In the late 70s, the first home personal computers available to a wide range of consumers began to appear in the world. These included the Apple II, TRS-80, the first Commodore models, and other computers. These computers were intended not only for games, but also for teaching, programming, computing and design.
Around this time, enthusiasts began to appear who sought to make the computer do something amazing and unusual, not just calculations for spacecraft and nuclear rockets. So, these people formed a new cyber culture - the demoscene, the peculiarity of which was the creation of a demo - a story video sequence created by a computer in real time. Basically, a demo is a symbiosis of art and programming. Over time, the demoscene acquired a competitive character, and people began to organize demoparties - events where the creators of the demo met and held computer art contests.
The main genres of demoscene are demo, megademo, trackmo, and intro (small demos, limited in file size: 64kb, 16kb, 1kb and even 128, 64 and 32 bytes!). But that's where we will finish talking about the history of demoscene (you can read more about this subculture on the Wiki), and instead move on to the culture’s current activities, and even a peak behind the curtain of making a demo.
Oddly enough, the demoscene is still alive, and demoparties are held on a regular basis around the world. For one of these demoparties, we decided to create a small intro, the purpose of which is to invite people to another party. Such a subgenre is called invitro (invitation + intro). Thus, our goal was to complete several tasks: create an intro, show it on a demoparty, and invite all the guests of this demoparty to our party in Russia. And that’s what we need:
Demoparty where we will show our intro. We chose Revision 2020, which will take place annually in Saarbrücken, Germany.
The platform for which we will be creating the intro. We chose NES, because we love NES.
Demoparty, to which we will invite people. Multimatograf 2020, Vologda, Russia.
Since the NES capabilities (we chose CNROM mapper) are quite limited, we decided to create a simple scroll, like old Commodore 64 intros. We also decided to add an equalizer effect based on the Multimatograf logo. Despite its simplicity, our intro was ranked 7 out of 10. Let's watch the whole intro (party release).
Now it's time to figure out how it works, from start to finish.
Logo + EQ
It was this main part of the intro that was created first. We came up with the rest as we worked on the creeping line. We went through several gradient and logo options that we placed on the background layer of the console:
Until the current one was finally approved:
In order to make the blue gradient and the red logo, we had to use 3 palettes with common colors in each of them:
We wanted to create the illusion of a stationary gradient and a “flying” logo, so we decided to use a checkerboard gradient.
As it turned out later, this was a mistake, since chess-like dithering on CRT TVs will look completely different from what it looks like in the emulator:
Indeed, this moire does not look very good. However, since the background had already been created, and the intro was supposed to be shown from the emulator, we decided to leave it as it is.
The background and the moving logo are one piece. No sprites, just a solid background.
A sinusoidal horizontal path controls the position of the entire background.
To "separate" the background and the logo visually, a "european" chess style was chosen + added corner sprites in the middle of the screen on the right and left edges to further strengthen the illusion of a stationary background.
The creeping line is separated from the main screen by a zero-hit. This technique has been used in many classic games, such as the HUD in Super Mario. But unlike Super Mario, both parts of our split screen have their own independent scrolling. It is very simple to implement one-way scrolling on the NES, in fact, all platformers are made this way: each new character (or landscape column in the case of Super Mario) is drawn in the next nametable every +16 pixels, then the camera moves 16 pixels to the right, and everything is repeated again.
To improve scrolling, two effects have been added:
Smooth shift of the text color. To achieve this, we rendered the font with a checkerboard texture: even pixels with one palette index, odd pixels with another. Then we rolled the colors of these pixels one by one: first even, then odd. As a result, we got intermediate colors between the existing colors of the NES palette, so that visually the color change looks smoother.
"Jumping" of the scrolling to the drum beat. To do this, we had to work with the buffer of the music player (famitone2) and its noise channel, and added a vertical one to the horizontal scrolling.
NES allows you to split the screen into at least two parts, each of which can be scrolled autonomously. These two parts were enough for us both for the logo and for the scroller.
For clarity, we propose to see how the upper camera of the logo looks inside the console:
And the bottom one:
In fact, our team has little in common with the Nesdev Community, which we love and respect so much. This is also the name of the Telegram channel, in which we discuss everything related to consoles, their programming, and news. The look of the logo was chosen by analogy with the Titan logo in their Overdrive demo, which, in turn, parodied the style of Sega's corporate logo. l thought that went well:
But due to the limited amount of free space on the cartridge, after some revisions, it was decided to remove the large fade tables, so we made the fade effect simpler:
Also in the final release, we added a few details so as not to steal the name from the Nesdev community:
First, we googled the reference of the matching patterns:
Then we adapted it for the NES:
This picture contains 387 unique tiles, while a single NES page only allows 256 tiles.
To display the remaining 131 tiles, we also used the zero-hit technique: the first graphic page is displayed before the split, the second after.
Or that way: tileset #1 and #2
The palette has 3 colors + background. So we can implement 4 phases of monochrome animation within one tile using a combination of sprite tiles and background tiles.
To do this, we draw the first three phases of animation in the sprite tile with palette indices 1, 2, 3 (for clarity, each phase is highlighted in red, blue and green, respectively) and the background tile as the fourth animation tile.
In theory, it looks like this:
Phase 1: palette index 1 = white, others = background color (black);
Phase 4: remove the sprite and print the final phase using background tile.
Let's see what happens in the console sprite layer at this time:
Intro, game and corona
Among other things, we decided to fill the empty space of the cartridge with our next idea: we touched upon the “coronavirus” hysteria that is relevant today. And, looking at how the date of the Vologda party is postponed due to quarantine, we decided at all costs to “protect” the Multimatograf party from the coronavirus. We created several spline trajectories along which the viruses were supposed to fly, and placed the spacecraft at the bottom of the screen.
We assigned pilot Kevin to control the spaceship, then we created sound effects for the appearance of viruses chains, as well as a score counter, and a greetings list like a High score table:
But since there still was free space on the cartridge, we added a boss:
Inspired by the Castlevania boss, our bat has been refined into a great addition to our intro:
This was not enough for us, so we added a high score table, a screen with instructions, and we also redrawn all the sprites so as not to use the draft sprites that we borrowed from existing games (Galaga, Legendary Wings). So, we have created a simple - but quite suitable for tournament competition - game with unpretentious gameplay: in a limited time, the player must destroy as many nasty viruses as possible and score the maximum number of points.
Wait for the opening effect with Vologda laces to complete, after which the game will start in autopilot mode. You can read the text, or you can play.
You can watch the intro, read the scrolling text and watch the pilot Kevin destroy viruses, or...
Push the "Start" button.
Shoot the viruses as fast as possible: there is not much time for the battle - only 6 minutes.
The time is displayed in the upper left corner as an hourglass icon. Approximately a minute before the end of the game, the clock icon will flicker, indicating that the time will expire soon.
Enemies attack in waves: 3 waves of viruses (“super viruses” may appear in each of these waves, it is not recommended to miss them, as additional points are awarded for them). After the completion of 3 waves, the boss spawns, then the game cycle repeats again: 3 waves and the boss, until the time runs out.
The boss has 10 hit points, for each of which the player earns 1 point. Additional points are awarded when you defeat the boss.
With each hit on the ship, the player loses 1 hit point and is temporarily stunned. If an encounter occurs during a boss fight, the boss regains 1 hit point.
We participated in the Revision demoparty;
We invited everyone to the Multimatograf demoparty;
We made a invitro (gamevitro though) for a platform that is unpopular at the scene.
We are great because we finished the work in a little over a week.
We also took care of the music, using one of the old Soviet pop hits as an intro and covering this song for the main soundtrack with a nice bass line and funky beat.
The music was prototyped with the Vortex Tracker, ZX Spectrum chiptune editor.
Then we transferred the score from this tracker to FamiTracker and polished it up.
We wish you well. Play games and watch the demos!
Code, sound fx: Alexander “mr287cc” Tokmakov
Music, sound fx: Oleg “n1k-o” Nikitin
Hardware wizard: Vladimir “dude_bfg” Ivanov
Mastermind of the pack: Damir “Adam Bazaroff” Nasyrov
Controls in video games are a tough subject. I could explain to you how all the platformers in Action 52require you to jump and then press a direction button to move in the air, but that doesn’t really illustrate just how wrong that feels. Likewise, I could tell you that all the skaters in Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater accelerate like something just exploded behind them, but what does that tell you? Is that good? Bad?
In my years of debating and discussing the hobby, I’ve come up with strategies to describe controls; you really have to use broad strokes. The minutiae of how controls work and don’t work are vast: button layout, gravity, speed, acceleration, momentum, environmental responses, collision detection, even camera control. It’s a lot to dive into when someone just wants to know whether a game is as smooth as butter or as sticky as molasses.
To illustrate this, we’re going to dive into a few classic examples of games that nailed their controls, sometimes without any previous game to show them how it was done.
While Super Mario Bros. may hold the crown as the most ubiquitous platformer, its controls were less than perfect. Inventive, yes, definitely. They incorporated momentum based movement that asked you to trade between precision controls and speed. Personally, I don’t think I ever let go of the B button. I might have an indent on my thumb.
I’d consider Mega Man to be the gold standard of platformer controls. In terms of speed, jump precision, and gravity, it just felt amazing. The games are notorious for their instant death and treacherous platforming, but the blue bomber’s movements were more than up to the task. This movement system would be expanded upon to great effect in the Mega Man X series, which added the dash jump into the mix and made magic.
STREET FIGHTER II
While it may not have invented the fighting genre, Street Fighter II was definitely responsible for popularizing it. Moreover, its special move system, which incorporated circular movement on the stick as well as “charging” in a direction, would be duplicated to this day by others in the genre.
The series didn’t nail this method on the first try -- the original Street Fighter controlled like a one-wheeled shopping cart -- but Street Fighter II was able to refine and perfect it. There’s a good reason why no fighting game since could escape comparison to this venerable title.
SUPER MARIO 64
The early days of 3D graphics were a nightmarish hellscape. While flight sims and driving games were able to make use of the new dimension to some effect, the platformer -- a cornerstone of the 8 and 16-bit eras -- struggled to adapt. Then Super Mario 64 came along and laid the groundwork for how things should be done. Not everyone listened, however, that’s how we ended up with Superman on the N64.
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the Mario series, had a vision, and Nintendo backed him fully. He knew that for 3D to work, the camera had to be completely in the hands of players. The Nintendo 64’s somewhat unusual controller was designed completely around this philosophy, with one analogue stick and a quartet of “C-buttons.”
The analogue stick allowed players to move Mario in any way they could imagine: he could tip-toe, sprint, or even just walk. He was also given a full arsenal of jumps to get him places. He could bounce off walls, flip, and triple jump. He was even given a suite of novel powerups that allowed him to fly or made him as heavy as a statue. It’s amazing how deep the controls are in a game of this vintage.
GEARS OF WAR
I can’t profess to being a fan of Gears of War; something about steering around a giant walking fridge with subwoofers on its pecks kind of does nothing for me. However, I am at least reverent for what it did for its console generation. The “stop-and-pop” shooter would become a hallmark, supplanting the Half-Life formula andHalo formula as the go-to for shooters.
It didn’t congeal in a vacuum, however. Its cover-based and over-the-shoulder shooting would be pioneered by Winback in 1999. Even Resident Evil 4 can claim a greater contribution to the third-person shooter in 2005. However, I’d argue that none hit the mark as well as Gears of War did in 2006. It refined an popularized cover-based shooting, introduced the “roadie run,” and made over-the-shoulder the default camera angle for years. And who can forget that chainsaw rifle?
These are, no doubt, not the only titles that nailed their controls, but they’re certainly some of the more high-profile examples. Additionally, you’d have a tough time convincing me that any racing game controlled better than Mario Kart 8. And to answer a hypothetical question from earlier, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater’s controls were complete magic.
So what games have made your hands feel good? Is there a racing game with physics so real they blow your mind? Did Robotron’s twin sticks delight your palms? Was NBA Jamcapture the sport better than any other game? Was WWF No Mercy the pinnacle of pro wrestling games (it was). Let us know!
The indie market is a churning stew. Different ingredients mingle and new ones get dropped in all the time, sometimes overpowering all other flavours. Zombies, crafting, Metroidvania -- they have all had their moments to shine and sometimes even find themselves mixed together in the same pot. Yet, perhaps the most recent ingredient to be dropped into the concoction is the Roguelike. It’s a bit tricky to define, and the term’s current usage is debated, so perhaps the best place to start with explaining it is to tell you about Rogueitself.
Back in the primordial days of computing, a lot of game design was being done by college students learning to program. This is because computers of the time were massive, vacuum-tube filled monstrosities that would take up large rooms. This wouldn’t change until the creation of the microprocessor and the release of the “1977 Trinity” of personal computers, but that’s a different subject entirely.
In the late ‘70s, students were beginning to experiment with programming low-memory games using ASCII graphics. Rogue was interestingly, not the first Roguelike, either. Predating it was 1978’s Beneath the Apple Manor for Apple II and Sword of Fargoal in 1979. Rogue would simply get more exposure because of the existence of ARPANET, an early form of the internet that connected schools and government offices, which allowed it to be distributed into the hands of other budding programmers.
The genre features that would one day be lifted from this venerable game were two core values: permadeath and procedural generation. In the game, you would navigate dungeons, gather weapons and items, and should you fall in combat, it was back to the start of the game. The levels and encounters are all created randomly, meaning each experience was something new.
The idea of the Roguelike sprang from this starting point. Students would find themselves enamored by Rogue’s clever design, and would attempt to replicate all of its mechanics. Since the sourcecode was not readily available, this often mean creating the new games from scratch. The most popular two examples are 1982’s Hack and 1983’s Moria, both of which took the permadeath and procedural generation of Rogue and twisted it with their own flavours.
For years, Roguelikes were largely popular with programmers. Its features didn’t creep into the arcade or console markets for years until the Mystery Dungeon series landed on the Super Famicom in 1993, with Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon, a spin-off of the Dragon Quest series. It too included both permadeath and randomly created dungeons. The series would eventually make it to North American shores with Chocobo’s Dungeon 2 in 1998 for the Playstation. However, it would remain one of the few Roguelikes to exist on consoles.
In the 2000’s, the indie market would do what it does best and incorporated Roguelike elements into genres that are otherwise unrelated. 2008’s Spelunky is often cited as one of the most influential pioneers of what would become referred to as the Roguelite genre. It took the basic elements of permadeath and randomly generated dungeons, but shifted it to a side-scrolling perspective.
It wouldn’t take long before these mechanics exploded into the spotlight with games like Binding of Isaac, FTL: Faster Than Light, and Rogue Legacy. Each containing a different approach to the formula, but always including permadeath and procedural generation.
However, like everything when it comes to games, the definition of Roguelike and Roguelite would become progressively more murky. Even as early as games like Spelunky, permanence would be added to the permadeath mechanic. As you got further and further into your adventure, you would unlock things that would stay with you as long as your save file remained intact. Especially common is shortcuts that allow you to skip to later stages, so you don’t always have to start at the beginning.
However, the permadeath feature has been twisted in so many ways, it’s rarely considered a requirement anymore to be gifted the term Roguelite. The moniker is commonly attached to any game that contains random elements, such as Mega Cat Studios’ own Bite the Bullet. The world’s first run-and-gun-and-eat, feature a heaping portion of run-and-gun shooter, RPG, and, of course, Roguelite. Dig in!
Anyone who grew up through the era of 8 and 16-bit consoles already has a good idea where this is going. Back in the early days of gaming, companies loved competing with one another in every way possible. It wasn’t simply a chase for the best IP or technology: the most wild and outlanding accessories had to accompany the game room of every superfan. Many of these controllers only supported, or were optimized, to be used with only one or a few specific games. Others claimed to improve your ability to set a high score, or increased the precision of your controller universally. Unsurprisingly, most of these were far from what was advertised, and even the best of them were barely functional.
The Power Glove
You can’t make a list about peripherals without including this classic: The Power Glove. Released in 1989 and manufactured by Adams Gentile Entertainment, the Power Glove was featured in that same year’s movie “The Wizard”. It had normal NES buttons on the back of the forearm part of the glove, which of course meant you could only use these buttons with one hand. These buttons were programmable, which on its own would’ve been pretty useful, but really, just imagine trying to play most NES games with just one hand and you’ll quickly understand how this functionality was mostly wasted.
While it certainly looked impressive, unfortunately, that’s about all this iconic accessory did. It does make for a common photo-prop for headshots of major cheese streamers and champion level-memes.
Of course, the main appeal of the Power Glove was the motion controls, as the idea of controlling a game with hand gestures sounded very futuristic at the time. Unfortunately, these motion controls were extremely basic and inaccurate, leading to much frustration and cementing the reputation of this device as the very image of cool looking but mostly useless peripherals.
Now, you might look at this device and think “Hey, isn’t that just a piece of rectangular plastic?” but here’s the thing...you’d be absolutely right. This thing looks like it was made to scam oblivious present-buying grandparents. It’s advertising claimed it would “speed up your game” by holding your controller so you could press buttons more quickly, but placing your controller on this thing would just make it awkward to use. Not much more to say on this one honestly.
You could maybe argue that it allowed you to more easily mash two buttons really fast with your fingertips?
Now this one is really interesting, maybe even ahead of its time in some ways. Released in 1994 by the Aura Systems company, the Aura Interactor was meant to be a sort of full body rumble pak. It consisted of a vest and a seat cushion that translated bass sound waves into vibration that allowed you to better “feel” the game’s impacts using actuators. Compatible with the Super Nintendo, Sega CD and Sega Genesis consoles, it certainly worked as advertised (which is worth mentioning considering some of the other devices on this list) but it had a steep price of $100 at launch, so it’s adoption was very limited.
Some would consider the Aura Interactor to be the first haptic suit to be commercially available.
Unfortunately, while being very impressive from a technology standpoint, haptic feedback did very little to enhance the 2D games of the time. A modern take on such a device could be really useful in today’s much more advanced VR games though.
Another piece of complex tech (for the time) that sounds like a great idea for about 10 seconds. You can look at the box and picture yourself controlling a fighting game such as Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter with your movements, but in truth this octagon simply had motion sensors which were each mapped to one the console’s buttons, which means it was effectively a very inefficient early motion controller.
Even years later, many players were dissatisfied with the functional but sometimes quirky motion controls of the Wiimote and Kinect, so imagine what it felt like to try to win a game of Mortal Kombat using this device.
The way you used this was by standing inside the octagon, which had 16 zones where the sensors would pick up movement and map it to a button. This would work reasonably well for the controller’s face buttons, but controlling the d-pad and therefore your character’s movement by waving your hands over a sensor was barely usable. Oh and it cost $80 when it came out in 1993, that didn’t do it any favors either.
You’ve probably heard of this one, and there’s a bit of a backstory to it. In 1985 when Nintendo first brought their NES to the US, the American video game market was in ruins following a huge crash in 1983 which would probably require an article of its own to properly explain. So Nintendo decided to market their console from a different angle, introducing it as a fancy interactive toy. For this purpose, they created R.O.B (Robotic Operator Buddy). This little guy was the focus of Nintendo’s early marketing campaign for the NES and it worked well enough. After a few years they just quietly stopped producing it, but the goal was already met and the NES had a successful launch.
R.O.B didn’t exactly work great in the two games he was made for, but marketing data showed the friendly little robot was the deciding factor in getting an NES for many kids at that crucial time.
Only two games were officially released for R.O.B: Gyromite and Stack-Up. In Gyromite he placed spinning “gyros” on red and blue buttons that pressed down the A or B buttons on the second player’s controller, opening or closing color coded pillars that blocked the way of the player in this puzzle platformer. Stack-up had the player control R.O.B to pick up colored blocks and match the ones shown on the screen.
The early days of gaming were full of little gimmicks, devices and accessories that in many cases were frankly absolutely useless, but many others were early attempts at concepts that came back later when the technology finally caught up, such as motion controls and haptic feedback. Not all of these devices were blatant cash grabs, and it’s important to see the way game developers have been trying to innovate since the very beginning of the medium’s history. Some of the concepts in these devices are still being worked on and explored today, and developers will surely continue to impress us with new and unexpected ideas, despite the inherent risks that come with attempting such innovation in any medium.