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Retro Gaming Hacks 127

Craig Maloney writes "It's hard to imagine that over 35 years ago, video games were relegated to large computer rooms with a small dedicated computer following. With the explosion of the video game industry, characters like Pac Man, Donkey Kong, and Mario have achieved a cultural celebrity status. There has been a lot of interest lately in Classic Games and the Classic Gaming era. From the efforts of books like Supercade and Leonard Herman's "Rolenta Press" offerings, to sites such as Digital Press, AtariAge, and Good Deal Games, classic games are once again capturing the hearts and minds of those who experienced classic games first hand, and those experiencing classic games for the first time. Retro Gaming Hacks is a treat for both retro gaming enthusiasts and the retro-curious wondering what all the fuss was about." Read the rest of Craig's review.
Retro Gaming Hacks
author Chris Kohler
pages 472
publisher O'Reilly
rating 10/10
reviewer Craig Maloney
ISBN 0-596-00917-8
summary An excellent guide to all forms of Retro Gaming

Retro Gaming Hacks is another entry in O' Reilly's "Hacks" Series, The "Hacks" Series is an ever-growing set of books with focused attention on a particular topic, like Astronomy, Mental Improvement, or even Halo 2. Each book contains article-length "hacks" of varying difficulty. Some of these hacks may even involve taking the cover off of some electronic device and voiding the warranty on the device. The format allows for quick reference to a particular topic, and the authors present a casual, expert discussion about the topic.

Retro Gaming Hacks begins with a chapter on acquiring actual classic gaming hardware. No matter how good emulators get, there is no experience like playing a classic game on the hardware it was designed to be played on. The author describes the places one can go to pick up hardware, and gives good advice for potential consumers on what to look for and what to avoid when making the final purchase. Next the book discusses a few classic console systems in detail, starting with the grand-daddy of them all: the Magnavox Odyssey, and continuing with the myriad of Pong clones available. After the Odyssey, the book features the game system that defined classic gaming for a generation: the Atari 2600. The author is a bit critical of the system and the games, preferring the Colecovision instead, but the overview of the Atari 2600 is a good introduction to the hardware and some notable games for the system (although I would have omitted mentioning Coleco's dreadful port of Donkey Kong in favor of Pitfall or the incredible Solaris). Other "Golden Era" systems are briefly mentioned, including the Mattel Intellivision, Coleco's Colecovision, the Atari 5200 and 7800, and GCE's Vectrex. The author continues the hardware discussion with several pages on the Nintendo Entertainment System, with several pages on the NES and it's Japanese counterpart: the Famicom. Hack #6 describes the process for repairing the "toaster" NES systems, while the latter part of Hack #5 includes a description of the interesting Neo-Fami adapter for the Game Boy Advance. Also included in the chapter are tips for buying full arcade games as well as JAMMA cabinets. The chapter rounds out with a description of the Holy Grails of classic gaming. (If you find any of these, please send them my way. Thanks!)

The next chapter describes the cheaper way of playing lots of classic games in one location. Many manufacturers have introduced "X in one" TV game systems, which contain one or more controllers, that hooks up to a standard television. The author provides a very comprehensive list of the currently available "X in one" game collections, pointing out the pluses and minuses of each in great detail. Similarly, the synopsis of the classic gaming collections for modern consoles is very thorough (although I'm uncertain if the issue the author raises about the Pac Man patterns relates to a conscious reprogramming of the games, or the differences between the Midway released versions of Pac Man versus the original Namco versions). Ending the chapter is a series of tips for finding hidden classics in current console games (easter eggs), like the arcade Star Wars games in Rebel Assault III, or the hidden NES titles in Animal Crossing. There were several games I wasn't unaware were hidden, and the author helps the search by providing details of how to find each one.

The mid-section of Retro Gaming Hacks darts back and forth between classic game and computer emulation on modern hardware, and restoring classic computers to functioning status. Chapter 3 discusses MAME, and the various interfaces for running MAME. Installing MAME under Windows, Macintosh, and Linux is covered in depth, as are several graphical interfaces for using MAME under each platform. There are also pointers for running MAME on the x box, as well as creating a self-booting MAME CD. There's even mention of the rather odd project known as LASER-MAME (think vector-based games like Asteroids played using LASERs). Lest we think of MAME as just a way to play semi-legal arcade games, the book has pointers to several legal arcade ROMs, such as Gridlee, Robby Roto, Poly Play, and several homebrew arcade games. There are also tips for purchasing legal ROMs, as well as tips for caring for your ROM collection. No section on MAME could be complete without discussing arcade controllers, and Retro Gaming Hacks includes pointers to the Hot Rod, X-Arcade and Slik Stik, as well as a how-to for creating your own controllers from scratch. Chapter four continues with emulations for many classic console game systems using MESS. Also covered in this chapter are several methods for copying games to actual hardware, as well as several emulators for PDAs and Smart Phones. Chapter five continues with classic computers, both in getting the actual hardware running optimally, and in emulating the hardware on modern machines. (There's even a section on getting the Atari 8bit computers running on a Dreamcast). Chapter 6 tackles text adventures, with a healthy section on the INFORM engine from Infocom (with a hack on how to write your own INFORM games. Too cool!) Chapter 7 deals with everyone's favorite gaming operating system DOS, from getting FreeDOS running on actual hardware, to using the "why waste a whole system on DOS" alternative, DOSBox. (And just in case you wanted to develop some games in DOS, there's several hacks for doing just that, too). There's an incredible amount of information in these chapters, with just about every game system imaginable covered. (Yes, even the incredibly crappy RCA Studio II).

Rounding out the book are sections covering creating your own games. There's a brief bit of information on creating retro-style games in Flash and SDL, as well as sections for developing on the Atari 2600 and the Game boy Advance. While this section could easily be covered in separate books, the authors do an admirable job of creating a good introduction to the tools required to start developing your own games.

Lest a book on retro gaming concludes without some game hints, Retro Gaming Hacks finishes off with the pattern from Pac Man, the minus world from Super Mario, and some tricks for Leisure Suit Larry. The Pac Man pattern is only for the first half of the first level, but it does work. (All in the name of research. :) )

Retro Gaming Hacks is a book that I can't say enough about. I'm one of the co-organizers for CinciClassic, and am relatively active in the classic gaming community. I can heartily recommend this book for anyone from the casual newbie to the classic gaming junkie. The resources mentioned in the book are the same resources I would recommend to anyone to satiate their classic gaming curiosity. While some may scoff and say there's plenty of gaming resources available online, Retro Gaming Hacks provides a great resource for finding things you weren't even looking for. (I know I would never have thought to emulate an Atari 800 on my Dreamcast, nor would I have ever thought that I didn't need to gut a keyboard in order to make my own MAME controller). There's something for every gamer, whether you were weaned on the Coleco Telstar arcade, or began your journey with Ultima IV. Retro Gaming Hacks is a fun book and I highly recommend to anyone who has even a remote interest in classic gaming.

(This review was written before CinciClassic 2006 occurred. I was so impressed with the book that I asked O' Reilly if they'd send a few copies for CinciClassic 2006. Their sponsorship of CinciClassic in no way swayed the reviewer or the review.)"

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Retro Gaming Hacks

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  • by IflyRC ( 956454 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @02:55PM (#15206706)
    of a Coke, Commodore 64, 2 1541 drives banging drive heads while listening to the music of "Fast Hack'em" copying 5 1/4" diskettes.
  • by AtariDatacenter ( 31657 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:02PM (#15206764)
    I made a few hacks on Tempest....

    I made the Open Level Selection Hack [] and also unlocked the maximum men bonus from 6 to 255. (Changed ROMs available here [].)

    The toughest part was getting around the CRC protection on the ROMs. You'd think it'd be simple, but Atari really hid the code to that pretty well. In the end, I got it figured out how to bypass the code by simply changing an unused byte elsewhere to what I needed.

    I also documented a bit about Tempest [] and its source code. Others have since built on the work. Lots of neat stuff in there.
  • .. with a title like that, I was hoping it'd be detailed guide as to how to Wilford Brimley-ize retro arcade game roms.
  • by s16le ( 963839 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:07PM (#15206798)
  • Favorite 2600 hack: (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbeaupre ( 752124 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:09PM (#15206806)
    My brother and I would rapidly switch the console off then on. Or sometimes carefully pull the cartridge out. 19 times out of 20, it would crash the game. But sometimes you'd get something entirely new. Pac-Man was the best for this. The colors might change, the sounds might change, but sometimes the mazes or even the gameplay would change. Our favorite version was when every time you moved, you automatically powered up and all the ghosts would come find you. Big time scores! Or the time all the pellets turned to power pellets. Ah, such fun!

    Teh ony thing that ever came close was undeleting SimCity 1 saved games. A city with 1 million people that burns to the ground in a matter of minutes, leaving a charred ruin.

    But alas, my "programming technique" never seemed to work on anything but those two instances.
    • My original Dragon Warrior cart had a habit of not entirely overwriting saved games when you saved over an old one as long as you used the same name. I got it to start the quest with 66535 gold, the princess in my arms, and 0hp.
    • I used to do this on my Commodore VIC-20 with the text adventure cartridges. I would play part of one and then carefully swap the cartridges. Sometimes the machine would freeze, other times I'd find myself in a strange world where everything was mixed around. I would have items in my inventory that normally couldn't be carried. Room descriptions would have lines from all sorts of different rooms. Using room exits would send you to all sorts of bizzare places, sometimes you'd end up inside your own inventory
    • Actually there were a bunch of cart-swapping tricks for the Sega Genesis. I rememember one you could do to get the Japanese title screen for the Revenge of Shinobi. This is bringing back memories of GamePro magazine...

      A quick Google search revealed this [] seemingly comprehensive list.
    • "Pac-Man was the best for this"

      At least it was good for something then....

      2600 Pacman had to be the most disappointing game ever.
      My brother and I saved up our paper route money, bottle and can deposits, etc, preordered the game, waited about a month for it, popped it in and "WTF is this? You call *THIS* PACMAN?!?!"

      I was always amazed at how Activision games had such awesome graphics (by 1980 standards), and some of Atari's very own programmers couldn't code their way out of a paper bag.
      • Actually, Activision was formed by Atari programmers, so Atari programmers *could* program their way out of a paper bag. Unfortunately the problem with Pac Man was not the coder's fault, but the bean counter's fault. Pac Man would have been just fine had Atari not rushed the game to production, and had they used Todd's original plan of twice the ROM than the cartidge had. The programmers were quite capable, but the marketing department made some truly boneheaded maneuvers.
      • 2600 Pacman had to be the most disappointing game ever. My brother and I saved up our paper route money, bottle and can deposits, etc, preordered the game, waited about a month for it, popped it in and "WTF is this? You call *THIS* PACMAN?!?!"

        Too bad I can't remember it, but my brothers and I had worked out a flawless pattern for 2600 Pacman. We played the same game for hours, that is, until the score flipped. Then we realized that there was no way to ever prove how high a score we got. Our quest for Pac

      • 2600 Pacman had to be the most disappointing game ever.
        You apparently never played ET. All you did is fall into pits. Over and over again. Atari buried thousands in a landfill they were so bad.
      • 2600 Pacman had to be the most disappointing game ever. My brother and I saved up our paper route money, bottle and can deposits, etc, preordered the game, waited about a month for it, popped it in and "WTF is this? You call *THIS* PACMAN?!?!"

        Some enterprising homebrew coders have taken it upon themselves to rectify the Pac-Man situation on the 2600.

        There's "Mr. Pac-Man" which is a hack OF a hack of Ms. Pacman. 00&SoftwareHackID=146 []

        Pac-Man P

      • 2600 Pacman had to be the most disappointing game ever.

        Sad to say, this was the first Pac Man I ever knew. I was too young to really go to arcades until a few years later, so watching my Dad play 2600 Pac Man was pretty much my first exposure to video games. It's a miracle I'm a gamer at all.

        I used to have anxiety attacks playing ET, too. I always assumed it was *my* fault ET kept falling in those damned pits. It never occurred to me until I was older that it was just a crap game.
    • This technique is called "frying" in the Atari 2600 (VCS) realm, and the last two point releases of Stella (the 2600 emulator) have included support for simulated frying.
  • wonderings (Score:3, Interesting)

    by celardore ( 844933 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:11PM (#15206820)
    I wonder if my children will play something like San Andreas just for the antique novelty value. I can even imagine digging out my old N64 for some Goldeneye to play with my children.

    That will be fun. But what will pacman mean to my children / grandchildren?
    • But what will pacman mean to my children / grandchildren?

      Kids still play with yo-yos and hula hoops.

      • Kids still play with yo-yos and hula hoops.

        Hey kids of America, it's hand-painted wooden ball-in-a-cup, Mexico's favorite toy for over 340 years. Who needs constant video game stimulation when there's ball-in-a-cup? You just toss the ball, catch it in the cup, dump it out of the cup, toss it, and catch it in the cup again. The ball is on a string and attached to the cup, so there's no worry if you dont catch the ball in the cup. And clean up is as easy as catching a ball, in a cup. So why spend another day

        • ANNOUNCER: Yes, Log. All nations have Log. So, hurry now to your local
          store and be the first in your country to have the International Log.

          What rolls down stairs
          Alone or in pairs...
          Rolls over your neighbor's dog?

          What's great for a snack
          And fits on your back?

          It's Log! Log! Log!
          It's Lo-og, it's Lo-og

          It's big, it's heavy
          It's wood!

          It's Lo-og, Lo-og
          It's better than bad
          It's good!!!

          Everyone needs a log
          Everyone wants a log
          You're gonna love it

          MR. HORSE: Yes sir, I like it!

    • I think some old games have lasting value. Do you think your grandchildren will live in a world with checkers, chess, card games? A well-designed game can have endless capability for entertainment despite simple rules, low-tech graphics and no sequel recognition or movie tie-ins.

      It's sad that nothing today fires my imagination as much as M.U.L.E. and galaga did back in the day.

      • I think some old games have lasting value. Do you think your grandchildren will live in a world with checkers, chess, card games? A well-designed game can have endless capability for entertainment despite simple rules, low-tech graphics and no sequel recognition or movie tie-ins.

        I definitely have to agree with this. Having MAME and being able to play through literally 30 years of arcade history, I can say that there were a lot of crap games, and a lot of games that have aged very badly, including quite
        • True, MAME is a delight. It reminded me that when I was a kid we'd go up to a new machine, watch the demo, drop a quarter and start playing. There aren't many games like that anymore. I'd like to see more games again that are simple yet addictive. Jardinains! is a good one.

    • "That will be fun. But what will pacman mean to my children / grandchildren?"

      I collect coin op games, and my most popular game with kids under 10 is Ms. Pac-Man. They get the concept and the controls are simple.
      The older kids want to play newer games on my MAME cabinet, like Metal Slug and Mortal Kombat, but the young kids love the simple classics.

      My point is, a fun game is a fun game, even if it's old and even if it has no significance to you.
    • That will be fun. But what will pacman mean to my children / grandchildren?

      I have a three-year-old son. He loves playing the games on my Namco Museum Gamecube disc, including Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man (my all-time favorite game). The answer's simple: If the games mean something to you and you share with them, they'll mean something to your children.

  • by El_Smack ( 267329 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:17PM (#15206857)
    Vector Mame []

    Because playing vector games on a raster monitor makes Baby Jesus cry.
    • There are 01 kinds of cars in the world. The General Lee, and everything else.
      Thank goodness someone else out there realizes that the standard form of that joke using "10 kinds of _____" refers to not two, but three types of _____.
      • Thank goodness someone else out there realizes that the standard form of that joke using "10 kinds of _____" refers to not two, but three types of _____.

        I don't get it, why would 10 represent three types? We're counting, not listing array indices or memory addresses.
        • I don't get it, why would 10 represent three types? We're counting, not listing array indices or memory addresses.
          When you're counting in binary and you aren't starting at zero, there's a damn good chance you're doing it wrong.
          • We are talking abou the number of items here! If you want 00 to mean one item, what would you use to represent zero items? 11 (for two bits)? Again, we're counting not labeling.
          • Wow. You might want to check on your binary to decimal converter. 10 in binary is 2 in decimal. If you are referring to the possible number of values in a 2-bit number you are still wrong (0-3 = 4 possible, not 3). Reminds me of the guy I saw on Who Wants to be a Millionaire that missed the $200 question of "How many legs does a tripod have?"
            • If you don't get it, you probably aren't going to get it. 'nuff said.
              • uh, I believe you are the one who does not get it. 00 = zero 01 = one 10 = two as you yourself pointed out: "When you're counting in binary and you aren't starting at zero, there's a damn good chance you're doing it wrong."
          • Reminds me of the best bar urinal grafitti I ever saw: "There are 10 kinds of people in this world: those who understand binary, and those who don't."

            Nearly pissed on myself laughing...

        • 00, 01 & 10...
          • So when I say there are two types of things in the world I really mean three? 0, 1, 2.
            • Think about what that would be in decimal. Thats like saying "There are 2 types of people _____", and saying that means there are three types of people because thats "0, 1 and 2". While you start counting at start counting from 0 in decimal as well.
              • Saying there are 10(base2) types of people in the world those that x and those that don't isn't counting. I'm saying, and mean there are TWO types of people, not 3 because I started counting, but 2(base10) because I am stating an absolute value. Try and buy tires for your car by asking for 3. You asked for the right number of tires right? You want tires 0, 1, 2 and 3. Have fun driving out though.

                On top of that you do not always start counting at 0. Think back to number systems in elementary math. The whol
    • Do you have a cabinet with an actual vector monitor? If so, I'm VERY jealous.
  • Retro date (Score:3, Funny)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:24PM (#15206892) Homepage Journal
    c:\prince> prince megahit

    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    [Shift L]
    *kiss princess*
    The End.

  • by raddan ( 519638 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @03:57PM (#15207173)
    ... and I doubt that it's because "retro" is "in". Back in the day, we always wanted better graphics, etc. But the thing that kept us coming back to those games was gameplay.

    I believe that the vast majority of games nowadays-- the mindless shooters-- are so popular because, well, most people are mindless. If you want a great, absorbing game, take a look at the classics: Rogue (and its text-based bretheren), SimCity, Civilization (shit, ANY game from Sid Meier), Myst, Spaceward Ho! and a whole slew of great shareware from the 80's and 90's. I'm sure I missed a bunch. Anyway, there's a big reason I keep coming back to Spiderweb Software and Ambrosia Software's stuff, despite the lack of state-of-the-art graphics: these are great games. When you didn't have graphics, you had to rely on imaginative worlds and gameplay to sell a game.

  • If it doesn't mention Lucky Wander Boy [], it ain't worth it!


  • Wow. There is an obscure blast from the past. If I didn't have one sitting in my garage, I would have thought I dreamed that entire platform.



    • Who could forget the genius of colored plastic screen overlays in order to make the game have "colors"... awesome.
  • I've got an aimbot for Asteriods if anyone's interested.
  • For what it's worth, I've read through Retrogaming Hacks, and can recommend it as strongly as the author of the review.

    I was really surprised to see this on the main page - I thought I was about the only person out there to have heard about it.

    Not only is Chris Kohler a fantastic writer, the list of contributers for RGH is rather large and distinguished.

    Whether or not the book really qualifies as "Hacks" is one thing, but I can say that the material is really in-depth, and fun to read.

    Because it's divided i
    • the list of contributers for RGH is rather large and distinguished

      They're not all that distinguished, of course. Some of them are complete nobodies who are likely to be eaten by a grue...

    • Agreed ... I'm one of the nobodies who contributed to the book. I wrote a couple of the MAME related articles, and there are a couple of pictures of one of my MAME cabinets included within the book. When the final copy arrived in the mail I was super excited to see my final articles in print, but shortly afterwards I read the book from cover to cover. There are a lot of great articles in there!

      Rob "Flack" O'Hara [] | []
      • Absolutely. It was great to be involved in writing the book, even if it was only a chapter in my case. And it's a brilliant book to have around and delve into at random. With so many short and self-contained chapters there's always something to grab the interest.
  • Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, B, A, Select, Start
  • To clarify, Inform [] wasn't Infocom's engine - they used a their own, completely different language to generate their interactive fiction story files. Inform is a language developed separately (and much later) by Graham Nelson, which also outputs story files readable by the Infocom virtual machine, effectively allowing anyone to create their own Infocom interactive fiction.
  • lets not forget that almost every single system is emulated on xbox... that makes playing any rom from any system a matter of choosing the emulator from the dash and picking a rom... all from the comfort of your recliner, and your big screen TV!
  • I figured I would take this opportunity to whore out [], a retro game hacking/translation resource. It features community member databases, message boards, utility and document resources, user driven news and submissions. It's a pretty well place.
  • It was a masterpiece.

    I renamed the last file in the list to the first file in the list, and vice versa. Continue this until the order of the files are reversed.

    Start the game, and hey presto, she starts off naked. If you want to get her really skimpy just make her lose $100 once, and she puts on just the tiniest bit of clothing. You know, for the people that like that sort of thing.

    This was an interesting hack. A really interesting hack. A REALLY REALLY interesting hack.

    And then, suddenly, I wasn't
  • Simplicity (Score:3, Interesting)

    by VGfort ( 963346 ) on Wednesday April 26, 2006 @09:02PM (#15209141) Homepage
    Not having to hit the A button 50times to get through the mandatory back story of the game. I swear I hate games that dont let you just skip that stuff. My favorite game would have to be Star Raiders on the 2600. It had unique consequences for failed systems, if you shields were damaged they would flicker on and off, if photons were hurting you might fire one out of one side or it might fire every so presses, if the engines were damaged you couldnt hyperwarp and they sounded damaged. I've yet to find any other space fighting games as fun and simple as that game, I end up spinning around in 360degrees just trying to find a enemy to fight.
  • I used to squawk into my 300 baud acoustic coupler modem to try to "hack" a connection to another computer.

    Guess it's up there with the game cartridge hacks (which I used to do on my Atari 800)
  • is what i found in one of the retro gaming magazines a while ago, that being something like a geneology tree of the various gaming genres. So you could see what games were inspired by others and how the genre changed over time.

    For example there was a tree for one-on-one fighting games: with Way of the Exploding Fist, Internation Karate and Barbarian with it branching out to Tekken, Mortal Kombat and Soul Calibur.

    But otherwise the book sounds quite interesting and I'll probably try to find it.
  • I miss my 2600 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by max1m ( 465205 )
    Emulators and new consoles just aren't the same. There was something about the aesthetic of the console in the old atari systems that's been lost in the newer generations of consoles. You really felt a part of the 2600 especially. The welcoming wooden brown, the stiff cartridges. It was such a great look and feel. Why is my PS2 a dull black box?
  • by dreemernj ( 859414 ) on Thursday April 27, 2006 @02:23AM (#15210388) Homepage Journal
    Ahh the memories. Time to go play some text based Streeet Fighter []
  • Worth mentioning because uk users may not have seen it. There's actually a newsstand magazine specifically for Retro gaming here going under the incredibly imaginative moniker of "Retro Gamer" [] magazine. They even have a pretty good forum if you're willing to do some chav dodging and can stand huge picture sigs.

    There's also Retro Fusion [] which is only avaliable in Gamestation.
  • Speaking of retro games ...
    Does anybody remember Apple Panic? In ~1982 it impressed me.
    More then 20 years later I programmed an open source version
    (see []).

    Greetings Thomas Mertes

    Seed7 Homepage: []
    Wikipedia: []
    Project page: []
  • Come on!! It really isn't about the games, at least not for me. The games are great, don't get me wrong. You can't go wrong with the classics... But what really brings me back is not the games themselves, but the memory of playing them. Seaside Heights, New Jersey, 10 years old or so... Mom loved to be on the beach, and bake herself. After about 1/2 hour in the ocean, I was done with the sun for the day. Mom would give me a few bucks, and I would head up to the boardwalk, for the darkness and light

Our business in life is not to succeed but to continue to fail in high spirits. -- Robert Louis Stevenson