Sunday, March 31, 2013

Famicase Exhibition 2013

Sorry about my absence lately, I had found out that the deadline to submit to this:

was coming soon and the pressure to come up with something created a block that I couldn't break through for a long time. However...

I got in!!  Not sure how rigorous the curating process is, and I don't consider my entry one of my artistic triumphs, but I'm glad to be included. My entry was finished and submitted about an hour before the deadline. When the show goes up on April 27th I'll post my design here!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Binary Land (Famicom) reproduction label

Here's an old thing I'm reposting because I finally took photos of it (the previous entry used a mockup image). 

Binary Land is probably the best penguin romance game I've ever played.

Before I had a Famicom of my own I would make reproduction cartridges of Japan-only or unreleased games. This one came up in a list and I kind of fell in love with it. Sometimes when making labels for NES reproductions I'll use the original art, bu--


To be fair, I now think the original art is kind of awesome. But it creeps me out. I liked the game enough to make a new label to show my appreciation.

It turned out pretty cute, but I wanted to keep the same sense of impending death with the flying fireballs and spiders from the game.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Nothing could prepare me for the cuteness of Namcot boxes

(Sorry about the terrible photography here, I'm going to redo them later)

It's the size that counts here, not the image on the cover

I knew some Famicom releases by Namcot (or Namco Home Entertainment if you're not into the whole brevity thing) came in plastic clamshell cases, but I was under the impression that they were standard VHS tape sizes. Why did I think this? I don't know. Maybe I just didn't think something like a plastic clamshell box could be as adorably small:

Pictured next to an awesome game for size reference

Even knowing that it's only as large as an NES cart isn't the same as holding it in your hand. I can't wait to make a new insert for this! Sorry...I have a weird thing about containers. I know I got this game (Family Stadium, which I'm pretty sure they give out for free in Japan when you buy a soda at the corner store) just to rebrand it as an art project, but I want all of the Namcot cases now.

They came with a small sheet of stickers too; someone put this one featuring character sprites on the back.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

So this is how I store Famicom cartridges

I find wonderfully hideous 80's cassette tape racks and boxes at my local thrift store all the time. Guess what is the exact same size as a cassette case ? ?

This one holds 30 carts! More often than not I get open racks, so this Famicom briefcase was a lucky find. One day I'll repaint the racks and mount them on the wall or something to store all of my games. If you can find some, they fit Sega Genesis carts too.

Minna no Balloon Fight (みんなのバルーンファイト) (Famicom)

What, no manual?
Released as a budget title in 1990, Minna no Balloon Fight (Everyone's Balloon Fight) was a sort of four player battle royal version of the 1983 original. As you might have guessed, it is a special edition of the game that supports four simultaneous players. To take full advantage of this you would need something like Hori's "4 Players Adaptor" (scroll down a bit) or a modified NES Four Score. There is no single player normal mode in this one, although Balloon Trip supports one to two players.

The back of the box proclaims "the 'FAMILY' BALLOON BATTLE OF THE WORLD begins!". Wow!

The characters, while still low in detail, are a bit larger as well. You would think that larger characters would be a bad idea in a game built around four people sharing the same screen,  but Nintendo took a page from VS Balloon Fight and added vertical scrolling to the playing field! This is something I always missed in the NES version, it would have added so much to the gameplay.* (see end of article for more boring talk about this)

In Battle Mode (2-4 players) the playing field spans two screens stacked vertically. In Balloon Trip Mode the screen may move either vertically, horizontally or diagonally. This makes Balloon Trip in Minna no Balloon Fight quite a bit trickier.

Unfortunately this copy doesn't include a manual, so there's no information on the playable characters shown on the box art. The fact that they were given specific looks and personalities (even if the in-game graphics are almost identical) was an interesting touch. Color-coding the players by balloon color makes it easy to see what's going on even when things get hectic.

You can see the bonus stage in the background there (don't be like me and use widescreen TVs to play Famicom games). Compared to the original Balloon Fight bonus stage it's a colorful brawl and you can get some pretty crazy points here (popping your friend's balloons to take them out of the game for a few seconds is still the best tactic here). The game was a fairly bare-bones affair in the days of blockbusters like Super Mario Bros. 3, but that's really the point--a throwback to/celebration of the Famicom's arcade style roots. Pretty topical, considering the attention Balloon Fight has been getting from Nintendo in the last year.

So there you go--Minna no Balloon Fight. It's fake. Thanks for looking! You'll be able to find more photos if you're interested on my Tumblr.

*Incidentally, the reason vertical scrolling was removed from the NES version of Balloon Fight was because the NROM pcb Nintendo used in the earliest days of the Famicom could support only vertical or horizontal "mirroring" (mirroring is beyond the scope of this little writeup so let's just call it "scrolling"). So if we had gotten vertically scrolling stages in the NES version, we wouldn't have had the side scrolling Balloon Trip mode, and that would have been unacceptable. I'm not very well versed in NES development so I might be wrong here and Nintendo had other reasons for omitting the second screen, but that's my only guess.

Retro Rally 2: Warpzone Wildcard Poster

Nothing too ambitious this time, just a fun little poster design for the second "Retro Rally" event. Last time we had a 15 minute point battle in Balloon Fight's "Balloon Trip" mode (I won), and this time we'll choose a random world in Super Mario Bros. 3, take a warp whistle there and have a good old fashioned race. I got another copy of SMB3 on ebay for was much cheaper than the second copy of Balloon Fight.

Pokemon Pixel Zoo - Part 2

New pokemon sprites! Today they're outrunning forest fires, vomiting blood, losing limbs and having general freakouts.

Fix It Felix, Jr. (NES)

This is a fake story/art project I made for fun, there is no rom.


Thrift store finally paid off! I even got a good deal on it, haha.

Sorry about the delay--here are some photos of the Fix-It Felix Jr. NES cart.  As I mentioned earlier, the only differences I could find between the arcade version and the version from the movie are downgraded graphics. Ralph and Felix are shrunk down quite a bit because of the limited chip space on the NES's "NROM" boards. NROM (no memory mapper) games are the earliest NES carts, such as Lode Runner, Mario Bros, Donkey Kong etc. before Nintendo really started tapping into the system's potential.

An example of an old NROM style NES chip (look closely and you can see HVC-DH--it's Duck Hunt).

Other differences include the lack of the cutscene at the end of each level where the Nicelanders throw Ralph off the roof--instead if just cuts to a black screen with him falling into the puddle. The gameplay itself is intact, though the stages aren't as large vertically. Here are some more screens from my earlier post:

Another way the graphics were simplified is in Ralph's animations. His punching animation from the arcade version is much more elaborate, with him bearing down fists first, legs in the air. Doing that would increase the amount of sprite tiles used for that motion, which is probably why it was dialed down to a simpler shoulder hunch while one fist raises and the other drives downward.

I went ahead and dumped the rom, here's a clean screenshot of the title screen/stage 1 from an emulator (NEStopia).

Thanks for looking! This is all fake, by the way!

Pokemon Pixel Zoo - Part 1


More behind this link down here!

Pocket Collection - Slakoth and Chikorita (NES)

No bogus story here: just a little project I was thinking of doing with several "special edition" NES carts based on different pokemon.

I think they're kind of classy! far as Pokemon goes at least. It would be fun to take commissions on these; like, three of your favorite Pokemon in their very own game that isn't real.

Retro Rally Trophy Cartridge!

I know these things are silly but they're fun to do. This is a "trophy cart" for the ongoing video game competition I'm having with my brother (the only old game fan I can find around here would be great to involve some more people in these). The one who wins three of five events (to be decided, but I'm putting Tetris in there somewhere) gets to keep the Retro Rally cart as a memento of their superior ability in games most people don't give a shit about anymore!

More sprite comparisons from NES Wreck It Ralph

Don't mind me, just tossing this out there. Here's the original Wreck It Ralph arcade graphics compared with the downsized NES version. Taking an already-made sprite and trying to condense it to it's simplest components while keeping it recognizable is like a fun puzzle.

In this case, the plaid on his shirt had to go for sure. Colors that were barely used like the buckles on his overalls had to be combined with the flesh tone since you certainly couldn't lose that one! Certain shapes like his fists were changed to make them easily readable at a smaller size.

The hardest part had to have been the face, of course--there just isn't enough room to put the same shape of eyes and eyebrows, so everything came out a bit abstracted. It reads well enough as angry eyebrows and eyes, I think. The dimensions of the NES sprite are 32x40 pixels (a couple blank pixels above his head that could have probably been filled though), the same size as Donkey Kong.

DOWNGRADED: Gradius (Konami, 1985-1986)

Gradius for NES. This game has haunted me for most of my life. It was the first SNES game I owned (and it still works just fine!) and when Gradius V came out on PS2 I tried, I really tried to beat that bastard. Once it gets to the point that I'm truly screwed if I lose a life (all powerups you gain are lost upon death, making you nearly defenseless late in the game) I have to concede defeat. Now let's take a look at the arcade and NES versions of the original Gradius and make fun of it.

Or maybe not! Your ship can only have two Options (multiples) instead of the usual four and vertical scrolling was eliminated, but graphically it's quite faithful to the arcade original. Let's have a look at the damage.

The Vic Viper (AKA "Warp Rattler" if you're reading the US instruction manual) didn't suffer too much--the size of the ship is the same though the propulsion in the back shrunk down a bit. They even gave it 5 colors instead of the usual three through the use of multiple sprites.

The "EASTER ISLAND GUYS" as I always called them didn't lose any size either, though the color limits made them take a hard hit in definition. I think putting some highlights on the rock clusters using the main body color of the Moai might've helped a lot.

Now we're talking: the Big Core enemy isn't quite so big in the NES version! However, it's nice and colorful thanks to the aforementioned multiple sprites. Overall a good effort.

I was going to take Konami to task for this on account of the romhack that improves the graphics such that they rival the arcade version, thinking that surely they could have done this themselves back in the day. However, the hack expands the rom well past its original size and uses some Assembly hacks to increase the Option number back to four, so I'll assume that given the hardware they had to work with Konami did the best they could.

The Tower of Druaga and Fix It Felix Jr. connection

Here's something fun while we're on the subject of Wreck-It Ralph. The filmmakers had an obvious love for 80's arcade culture and incorporated all sorts of fun references into the different game worlds. Similarities between Fix It Felix Jr. and Donkey Kong are especially evident(a working man hero climbs a tall structure to defeat a big oaf), Turbo Time was heavily influenced by Namco's Rally X, Sugar Rush is reminiscent of Mario Kart, etc. However, I noticed another more subtle reference in the promotional flash game on Disney's website. My keen famicom memory kicked in right away--this is the title music from Namco's Tower of Druaga! Have a listen to the Felix theme below first.

Now compare with the title theme for The Tower of Druaga:

Just something of mild interest for people curious about some of the movie's many video game references. I've seen some discussion online making other comparisons between music in the movie and other old games, though I didn't catch them personally. Gilgamesh should've shown up in the movie! I honestly can't stand the original Druaga, though I liked the roguelike PS2 installment "Nightmare of Druaga" a hell of a lot. Once the movie comes out on DVD/Bluray I'm sure there'll be a deluge of newly discovered in-jokes.

Balloon Fight Poster - Balloon Trip 2013

I wanted to try another 3D paper piece for this one. I drew and colored the characters in photoshop, printed and cut them out, taped em to sticks and took a bunch of photos. Getting the right angles and exposure was a nightmare, but I like it well enough.

Another shot I liked...maybe I should've used this one.

Work in progress. Can you tell I have no idea what I'm doing here?

Donkey Kong 3: Pixels Are Graphics

Here's a not so amusing anecdote about Donkey Kong 3.

When I was a kid, probably about eight or nine years old, my mom took me and my brother to the video store where my love of the NES really began--we rented a movie or video game (usually a video game) from there almost every day. If I had back all the money we spent renting games I could probably be a majority shareholder at Nintendo today). One day, years after the early era of the NES's "black box" games, I happened upon the box for Donkey Kong 3.

Maybe you should cover up, Donkey Kong

You know the one. Even though I was at the point in my childhood where these old games were considered "mondo lame" or whatever I said as a kid, I was really stricken by the DK3's design sense; with its large, chunky pixels that more than anything say "this is a Video Game" to me.

I wanted to impress my brother, who at this point was 3 years older than me (in fact he's still 3 years older than me) with a new video game word I had learned: "graphics". I thought the term was used for things that were very low-res and blocky, not realizing that, well...everything you see in a video game is graphics.

So I grabbed the box to show to my brother, exclaiming "Look, this one has GRAPHICS"

My brother's response to my dumb statement was so venemous I was traumatized for the rest of the day: "ALL games have graphics, stupid."

I felt like an asshole. And that's the most memorable thing about Donkey Kong 3 for me.

(Sorry about the disgusting cartridge, I've got a lot of games that still need cleaning)

DOWNGRADED: Popeye (Nintendo, 1982-1983)

I thought it would be fun to showcase the occasional little examination of video game ports that had to make sacrifices to fit on home hardware.

I was playing Popeye tonight at Pinballz arcade and not only is it much more difficult than the NES version, Nintendo used an interesting method of creating high-res character sprites on low-res backgrounds. While this results in character detail that honestly amazed me for such an old game, it made porting the game to consoles tricky. So, how did the NES version handle it?

To be fair, the NES port is very faithful to the arcade, gameplay-wise. This was in the era of Donkey Kong and the original Mario Bros. as well, when cartridge space was tight? A hefty 8 kilobytes of "character" (graphics) data to work with. Well blow me down.

Wreck It Ralph - Fix It Felix NES style

Here's a preview of the new sprite I did up for the fake NES cartridge I’m making of Fix-It Felix Jr.

The reason I didn’t just use the sprite that Disney made (on the left) is because you have to take into account the capabilities of the NES—only three colors can be used in a sprite, so it was fun to consolidate Felix’s colors while still making him look like Felix. I got a lot of comments about this sprite on Tumblr and elsewhere about whether the black in Felix's eyes and mouth counted as a fourth color. My intention here is for it to be a "background" transparent color. Obviously, this isn't an ideal solution as it would show the building behind him through his face, but I cite other Famicom games of the time as precedent for this unfortunate workaround! Specifically the lovely Tōkaidō Gojūsan-tsugi by Sunsoft.

As for the size difference, Arcade style Felix is 16x32 pixels. While this would be doable in an NES game, to work with their limited cartridge size it wasn’t uncommon for developers to shrink down the proportions of the character sprite. A top-of-my-head example would be Space Harrier, to wit:

NES games use sprites composed of 8x8 pixel tiles, which is what I tried to go for. Let’s just fudge it by a pixel or so and say NES style Felix is 16x24 pixels here. Figuring out these kind of graphical cutbacks is way interesting to me!

Turbo Time (Atari 2600)

Here's part one of a hopefully three-part series of Wreck-It Ralph inspired fake games. Here's the Atari 2600 port of the former arcade smash hit Turbo Time!

Turbo Time's character and logo are based on the Namco game Rally-X. I didn't get the opportunity to use the logo from the movie because the format of the Silver Label 2600 cartridges use plain text for the game titles.

I also chose to not give him the gray skin and yellow eyes from the movie because I figure this is how he was supposed to look in his game before the incidennnnnttttt. I did give him those yellow teeth though. Stay tuned for more!