A summer vacation in November

Long-awaited fan translation Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 is here at last, and it's glorious. Also: an unreleased Daredevil PS2 game is preserved and playable.

A summer vacation in November

Consider yourself blessed, ROM reader: this week’s newsletter features the rare appearance of Sunday Morning Brain, because after a long week my Saturday Night Brain just wasn’t cutting it for getting this thing over the finish line. Or making any words at all dribble out, really. So this intro is extra fresh, straight outta the brain oven, pre-caffeine — only the purest of ingredients used in its making.

There’s a bit of emulation news floating around that I didn’t end up focusing on for either of this issue’s Big Two, so I figured I’d dive into them first. Following up on the painful launch of the Metal Gear Solid Master Collection: Digital Foundry has given it the official seal of disapproval, while modders have been diligently tackling the PC version’s emulation to improve the rendering resolution and fix issues caused in the process.

MGSHDFix supports running the games in ultrawide or at the Steam Deck’s native 800p; it adds some optional anisotropic filtering for textures; it properly scales MGS2 up to higher resolutions without breaking the HUD, which was an issue with the first mods that rolled out at launch. It also throws in a borderless windowed mode. If it’s not already, I expect this mod will be considered an essential component of playing the Metal Gear collection on PC very soon.

Meanwhile, some slightly bummer news: Romhacking.net has apparently decided to shut down its homebrew section, which currently hosts 178 pieces of software and games. That’s a pretty small number for a website that’s been around for almost 20 years; obviously the vast majority of RHDN’s users are uploading hacks and translations, which number almost 10,000 combined. GamingAlexandria has the right perspective here, though, saying on Twitter: “A big lesson I've learned doing game preservation work is we all love cool projects but we maybe don't always realize that it's usually just a few (or even one!) person taking on these gargantuan tasks while juggling jobs/family/real life stuff. It's good to know your limits!”

Who knows — maybe we’ll see a new homebrew-focused site rise to prominence in the next few years. More likely I think is that homebrew devs stay in separate camps based on their platform of choice. The Game Boy Homebrew Hub has almost 10x the number of entries as RHDN’s homebrew section, so I think it’s safe to say the homebrew scene in general is going to be just fine.

The current disintegrating social media landscape already has most of us getting reacquainted with the idea of bespoke websites and platforms for specific bits of our lives instead of monoliths doing everything, and I sincerely hope that leads to a thriving new wave of blogs and newsletters and micro communities that don’t live or die on the whims of Twitter and Facebook and so on. Let’s not make one website for homebrew; let’s make the whole damn internet homebrew.

(Was that kinda inspirational just now, or do I really need to drink some coffee?)

The Big Two

1. Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 English translation released!! 🎉🎉

Alright, look, I know word of this fan translation has quite likely already reached you; the news has spread far and wide and bathed everyone in the glow of a Japanese summer vacation. But there was no way I wasn’t making this the top story of this issue of ROM, because I’ve been following and anticipating Hilltop Works’ release of Boku for almost all of 2023.

It may be a quiet and humble game, but in my mind Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 was one of the few true top shelf greats left untranslated; a truly unique experience that left a real mark on the folks who sought it out despite the language barrier. With Boku down, that’s another precious bottle of Pappy van Winkle brought down from on high and made free for everyone to savor. Is Tokimeki Memorial the last bottle that remains untapped? Everyone will have a different answer — maybe Segagaga or Eldorado Gate on the Dreamcast, and Princess Crown and Boku no Natsuyasumi 1 for PS1 would still be high up there — but the list of the seemingly unreachable sure is growing short.

Let’s talk about Boku, though. Hilltop Works spent 11 months on this project with a team of great collaborators, doing some seriously challenging hacking work to convert the game’s vertically displayed subtitles to horizontal and adding subtitles where there originally weren’t any. “For the television I reverse-engineered the game's scripting system and created what is essentially a modding tool for the game, and for the beetle sumo I hooked into the game's voice clip system and wrote a little renderer in assembly for the subtitles,” Hilltop wrote back in June, after finishing the programming side of the project. Hilltop’s work on Boku 2 highlights why so many other translation projects peter out — skillfully localizing a game is challenging up, but the hacking and programming required to make it work seamlessly is a whole ‘nother skillset. Commence jealousy at Hilltop somehow being good at both.

The final translation includes about 5,000 lines of English text and tons of graphics work for Boku’s diary, drawings, and textures for signs etc. that help with the naturalistic traversal of the countryside setting. Looking backwards through Hilltop’s tweets is a great way to learn about the challenges along the way and appreciate the texture work from other members of the team. If you aren’t planning on playing yourself, Boku expert and ROM Guest.cue writer Ray Barnholt has been streaming it, so check that out.

The translation got enough attention that Hilltop had to provide a second Google Drive link after the first was overwhelmed, which sure seems like a smash success to me. Hit this post for the most recent link.

I’ll hopefully be doing a deep dive into the translation before long, but I did ask Hilltop how he feels about the reception, and he was characteristically humble: “It feels great, like a barrier was finally shattered. To be honest though, at the end of every project I just feel excited even more for the next one.”

Where will we go from here? Can’t wait to find out.

2. Canceled PS2 Daredevil: The Man Without Fear preserved and made playable in PCSX2

Currently the Video Game History Foundation’s physical presence is a very nice archival/library space, but I hope its final form includes a giant red button on the wall labeled PROTOTYPE PRESERVED — slap it and a 🚨 whoop whoop 🚨 goes off and everyone takes the fireman’s pole Ghostbusters-style down to a multimonitor command station to gawk at the latest treasure. I just need a button to smash every time I see something like Hidden Palace’s release of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear, a canceled PS2 game from 2004 that has now broken free of its chains in the inky black depths of lost gaming history and breached the surface.

More accurately, one of the game’s former developers and a contributor to Hidden Palace paired up to break it free; these things don’t happen without people who care about them putting in the work. This Daredevil game was originally meant to release alongside the 2003 Ben Affleck film, but notably it’s not a tie-in game — it’s actually based on the Frank Miller Elektra Lives Again run, and looks like it leans into the comic aesthetic more than a lot of movie tie-in games did at the time. It sounds like it went through a protracted and troubled development before finally being canceled in 2004… but that means it was actually close to finished, an extremely cool artifact to be able to revisit today. Here’s Hidden Palace:

Thanks to Casuallynoted and an anonymous developer who worked on the original game, a copy of the game was eventually dumped using Redump’s standards with DiscImageCreator/MPF. The disc is a bit of a curiosity as all of the game’s contents were burnt on a CD-R rather than a DVD-R, stretching the storage capacity of the CD-R itself to the absolute maximum. As a result, the copy of the game was burnt with some C2 errors that affect sectors at the very edge of the disc near the lead-out area, but thankfully exist outside the game’s TOC so none of the game’s files are affected. On top of this, the game wasn’t mastered properly as it lacked the PlayStation 2 license data needed to boot every PlayStation 2 game. SolidSnake11 was kind enough to look into getting the game to work again by supplying all the information needed for the game to boot.

The game is playable once fixed and represents a somewhat finished product. The game’s executable hasn’t been assigned a valid product serial ID yet so the game is still in development at this point. There are many bugs in the game that can cause the player to clip into walls. It appears there might also be a game crash that occurs after finishing the first chapter, but we aren’t sure if anything can be done. No known cheats or debuggers are enabled, however, a framerate counter is briefly displayed upon dying in the game. Despite this, the game appears to have most of its content available and just needs to be cracked to view the rest of the content. What other things does this game have to offer?

You can grab the fixed ISO for Daredevil from Hidden Palace here, and I’ve confirmed it runs on PS2 emulator PCSX2. There’s a bit more history about the game on the Lost Media Wiki, though I was particularly interested in what other work developer 5000ft had done so I looked ‘em up. Short history, it turns out: they ported two Army Men games to the PlayStation and it seems like the cancelation of Daredevil took a heavy toll. The studio’s final game was 2006’s Stacked with Daniel Negreanu, a poker game IGN gave a 5/10. Perhaps the most shocking thing about Stacked is how many people reviewed it. Imagine having that much time to devote to a celebrity poker game today. Inconceivable.

Anyway, back to Daredevil — here’s a glimpse of this not-quite-finished, now-preserved game running in PCSX2. If you’ve got a big red button in your vicinity, give it a smack for me.

Patching In

  • Dolphin makes savestate timestamps smarter - An improvement that will likely never impact you, but savestates with identical timestamps could apparently lock up Dolphin. It’s too smart for that now, and also no longer suffering from savestate-related UI slowdown.
  • PCSX2 states state - A small PCSX2 update will show what save state slot you’re using in the status bar, should you have it visible. A nice touch.

Core Report

Translation Station

  • Dead of the Brain - A one-two punch of visual novel translations this issue! First up: Dead of the Brain in English (and French!), which translator David Shadoff says “was the last official game to be released for the PC Engine in 1999.” The game was actually released as a two pack, but only the first is translated so far. This isn’t Dead of the Brain’s original release — it dates back to the PC-98 in 1992. That version’s been translated too! If you like to stretch Halloween into November, this could be a fun one.
  • Shangri-la is but a letter away - PC-98 ero tactical RPG Shangrlia 2 just got a translation courtesy of BabaJeanmel. Here’s a SFW video, though the full game isn’t! BabaJeanmel also recently translated Jewel BEM Hunter Lime for the PC-98, which I can’t imagine I’ll ever play but I dig the bubblegum pixel art nonetheless.
  • Silhouette Mirage solidifies - This Mischief Makers contemporary from Treasure made it out in English on the PlayStation a few years later in 2000, but the Saturn version never left Japan. Danthrax over at Sega Saturn Shiro highlights the benefits of this Saturn fan patch, which uses the Working Designs translation from 2000 but doesn’t include some of Working Designs’ arbitrary difficulty increases.

Good pixels

Tragically I haven’t had time to dig into Boku no Natsuyasumi 2’s translation myself yet, but there are folks out there picking up my slack.

Crispy 1440p in PCSX2:

Original hardware running through a Framemeister upscaler to 1080p: