Friday, June 08, 2012

Super Mario Bros on Sega Genesis?

Here is a YouTube video of Super Mario Bros running on a Sega Genesis.  It may not look like much, but it is, in fact, an extremely clever bit of homebrew programming.  In 2010, an Argentinian programmer created a method to convert the original (8-bit) 6502 code to (16-bit) 68000.  This enables the Genesis to run the original NES software as though it were a native program.  Notice how the music sounds different as it plays through the Yamaha sound chip.

The catch: this feat is not being done on actual Genesis hardware, but in emulation.  Interesting!

Most people will shrug their shoulders and say, "So what?"  It's a clever programming feat and nothing else.  But suppose that you were creating a new video game system, based on the hardware of the Sega Saturn and Dreamcast, and you've added enough muscle to the DC to ensure perfect emulation of older game systems and arcade titles.  Emulating Nintendo hardware is, obviously, out of the question.  But we're not touching Nintendo's hardware in any way.  We're translating the software code itself.

This opens the door to third-party software titles from the NES era, without encroaching on Nintendo's copyrights in any way.  I should offer the caveat that this technique has only been used on Super Mario Bros, and it remains to be seen how successful translating later-era titles would be.  But the theory is sound, and it remains in the hands and minds of the programmers and engineers.

Would consumers in the 21st Century be interested in third-party NES-era video games like Ducktales, Blaster Master, RC Pro-AM, Contra, Castlevania and Mega Man?  It's tough to say, but the idea of reissuing 1990s Sega games is just as tough a call.  There may be an untapped audience willing to pay for the classics, or there may not.  I remain hopeful in the former, especially as the modern game industry crumbles and decays.

The important lesson is that it's possible.  It may be necessary to expand the Phoenix library to as many classic systems as possible.  That's my reasoning behind perfecting Dreamcast's emulation powers.  If nothing else, it's good food for thought.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Tail of Beta Lyrae (Atari 800)

Here's one of my favorite Atari 800 games from the early 1980s, an arcade shoot-em-up called The Tail of Beta Lyrae.  It was designed and programmed by Philip Price, with music by Gary Gilbertson, and was published by Datasoft, which was one of the big publishers on the Atari 8-bit computer.

I'm sharing this video for two reasons: Project Phoenix and iOS.  For Phoenix, the ultimate goal is a "Criterion Collection" for video games, and this means expanding beyond the Sega systems.  The Dreamcast became a home to many emulators, and with some added muscle to the hardware, it should be capable of running classic emulators at perfect speed.  This would open the doors to a number of classic video and computer games, such as Tail of Beta Lyrae.

Reason #2, as I've said, is iOS, and it's the more practical option.  I'd like to hire a programmer who could adapt an Atari 8-bit emulator for the iPhone and iPad, and reissue a few of these classic games.  Tail of Beta Lyrae and Mr. Robot are the first two titles that came to mind.  They're both easy to play and offer classic arcade thrills.  I'm very curious to learn if there's an audience for these "lost" classics, which haven't been commercially available for a generation.

Tail of Beta Lyrae was inspired by Scramble, the arcade hit, but also features pseudo-random level designs, which introduce different landscapes, obstacles and enemies to each new game.  Procedural level generation is in vogue today, thanks to blockbuster iOS hits like Tiny Wings and Temple Run.  It's impressive to see this design mechanic from the early 80s.

So whaddya think?  Does this sound like a good idea?

The Wii U - Darkness on the Edge of Town

I'm still sitting in a chair and scratching my head.  "Is that all there is?"  I have been a critic of Nintendo's Wii U since it was first unveiled, but I was still hoping that Nintendo could prove me wrong, persuade me to the merits of their case, share their grand vision for this bulky tablet controller.  Always expecting a massive software library, I am surprised and disappointed to discover so few titles.  Nintendo is a very lazy company.  They've been that way for years.

In 2006, Nintendo unveiled the Wii with a large and highly impressive library of new and exciting games that took advantage of the revolutionary controller - Wii Sports, Wii Play, Red Steel, Elebits, Cooking Mama, Excite Truck.  Add in gameplay teasers for Super Smash Bros, Metroid Prime 3, and Super Mario Galaxy, and innovative features like Virtual Console, and the Wii was a guaranteed smash hit.

In 2012, the Wii U has been unveiled with damn near nothing.  Another Wii Fit.  Another collection of mini-game tech demos.  Another vanity project for Shigeru Miyamoto (Pikmin 3) that will never sell.  And a new 2D Super Mario Bros, which is easily the system's strongest title.  Even then, doesn't it just look like Nintendo has recycled the art assets from New Super Mario DS and Wii?  Lazy bastards.

Meanwhile, the hyped shift to "hardcore games" was met with a whimper.  Here's last year's Batman, and last year's Assassin's Creed, and a couple more gun games that are identical to the other 50,000 gun games on the market.  That's all?  The game industry threw a collective tantrum for six years, bawling for Nintendo to provide them another PS360 clone to publish their horribly bloated cinematic games.  Eventually, Nintendo folded, and bent over backwards to support third-party publishers.  The industry will now respond with nothing.

And the hardcore whiners on internet forums and video game media, the babies who screamed and cried as Nintendo made billions selling to grandparents and soccer moms and lapsed gamers, will they now show up?  No.  Hardcore Gamers Never Deliver.  Have that message bronzed and hung on the company wall.  Any company that plans their business strategy around this community is doomed to failure.  "Give us another Zelda!  Give us another Metroid!  Give us another Goldeneye!  Give us another NBA Jam!  Give us another Donkey Kong!"  Nintendo provided the sequels, exactly as demanded, and none of those games sold worth a damn.

The hardcore set will find an excuse, any excuse, to back away from the Wii U.  You can release every AAA PS360 title on Nintendo's platform, and none of them will sell.  Comic Book Guy will find a single hair out of place somewhere, and then everything will be ruined this sucks I want my money back!!

This leaves the Wii's traditional audience, the ones who did pony up the cash for Wii Sports and Wii Play and Super Mario Bros.  They're probably still waiting for Nintendo to do something about that Wii Remote.  Remember that gadget?  Was supposed to revolutionize video games, but instead was only used twice before being tossed out?

How much do you want to bet the exact thing happens to the Wii U tablet?  One or two demo titles, a Miyamoto vanity project, a sequel of classic hit adapted to the controller, and then....nothing.  Miyamoto will be bored, take it away, bring in the next trinket to amuse me!  Bring me...Hassenpfeffer!  Nintendo appears lost, confused, laying out several bets at once and hoping one of them hits big.  This is not a winning strategy.  It's a strategy for an industry in terminal decline.

I've written and talked about the idea that video games could someday go extinct, just go the way of pinball machines and drive-in movies.  This idea has never felt more real to me than now.  Microsoft is adapting to a post-video game future, as Xbox evolves into the set-top box Bill Gates has dreamed of for decades.  Sony is trying to follow suit, but they're in such a colossal mess that it's unsure they'll ever dig themselves out.  Have they quietly abandoned the PS Vita already?  It's about to be shoveled into a grave next to the Move controller.  And software publishers have shrunk down to a handful of major players, who churn out the exact same content over and over, with no variation or innovation.  There is only the need to extract more money from the suckers by any means necessary.

Oh, look, another gun game with zombies.  Another video game sequel that's only half as interesting as the one that was made in the 90s.  Those new customers who loved to play Wii Sports Bowling?  Screw 'em.  And so here we lie, at the darkness on the edge of town.  No one here gets out alive.