Posts from July, August, and September 2009.

September 29, 2009... Now That's What I Call an Update!

Now that I've got GORF out of my system, it's time to cover the explosion of genuinely exciting releases and news coming from the video game industry, starting with...

* SUPER STREET FIGHTER IV (with almonds!): Capcom has announced a follow up to the latest Street Fighter game just months after it was released.  Whoo, nineties flashback!  Anyway, here's the early scoop on this supercharged sequel... the game will include ten new characters, with two original creations (Tae Kwon Do mast- er, mistress Juri and Saudi strongman Hakan) and six fighters from different periods in the Street Fighter timeline.  Cody, Guy, and Adon represent the sublime Street Fighter Alpha; T. Hawk and Dee Jay are courtesy of Super Street Fighter II; and Dudley, Ibuki, and Makoto are all culled from Street Fighter 3.  It's a pretty good selection of brawlers, with Guy, Dee Jay, and Dudley standing out as highlights.  Cody, though?  Bleech.  Good thing the voice acting team has been entirely recast... I don't think my ears could handle more of his obnoxious, third rate Batman villain laugh.

* SCRIBBLENAUTS:  I'm torn between this game's ingenious play mechanics and its heinous control.  In case you missed the memo, Scribblenauts lets you create anything you can imagine by writing its name on the touchscreen.  Well, not anything anything... you can't write "douchebag" (not even if you write it really neatly!) or summon a massive Abe Vigoda to lay waste to everything that stands before you, but it handles most common nouns, and even many uncommon nouns, perfectly well.  Sadly, one thing Scribblenauts gets terribly, terribly wrong is the control of its lead character Maxwell.  It's all handled with the DS touchscreen, and quite poorly, might I add... instead of jumping or picking up objects, the little fashion victim insists on running headlong into the jaws of death.  Some objects don't work quite like you'd expect, either... neither cement mix nor gelatin mix has the intended effect of hardening pools of water, and asking for a blizzard or lightning nets you a puny cloud with almost no effect on its surroundings.  It's a shame this sleeper hit probably won't get a sequel, because it really needs one to fix all the flaws that make the game so damned frustrating.

* PROFESSOR LAYTON AND THE DIABOLICAL BOX:  The big mystery here is why the game is called "Diabolical Box" here and "Pandora's Box" everywhere else.  Did Nintendo think we Americans were too dumb to get the reference?  Anyway, this one wasn't really for me, but my mother, who devoured the original days after I introduced it to her.  It warmed my dark, crater-filled heart when she turned on the sequel and exclaimed that seeing Layton and Luke again was like "reuniting with old friends."  I haven't played much of it personally, but from what I've seen it seems like the status quo for the Sherlock Holmes-inspired detective and his young ward.  You know, talk to goofy townspeople, solve puzzles ranging from stupidly easy to "where's my hammer" hard, rinse and repeat.

* BLUE DRAGON:  I bought this a few days ago and still haven't tried it!  I'm a little worried that I'm going to be as disappointed with it as I was with Batman: After You Play This You'll Need To Be Checked Into Arkham Asylum.  Then again, seven dollars' worth of disappointment is a lot easier to swallow than sixty.  I'll work up the courage to try it eventually, I'm sure, even though I'm not hearing flattering things about the game from my bud Freakservo.

* PLAYSTATION 3:  Yes, I broke down and bought one after bitterly railing against it.  What, are you surprised?  This is only like the sixth time I've done this!  Anyway, the machine is a fixer-upper, and judging from past experience with a broken PSP, I may never get it back on its feet.  For just ninety dollars, though, I'm willing to try.  It'll give me an extra sense of satisfaction if I can bring it back from the dead, especially if the issues with the system are relatively minor.  Then again, if I can't fix it, I'll end up with a really sleek ninety dollar doorstop!

September 25, 2009... The Ghost with the Most

I can't believe it's been four days since I've updated!  Anyway, I've updated GORF, giving the shields that shimmery look they've been missing since the project started two-odd months ago.

But enough about that!  Have you seen footage of Capcom's next Nintendo DS game Ghost Trick?  You really should.  It's hard to believe animation that slick and artwork that sharp could come from the system.  Okamiden looks pretty promising as well... I never finished the original but I wouldn't mind giving this stubby sequel a shot.

September 21, 2009... Sweet Release

The first release candidate for GORF is now available for download. Give it a spin and see if you can find any bugs I might have missed. 

September 18, 2009... Europa and the Free Yet Not Pirated Twins

I don't post much news on this site, but this was just too good to pass up. There's a promotion in Europe- game-starved, exorbitantly overpriced Europe!- where Wii owners can earn Nintendo points and even free access to software by helping their friends access the internet with Nintendo's popular system.  Get one Wii owner online and you get five hundred download points, enough virtual scratch for an NES game.  Help twenty Wii owners find their way on the internet and you'll get a bounty of ten thousand Nintendo points, plus a golden ticket to download any Virtual Console game for any Nintendo system, absolutely free.  It's a goal that's likely as insurmountable as earning a television set with Marlboro points, or a bicycle by selling Grit subscriptions (don't you love these timely and oh-so-relevant analogies?), but a tempting one nevertheless.  Now if only Europe would stop banning video games, its citizens would actually have something to download from the service!

Yet more news on the GORF front.  I've purged a few bugs from the previous build, and it should (should) work with 3-in-1 cartridges now.  If you'd like to contribute to the project, I'd appreciate a list of what works with the game and what won't.  Here's an early preliminary list, compiled from player input on the AtariAge and Denial web sites.  The fix should resolve some of the issues people have had with their hardware, but not all.  As usual, if you play the game on untested hardware, you do so at your own risk, but I'd appreciate any testing and status reports you're willing to provide.


VISUAL BOY ADVANCE 1.7.2: Game works as intended.
M3 LITE: Game "loads fine."  No other specifics reported.
DINGOO A320: Dingoo...?  Anyway, the game functions on this unit, using an emulator.


SUPERCARD MINI SD: Game works as intended. Some issues with game saves and loads, possibly traced to dying save battery inside the aging cartridge.
NO$GBA: Game works with the header fixed (so the latest build should be fine too).
BOYCOTT ADVANCE (OSX):  Game runs too quickly, about 20% speed gain. Reported in an early beta build; may be resolved with new VBLANK command.
PSP (WHAT EMULATOR?): Game runs but slowdown is frequent, especially while voice plays.


CYCLO DS & EZFLASH 3 in 1: Game hangs, permanent white screen after NOR flash.  Cyclo DS continues to work; EZFlash does not. (behavior reported with pre-fix build)
VISUAL BOY ADVANCE, EARLY BUILDS: Game runs too quickly, ship repositions itself, other nasty business.  Recommendation?  Update the software.
VB ADVANCE FOR WII:  Black screen of death.
ACEKARD RPG & EZFLASH V:  Early builds will not function.  The fix may resolve this.

September 16, 2009... Now With Convenient Cardboard Applicator

You hear Activision CEO Bobby Kotick's recent comments about being proud that his series Guitar Hero finally cracked the Wii's $49.99 price ceiling?  I sure did. 

September 15, 2009... A Goliath Return

A hundred days ago, lying around, watching YouTube clips, and doing barely any homework was the rule.  It was a time of idle contentment.  It was an age of wondering how those girls in the video could do that thing with the cup.  It was... my life.  Asleep by day, barely active by night, I was betrayed by a bank account with too many withdrawals and not enough deposits, then frozen in dial-up for a hundred days.  But now here with Alltel 3G access, the spell is broken, and I LIVE AGAIN!


I guess what I'm trying to say is that broadband internet access (of a kind) has returned to The Gameroom Blitz.  After finding out that I was too far out in the boonies for cable, DSL, or even wireless internet designed for rural areas, it was quite literally my last option.  I mean that, too... some people use "literally" to describe things that aren't really true, but I've done the research, and this was the last stop before the worn down old train station to dial-up.  So now I have the heavy yoke of a hundred dollar downpayment, sixty dollars per month service fee, and a two year commitment around my neck, but at least I have 3G for as long as I can afford it. 

So far, it's been treating me pretty well.  It's not the speed demon that my Charter internet had become shortly before I left the city, but it gets the job done.  It doesn't work with my netbook, and probably won't until I install a more full-featured build of Windows XP or find a clever workaround, but the laptop seems to have adapted to it quite nicely.  Since the drivers built into the card are written especially for computers, I have a hunch that the Xbox 360 is not going to play nice with it, which rules out Xbox Live for at least another couple of months. However, if I've done without for this long, it's not going to kill me to wait a little longer for an online death match.

Anyway, enough of that!  I just wanted to tell you that the GameBoy Advance conversion of GORF is very nearly finished.  The ship's final explosion is still pretty wimpy and there are a couple of bugs here and there, but the latest beta won't be dramatically different from the final release.  Download it from the link at the top of the page, and have fun!  Be sure to check out the Mission Matrix... there are tons of tough challenges waiting for you there. 

(Well, if each challenge were two hundred pounds, that would technically be true.)

(Not literally, though.)

September 13, 2009... Ready For The Loonie Bin

Batman: Arkham Asylum is the first game I purchased for my Xbox 360 in months.  Now that I've played it, I wish I would have waited even longer.  The release that critics are applauding as the first "good" Batman game is burdened with all the tattered earmarks of 21st century game design.  You know, convoluted button mapping, stealth dissatisfaction sequences, mindless button-mashing combat, tons of cool features dropped behind a brick wall of play requirements, and a brooding, darker-than-the-inside-of-a-black-hole art direction from developers entirely too desperate to prove that video games can be a "mature" media.  Call me an old crank, but it gets a teeny bit tiresome when every action/adventure game for the Xbox 360 fits this description.

The game is even a wash from the perspective of a Batman: The Animated Series fan, since many voices have been recast and others seem downright rusty in the years since the Timmverse came to an end in the mid 2000s.  Mark Hamill has made it clear for many years that he's gotten too old to play the Joker, and after listening to his off-kilter performance in Arkham Asylum, I'm starting to believe him.  The character sounds more like Kevin Michael Richardson's Joker from the lackluster series The Batman, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if he actually sat in for Hamill during some takes.  Thankfully, Kevin Conroy is sublime as Batman, and Arleen Sorkin puts in a pretty good performance as Harley Quinn, but the new design for that character is an absolute fright.  They've stripped her of her traditional sleek wardrobe, replacing it with a heinous loligoth dress that makes you want to dig your eyes out with a spork.  "How do you like my new outfit?," she inquires with her nasally New York accent during your first encounter.  Uh, I hope you kept the receipt.

Barbara Gordon's here too, playing a behind-the-scenes role as Oracle (who...?) rather than her usual hands-on sidekick Batgirl.  Although I'm pretty sure she's not voiced by Melissa Gilbert or Tara Strong, the new voice sounds pleasant enough, and fits the character like a glove.  I can't say the same for either Tom Kane or Steve Blum, who provide stale vocals that have been worn paper-thin in hundreds of cartoons.  Seriously Blum, take a fucking vacation once in a while!  If there's anything to be thankful for in this game, it's that he wasn't hired to play Batman himself.

Well, there is one other thing I can appreciate.  Although they're much too dark and grimy for my tastes, the graphics in Batman: Arkham Asylum are nevertheless incredible.  I haven't played my Xbox 360 in months, and completely forgot about the high calibur of its visuals.  You can't tell where the full-motion video clips end and the cut scenes begin, or if there's any full-motion video in the game at all, so the developers at Rocksteady deserve recognition for that.

Unfortunately, the game buried under all that gloss just isn't much fun.  It's got the same issue as other recent action titles, in that it's both suffocatingly linear but makes even the simplest tasks frustratingly obtuse.  Batman controls sluggishly and the player interface is needlessly awkward, with some commands requiring button combinations.  There are thirteen keys on the Xbox 360 controller, and you're still making me push face buttons and shoulder buttons together?  And I have to do this with guns pointed at me from three different directions?  Really?  Hey Rocksteady, call me when you pull your heads from your asses and come up with a control scheme that doesn't make me feel like I'm trying to prevent a nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.

Granted, I'm not too far into the game yet, but with the stealth action of Splinter Cell, the button pounding battles from God of War, and the dreary, depressing color scheme of BioShock, it already feels like I've played this a dozen times before.  Maybe I should have saved my money for Scribblenauts instead.  Maybe it's not as pretty as Arkham Asylum, but it sure as hell isn't as cliched.

September 9, 2009... An All-Star 'Cast

I suppose I had better say something on this, the tenth anniversary of Sega's ill-fated Dreamcast.  So, uh... something.

Kidding, kidding.  For two solid years, Dreamcast WAS gaming to me.  Sure, I'd play some of the old Playstation titles I had missed in the late 1990s and try some obscure Atari 2600 titles on emulators, but the bulk of my gaming was on this little white system.  Small wonder too, when those games included Soul Calibur, Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and a sensational King of Fighters '99 port.  Although they were admittedly the bulk of the system's library, the Dreamcast had more to offer than just awesome fighting games.  There was also Samba de Amigo, the best rhythm game around until Guitar Hero debuted in 2005, Mars Matrix, an intense vertically scrolling shooter with scores typically in the trillions, and Seaman, an innovative virtual pet simulation which conclusively proved the importance of a quality English localization.

So happy birthday to a game system that achieved greatness in its tragically short life.  Who knows what great heights it could have reached with just a few more years of support?

September 7, 2009... Yes, It's About GORF Again. Shut Up.

Just wanted to post a fresh beta for GORF.  This time, there's an options and credits screen to go with all the other great stuff packed into the game.  I've started some preliminary work on the Mission Matrix, but the effect I wanted to use when entering and exiting the mode is proving more difficult to add than I had hoped.  You could probably imagine why after you see this mock-up...

(Sorry for eating up your bandwidth, by the way.)

Anyway, the Mission Matrix works a bit like Bingo.  Finish a mission (ranging from killing everything BUT the Laser Ships in Laser Attack to polishing off the Flagship with just six shots) and you're awarded some artwork.  Complete a row of challenges and you'll unlock Frenzy Mode, which gives you one ship to finish a single stage as many times as possible.  Fill in a column and you unlock options for the arcade mode.  Finish all the challenges and... well, I haven't gotten that far yet, but we'll see what happens.

Nothing else to report.  As I've said before, if you want gaming news, Kotaku and Joystiq are over there.

September 4, 2009... Getting There

The latest beta is finished, and it's beta than ever!


Seriously, there are all kinds of new goodies in this release, including both a title screen and the long-awaited art gallery.  Now all that's left are some minor tweaks to the core game, an options screen, and the Mission Matrix mode, and the game is finito.  I'm so glad I started this... this has been a pretty rough week for me, and working on GORF is the only thing that's kept me sane through it all.  Anyway, grab yourself a copy from the link on the right and, as always, let me know what you think of it.

As for gaming news... er, what gaming news?  I'm hearing great things about Arkham Asylum, the latest Batman game, but past that all's been quiet on both the Western and Eastern fronts.  That's all right, though... I'm sure things will heat up in a couple of months, when the Christmas shopping season begins.

August 28, 2009... Corruptive Influence

Well, that's embarrassing.  I was informed by a friend of mine that the last file I uploaded was corrupt and wouldn't unzip.  Maybe this will work a little better... it's a more recent beta version of the game with lives, six difficulty levels, and with any luck, files you can actually access.

I'm also going to take the liberty of adding a link to the sidebar for easy access... and so people will realize that the game exists!

August 27, 2009... Long Time, No See!

Holy crap, has it been that long since I updated?  Well, there's a perfectly valid reason for the delay.  Download this, play it in your favorite GameBoy Advance emulator (I suspect that would be VisualBoy Advance), and you'll understand.

Also... I really like that banner up there.  Maybe I'll keep it past August...

August 22, 2009... Halfway There

Not much to report on the gaming news front, except for Microsoft's logical decision to cut the price of its Xbox 360 Elite in response to the recent Playstation 3 price drop.  However, they haven't introduced or even announced a more streamlined model of the system, which isn't that much of a surprise considering Microsoft's refusal to update the original, extra chunky Xbox.

However, there's good news for those of you following the GORF project.  I've finished three rounds, with just two left to go.  There's actually a lot of work left to do after the remaining stages are completed... I still need to add collision detection for the ship, a steady progression of difficulty for the other five ranks, and of course the trademark synthesized voice from the arcade game.  Also, I'd like to go back and tweak the Laser Attack stage, since it kind of stinks in its current state.  That's nothing a few hours of coding won't cure, I assure you!

In light of the progress I've made so far, I think I should have a beta ready to go by the end of the month.  While you're waiting, give this alpha version a spin and let me know what you think.

EDIT: I fixed many of the problems with the earlier alpha.  Sorry about that, folks!  The Laser Attack stage should be loads better now.

August 19, 2009... Rolling Staaaaart! (also, PS3 price drop)

The Saturn version of Daytona USA may look like crap by today's standards (or even 1995 standards), but that soundtrack's going to seem cutting edge a thousand years from now, when surly robots and clueless delivery manboys roam the earth.  Seriously, grab a copy of the disc and pop it into your computer... the tunes are fantastic!  While you're at it, give Virtua Fighter 2 for the same system a spin, too.  The music in that game holds up just as well, especially track two which remains one of my all-time favorites.

All right, all right... I guess I can't resist posting some video game news, since this is a pretty monumental announcement.  That slim Playstation 3 that's been rumored for the past couple of months?  It's the real deal, and it comes with a substantial price drop, down to a reasonable three hundred dollars.  The tech specs are a mixed bag, however... power consumption has been greatly reduced from the original model and the 120GB hard drive offers plenty of storage for downloadable content and game installations, but there's still no backward compatibility with the Playstation 2 and the ability to run Linux is history as well.  That cut strikes me as a bit odd, but since I'm more interested in playing games than pulling my hair out over an obtuse operating system, I'm not going to lose too much sleep over it.

In other news, the long-running counterculture gaming site Insert Credit is closing up shop after nearly a decade of publication.  I'm of mixed minds about this... while Insert Credit served up all the wonderfully oddball news that the mainstream sites never saw fit to print, it's seen so few updates in the past year that its closure won't have as profound an effect on its readers as, say, the Gaming Intelligence Agency's April Fools Day prank back in 2002.  For those of you keeping score, the immensely popular site was shut down on the first of April... and didn't come back the following day.  Yeah, that one hurt.

Also, to be frank, the Insert Credit forum was packed to the rafters with colossal douchebags; nerds so smug and caustic they top even Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory on my list of people I'd like to see crushed by a meteorite.  So the site will be missed, but that message board, not so much.

Before I go, here's a quick update on the GORF project.  I was able to acquire the full version of Dragon BASIC shortly after my post, so there should be no further barriers to its development.  Right now I'm working on the second stage, Laser Attack, and its smarter enemies and more complex animation have proven quite challenging.  I'm not giving up, though... I've come too far to back down now!

August 17, 2009... Low Overhead

Well, that was unexpected.  Shortly after finishing the first stage of my GORF conversion, I ran face first into a brick wall.  The copy of Dragon BASIC I downloaded was a trial version, limiting users to just 128K for their programs.  I used half of that just for the introduction and Astro Battles, and once I started adding sound samples I hit that glass ceiling pretty quickly.

So I'll tell you what I'm gonna do.  I'll let you have a copy of the game in its current unfinished state, while I hunt down the ungimped version of this compiler.  I thought the developer had released Dragon BASIC to the public domain, but the shareware nags leave me wondering if Jeff Massung is holding onto a more robust version of the software.  Wait, Massung?  Isn't that the wine Orson Wells drank by the gallon in those old commercials?

In video game industry news, things happened, and I didn't care.  What does this look like to you, Joy fucking Stiq?

August 13, 2009... Filled to the Brim with Gorfish Glee

Oh man!  I've finally finished the introduction to my GameBoy Advance version of GORF.  You've got to see this... it looks terrific on the actual hardware!

I just hope I have time to finish this game.  There's just a week and a half left until classes start...

August 11, 2009... Slow Ride

Hey everybody, I'm back!  Did you miss me?  Oh, you didn't even realize I was gone.  Anyway, I took my trusty netbook with me while on my brief vacation, and made great strides in the GameBoy Advance project mentioned in previous updates.  I've got three layers of graphics active in my latest program, without the aggravation of flipped letters or scrambled tiles.  However, now I'm having trouble with the sprites, as you can see from this picture.  Yeah, barf brown wasn't the color I had in mind for those letters, Dragon BASIC.

There was one other aggravation I had to deal with while taking a break from the site and from civilization.  It seems that the one constant in emulation is that as time passes and technology improves, MAME steadily gets slower. My Asus EEE, which was once powerful enough to handle most of the older games in the MAME library without breaking a sweat, is now starting to lag behind when running oldies like Zoo Keeper and Gyruss. Overclocking the processor with EEEctl solves the problem, but creates another one... when it's switched to its maximum speed, the netbook chugs power so quickly that I almost expect it to crush the empty battery on its forehead once it's done!

Since the bulk of my gaming is spent with emulators at this point, this raises an uncomfortable question. Do I blow part of my college loan money on a fresh netbook, or supplement MAME with arcade emulators that aren't nearly as ambitious in scope, but run the few dozen games they can play a whole lot faster? Before I make a move, I'd like to know how improved the new systems are over this launch model. There's been an ongoing battle between Microsoft and manufacturers like Asus, with Bill Gates' crumbling monopoly doing everything within its power to keep netbooks wimpy, and the creator of the EEE pushing for faster machines while working feverishly to break its dependence on Windows. I'd like to know how much ground Asus was able to gain in this tug of war before I drop a few hundred dollars on a system I may not necessarily need or even want.

I'm also thinking that after years of getting by with a clearance-priced cell phone, it might be time for an upgrade. The iPhone would be the obvious choice, if not for its outrageous price (thank you Apple tax) and a lengthy contract with AT+T that's double what I'm paying my current provider. After considering my options, I'm leaning toward the Helio Ocean. It's reasonably priced, full-featured, favorably reviewed, and even has a small pool of third party developers. An iPhone it's not, but I can always count on my iPod Touch for my Rolando fix.

What's that? You wanted current gaming news, rather than self-absorbed technobabble? Brother did you come to the wrong place, but if you insist! Word on the street is that Electronic Arts will be squeezing every last dime from anyone who buys the 20th anniversary edition of Madden, charging for cheats, power-ups, and practically everything but the team jerseys. Remember when developers tried pulling this crap with arcade games like Double Dragon 3, and gamers actively resisted this crass exploitation? Boy, those were the good old days.

(Except for having to play Double Dragon 3, I mean.)

August 4, 2009... Get With The Program (also, Midway splits into bits)

Sad to say, I'm still struggling with my project for the GameBoy Advance. Thanks to some kind souls at AtariAge (I don't know what I'd do without that place!), I was able to figure out the difference between character blocks and screen blocks. It turns out that character blocks are where the actual graphics are stored, and screen blocks are the codes associated with each chunk of visual data. It works a little like one of those old paint-by-numbers kits, with the numbers on each page telling you which colors you should use. Simple enough, right? In fact, it's so easy an effeminate, easily offended caveman could do it!

However, now that I understand how tile-based graphics work, I've run into an entirely different problem... the limitations of the GameBoy Advance hardware. When I started working with Dragon BASIC, I assumed that there were four separate blocks of character data, and thirty two blocks of screen data, with each block filling an entire screen. That'd be plenty of room for most homebrew projects, but after several frustrating hours I'm convinced that the system's video RAM is not nearly as generous as I first thought. If I put too many tiles in a program, they start to overwrite each other, even when they're placed in separate character and screen blocks. Fonts are flipped upsidedown, letters appear where they don't belong, and graphics lose both definition and color, forcing me to drastically reduce the number of tiles loaded into memory to keep the visuals from falling apart.

What I don't understand is how a system powerful enough to handle an accurate conversion of Street Fighter Alpha 3 and a trio of incredibly long Castlevania games could struggle with something as trifling as a cheesy Gorf clone. Either I'm doing something terribly wrong (and I haven't ruled out that possibility) or it's the compiler that's narrowing my horizons. Looking back through the sample programs I've downloaded, I've noticed a trend that suggests the latter is the case. Every one of them uses a tiny tileset, with the bulk of the graphics invested in sprites. However, the professionally designed games I've examined in VisualBoy Advance seem to have several screens of tile data in addition to the sprites. Either these games are constantly accessing the cartridge for data (we're talking once every sixtieth of a second here) or Dragon BASIC is severely limited in scope. I may need to ask the folks at to either confirm or deny those suspicions.

All this talk of my homebrew project and I completely forgot to mention this monumental news from the video game industry. Media giant Time-Warner has purchased Midway's intellectual properties, putting the long-running Mortal Kombat series in its pocket and opening the door to a whole lot of MK vs. DC Universe sequels. However, I don't know if Time-Warner owns all of Midway's software library, or if it just skimmed the most lucrative franchises off the top and left the rest to the vultures. It's been my opinion since Midway's bankruptcy that the classic arcade games should return to Raw Thrills founder and former Midway programmer Eugene Jarvis, but if he didn't make a move during the company's liquidation, he'll never get another shot at owning the profoundly influential games he helped create. Sorry man, but you snooze, you lose!

While we're on the subject, I wonder what will happen to Gorf, the Midway shooter that's been hung up in legal limbo for countless years. Thanks to all the content it "borrowed" from Space Invaders and Galaxian, there's no telling who will own the game when the dust settles from Midway's fire sale. Will it be Time-Warner, the current owner of most Midway properties? Will it be Namco-Bandai, which probably considers Gorf the first in a long series of insults from a company which frequently mistook its licensing agreement for a sales receipt? Or will it be Taito (a division of Square-Enix... damn this market consolidation!), the creator of Space Invaders and the company responsible for starting the entire shoot 'em up genre? My gut tells me that nothing will change because the cost of settling the rights to this game will greatly outweigh any profits it can generate, but I've been wrong before...

August 2, 2009... At A Loss For Words

Once upon a time, I remember complaining to a friend that he didn't send me letters often enough.  He responded by saying, "What am I supposed to do?  Send you daily updates about the most mundane details of my life?  'Just ascertained that Michelina's Macaroni and Cheese is better than Kraft Mac and Cheese.  It was cool and breezy today, with a chance of light showers.  Gee, I sure hope George Clooney comes back to ER...'"


Although the response was rather pointed, the sentiment he expressed was nevertheless clear.  It's tough to justify writing when you don't have that much to discuss.  I've had other friends who could turn their most hum-drum daily activities into spellbinding stories, but if you don't have that talent, regular updates to a web site like this one just seem forced. 


It doesn't help matters that I just haven't been particularly interested in playing video games... all my systems rest quietly in hibernation, tucked inside a toolshed on my parents' property, and the drought of games this summer hasn't given me much incentive to rouse them from their slumber.  When the highlight of the season has been a re-release of a game I played to death in 2001, it's hard to muster up much enthusiasm for either the Xbox 360 or the Wii.


I dunno... maybe when the college loans finally arrive, I'll splurge and buy a copy of Wii Sports Resort.  The Motion Control Plus dongle included with the game is supposed to greatly improve the precision of the Wiimote, letting the player move more naturally when he hurls a bowling ball or carefully lines up a putt.  Distressingly, the rumor is that the enhanced control of the Motion Control Plus comes not from improved accelerometer technology but added memory, making you wonder why Nintendo didn't just put that extra RAM in the damned controller before it hit the market.  Seriously, memory's been dirt cheap for years, even in 2006 when the Wii made its debut.  Tsk tsk, Nintendo.  As the star of the unintentionally hilarious TurboDuo release Last Alert might say, people will hate you if you're too... stingie.


Maybe I'll grab a copy of King of Fighters XII instead.  I'm on the fence about this one... the small cast of characters doesn't bother me much (although no Bao and no Yamazaki make Jess go something something), but the redrawn graphics really get under my skin.  After all the hype about this game being hand-drawn, it just seems like cheating for the artists to rotoscope computer-rendered models.  It makes the characters seem artificial; just a little too good to be true, if you catch my drift.  SNK tried this in the past with The Art of Fighting 3, and back then, it was a pretty nifty novelty... but now, with 2D fighting games becoming an increasingly rare treat, I'd like to be sure that they really are in two dimensions.


Perhaps I'll forget about buying more games and just keep plugging away at my own.  I'm still working with Dragon BASIC, but I've currently reached an empasse... I just don't know how to use the commands for drawing tiles.  There are screen blocks, and character blocks, and background layers, and it's all pretty confusing.  Just when I think I've figured it all out, I compile my program, only to discover that the graphics are garbled beyond recognition.  Frustrating?  Oh yeah.  And it's even worse when you stop and consider how little documentation is available for this compiler.  Believe me, I've looked around, but even the official web site doesn't offer much help, with broken links everywhere and a forum that's impossible to access.  I'll keep working on this... most of the artwork is finished, and it'd be a shame to drop the project when I've made this much progress on it.

July 30, 2009... Guess What Fell Out Of A Virtual Richard Gere?

You'll find out later in this post.  First, it's time for a long overdue banner swap!  This time Capcom's Darkstalkers gets a chance to shine on The Gameroom Blitz.  I personally prefer the sequel, but only the original has this really cool group shot in the attract mode.

I've been pecking away at the GORF translation, and I'm starting to wonder if I can actually make this work.  I've got large numbers of characters moving around the screen at once, but the code's far from airtight... after about thirty seconds, the Space Invaders and Galaxians have a disconcerting habit of pressing together like so many intergalactic sardines.  I'm also having trouble wrapping my head around some of the game logic... the dive-bombing Galaxians and swirling ships in the Space Warp have proven especially vexing.  I'll keep plugging away at it... I won't have much else to do until the next semester of college begins.

Well, enough of that.  What's going on in the video game industry?  Well, there are the release delays for Scribblenauts and the fabled Wii version of Cave Story.  I've already written off the latter game as vaporware- seriously, didn't we get this run-around with the phantom PSP version two years ago?- but I still have high hopes for Scribblenauts.  Word on the street is that this incredibly ambitious vocabulary-enhanced platformer will have support for English, Spanish, and French, making the power-up possibilities even more endless.

As for games that actually were released, there's Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for the Xbox 360, and a big surprise... an early prototype version of Virtual Hamster, the 32X game that was in development until everyone came to the sudden realization that the 32X sucks.  I haven't downloaded it yet, but you'd better believe I'll get my grubby little hands on a copy when I get a chance.

July 23, 2009... BASIC Training

Work continues on the GameBoy Advance conversion of GORF, the early 1980s shooter best described as Copyright Infringement: The Game.  Thanks to Dragon BASIC, I've got two independently moving objects on the screen, along with sound effects straight from the arcade game.  You can test out my work in progress by clicking this link.

However, I'm learning as I go along that converting a video game that dates back to the early Reagan administration may not be as easy as I first thought.  GORF may be very old, but it's also very advanced for its time, with complicated enemy patterns and cutting-edge special effects that are difficult to reproduce on the GameBoy Advance hardware.  I suppose I don't have to include the clever distortion effect in some sprites and the shield in the first stage, but there's no getting around the large swarm of Galaxians in the third stage, or the madly spiralling foes in the fourth stage, or the flagship that's torn apart by the player's shots in the fifth stage.

I'm also held back by the peculiarities of Dragon BASIC.  It's a full-featured compiler, but the problem is that some of those features just don't seem to work.  The LINE command that would have been handy for the game's impressive flagship explosion just hangs the system, and the WALLPAPER command that's supposed to stamp a bitmapped image onto the background only garbles the sprites beyond recognition.  It's possible that I'm doing something wrong, but I'm fairly convinced at this point that these commands are just broken.  If only there were still a community of Dragon BASIC users around somewhere that could verify this...

July 20, 2009... When It Groens, It Pours

This is going to be the official Simpsons and Futurama post for this site, since both shows have been on my mind lately in light of recent events. In case you missed the news, there's word that Futurama will return to television with all new episodes. However, key members of the voice cast may not be coming along for the ride, complaining that they're not being fairly compensated for their work. The gut instinct among Internet nerds is to side with them and rally against billionaire tyrant Rupert Murdoch and the executives at FOX, but the truth is that there are no good guys in this battle. The actors are reportedly asking for ten times the money they received when the show first aired in 1999, a serious overestimation of their value when you consider that the new episodes of Futurama will only air on extended basic cable, and with a sharply reduced budget.

Unwilling to meet the outrageous salary demands of the original cast, the producers of the series have started a casting call for replacements. Predictably, other members of the voice acting community are standing in solidarity with series regulars Katey Segal, John DiMaggio, and Billy West. One fellow actor, Bob Bergen, even went so far as to warn prospective scabs on his blog that there would be karmic retribution for anyone who dared to replace the old cast. It's funny he should mention that, since Billy West eagerly stepped into the role of Ren when John Kricfalusi was fired from The Ren and Stimpy Show back in 1992. West's excuse was simple and to the point... "I just wanted the money."

I'm not willing to sympathize with either FOX or the voice over cast, since both parties seem equally willing to kill the Futurama franchise to line their own pockets. A friend of mine, GameSpite's Jeremy Parish, claimed that it was probably for the best, since the series was already running on empty after the first couple of straight-to-video movies. I'm slightly more optimistic, however... I think Futurama still has legs, but only if everyone involved in its creation is willing to put their egos in check and make compromises for the good of the series. FOX, loosen the pursestrings a bit. You're bringing the show back because the fans demanded it... you might as well do things right rather than wasting money on episodes nobody will watch. John DiMaggio, you love Futurama as much as everyone else... you've even said so in the audio commentaries! Do the right thing and give us the real Bender, even if you have to wait a couple of months to buy that yacht. If the show returns and you're not in it, you'll regret it... maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but the moment you see the crappy new episodes.

Off that subject and onto a related one, I've been playing the Simpsons arcade game, and am surprised at how well it holds up after all these years. Konami released this in 1991, which wasn't such a hot year for the television series... the humor was pretty dry, with the writers entirely too focused on the rather banal storylines. Looking back, it was a lot like how King of the Hill or The Goode Family is today. However, Konami had the good sense to take the game in a different direction, adding more zany slapstick than you'd find in even the later seasons of the show. It doesn't accurately capture the spirit of the series, yet somehow, it works. Maybe it's because the game remembers what Matt Groening and his staff of writers all too frequently forget... The Simpsons is a cartoon, and there's no reason to be ashamed of that.

All right, one more point of business before I end this update. After some contemplation, I've decided to go with the GameBoy Advance and Dragon BASIC for all my homebrew programming needs. My friend Brian Deuel made a strong case for the Dreamcast and its own development environment Fenix, but I think Dragon BASIC will be more convenient for me. When I write a program for the GameBoy Advance, I can give it a test run on an emulator, then copy it to a flash cart for further testing on the actual hardware. While there are Dreamcast emulators out there, they run slowly and unreliably on my computers, forcing me to burn a whole lot of discs in order to test my projects on an actual Dreamcast.  Frankly, I just don't want to waste the plastic.

Anyway... here's my first program.  It's very simple, and it doesn't remotely resemble a game, but it's a step in the right direction.  Download it, run it in an emulator like Visual Boy Advance, and watch the fireworks.

July 15, 2009... Zoid, Minus the Berg

So... anyone know if Futurama co-creator David X. Cohen's old Apple II game Zoid was finally dumped and made available to the public?  I know, it's a pretty thin pretense for updating the web site, but I'm genuinely interested in knowing this game's fate.  I actually made some software for the Apple II myself, since the machine was commonplace in high schools during the late 1980s and programming was a way to pass the time during study hall... you know, as opposed to actually studying.

My own magnum opus for the system was a crude adventure game called Arrowhead, which featured a dashing elfen hero (a block) who fired arrows (more blocks) at vicious monsters (painstakingly detailed creatures with saliva dripping from their jaws.  No wait, those were blocks too).  It wasn't going to win any awards, but when you're fifteen and restricted by technology that's nearly as old as you are, you have to celebrate even the small victories.

All this talk of programming has got me thinking about taking another stab at homebrew game design.  It's been nearly four years since I finished the Atari 2600 release Solar Plexus, and I'd like to follow it up with a better game on more advanced hardware.  Ideally, that hardware would be the Vectrex, but it doesn't look like Martijn Wenting is ever going to follow through on his promise of a BASIC compiler for that system.  Development tools do exist for the ColecoVision, but the games have to be programmed in C, and that language requires so many external libraries that it feels like putting together IKEA furniture without the instruction manual.

There are other options available, if I'm willing to work with a more modern game console.  Irritating name aside, BasiEgaXorz seems to have promise, offering a full-featured development environment for not only the Sega Genesis, but the Sega CD and even the 32X (bleech) as well.  Then there's Dragon BASIC, created as a handy beginner's tool for development on the GameBoy Advance.  This seems to have vanished from the Internet recently, but I'm sure it's out there somewhere... I'd just have to sharpen up my search engine skills and hunt it down.

I suppose I've got a lot to think about here.  I'll keep you guys informed of any decisions I make, and if anything fruitful comes from them.

July 05, 2009... Back With A Bang (also, Go! Go! Golvellius)

It's been a while since I've updated, but I believe you'll find this new feature was worth the wait.  All two weeks of it.

While I was doing research for the article, I stumbled on a Master System game called Golvellius.  Well, restumbled upon it, really.  I gave it a quick try in an emulator a few years back and wasn't impressed, but after spending a little more time with it, I've grown to appreciate it for the not-really-Zelda-but-ya-gotta-give-it-credit-for-trying kind of game it is.

Actually, it does have a couple of advantages over The Legend of Zelda, including a superior translation.  Instead of nonsense like "Grumble grumble," you get useful hints from the cast of characters, along with a welcome injection of humor.  Refuse to buy an item from one of the kindly old grandmothers running the underground stores, and they'll rudely direct you to the door, calling you a "pinhead" or a "moron of the highest grade."  The scatterbrained fairies are also good for a few laughs, typically more interested in munching on snocones than aiding you on your quest.  On the rare occasion that you can convince them to help you, you'll probably wonder why you bothered to ask.  While trying to find the hidden entrance to the second boss, one of the sprites offers this hint:

Sounds easy enough.  Now I just need to find that blue rock and...

Oh, you have GOT to be kidding me.  I swear, I'm going to hunt down that fairy and tear her stupid little wings off...