on. Activision contemplated releasing the game for the NES (under the title Super Pitfall II) seriously enough to create a full-on preview version that even included a few upgrades, but the game was really just too old hat for the US audience by 1989.

    A “full” or “warpless” run of Atlantis no Nazo, as defined by the creator of this TAS, follows two rules:

    – Do not take any doors that are not in plain sight (except for the door between 99th Stage and 100th Stage)
    – Do not take any doors that bring your intrepid hero five or more stages ahead of where he previously was

    Beating the game this way is pretty much impossible for a human being. I tried it back in the day (i.e. 1998), and I couldn’t no matter how much I tried. It’s not a title for weak sisters, or really for anyone besides hyperactive Japanese children, assuming it was still 1986. But nonetheless there’s a certain charm to this title, perhaps because of the hero’s proud, exaggerated marching gait.

    Note that pausing and unpausing the game right after finishing the stage cuts down the length of the little inter-level display, hence the odd sound after going through a doog.

  • Contra (Konami, 5/26/89)

    Posted on March 28th, 2011 keving 4 comments

    Just a short update as I’m fighting allergies and mainly want to go to bed at the moment.

    Konami is undoubtedly the most important maker who worked on the MSX. The things they did with that machine were, and are, out of this world, and the developers used their technical wizardry to craft some killer games that worked around the system’s limits. (Vampire Killer is the classic example of this.)

    That’s why I’m unsure what happened with the MSX2 port of Contra Konami released in mid-1989. It’s one of the few real failures Konami released on the platform. The controls are weird, the graphics strangely undetailed, the original stages completely uninspired. The flick-screen scrolling is particularly confusing because Konami made smooth scrolling happen on the MSX2 only three months later with the baseball game Ganbare Pennant Race 2.

    The game gets only two things right: the music, and the way the 3D stages feature your guy moving left/right in addition to forward after completing a room (a little detail in the arcade version that got dropped from all the other 8-bit ports).

  • Computer TV Game (Nintendo, April 1980)

    Posted on March 21st, 2011 keving 3 comments

    Almost assuredly the worst-selling game console Nintendo ever made. That may perhaps be part of the reason a nearly new-in-box example recently sold for 242,000 yen on Yahoo! Auctions JP.

    Computer TV Game was a home port of Computer Othello, Nintendo’s first ever fully-electronic video game for arcades. Calling it a “port” is perhaps charitable, because the innards of the home console are the exact same as the arcade cabinet — Intel 8080 processor, specialized graphics chip from Mitsubishi Electric, small program ROM, and an enormous AC adapter that weighs over four pounds. Like the title suggests, it’s a video version of Othello, with one- and two-player options and a pair of CPU difficulty levels to choose from. The arcade version (which originally came out in mid-1978) has a strict time limit of 400 seconds, but you can play as many games as you want during that time.

    Video Othello was a bit novel compared to the ocean of Pong consoles on store shelves at the time, but because Nintendo simply stuffed the arcade hardware into a plastic box (a package, by the way, which was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto — he was originally hired by Nintendo as an industrial-arts guy), the thing was expensive. Really expensive. The retail price for the dedicated system was 48,000 yen, about $190 in 1980 dollars, at a time when the Atari 2600 was available across America for about half that. Even among the murky history of Nintendo’s pre-FC video games, this is one incredibly obscure device.

    Here’s how Computer Othello looks in action, by the way. Sorry I can’t find a better video, but if I were you, I’d just be glad there were any extant examples left, period.

    All in all, I think Epoch’s TV Baseball Game is a much better package.

  • Pilotwings (Nintendo, 12/21/90)

    Posted on March 18th, 2011 keving 4 comments

    Pilotwings Resort is coming out pretty soon, but why not concentrate instead on the only game among the SNES launch titles that got me really, really excited? (What can I say — Mode 7 was really amazing to me, in a way that the PlayStation wasn’t somehow.)

    This game, featuring music by my beloved Soyo Oka (who must have really like that “blaaa” instrument because it’s used in two tracks), is one of several to use a DSP-1 coprocessor in order to speed up the trigonometric calculations required for the quick scaling/rotation seen in-game. F-Zero does not use this coprocessor despite having even faster scaling/rotation moves. This is because — and I forget who told this to me, so I can’t give a source — something like half of the game ROM is composed solely of precalculated cosine tables, obviating the need to come up with the figures in realtime.

    Japanese Wikipedia claims (unsourced) that the first shipment of Pilotwings in Japan did not include a DSP-1, something which I don’t think is actually true. What is true is that the game may have either the DSP-1, DSP-1A, or DSP-1B chip onboard. The 1A is a simple hardware revision to make the chip smaller, while the 1B is the same as the 1 except with a few bugfixes to the microcode that drives the device. You can tell which chip is inside your Pilotwings without opening up the cartridge because the 1B revision actually triggers a bug that’s easily demonstrated. Start up the game and keep it running until you get the gameplay demo with the light plane. If the plane lands correctly, the game’s running on a DSP-1 or 1A; if it crashes well in advance of the runway, you’ve got a DSP-1B.

    Neat, huh? And until I started researching this, I didn’t even realize there was that “secret” side pool you could hit with that one bonus stage.