Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack Shows What Game Boy Could Have Looked Like

It was about time (Mario Time) that Super Mario Land for the original Game Boy was revisited. The game served as the entry point into the world of portable gaming for millions, and it was an early example of the type of adventure players could expect from a handful of AA batteries. The original Game Boy system itself may have only been able to display four shades of grey, however, that never stopped players of Super Mario Land from imagining what the game would have looked like in stunning color. Now thanks to [toruzz] we no longer have to imagine, because their Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack does just that…and then some.

The Super Mario Land DX ROM hack adheres to the Game Boy Color’s 16-bit color palette, so it actually runs on real hardware. No changes to the gameplay were made and it also runs in the native 10:9 aspect ratio for the Game Boy. According to the patch readme file, it is recommended to use a legally sourced dump of the 1.0 version of Super Mario Land and utilize Lunar IPS to apply the patch. Additionally a CRC check sum is provided to ensure everyone is working from the same starting point.

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, but there was another handheld game system that released that year as well (the Atari Lynx). The Lynx featured a full color backlit LCD display, so it was not as if handheld game systems of the era were restricted to being monochromatic. Granted the Lynx came with a price tag nearly twice that of the Game Boy, but a transformative ROM hack such as the Super Mario Land DX one can serve almost as an alternate history. An alternate history that we all can experience now be it on a desktop or in true portable form.

To see the Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack in motion, there is the gameplay video from YouTube user Vincent Hernandez below:

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NVIDIA’s A.I. Thinks It Knows What Games Are Supposed Look Like

Videogames have always existed in a weird place between high art and cutting-edge technology. Their consumer-facing nature has always forced them to be both eye-catching and affordable, while remaining tasteful enough to sit on retail shelves (both physical and digital). Running in real-time is a necessity, so it’s not as if game creators are able to pre-render the incredibly complex visuals found in feature films. These pieces of software constantly ride the line between exploiting the hardware of the future while supporting the past where their true user base resides. Each pixel formed and every polygon assembled comes at the cost of a finite supply of floating point operations today’s pieces of silicon can deliver. Compromises must be made.

Often one of the first areas in games that fall victim to compromise are environmental model textures. Maintaining a viable framerate is paramount to a game’s playability, and elements of the background can end up getting pushed to “the background”. The resulting look of these environments is somewhat more blurry than what they would have otherwise been if artists were given more time, or more computing resources, to optimize their creations. But what if you could update that ten-year-old game to take advantage of today’s processing capabilities and screen resolutions?

NVIDIA is currently using artificial intelligence to revise textures in many classic videogames to bring them up to spec with today’s monitors. Their neural network is able fundamentally alter how a game looks without any human intervention. Is this a good thing?

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Netflix Drops ZX Spectrum Homebrew Title Nohzdyve

The dark, dystopian future is ever-present in the Netflix show Black Mirror, but the latest release in the series, Bandersnatch, presents a decidedly different narrative. Bandersnatch is a branching story that follows the fictional events of a garage-programmer named Stephan who develops the titular game, Bandersnatch, for the Tuckersoft company set in 1980s England. The whole thing plays out as a choose-your-own adventure game fit straight off the Sega CD (albeit with actual full motion video) by allowing watchers to pick what happens next in the story. Not one to miss a cross-promotional opportunity, Netflix also released a playable ZX Spectrum homebrew title, Nohzdyve, developed by a friend of Hackaday, [Matt Westcott].

Keen viewers of Bandersnatch were able to ascertain that the screeching sound at the end of the show when loaded into a ZX Spectrum would display a QR code. That in turn led to a real website for the fake Tuckersoft company (thankfully in HTML). The website itself showcases the fictional company’s software library and upcoming releases, but it also took things a step further. The duality of Bandersnatch is carried over to the website as there are branching paths for those that remove ‘www’ from the URL. Doing so reveals Tuckersoft’s website from an alternate timeline where Bandersnatch was never created, however, a downloadable copy of Nohzdyve in a .tap file is there for the taking.

The Nohzdyve game itself is a vertically scrolling action game that uses the ZX Spectrum’s garish color palette to great effect. Racking up a high score in the game can be done via emulator (for example Speccy) or for the most authentic experience, on real hardware. This may be the best reason to fire up a tape drive in a while, but for those seeking the less-analog approach there is always this gameplay footage from Mr. Tom FTW’s channel:

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The Evolution Of Wireless Game Controllers

The story goes that Atari was developing a premium model of their popular home video game console, the Atari 2600, for the 1981 fiscal year. Internally known as the Stella RC, this model revision promised touch sensitive game selection toggles, LED indicators, and onboard storage for the controllers. The focus of the project, however, was the “RC” in Stella RC which stood for remote control. Atari engineers wanted to free players from the constraints of the wires that fettered them to their televisions.

Problem with the prototypes was that the RF transmitters in the controllers were powerful enough to send a signal over a 1000 ft. radius, and they interfered with a number of the remote garage door openers on the market. Not to mention that if there were another Stella RC console on the same channel in an apartment building, or simply across the street, you could be playing somebody else’s Pitfall run. The mounting tower of challenges to making a product that the FCC would stamp their approval on were too great. So Atari decided to abandon the pioneering Stella RC project. Physical proof of the first wireless game controllers would have been eliminated at that point if it were created by any other company… but prototypes mysteriously left the office in some peculiar ways.

“Atari had abandoned the project at the time…[an Atari engineer] thought it would be a great idea to give his girlfriend’s son a videogame system to play with…I can’t [comment] about the relationship itself or what happened after 1981, but that’s how this system left Atari…and why it still exists today.”

Joe Cody, Atari2600.com

Atari did eventually get around to releasing some wireless RF 2600 joysticks that the FCC would approve. A couple years after abandoning the Stella RC project they released the Atari 2600 Remote Control Joysticks at a $69.95 MSRP (roughly $180 adjusted for inflation). The gigantic price tag mixed with the video game market “dropping off the cliff” in 1983 saw few ever getting to know the bliss of wire-free video game action. It was obvious that RF game controllers were simply ahead of their time, but there had to be cheaper alternatives on the horizon.

Out of Sight, Out of Control with IR Schemes

Nintendo AVS 1985 Display
Nintendo AVS console deck and IR controller on display.

Video games were a dirty word in America in 1985. While games themselves were still happening on the microcomputer platforms, the home console business was virtually non-existent. Over in Japan, Nintendo was raking in money hand over fist selling video games on their Famicom console. They sought to replicate that success in North America by introducing a revised model of the Famicom, but it had to impress the tech journos that would be attending its reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

The prototype system was called the Nintendo Advanced Video System (AVS). It would feature a keyboard, a cassette tape drive, and most importantly two wireless controllers. The controllers used infrared (IR) communication and the receiver was built-into the console deck itself. Each controller featured a square metallic directional pad and four action buttons that gave the impression of brushed aluminum. The advancement in video game controller technology was too good to be true though, because the entire system received a makeover before releasing as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) that Christmas. The NES lacked the keyboard, the tape drive, and the IR controllers and its change in materials hardly captured the high-end flash of the AVS. The removal of IR meant the device was cheaper to manufacture. A decision that ultimately helped the NES to become a breakout success that in turn brought back dedicated video game consoles single-handedly.

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PlayStation Classic Hacked Live On Stream

When Sony announced they planned to release their own classic/mini/plug-n-play system this year, many fans were filled with excitement at the chance to relive countless classic games from the 90s. However, once the actual list of titles were made public that excitement faded as reality set in. So many favorites like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon were left off the final PlayStation Classic list, no doubt due to the complexity of licensing agreements. That will all soon change now that [YifanLu] cracked the PlayStation Classic live on a Twitch stream thus laying the ground work for swapping-in a “more curated” list of classic PlayStation games.

Over the course of three days, [YifanLu] documented the process in real-time of cracking the PlayStation Classic’s security armed with little more than a keyboard. The crux of the hack came from fellow hacker [madmonkey]’s revelation that the firmware update files were signed with a key that had been mistakenly left behind on the device by Sony. Or as [YifanLu] stated, “One key is, ‘Hey am I Sony?’…The other key is saying, ‘Hey I am Sony.’ They distributed the key that identifies [themselves] uniquely and this key doesn’t expire for another 50 years or so.”

Once inside [YifanLu] was able to sideload a prototype image of a Crash Bandicoot over USB. He simply overwrote the first title on the list, Battle Arena Toshinden, and could launch the freshly injected game from the PlayStation Classic menu screen. The video below is from Day 3 of the PlayStation Classic hacking series, so skip to timecode (03:44:45) to see the results in action. For a bit more nuance there are another 15 hours or so of video to catch-up on [YifanLu]’s Twitch page. Here’s to everyone getting their favorite onto the PlayStation Classic in the near future.

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NBA Jam ROM Hack On SNES Is Heating Up

It’s a rare game that is able to bridge the gap between sports game fans and those that identify as hardcore gamers. Midway was able to bring those two groups onto common ground when they released NBA Jam to arcades in 1993. The game was an instant hit and was ported to 16-bit home consoles that same year. Compromises were made during those ports, so an attempt to make them more inline with the arcade release came in the form of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition a year later. However, in the heart of [eskayelle] NBA Jam: TE on the Super Nintendo didn’t go far enough. Now they have released a ROM hack that completely reworks NBA Jam: TE, and it’s called the “Double Z Mod”.

The Original NBA Jam Ball from the Title Screen
The original NBA Jam ball (courtesy of Steve Lin)

The concept behind the ROM hack was to bring about the NBA Jam game that fans deserved. All facets of pop culture from the early 90s were mixed in (not just former Presidents). According to the ROM hack’s notes, some of the things that were packed into the mod include:

• Assets from the original game have been restored, such as the Mortal Kombat banners.
• Modified certain players to give them a more “arcadey” feel.
• Soar to new heights with Air Jordan!
• Play as “The Worm”, Dennis Rodman, on at least four teams.
• Forget the Rookies, now play as the 1992 Dream Team.
• Tons of new secret characters including: Hulk Hogan, David Hasselhoff, Arnie as the T-800, and more.
• Expanded rosters are now as easy as inputting the “Konami code”

(Hint: B, A, B, A, Up, Down, B, A, Left, Right, B, A at the title screen menu)

In a gesture to give back to the ROM hacking community, [eskayelle] went as far to provide a collection of helpful tools to help potential SNES ROM hackers build their own NBA Jam: TE remixes. The document details ways to alter player photos, team colors, stats, and cosmetic tweaks. Since the Double Z mod focuses on being as 90s as possible, maybe this collection of tutorials will lead to a current NBA roster update.

To play the NBA Jam TE Double Z mod, you can use devices like the Retrode that allow easy dumping of an original cartridge onto a PC. From there the dumped ROM can be patched using an IPS patcher, like LunarIPS, which is as simple as locating two files in a browser window and hitting “Apply Patch”. In case you needed to see the Double Z mod in action, there is the clip below.

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Mini Vectrex Prototype Restored By National Videogame Museum

The crash of the videogame market in 1983 struck down a slew of victims, and unique products such as the Vectrex were not immune to its destructive ways. The all-in-one console featured a monochromatic vector display and offered an arcade-like experience at home complete with an analog joystick controller. It sadly never made it to its second birthday before being axed in early 1984, however, thanks to the [National Videogame Museum] we now how a glimpse of an alternate history for the Vectrex. They posted some photos of an unreleased Vectrex prototype that was restored to working order.

Little was known about this “Mini version” of the Vectrex as its very existence was called into question. The console came into and left the videogame market in such short order that its distributor, Milton Bradley, would have killed any additional model posthaste. Little thought was given to the idea, though a rumor appeared in Edge magazine issue 122. The article detailed a fan’s memory of seeing a Vectrex shaped “like a shoebox” on the president’s desk.

Seven years after the publication of that story, photos of the Vectrex design revision were posted by one of the Vectrex designer’s sons on Flickr. These photos served as the only concrete evidence as to the existence of the machine that were widely available for some time. That was until the [National Videogame Museum] managed to acquire the actual prototype as part of the museum’s collection in Frisco, TX. So for those without plans to swing through the DFW area in the near future, there is the video of the mini Vectrex in action below.

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