Your mission is to fly the Dante Dart through the Cryptic Computer and destroy its four Failsafe Detonators (marked "6507") before the Computer self-destructs. Watch out for forcefields, missiles, bats, and other obstacles, and keep an eye on your energy, shields, and time until detonation.
Even more obscure is the Atari 8-bit computer version, available only on the Imagic 1-2-3 compilation disk which also contains Quick Step and Wing War. The graphics are better, and the layout is a little different. No longer restricted to a single Computer, you travel from planet to planet (Computer to Computer?), each one containing a single Detonator. It's kinda like Gradius, or that's what people on the Internet say.
2600 version by Dan Oliver
TIP: To speed things up, fly to the right side of the screen.
REMEMBER: Pins on the Detonators may be booby-trapped!
The last licensed game for the Sega Genesis in North America. What better way to send off one of the all-time great consoles than with one of the all-time great arcade games?
Okay, so the Genesis didn't exactly go out with a bang here, but it's an exact replica of the arcade version, right? Well, not exactly. I talked to programmer Scott Marshall a while back, and he shared some information about the development.
- Matching the Genesis Frogger to the arcade version was a lot of work and a long story, but I really enjoyed it. Here are a few details:
- I started off with an arcade emulator of Frogger downloaded from the Internet, with images of the original ROM data. I ran the ROM images through a disassembler, printed them out, studied them, dumped them in hex and created a hex editor, and made videotapes of myself playing this emulator.
- Although the Genesis has a complete Z80 system, it seemed impractical to port the arcade's Z80 code to run on the Genesis Z80 because of the specific screen-mapped display functions it used.
- I did, however, locate the music and graphics data in the arcade image ROMs. The graphics were converted with a utility I wrote. The music sequence data was loaded directly into the Genesis version, and I wrote a sequencer in Genesis 68000 code to play it.
- The game logic was controlled by a new program I wrote in 68000 assembly language. I was able to match the action by studying the video tapes and duplicating the positions, speeds, and sequences of all the sprites. Sometimes I was able to match motions of objects and rows by carefully timing them with a stop watch. Some functions were divined by studying the disassembled Z80 code from the arcade game. The sound of the frog jumping was duplicated by recording on tape the arcade sound, slowing the tape to half speed, figuring out the musical notes, then locating the sound chip register settings that played those notes.
- I only had enough skill to play the first five or 10 levels of arcade Frogger, so I had to invent the patterns of the higher levels.
Marshall used the Genecyst emulator to develop the game. He also mentioned a backdoor, but I couldn't get it to work: at the player select screen, hold down C and press right nine times.
So it's not arcade perfect. So no new features were added. But if you want Frogger action on your Genesis/Mega Drive, this is it. At least the music wasn't butchered. (The GBA version on Konami Arcade Advance comes to mind.)
It is first-person, but it is not a shooter. It is an adventure where all elements work in unison to weave an interactive tapestry for the senses. A veritable feast for the mind, body, and spirit.
More to the point, Tunnel Runner is a first-person maze game in which you must find the exit while avoiding the Zots, ghastly creatures not at all like the ghosts in Pac-Man. Sound cues increase in volume as they draw near. You can play with random or pre-programmed mazes.
Of course, it's not enough to find "the" exit. You have to find the key and the right door, one of five kinds, all of which do different things.
I enjoy this game and it is technically impressive, but some might be turned off at first by the navigation. You don't move a step at a time. You run until you reach a corner or a door or stop to check the map, which you'll be doing often. And in later levels, you'll find that map isn't too helpful.
Honors. All those highfalutin words in the opening paragraph are completely justified as Tunnel Runner was a nominee for inclusion into the Smithsonian's The Art of Video Games exhibition. It lost out to Pac-Man in its category, but it's nice to see a relatively obscure game get some respect.
Development. Tunnel Runner was programmed by Richard K. Balaska Jr. at CBS Electronics. He also worked on the RAM Plus chip inside the cartridge that helped make this game possible.
No, it's not the Eggo waffles video game - it's a "fowl" Kaboom! knockoff (which itself was a knockoff of Atari's Avalanche).
I'm probably one of the few people, even among 2600 fans, that think this is the better game. With the paddle controllers, you make a blue bear catch eggs coming out of a weird-looking bird hellbent on your destruction. After each successful wave, you shoot the eggs back at him. The game is over when you're drowning in yolk.
That slight variation in gameplay is one reason I prefer Eggomania. Also, games last longer. I find that Kaboom! gets too difficult too quickly.
The music and graphics are pretty charming as 2600 games go. The bird is well animated. If you miss an egg, he does a victory dance to a little ditty. If you shoot him, he's stripped down to his boxers and floats up to Heaven.
Eggomania was developed by James Wickstead Design Associates, one of the more prolific contract developers of the early 1980s. Wickstead Design is still around today, providing product design and development services.
Two arcade games thought gone forever have resurfaced. The first was Megumi Rescue, a title developed by Aicom and Eleca in which you must put out burning buildings and rescue the people inside. The original arcade version never made it past location test, but a Mark III/Master System version that uses the paddle controller was released. The board turned up in a 2011 eBay auction and was purchased by a Japanese buyer, and a video turned up on YouTube in 2012.
Next was Planet Probe. I originally saw this one in the US copyright records and wrote a blog post about it. Things snowballed from there. A board was found, the ROMs were dumped, and it is now playable in MAME.  
There are still plenty of lost games, of course, like Shounen Majutsushi Indy (Indy the Magical Kid). This Dragon Quest-esque RPG for the Famicom was demonstrated on a Japanese TV show The TV Power but was never released. It was to be published by IGS and sounds like a Graphic Research game.
Speaking of unreleased Famicom games, here's a promotional video for Nichibutsu's Genjuu Souseiki (Genesis of the Mythical Beasts), which is more of a strategy game:
W Ring (or Double Ring in Japanese) is a decent, overlooked, somewhat easy shooter for the PC Engine published by Naxat. As is so often the case here, I really just want to talk about the story behind the game.
According to anonymous comments on Japanese sites, W Ring was developed by Flight-Plan, better known for the Black/Matrix and Summon Knight series. Development was slow, and the staff went to Naxat after it was finished, where they got to work on games like Coryoon and Air Zonk.
If true, this might explain the large gap between Flight-Plan's 1989 founding and the earliest game listed on their website, Metamor Jupiter from 1993.
The story checks out in my judgment. Financial documents pertaining to Eighting reveal that Yuichi Ochiai, main programmer on W Ring, joined Flight-Plan in November 1989, then Naxat in June 1990, three months before W Ring was released in Japan. He currently serves on Eighting's board of directors.
I've been talking to Akira Sakuma, a programmer who had stints at Data East and TAD and worked on such games as Psycho-Nics Oscar and Toki. Here are five interesting bits from our conversation:
1) Game Career Timeline: Joined Data East in April 1983 / Joined TAD in July 1988 / Joined Use in March 1993
2) The first game Sakuma worked on was the arcade shooter Zaviga, on which he was a sub programmer. Zaviga was soon revised into B-Wings/Battle Wings, and Sakuma was promoted after the main programmer of Zaviga left Data East.
3) Psycho-Nics Oscar, an arcade action game, was the first game on which Sakuma was in charge of planning and programming. While making the game, he thought hard about how a robot would operate. One thing you can do is cancel a jump by pressing down, referred to by Japanese players as an "Oscar Jump."
3 1/2) Sakuma wanted to add more features, but there was not time to put them in. However, G-Mode, which now owns the rights to Oscar, has shown interest in doing a sequel if the opportunity arises.
5) Use was responsible for the conversion of Strider included with Strider 2 for the PlayStation. Sakuma remembers borrowing the arcade source code and PCB from Capcom to use as reference material.
BONUS Last year, Sakuma was able to gather over 20 people from Data East and TAD on Facebook and had a year-end party with them.
With the recent Sega patent brouhaha, it seems like a good time to write this post. You'll see what I mean in a bit.
Star Wars: Attack on the Death Star by M.N.M Software (now Mindware) for the Sharp X68000 computer is a vector graphics-based shooter similar to the Atari arcade game. (There's also a PC-98 conversion that M.N.M was not involved with.) There are some differences, the big one being greater freedom of movement. You control the ship, not crosshairs.
There are even more speech samples than the arcade game. (Check out the intro.) And Yuzo Koshiro fans will be interested to know that he handled the music.
Yet another difference is the ability to switch between different cameras with the function keys. In all honesty, this is more fun to watch than to actually use, but it has some historical significance.
In 1992, around the time of Virtua Racing, Sega filed a patent in Japan for "viewpoint change." About five years later, the patent was granted. Understandably, there was some anxiety in the Japanese game industry, what with all the 3D games at the time using this feature.
Atari Games and Sega made a deal, but not everyone would stand idly by. Konami, Nintendo, Technosoft, and T&E Soft came together and, using the Force of the legal system, opposed the patent, citing Attack on the Death Star as prior art. Mindware president Mikito Ichikawa even testified in court that he had shown the game to Sega. The patent was revoked.
The year is 2050. The Ragossians have invaded earth with a devastating bacteriological weapon. With the human race facing extinction, you and your NES Zapper must fight through the solar system to bring the antibacterial agent back home and save the planet.
One could describe To the Earth as "challenging." Most everything comes at you quite fast. (See for yourself below.) It's very tough to hit anything on an emulator; it's only a skosh easier on a real NES with a real Zapper.
This game piqued my interest back when we discovered those US copyright records. Cirque Verte is listed as the author, which I assume is a company. I also assume the game was Japanese-developed. A Google search reveals a maker of Japanese train key holders, but I have no idea if that's the same Cirque Verte that made To the Earth or if there's some relation to Locomotive (locomotives, trains...). My head hurts thinking about it.
Godzilla and his friends have run amok! It's up to you and the Allied Defense Forces to stop them across 12 different scenarios.
Godzilla 2 may seem like a perfectly average strategy game at first, but you're wrong. It's a perfectly average strategy game with a slot machine that affects the battles, e.g., blue hearts increase the player's offensive power, and red shields increase the monster's defensive power. Please consult the manual because you probably won't figure it out on your own.
This is one of the first games I can recall beating (rented it). Looking back, I guess I only beat one of the scenarios, if that. For years, I remembered seeing the image of Godzilla walking away with a hobo knapsack, but it turns out to have been a surrender flag. I just don't know how I had the patience to play this.
The developer is currently unknown.