The story of a home brew that redefined what it means to be a home brew: Part 1 the morality of home brews.

A kid turns on a small, square shaped tube television set his parents kept in the basement for some reason. Hooked up to the TV is a square, mostly gray box. Inside the box is a tiny little rectangular piece of plastic that holds some computer program inside a ROM chip. The kid turns the TV to channel 3, pushes the piece of plastic down into the slider, closes the lid hits the power button with fingers crossed the game turns on this time glitch free. If everything lined up perfectly, the cart was cleaned, the console was dust free, the stars aligned just right, the game would begin. If not, the ritual of blowing into the cart, wiping the spit/grime of with a Q-tip, then jiggling the cart in, shaking it, pushing reset 25 times, etc., would commence in hopes things would find a way to get to work.

Everyone that was a Nintendo gamer in the 1980’s went through a similar ritual at least more than once in his or her life. The reality was the NES, as fondly was we try to remember it, was actually a terrible product. It required constant maintenance, care, cleaning, the cords were fragile and easy to bend, the controllers, while sturdy, were made of a very hard plastic that could crack or break if not taken care of properly. It had sharp edges that dug into kids hands, the console it self was sharp edges that if you weren’t careful could stub a toe on or hit an elbow or in some cases just jam a finger trying to shove the stupid cart into the machine. While any game would legitimately have GOOD memories of the games they played, when they in fact worked, more often than not we tend to push aside the negative memories we really have of the NES and allow blind nostalgia take us on a trip down memory lane.

One of the reasons we forget is, aside from a small subset of eccentric collectors, most gamers don’t actually play their old NES games on physical NES systems anymore. In fact, even a growing number of those who do play using PHYSICAL carts, do so on either refurbished consoles with extra money put into keeping the machine working, or in those increasing cases, play on a clone console that actually, compatibility issues aside, works better in many cases. The need to own a physical cart is even supplanted, but still satisfied by those who purchase a FLASH cart and load it up with ROMS. The point is there are a lot of different ways to enjoy an old NES game, playing the original cart on original hardware worry free is not the number one way of doing so. Despite that there remains a retro and home brew gaming scene who prey on the customers who have desires to relive, a false version of their childhood. These people are not all predators, some are but most are just coders who have fond memories of the NES and want to share their games with others. The problem is some of them take it a step too far, going as far as implementing copy protections on games they didn’t actually create, they really just took someone else’s design and made a port, calling it their own work and preventing others from playing the games the way most gamers actually DO play NES games, on a emulator minus all the hassle of tracking down all the satanic little emblems you need to make your retro machine work. Hyperbole aside, I have never in my life had a good experience picking up a USEd NES cart, inserting it into an original NES and it just worked. Not even when I was a kid and the machine was fairly new. We would rent games from the video store and I would spend the first half an hour or so just fighting the stupid thing to get it to work. You only had a game for the weekend if you were lucky or 1 night if it was a new release, so every second you spent twisting and tugging on carts was precious sec onds you would have been playing, what could have ended up being a shitty LJN game.

If you put aside the fact that most people don’t game on physical hardware, then why is it scummy for a programmer to charge money for a ROM they programmed? They put in the work and time after all? Honestly, it’s not scummy to charge for your time or work. It is, however pretty shady if the work you did was merely just porting a game some other creative person actually thought up and created decades back. If all you are doing is copying someone else’s work I, personally, think you have no right to sell it to the general public. If you want to sell your work to a collector, the physical cartridge, the art work, the case, etc., fine by all rights, but when a programmer, or coder, ports a game from another system, or just hacks a rom and calls it their own, to me that is kind of shady.

At the very least, if you can get permission from the original programmer, or their blessing then by all means do so. Sometimes copyrights are infringed but they can be done so in certain contexts without repercussions. My stance has always been respect the copy rights of those who do the actual creative work, not the pirates who stand to profit off other peoples work yet claim it as their own.

I do understand as a new programmer, especially one unwilling to actually go to college and get a job in the industry, starting out you need to get experience somewhere and porting other games to a new platform, or writing a clone program is certainly a very TRUE and legit way of honing your skills. However, make sure you let people know your CLONE is just that. I am okay with clones existing and if you want to sell a clone game by all rights you should be able to do that, as long as your clone is at least somewhat original or at the very least going to a good cause.

I did some digging into the behind the scenes development of a few different clone games, some home brew games and some rom hacks. There are cases of games like Battle Kid where the game is truly original the programmer has every right to brag about what his or her team accomplished. Games like Pier Solar are cornerstones of the home brew and aftermarket industry. Then you have the 150 thousand Super Mario Bros and Sonic 1 rip offs that just alter the sprites, rearrange the levels and try to pass it off as something original.

All of this has to have some middle ground. While I certainly do not in any way begrudge a programmer cutting his or her teethe on doing a rom hack or a home brew that is basically a clone of another game, there needs to be some honor in doing it. First, you should make sure people are fully aware it is a CLONE and do your best to reference the original game, if you CAN give credit to the original programmer, and better still if you can at least make an effort to reach and and get said programmers blessing more than anything great fantastic.

There are examples of some scummy home brew hacks who profit off other people’s work, I won’t list them you can dig up the dirt your self, google home brew. There is one hack in particular who just did a straight port of a certain PC game to a long dead nobody cared about console, I won’t say more than that except it’s not even a clone he did it entirely as a straight port. This, to me, is a gray area closer to don’t even bother. Now if it’s an open source game go ahead.

Then there is the example I want to highlight if you are still reading. This is a two-part story, part one set the stage, which is all the opinion above. Keep in mind my opinions are just that, my opinions and are meant to get people thinking. There is no need to attack me, argue with me, or hate me for getting people to think. If you disagree, share that, explain, in a civilized way, why you disagree and maybe I will listen to what you have to say. I often make claims not as my own but just to get people to really think about things so they can defend their stance.

That being said, I do think home brew games are fantastic, and when they do get a physical release for the collectors to enjoy, I am all for that. I think roms should ALWAYS be dumped at some point, minus copy protection because one, if nobody is copy protecting Mario or Zelda games, games Nintendo still profits off, then they shouldn’t be copy protecting their own roms. Two, I believe that roms should always be available for preservation purposes even of new games. The reason, the collectors who WILL pay for the game are not going to download a rom and those who WILL download the rom were NEVER going to pay for the physical cart in the first place. If you want to hold the rom until you know the collectors who want carts all have it and then dump it, DRM free at a later date, fair enough, do that. But holding a rom hostage, especially when its not a 100 percent original work, is shady at the very least. Holding roms hostage when it’s a rom hack or a prototype is 100 percent scummy, UNLESS you are the actual copy right holder and you just don’t want your failures made public, that is your right.

So when is it okay to charge for a rom and when should you limit the audience of your game? In the case of Battle Kid, that is an easy answer. If the game is 100 percent original and you did the work, then preventing people from stealing your work is your right. I also agree that Nintendo has a right to prevent you from playing Super Mario Bros. on your PC, support them buy a 3DS if you can’t stomach the Wii U, and download the rom from their virtual console. If a game was released by a company that no longer exists, and the only people who profit are re-sellers of used copies, then by all rights pirate that game all day long if you so desire. It’s technically illegal but it’s close enough to fair use you should be able to justify it.

What about when a programmer takes an existing game, say Pac-Man, and ports it to a system it never had an official release, say the Channel F, as an example? Should this person have a right to copy protect THAT rom? No, because it’s not their work. They have a right to burn the rom to physical carts and sell those to all of the collectors that are willing to pay a price for it, but copy protecting that rom is wrong and should not be tolerated. However, come on if you aren’t buying a physical copy why would you want to play an inferior port if there is no historical context? As bad as it is I do re-play the Atari 2600 version of Pac-Man from time to time, because it has historical value and I had it as a kid, there is nostalgia. Nobody had Pac-Man on their TG-16, it was never ported officially to that, so if a rom hacker makes a port of that game and sells it, that is fine for a CART but wrong, in my opinion, to sell a ROM. Even releasing the ROM to Steam is wrong, not to mention that is actually illegal no question.

But what if its a clone. Not a true port but a game made to resemble another game? KC Munchkin was considered a Pac-Man clone. While I disagree with the courts decision to pull it from shelves, the fact remains it was pretty much a clone. However, there is historical context there and nostalgia. What about porting PC games to non-PC systems, or would it be okay to port Super Mario Bros. not a rom, not an emulation but a re-programmed straight port, or clone even if you will, a la, Giana Sister, to a PC? I think even this is acceptable to do, but not to profit off.

Here is where I draw the line. A truly original work that is your own, charge money for it protect your copy right until your death and leave it in your will to someone you love. If it’s just a labor of love, a practice, a port of someone else’s work to a system that didn’t already have that game, if you want to sell the physical cart to collectors fine but let the rom go to those who will download it do so. I mean as a gamer myself I don’t download rom hacks or games that didn’t exist anyways, like I said I need historical context or else I have no interest in playing Mortal Kombat on a SNES, I would be better playing the actual arcade port on PS3 or the rom on MAME.

Check back for part 2 as I investigate an outlier I think did it right, but did leave room for error.

 

30 NES games to get started

In a few months Nintendo is planning on releasing the SNES Classic Edition. As a follow up to the popular but under-produced NES Classic Edition, I expect this thing to be quite popular with gamers and collectors. However, due to scarcity and the fact the NES mini has already been discontinued, I thought I would write a 30 NES games to start up a collection for the lapsed gamer who might want to get back into NES gaming, but who doesn’t want to shell out the money for an NES mini. This list is based on my own preferences but I think it should be a good reflection of the NES library. I think these are 30 games that any gamer should pick up early on when starting their NES collection. I might write similar guides or lists for other consoles if I enjoy this enough. Also I am not ranking these, this is not a top 30 NES games, so the order is not that important these are just the 30 games I personally feel every NES collectors should get right away.

1. Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt

The first game every collector should have is the most obvious one. Seriously, if you are trying to go back in time to revisit the NES, or you are a kid just discovering it for the first time there is no other game as iconic or important as this game. There are different variations and combinations of these two games, but the classic SMB/Duck Hunt cart is the most obvious one to get.

2. Duck Tales

This game gets a lot of attention, and with good reason. The cartoon was classic, the tune is catchy, the characters are very retro and the game play is fantastic. What more can I say? I was trying to avoid games that rely so heavily on nostalgia, but fortunately Capcom recently upgraded this game on modern consoles as DuckTales Remastered, so it has the potential to reach a younger audience thus not relying entirely on nostalgia.

3. Batman

Probably the best action/platformer on the console and certainly one of, if not the best, comic book/super hero games in the NES library. A great game with good music, fun game play, decent challenge, and great graphics for the console. Also based on an amazing movie that is still worth revisiting while you are at it.

4. Iron Tank

Not everyone is going to pick a random tank combat game, but I think if you are going to get serious about NES collecting you need this game in your collection. It’s not as well known as some of the other games you hear banded about, but it’s still a lot of fun. This is one of those “NES hard” games where the difficulty is going to turn some people away, but the game play, the graphics, and the challenge all make it a very worthy game to add to your collection quite early on.

5. Legend of Zelda

Most people this will be either their first or second purchase. This game is so icon it practically defines the entire NES generation. I can’t say enough good things about this game, I played it to death as a kid, so much in fact the battery died in my cart.

6. TMNT 2: The Arcade Game

I could just say buy all 3 games, 4 if you count the fighting game, but I think this is probably the one to start with. Save the first for when you are padding your collection and get 3 when you are ready for more beat-em-ups. I say start with 2 because it’s the easiest to pick up and play, its the most iconic, it is based on the arcade game so it has that retro arcade feel to it, and it’s the one based most off the cartoons so would be the most familiar to a lot of people. The first game is good too but I recommend 2 for an early collector.

7. Dr. Mario

It shouldn’t take you too long to pick up this game. It’s arguably the best puzzle game on the console, and certainly a higher priority to me than Tetris. Although Tetris is well known, chances are you have multiple copies of Tetris spread across however many gaming platforms you have, so why not put off getting Tetris and start with the, in my opinion, superior game anyways?

8. A Nightmare on Elm Street

I know this game gets a lot of hate, especially since a certain Youtuber trashed it so famously. Still it’s actually not that bad of a game. The common criticism of it not having that much to do with the movies aside, which I would argue it actually does the job of re-creating the nightmare just fine, it does have its flaws. Still, as a HUGE Nightmare on Elm Street fan, I personally love this game, warts and all. It’s actually a decent, crazy fun 4-player experience. Sure you likely won’t beat it without cheating, but honestly how many NES games can you beat without cheating anyways? Also, part of the charm in collecting NES carts is revisiting the 80’s, and nothing is more 80’s than Freddy Krueger.

9. Casltevania

I try not list the obvious games but since this isn’t a top 30 list and it certainly isn’t a list of hidden gems, I figured this is just one of those iconic games every NES collector needs in their collection, and fairly early on too. I won’t get too into it, the game launched one of the longest running horror franchises in gaming history.

10. Super Mario Bros. 3

I would almost suggest getting these games in reverse order, starting with 3, then 2 and ending up with 1. Either way, all three of them belong in your NES collection, but the first and 3rd certainly belong in your first 30 for sure.

11. Pac-Man/Ms. Pac-Man

Take your pick, get either the Namco licensed ones or the unlicensed Tengen carts, Mr. or Ms. Pac-Man both games are good, and either one should be early purchases. I strongly believe that both of these games are just true staples in gaming history that should never be over looked. Personally I love them both equally and can never choose one over the other. But for the sake of this list, and because money could be an issue for most people, you should be good to pick one and have hours of fun from time to time.

12. P.O.W.

I love arcade games. A lot of the best arcade games from the NES library can certainly be found on modern consoles for sure. If you are going to start a collection, I would recommend going after this game over some of the more common, heavily talked about games. You might be surprised at how much you enjoy it. Sure it’s not the best game to begin with, but it’s a good pick up and play action game for the NES reminiscent of the classic arcade experience.

13. Contra

Speaking of great arcade ports… Seriously Contra is practically *the* NES game to collect at this point. It’s a great run and gun, it’s a great 2 player action game, and it’s a fantastic port of an arcade game. Most people say this version is actually superior to the real arcade version it is based on, I happen to be one of those people.

14. 3-D Battles of the World Runner

You are going to be collecting NES games you have plenty of time to pick up the staples. Why not get a quirky game that makes good use of the 3D gimmick while also being another throw back to awesome arcade game play. It’s a pretty decent “Space Harrier” clone if you want to get down to it, and it’s a lot of fun.

15. Popeye

Another arcade classic. I played Popeye so much as a kid. I actually enjoyed it even more than the famous Donkey Kong arcade hit. Granted the game hasn’t aged all that well and yes it mostly is just a Donkey Kong clone, albeit an official one if you want to get down to it. Still the game is fun, the music is catchy and if you are looking for a nice little arcade game to get you going this is as good a place as any to start, and let’s be honest do you really want to just get DK like everyone else or wouldn’t you rather have this, a game that is unique and probably a little more collectible than DK? I know I would.

16. Ninja Gaiden

I almost didn’t want to pick this one, first, it’s too obvious, second, its super hard. But let’s be real if you are looking to collect NES games this is going to be one of your first 30 purchases for sure. It’s a great game totally worthy of all the praise. Is it hard, HELL YEAH, but it’s also very fun.

17. The Simpsons: Bart vs. The World

You need at least one bad game in your collection to start off with, might as well get one that makes for a good talking piece right? Is the game bad, yes, but let’s be real the purpose of collecting the physical carts if you are going that route is to relive the 80’s, Simpsons games were terrible but we all played them, we all rented them over and over knowing they were bad but somehow hoping against all hope that if we just got good enough we might uncover a good game underneath. Also it’s not all bad, it does have some decent mini games and unlike the other games, it does have a coherent story, at least as coherent as an episode of the cartoon.

18. Zelda II: Adventure of Link

Love it or hate it you need this game in your collection ASAP. I personally loved it. In fact I can’t decide which Zelda game I enjoy more, I honestly put equal amounts of time into playing each one. I have owned every re-release of both Zelda NES games and I highly recommend both as a good starting point, and bonus, you get a little variety in the gameplay if you get this one and the first early on.

19. Blades of Steel

I don’t typically recommend getting sports games right away. I prefer to put them off until I have had a good library of non-sports games and then slowly pick them off one at a time. This is one of the better sports games on the console. Even if you don’t like sports NES sports games are mostly pretty good. This is certainly more fun to play than a game of baseball or golf, in my opinion. I might even do a separate list of the best NES sports games, who knows.

20. Joust

I know, another classic arcade game. What can I say, the NES was billed as an arcade in your living room, and it was so much better at delivering on that promise than everything that came before it. Joust is a good game, it’s a fairly good port, and I think it’s a game any collector should pick up because it’s just so easy to pick up and play.

21. Battletoads

It’s divisive to most but it’s still a good game, mostly. This is another one of those ‘NES hard’ games that is more frustrating than fun, but it has so much 80’s charm it’s just totally worth buying just for the humorous moments. Grab a friend and just have at it. The game is not just hard it is extremely hard, but any NES collector who wants to be taken seriously needs to add this game to their collection as early as they can.

22. Anticipation

One of those quirky NES games that just captures the spirit of the decade perfectly. Over the top, lots of mini games and puzzles, multiplayer, and it’s just got so much going on how can you turn this down?

23. Mega Man 2

I could just say pick any random one but we all know 2 is the one to get.

24. Little Nemo Adventures in Slumberland

I don’t know what the internet reaction to this game is, I haven’t really read many reviews, but I personally enjoyed it so much as a kid. Now, A Nightmare on Elm Street is one of my favorite movies, and part of that is I love the idea of a dream world. This game, and the movie, both do a very good job capturing that part of the imagination. This one is hard also, but seriously if you are playing NES games you should expect to pick up a few hard ones as you go.

25. Blaster Master

Here is a game that does get named a lot, but usually in hidden gems discussions. With the recent remaster on Switch, what better time than starting up a new NES collection to buy this classic? The game might not be on the top of anyone’s lists, it’s still a super fun, not overly difficult action game with some pretty original gameplay.

26. Ghosts N Goblins

If you thought I was going to make a list of 30 NES games to start your collection and leave off this game, you were nuts. Again, yes, it is an arcade game, and yes it is difficult, but by now hard/arcade ports are pretty much the best games to get on the NES, at least when you are getting back into it or just getting started.

27. Star Wars

I know the SNES games are better, but it’s Star Wars how can you not get excited? I happen to enjoy the 8-bit version slightly more than the SNES one at times because the driving isn’t as clumsy as it is in the 16-bit versions. They only made 2 for the NES, both are good but this is the one to get first.

28. Kid Icarus

It was either this or Metroid and I think getting started you will have more fun exploring a game that doesn’t have a bazillion sequels/remakes. The game is fun, but hard and this time it’s not even based on an arcade game.

29. Wild Gunman

You need more than one light gun game especially if you do get Duck Hunt early on with the Zapper, you’re going to want a second game to justify having the Zapper and shelling out money on that CRT tube TV set you had to in order to get it to play right. Also it was featured in Back to the Future, albeit as an arcade game which it was not originally. Still a fun game and very much worth getting early on.

30. Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers

Much like DuckTales this game is just a blast to play. The 2 player action is fantastic, the game really captures the essence of the show quite well and despite being released recently on modern consoles, it still holds up quite well as a great retro NES game.

There you have it, 30 great NES games to get you started on your journey to collecting for one of the greatest, most beloved home video game consoles of all time.

 

 

 

Getting back into PC gaming

I have decided I am going to start getting back into PC game collecting as well as PC gaming. I don’t know what my budget for this is going to be, fortunately I come across old PC games usually very cheap at thrift stores and yard sales all of the time. My new rule is I am not going to be buying games to play, I am only collecting the disks/packaging for the sake of it, I will rely on Steam, GoG, Origin, etc., for the purchase of games. As for shareware and “abandonware” titles, well I will resort to those means at my disposable.

What got me back into PC collecting?

For starters, I have nearly reached the limits of what I am capable of in terms of console gaming. Not that I own every console game I wish to own, or console for that matter, but what I mean is I have shifted my console gaming collection to mostly digital for playing and only buying physical games where the digital version is not a viable option. I would love to have the time and money to purchase and track down classic retro NES games, but with the market being what it is, the economy being down, and my limited funds all around, I just don’t see this happening any time soon. PC games on the other hand are cheap, dirt cheap n most cases. It can cost a lot of money if I wanted to get into buying big box games or complete games with all the little trinkets and inserts, but that is not what I am going for.

My goal is just to pick up the main games, if the game came on a floppy disk, I intend to buy that, if it came on a CD-ROM, I want the CD-ROM. I do want collectible condition, however, so I will look for CD games that come in the jewel case with booklets, basically the same thing I would get if I were looking for a PS1 game, but I don’t necessarily need to buy the cardboard box with all the papers, booklets, and collectible stuff that was often included. I understand for many collectors that is their goal, and if that is you go for it. Not me, not now. I do want to attempt to amass a reasonably sizeable collection, but I want to realistically meter my expectations so that I stick to buying those items I can hope to find without spending a ton of time or money tracking down the extra rare stuff.

Now if I happen to come a cross a complete in box collectible game for a good price, sure I will pick it up. But since I am resorting to, let’s just say less than official, means of playing these games, I am not exactly interested in the little key codes or maps, etc., that came with the games. In fact, I don’t even have a floppy disk drive to be able to install most of these old games in the first place. Not only that, but I am running Windows 10 64-Bit, most of these retro, old school, and classic PC games are going to be completely incompatible with my system, and I have no intention of buying old hardware just to run old games.

Because loose games with instructions can typically be found at yard sales, thrift stores, flea markets, and the like,  usually for just a couple bucks, I fully intend to focus on buying the cheap stuff, at least for now. It’s no different, to me, than if I were to get back into NES collecting, I would most certainly be going for just loose carts only, heck I wouldn’t even be that interested in getting dust covers or instruction books, at this point.

As far as playing on “original” hardware. I am a Windows Gamer through and through, so there is no chance I will ever be without at least some form of semi-current PC machine, technically these games are all running on “original” hardware or at least compatible hardware, to some extent.

Part of what motivated me to get back into collecting is watching Metal Jesus Rocks videos on Youtube, and listening to the CUPodcast with Ian and Pat. I do see the merits for going for complete games with all the fun little artifacts, but I also have limit funds, as well as limited space.