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See the World

April 21, 2016 Haze Categories: General News. 10 Comments on See the World

Most of what we end up emulating these days is incredibly obscure, often forgotten or never even really noticed in the first place.

Arcade game developers didn’t only make traditional arcade games, there is a whole pool of other material that was produced back in the day, as we saw with things like the Waku Waku Sonic Patrol Car, and Sonic Popcorn Shop when they were emulated a few months back.

Those were from Sega, but Capcom was no exception to doing this and a PCB for one of their ‘ride’ machines was found a couple of days ago by a user over at the Arcade Otaku forums.

You can read a bit of background, including a photo of what the cabinet would have looked like, here, but long story short forum user ‘sylphia’ picked up a Capcom CPS1 PCB and the game running on it was not one we knew to run on that hardware, it was an unemulated title quickly established to be ‘Pokonyan Balloon’

Oddly the stickers on the ROM are dated 2002, but all the ingame strings and date code indicate it to be a 1994 release. Anyway, with the game dumped I added it to MAME, CPS hardware is well emulated at this point so it wasn’t a tricky addition. There’s not a great deal more to say about it really because it is meant as an experience for kids (Look at all the backgrounds, look at what’s happening etc.) but the production values are very good, much better than the Sega title IMHO.

Either way, even if there’s not much to ‘play’ that’s never the point, it’s really nice to see this found, dumped and documented, so thanks must go to the generosity of ‘sylphia’ for allowing this to happen.

Here’s a video

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More Clone News

April 19, 2016 Haze Categories: General News. 6 Comments on More Clone News

1945kIII is a game that was released by Oriental in 2000. It’s a surprisingly decent vertical shooter that clearly wanted to cash in on Psikyo’s popular Strikers 1945 series.

1945kIII 1945kIII

At least we thought it was released in 2000, a revision with a 1999 dated title screen showed up and was bought + dumped by system11

1945kIII (1999 version) 1945kIII (1999 version)

The most striking difference is the number of planes on the selection screen, in the 2000 version there are 10 spaces (9 planes + 1 random) in this older 1999 release there are 8 spaces (7 planes + 1 random)

Now, the 2000 release does actually have 10 planes, there’s a special space ship that appears during the random selection in addition to the 9 planes you can select normally.

I thought maybe the 1999 version simply had more planes hidden with unlock codes, or behind the ? and to a point I was correct, one of the normally selectable planes in the 2000 version (Tornado) is in there along with the same secret ship as the 2000 version giving a total of 9 planes.

What isn’t there is the F-117A, and a quick look through the graphic roms shows that the graphics for it aren’t there either, so it really was added to the game between the two releases rather than being a secret.

1945kIII F117-A (2000 version)

The PCB was different too, the 2000 version used an ‘OPCX2’ PCB, with SMT Flash Roms for the graphics, this 1999 release uses regular EPROMS.

A quick test of the old version shows some other differences, for example, pressing ‘Start 1’ on the title screen shows the bookkeeping information, a feature usually present on boards designed for the South American market (many CPS2 games will do this)

1945kIII Bookkeeping

There are some changes to the HUD ingame too, the 2000 version has a little indicator to tell you, with ‘LV1’ ‘LV2’ etc. text the strength of your charge shot in addition to the energy bar. The 1999 version lacks that text, with only the energy bar present.

1945kIII Level Display 1945kIII Level Display (1999 version)

I don’t know if there are other changes affecting the balance of the game, and it might have been a little more of a significant find if the 2000 version had been discovered after the 1999 version, but it does mean we have to rewrite our history books a little to show that the game was released a year earlier than we thought. One question does remain tho, all the select screens show ‘Solite Spirits’ in the background, is that the original title of the game, and do any versions with that title exist?

Another interesting clone is a completely unprotected version of Gaelco’s Touch and Go. As I’ve mentioned before Gaelco’s games are notoriously well protected, so unprotected versions are often our only chance of seeing them emulated. This one was sourced in Korea, much like Glass, and looks to be a 100% genuine unprotected board that never had any of the protection hardware installed.

Touch and Go
Touch and Go
Touch and Go
Touch and Go

There are some sound emulation issues at the moment (and an issue with vertical scrolling, but I’m struggling to work out how you do the special moves that cause the screen to scroll vertically in the first place, I’ve only managed it once but need to figure out how it’s done in order to fix the scroll issue)

Otherwise, the game is fully playable, as you can see from the screenshots it’s a dual screen game. Thanks to system11 for picking this one up too.

System11 also dumped his Bestri board, which again had entirely different graphic roms, and weirdly different protection (the scroll ports are scrambled) I haven’t checked but my best guess is it will use different pictures between round, maybe one being an adult and the other being a clean version. If I work it out I’ll update this post.

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A Neo-Geo dev board

April 10, 2016 Haze Categories: General News. 6 Comments on A Neo-Geo dev board

Sometimes prototypes never really even develop to the point of being a fully playable game but get stuck at the ‘tech demo’ stage where art assets etc. are still being created.

NeoTurfMasta ended up uncovering the board for a Neo-Geo game in this state and posted his findings on neo-geo.com.

We have no idea what the game was destined to be had the project continued, but whatever it is it gives an early glimpse into what could have been. Unfortunately due to the use of SRAM cards for the ‘S1’ ‘M1’ and ‘V1’ ROM data the entire text layer (energy bars etc.) and sound is missing, those things were only meant for short term storage and the batteries had clearly been dead for many many years. Luckily the C rom data and program roms did not use that type of card, so their data survived.

Here’s a video of it running in MAME

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Not All Clones are Identical

April 5, 2016 Haze Categories: General News. 11 Comments on Not All Clones are Identical

A lot of MAME users are quick to dismiss clones as insignificant, not worth even a passing glance, it’s a shame, because quite often there are real differences between them; sometimes the clones are actually superior versions of the game.

The recent Operation Wolf prototype post shows one example of where the discovery of a new clone is actually significant (at least until our emulation of the base sets is improved) but the last few days have actually seen a number of other interesting clones surface too.

First of all Chris (JunoMan) dumped his version of Android.

Android (Newer) Android (Newer)
Android (Newer) Android (Newer)

It does seem to be a newer version, all evidence still suggest that, it has a fully complete high-score table, many more functional dipswitches etc. but at the same time it doesn’t seem anywhere as good as the older version, in fact I haven’t even worked out a strategy for playing it. In the old version you would hit an enemy 3 times with 1 shot time then once with the 2nd to stop them respawning, in this version both shot types are the same and exactly what stops an enemy from respawning seems completely non-obvious. Furthermore, while it does have the ‘Spinning’ enemy (much less common) there are far less frames of animation for it, and the unique aspect of having to slow it down to attack it is gone altogether. I think this version tells the tale of how what was at one point a unique and interesting game lost it’s way, explaining why it was presumably cancelled in the end. (At least we’ve seen nothing to suggest it had any real / widespread release) I’ll do a more indepth coverage of this later, but both releases are so different it makes more sense to treat them as different games rather than clones from a players perspective.

The Japanese version of Beast Busters was also dumped by ShouTime (and a number of bugs fixed in the driver thanks to dink from the FBA team) Aside from being in Japanese this version is a 2 player version whereas the others are 3 player games, this probably means the game balance is changed in places too (although I haven’t confirmed that)

Beast Busters (Japan) Beast Busters
Beast Busters (Japan) Beast Busters

Potentially very interesting too is a new dump of Atomic Robo-Kid. All versions of the game in MAME displayed a ‘Type-2’ message in the corner of the title screen but I never knew why. A new dump showed up where this message isn’t present, also, unlike all the other dumps this version doesn’t share the same data roms meaning there are definitely some changes in the game data (so potentially things like modified enemy spawns / level layouts etc.) I’m not really familiar enough with the game to do a comparison, but if it’s a title you’re a fan of it might be worth digging into this clone a little more as UPL clearly felt the need to indicate ‘Type-2’ in the later versions.

Atomic RoboKid (original release?) Atomic RoboKid (Type-2)

Graphic mods are maybe a bit less interesting, but a version of Moon Alien in which the aliens appear as planes was dumped and it’s called Kamikaze. Oddly this has some of the messiest dipswitches settings I’ve ever seen with most of the original ones wiped out and replaced with a ton of coinage options nobody would ever really want to use. The original coinage dips now control the bonus ship awards yet if set to 70000pts the game still shows the Free Play text on screen despite the fact that Free Play is no longer controlled by that dipswitch; it looks like whoever modded the game forgot to prevent that!

There’s some history behind the company that produced this hack, advertising their products as legitimate new games etc. back in the day only to be caught out. Actually the whole history of these ‘Moon Alien’ sets is a bit of a mystery in the first place, so many sets adding the Moon Alien / Moon Alien Pt.2 type features, but so many different little hacks it’s difficult to know which, if any, are actually legitimate sets.

Kamikaze (Moon Alien) Kamikaze (Moon Alien)

So yeah, those are some of the clone additions of the last few days to watch out for in 0.173.

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A Wolf in Prototype Clothing

April 1, 2016 Haze Categories: General News. 15 Comments on A Wolf in Prototype Clothing

Taito’s Operation Wolf is a game that has been subject to much controversy in emulation circles over the years.

The most popular bootleg of Operation Wolf, known as ‘Operation Bear’ replaced Taito’s C-Chip protection device with a Z80 and extra ROM to reproduce the functions of the original protection device. For a long time people claimed that this bootleg Z80 ROM was a clone of the original, that the C-Chip was actually a Z80 with internal ROM and that the bootleggers had somehow extracted the protection data from the C-Chip and put it in an external ROM.

This didn’t add up tho, there were some very clear discrepancies on the emulation, and while for a long time that’s how the original Operation Wolf was emulated, using the bootleg Z80 code to handle the protection it clearly wasn’t correct.

Later on Bryan McPhail (Mish) decided to write a new simulation of the protection device, one that didn’t make use of the bootleg Z80 rom, but was created using a combination of studying what that ROM did, and tests on the real board. Taito used the C-Chip game very well on this game however, keeping track of lots of little game state things. Studying the Z80 rom proved beyond any remaining doubt that it was not an accurate reproduction of the original, but infact something the bootleggers had come up with. (Things like the way the game handled difficulty were completely broken in the bootleg)

Bryan’s simulation was an improvement *however* there were still numerous reports of things that were ‘missing’ from the emulation of the arcade game. At the time some thought maybe people were just misremembering things, and that the features were not actually present in the arcade game, only the home ports, but as time went by more and more videos showing them missing features surfaced. Eventually we ended up with a full MAMEtesters report with reference videos etc.

Now, while that told us for sure we were doing something wrong, it didn’t really help too much in terms of fixing it, because as I said, the way Taito used the C-Chip was subtle, Taito were *really* good at protecting things in subtle ways (in the case of things like ‘Rumba Lumber’ there’s a weird calculation done after every stage that only really affects how the game loops the level number once you’ve cleared the game for example!)

That’s been the situation for a while anyway, we had a protection simulation that was better than the bootleg, but still known to have flaws. Now, I’m afraid to say that *hasn’t* changed, but what has happened is something maybe even more surprising.

An Operation Wolf PCB was located in Hungary, not exactly the arcade capital of the world. This PCB, while being an original Taito PCB was slightly different to the usual version. Caius picked up this PCB and dumped it, while providing us with some pictures; It looked like this

Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf

Now, immediately obvious is that one of the program roms is in the wrong socket, this could have been worrying at first because it might have indicated this used more roms and some were missing, but no, it was simply a case of a ROM being in the wrong socket.

The program roms are interesting too, they have handwritten labels, and for Taito PCBs this is usually either a sign of one of two things, an unofficial modification / conversion, or a prototype. Maybe most significantly of all however is that this PCB type does not have a C-Chip, the C-Chip being the protection chip Operation Wolf uses.

Trying to ROM swap the roms from this into MAME simply resulted in a ‘TILT’ error rather than the game booting, so it needed some work.

After an evening of work I managed to figure out that the game code definitely wasn’t accessing anything to do with the C-Chip, which would usually handle the inputs (including the Tilt input) and was instead trying to read the inputs from the top bits of the gun port. Adding those in allowed it to boot.

Operation Wolf

The game booted with the usual For Use In Japan disclaimer, so was clearly a board designed for the Japanese market (so quite how it had ended up in Hungary I really don’t know) What was more concerning at this point however was that while the attract mode for the game ran fine, and even exposed an immediate difference in the wording of the ‘Rescue Hostages’ screen, it would hang on the ‘Operation Map’ screen.

Operation Wolf Operation Wolf

Now, what’s interesting about Operation Wolf is that it has a language dipswitch, regardless of region. When that language dipswitch is set to Japanese on the original game you get a ‘Course Selection’ screen at that point, but when it’s set to English you don’t, you just get the ‘Operation Map’. As I’d imported to dips from the basic game it was set to ‘English’ by default. On a hunch I set the language dipswitch to Japanese and instead of the broken Operation Map screen I was greeted with the Course Selection screen, no hang. I asked Caius to try this on the PCB and he said the behaviour was the same, the game would hang / reset with the dipswitch set to English. All signs now clearly pointing at this being a Japanese prototype.

Operation Wolf Operation Wolf

What followed surprised me. At this point I was expecting this to be quite an early prototype as the other Taito prototypes we’ve seen, even early ones, show that English language support got added quite early on, so the hang might indicate this was an early build, although the final MASK roms being used for Graphics on the PCB did suggest otherwise.

I noticed some of the dipswitches had different effects to the final game, the 2 unused ones granted Infinite Health and a hit % bar across the top of the screen (presumably debug features) I was also getting Infinite Ammo, that turned out to be controlled by the dipswitch that on the final game gives discounted continues.

Anyway, I left the cheats on, blasted through the game, all levels were intact, but maybe most significantly, so were the features that people had said were missing from our emulation of the original game. This was a 100% unprotected prototype with everything intact, clearly Taito finished the game before implementing any kind of protection (unlike some other Taito games where the protection was added earlier in development) Here are some screenshots from the Prototype showing things that don’t occur in our emulation of the final game due to the incomplete protection simulation.

Operation Wolf Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf Operation Wolf
Operation Wolf Operation Wolf

From top to bottom
1) A hostage situation at the end of the Jungle level
2) A ‘The Enemy Has Located You’ random event that can occur before any one of the stages once during a loop
3) The camera panning up at the end of the final level for the final few enemies, showing the building tops and sky rather than the ground.

The game seems to be basically be complete, all levels are present, and it loops, as you’d expect to the dusk / nighttime 2nd loop if you complete the first loop without ‘failing the mission’

I also recorded a YouTube video (with the cheats turned on) to show these features in the prototype.

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What remains to be seen is if this prototype gives us enough information to improve our protection simulation on the original game. Eventually we would like to be able to dump the C-Chips and emulate the protection properly, as a CPU running the protection code, but right now we still don’t have a viable method for doing that, Taito did a good job of securing the chips.

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