Vintage computing, old video games

Finished Super Mario RPG (SNES)

Do you remember back when Nintendo’s first party titles tried to push the limits of the current technology?

Since I had done the “finish all my Super Nintendo games I currently own” I bought this new one. This game was not technically new to me since I played it all the way through as a child but I wanted to re-visit it.

I’m of the opinion that this game is the spiritual precursor to Paper Mario. They share the same role-playing elements and comedic style. Before SMRPG- and not counting weird outlyer games like “Mario is Missing”- Mario was a side-scrolling platformer and that was basically it. This was a first in having a Mario game with a character-driven story, EXP and inventory management, and so on. It has a very disctinctive level of polish, and so I think Paper Mario went on to build on this idea later.

SMRPG- which is top-down isometric 2D- achieves a “3D-looking style” through pre-rendered 3D graphics and creative ways of having planes overlap each other. You would not guess that this game was for a platform optimized for copying 16×16 sprites since literally nothing appears to have square boundaries. So many things have curved, irregular edges and unusual types of blending. The sprites all look like shaded 3D models because they are (were). One other game that comes to mind which used these same techniques is Donkey Kong Country 1/2/3 but SMRPG has larger, more varied worlds and characters and so I think it represents a greater level of achievement.

Given the sizes of sprites and envrionment with the lack of repitition or content recycling, I have no idea how they were able to fit a game of this size into 32MB. Performance-wise it was one of only a handful of games that were accelerated by the SA-1 chip though.

The game uses QTEs in all fights which keep things from getting boring or too grind-y.

In this game someone from the Final Fantasy franchise makes an appearance. In this playthrough I beat Culex, an optional boss- for the first time. I can see why this was optional. This was harder than literally anything else in this game including the final boss.

June 25th, 2017 at 9:56 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Japanese, USA and German respectively.

The Germans do not mess around with their box art


May 22nd, 2017 at 9:53 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Rocko’s Modern Life, the SNES action game based on the ’90s Nickelodeon cartoon.

I remember watching this cartoon thinking was pretty funny while also kind of gross because when I was little, I didn’t like seeing eating of hearts, brains, etc. It looked really disturbing. Don’t know if I’d find it gross now? Apparently the show also had lots of innuendos which had to have gone totally over my head at the time since I don’t recall that.

The video game inspired by the cartoon is essentially escort mission genre. There are a bunch of puzzles and obstacles, and you must guide your silly dog Spunky to the goal (golden fire hydrant) at the end of each level.

Spunky moves indiscriminately, autonomously forward- but you can make him switch directions or pause in one spot for a short time, and manipulate the environment to affect where he goes. The game allows you to pause and view the entire map if you want, so you can plot out a course of which items and environmental features to use. Overall difficulty I think is low-med.

The environments and sprites are pretty sizable and visually consistent with the cartoon. There are lots of frames of animation in things. The game makes use of wavefile sound (actual voice clips). I don’t have rosy nostalgia goggles for this cartoon, I don’t have them for this game either, so it was just okay.

The game is not very long or difficult- I played basically the entire thing while on a Skype call with my mom. Now I’m finally running out of SNES games not-yet-beaten.

Maybe it’s time to suck it up and get Ringed City.

April 11th, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

A technical problem-

Need to play 3-player SNES game on emulator with two other people across the internet. (This is on a game which supports multi-tap).

Option #1: ZSNES netplay. Seemed appealing at first because I used it before with two-player games, with some success.
Why it doesn’t work: No connectivity between three machines. Limit is two.

Option #2: Snes9x netplay. Seemed okay at first because it supports 3+ machines (or supposedly, however many you want as spectators). And, in some ways isn’t as brittle as ZSNES’s netplay.
Why it doesn’t work: Horribly unsable, and if anything goes remotely out of sync, rather than recover it will reset the game for everyone. There are supposed to be syncing options other than resetting but those don’t work, only resetting does. The problem is serious enough for it to be unplayable.

Option #3: Wii Virtual console. Seemed appealing as this game is really on VC.
Why it doesn’t work: It won’t let you play with other people over the Internet, with others in your Wii friends list as you might expect, only local (replicating the original). What a lazy port… It would have been such an easy grab of $10 x 3 dollars in this case.

Option #4: Use some random reliable screen sharing program to share the screen. (e.g., Skype)
Why it’s not great: Only one player can play at a time.

It’s utterly pathetic that #4 is the best option.

Does anyone have any other suggestions? If I absolutely have to use #4, maybe I can use some kind of stripped-down remote assistance to share out some keyboard input.

What to do?

***This has been duplicated from its original social media post and had its comments removed.***

April 8th, 2017 at 2:20 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Final Fantasy: Mystic Quest for SNES.

Released around the same time as Final Fantasy V, but it is a way lower level of technical achievement compared to the mainline Final Fantasy games from that time. It has very tiny sprites with two-frame animations, not very many maps. In terms of gameplay there are some things to like: no random encounters, and your character can jump and use a weapon to interact with the environment. The plot is kind of thin and forgettible.

Everything made sense once I read about the origins of this game. Apparently, this was meant to be an introduction of Final Fantasy to a wide western audience, including children, since in the late 80s, early 90s console RPGs had yet to gain as much traction in the west as they did in Japan. That requirement meant streamlining all the combat and equipment system, and having something more action-oriented in the map aside from just walking around. And, having characters that are simpler. They further reduced the difficulty and grind by making it so you can save anywhere, rather than fixed save points, and all battles can be re-tried.

FFMQ has one really good thing: the soundtrack. Unlike the mainline Final Fantasies from around that time, it was not composed by Nobuo Uematsu. So the music feels distinctly different. Less anime-ish and more old-live-action-movie-ish. It’s almost at the point where a game like this does not deserve a soundtrack this good.

Some people call FFMQ the “worst Final Fantasy”. Maybe it is but it is not worse than Final Fantasy XIII.


favorite music

Japan VS USA box art


April 3rd, 2017 at 11:11 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

I have to admire what they could and couldn’t do with video game chiptunes.
E.g., to go from this:

to this:

Like I wonder if it breaks some poor composer’s heart to have their amazing masterpiece work, confined to a representation in a 30-second loop with 64kb of memory and 8 midi channels. In context, good soundtracks tend to stay good soundtracks, even if chiptunes lose so many details and subtle aspects of the arrangement. I suspect that part of the job of BGM composers back then was to create songs that could still sound good on that form factor.

March 12th, 2017 at 3:15 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Got the Megalopolis in SimCity (SNES).

This is the original SimCity, slightly Nintendo-ified with references to Bowser and Mario and Dr. Wright of course. Unlike SimCity 2000, it doesn’t have an isometric style, although there is a sort-of-3D effect in terms of ‘tall’ zones overlapping short ones.

The Megalopolis is the highest population ranking in the game at 500,000 people.

What makes it hard: unlike the newer SimCities, you have very limited space, and zones are 3×3 boxes with nothing smaller, so building optimally around coastlines is a problem.

The game takes pity on you as you begin to run out of space, bestowing upon you up to 7 3×3 landfills, so you can place up to 7 extra zones. A fully developed city is 500-900 zones, though. So it doesn’t help much.

Optimizing for space is hard, ensuring land values remain high while all zones are crammed together as much as possible. Moreover, all zones need to be connected to transit- each zone should be touching at least one transit block develop beyond the minimal thing

Through experimentation I found out how to do some cheesy things-

  • People don’t care if there are literally no roads. Rails everywhere == no traffic
  • Living next to disconnected 10-foot driveway of railroad running out of your backyard is sufficient as a commuting option
  • Industrial zones around the borders because pollution going off the edge of your map ‘doesn’t count’
  • Police stations don’t need to be next to roads OR rails to be effective. They have helicopters or something
  • All schools and hospitals == demolish on sight. Develop them into pure residential zones instead. No one cares
  • Stacking and ‘gift forcing’ cheese.

Of course the city is called ‘SF SOKYO’.

Not a bug, it’s a feature:

February 16th, 2017 at 11:32 am | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished Pagemaster (SNES)

Do you remember this 1994 Macaulay Culkin movie? I had seen it a long time ago, this is the video game tie-in. It has the guy from Home Alone and when he reads some book he enters this alternate universe and there’s cartoons / he becomes a cartoon. This another classic ’16-bit movie tie-in platformer’- not quite as punishingly heard as some of the Disney ones (the Aladdin game, and the Lion King game, omg…) but it gets up there.

The game trolls you in some epic ways. For example, it might seem useful to grind lives for the last level. You would be wrong. You have effectively one shot to beat the last level. Why? Because at the end of the last level is a long, long path of lethal spikes, and- from all I can ascertain- you are supposed to take one long jump at the spikes, then carefully use I-frames to run that long remainder of the way and you barely have enough. You only have I-frames at all if you have an item to spare, it’s Mario style where power-ups are the only thing shielding you from insta-death. And you res with no power-ups obviously. And there are literally no power-ups present in the level. On the condition that all of these things are true, you can have 99 lives for the last level, it won’t matter- if you die you might as well hit the reset button..

One thing this game has, that I sort of miss, is some screen- could be the ending screen, could be the “I want to stop playing screen”, doing a “while(1);” basically. It stalls forever. Accepts no input. That’s where you just turn off the game.

Separate topic, but I really like this type of ending screen with the while(1).

Pagemaster’s ending screen does this. So does Chrono Trigger’s and Super Metroid’s and Super Mario RPG’s and EarthBound’s and Lagoon’s and like every RPG from that era.

An an example besides ending screens, SimCity (SNES) has an option called END. The game stops and it shows a simple animation of a moon sleeping. It will do this forever and you just shut off the console.

That type of ending screen doesn’t modernize super well… You can kill the game process but it just doesn’t have that same “winding down” feeling. I like it because it’s an option I can select when I really do want to stop playing, and there is nothing tempting me to go back and re-enter the game. Most importantly, the static nature of the screen takes me out of it.

Actually, modern MMOs- such as Blade and Soul, when I played it- do the exact opposite of this. If you select “Exit”, there will be a waiting period of about 30 seconds just to make sure you’re actually, actually sure. They probably have some argument about it curbing cheating or ragequitting but I think we all know the real reason. I would like to see more ending screens in games that just tell you good job, now shut it off and do something else.

February 9th, 2017 at 10:25 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

Finished ActRaiser (SNES).

ActRaiser plays like two games in one. One half is a top-down ‘god game’ city-building simulator, the other half is your standard side-scrolling platformer with very oldschool difficulty. Although the two modes have such different visuals and gameplay, they are integrated. Your success in the citybuilding increases your health/spells in the platformer, and your success in the platformer unlocks the next part of the citybuilding.

I have to admire how much effort it would have been to include both these two modes. They are so visually different you basically can’t recycle any assets between them. Another cool thing is that the overworld map, shown with the ‘mode 7’ efffect, shows how your city actually looks at the present time- the terrain changes, and the placement of cities- not just some constant pre-canned thing.

There is a sequel to this game, ActRaiser II, but they axed the city-building part in favor of just having the platformer alone. Kind of a curious decision since that’s what really made this game unique.

The difficulty of the game varies wildly. The SIM parts are quite relaxing, and some of the early-game bosses are a joke, but the final boss gauntlet is something else. You need to fight all the bosses from the latter half of the game in succession, and then an additional final boss with two forms. In between bosses your health doesn’t replenish. Your magic doesn’t replenish. You can die twice but no more. Oh, and the bosses are all sped up compared to before. I was able to put together a ‘take no damage’ strategy for a few of them but not all. I got through it by the skin of my teeth.

This was a very challenging but fun game, I loved the two-genres-in-one and visual style. I had rented it a couple times when I was younger but never owned it, and for some reason, I had never beaten it even though it’s short. Maybe it was too hard. Now I got to revisit it. There are a lot of games I was not able to beat when I was younger but I can beat them now, I think because I became better co-ordinated.

And between this, Kirby’s Marx and Lagoon- seeing any 2D game level whose background is just a moving starfield makes me instantly know what’s going on… It’s a huge cliche!

February 5th, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink

I… don’t think that’s how that works


February 2nd, 2017 at 10:24 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (0) | Permalink