Hilltop Works: Next translation after Boku no Natsuyasumi 2, an obscure PS2 RPG, is "The most exciting game I've ever worked on"

Plus, the emulation handheld scene heats up to boiling with Ayaneo's new "Remake" series.

Hilltop Works: Next translation after Boku no Natsuyasumi 2, an obscure PS2 RPG, is "The most exciting game I've ever worked on"

Approximately one hour after I’m typing these words on Saturday, I’ll be in a food coma so deep I may be legally braindead. It’s an early Thanksgiving feast ‘round these parts, so I’m getting ROM written and banked before mashed potatoes, mac & cheese, and a charcuterie plate the size of Delaware put me under.

If you too are feasting, hopefully this newsletter will find its way to you as you emerge from your own coma, bleary eyed and in need of an emulation news IV. Who needs electrolytes when you have retro games, right?

For this week’s newsletter I chatted with translator Hilltop Works about his next project, and also broke down what handheld gaming PC maker Ayaneo has cooking as it barrels into the retro-themed space; they’re not just competing with the Steam Deck anymore. As competition heats up in emulation hardware, I’m not surprised to see big dawg Analogue rolling out so many Limited Edition Pocket colors. Damn they’re clean though, aren’t they? Those yellow and pink ones especially… 🤤 All sold out now, of course, but I’m sure an obnoxious number have found their way to Ebay already.

Here’s a quick shot of news before we get to the main event: I’m going to have an article in the next issue of A Profound Waste of Time!

APWOT is an absolutely beautiful gaming magazine — no ads, almost 200 pages of longform games writing and unique commissioned artwork, funded through readers on Kickstarter. The article I’m contributing will be an extension of the kind of writing I’ve been doing here on ROM this year, focused on fan translations — but instead of sticking to the news of the week, I’ll be going deep on the stories of a few specific translations.

I’m pumped to be part of such a special mag and excited to put together a story that does it justice (I may, umm, already have too many ideas to fit in >_>).

Issue 4 of A Profound Waste of Time is already funded, so if you’re interested in grabbing an issue, you can pledge $32 to receive a guaranteed copy. Let me know if you do and I’ll send you a high five gif and a thank you email. 🙌

Let’s get into it.

The Big Two

1. Hilltop Works hints at what translation comes after Boku no Natsuyasumi 2

I’ve spent my free evenings (and a few mornings!) the last two weeks loving Hilltop Works’ 11-months-in-the-making translation of Boku no Natsuyasumi 2. I’ve had to fight my worst gamer instincts telling me to optimize my summer vacation days; instead I’m trying to just enjoy whatever events I stumble into each day, and it’s been a gosh darn delight.

Everything in this game is charming, but nothing feels like a truer expression of its essence than Boku’s latest diary entry: “Not much happened. But it was still a wonderful day.”

Now onto the news! I spoke with Hilltop about the translation’s reception (at one point the number of downloads overwhelmed the Google Drive link), how he picks his projects, and what comes after Boku no Natsuyasumi 2.

“Every time I release a game people will ask for every other game in the series or every other related game… but I want every game I do to completely shock people and show them something they didn’t even know they wanted, but here it is,” Hilltop says.

As impressive as Hilltop’s translation work is — to my eye, Boku no Natsuyasumi 2’s English script could easily pass for an official localization — it’s actually the romhacking part of the process that he loves most. For this game he had to write his own text compression system, as just a single example of the huge workload involved in the project. The last thing he wants to do is push the same boulder up the same hill again.

“It has to be maximum difficulty — something that other people look at and say it’s impossible, or it just won’t hold my attention,” he says.

That drive saw Hilltop move from PS1 hacking to PS2 after finishing the likes of Racing Lagoon and Aconcogua. Then, with two PS2 games under his belt including Dog of Bay, Hilltop’s confident he knows the system well and can take on that next max difficulty challenge. And while he wouldn’t give me a name, he did give me a pretty damn good tease:

“The next game is already locked in. It is the most exciting game that I’ve ever worked on. It is an RPG on the PS2. And it is extremely special, is all I can really say. We’re always looking for games that just blow people away the second that you see it, and I’m really hoping people are blown away when they see this. Because this is one of the least popular, the most secret, underground games that we’ve done. I think it’s a tragedy how unknown this game is.

A friend told me about it — this friend is one of the only people in the west who have even played it. If people just saw it and played it they’d be completely obsessed with it as well. And they can’t play it because it’s in Japanese.”

Quelle intrigue.

I’m gonna be honest, if writing this newsletter and Thanksgiving prep hadn’t eaten up all my free time the last few days, I’d probably have been poring over lists of PS2 games trying to suss out what this game could be. Turns out “PS2 RPG no one knows about” is hard to Google, though…

You can follow Hilltop Works on Patreon, where news of the next game will appear when he’s good and ready. If you have a hunch, drop it in this issue’s comments. I’ll send a Read Only Memo sticker to anyone who guesses it.

Mind spreading the word about Read Only Memo? Send somebody a purple link.

2. Ayaneo decides to “remake” the Game Boy, DS and Macintosh

Chinese handheld PC maker Ayaneo seems to be able to whip up a new gaming system faster than I can say pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis — which isn’t actually that fast but since launching in 2020 it’s pumped out the Ayaneo, the Air and Air Pro, Next and Next Pro, Ayaneo 2, Ayaneo Geek, the Pocket Air, the Kun, the 1S, the 2S, and the Geek 1S. I’m pretty sure that’s too many models! But next to Valve’s slow and steady approach to the Steam Deck, it’s interesting to see another company throw an entire restaurant’s worth of spaghetti at the wall and see which strands hang on.

On top of all of those portable PC systems, Ayaneo is now carboloading with a new line of portables inspired by retro systems, horning in on the world of cheap Android-based emulation I wrote about back in May. But it’s also kind of horning in on Analogue’s high class hardware territory, too. It’s really ridiculous at this point how many slightly different devices we can choose from to play old games, from RGB modded original consoles down to $40 handhelds that will run an SNES game well enough for all but the pickiest players. Here’s three interesting pieces of hardware Ayaneo announced in its new Remake line, all meant to be on Indiegogo or on sale in the next few months.

Ayaneo Flip DS

Yep, that’s a Nintendo DS. Brazen! Ayaneo’s take is bigger, though, and expected to run on similar hardware to its other PC handhelds, with a Ryzen 7 7840U and Windows (blech) according to Retro Dodo. That is, back of the napkin math, about a bajillion times more powerful than the DS, so it could be a pretty slick emulation device. Honestly, I can’t imagine the two screens being useful for much else.

I think the DS Lite is one of the best-designed pieces of hardware of all time, so I’d much rather play games on the real thing, but I still kinda appreciate this path for developing a retro handheld. There are way too many systems that pitch being able to play every retro game evar. Focus ftw.

Ayaneo Pocket DMG

Everyone has a knock-off Game Boy at this point — heck, even Funnyplaying, the company that’s been making shells and screen mods for Game Boys just launched its own DIY FPGA Game Boy. But Ayaneo looks like it’s gunning straight for the Analogue Pocket here, at least in terms of the high-end aesthetic teased in these photos. Authenticity, maybe not so much — the thing clearly has an analog stick on it and four face buttons as opposed to the Pocket’s two.

The big questions are what kind of screen it’s packing and what’s inside it; presumably it’s running Android and purely focused on emulation, without the ability to play cartridges like the Analogue. But by the accounts of most reviewers Ayaneo’s started making some pretty damn slick hardware with gaming handhelds like the Air; if this thing’s significantly cheaper than an Analogue Pocket, it might be the "upgrade” pick that lures people away from the decent $75 handhelds out there.

Ayaneo Retro Mini PC AM01

Okay I kinda love this pint-sized Macintosh knock-off. It’s cute, right? And with a couple hardware configuration options using a Ryzen 5700U or 3200U, the AM01 will be a mini PC comparable to an ultraportable laptop, a quite capable emulation or general work machine.

I don’t know if any of these devices will be great systems, or if the prices will be competitive with the mountain of cheapo emulation handhelds out there already. It feels like a very saturated space right now, but Ayaneo’s industrial design is a cut above the average. There will probably be some duds in this line, but maybe Ayaneo’s gonna nail a pasta al limone, too.

Patching In

  • Ryujinx keeps current with AMD - Ryujinx’s latest progress report goes over a range of fixes as usual, including a bug introduced with the latest AMD driver. If you see a whole bunch of funky lines in Tears of the Kingdom after updating your drivers, time to update Ryujinx, too. More from the progress report:

    • A crash fixed in Sifu

    • Major reduction in wattage used in multiplayer, useful on low power devices like the Steam Deck: “We’d like to reiterate that we do not expect this to have much influence on raw performance (as mentioned above the usage hog wasn’t ‘real’), but equal performance at a 42% reduction in wattage is certainly a win in our book.”

  • Dolphin AutoHDR improvements - Going back to the feature written about in the July 2 ROM!

  • Vita3K reduces latency - A neat trick fixes flickering issues in some games while adding a frame prediction system to combat a latency increase: “If Vita3K detects that the swapchain images form a cycle of length at most 6 at least 3 times in a row, then as soon as a display entry is added, the main thread will render the predicted image, bypassing everything above. This should decrease the video latency by around 1 (or even 2) frames (which at 30FPS is a lot) on all renderers.”

  • PCSX2 fixes cheats not reloading - There’s a button for reloading active cheats in PCSX2, only the button didn’t actually do anything. Oops! Now it does.

  • Yuzu’s moment for IR - This Yuzu update emulates a feature of the Joycon IR sensor, making it work in Trombone Champ and WarioWare: Put a Lid on It.

Core Report

  • There’s a new batch of public Jotego cores, along with a new beta core for subscribers, Gang Busters.

  • Let’s all shout at Pikachu - The N64 MiSTer core takes another step with support for the N64 microphone.

Translation Station

  • Heads up that there’s a new site out there hosting hacks, homebrew and translations: Romhacks.org. As I understand, this came out of Romhacking.net’s recent decision to stop hosting homebrew and some brief server instability after a mass-scraping effort; the translations on Romhacks.org are also on Romhacking.net, but hey, it’s always good to keep an eye on a new site. Maybe it’ll take off!
  • If you’re playing Boku no Natsuyasumi 2 and also dig achievements, you’re in luck: there’s now a set of Retroachievements for Boku. 72 achievements!
  • R?MJ The Mystery Hospital gets off the ground - As reported by Danthrax over on Sega Saturn Shiro, this FMV horror game from 1997 is getting an English patch on the Saturn. It’ll actually be using a translation released last year for the PS1 version of the game from some familiar names! Hopefully that means it’ll be arriving before long.

Good pixels

Since I’ve been Boku the past couple weeks, I’m flush with screenshots grabbed on the Steam Deck at 3x internal resolution. Enjoy the seaside.