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VC Alternative, Week Two: Scarabeus
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TheRedEye
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 12, 2007 7:15 am    Post subject: VC Alternative, Week Two: Scarabeus Reply with quote

I've had a long, sleepless week, but that isn't going to stop me from bringing you the next Lost Levels Virtual Console Alternative: Scarabeus!



Scarabeus is prototype of a very simple puzzle game. In it, the player must figure out the best path to draw one line through a series of tiles without any overlap. In fact, to give the player extra incentive not to backtrack, the tiles actually crumble away after use, which leaves no choice but to venture on. Players must cause all of the black tiles to disappear, and then land back on the starting square, with a reward for a quick performance.



As the game progresses, it introduces white tiles, which change to black after being stepped on. Players must then step away and back to the tile to make it disappear properly.



And why is the game in black and white? Because Scarabeus is in actuality the Game Boy game Pyramids of Ra! I have no evidence to back this up, but my theory is that Pyramids of Ra was being ported from the Game Boy to the NES, and this is an early prototype of the conversion. Colors have not yet been added, nor has sound.

More on Scarabeus, from the game's designer, Ross Harris:

Ross Harris wrote:
When the gameboy came out, I was interested into programming again. The processor in the gameboy was basically a cut-down Z80, something I'd worked on before. So I designed this clever puzzle game that ( from a technical standpoint ) was as simple as can be, so I could code it myself. It was given to someone else, who took 18 months and had to simplify the mechanics further. Indeed, he couldn't even get alternate graphics in the game- they're the same ALL THE WAY THROUGH!


You can download the game here, if you're into that sort of thing!
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taiki



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 12, 2007 8:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This game is tops.

The lack of color not withstanding.

WHAT THE FUCK

Around room 2000 or so, you'll run into THIS.

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Skrybe
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 12, 2007 5:31 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

To expand on what Frank said, the game gets considerably more complex in later levels. This particular level has fixed forced jumps, forced jumps that rotate after every move, warp tiles, and tiles that reverse the controls:



And this isn't even halfway through the game!

If you're the cheating type, you can put the game in debug mode with the password IGORSAYSWARP. It'll say the password is invalid, but when you start the game, you'll get the option to have the computer solve the puzzle for you at the start of each stage, and you can press Select at any time to automatically pass the level.
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KlarthAilerion
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PostPosted: Mon Feb 12, 2007 11:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

For you nostalgic types, this is one of the titles that was on Mike Etler's Rarity List way back in the day. Now you know.
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jps



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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:00 pm    Post subject: Re: VC Alternative, Week Two: Scarabeus Reply with quote

TheRedEye wrote:
Scarabeus is in actuality the Game Boy game Pyramids of Ra! I have no evidence to back this up, but my theory is that Pyramids of Ra was being ported from the Game Boy to the NES, and this is an early prototype of the conversion.


I think it's actually vice versa. If you look at this, Scarabeus was being developed in early 1990. And if I'm not mistaken, Pyramids of Ra wasn't released until 1993 or 1994. Plus, the opening screen of Ra curiously states "Original Game copyright 1991."

Although in the spirit of full disclosure, the title on this cart complicates my point.
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TheRedEye
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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 4:42 pm    Post subject: Re: VC Alternative, Week Two: Scarabeus Reply with quote

jps wrote:
TheRedEye wrote:
Scarabeus is in actuality the Game Boy game Pyramids of Ra! I have no evidence to back this up, but my theory is that Pyramids of Ra was being ported from the Game Boy to the NES, and this is an early prototype of the conversion.


I think it's actually vice versa. If you look at this, Scarabeus was being developed in early 1990. And if I'm not mistaken, Pyramids of Ra wasn't released until 1993 or 1994. Plus, the opening screen of Ra curiously states "Original Game copyright 1991."

Although in the spirit of full disclosure, the title on this cart complicates my point.


Ooh, look, actual research!

Okay, I have two counter-arguments. First, release year means shit, in terms of figuring out when a game was completed. Scurge: Hive on the GBA came out, what, a couple months ago? It went gold December 2003. Just because a game's development is completed doesn't mean that there's automatically enough money to publish and market it. And given Matchbox's games division circa 1991, and its ten cancelled NES games (!), I would assume they'd be a little weary of publishing an unproven little puzzle game for the Game Boy. If it was indeed published in '93 or '94, I would assume it was for these reasons.

And second, here's the homepage of Scarabeus designer Ross Harris, who very clearly says he designed and programmed the initial game concept on the Game Boy, before handing it over to another developer. And, well, there you go.
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jps



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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2007 5:49 pm    Post subject: Re: VC Alternative, Week Two: Scarabeus Reply with quote

Alas, my attempt at making a brilliant, well-researched debut post, complete with a concrete, rock solid timeline thwarted by information provided by--of all things--a Tripod homepage.

Red Eye, when I first read the provided quote in your initial post, I misinterpreted it, thinking the designer was speaking about working on the port of the game, rather than the design itself.
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dimitri



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 19, 2007 3:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Not sure how relevant this is, but the released version of the Gameboy game says right in the header that it wwas "software and hardware design"ed by John Morrison. The high-quality code he produced means the date in the credit is truncated to 1/9/19, furthering the mystery!
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RossH



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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2007 3:42 am    Post subject: Scarabeus/Pyramids of Ra Reply with quote

Ah, glad you like my old game. Here's some info about the game...

I designed it to be technically as simple as possible (few 'moving' parts) as I'd coded Z80 before on my trusty ZX Spectrum and wanted to work on the Gameboy. However, the task was given to a less than talented programmer. It took about 18 months for him to complete the game; I worked on several other projects during this time, including Noah's Ark (which I also designed ) that was published by Konami.

The game was originally called Scarabeus but was changed by my boss, which also required a change of the title screen. I prefer the Scarab!

I didn't work on the NES version, but the BW tilesets I'd created for the Gameboy were used initially to get the game up and running. It was also coded by a more experienced coder, hence the autosolve cheat.

I don't know how far this game went, but I believe an even later (color) version was created as a potential McDonalds 'Wizard of Oz' tie in.

We did a lot of demos that were transfered from the NES to the Gameboy. The NES 'Noah's Ark' platformer had a playable demo created (very impressive as we kept the 24x32 pixel main character) as did the NES demo "Sir Eric The Bold...' but alas I don't have copies of either

I vaguely recall John Morrison supplying us with development kits for various computers and consoles- I guess his name appearing in the cart is a little touch of his compiler. He wasn't involved in the creation of this (or any other) game we produced at Source Ltd.
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TheRedEye
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PostPosted: Sat Apr 28, 2007 8:02 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah, the elusive Ross Harris! I've tried emailing you a few time over the years, but never got a reply. I even considered calling in a favor to an EA friend to find your work address, but never got around to it!

We should chat sometime, I've always been really curious about Source in the NES era. It seemed like you guys were developing the bulk of Matchbox's games, before they kind of dropped off the face of the earth as a games publisher.

Did you do the art in "Arcadia VI"? The big nose guys reminded me of Noah!
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RossH



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PostPosted: Mon Apr 30, 2007 8:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

TheRedEye wrote:

Did you do the art in "Arcadia VI"? The big nose guys reminded me of Noah!


Nope, never even heard of the game.

Sure, we can talk if you like but Source was a long time ago so you may need to jog my memory about things.

As a quick summary of Source in the early 90's, yes we ended up creating games for the Matchbox licence. This was in the bad old days of Nintendo when you had to get approval to develop and/or publish games. We got developer approval (we didn't have the desire or finances to publish) and a 3rd party had the publishing rights on behalf of Matchbox.

We managed to publish one NES game, 'Motorcity Patrol' and "pyramids of Ra' on the Gameboy before it all went south. While I wasn't privvy to the reasons, I believe it was due to this 3rd party (who I can't recall) and Matchbox squabbling over who really had the publishing rights. In the end, I think Nintendo settled it by saying neither of them had the rights!

"Noah's Ark" was sold to Konami in Europe; the NTSC version was never completed as the programmer left the company to move to the US. I think there was still a few NTSC specific bugs left in the game, hence it never appeared stateside.

I don't recall why now, but at the time we saw the writing on the wall for Source.

We also worked on lots of demos, and we completed one other game- an isometric racing game in the style of Rare's RC Racer game.
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Skrybe
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 12:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

RossH wrote:
We also worked on lots of demos, and we completed one other game- an isometric racing game in the style of Rare's RC Racer game.

Are you talking about Matchbox Racers? If, like you say, it's anything like RC Pro Am, that's something I definitely wish I could've played.

What became of all these demos and dev versions that you worked on?
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RossH



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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 1:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, Matchbox Racers is the one. One of the 1st games we used 3d software to create the art...back in 1990/1.

What happened to these demos, well I don't really have a clue. I see the odd cart pop up in people's collections online but I don't have a copy of any of them.

We made demo cartridges to send to Matchbox, or sometimes to other publishers. Each copy required us to burn an eprom onto a cartridge motherboard. I still remember how thick the NES case plastic was, as we had to cut out a slot for the eprom (as it was taller than a normal chip and so the case wouldn't close).

Eproms were not cheap, and motherboards were like gold (and had to be ordered through Nintendo) so we never made copies for ourselves. Shame, as Racers was completed and "Noah's Ark' on the GB had the first level playable.
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Skrybe
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PostPosted: Tue May 01, 2007 11:49 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's always disappointing to hear how many of these kinds of things simply disappeared. Not only did the casual gamers miss out on a new game, but the work of people like yourself went to waste. Like you said, it's a shame.
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RossH



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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 5:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well that unfortunately is the nature of the beast. Some good games never see the light of day, but then again many more bad games are prevented from stealing large sum of cash from the poor suckers who would buy them if they did come out.

Other mythical games, like Sonic X-Treme on the Sega Saturn, really didn't ever exist as such. That game was never more than a self-contained bossfight on the Saturn, the rest was running on a PC with the intention to be ported to the Saturn when it would actually run at an acceptable framerate.

And thanks to the emulation scene, many games that would have disappeared are still playable. When I was working on the NES/GB games, I never expected to be able to play my old ZX Spectrum games ever again...
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ArnoldRimmer83
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PostPosted: Wed May 02, 2007 10:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'd like to see Matchbox Racers myself. Looks very similar to RC Pro Am II, and I liked that game considerably. Hope the demo is still out there. Most you can do for unreleased stuff.

Speaking of, do you mind me asking about Sir Eric the Bold? Do you still have any memory of working on that game? I've always been pretty curious about it.

http://www.nesworld.com/mirror/nr2/sireric1.jpg
http://www.nesworld.com/mirror/nr2/sireric2.jpg
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RossH



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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 1:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Sure, I remember Sir Eric The Bold... and his daring deeds of deliverance... of a damsel in distress from the damsel in distress devouring demon dragon dungeons of death, doom, dispair and destruction! Almost 20 years ago and I still remember the whole title. I should point out that I designed every game Source did for the NES/GB.

Again, another game that never went beyond a demo (I think it was listed on a future titles flier, but I think Matchbox started having problems with the company that was the 'real' publisher of the titles).

An isometric arcade RPG inspired by KnightLore & Fairlight (on the ZX Spectrum) and The Immortal (Atari ST/CBM Amiga) for the NES. Really not much to say about it, as we didn't get beyond creating some randomly generated rooms and doors you could go through. Looked wonderful on the GB though!
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adaml
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 3:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

RossH wrote:


An isometric arcade RPG inspired by KnightLore & Fairlight (on the ZX Spectrum) and The Immortal (Atari ST/CBM Amiga) for the NES. Really not much to say about it, as we didn't get beyond creating some randomly generated rooms and doors you could go through. Looked wonderful on the GB though!


Funny you should mention KnightLore...I was just playing the Famicom Disk System version about a week ago. Perhaps someone can hack Eric the Bold in as the main character. Wink
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Skrybe
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PostPosted: Thu May 03, 2007 10:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

RossH wrote:
then again many more bad games are prevented from stealing large sum of cash from the poor suckers who would buy them if they did come out.

As much as I'd like to believe that every unreleased game is something wonderful worth finding and preserving, you have a definite point. I know I've seen my share of unreleased games that were just plain bad.
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RossH



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PostPosted: Fri May 04, 2007 7:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

In my experience, any game that is good will make it to market eventually. I doubt there are any games that are sitting in a warehouse somewhere that would be a commercial success- the company that owned the rights would either put it out or sell it to someone else that would.

Rainbow Islands on the Atari ST and CBM Amiga was a great arcade conversion that was done but unreleased, although it did eventually make it about 1-2 years after it was completed.

Great Giana sisters was also a good game, althought it was a blatant clone of Mario Bros- probably the only example of a great game remaining unreleased (although technically it was released; it was the clone that wasn't!). Incidently, Source worked on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC conversions of that game... and no, I don't have any copies. It's still MIA.

Actually the ST port of Highway Encounter was pretty good, come to think of it... but that's the only good unreleased game I know about.

Anyhoo, I'm taking off for a 4 week tour of Europe so don't hold your breath for amy more postings! Smile
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