Friday, April 18, 2014

On Gyromite, Castlevania III and Horrible Game Store Employees

I had some birthday money to spend so, I decided to go hunting today. I picked up Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics II (NES), OutRun 2 (Xbox), Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny (PS2), Ninja Gaiden (NES), Castlevania: The Adventure (Game Boy) and the real winner...Gyromite.

Looks like something I need an expensive, useless robot to play.

Who the fuck would get excited about Gyromite? Well, I'm not playing that shit. Story time, ignoramuses. The Japanese counterpart of the NES is the Famicom, and the Famicom was out in Japan in 1983, a full two years before the release of the NES in the US. The Famicom uses smaller cartridges with 60 pins on the bottom. The NES uses those giant plastic monstrosities with 72 pins on the bottom.

Well, Nintendo of America didn't entirely have their shit together when they started making the NES. There were problems making the cartridges, so instead they decided to use the processes already existing for the Famicom. The only issue was that they went for a different cart connector. The solution? An adapter that a Famicom board plugs into to work with the NES, which is tucked inside of an NES cartridge. If you're putting two and two together, then you know where I'm going with this. You can pull the adapter from cartridges that used the 60/72 pin adapter to play Famicom games on an NES.

I lucked out and found a copy for $3 at a game store which I have a lot of problems with.

Even the cover art looks boring.

So...what the fuck is that next to the title of the game on the sticker? A little (C)? Okay...

OutRun 2 doesn't have that...

Castlevania: The Adventure doesn't have that...

No other game I've bought there ever had anything like that.

Well, this store fucking checks its Gyromite cartridges and charges more if it's a version with the adapter. So, I guess that (C) indicates that it didn't have an adapter. The (C) even shows on the receipt. Someone fucked up, and I couldn't be more pleased. Sure enough, in the case where they kept the rare NES games, there was a copy of Gyromite tucked away. It looked like it was in worse condition, and there were about five copies sitting with the junk games for $3. Now, I understand that they're running a business and need to sell things of value for the appropriate price. On the other hand, I went to college for marketing and my instincts say fuck that. 

If you're running a used game store, then you need to have some kind of hook to get people there. Competitive prices, something. If you're going to generally match eBay prices and nickel and dime people every step of the way, then there's literally no point to your store. Like I said, I get that Gyromite carts with the adapter have extra value. On the other hand, it's such a limited appeal that the copy tucked away in the case for god knows how much money is probably not going to sell for a long time. Isn't it just better business to toss it out there with the rest of them and let someone find it who knows what it is and will appreciate it? Isn't it better word of mouth?

Someone saying "hey, I found a copy of Gyromite for $3 at this store and it had the adapter!" is better than "man, this store has a copy of Gyromite with the adapter but it's behind a glass case for $50." One of those sentences gives someone an incentive to go to the store and look. The other tells them that if there's something they want, they're probably paying a premium for it. Most people who are serious "retro" collectors are bargain hunters. They have specific wants, and if you're competing with them, then you're only going to snare the occasional guy who played Zelda on NES 25 years ago and is willing to pay $60 for an NES and $35 for a copy of Zelda to relive those glory days for about a week and then get bored.

Besides that, I'm pretty sure someone who is actively looking for Gyromite with an adapter is doing so to avoid paying a high price bceause it has one.

My other problem with this store is simply the people working there.


I'm not sure if this is a sexist feeling or not, but I really feel awful for girls who are into video games. The borderline harassment behavior from everyone with a penis in their presence is embarrassing. Seriously, you all seem to work at this store (maybe? maybe you all just don't have anything better to do? I honestly can't tell at stores like this) and you're tickling this girl behind the counter and focusing all of your attention on her? I don't know, maybe that's all the business professional shit burned into my brain with two years of high school business clubs and about 4 and a half years of business classes in high school, but you just don't fucking do that shit. Not just at work either, you just shouldn't do that shit in general. It's fucking creepy, and besides that, you should sort of be attentive to your job. Not to mention you probably wouldn't need to be creepy around girls and tickle them if you'd stop doing that so one would actually give you genuine attention. That and there wouldn't be an awkward waistband bonertuck at work.

Back to Gyromite, though. It's actually really easy to identify what cartridges have the adapter. How some rocket scientist at that store fucked up, I don't know. Maybe that girl was wearing a low cut top that day and they were frequently adjusting their boner. Before I get to talking about my plans for this adapter, let's take a look at the cartridge itself.

Original NES cartridges are held together by five simple flathead screws. Apparently this was changed because people would rent games, open up the cartridge and switch the PCBs. I'm not entirely sure just how true this is, but it's the most common story. Newer NES cartridges are held together by three screws, which are the dreaded gamebit.

To open these fuckers, you need a special tool. They're pretty easy to get a hold of, really. Back when the NES was popular though, I'd imagine people were truly stumped. One other change to the cartridge is that the three screw cartridges have tabs on top to help keep the cart closed.

Gyromite: Old. Ninja Gaiden: New.

So, the original NES carts are probably the only cartridge that you'll ever come across that's easy to disassemble.

This cartridge actually has more shit in it than your typical NES cartridge due to the adapter adding size to the PCB. The majority of the NES cart is typically empty. Environmentalist types would go absolutely apeshit about this if Nintendo tried to pull this off today. The PCB above the black part in the middle is the actual Gyromite game. Everything below that is just the adapter.

And here's everything all taken apart. The Famicom board near the NES cart demonstrates just how great the size difference is between NES carts and Famicom carts. Granted, the plastic for the actual Famicom cart would add some size to it, but clearly not that much.

Shit is basically Sonic & Knuckles for NES.

So, what's the plan for this? Why did I want it, and why is it my favorite find of the day? Well, about 2 years ago I first played the Famicom version of Castlevania III on an emulator. It came out in the US, right? Big fucking deal. Well, the Famicom version of the game has an additional audio chip called the VRC6. Not only could Nintendo of America not manufacture cartridges right at first, but they didn't allow companies to use their own add-on chips in NES carts. Since the VRC6 was designed by Konami, that shit didn't fly in the US, and Castlevania III was gimped for it. So, I got an idea about how to take care of that.

The Famicom version of Castlevania III has incredible music. While it's well represented in the NES version, it's a massive step down.

That's not the video I wanted to use, but it does a good job since it alternates between the two tracks. The intro to the game is the most striking part. Anyhow, I just absolutely fell in love with that music. I've entertained the idea of just settling with the NES version several times, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. My plan is to buy the Japanese version of Castelvania III and then have a friend burn some EEPROMs for me with the translated version of the game. Basically, I would use the burned EEPROM chips in combination with the Japanese board to be able to have the original sound experience, while having the game in English.

It'll be time consuming, and it will likely be expensive, but it'll be worth it to me. To do this, I'll also need to modify the 60-72 pin adapter and the NES itself. Nintendo changed the hardware of the NES for the US, and the expansion audio pins are actually on the bottom of the console, on the additional connector. Besides that, I'm not too pleased with the translation of Akumajou Densetsu that's out there right now. So, that means I'll have to fire up a hex editor and do some ROM hacking to get it to my liking. It's a big project, but my favorite projects while I was doing ReviveDC were the games that were heavily modded. While changing aspects of a disc based game is easy, working with a cartridge is a bit different. There's less room for error, and it's more of a commitment.

Besides the enhanced audio, other aspects of the game were changed for the US. The game was actually made harder for the US, which is the opposite of what happens for most games. This game definitely did not need to be harder. Besides the typical censorship that happened in most NES games, some enemy sprites were just outright replaced or changed for seemingly no reason. In other words, there's a few more reasons besides sound to do this mod.

This isn't an entirely original idea. There are a few different ways people have done this before (one involves making an audio output for the actual Castlevania III cartridge, not convenient enough for me), but since I'll likely be making changes to the ROM on my own, it'll be a bit more involved.

I'm not entirely sure when I'll get the ball rolling on this, but when I do there will be plenty of updates.

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