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Vintage computing, old video games

Total play time = 2 years, 156 days, 20 hours, 36 minutes, 39 seconds

Couple friends and I started playing back in April 2017. The progress isn’t deliberately slow, it’s just that we playing a half-hour or an hour here and there, once in a while and it’s a proper full-length RPG. Furthermore we made a best effort to play it spoiler-free with as minimal outside help as possible.

I never beat this game before. SoM is in the category of “played as a child by repeated rental, wanted to own, couldn’t get a copy”.

It is hard nowadays imagining “not being able to purchase something” but was the situation here. If no video or toy store in our city had it then out of luck. There were also toy catalogs where you can phone or mail in an order, but they weren’t a whole lot better in terms of the video game selection. The one place I could find that had Secret of Mana had it for rent. So I rented it repeatedly. I still had to take it back at certain intervals and some jerkface wiped my save. After that I became demoralized and moved on to playing something else (Uncharted Waters 2)

Fast-forward to today and I have every game in the world. This one has a lot of critical acclaim, and still has some love today (it got a remake last year), it deserves playthough to the end.

Originally I thought I’d move onto the remake after finishing this, but after reading some reviews, maybe not 🙁 It’s just as well, initially I was kind of turned off by the graphics. When early gameplay came out I recall telling people it looked Bad. Like some free-to-play MMO from ~2006. It reminded me of Audition Online. I don’t know what’s up with the art direction. Apparently there are problems with the soundtrack and gameplay also… How did they mess this up? I may someday play it anyway but give it a while.

This game had a lot of positive qualities, it deserves to be on all those top-10 lists. 
– The soundtrack is very strong
– Large sprites with nice animations
– Many cool concepts for bosses, large enemy artworks
– Willingness to make a three-player SNES game represents a lot of technical initiative

The one thing that was almost a problem- it is borderline on the “turn based games disguised as action games” genre. 
You know. Practically very MMORPG does this. The combat works like: you and the enemy can both be freely positioned in the world, and can attach each other, but the attacks always land regardless of how you are positioned. Why have the positioning mechanic at all, then? Why not just have a menu? If they shoot an arrow or something it’s not like you can move out of the way. I know why they do it in MMOs, but I’m less on board in any locally-played action game.
I suppose this bothers me because it encourages you to waste brain cells in combat trying to move around the map when you might as well just stand there.
Fortunately, this game doesn’t 100% do that, it’s only for certain attacks. Some experimenting helped figure this out. For other ones, you can move out of the way, sometimes outside of a hitbox that seems rather big.

On a whole I loved playing this game, and getting the chance to play it co-operatively even though it’s long after the fact.

September 16th, 2019 at 11:30 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (SNES)

This is an action-RPG based on the book series, pre-Peter Jackson movie IP.

This game has some cool moments and good atmosphere and potential to be good. Still, it was held back by many technical problems. This game ended up being a rabbit hole into something else.

A couple weeks ago, I cleared the last boss, the Balrog using the full party (minus Gandalf, since having him in your party prevents you from beating the boss; also Boromir is E_NOTIMPL) and finished the game but didn’t get such a good ending because Merry and Pippin died in the boss fight. They die really easily.
So last Saturday, I booted up the game with the intention to resume at the boss fight, attempt it again and keep them alive.

However the password I had written down was rejected by the game. I swear to goodness I wrote it down correctly. I went upstairs to my computer, reproduced the situation with an emulator. It turns out, the game will indeed give you invalid passwords and that’s what happened here. So I went about trying to figure out how to “fix” my password.

The password system itself involves encoding a bunch of the game state in a certain way with a checksum. This game is a bit unusual in that there are no saves to the cartridge, it hashes together literally all the state into a 48-character-long password. It took a bit of effort, but I figured out how to derive the password. From there, how to un-glitch my password and preserve the progress I had (items, character stats, door open+close state) while letting it be accepted by the game. With this, I was able to re-attempt the boss fight and get the good ending!

After trying many different passwords looking for patterns, I cracked the password algorithm. It was not too much more work to put it into a program in case other people run into the same issues.

I posted the program to Github https://github.com/clandrew/lotrpwcheck/ .

As for the ending itself it was pretty cool, there is a scene where you meet Galadriel and she shows you the mirror. Although they never released a Vol II for SNES, I can see the next one picking up where this one left off.

September 5th, 2019 at 1:49 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

This was after I tried

  • Cleaning cartridge reader with rubbing alcohol
  • Cleaning cartridge with rubbing alcohol
  • Re-seating the 72 pin connector
  • Replacing the 72 pin connector

I’m sad to say this console has never worked, this is just the last straw. I got it as-is at a garage sale >10 years ago. There are multiple problems. First was with what appears to be the PPU; the evidence is that a sprite layer is invisible. See how the placed pieces show up, but the piece-in-flight does not. And then there were problems with the 72-pin connector. Before re-seating, it was black screen. After re-seating, it showed the corrupted image.

It’s tragic, the feature that makes me want the NES instead of an emulator (the pushing in-and-down) is also one of the features that kills it.

I kept this console for parts, got a new one and it’s working well.

January 29th, 2019 at 11:14 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Final Fantasy Legend (GB)

This is a spin-off to the Final Fantasy series and related to the Sa-Ga series made by Square Enix.

The whole thing with Legend is it’s “a lot more epic than it seems like it should be”. See the games I remember Game Boy original were fairly light in subject matter, emotional power and how the story is delivered. But, this game:
• Levels with a scary unkillable monster
• Real actual character death
• An ending sequence where you fight the creator of the universe
Confirmed the creator of the universe is wearing a top hat
It turns out the composer for this game is also Nobuo Uematsu the same as mainline Final Fantasy series except for XIII. If you listen carefully you can hear similarities to the rest of the series’ music.

For the gameplay, you have the flexibility of choosing all characters in your party and their type (Human, Mutant, Monster). The game suffers from some balancing issues which make certain bossfights far, far disproportionally harder than others.

There is apparently an homage to Legend in Final Fantasy XIII where (spoiler) Orphan can be killed instantly by Vanille’s Death spell. It is not 100% guarantee but there is a chance particularly if staggered. In the Final Fantasy XIII Scenario Ultimania book it says outright this was an intentional reference to Legend.

November 22nd, 2018 at 9:24 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Gundam Wing: Endless Duel (SNES)
Story Mode with Vayeate

This is a Gundam-inspired fighting game released in Japan only. You can play as several of the Gundams from the show. Gosh this game has so much graphical polish and the soundtrack is A++++. For this I played through the story mode and recorded it on my capture card.

I got this replica cart to play it

From playthrough (recorded with my awesome new capture card)–

Deathscythe and Epyon if unlocked are very over-powered in this game. In general the mechs are not very balanced. Still, my regular tends to be Vayeate because it is my favorite from the show. Life would be boring if everyone playing Street Fighter was Zangief, right?? Vayeate has a couple good features- this huge space rifle-like thing that can be used as a bludgeoning weapon, plus a few attacks that go diagonally.

August 12th, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Animal Crossing (for Gamecube) contains a functional, hidden Famicom emulator

July 12th, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Don’t use tool-assisted gameplay as a sole reference for good non-tool-assisted strategies.

Look online to find a good assortment of Super Ghouls N Ghosts videos and gameplay footage. Great! Find one. Looks good. All levels. They take no damage. A very skilled player, for sure. As I looked more closely, something was off.

1) The player had a very inconsistent level of skill.

They could always handle dense ‘bullet hell’ situations, but took many tries to jump onto a ledge. Ledge is simple and flat and not hazardous.

2) The player was unfazed with many serious ‘close calls’.

Close calls’ are a part of this genre of game, as well as some understanding of hitboxes, but these are extreme cases. In most circumstances, a typical human player* will react to ‘close calls’ by slowing down, leaving more space and using more caution.

3) The player performs normally-very-dangerous maneuvers, with some knowledge from the future that those maneuvers are safe.

For example, jumping straight into collision with a boss while attacking it. Normally that would be lethal. But if you know that your attack will be the finishing blow to kill the boss, and death disables its hitboxes, then it’s fine.
Since this game has no health bars, a human player cannot exploit the last-hit-to-kill-the-boss without keeping a mental count of hits. A boss fight is a stressful situation. It’s hard for a human to keep a mental count during it. And think of cost versus benefit. If the player is skilled enough to last the whole fight landing attacks safely, what’s one more? Is the opportunity of that suicide jump worth the mental tax that it takes? Not really.

After digging through Youtube comments a little, I found out that the run was indeed tool assisted. I’ve been burned by this before. They don’t put ‘tool assisted’ in the title or description or anywhere obvious before posting it, so you don’t know. Don’t be tricked! I would play better too, if I could rewind and replay parts…

February 26th, 2018 at 1:29 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Wonder Project J (SNES)

What it is- Pinocchio: the anime game

The scientist Geppetto has constructed a robot named Pino, part of a special family of robots called Gijin. In a tragic and sudden surprise, Geppetto was captured by the evil rulers of the kingdom before he was able to finish Pino’s programming. You play as Tinker, a magical fairy who guides Pino toward being able to rescue the kingdom and his creator Geppetto.

You don’t control Pino directly, but Tinker. Tinker can direct Pino left or right, or tell him to stop; signal to him “right!” or “wrong!” She can tell him to interact with an object, she can pick up and move objects.

Interactions with Tinker comprise the building blocks with which Pino learns language, combat, good manners, sports, musical instruments. And how not to eat the cat. (In my 1st playthrough he hoisted the cat up into the air and into his mouth and it disappeared. I think it’s a glitch, but he gained a bunch of health from it, so… I dunno…)

Another game never released in the west. It turns out there is not much of a market for these sorts of simulators. It was tantalizing reading about this in Nintendo Power magazine but there was no typical way to play it.

Playing it in the late 90s / early 2000s was difficult because it was only available in Japanese and there didn’t yet exist any English-language guides. Fortunately the gameplay is very all-ages friendly and visually explanatory, so it worked well as a learning tool for some words and vocabulary at that time.

Graphically it was all about really layered, complicated backgrounds and big smoothly-animated characters. Oh, and voice acting. In an SNES game. When Pino learns something, he actually says “Wakatte wa!” (Got it! / I understand it). There’s a poignant moment where he says “Arigatou… minna”. There were maybe 5 or 6 voice clips like that. I really want to know what percent of the cartridge was dedicated to storing wave file sound. Voice acting in SNES games exists but it’s very rare.

Today there is a 100% complete fan translation. A really good one at that, it’s been worth the wait.

February 23rd, 2018 at 12:07 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Became Immortal in Deathwish (PC, Telnet)

MUD, MUSH, MUCK, and MOO, or MU*/ M** are classes of text-based multiplayer game which tend to be played over Telnet protocol. Originating from a time where there was Internet but no web browsers, many MUDs were popular in the 80s and 90s and some are still played today.

Deathwish has been continuously online since ’94, making it one of the oldest MUDs still in continuous operation.

Once called “Aaezure Odyssey”, I played it in the late 90s and early 2000s. The idea of playing a game over the Internet was really appealing, and graphical online games– while some existed– were a bad experience over the local dial-up. To describe this experience accurately, I didn’t have an Internet-capable computer at home for most of this, but it was a nice treat getting to play this game at my friend’s house, free computer hour at school or at the library. I had a friend in grade school where we’d sit down at her computer and play this game together and it was overall a good time.

In the game’s early days, the name Aaezure Odyssey was adapted because Deathwish was off-putting for some people. Since then the game has reverted back to its original name.

In 2001ish our family “upgraded” from a modem-less Apple II/c to a Windows 98 computer with working dial-up so I got a lot more opportunities to play these sorts of games. I tried out a lot of different MU*s of many different genres. But I never found one I liked as much as Deathwish.

My old character was definitely purged for idleness since it had not been logged on for about 20 years. I wasn’t sweating that too much, especially since I wanted a new toon so that I could re-experience the whole game. The purging policy used to exist to save server space. It’s not necessary now.

There were some artifacts of older times in the MUD documentation and in the MUD itself. It’s a remnant of a very different Internet. I swear somewhere there was at least one :₋). In the connected documentation to the MUD there was a helpful page explaining terms such as “lag”, “flame”, and “newbie”.

Fast forward to the current year. Log in, get past character creation and… there were actual other people playing this game. Not a ton, but… enough for it to shock me when I saw it. At odd hours, there would only be a few characters. On, say, a Saturday night, there would be 10-20 characters, with about 1-3 characters per human person. Seeing people playing and conversing with each other- this is on a MUD, in what is now the late 2010s. How? What is this? I’d type some ‘about’ command, and alongside the link to the normal hosted page, there was a Facebook link. What universe is this?

I rolled a mage as my main, and a paladin alt, partied them together and multi-played them in two side-by-side Telnet clients. The client I used had good support for scriptability so I was able to brush off my Lua, automate a lot of common actions and make the experience less grind-y and save myself some typing. Eventually, I had a cleric too, multi-playing three toons at once which is the limit.

There were moments in this game that were funny, fascinating, strange, surprising, and emotionally engaging. In some of the room descriptions and zone design you feel like there is entire world behind them even though it’s just text. It was such an adventure playing through the mortal playthrough. See, I thought I experienced a good amount of it the first time I played way back. But the game is deeper than I ever could have imagined.

Since I had reached the level cap I was given the option to “remort” my character- meaning, reset to level 1 except with some interesting improvements- or become immortal. Becoming immortal revealed a new game. That game is basically a meta-game. It is something awesome and really overwhelming.

January 6th, 2018 at 12:18 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Yoshi’s Island (SNES)

In this, ‘finished’ means 100 points on every stage of all worlds including the extra stages.

The extra stages include some Kaizo level nonsense. I’m thinking particularly of Hit That Switch. I did Hit that switch while streaming though. Darn, I should have recorded it…

This game is different from the usual format. In it, instead of Mario controlling Yoshi, Yoshi must escort the infant Mario around. If Mario becomes separated from Yoshi he makes a terrible noise, so there is a strong non-gameplay incentive to not let that happen.

This is the game where it is apparently revealed that Mario and Luigi are twins. Is this canon?

October 17th, 2017 at 10:26 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink