|Issue #36 - May 2007|
Table of Contents
|02.||The Many Faces of Fast Eddie|
|03.||NEScade -- Joust|
|04.||Apple II Incider|
|05.||TG16 Realm... sort of|
|06.||Old Wine in New Bottles: Retrogaming on Modern Hardware|
|07.||Game Over|Attract Mode by Scott
|There are not that many Yellow carts out there.|
Gold Medal: Atari 2600,
Atari 8 bit computer & Commodore 64 (37)
My first reaction is - a three way tie for the gold is well deserved as there are not that many differences. This is easy to understand when a simple 2600 game was pretty much copied and not enhanced at all for the home computers. You'd think a musical score or more effects could have been added. All versions have some differences in the scoring categories, as noted at the end, but none are significant enough to reduce the score. Thus the same scores and basic descriptions work for all Gold medal winners.
Gameplay is respectable (6), but there's not too much strategy or meat here. The Addictiveness is enjoyable (8) with a pause on all versions and as many as 256 different ladder (position) combinations to make every game very unique. And then, with each new screen, and sometimes when the action resumes from a pause, the ladders and floors can both change to one of 8 different colors - for up to 64 color combinations. Graphics are pretty good (7) in all ways: details, animation, action, multiple enemies, multi-color and color variety; but nothing really stands out either. The computer versions could have been graphically enhanced, or musically enhanced but were not. The Sound is OK (6), and nothing needed is missing, but I could have given them a (5) since there are not that many sound effects and no music. The best audio effect is that of the Key points tallying up at the end of each round. There are audio effects for jumping, climbing, collecting Prizes, death, and the end of the game. Controls (10) perfect control for all versions.
This version has both the most shortfalls and the most improvements. There is both a non-silent demo mode and an attract mode which cycle back and forth. Unlike the Atari versions, When Eddie or the Sneakers move all the way to the edge of the floor, they actually are at the edge. The randomness of the 4 ladder positions (screen layout) is lost here. Instead of 256 different combinations, there are probably only 40, as every game begins with the same ladder arrangement and each succeeding screen follows the same predetermined layout of all 8 ladders. The first round has ladders at positions 4,2,1,1, the next round 3,2,3,4 and 1,1,3,2 then 3,4,21, and 1,3,2,1 etc. You can go on for a while checking the patterns and every game is exactly the same. Fortunately, the floor and ladder colors are still varied. This is the only version with an audio effect to signify the start of a game. A drawback to the gameplay, making it easier - is that the next prize will sometimes arrive on the same level, and can even arrive at the same spot where the previous prize was just at. C64 is only found on diskette/cassette. <R/S> is the pause. <Restore> returns the game to demo mode. <F5> selects the starting level.
Atari 8 bit
<Select> selects the starting level. The pause is toggled by the <Option>, plus the ultimate in controls, fire button more safely resumes the action from a pause. Eddie and the Sneakers cannot make it all the way to the edge of the floor, so there is some added difficulty or frustration to learning where the limit of their movement is. Available on cart (uncommon) and (rare) diskette.
This version is the original so it is quite impressive that the <Black/White> was used to add a pause feature. The edge of the floor problem is not quite as bad as the Atari computer version. The displays for lives remaining is simply 1 to 3 bars, not a graphic depiction of 1 to 3 more Eddies. This version is obviously only available on cart, and is the easiest to find. This version is the best, relative to the system it was programmed for.
Acknowledgements, Updates and Errata since last month.
Nothing new to report. On Ebay I keep falling well short of securing the elusive Vic 20 Lode Runner - I guess everybody wants that game. Might be my own fault for asking for so long to get one for my reviews here. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around - I write a review and tell how great a game is and then everyone goes looking to add it to their collection. Oh well.
Announcement / Shameless Plug
Those living near North East Ohio do not forget to come to the CCAGShow.com 2007, on Saturday May 26th. We'll have AtariAge.com , Treyonicscontrols.com , VideoGameConnection.com and other great vendors as well. I'll be there with my Pitfall Harry costume and hopefully my one-of-a-kind, always unique Pac-Man and Dig Dug Murals. Put yourself into the game.
Come back next month: for another 1982 release, currently planning the Many Faces of
"Front Line" on the Atari 2600, Colecovision & Commodore 64. Contact Alan at: Hewston95@NOSPAMstratos.net or visit the Many Faces of site: www.my.stratos.net/~hewston95/RT/ManyFacesHome.htm
NEScade -- Joust by
Unique yet simple concepts have been the heart and soul of the video game industry since its birth. Although things have become increasingly complex in the modern era, the games that continue to be regarded as favorites are those that take an easy to understand concept and put a new twist on it. Such is the case with Joust, medieval mounted combat with something different. Instead of traditional riders on horseback, the knights in Joust take to the skies atop giant flying birds in an all out battle to the death. Player one rides an ostrich while player two rides a stork and the enemy knights come mounted atop buzzards. Although the mounts may be surreal, the core game play mechanic couldn't be simpler, "highest lance wins." As long as your lance is higher than that of your foe when you run into him, you will win the joust and he will be tossed off his mount. Colliding with an enemy at equal elevation will cause both knights and mounts to be turned away in the opposite direction, no one dies, and the joust is a draw. If an enemy's lance is higher than yours during a collision you will be destroyed and your mount will fly off. Knocking your foes off their mounts is just the beginning however, as once dismounted they turn into eggs. Eventually these eggs will hatch if not captured, becoming the next most powerful enemy knight, and a fresh mount will swoop down so that they can return to battle.
Things start off slow but quickly become more hectic as the screen is filled with enemy knights of varying skill. As waves of enemy knights are defeated the landscape changes, platforms disappear and lava pools rise. Within the lava pool lurks the deadly Lava Troll, a powerful enemy that reaches up with its burning grip, pulling any knight not swift enough to escape to a fiery death. Yet the most deadly enemy in the game is the pterodactyl which appears if the player takes too long to clear a wave. Only a direct joust to the pterodactyl's mouth will kill him, any other contact results in death for the player. With its unique concept, detailed graphics, simple play control, and frantic pace Joust became a favorite of the arcade patron for many years to come. As with many games of this level of popularity, it was ported to the home game systems of the era and beyond.
An NES version of this game seems like a simple enough project but things have to be executed properly to pay any respect to the arcade smash it set out to recreate. Thankfully things go off without a hitch. Graphically the game is very nicely presented with the level detail recreated pretty much verbatim. Platforms disappear on the later levels and the bridges slowly burn away to free the Lava Troll just as they did in the arcade. The player sprites are nicely detailed as are the enemy knights and their mounts and all are animated fluidly and accurately to their original counterparts. Play control is spot on with the directional pad controlling horizontal movement. Varying degrees of walking speed are easy to work out which perfectly recreates the movement in the arcade original. Holding the B button down causes your mount to flap consecutively to gain lift while you get one flap for each press of the A button. Flight and game physics are nicely recreated and feel fluid and accurate, including the egg physics. To round out the package an admirable job has been done to incorporate as much of the original sound effects as possible.
It is also worth mentioning that there were actually two similar, although slightly different, versions of this game developed for the NES hardware. In Japan the Famicom version of Joust featured sprites more closely designed after the arcade originals but over all the graphics came out looking plain. The NES version featured some slight enhancements such as the knights having feathers atop their helmets and a full rework of the rock design of the platforms. While this strays from the original presentation just a bit, it gives the game much better contrast on the eight bit hardware. Additional graphic tweaks such as the buzzard's beaks and the knight's lances having more color are a nice touch that make the NES version an all around better game than the Famicom release.
Joust stands one of the true arcade
classics from the golden area of the arcade industry. While I've never
been that great at it I've still played it for years and will continue to do so
for one reason - it's fun. After all, that's the mark of an excellent
game, challenging yet extremely entertaining. Those looking for one of the
best home ports of this arcade legend for a bit age console need look no further
than the NES. It's still a ton of fun to throw hours away in two player
mode and the NES version has stood the test of time, just as much as the arcade
original of which it is based. Yet another must have title for anyone's
I've been meaning to write some articles on one of the the lesser known members of the Apple II family of computers. However, due to various circumstances, the RTM deadline was suddenly upon me and I wasn't quite ready. However, as it turned out, the 30th Anniversary/Birthday of the the introduction of the Apple II at the West Coast Computer Faire just passed on April 16th. Yes, it has been 30 years since the original Apple II computer was introduced to the world.
of the regular readers know this as the section of RTM where I review the next
six or so Famicom games on my chronological release list. But I recently
completed a project that I wanted to share with you. Part of retrogaming is keeping older titles alive by playing them and sharing them with others.
Another part, for me, is discovering games that I never knew about, or
couldn't play before, and finding out how to play them. This usually
happens when I discover a translation of a Japanese ROM into English. (And
if you're not familiar with this trend, and have a look at http://www.romhacking.net/ to learn more.) And just
last month, I increased the number of these translated ROMs by one. So I
thought I would describe what the was like.
It all started because I was doing a lot a research about the Tower of Druaga. This is the game that I spoke of in my editorial last month that did phenomenally well in Japan, and was a complete failure in the United States. I was interested in what platforms that game was ported to, and I discovered that it was converted for the TurboGrafx-16 (otherwise known as the PC Engine in Japan). At first I figured it would just be highly accurate conversion of the arcade game, but it turned out that it was much more of a makeover and improvement. While the arcade featured random solutions that revealed the (often necessary) treasure chests on each floor with no clues to help you discover them, the PC Engine version gave you hints to help you along. Obviously, due to the game's unpopularity in the states, it was never translated into English. Without an ability to understand Japanese, I was just as helpless as when I played the arcade game.
I lamented this fact, and wondered if anyone would ever take up the mantle for me and translate the game. Having never translated a game myself, I figured that I would be an unlikely candidate. However, I've been a programmer for a long time, and have navigated my way through assembly, so I was no stranger to hexadecimal (base 16) which is what ROMs look like when viewed in a hex editor. I decided to take a look at it just to see what I could see. And at one point, I noticed the word "NAMCO". Then it occurred to me: the text is probably neither compressed nor encrypted, two aspects that would have immediately disqualified me as a translator. Figuring out the compression or encryption algorithm would have consumed more time than I was willing to dedicate to the project, much less knew how to even start. But I had to find out for sure.
So I took the space in the ROM where "NAMCO"
was, and I replaced it with every number from 0 to 255 (or "00" to "FF").
I did this to see what the results would look like, and in a small matter
of time, I had a complete ASCII chart of what letters mapped to what numbers.
Now I had to see if I was right. I started the game, and copied the
first hint that the game provided. I translated it according to my ASCII
table and searched for that sequence of numbers, and... viola. There they
were. Interestingly, they were preceded by a series of numbers that I
didn't yet understand. Some were spaces, and some were little symbols that
change the sound that a letter makes. (For a very simplified example, in
Japanese, two little dashes over a letter that normally has a T sound becomes a
D sound. A little circle over an H letter makes it a P letter.)
Eventually it occurred to me that every line of text was actually written
across two lines. The first time was for the dashes or the circle, while
the bottom line was the actual text. This turned out to be a blessing in
disguise. Here's why.
You need fewer Japanese characters to express things than you do in English. This meant that since I had to fit all of my translations in the same sized block of text that the game used for Japanese, I could not express nearly as much and would have to "shrink ideas to make fit good." That last sentence shows the dilemma. However, since I discovered that every line was made from two lines of text, I actually gained a lot more room in the ROM for the translations. At this time I felt the hard part was over, now the more difficult part: doing the translation. What I needed was a partner. And I found such a partner at work, a woman named Keiko who was originally from Japan. While she wasn't a gamer by any means, she could translate every block of text I could find. Over four lunch hours we translated every screen that I could find. Once I had all of the literal translations, I still had to truncate many of the ideas in order to make them fit. That was a long, slightly boring, process but the effort was well worth it.
I ended up translating about 95% of the game, omitting a few things that I was unaware of or did not know how to find. There was only one major thing that I knew was un-translated. This happened to be a status screen that was written in Japanese, not in ASCII, but directly through graphic tiles. You can't translate graphic tiles, all you can do is redraw them. The problem was, I had no idea a) where those tiles were and b) how I would ever find them. I submitted my 95% translated patch, believing I was done with the project, but it turns out that I would get a little bit of help, in the form of RomHacking's message boards. Using a tool known only as YY-CHR, a board member was able to look at the ROM in the proper format (it happened to be four bits per pixel, just like the SNES) and locate the precise point where the tiles were stored. Now that I new how to find them, all I had to was edit them, and this wonderful tool YY-CHR helped me do that. It wasn't easy because some tiles were utilized more than once, so I wasn't free to rededicate each tile's functions, and had to stick to their original purpose. But I was able to complete the translation.
Even I thought I was done now, but I searched around the ROM a little more, and I discovered the location in the ROM where the glyphs (letters) were stored. After a moment of inspiration, I decided to add a lower case set of English letters to the game (all of my translations were in upper case.) That meant I would have to rewrite most of my translations, but it was worth it, as it made the translations look more polished. Again I thought I was done, but I remembered that I had to abbreviate certain words, like gauntlet. I only had 12 letters for every item name, so the white gauntlet was translated as "WHITE GAUNT." which was less than ideal. I had a few tiles left over and I borrowed a trick from many terrific translators before me: I made a tile composed of two letters. I made one tile for "tl" and one for "et". Thanks to this technique, I was able to construct the name of the item as "White Gaun(tl)(et)", 12 tiles exactly. That was the final touch and I felt like the patch was finally complete. And if you would like to see and download it for yourself, you can find it at: http://www.romhacking.net/trans/1104/. You'll need the original ROM and an IPS file patcher and if you need assistance with file patching, romhacking is an excellent resource. If you try it out, please let me know what you think, I would love to know.
Probably because of the widespread distribution of Stella and similar free emulators, there have only been a very few commercial releases of Atari 2600 emulators for the PC. Indeed, I am only aware of two examples: Atari: the 80 Classic Games and the Activision Action Packs.
The Atari collection was originally released in 2003.
After its initial commercial run, it was later re-launched (in
The title is somewhat misleading as the collection actually includes only 62 Atari 2600 games. The balance of the 80 titles consists of 18 Atari arcade games. This review will focus on the 2600 games only; I plan to cover the arcade games in a future article.
The range of games is nothing short of comprehensive! It includes about three-quarters of the original Atari-made games. Obviously excluded are ports of (non-Atari) arcade games and games that used licensed content (e.g. the Disney children's games). Titles included range from very early releases such as Star Ship, Space War through games released at the very end of the system's lifespan such as Quadrun, Motoredo, and even Swordquest Waterworld. Many of these games are so very rare that a typical collector will never otherwise get to play them.
Some of the game choices are a bit odd (e.g. Video Chess, Fun with Numbers). There is also some redundancy with different versions or editions of games. For example the collection includes three different baseball games: Home Run (1978), Realsports Baseball (1982), and Super Baseball (1988). It almost seems like the producers were trying to pad-out the size of the collection.
The main interface screen is very well designed. The games are grouped into various categories and clicking on the game launches the emulator. Each game includes a mini-manual that explains the objectives and controls. It also has a quick-reference guide to the switch settings and a list of the levels/options. Some of the colours appear to be very slightly off. Otherwise, the quality of the emulation is excellent.
In terms of control, there are options for keyboard controls as well as joystick. The keypad game controls are mapped to the PC keyboard in an intuitive way. Unfortunately, the paddle games are stupidly mapped to the keyboard, using the Z and C keys, rather than the arrow keys. Indy 500, which used a unique driving controller, is not included.
The extras and bonus content are also very comprehensive. There are full-colour scans of all of the original game manuals, cartridges, and boxes. Sometimes there are even multiple scans of variations, such as Japanese and/or European releases.
Next month, we will look at another PC collection of 2600 games: the Activision Action Packs.
Feedback on this column is most welcome; special thanks to everyone who has sent positive comments so far. Please send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.