The Hyper Train
Early 2023 saw some big video emulation improvements made to the SNK Hyper NeoGeo 64 driver.
Fatal Fury Wild Ambition would benefit from greatly improved ground rendering, improved hit effects, correct colours on some 3D elements, improved priorities with background objects against the 3D, removal of corruption on the title screen, and even some visual tricks such as the sprite cutting effect on the ‘VS’ screen now working as expected.
Buriki One, while, at the time of writing, still having an obviously incorrect title screen and a number of other issues, benefited more than many of the others from the improvements. The ring is now correct, as is the priority of the jumbotron, and the many effects used by the advertisments on it. The split-screen effect used by intro sequences for the characters is emulated, as are some colour fade effect used to tint the colours on it, tournament trees between rounds are visible, zooming effects on text etc. are much better, and overall the game is significantly more playable.
Xtreme Rally / Off Beat Racer benefited from improved 3D display list handling, fixing the ‘stuck’ 3D elements, as well as corrected texturing, and improved priorities, allowing backgrounds to be swapped at various points during the courses. Mesh sprites also provide dust effects on the roads, fade register handling allows for the bonnet to darken in 1st person mode in the tunnels, and texture scroll support provides fake sky reflections in the car windows.
Roads Edge benefited much in the same way as Xtreme Rally, as well as from the moasic effect used when presenting the vehicles in attract mode.
Beast Busters 2nd Nightmare benefited heavily from improved priorities, with the HUD (including Continue countdown) now always visible. A flag to disable backface culling means the bus is now visible for the first boss too. Improvements to sprite zoom improved other areas, such as when a bomb is used.
Samurai Shodown 64 benefitted from improved priorities, blending, 4bpp textures and more, leading to a much more faithful looking experience.
Much of what can be said about Samurai Shodown 64 also applies to the sequel, Warrior’s Rage, where use of the Moasic effect during hits is also prominent.
Playstation 1 Hardware in the 2000s
It’s still early in the year at the point I’m adding this piece of progress to the page, but I think it will end up being the biggest piece of news of 2023. Several of the games on Namco’s System 10 hardware, a heavily protected Playstation based platform used in the early 2000s, were promoted to working state, having previously not booted. The System 10 library included a number of classic Namco puzzle games.
Mr Driller 2 is, as the name would suggest, the 2nd arcade entry in the Mr Driller series, and maybe the most famous of these Namco classics. It saw a worldwide release, with MAME supporting Japan, US, and European/Export sets.
A slightly lesser known follow-up Mr Driller G (where G stands for Great) was possibly a Japan only release. It makes the previously locked out ‘Space’ stage available by default, along with one further stage, adds more playable characters and generally acts as a more content-complete version of the 2nd entry without changing too much.
Star Trigon is a spin-off from the Mr Driller series, featuring the same cast of characters but this time in a space themed puzzle game which uses only 2 buttons in total, with the majority of the gameplay relying on just a single one. Again likely a Japanese only release.
Apart from the Mr Driller series, the most recognizable Namco title on the hardware is the 3rd Point Blank game, known as Gunbalina in Japan, and simply Point Blank 3 everywhere else. The game was also released on the original Playstation and in this case the arcade is a strangely downgraded version of it, having a very ugly version of the intro FMV because the NAND ROMs used by the arcade don’t have the capacity of a CDROM and a decision was made to keep the FMV, but drop the framerate of it right down in order to have it fit.
Uchuu Daisakusen: Chocovader Contactee is a bizzare Alien themed variety game, with a selection of off the wall minigames themed around aliens coming to Earth.
In addition to first party entries a number of 3rd party developers used the System 10 board and it was host to the final arcade games Mitchell Corporation would put out, with both titles remaining exclusive to the arcades having never been ported.
Kono e Tako is the more obscure of the pair of Mitchell games, it’s a puzzle game where you can swap pieces between the left and right sides using a ‘pick up’ and ‘throw’ mechanic. Other than that twist, it’s still based on a simple matching mechanic, but that simple yet still unique style of gameplay leads to an addictive challenge.
Gamshara while no less uncommon to have seen back in the day, is a better known game, as it’s arcade exclusivity combined with it being a rare example of a popular genre means many have sought it out over the years and recorded footage from their PCBs.
In addition to Mitchell Corporation, Metro also worked with the System 10 board, putting out a 2-in-1 title Gekitoride-Jong Space, which is surprisingly playable even with only basic knowledge of Mahjong tiles.
GAHAHA Ippatsudou was a collaboration between Namco and Metro, surprisingly it got an English language release. Much like Konami’s Bishi Bashi series, and the previously mentioned Chocovader, this is a collection of wacky minigames.
The sequel, GAHAHA Ippatsudou 2, expands on the original game adding new minigames and allows the player to select which game they want to play more directly. The currently emulated set is a Japanese set, it is unknown if this sequel was localized.
Kotoba no Puzzle Mojipittan is a Japanese puzzle game that we can be quite sure didn’t get localized, the mechanics are based around the Japanese language, it simply wouldn’t work in English
The System 10 platform was also home to the early entries in the Taiko no Tatsujin series, which as far as we’re aware was still exclusive to Japan at that point.
The original Taiko no Tatsujin is not supported at the time of writing but Taiko no Tatsujin 2 is
Taiko no Tatsujin 3 was also emulated
Taiko no Tatsujin 4 did not want to feel left out
Taiko no Tatsujin 5 keeps the formula going
Taiko no Tatsujin 6 was the final numbered entry in the series running on the System 10 platform.
Taiko no Tatsujin 6 wasn’t however the final System 10 Taiko no Tatsujin game. Taiko no Tatsujin RT: Nippon no Kokoro was a very special release using the same hardware. This game wasn’t designed for arcades, but instead for use in places such as hospitals and retirement homes. It doesn’t accept coins, and is instead locked to a freeplay mode. It also only the easier difficulty settings (including a ‘free drum’ mode) and just 20 songs, 19 of which are old Japanese folk songs, with only a single Namco original track. Due to not strictly being an arcade game this would have likely not been supported had System 10 been emulated a decade ago, but these days with the wider scope for the project support it sits proud alongside the other System 10 titles.
On the stranger end of the spectrum is a game about stand-up comedy routines, where the controller is a life-sized doll that you have to slap at the appropriate times in order to get the desired audience reaction. Going by the name Tsukkomi Yousei Gips Nice Tsukkomi, it’s entirely in Japanese, and basically unplayable without knowledge of the language. It’s one of 3 games on the platform known to be using a subboard with an MP3 decoder chip, and additional CPU to drive said chip making it more computationally expensive to emulate. Maybe surprisingly the Taiko no Tatsujin games did not use anything similar.
Seishun-Quiz Colorful High School also made use of the MP3 decoder, and once again requires knowledge of Japanese to play, as it’s a Japanese Quiz game.
Golgo 13: Juusei no Requiem is the 3rd Golgo 13 game on Namco hardware, with the first two entries in the series being on one of Namco’s other Playstation based boards, System 12. This one also uses the MP3 decoder board.
Uncommon Older Arcades
It’s surprising how often previously unknown games still show up. Spanish developed Top Driving is one such game. A PCB turned up, and short work was made of getting it up and running in MAME. The game was put out by Proyesel and is the hardware is similar to the TCH / Proyesel games Action Hollywood and Kick Goal, but thankfully without the pesky sound PIC.
When Top Driving did show up, a lot of people recognized it as looking very similar to a game we did know about, but had never located. That game, going by the title Mortal Race was said to run on the same hardware as Steel Force, not the Proyesel board powering Top Driving. Digging through the ROMs to Top Driving also showed that a title logo for Mortal Race was present, but there was no code to use it, deepening the mystery.
Not long after, a board for Mortal Race did show up, and it was indeed running on Steel Force hardware, and the copyright display shows the original developer of the game, New Dream Games, rather than Proyesel, suggesting Proyesel had no hand in this version. It also has significantly different gameplay, with a stronger focus on the rally aspect, rather than racing other vehicles, additional set pieces in the tracks, and even an additional vehicle and set of tracks. It is not clear which game was released first.
Akazukin is a release from Sigma that appears to have seen distribution in Japan and Italy based on those who remember playing it back in the day. Often remembered as Little Red Riding Hood, or rather the localized name for that story ‘Cappuccetto Rosso’ in Italy it is one that has been asked about a few times over the years, and a board would finally surface in 2023.
F2 System Ltd was a Korean developer, and the forgettably named Solitaire, put out in 1999, is exactly what it sounds like, an arcade Solitaire game. It features pre-rendered graphics like many F2 System games, which in this case ends up being unintentionally spooky.
While dgPix was mostly known for their adult themed games, a handful of music games exist under their name too. The first of these, Let’s Dance is a Dance Dance Revolution clone with some obviously unlicensed songs, such as Way of the Stars, featuring plenty of Star Wars imagery.
The other dgPix music game is Beat Player 2000. This one also features a bunch of unlicnesed material, and is more of a Beatmania clone. Unfortunately this one still has issues with hanging in places.
Daifugo is an old Japanese card game that Sega licensed
Wanpaku Safari is a Sega ride for kids on ST-V (Saturn type) hardware
2023 saw major fixes to long term regressions with the Microprose 3D driver, bringing it back up to a playable state with proper sound emulation. A new version of Microprose’s attempt at creating a 3D tank game was also added. This version, titled Super Tank Attack is newer than the previously found Tank Battle game, and is no longer forced split-screen in single player mode. Overall this is a much more polished version of the game.
When Kaneko’s Pack’n Bang Bang was found and added to MAME some years back it was assumed the game never saw a release; the supported set was incomplete and prone to crashing if you continued at certain points in the game; a prototype not even of location test quality. It was therefore of great surprise when another, seemingly complete version of the game using mask ROMs for graphics (suggesting the intent for a relatively wide production run) turned up.
This version has redrawn sprites and far too many smaller changes to otherwise cover here, and unlike the prototype version, is a stable game.
Crazy Mazey from Game-A-Tron is technically a hack of Pacman on Galaxian hardware, but it presents itself as a new game, with a complete reskin of the graphics, new audio, and a (rather bad) attempt at implementing a new game mechanic. Much like Lock’n’Chase there are doors in the playfield which will close and block your movement. In this case they only seem to block movement after a corner though, otherwise you can pass straight through.
Moving back to Playstation type hardware briefly, this time Namco’s System 12 and we see that 2023 introduced support for Un Jammer Lammy NOW! which was an attempt to bring the popular Playstation music game to the arcades. The version supported is a Japanese release, although it has an English option in service mode. It is unclear if the game ever officially left Japan as even in Japan it seems to be an incredibly uncommon game.
Truck Kyosokyoku is another running on Namco System 12 for which support was fixed around the same time Un Jammer Lammy NOW! was added. It’s a truck driving simulator / racing game with a comedic tone.
One of the more enjoyable sides of emulation to follow comes in the form of improvements to older drivers, for example, discoveries that enable internal ROMs of protection MCUs to be dumped that mean old protection simulations can be replaced with proper emulation of the protection devices.
One group of MCUs for which a reliable dumping method was found in 2023 was the Toshiba TLCS90 family. These MCUs were used on a number of arcade games, of note NMK used them to for protection on several games.
The biggest improvement from emulating one of these MCUs using the proper data can be seen in Double Dealer, which despite being marked as ‘Working’ for many years, has never had proper scoring or coin support. Furthermore there were other emulation issues, such as incorrect music tempo, that were fixed when the driver was revisited.
Two classic NMK arcade shooters also benefitted from this change. Hacha Mecha Fighter previously only had a working bootleg conversion set, and a prototype; the original set didn’t work 100% correctly due to the protection simulation being incomplete. That is now fixed.
The other NMK shooter to benefit was Thunder Dragon. This one is less noteworthy as there was already, what was presume to be, an unprotected set, that was fully functional. The MCU dump allows the protected version to function correctly too however.
Jaleco also used TLCS90 series MCUs on the Mega System 1 B and C type boards, as a protected IO controller. While the end user likely isn’t going to notice the effect of this being implemented it does make the emulation more complete.
Taking the time to revisit the driver did provide a window to fix some other bugs and improve other aspects of the emulation however. The ‘Press Start’ text effect on Saint Dragon now works correctly too.
Further research on the Type A Megasystem 1 games showed that those did not use an MCU at all, but rather a gate array as protection. This led to another discovery, that Shingen Samurai-Fighter has never worked properly in MAME due to a delayed protection check. It had often been reported that the game would randomly reset, but the reason was previously unknown. A better understanding of the protections involved allowed it to be fixed.
Intel 8751 MCUs have been dumpable for a few years now, although the process isn’t 100% reliable. One game to make use of such an MCU is Capcom’s Avengers. The game uses the MCU to control enemy movement and upload game palettes. This one took a bit of finding as Capcom hid the MCU underneath another chip!
Outside of the Arcades
The Casio Loopy was, if we’re being kind, a misguided attempt to bring gaming to young girls. Emulation of it has been difficult because not only did it had a ROM internal to the SH1 CPU, but also unneccessary complex video hardware for what is basically little more than a toy to create and print stickers. Even now the sound hardware remains unemulated as that is likely another CPU with an internal ROM. Otherwise the system became functional in MAME in 2023.
Another misguided product was the Video Art from LJN. This notoriously bad system was quickly consigned to the history books upon release but in more recent years has ended up in the spotlight due to the ridicule it has recieved online for just how badly designed and executed it was. 2023 was the year running it in MAME became a reality, and with all 9 cartridges also supported there’s no need to break out the squeaky joystick again.
Plug and Play
2023 wasn’t a year that saw much activity when it came to XaviX related material, although a single Evio cartridge “I Love Classic 2” was dumped. The violin controller is still not emulated properly, but you can listen to the songs in the demo mode.
The Game Zone II 128-in-1 is a famiclone, but it has a few uncommon games in it, including some very poor implementations of Asteroids, Missile Command and Frogger. MAME still has some emulation issues due to poor implementations of the mappers used, but it’s interesting to see these all the same.
Gambling Games from Bigger Names
One more traditional area of MAME that still has many gaps in coverage is that of gambling titles developed by big name Japanese developers. Both Sega and Konami had hundreds of them, easily found in Japanese arcades, yet MAME barely scratches the tip of the iceberg. Another manufacturer with a presence in that part of the industry was Taito. Eibise is an example of a relatively simple ‘slots’ style gambling game put out by Taito.
Parent Jack is another Taito game, and while this has been supported in MAME for longer, it hasn’t ever worked properly. The improvements made to support Eibise allowed it to be promoted to fully functional status.