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The Next Processor Change is Within ARMs Reach
As you may have seen, I sent the following Tweet: “The Apple ARM MacBook future is coming, maybe sooner than people expect” https://twitter.com/choco_bit/status/1266200305009676289?s=20 Today, I would like to further elaborate on that. tl;drApple will be moving to Arm based macs in what I believe are 4 stages, starting around 2015 and ending around 2023-2025: Release of T1 chip Macbooks, release of T2 chip Macbooks, Release of at least one lower end model Arm Macbook, and transitioning full lineup to Arm. Reasons for each are below. Apple is very likely going to switch to switch their CPU platform to their in-house silicon designs with an ARM architecture. This understanding is a fairly common amongst various Apple insiders. Here is my personal take on how this switch will happen and be presented to the consumer. The first question would likely be “Why would Apple do this again?”. Throughout their history, Apple has already made two other storied CPU architecture switches - first from the Motorola 68k to PowerPC in the early 90s, then from PowerPC to Intel in the mid 2000s. Why make yet another? Here are the leading reasons:
Intel has, in recent years, been making significant losses both in reputation and in actual product value, as well as velocity of product development, breaking their bi-yearly “Tick Tock” cycle for the first time in decades. Most recently, they have fallen well behind AMD’s processor lines in cost to performance ratio, CPU core count, core design (monolithic design vs “chiplet”), power consumption to performance, silicon supply (Intel with significant manufacturing process and yield issues), and on-silicon security features. While Intel still wins out in certain enterprise and datacenter applications, as well as having a much better reputation for reliability and QA (AMD having shipped numerous chips with a broken random- number generator that prevented even booting some mainstream operating system), the number of such applications slowly dwindles with each new release from AMD, and as confidence among decisionmakers in enterprise increases. In the public consciousness, Intel is quickly becoming a point of ridicule against Apple’s Mac lineup, rather than a badge of honor.
By moving to their own designs, Apple will be free from Intel’s release schedule, which have recently been unpredictable and faced with routine delays due to poor manufacturing yields. Apple will be able to update their Mac lineup on their own timeline, rather than being forced to delay products based on Intel’s ability to meet the release window. This also allows them to leverage relationships with other silicon fabricators to source chips, rather than relying on Intel ’s continued “iteration” that’s leading to a “14nm++++++++++” process, or the continued lack of product diversity with the 10nm process. Apple will also be free to innovate in the design of the silicon platform, rather than being limited by Intel’s design choices. By having full control of the manufacturing and development cycle, Apple can bring even more in-house optimization to the macOS, as they have been for iOS and iPadOS over the years.
Using an ARM architecture on the Macs allows for a more unified Apple ecosystem, rather than having separate Mac and iOS-based products. The only distinction will be the device form factor and performance characteristics.
The x86_64 architecture is very old and inefficient, using older methodologies for processor design (CISC vs ARM’s RISC), and the instruction set continues to require support in silicon for emulating 1980s-vintage 16-bit modes, as well as ineffectual and archaic memory addressing modes (segmentation, etc.) The x86_64 architecture is like a city, built atop a much older city, built atop a yet older city, but every layer is built with NYC infrastructure levels of complexity that suited its time and no further.
Over the last 10 years, Apple has shown that they can consistently produce impressive silicon designs, often leading the market in performance and capability, and Apple has been aggressively acquiring silicon design talent.
A common refrain heard on the Internet is the suggestion that Apple should switch to using CPUs made by AMD, and while this has been considered internally, it will most likely not be chosen as the path forward, even for their megalithic giants like the Mac Pro. Even though AMD would mitigate Intel’s current set of problems, it does nothing to help the issue of the x86_64 architecture’s problems and inefficiencies, on top of jumping to a platform that doesn’t have a decade of proven support behind it. Why spend a lot of effort re-designing and re- optimizing for AMD’s platform when you can just put that effort into your own, and continue the vertical integration Apple is well-known for? I believe that the internal development for the ARM transition started around 2015/2016 and is considered to be happening in 4 distinct stages. These are not all information from Apple insiders; some of these these are my own interpretation based off of information gathered from supply-chain sources, examination of MacBook schematics, and other indicators from Apple.
Stage1 (from 2014/2015 to 2017):
The rollout of computers with Apple’s T1 chip as a coprocessor. This chip is very similar to Apple’s T8002 chip design, which was used for the Apple Watch Series 1 and Series 2. The T1 is primarily present on the first TouchID enabled Macs, 2016 and 2017 model year MacBook Pros. Considering the amount of time required to design and validate a processor, this stage most likely started around 2014 or 2015, with early experimentation to see whether an entirely new chip design would be required, or if would be sufficient to repurpose something in the existing lineup. As we can see, the general purpose ARM processors aren’t a one- trick pony. To get a sense of the decision making at the time, let’s look back a bit. The year is 2016, and we're witnessing the beginning of stagnation of Intel processor lineup. There is not a lot to look forward to other than another “+” being added to the 14nm fabrication process. The MacBook Pro has used the same design for many years now, and its age is starting to show. Moving to AMD is still very questionable, as they’ve historically not been able to match Intel’s performance or functionality, especially at the high end, and since the “Ryzen” lineup is still unreleased, there is absolutely no benchmarks or other data to show they are worth consideration, and AMD’s most recent line of “Bulldozer” processors were very poorly received. Now is probably as good a time as any to begin experimenting with the in-house ARM designs, but it’s not time to dive into the deep end yet, our chips are not nearly mature enough to compete, and it’s not yet certain how long Intel will be stuck in the mud. As well, it is widely understood that Apple and Intel have an exclusivity contract in exchange for advantageous pricing. Any transition would take considerable time and effort, and since there are no current viable alternative to Intel, the in-house chips will need to advance further, and breaching a contract with Intel is too great a risk. So it makes sense to start with small deployments, to extend the timeline, stretch out to the end of the contract, and eventually release a real banger of a Mac. Thus, the 2016 Touch Bar MacBooks were born, alongside the T1 chip mentioned earlier. There are good reasons for abandoning the piece of hardware previously used for a similar purpose, the SMC or System Management Controller. I suspect that the biggest reason was to allow early analysis of the challenges that would be faced migrating Mac built- in peripherals and IO to an ARM-based controller, as well as exploring the manufacturing, power, and performance results of using the chips across a broad deployment, and analyzing any early failure data, then using this to patch any issues, enhance processes, and inform future designs looking towards the 2nd stage. The former SMC duties now moved to T1 includes things like
Fan speed, voltage, amperage and thermal sensor feedback data
FaceTime camera and microphone IO
PMIC (Power Management Controller)
Direct communication to NAND (solid state storage)
Direct communication with the Touch Bar
Secure Enclave for TouchID
The T1 chip also communicates with a number of other controllers to manage a MacBook’s behavior. Even though it’s not a very powerful CPU by modern standards, it’s already responsible for a large chunk of the machine’s operation. Moving control of these peripherals to the T1 chip also brought about the creation of the fabled BridgeOS software, a shrunken-down watchOS-based system that operates fully independently of macOS and the primary Intel processor. BridgeOS is the first step for Apple’s engineering teams to begin migrating underlying systems and services to integrate with the ARM processor via BridgeOS, and it allowed internal teams to more easily and safely develop and issue firmware updates. Since BridgeOS is based on a standard and now well-known system, it means that they can leverage existing engineering expertise to flesh out the T1’s development, rather than relying on the more arcane and specialized SMC system, which operates completely differently and requires highly specific knowledge to work with. It also allows reuse of the same fabrication pipeline used for Apple Watch processors, and eliminated the need to have yet another IC design for the SMC, coming from a separate source, to save a bit on cost. Also during this time, on the software side, “Project Marzipan”, today Catalyst, came into existence. We'll get to this shortly. For the most part, this Stage 1 went without any major issues. There were a few firmware problems at first during the product launch, but they were quickly solved with software updates. Now that engineering teams have had experience building for, manufacturing, and shipping the T1 systems, Stage 2 would begin.
Stage 2 encompasses the rollout of Macs with the T2 coprocessor, replacing the T1. This includes a much wider lineup, including MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, starting with 2018 models, MacBook Air starting with 2018 models, the iMac Pro, the 2019 Mac Pro, as well as Mac Mini starting in 2018. With this iteration, the more powerful T8012 processor design was used, which is a further revision of the T8010 design that powers the A10 series processors used in the iPhone 7. This change provided a significant increase in computational ability and brought about the integration of even more devices into T2. In addition to the T1’s existing responsibilities, T2 now controls:
Full audio subsystem
Secure Enclave for internal NAND storage and encryption/decryption offload
Management of the whole system’s power and startup sequence, allowing for trusted boot (ensure boot chain-of-trust with no malicious code/rootkit/bootkit)
Those last 2 points are crucial for Stage 2. Under this new paradigm, the vast majority of the Mac is now under the control of an in-house ARM processor. Stage 2 also brings iPhone-grade hardware security to the Mac. These T2 models also incorporated a supported DFU (Device Firmware Update, more commonly “recovery mode”), which acts similarly to the iPhone DFU mode and allows restoration of the BridgeOS firmware in the event of corruption (most commonly due to user-triggered power interruption during flashing). Putting more responsibility onto the T2 again allows for Apple’s engineering teams to do more early failure analysis on hardware and software, monitor stability of these machines, experiment further with large-scale production and deployment of this ARM platform, as well as continue to enhance the silicon for Stage 3. A few new user-visible features were added as well in this stage, such as support for the passive “Hey Siri” trigger, and offloading image and video transcoding to the T2 chip, which frees up the main Intel processor for other applications. BridgeOS was bumped to 2.0 to support all of these changes and the new chip. On the macOS software side, what was internally known as Project Marzipan was first demonstrated to the public. Though it was originally discovered around 2017, and most likely began development and testing within later parts of Stage 1, its effects could be seen in 2018 with the release of iPhone apps, now running on the Mac using the iOS SDKs: Voice Recorder, Apple News, Home, Stocks, and more, with an official announcement and public release at WWDC in 2019. Catalyst would come to be the name of Marzipan used publicly. This SDK release allows app developers to easily port iOS apps to run on macOS, with minimal or no code changes, and without needing to develop separate versions for each. The end goal is to allow developers to submit a single version of an app, and allow it to work seamlessly on all Apple platforms, from Watch to Mac. At present, iOS and iPadOS apps are compiled for the full gamut of ARM instruction sets used on those devices, while macOS apps are compiled for x86_64. The logical next step is to cross this bridge, and unify the instruction sets. With this T2 release, the new products using it have not been quite as well received as with the T1. Many users have noticed how this change contributes further towards machines with limited to no repair options outside of Apple’s repair organization, as well as some general issues with bugs in the T2. Products with the T2 also no longer have the “Lifeboat” connector, which was previously present on 2016 and 2017 model Touch Bar MacBook Pro. This connector allowed a certified technician to plug in a device called a CDM Tool (Customer Data Migration Tool) to recover data off of a machine that was not functional. The removal of this connector limits the options for data recovery in the event of a problem, and Apple has never offered any data recovery service, meaning that a irreparable failure of the T2 chip or the primary board would result in complete data loss, in part due to the strong encryption provided by the T2 chip (even if the data got off, the encryption keys were lost with the T2 chip). The T2 also brought about the linkage of component serial numbers of certain internal components, such as the solid state storage, display, and trackpad, among other components. In fact, many other controllers on the logic board are now also paired to the T2, such as the WiFi and Bluetooth controller, the PMIC (Power Management Controller), and several other components. This is the exact same system used on newer iPhone models and is quite familiar to technicians who repair iPhone logic boards. While these changes are fantastic for device security and corporate and enterprise users, allowing for a very high degree of assurance that devices will refuse to boot if tampered with in any way - even from storied supply chain attacks, or other malfeasance that can be done with physical access to a machine - it has created difficulty with consumers who more often lack the expertise or awareness to keep critical data backed up, as well as the funds to perform the necessary repairs from authorized repair providers. Other issues reported that are suspected to be related to T2 are audio “cracking” or distortion on the internal speakers, and the BridgeOS becoming corrupt following a firmware update resulting in a machine that can’t boot. I believe these hiccups will be properly addressed once macOS is fully integrated with the ARM platform. This stage of the Mac is more like a chimera of an iPhone and an Intel based computer. Technically, it does have all of the parts of an iPhone present within it, cellular radio aside, and I suspect this fusion is why these issues exist. Recently, security researchers discovered an underlying security problem present within the Boot ROM code of the T1 and T2 chip. Due to being the same fundamental platform as earlier Apple Watch and iPhone processors, they are vulnerable to the “checkm8” exploit (CVE-2019-8900). Because of how these chips operate in a Mac, firmware modifications caused by use of the exploit will persist through OS reinstallation and machine restarts. Both the T1 and T2 chips are always on and running, though potentially in a heavily reduced power usage state, meaning the only way to clean an exploited machine is to reflash the chip, triggering a restart, or to fully exhaust or physically disconnect the battery to flush its memory. Fortunately, this exploit cannot be done remotely and requires physical access to the Mac for an extended duration, as well as a second Mac to perform the change, so the majority of users are relatively safe. As well, with a very limited execution environment and access to the primary system only through a “mailbox” protocol, the utility of exploiting these chips is extremely limited. At present, there is no known malware that has used this exploit. The proper fix will come with the next hardware revision, and is considered a low priority due to the lack of practical usage of running malicious code on the coprocessor. At the time of writing, all current Apple computers have a T2 chip present, with the exception of the 2019 iMac lineup. This will change very soon with the expected release of the 2020 iMac lineup at WWDC, which will incorporate a T2 coprocessor as well. Note: from here on, this turns entirely into speculation based on info gathered from a variety of disparate sources. Right now, we are in the final steps of Stage 2. There are strong signs that an a MacBook (12”) with an ARM main processor will be announced this year at WWDC (“One more thing...”), at a Fall 2020 event, Q1 2021 event, or WWDC 2021. Based on the lack of a more concrete answer, WWDC2020 will likely not see it, but I am open to being wrong here.
Stage3 (Present/2021 - 2022/2023):
Stage 3 involves the first version of at least one fully ARM-powered Mac into Apple’s computer lineup. I expect this will come in the form of the previously-retired 12” MacBook. There are rumors that Apple is still working internally to perfect the infamous Butterfly keyboard, and there are also signs that Apple is developing an A14x based processors with 8-12 cores designed specifically for use as the primary processor in a Mac. It makes sense that this model could see the return of the Butterfly keyboard, considering how thin and light it is intended to be, and using an A14x processor would make it will be a very capable, very portable machine, and should give customers a good taste of what is to come. Personally, I am excited to test the new 12" “ARMbook”. I do miss my own original 12", even with all the CPU failure issues those older models had. It was a lovely form factor for me. It's still not entirely known whether the physical design of these will change from the retired version, exactly how many cores it will have, the port configuration, etc. I have also heard rumors about the 12” model possibly supporting 5G cellular connectivity natively thanks to the A14 series processor. All of this will most likely be confirmed soon enough. This 12” model will be the perfect stepping stone for stage 3, since Apple’s ARM processors are not yet a full-on replacement for Intel’s full processor lineup, especially at the high end, in products such as the upcoming 2020 iMac, iMac Pro, 16” MacBook Pro, and the 2019 Mac Pro. Performance of Apple’s ARM platform compared to Intel has been a big point of contention over the last couple years, primarily due to the lack of data representative of real-world desktop usage scenarios. The iPad Pro and other models with Apple’s highest-end silicon still lack the ability to execute a lot of high end professional applications, so data about anything more than video editing and photo editing tasks benchmarks quickly becomes meaningless. While there are completely synthetic benchmarks like Geekbench, Antutu, and others, to try and bridge the gap, they are very far from being accurate or representative of the real real world performance in many instances. Even though the Apple ARM processors are incredibly powerful, and I do give constant praise to their silicon design teams, there still just isn’t enough data to show how they will perform for real-world desktop usage scenarios, and synthetic benchmarks are like standardized testing: they only show how good a platform is at running the synthetic benchmark. This type of benchmark stresses only very specific parts of each chip at a time, rather than how well it does a general task, and then boil down the complexity and nuances of each chip into a single numeric score, which is not a remotely accurate way of representing processors with vastly different capabilities and designs. It would be like gauging how well a person performs a manual labor task based on averaging only the speed of every individual muscle in the body, regardless of if, or how much, each is used. A specific group of muscles being stronger or weaker than others could wildly skew the final result, and grossly misrepresent performance of the person as a whole. Real world program performance will be the key in determining the success and future of this transition, and it will have to be great on this 12" model, but not just in a limited set of tasks, it will have to be great at *everything*. It is intended to be the first Horseman of the Apocalypse for the Intel Mac, and it better behave like one. Consumers have been expecting this, especially after 15 years of Intel processors, the continued advancement of Apple’s processors, and the decline of Intel’s market lead. The point of this “demonstration” model is to ease both users and developers into the desktop ARM ecosystem slowly. Much like how the iPhone X paved the way for FaceID-enabled iPhones, this 12" model will pave the way towards ARM Mac systems. Some power-user type consumers may complain at first, depending on the software compatibility story, then realize it works just fine since the majority of the computer users today do not do many tasks that can’t be accomplished on an iPad or lower end computer. Apple needs to gain the public’s trust for basic tasks first, before they will be able to break into the market of users performing more hardcore or “Pro” tasks. This early model will probably not be targeted at these high-end professionals, which will allow Apple to begin to gather early information about the stability and performance of this model, day to day usability, developmental issues that need to be addressed, hardware failure analysis, etc. All of this information is crucial to Stage 4, or possibly later parts of Stage 3. The 2 biggest concerns most people have with the architecture change is app support and Bootcamp. Any apps released through the Mac App Store will not be a problem. Because App Store apps are submitted as LLVM IR (“Bitcode”), the system can automatically download versions compiled and optimized for ARM platforms, similar to how App Thinning on iOS works. For apps distributed outside the App Store, thing might be more tricky. There are a few ways this could go:
Developer will need to build both x86_64 and ARM version of their app - App Bundles have supported multiple-architecture binaries since the dawn of OS X and the PowerPC transition
Move to apps being distributed in an architecture-independent manner, as they are on the App Store. There is some software changes that are suggestive of this, such as the new architecture in dyld3.
An x86_64 instruction decoder in silicon - very unlikely due to the significant overhead this would create in the silicon design, and potential licensing issues. (ARM, being a RISC, “reduced instruction set”, has very few instructions; x86_64 has thousands)
Server-side ahead-of-time transpilation (converting x86 code to equivalent ARM code) using Notarization submissions - Apple certainly has the compiler chops in the LLVM team to do something like this
Outright emulation, similar to the approach that was taken in ARM releases of Windows, but received extremely poorly (limited to 32-bit apps, and very very slow)There could be other solutions in the works to fix this but I am not aware of any. This is just me speculating about some of the possibilities.
As for Bootcamp, while ARM-compatible versions of Windows do exist and are in development, they come with their own similar set of app support problems. Microsoft has experimented with emulating x86_64 on their ARM-based Surface products, and some other OEMs have created their own Windows-powered ARM laptops, but with very little success. Performance is a problem across the board, with other ARM silicon not being anywhere near as advanced, and with the majority of apps in the Windows ecosystem that were not developed in-house at Microsoft running terribly due to the x86_64 emulation software. If Bootcamp does come to the early ARM MacBook, it more than likely will run like very poorly for anything other than Windows UWP apps. There is a high chance it will be abandoned entirely until Windows becomes much more friendly to the architecture. I believe this will also be a very crucial turning point for the MacBook lineup as a whole. At present, the iPad Pro paired with the Magic Keyboard is, in many ways, nearly identical to a laptop, with the biggest difference being the system software itself. While Apple executives have outright denied plans of merging the iPad and MacBook line, that could very well just be a marketing stance, shutting the down rumors in anticipation of a well-executed surprise. I think that Apple might at least re-examine the possibility of merging Macs and iPads in some capacity, but whether they proceed or not could be driven by consumer reaction to both products. Do they prefer the feel and usability of macOS on ARM, and like the separation of both products? Is there success across the industry of the ARM platform, both at the lower and higher end of the market? Do users see that iPadOS and macOS are just 2 halves of the same coin? Should there be a middle ground, and a new type of product similar to the Surface Book, but running macOS? Should Macs and iPads run a completely uniform OS? Will iPadOS ever see exposed the same sort of UNIX-based tools for IT administrators and software developers that macOS has present? These are all very real questions that will pop up in the near future. The line between Stage 3 and Stage 4 will be blurry, and will depend on how Apple wishes to address different problems going forward, and what the reactions look like. It is very possible that only 12” will be released at first, or a handful more lower end model laptop and desktop products could be released, with high performance Macs following in Stage 4, or perhaps everything but enterprise products like Mac Pro will be switched fully. Only time will tell.
Stage 4 (the end goal):
Congratulations, you’re made it to the end of my TED talk. We are now well into the 2020s and COVID-19 Part 4 is casually catching up to the 5G = Virus crowd. All Macs have transitioned fully to ARM. iMac, MacBooks Pro and otherwise, Mac Pro, Mac Mini, everything. The future is fully Apple from top to bottom, and vertical integration leading to market dominance continues. Many other OEM have begun to follow in this path to some extent, creating more demand for a similar class of silicon from other firms. The remainder here is pure speculation with a dash of wishful thinking. There are still a lot of things that are entirely unclear. The only concrete thing is that Stage 4 will happen when everything is running Apple’s in- house processors. By this point, consumers will be quite familiar with the ARM Macs existing, and developers have had have enough time to transition apps fully over to the newly unified system. Any performance, battery life, or app support concerns will not be an issue at this point. There are no more details here, it’s the end of the road, but we are left with a number of questions. It is unclear if Apple will stick to AMD's GPUs or whether they will instead opt to use their in-house graphics solutions that have been used since the A11 series of processors. How Thunderbolt support on these models of Mac will be achieved is unknown. While Intel has made it openly available for use, and there are plans to have USB and Thunderbolt combined in a single standard, it’s still unclear how it will play along with Apple processors. Presently, iPhones do support connecting devices via PCI Express to the processor, but it has only been used for iPhone and iPad storage. The current Apple processors simply lack the number of lanes required for even the lowest end MacBook Pro. This is an issue that would need to be addressed in order to ship a full desktop-grade platform. There is also the question of upgradability for desktop models, and if and how there will be a replaceable, socketed version of these processors. Will standard desktop and laptop memory modules play nicely with these ARM processors? Will they drop standard memory across the board, in favor of soldered options, or continue to support user-configurable memory on some models? Will my 2023 Mac Pro play nicely with a standard PCI Express device that I buy off the shelf? Will we see a return of “Mac Edition” PCI devices? There are still a lot of unknowns, and guessing any further in advance is too difficult. The only thing that is certain, however, is that Apple processors coming to Mac is very much within arm’s reach.
[Review] Ranking all the Switch shmups Ep25 - Q-YO Blaster
There was a time when I believed that shmups could only feature ships. Then games like Parodius came to challenge that belief. If an Octopus can be the player, then anything is possible. And don’t get me started on Cho Aniki… When it comes to unusual characters for a shmup, it’s always a coin toss. They could either be the most fun you’ve had in a while or end up being a disappointment. Time for me to toss this coin! Publisher: Forever entertainment Platform: Nintendo Switch Release date: Jun 27, 2019 Price: $9.99 Tate: You can, but you might need to tilt your head Q-YO Blaster is by far the strangest 2D horizontal shmup I’ve reviewed for this ranking list. The gameplay and mechanics aren’t anything particularly odd, but there’s something about the presentation and the lore which is legitimately fascinating. For some reason it feels like a game developed by someone out of this world who learned about our culture through animated movies.
SATURDAY MORNING SHMUP
One of the aspects that tipped me over the edge when deciding what to review was the art style. Keeping up with the animation vibe, Q-YO Blaster sports an old school cartoon art style. Enemies will be colorful creatures with quirky details such as baseball caps, big eyes or even Mickey Mouse styled gloves. Their animations are equally as comical whether it is their attack animation of their death animation. Of course, cartoony can be used to describe maybe half of the style. The other half is probably more akin to a sci-fi coat of paint. Along the many bugs and animals, there’s also a great deal of robots, monsters, heavy weaponry and even blood running rampant (or maybe it’s oil?). It does makes sense considering the bugs came from space, and it definitely adds a touch of mystery when navigating through the stages of Q-YO Blaster.
EVERYONE IS HERE!
My original expectation of the game was to have a few pilots including the Q-YO, floating dog head from the screenshots and doggy airplane. Little did I know that Q-YO Blaster has more pilots than I have fingers in both of my hands. Pilots are arranged into 3 different teams. Each pilot has different stats which include damage, speed and fire. The teams can have +damage, +endurance or a mixture of both. Fortunately, despite the outrageous pilot designs and sprites, their hitboxes are all the same. After picking your pilot, you can pick one of 7 different special weapons to round out your style. From whichever angle you want to watch it, Q-YO Blaster offers a crazy amount of customization options. The defining feature of each team is their assistant. Assistant are powerful screen-wide effects that trigger once you fill the assistant gauge. The gauge can be filled by continuously shooting and defeating enemies. Once filled, you can hold the fire button to unleash its effect. The effects are a screen explosion that clears bullets, a temporary shield or a 360 barrage of missiles.
BUILDING YOUR OFFENSE
With all of the previous elements combined, you can play as one of 112 possible combinations of team, pilot and special weapons. In terms of weapons at your disposal, you have 3: your basic shot, your special weapon and your assistant. Your basic shot is an infinite gun that shoots bullets straight ahead with some degree of spread. The first shot is always straight, so you can opt for manual rapid fire to keep a straight line of fire. Alternatively, you can hold the button and just auto-fire. Occasionally, you’ll find power-up weapons flying around the stage. This power-ups will grant you a limited weapon when collected. These extra weapons are considerably faster than your basic shot at the cost of having limited ammo. They also have a unique effect on their very first shot, once more giving you a choice between manually shooting or going with the auto-fire.
ALSO BUILD YOUR DEFENSE
One defensive tool you have at your disposal is the pulse. Pulse clears every bullet on screen and turns them into gems. When collected, this gems will increase the level of your special weapon gauge. This special weapon will be whatever you picked on the character select, and has 3 different levels of strength depending on how many gems you have collected. It also comes with some slight invulnerability so you can use it to get out of sticky situations. The caveat of pulse is that you can only carry 3 stocks, and it is only refilled by collecting extra pulse power-ups. I have mixed feelings about this limitation, as I feel it plays an integral part of your offensive game plan. Its hard limit prevents any smart usage other than just a get-out-of-jail card. I would have loved if it had a gauge like the assistant, as that would have created a balance between building pulse and shooting your special.
Every stage carries a sort of familiar scenery. I like to think of it as Toy Story levels. Considering the characters are Q-YOs and bugs, it makes sense for the scenery to be a relatively small scale such as houses or gardens. I find them to be very charming, or it might be just my nostalgia kicking in because I grew up with Toy Story. Nonetheless, I really dig the stages. At the end of each stage, there’s a very comical boss waiting for you. These bosses represent whichever vibe you got from the level. For example, the boss of the garden level is none other than Queen Bee herself. Bosses turn the action up to 11 featuring huge bullet patterns and significantly more aggressive tactics. My one complaint about the bosses is that they feel a lot like a flow chart. They have a couple of attacks and will cycle through them in the same order all the time. Assuming you can dodge them, it’s only a matter of repeating the same moves over and over until the boss goes down. This is even worse on the harder difficulties when the bosses have much more HP. The most interesting aspects of the stages are the end rewards. Similar to many rogue-lite games, clearing a stage will let you choose a perk for the rest of your adventure. The perks are always the same, but include upgrades such as increased speed, faster shots or even 1ups.
Despite being a shmup, I really recommend paying attention to the story! It really is something else! I don’t think it actually makes much sense, but there’s something about the way it’s told that crashes my brain. It does have some powerful moments as well! Including that one stage with the sad music and the rain. I don’t want to spoil it, but it really hit me hard. I didn’t delve too much into game modes, but there’s basically classic and arcade. Classic is your base mode with the entire story and 3 selectable difficulties. If you don’t want to go through the story every time (even though it is skippable), then arcade mode is for you. Arcade mode features 0 cutscenes, so it’s all fun and games. Arcade mode is also much harder, but has 99 continues.
HARDER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
I have to make one of my classic parenthesis to talk about difficulty. Being honest, I think the expert difficulty and to some extent arcade are pretty terrible. The reason is because of the way the game is balanced as a result of them. Harder difficulties feature faster bullets and more complex patterns, but also feature increased vitality for the enemies. The increased lethality of the enemies makes for a hearty challenge, but all good is wiped out by the tedium of enemy endurance. What I found out was that enemies are very durable in the harder difficulties. Rather than creating a fun challenge, it makes it incredibly hard to destroy enemies. Most enemies feel like sponges that just refuse to die unless you have a special weapon. Some enemies feel outright impossible to kill before they leave the screen, an issue which hurts a lot when it comes to homing projectiles that need to be destroyed. Fun and dynamic dog fights become grindy situations where you focus on a single ship and fail to destroy it while having others flood the screen. I really think harder difficulties would have been better without the added HP on enemies but retaining the faster bullets and harder patterns.
SLOW AND STEADY DOESN’T WIN THE RACE
While on the topic of hard difficulties, the homing bullets are another culprit behind the reason the difficulty isn’t fun. I’ve never been a fan of homing attacks as they feel cheap, but it feels like it wasn’t play tested because some slower ships can’t actually avoid a homing shot without the speed upgrade. To be fair, no one shoots homing bullets on stage 1, so taking speed is utmost priority. One thing I do like about speed is that most boss patterns allow you to dodge at high speed. You can’t slow your speed, so it’s nice that there isn’t finesse required to survive some waves.
A LITTLE BIT MORE TIME IN THE OVEN
If I was on a game show about quick words and someone mentioned “Q-YO Blaster”, my response would be “rough”. While some aspects of the game are really cool, there are other where it feels a little bit incomplete. Some enemies don’t match the visual quality of others such as Major Tomm. The UI and menus also seem to come from a prototype version. There’s also a sort of bug where if you die and use a credit, the game immediately pauses. Not a big deal, but it feels out of place. The customization screen is also all sorts of blurry. You can’t remap controls either, which is a shame considering the shoulder buttons would really come in handy. Most of these issues aren’t a big deal by themselves, but they taint the final product by making it feel a little like shovelware. The game is really fun though, so it is sad to think about having it fall under that umbrella.
So the mandatory question is, is it fun? It definitely is! With its bizarre and unsettling vibe, Q-YO Blaster is still tons of fun to play. While there is certainly a lot of room for improvement, Q-YO Blaster is still a solid choice for a shmup if you are fan of the cartoon style, of the horizontal shmup format or just a fan of little critters in general. THE RANKING SO FAR:
Steredenn: Binary Stars
Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
Sky Force: Reloaded
R-Type Dimensions EX
Sine Mora EX
Shikhondo – Soul Eater
Ghost Blade HD
Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
Cover | First chapter | Previous | Patreon | Published Books | Website | Discord “Sarah said you wanted to speak with me?” I strode into Zafir’s office and closed the door behind me. He looked mildly surprised to see me at first, but a welcoming smile took over soon after. “Yes…we have much to discuss.” Zafir watched me carefully as I sat across from him. “First and foremost, I should inform you of Abel’s lie and the steps I took to fix what he’d done.” “Oh lovely. I can’t wait.” I leaned against the armrest. “Do tell me of your noble deeds, o’ great hero.” A short laugh escaped Zafir before he settled back in his seat, hands steepled in his lap, and his voice becoming all business. “To the point it is. Abel, contrary to his reports to me and what he told you, had you fitted with the manner of brain chip that can be detonated. The military recently began investigating Abel’s activities due to his sudden—classified—disappearance. As much of his misconduct was in relation to the other survivors, I took the liberty of ordering additional scans when you were rendered unconscious.” I gave him an impatient look when he paused for a swig of water. “Which showed the chip. And?” “I took the liberty of replacing it. After some discussions with our bosses, I educated them on the nuances of survivors such as yourself and acquired permission to use a Syldrari-made chip.” Zafir gave me that mysterious ‘I know you’re overthinking every word I say’ smile of his. “The survivors, and especially you, require more processing power than the empire’s chips provide. Luckily for us, the empire has no qualms about stealing technology from others and refitting it to suit their own purposes.” “Why Syldrari specifically?” I raised an eyebrow. “There’s plenty of races more advanced than us.” “Because the Syldrari are the most advanced species we’ve encountered, and because a Syldrari chip was the only one you showed compatibility with. I imagine it must have something to do with the Resonance Incident and your Syldrari suit.” Zafir shrugged, seemingly unbothered by my suspicion. “With that explained, we come to the primary reason I sent for you: I want your permission to run further tests. I’m not confident that Abel didn’t fake more information. Specifically, I would like to run blood tests.” “I mean…fine?” I glanced around, then back at Zafir. “Here, or one of the labs?” “Here will suffice.” Zafir motioned for me to roll up my sleeves. He stood and began rummaging around in the nearby cabinets. “How is training progressing?” “It’s…going. There’s not really much to say on that front until they can start actually going out to do…whatever it is we do.” I shook my head. “I’m still waiting to hear back from our bosses, but I did send in my request that Calder, Nikolai, and Maelor begin working.” Zafir pulled a chair up next to me and rolled a tray over, motioning for me to give him my arm. “Speaking of which, they want you to resume patrolling the Syldrari Sector during the day. They believe we’ve given enough time—” “I’m not so sure about that,” I interjected, thinking back to the letter Sarah had brought to me from Rel. “From what I understand, the Syldrari are worryingly convinced that I’m Lethe, and it may be dangerous for me there because of it.” “And you have this on good authority?” Zafir inquired as he gently prodded at my arm, sanitizing it before strapping a thin black band around the crook of my elbow. I grimaced. It was too late not to elaborate. “Rel sent a letter along with our meal the other week. He warned that I should stay away because multiple clans, including the R’selkti, are looking for me due to these rumors.” “Of course…” Zafir sighed, his expression falling. “I’m afraid there’s nothing I can say at this point to make them reconsider…without putting you at greater risk. Tomorrow you will begin your patrols again. I will see if I can convince our superiors to permit one of your colleagues to join you. Either way, I am planning to have one of them act as our ‘vigilante’ in the sector for a time, while you work elsewhere. Who would you say is the most stable?” “Nikolai for sure.” I raised an eyebrow as Zafir took the band off me. “Done already?” “Indeed. It’s much more efficient than a needle.” Zafir tilted a black glass vial, peering into it briefly before capping it off. The other three were quickly sealed as well. If there was anything off about my blood, he didn’t comment or show it. A pity, that. I was curious to know if there were still traces of blue like I’d seen while fighting the odd Syldrari. “Now then, I recommend you rest for the remainder of the day. I want you at your best when dealing with the Syldrari. Perhaps you can do some reading on their culture while you relax?” * * * I arrived in the Syldrari Sector early in the morning as shops were starting to open and people were beginning to walk the streets. Though it was early, there seemed to be an unusual number of people out and about. They were all so distracted that I managed to make it all the way to Rel’s cafe without anyone acknowledging my presence. “Elara? You shouldn’t…” Rel released an aggravated sigh. “You don’t have a choice and that’s why you’re here. Of course. What can I do for you, then? Are you feeling better?” “Better…ish?” I shrugged and gave him a small smile. “What can I say? It’s one thing after another. I’m just trying to roll with the punches at this point.” “Understandable.” Rel nodded and gave me a tired smile. “Will I be surprising you again today?” “Can you stop spoiling the graekstidat fodder for one second?” A familiar, grumpy voice demanded. I glanced over to see a Syldrari man with pale grey skin walking over. His black hair obscured one eye, the pale blue underside glowing against his cheek. His eyes were…among the odder that I’d seen. While the pupils were consistent with Syldrari, the colors of deep mauve, yellow, and jade green blended together similar to how a human’s hazel did. However, I had no damn idea where I’d heard his voice before. “A…what fodder?” I looked over at the aggravated Rel. “And since when did you have an edgy teenager working for you?” “Ah, think of it as an amphibious, furred shark hybrid the length of…several train cars,” Rel answered, pressing his fingers to his temples. “Furthermore, Aldiner is old enough to be your great-great-great-” “I’m working here to pay up for pissing off the elder here,” Aldiner interjected with a snort as he pushed his hands into his apron pockets. He leaned over me, examining me from a few angles. “You don’t have that military air to you. Sure you’re a—” I gave Aldiner my best cold, intimidating glare as he reached out and poked my cheek once. When he went for a second poke, I knocked his arm aside, spun behind him and elbowed him where I hoped his kidneys were, and moved to take him down to the ground. Alas, an arm wrapped around my waist and lifted me clean off the floor—and didn’t stop until my butt was planted on his shoulder. I looked down, startled enough to forget about beating the crap out of Aldiner. “Ignore Aldiner. He likes to annoy everyone he sees, and hates being ignored.” The much larger Syldrari glanced at me. I certainly hadn’t expected it to be the grumpy soldier man, seeing as he’d appeared to rather dislike me. “You’re fast, for a strigaella.” “A human woman,” Rel answered my next question with a sigh. Aldiner, behave. Humans are much less…ah…” Rel motioned with his hands and wiggled his fingers as he searched for the word. “You don’t touch humans unless invited to,” the soldier Syldrari grunted. “She invited ya?” Aldiner leaned forward peering at the soldier and then at where I was perched on his shoulder. “I didn’t, but I can appreciate that he was stopping me from starting a brawl with you right here and—” I cut myself off with an aggravated sigh when felt the feral attempting to push forward. All three Syldrari went still and watched me warily. What they sensed, or how much, I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. “Set me down, please…uh…” “Heh, always bitching about manners and you never introduced yourself, did ya?” Aldiner gave the soldier a cocky grin. “…call me Casair,” the soldier glanced away, seeming a little disgruntled, but the patterns of light on his arms didn’t so much as flicker. …Aldiner on the other hand… I glanced at the self-contained rave fish, then back at Casair. “And you can call me Elara, though I suppose you knew that already.” “Awww, Casair is shy!” Aldiner teased. “Suppressing—” “Quiet, vlerst bait.” Casair crossed his arms at the strobing Syldrari, then glanced over at me. “Back to patrolling needlessly?” “Something like that. I was sitting around recovering for so long that my boss’s bosses started thinking up other uses for me.” I grimaced before walking over to the counter and hopping up onto my usual seat. “As for surprising me, Rel, yes. Though I’d like a glass of…” I paused to reference the menu, “Jiirst☆nil?” Either I said it very right or terribly wrong, because all three men stopped what they were doing to stare at me in shock. Well, Aldiner was staring already, but he didn’t count. “Ah, there you are Rel my dear!” A woman’s voice carried through the room shortly after I heard the doors to the establishment open. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” “Mother, please…” a familiar voice groaned, and I glanced back to see the candy girl—who perked up and waved when she spotted me. “Careful you don’t become the queen’s snack,” Casair muttered by my ear before moving away to a booth in the corner, settling into it in such a way that he could keep an eye on everyone. Queen? I eyed the flamboyant woman and the three people with her. If one was her daughter, I had to assume the other two were guards—they had weapons holstered at their hips, at least. “I’m honored by your visit, but please refrain—” Rel began. “So, when will you become one of my consorts?” The…queen? demanded with a bright smile—one that faltered when Rel placed the drink he was making in front of me instead of her. I half-expected her to be angry, but instead she studied me for a moment, her head tilted, and a finger pressed against her full, black-painted lips. “A visitor in the Syldrari Sector…are you an Iri, Sen’iri, Sol’iri, Anad’iri, Sora’iri, or Lun’iri? I can never tell with you humans…” “Elara is an Iri, honestly…” Rel rubbed his temples. “How many times must we explain to you that the humans are binary in their biological—” “And that is just the problem! Biological! If they didn’t hop around between bodies and swap out prosthetics constantly—no offense—perhaps I could more easily identify who they are!” The queen hmphed, crossed her arms, then finally seemed to spot my uniform. “Ah, a military girl—my favorite. If Rel still refuses to become my consort… How would you like off this planet, sweetie?” “Mother, please!” The candy girl moved between her mother and me. “Elara is the nice human I told you about! She likes the candy I make, and her friends are going to help give me ideas for ones more humans will like! Plus, you haven’t even introduced yourself! Humans can’t sense a queen’s identity!” “Speaking of my colleagues,” I paused, pulling out several sheets of paper that had been folded together. “They may not be able to come to the sector for a while, so they asked me to deliver their notes to you.” She took them, and skimmed the first page, the glowing sections of her skin pulsing faster the more she read. “This is…this is great! I’m going to go work on the next batch!” And with that, the excitable candy girl darted out of the café, practically skipping as she went. “I’m Xilen, I run the mercantile Dvarl Clan,” the queen stated promptly, offering me her hand. When I shook it, she paused to study my face and search my eyes. “If you ever want off this planet, Rel knows how to contact me. It wouldn’t do for a pretty little thing like you to be wasted on the humans.” “…I’ll keep that in mind…” I gently reclaimed my hand while Aldiner snickered from somewhere. “Do you find women…?” Rel raised an eyebrow when I shook my head. “Then, you are being polite.” “I’m keeping my options open,” I countered. “If the military can’t recreate the Resonance phenomena—and maybe even if they can—their next step is going to be breeding our mutations down to offspring. I want no part of that, so having options is good.” “Ahhh, she’s so smart!” Xilen leaned over to squeeze me, rubbing her cheek against mine. To my surprise, the Syldrari in the cafe all looked ready to start a fight over it—with her. I got the distinct feeling it wasn’t jealousy, which made me all the more confused. “You just say the word and I’ll have you off this planet and into my arms! I’d love to see how such a cute human would look in Syldrari clothes—you don’t mind translucency, do you? I’d imagine not—” “Elara needs to have her meal before she returns to her duties.” Rel suddenly appeared behind us, his hand on the queen’s shoulder, and his voice cold as ice. “If you’re here to discuss trade, you can wait for me in the usual room.” “How dare—” One of the men I assumed to be the queen’s guards started to raise a weapon. I figured this was as good a time as any to make my point. I was out of my chair and twisting the weapon out of the man’s hand before he could finish his sentence. Using his body weight against him, I got him on the floor and twisted his arm behind his back, placing my booted foot against the back of his shoulders. “You— Ugh!” The other guard grunted when Casair’s fist met his stomach. “Please keep in mind that my job is to keep conflicts in the Syldrari Sector to a minimum, and I am authorized to use lethal force if you pull a weapon on anyone, regardless of race or species,” I spoke calmly, grinding my heel into the Syldrari’s back for emphasis. “You may keep your weapons and use them for defense if necessary. If you pull them again for any other reason…” “Cuuute!” Xilen promptly squeezed me in a hug. It took most of my willpower to beat down the feral, especially since I agreed with the idea of fucking ripping her arms off if she hugged me one more damn time. Xilen leaned down to speak quietly by my ear, “Be careful, dear. If you ever suspect you’re in trouble or in over your head, I’m sure you know how we can get them to come running to save you. And, stay far, far away from the R’selkti and their queen.” “Uh—?” I didn’t get to ask her what the hell she was on about. She fetched her guards and led them to some back room, leaving me confused and…a little unnerved. “I apologize for Queen Xilen’s…eccentricities,” Rel offered when I finally turned around to return to my seat. “Are all queens so goddamn pushy?” I snorted irritably, trying to shove Xilen’s insinuations out of my mind. “Ah…with Iri being the rarest of the six, they tend to act however they please…” Rel murmured awkwardly. “It is not uncommon for Syldrari women to turn their rarity into a form of power over others. Most Iri, even if they are not queens, have many…I believe the human word is ‘spouses?’” “Long story short: most recent queens have been groomed to see the other sexes as playthings to collect. Some of them even take other Iri, but it’s frowned upon,” Casair piped up flatly. “Xilen is of a different tide. She’s lasted so long because she can pretend. Whatever she whispered to you was probably as herself.” “Blah blah blah.” Aldiner rolled his eyes before leaning toward me. “You know, being a queen’s pet has its perks.” “Aldiner!” Rel barked, his markings flaring bright. “Go wash the dishes!” “Fiiine.” Aldiner sauntered off toward the back, though he turned and stuck his fingers up in a V and flicked his surprisingly long dual or split tongue between them before disappearing through the door. …I have a feeling it’s a good thing Rel didn’t catch that… I shook my head slightly. “So, are there any other developments I should know about before I start my patrols again?” “Just…be cautious. Someone has convinced the people here that you are Lethe…and that she may be a queen or related to one.” Rel sighed heavily and pushed his hair back. “Aside from that, things have been calming down after the little queen was found. With Xilen here…who knows. Her unannounced visits always cause trouble.” Next
efficiency costs of purchase vs awakenings ideal ranks and their use in winning tournaments
https://preview.redd.it/govc8j6lwaw41.jpg?width=720&format=pjpg&auto=webp&s=b53ae8c35f697ea53d6d292ec05f434f29578784 blue = gem cost of initial purchase of a hero at that starting rank, vs. red = gem cost of the awakenings needed to get them to R6 (800*each rank) - together being 100% of their total cost. The "box"-looking effect is the proportion that each rank takes up irt its' relative cost - e.g., the blue boxes are always larger b/c they offer less efficiency at 1500/rank instead of the 800/rank for each awakening; and they are different sizes b/c the heroes have different total costs (i.e., so the awakenings take up a smaller or larger relative proportion of it). The black line is then the % of tokens that can be skipped when starting off with a hero at that starting rank, and the green dashed lines represent each successive rank above that, which are always the same regardless of a hero's starting rank: so a R0 hero starts off with none, but then at R1 is 3% of the way through, then at R2, R3, R4, R5, and R6 is 9, 18, 29, 53, and 1005 of the way through. Speaking of, I did not make another one for R7 though I could if there is interest - still, this should help get across the main points. And yes, I realize that there are no heroes that start at R3, or R6 (yet!), but it was easier to leave those in than to take them out. Also an accompanying table of other helpful numbers.
R3 (though no hero starts here)
R6 (doesn't exist - yet!?)
total gem cost:
remaining tokens to R6:
People keep asking questions about the "efficiency" of ranking up heroes for tournament usage, so I thought I would share this graph, in case it helps. For instance, did you realize that once you buy a hero that comes pre-awakened to R2, you've already spent nearly *half* of their total gem cost to fully awaken them to R6? (4 more awakenings*800 each=3200, vs. their 3000 price-tag) Although you start off only skipping 9% of the total tokens needed to get them there ((5+10)/(5+10+15+20+40+80)). Especially for newer players considering which heroes to buy and rank up to unlock worlds, these heroes offer fantastic utility for the campaign, Endless mode, and higher-difficulty RS situations. And then once bought, they offer the same efficiency as any other hero to finish off to their R6 for use in tournaments. It's a matter of preference to get one or several of them early and enjoy their use in the campaign, or to avoid their high cost and just awaken more inexpensive ones for faster, though more difficult progress. In contrast, the heroes that come pre-awakened to R5 are more expensive - but their purchase price represents 90% of their total gem costs, and they already have more than half the total tokens that would be needed to unlock their R6. In short, if you have the gems, it's way more efficient to purchase Yan or Narlax and then finish them off to their R6 than it is to start a new hero at R1 (although if you would have to save up the gems first, read this post instead: https://www.reddit.com/RealmDefenseTD/comments/g1mmg5/advice_about_awakening_existing_heroes_vs_buying/). (Also, do not buy Leif, at least not for the sake of tournaments, although he's great for campaign, and the #1 hero for RS, so especially good for getting a new event hero to higher rank.) As far as it pertains to "ideal" ranks (those below R6 that are worth pausing at, to win during a hero's week), that is something that many newer players want to know about, but don't quite realize that it's not necessarily for them just yet. But for those that are keen to know, read https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Meta#Season_11_Meta.2FAnalysis for the utility of heroes in Tournament settings, and https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Awakening_Tokens#Most_powerful_Ranks for the utility of each awakening, plus https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Heroes_overview for some additional commentary on hero ideal ranks. For instance, Smoulder has 2 of them, for different purposes: R4 for anti-flier stun situational effect, R5 for his own week that adds stun & a reduced cooldown, although really for his own week he's mostly R6-or-bust, but that depends heavily on the league & the lateness of the season. I should perhaps add that I've never had much luck with ideal ranks. They seem mostly to be useful in Diamond League, and then by Masters already they are no longer useful. That said, you should give each one careful thought, individually for each hero, b/c it can save you a TON of time from getting a hero's R6 when you didn't need it (yet). Perhaps the most (in-)famous example is Yan's R6, which she doesn't need on her own week (I've literally seen Gold- rather than Purple-outlined Yans among the *very* top scores of a league), probably b/c she doesn't have great skills to help turn her blessed stat boost into actual DAMAGE (being mainly a "support" hero, which she is good at), and especially if you don't even have Efrigid or Bolton yet to receive the synergy that her R6 talent would offer, then it is fairly useless. Though these things do tend to change over time - like Narlax's R6 also used to be unnecessary, until this past season (11) when on his own blessed week it became mandatory to pull several strong bosses. Also one of Hogan's ideal ranks used to be R3 iirc (when his R5 decreased rather than increased his attack speed, before it was switched), then last season it became R5 to keep him alive (also against a strong boss), and now this season it looks like his blessed week is strongly pushing even his R6? Oh yes, some heroes can't/shouldn't really be paused at all, like Lancelot who prior to R6 is flat-out replaceable even when blessed, but at R6 gains a STRONG anti-air utility that is absolutely mandatory to win that week (as in, if ANYONE else in your group has it, who isn't terribly unskilled, then you have little chance to get a higher score than them). Where the concept of "ideal ranks" is most helpful then, is when you already have (most of) the Meta, and are looking to win more reliably each week. Having a hero at an ideal rank may not be required to win in Gold League for instance, but it can be helpful to use that along the way while you work on other things too (like a second hero's ideal rank, or their R6, or even continuing on with the same hero, just holding back on the actual gem cost - btw strong shout-out thanks to lanclos for sharing with me most of what I know about ideal ranks:-). I suppose it may be like identifying potential resting spots while climbing a mountain - once you identify them you can either pause and rest at them, or else of course skip them and keep going, but either way they may be nice to at least plan to pass by during your ascent, just in case you find that you need them. SPEAKING OF, here are some additional thoughts on tournaments that might help in that regard, though first I'll have to cover some basics: a) there is an effect I call the "leading edge" whereby the earlier weeks in the season are the hardest. e.g., *this week* in Gold League is literally the hardest week that it will ever be in this season, b/c *this* is the week that it contains the most senior players (like former GMs). Then, next week, Platinum League will be created, and will be populated by the top 3 players from each group that managed to get promoted - which lets face it tends to be the most senior players, with the deepest hero investments and also the most experience & skill; and thus *that week* will be the hardest that Platinum will ever see, and so on in Diamond, and Masters, and...actually Legendary is special, b/c once a player reaches GM, they remain there. But the other leagues get easier the further the season goes, b/c of all the more senior players getting promoted each week. So therefore the last week of each season (prior to Legendary) is literally the easiest to get promoted in. There are some important modifiers to this, b/c it may be easy or hard in general but not for you b/c of the heroes you have, and also an effect where campers used to try to not get promoted so quickly, but then towards the end of the season get nervous and want to move upwards, but anyway, this is generally true. So when I say "in lower leagues, later in the season", what I mean is "further away from the leading edge". IN OTHER WORDS, the difficulty of Gold League on week #1 is nowhere NEAR the same difficulty as Gold League on week #15. On the other hand, Platinum League on week #2 is quite similar actually to the difficulty of Legendary League, anytime, b/c that is the league where at that time all the veterans are (with anything above Platinum not yet having been created). See what I mean? But b/c of this effect, any talk about "Gold League" or "Platinum League" must be merely an average of how difficult it is to win, which basically means mid-way away from the leading edge, although be aware of these variations where earlier means *much*-harder-than-average, and later means much easier. b) Gold League further is special in its' being so small, and in having players that haven't finished the campaign yet, which (vastly) increases the number of total players, and has the effect of "diluting" / spreading the veteran players out between/among the various groups. Therefore, even on week #1, its' difficulty is nowhere near as hard as Legendary League, b/c of being mitigated by this effect. Platinum on week #2 also isn't *quite* as hard as Legendary for similar reasons (the group size being 30 instead of 50; and effects like even former GMs lacking Hogan and not being promoted while others who have Hogan's R6 can do even better), but...Gold is truly special in being the easiest league to win in (aside from the non-repeatable Bronze and Silver of course). Though again, for people having trouble getting promoted from Gold League, take heart: as the season progresses it WILL get easier!:-) c) in Gold League, with Koi & Raida you can pretty much win by accident even w/o meteors (though this particular week requires Narlax too, and might even need meteors - though I have never used any to get out of Gold myself). This is b/c those heroes provide so much higher utility, compared to so MANY players that lack them, that you definitely have a good chance. And that chance keeps repeating every week, as it gets easier and easier later and later into the season, so if you don't get promoted one week, keep trying the next. The advice for players lacking Koi & Raida is the same: keep trying, and eventually you'll get into a group that lacks Koi, or perhaps someone who doesn't know how to use them yet, and you CAN win! And if you truly want to prioritize this aspect of the game, before you finish the campaign, get a hero to an ideal rank or even R6, and on their blessed week, if it's late enough, you'll have a VERY good shot (though perhaps also needing good generic heroes like Narlax and Leif, unless you get VERY lucky with your group placement, or outright R6 a few heroes for this purpose). d) in Platinum, it gets a bit harder. Though, if you have the Meta, not by that much. For those who have Raida & Koi, also pick up Yan, necro-Connie, Narlax, and Smoulder's R4 and you'll do fine in Platinum, even without the blessed hero (though of course, earlier in the season you may need them, while later you can get by without them, having strong generic+situational replacements). e) in Diamond, it gets harder still, where you start to need the blessed hero more often. Though not every week, and not necessarily at an "ideal"/pausing rank. Two seasons ago (while I was still R6ing Koi) I got promoted by having Obsidian, not at his ideal rank of R4 but just about level 20 and rank R2 - & even then he was replaceable with Efri's R6 (which I did not have) - though that was week #13 out of 15, so very late. Many other similar stories told by veteran players abound: Mabyn's R2, Helios's R4, and if you have Yan's R6, then also Efri's R4 & Bolton's R3, etc. f) in Masters, it is pretty much R6-or-bust, and so you are already past the stage where ideal ranks can help you for the most part (I mean Yan's R5 would probably still work, and Helios's R4 b/c towers don't add much to tournament situations, but...not much else). *If* you use the blessed hero at all, you probably need them all the way to R6. Though there are a few situations where a hero is outright replaceable - chiefly Sethos, Leif, and Masamune (possibly needing to be quite late in the season for that one), all of whom lack anti-air capabilities (though Masamune's R7 is going to change that!). g) that said, Masters League is still nowhere near as difficult as Legendary. Scores that would get you promoted out of Masters won't even get you a reward in Legendary (although THIS season looks to be changing that - thus encouraging promotion and concurrently discouraging camping in lower leagues - definitely a plus for both veteran and more junior players alike!). Also, for the most part you can get by without the whole entire cast of "situational" heroes that are needed in Legendary, to win a GM. What I mean is: when veteran players have ALL the heroes to choose from, and they are all at R6, they can find the absolute BEST one for any given week - which could be Efri, Mabyn, Azura, Caldera, Connie, Helios, Shamiko, Narlax, Smoulder, etc., and if you want to get a GM, you need to have whatever it is that week that is among the BEST. While in Masters, you most often don't - so actually, R6-or-bust isn't that hard to do, at least compared to Legendary where you need both the blessed hero that week AND one of a large(-ish?) cast of situational heroes, and of course their R6 as well. h) an argument against ideal ranks is that it may spread out your hero investments too thin to let you win many weeks. On the other hand, an argument for it is that even having a hero's R6 doesn't guarantee a win (e.g., at first I was absolutely terrible at using Narlax - and still I have yet to ever win a week where he is blessed). Also aiming for ideal ranks lets you maximize your elixir income (https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Realm_Siege_Strategies). Though an R6 hero also offers the option to use that hero even when not blessed (and yet this works better for some heroes and not so well for others - e.g., Mabyn can perhaps win at R2 in Diamond, but as a situational hero needs her 5th meteor talent gained at R6 to truly be effective; while Bolton + Obsidian are mostly only used when blessed, and never outside of that - although this week may again be revealing that the devs may change that in the future!). Therefore there are many benefits to either using, or not using, ideal ranks. Ultimately whether you want to pause at an ideal rank, or keep going all the way to R6 for every hero that you own, seems to be a matter of personal preference: how EXTREME of a personality are you? Do you want to work on increasing your MAXIMUM power, to possibly win a GM title sooner - but also maybe fail to even reach Legendary League at all, as a more junior player, and also have little chance at all on weeks that you lack the blessed hero (at least in Diamond League, or others earlier in the season, closer to the seasonal reset - i.e., take a risk, and maybe be #1 on the weeks you've prepared heavily for, but then score very low on (many of) those you've invested literally nothing into? Or do you prefer to aim for a more AVERAGE level of power, which may leave you unable to be promoted on a given week (maybe several of them), but yet still maybe get some rewards, not being the best but neither being the worst, and yet still get practice either way, and maybe win sooner with less of a hero investment needed into a particular week, leaving you free to focus your efforts elsewhere? Like most things in life, the ideal path is probably somewhere between the most extreme of R6ing one hero before moving on to the next, vs. having all heroes at ideal ranks but none at R6. Though there are people who have pursued each of those strategies! (and I can tell you some of their names if you want:-) Ultimately you need 4 wins to get to Legendary League, and then at least 1 more if you want a GM title that season. So pick a few heroes to get to R6, another few to get to ideal ranks, and with that collection you'll do well. Another hint: do you want your strongest hero investments to be earlier in the season, in your lowest league, or later, in the highest? Watch the https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Blessed_Heroes_-_Tournament page to see how early a hero is blessed in the last few seasons, and pick one that will likely be blessed later rather than earlier, and then aim to buy that hero and work on increasing their power. e.g., Yan and Narlax are both in the Meta, and blessed mid-to-late-season. Also there are a TON of other helpful tips - about towers, heroes and synergies and combo moves, and many other tournament topics on https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Tournament_Basic_Info and https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Tournament_Detailed_Strategy. So now all that's left is for me to wish you good luck!:-) Edit: while I thought about adding these couple of thoughts before, they didn't specifically touch on ideal ranks, so I left them out. But so many are asking so I'll put them in after all... i) there are 3 hero roles to fulfill each week: generic, situational, and blessed. If you want to think about it harder it's "really" 2 situational and 1 blessed, but since right now one of those slots is nearly ALWAYS Koi, the former formula is at least a nice way to think about/remember it. generic: especially if you lack blessed heroes and/or Koi, this is about all you've got - so use it! When you get to W3, Helios or Sethos can work, to help get you promoted from Gold - though you shouldn't get them just for this purpose (it is terribly inefficient to buy new heroes all the time when you can awaken earlier ones for nearly half the cost, though that takes TIME so this is a strategy mainly for P2W players). In W4, Yan and especially Narlax can get you promoted in Platinum (though again, don't buy JUST for this short-term purpose), and in W5, Leif/Caldera can get you promoted even as high as Diamond (later in the season). I doubt that any of these can get you promoted in Masters, and if anyone ever actuall DID that, they should count their lucky stars, but it's not something that you should "expect" to happen. Once you get Raida and Koi though, you'll never use these other heroes for their "generic" utility again. situational: usually there is some hero / class of heroes that will work best for a given week. Otherwise, for example, if the only powerful heroes you have are Koi & Leif, then every week you'll always bring them, for their *generic* power. But Leif hardly does anything against fliers - merely blessing towers which, while that work GREAT in RS on blessed tower spots, is virtually useless in tournament situations. Instead, if you brought Smoulder, especially with his R4 anti-flier slow-down talent, then you have a *much* better defense & offense against fliers, even though Smoulder seems to offer FAR less "generic" power than Leif - but even thoug it is "less", it is "more" appropriate to the *situation* - see? So for a level lacking fliers entirely, Leif would be better, although for a sitaution where fliers are the ones ending your tournament play, Smoulder can be a huge boon. Also, sometimes situational utility can (nearly or even completely) win out over generic or blessed heroes! An example is where on Sethos or Leif's blessed week, a team of strong anti-flier utility can relatively easily get scores as good as or better than a team including the blessed hero at R6 (though skill also plays a role of course). Lancelot prior to his R5 is also replaceable, and Masamune even at his R6 is *somewhat* so (if it's not a binary yes/no, but rather a continuum, where his R6 provides *one* route to win, but a strong anti-air team is *another* way, which even though offers less power, and so can't win a GM, is offered at much greater efficiency and may let you get high rewards or even promoted with from Masters League). -) anti-fliers: Raida, Smoulder, Connie are enough to get you started, then later you'll want to add Helios & Azura. Each offers something different - like Smoulder slows them down, Raida stuns them, Connie does both, Azura can charm up to 4 (good for when there are more rare but tanky ones like W3 crows), and others can be good too like Efrigid also slows them, Narlax pulls them back, etc. The Narlax+Raida pull+charge/stun combo is ESPECIALLY powerful (read more at https://realm-defense-hero-legends-td.fandom.com/wiki/Tournament_Detailed_Strategy#Narlax_.2B_CC_combo). Note that while Fee is tremendous for fliers in campaign, she can't really keep up in this mode, except when she's blessed. -) bosses: Koi & even Raida (& Leif if you got him for other reasons) can tank fairly well at first. Connie's bunny mamma does even better, and her little bunnies help slow it down. Narlax at his R6 can pull them back. Later, you'll want Azura who can help charm an enemy to use as a tank against the boss, and then there is Caldera who is immune to all physical damage, but extremely vulnerable to magic. Although the latter two are rarely blessed themselves, and often aren't as worth bringing as the blessed hero. If you are just getting started, Fee (at any rank) may actually work surprisingly well, as her wolves can delay a boss somewhat as it pauses to kill them. -) delay: Connie, Raida to stun, Narlax to pull back, Efrigid to slow/freeze; or for just a few enemies that get past a checkpoint, Yan to teleport, or Mabyn for fear. -) worlds: Mabyn works REALLY well for W3, to send enemies back whereupon the archer-bots can regain control of the situation after being broken through. Azura works really well for W4 since she is immune to the slow effect, can heal to help counteract all the ranged damage being thrown at you, and can charm strong enemies - like an armored tank to use against a boss, or a strong flier to use against other strong or weak ones, etc. Caldera isn't good in W3 (poison) or W4 (magic), but is very effective in W1,2,&5. -) synergies: these can be stronger than anything else (yes even than Koi - in fact this is the ONLY reason why you might not want to use Koi if you have him) - basically you either have the synergy partners or you lose that week (except *maybe* in Gold?). Efri & Bolton need both Yan & Koi's R6, Bolton & Obsidian need each other, Fee needs at least 1-2 of her synergy partners, and Smoulder needs his R6 + Narlax to in. Read the wiki for more comprehensive details. Note that every one of Leif's synergies is absolutely useless and *never* worth bringing him along, unless you are a more junior player and lack anything better to do (hint: it might help once or twice, but it's REALLY not worth getting those 80 tokens and spending 800 gems to get his R6 - that should be one of it not literally THE last thing you do in the game; unless the devs change that soon? I personally would LOVE to see that!:-). -) special mention 1: Yan hastes Koi, and is thus used more often than any other hero, after Koi himself. She can do this at her R5 though - no need to get her R6 until you are ready to take advantage of her 2 synergies. -) special mention 2: Raida's extremely high generic utility (2nd only to Koi), AND his high situational utility (for fliers, stunning & damaging bosses, large CC, etc.) makes him the top #1 all-around utility / situational hero...though only providing a very "average" level whenever you lack some other hero who can provide a higher MAXIMUM power. When you have literally every other hero in the game, and to their R6, then you may never use Raida again (though even that's not quite true - players often use him in their first try at a level, to be ready for anything, even though he is always replaced with someone better to get the final maximum score), but until you invest that deeply (which will take YEARS of your life), Raida can provide a great deal of help. *Especially* on the days where you lack the blessed hero, though that is more of a generic functionality, and yet also when you lack the top situational hero for that week (Azura?). Use him as a stepping-stone. blessed heroes: there is no getting around the fact that you need the blessed heroes to have the best chance to win on a given week. Especially by Masters League, though of course they still help a LOT to win more often in Gold, Platinum, and Diamond. Until then, strong generic+situational utility can help fill in - some heroes are more replaceable than others as mentioned above - but after you get the Meta (Koi, Raida, Connie, Yan, Narlax), then you need to decide whether to prioritize more situational heroes, or more blessed heroes. Both ways work, and you probably want to split your efforts b/t the two. Often heroes work for both: e.g. Narlax is blessed every season, usually fairly late, and then last season (11) was also used another 4 times. In contrast, heroes like Fee, Lancelot, and Masamune are only ever used once, on their blessed week. But still, you only need 4 wins to get to Legendary, and especially if you already had these heroes at a high rank to help you unlock worlds in campaign, they can be a GREAT way to win, certainly much easier than trying to win with purely generic+situational utility that doesn't match what is needed on a given hero's blessed week. One tip: pick a hero that you like to work with, and get them to R6 - you'll likely do better with them than you would with some other hero that you don't enjoy as much. j) R7 heroes and future predictions: many people, myself included, think that R7 will mostly be necessary for winning GMs. Thus, R6 becomes another ideal/pausing rank, though this one useful to win Masters League with. Many people want to know whether they "should" get an additional hero to R6, or focus that time instead to continue on to R7, though again this is up to your personal preference - do you want to win more often, though possibly not at the #1 spot and maybe not get promoted but do get rewards, so aiming for a higher "average" utility, or do you want to take a risk for a chance to get a GM, and aim for "maximum" utility instead (at the cost of being farther behind in terms of having fewer heroes to use whenever they are blessed)? It's a GAME, so go for what YOU want!:-) TLDR: use ideal/pausing ranks for heroes blessed earlier in the season, and instead put your highest investments into heroes blessed later, where you'll need their power the most.
Through 2019, I've played over 70 games, and have beaten 39 of them. Here's a short review for all of them.
I made it a goal this year to play as many games as I possibly could and try to deplete my backlog. Through doing that, I've played games this year that have made me laugh, cry, complain, hate, and love. I enjoy seeing others post game reviews like this, so hopefully there are others out there like me who just enjoy reading about games. All games that I've completed are listed in chronological order from when I beat them, and contain a #/10 for final review score (for the ones that I completed). As a bonus, there will be three segments: Completed, Currently playing/hope to get back to, and Retired. At the end, I will include a TLDR; for my completed games in three sections; Good, Average, and Bad. Like others, I used howlongtobeat which proved to be a great tool for my backlog and clearing it out. Here we go:
Condemned: Criminal Origins I had tried this game a couple years back and it didn't really click. When I tried it this year something changed and I felt the need to keep playing it. The premise of the game is very unique, and although there seem to be a few games like this on Steam, there really isn't an experience like this on console. The gameplay is VERY dated, but the story, location, and overall feel behind the game drew me into it. I finished the entire game on New Years Day, and had a great time doing it. For anyone looking for a fun, old school CSI/Survival Horror esque game, even though it has its problems, check this one out. 7.5/10.
Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition What a game. Like Condemned, this was another game that I initially tried years ago and didn't get hooked on, mainly because the driving is so bad especially when you first start out, but I'm so glad I gave this one another chance. Easily in my top 5 games played this year. Enjoyed every single second of it. Aside from the driving, I have no complaints. This is one of those games where you'll actually want to go do everything else even after you complete the story. It's that good. 9/10
Crysis 2 Extra short review because I kinda just blew through this one. Didn't really enjoy it at all, and while this series may have been ahead of its time, its not too impressive playing it in 2019. No story and forgettable gameplay, two things that a campaign of a multiplayer focused game relies on. You're much better off playing through one of the call of duty's if you want an FPS campaign. 4/10
Bioshock: Remastered Forewarning for this one and another review coming up: I'm not a fan of this series. This is another one I tried years ago on the 360, gave up on (see a trend?), but decided to give it another go after hearing all the praise for this series. Let me just say, Bioshock is not a bad game at all, obviously, but for some reason it just didn't click with me like it has other people. I enjoyed my time with the game, but wasn't left speechless after it. The setting got old, the story never really interested me, and the gameplay was quite similar to that of other games (Fallout in particular). It looks and performs quite well as a remaster, and I'd say that's probably the best thing I have to say about the game. Not bad, but not deserving of the critical acclaim it has gotten IMO. 7/10
Batman: Arkham Asylum Stepped out of my comfort zone with this one. I've never seen a batman movie before, nor did I/do I have a desire to before/after beating the game, but I still somehow enjoyed it. It's a nice little change of pace from many games, as the combat is melee focused and is set to one main location with other branching locations instead of the overly used open-world. The backtracking did get tiresome, but overall as a non-batman fan I enjoyed it. Definitely recommend it to somehow looking for a change of pace type of game. 7.5/10
D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die After beating Deadly Premonition and it subsequently moving into my Top 5 favorite games of all time, I decided to give D4 a try after realizing I had downloaded for free years and years ago. All I have to say is this: Swery is a genius. Not a game I would have EVER expected to like, but one that I couldn't put down. Wacky characters, plot, setting, and gameplay all make D4 just a fun, enjoyable experience. It was meant to be an episodic game, but was unfortunately cancelled after the first episode, and it did leave on a little bit of a cliffhanger. Although the talk around the street is that this game won't be finished, we do have hope considering Swery shocked the world announcing Deadly Premonition 2 for next year, a game which I won't be patient for. If you just want wacky experience, definitely check this one out. 8.5/10
Bioshock 2 You're probably wondering why this one is on the list if you read through my Bioshock 1 summary. Well, I am too. I had burning desire for whatever reason to return to Bioshock, and experience Bioshock 2, and honestly, my experience was basically the exact same as Bioshock 1 but a little worse. While I found Bioshock 1 to have a forgettable story, I found Bioshock 2 to have a REALLY forgettable story. I also wasn't a fan of the increased combat that was put into this game, as I feel like this is the type of game where exploration should be focus and not fighting a enemies every time you enter a new location or room. Again, not a terrible experience, just not one that left a lasting impression on me whatsoever. 6/10
Mass Effect 1, 2, and 3 Here's where the tears come in. Wow. Just wow. Before playing this series I never thought anything in any type of entertainment could be this good. I was wrong. Mass Effect 1-3 is the greatest achievement in entertainment history. Am I saying this after doing/watching/playing everything that has ever been put out? No. But I am saying it as I'm confident I, like many others, will NEVER have the pleasure of experiencing anything like the first run through the Mass Effect Trilogy ever again. This is a must play for people not even interested in gaming. The plot that carries over across all three games while taking everything you did from the previous game into account is something that I haven't seen replicated in gaming since, and that was over 12 years ago. The story, world, characters, and gameplay is truly something remarkable in all of entertainment. 2 was my favorite, only because of all the amazing characters you got to meet, otherwise 1 was very close behind. 3 was great, and despite what all the critics had to say, I felt the ending was justified. 10/10
Shadow Of The Tomb Raider A much better entry into the Tomb Raider franchise than Rise, one of the two games which I credit that turned me into a patient gamer. The gameplay was more enjoyable than Rise, and the somewhat open-world sections that the devs added was a nice little change to the series. I still don't think this was nearly as good as Tomb Raider (2013), but this one is definitely still worth checking out. 7/10
The Technomancer My first truly bad experience of 2019. This game was just bad. It had potential and you can see it when you play it, but unfortunately it's just bad. So bad. The plot is bad, the characters are bad, and the gameplay is just downright garbage. The one thing that had true potential which was the world was just shamelessly butchered as well. No one should touch this game. 1/10
The Wolf Among Us Another masterpiece. This was my first telltale game and I'm scared to play another one because I know it will probably not come close to comparing to TWAU. This game has twists and turns that you wouldn't have ever expected, and draws you into the world VERY quickly. This was another one that was hard to put down. The voice acting and story are top notch, and HOLY COW, WOLF AMONG US 2 COMING?? Other than Deadly Premonition 2, it's currently my most hyped upcoming game. 10/10
DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) My first and possibly my last entry in the DMC series. I know its considered to be the worst or at least one of the worst games in the series, but the main draws of the game just bored me to death. The weird enemies types with the spam attack hack-n-slashing combat just really didn't provide me with joy. The story was interesting IMO and the boss fights were cool, but just running around hack n slashing everything as well as backtracking to certain locations just wasn't fun at all to me. Another forgettable experience. 6/10
Watch Dogs 2 This one really surprised me. I was in the minority where I actually really enjoyed Watch Dogs 1, but held off this one due to vocal people saying that this game was political nonsense. My experience with the game was the complete opposite, as I played it from pure game perspective and didn't think much in the overall deep meaning of the plot. The setting was great, and as someone who lives near SF but absolutely hates the city IRL, it was still quite cool to experience something so similar in a game. The graphics were great, the gameplay was smooth, and the characters were interesting, which in total made Watch Dogs 2 a great experience. There were a few characters who were over the top or just not needed in the game, but all I had to do was skip the scenes they were in. 8.5/10
Thimbleweed Park My first true point and click game since the early 2000's. Im a big fan of detective/mystery games, so this one was on my list for a while. Since I lack the mental capacity to solve most puzzles in games, I did have to use a walkthrough for a large part of this game. Even so, I still very much enjoyed this game. If you're looking for a fun point and click adventure game with tons of mystery included, this is a great game to choose. 7.5/10
Bound By Flame As an RPG fan, I had to give this one at least a try. After the horror that I experienced in The Technomancer, I didn't know what to expect with this one. This was just average all the way through. Literally take the definition of an RPG and put it into this game. Much better than The Technomancer, but still not that good of an RPG. I'd probably suggest only to play this If you run out of other RPGs or simply just want a mediocre experience. Also, what's up with Spiders making the ability to climb up objects impossible if you're in combat? You have to clear out every single enemy in an area if you want to continue on, and this includes the backtracking and minor areas. One of the most annoying things I can remember experiencing in a video game. 5/10
Outward Wasn't patient for this one but I wish I was. Like Bound By Flame, this is just an insanely bland RPG, and in this case, is considered a "Hardcore RPG". It's hardcore in the fact that you REALLY have to want to play this game otherwise you're going to be bored within an hour. Its not worth having to make the 10 minute walk across the map 10-20 times to get supplies and to complete quests. Just a totally bland game that I would've quit right away if I hadn't bought it on release. Another great example on why to be a patient gamer. I also found out later on this year that this game was already made in 2009, and was much better then. I'll save that for a later review. 4/10
Dead Rising 2 Remastered A classic. This was my first replay of 2019, but this time it was the remastered version. I played through Dead Rising 2 5-6 times on my 360 solo and with different coop partners. The remastered version is just a better version of this great game. Absolutely flawless performance even on my OG Xbox One. This game is the ultimate sit back and chill game. 8.5/10
L.A. Noire My second replay of 2019, and, up until I played the Mass Effect series earlier in the year, was my favorite game of all time. Crime/noir is my favorite genre of games, and it's too bad we really don't see many of them anymore. L.A. Noire blows every other crime game out of the water, and not only that, but throws in the detective element and makes you feel like you are truly investigating the cases in the game. The noir element is also just totally flawless in the game. While the performance of the remastered version was again, flawless, I really didn't like how they removed the Truth/Lie dialogue options with "Good Cop/Bad Cop". I honestly preferred the last gen version. Still, I consider this game a masterpiece. 10/10
South Park: The Fractured But Whole Was hoping to play this after I saw the new season to get into the mood, but decided to dive right in instead. To this day, the South Park games are the only turn-based games that I've managed to play through. While I preferred the premise of The Stick Of Truth better, I still absolutely loved my time with this game. It truly is remarkable that not only are Trey and Matt able to continually make arguably the greatest show in entertainment history, but also put out really great games. 8/10
Assassins Creed: Odyssey I spent all of May playing this one, so that should tell most of what you need to know. I'm a sucker for Ubisoft games and the mindless enjoyment I get out of them. While nothing Odyssey does is groundbreaking, it still provided me with more than 65 hours of content and that's without the DLC, which I hope to get back to someday. Due to the story and characters, I think this is better than Origins, although both are great games worthy of your time. I'm glad the series has turned into an basically open world RPG, because I was not a fan at all of any of the older AC games. 9/10
Brutal Legend Didn't even know this game existed until I picked it up over the summer. It was a fun little experience. Extremely unique, but I wasn't a fan of the main RTS element and the very empty open world. Music was fantastic though, and I really enjoyed the plot. Wish we had more games that went really outside the box like this. 7/10
Alpha Protocol My second bad experience this year. I heard so many positives about this game, but I just hated absolutely every second of this one. The so-called story and "decision making" that I heard so much about was, IMO, a total lie, as none of the decisions you make truly matter, and not to mention they're insanely quickly timed so half the time you don't even know what you're picking. Im going to say it, this is just a very, very, very bad prequel to Hitman: Absolution (yes, I liked that game). This one should be buried and forgotten. 2/10
Wanted: Weapons Of Fate Another one of my 360 pickups during the summer. Not much to summarize as it's apparently a video game version of a movie I had never seen or heard of. It's a nice little straightforward action game that's playable for its duration, which is only about 6 hours. Easily beaten in a day. 6/10
Heavy Rain Finally got to this one after wanting to play it for so long. I heard it had everything that I wanted: Crime, Mystery, Noir elements....... and it absolutely delivered on all fronts. I actually accidentally spoiled the plot for myself a few years ago which put me off of the game for so long, but since I only knew the major twist, everything else was new to me making it extremely enjoyable to start to finish. People talk about the mainstream PS exclusives like God Of War, Bloodborne, etc., but not enough talk goes into Heavy Rain and it's later counterpart, Until Dawn. 9/10
The Bureau: XCOM Declassified Now I'm totally in the minority on this one, but I really enjoyed this game. Disclosure: I've never played any other XCOM game due to them being turn-based, which is why I gave this one a try. This game is solid all around, but where it shines is the setting. Some of the locations that this game puts you in, including places in New Mexico and CA, along with your base of operations, are very unique. Unless all the hate for this game was from XCOM fanboys who wanted more turn-based, than I truly don't understand what the deal was. This was a great game. 8/10
Tacoma Again, not much to really review here. A walking sim in space with its own little touch on interaction and dialogue. It's very colorful and different from most walking space sims. If you're a fan of these types of games, I think this one might be worth checking out. 7/10
Gears Of War: Ultimate Edition As the 3rd person cover shooter genre is growing quickly on me, I decided to check out the series that a number of people have credited with starting it. I also started out with the goal of playing through the entire series for the first time before Gears 5 came out. Ultimately, it fell short after this one, but I'll save that for later. GoW: UE is a great remaster. The graphics are phenomenal, and gameplay is smooth, and seemingly is the way that someone starting out on Gears Of War should start their entry into the series. The grass is not so greener after this one, but this game by itself is definitely worth your time. 7.5/10
Red Faction: Guerrilla Remarstered Didn't know how I expected this one going. I love Sci-Fi and space, and had never played a labeled destruction game before, but as soon as I stepped foot on Mars, I knew this was going to be a good one. You truly don't know how enjoyable breaking everything is until you do it, and that's all you need to focus on while playing this game. Yea other elements are there, but the destruction is just so damn satisfying that it makes this game just worth it for that. 8/10
Gears Of War 2 Man did I have to absolutely slog through this one. I've seen people credit this game as the best in the series, but all I credit it as is the game which completely killed any interest I had in Gears of War. You can only run through caves for so long before it gets mind numbingly boring. Not to mention the completely random story bits that this game throws in. This was not a fun game at all to play. 3/10
Dark Pictures Anthology: Man Of Medan After playing until dawn 3 years ago and immediately saying right afterwards "If only supermassive did an anthology series. I'd buy every game on release", here we are 3 years later and they actually are doing exactly that. While I wouldn't say that this one is as good as Until Dawn, it's still a fantastic game and one that all fans of Until Dawn should experience. Not to mention it has Shawn Ashmore in it, one of the greater lesser known actors. 8/10
Risen 1 Remember how I said a far superior version of Outward had come out in 2009? Yea, this it it. This was the ideal hardcore RPG experience I was looking for. It had everything: Fantastic story, great characters, janky combat, among all the other things that I look for in an RPG. Perhaps the most surprising part of this game was the Dialogue, and dare I say may be the best dialogue of any game that I have ever played. They have some lines in this one that are absolutely hilarious, and the best part is you would have never expected a game like this to have such strong writing, which makes it even better. This game was so close to being a legitimate masterpiece if it wasn't for the last chapter in the game which almost killed my enjoyment in the game. Other than that, this is a must play RPG. 9/10
Far Cry 3 Another one on the long list of games that I tried years ago and decided on trying again this year. Far Cry 3 ended up being just an average experience. Cheesy story, tedious objectives (crawl up a tower, liberate an outpost, rinse and repeat). I did like the main missions though, and the setting was pretty cool. A better game than Far Cry 4. 6/10
Binary Domain Boy did I enjoy my time with this one. This one is easily the hidden gem of all my 2019 games if I don't count the arguably more popular Risen 1. This game had it all, but more importantly, found a way to skillfully mix in an engaging and emotional story with a good amount of comedy. Not to mention, it probably has the best shooter physics of any game I've ever played it. It's truly a shame this one is not talked about more. 9.5/10
Far Cry 5 Decided to pick this one up after not minding Far Cry 3. Let me start by saying this: Far Cry 5 is BY FAR the best in the series in almost every facet of the series' core. I can't tell you how nice it was not having to climb up 20 towers in the game. Graphics were superb, setting was by far the best in the series, and so was the story. I also didn't realize how much of a powerhouse cast they had for this game until I finished it. Impressive. 8/10
The Outer Worlds Easily my 2019 GOTY. I haven't had that much fun playing a game since Mass Effect in February. I know I've said it a lot in these reviews, but again, this game had it all. I didn't have a single complaint about this game. Not one. Story, graphics, characters, world, all absolutely phenomenal. I was so glad to see this game get universal acclaim. It deserved it. 10/10
Rage 2 And now my worst game of 2019. This game was garbage. That is all I can say about this one. Don't ever waste your time on this POS. I can't believe I did till the end. 1/10
The Darkness This one was another slog to get through. The reviews of this game from 2007 are not representative of the game today. I can't really say one thing that this game did positive, at least by today's standards, other than offer a unique system of combat. Everything else was just not good. 4.5/10
TLDR; The Good: Mass Effect series, Outer Worlds, Binary Domain, Risen 1, L.A. Noire, The Wolf Among Us, Sleeping Dogs, Watch Dogs 2, Dead Rising 2, Far Cry 5, Assassins Creed Odyssey, Red Faction Guerrilla Remarstered, The Bureau XCOM Declassified, Heavy Rain, South Park Fractured But Whole, D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die
The Average: Condemned Criminal Origins, Bioshock 1 & 2, Batman Arkham Asylum, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider, DmC: Devil May Cry, Thimbleweed Park, Brutal Legend, Wanted Weapons Of Fate, Tacoma, Gears Of War Ultimate Edition, Far Cry 3, Bound By Flame
The Bad: Crysis 2, The Technomancer, Outward, Alpha Protocol, Gears Of War 2, Rage 2, The Darkness
Now onto games that I'm currently playing/hope to get back to....
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (Playing) Black Friday pickup. Really enjoying my time with this game, and after absolutely hating Dark Souls, this one has surprised me. Kingdom Hearts 3 (Playing) The games locations are so cool, especially after growing up around all these things... but the game is just so boring to play. Little Nightmares Not a big fan of sidescrollers but got this one for a good price. About half way through the game, just need to find motivation to finish it. Fallout: New Vegas Decided to give NV one more go and actually got into it. Unfortunately it's been paused due to me buying so many games on Black Friday, but it will soon be resumed. Divinity: Original Sin 2 Enjoyed my time with it but the turn-based combat really just makes it a slow hassle to play. Honestly don't know if I'll return to it. Metro Exodus Wasn't a fan of what I had played, but will likely give it another try in the future before I put it down for good.
And now for games that have been retired, for the better good....
Resident Evil 2 This was my last attempt at trying to get into the Resident Evil franchise. After trying 0, 4, 5 and now 2, this series just isn't for me. I dreaded my time with Resident Evil 2, as I can only take backtracking through the same boring hallways with no ammo so many times. (Black Friday buy - returned) Control Didn't have high hopes for this game so I wasn't disappointed, but this game was just really, really bad. Easily the worse lighting/color palette of any game I've ever played, not to mention there's nothing interesting at all about the game and the combat sucks hard. I also had a table stuck around my character 3 times in the first 2 hours. (Black Friday buy - returned) X-Blades Just a bad game. Recore Enjoyed the game up until the point where I had to deal with BS and wasn't willing to deal with the BS. Didn't leave any lasting expressions on me. Alien Isolation I can't stand insta-kill games. I've tried to pick this one up on three different occasions, but the last one was my last straw. Just not a game for me. Mass Effect: Andromeda Bad game with the worst voice acting in a video game. What else is there to say? Red Faction: Armageddon Bad game that could've been good but instead is bad. Vampyr Another game that could've been okay but just fell completely flat on its face. Ashen Man, I really did enjoy my time with this game, but once they wanted me to through an entire castle with loads of enemies on each floor and no respawn points, that was it for me sadly. Bully: Scholarship Edition Just a boring game. I can see how it might've been fun for its time, but at least for me it doesn't hold up in the slightest.
If you made it this far, thank you for reading my 2019 in gaming review! Hopefully it helped out on some games on your list.
MAME 0.219 arrives today, just in time for the end of February! This month we’ve got another piece of Nintendo Game & Watch history – Pinball – as well as a quite a few TV games, including Dream Life Superstar, Designer’s World, Jenna Jameson’s Strip Poker, and Champiyon Pinball. The previously-added Care Bears and Piglet’s Special Day TV games are now working, as well as the big-endian version of the MIPS Magnum R4000. As always, the TV games vary enormously in quality, from enjoyable titles, to low-effort games based on licensed intellectual properties, to horrible bootlegs using blatantly copied assets. If music/rhythm misery is your thing, there’s even a particularly bad dance mat game in there. On the arcade side, there are fixes for a minor but long-standing graphical issue in Capcom’s genre-defining 1942, and also a fairly significant graphical regression in Seibu Kaihatsu’s Raiden Fighters. Speaking of Seibu Kaihatsu, our very own Angelo Salese significantly improved the experience in Good E-Jan, and speaking of graphics fixes, cam900 fixed some corner cases in Data East’s innovative, but little-known, shoot-’em-up Boogie Wings. Software list additions include the Commodore 64 INPUT 64 collection (courtesy of FakeShemp) and the Spanish ZX Spectrum Load’N’Run collection (added by ICEknight). New preliminary CPU cores and disassemblers include IBM ROMP, the NEC 78K family, Samsung KS0164 and SSD Corp’s Xavix 2. As always, you can get the source and 64-bit Windows binary packages from the download page.
MAME Testers Bugs Fixed
06790: [Graphics] (surpratk.cpp) suratk: Missing star field rotation effect in final level. (MetalliC)
07079: [Gameplay] (suna8.cpp) sparkman, sparkmana: Player 2 button inputs are not read correctly. (dink)
The Walking Dead: Battleground (JAKKS Pacific TV Game) [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
The Walking Dead: Zombie Hunter (JAKKS Pacific TV Game) [Sean Riddle]
WinFun / KidConnection SmarTV Adventures [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
New clones marked as NOT_WORKING
3 Cards Poker 96 (V1.0) [Ioannis Bampoulas]
Cherry Angel (set 2) [Ioannis Bampoulas]
Club Kart: European Session (2003, prototype, set 2) [coolmod, MetalliC]
Ferrari F355 Challenge (private show version) [coolmod]
Roland D-50 Linear Synthesizer (Ver. 1.xx) [DBWBP]
Roland D-550 Linear Synthesizer [DBWBP]
Sanyo MBC-16LT [rfka01]
Sirio II (Calfesa S.L. Spanish Moon Cresta bootleg, set 1) [Juan Romero, ClawGrip]
Time Crisis 4 (Japan, TSF1001-NA-A) [Guru]
Victor V286C [rfka01]
New working software list additions
altos8600: Altos Diagnostic Executive [Robbbert]
apple2_flop_clcracked: Algebra Volume 6 (Version 1.0) (cleanly cracked), Alkemstone (cleanly cracked), Building Perspective (cleanly cracked), The Dragon's Eye (cleanly cracked), Fraktured Faebles (cleanly cracked), Generic Computer Games (cleanly cracked), Gruds in Space (cleanly cracked), Other-Venture #3: The Escape from Traam (cleanly cracked), Pick The Part (cleanly cracked), Ulysses and the Golden Fleece (Version 1.1) (cleanly cracked), World Atlas Action: Geography Facts (cleanly cracked) [4am, Firehawke]
apple2_flop_orig: 221B Baker Street (Version 1.1), Adventure Programming Kit (Versoin 10.84), Alter Ego (female version), Alter Ego (male version), The Dallas Quest, The Dragon's Eye, Expedition Amazon, Garfield Trivia Game, Generic Computer Games, Legacy of the Ancients, Manhunter: New York (Version 1.0I), MasterType (Version 2.1), Micro Cookbook (Version 3.00), Miner 2049er II, Ming's Challenge, The Serpent's Star (Version 1.0), Spectrum: Programs and Patterns, Summer Games II, Time Zone (Version 1.1), The Tracer Sanction, Transylvania (1985 Version), Treasure Island, Tumble Bugs [4am, Firehawke]
applix: Boot disk [Robbbert]
aussiebyte: Boot disk [Robbbert]
buzztime_cart: Series 1 - Everything Trivia, Series 1 - History Trivia, Series 1 - Sports Trivia, Series 1 - TV Trivia [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
The CF Power Pack Tape 6, The CF Power Pack Tape 9, Dan Dare - Pilot of the Future, Excaliba, Postman Pat 2, Saracen [FakeShemp]
gamegear: Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (World, final prototype 19920925) [drx, FakeShemp]
hp86_rom: Advanced programming 1 ROM, Advanced programming 2 ROM, Assembler ROM, Extended Mass Storage ROM, I/O ROM, Language ROM, Matrix 1 ROM, Matrix 2 ROM, MIKSAM ROM, Printeplotter ROM [F.Ulivi]
Magic Pockets [ArcadeShadow]
Domino 1.0 [FakeShemp]
Cannon Fodder 2, Epic Pinball (shareware version - Mr. Disk release), Epic Pinball: Crash and Burn, Epic Pinball: Cyborgirl, Epic Pinball: Enigma [ArcadeShadow]
Tågplusguiden - Vinter–Våren 1998 [FakeShemp]
jakks_gamekey_nm: Pac-Man & Bosconian (01 APR 2005 A SKU G) [Sean Riddle, Ryan Holtz, David Haywood]
jazz: Windows NT Workstation Version 3.5, Windows NT Workstation Version 3.51, Windows NT Workstation Version 4.0 Service Pack 1 [Patrick Mackinlay]
lynx: Weltenschlächter [anonymous]
megadriv: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (World, final prototype 19921102), Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (World, prototype 19931103) [drx, FakeShemp]
nes: English Pyramid (Pirate) [Gaming Alexandria]
Death Race (Euro) [anonymous]
Death Race (USA) [SSJ, TeamEurope]
sbrain: Boot disk [Robbbert]
sdk85: Mastermind [AJR]
Load'N'Run (Spain) (Especial) [Manu128k]
Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 00), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 01), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 02), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 03), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 04), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 05), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 06), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 07), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 08), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 09), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 10), Load'N'Run (Spain) (Issue 11), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 00), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 01), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 02), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 03), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 04), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 05), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 06), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 07), Load'N'Run 2ª época (Spain) (Issue 08) [SPA2, RetroLEL, Jander, ICEknight]
uzebox: Final Blood, Frog Feast, Laser Puzzle, Laser Puzzle II, Melli's RetroLand, Reels of Fortune, Uzebox Tactics, Uzi Wars [uzebox.org]
Software list items promoted to working
King's Quest V - Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder, Kyuukyoku Tiger, Mixed-Up Mother Goose, Panzer Division - Kikou Shidan, Taito Chase H.Q. (Demo), The Case of the Cautious Condor [Barry Rodewald, Carl, r09]
Life & Death [redump.org, Barry Rodewald, Carl, r09]
How to Play your Casio ROM Keyboard (RO-251) [Sean Riddle, avlixa, ClawGrip]
World Songs (RO-551) [Sean Riddle]
fmtowns_cd: Doki Doki Vacation - Kirameku Kisetsu no Naka de, Para Para Paradise [redump.org, r09]
ique: Dòngwù Sēnlín (version 8), F-Zero X Wèilái Sàichē (manual, version 2), F-Zero X Wèilái Sàichē (manual, version 4), F-Zero X Wèilái Sàichē (trailer), F-Zero X Wèilái Sàichē (version 3), iQue Club (version 1), iQue Club (version 2), iQue Club (version 3), Mǎlìōu Kǎdīngchē (manual, version 2), Mǎlìōu Kǎdīngchē (manual, version 6), Mǎlìōu Kǎdīngchē (trailer), Mǎlìōu Kǎdīngchē (version 4), Mǎlìōu Kǎdīngchē (version 5), Mǎlìōu Yīshēng (manual, version 2), Mǎlìōu Yīshēng (manual, version 4), Mǎlìōu Yīshēng (trailer), Mǎlìōu Yīshēng (version 4), Rèntiāntáng Míngxīng Dà Luàn Dǒu (manual, version 1), Rèntiāntáng Míngxīng Dà Luàn Dǒu (version 5), Shuǐ Shàng Mótuō (manual, version 2), Shuǐ Shàng Mótuō (manual, version 4), Shuǐ Shàng Mótuō (trailer, version 1), Shuǐ Shàng Mótuō (trailer, version 2), Shuǐ Shàng Mótuō (version 4), Shén Yóu Mǎlìōu (manual, version 2), Shén Yóu Mǎlìōu (manual, version 6), Shén Yóu Mǎlìōu (trailer, version 1), Shén Yóu Mǎlìōu (trailer, version 2), Shén Yóu Mǎlìōu (version 4), Sàiěrdá Chuánshuō: Shíguāng zhī Dí (manual, version 2), Sàiěrdá Chuánshuō: Shíguāng zhī Dí (manual, version 4), Sàiěrdá Chuánshuō: Shíguāng zhī Dí (trailer), Sàiěrdá Chuánshuō: Shíguāng zhī Dí (version 1), Sàiěrdá Chuánshuō: Shíguāng zhī Dí (version 4) [FakeShemp]
leapster: The Disney-Pixar Collection (USA), Letterpillar (v1.0, USA) [TeamEurope]
Ben 10 - UltimateAlien - Mine der Gedanken (Germany) (80-250604), Cars 2 (Germany) (80-251904), Chuggington (Germany) (80-251804), Cars Toon - Hooks unglaubliche Geschichten (Germany) (80-251204), Disney Princess (Germany) (80-251104), Dora - Tag des Zwillings (Germany) (80-250804), Für immer Shrek (Germany) (80-250004), Kung Fu Panda 2 (Germany) (80-252004), Micky Maus - Wunderhaus (Germany) (80-250504), Mobigo Kiosk (Germany), Die Pinguine aus Madagascar - Operation Krone (Germany) (80-250304), Rapunzel - Neu Verföhnt (Germany) (80-251704), Team Umizoomi - Die große Umiauto Rettung (Germany) (80-252504), Toy Story 3 (Germany) (80-250104) [TeamEurope]
Mickey Mouse, Tangled, Toy Story 3 [Sean Riddle]
n64: Aidyn Chronicles - The First Mage (USA, prototype 20000210), Aidyn Chronicles - The First Mage (USA, prototype 20000509), Cruis'n World (Europe), Die Hard 64 (prototype 20000315, set 1), Die Hard 64 (prototype 20000315, set 2), Die Hard 64 (prototype 20000315, set 3), Dragon Sword (prototype), Duke Nukem - Zero Hour (USA, final prototype), ECW Hardcore Revolution (Germany), Frogger 2 (USA, prototype, "Milestone 4"), GT64 - Championship Edition (prototype 19980525), International Superstar Soccer 2000 (USA, rev 1), Madden NFL 99 (USA, prototype 19980805, "Beta 10 NTSC"), Madden NFL 99 (USA, rev 1), Mario Kart 64 (USA, set 2), Mission: Impossible (Spain, rev 1), Mortal Kombat Trilogy (prototype 19960513), NBA Hangtime (USA, set 2), Robotech: Crystal Dreams (USA, prototype, earlier), SpaceStation Silicon Valley (USA, rev 1), Top Gear Hyper-Bike (prototype), Top Gear Rally (Asia), Top Gear Rally 2 (prototype 19990831), Turok 3 - Shadow of Oblivion (Europe, prototype 20000606), Wipeout 64 (prototype) [FakeShemp]
Barney: Barney Cares / Best Manners Show / Let's Work Together, Blue's Perfect Picnic Spot, Disney No Rumbly In Pooh's Tumbly, Disney Pooh Windy Day, Disney Princess: Jasmine / Mulan / Pocahontas, Disney Princess: The Little Mermaid / Snow White / Beauty and the Beast, Disney's Bambi / Lady and the Tramp / Peter Pan, Disney's Pinocchio / Disney/Pixar Toy Story 2 / The Jungle Book, Disney's The Lion King, Disney's The Little Mermaid, Disney/Pixar Cars / The Incredibles / Monsters Inc., Disney/Pixar Finding Nemo, Dora the Explorer: Dora's Garden Adventure / The Gingerbread Boy / Dora's Art Adventure, Dora's Garden Adventure, Noah's Ark, Petter Rabbit / Jemima Puddle-Duck / Tom Kitten, Scooby-Doo! Miniature Golf Mistery, Sesame Street: Elmo's Colorful Adventure / Grover Stays Up Very Very Late / Me Loves Cookies, Spongebob Squarepants Grand Price Winner!, Spongebob Squarepants Grand Price Winner! / Dora's Garden Adventure / Blue's Perfect Picnic Spot, Thomas & Friends: Cheer up Cranky! / The Big Race / Carnival Capers [Sean Riddle, ClawGrip] Cars (Germany), Das Dschungelbuch (Germany), Findet Nemo (Germany), Der König der Löwen (Germany), Peter Pan (Germany), Winnie Puuh - Ein stürmischer Tag (Germany), Winnie Puuh hat keinen Hunger (Germany) [TeamEurope]
sdk85: AP-29 Serial I/O Routines [AJR]
smarttv_cart: Amusement Park [Sean Riddle, David Haywood]
Dora the Explorer - En la feria ambulante / Dora va a la escuela (Spanish), Power Rangers Mystic Force - Code Busters / Whispering Voices (UK / USA?) [TeamEurope, David Haywood]
Cinderella - Cinderella / Beauties in Bloom (USA), Dora the Explorer - At the Carnival / Dora Goes to School (USA), The Lion King - The Lion King / The Lion King II - Simba's Pride (USA), SpongeBob SquarePants - Ice-Cream Dreams / Stop the Presses! (USA), Winnie the Pooh - Bounce Tigger Bounce / Pooh's Honey Tree (USA) [Sean Riddle, TeamEurope]
Thomas & Friends - Thomas Visits the Toy Shop / Thomas' Milkshake Mix [Sean Riddle, ClawGrip]
formats/wd177x_dsk.cpp: Allowed derived classes to override the format per track/head. [68bit]
formats/flex_dsk.cpp: Simplified code, and added support for variants with single-density initial tracks. [68bit]
formats/os9_dsk.cpp: Added support for variants with single-density initial track and base sector zero. [68bit]
floptool: Added OS9 disk format. [68bit]
bus/ss50: Added MFI, OS9 and UniFLEX formats to DC5 floppy drive controller. [68bit]
gimix.cpp updates: [68bit]
Connected interrupts, removed timed interrupt hack, and added two additional floppy drivers.
Added disassembly override for OS9 system calls.
Added OS9 Level 1 version 1.2 BIOS option.
tti.cpp: Made the two firmware revisions BIOS options. [AJR]
sdk85.cpp improvements: [AJR]
Made second 8355 into a ROM expansion slot that can load custom 8755 programs.
Added optional TTY interface.
Added vectored interrupt and soft reset buttons.
Improved accuracy of button labels and changed default key mappings.
jaguar: Eliminated unsafe raw memory pointer use from blitter (fixes several exceptions, including tempst2k). [AJR]
i8155.cpp: Made timer more efficient by not counting each cycle. [AJR]
bus/a2bus: Added 8251-based RS-232 serial interface described in BYTE magazine. [AJR]
Added disassemblers for NEC 78K/0, 78K/I, 78K/II and 78K/III microcontrollers. [AJR]
naomi.cpp: Made “Gun Sense” board used by hotd2 a separate device. [AJR]
wd_fdc.cpp updates: [AJR]
Predicate command completion interrupt on busy flag having been set.
Increased HLD idle timeout to fifteen revolutions for variants other than FD1771 and FD1781.
i8279.cpp updates: [AJR]
Removed timing hack, ensuring SL3 is output (required by Pied Piper Communicator 1).
Corrected keyboard scan rate and logging thereof.
goodejan.cpp updates: [Angelo Salese]
Corrected OKI M6295 pin 7 level to high (fixes voice pitches).
Added difficulty DIP switches
Converted to raw screen timing parameters.
toki.cpp: Converted screen refresh rate to raw timing parameters. [Angelo Salese]
ddenlovr.cpp: Added coin counters and corrected metadata for all games. [Angelo Salese]
subsino2.cpp: Fixed missing ron button. [Angelo Salese]
Synchronized with upstream GENie (addresses GitHub #6248). [Belegdol]
armedf.cpp updates: [cam900]
Converted to use single-pass priority drawing for sprites.
Fixed I/O writes for systems without NB1414M4.
Cleaned up code, memory maps, ROM loading and graphics decoding, and expanded comments.
twin16.cpp: Restrict sprite drawing to clipping rectangle. [cam900]
sound/vrc6.cpp, sound/ym2413.cpp: Changed descriptions to match chip markings/part numbers. [cam900]
sound/msm5205.cpp updates: [cam900]
Added support for MSM5205 10-bit DAC.
Derive timing and sample rate from input clock
video/stvvdp1.cpp: Fixed Gouraud shading flag test. [cam900]
vgmplay.cpp: Fixed YMF262 register mapping and YMF278B volume. [cam900]
sound/ymf262.cpp: Added support for variants with different clock dividers. [cam900]
sound/ymf278b.cpp: Fixed FM output rate and clock divider, fixed mixing behavior, and expanded notes. [cam900]
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