Friday, 27 April 2018

An Evening With John Romero

The award-winning game designer John Romero took the stage at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge for a talk and Q&A session.  It was great to hear John Romero, co-founder of id Software and the man behind such iconic titles as Wolfenstein 3D, Doom and Quake, talk about his career and his games.  

John Romero was a really nice guy and I even managed to get a couple of my games signed.

Out of these items, I was most pleased about getting my Doom 64 signed.  Taking place after Final Doom, Doom 64 was one of the first games I bought for my Nintendo 64 and I absolutely love this version.  The game was developed by Midway Games, with id Software supervising the project.  John’s wife, Brenda, seemed particularly impressed with my Japanese copy, saying that it’s a version missing from their collection.

I love the box art on the Super Famicom version of Wolfenstein 3D. 


I must admit I felt a little star struck and was slightly nervous about asking him to sign my Japanese N64 Daikatana given its infamously poor reception after all the hype.  Despite the bad press, the game was extremely ambitious for its time, featuring four distinct time zones, a wide variety of weapons and AI-controlled sidekicks, and is without doubt a fascinating piece of gaming history.

I was surprised when John told me the Game Boy Color had a pretty good version of Daikatana.  I never knew this existed and thought he was joking.  It turns out this version is a Legend of Zelda like top-down action-adventure game, with dungeons, puzzles and boss battles, along with a text based story.  The game was only published in Europe, and is definitely one I’m going to look out for.

It was interesting to hear John reflect on Daikatana and its troubled development.  However the game is not without merit, with John commenting that even now the AI developed for the sidekicks is still some of the most advanced out there.

It was also cool to listen to John talk about Gunman Taco Truck, a game designed by a then nine year old Donovan Brathwaite-Romero and co-developed by him with Brenda and John.  The game is as mad as it sounds, with the player blasting their way across a mutant-infested United States in a heavily armored and weaponised taco truck, selling tacos with mutant-based fillings to survivors.

Some cool artefacts on display.


Development notebook contains John’s early notes for games.

Hand drawn map of Quake.

Doom Project CD and 5.25 floppy development disk for Wolfenstein 3D.

Doom on the Commodore VIC-20?  Why not!

The beers provided by Lord Conrad’s Brewery and the slice of pizza from 400° Pizzeria went down well!

A video of the event can be seen here.

During the day we spent a couple of hours at the museum, exploring the history of computers, and playing on various computers, consoles and arcade machines.



Highlights include the Pixel Wall, some pretty competitive games of Pong with my wife and five year old daughter, and a few credits on Centipede, Tempest and Xevious.

It was the first time I had seen a Xevious cab.  I love the design and cool artwork.

Following the 1983 videogame crash, 728,000 unsold games including E.T. were buried in a landfill site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, marking the symbolic end of Atari as a video game industry giant.  Here are actual games excavated from the landfill site in April 2014, very cool!

We had a great day at the museum and I would highly recommend a visit.  A massive thanks to John Romero and the Centre for Computer History for hosting the event.  It’s well worth keeping an eye on their website for upcoming events.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Operator Raid – February 2018

I set off on a six hundred mile round trip to visit an Operator. The destination was an unremarkable unit on an industrial estate.

I rang the intercom buzzer several times. After a wait which seemed like forever, the door finally unbolted and I was led inside. There were loads of fruit machines and pub quiz games, as well as jukeboxes, kiddie rides, pool tables, crane grabbers, table football, air hockey and modern arcade games.

Whilst having a look around the unit I saw After Burner Climax SDLX, Guitar Hero Arcade, Mario Kart Arcade GP 2, Sega Rally 2 twin and Terminator Salvation 42”.

Terminator: Judgment Raid!

After Burner Climax SDLX is a very cool machine and seems to be quite scarce these days. The last time I saw one was at Planet Fun arcade in Ingoldmells a couple of years ago. The machine was for sale, but not cheap!

There was also a Virtual Pinball table and some modern arcade cocktail cabs.

I was really pleased to pick up a couple of boxes of arcade PCB’s and MVS cartridges, as well as MVS motherboards. The Op said these had been sited in Jamma cabs and had been stood a while in his storeroom. This is not the first time an Op has sold me PCB’s. A few years ago I picked up Galaga ‘88, OutZone and R-Type II from an arcade in Norwich. The venue is still open, but sadly it only has gambling machines now. More recently I got some CPS2 games and motherboards from a pub / entertainment venue in Chapel St. Leonard’s, near Skegness.

The car loaded up with boards and MVS.

A nice original Cadillacs and Dinosaurs on top of the PCB pile!

There is a decent variety of games and all the carts are original which is a nice bonus.

I gave all the carts a clean and tested them. I was quite pleased as some of the carts marked faulty worked fine after giving the edge connectors a clean with an eraser. All are now working.

I also picked up eight MVS 4 slots and one 1 slot.  Unfortunately all of these turned out to be faulty.

They are a bit of a mixed bag as expected, with a mixture of workers, partial workers and completely dead boards. Here is a list of titles:

1. Cadillacs and Dinosaurs

2. Euro League. The board has some broken caps.

3. Final Blow

4. Golden Tee Golf

5. Golfing Greats

6. International Cup '94 & Taito F3 Mobo

7. Mortal Kombat 4

8. Pang 3

9. R-Type

10. Shinobi, on a Sega 16A board with a Quartet 2 label!

11. Street Fighter II'

12. Street Fighter: The Movie. A board is missing.

13. Super Pang

14. Tecmo World Cup '90

15. The Simpsons

16. World Rally

Raid Highlights

Cadillacs and Dinosaurs – Capcom - 1993
I was very surprised to see this PCB. Bootlegs are quite common and it’s rare to see original Capcom CP System I Q-Sound hardware. The board is in extremely clean condition and looks almost new, although the plastic grey case is missing. I do wonder if some of these boards were shipped out without the case.

I tested the board and the game was completely dead. The A, B and C boards were tested and appeared to be good. This is the World version. The ROMs were verified as correct. The voltage on the button battery was good. However the battery on the Q-Sound board was completely dead, i.e., the board had suicided. The Kabuki chip has been re-programmed and the battery replaced, and the board is now working perfectly. A massive thanks to Aaron, aka GadgetFreak (Ukvac) for the repair work.

R-Type – Irem – 1987
It was awesome to find an original R-Type board amongst the haul. The game was working, but had some graphical glitches. I sent it off to Phil, aka IronGiant / VectorGlow, along with some other boards from the Raid. He managed to repair the board fully, tracing the issue to two bad chips on two boards. Phil offers a fantastic service and comes highly recommended.

Shinobi / Quartet 2 – Sega – 1986
This is an interesting one. It’s a Sega 16A board running Shinobi, and has an official looking Quartet 2 label. I suspect it’s a factory conversion. Admittedly I didn’t know much about Quartet 2, and looking into it has piqued my interest even further!

Quartet was released in a four player dedicated cabinet, with each player using a specific set of joysticks and buttons. Quartet 2 is a two player version of the original, with a character select. It appears the game was sold as a conversion kit, allowing pre system 16 Quartet boards to be converted to Quartet 2 by swapping the ROM boards. Original boards seem to be scarce. Apparently it was common in Japan for Quartet 2 PCB’s to be hand converted from other System 16A PCB’s. Indeed there is one on the System II blog which was originally a Passing Shot. The fact that my board actually has a Quartet 2 label makes it very unusual. Hopefully I’ll be able to convert it back.