Reading 1UP's feature on game ripoffs reminds me of one of the most amusing and bizarre game ripoffs, Super Noah's Ark 3D. It's an unlicensed SNES game from Christian games developer Wisdom Tree, a Wolfenstein 3D knockoff. Instead of a soldier shooting evil Nazis with machine guns, you're Noah lobbing sleep-inducing berries at unruly goats on the Ark. Yes, really.
To understand just how funny this game this is, remember that Wolfenstein 3D is the single game that has most shaped the current game industry. The original first person shooter. Violence and blood as a core reward. Beating up on Nazis. And unlike many other pioneering games, Wolfenstein 3D was a hugely successful game.

The rumour is that Super Noah's Ark 3D came about because id leaked them the code as revenge for carebear changes Nintendo demanded of the SNES port of Wolf3D. The story's probably too good to be true, but none the less we can still enjoy spectacle of a Christian games company making an unauthorized SNES game that's a knockoff of an ultraviolent and hugely innovative game. Truly the great ripoff.

  2006-02-04 17:50 Z
I've been reading The Ultimate History of Video Games. It's full of lots of details I didn't know, a thorough accounting of the development of the game business with lots of first person accounts. But what's most fun is the pointers to weird-ass games I'd never heard of before.
Like Chiller. It's a fairly straight-forward Exidy light gun game, only completely fucked up. See, the game is about shooting corpses and zombies. See the man in the Rocky Horror underwear on the left? Shoot his skin to flay him alive! See the guillotine? Shoot it to behead the woman! See the press on the right? Shoot it six times to crush the man's skull! If you get all the way to the last level there's a girl zombie whose clothes you can shoot off. Boobies! Then you shoot her to pieces. My favourite is the winch you shoot repeatedly to lower the guy into the river of blood where a crocodile eats him, one joint at a time.

There was some controversy when the game came out, and apparently it did not sell well in the US. I think it was intended to be funny, but really it's just disturbing. And not a very good game. Still, there it is.

  2005-08-21 16:26 Z
I'm finding Fire Emblem really engrossing. It's a great mix of puzzling strategy and cheesy Japanese RPG.
I love the simple nobility of the charaters' stories combined with the clean anime-style animations. The story is incredibly sprawling, involving three main protagonists and 20+ supporting characters. I will destroy the Black Fang!
  2005-08-15 03:18 Z
I tend to forget Nintendo is a Japanese company. With all the popular franchises like Kirby, Zelda, Metroid, Ninja Gaiden, and Mario having been ported to the US, we miss the hidden jewels like Fire Emblem that have never made their way here. But now Nintendo has released US versions of two Fire Emblem games for Game Boy Advance. And they're good.
Fire Emblem hasn't changed a lot since the early days. The original 1990 NES game is a mix of RPG and turn based strategy. You read some story, then enter into a tactical battle where you move your little guys on the map to attack their guys, then read some more story. The fighting is entirely algorithmic; your choice is in how you manoeuvre. What's appealing is that you have enough units to really feel like you're managing a battle, while still having few enough that they have individual identity. It's surprisingly complex, and the entire franchise looks good.
It's too bad Nintendo took so long to bring these games to the US. But between the popularity of Final Fantasy-style RPGs and Advance Wars-style strategy games it's now clear there's a market here. Normally I find these kinds of games boring, too much reading and not enough playing. But on a handheld it has a nice rhythm.
  2005-07-31 19:13 Z
I'd forgotten how nice old game music can be. Great crunchy synth sounds and surprisingly lyrical melodies. Check out Silent Light, from Chrono Trigger: ogg or original RSN.

This music is still available thanks to the preservation efforts of the emulator scene. Folks have ripped the music code from the cartridges and published it as files: rsn or spc for SNES, nsf for NES. So you get the original music, not a recording. You'll need a player / sequencer. I recommend NotSoFatso for NES and SNESAmp for SNES, both WinAmp plugins.

Archives of music are readily online. Zophar has a good store of NES music (beware: popups), and SNESMusic is great for SNES. There's a lot of music out there. Some useful guides are Skytopia's list and cly5m's list. I like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, Super Metroid, and the original Zelda.

  2005-01-21 23:04 Z
Kirby's Dreamland (aka Hoshi no Kirby) made its debut in 1992, the genesis of the successful Kirby franchise.
This early Game Boy game is classic Nintendo, a platformer where you jump and fly through hallucinatory landscapes with bizarre enemies. The innovation is Kirby's ability to inhale the bad guys. Later games would turn this into the famous "clone" ability, but here it's just a way to clear them out.
Most of the thematic elements that make Kirby are present in this first game. The little Kirby blob is cute, particularly when he's inhaling or full. The graphic tropes are there: the flying stars, the sad Wizard of Oz trees and the 3x Kirby dance at the end of the level. And the musical theme is upbeat and jingly. Like most Kirby games you don't need to be a power gamer to enjoy and Kirby's Dreamland. A very relaxing game.
  2003-10-26 22:07 Z
I wrote Python code for verifying ROM libraries against DAT catalogs. One problem: most DAT files use CRC32 as the way to identify the ROM. The hash space is too small. For instance, Golgo 13 - Top Secret Episode and the unauthorized Swedish translation of Legend of Zelda both have the CRC32 6ad81a61.
It'd be nice to have a truly unique name for each ROM. There's a move to use MD5 hashes; overkill, but it'd work. The emulation sites are hard enough to navigate I can't find who's doing the work.
  2003-10-26 01:53 Z
Part of video game preservation is a catalog of video games. The emulation community has come up with auditing utilities to manage ROM collections. The best known seems to be the Good Utilities, bare DOS software. RomCenter and ClrMamePro offer GUIs.

These programs all act on a catalog of known ROMs with checksums and disposition. DATs are maintained separately: some sources are Rob's conversions and Logiqx. Unfortunately the Windows programs are awkward and slow, and no one seems to have a simple Linux port. May be a good job for Python.

  2003-10-25 17:47 Z
I've been wallowing in computer game nostalgia, playing old arcade, NES and Apple ][ titles. The emulators are fantastic. And you can download the complete history of Nintendo in one easy 250 meg archive. Arcade games have a fantastic database.

Playing old console games is easy, but playing authentic Apple ][ games is hard. They were copy protected with bizarre data layouts, manual lookups, code discs, etc.

Copy protection failed to protect the companies' profits, but it makes it harder to preserve Apple ][ history. The popular Apple ][ archives don't serve the original game; they serve cracked versions. They mostly work, but if you're into pristine preservation it's not quite right.

I wonder how folks will play today's PC games in 20 years. I think the DirectX API will make emulation easier. But the games are still copy protected. There are emulators for today's PC CD protection, so maybe preservationists will be able to play the original. And there are cracks too, but most are rips that strip out a lot of game content to make the download smaller. Ugh.

  2003-10-18 15:20 Z
Tea Leaves has a good article about the lack of non-violent options in computer games. The point I like best is that RPG narrative is heavily limited because you're only rewarded for killing things.
One exception I hadn't seen before is Harvest Moon, a farming RPG. You pull weeds, plant crops, and try to marry someone in your town. The intro to the SNES game is charming - "how to play" features scenes of you breaking rocks and removing stumps. The screenshot above is the village church. I love the idea of a Japanese corporation earnestly making a cute simulation of agrarian Europe.

Props to the SNES emulation community for making it so easy to see these old games. There are lots of good SNES emulators. SNES9x is a well behaved Windows app; ZSNES is funkier but has better realism for video and sound emulation.

As seen on games.slashdot
  2003-10-16 16:47 Z