Recently, I’ve gotten the mod bug. Maybe it’s the logical consequence of owning a ridiculously oversized retro console/game library; maybe I just got tired of paying other people to mod things for me. Either way, I picked up a brand spanking new soldering iron about a month and a half ago, and I haven’t been able to stop.
First, I kept it relatively simple, installing a stock mod boards. After a few failed attempts with a Turbo Duo (more on that in a later post), I found some success with an N64 RGB amp… the results came out looking pretty good.
You’re going to have to take my word on it when I tell you I installed the mod myself. I didn’t think to take a picture of the completed installation, and I’m too superstitious to open it up and poke around now.
With a successful console mod under my belt, I started thinking about controller mods, which led me to slagcoin and its treasure trove of PCB diagrams. You have to crawl before you can run, so I thought I’d start small, by putting an LED in an old third-party Genesis controller.
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As that didn’t prove too difficult, I came to the conclusion that virtually everything could be improved through the edition of an LED. Like, say… a few Genesis controllers I spray painted a couple of months back.
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While I think I’ll be putting LEDs into things until the day I die, I was still hungry for more. After looking at some NES controller PCB diagrams, I became convinced that I could add a new button – a “C” button, if you will – that would function as a simultaneous press of “up” and “B.” Theoretically, this would allow me to fire subweapons in games like Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden with a single button press. The inspiration came from the “III” button on the Avenue Pad 3 for the PC Engine, which functioned as a second “select” button.
A lot of games for the PC Engine used “select” for gameplay functions, and this bad boy made it easier on the player to make that button press. My “up and B” mod probably wouldn’t be as useful, but hey, I had soldering fever, and I wasn’t going to stop.
I had some tiny little buttons from a breadboard kit, and I figured I’d use them. My first attempt, in all its glory:
The wires on the right side of the button are running from “up” and “B.” The wire on the left side is running out to a ground. On a certain level, this actually did work – pressing that button did trigger “up” and “B” simultaneously. Unfortunately, however, pressing either “up” or “B” individually ALSO yielded simultaneous presses of both buttons. This is because this was a “SPST” – single-pole, single-throw – button. Basically, the wiring of the button was such that by placing “up” and “B” on the same side of the button, I was actually wiring them together.
After reading up a bit and consulting a friend (who happens to be an engineer), I learned that what I needed was a “DPST” – dual-pole, single-throw – button. This would allow me to wire my custom button in such a way that it could complete the circuits for both “up” and “B” without linking them together. My second attempt:
It’s a little more difficult to see, because I reinforced my soldering job with hot glue, but the wires on the right side of the button are running from “B” and a ground and, the wires on the left side of the button are doing the same thing for “up.” The ugly end-result:
It ain’t pretty, but hey, that Nintendo Power sticker from ’93 wasn’t much of a looker to begin with. Did it work?
HELL YES IT DID! The button is kind of touchy (cheap parts or bad soldering on my part, not sure which yet), but it works – you can see it when Ryu sticks his hand out. Fun stuff!
I’d encourage any retrogaming enthusiast to pick up a soldering iron and try their hand at some mods. While I’m still a neophyte in the modding arena, I feel like I’ve revealed exciting new depths to my chief hobby. It’s easier than you think!
This post is more than a bit late… behold! My tribute to the insanity that is video pinball:
Over the years, I have amassed quite aof video pinball games. Even though I’m not much of a pinball player, I’m a huge fan of the genre, and I’ve long wanted to do a retrospective on the legendary Alien Crush.
Alien Crush game was the visual centerpiece of the TurboGrafx-16 when it was released. It was one of those games that made you think “I want this system.” However, being a pinball game, it doesn’t make for terribly compelling gameplay footage – at the end of the day, it’s just pinball.
I decided to bolster the video by adding additional pinball games. As I browsed through my library, I began to notice a pattern of… uh… “heavy metal absurdity.” A video pinball game relies quite heavily on the theme applied to its table(s) – if you’re working with a decent physics model and table design, that’s really about all that separates one game from the other. I found myself increasingly amused at the “edgy” nature of the themes developers chose; many games from the early 1990s just seem like they were designed to upset parents. In a word, they were SWEET.
So, with that in mind, I took inspiration from one of my favorite NES commercials:
I thought it would be fun to just go full sensory overload – inundate the viewer with over the top nonsense as rapidly as I could. If nothing else, I think I accomplished that goal.
FUN FACT: I had originally recorded footage from the TG-16 version of Devil’s Crush. Unfortunately, due to some hardware issues, I wasn’t able to capture it in RGB, and I wasn’t happy with how it looked next to the rest of the footage. As such, what you see in the video is actually from Devil’s Crush MD: the Japanese Genesis version of the same game. Here’s the video of the TG-16 version if you’re interested.
Eye of the Beholder Sega CD, 1994 Developer: Westwood Studios/FCI Publisher: Sega
Like Ultima: Quest of the Avatar, Eye of the Beholder was one of those games I just couldn’t wrap my brain around as a young kid. Released in 1991 for DOS PCs and the Commodore Amiga, EOTB was an early first-person dungeon crawler which iterated ever-so-slightly on the the formula established by FTL Games’ Dungeon Master. What, precisely, does that mean, you ask? Well, let me spell it out for you.
In EOTB, you control a squad of up to six heroes on a quest to save the city of Waterdeep from the evil machinations of a beholder named Xanathar. A beholder is kind of like a Madball with a whole bunch of antennae-eyes. As sinister eyeball monsters are wont to do, Xanathar has set up shop in a secret lair deep within the city’s sewers, which, coincidentally, are inhabited by a slew of spider-worshiping purple elves, malevolent bird people and sinister toad men. Kill them all, find your way out, end of story.
While EOTB utilizes a first-person perspective, movement is restricted to a tile-based grid. Don’t expect any fancy modern conveniences like “scrolling” here – Wolfenstein 3D was about a year and a half off. You move and turn your party of heroes by clicking on set of directional icons on the game’s HUD. If you’re used to contemporary first-person camera controls, this can be more than a little jarring, as the sudden perspective changes make it very easy to become disoriented. Back in in 1991, though, getting disoriented was what they called a “feature.” You just sort of assumed you’d have to make a map when you played an RPG, so it was a forgivable offense.
Despite its tile-based movement, the action in EOTB plays out in something resembling real time. This means you’ve got to keep your party moving, reacting and attacking at a decent clip, lest they be ripped to shreds; playing the game effectively requires you to nimbly navigate a series of dense (though not unintuitive) menus in the middle of tense situations. Additionally, as its trappings suggest, EOTB is an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons licensed product. This means it reaps the benefits (and occasionally suffers from the quirks of) a well-defined tabletop RPG rule set. Characters can only act a certain number of times in any given “round” of combat, they can only attack with melee weapons if they’re in your front ranks, and spells must be re-memorized after every use.
You can even die of hunger. Seriously – you could quite legitimately argue that “Create Food” is the most powerful spell in the game. In short, EOTB is kind of like playing an actual game of AD&D with a DM who just won’t chill out and wait for you to respond before giving into his thinly veiled god-complex, because GOD DAMMIT DAVE, I JUST NEEDED TO GO TO THE BATHROOM YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO LET THAT TROLL KILL MY CLERIC. CHRIST.
*Ahem.* Sorry about that. Anyway, if that description even comes close to tickling your fancy, I’d give EOTB a shot. And, if you have access to a Mega Mouse (or some questionable gray market alternative), I’d strongly suggest you do what I did, and play the 1994 Sega CD port. The gameplay is all but identical, and graphically, it’s at least on par with its PC and Amiga counterparts. Hell, the addition of cinema sequences may actually give it a leg up.
But screw the graphics, man. The Sega CD port of EOTB has one thing its source material was sorely lacking: a soundtrack. A glorious, redbook audio soundtrack from legendary game music composer Yuzo Koshiro. While EOTB is not one of Koshiro’s more well-known soundtracks, I’d put it right up there with his work on the Streets of Rage series and ActRaiser. Despite the fact that Koshiro’s EDM-inspired style seems wholly ill-matched to the AD&D license, it somehow manages to be a perfect fit for the haunting isolation of EOTB’s labyrinths. It’s not unlike that time your party’s thief got really into electronic music and demanded that you STOP LISTENING TO POWER METAL FOR FIVE GOD DAMN MINUTES OR ELSE HE WAS TAKING HIS MINIATURES BACK UP THE STREET.
Uh, anyway… here it is in its entirety:
Like Gain Ground SX, EOTB for the Sega CD is noteworthy in that it’s a port that, in many ways, outshines its source material. Regardless, I feel the need to qualify my praise by again noting that you shouldn’t bother playing this game without a Mega Mouse. Simply put, it’s far too much of a chore to navigating the game’s multi-tiered menus with a gamepad is far too cumbersome. you’d be better off playing the PC original.
Should you decide to give EOTB a shot, I hope you’ll accept the following images of the in-game dungeon maps as a parting gift. While EOTB does require you to actually find its maps before you you can access them, they take an annoyingly long time to load on the Sega CD’s single speed disc drive; an external image is an extremely useful convenience. Use them in good health, but try not to deprive yourself of the joy of getting lost – finding your way is half the fun.
For optimal enjoyment, we here at Subspace Briefcase recommend that you play Eye of the Beholder in a dark basement after several dateless weeks. It increases the authenticity of the experience.
Sega 32X CD, 1994
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Digital Pictures
We round the halfway point on the 32X CD library with Corpse Killer, an interesting, if flawed, light gun/FMV adventure hybrid from Digital Pictures.
If you’ve got a hankering to play Corpse Killer after watching this video, I’d stick to the 3DO or Sega Saturn versions, if you’ve got the means to play them. The Sega CD/32X simply didn’t have the horsepower to make the digitized zombie sprites look like anything more than a blurry mess – which is pretty amazing when you consider that said sprites have less frames than your average animated gif. My, how far we’ve come!
This one really felt like a long road to a small house. We’ll be taking a brief break from 32X CD games for a bit. For as positive as I try to remain about these games, playing them end-to-end really makes you appreciate the wonders of modern console gaming. Don’t worry though, I hope to continue in a month or two with either Night Trap or Surgical Strike.
Sega 32X CD, 1994
Developer: Digital Pictures
Publisher: Digital Pictures
Oh yes, I’m going to play ALL SIX Sega 32X CD games. Why? Because I want to play an entire game system’s library at least once in my life, and this is LOW HANGING FRUIT. And on top of that, the 32X CD isn’t really its own system, so it’s kind of like winning on a technicality. We lawyers LOVE technicalities.
Anyway, I played through Supreme Warrior, one of the last gasps of Digital Pictures, quite possibly the most prolific producer of FMV games in the early-to-mid-90’s. Supreme Warrior is simultaneously all that is great about mid-90’s FMV (fantastic production values and surprising fluidity) while at the same time a reminder of why the genre never reached its potential (shallow and clumsy gameplay).
If you’d care to have a look at the differences in quality between the Sega CD and Sega 32X CD versions, I’ve ripped the introductory sequences for both games.
While the 32X version certainly looks prettier, I find myself more impressed by the Sega CD version. It’s pretty ugly, but quite good by SCD standards.
The game’s credits make it clear that the actors who portrayed the enemy fighters did all their own choreography. In my mind, this accounts for (1) why the action looks so good (when you can see it); and (2) why the button prompts are so mercilessly short. Someone needed to tell these guys and gals to slow down for the benefit of the players at home.
I couldn’t recommend Supreme Warrior to anybody but the most devoted fans of FMV games, but for what it’s worth, I enjoyed my time with it; it’s a beautiful disaster of sorts.
Fatal Labyrinth Sega Genesis, 1991 Developer: Sega Publisher: Sega
At somewhat of a loss as to what to cover after two solid weeks of playing and re-playing Zombie Revenge, I noted that I really hadn’t covered any Sega Genesis games. Sure, I’ve played through Time Gal and scratched the surface of Silpheed, but those are Sega CD games, so they don’t really count. As such, I put out the question to the Internet: “Can anyone recommend a weird/obscure Genesis RPG?” At the suggestion of several members of NeoGAF’s Genesis/Mega Drive community, I decided to check out Fatal Labyrinth.
I was not disappointed.
Released to North American audiences in 1991, Fatal Labyrinth puts the player in shoes of a voiceless cipher of a protagonist. His quest? Retrieve a holy goblet from from a red dragon who sits atop a 30-story castle. No princess to rescue for our nameless knight. Guess he drew the short straw on career day.
Fatal Labyrinth is a roguelike, in the classic sense of the term. While there’s a healthy debate as to what exactly constitutes a roguelike these days, as applied to Fatal Labyrinth, you can take it to mean the following:
1. Fatal Labyrinth is primarily comprised of procedurally-generated “random” levels. With the exception of a few select areas, each floor of the dragon’s castle (cleverly named “Dragonia”) will be randomly generated on each playthrough. Exit locations, secret doors, and item locations will change every time you load up Fatal Labyrinth. In short, you’ll probably never play the same set of levels twice.
2. Movement is turn-based and aligned to grid. Enemies only move when you move, and vice versa.
3. Combat is in no way based on manual dexterity. You simply fire your weapon or move your character into a monster and hope that the dice roll in favor of a hit.
4. The properties of most items will remain unknown until discovered by the player. By way of example, in your travels, you may find a yellow potion. Until you use that potion, by either drinking it or throwing it at a monster, you’ll have no idea what it does. It may cause blindness, it may heal your wounds; you won’t know until you observe the results. To further complicate things, the properties of yellow potions will change with each playthrough as well. In other words: you need to relearn what special items do each time you start a new game.
5. Most roguelikes also feature permanent death – only one shot at glory. Fatal Labyrinth eschews this in favor of a checkpoint system, allowing you to restart at checkpoints placed roughly every five levels. There’s a catch, though: everything you’ve encountered up to the point of your death will be randomized again with each continue.
As far as I can tell, Fatal Labyrinth is one of the first roguelikes released for a game console. In fact, I can’t think of any console roguelikes that predate it. [UPDATE – I am told that there is no way this is THE first roguelike released for a home console. At bare minimum, Cloudy Mountain for the Intellivision, Gateway to Apshai for Colecovision, and Fatal Labyrinth’s predecessor, Dragon Crystal for the Sega Master System precede it. Let no one say that I have spread misinformation!] While it lacks the complexity of some of its genre contemporaries and forebears (it’s nowhere near as variable as NetHack, or perhaps even Rogue itself), Fatal Labyrinth has a pick up and play appeal that is undeniable. It’s a great game to pick up if you’re in the mood for a mindless, randomized dungeon hack. Plus, you know, it actually has GRAPHICS, which most roguelikes didn’t have at the time.
Fatal Labyrinth has some interesting quirks as well. For starters, the levels are littered with gold coins. Certain enemies will even steal your gold coins. There are even enemies that mimic the appearance of gold coins in an attempt to ensnare your unsuspecting hero. Despite this, there are no shops in the game. Gold coins cannot be exchanged for anything. Acquiring wealth provides no discernible benefit to the player. That is… until you die.
You see, in lieu of a conventional “game over” screen, Fatal Labyrinth treats you to a look at your character’s funeral service. The amount of mourners present is directly related to the amount of cash on hand you had when you died.
This is equal parts amusing and horribly depressing. Just remember kids: It doesn’t matter how many monsters you slay, people will only miss you if you were rich. So try and die wealthy.
Equally entertaining are Fatal Labyrinth‘s hunger mechanics. As is the case in may roguelikes, your hero must eat. So long as you’ve got meat in your belly, you’ll slowly regain health. Conversely, if you’re running on an empty stomach, your health continually depletes.This, of course, means that you’re constantly searching for things to eat. Food is not difficult to find in Fatal Labyrinth, but there’s a catch: you can’t be a glutton.
If you fill your food stores to 4/5 of their maximum capacity, your character will announce that he has eaten too much, and begin to move at a slower pace – monsters will get two actions for every step your portly protagonist takes. This will persist until you’ve digested down to an acceptable level. Making things even stranger, if you EXCEED your maximum food capacity, you will DIE. You can actually EAT YOURSELF TO DEATH.
If nothing else, then, Fatal Labyrinth teaches us two very valuable life lessons. First: Don’t overeat. Second: If you must overeat, make sure you are rich, so people will mourn your passing. Nobody likes poor, dead fat people.
Positive characteristics aside, I can’t imagine that Fatal Labyrinth impressed too many Genesis owners back in 1991. The first thing one notes when booting up Fatal Labyrinth is its spartan visual presentation. Its tile based graphics are anything but flashy, and would probably look more at home on a Sega Master System or a NES.
This isn’t a game that puts that the Genesis’ vaunted “blast processing” to any great use, either. Aside from its color palette, there’s nothing 16-bit about Fatal Labyrinth, and I imagine that more than a few Genesis owners weren’t too thrilled with that fact (particularly where Sonic the Hedgehog hit the Genesis two months earlier). The whole ROM only takes up about 128k.
There’s an interesting reason for that, though: Fatal Labyrinth was originally designed as a downloadable game. While US audiences wouldn’t be able to take their Genesis online until the launch of the Sega Channel in late 1994, Japan was a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of online gaming. In 1990, Sega of Japan released the Mega Modem, a console peripheral which allowed players to engage in rudimentary online gaming, and even download games to their console. For more information on the Mega Modem, check out this fantastic little video from Greg Sewart of the Player One Podcast:
Fatal Labyrinth’s relative simplicity and small size is likely attributable to the fact that it was designed to be transmitted over phone lines at 1991 download speeds. While Fatal Labyrinth may have seemed less than impressive as a retail release, I have to imagine it seemed AMAZING to any Japanese kid that MAGICALLY RECEIVED IT OVER THE PHONE.
If anything, Fatal Labyrinth stands as a testament to Sega’s legacy of bringing new concepts and ideas to the home console market. As a console roguelike and a downloadable game, Fatal Labyrinth is sort of a pioneer two times over. On top of that, its fundamental mechanics are sound, and you can play through it in about two to three hours. As it can be picked up for relatively cheap these days, I’d recommend it to any Genesis enthusiast. There’s even a version for Steam that you can pick up for the low, low price of $2.99. Give it a shot!