Archive for the 'Hacks & Projects' Category

[ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart

Tuesday, August 7th, 2007

Brian Parker of RetroZone Riding a BicycleBrian Parker, a resident of Redwood City, CA, has run RetroZone full time for three years. His company is well known in the retrogaming community for its sales of original console controllers — like NES, SNES, and Genesis control pads — modified to work with the USB ports found on modern computers. In 2005, I reviewed one of his USB NES controller products and found it to be excellent (I still use it regularly, in fact). But it was with the new PowerPak NES flash cartridge in mind that I interviewed Brian via email last month.

Also an avid cyclist, Brian gave me a picture of him competitively riding a racing bicycle, the only known picture of him in existence. Ok, I'm kidding — but it is him.

Thanks for the interview, Brian.

[ Update (11/02/2007): Click Here to read our review of the RetroZone PowerPak flash cart. ]

[ Continue reading [ VC&G Interview ] Brian Parker on RetroZone and the PowerPak NES Flash Cart » ]

Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Discolored SNES

Sure, consoles age and get dirty. Heck, I remember a suspicious incident involving my Super Nintendo (SNES) console and a can of Coca-Cola in the early '90s that left my SNES looking more like a moldy loaf of bread than a video game system. But around five years ago, I noticed that my SNES console was aging particularly badly. I cleaned off all the remnants of fossilized Coke residue from the chassis with a wet washcloth, but the "moldy bread" look still remained. The top half of the console's plastic body retained a uniformly nasty yellow-brown hue, while the bottom half flaunted its showroom shine — that native SNES gray that we all know and love. I soon realized that a much deeper mechanism was responsible for the aesthetic disfigurement of my beloved SNES than mere dirt and sugar.

To further complicate matters, I have another SNES unit that was obviously produced more recently than my original one, and that console shows no sign of aging whatsoever. Comparing the units and the way different parts of them had discolored led me to believe that there is something different about the two batches of plastics — the one for the top half of the SNES chassis and the one for the bottom, or the plastic for the old unit and plastic for the new — that made them age differently over time.

Immediately below are two photos I took of my actual SNES units. Notice the difference between the colors of the top and bottom halves of the plastic chassis on the older unit, and also how the newer unit shows no sign of discoloration at all.

Discolored SNESMy first SNES console (right) exhibits discoloration on the top half only.
The newer unit on the left, however, looks as good as new.

Discolored SNESThe top half and bottom half of my first SNES console, disassembled.
Notice that the underside is yellowed with the same uniformity as the top.

[ Continue reading Why Super Nintendos Lose Their Color: Plastic Discoloration in Classic Machines » ]

Hacksterpiece Theatre: Luigi vs. Mario (Mario Adventure 2)

Thursday, December 14th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Ever since DahrkDaiz released Mario Adventure over two years ago, fans of the NES hack masterpiece have been ravenously hungry for a sequel. After my coverage of Mario Adventure earlier this year brought the hack back into the public eye, DD and I planned a full-scale release of Mario Adventure 2 on VC&G when it was complete. He sent me a demo version back in March, and as much as I wanted to show it off, I decided to hold off until DD completed the project. Unfortunately, that hold became indefinite as DahrkDaiz abandoned work on Mario Adventure 2 over six months ago and has since moved on to other things. It seemed that the sequel that everyone was waiting for would never see the light of day.

Luigi vs. Mario Title ScreenFast forward to this month: fans of his work have been so persistent in pestering Mr. Daiz about when Mario Adventure 2 would come out that he finally publicly released the incomplete version last week on Acmlm's Board. Now that the cat's out of the bag, I guess it's safe to take a look at DahrkDaiz's masterful, but incomplete sequel to the beloved Mario Adventure.

But wait a minute: Where did all this "Luigi vs. Mario" business come from?

Identity Crisis

Luigi vs. Mario Panda SuitSome of you may be confused by the names I'm throwing around here. The hack featured in this article started out as "Luigi vs. Mario," but at some point DahrkDaiz decided to use it as the basis of Mario Adventure 2 (likely after seeing the incredible explosion of popularity caused by VC&G's article on Mario Adventure). From that point on, the hack had an instant identity crisis, because the main concept of Luigi vs. Mario was to have two complete games in parallel — a quest for Mario, and a separate quest for Luigi. That plot wasn't necessarily appropriate for a sequel to Mario Adventure, so DahrkDaiz began to change various aspects of Luigi vs. Mario to fit its new Mario Adventure 2 title. Luigi vs. Mario is an incredible feat of programming with tons of new features, and ironically, it might have been the incredible depth and ambition of those very features — and the confusion that resulted when he tried to force Luigi vs. Mario into the mold of Mario Adventure 2 — that made DahrkDaiz abandon it earlier this year.

Panda Suit, Anyone?

Luigi vs. Mario Mouser SuitThere are so many incredible new features, power-ups, levels, and elements in Luigi vs. Mario that I'm not quite sure where to begin. Personal highlights for me include the new Mouser and Panda suits. With the Mouser suit, you can throw Bob-ombs, ala Mouser in Super Mario Bros. 2, and with the Panda suit, you can walk upside down on the ceiling in some areas! It's really absolutely stunning what DahrkDaiz has managed to cram into this hack. Due to the incredible complexity and depth of this hack's new changes and addition, the game is probably best explained by the author himself. At the bottom of this article, I've reproduced the manual that DahrkDaiz created in HTML for Mario Adventure 2 / Luigi vs. Mario, which he sent me back in March 2006. I've edited it some and cleaned it up a lot, but otherwise the text remains all his. For now, though, you should get the hack and see it for yourself.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: Luigi vs. Mario (Mario Adventure 2) » ]

Messiah Announces "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick"

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Image DescFor someone who was highly disappointed with the Generation NEX, I'll have to admit that Messiah's latest product looks pretty cool. But then again, the NEX looked awesome when it was announced, and you know how that turned out.

The product is the "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick," a supposedly arcade-quality wireless arcade stick for Messiah's NEX system. And that right there is the catch, and it's a major one: it's "exclusively" compatible with the NEX system, which is likely a horrible business move on the part of Messiah. Why would they limit a great stick design (which looks…absolutely nothing like a NES Advantage, by the way) to such a cheap NES-on-a-chip famiclone machine when they could probably triple their sales if they included a wireless receiver that worked with a standard NES? This stick is essentially what the Advantage should have been back in 1987, and NES freaks would love to get their hands on it for their own NES. But sorry, folks, you're out of luck. That's Messiah for ya — just shy of the target, as always. Gotta love 'em.

So why on earth am I telling you about it?

[ Continue reading Messiah Announces "NEX Wireless Arcade Stick" » ]

Hacksterpiece Theatre: Return to Zebes with Super Metroid Redesign

Tuesday, September 5th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

When I first played Super Metroid in April 1994, it was the most incredible gaming experience I'd ever had up to that point. Period. The atmosphere created by its top-notch graphics, music, and gameplay was palpable, enveloping me deeply into an incredible world of sci-fi fantasy and exploration.

Super Metroid LogoThere was only one problem with this otherwise excellent game: once you had finished it — exploring every nook, finding every secret, and collecting every power-up along the way — you had squeezed nearly every ounce of replay value out of the game. For years I wished so badly for a new Super Metroid, even if it were the exact same engine with a completely new world to explore. Well, my friends…in 2006, that wish was granted. Fans of this seminal work can explore the planet Zebes all over again in a new hack by Drewseph and crew called, quite simply, Super Metroid Redesign.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: Return to Zebes with Super Metroid Redesign » ]

VC&G's NES DVD Player eBay Auction Ends

Thursday, July 6th, 2006

NES DVD Player on eBayWell, the auction ended last night, and "bunikmonkey" is the winner. The final price? $282.73 (US). Not bad at all! This will definitely help take care of the kittens. I'd like to thank everyone who bid in the auction, and everyone who helped spread the word.

Before you start thinking "Wow, that's a great price! I should go into business selling NES DVD players," remember this: eBay is a strange market that sells to the highest bidder. Usually only a couple people on earth are willing to pay eBay prices for high profile items. I believe much of my NES DVD player's value is seated in the fact that it's a one-of-a-kind item. Once you start churning them out, the value per unit goes waay down. And I'm not going to make any more.

Anyway, I hope you don't mind, but I might post an entry about some more VC&G-related items for sale soon. I won't litter the blog with eBay crap, of course, but I might just do one more post to announce another round of VC&G fundraising / housecleaning in the future.

Thanks again, everybody, for your help.

Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 3 (Luigi's Coin Quest)

Tuesday, June 27th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Greetings! Thanks for joining me once again for Hacksterpiece Theatre. This week, in the concluding segment of the "Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz" series, I'll be examining another incomplete and "lost" DahrkDaiz NES game hack as usual — but this time it's a more recent one starring a certain iconic Italian plumber's green-garbed, typically overlooked brother.

Luigi in the Spotlight

Shortly after completing his 2004 magnum opus, Mario Adventure, DahrkDaiz got straight to work on a totally new hack of Super Mario Bros. 3 which would feature Luigi in the starring role, eschewing the usual Mario vehicle cliché. Luigi's Coin Quest, as it would be titled, would have numerous similarities with his previous SMB3 hack, but would greatly improve upon them. Over the next eight months, only one world of this epic project would be finished. And yet, despite being incomplete, the resulting work is one of the most sophisticated and highly playable examples of sheer technical mastery in the field of NES game hacking that the gaming world has never seen.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 3 (Luigi's Coin Quest) » ]

VC&G's NES DVD Player Hack for Sale on eBay

Sunday, June 25th, 2006

NES DVD Player on eBay"Ok, RedWolf. Now you've gone and done it. Selling out to the Man!" That's me. I've got a lot of clutter to clear and a lot of hungry kitten mouths to feed / fix, so I'm going to be auctioning a series of vintage computing and gaming related items in the coming weeks. The first item on the block is my very own custom NES DVD Player, which I lovingly crafted by hand and featured in an article on this very site back in early March. The article was very popular and I received a number of offers to purchase the unique player. I figured I'd never sell it, so I turned them down. How silly I was — here it is, for sale. I'm not planning on making any more of these, so this is your only chance to get the real thing. Tell all your friends and help me spread the word. It's for a good cause, after all…feline population control. Thanks!

Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 2 (Pac-Man III and Mega Man Challenge)

Tuesday, June 13th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Welcome back to Hacksterpiece Theatre, and thanks for joining us for Part 2 of our series on the "Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz." Last week, we took a look at Mario Seasons, a nifty Super Mario Bros. hack. This week, I'll be showing you a couple more early NES hacks from DahrkDaiz — one of Ms. Pac-Man and another of Mega Man III.

Pac Man III

Pac-Man IIIPac-Man III is an inventive hack of the NES version of Ms. Pac-Man that adds new boards, new colors, new features, and new eyeballs.

Yes, new eyeballs. Ms. Pac-Man has appropriately been changed to Mr. Pac-Man for this hack, but for some reason DahrkDaiz, in his ceaseless quest for NES graphical enhancement perfection, decided to give Pac-Man bulging white eyeballs (if you'll recall, Pac-Man was originally eyeless in the first Pac-Man). After playing this game for about thirty minutes, those disturbingly googly eyes have a startling way of being permanently etched into your brain.

Pac-Man IIINightmares aside, this is a really fun hack. DahrkDaiz designed 32 new levels for a wide-eyed Pac-Man to chomp his way through. Some of them are on the traditional side of things (ho-hum square-ish), while some are quite devious (invisible walls!). Never one to just modify a few tiles and walk away, DD had to provide a completely new feature or two. In this case, he provided a new way to play the levels: on the title screen, you can select either "Linear" play, which takes you through the boards in sequential order, or "Random" play, in which (surprise!) you play the boards in a random order. DD also added a pellet counter in the upper-right portion of the screen which keeps track of how many pellets you have left to eat before completing the board.

I've never been a huge Pac-Man fan, but all these new features combined make Pac-Man III feel like an entirely new game to me that is definitely worth a try. You can download the complete Pac Man III game here. And as always, you will need an emulator to play it (I recommend FCEU for Windows).

Mega Man Challenge

Mega Man ChallengeHonestly, this next hack is nothing too special, but I thought I'd include it for completeness.

DahrkDaiz intended to make Mega Man Challenge into a "Mario Adventure" for Mega Man III. That is, he was going to completely overhaul the game. But for reasons unknown to me, he never got very far. The only stage he finished was the "Snake Man" stage, which has a new level layout with new graphics, an impressive parallax-scrolling background, and a new acorn-dropping enemy. DD also added the ability to switch between your weapons with the select button. Like I said, it's not much. But if you want to give it a try, you can download it here.

(Update 06/15/2006: DahrkDaiz has send me a version of Mega Man Challenge with the Top-Man stage completely redone. However, the Snake Man board is not complete in this version. You can download it here if you're interested in seeing some wicked-cool atmosphertic effects added to Mega Man III.)

In our next episode, I'll be profiling another fun Super Mario Bros. 3 hack by DahrkDaiz that I've never even mentioned before on VC&G. This time we'll get to take control of Luigi and help him find his lost coins…

Have any cool, funny, or weird retro game hacks that you'd like to share? Send 'em along!

Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 1 (Mario Seasons)

Tuesday, June 6th, 2006

VC&G's Hacksterpiece Theatre[ Hacksterpiece Theatre is a regular column devoted to fun, odd, and interesting retro game hacks. ]

Hello, friends. Welcome to my new regular column on VC&G, Hacksterpiece Theatre, where I hope to profile for you the best, worst, and most interesting retro game hacks in existence.

Mario SeasonsBack in March on Vintage Computing and Gaming, I profiled what I called "The Best NES Game Hack of All Time," Mario Adventure. Shortly after the hack exploded across the Net, I tracked down the author of that masterful piece of SMB3 modification and conducted an interview with him. He goes by the name "DahrkDaiz" in the online retro hacking community, and it is my belief that he is likely the most talented NES game hacker out there today. After many conversations with him about hacking, he agreed to send me some of his earlier NES game hacks that have been relatively "lost" as of late. And by lost, I mean that they were once available for download on his site, but have not been for quite some time. In this inaugural column of HT, and the first in a series of "Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz," I'll be profiling one of his earliest hacks, Mario Seasons.

[ Continue reading Hacksterpiece Theatre: The Lost Hacks of DahrkDaiz, Part 1 (Mario Seasons) » ]