Friday, July 2, 2021

BRIEF: Swords & Serpents (1982)

The icon, in case you're confused, is supposed to be a knight facing to the right with his arms clasping a sword in front of him.
     
Swords & Serpents
United States
Imagic (developer and publisher)
Released 1982 for Intellivision
      
A couple of weeks ago, realizing I had some extra time this summer and anticipating that I would spend at least some of it on my blog, I asked my Patreon subscribers what special requests they had. I got about 20 good suggestions, put them all on a list, and when I had some free time that I wanted to spend avoiding work, picked one at random. You should see the outcomes of those suggestions trickle in throughout the rest of the year. Because they're "bonus" postings, I'm just going to publish them as I finish them, with no consideration of how close they fall to the regular schedule of entries.
   
One of the requests was to play the third RPG released for the Intellivision. I had already covered the two 1983 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons cartridges: Cloudy Mountain and Treasure of Tarmin. I'm not a huge fan of the platform, but I sighed, frigged around with Intellivision emulators for about 16 hours until I got one working right, checked my master game list, and loaded in Swords & Serpents
     
Starting out with my treasure chest, a scroll to my east, and a treasure to my south.
      
A few minutes into the game, I began to regret the entire idea. Playing it is a horrid experience, entirely dependent on manual dexterity and luck. Despite some interesting features that I'll talk about, it lacks all three of my core criteria--it's not an RPG at all! (MobyGames lists it as such, which is why it was on my list in the first place.) But I wanted to do right by the person who requested it, so I played it until the "end."
   
As I called up my e-mail to tell my subscriber how much the game (and, by extension, he) sucked, I looked over his original comment again and realized that he'd asked me not to play Swords & Serpents but Tower of Doom (1987). I have no earthly idea how I managed to mix it up with Swords & Serpents, particularly since he e-mailed me the ROM for the game. The best I can figure is that I dropped Swords in my Intellivision folder when I originally checked it out back in 2015 (I have a note rejecting it at the end of an entry on Hard Nova) and forgot about it. I put Tower of Doom in the same folder. A couple days later, when I started the emulator, I just mixed them up.
       
A phantom knight approaches me from the southeast while I try to pick up a treasure. I have no idea why the emulator took screenshots with a top and left border.
      
The result of my stupidity is that I have enough material for a BRIEF on Serpents. I suspect it was inspired by Adventure (1980) on the Atari 2600, but it introduces a lot more action elements, and in many ways it plays like an early "hydlike." It requires far too much thumbwork for my tastes, and I only made it as far as I did by abusing save states.
  
Serpents has no relationship to its more famous NES namesake. The backstory given in the manual is that the main character is a Warrior Prince, son of a dying king, who must reclaim his conquered kingdom from a dragon. He runs through a fortress of four levels, on each level trying to find treasures and the key that will open the stairway to the next level. He has nine lives, each of which (at the beginning) effectively has two hit points. Get hit once, and your icon goes from white to grey. Get hit again, you die. Lose all 9 lives, and the game is over.
       
A red sorcerer's fireball just barely misses me as I heal on a lantern.
        
You can play with one or two players, and if you play with a second player, he is a wizard named Nillrem who can cast spells based on scrolls that he finds throughout the levels. There are 9 such spells, including "Fireball," "Heal," "Fast Feet," and "Destroy Walls," all of which sound incredibly useful. It's too bad that a single player can't play with these spells. The best he can do is leave the Warrior Prince standing in place while he controls Nillrem, but that only lasts so long before the prince is inevitably killed.
   
Monsters spawn randomly as you explore the dungeon. They include knights, which always head straight for the character at right angles, and red sorcerers, who dissolve in, shoot a fireball, and apparate away. To defeat them, all you have to do is turn your character icon so that the pointy sword hits either the knight or fireball before it reaches you. There's no "attack" button; you just aim your sword and enemies happily impale themselves on it.
       
These sets of doors open and close continually, giving you very little time to get through.
    
Knights and sorcerer's fireballs charge right through walls, which gives them an advantage that the character doesn't have. Lives thus go fast even if it wasn't for the smashing doors, the worst part of the game. Quite frequently, to get where you want to go, you have to pass through continually chomping sets of doors. Your timing has to be exquisite, or you get hit by the doors and die. Even after a few hours' experience with the game, it routinely took me three or four tries to get through a set of doors. Without save states, I wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes.
       
Checking my treasure progress.
   
Your goal on each level is ostensibly to find treasures and return them to the chest at the beginning of the game. For every 300 points of treasure you return, you get an extra life. The game makes it slightly easier than you'd expect to return from lower levels with treasure, as each level has a couple of teleportation scrolls that carry you from one staircase to another (or, in the case of the top level, from the staircase to the chest). Even better, the wizard can find "To Chest" and "To Knight" spells to zip back and forth.
   
Treasures may look like helms and shields and such, but there are no equipment upgrades in the game. There are scrolls that teach spells to the wizard and lanterns that will "heal" you if you've lost one of your two hit points.
      
Finding the door to the next level.
    
The most important objects on each level are the keys and doors to the next level. You obviously have to find the former before the latter. The levels aren't that big, but they wrap, and their maze-like nature makes them hard to systematically explore. I spent an absurd amount of time hunting for those keys and doors.
  
Enemies both spawn and move faster the lower you go, and by Level 4, you get no rest at all. This makes it particularly hard to go through chomping doors, because while you're trying to time your entry, enemies are spawning everywhere. The level is dominated by a huge complex in which the dragon sits, breathing fire down the only avenue you can approach it from. The setup is nearly identical to the dragons in The Caverns of Freitag (1982), Sword of Kadash (1984), and ICON: Quest for the Ring (1984), and I wonder what mutual influence we're seeing among these games.
     
As far as a single player can make it.
       
In Serpents, however, the dragon's fire doesn't harm you. It just prevents you from approaching the dragon and carrying out your ostensible mission to kill him. It turns out that you can't complete the quest given in the manual to destroy the dragon. A single player (with the warrior prince) can't do anything at all except take a look at the dragon and finish collecting the other treasure. If there are two players, the wizard can cast "Destroy Wall" to get them into the dragon's inner chambers, where they can collect the two final treasures and apparently see the developers' initials (this is attested on numerous sites, but I wasn't able to find a single screenshot of it). There's an amusing anecdote on a message board that shortly after the game's release, two kids finally reached this point after playing all night, got confused, found author Brian Dougherty's name in the game manual, and found his home telephone number through directory assistance. They woke him up in the early morning hours to ask him how to defeat the dragon. When he groggily told them there was no way to kill the dragon ("he had run out of room on the cartridge") and that his initials were their "reward," they "let loose with a string of obscenities . . . called him every name in the book, then hung up."
   
Well, let me echo that sentiment. Brian Dougherty, you are a c#*@#(*(!, m@%!*&^, #%@# of @#&% who couldn't #@(@% his own #%&*! if he had a @#%@#*&.
   
As for my subscriber, P.S., sorry about the confusion. I promise you that an entry on Towers of Doom is coming. In the meantime, I hope this is enough of a reward: C.N.B.
  

56 comments:

  1. It is games like this that help make the Crash make sense.

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    1. Actually, this game (and most by Imagic) were actually considered some of the best there were at the time. The Crash was more related to the super cheap, no-name games that went direct to the $5 bin - there were definitely a few on Intellivision, but mostly they were on the Atari.

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    2. I don't remember any super-sucky games that made people dislike consoles on the Intellivision. Eventually there were some, but those were after INTV bought the IP from Mattel and started making games for it after 1985.

      Intellivision had an excellent game library, with way too many two player only, ensuring you didn't overplay them and get tired of them. It was the Atari with its already crappy capabilities, even back then, and then had obviously crappy games made for it. Since most people had an Atari, no matter how many times I explained how superior the Intellivision was, the industry went when Atari went.

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    3. The Intellivision was my first game system, and it really did make the Atari VCS look like garbage. Utopia, Sea Battle, Space Battle, TRON Deadly Discs, Snafu, Auto Racing, Triple Action (tanks with bouncing shells), AD&D... All provided hours and hours of fun. We even got a lot out of simple games like Frog Bog.

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  2. I had this game as a kid on my Intellivision in the 80's and would play with my Dad all the time. He'd usually be the knight and I'd be the wizard. I remember getting to the end at some point and being disappointed, so I wrote a letter into Imagic. I still have the letter they sent back explaining why you couldn't kill the dragon https://www.flickr.com/gp/jbellanca/F7v39T

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    1. This is amazing thanks.

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    2. Yeah, this is an awesome artifact of the era, thanks for sharing!

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    3. That's really cool. Thanks for sharing it.

      I don't think I would have been satisfied with the "P.S." I'm not a game designer and I don't know much about the related hardware, but it still strikes me as suspicious that there was "no way to even program a fight between the Knight and the Serpent." Maybe make it smaller? Offer three levels instead of four? Heck, make it really lame--just have the dragon puff out of existence at the tip of the sword the way that the other enemies do.

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    4. Thanks for sharing that. Completely amazing.

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    5. thanks for sharing
      now I'm curious what the promo image was, maybe it was a full screen bitmap image? those were notoriously hard to fit in such memory constrained machines
      Also worth considering, when a developer say "I couldn't do X" there's always an implicit "in the time allowed to develop this game". I'm sure given time he would have figured something out, but if by the end of the few development weeks the game looks playable enough most 80s videogame publishers would just ship it and ignore any request for more time to polish it

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    6. That's hella cool. I wished I have saved the letter my buddy and I received from Atari when we submitted a concept for a game called "Lawnboy" as preteens. A year or so later, Atari would release "Paperboy" featuring many similar elements, but that, as they say, is a story for another day...

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  3. Not that I'm doubting it happened, but I didn't think Intellivision emulation is that hard. Nostalgia, one I've used in the past, hasn't really sprung up any kind of issue and I wouldn't think that trying out the rest would take that long. You probably should have asked at somepoint, there are a surprising number of us who remember the console fondly.

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    1. 16 hours was an exaggeration, but it took me a while. I specifically didn't want to use Nostalgia because it only has a full-screen mode, which makes it hard to take notes and/or stop to do other things. The save state also fails a lot, plus I was running into a problem where the list of cartridges was glitching. Knowing that it was a stupid idea, I made another attempt to figure out MAME and got nowhere. Someone recommended something called jzintv, which I downloaded and installed, but it was hard to get going, and it doesn't have a save state function, and this wasn't the kind of game I was going to play without save states.

      So I went back to Nostalgia, but it took me a while to figure out where it was storing the captures. Do you know where it puts them? The documentation says it puts them in the "captures" folder. There's no "captures" folder in the program files directory for the emulator. I had to search my entire hard drive for files created on that date to find them. They're in:

      C:\Users\Me\AppData\Local\VirtualStore\Program Files (x86)\Nostalgia\captures

      What the hell is that? And why wouldn't such an obscure location be front-and-center in the documentation?

      By the way ... $#@# ROMS. You'd think they go in the "roms" folder. That turns out to be only if they're GAME ROMS. The BIOS roms go in the root directory.

      It's fine if YOU don't find it hard. It's rude to come on my blog and tell me that I didn't really have a difficult time when I said I did.

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    2. Isn't this one of those situations where you could actually call some of the commenters out and have them send you the exact thing you need with easy to follow instructions to make everything running properly

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    3. I didn't say you didn't, I said I didn't. Don't misinterpret things as an attack when you don't need to. It makes everyone's life much easier.

      But that said, my experiences in Intellivision emulation mirror your own. JZINTV is too obfuscating with its command line crap, and MAME is MAME and will always being incredibly confusing. But admittedly I never would have thought Nostalgia having putting its screenshots in a subfolder was obscure, but then, that's something I frequently have to deal with. Obviously that's not the case for everyone.

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    4. Apologies if I misread you.

      "I never would have thought Nostalgia having putting its screenshots in a subfolder was obscure." Look at the path again. That's not a subfolder. "AppData" is a hidden directory that applications use to store settings. I don't believe it's accessible without admin privileges. Users aren't really supposed to mess with it. You should never have to go in there to retrieve files.

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    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    6. That's as much Windows' fault as Nostalgia's. The AppData directory is a place that a program can save files without administrative privileges -- it belongs to your user. When you install something for "Just My User", that's where it gets installed, for instance. In the modern era, programs can't write to "C:\Program Files" (and "Program Files (x86)") unless they're run as an Administrator. It's ostensibly to protect users from malware and bricking their systems.

      I'm guessing that the Nostalgia team just left their capture folders in the default install folder, which, if the program is installed for "All Users", is going to be Program Files, and if it's installed just for you, it's AppData. They *should* have saved to My Documents, which is what Microsoft wants people to do, but speaking from a software development standpoint, that's more of a pain than trying to write to the current working directory (or a subdirectory thereof).

      It's stupid and terrible, and I'm not absolving the Nostalgia devs of blame, but it's at least not *entirely* their fault.

      -- Sorry --
      Wanted to correct a typo that mangled the meaning of one of my sentences.

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    7. Sorry to disagree but it is absolutely Nostalgia's fault, they fully own this. Nothing stopping them from creating a simple folder hierarchy in a zip file, which is what most decent emulators do to preserve their various relative file paths and save locations for the user. If your software product is simple enough then this is what you do to NOT OVERLY COMPLICATE AND ANNOY THE USER. If your software requires network access or more complex system, API calls or other bullshit, then you create an install package and go that route. Never ceases to amaze me the sheer volume of crapware that exists because developers simply don't understand or follow best practices when it comes to keeping unnecessary garbage off the end user's PC.

      Windows aside, for a simple 8 or 16 bit game emulator there's simply no excuse.

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    8. I genuinely didn't realize that. I just assumed that was the folder where it installed. Oh, well. For your future convenience, the settings menu in Nostalgia should let you change where your screenshots go, assuming you haven't already found that.

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    9. MorpheusKitami, what is it that you find confusing about MAME? I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you have on it. The thing people struggle with the most seems to be getting the right romset, something that isn't really that hard but has been the subject of much misinformation. After you download the latest version of MAME, all you need to do is look for a romset labeled with a number that comes reasonably close to the version number. For example, if you're using MAME 0.233, then most of the ROMs from a 0.228 set will work because ROMs are updated on an individual basis, not all at once. The two numbers do not have to be an exact match.

      The reason ROMs change so much is because ROM dumping is a tricky process and there are still untold numbers of arcade games that were not dumped properly, not unlike how you're still more likely to see DOS games distributed as preinstalled directories than you are to find them as actual disk images.

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    10. I find MAME wickedly convoluted. I tried to emulate some Atari 800 and Apple IIgs roms, and I was hopelessly defeated. The instructions I could find were hopelessly too complicated, and for the Apple IIgs I couldn't find any documentation. I gave up and used Altirra, and was successfully using Atari games in about 5 minutes. MAME is very unfriendly.

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    11. So, Kearuda wrote to me directly with instructions for emulating Tower of Doom on MAME. The files he provided and the instructions worked like a charm. The only problem is that I've never seen instructions that clear in any previous MAME documentation; in fact, Kearuda's instructions included a folder that is never even MENTIONED in the MAME documentation. And the BIOS he provided contain files that I've never seen in any previous dumps of the system.

      So thank you, Kearuda, but I wish you'd recognize that there's nothing online, including on MAME's official page, that is as clear and useful as the e-mail you sent me.

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    12. I'll agree that Altirra's Atari 8-bit emulation is much better than MAME's at the moment.

      What IIGS games were you trying to play?

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    13. That's my issue, too. I really need a page that says "follow these 10 steps to play your games" with screenshots

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    14. To be fair, MAME is far from the only emulator that has this issue. I've had the same problems with Amiga, Mac, Apple IIGS, TRS-80, and plenty of other emulators. Frankly, the only ones I have ever felt were utterly easy were VICE for the Commodore and DOSBox, but then again I knew DOS before I used it.

      Part of the problem is that emulator authors all have to throw up this fiction that their users are somehow going to obtain legal copies of the system ROMs, so they never give you much help on where to get them or how to verify them.

      This is free software we're talking about, so I suppose we shouldn't bitch too much.

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    15. To be honest Kearuda, I couldn't even figure out how to load a disk image, or where to set the path to point to a Bios file. Keep in mind, I'm very much an emulation neophyte, and my profession is quite unrelated to computer programming, so I may not be the target audience, but I can get most other emulators to work, like Zsnes, NES emulators, AppleIiwin, Vice, Altirra, and heck even Trs-80 emulators. Granted figuring out how to load a Trs-80 game in BASIC was right at the limit of my skill

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    16. So as you may know, the IIGS accepts both 5.25" disk images and 3.5" disk images. If you start the IIGS driver, press Tab, and go to the File Manager, you'll see flop1, flop2, flop3, and flop4. Going to Slot Devices will show you that flop1 and flop2 are slots for loading 5.25" disk images, while flop3 and flop4 are for 3.5” disk images.

      To load a game in the .2mgs format, you would need to start the IIGS driver, go to the File Manager, select flop3, “insert” your .2mgs disk image in Read-Only or Read/Write mode as needed, then reset the driver to simulate booting the system with the disk in the drive.

      You can also do this in one line via the command line by typing the following:

      mame.exe apple2gs -flop3 path/to/game.2mgs

      If you don't want to type this out every time, you can also put “flop3 path/to/game.2mgs” in a text file, save the file as “apple2gs.ini”, then put it in the 'ini' folder (or the same folder as the MAME executable) so that MAME will always start the IIGS driver with the game of choice inserted into flop3. This is basically MAME's equivalent of a batch file.

      Swapping disks is a similar process, although you wouldn't reset the machine in that case.

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    17. Chet, I will agree that the documentation on MAMEdev leaves a lot to be desired. For one, it doesn't seem to explain the built-in UI very well, which is definitely a problem.

      As for .ini files, they are briefly covered in two places: “Configuring MAME” and “Multiple Configuration Files”, which I will link below for future reference:

      https://docs.mamedev.org/initialsetup/configuringmame.html
      https://docs.mamedev.org/advanced/multiconfig.html#advanced-multi-cfg

      While these are not exactly fun to read, they do tell you that mame.ini is the configuration file for the emulator and drivername.ini is a system-specific config file that overrides mame.ini where applicable. You can actually put drivername.ini anywhere as long as you specify the location by editing “inipath” in your mame.ini (the default locations are the 'ini' folder, the 'presets' folder within the 'ini' folder, and the same folder as the MAME executable).

      This actually is covered in the documentation, but it's buried in “Universal Commandline Options”, which I'll agree isn't a very helpful way to organize things.

      https://docs.mamedev.org/commandline/commandline-all.html

      The Intellivision “system ROMs” are indeed the Executive ROM and the Graphics ROM, but MAME often uses its own naming convention for such things (not sure why, so again, you win here). In this case, the Executive ROM is present as exec.bin in intv.zip, and the Graphics ROM is probably the ROM for the STIC (Standard Television Interface Chip), which controls the Intellivision's video display. This is the ROM found inside stic.zip. Running “mame.exe drivername -listcrc” will tell you which system ROMs you need for the driver you specify and the names of the .zips MAME expects for them. You can also look up this information on adb.arcadeitalia.net, which is almost always kept up to date.

      Note that you usually won't need to worry too much about what's inside a .zip file if you're using a romset with a version number that is reasonably close to the MAME number.

      You can actually put your ROMs anywhere you want as long as you tell MAME where to find them. (though I personally just use 'roms' to keep everything in one place). You can do this by setting the “rompath” parameter in mame.ini.

      You also asked me whether one was required to zip up your game ROMs with the system ROMs. I'm not sure where you've heard this, but rest assured that it is false. You can set as many rompaths as you want in mame.ini and MAME will look through all of them. Just remember to separate specified paths with semicolons (e. g. “path/to/roms;path/to/other_roms;path/to/more_roms). This is, once again, buried in “Universal Commandline Options”.

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    18. For the record, I do have a miniscule amount of coding knowledge, but very little of it (i. e. almost none of it) actually applies to MAME. What's more, none of the jobs I've worked were particularly technical. I guess it's just one of those things you learn by doing.

      I will concede that all this can be overwhelming to someone with no prior experience, and that the ocean of bad advice out there doesn't help.

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    19. My problem with MAME relates mostly to CD systems, the more obscure ones, Neo Geo CD and Philips CD-i. Emulation of arcade systems themselves proved easier than it sounds, but its system emulation proved a mess. (pun unintended) So I put an image file of my very legitimate CD-i games (and system BIOS) in the roms folder, but it doesn't read it. I figure out that MAME needs the images in CHD format, okay. Only the CHD commandline doesn't read them as CD-i games and hangs, and when I "find" a image that's in CHD MAME doesn't acknowledge its existence when I try to run it. Admittedly, I didn't check CHDs with NGCD, but I'm sure whatever I'm missing is wrong there too. I'm on Ubuntu/Linux, so other emulators (at least for NGCD) don't really work.
      Also, TRS-80 help would also be helpful, if you know how. I can't really offer anything in return, except if you need to know how to use OpenMSX, I'm your guy.

      Off-topic, hearing Chet complain about emulation developers covering their butts reminds me of Elvira. Because the spell-casting system is the manual protection, none of the walkthroughs really mention where to find some ingredients, like for health potions. So if you run low on health halfway through you get screwed.

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    20. It's been a while since I've messed with MAME's CD-i emulation, but if I remember correctly, you have to do make another folder within your ROMs folder and put your CHD there. For example, Killer Instinct requires kinst.chd in addition to kinst.zip, so you would put kinst.zip in 'roms' and kinst.chd in 'roms\kinst\'. Be warned, though, that CD-i emulation is still very incomplete. I think even the author recommended using cdiemu instead.

      It's funny that you should mention openMSX, because the last time I tried it, I actually had the same problem people have with MAME – getting it to find my system ROMs! In retrospect, I was probably doing something wrong, because I seem to recall having two locations named “share/systemroms” in my installation for some reason. The documentation on the openMSX website looks fairly comprehensive, so I'll need to give it another look.

      In the meantime, which model would you recommend for playing Metal Gear? The Panasonic FS-A1WSX is the one recommended in the FAQ, but that one seems to be unique in that its cassette port is combined with the RGB connector.

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    21. Well, I just got the CD release of Burning Fight running in MAME with the Japanese Neo Geo CDZ driver. The process isn't all that different from loading a IIGS game, actually. After starting the system, navigate to the File Manager, select your disk image (the .cue file if your image is in .bin/.cue format), then reset. Controls can be remapped by going to "Input (this Machine)".

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    22. Make sure you have neocdz.zip and/or neocdzj.zip in your roms folder. If your dump is from a fairly recent set, it will work without issues.

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    23. MAME's CD-i driver has been broken for a while, which is not unexpected given that it's still very much in progress, so it's one of the very few cases where using a slightly older build actually is preferred (for reasons that are completely unrelated to what ROMs you have). 0.220 appears to work well enough. You need cdimono1.zip in your 'roms' folder for PAL software and cdimono2.zip for NTSC software. Once again, if your game is in CHD format, you need to put it in its own folder with the name that MAME expects. You can look this up at adb.arcadeitalia.net or search for it within MAME. For example, if I wanted to play Link: The Faces of Evil, I'd type this into the command line:

      mame.exe cdimono1 “Faces of Evil”

      Among the results are “Link - The Faces of Evil (Euro)”, which MAME indicates has the shortname “linkfoe”. So I'd need to make a folder named 'linkfoe' and place the CHD for the game in it.

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    24. Ah, I got the NGCD working at least. The file I originally got for it the first time lacked a key file that I eventually had to end up putting into the zipfile. Meanwhile, the trick of starting the system, then putting in the game file seems to work. I'm guessing I'm just not going to get CD-i emulation going, judging by how that helps none with there.
      Unfortunately, I don't on Metal Gear. Either I had the worst luck with the game files or it has some strange issues going on. I don't think TurboR machines will work as the ones I tried, including a Panasonic model, but a different one, and it always crashed on me. Its bizarre, the whole thing glitches out, then crashes in a truck.

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  4. Not an RPG but an excellent console game. The kind of thing you couldn't do in an arcade, but perfect for home. Nine lives is far too generous, but on a console you sure can do it (like a cat, get it?) And, of course, being the Intellivision, it's two player. Typically considered the system's greatest Achilles Heel today, since it's all emulators and nobody has friends over anyway. But in a twist, there is a perfectly viable single player option. Not usually the case with Intellivision's outstanding line of two player games.

    When he groggily told them there was no way to kill the dragon ("he had run out of room on the cartridge") and that his initials were their "reward," they "let loose with a string of obscenities . . . called him every name in the book, then hung up."

    Well, viable until the end, anyway. Man, what a dick. I'm glad those kids called him up in the middle of the night and told him off. For once, it's nice to see a goober like this get some well-deserved blowback from his deplorable behavior.

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    1. I'm inclined to think that regardless of how dumb it is to not finish a game, finding the dev's phone number, calling him in the middle of the night, and proceeding to swear at him when he tells you something you don't want to hear makes you the bad guy in that situation

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    2. This time, Twibat, I agree with you.

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    3. Sure, they obviously took it too far, but then again being awakened in the middle of the night is fairly mild punishment for telling the player that he has a particular quest in the manual and then not allowing any mechanism for him to achieve that quest.

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    4. I think making a game where you're supposed to slay a dragon and then not being able to slay the dragon makes you the bad guy. "I ran out of cartridge space" has all the professionalism of "the dog ate my homework". Oh, but you get to see my initials! There was enough cartridge space for that. Ego enough to graffiti his work but not to finish it. The nerve to think that that was a "reward". To him it was, I suppose.

      Everyone who finished the game got frustrated, while he got the same inconsideration he dished out, but only once. It gives me a justice boner.

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    5. To be fair, I don't think Imagic should have released the game in an unfinished form. If the developer couldn't make it work, maybe they could have found one that could, or changed some things to make it work. Just saying, the dev's obstacle in finishing the work, whether his fault or not, ultimately is the fault of the company for releasing it unfinished. Those kids should have cursed out the company, not the author.

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    6. For sure, there are always ways to get things down to fit. We did a lot of this when I worked for a company that made games for feature phones in the early 2000's. They had maybe 1-200k of memory, which is a lot more than the Intellivision likely had. But, it's a matter of diminishing returns, and the amount of work to reclaim a smaller amount of space or memory goes up exponentially.

      So, yeah, there probably was some way to make something happen, but I also know how things work, and it's not like the developer wanted to scam kids. The product is on a conveyer belt, and there's a machine moving things forward, ready or not...

      That said, having kids cuss you out in the middle of the night means they played it, and cared about it, so that's actually kind of nice.

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    7. I have been there ("making games for feature phones in the early 2000" - there was mainly one company doing that early on though), and yes, there was a lot of the constraints met by the designers and programmers of the early 80 : not enough size, not enough computing power, limited graphics, no mouse for control. Even the size of the code had to be limited to fit on the worst devices.

      There were several RPG on feature phones though. My (then) company used a generic emulator that could simulate pretty much any feature phone, except maybe Blackberry which was a special case. They also had a list of all the games they released. My enhanced awareness on the topic of video game conservation (thanks to you) tells me I should contact them Monday and try to get a copy of both.

      Delete
  5. Nillrem the Wizard, huh? So, it's another instance of just using a familiar name backwards, with another "l" thrown in for good measure? Why was it so hard for early game developers to come up with somewhat original names?

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  6. Well, it made for a good read anyway.
    The view reminds me of DROD, which is a turn-based puzzle game, except DROD RPG which is one of the few RPG-Puzzle mix.

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  7. I expect the reason you're seeing a border is that it's used to obscure parts of the screen while scrolling.

    On the Sega Master System, the tiled background layer is exactly the width of the visible screen, and it loops - if you scroll it to the side a few pixels, you get parts of the leftmost tiles appearing on the right edge of the screen until a new column of tile graphics can be placed onto the tile layer.

    The way action games like Sonic get around this is to enable a graphics mode on the console where the screen width is reduced by a single column. On a TV, this would look like the border has become a little thicker on one side (if it were visible at all). On an emulator, it's usually shown as a single tile wide strip of solid border colour.

    I imagine that's what you're seeing here.

    Games without scrolling, like flick-screen hydlikes and dungeon blobbers; and puzzles/board games like chess, mahjong, can use the full screen size.

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    1. Looks like my intuition was right. :) Here's a technical rundown of the Intellivision which mentions the need to reduce the screen size when scrolling.

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    2. That's an interesting explanation that gets into an whole area that I knew nothing about.

      There are other sites with screenshots from the game that don't have the same problem. Do you think that variance can be explained by some emulators somehow compensating and some not?

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    3. Some emulators will cut off the edges of the screen to try to simulate a CRT's overscan. If the game was competantly made, you won't lose anything important because it would have been made with overscan in mind.

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    4. Yes I think that's right, Addict. Some emulators may be compensating showing only the main display area. Some emulators might even auto-adjust to display a set thickness of border colour around the current adjusted size of the display area.

      It's a matter of opinion and context whether including it is correct, or useful. Does using the flag mean the screen itself is getting smaller? Or is it a block of solid colour overlaid onto the normal display rectangle (which is how the programmer and TV treat it)?

      The C64 has the same flag for reducing the visible horizontal or vertical screen size for scrolling games. Most C64 games (and therefore emulators) treat the border as something that is an integral part of the intended output image since you'd see it clearly on a TV, and so include it in screenshots.

      The Amiga has a hugely configurable video output capable of displaying images in a border like a C64/Spectrum, or extending the visible area all the way off the edge of the TV. Games can position their display rectangle(s) anywhere in the entire PAL(/NTSC) frame, so some games would be offcenter or cut off compared to others. (WinUAE has options to autodetect this.) The shooter 'Agony' has huge digitised painting intermission screens, then switches to a much smaller scrolling box for the game itself.

      Strictly speaking, Amiga 500 screenshots would be, say, 800 by 568 big (or greater!) with tons of black spaces, but that's not really useful.

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  8. My friends and I loved - well, enjoyed - the game. Yes, the actual point of it was annoying. We just called "The Knight's Arena" and played to see how long we could out last each other. It was a blast to think about how you were blocking the attackers and taking them out. We even liked the sounds. Okay, I admit we were likely easy to please and high on root beer, but it was fun.

    You will enjoy Tower of Doom much more. THAT is indeed an amazing game, especially for a cartridge.

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  9. I went back to read your old Intellivision reviews and saw this comment from PKThunder:

    "It's a pity you're not planning to play Tower of Doom, as I think it's arguably the best of the three D&D games on Intellivision -- a well-designed Rogue-like with terrific atmosphere, real depth, and huge replayability. But the gameplay is heavily color-based, which could pose a real problem for you.

    "Still, you have four more virtual years before you have to decide. And since Swords & Serpents is eminently skippable (it doesn't even come close to satisfying your criteria), there is the appeal of completing the trifecta and the Intellivision...just sayin'."

    Oh well.

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    1. The funny thing is, I almost always do a comment search on game names before I start playing them. If I'd done that here, I would have sorted out the confusion before I started playing.

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  10. I'm not sure this is the right post in which say it, but there is a CRPG that is not on your list and it satisfies your requisites. It's called Blue Dragon and you can find it at bluedragon.it/eng unfortunately I don't remember the year of first publication.

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  11. My sister and I used to play Swords and Serpents together all the time. It was one of my favorite games on the system back in the day, but it is admittedly not very fun with a single player.

    Nice to have some confirmation that you couldn't actually kill the dragon. We got to the "end" several times and tried everything we could think of to kill or even hurt the dragon. We always wondered if there was something wrong with the game or if we just missed something.

    Of course, once we got an NES with Zelda and Gauntlet, we never looked back,

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