The time has come to face one of the main challenges of our project. It’s time to do justice to the greatest exponent of the Super Scaler technique, paradigm of the arcade world and cultural icon: Out Run.
The genesis of this game had its origin in the passion of its director, the now famous Yu Suzuki, for sports cars. In an interview published in British video game magazine Retro Gamer, the Japanese producer mentioned the film Cannonball Run as one of his sources of inspiration. The film in question, inspired by an illegal road race spanning the United States from coast to coast, humorously reflected an era in which awareness for issues such as pollution or safety was still residual. In the 1980s, there still was a fascination for fast cars and for driving as synonymous with freedom, despite the increasingly rigid speed limits.
SEGA, in their second motorcycle game within the Taikan Game series, wanted to experiment with the Space Harrier hardware capacity to generate layered graphics with a relief effect.
The type of sport SEGA placed their bets on with this game was enduro, at a time when raids and the legendary Paris-Dakar were a worldwide fever. Enduro Racer was conceived to exploit the idea of toughness associated to this motorsports discipline, making the game mechanics revolve around the handling of the motorcycle on slippery surfaces, obstacle avoidance and, above all, keeping control of the bike during the spectacular jumps, which have remained as the most iconic image of this work. Jumps which, being rigorous, were more typical of motocross than enduro.
In our last article, we noted that Hang-On’s development had been entrusted to Coreland Technology, while SEGA took on the production and direction of the game.
In contrast, in this second installment of the Super Scaler series, the entire team was part of SEGA so, even though we do not know the details, if a game with the size and substance of Space Harrier was born just five months later, we understand that management must have worked on both games at the same time for a while.
Either way, let’s dive for a few minutes in this fantasy world, half way between the oneiric and the psychedelic, called Dragon Land.
Before going on, let’s take a trip in time and space to understand the full extent of the importance of Hang-On.
Japan, July 1985: the nation is in the middle of a motorcycle fever, a vehicle for leisure and recreation. Improving its road network, with magnificent roads, the commercial war of the Japanese motorcycle manufacturers for providing better products and, of course, an improved purchasing power are the main causes of this boom from an analytical point of view.
The search for representing three-dimensional universes has been an obsession of designers and programmers from almost the beginning of video game history. The need to provide spatial depth to simulate, for example, driving or riding any kind of artifact, predated for many years the availability of the necessary technical tools.
The Japanese Ministry of Industry is the competent institution regarding everything related to the electricity supply and the various products that require electric energy completely or partially.
In the early days of the arcade industry, cabinets and coin operated video games had escaped the law, always behind the new developments, but at some time (perhaps the first months of 1990) the Ministry of Industry of Japan included this kind of machines in the Denki Yoohin Anzenhou(電気用品安全法), known by the acronym P.S.E. within a specifically created category: “Electrical Device Safety Law.”
In this section, they considered video game machines as a set consisting of a printed circuit board (the game), the cabinet that protected it, the monitor and any other components needed for operation.
The recent universal cabinet concept, designed to run any application created under the JAMMA standard, was very affected by the publication of this change in legislation, because early universal cabinets like Sega City or Namco Consolette were sold without an integrated video game. They were designed to allow for the free choice of any PCB, as well as the ability to change and install it. But the new law did not contemplate that possibility: a cab sold without a game entered directly into the category of “Unfinished Electronic Product”, which is forbidden by law.
With this new handicap in mind, the industry giants put all their creative capacity in place to tackle the problem. The result of that effort certainly deserves its little place in the history of arcade games: video games from the early 90s with technology of the 70s.
Popularly known as “Test PCBs”, they were products with the lowest possible use of resources, in order to address the setback of the new legislation. Video games without sound, without commercial interest and in some cases, without color or playability that did not even serve to test the hardware…
We will briefly talk about the best known titles in this category. Mini JAMMA PCBs created by SEGA, Taito, Namco and Konami, totally unknown even in Japan itself, but which deserve at least a look:
Title: ド ッ ト リ 君 (Dottori-kun)
Production / Development: SEGA
Japanese release: 1990
Hardware: Z-80 (4 MHz)
ROM size: 128 Kilobits
The first and best known of these programs. Included as a “gift” on the SEGA Universal Cabinets (Aero City first, Astro City and Blast City later), it’s a tiny 10 cm x 10 cm PCB which was created to be removed and immediately replaced by a “real” video game.
Dottori-kun is a version of the classic from 1979 Head-On but without sound or color and with a 256 x 192 pixel resolution, in which our goal is to drive our car through the labyrinth, touching all the points scattered along the way and avoiding contact with the enemy. The car direction is chosen with the stick and we can choose a high gear by pressing the action button. If we hit the “X”, it’s game over.
There are several levels which gradually increase the speed, number of enemies and difficulty level, becoming especially difficult from the third stage. In any case, the lack of a scoring system and no additional incentive to advance levels did not invite the user to take more than a few minutes with this soft.
The game is perfectly emulated in MAME, with two versions: OLD (white background, black sprites) and NEW (black background, white sprites).
It is noteworthy that Chris Covell, known programmer and administrator of the website http://www.chrismcovell.com/ has managed to hack Dottori-kun NEW version, getting it to display eight colors on screen and significantly modifying the program code.
Dottori-man Jr. (Chris Covell, 2016), is a big improvement from the original game. The player can roam more complex mazes and has three lives per game, making it far more interesting to play.
To run it, you need to save the patch in an EPROM and plug it into the original PCB, or patching the MAME rom, although in this case certain differences are known to exist, since the video frequency is not correctly emulated. You can find more information about this excellent work by Chris on his website.
Title: ミ ニ ベ ー ダ – (Mini Vaders)
Production / Development: Taito
Japanese release: 1990
Hardware: Z-80 (4 MHz)
ROM size: 64 Kilobits
As in Dottori-kun’s case, this program lacks music, color, markers and title screen. The name is the one under it was presumably submitted to the Ministry of Industry of Japan.
Mini Vaders is a curious variation on the legendary Space Invaders. Various alien formations moving in unison and much more quickly than in the original. Reaching the fourth stage is a utopia except for the most experienced in the saga.
As can be guessed, the game requires only a two-way stick and an action button, confirming our statement at the beginning of the article: these boards do not serve to test the condition of the cabinet.
Mini-vaders was included with MT series , Canary and Egret Universal Cabinets.
Title: モ グ ラ デ ッ セ (Mogura Desse)
Production / Development: Konami
Japanese release: 1991
Hardware: Z-80 (3 MHz)
ROM size: 256 Kilobits
This test board created by Konami for its new range of universal cabinets Domy was a true advance over the SEGA and Taito test PCBs.
In the same line of simplicity of the aforementioned programs, Mogura Desse is a “whack-a-mole” style game in which the traditional hammer and giant buttons are replaced by a crosshair moved by the stick, and a button to shoot. The game allows you to use three different buttons for the same shot, which makes sense from the point of view of testing the cab.
The action field consists of eight holes with emerging sunglasses-wearing moles. Of course, the objective is limited to hitting as many as possible, with a marker of success ratio.
Although the PCB includes a 3 MHz Z-80 CPU instead of 4 MHz, the game is less crude than the previous one: 4 simultaneous colors from a palette of 32 and simple animations for the moles. Simple but sufficient. The board also includes an audio DAC that can play sound effects, although we will not get to hear more than two different ones.
Clearly, this is the best in this genre of video games. Developed in 1993 (possibly with the launch of the Exceleena cabinet), Battalion is a high-end product compared with the other games.
It’s like a primitive ZX Spectrum or Fujitsu FM-7 game, in that there are several colors, sounds, and even a rudimentary scroll and meritorious zoom effects. In addition, the game has several maps and a scoring system. A mini PCB that looks more like a program developed by Namco rookies.
Curiously, there was a second version with a JVS standard connection, which suggests that it was offered in Namco machines until at least 1998.
Title: タ ー ゲ ッ ト パ ニ ッ ク (Target Panic)
Production / Development: Konami
Japanese release: 1996
Hardware: Z-80 (4 MHz)
ROM size: 256 Kilobits
This test PCB is the most modern of all, but this program presented by Konami for their Windy universal cabinets is the most forgettable among this kind of games.
The game shows a crude field with eight targets which we have to shoot at by moving a crosshair with the stick and a single action button.
There is no color, music or score system. The goal is to shoot down 50 targets; if we clear this objective, the word “extend” appears and we get ten more targets… and that is all.
The worst thing about Target Panic is that it takes about six minutes to load after starting the board, just as if a cassette tape was involved, and the rate at which we have to shoot at the targets is about three shots per minute. A real nonsense game. If someone wants to try it, it is available in MAME.
More than one reader will wonder what the other companies that manufactured and marketed universal cabinets did (Capcom, Jaleco, SNK…). That is a very good question.
Like everything related to this stuff, the existing information is dispersed or directly nonexistent, but it is likely that the cabinets were sold with very old PCB video games. For example, we know that Konami mounted the game Mr. Goemon (1986) for quite some time.
It is possible that other game companies decided to make their own test PCBs, but today there is no information about this possibility.
あ り が と う 魔法 使 い の 森!
This was one of the most demanding articles to write so far, in regards to the hours of documentation needed, and it would not have been possible without the existence of these sites:
Lunatic Obscurity, whose excellent article on Dottori-kun and Minivaders gave us the idea for this work.
G-Front, the blog of the legendary PCB store has excellent photos on testing these boards, which has served to illustrate part of the article.
And above all, Wizforest. His amazing research on these boards has made our job writing the article much easier.
Hello and welcome to BEEP! Game Center, a space for the analysis and dissemination about the young, but very rich video game universe.
Many will wonder: another blog about video games at this point? Yes, but no. Yes, because we believe that there are still niches about them that have not been properly covered. And no, because this is not going to be a common gaming blog.
You may have noticed our slogan: Amusement Video Game Magazine. This phrase, which may sound presumptuous, is simply our principal mission. We want to talk, review, analyze, criticize and reflect on what for us is the video game essence: what is commonly known as the “arcade video game style”.
Today, it finally seems that our common hobby begins to enjoy some acceptance and recognition; today, the video game is an established industry that moves stratospheric figures and has even become an art form, we sing our Requiem for the video game in its original form.
Immediate and unrestrained fun, replayability, and a taste for challenge and difficulty are perhaps the main defining characteristics of traditional video game productions for the arcades, but also for consoles and early home computer software, which we will discuss here, slowly but steadily. Aperiodically, but with passion and intensity. Because we believe in this type of creations, usually lacking the spectacular nature, photo-realism, narrative and high duration of the common contemporary video game, but pure and fun.
Here you will find our opinion and analysis about diverse aspects of our hobby, as well as extensive monographs about hardware and video game genres or styles that needed to be vindicated.
We will be faithful to our style book, which we anticipate will include a special care for the writing quality and an almost absolute attention to the productions of Japanese origin, the real video game mecca.
From the first minute we will be supporting this blog with a self-titled YouTube channel where we will publish “superplays” made by our team (a playthrough without losing lives or with a very high score) and we will take a lot of care in providing the best graphic material possible, creating our own snapshots for each game or, failing that, by choosing the best possible sources. All from a purist and demanding point of view.
We hope to be gradually creditors of a fraction of your time, capture your interest, achieve a space among your favorites and bring our little contribution to something as fascinating as is the VIDEO GAME.
Finally, we would like to send a special greeting to all those readers who have been following us in the Spanish version of our blog despite not mastering the language. Your request for a version in English has finally been heard.