Welcome to the
Twenty-Sixth Issue of The Retrogaming Times and a subject of newsletter
introduction I could have never imagined writing before now. As
I'm sure everyone reading this is well aware of, we are in the midst of
an unprecedented time in modern history with the outbreak and
subsequent pandemic of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). I personally
live in Santa Clara County, in Silicon Valley's South Bay Area, which
was one of the initial hotspots on the West Coast of the United
States. It was also the first place to begin "shelter in place"
restrictions in the United States, with both it and neighboring
counties attempting to get ahead of further spread. Thankfully I
am healthy, I have been able to work remotely for the most part, and I
am able to abide by the requested precautions both locally as well as
statewide. I implore everyone to continue to abide by any and all
local restrictions, to err on the side of caution, and to protect
yourselves however possible. Society will change a bit, possibly
for a while, but I believe it is the goal of most everyone to see it
If you're stuck inside or need a bit of an escape, we have a great
issue on tap for you. Merman boots up this issue with his
detailed look at the full size counterpart to the C64 Mini in More
C64! Keeping active and in shape while under shelter in place
restrictions can be a challenge but a retrogamer's approach is to look
for workout opportunities with gaming in mind. That's what's
coming across Don's Desk this issue, as Donald Lee breaks down a modern
workout that any retrogamer can pick up. Cars, money, mazes and
bombs all feature into Route 16, an interesting arcade game from the
edge of the golden era, presented in Arcade Obscure. While many
books have been written on Atari's arcade and home console history, a
new book takes the digital road less traveled and features a visual
history of Atari's very popular 8-bit computer line. Eugenio
Angueira gives his thoughts on this new tome, with a book review of
Unofficial Atari: A Visual History. Our film review column is
revived for the first time since re-launch, with Sean Robinson's take
on the new Sonic The Hedgehog theatrical film, presently the highest
grossing film of 2020! Route 16 makes a quick comeback with an
enhanced remake on the Famicom but does the "Turbo" in the title give
the game new zip or is all that power just for show? - Find out in
Forgotten Famicom. In this issue's cover story, Sean Robinson
talks about the current history of the Sakura Wars games, including the
very recent release of a fan translation of the very first game in the
series. Additionally he conducted a special interview with the
head of the translation and localization team that gives insight into
the fan translation process. Definitely an article not to
miss! Famicom love continues with Todd Friedman's comments
concerning its unique input setup as well as a few games that would
make the transition to the NES in the Controller Chronicles. All that and
more are ahead in this issue of The Retrogaming Times!
again remind our readers if
have comments or questions about anything covered in the newsletter, or
there is something they would like featured in a future issue of The
Times, to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org!
Of course article submissions are also always open. If you have
ready to go, the address is the same, email@example.com. "If
there is something you want to write about, send it in!"
If you're stir crazy at home and are a retrogamer, there has to be
something on your mind - let us know by submitting an article!
NOTICE: Due to the ongoing
COVID-19 pandemic, many shows and events have canceled, postponed, or
modified their dates. For the latest on the events listed below,
please visit their individual websites or contact their relevant
customer support channels as the current situation continues to
unfold. Thank you.
Pintastic Pinball & Game Room Expo,
June 25th - 28th 2020, Sturbridge, Boxborough, USA
For Everyone! Are you looking for a little relief from the hot
summer sun? Look no further than Pintastic New England, which is
the first of its kind, centrally located in Sturbridge,
Massachusetts. This expo is 30,000 square feet of fun for the
whole family. The kids can have never-ending excitement with a
caricature artist, face painting, friendly clowns & balloon
animals. The adults can bring out their inner child with over 200
pinball machines set on free play, all while enjoying an ice-cold craft
KansasFest, July 21st - 26th 2020,
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
2020, the 32nd annual Apple II convention, is scheduled for July 21 -
26 in Kansas City, Missouri. Robert Woodhead of Sir-Tech Software,
well-known as the co-creator of the Wizardry series of computer
role-playing games, will join us as the keynote speaker.
At an early
age, Robert Woodhead, aka Trebor the Mad Overlord, was consumed by two
passions; computer programming and not having to have a real job.
He first achieved this by writing computer games for Sir-Tech Software,
most notoriously co-authoring the first four Wizardry CRPGs, first for
the Apple II, and later for other, lesser computers. In 1989,
deciding that this wasn't nerdy enough, he founded the oldest surviving
anime releasing company, AnimEigo. Other things he's done
include: writing one of the first MMO bots, building a 2-time National
Champion Combat Robot, serving 4 terms on the EVE Online Council of
Stellar Management, and not being "liquidated" by his wife. Yet.
an annual convention offering Apple II users and retrocomputing
enthusiasts the opportunity to engage in beginner and technical
sessions, programming contests, exhibition halls, and camaraderie.
KansasFest was originally hosted by Resource Central and has been
brought to you by the KFest committee since 1995. Any and all Apple II
users, fans, and friends are invited to attend this year’s event.
Registration details will be announced on the KansasFest Web site, and
registration will open on March 31. For photos, videos, and
presentations from past KansasFests, please visit the event’s official
Will you be
among the 2020 attendees? Mark your calendars for July 21 - 26, 2020.
California Extreme 2020, July 25th -
26th 2020, Santa Clara, California, USA
Extreme is very pleased to officially announce the dates for this
year's California Extreme Arcade and Pinball Show. It will be
held on July 25 - 26, 2020 at the same fantastic location - the Hyatt
Regency in Santa Clara, California. Please join us for our 24th show
with hundreds of your favorite arcade and pinball games, both past and
present, all gathered for another fun-filled weekend of arcade
excitement for everyone!
announce later when the hotel will be accepting reservations (please
don’t contact the hotel as the block is not set up yet) and when show
tickets will be on sale.
Classic Game Fest, July 25th - 26th
2020, Austin, Texas, USA
retro gaming event in Texas is back on July 25 - 26, 2020! Classic Game
Fest returns to the Palmer Events Center in Austin, TX on July 25-26,
2020. The annual summer event will feature all the expected attractions
including special guests, live music, free play games, a massive vendor
hall and more. Vendor booth and ticket information will be available
If there is a
show or event you would
like listed here, free of charge, please contact David directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please include a short official blurb about your event along with any
links or contact information and it will be published in the next issue
of The Retrogaming Times. The event listing will remain posted
the issue following the event date. Big or small, we want to
your show in our newsletter.
these great events, shows,
and conventions and let them know you read about them in The
C64! - THEC64 Unboxing
in the Fifteenth Issue of The Retrogaming Times (July 2018), I took
a look at the C64 Mini - a retro console designed to resemble the
Commodore 64. In December 2019 the company behind the Mini, Retro Games
released its follow-up console known as the THEC64 (referred to by some
Maxi, or Full-Size). What have been the key changes and updates, and is
version worth buying?
Games Ltd was formed to create the C64 mini console, and launched an
crowdfunding campaign in April 2016. Although it did not reach the full
as it was a continuing campaign the company pushed ahead with its
This did mean that certain planned features - a working keyboard,
with existing C64 hardware and a cartridge slot - were dropped in
first C64 Mini console. Those who had backed the full-size concept were
free Mini, and the Mini itself went on wider sale during the summer of
There have been some bargain prices for the Mini recently, making it
attractive (since it can attach so easily to a modern HDTV). After a
manufacturing delay and other setbacks, the full-sized THEC64 with
keyboard launched and I had pre-ordered one that arrived the day after
The front of THEC64
exterior packaging is once again designed to look like a classic C64
the blue and white stripes and plenty of information on the sides and
major change this time - depending on the region, there is an
power plug included. Although many TVs now have USB ports, there was
that the Mini did not include such an adapter.
The back of the box.
included in the box are the micro-USB power cable and the HDMI cable.
cables and power adapter are found inside the small box that sits
main console. Also in this box is the new micro-switched joystick with
connector. This is based on the classic Competition Pro stick, with the
triangular buttons on the front and four menu buttons on the back seen
Mini's joystick design.
main console itself sits under a plastic cover, and is much larger than
Mini. A side-by-side comparison shows it is also marginally larger than
original "breadbin" case of the C64, but the keys replicate the look
of the original really well. On the back of the machine there are the
power sockets, plus a USB port. On the right-hand side of the machine
power switch, along with three USB ports. This means you can plug in
joysticks, plus a memory card reader or USB flash drive/memory stick,
What was the Commodore key on the original C64 features a small THEC64
instead. This is due to what happened during the bankruptcy of
1994. The Commodore Germany subsidiary claimed to have bought the
rights to use
the logo, and in the series of transfers and takeovers since the exact
ownership of the "chicken lips" logo (as some call it) has been highly
disputed. The actual emulation itself is fully licensed from Cloanto,
the case with the Mini.
look at the contents of the box, including the Quick Start
help you set up the machine.
the USB power cable plugged in and the HDMI lead attached to a TV or
the machine can be started up with the power button. A short intro
leads into either the Carousel or Classic modes.
Carousel mode is how the C64 Mini booted, displaying a large picture of
the in-built games and various menu options. The Carousel features the
Matt Gray music as the Mini, which can be turned on and off. If a USB
attached, a small icon at the bottom of the screen is used to access
Mode goes straight to the BASIC ready prompt, where you can attach
program in BASIC as before. While the actual machine is being emulated,
the fourth menu button opens up a pause menu similar to the Mini's.
can load and save the current state (up to four saves per game on the
Carousel / file) and use the virtual keyboard (only really useful if
get to the keys).
biggest change is in the in-built games. These now include some VIC-20
as the THEC64 can emulate both the C64 and the earlier Commodore
Mode can be set to boot into either computer, as a PAL or NTSC machine
with accurate timings. The display options include a CRT filter and the
Mini's "pixel-perfect" setting, which is the one I prefer.
off the machine can be done by selecting Power Off from the Settings
holding down the power button.
through the built-in games using the Carousel mode, stopping on
classic Impossible Mission.
Games Ltd has continued to update the firmware that runs the C64 Mini,
already issued an updated firmware for the THEC64. This one file now
both machines, and brings extra functionality and a patch to enable
filenames on a USB stick or card. Updating the firmware is as simple as:
- Downloading the firmware .bin file
to a USB stick. - Putting the USB stick
into the Mini or THEC64. - Going to the System Information
menu, choosing Firmware and selecting Apply to
add the new firmware.
animated progress bar shows how far through the process the machine is,
will switch off and reboot once it is finished. Note that once the new
is applied, an earlier version cannot be reflashed. A factory reset
clear the settings, not any firmware changes. Another
addition to the firmware for both machines is the CJM configuration
This works in two ways.
You can add "flags" to a filename to make changes in how the machine is
configured when you run that file. 2.
You can create a ".cjm" file that is stored in the same directory as
containing these settings.
the settings you can change are whether a fast loader or accurate drive
emulation is used, which virtual port the joystick is attached to, and
alternative settings for using different input devices (such as a USB
arcade stick). The port setting is particularly useful; while the
games use the C64's port #2, there are quite a few that rely on port #1
there is no option within the emulation to switch ports once a game is
CJM configuration is also really useful in VIC-20 mode. As many games
older machine require a memory expansion of some sort, from between
CJM flags can include selecting which bank of extra memory is available
file is started.
a recent C64 cartridge game from USB stick, this is Ms. Rodman
sticking point - if you will pardon the pun - with the Mini was the
joystick. People complained that it was flimsy and suffered from "lag."
stick is more firmly built and uses proper microswitches for more
The "lag" itself comes
from two sources, the response of the emulator to input and
the display update speed. Some users found that their display added
to the settings. This may be a "game" mode or because the TV is
upscaling/filtering the image. Turning off these modes can reduce the
In terms of input lag, I personally have found few problems with the
are photos floating around online of broken sticks, and there are lists
other devices that will work well with the Mini and THEC64. (Some of
require a CJM file to help map buttons to particular inputs; for some
this can actually by really handy, allowing you to define a separate
jump instead of using Up).
have been a few changes in the games list. As noted there are now a
VIC-20 titles, plus the C64 games from Thalamus have been removed.
because there is a new company, Thalamus Digital, reviving the
is the list of games included, the new titles marked with a *:
Anarchy, Attack of the Mutant Camels*, Avenger, Battle Valley, Bear
Boulder Dash, Bounder, California Games, Chips Challenge, Confuzion,
Causeway, Cyberdyne Warrior, Cybernoid II, Deflektor, Destroyer*,
Wally, FireLord, Galencia*, Gateway to Apshai, Gribbly's Day Out,
(VIC-20)*, Heartland, Herobotix, Highway Encounter, Hover Bovver*,
Mission, Impossible Mission II, IO,Iridis
Alpha*, Jumpman, Mega Apocalypse, Mission AD, Wanted Monty Mole,
Monty on the Run, Nebulus, Netherworld, Nodes of Yesod, Pitstop II,
Death*, Psychedelia (VIC-20)*, Rana Rama, Robin of the Wood, Silicon
Skate Crazy, Speedball II, Spindizzy, Steel, Street Sports Baseball,
Sports Basketball, Summer Games II (includes events from Summer Games),
Cycle, Sword of Fargoal, Temple of Apshai Trilogy (three games in one),
of Yesod, Thing Bounces Back, Thing on a Spring, Trailblazer, Uridium,
Dares Wins II, Winter Games, World Games, Zynaps. Of
the new games, Planet of Death is a text adventure and so uses the
more. Bear Bovver is a platform game inspired by arcade classic Burger
Galencia was a recent commercial release originally added to the C64
firmware as a bonus; it's an impressive Galaxian-style shoot 'em up
power-ups and large bosses to fight. It is nice to see representation
programming legend Jeff Minter, and his early C64 game Attack of the
Camels. Iridis Alpha is a game I personally love, but its "split
approach takes some getting used to. Jeff's Psychedelia for the VIC-20
is a "light synthesizer", allowing you make patterns of light and
around the screen, and Gridrunner (also for VIC) is an impressive
Centipede-style blaster. And you don't get much more British than Hover
a game all about mowing the lawn...
the Carousel you can also select BASIC to go into the BASIC prompt for
current machine setting (VIC-20 or C64) and view the THEC64 Hall Of
is a small demo showing the names of the original crowdfunding backers
other key people.
Neon", an amazing C64 bitmap by Robin Levy and Paul Docherty,
celebrating a planned documentary film on the career of programmer Jeff
new THEC64 puts right a few of the flaws and problems that people had
Mini. Playing a C64 on an HD screen is really useful, and the new
works extremely well - it feels very much like the original keys did,
playing some of the games a lot easier. (While it was / is possible to
external USB keyboard, it feels so much better now). The updated
made using the Mini and its follow-up even easier. Being able to
file, copy it to USB stick and insert it straight into the console is
so easy -
and many of the current software companies are trying to provide
files for ease of use on purchase. The VIC-20 emulation is an added
working keyboard has pushed up the price of the "Maxi" but it remains a
investment for casual players when compared to some of the other mini
some ways it is a shame that Retro Games Ltd have not been able to
their goals of compatibility with existing hardware and cartridges, but
both would risk the user damaging or breaking the machine by plugging
in (especially when the power is on) it is perhaps wisest to leave
out. Similarly, there are ways of changing the games displayed on the
Carousel - by hacking the Linux-based software - but this is entirely
at the user's
risk, as the company has stated online.
Running a recent
VIC-20 game, Spaceship Minus One (which mixes elements
Flappy Bird and Scramble).
the time of writing, the release of the THEC64 from American sellers
delayed due to the coronavirus holding up manufacturing and shipping.
this month's edition of Don's Desk. As I write this, it's April
9th, 2020. I hope everyone who is reading this is safe and
sound. Things have certainly changed since the last issue was
published. A lot of the United States (though not all) is under a
shelter in place order (aka lockdown). For those of us in the San
Francisco Bay Area, its been over three weeks now but it wasn't just
the COVID-19 issue I had to deal with. So before delving into my
column this month, let me catch people up on the good and bad that
happened to me before COVID-19 took over everyone's life.
The bad thing happened in mid-January. I was informed by my
company that due to some changes, my position was going to be
eliminated and I was going to be laid off, effective in early
February. I had expected that I might get laid off at some point
in 2020 though the timing did catch me off guard. But I wasn't
too worried about it. I felt fairly confident I could find a job
quickly if I wanted to. Plus I was getting some money with the
layoff so it wasn't all bad.
The layoff did have one other good benefit: I was freed up to officiate
the rest of my high school basketball season without worrying about
work and on March 3rd, 2020, I accomplished the main goals for my 2019
- 2020 high school officiating season. I was nominated and
officiated a Northern California high school state basketball playoff
game. The game was a blowout but it didn't matter, just getting
to work a state level playoff game was a dream come to true. I
had never even considered the possibility until last season when I was
nominated but didn't get a game. But as we all know now, that
positivity didn't last long. It was just a couple of weeks later
when the SF Bay Area (and a few days later, all of California) was put
into a shelter in place. For most of the past three weeks I have
been home. I had gone out to walk around my neighborhood early on
but the past two weeks, I have only gone out to my backyard to get some
air and some jogging in place or jumping jacks.
So the last paragraph is a good way to segue into my column this month:
VIDEO GAMING EXERCISE (COVID-19 special edition).
As I stated, early on in the shelter in place I generally took two
walks a day around the neighborhood. I usually walked about 10 to
15 minutes. I was trying to avoid running into too many people
and my neighborhood is fairly quiet. As things progressed, we
were encouraged to not even leave the house at all. For my
safety, I just decided to stay indoors and only go out when absolutely
Besides walking and my backyard, I didn't have any of the usual options
for exercise. I had no weights or aerobic machines.
Fortunately, I did have several video gaming options and discovered a
couple of more. I'll talk about each of the games I have, what I
do with them and give people an idea of my routine.
Option 1: Nintendo Wii - Wii
My dad decided to remodel his house and asked me to clean up my stuff
and move whatever I wanted to my house. I still had a Nintendo
Wii and rather than getting rid of it, I moved it to my house in early
January. The main reason was I still have a love of Wii Sports
(especially baseball). Since the Switch didn't really have an
equivalent to Wii Sports, it was a good decision to keep the
My go to game on Wii Sports are the baseball training games. In
the training, you can do a home run derby, targeted batting practice
and just straight batting practice. Why do I like those
games? Well, the pitches come come quickly. Plus, I
literally simulate swinging my Wii-Mote like a bat. So if I go
through a few rounds of the baseball training games, I get a small
sweat going. Wii Boxing is fun but having to use the Nunchucks is
annoying. But it does get me a decent workout as well if I want
to use it. I like Wii Bowling and Golf (both games and practice)
but they don't get me much of a workout. Wii Tennis is a tad
boring for me so I don't play much.
Option 2: Nintendo Switch -
In an interesting bit of coincidence, I purchased Fitness Boxing for my
Nintendo Switch on April 9th, 2019 (I just checked my old
Why did I buy the game? At the time, I traveled a few times a
year to different places for work. While I would pack some
workout clothes, trying to motivate yourself to go to the gym sometime
is a challenge. I figured if I brought my switch along, I would
have no excuses. I could squeeze in a workout in my room if I
felt lazy. Alas, the times i traveled in 2019 didn't afford me to
workout much in the hotels or otherwise. So was purchasing the
game a waste? Not 100%, I actually used the game to workout a few
times during 2019. Probably much less than I expected
though. But with the shelter in place orders, Fitness Boxing
becomes a godsend. I get to do a boxing routine for about 35
minutes. I have the game set to work all of my muscles. By
doing it for 35 minutes, I can get a decent sweat in. I actually
try to do all the exercises the right way and not try to go the lazy
Option 3: Nintendo Wii - Wii
When I brought my Nintendo Wii over to my house, I grabbed a couple of
other games I had. Among them was Wii Sports Resort. When I
had first gotten the Wii back around 2008, I got my mom involved in
playing Wii Sports. My mom was told by doctors that she needed
exercise. So the Wii Sports games (especially bowling) worked for
her. I got Wii Sports Resort for some variety but I think my mom
preferred the original Wii Sports. Also for whatever reason, I
didn't try to learn the games on Wii Sports Resort and so the game
effectively collected dust.
Well I dusted the game off and immediately found a game I loved:
Swordplay. The three options in Swordplay (Speed Slice, Duel and
Showdown) are all fun. Speed Splice has you competing to slice
objects. The first to get to 10 wins. Dues is one on one
versus the computer (or another person). You try to battle the
other person and knock the off the ledge. Showdown has the player
fighting a ton of computer players and try to knock the computer
players out before they hit you three times.
Swordplay has me swinging the Wii Mote like a madman sometimes. I
definitely get some work in playing this game I've also tried all
the games that just require the Wii Mote. I haven't tried the
ones that need the nunchuck but will get eventually. Swordplay is
definitely the one for a workout though the others are good if you want
to move a little bit without exerting yourself too much.
Option 4: Nintendo Switch - ARMS
Sometime last week, I was researching if there were any other motion
based games I could get that might give me some exercise. I had
forgotten about Ring Fit Adventure. Alas, it didn't matter anyway
as Ring Fit Adventure had been sold out for sometime even before the
shelter in place orders got into place. I looked into the
Nintendo Wii version of Punch Out. Apparently, that version used
motion controls. I saw I could probably do a curbside pickup from
a GameStop but I didn't really want to make a trip out to just pickup a
As it so happens, I saw some articles talk about ARMS for the Nintendo
Switch. There was a demo version so I downloaded the demo and
played it a little bit. It was actually pretty fun! In
another twist, Nintendo was offering people who subscribed to the
Nintendo Online service to play the full ARMS games for FREE over the
weekend of April 3rd to April 6th. So I downloaded the full
version of ARMS and gave it a spin most of the weekend.
The game was fun and I got a decent workout in playing it. The
downside was that the game is $60 and there wasn't a sale. I
didn't really want to pay the full $60 for the game. The good news
was I had some gift card credit on Amazon that I saved up.
I decided to use some of the credit on ARMS. I think it will be
With all of the descriptions above, let me talk about my general plans
for a workout incorporating the games and other stuff.
1. Two workouts a day.
2. Ideally, each workout is about 15 to 20 minutes each though I
adjust it on the fly.
3. One workout after breakfast.
4. One workout after lunch / before dinner.
The current plan is:
1. Fitness Boxing 35 minute workout once every 2 days - so I get a day
of rest in between.
2. On the days I do Fitness Boxing, I could skip a second workout or
maybe I play a light Wii Sports game like Bowling just to incorporate
some movement in.
3. Go to my backyard on the other days I'm not playing Fitness Boxing
and do 10 minutes of jumping jacks and maybe some jogging in place
during the day. I did order a small stepper so I have another
option for aerobic exercise.
4. Play one of the above games in the evening as my second workout in
As with all plans, I have to modify as it goes. It was raining
last weekend so I spent the whole weekend using my games as
So that's my life under the shelter in place orders. It's not
ideal but you have to make do with what you have. I'm also lucky
to have a friend I talk to almost every day and some weekly Zoom chats
with other folks.
I hope everyone reading is doing well. Stay safe and I look
forward to writing for our next issue - hopefully life is much improved
many obscure arcade games I would go on to enjoy, I first
encountered Route 16 when I was setting up my small size vertical MAME
cabinet. Although it was a game I hadn't heard of, its
requirement of a single joystick and single action button made it
easily file into the criteria of the control panel I was using.
While I was unimpressed with the initial presentation of the game,
after playing it a few times I became hooked by its fast-paced and
Sun Electronics and Tekhan, Route 16 is a maze game
viewed from an overhead perspective. The player controls
a red car tasked with picking up items to clear each round and avoiding
collisions with hazards. These come in the form of
bombs, creatures that roam the mazes, and a fleet of enemy cars that
are in constant pursuit of the player. At the start the player
begins in a full screen maze with a line of enemy cars at the bottom
and a money bag to grab. While there's no denying that on
the surface Route 16 looks like a much less polished clone of Namco's
Rally-X from 1980, the difference has to do with the breaks in the
outer walls of each maze. Escaping through one of these passages
changes the screen to a large overview showing sixteen rooms (or routes) that contain
different mazes, hence the name Route 16. Additionally the
overview displays small icons representing the player car, enemy cars
and items. The overview isn't a static screen or radar, the
player is in full control and the enemy cars will quickly spill out
into the alleyways and continue the chase.
Grab the cash and
continue on (left), the overview shows the 16 routes in a round
(center), enemy cars enter a route (right)
Route 16 unique is that all the objects in each set of
sixteen mazes must be collected to complete a round. While some
mazes will be totally empty, they can still be used to cut through
areas of the overview and circumvent enemy cars, as it is virtually
impossible to pass them in the alleyways. Unlike Rally-X, which
featured the ability to stun enemies with clouds of smoke, Route 16
doesn't give the player any instantly accessible defensive
weaponry. Here the player's only recourse is a turbo boost,
activated by holding down the "Speed" button, increasing
their speed as long as fuel remains in the tank. Evasion is the
key in Route 16, leading enemy cars down longer paths they will get
hung up on so you can give them the slip and escape their rush.
Running out of fuel doesn't end the game but without the ability to use
the speed boost it doesn't take long to be overtaken by the enemy cars.
avoidance will keep you alive, the real objective is to collect all the
money in each round, represented as both money bags and money
bells. Money appears as static, changing, or hidden. Static
money bags are just that - they don't move or change and simply need to
be driven over. Changing money bags cycle between money and an
oil slick - driving over an oil slick will temporarily slow the car to
a crawl, although the item will still count as collected for round
clearing purposes. Hidden money bells are the most tricky,
concealed behind a "?" mark with four small switches around them.
Driving over a switch will change the "?" either into the money bell or
a bomb. Colliding with the bomb destroys the player's car, so
other switches must be driven over until the bomb changes into the
money bell. The hidden money bells add a tremendous amount of
chance to the game. Learning how to quickly dash up to a switch
and make the determination whether to charge on forward and grab the
bell or turn around to avoid the bomb is a requirement for success in
Route 16. In addition to the bombs and enemy cars, creatures will
roam around some of the mazes in seemingly random paths and must be
"?" blocks are
uncovered by driving over a switch (left), the first switch reveals a
bomb (center), trapped by an enemy car (right)
hazards spread out across each round give the enemy cars quite an
advantage over the player at all times. They're easily the
biggest threat as they can be rather
relentless, often forcing collisions with other objects as the result
of a squeeze play. However the player does have one trick up
their sleeve to balance the scales, at least temporarily. In
addition to the money bags and bells, there are also checkered flags
throughout each round that must be collected. Driving over a
checkered flag temporarily turns all enemy cars into money bags which
can then be collected for bonus points and a temporary stun of the
affected enemy car. The checkered flags are essentially Pac-Man's
energizers but because the enemy cars can literally be spread out
across multiple mazes it's more of a defensive weapon rather than a
Route 16 is quite lacking in the presentation department, as it was
released right on the edge of a graphical revolution in arcade games
that would give the world classic sprite art that remains popular to
this day. Its audio package is also more representative of the
earlier era of arcade gaming, with repetitive chirpy music and minimal
sound design - although it should be said the crash sound when hitting
an object is appropriately startling. That all considered, the
cabinet artwork that Centuri designed when the game was released is
amazingly beautiful. The art package makes the game look like
some crazy version of Death Race (the movie, not the Exidy game) with
Formula 1 cars. I had an opportunity to pick up a dedicated Route
16 cabinet years ago and I kick myself every time I see pictures of a
complete one. Thankfully Centuri didn't use any of their
horrendous flyer artwork on the cabinet.
dedicated Route 16 arcade cabinet (left), and the terrible artwork and
slogan Centuri used on the flyer for the game (right)
The game Route
16 reminds me most of is Exidy's Venture, released to arcades in the
same year, due to the similarities of having a series of rooms
contained within an outer area of hallwallys. I suppose Route 16
is sort of like a strange mash-up of Rally-X, Pac-Man, Venture, and
Sega's Head On from 1979. While that combination may not be for
everyone, especially given Route 16's vintage, it remains an
exceptionally challenging and addictive game. Adding to its
obscurity, it only ever had a direct port to the Emerson Arcadia 2001,
which is actually a very solid representation of the original. An
enhanced remake on the Nintendo Famicom would follow in 1985 and that
game is covered later on in this issue. As for Tekan, they would
continue to develop quirky arcade games until they found
their footing on home consoles as Tecmo, becoming one of the most
prolific developers of sports, action, and fighting games. So if
you're interested in looking through the early back catalog of a
well-known developer, give Route 16 a test drive.
Released by Greyfox Books, Unofficial
Atari: A Visual History is a
hardcover tome that is dedicated to the Atari 8-Bit family of computers
and the various third-party games released for them. The book was
published and designed by Darren Doyle with editing by Ian Evenden and
Sean Townsend. It contains 420 pages that are nothing short of a
feast for the eyes with plenty of images, color, and information for
the reader to enjoy.
On the cover, the book has an
artistic rendition of an Atari 800 computer and a drawn computer screen
full of video game characters. In its opening pages, Unofficial
Atari includes acknowledgements and thank you's to those who
contributed to the book as well as an introduction to the book by
Darren himself. In this introduction, Darren briefly tells us his
own history with the Atari computers as well as some background history
of the 8-Bit series of computers created by Atari to compete with the
likes of Apple, Radio Shack and IBM. After the introduction
you'll find a well organized table of contents. Next, a foreword
by Douglas Crockford (best known for his involvement in the development
learning about computers, his fascination with the Atari 800, and his
experience working for Atari.
Though these 8-Bit machines could be
used for business applications or just for word processing, most fans
of the Atari computers remember them for their extensive game
library. It is this game library that the book focuses on as well
as the different 8-Bit computer models released by Atari. Within
the book's pages you'll find interviews with various game programmers,
reviews of a variety of games, and even a section about emulators for
these venerable machines. This latter section will help you figure out
how to "test the waters," so to speak, should you be interested in
getting your hands on one of these computers.
But how does this book organize its
content? After all, it sounds like it packs a lot of information,
right? Well, the book organizes the information in a manner that
makes it easy to read and follow. You'll have descriptions of a
particular model of Atari computer, followed by a programmer interview
or company profile, reviews of several games, and then another
interview or company profile.
The computer descriptions provide a
brief history of any given model, a description of the hardware, and
even descriptions of peripherals. Within these sections you will
find pictures of the computer being discussed and / or their
peripherals, artwork from Atari for the same machine and / or other
interesting items that could be associated either with Atari or an
8-Bit computer. The text in these sections is easy to read,
informative, and of just the right length to not become
overbearing. The interviews include pictures with the programmer
and images of their game(s). These interviews, like the computer
descriptions, are not overly long but are interesting as the
programmers share their stories of working with the Atari computers and
developing games for them. Some of the individuals interviewed in
include Noah Falstein of Lucasfilm, Steve Englehart from Atari's
Advanced Games Group and Jon Williams. The company profiles
provide a brief history for each company and interesting
anecdotes. These profiles are adorned with box art and screen
shots of the various titles they released. Some of the companies
featured include Brøderbund and Synapse Software.
Though what you really want to know
is about the game reviews, right? No worries. Each game
reviewed is given two pages. Within these you will find a large image
of the box art on one side, various screen shots and short reviews
(about 200 words) from the various contributors to book, and artwork of
the game. The backgrounds on these pages also use elements unique
to the game that is being covered and there are occasions when a
picture of the game programmer for the specific title is also
included. The reviews, though brief, do include a description of
each game and some personal experience of the person who wrote the
review as it relates to that particular game. This latter
inclusion adds a personal touch the reviews and the book overall.
These reviews make up the bulk of the book and, with over 150 games
included, you can see why the book has over 400 pages.
This book is of excellent print
quality, all the pictures and images within are sharp and colorful, and
the text is easy to read. Given this is a visual history book,
you can be assured that your eyes will be very satisfied with all the
imagery within Unofficial Atari's pages. For those who are fans
of the Atari 8-Bit series of computers, this is a must-have. For
those who want to learn about these machines and the games released for
them, this book is also for you. For those who just love anything
Atari, this book is for you. Even if you just like retro systems
and computers, this book is for you.
It is clear that a lot of effort was
made to make this a book that properly presents both in text and
visuals the history of the Atari computers and their games. You
can find Unofficial Atari: A Visual History at Greyfox Books' web page (https://www.greyfoxbooks.com/).
Head over and place your order. You will not regret it!
If you were to
have told me in 1991 that
Sonic The Hedgehog was going to star in a movie, then I would have
thought that was awesome. Now that the movie is here, was my past
self right? For me at that age, absolutely. The good news
is that at my current age, I would still say that watching the movie is
totally worth your time!
back for a moment. What
is this Sonic movie? Well, it is definitely not the same as Sonic
The Hedgehog: The Movie, the 1990's American localization of the Sonic
The Hedgehog OVA (Original Video Animation, direct-to-home-video
release). That was a two part home video series that was stitched
into a "movie" when it was edited and dubbed into English for its North
American debut. Ironically, this new 2020 movie is called,
"Sonic: The Movie" in Japan itself.
But, in many
ways, the two "movies" are
similar. If you look beyond mere superficial appearances, then
you will find many things that they have in common. First, they
both feature a short total running time. Personally, I prefer
short movies, and the 2020 Sonic film runs about 100 minutes, making it
a great match for me. Another similarity is that both feature a
down-to-basics approach. The 90's film features the game
characters Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, Metal Sonic, and Dr. Eggman /
Robotnik. All of the other characters are original to the OVA /
film. The 2020 film features Sonic and Dr. Robotnik, and, you
guessed it, most of the other characters are original to the
movie. In both films, Sonic and his best friend go on an
adventure where they travel across the world. Both movies are
mostly comedies where the heroes are seeking to stop a bad situation
from getting worse. Along the way, our protagonists encounter
dangers and detours. Approximately several tons of debris are
made out of the robots that stand in their way so there is plenty of
destructive spectacle to be seen too!
The nice thing
is, though, that the 2020
film is much more watchable today than the 90's film. The 90's
movie was going more for slapstick humor and trying mostly just to
appeal to young male viewers. This newer movie has more variety
to its humor and it is aiming more for viewers of all ages and genders
- though some might not like its generic structure of "road trip movie
meets buddy cop movie."
being a hand-animated 2D
adventure like the 90's movie, Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) is a
combination of live action and 3D computer generated imagery.
That introduces a problem. Not that 3D CGI is inherently flawed -
the problem is that the creatives wanted to make a "realistic-looking"
Sonic, something that would match the creatures of the real world that
we live in to make him "more believable." For example, instead of
wearing white gloves, they thought it was more modern and realistic for
him to just have white hands. (Strangely enough, he was still
wearing red shoes, so go figure.) If you haven't been reading any
of the Sonic movie news stories on the Internet for the past year, that
choice resulted in a 3D model that many people found to be quite
unsettling, so much so that the huge backlash in the forms of mockery
and Internet memes convinced the movie studio to remodel their new
The good news
is that this introduced a
much more visually appealing Sonic that is truer to his modern
appearance in the video games. The bad news is that this
introduced a flaw into the film that wouldn't have existed without the
change in his 3D model. Without spoiling too much, let's just say
that a situation could have been resolved in the film by Sonic just
removing one of his gloves, something that wouldn't have been possible
with early-movie-model Sonic. The 2020 film has a few little
logical flaws like this, but if you are willing to ignore them or if
you just don't notice them, then they obviously aren't going to be
deal-breaking problems. However, if you are the kind of person
that hyper-focuses on things, then it shouldn't be a deal-breaker
either: just remember to relax and enjoy the roller coaster ride that
this movie is meant to be! It's a fun popcorn flick for the whole
family as well as the video game aficionado.
speaking, Sonic (2020) has a nice
emotional range. Yeah, Sonic gets a little too upset and angry
and preachy during a certain truck ride, but it can be
overlooked. The movie has good messages about the importance of
those whom you care about and how a place is more than just a
collection of buildings. There are times where you laugh and if
you are the kind of person - a person such as myself - there are times
where your eyes... tear up a bit at the altruism, bravery, friendship,
sacrifices, and warm-heartedness present in the film.
wasn't too keen on the idea
of changing out long-time voice acting staples of the Sonic series for
Hollywood celebrities. Roger Craig Smith and Mike Pollock have
been playing Sonic and Dr. Robotnik for a long time and I saw no real
requirement to substitute new guys into their roles. That being
said, both of the new actors give good performances and I thought they
filled their roles well. Writing of which, while I am attempting
to type a spoiler-free review, it is tempting to throw caution to the
wind and include all sorts of awesomeness that can't be mentioned
without spoiling things. But I will note that there are several
excellent Sonic game references in the film, especially near the
beginning. However, things taper off after the first half-hour,
and that's something I found a bit disappointing. I would have
really liked it if they had kept the references rolling as frequently
throughout the rest of the movie as during that first thirty minutes or
so. But what is there is good stuff and I look forward to more
game and series references in any future sequels.
backtrack just a step.
Remember Wreck-It Ralph? Out of all of the video-game movies and
video-game-inspired movies that I have finished watching, the two best
were Tron: Legacy and Wreck-It Ralph. Was Sonic (2020) as good as
those two movies? The short answer is, "No, but it is very good,"
and I liked it more than Detective Pikachu. (With that movie,
while it is good, it is still better to stay with the Detective Pikachu
3DS game that inspired it in my honest opinion.) Sonic works as
both a stand-alone, "I've never seen a video game before in my life"
movie as well as a "I'm a total fan of Sonic for life!" movie.
Writing of Ralph, the end credits for this movie - much like that
wonderful Wreck-It Ralph's credits - are totally worth watching, both
as a cool homage to the Sonic game series as well as a knowing
reference to the end credits of Wreck-It Ralph.
games, however, Sonic's friend
and sidekick that helps him throughout the adventure and occasionally
faces up to Robotnik is a small town police officer with big dreams of
big things in the big city. If you have watched Sonic X, think of
Officer Tom as Chris Thorndyke, only as a man that's less emotional and
clingy than that boy was. Tom has a wife, a dog, and a house, but
he wants to leave his small town life behind to move to the big
city. Throughout Sonic and Tom's adventure, we meet those people
that are a part of Tom's life and by extension, Sonic's. But
ultimately, while all of these extra characters have their roles, the
important players in our story are Sonic, Tom, and Robotnik, and all
three perform admirably in this film.
What's a hero
without a villain?
Just an ordinary guy, yet he is someone who, when called upon, rises to
be the warrior of light that opposes the darkness. Our villain
here is Doctor Robotnik and some say he steals the show in Sonic
(2020). As I grow older, I understand and empathize more and more
with Dr. Robotnik, both here in the new movie as well as in
general. He seems like a genius often surrounded by unacceptable
conditions and an endless parade of idiots. He sees the flaws in
biological creatures and the inherent merits of machines. He
wants to use his intellectual gift to create superior substitutes for
the things he finds subpar in the world, and he sees himself as
naturally destined for greatness. Whereas he views himself as a
leader primed for ruling the world and reworking it into his ideal
vision, those around him don't take him seriously and see his plans
frequently foiled. I guess that's all a part of growing older:
you see the flaws of the world more frequently and think about them
more often and how you'd like to change things if only there weren't so
many obstacles in your way. Perhaps that's one of the running
themes of the Sonic series: the bright-eyed hopefulness and optimism of
youth versus the cynicism and bitterness of those who are older and
want to make the world match their ideas about how things ought to be
who are meanwhile leaving behind polluted environments and the
destroyed dreams of others. While the movie doesn't go into great
depth in this territory, it certainly plays it up with Dr. Robotnik and
his backstory which gets sprinkled throughout the tale. He's a
genius that is used to always being right and always succeeding, and
with the hedgehog running free, the doctor's routine and personal world
order are upended. Seeking to set things back to the way they
were, he seeks to "neutralize" Sonic for his own personal edification
and to further his scientific research. Every time he is foiled,
he is made more determined and hard-boiled in his pursuit of Sonic.
The good news
for anyone that enjoys this
flick is that it had been grossing big bucks at the box office.
As a matter of fact, it has been surprising the cynics and the
accountants that typically underestimate video-game-movie
adaptations. How so? By totaling a sum in ticket sales in
excess of $200 million USD worldwide. That's not just good news
for its movie studio, Paramount Pictures, and its licensor, SEGA:
that's also good news for fans of the movie and Sonic as there is talk
about this film getting a sequel and possibly - "probably" is more like
it - being a trilogy.
I could wax
poetic about the themes in the
series, this movie's qualities and content, and the Sonic franchise in
general, but to say anything more about the movie would likely require
me to step into spoiler territory.
this movie review with the
Are you a
See this movie.
Are you not a
See this movie.
Are you a fan
of any of the actors or
other creatives featured herein?
See the movie.
Are you part
of a family looking to go see
a movie that is entertaining to more than just those kids younger than
See the movie.
who like E-rated video games?
probably get the idea.
See Sonic! It's a solid 75% on the movie review scale, an 80% if
you are a fan of the Sonic series.
If any of the
above sounds like you, then
don't walk, but run to see the Sonic movie. And the next time
there's a very good video game movie released, be more like Sonic The
Hedgehog by remembering: you gotta go fast!
Due to the coronavirus
pandemic closing many theaters, Sonic The Hedgehog (2020) is currently
available for digital purchase, with physical media releases slated for
May 19th, 2020.
this issue in Arcade Obscure I reviewed the arcade game Route 16, a
game that had an American arcade release. As mentioned in that
column, Route 16 had a reasonably direct, at least for the hardware,
home conversion for the Emerson Arcadia 2001. In 1985 the game
would return again, this time with an enhanced sequel on the Famicom
appropriately titled Route-16 Turbo. It would be Sunsoft's second
game on the platform, the first being a pretty terrible conversion of
their arcade game Arabian released a few months earlier. Would
Route 16 fare better or would Sunsoft enter the burgeoning Famicom
market with two duds?
Rather than a
direct conversion or a true sequel, Route-16 Turbo splits the
difference and falls into the category of an enhanced remake. The
core of the arcade original returns, as the player is tasked with
collecting money bags and flags from within sixteen mazes (routes)
connected with a grid of alleyways to complete a round.
Functionally the game controls the same as well, with directional
movement and a single button used to allow a speed increase at the
expense of draining a fuel tank. The playfield dimensions have
been reworked for horizontal aspect televisions but this doesn't change
anything other than the individual mazes being more wide than they are
graphics have been given an upgrade over the original, yet they remain
relatively simplistic. The player now controls a blue sportscar
and the enemy cars have been redesigned with a bit more of a sci-fi
flare but the order of the day is still to avoid them at all
costs. There is a lot more color throughout the game with a few
different styles of barrier graphics and more detail in the items and
objects. It's nothing incredible but well in line with the
Famicom games of its day. My favorite new feature is a "zoom in /
zoom out" effect when entering or leaving a maze that makes it far
easier to gain your bearings when heading out into the overview screen.
Hitting switches to
reveal a money bag (left), many routes are now narrow and winding
(center), routes are numbered in overview (right)
return, this time bags of both dollars (200 points) and yen (500
points) must be collected in the mazes, in addition to checkered
flags. The checkered flags no longer turn the enemy cars into
money bags but instead turn them red and allow them to be temporarily
tagged for points and stunned. I much prefer this visual change
over how it was handled in the arcade original, as the cars changing
into money bags didn't really make much sense. Oil sicks are
present and generally alternate with money bags, requiring proper
timing to grab, as driving over an oil slick will slow your car down
for a few seconds as in the arcade. "?" marks are here as well,
surrounded by switches as in the arcade original that will either
change them into a bomb or a money bag. A collision with a bomb
will unsurprisingly destroy your car, so dashing across the switches
until a bomb turns back into a money bag is just as important as in the
original. New in Route-16 Turbo are rings scattered about that
can be collected for bonus points. While rings do not show up on
the overview map, their collection is also not required to complete a
round. The most welcome addition is a gas pump icon which will
add 100 units to the fuel meter, finally providing a way to replenish
the speed boost within a round. The creatures that roam the mazes
and must be avoided are far more detailed than in the arcade original
and have a bit more personality, although they still don't fit in with
the rest of the game in my opinion.
doubt the biggest enhancement in Route-16 Turbo is that of room design
variety and challenge. As difficult as Route 16 may have been,
the individual maze designs never really got all that
interesting. Route-16 Turbo spices things up quite a bit with
extremely varied maze designs and many routes that have long winding
single paths from end to end. Although the game
implement it, there is a lot of pseudo diagonal movement and the
control input feels much more zippy and responsive than the arcade
There are also mazes that have pictures or text in them to liven things
up a bit, including a few that use manji, a common Buddhist symbol in
many parts of Asia. Obviously this is a symbol with a generally
different connotation in the west, although the The Legend of Zelda's
third dungeon level is itself in the shape of a manji - and made it
through localization unaltered. A few rounds in, tunnels begin to
appear in the mazes. Beginning with only simple back and forth
movements on a single screen, eventually they act as warps between
different routes of a round, becoming almost confusingly complex in
their implementation. The audio package has also been improved
with a few different musical tracks depending on the selected
difficulty. The music is nothing incredible but much better than
what was heard in the arcade.
Some areas are
whimsical (left), fuel replenishment is a new feature (center), enemy
cars zero in (right)
what appears to be a game-breaking oversight made its way into the
game, causing over half of the game's twenty rounds to be
inaccessible. From what I understand, Round 9 contains 13 items
to be collected, however the game program expects the player to grab 15
items before it will complete the round. This makes the game get
caught in an impossible to complete situation just before the halfway
point. Thankfully a patch is available that fixes the error and
allows all twenty rounds to be played as was intended. I've heard
that if you play on the "Difficult" setting the Round 9 bug doesn't
occur but honestly the game is way too frustrating on that setting, as
the enemy cars zero in on you the moment you cross their paths.
As much as I
enjoy Route-16 Turbo, I can completely understand many reasons why this
game never appeared on the NES. Even though publishers would
frequently reach back into the well of old Famicom releases when
selecting games to publish in the west, the obscurity of the original
Route 16 wouldn't have helped its case. The routes that feature
manji barriers would more than likely have to be redesigned but
considering the game would need to be reprogrammed to fix the Round 9
glitch, some work under the hood was already needed. Above all I
believe the simplicity of the game would prevent any chance of Route-16
Turbo being an NES release candidate. While many simple arcade
conversions were released on the NES, many to great success, this title
has little to no name recognition to ride on. It's not Pac-Man,
it's not Galaga, it's not Joust, it's not even Gauntlet or Millipede. Yet for a
Famicom game of its vintage it
is a perfectly serviceable game and an appropriate modernization of the
original Route 16.
epic endeavor to translate and localize Sakura Wars 1 - an adventure game
and strategy RPG for the Sega Saturn - from Japanese into English was a
massive undertaking. It took a talented team of dedicated people
nearly two full years to complete. Yet in December 2019 that's
exactly what culminated: for the first time in history, Sakura Wars 1 -
whether official or fan-powered - was finally totally playable
completely in English, side paths, mini-games, and all.
No more were
the days of having to use a printed walk-through in a
binder alongside the video game running in Japanese on a home console,
referring back and forth to the guide in order to understand either the
next choice to make in the game or - if you were lucky - to read a
fan-translation of the on-screen dialog along a selected path through
the game. The problem with the old approach was not only was it
difficult to balance the game controller and play the game while
switching your attention back-and-forth to a printed or digital
walk-through, it only really allowed you to follow the one path taken
by the fan who had written the walk-through. There was no freedom
to follow the path you wanted to take. You couldn't take the
obviously bad choice at a junction even if you wanted to see the
hilarious results that could happen. If you wanted to follow a
particular path in the dialog trees or visit certain locations at
particular times and the guide's author didn't make the same choices,
then you were playing "blind" if you didn't understand Japanese.
But now all of
that has changed. A person can play Sakura Wars 1
(Sakura Taisen) from start to finish independent of a prescribed
walk-through guide, making the play-through truly his or her own.
The group to thank for that is not Bernie Stolar's Sega of America of
the 1990's nor Peter Moore's Sega of America of the late 1990's and
early 2000's nor even the Sega of today. Those to thank are a
non-profit, zealous group of both professional and aspiring translators
and programmers. Their relentless pursuit of bringing Sega Saturn
gems from a state of "Japan-locked" to one where anyone who can read
English can play them has been a major boon to those who always
wondered, "What if?" about the missing classics of the console.
Many a person who read the Import Section of Electronic Gaming Monthly,
Game Informer, GamePro, GameFan, Official Sega Dreamcast Magazine, or
any of the others from the 1990's or early 2000's would see an article
- or several - talking about the Sakura Wars games for the Sega Saturn
and Dreamcast and lamenting how they and their steam-powered,
demon-fighting, alternative-history world wouldn't be released in North
America or Europe or anywhere else in English. Many times these
magazines would even report about rumored localization of one or more
of the games. When Sakura Wars 1 and Sakura Wars 2 were given
enhanced ports for the Sega Dreamcast, the rumor mill said that these
might see the light of day in the West given how awesome the originals
were and how they were made even better for the Dreamcast.
Yet it would
take until 2010 for any Sakura Wars games to be fully
translated into English and released for home video game consoles in
the West. Sakura Wars V (5) for the PlayStation 2 and Nintendo
Wii - though the first game of the series to be translated into English
or released for consoles in the West - was actually the third Sakura
Wars game to get a western release. The first two were actually
Russian releases of Sakura Wars 1 and 2 for PC! While both are
good games, their little-known official yet third-party localizations
read like a machine translation or a game translated word-by-word using
a Japanese-to-Russian dictionary. NIS America (NISA), the Western
branch of Nippon Ichi Software, was the one to finally fully break the
ice by bringing Sakura Wars to the rest of the West.
Unfortunately, the task was much larger than the company
estimated. The release was a ton of work thanks to the game's
branching dialog trees, translating massive mountains of text,
miscellaneous localization work, and recording the spoken lines from
the game into an optional English dub. These things caused
production to be delayed by two years past the first official estimate
for release. While Sakura Wars V was an excellent game with a
score of 81% on Metacritic for its PS2 release, its sales suffered from
a release late in the life cycles of both PS2 and Wii, causing it to be
overlooked by many gamers. By the time the game finally saw the
light of day, it ended up being a financial loss for the company.
But that third
endeavor was exactly what the series needed, for while
it lost money for NISA, it proved wonderful for fans in both the
short-term and the long-term. Not only did the fans get Sakura
Wars V, an excellent introduction to the series, but it also proved to
Sega that there was serious corporate and fan interest in the series
outside of Japan. Several non-game English releases had been made
by various western companies of things such as the Japanese comics,
cartoons, television series, direct-to-home-video releases, and the
theatrical movie in North America, Oceania, and Europe. Sega
would announce in the late 2010's its intention to return to the series
and release the sixth mainline Sakura Wars game, known as Shin Sakura
Taisen, in Japan. The even better news was that, with NISA having
acquainted even more gamers with Sakura Wars, Sega finally had the
motivation which was required for it to release a Sakura Wars game in
the West - and what's more, it would be localizing the newest Sakura
Wars by itself too! Initially, the Western release was code-named
Project Sakura Wars and later it was finalized as merely Sakura Wars
with no subtitle nor number to differentiate it from the original nor
the rest of the series. Whatever one might call it, Shin Sakura
Taisen was released in Japan in December 2019 and it was one of the
best-selling games for not just December of that year but also one of
the best-selling games for the entire calendar year in Japan - and now
it is heading west!
Thursday, February 13th, 2020, Sega of America and Sega of Europe
launched a coordinated release of dual trailers for the game on their
YouTube channels. With that we found out a bevy of information
including the game's new official Western moniker: Sakura Wars!
Despite being a slightly odd choice for Sega to "reboot the numbering"
by ignoring the previous dozens of side games and mainline entries via
its name change announcement, we nonetheless had the excellent news
that the project was right on track and that the game would be released
worldwide earlier than expected on April 28th, 2020, for the
PlayStation 4 in English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish!
But what about
those previous games, the ones before, during, and after
the release of Sakura Wars V? Well, there's no knowing what the
future will hold for the rest of the series, but the good news is that
the first game is playable today in English thanks to an unofficial
patch which was made by "Noah Steam's" translation team. Perhaps
with good wishes and a bit of fortune smiling down upon us, some kind
souls will translate further games in the venerable series in the
future. After all, we seem to be entering a new age of fan
translations. Previously it seemed that most efforts were focused
on localizing games that were overlooked for the NES and SNES.
While those were noble efforts for deserving consoles, some might say
that the attention paid to Nintendo's consoles has been
disproportionately high. However these days, not only is more
attention being paid to Sega's consoles than previously, but it seems
that fan translators are giving more attention to the 32-bit and later
consoles such as the Saturn.
That is where Noah Steam, a
graduate of the DigiPen Institute of Technology (a video game
university), and his ragtag team of volunteers enter the picture.
During early 2018 a friend of his shared a game-play session of Sakura
Wars with him. That experience left a lasting impression on him,
one of fascination. That day lead him on a journey that would
take up almost every ounce of his free time for two years of his life
as he formed and then lead a motley crew of veterans from the video
game and Japanese translation industries alongside hopefuls looking to
break into professional translation or game programming.
their efforts, the Web site SakuraWarsTranslation.com
was registered on June 6th, 2018. This acted as their central hub
to collaborate on the Sakura Wars translation project. But it
also acted as a reference site. The crew was distributed around
the world and it required guidance to make everything happen. The
site acted as a depository for technical and translation information
and guidance for the entire group so that their translation would form
a cohesive whole. After all, there are any number of ways to
translate something from one language to another, particularly when
dealing with languages like English and Japanese. Therefore the
team's official list of proper nouns was created for the group to
follow to ensure consistency.
during 2018 or 2019 I was made aware of the group's efforts
as I run a Web site called News from the Sakura Wars.
Using Twitter as our medium, we were in frequent communications so that
those who read my Web site or joined my Facebook group could stay aware
of the awe-inspiring and rapid progress by the translation team.
Many people had attempted to translate Sakura Wars in one way or
another over the decades but this team was getting serious
results! Part of that was the extensive research conducted by
Noah Steam about the technical aspects of the Sega Saturn
hardware. After all, he had to figure out both how the Saturn's
hardware operated on a very technical level using documents from Sega
and former Saturn developers which had found their way onto the
Internet over the years; as well as how the Japanese Sakura Wars game
worked without any of its source code nor documentation to guide him.
Q & A with Noah Steam, Project
Leader, conducted between December 22 - 30, 2019:
Sean Robinson: Would you be
willing to answer questions about the translation project?
Noah Steam: Sure, I can answer
Sean Robinson: What license did
you all choose for the translation? The Creative Commons
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA
Noah Steam: There was no
license chosen for the patch actually.
Sean Robinson: Why localize
Noah Steam: This all started
when a friend of mine brought back a bunch of Saturn games from his
trip to Japan in the spring of 2018. One of the games he picked
up was the special edition of Sakura Wars, the one with the
mouse. I had heard of the game of course and knew it was very
popular in Japan but had never actually seen or tried it. I was
immediately drawn in as I watched the first little bit of the game and
wondered if it had a translation patch for it. Searching
online I found that there had been a couple of attempts but
unfortunately nothing had ever materialized. Also, none of these
patch attempts were for the Saturn version. So out of curiosity I
grabbed a copy of the game and started looking through the files to see
if I could figure out where the text data was. As I slowly
figured what needed to be done in order to patch the game, it became a
kind of challenge to myself to see if I could actually patch this game.
Also I thought
it would be great to have another Saturn title brought
over for the western audience. Being a huge Sega and especially a
Saturn fan, I wanted to help contribute to the preservation of the
Sean Robinson: How did your
previous fan translation and Sega Saturn work help with this project?
Noah Steam: I have never
actually hacked a game before. I worked on Dragon Force 2, but
with that one, Faust Wolf and his team had already figured out all of
the data formats and their locations. All I had to do was write a
tool to extract and insert the data (along with fixing a ton of
With this one,
there was nothing. I had to figure out how to
actually find all of the data within the game's files, how to debug the
game, modify the game's code, and most importantly how the Saturn
I started off
by reading through the entire VDP1 documentation from
Sega. This was actually more enjoyable than it sounds. It
was really neat to discover how this machine actually worked.
I think what
helped most from having worked on Dragon Force 2 was
knowing how to create a patched image of the game. Meaning which
tools I needed, which format to create the image in, and the fact that
I needed to copy the first 32k bytes of the original image onto my
generated one. Things like that can take a long time to figure
out when you're just doing a trial and error approach, so knowing all
of this saved me a lot of time and headache.
Sean Robinson: What was the
most difficult technical part of the localization?
Noah Steam: There were quite a
few challenges here, and I'm not exactly sure which was the most
difficult because each step of the way I'd think, "This has been the
most difficult problem so far." So I'll list a few.
out where the text data was. This was the first step,
and since I didn't have any idea how to actually debug the game at this
point, this was pretty difficult. Cyber Warrior X had attempted
to patch this game a long time ago, so I used some of his notes and
comments about how the game stored text to finally crack this
problem. Knowing what I know now about hacking Saturn games, this
would've been pretty simple now, but at that point it seemed impossible.
translators. This actually proved to be one of the
most challenging parts of this project. I had reached out to
people on RHDN, Twitter, and also to Kevin Walters who I knew from the
Dragon Force 2 project. He had managed to assemble a small army
of translators toward the end of that project so I thought the same
could be done with Sakura Wars. Although he did get me in touch
with lots of people who wanted to help, most of them didn't end up
contributing. In the end, it was a small group of very dedicated
translators who stuck around and saw the project through to the end.
out the kind of compression the game used. In Sakura
Wars, a lot of the image data is compressed. For example all of
the System UI, much of the Battle UI, parts of the mini-game text, and
some other items. In order to extract and patch these, I needed
to figure out what kind of compression the game was using so that I
could un-compress and compress it. This took a while and I almost
gave up a few times.
4. The battle
menus. The original game has very small images that
contain each option in the battle menu. The base options (Attack,
Defense, etc,) were just 16x16 pixels and the sub-options were
32x16. There was no way to fit English text into those boundaries
so I had to expand them. Unfortunately the game stores all of the
battle sprites in memory using hard-coded values. So when I
expanded the sizes of the menu options, there was a whole bunch of
stuff I had to move in memory in order to make space.
Sean Robinson: What was the
most difficult language or cultural part of the localization?
Noah Steam: Probably the
translators would know more on this, but I know there were a lot of
puns and plays on words which were difficult to translate. For
example, all of the titles of the mini-games are plays on words
referencing something in Japanese culture. When translating them,
the pun would be lost, so we changed them a bit sometimes to try to
maintain the play on words. For example, the name of Kanna's
mini-game was a pun that referred to "Ah! My Goddess!" The pun
was lost when translated, so we went with "Oh my children!" which was a
reference to a western show.
There was also
a lot of debate within the team about honorifics and
especially what Iris would call Ogami. In Japanese she says
"Oniisan" and no one wanted to translate it as "brother" [a common and
general way to refer to a male of a certain age in Japanese culture
regardless of who he is. -author] Originally we had chosen "Uncle
Ichi" but that sounded awkward as well. Eventually someone threw
out "Mon Frére" since Iris is French. I think it was
actually a pretty clever solution.
Sean Robinson: How much more
work was the project than you initially imagined?
Noah Steam: A lot! Ha ha
ha! I had originally planned to just substitute in the
translation from GameFAQs, but I quickly realized that'd be impossible
for a number of reasons. Also, I didn't originally plan to
translate anything besides the main text of the game. I wanted to
quickly throw out a patch so people could just follow the main
story. I figured the system menus were all self-explanatory. But
as the project went on, I kept patching more and more things and toward
the end Trekkies Unite joined in as well. He started by adding
subtitles to all of the movies and then helped me figure out how to
find data that was being rendered using the VDP2 chip. This
included the loading screens, title screens, and the initial boot up
sequence starting from the opening credits to the animated Sakura Wars
logos. So by the end of it, we ended up patching basically
every bit of text and image that contained text. The only thing
that remained was the end credits.
Sean Robinson: How many
volunteers worked on this Sakura Wars localization project?
Noah Steam: Seventeen. The full
list of credits can be found in the README file that's included in the
Sean Robinson: How many total
hours of work were poured into the project?
Noah Steam: I put in close to
600 hours, maybe more. It basically took all of my free time and
also working late into the night towards the end when we were trying to
wrap it up. I think the main translators probably put in at least
a hundred hours each and Trekkies Unite also put in 100+ hours.
Sean Robinson: What should fans
expect from the next software patches for Sakura Wars?
Noah Steam: I plan to fix the
known bugs that are listed in the README. Notably the lip
movement not working and the 1 frame sprite corruption when the
player's mech is damaged. Bowl of Lentils is also continuing to
improve the script of the game.
Sean Robinson: What happens now
with the localization of Sakura Wars for Windows / PC?
Noah Steam: I believe CJ
Iwakura announced it on his Wordpress site, but the PC version is now
axed. It would require a ton of work and it doesn't make much
sense to do that now since the Saturn version can be played perfectly
on PC as well via an emulator.
Sean Robinson: No license was
chosen for the finished work of the localization such as a Creative
Commons non-commercial license. Why was this? Does this
mean that the terms of your copyright are, "All rights reserved?"
Noah Steam: I'm not too savvy
with legal stuff. Do ROM patches have licenses? I didn't
think it was necessary.
Sean Robinson: How has the
enforcement of the not-for-profit status of the localization work been?
Noah Steam: Well, unfortunately
we can't really enforce that. I patched the boot up credits
screen just so I could add the "Not for sale" message in there and
several of us on the team have spoken against the sale of the patched
game on Twitter. Patches like these require a ton of time and
effort to do and they're done for free and put out for free. To
see people trying to make a quick buck by making a cheap printed cover
and case is a bit sad.
Sean Robinson: What are your
thoughts about the Sakura Wars 1 for Sega Saturn translation project
now that it is completed?
Noah Steam: I'm happy that it
turned out as well as it did. As I stated earlier, my original
goal was far less ambitious than what we managed to achieve at the
end. Having subtitles in the movies was especially cool.
Sean Robinson: What is the next
project for you?
Noah Steam: Catching up on my
backlog of video games, TV shows, and books.
Sean Robinson: Thank you for
your answers and time! Please expect to see the interview on the
News from the Sakura Wars Web site as well as The Retrogaming
Times. Have a wonderful day!
Sakura Wars 1,
when patched with the English fan-made translation, runs
wonderfully when using the cross-platform multi-console-and-computer
emulator Mednafen. It is the emulator which the Sakura Wars
Translation Project recommends. I tried it with ver. 1.22.1
running on Debian GNU/Linux 10 (Buster) and it works like a
dream! In addition to Linux, Mednafen is also known to run with
FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Microsoft Windows. 32-bit and
64-bit binary executables for Windows as well as the source code to
Mednafen are available to download on its Web site from the Releases
For the nicest
experience, I recommend changing some of the settings
for Mednafen. I suggest setting "cd.image_memcache" to "1" to
pre-load the entire game into memory first to cut down on disk accesses
which will provide the smoothest playback - especially for things like
the game's real-time streaming video and audio. Also the setting
"ss.stretch" can be set to "aspect" to scale the Saturn's image output
to better fit a higher resolution monitor while maintaining the game's
original aspect ratio. There are many more settings which can be
found in the program's documentation. That way someone can
customize Mednafen to match his or her exact preferences. The
Mednafen emulator can even automatically create a save-state of the
game whenever the program is quit and automatically load the save-state
when the game is next resumed. Naturally the user also has the
options of creating manual save-states as well as using the save system
originally built into the Sakura Wars game. And don't forget that
the project's finished work is fully compatible with a real Sega
Saturn, so if you would prefer to play Sakura Wars on original Saturn
hardware, there are ways to make that happen too!
I am quite
looking forward to completing a run-through of Sakura Wars
for the Sega Saturn this year!
like to personally thank the entire crew of the Sakura
Wars translation project for all of their work which they have poured
into this endeavor over the years. We Sakura Wars fans have
awaited this for decades! With the fan project having translated
the first game into English and the newest game finally being released
- even here in the West! - after the series was dormant for so long,
this is like a "new spring" for Sakura Wars. Truly the team's
work will benefit Sakura Wars fans, both existing and those-to-be, for
countless years yet!
Before the NES
(Nintendo Entertainment System) hit the states,
Nintendo had a console in Japan that would start a revolution of
gaming. It was called the Famicom, or the full name, Family
Computer. In 1983 the console hit the homes of gamers in Japan.
With Japanese design and colors, this console was a smashing hit with
top arcade conversions and great graphics. Unlike the NES this console
has the two controllers attached to the system. They can also be stored
in slots on the side. One of the controllers has a microphone on it for
voice activated games. The cartridges for the system are small in size
compared to the NES version which launched in 1985. The popularity of
the Famicom inspired a number of other companies to jump in and try
their own hand at creating a console. It was indeed a pioneer of home
consoles following the earlier crash of home gaming.
Unlike the angular
corners of the NES controller, the Famicom has round edges for a smooth
feeling. The color of the controller was a unique shade of red with
black buttons. I can’t think of any other controller with that
shade of red. The buttons are identical to the NES which has the
plus sign control pad with the A and B buttons on the right.
Controller 1 (or I) has the standard Select and Start buttons Nintendo
is famous for. As mentioned earlier, controller 2 (or II) has a
built-in microphone which never really took off but was a profound
idea. One big difference in the Japanese and USA version is the length
of the cord of the controllers. The Famicom used a very short cord,
with the NES controller cord being three times its length. For me
personally that is a negative selling point for the Famicom.
Pro Baseball: Family
Stadium by Namco was later named R.B.I. Baseball in North
America. There are two modes of play, you can play against the
computer or play against a human opponent. This was the most
realistic looking and playing baseball so far at that time. It
was very detailed on all aspects of the players, field and music.
There are many different ways to control the game with the Famicom
controller. The direction pad and buttons would depend on the
situation, whether its offense or defense. The D-Pad controls the
fielders on defense and the A button will throw the ball to the
selected base. When pitching you can control the pitch based on the
direction and speed as well as choose different pitches. On offense,
the direction pad can help the runner get to the next base or direct
where the ball is going to go when hit. This game became a hit in
the USA and was the top sporting game for the NES at that time.
Family Stadium (left)
was localized as R.B.I. Baseball (right)
Another game that
made in mainstream after the Famicom release is Track and Field.
The Japanese port was called Hyper Olympic. This version only
included four of the six events form the arcade version. Later on, the
NES version would include all the events from the Famicom version as
well as its Famicom sequel, Hyper Sports. The exciting part of this
console game was the competition. You can compete against the computer
and go for world records or play against a friend in a 2-player battle
for the gold. The key of this game and the controls depended on the
event. The A and B buttons would be used to make your player run
and the quicker the buttons were hit the faster the player would go.
The direction pad would put action to the player, like jumping and
throwing, depending on the sport. The arcade version of the game put
players to the test and even had some special ways of hitting the
buttons. The players would sometimes use a pen to quickly go back and
forth to run faster. I admit I am guilty of that as a child. It was
harder to do that with the Famicom controller and sometimes would
scratch the buttons too. A definite top early release for the system.
Famicom Hyper Sports
and Hyper Olympic were combined into Track & Field for the NES
USA gamers tended to
stick with the NES during the 80's and even now in 2020 there are
collectors and gamers who look for and hunt down the Nintendo Famicom
system. It is a unique and ground-breaking system that started in
Japan and changed the way the United States and the world played
console gaming. Definitely worth the time to get one.
Every Friday on The Retrogaming Times
we present a Weekly Retrogaming Trivia question. This
trivia challenge provided each week is an opportunity to test your
and oddball retrogaming knowledge. The answer to the question
the previous week is posted along with a new trivia question every
Below is the recap of all
answers posted between this issue and the previous issue:
02/28/2020 - WEEK 153 Question: The Super
Hang-On song "Outride A Crisis" was apparently inspired by what Richard
- WEEK 154 Question: Long
before his work on Sonic the Hedgehog, Yuji Naka got his start
designing what SG-1000 game?
- WEEK 155 Question: How is
the flashlight obtained in the NES game Friday the 13th?
- WEEK 156 Question: Pino and
Acha are the stars of what Namco arcade game?
- WEEK 157 Question: Following
Midnight Landing (1987), Top Landing (1988), and Landing Gear (1996),
what is the final game in Taito's "Landing" series?
- WEEK 158 Question: The
objective of Konami's arcade game Gyruss is a journey to what celestial
- WEEK 159 Question: In Dig
Dug, the appearance of bonus items is activated by performing what
04/17/2020 - WEEK 160 Question: On what
date in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! did Little Mac become WVBA champion?
04/24/2020 - WEEK 161 Question: What
country does the computer game D/Generation take place in?
The quest begins in Toy Pop
(left) Gyruss' final objective is actually shown on the title screen
Answers: Week 153 Answer: Should've
Known Better, off his self-titled debut album. ...seriously,
listen to them back to back, you'll be blown away.
Week 154 Answer: Girl's Garden.
Week 155 Answer: By lighting
the all fireplaces located in the six large cabins.
Week 156 Answer: Toy Pop
Week 157 Answer: Landing High
Week 158 Answer: The Earth.
Week 159 Answer: Dropping
Week 160 Answer: April
1, 1987 per the newspaper article shown after defeating Super Macho
Week 161 Answer:
Little Mac wins the
World Video Boxing Association belt (left), D/Generation begins with a
rooftop jet pack landing (right)
need your questions! If
you have a trivia question you would like to submit for possible
in the Weekly Retrogaming Trivia question pool, e-mail it to email@example.com!
If you question is selected to be featured, you will be entered in our
year-end prize drawing!
I opened the
last issue by talking about how the TurboGrafx-16 Mini console was just
over the horizon and how so much other great stuff was just around the
corner. Unfortunately a lot of that has been thrown into disarray
now, including the international launch of the TurboGrafx-16
Mini. Virtually every convention I attend throughout the year has
been deferred until 2021, and I've seen many doubling down on family,
close friends, and staying connected by way of our current digital
era. I think staying connected while distanced is going to
continue to be the most important thing for the time being. Thank
you for connecting with us and spending a bit of your time reading our
Something cool that I want to share with everyone is that Bandai Namco Entertainment is currently
offering Pac-Man Championship Edition 2 (PS4 / Xbox One / Steam) for
FREE until May 10th, 2020. This is the full game download, no
subscription service required, as part of their "More Fun for Everyone
- at Home" campaign. This
official link has the details, additionally searching for the game
on each respective platform's online shop will yield the free download
result. You only have a few days left to grab the download but
once you have it installed it's yours to keep. Thank you to
Bandai Namco Entertainment for offering some free entertainment during
this difficult time.
again for reading The Retrogaming
Times. We'll be back on July 1st with our next issue.
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