Pac Attack

Pac-Man’s 31st anniversary is coming up, and here at YAGRS, we’re going to celebrate it. Sure, we could have made a big deal out of anniversary 30, but ol’ Pac had enough going on then, dealing with the loss of his 20s and his squandered youth . . .

So, to make a big deal out of #31, we’re going to review several console ports of Pac-Man and the whole Pac-Man family. You won’t see every console port covered here (as I’m sure many would be missed), but you should see a variety, from the much maligned Atari 2600 port up to the Xbox Live Arcade.

To top it off, the reviews will be compiled in a downloadable PDF, for you to print and share and frame and whatever.

The first review should be up later tonight or tomorrow. Be on the lookout, Pac-Maniacs!

Gaming forums

When I’m in a gaming mood, I often look at several game forums for gaming news and discussion. Sometimes, I find out about games, etc., that I wouldn’t have known about otherwise, and sometimes, I find people discussing game-related issues that are of interest to me.

And then, sometimes, I find people who just seem to want to argue or who take this all perhaps a bit too seriously.

Today, I was reading the Sega-16 Genesis Does! forum, and I came across a post in which someone asked about the best beat ’em ups for the Genesis. Since this is one of my favorite genres, I decided to read through the thread. While doing so, I noticed that many people mentioned games like Golden Axe and TMNT: The Hyperstone Heist. At the end of the thread, a poster gave his list, and he stated that he was including some hack ‘n’ slash games. I decided to post after him, stating that I was surprised that so many people included what I consider to be hack ‘n’ slash games as beat ’em ups. Along with this, I stated some features that, to me, differentiates the two.

The next three posts in the thread attempt to call me out as being wrong. The post immediately following mine attempts to use the features I posted for beat ’em ups to show that these features are in hack ‘n’ slash games. To do so, however, the poster changes some of my wording. Really? How does anyone try to get away with that, considering that the original text is immediately above in the previous post?

I’m not certain why, but this really annoyed me tonight. Maybe I’m getting old, and I’m not quite as interested in arguing over points that have no real importance as I did 10+ years ago. Maybe it’s the fact that someone tried to change my wording in order to make his point. Maybe it’s because I’ve wasted time both responding on that forum and then composing this blog post 🙂

Anyway, I’m going to be doing a bit more posting here soon. Yesterday and today, I’ve been working on modding my SNES. I am performing a region mod and a mod to switch between 50-60 Hz internally, and I’m changing the exterior of the system to make it Zelda themed, which includes a custom paint job and an illuminated Tri-Force. Should be pretty cool, if everything functions once I’m done.

Haunted House

Haunted House, taken out of context, is not a remarkable game. It will not likely hold your attention for long, even with nine different difficulty settings. What makes Haunted House noteworthy are its links to the survival horror genre, as it introduces some survival horror devices that were used to great effect in more recent genre entries.

Tracing the origin of horror video gaming may not be as simple as one might think, in large part due to some ambiguity over what actually constitutes a horror game. Is it enough to include horror archetypes (e.g., vampires and zombies as in the Castlevania series), or does the game have to present an atmosphere of fear (as in Silent Hill)? If the latter, do we need to consider the era in which a game was released? As movies have shown, what may horrify at one point in history can seem benign and comical later (consider the monster movies from the ’50s or even the slasher movies from the ’80s).

Some attempt to get around these questions by dividing horror into sub-genres, such as survival horror. Generally, Alone in the Dark is credited as the first survival horror game and Resident Evil is credited as the game that made this sub-genre popular; however, even this can be contested, as the Gaming Historian does in this video. He claims that 3D Monster Maze, a game that has the player traversing a three-dimensional maze while fleeing a Tyrannosaurus Rex, is actually the first 3-D survival horror game. It is an argument that isn’t without merit.

The same year that 3D Monster Maze was released, Atari released Haunted House. While not three-dimensional, and thereby unable to stake a claim as the first 3-D survival horror game, Haunted House is arguably one of the very first survival horror games to be released.

Note that is said, “arguably.”

In Haunted House, you guide a pair of eyes representing the player through the four stories of a mansion while avoiding bats, spiders, and the ghost of Zachary Graves, who was once the reclusive owner of the property. You are given an unlimited supply of matches at the outset of your journey and nothing else. Matches are necessary to find the pieces of a magical urn (your purpose for entering the house in the first place), the master key, or the scepter, which protects you from harm. On all but the easiest setting, the matches are also your only way of seeing where you are going, as they provide a circle of light around the eyes. You must find the three pieces of the urn (which reforms as you find each piece) and escape the mansion before you are scared to death nine times.

Given the premise of the game, consider what we typically consider survival horror. In these games, the character tends to be placed in an area surrounded by monstrous/evil enemies (spiders, bats, and a ghost, in this case), starts with limited resources (you begin only with matches here), has a limited inventory (Haunted House only allows you to carry one item at a time, so no running around with the scepter while picking up urn pieces), and must complete some task to escape the nightmare (here, you must assemble the urn and make it back to the entrance to the mansion). On more advanced settings, the enemies in Haunted House can chase you from room to room, and all that you can do is run and hope to lose them before being killed.

It is interesting to see tactics used in this game that would return in later survival horror games. The idea of only seeing what the matches illuminates reminds me a lot of the Silent Hill games, where often you are only able to see by the flashlight you carry. Also, the fact that you can only run from enemies and not attack is very reminiscent of the Clock Tower games.

All this considered, Haunted House is an Atari 2600 game from 1981. Obviously, there are technological constraints to the game that weren’t an issue as hardware improved. You aren’t likely to feel afraid while playing Haunted House, though you may become panicky when pursued by an enemy, as with no means of defense, you will have to flee in the dark (your match will be blown out when the enemy appears, and you can’t relight it while the enemy is still onscreen), often resulting in you running into a dead end or opening a door where another monster lies in wait.

Without a sense of terror from Haunted House, some may take issue with including it in the horror genre; however, most aren’t likely to be frightened by any of the old Universal Studios monster movies, for example. If we consider these movies a part of the horror genre, then it seems like we have to do the same with Haunted House.

Haunted House, taken out of context, is not a remarkable game. It will not likely hold your attention for long, even with nine different difficulty settings. What makes Haunted House noteworthy are its links to the survival horror genre, as it introduces some survival horror devices that were used to great effect in more recent genre entries. Just as a movie like Nosferatu is interesting as a piece of horror cinema history, Haunted House is worth experiencing for its contribution to video game horror.

Recommended for its historical significance only

Note: Atari is releasing a downloadable Haunted House game soon to Xbox Live, WiiWare, and the PC. It seems to share some gameplay mechanics with the original, so it would be interesting to compare the two once it is released.

It’s October

Yep, the summer is gone, leaves are beginning to change, and we’ve arrived at the month whose conclusion is my favorite holiday (well, at least since I’ve gotten older and no one buys me anything for Christmas anymore). Though I hit a few scary games in celebration of Halloween back in 2008, I missed last year. This year, I hope to be able to review several games from various platforms. I may even play through Silent Hill again, considered by many to be the scariest game ever made.

Be back soon.

Brave Battle Saga: Legend of the Magic Warrior

I honestly wanted to enjoy this game, but its inconsistent graphics, often tedious battles, and uninspired story prevented me from doing so. I commend Djinn and SteveMartin for their work making this game available to the English-speaking community. I just hope that their next project is a little more deserving than Brave Battle Saga.

In all likelihood, you have never heard of Brave Battle Saga: Legend of the Magic Warrior. Originally released as Barver Battle Saga: The Space Fighter, this is an unlicensed Chinese title that reportedly borrowed heavily (i.e., directly lifted sprites, etc.) from other games such as Breath of Fire and Final Fantasy. Thanks to the hacking and translating skills of Djinn and SteveMartin (links take you to their respective pages on Romhacking.net), those of us who speak English have the opportunity to experience this game.

Using my Everdrive cart, I was able to experience this title on my Sega Genesis. I approached this game with a certain level of excitement for a few reasons. First, Brave Battle Saga is a role-playing game—one of my favorite game genres—and there weren’t a lot of RPG titles released on the Genesis. Second, I had the thrill of playing something rare and forbidden. Third, this was a new Genesis experience, and it had been a very long time since I had one of those.

The game starts out with you controlling one character (unimaginatively named Tim). Tim lives in a village that chooses a town hero each year, the hero being the first to complete a task given by the town elder. Due to his participation in this challenge, Tim finds himself exiled from his town and placed on a quest that will take him to several different towns, kingdoms, shrines, and eventually to a space station that threatens to destroy the planet. The adventure is a little cumbersome at first with only one character, as you will usually face 2-4 enemies in each encounter, and they usually get to attack before your character. Waiting through several enemy attacks, finally getting to retaliate (which may or may not be enough to kill an enemy and decrease the attacks against you), and repeating this pattern until the enemies are destroyed can be tedious and sometimes infuriating. Luckily, other characters eventually join Tim, which makes the battles a little more enjoyable, though your enemies will still likely attack prior to most (if not all) of your characters.

The action during battles reminds me of the Final Fantasy games, and the action occurs without pausing while you make decisions on what you want each character to do. Each character has a bar that slowly fills up, and once filled, you are allowed to give that character a command. After the character acts, the bar is depleted and must fill up again. Much of the time, this system works fine; however, whenever scrolling through menus for a particular spell or item later in the game, you may get annoyed with the extra turns the enemy will receive while you search. Personally, I prefer RPGs that use a battle system like in the Phantasy Star series, where you are allowed to pause the action after each turn, but I can see how some may feel that pausing like that pulls you a little out of the action.

The graphics in the game are nice, but the pirated nature of the game prevents the graphics from feeling cohesive. For one, whenever Tim and his companions are traveling, they will encounter monster sprites. Whenever Tim touches a monster sprite, the game switches to a battle screen. The problem is that, more often than not, the monster in the battle screen has absolutely no resemblance to the monster Tim ran into. For example, Tim may run into a monster that looks like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, but when the game switches to the battle screen, he is up against a couple of giant eagles and a swordsman. The same problem exists in the character sprites for Tim and crew as well. When not in battle, these characters have a super-deformed look. Once a battle begins, the characters are more realistically proportioned and don’t closely resemble their non-battle selves.

Surprisingly, the game is lengthy, and I spent around twenty hours playing through it. Unfortunately, the story is not compelling and the battles quickly become monotonous. I remember wondering over the last quarter of the game when it would finally end. Finishing was more a matter of perseverance than pleasure.

I honestly wanted to enjoy this game, but its inconsistent graphics, often tedious battles, and uninspired story prevented me from doing so. I commend Djinn and SteveMartin for their work making this game available to the English-speaking community. I just hope that their next project is a little more deserving than Brave Battle Saga.

Not recommended

Note that, if you choose to try out this game, you will need to acquire the ROM of the Chinese game and patch it with the file that can be downloaded from

Odyssey 2 A/V mod

Seems like modding is starting to become an obsession with me. I believe I stated that my next mod would be adding composite outputs to my Sega Genesis, but I’m considering adding S-Video to my Genesis as well, which makes the mod more complicated (I would have to build a board for the S-Video signal). While I contemplate that, I decided to do something a bit easier.

Thanks to this thread at the Videopac/Odyssey2 forum, I was able to successfully add composite outputs to my Odyssey 2. The outputs work; however, there are issues. When plugged into my LCD television, the image is too dark. It appears that others had this problem, and there are recommendations on how to fix it in that thread. I am not sure if my problem results from using the wrong transistor (I am using what I believe to be the Radio Shack version of the NTSC transistor mentioned in that thread), or if I need to add a resistor as recommended later in that thread. As I’ve mentioned before, my knowledge of electronics is almost nonexistent, so I’m lost as how to get this to work on my LCD screen.

Luckily, when I hook up the Odyssey 2 to my DVD/VCR combo, it displays correctly onscreen. I read that VCRs have a built-in signal booster, so I am assuming this is the reason for the difference. Regardless, I can finally play my Odyssey 2 without having to rely on the RF switch and have a much better picture than before.

More mods

Yesterday, I received the modchips for my Xbox and my PS1, and I spent much of my day installing both.

The Xbox modchip was definitely the more complicated to install of the two, though I did have my issues with the PS1 chip (which I will explain later). I was worried throughout installing the chip in the Xbox, because I didn’t think I was doing a good job of soldering everything. When I finally had the chip in and booted up the Xbox, I fully expected it not to work. It was a nice surprise when it booted up without issue.

Following the installation of the chip, I installed a new dashboard on my Xbox as well as a new hard drive. I used a 500 GB SATA drive I had in my desktop (which I recently replaced with a 2 TB drive). I used a $5-$6 SATA-to-PATA adapter, and the drive is working flawlessly. I copied all of my Xbox games to the hard drive, and I still have tons of space left.

The installation of the PS1 chip would have been easy, had the chip come with the wires attached, as it was supposed to. The site from where I ordered the chip showed which color wires were to be soldered to which points on the board, but since my chip had no wires attached, I had no idea how to solder it all together. Luckily, I found an image of my chip online that showed how everything was supposed to be wired.

Strangely, my PS1 is not working perfectly since installing the chip. When I first start the system, I arrive at the screen telling me to put a PS game in the drive, regardless of whether I am using my original game or the backup. However, if I shut the system off and turn it on again, the game will load. I probably should research this a little more to see what I might have done incorrectly.

Next, I plan to do the A/V mod on my Genesis, though I’m not sure when exactly I’ll get to it (I’m also trying to finish an RPG I’ve been playing so that I can review it). I also have plans to add A/V outputs to my Atari 7800, though that requires a bit more work, and I will probably have to buy a kit to complete it.