No screenshots. No video. No emulation. Planet Probe is a game that may well and truly be lost to the ages. 'Tis a shame.
I found this one going through the US copyright records. "Try Corporation" is the company listed, but I can't say with 100% certainty this is "our" TRY (pronounced alphabetically according to Hitoshi Akashi) that later became Human.
Even though this game is Japanese in origin, I've found nothing on the Japanese side of the Internet. There is, however, some scant information about this "elaborate evolution of Tehkan's Senjyo" in English on the KLOV, assuming it's the same game. There's even an Italian high score record holder (Antonello Castrianni with 9,151,580 points).
The person who wrote the KLOV description, Bisboch (also Italian, interestingly enough), submitted his rendition of the high score table music, still stuck in his head after playing the game 25 years ago. Take a listen:
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There is a $0.00 reward for any information leading to the whereabouts of Planet Probe. For now, this video of Senjyo will just have to do.
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Engineer Gerald Anderson "Jerry" Lawson died Saturday, April 9. He was 70.
Lawson and his team at Fairchild Semiconductor were responsible for creating the first game system to use programmable ROM cartridges, the Video Entertainment System, later known as the Channel F.
Before the Channel F was a coin-operated game called Demolition Derby, designed in Lawson's garage through his company Microcon. The goal was to show what microprocessors, still new at the time, could do. When Fairchild management found out about the game, they had Lawson do something for them. Demolition Derby never made it into production.
When Atari sued Activision over trade secrets, Lawson was brought in by Activision's legal staff to reverse engineer the 2600 system and write a manual. With this manual, he was able to start Video Soft, a publisher and contract developer of 2600 products.
Six previously unreleased Video Soft 2600 games were made available for sale in early 2011. All profits will now go to Lawson's family.
In March, Lawson was honored for his contributions to the video game industry during the 7th Annual IGDA Minority Special Interest Group Social Gathering at GDC 2011.
A memorial celebration will be held on May 19. More details are available here.
For more on Lawson's life story, please read his 2009 interview with Vintage Computing and Gaming. Also listen to his interview with RetroGaming Radio from Classic Gaming Expo 2005.
As Black History Month comes to a close in the US and Canada, here for your consumption are two articles from Black Enterprise. The first is called "Cash in on the Videogame Craze" from December 1982, which talks about the game industry boom and opportunities being created for black entrepreneurs and engineers. The second is a sort of follow-up from August 1985 called "The Mixed Signals in High-Tech's Future". Think of them as "pre-Crash" and "post-Crash."
Featured in the 1982 article is Ed Smith, one of the engineers behind the APF MP-1000 and Imagination Machine. In both articles is Jerry Lawson, the always interesting "father of the videogame cartridge" who designed the Fairchild Video Entertainment System (later called the Channel F), the first game console to use programmable cartridges, and who later started Video Soft.
More with these two video game pioneers:
"Dimitri" finally got ahold of Sore ha Pong kara Hajimatta: Arcade TV Game no Naritachi, the Japanese arcade history book cited as a source on our Ikegami Tsushinki entry, so now we can dig into it some more. There's an entire chapter about the legal issues surrounding Donkey Kong including the Ikegami episode, Crazy Kong, and King Kong. I hope this acquisition allows me to fix up the Ikegami entry as I'm not happy with it. (Am I ever?) Stay tuned.
Speaking of Crazy Kong, did you know Nintendo of America sued Detroit area company Elcon Industries, which was selling it Stateside, claiming copyright infringement as well as unfair competition? If you think "that string" (see Ikegami entry) could have been hacked in, think again. The defendants argued that Nintendo's copyright was invalid because Nintendo "failed to identify the true author [...] in its application to register a copyright." They contended that Ikegami must be the true author "because the name 'Ikegami Co. Lim.' appears in the computer program." Long story short, Nintendo prevailed, and a preliminary injunction was issued.
You can read the judgment for yourself on FindACase. Click on "Michigan," search for "Nintendo," and select "US District Courts of Michigan" under "Select Library." Said judgment is a "wall of text," but it's interesting. For example, according to it, NCL "hired Ikegami Tsushinki Co., Ltd. to provide mechanical programming assistance to fix the software created by Nintendo Co., Ltd. in the storage component of the game." Also, Falcon had a licensing agreement with Nintendo to sell Crazy Kong in Japan.
Before working at Cave on games like Ibara and Pink Sweets, before working at Raizing on games like Battle Garegga and Battle Bakraid, and before working at KID on games like Recca and Kick Master, programmer Shinobu Yagawa (矢川忍) worked on this - Laserfight! for the MSX, a shooter distributed via Brother Industries' Takeru vending system and what is possibly Yagawa's first game ever. Please don't ask me where you can get it.
1) Before we get started, you might want to read Part 1 to find out more about Iwasaki Giken Kougyou and how I think it had something to do with the formation of Nintendo subsidiary Intelligent Systems.
2) The impetus for writing this post was stumbling upon a couple of interesting copyright records for Nintendo games that mention Iwasaki.
- Devil World :
caudiovisual display, program: Iwasaki Giken Kogyo Company, Ltd., employer for hire.
aIwasaki Giken Kogyo Company, Ltd.�eauthor
- Vs. Soccer :
csome of audio-visual display: Iwasaki Giken Kogyo Company, Ltd., employer for hire.
aIwasaki Giken Kogyo Company, Ltd.�eauthor
Iwasaki's involvement with Soccer has been pointed out here before. Click the links for the entire record.
3) Intelligent Systems was established in December 1986, but its official website lists games released before then: Wrecking Crew, Metroid, Tennis, Duck Hunt, Devil World, Donkey Kong, Wild Gunman, Hogan's Alley, Mario Bros. If Iwasaki was involved with Devil World and Soccer, then logic dictates it may have been involved with the other games.
4) The Wikipedia entry for Intelligent Systems has a game list with notes like this one for Devil World: "Contributed programming to Nintendo EAD." I have no idea the source of this information.
A while back, Kevin Gifford dug up an interview with Masato Masuda (増田雅人), formerly of Human, where he confirms his involvement with Pro Wrestling for the NES. He also worked on the popular Fire Pro Wrestling series.
I was later tipped off about Masuda's development company ShunDa. The website looks like it hasn't been updated in years, so I don't know if the company's still in operation. I sent an e-mail but never received a reply.
Below is a video of ShunDa's only known game. Given Masuda's back history, it's not surprising to see that it's a wrestling game (Kinnikuman Nisei: Seigi Choujin e no Michi/Ultimate Muscle: The Kinnikuman Legacy: The Path of the Superhero for the Game Boy Advance).
Back in December and January, I had the chance to talk to Shunichi Mikame, a man who previously worked for a Japanese game company and is now living in America. Given his unique life story, I just had to contact him and learn more.
A 1986 graduate of what is now known as the Shobi College of Music, Mikame was hired by Culture Brain that same year to work as a computer music composer. His music turned up in several Famicom/NES titles you might remember: Super Chinese/Kung Fu Heroes, Hiryuu no Ken: Ougi no Sho/Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll, and Arabian Dream Scheherazade/The Magic of Scheherazade. Using his own music equipment (sequencers and synthesizers and such), he recorded his compositions to audio tape and submitted them for approval. Some made the cut - others did not. After approval, he converted the music to assembly language and passed it along to Culture Brain's programmers. In total, he composed about 150 pieces of music during his time there.
Mikame shared with me some memories of the game producer (the owner of Culture Brain). He was a difficult man and was sometimes violent with one or two sales guys who were his childhood friends or old classmates. (This became such a challenge that some of the game/graphic designers left for Sega.) But at the same time, he was also passionate about making games and had lots of excellent ideas. He would give them (Mikame and the game/graphic designers) money to go down to the arcade and play games and study them. All the Famicom games they wanted to play were bought and provided by the company for the same reason (to study them).
When Mikame was hired into Culture Brain, it was actually still called Nihon Game. Founded in 1980, Nihon Game had been responsible for several arcade games such as Monster Zero, SF-X/Skelagon, and Hokuha Shourin Hiryuu no Ken/Shanghai Kid. The company name was changed to Culture Brain in 1987 and a US branch was eventually opened. The US branch closed in the 1990s, but Culture Brain continues on in its home country making DS games.
Back to Mikame, he got into an argument with the aforementioned game producer/owner one cold winter day and was fired (as Mikame had hoped). (This was in 1987, just after the release of Hiryuu no Ken but before the release of Arabian Dream Scheherazade.) He dabbled in different things afterwards like making sound effects and music for commercials and traveling. He learned English with American friends he had at the US Navy base in Yokosuka and decided to pursue his dream of coming to the States. He left Japan in 1991 and studied computer science at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. He eventually ended up in Texas, where he is now working as a network security engineer/consultant.
Mikame has a website. On his profile, you can find out more about him and listen to some of his game and non-game musical compositions.
My thanks to Mr. Mikame for his time.
More stuff courtesy of "Derboo." It looks like outsourcing to South Korea was more prevalent than I might have previously thought.
- The Game Boy version of Capcom's The Little Mermaid was programmed by Sunmok Jang. He apparently did this for a company called Great. Jang (and Sanghun Lee [see earlier post]) came to Japan to work. Programming took three months from June 1992. Jang previously worked on Clover's MSX conversion of Altered Beast. (Interview with Jang mentioning The Little Mermaid)
- When Taito needed to convert its Master System version of Bubble Bobble to the Game Gear, it turned to Open. Among the Game Gear staff were the Jung brothers, Chanyong and Chanil, formerly of Namu, a company that merged with Open in 1993. Namu started out as a team called MbitM, which was responsible for two Bubble Bobble knockoffs published by Zemina.
- Return of Jelda for the MSX2, part of Carry Lab's Jelda series of 3D shooters, was done by Softmen.
- The initial staff of Softmax was part of a team called KBM from 1990 to 1993. This team did "8-bit game software" outsourced from Japanese companies. The article "Derboo" got this information from mentions "Game Gear software" but no specific titles.
Not Korea-related, but I'll just throw it in here:
- Some of The Adventures of Gilligan's Island for the NES, primarily developed by Human, appears to have been outsourced to another part of Asia. The "sub programmers" are "Sun Shu Fai" and "Koo Wai San."
For more Korean gaming history, check out "Derboo"'s feature on Hardcore Gaming 101.
The amount of stuff we Westerners know about Korean games could fill a space the size of a headlight on a Kia. But that's all changing thanks to the ongoing research of one "Derboo," who's writing about gaming in South Korea for Hardcore Gaming 101. Because of said research, more has been learned about gamemaker Sanghun Lee (or Lee Sanghun; see right), who has been discussed on this blog before.
Let's start from the beginning...