Friday, January 31, 2020

Zork III: Won!

There are a few things I wish I had known about this game sooner. I’m going to begin this post with an overview of these things without any additional spoilers, in case anyone wishes to play only with prior knowledge of the things I felt were unfairly obscure. The first is that although Zork III is often described as abandoning the treasure hunt motif of the first two games, this is really not true. There are, in fact, seven arbitrary items that you must collect before finishing the game, and may as well be treasures, though not all are obviously valuable.
  • Cloak
  • Very ancient book
  • Hood
  • Wooden staff
  • Golden amulet
  • Strange key
  • Golden ring

None but the key serve any practical purpose, except that you must find them all before entering the very final area of the game. It’s different from the first Zork in that none are simply lying around in plain sight, and most are locked behind puzzles. But the game offers little guidance that you need to find this set of items.

The most direct clue is this passage, seen whenever you die (excluding a handful of ways that leave you beyond his help):

The door swings open, and in walks an old man. He is dressed simply in a hood and cloak, wearing a few simple jewels, carrying something under one arm, and leaning on a wooden staff. A single key, as if to a massive prison cell, hangs from his belt.

That’s good and all, but doesn’t really indicate that you need to locate these items for yourself. Sure, I had located a wooden staff of my own, but it seems a little far-fetched that I could reasonably deduce from that, that I would also need to find his other possessions mentioned here, not to mention the three items that are only vaguely alluded to. Especially that the jewelry refers to the golden amulet (simple to find) and the golden ring (not so simple to find), but not to any of the other treasures found in the same place as the ring.

Other things I wished the game had signposted better are that:
  • The table in the Scenic Vista room can be touched.
  • An important NPC will sometimes be in the engravings room.
  • The earthquake that occurs at a certain point in the game opens up a passage in one place, but seals one off in another place.
  • The gold machine can be moved, and you can do more with its seat than sit down on it.
  • NPCs will appear by the Cliff Ledge and Ocean if you wait around (this I figured out by myself, but only because I had been meticulously trying every unlabeled exit)

There’s a reoccurring pattern here – often I got stuck on a puzzle simply because there was a required action that I didn’t know I could do.

Complete spoilers follow, so read no further if you wish to discover the rest of Zork III’s secrets for yourself.

Anyway, after wandering the land without any meaningful new discoveries except for that swimming in the lake will sometimes cause a roc to swoop down and eat you, I turned to virtual Invisiclues for a prod in the right direction.

What I read, and would definitely not have figured out for myself, is that you can find the old man from your dreams by entering the engravings room repeatedly until he just randomly shows up.

I did this, found him sleeping, and woke him up. In exchange for my waybread, he revealed a secret door in the engravings, which I entered, leading to the statue-lined hallway seen in the epilogue of Zork II.

I figured I wasn’t ready for this, given that this whole sequence was originally the definitely very final part of MDL Zork, and it still seemed like there was plenty of Zork III left to complete first, but I hadn’t any better idea. Familiar puzzle, familiar solution. I activated the mirror-sided machine in the hallway as I had before, and used the convoluted controls inside to traverse the hallway without awakening the terracotta warriors.

Just as before, a closed wooden door waited on the other side, and after I knocked on it, the old man unlatched its panel and spoke to me. Unlike before, he did not ask me riddles of Zork lore, but instead told me I wasn’t quite ready yet, and gave me a magic password to return at the right time. This, it turns out, is the part where you need the seven treasures of Zork III to progress, though the only clue offered is that his words are progressively more encouraging the more of these treasures you possess.

Stuck again, I read more Invisclues until I found something I didn’t know - the earthquake that opens access to the museum also cuts off an area north of the aqueduct. But I hadn’t even figured out how to reach the aqueduct! Further perusing of Invisiclues gave me more tips on things I hadn’t even discovered yet, so I looked at a more conventional walkthrough for guidance, and there, learned that the “Scenic Vista” table can be touched to teleport you into the place depicted.

The “II” indicator took me to Room 8, where I found a can of Frobozzco Grue Repellant, which I had found pointless in the previous game, but here it allowed me to get through the dark cave on the south shore of the lake unharmed, where on the other side I found a key. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough repellant left for a return trip. Fortunately, this passage led me through the aqueduct, which led back to the damp passage near the start of the game. Unfortunately, the damp passage was pitch black, and grues ate me.

The solution, I realized, was to use the Scenic Vista to teleport to the damp passage and leave a torch there for later.

After repeating the exercise and coming out on the other side of the aqueduct into the safety of the torch’s light, I re-accomplished everything that I knew how, and had six points out of seven. A few mysteries remained, such as not being certain what to do with the key by the aqueduct (it did not open the gate by the locked museum or the jewel display case inside). I tried re-entering the final dungeon with the magic password, and was turned away, told that I was halfway there.

Reviewing the walkthrough again, it told me to fight the specter until it was wounded, and then take its hood and cloak, which I did, revealing it to be a reflection of myself. Returning to the dungeon, I was told I was “nearly ready.”

Reviewing it again, it told me to push the gold machine into the jewel room and then use it to go back in time to 776, which I did.

Using the time machine teleports yourself but not your possessions, which thankfully remain in place to be recollected on your return to the present. The machine also does not travel with you; when I appeared in the Jewel Room’s past, the machine itself was gone, since in the past, it hadn’t been moved from its original location in the technology room yet.

Here, I could easily take the crown jewels, but getting them into the present posed a problem – I could wait until the guards left for the night, sneak into the unlocked technology room, and use the machine to return to the present, but the jewels would get left behind and returned to the Jewel Room. I tried hiding them inside the pressurizer so that I could retrieve them 172 years later, but the parser wasn’t having it (“There’s no good place to put anything here”).

The solution, which I had to look up, is to take the gold ring, and only the gold ring, and hide it under the gold machine’s seat before returning to the present. Afterwards, I used the magic word to return to the final dungeon, where the old man revealed himself to be the dungeon master and let me pass on to the final test. Here, my sword’s glow seemed to activate and deactivate at random, but otherwise was exactly the same as MDL Zork’s final puzzle, and solved in the same manner, ending the game as the dungeon master declared me worthy to replace him.

GAB rating: Above Average. It's far from bad, but having enjoyed all of the previous Zorks so much, I’m sorry to say that the more I played this game, the less I liked it, and the final set of puzzles, which provided a grand conclusion to the original MDL Zork, seems less impactful here in such a short game.

Zork III started off very strong, immersing me into the dungeon master’s dark, dead, and sometimes claustrophobic realm with Infocom’s typically excellent writing. I applaud the de-emphasis on treasure hunting, a move best summarized by the treasure chest scenario. An earlier adventure by Infocom or anyone else would have asked you to find a cunning way to secure the treasure for yourself, but in Zork III, you must be patient, kind, and trusting, in that order. For taking the high road you are rewarded with a wooden staff, which in the end turns out to be the real treasure. In a way, it seems to anticipate the virtue system of Ultima IV.

But there aren’t many puzzles at all, and other than the puzzles from MDL Zork – the Royal Museum Puzzle and the endgame – most involve undermotivated actions. How would it occur to us, for instance, that touching the table in the “Scenic Vista” cave would do something? In a point and click adventure it is simple enough to just manipulate everything in sight and see what happens, but in a text adventure where you must supply the verb, this seems an unreasonable intuition. Or when you face the shadowy figure, why would we think to fight it almost to the point of death, and then take its hood and cloak? The dungeon master also has a hood and cloak, but the strongest clue that you must have his possessions is given to you immediately after taking them from the figure. Most egregious of all, I think, is finding the dungeon master himself, who simply appears in a room randomly, and if he isn’t there during your first visit, there isn’t any apparent reason to go back.

It’s clear that Zork III had a lot of effort, thought, and talent poured into it. Infocom was a class of itself, and all of its games, Zork III included, remain superior to any non-Infocom adventure of the day. Its writing paints scenes in vivid detail far beyond anything that could have been done with the graphics of the time. Puzzles are all mechanically sound – contrast with Zork II whose greatest weaknesses were having inconsistent parser behavior and in obscure game world logic. Zork III overcomes those issues, even managing a time travel puzzle that is cohesive, consistent, and satisfyingly logical in all possible outcomes, but stumbles over some more basic issues; of not making it clear enough what actions the player can take, and of not adequately highlighting the players’ objectives. There’s a good game here, one that goes beyond the more-of-the-same approach of its predecessor and is low on filler, but a low-filler experience is doubly marred when faced with a showstopping issue, and nearly all of Zork III’s puzzles have one that could have been alleviated with some better clues.

My final Trizbort map:

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Game 148: Zork III

Buy the Zork Anthology here:

Note, though, that the version of Zork I included isn’t the best or the original. Read about it and download both here:

Read the Zork III manual here:

Get Frotz (if native Windows execution is your wish) here:

The original Zork coded in MDL was simply too big to distribute to the underpowered personal computers of the time, and had big portions removed and tightened before it was sold as Zork I. I had played both versions back-to-back near the beginning of my blog, and more recently played Zork II which contained most of the leftovers cut from the original game. But the biggest portions, with the most challenging and most unconventional puzzles of them all, would be reserved for the trilogy's finale.

At the conclusion of Zork II was a secret passage in the Flathead Crypt leading to a statue-lined hallway, as if Infocom expected to build the finale of the Zork trilogy around MDL Zork’s lengthy endgame, which began in an almost identical manner.

But as Zork III begins, this lead-in is discarded; the player descends yet another dark staircase, deep into the lowest reaches of the Underground Empire, and is haunted by visions of things to come – foes, traps, statues, lakes, and a robed Odin-like figure, beckoning you to prove your worthiness. These visions fade, and you find yourself at the bottom of the stairs, your trusted brass lantern battered from the long journey, and your sword embedded in a nearby rock. A damp passage leads eastward to a cave full of ancient, undecipherable engravings.

As I Trizborted out the worlds below, it was clear that Zork had undergone a drastic tonal shift. The original and massive MDL Zork began as a light fantasy romp through a colorful world full of magic, treasure, and silly jokes, though it also had an air of menace seeping through the cracks below. Zork I played as a condensed version of MDL Zork without its grand finale, and Zork II had a similar tone as a mostly original game in the same vein. Zork III immediately feels gloomy and desolate. Room descriptions emphasize the crumbling ruins of the empire, the emptiness of the lifeless land, and the darkness of a place countless fathoms beneath the reach of daylight. My favorite example, so far, is that of a clifftop overlooking the Land of Shadow:

This is a remarkable spot in the dungeon. Perhaps two hundred feet above you is a gaping hole in the earth's surface through which pours bright sunshine! A few seedlings from the world above, nurtured by the sunlight and occasional rains, have grown into giant trees, making this a virtual oasis in the desert of the Underground Empire. To the west is a sheer precipice, dropping nearly fifty feet to jagged rocks below. The way south is barred by a forbidding stone wall, crumbling from age. There is a jagged opening in the wall to the southwest, through which leaks a fine mist. The land to the east looks lifeless and barren.

The Land of Shadow below is a bleak MOTLP made of identical rooms which can’t be navigated by using items as breadcrumbs, as there simply aren’t enough available, and took a long time to explore. The layout is logical enough, but this wasn’t apparent until after tediously mapping it out. Within this region, a specter attacked, causing my sword to materialize in my hand. This led to a long and drawn out fight, in which I repeatedly wounded it until it collapsed in a somber fashion, such as to suggest that this was not the correct course of action. The west coast of this land overlooked a misty sea from which I was able to procure a strange vial from a ghostly sailor. The north was bordered by a multi-level cliff from which a treasure chest was suspended, and a stranger there sought my help in retrieving it. For my troubles, he took all of its valuables for himself, but allowed me a simple wooden staff.

Further south was a great, icy lake, the crossing of which would ruin my lantern. A treacherous dive turned up a golden amulet buried in the sand below. On its north shore, the great imperial aqueduct could be seen to the east, crumbling from age and neglect. On the south shore, a dark passage remained unexplorable without a waterproof light source. On its west shore, there was a sparse torch-lit cave with a plain table cryptically labeled “Scenic Vista,” and an indicator which cycled through the numbers “I” through “IV.” As it cycled through each number, a different scene could be made out by examining the table closely:
  • A passage cluttered with timber
  • A tiny room with the number ‘8’ chiseled on the wall
  • A wide room blocked off by rubble
  • A temple with a blood-stained altar of basalt

Finally, to the east was a building blocked by a rusty iron gate, impassable at first. After some amount of time, an underground earthquake altered the geography, giving way to a passage around it, into the Royal Museum. This featured two exhibits – a “Technology Room” containing three inscrutable machines, and a “Jewel Room” containing the Flathead crown jewels in a secure display case.

Beneath the museum was the Royal Puzzle, a Sokoban-style puzzle originally featured way back in the original MDL Zork. This puzzle room worked exactly as I remembered it and as far as I could tell did not have a different layout. By carefully mapping out the room I was able to re-deduce the precise solution of blocks to push in order to find the treasure, in this case a magic book rather than a card, and to leave the way I came by pushing a climbable block up against the entrance.

I decided to check out the mysterious machines in the museum a little more closely. Two of them, grey and black, had no evident interface and besides that were badly deteriorating. The third, a gold machine, had a console with controls which would either do nothing or kill me. With a little more experimentation, I discovered that this was a time machine! 948 was apparently the current year, and a plaque in the jewel room informed me that the museum had opened in 777.

776 was the only useful year to travel back to. Any earlier, and I’d be fatally engulfed in stone, as the room had apparently not been dug out yet by then. From 777 to 882, I’d be instantly killed by guards. From 883 to 947, the museum is abandoned and deteriorating, and cleft letting me in or out of the museum isn’t been opened yet. From 949 onward, the cleft is filled with rubble.

Going back to 776, when the empire was still populated and the museum under construction, I overheard some guards rambling uselessly. The machines, now in good condition, were described as a pressurizer, a room spinner, and a temporizer, the former two of which I had encountered in the previous Zorks. The game told me they were all non-working models, which doesn’t jibe with the fact that I had literally just used the temporizer to get here, and would soon use it again to return.

After the guards left the museum, locking it for the night, I found I could unlock the Technology Room from the inside and exit into the lobby, but could not leave the museum or enter any other rooms in it. I couldn’t really see how anything here helped me, and there was nowhere to go except back to the present, so this is where I stopped.

I had scored 4 points out of 7, and found these items:
  • Vial
  • Wooden staff
  • Waybread
  • Sword
  • Ancient magic book
  • Lamp

Remaining mysteries:
  • What’s with the engravings?
  • What about the figure in the Land of Shadow?
  • Is there a way to cross the lake without losing my light source?
  • What’s the point of the Scenic Vista?
  • What do I do in the past?
  • Can I get the crown jewels?
  • What do my various inventory items do, aside from the lamp and sword?

My Trizbort map:

Monday, January 27, 2020

Game 147: Jungle King

I have to assume that Bo Derek’s Razzie-winning Tarzan the Ape Man, released in 1981, was a big influence on this game, at the very least by revitalizing interest in the character. Jungle King isn’t a Tarzan knock-off – he is Tarzan, right down to bellowing Johnny Weissmuller’s renowned yell in low fidelity at the start of every game. It’s little surprise that Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. sued and forced Taito to rebrand later releases as Jungle Hunt, with seriously toned-down iconography.

Perhaps Pitfall! was influenced in a similar manner to a lesser extent – the swinging on vines through the jungle is at the very least an unmistakable homage, and even has a Weissmulleresque leitmotif. Raiders of the Lost Ark seems to have been a greater influence, though, with the South American setting and treasure hunting. Jungle King, in turn, features a stage with boulders rolling down a hill (albeit with you running up the hill), while Pitfall! merely features non-lethal rolling logs. The two games were released so close together than I think it unlikely one had any influence on the other, but the thematic similarities are strong indeed. Even the vine-swinging animations look nearly identical.

Jungle King is still, as far as I can tell, an original gameplay concept. There are four looping stages that can loosely be categorized as “platformer” gameplay, but they all play quite different from each other, and aren’t quite like anything earlier that I’ve seen either. The design seems to anticipate a certain fashion of later console platformers, where stages would introduce new themes and gameplay concepts throughout the playthrough, but doesn’t commit to a common set of controls or mechanics as they often would.

Stage 1 involves jumping from vine to swinging vine, and is easy if you’re patient. The vines have varying lengths and swinging speeds, and may swing back and forth several times before getting close enough to make a good jump. Annoyingly, you can’t climb down to increase your trajectory – all you can do is hit the jump button at the right time. You will slip and fall if you wait too long, which renders the ingame timer kind of pointless. Subsequent loops add monkeys to some vines, which climb up and down and will knock you off if you touch them.

Next, your hair and loincloth change color as you dive into crocodile-infested waters. Stabbing them isn’t too difficult - the hitbox seems to extend a bit above your sprite, so it’s easiest to stab them from below. It’s easy to forget you need to breathe, so surface whenever it’s safe, so that you don’t suddenly hear the low oxygen alert when you’re caught between an undertow and a deadly alligator. Later rounds make the crocodiles move around faster, making it sometimes better to avoid them than to try to stab them.

More palette shenanigans as you ascend a hill and jump over rolling boulders. It’s all about timing your jumps to avoid the rocks, though you can also move left and right, which isn’t really needed during the first loop. Bigger boulders bounce higher and are easily ran underneath. You can also duck, which for some physics-defying reason causes the rocks to roll down the hill faster, and is handy for dodging the large boulders in later rounds.

Finally, everything about the player sprite’s palette changes as you encounter some cannibals who move back and forth, and must jump over them at just the right time to not only avoid touching them, but when you jump over the second you have to touch your girlfriend, precariously suspended and being raised and lowered like a yo-yo over a boiling cauldron. If she is too high up when you jump over the second cannibal, you’ll miss her and land in the cauldron instead. Everything moves in a fixed pattern, so if you’ve figured out the timing to clear this once, it will work on each new playthrough. Later rounds have different patterns.

Succeed, and you get an innocent peck on the cheek, and a replay with much more difficult gameplay.

GAB rating: Below Average. Jungle King is, unfortunately, kind of boring. Unusually, there’s no randomness at all, which is a good thing for speedrunners, but a bad thing when the stage-to-stage gameplay is so basic. In three of the four stages, there is no interaction with the game world whatsoever – in fact they are based entirely around waiting for an opportune time to jump, which is performed with a single button press and success or failure is determined entirely on whether you jumped at a good time or not. This is hardly engaging gameplay. And what’s with the constant Jungle King palette switching?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Game 146: Joust

In the days of old, when knights were bold, and sports were quite insano
They’d mount their buzzards, and joust each other, inside a live volcano

This might just be the weirdest premise for an arcade game that I’ve played yet. Not only do you joust a series of buzzard-riding knights, but each foe that you dismount, which is done simply by bumping into them while higher in the air, turns into an egg, which if not collected will eventually hatch into a more dangerous opponent. And on top of that, there are lava trolls and pterodactyls to contend with!

Controlling your feathered steed is intuitive but challenging. Your only inputs are a two-way joystick and a single button for flapping your wings, and you can expect this button to give your finger a good workout. Maintaining stability and control is really important, as you can easily accelerate to speeds that you can’t quickly reverse from without landing, which puts you at a height disadvantage.

The true appeal of Joust, I think, comes from its co-op mode. The phrase “co-op” must come with an asterisk here; you not only score points by defeating your partner, but occasionally the game will declare a “gladiator” round where the first player to do so gains a 3,000 point bounty. It’s not worth it, I think, as you can score far more than 3,000 points on a single life.

I played some rounds with “B.”

Some observations we made:
  • Opponents seem to have an ever so slight height advantage over you – I got killed more than once when I was certain my lance was a pixel above theirs.
  • Allowing each player control over their own arena territory prevents accidental team kills, and also makes egg retrieval easier, especially during egg waves.
  • The edges of the screen are dangerous, because opponents can wrap around and surprise-kill you if you aren’t paying very close attention to the opposite edge.
  • Like Robotron, eggs are worth more the more you collect in a single life, up to a maximum of 1000 points. There is also a 500 point bonus for catching them in the air.
  • “Team waves” award 3,000 points to each player if neither one killed the other.
  • Landing instantly kills your downward momentum. If you want to ascend, it can be faster to do this by landing and then flapping than to try to reverse your fall by flapping in mid-air.

GAB rating: Good. The last video game by Williams Electronics that I intend to cover for a while, Joust continues a so-far perfect batting average for the company, who would soon after go on a hiatus from video games to focus on pinball. Played solo, Joust is perhaps a bit too difficult for its own good. Played co-op, it becomes an engaging test of skill and teamwork to overcome your adversaries without bumping into each other, with a little bit of incentivized skullduggery for good measure.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Game 145: Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

I’m on Team Star Wars. Star Trek is great, and certainly produced far more hours of worthwhile television than Star Wars did for cinema, but Star Wars is special to me. I’m a slightly snobbish cinephile; I used to watch Godard reel-to-reel without subtitles, my Blu-Ray library is mostly made by Criterion, and I know about Orson Welles films besides Citizen Kane and The Transformers. But I don’t think any movie ever affected me in the same way as Star Wars, or ever will. It’s not my favorite movie. It’s not even my favorite Star Wars movie. But it is a master class not just in storytelling and memorable, relatable characters, but also in visual worldbuilding, which is why I think it utterly engrossed me. Other films had taken me into the past, or to exotic parts of the world, or even outer space, but Star Wars alone took me to a galaxy far, far away, ungrounded in anything of this world except for its relatable characters, and without ever feeling like it was on a sound stage, like so many fantastic adventure films before it had. The sets, costumes, vehicles, equipment, buildings, special effects, and cinematographic flourishes all contribute to a sense of visual identity, so complete and singular that I can look at something as mundane as a prop crate and know that it belongs in the Star Wars universe.

And I think that this visual identity is a big part of why Star Wars has lent itself so well to video games, which perhaps have an even greater impetus to arrest the mind’s eye than conventional cinema does. The most successful video games are instantly recognizable from a mere screenshot to even a casual gamer, and this holds true whether viewing at a flat, static single-screen like Frogger and Tetris, or a vast 3D landscape in Minecraft or The Witcher 3. This must be done without the aid of famous actors, and for a very long time having realistic visuals was out of the question, so having a distinct style was a must. As Star Wars already has an immediately recognizable style, adapting it to a video game is more a mechanical exercise in massaging familiar visuals from the hardware available, than a creative one of inventing striking visuals that stand out.

Given the massive popularity of Star Wars and its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and that their numerous action scenes were well suited to the simple arcade-style video games of the day, it’s hardly surprising that LucasFilm would want to extend its already enormous merchandising scene to video games. Parker Brothers, an established toy company, had exclusive rights to manufacture and sell Star Wars toys. Despite having no experience whatsoever in developing video games, they felt this exclusivity extended to video games, and secured the commission to release the first official Star Wars video games, which I must imagine was a major frustration to Atari.

This one is based on the Battle of Hoth, which I estimate is the second-most frequently adapted movie scene of all time, after the assault on the Death Star (I’m guessing Tron’s light cycle race takes the #3 spot). It looks and plays like Defender, with AT-AT’s as your only enemies.

No harpoons and tow cables here – you destroy them either by chipping away at their health until they blow up, or by firing a single laser into a tiny glowing hatch that sometimes opens up for a very brief period. Let them reach the far edge of the terrain, and they’ll destroy the generator and end the game. Meanwhile, you can sustain up to five hits from their cannons, but every hit after the first has the potential to kill you, and the more damage you accumulate, the more likely that the next one will be your last. Field repairs are possible by landing in a valley, and every two minutes of play, you become blessed with The Force for a few seconds, the Star Wars overture plays, your speeder glows, and you will take no damage until it wears off.

As with most VCS games, there are several game modes, 32 to be exact, covering every possible combination of the available gameplay options. Effectively, there are four possible starting difficulties, two boolean gameplay features (enable/disable smart bombs, which make the AT-ATs fire tracking missiles at you sometimes, and enable/disable solid walkers, which make your speeder crash when touching the AT-ATs, severely damaging them at the cost of a life), and a pointless two-player option. In addition, setting the difficulty switch to 'A' makes the repair valleys a bit trickier to land in.

Because I find that these games are rarely improved by having fewer gameplay options, and that I could manage on the hardest starting difficulty, I played most of my games on variation 16, where the difficulty is at the fourth level, smart bombs and solid walkers are enabled, and with the difficulty switch in the ‘A’ position.

As in Defender, your speeder has a sense of inertia to it. Reaching a high speed takes some time, and coming to a stop or reversing direction of movement takes time too. Getting hit knocks your speeder away from the blast’s epicenter in an impressive way that really conveys the power of the enemy’s blaster cannons. You don’t often see effects like that in these games; your typical shmupoid just has your ship explode if it so much as lightly brushes up against a bullet.

The AT-AT’s are your only enemies, but they are damage sponges, absorbing up to 48 hits before going down, and they change colors every 8 hits, which helps me less than intended thanks to my colorblindness. I found it best to approach them from the front, keeping as far away from them as possible while firing on them repeatedly, and my maximizing my distance from their guns, I’d maximize the amount of reaction time available to me to move out of the way when they fire. This didn’t always work, but it worked better than trying to blast them from behind, as the speeder seems to stay somewhat to the right of the center of the screen, making it dangerous to stay on their tails too closely.

Too close for comfort

Sometimes I’d get a lucky hit on an open hatch, but this wasn’t common at all. Hatches opening on the rear were great; I could just fly over and around and blast it from behind. Most of the time, though, the hatches opened on the front in a position that was blocked by the AT-AT’s head, and I’d be more likely to take a hit from not paying attention to the AT-AT’s blasters than to successfully slip a shot into that narrow opening. As for the smart bombs that often emerged, they track you relentlessly, much like the baiters in Defender, and likewise weave around in a random fashion that makes hitting them tricky. You can’t flip your orientation instantly like in Defender, so the trick of leading it and reversing directions to blast it won’t work. It’s better to fly out of the AT-AT’s blaster range and then play matador with the bomb, letting it circle around you, weaving out of its way with each pass while moving as slowly as possible so that you can quickly change direction to shoot at it, and hope that you get a lucky hit in before it does.

GAB rating: Average. It’s well programmed, looks nice for a VCS game, controls fluidly, and strikes a good balance between your objective of survival, and the urgency of eliminating AT-AT’s before they overrun the base. But there’s no getting over an unpleasant fact – this is as monotonous as VCS games get. A far cry from Defender’s intense arcade action, with its variety of enemies and distinct attack patterns and behaviors, all you do in this game is shoot identical and tanky AT-AT’s while dodging their fire. It wasn’t bad, but I have little desire to ever replay it.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Game 144: Donkey Kong Junior

I’m a little surprised that this game hasn’t got half of Donkey Kong’s thunder. Mario’s debut appearance has a very active competitive scene, the subject of the most famous video game documentary of all time, in which Billy Mitchell credits its enduring legacy to its brutality. Meanwhile, Donkey Kong Junior is even harder, with crazier level designs, much more emphasis on platforming, riskier scoring opportunities, but there aren’t nearly as many records listed in Twin Galaxies, and Junior himself seems to have been chucked into the wastebasket of unmarketable Nintendo characters, unseen since Mario Tennis except for cameos.

That said, I don’t like this game as much as the original, precisely because it’s harder, but in ways that I don’t like. Almost everything you do has an annoying and potentially fatal delay. Want to walk off a ledge or drop from a vine to land on a moving platform below? He’ll hover in the air for a fraction of a second before falling – better take that into account or the platform might not be below you when you fall. Transferring from vine to vine, a critical gameplay element, is especially laggy, which is a really bad thing when hazards are moving around at your level in unpredictable patterns. Junior can survive longer falls than Mario could, but as a result it’s more difficult to know precisely at what point a pixel’s height makes the difference between sticking a landing and a fatal fall. A forward jump pushes Junior’s position back a few pixels before he starts moving forward, making the effective distance shorter than it seems it should be, and the slow-slow forward movement can screw up your timing, landing you right into hazards or missing moving platforms.

As with Donkey Kong, the U.S. version doesn’t let you play through all four levels until you reach the third loop, while the original Japanese version has a normal level order, so I played that one.

DKJ opens up with a brief cut-scene as in the original.

A few things stand out here that I never really thought of before.
  • I always thought Mario was called “Jumpman” before Mario Bros., but here he’s always Mario.
  • Which one is Mario? And is the other one Luigi? Or maybe they’re P1 Mario and P2 Mario?
  • Why is the Marioid on the left pushing thin air?
  • When I played Super Mario Odyssey, I immediately hated how the dialog was peppered with emoji-like pictographs, always in redundant places (like preceding every single mention of “Bowser” with a Bowserface icon). Good to see there’s an early precedent, and I guess it makes some sense for a Japanese audience.

Level 1 is filled with vines and snapjaws.

Players used to newer platformers may make a few unpleasant discoveries here. Vines are your main way of moving up and down, but you cannot climb up (or down) through a platform, even though it looks like the vines pass right through them. You can transfer from vine to vine, but only if they are within Junior’s armspan length; you can’t jump while climbing. And one important thing learned very quickly is that Junior ascends faster when gripping a vine in each hand, but descends faster when only gripping one.

The snapjaws are the only threat here, and come in two varieties; red snapjaws that patrol their turf, climbing up and down vines as they please (they can pass through floors, unlike you), and blue snapjaws which Mario periodically releases, who seek out a random vine at the top of the screen and ride it down all the way to the bottom.

Level 2 gave me the most problems out of all the stages in the game.

Didn’t I see those cliffs in SMB 1-3?

That long chain hanging from the right edge of Mario’s platform is the killer section here. Getting there involves some precise jumping, and the odd controls can get in the way, but at least there’s no randomness involved. The buzzards will also sometimes drop eggs on one of the platforms, but it’s not hard to avoid them. The springboard can serve as a shortcut past all that if you press the jump button at just the right moment when landing on it, but I couldn’t do it reliably.

To pass from one chain hanging from the side of that pit to the other, you must not collide with the buzzards while they are diving through it, and they do constantly, at varying altitudes. Fortunately, there’s a simple pattern – every third buzzard only dives to the highest altitude, letting you pass safely below it or above the other two which dive rather low. Unfortunately, when you ascend to the chains, the buzzards will break this pattern – I believe what happens is that one random buzzard will override its predetermined diving altitude and dive down to your level instead, and once this happens, the standard pattern will resume, letting you slip by with relative ease. Subsequent loops don’t seem to do this, making it even more of a crapshoot.

Level 3 gives you a chance to score some big points, but it’s risky.

The large number of sparks and Junior’s stiff jumping controls make this a deadly stage, but at the same time, it feels more down to skill and awareness over luck, as they move in mostly deterministic patterns. Red sparks circle around the platforms, blue sparks drop a level when they reach bare wires. Only on the platform directly below Mario do things start to become random, as there are multiple bare wire segments directly above, and Mario releases them at irregular intervals. Even before that, failing to keep track of all of the sparks can kill you, as you can easily jump over one spark only for Junior to slowly land right into the path of another.

Finally, level 4 challenges you to rescue DK.

You’ve got to push all of the keys all the way up the chains. The birds fly in a zig-zagging pattern from top to bottom, while the snapjaws climb up and down the chains, transferring to another when they reach the top. The birds are the real problem, especially near the edges, as that’s where they dive and you can’t easily predict where they’ll dive to or react. Therefore, I prefer to go for the edge keys first, before the place is swarming with birds. It will be by the time you go for the center keys, and the snapjaws tend to congregate on those chains, but it’s possible to weave through the birds’ zig-zagging patterns when you aren’t near the edges, and you can’t get bitten by a snapjaw if you aren’t touching its chain. Coming to grips with Junior’s somewhat laggy climbing controls is key; the enemies move much faster than you, but they move predictably.

Rescue DK, and Mario gets a well-deserved roundhouse to the face.

Then it repeats, but I couldn’t ever manage to finish a second loop. My best attempt ended on the spark stage.

GAB rating: Above Average. It’s more Donkey Kong, and that’s not a bad thing, but the stiffness and other dated feeling platformer aspects feel even more pronounced than they did the first time around, resulting in just as much cheap-feeling death as the randomly-dropping barrels in DK did. Still, level design is overall cleverer and more vertical than the first game’s, the vine-climbing mechanic is a timeless staple of the genre, and I appreciate the subtle complexity of its scoring system, even if going for the killscreen seems like a fruitless endeavor.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Game 143: Pole Position

Pole Position was probably the first video game I’ve played in my life. It wasn’t in an arcade, but at the Museum of Science in Boston, where it was on temporary display as part of a showcase on motorsport physics. It wasn’t a life-changing experience – that honor goes to seeing Super Mario Bros. on the NES for the first time – but it is the earliest memory I have of playing a video game of any description.

Today, emulating Pole Position is a tricky proposition thanks to the controls. Gamepads simply do not work well with this game in MAME. I had considered getting a USB steering wheel, but abandoned that idea when I realized that many early arcade driving games, including this one, don’t use conventional steering wheels.

An actual automobile steering wheel turns lock-to-lock, and through mechanical, hydraulic, or electronic mechanisms, controls the angle of the wheels. Turn it all the way to the left, and your wheels will be pointed as far left as they’ll go. Center the wheel and your wheels point forward. USB steering wheels work the same way, though typically with a tighter lock-to-lock angle than a consumer wheel. But a Pole Position wheel spins freely, with no locks, and the wheel measures the direction and speed of its spin rather than its position from the center. Consequently, it feels more like you are moving the car left and right than that you are steering it, but furthermore, a standard locking steering wheel is not a good fit for these controls.

So, what to do? The best option, from what I can tell, is to buy an Ultimarc SpinTrak with a steering wheel attachment, but this is an expensive option considering I’d only play a handful of games with it, and even then I would need to mount it on something. I opted to use my existing SlikStik Tornado. It isn’t a perfect solution; it’s got very low friction, which is great for Tempest but not so great for steering, can’t be gripped with both hands, and since I don’t have any foot pedals I’d have to use pushbuttons for the gas and brakes, which deprive me of the fine control that analog foot pedals would provide. At least the spinner turns without any locks.

Fortunately, Pole Position does not require a lot of finesse. There are only two gears, high and low, and I used a pushbutton to toggle between them. I only found one turn in the circuit that I couldn’t pass at high speed, and I switched to the low gear for that one. It probably would have been better to let up a bit on the gas, but with pushbutton controls there’s no such thing as “a bit.” Shifting to low gear seemed like my best option.

Apart from that one hairpin, I can blow through at top speed.

Luck did play a role in my performance – easy turns can become hard ones depending on what the other vehicles do. I did manage to get good enough to consistently pass the qualifying round and complete one lap, though my best attempt ended just barely short of completing a second lap.

GAB rating: Average

It’s an interesting experience, and one that I wouldn’t at all mind trying on a proper 360-degree steering wheel if given the chance. The steering feels nice on a free-spinning device, and I can only imagine feels even better on a proper wheel. The pseudo-3D graphics are the best I’ve seen to date, completely blowing away Sega’s Turbo of the previous year, and faster and more pleasing than the sparse vector 3D seen in Atari’s Battlezone. But I still find the gameplay a bit simplistic. One of my earliest posts was about two very similar racing games from 1976, Night Driver and 280 ZZZap, and felt Night Driver was the superior game in spite of fewer bells and whistles.

Night Driver has the more engaging driving engine. 280 ZZZap just doesn’t let you do much except navigate turns by steering hard and slowing down if you have to. The stick shift only has two positions, and the only times I ever had it set it to the low position were for the first few seconds after starting or crashing. The course does not twist and turn as Night Driver's do, and it’s almost impossible to oversteer. In short, 280 ZZZap is simplistic and too easy compared to Night Driver.

With some minor edits, I could say almost the exact same about Night Driver and Pole Position, only that Night Driver was six years old by the time Pole Position came out. Pole Position’s course is really just a bunch of turns of varying sharpness connected by straightaways, and your car doesn’t so much turn as it moves left and right. To be clear, it is a step up from 280 ZZZap – curve physics are more sophisticated and therefore more satisfying, there are other cars on the road, and the graphics are obviously vastly improved, but I can’t help but be disappointed that the gameplay hasn’t advanced to the same extent as the graphics.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Games 139-142: Atlantis, Cosmic Ark, & ancestors

Imagic released Atlantis in July 1982 and its sequel Cosmic Ark in August 1982, both for the Atari VCS initially. They were developed concurrently, Atlantis by Dennis Koble and Cosmic Ark by Rob Fulop, both of them former Atari programmers. It would be weird to play one game and not the other.

But before I do, here’s a roadmap of known and inferred influences to these games:

Game 139: Colony 7

Released in 1981 by Taito, claims influence from Atari’s Missile Command and Tekhan/Centuri’s Pleiades, which itself was intended as a sequel to Phoenix, a game which Atari claimed Demon Attack had imitated to the point of copyright infringement, but I didn’t see the resemblance.

And while I find the Missile Command influence is obvious and significant – you defend your colony with weapons aimed by crosshairs which explode radially on reaching altitude – the Pleiades connection seems superficial at best. Pleiades is a multi-stage shmupoid like Phoenix, and while the first stage appears to be about defending a city from an alien invasion, and is visually similar to Colony 7, the defense aspect doesn’t really factor into play.


Colony 7

Colony 7, on the other hand, is all about city defense. Unlike in Missile Command, you have unlimited missiles, so fire away. The targets are quicker, more numerous, and less predictable, but your missiles, which are dual-fired from turrets on the side of the screen, fly faster and with little cooldown. The reticle is controlled with a joystick rather than a trackball. You also have some additional weapons; three Mega Blasters which explode with a much larger radius than the stock weapon, and a single screen-clearing Eradicator rocket. These weapons are visible below the ion shield and can be destroyed by enemy fire, as can your turrets.

There is also the option, at the start of the game, to purchase “extended weaponry.” Most of the sources on the Internet that try to explain what this does get it wrong. It doesn’t give you any additional weaponry, but rather it expands their blast radii, which is most noticeable with the stock missiles.

This makes the game pretty easy, but I’m not one to turn down an edge if the game offers it and doesn’t explicitly tell me this is an easy mode. That said, once I had figured out how the game works, I made it to wave 14 on my very next try, and I’d like to think that I failed there not because it was too challenging, but because my attention span was waning from the monotony.

GAB rating: Average. The creativity involved in mashing up shmupoid and Missile Command gameplay is commendable, but it gets old pretty fast, and as it lacks Missile Command’s more advanced mechanics as well as any ability to move around as you would in a normal shmup, there isn’t much depth beyond figuring out which targets to prioritize and when to use your super weapons.

Game 140: Space Zap

I played this game on real hardware at ACAM. There’s not much to it – you don’t move, but you can shoot in four directions at targets that pop up, shoot projectiles at you, and at the end of each wave, spin around you. It’s a lot like whack-a-mole, actually.

There’s no cooldown to your attack, so once the aliens start to appear and vanish faster than you could possibly react, blast away in the hopes that you might score some lucky kills. Focus on the mines, but don’t stop shooting, ever.

That was my first and only attempt in MAME, and didn’t feel much of a need to replay for a better score.

GAB rating: Below Average. Standing still and waiting for targets to appear just isn’t all that interesting.

Game 141: Atlantis

Atlantis has apparently been thriving under the sea for centuries, but one day, the Gorgon Fleet arrives, intent on demolishing the city. You command some defenses - two angled turrets and one "command post" with an upwards-aimed gun, but it’s only a matter of time before you are overwhelmed and Atlantis sinks again.

There are four game modes, and unusually for an Atari game, difficulty switches do nothing. Game 1 is the standard mode, but the others are:
  1. No command post firing
  2. Two controller mode (also no command post firing)
  3. Easy difficulty

These extra modes didn’t sound especially interesting, so I stuck to mode 1.

You control three defense facilities – one command post in the center, and two sentry towers on the left and right side.

Unlike in Colony 7, the guns can’t be aimed; your available actions at any given moment are simply to fire the center gun, fire the left gun, fire the right gun, or to do nothing. The center gun is ostensibly the most useful one, but its kills are only worth half the points, which you need in order to repair the city, and it tends to get blown up really fast.

If they fly this low, it’s too late.

The right gun is higher than the left, and farther away from the center, so the cross-fire isn’t exactly symmetrical.

So, what can we learn from this? Well, apart from showing that the center gun is best, it shows that high-altitude planes must be targeted with the gun facing the same direction, and low-altitude planes are best targeted with the gun facing its opposite direction. But it doesn’t take long before the planes can fly faster than your own bullets, making the high-altitude ones essentially invulnerable unless you pull off a lucky blind shot. It’s much easier to shoot them head-on at lower altitudes.

One crucial thing to understand is that the Gorgon planes always start at high altitudes, and any that make a pass across the screen without getting hit will instantly wrap around it and descend a level. Anticipation is the only way you’ll hit them after the first few slow and easy waves, and understanding their movement patterns buys you more time to anticipate.

My best attempt just surpassed the 40,000 point mark.

GAB rating: Average. It reminds me much more of Atari’s Anti-Aircraft, a game I didn’t care for at all, than of Taito's Colony 7. It looks really nice for a VCS game - it even seems to be made with a 4:3 aspect ratio in mind - and the defense-oriented gameplay is certainly more interesting than the passive, boring shooting galleries seen in Anti-Aircraft and Air-Sea Battle. The bleak, menacing atmosphere as your city is bombarded into rubble stands out especially, and feels less abstract but no less grim than the desolate landscapes in Missile Command. But it’s pretty shallow and repetitive, with little room for decisions and tactics, and also suffers from a bad feedback loop where once the game is hard enough that you start making mistakes, you’ll spend most of your play time without your most effective weapon, and have just the side-turrets and no gameplay decisions to make at all except for timing your shots correctly.

Once Atlantis is destroyed, a vessel with its last survivors flies off into space, setting up the perfect lead-in to:

Game 142: Cosmic Ark

Read the manual here:

The manual’s only explicit reference to Atlantis is that it describes the Cosmic Ark’s crew as “Atlantean,” but this is enough to infer that this is a direct sequel to Atlantis. Oddly, though, the Ark’s mission isn’t to colonize a new home for the Atlanteans, but to rescue creatures from a dying solar system. This raises a few questions – just how much time has passed since the previous game? Is this the same vessel that escaped Atlantis? Did they settle somewhere in between games, or is the Ark’s crew truly the last of the Atlantean people?

Few answers are found in the manual or game, but the gameplay involves two phases. First is a Meteor Shower phase, which is a simplified version of Space Zap, where meteors approach from four directions and you zap them with your joystick. A missed shot will cost you energy and time, so you can’t spam as you could in Space Zap. The difficulty switch controls the size of the Ark, with position ‘A’ making it bigger, making it harder to zap the meteors.

After surviving a meteor shower, the ark will enter planetary orbit and launch a shuttle, and the Rescue phase begins. Two creatures pace around the landscape, and you must abduct both of them with your tractor beam while they try to evade you. An alarm will sound when the meteor showers are about to begin again, and you must return to the Ark promptly or it will be destroyed. After the first rescue, subsequent planetary surfaces will have defense laser turrets which move up and down and fire at predictable intervals.

Eventually the Ark will be destroyed by the meteor shower, rendering the whole mission pointless. An escape shuttle will fly off into space, setting things up for a continued storyline, but Imagic abandoned this arc.

As with most Atari games, there are multiple game modes:
  1. Standard gameplay
  2. Only Meteor Shower rounds
  3. Two-player alternating
  4. Hard variant of 1
  5. Hard variant of 2
  6. Hard variant of 3

I didn’t see much point in modes 2 or 3. The alternating two-player mode gives each player responsibility for a different round type, but it’s still just alternating play.

The hard variant modes, on the other hand, are hilarious. Right off the bat, the Meteor Shower round is too fast for me to react. Only with difficulty switch in position ‘B’ did I manage to barely squeak by, only to find this on planetfall:

GAB rating: Below Average. It’s like WarioWare, if it only had two microgames. Standing still and waiting for targets to appear still isn’t all that interesting – you see a meteor, you deal with it by tapping the stick in its direction. Once they start moving faster than you can react, that’s it. Your game is effectively over; there’s no way to compensate for your inadequate reaction time through anticipation as you can in Atlantis. Space Zap had at least a small amount of variety – not much, but more than zero. The Rescue phase is a bit more interesting, but not interesting enough to hold up as its own game, and the two lackluster microgames don’t add up to more than the sum of said parts.

I had heard good things about Imagic before I started this blog, and I am playing them for the first time as I write about them. All of them certainly look nice, and Imagic’s developers must have been wizards to pull off the sorts of tricks they did on the VCS’s limited specs and only 4K of ROM, but Atlantis and Cosmic Ark underwhelmed me in the gameplay department, even compared to other VCS games. We’ve still got Dragonfire toward the end of 1982, and I’m curious to see if it holds up to their reputation.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Games 136-138: Early Irem

Irem was founded as IPM Co. in 1974, and their earliest credit on Mobygames is 1978’s “Power Block,” which at this point I’m not even going to bother verifying that it’s a Breakout clone. It isn’t listed in MAME in any event. Wikipedia lists two Mahjong games and a “Nyankoro,” but without any identifying details these aren’t especially useful credits.

MAME’s earliest attribution to IPM Co. is Andromeda, but it isn’t fully playable yet.

This is as far as it gets.

Their next credit is IPM Invader, a 1979 Space Invaders clone with barely anything even slightly interesting to distinguish it from the original game.

It’s got color sprites, remembers the top five scores, numbers the waves, and that’s pretty much it.

Soon after its release, they changed their name to Irem, and their next few credits are similarly uninteresting.
  • Head On, a clone of Sega/Gremlin’s VIC Dual game running on custom Irem hardware.
  • Galaxian, a clone of the Namco game that doesn’t even run on custom hardware and may be a bootleg.
  • Space Beam, which plays identically to Konami/Leijac’s Space War

Their first game of 1980, Sky Chuter, appears to be original.

Game 136: Sky Chuter

But it isn’t good.

At first it looks like a somewhat novel Space Invaders knock-off – you control an anti-aircraft turret and fire at waves of bombers, who sometimes drop parachuting landmines. But these bombers are much faster than the invaders, and you can rarely afford to ignore the landmines – let them land on the ground and they’ll stay there until you run over them. A landmine in the middle of the screen effectively cuts off half of the playfield from you. Between their speed, the constant distraction, your gun’s slow speed, long cooldown, the bombers’ deceptively tiny hitboxes, and the game’s annoying tendency to drop your fire command when a lot is going on it’s nearly impossible to keep pressure on them, which means more pressure on you.

But the real game killer is that no matter how many planes you shoot down, and no matter how perfectly accurate and efficient your fire is, the final part of the wave has planes come in at the lowest possible altitude.

I could never survive this part.

At this point, the red bombers are so close to the hypocenter that you haven’t got a prayer of shooting down their mines, or avoiding their normal bombs should they happen to drop one while you’re even slightly beneath them. Without an extreme degree of luck, and I didn’t manage this even once, you’re dead, and the wave restarts from the top.

GAB rating: Bad. It’s poorly designed, poorly programmed, and rigged.

Game 137: WW III

MAME lists this as a clone of “Red Alert,” but WW III appears to be the original.

Red Alert adds some pretty realistic sounding voice synthesis, muffled a bit by radio-like static, telling you at the start “Red alert. Enemy aircraft approaching [beat] France. 20 jet fighters approaching, destroy all fighters by 1100 hours or MIRV will be launched.” It’s pretty impressive considering this is 1981. Sadly, MAME doesn’t emulate sound effects correctly in either version, so the ingame aural experience is disquietingly barren.

I opted to play WW III on the off-chance that Red Alert also has any gameplay differences to go with its audio additions.

WW III is clearly expanding on the ideas of Sky Chuter – most evident in the helicopter stage – and with greater success. And it’s also obvious that Missile Command had some influence here – there’s the theme, there’s a red megabomb that when shot, explodes in the sky in a radial pattern and can take out multiple targets, and of course there’s this:

General Thomas S. Power would be okay with that.

Apart from the theme, the game plays like Galaxian with more variety. Irem’s earlier title UniWar S was, in fact, a Galaxian ROM hack, which added variety in the form of multiple stages with different enemy types, formations, and tactics.

The first stage involves shooting down a 20-bomber wave.

The bombers are fast but move predictably, and their bombs are fairly easy to dodge. You haven’t got much time to clear the wave though – at 4:00 PM, about 50 seconds of gameplay, the bombers leave and a game-ending MIRV drops. Hypothetically, you could shoot down every warhead before any of them land, but this is much more difficult than just shooting all the bombers in the first place.

I don’t really see why they call off the MIRV once you shoot down the bombers – presumably this is a nuclear ICBM, and even the earliest ones were precise enough to devastate Paris without manual guidance.

The second stage is about shooting helicopters, and this is where the Sky Chuter roots become clear.

Thankfully, the parachuting bombs just explode when they hit the ground, creating this odd effect where a section of the background briefly turns red, and will kill you if you are too close to it. The helicopters buzz around in unpredictable patterns, making them trickier to hit than the bombers.

It’s not terribly difficult either. The parachute bombs are the helicopters’ only means of attack, and only so many can be on the screen at once. They don’t seem to target you, so it’s simple enough to thin out their ranks by picking off stragglers while the densest clusters drop useless bombs on the city far away from you.

Then night bombing starts and things get real.

Here, the bombing is much heavier than in the daytime, they fall faster, and you can only fully see the bombers as they pass through the searchlights. Fortunately, their bombs are visible in the dark. Unfortunately, the bombers can take out your searchlights, and with the bombs being dropped so heavily and with no means of protecting your searchlights except for scoring direct hits on these tiny bombs with your slow-firing gun, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before it happens.

It happened.

And then you’re stuck shooting bombers in the dark, with only the trail of bombs and the occasional blinking light giving a hint as to their positions. With your shooting accuracy diminished, the bombers you miss will fly at lower and lower altitudes as dawn approaches, until they fly so low that you couldn’t reasonably dodge their bombs even if you could see the craft they were coming from.

Survive the night, which I only managed once, and peace and world stability are achieved forever.

Just kidding.

I only managed to save France once, and failed the U.S. phase during the night bombing phase as usual.

GAB rating: Above Average. Kudos to Irem for giving the Galaxian formula some variety, but there isn’t any hidden depth here, and the difficulty spike is extreme.

Game 138: Moon Patrol

I wouldn’t have made this inference before starting Data Driven Gamer, but Konami’s Scramble was clearly a major influence on this game. It’s not the most obvious connection; Scramble is an early horizontal shmup, and Moon Patrol is more like a platformer, although it wasn’t informed by any previous platformer-like games as far as I can tell.

But despite the fact that in one game you control a space ship and the other you control a land rover, the similarities are strong and numerous.
  • Auto-horizontally scrolling playfields
  • Obstacle course-like level design
  • A checkpoint system that shows your progress toward the end goal
  • Horizontal controls aren’t based around moving left and right, but rather slowing down and speeding up
  • A vertically-oriented secondary weapon
  • Ability to continue from a checkpoint on a game over (from Super Cobra)

On that last point, Moon Patrol does one better than Super Cobra; while Super Cobra had a limit on the number of times you could continue, Moon Patrol lets you pump in quarters until you win. Not a lot of arcade games of the time allowed this; the only other one I’ve played is Vanguard, and even that stopped allowing continues after beating the first loop. Moon Patrol’s leniency, it seems, is limited only by the depths of your pockets.

And they clearly understood that, because dear lord, this game is a quarter muncher. There are only so many ways you can clear the nonstop obstacles, and if you don’t know what’s coming, you really can’t react fast enough. Your forward-firing gun is slow and not effective against large or multiple targets unless you’re moving at a reduced speed. Changing speeds takes some time, your speed affects the height and distance of your jumps, and when you do jump, you have no control until you land. Move too fast while making a jump, and you might slam right into a rock on the other side of the chasm. Move too slow and you might not have time to get up to speed to perform a necessary long jump right after. And the chasms are deceptively wide; if any of your wheels even come close to either edge, you’ll probably fall in, so you really don’t want to cut things too close. The name of the game is trial, error, and retrial at the cost of a quarter.

And even practice may not be enough, as occasionally UFOs start bombarding you and the terrain, leaving craters for you to jump over in addition to any other obstacles that were already there. The randomness of their fire may just force you to maneuver in a way that doesn’t complement the avoidance of the upcoming obstacles.

There are two courses, and the second of the two has a much bigger variety of obstacles and MUCH tighter timing needed to pull everything off, even once you know exactly what’s coming. I managed to get good enough at the first course that I could beat it on a single credit and score thousands of points from finishing it quickly, but didn’t feel compelled to master the second in that manner.

GAB rating: Above Average. Moon Patrol is pretty well designed, well programmed, looks pretty nice, it’s fun, fast, exciting, and has a decent amount of variety considering how long the courses are, but the trial and error gameplay can feel cheap and frustrating.

Also, does the way the moon buggy’s wheels move up and down independently of the chassis remind anyone else of Metal Slug?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Unusual MAME controls

Arcade games had a wide variety of controls. Most of the time, they translate pretty well to a gamepad – by far the most common coin-up configuration involves dual-player 8-way joysticks, each with 1-4 pushbuttons, which any modern gamepad can accommodate with its d-pad and four face buttons, while select/start can serve as coin and start inputs. The gamepad is flexible enough to handle a wide variety of other configurations as well – shoulder buttons are there when you need more than four action buttons, and the dual analog sticks work for twin-stick shooters like Robotron and Smash TV, or you can use the d-pad in conjunction with the face buttons to simulate having a second d-pad, relegating shoulder buttons for actions (if you still need them).

But then there are all those other types of controls. Trackballs. Dials. Paddles. Steering wheels. Those weird fishing rod controllers with a bunch of spinning doo-dads. What do you do about those? Sometimes you can fake them with common input devices, and sometimes you really need specialized hardware. Some time ago, I built an arcade control panel with a Street Fighter-style layout, plus a trackball, spinner, 4-way joystick, and extra buttons mapped to useful keyboard inputs. This covers most of my bases, but not all, and is probably much more than what the vast majority of players have access to.

I wrote this as a guide and partial catalog on MAME’s games with unusual or difficult input schemes, with the assumption that the reader has access to modern gamepads with dual analog sticks and trigger-style shoulder buttons. This is not comprehensive by any means. Most of my data comes from MAME’s own XML output, but this is often incomplete or inaccurate from a user’s standpoint. A very large amount of useful data came from the now defunct “controls.dat” project.

Additionally, the ongoing Nplayers project categorizes games based on not just the number of players, but also on whether they are simultaneous, alternating, or if it’s more complicated than that.

I’m not interested in the 900+ Gambling/Mahjong/Hanafuda machines in MAME. They’re there, they require specialized controllers or clumsy keyboard-mapping, and I don’t really care about them or expect that many reading Data Driven Gamer would either.

Eight-way joysticks

An eight-way joystick with pushbuttons is by far the most common type of controller configuration in MAME, and are generally not any trouble to map to a gamepad, or keyboard, or whatever. There’s a lot more nuance to these controllers than a casual player might think – for instance, an ideal fight stick will have a square-shaped gate to aid hitting the diagonals, while a more general purpose stick will have a circular one for easier edge-riding. I won’t be getting into this level of detail here.

From a game logic perspective, there’s no difference between this and a four-way joystick. Both involve a stick positioned to hit four directional switches that are wired to four inputs on the PCB. The diagonals are not their own inputs, but rather a function of the game’s programming to recognize when two perpendicular switches are hit at once, which is physically difficult or impossible on a four-way stick.

When arcade controls aren’t available, I prefer using a controller’s d-pad. Analog thumbsticks work too, but are too imprecise for my liking.

As this is such a common input scheme, I won't list the games that use it. It would be too many. Instead, here's a list of games that support three or more simultaneous players with this input scheme:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
2 On 2 Open Ice Challenge 1995 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Alien vs. Predator 1994 Capcom 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Armored Warriors 1994 Capcom 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Asylum (prototype) 1991 Leland Corporation 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Barricade 1976 Ramtek 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Battle Circuit (Euro 970319) 1997 Capcom 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Battletoads 1994 Rare / Electronic Arts 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Captain America and The Avengers 1991 Data East Corporation 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Captain Commando 1991 Capcom 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Checkmate 1977 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Midway
4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Crime Fighters (US 4 Players) 1989 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Dark Adventure 1987 Konami 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Double Dragon 3 - The Rosetta Stone 1990 East Technology
/ Technos Japan
3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Dungeons & Dragons:
Tower of Doom / Shadow over Mystara
1993-1996 Capcom 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Eliminator (4 Players) 1981 Gremlin 4|4P sim 4x-joy2
G.I. Joe (World, EAB, set 1) 1992 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Gain Ground 1988 Sega 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Gauntlet / Gauntlet II 1985-1986 Atari Games 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Gauntlet Dark Legacy 1999 Midway Games 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Gauntlet Legends (version 1.6) 1998 Atari Games 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Golden Axe: The Revenge of Death
1992 Sega 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Golfing Greats 1991 Konami 4|4P alt 4x-joy8
Paddles have unknown
Hard Dunk (World) 1994 Sega 6|6P sim 6x-joy8
Hard Yardage (v1.20) 1993 Strata /
Incredible Technologies
4|4P sim 4x-joy8
High Impact Football 1990 Williams 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Hit the Ice (US) 1990 Taito Corporation
(Williams license)
4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Hook (World) 1992 Irem 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Kick and Run (World) 1986 Taito Corporation 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Knights of the Round 1991 Capcom 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Knuckle Heads (World) 1992 Namco 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Mercs (World 900302) 1990 Capcom 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Metamorphic Force (ver EAA) 1993 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Michael Jackson's Moonwalker 1990 Sega 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Mystic Warriors (ver EAA) 1993 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8 Configurable for 2 or 4
NBA Hangtime /
NBA Maximum Hangtime
1996 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
NBA Jam / NBA Jam TE 1993-1994 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
NBA Jam Extreme (ver. 1.04) 1996 Acclaim 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
NFL Blitz '99 1998 Midway Games 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Paddle Mania 1988 SNK 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Pig Out: Dine Like a Swine! 1990 Leland Corporation 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Pit Fighter (rev 9) 1990 Atari Games 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Punk Shot (US 4 Players) 1990 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Puzzle Bobble 1994 Taito Corporation 4|2P sim 4x-joy8
Quartet 1986 Sega 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Rampage (Rev 3, 8/27/86) 1986 Bally Midway 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Rampage: World Tour (rev 1.3) 1997 Midway 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Rim Rockin' Basketball (V2.2) 1991 Strata /
Incredible Technologies
4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Run and Gun / Run and Gun 2 1993-1996 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Saturday Night Slam Masters 1993 Capcom 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Spider-Man: The Videogame 1991 Sega 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Sunset Riders 1991 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Super High Impact 1991 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Tecmo Bowl (World, set 1) 1987 Tecmo 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
/ TMNT: Turtles in Time
1989-1991 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
The King of Dragons 1991 Capcom 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
The Main Event (4 Players ver. Y) 1988 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
The Real Ghostbusters 1987 Data East USA 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
The Simpsons 1991 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
The Three Stooges In Brides Is Brides 1984 Mylstar 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
Thunder Zone (World) 1991 Data East Corporation 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Trog (prototype) 1990 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
U.S. Championship V'ball 1988 Technos Japan 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Vendetta 1991 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Violent Storm (ver EAC) 1993 Konami 4|3P sim 4x-joy8
Vs. Ice Climber Dual 1984 Nintendo 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Vs. Tennis 1984 Nintendo Co., Ltd. 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey 1996 Atari Games 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Wild West C.O.W.-Boys of Moo Mesa 1992 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
World Beach Volley (set 1) 1995 Playmark 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
World Soccer Finals (rev 4) 1990 Leland Corporation 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
WWF WrestleFest 1991 Technos Japan 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
Xenophobe 1987 Bally Midway 3|3P sim 3x-joy8
X-Men (4 Players ver UBB) 1992 Konami 4|4P sim 4x-joy8
X-Men (6 Players ver ECB) 1992 Konami 6|6P sim 6x-joy8

Four-way joysticks

As I mentioned above, these are logically identical to an eight-way joystick, but isn’t designed to allow you to hit diagonals, and the games aren’t programmed to recognize them. Pac-Man restricts diagonals with a diamond-shaped gate that can be easily ridden from corner to corner, while Donkey Kong uses a plus-sign shaped gate that makes touching diagonals physically impossible.

These are archaic devices that didn’t see a lot of use after 1984. Unfortunately, there aren’t many great options for emulating them. MAME prevents unintentional diagonal inputs by giving horizontal inputs priority, but this can cause unintentional horizontal inputs instead, especially if you’re using an analog stick.

Mr. Brow at Raising the Brow wrote a guide on how to make MAME smarter about translating analog stick movement to four-way inputs:

Personally, I use a Ms. Pac-Man / Galaga 4-way joystick for these games, and if I didn’t have one, I would prefer a keyboard over any gamepad input.

Here's a list of some games that use 4-way joysticks:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
005 1981 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Ali Baba and 40 Thieves 1982 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Alpha Fighter / Head On 19?? Data East Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Amidar 1982 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Anteater 1982 Tago Electronics 1|2P alt joy4
Arm Wrestling 1985 Nintendo 1|1P joy3 (half4) Left-up-right joystick
Armored Car (set 1) 1981 Stern Electronics 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Assault (Rev B) 1988 Namco 2|1P 2x-doublejoy
Bagman / Super Bagman 1982-1984 Valadon Automation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Blasto 1978 Gremlin 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Bomber Man World /
New Dyna Blaster - Global Quest
1992 Irem 4|4P sim 4x-joy4
Boulder Dash /
Boulder Dash Part 2
1990 Data East Corporation
(licensed from First Star)
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Burger Time (Data East set 1) 1982 Data East Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Buster Bros. / Super Pang 1989-1990 Mitchell 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Chinese Hero 1984 Taiyo 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Commando (Sega) 1983 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Crash 1979 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Crazy Kong 1981 Kyoei / Falcon 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Crazy Kong Part II (set 1) 1981 Falcon 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Crush Roller (set 1) 1981 Alpha Denshi Co. /
Kural Samno Electric, Ltd.
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Dig Dug / Dig Dug II 1982-1985 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Digger 1980 Sega 1|2P alt joy4
Dodgem 1979 Zaccaria 1|2P alt joy4
Domino Man 1982 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Dominos 1977 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Donkey Kong / Donkey Kong Junior
/ Donkey Kong 3
1981-1983 Nintendo of America 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Dynablaster / Bomber Man 1991 Irem
(licensed from Hudson Soft)
4|4P sim 4x-joy4
Eyes (US set 1) 1982 Techstar (Rock-Ola license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Fire Trap (US, rev A) 1986 Woodplace Inc.
(Data East USA license)
2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy
Frogger 1981 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Frogs 1978 Gremlin 1|1P joy3 (half4) Left-up-right joystick
Gals Panic (Unprotected) 1990 Kaneko 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Ghostmuncher Galaxian 1981 bootleg 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Ghouls'n Ghosts (World) 1988 Capcom 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Guzzler 1983 Tehkan 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Hard Hat 1982 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Haunted Castle (version M) 1988 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Head On (2 players) 1979 Gremlin 1|2P alt joy4
Hustle 1977 Gremlin 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Invinco / Head On 2 1979 Sega 1|2P alt joy4
Iron Horse (version H) 1986 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Journey 1983 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Joyful Road (Japan) 1983 SNK 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy
Jr. Pac-Man (11/9/83) 1983 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Jungler 1981 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Karate Champ (US) 1984 Data East USA 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy
Karate Champ (US VS) 1984 Data East USA 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
Kicker 1985 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Klax (version 6) 1989 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Lady Bug 1981 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Lasso 1982 SNK 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Levers 1983 Rock-Ola 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Lock'n'Chase 1981 Data East Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Loco-Motion 1982 Konami (Centuri license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Lupin III (set 1) 1980 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Mikie 1984 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Minesweeper 1977 Amutech 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Monster Bash 1982 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Mouse Trap (version 5) 1981 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Mr. Do! / Mr. Do's Castle /
Mr. Do's Wild Ride / Do! Run Run
1982-1984 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Mr. Driller (US, DRI3/VER.A2) 1999 Namco 2|1P 2x-joy4
Ms. Pac-Man 1981 Midway /
General Computer Corporation
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
NATO Defense 1982 Pacific Novelty 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Naughty Boy 1982 Jaleco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Nibbler (rev 9, set 1) 1982 Rock-Ola 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Oli-Boo-Chu 1981 Irem / GDI 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Pac-Man / Pac-Man Plus
/ Super Pac-Man
/ Pac-Man & Chomp Chomp
1980-1983 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Pengo (set 1 rev c) 1982 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Pepper II (version 8) 1982 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Ponpoko 1982 Sigma Enterprises Inc. 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Popeye (revision D) 1982 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Pulsar 1981 Sega 1|2P alt joy4
Punch-Out!! / Super Punch-Out!! 1984 Nintendo 1|1P joy4
Pushman (Korea, set 1) 1990 Comad 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Qix (Rev 2) 1981 Taito America Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Rally X (32k Ver.?) 1980 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Roc'n Rope 1983 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Rolling Thunder (rev 3) 1986 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Route 16 (set 3, bootleg?) 1981 Tehkan /
Sun Electronics (Centuri license)
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Samurai 1980 Sega 1|2P alt joy4
Side Trak 1979 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Solar Fox (upright) 1981 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Space Attack / Head On 1979 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Space Panic (version E) 1980 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Spectar (revision 3) 1980 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Super Qix (World/Japan, V1.2) 1987 Kaneko / Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Tank Battalion 1980 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Tapper (Budweiser, 1/27/84) 1983 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Targ 1980 Exidy 1|2P alt joy4
Tetris (set 1) 1988 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-joy3
Left-down-right joysticks
Tetris The Grand Master 1998 Arika / Capcom 4|2P sim 4x-joy4
The Adventures of Robby Roto! 1981 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Bally Midway
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
The Electric Yo-Yo (set 1) 1982 Taito America Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Thief 1981 Pacific Novelty 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Timber 1984 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
Tomahawk 777 (rev 5) 1980 Data East 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Toypop 1986 Namco 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Tranquillizer Gun 1980 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Triple Punch (set 1) 1982 K.K. International 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Trog (rev LA5 03/29/91) 1990 Midway 4|4P sim 4x-joy4
Turtles 1981 Konami
(Stern Electronics license)
2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Tutankham 1982 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy
Warp & Warp 1981 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Zero Zone 1993 Comad 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Zoo Keeper (set 1) 1982 Taito America Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy4

Two-way joysticks

A joystick that moves left and right only, or less frequently, up and down only. MAME can be inconsistent about using this; for instance, Phoenix uses pushbuttons for moving left and right, but MAME lists this as a two-way joystick. Other games with a similar input scheme are listed as “buttons_only.” Electronically there’s no difference, and physically the only difference is that a true 2-way joystick can’t hit left and right simultaneously. I’m not really sure if MAME does anything to prevent this.

There are a lot of suitable options for emulating a two-way joystick. I prefer using shoulder buttons on a gamepad, depending on the game, for quicker response than real arcade controls would provide.

 Some games with two-way joysticks:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
4 En Raya (set 1) 1990 IDSA 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Ace 1976 Allied Leisure 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Alpine Ski (set 1) 1982 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Balloon Bomber 1980 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Bank Panic 1984 Sanritsu / Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Black Hole 1981 TDS & MINTS 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Bubble Bobble 1986 Taito Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Cheeky Mouse 1980 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Circus Charlie 1984 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Cosmic Guerilla /
Cosmic Alien
1979 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Defend the Terra Attack on
the Red UFO
1981 Artic 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Defender / Stargate 1980-1981 Williams 1|2P alt joyvertical2
Devil Zone 1980 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Driving Force 1984 Shinkai Inc.
(Magic Electronics Inc. license)
1|1P joy2
Enigma II 1981 Game Plan
(Zilec Electronics license)
2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Freeze 1984 Cinematronics 1|2P alt joy2
Galaxian / Galaga 1979-1981 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Galaxy Wars 1979 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Guided Missile 1977 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Gyruss 1983 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Hunchback (set 1) 1983 Century Electronics 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Invader's Revenge 1980? Zenitone-Microsec Ltd. 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
IPM Invader 1979 IPM 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Joust /
Joust 2 - Survival of the
1982-1986 Williams 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Kaos 1981 Game Plan 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
King & Balloon (US) 1980 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Looping 1982 Video Games GmbH 2|2P alt 2x-joyvertical2
Lunar Rescue 1979 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
M-4 1977 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-joyvertical2
Magical Spot 1980 Universal 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Mappy (US) 1983 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Mario Bros. 1983 Nintendo of America 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Megatack (set 1) 1980 Game Plan (Centuri license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Moon Alien Part 2 1980 Namco / Nichibutsu 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Moon Patrol 1982 Irem 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
New York! New York! 1980 Sigma Enterprises Inc. 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Pooyan 1982 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joyvertical2
Radar Scope 1980 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Return of the Invaders 1985 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Rolling Crash
/ Moon Base
1979 Nichibutsu 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Rotary Fighter 1979 Kasco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Satan of Saturn 1981 SNK 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Satan's Hollow 1981 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Sky Diver 1978 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-joy2 Pullable parachute ripcord as
a joystick
Space Attack 1979 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Fever /
Space Fever High Splitter
1979 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Invaders 1978 Taito / Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Invaders II (Midway) 1980 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Space Launcher 1979 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Stranger 1978 Yachiyo Electronics, Ltd. 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Speak & Rescue 1980 Sun Electronics 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Speed Coin (prototype) 1984 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt joy2
Spiders (set 1) 1981 Sigma Enterprises Inc. 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
The FairyLand Story 1985 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Traverse USA /
Zippy Race
1983 Irem 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
UniWar S 1980 Irem 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Wonder Boy 1986 Escape (Sega license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Yosaku To Donbei (set 1) 1979 Wing 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Zzyzzyxx (set 1) 1982 Cinematronics /
Advanced Microcomputer Systems
2|2P alt 2x-joyvertical2

These games use buttons for directionality, but MAME treats them as if they used joysticks. Most are two-way, a few are four-way:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs
Arlington Horse Racing (v1.40-D) 1991 Strata / Incredible Technologies 1|1P joyvertical2
Armor Attack 1980 Cinematronics 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Astro Blaster (version 3) 1981 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Astro Fighter (set 1) 1979 Data East 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Astro Invader 1980 Leijac Corporation (Stern Electronics license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Astro Wars 1980 Zaccaria / Zelco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Attack Force 1979? Electronic Games Systems 1|1P joy2
Barrier 1979 Cinematronics (Vectorbeam license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Blockade 1976 Gremlin 2|2P sim 2x-joy4
Carnival (upright, AY8912 music) 1980 Sega 1|2P alt joy2
Challenger 1981 Game Plan (Centuri license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
CoMOTION 1976 Gremlin 4|4P sim 4x-joy4
Cosmos 1981 Century Electronics 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Depthcharge 1977 Gremlin 1|1P joy2
Eliminator (2 Players, set 1) 1981 Gremlin 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Gravitar (version 3) 1982 Atari 1|2P alt joy2
Intruder 1980 Taito (Game Plan license) 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Invinco / Deep Scan 1979 Sega 1|2P alt joy2
Meadows Lanes 1977 Meadows Games, Inc. 1|2P alt joy2
Moon Cresta (Nichibutsu) 1980 Nichibutsu 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Phoenix (Amstar, set 1) 1980 Amstar 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Pleiads (Tehkan) 1981 Tehkan 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Quasar (set 1) 1980 Zaccaria / Zelco 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Red Alert 1981 Irem (GDI license) 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Rip Off 1980 Cinematronics 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Robot Bowl 1977 Exidy 1|2P alt joy2
Solar Quest (rev 10 8 81) 1981 Cinematronics 1|2P alt joy2
Space Duel (version 2) 1980 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-joy2
Space Firebird (rev. 04-u) 1980 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Fury (revision C) 1981 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Intruder 1980 Shoei 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Space Invaders Part II (Taito) 1979 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Star Castle (version 3) 1980 Cinematronics 1|2P alt joy2
The End 1980 Konami 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
The Invaders 1979? Zaccaria / Zelco 1|2P alt joy2
War of the Worlds 1981 Cinematronics 1|2P alt joy2

Double joysticks

Two joysticks meant to be gripped in each hand. I play these with my arcade stick using the second player’s stick in my right hand, but if this isn’t an option (or if I want to play a two-player game like Smash TV) I would play these with a gamepad, using the d-pad for one stick and the face buttons for another stick.

Usually these are 8-way, but another configuration is vertical 2-way, which is most often seen with tank-style games, with each joystick controlling a tread direction. These are also not really a problem to map to a gamepad.

Some games with double joysticks in the 8-way and 2-way configuration are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Angel Kids (Japan) 1988 Sega / Nasco? 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Battle Zone (rev 2) 1980 Atari 1|1P doublejoy[vertical2-vertical2]
Black Widow 1982 Atari 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Captain Flag (Japan) 1993 Jaleco 1|1P doublejoy[vertical2-vertical2]
Cloak & Dagger (rev 5) 1983 Atari 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Crazy Climber /
Crazy Climber 2
1980 Nichibutsu 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Front Line 1982 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8] Right "joystick" is a push-dial with 8
Inferno (Williams) 1984 Williams 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Krull 1983 Gottlieb 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Lost Tomb (easy) 1982 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Mars 1981 Artic 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Minefield 1983 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Rescue 1982 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Rescue Raider 1987 Bally Midway 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Robotron: 2084 1982 Williams / Vid Kidz 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Sarge 1985 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
Screw Loose (prototype) 1983 Mylstar 1|2P alt doublejoy[8-8]
Sheriff 1979 Nintendo 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8] Joystick for movement.
8-position trigger dial for
Smash T.V. (rev 8.00) 1990 Williams 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Space Dungeon 1981 Taito America
2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Splat! 1982 Williams 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Star Guards 1987 Bally Midway 3|3P sim 3x-doublejoy[8-8]
Tank 8 (set 1) 1976 Atari (Kee Games) 8|8P sim 8x-doublejoy
Tank Battle (prototype) 1992 Microprose Games
2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
The Tin Star (set 1) 1983 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8] Right "joystick" is a push-dial with
8 positions
Title Fight (World) 1992 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy[8-8] 8-way sticks "twist" instead of moving
Total Carnage 1992 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy[8-8]
Ultra Tank 1978 Atari (Kee Games) 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
Vindicators /
Vindicators Part II
1988 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-doublejoy
Wild Western (set 1) 1982 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-doublejoy[8-8] Right stick is 8-position dial

Buttons only

MAME is really inconsistent about this designation. Most of the time, it means exactly what it says – that the game only uses pushbuttons for input (though as noted above, sometimes MAME uses Joy2 for pushbutton-only games). Other times, it’s used when a game supports alternating players who each get a dedicated set of pushbuttons but must share another control (such as a trackball). Then there are games with unusual pushbutton configurations that are detatched somehow from the joystick or other controls and serve a specialized purpose, such as camera control buttons in racing games. And then there are games where I have no clue why MAME is even using this at all.

This is usually not a challenge to emulate, but it’s good to know when a game lacks directional input.

Some button-only games are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
'88 Games 1988 Konami 4|4P alt
/ 2P sim
Adventure Quiz 2 -
Hatena? no Daibouken
1990 Capcom 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Asteroids / Asteroids Deluxe 1979-1980 Atari 1|2P alt only_buttons
Bakuretsu Quiz Ma-Q Dai
1992 Namco 4|2P sim 4x-only_buttons
Canyon Bomber 1977 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Chicken Shift 1984 Bally/Sente 1|2P alt only_buttons
Curve Ball 1984 Mylstar 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
FAX 1983 Exidy 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Gold Medalist 1988 SNK 4|4P sim 4x-only_buttons
Hit Me (set 1) 1976 Ramtek 4|4P alt 4x-only_buttons Stand/Hit/Ante buttons
Name That Tune (Bally, set 1) 1986 Bally/Sente 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Neck-n-Neck (v1.2) 1992 Bundra Games/
1|6P sim only_buttons
Pac-Land (World) 1984 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-only_buttons
Pinball Action (set 1) 1985 Tehkan 2|2P alt 2x-only_buttons
Power Drive 1986 Bally Midway 3|3P sim 3x-only_buttons
Professor Pac-Man 1983 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Bally Midway
2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Quiz & Dragons: Capcom
Quiz Game
1992 Capcom 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Quiz Nanairo Dreams: Nijiirochou
no Kiseki
1996 Capcom 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Runaway (prototype) 1982 Atari 1|2P alt only_buttons
Space Zap 1980 Midway 2|2P alt 2x-only_buttons
Super Pinball Action (US) 1991 Tecmo 1|1P only_buttons
Time Scanner 1987 Sega 2|2P alt 2x-joy5 (half8) Pinball video game.
Joystick has unknown purpose.
Toobin' (rev 3) 1988 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Track & Field / Hyper Sports 1983-1984 Konami 4|4P alt
/ 2P sim
Triv Two 1984 Status Games 1|2P alt only_buttons
Trivia (Questions Series 15) 1986 Greyhound Electronics 1|4P alt only_buttons
Trivia (Questions Series 8) 1984 Greyhound Electronics 1|2P alt only_buttons
Trivia (UK Version 5.07) 1986 Grayhound Electronics 1|1P only_buttons
Trivia Genius 1985 bootleg 2|4P alt 2x-only_buttons
Video Pinball 1979 Atari 1|4P alt only_buttons
Yes/No Sinri Tokimeki Chart 1992 Taito Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons
Yuuyu no Quiz de GO!GO! 1990 Taito Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-only_buttons


I’ve got one, but also find that a laptop’s trackpad tends to do a decent job of simulating the feel of one, though it can also trigger backspin if your sensitivity is too high. A mouse can work even better in some games, to the point where it feels like cheating.

Some trackball games are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
American Horseshoes (US) 1990 Taito America Corporation 1|4P alt trackball
AmeriDarts (set 1) 1989 Ameri 2|4P alt 2x-trackball
Arcade Classics (prototype) 1992 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Atari Football (4 players)
/ Atari Soccer
1979-1980 Atari 4|4P sim 4x-trackball
Atari Football (revision 2)
/ Atari Baseball
/ Basketball
1978-1979 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Ataxx (rev 5) 1990 Leland Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Beezer (set 1) 1982 Tong Electronic 1|2P alt trackball
Big Event Golf (US) 1986 Taito America Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Birdie King / Birdie King 2
/ Birdie King 3
1982-1984 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Bowling Alley 1978 Midway 1|4P alt trackball
Cabal 1988 TAD Corporation
(Fabtek license)
2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Capcom Bowling (set 1) 1988 Incredible Technologies
/ Capcom
2|4P alt only_buttons
Centipede / Millipede 1980-1982 Atari 1|1P joy8
Optional joystick support
Cool Pool 1992 Catalina 2|2P alt only_buttons
Crystal Castles (version 4) 1983 Atari 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Cube Quest (01/04/84) 1983 Simutrek 1|1P trackball
Dunk Shot 1986 Sega 4|4P sim 4x-trackball
Eagle Shot Golf (US) 1994 Sammy 2|4P alt 2x-joy8
Joysticks have unknown purpose.
Extra Bases 1980 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Midway
2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Galaxy Games StarPak 3 1998 Creative Electronics
& Software / Atari
2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Golden Tee Golf II 1992 Strata /
Incredible Technologies
2|4P alt 2x-trackball
Golden Tee series 1995-2000 Incredible Technologies 2|4P alt 2x-trackball
Gridiron Fight 1985 Tehkan 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Gridlee 1983 Videa 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Kick (upright) 1981 Midway 1|2P alt dial Trackball with horizontal-only spin
Krazy Bowl 1994 American Sammy 2|4P alt 2x-joy8
Joysticks have unknown purpose.
Laser Base (set 1) 1981 Hoei (Amstar license) 2|2P alt only_buttons
Liberator (set 1) 1982 Atari 2|2P alt only_buttons
Marble Madness (set 1) 1984 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Mini Golf (11/25/85) 1985 Bally/Sente 1|4P alt trackball
Missile Command (rev 3) 1980 Atari 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Pound for Pound (World) 1990 Irem 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Quantum (rev 2) 1982 General Computer Corporation
(Atari license)
1|2P alt trackball
Rampart (Trackball) 1990 Atari Games 3|3P sim 3x-trackball
Reactor 1982 Gottlieb 1|2P alt trackball
SDI - Strategic Defense
1987 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-joy8
SegaSonic The Hedgehog 1992 Sega 3|3P sim 3x-trackball
Shoot the Bull 1985 Bally Midway 1|4P alt trackball
Shuffleboard 1978 Midway 1|2P alt trackball
Shuffleshot (v1.40) 1997 Strata /
Incredible Technologies
2|4P alt 2x-trackball
Shuuz (version 8.0) 1990 Atari Games 1|4P alt trackball
Simpsons Bowling 2000 Konami 4|4P alt 4x-joy8
Joysticks have unknown purpose.
Slither (set 1) 1982 Century II 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Snacks'n Jaxson 1984 Bally/Sente 1|2P alt trackball
Snake Pit 1984 Bally/Sente 1|2P alt joy8
Spiker 1986 Bally/Sente 2|2P sim 2x-trackball
Strata Bowling (V3) 1990 Strata /
Incredible Technologies
2|4P alt 2x-trackball
Strike Bowling 1982 Taito Corporation 2|2P alt only_buttons
Tehkan World Cup (set 1) 1985 Tehkan 2|2P sim 2x-joy8
The Irritating Maze /
Ultra Denryu Iraira Bou
1997 SNK / Saurus 2|1P only_buttons
Tri-Sports 1989 Bally Midway 1|4P alt trackball
U.S. Classic 1989 Seta 2|2P alt 2x-trackball
Virtua Bowling 1996 IGS 2|4P alt 2x-joy8
Joysticks have unknown purpose.
Virtual Pool 1998 Incredible Technologies 1|2P alt lightgun
Light gun is unused.
Wacko 1982 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-joy4
Second trackball used in cocktail
World Class Bowling /
World Class Bowling Deluxe
1995-1999 Incredible Technologies 2|4P alt 2x-trackball
X the Ball 1991 Rare 1|1P trackball

Analog stick

An analog stick, with one or two axes. These can take many different physical forms, some of them suitable for mapping to an analog thumbstick, some of them not so suitable. The only thing they have in common is the existence of a center point, and a way of measuring how far you have moved the control from the center point, and in which directions.

Some of the forms that are usually well-suited to gamepad thumbsticks are:
  • Flight stick. Self-explanatory.
  • Flight yoke. Works a lot like a flight stick, but has a different feel.
  • Analog stick. Looks like an 8-way, but operates like a flight stick.
  • 49-way stick. Not really an analog stick, but could be seen as a predecessor to them. These joysticks are sensitive to 3 levels of pressure in each of the four directions, giving 49 discrete positions that they could be in. Thumbsticks play well with these controllers.
  • Positional joystick. A self-centering lever with a number of discrete positions rather than true analog measurement.

Some of the games that use these forms include:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Air Rescue (US) 1992 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-stick Flight sticks.
Arch Rivals (rev 4.0 6/29/89) 1989 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-stick 49-way joysticks.
Blaster 1983 Williams / Vid Kidz 1|2P alt stick 49-way joystick
Cops'n Robbers 1976 Atari 4|4P sim 4x-positional Vertical positional joystick for
Cyber Commando 1994 Namco 2|1P 2x-stick Flight sticks
D-Day 1982 Olympia 1|2P alt paddle Horizontal analog stick
Enduro Racer 1986 Sega 1|1P pedal stick Steering handlebars and
Escape from the Planet of the
Robot Monsters
1989 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-stick Analog joysticks.
Fire Fox (set 1) 1984 Atari 1|1P stick Flight yoke
Food Fight (rev 3) 1982 General Computer
Corporation (Atari license)
2|2P alt 2x-stick Analog joysticks.
G-LOC Air Battle (World) 1990 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick
Gun Fight / Boot Hill 1975-1977 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Midway
2|2P sim 2x-joy8
Positional joystick aims gun
Hydra 1990 Atari Games 1|1P pedal stick Steering yoke.
Pedal has unknown purpose.
I, Robot 1983 Atari 1|2P alt stick Analog joystick.
Lock-On (rev. E) 1986 Tatsumi 1|1P stick Flight yoke
Mazer Blazer (set 1) 1983 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt stick Flight yoke
Moto Frenzy 1992 Atari Games 1|1P pedal stick Steering handlebars and
Night Striker (World) 1989 Taito Corporation Japan 1|1P joy8 stick Flight stick.
8-way stick has unknown purpose.
Pigskin 621AD 1990 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-stick joy8 49-way joysticks.
8-way stick has unknown purpose.
Rail Chase 2 (Revision A) 1994 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-stick Flight stick
Red Baron 1980 Atari 1|1P joy4 stick Flight stick.
4-way stick has unknown purpose.
Road Riot 4WD 1991 Atari Games 1|1P pedal stick Steering yoke.
Pedal has unknown purpose.
Road Runner (rev 2) 1985 Atari Games 1|2P alt stick Analog joystick.
Sinistar (revision 3) 1982 Williams 1|2P alt stick 49-way joystick
Sky Raider 1978 Atari 1|1P stick Flight yoke
Space Harrier 1985 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick
Space Lords (rev C) 1992 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-stick Flight sticks
Star Wars
/ Return of the Jedi
1983-1984 Atari 1|1P stick Flight yoke
Starblade (ST1, Japan) 1991 Namco 1|1P stick Flight yoke
Steel Talons (rev 2) 1991 Atari Games 2|1P 2x-stick Flight stick
Surf Planet (Version 4.1) 1997 Gaelco (Atari license) 1|1P paddle Horizontal analog stick
Tailgunner 1979 Cinematronics 1|1P stick Analog joystick.
The Empire Strikes Back 1985 Atari Games 1|1P stick Flight yoke
T-MEK 1994 Atari Games 2|1P 2x-joy8
Two flight sticks.
8-way stick has unknown purpose.
Tunnel Hunt 1979 Atari 1|1P stick Flight stick
Turbo Sub 1985 Entertainment Sciences 3|1P only_buttons
Steering yoke
Two Tigers (dedicated) 1984 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-stick Flight sticks

Not every analog stick type input plays well with gamepads, though, and MAME doesn't make sorting them out easy, as they all just get categorized as "stick."

Non-centering analog levers, for instance, don't really work with any common control type. The most common example is aircraft-style throttle levers, which are adjusted by hand to a desired engine speed, and stick in place until adjusted again (as opposed to motorcycle throttles, which return to zero when let go). You can wing it with any kind of directional input, but unless the game has an on-screen indicator of the engine speed or equivalent, you're going to be flying a bit blind.

USB flight sticks often have build-in throttle levers, and high-end HOTAS gear have separate throttle grips, but the latter is definitely enthusiast gear, and even workhorse flight sticks don't have the same prevalance in gaming PC setups as they once did as gamepads have mostly filled that niche.

Some games that use lever controls are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
After Burner II 1987 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Air Combat 22 1995 Namco 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Bradley Trainer 1980 Atari 1|1P stick Steering yoke with throttle lever
Crowns Golf 1984 Nasco Japan 2|2P alt 2x-joy2
Lever control for swing angle
Densha de GO! /
Densha de GO! 2
1996-1998 Taito 1|1P paddle
Unique engine controller
F-15 Strike Eagle 1991 Microprose
Games Inc.
1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Galaxy Force 2 1988 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
G-LOC Air Battle (US) 1990 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Landing Gear 1995 Taito 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Major League 1985 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-stick
Unique bat controller
Spy Hunter II (rev 2) 1987 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-paddle
Steering wheel and throttle lever.
Star Fire (set 1) 1979 Exidy 1|1P stick Flight yoke and lever
Star Wars Arcade (US) 1993 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-stick
Two flight sticks and throttle lever
Strike Fighter (Japan) 1991 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Super Chase - Criminal
1992 Taito America
1|1P paddle
Steering wheel and throttle lever.
Super Masters Golf 1989 Sega 1|2P alt pedal Unique swing controller.
Thrill Drive (JAE) 1998 Konami 1|1P joy8 paddle
pedal stick
Steering wheel, pedals, shifter stick, and hand brake.
Thunder Blade 1987 Sega 1|1P stick Flight stick and throttle lever.
Wing War (US) 1994 Sega 1|1P pedal stick Flight stick and throttle lever.

Another type of "stick" controller is a mounted gun. These look like lightguns, but can't be removed from their mounts, which are in fact analog joysticks calibrated to create the illusion of aiming the gun at the screen. They aren't very suitable for thumbsticks, or actual light guns for that matter.

Some of these gun games are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players
Alien3: The Gun (World) 1993 Sega 2|2P sim
Blue Shark 1978 Midway 1|1P
Jurassic Park (World, Rev A) 1993 Sega 2|2P sim
M-79 Ambush 1977 Ramtek 2|2P sim
Operation Thunderbolt (World, rev 1) 1988 Taito Corporation Japan 2|2P sim
Revolution X (rev 1.0 6/16/94) 1994 Midway 3|3P sim
Space Gun (World) 1990 Taito Corporation Japan 2|2P sim
Terminator 2 - Judgment Day (rev LA4 08/03/92) 1991 Midway 2|2P sim
Triple Hunt 1977 Atari 1|1P
Turkey Shoot (prototype) 1984 Williams 1|2P alt

With the exception of Jurassic Park and Turkey Shoot, MAME provides a convenience hack for all of these games; you may control the gun position with an on-screen reticle, which is easily aimed with the mouse, and can be turned off via OSD settings if you don't want it. Jurassic Park and Turkey Shoot have their own ingame reticles, but in the case of Jurassic Park I found mouse control to be a bit wonky.

One last type of analog stick is the kicker controller, which was first used by Atari, but mostly used by Cinematronics, later known as Leland Corporation. It is a stiff analog joystick with a heavy spring, and is operated by pulling it toward you, tilting it left or right to aim, and then releasing to throw, pitch, or kick. I don't know of any good way to emulate these.

These are all of the games that I am aware use kicker controllers:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs
All American Football (rev D, 2 Players) 1989 Leland Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-stick
Alley Master 1986 Cinematronics 1|2P alt stick
Flyball (rev 1) 1976 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-stick
John Elway's Team Quarterback /
All American Football (Rev E)
1988-1989 Leland Corporation 4|4P sim 2x-stick 4x-joy8
Quarterback (rev 5) 1987 Leland Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 stick
Strike Zone Baseball 1988 Leland Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-stick
Super Baseball Double Play Home Run Derby 1987 Leland Corporation / Tradewest 2|2P sim 2x-stick
World Series: The Season / Baseball: The Season II 1985-1987 Cinematronics 2|2P sim 2x-stick

Steering wheel

These are usually driving games, and the control type is listed as "paddle" in MAME's XML output. They are essentially just large paddles - they turn lock-to-lock and work by measuring the absolute distance turned from the center point - but driving games probably won't handle well on a Pong-sized knob that can't be gripped with two hands. Motorcycle racing games are more likely to use tilting handlebar controllers, but they operate in the same fashion.

USB steering wheels are certainly the best option for playing these games, though analog thumbsticks might work well enough depending on the game.

These are not to be confused with "dial" steering wheels, which were more common in driving games from 1987 and earlier, and work in a completely different manner that is more or less incompatible with USB steering wheels.

These games often also use analog foot-operated pedals (or hand-operated in the case of motorcycles), and theoretically the analog triggers on a modern gamepad should be good for these, but I’ve found results to be mixed, working well for some games and terribly for others, although tweaking the sensitivity settings can help. Of course, it’s only worth attempting this if you can also manage to get steering to work well with the thumbstick, which is no guarantee.

Many also often have gear shifter sticks which MAME may implement in a sundry of ways, depending on the game.

Some of these games include:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
1000 Miglia: Great 1000 Miles Rally /
Mille Miglia 2: Great 1000 Miles Rally
1995 Kaneko 2|2P alt 2x-joy8 dial
Config for free or fixed wheel.
280-ZZZAP 1976 Dave Nutting
/ Midway
1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Ace Driver: Racing Evolution
/ Ace Driver: Victory Lap
1994 Namco 2|1P joy8 joyvertical2
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
Joy8 has unknown purpose.
Big Run (11th Rallye version) 1989 Jaleco 1|1P paddle pedal 270 wheel and pedals
California Speed 1998 Atari Games 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Chase H.Q. (World) 1988 Taito Corporation
1|1P dial paddle
Config for free or fixed wheel.
Cisco Heat 1990 Jaleco 1|1P paddle 270 steering wheel
Continental Circus (World) 1987 Taito Corporation
1|1P dial paddle
Config for free or fixed wheel.
Cool Riders 1995 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-paddle
Handlebars and throttle.
Cruis'n USA / Cruis'n World 1994-1996 Midway 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Cyber Cycles 1995 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Dirt Fox (Japan) 1989 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Double Axle (US) 1991 Taito America
1|1P paddle Steering wheel
Driver's Edge (v1.6) 1994 Strata / Incredible
1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
F1 Exhaust Note (World, Rev A) 1991 Sega 2|1P 2x-paddle
Steering wheel and pedals.
Final Lap / Final Lap 2 / Final Lap 3
/ Final Lap R
1987-1995 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Four Trax (World) 1989 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
GP Rider 1990 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Grand Prix Star (ver 4.0) 1992 Jaleco 1|1P paddle pedal 270 wheel, 2 pedals
GTI Club (ver AAA) 1996 Konami 1|1P joyvertical2
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
Hang-On / Hang-On Jr.
/ Super Hang-On
1985-1987 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Hard Drivin' / Race Drivin' (compact) 1990 Atari Games 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Konami GT 1985 Konami 1|1P paddle Steering wheel
Laguna Racer 1977 Midway 1|1P paddle pedal 270 wheel and pedals
Max RPM (ver 2) 1986 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-joyvertical2
Wheel, pedal, shift stick
Midnight Run: Road Fighter 2 1995 Konami 1|1P joyvertical2
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
Motor Raid - Twin 1997 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Off Road Challenge (v1.63) 1997 Midway 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Out Run / Turbo Out Run 1986-1989 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal 270 steering wheel, pedals
OutRunners (World) 1992 Sega 2|1P 2x-paddle
Steering wheel and pedals.
Pocket Racer 1996 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Power Drift (World, Rev A) 1988 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal 270 steering wheel, pedals
Racing Hero 1989 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Rad Mobile (World) 1990 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Rad Rally (World) 1991 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Radikal Bikers (Version 2.02) 1998 Gaelco 1|1P joy1 paddle Handlebars, shift toggle-stick.
Ridge Racer / Ridge Racer 2
/ Rave Racer
1993-1995 Namco 1|1P joy8 paddle
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
Road Burners (ver 1.04) 1999 Atari Games 4|1P 4x-joy8 paddle
pedal stick
Handlebars and throttle.
Joy8 and stick have
unknown purpose.
San Francisco Rush /
San Francisco Rush: The Rock
1996-1997 Atari Games 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
San Francisco Rush 2049 1999 Atari Games 4|1P 2x-joy8 keypad
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals, shift stick,
keypad, camera buttons.
Side by Side /
Side by Side 2
1996 Taito 1|1P joyvertical2
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
Slip Stream 1995 Capcom 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Space Encounters 1980 Midway 1|1P positional Positional steering handles.
Special Criminal Investigation 1989 Taito Corporation
1|1P paddle Steering wheel
Speed Racer 1995 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal 270 steering wheel and pedals
Speed Up (Version 1.20) 1996 Gaelco 2|1P only_buttons
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals,
camera buttons.
Spy Hunter 1983 Bally Midway 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Super Monaco GP 1989 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal 270 wheel and pedals
Super Speed Race 1979 Midway 1|1P positional Positional steering wheel and pedal
Suzuka 8 Hours /
Suzuka 8 Hours 2
1992-1993 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Handlebars and throttle.
Techno Drive 1998 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Tokyo Wars 1996 Namco 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
Top Speed (World) 1987 Taito Corporation
1|1P dial paddle
Config for free or fixed wheel.
Virtua Racing 1992 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Steering wheel and pedals.
WEC Le Mans 24 (v2.01) 1986 Konami 1|1P paddle pedal 270 wheel, 2 pedals
Winning Run '91 1991 Namco 1|1P joyvertical2
paddle pedal
Wheel, pedals, shift stick.
World Rally 2: Twin Racing 1995 Gaelco 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 paddle Wheel and shift stick.

360 (aka dial) steering wheel

The other kind of steering wheel. These are (usually) free-spinning devices with steering wheel grips. Some have physical stops to limit their range of rotation, but even when they do, they work very differently from regular steering wheels. Regular steering wheels measure the wheel's distance turned from the center, but this kind works by measuring the direction and speed of rotation, and has no way of knowing what the "center" point is.

Although not realistic, this kind of wheel is pretty common for racing games from 1987 and earlier. USB steering wheels do not work well with these games, as they do not rotate freely. Ultimarc sells a miniature steering wheel attachment for their SpinTrak controller, which isn’t a cheap setup, but probably your best bet if you’re serious enough about playing these games to buy a specialized controller.

Personally, I play these games with my SlikStik Tornado spinner, which isn't ideal as it's a low-friction device and can't be gripped with two hands, giving you only your wrist's range of motion which is certain to be less precise than one involving the length of your arms. Some games will work fine with a thumbstick or even a keyboard; it really depends on how demanding the game is for turning precision. A lot of these games work surprisingly well with a mouse.

Some games with these wheels are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
American Speedway 1987 Enerdyne Technologies
2|2P sim 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
APB - All Points Bulletin 1987 Atari Games 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedal.
Bad Lands 1989 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
Buggy Boy Junior 1986 Tatsumi 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedals
Buggy Challenge 1984 Taito Corporation 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedal.
Championship Sprint 1986 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-dial 2x-pedal 360 steering wheels and pedals
Danny Sullivan's Indy Heat 1991 Leland Corporation 3|3P sim 3x-dial 3x-pedal 360 steering wheels and pedals
Demolition Derby 1984 Bally Midway 4|4P sim 4x-dial 360 wheel and pedal
Double Cheese 1993 HAR 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Drag Race 1977 Atari (Kee Games) 2|2P sim 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
Fire Truck / Smokey Joe 1978 Atari 2|1P 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
Grand Champion (set 1) 1981 Taito 1|1P dial joy1 pedal 360 wheel, pedal, shift stick
Hot Rod 1988 Sega 4|3P sim 4x-dial 4x-pedal 360 steering wheels and pedals
Ironman Ivan Stewart's
Super Off-Road / Track-Pak
1989 Leland Corporation 3|3P sim 3x-dial 3x-pedal 360 steering wheels and pedals
Monte Carlo 1979 Atari 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Night Driver 1976 Atari 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Pole Position /
Pole Position II
1982-1983 Namco 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedals.
Redline Racer 1987 Cinematronics
(Tradewest license)
2|2P sim 2x-dial 2x-pedal 360 wheel and pedal
Speed Freak 1979 Vectorbeam 2|1P dial joy8 360 wheel, shift stick
Sprint 1 1978 Atari (Kee Games) 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Sprint 2 (set 1) 1976 Atari (Kee Games) 2|2P sim 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
Sprint 4 (set 1) 1977 Atari 4|4P sim 4x-dial 360 steering wheels
Sprint 8 1977 Atari 8|8P sim 8x-dial 360 steering wheels
Stocker (3/19/85) 1984 Bally/Sente 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Street Heat 1985 Epos Corporation 2|2P alt 2x-dial 2x-joy2 360 steering wheel.
Joysticks have unknown purpose.
Subs 1977 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-dial 360 steering wheels
Super Bug 1977 Atari (Kee Games) 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Super Speed Race Junior 1985 Taito Corporation 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedals
Super Sprint (rev 4) 1986 Atari Games 3|3P sim 3x-dial 3x-pedal 360 steering wheels and pedals
Top Secret 1986 Exidy 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
Turbo 1981 Sega 1|1P dial 360 steering wheel
TX-1 1983 Tatsumi 1|1P dial pedal 360 steering wheel and pedals
World Rally 1993 Gaelco 2|2P alt 2x-joy8 dial 360 wheel, shift stick.

Light guns

Toy guns that use optical sensors to detect what part of the screen you are aiming at. MAME lets you play with a point and click interface, but what’s the fun in that? Light guns that work on modern screens have proved to be a challenge, but the Sinden Lightgun project looks promising.

Arcade games with light guns include:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Area 51 / Maximum Force 1996 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Area 51 / Maximum Force Duo 1998 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Bang! 1998 Gaelco 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Beast Busters (World) 1989 SNK 3|3P sim 3x-lightgun
CarnEvil (v1.0.3) 1998 Midway Games 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Carnival King (v1.00.11) 2002 Incredible Technologies 1|2P alt lightgun trackball Trackball is unused.
Cheyenne (version 1.0) 1984 Exidy 1|1P lightgun
Chiller (version 3.0) 1986 Exidy 1|1P lightgun
Combat (version 3.0) 1985 Exidy 1|1P lightgun
Crackshot (version 2.0) 1985 Exidy 1|2P alt lightgun
Crossbow (version 2.0) 1983 Exidy 1|1P lightgun
Crypt Killer (GQ420 UAA) 1995 Konami 3|3P sim 3x-lightgun
Deer Hunting USA V4.3 2000 Sammy USA Corporation 1|1P lightgun
Desert Gun 1977 Dave Nutting Associates
/ Midway
1|1P lightgun
Dragon Gun (US) 1993 Data East Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Duck Hunt / Hogan's Alley /
Wild Gunman (PlayChoice-10)
1984 Nintendo 2|1P 2x-joy8 lightgun Joysticks are unused.
Egg Venture (Release 10) 1997 The Game Room 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Golly! Ghost! 1990 Namco 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Great Guns 1983 Stern Electronics 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Gunbuster (World) 1992 Taito Corporation Japan 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-lightgun
Invasion - The Abductors 1999 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Judge Dredd 1996 Acclaim 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Laser Ghost 1990 Sega 3|3P sim 3x-lightgun
Lethal Enforcers /
Lethal Enforcers II: Gun Fighters
1992-1994 Konami 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Lethal Justice (Version 2.3) 1996 The Game Room 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Line of Fire / Bakudan Yarou 1989 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Lord of Gun (USA) 1994 IGS 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Mechanized Attack (World) 1989 SNK 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
One Shot One Kill 1996 Promat 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Operation Wolf (World, set 1) 1987 Taito Corporation Japan 1|1P lightgun
Operation Wolf 3 (World) 1994 Taito Corporation Japan 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Point Blank / Point Blank 2 1994-1999 Namco 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Police Trainer (Rev 1.3) 1996 P&P Marketing 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Rail Chase (World) 1991 Sega 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Rapid Fire v1.1 (Build 239) 1998 Hanaho Games 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Sharpshooter (Rev 1.9) 1998 P&P Marketing 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Steel Gunner / Steel Gunner 2 1990-1991 Namco 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Tickee Tickats 1994 Raster Elite 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Time Crisis 1995 Namco 1|1P lightgun
Total Vice (ver EBA) 1997 Konami 3|2P sim 2x-only_buttons lightgun
Turkey Hunting USA V1.00 2001 Sammy USA Corporation 1|2P alt lightgun
Under Fire (World) 1993 Taito Corporation Japan 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Vs. Duck Hunt / Vs. Hogan's Alley 1985 Nintendo 1|2P alt lightgun
Vs. Freedom Force 1988 Sunsoft 1|2P alt lightgun
Vs. Gumshoe (set GM5) 1986 Nintendo 1|1P lightgun
Who Dunit (version 9.0) 1988 Exidy 1|2P alt lightgun
Zero Point / Zero Point 2 1998-1999 Unico 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
Zombie Raid (9/28/95, US) 1995 American Sammy 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun


The counterpart to dial wheels, these are rotating devices with a notched wheel mounted on the shaft, and infra-red optics that measure the speed and direction of the wheel's rotation.

I use a SlikStik Tornado spinner for most of these games. They’re defunct now, but multiple arcade control manufacturers sell computer-compatible spinner devices, which are read by the computer as a mouse. Barring that, a mouse is probably the next-best thing for these games, and sometimes thumbsticks work well enough, but it really depends on the game.

Some games with dials include:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Arkanoid /
Arkanoid - Revenge of DOH
1986-1987 Taito Corporation
2|2P alt 2x-dial
Blasteroids (rev 4) 1987 Atari Games 2|2P sim 2x-dial
Boxing Bugs 1981 Cinematronics 2|2P alt dial only_buttons
Cameltry (US, YM2610) 1989 Taito America
2|2P alt 2x-dial
Cosmic Chasm (set 1) 1983 Cinematronics / GCE 1|2P alt dial
Crater Raider 1984 Bally Midway 1|2P alt dial joyvertical2
Dark Planet 1982 Stern Electronics 1|2P alt dial
Discs of Tron (Upright) 1983 Bally Midway 1|2P alt dial joy8 trackball Push/pull spinner.
Trackball appears to be unused.
Embargo 1977 Cinematronics 4|4P sim 4x-dial
Forgotten Worlds 1988 Capcom 2|2P sim 2x-dial 2x-joy8 Pushable spinner
Free Kick 1987 Nihon System
(Merit license)
2|2P alt 2x-dial 2x-joy8
Goindol (World) 1987 SunA 2|2P alt 2x-joy8 dial Joy8's have unknown purpose.
Mad Planets 1983 Gottlieb 1|2P alt dial joy8
Major Havoc (rev 3) 1983 Atari 2|2P alt dial only_buttons Roller controller
Moonwar 1981 Stern Electronics 2|2P alt 2x-dial Roller controller
Off the Wall 1991 Atari Games 3|3P sim 3x-dial 3x-joy8 Config for dials or joysticks
Omega Race (set 1) 1981 Midway 2|2P alt 2x-dial
Star Trek 1982 Sega 1|2P alt dial
Tac/Scan 1982 Sega 1|2P alt dial
Teeter Torture (prototype) 1982 Exidy 1|2P alt dial Roller controller
Tempest 1980 Atari 2|2P alt 2x-dial
Tron (8/9) 1982 Bally Midway 2|2P alt 2x-dial 2x-joy8
Two Tigers (Tron conversion) 1984 Bally Midway 2|2P sim 2x-dial
Victory 1982 Exidy 1|2P alt dial
Vs. Hot Smash 1987 Kaneko / Taito 2|2P sim 2x-dial
Wheel Of Fortune (set 1) 1989 GameTek 3|3P alt 2x-dial only_buttons Second dial used in cocktail mode
Wolf Pack (prototype) 1978 Atari 1|1P dial
Zwackery 1984 Bally Midway 1|1P dial joy8 Push/pull spinner.

Rotary joystick

A standard 8-way joystick that also rotates like a dial. MAME treats these as separate joy8 and dial / positional inputs. I play these with one hand on an 8-way joystick and one on my spinner, but this setup makes pushing buttons a bit awkward. There's probably no great way to play these without having a rotary joystick of your own.

Some games with rotary joysticks are:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Bermuda Triangle (World?) 1987 SNK 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Caliber 50 (Ver. 1.01) 1989 Athena / Seta 2|2P sim 2x-dial 2x-joy8
DownTown / Mokugeki (set 1) 1989 Seta 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Exterminator 1989 Gottlieb /
Premier Technology
2|2P sim 2x-dial 2x-joy8
Guerrilla War (US) 1987 SNK 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Heavy Barrel (World) 1987 Data East Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Ikari Warriors / Victory Road
/ Ikari III - The Rescue
1986-1989 SNK 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Midnight Resistance 1989 Data East Corporation 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
SAR - Search And Rescue 1989 SNK 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
T.N.K III (US) 1985 SNK 2|2P alt 2x-joy8 2x-positional Mechanical dial, pushable
like an 8-way joystick
Time Soldiers (US Rev 3) 1987 Alpha Denshi Co.
(SNK/Romstar license)
2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
Top Gunner 1986 bootleg 2|2P sim 2x-joy8 2x-positional
TouchDown Fever (US) 1987 SNK 4|4P sim 4x-dial 4x-joy8


Like a dial, except completely different. Paddles always have a limit to their range of rotation, and use a potentiometer to measure the knob’s distance turned. These are among the oldest game controllers, predating arcade joysticks, and were first used in Pong.

I found that thumbsticks and keyboards made poor paddle substitutes, and my spinner was only so-so. In addition, many paddle games are for two players, and I've only got one spinner. I picked up an Atari VCS paddle controller set, and a 2600-dapter to make it work on USB. My computer thinks it’s a joystick, but when calibrated works pretty well for paddle games. If you got this route, make sure that MAME's dead-zone is set to zero; the notion of a dead zone only makes sense when dealing with self-centering joysticks, and will cause a paddle to behave incorrectly when close to its center point.

Electronically, there’s no real difference between paddles and steering wheels (of the lock-to-lock type).

Some paddle games include:

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
Avalanche 1978 Atari 1|2P alt paddle
Beam Invader 1979 Teknon Kogyo 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Breakout [TTL] 1976 Atari 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Circus / Acrobat TV 1977 Exidy / Taito 1|2P alt paddle
Clowns (rev. 2) 1978 Midway 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Destroyer (version O2) 1977 Atari 1|1P paddle
Dog Patch 1977 Midway 2|2P sim 2x-positional Mechanical dial
Field Goal (set 1) 1979 Taito 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Gee Bee / Bomb Bee 1978-1979 Namco 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Gypsy Juggler 1978 Meadows Games, Inc. 1|4P alt stick Looks more like a paddle to me
Peek-a-Boo! 1993 Jaleco 2|2P alt 2x-paddle
Pong (Rev E) external [TTL] 1972 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-paddle
Pong Doubles [TTL] 1973 Atari 4|4P sim 4x-paddle
Straight Flush 1979 Taito 1|2P alt paddle
Super Breakout (rev 04) 1978 Atari 1|2P alt paddle
Tournament Table (set 1) 1978 Atari 4|2P alt 4x-paddle
Warlords 1980 Atari 4|4P sim 4x-paddle

Lastly, there are a number of games in MAME with unusual control schemes that defy previous categorization, either because of a unique device, or an unusual combination of devices used together. With some creativity, perseverance and perhaps lots of diligent tweaking, you might be able to configure a good scheme for any given game, but these games best illustrate the fact that there's no one-size-fits-all solution to MAME.

Title Year Manufacturer Players MAME inputs Notes
720 Degrees (rev 4) 1986 Atari Games 1|2P alt dial stick Joystick-gripped dial.
Stick is unused in MAME, but is used by real
hardware for auto-calibration.
Alpine Racer /
Alpine Racer 2
1994-1996 Namco 2|1P 2x-stick joy2 Ski controller
Arm Champs II (ver 2.7) 1992 Jaleco 1|1P dial Unique arm wrestling controller
Aztarac 1983 Centuri 1|2P alt dial stick Flight stick and dial
Battle Shark (World) 1989 Taito Corporation
1|1P stick Periscope controller
Beatmania series 1997-2002 Konami 2|2P sim 2x-dial Turntables
Dance Dance Revolution
2nd Mix
1999 Konami 2|2P sim 2x-joy16 Dance pads
Danger Zone 1986 Cinematronics 1|2P alt trackball Real hardware is played by tilting the monitor!
MAME maps this to a trackball as an
Fisherman's Bait - A Bass
1998 Konami 2|1P 2x-joy8
Fishing rod controller
Golgo 13 1999 Eighting / Raizing
/ Namco
1|1P joyvertical2
Scoped rifle controller
Hammer 2000 Andamiro 1|1P lightgun Light pen-like hammer controller.
Hard Drivin' / Race Drivin'
1988-1990 Atari Games 1|1P paddle
pedal stick
Wheel, pedals, analog shift stick
Hard Drivin's Airborne
1993 Atari Games 1|1P paddle
pedal stick
Wheel, pedals, analog elevator
Heavyweight Champ 1987 Sega 1|1P paddle pedal Unique grip controller
Kozmik Kroozr 1982 Bally Midway 1|2P alt dial stick Flight stick and dial
Lucky & Wild 1992 Namco 2|2P sim 2x-lightgun
paddle pedal
Steering wheel, pedals, light guns.
Lunar Lander (rev 2) 1979 Atari 1|1P pedal Thruster controller.
Mole Attack 1982 Yachiyo
Electronics, Ltd.
2|2P alt only_buttons Button array
Night Stocker 1986 Bally/Sente 2|1P dial lightgun 360 steering wheel and light gun.
Orbit 1978 Atari 2|2P sim 2x-joy2 Button array
Paperboy (rev 3) 1984 Atari Games 1|2P alt stick Handlebar controller with non-centering
forward/backward movement for speed
Pop'n Music 3 1999 Konami 1|1P only_buttons Music controller
Prop Cycle 1996 Namco 1|1P stick Bike controller with pedals
Road Blasters 1987 Atari Games 1|1P dial pedal Optical self-centering steering yoke, pedals
S.T.U.N. Runner 1989 Atari Games 1|1P stick Handlerbars with analog vertical aiming grips
Sea Wolf 1976 Dave Nutting
/ Midway
1|1P positional Periscope controller
Sea Wolf II 1978 Dave Nutting
/ Midway
2|2P sim 2x-positional Periscope controller
Slick Shot (V2.2) 1990 Grand Products /
1|4P alt trackball Unique pool cue controller
Space Wars 1977 Cinematronics 2|2P sim 2x-joy2 Buttons and keypad
Street Fighter (prototype) 1987 Capcom 2|2P sim 2x-joy8
Pressure sensitive buttons control strength
of punches and kicks
Sundance 1979 Cinematronics 2|2P sim 2x-
Button array
Super Draw Poker 1983 Valadon
2|1P only_buttons Poker controller
Super Strike Bowling 1990 Strata /
1|4P alt trackball Unique pool cue controller
Up Scope 1986 Grand Products 1|1P joyvertical2
Unique periscope controller.
Vapor TRX 1998 Atari Games 1|1P stick Handlebars with analog vertical aiming grips
Viper (rev 3) 1988 Leland
1|2P alt trackball Real hardware is played by tilting the monitor!
MAME maps this to a trackball as an
War: The Final Assault 1999 Atari Games 4|1P 3x-joy8
Analog stick for aiming, pushbuttons for moving.
8-way joysticks have unknown purpose.

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