Vintage computing, old video games

They are so uncommon let’s take a second to appreciate SNES games with functional loading screens.


Game: Civilization 1
Loading time: ~40 seconds
Purpose: When you create a new game. It is procedurally generating the terrain of the map, placing the other civilizations you’re playing with. Rather than a fixed map, it gets randomly generated each time plus the algorithm is customizeable to include different kinds of climates and features. The longest load time I have seen on this platform.

A video: https://youtu.be/oWtVe2qm7_w?t=129 (not mine, random search off youtube)


Game: Romance of the Three Kingdoms IV: Wall of Fire
Loading time: 2 or 3 seconds
Purpose: When you create a new game. Procedurally generating what commander has what resource allocations, which officers are where. Although the game comes with a fixed set of “scenarios”, you can create your own commander and/or officers and choose who to control. I believe this, plus the difficulty level affects where the game places things and there are too many combinations to pre-compute them.


Game: Another World (also called, Out of this World)
Loading time: ~10 seconds
Purpose: Transitioning out of a simple menu, into the game

This game is, in a word, ambitious. Big, lush backgrounds with lots of things animating. Nothing looks like ‘sprites’; they look like 2D vector graphics rasterized to low resolution to be honest.

This game was originally for Amiga and ported to SNES. The graphics have a unique style which unfortunately doesn’t fit well to SNES technical constraints, which tend to involve either conventional 2D graphics modes with heavily re-used sprites, or just Mode 7– neither of which fit this game well. Now that’s not to say it can’t work. Take, for example, the backgrounds of Super Mario RPG or Wonder Project J. You can make smart judgments about when to re-use sprites and try to hide them among the other elements. Of course, those games were designed from the ground-up for SNES. For this game, conversion to sprites would be an after-thought with the port. The sheer amount of graphics this game has is very large and scenes are organized in ways that are hard to break down into patterned elements.

While I don’t tend to like this type of game- the latency of controls is so slow and loose, for one– I respect its commitment to the unique art style. Given everything this game has going on, the loading screen is not frivolous.


Game: Sim City
Loading time: ~12 seconds
Purpose: When previewing the terrain on which to build your city- there are 1000 terrains (e.g., random seeds). Note that the load time is NOT just for creating a game with the level- it’s to let you view a small 120×100 image. This, plus the instantaneous “OK” button tells us two things. First, there was not enough space on the cart to store 1000 of these images. Second, unpacking the preview image is about the same as unpacking the full map. While I think all of this is okay, they could have done with fewer better-optimized seeds. Fortunately the instruction manual has a couple pages of previews of maps which you can flip through quickly.


Game: Batman Forever
Loading time: ~5 seconds
Purpose: Transitioning out of cutscene into gameplay. Likely to be graphics-related. There are big, detailed sprites with lots of frames of animation.

Although there’s an explanation for a load screen, it may not have been completely necessary. At 24Mbit, the cart is not that small; it’s very likely the graphics could fit without super aggressive compression schemes. Some contributing factors to the need for load time may have been 1) the fact that this game is a port, and there wasn’t time to optimize for any particular platform, and 2) these flashy 3D wireframe-map montage scenes, which would require different types of data and loader code.

Although this game gets a bad rap I respect its live-action-to-low-res-low-color Mortal Kombat aesthetic.


Maybe others I haven’t encountered yet.

See, a couple big things affecting our modern conception of loading screens are optical media and network latency’s failure to keep up with increasing size of game payloads. Computationally, modern computers have advanced a lot to the point where it is rare to see games spinning on procedural content like this, but it is common to spend a lot of time copying game assets from an optical medium to faster local solid-state storage, or downloading game assets from the internet.

There have been some modern efforts to curb load times. For example the Nintendo Switch had a return to a faster-than-optical-disk game media. You know, a cartridge. However, many Nintendo Switch games- non-procedural, fixed-level action games do have loading screens- screens which would have been unacceptable in 1995 but are acceptable now since we are used to them.

February 9th, 2020 at 10:51 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Earth, who wore it better?

left: E. V. O. (SNES) right: Civilization (SNES)

February 8th, 2020 at 6:40 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. This was a co-operative gameplay I finished with a couple friends as a follow up to our completion of Donkey Kong Country 1.

Completion time: about a year, since we played in small increments once in a while.

Game is longer and a lot spicier than 1. Some levels gave us a very hard time. Yeah I am a big fan of the minecart autoscroller.

Time and time again I am really impressed by how much graphics can be fit on a SNES cart. The levels are all full of lush, irregularly-shaped (non-tiled-looking) elements without a lot of repetition; sprites are big with lots of animations, lots of frames in each one; backgrounds have a lot of variety. At the same time, it also doesn’t appear they got too fancy with storage of graphics. I looked at the ROM and could spot at least some 4bpp graphics data stored plain, uncompressed. They just used a big cartridge– 32mb, big for this console.

The technical high points for this game are offline rather than online of course. These are pre-rendered 3D models rendered with Silicon Graphics software, likely on CPU, baked into a bunch of 2D sprites. Everyone likes this. I can’t think of a single fourth-console-generation game which does this and looks bad. More games would have surely done it if it wasn’t so expensive back then, in terms of money.

Only criticism is I was disappointed with the final boss fight. The fight from DKC1 established a pretty high bar, to be fair- it had that cool “fake credits then surprise there’s more”. Not saying DKC2 had to replicate that, but maybe the final boss could have had something else cool. Nope. You fight King K Rool on a pirate ship. He throws projectiles. Pretty standard stuff. Maybe they thought no one would get far enough to see that, due to Windy H̶e̶l̶l̶ Well.

February 8th, 2020 at 6:23 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

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

Finished Brain Lord (SNES)

This is a SNES RPG, a top-down action RPG with some puzzle elements.

Like every great? RPG there are two towns. As this is a medieval-themed game, they would end up settling on town names that were something fantasy- and mystical-sounding. So of course, the first one is called “Arcs” and the second one is called “Toronto”.

I don’t think the phrase “Brain Lord” is ever mentioned in any part of the game.

The game incorporates some puzzle elements which were actually pretty cool. For example, a room where some text on the wall says:
“12 – 52 – Although greater in size, its equivalent is the same in time.”
the answer is a three digit number. Maybe too easy?

Unique qualities:

  1. Levelless system
  2. AI pokemon fairy things that follow you and are a game mechanic
  3. Fast travel
  4. No love interest

Some people are quick with the comparisons to Zelda. Zelda doesn’t have a monopoly on the puzzle-ARPG does it? It definitely is a puzzle-ARPG though.

June 12th, 2019 at 1:59 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

One track of the music from Primal Rage sounds a LOT like Secret of Evermore
SoE “Boss theme 2”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RwyXdGPYOWw
Primal Rage “Stalagtite Cave” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPwTDlgR0x0

They have different composers so maybe a coincidence.

October 22nd, 2018 at 10:02 pm | 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