How a romhacker discovered 3 Saturn Bomberman prototypes hidden in demo discs for 28 years

Plus, the .hack//Link translator who wouldn't give up, a pile of Mega System 1 MiSTer cores, and a new CMS!

How a romhacker discovered 3 Saturn Bomberman prototypes hidden in demo discs for 28 years

Hello hello hello — welcome to Read Only Memo Except Now It's 2024 Edition! Things are exciting and new around these parts. New and exciting. A little... paler, perhaps? A little spookier? A little more Scoob and the gang, y'know? Okay so what I'm getting at is this is the first issue of Read Only Memo being sent from my shiny new self-hosted installation of Ghost, so hopefully it didn't explode upon impact with your inbox, implode my website at, or disappear into a spam black hole because Google thinks I'm some kind of threat. I am not a threat, Google!! I leave that lifestyle to Jeff Gerstmann.

So anyway: things will probably look a tad bit different, but ideally only if you really squint. I've brought over the look and feel of my Substack site to this new dealio, and all subscribers should've been migrated over seamlessly. Otherwise, it's business as usual: we're digging into some rad emulation news from the last two weeks and looking at some sweet pixel art.

There is one small thing you could do that'd be a huge help now that my emails are coming from a new address: if you're a Gmail user, hover your mouse over my email address icon in the top-left and click the "+👤 Add to contacts" button to make sure ROM keeps making it into inboxes. On mobile, you just tap the icon and a little menu with the same 👤+ icon appears except the plus is on the other side. Way to be consistent, Google. You should also be able to reply to this email to say hi or tell me what you're emulating right now! Give it a test.

I've got a hell of a busy first half of 2024 ahead of me, with a couple big writing projects outside work at PC Gamer or this newsletter that you'll be able to read "Soonᵀᴹ." Nevertheless, I'm absolutely itching to take advantage of the things I can now do with Ghost that I couldn't with Substack and further customizing the look of ROM on the web. Why write when I can instead tinker endlessly with minor details?? Kurt Vonnegut said we're here on earth to fart around, and I can only assume he was talking about messing with style sheets.

Another thing I'm excited about: a couple of my favorite games writers on Substack have made the jump to running their own Ghost site at the same time I have! Please go check out the new homes of Hit Points and Tsundoku Diving and consider subscribing if you don't already; they both deliver very different but equally nourishing writing to your inbox weekly.

One tidbits of news that didn't make it into the newsletter below: Limited Run has announced a few super cool releases in the last week, including emulated releases of Hudson Soft's Felix the Cat, Konami's Rocket Knight Adventures (!!) and the Cosmic Fantasy Collection, including some PC Engine RPGs that were never released in English. Rocket Knight in particular is a must-play and I'm happy to see Konami seems committed to giving some love to more of its back catalog than just Metal Gear. But it's time for us to turn our attention to another Hudson star...

The Big Two

1. The secret Saturn Bomberman prototype

The most important film of the year 1995, Hackers, contains many important lessons, such as:

  • Mathew Lillard's presence makes any '90s movie better
  • Neither the present nor the future could ever be as cool as Hackers imagined it to be
  • Above all, everything can and should be hacked.

That mantra of course extends to the Flash Sega Saturn: Ochikadzuki-hen demo disc bundled with some Japanese Saturns in 1996, which featured a single round battle demo of the not-yet-released Saturn Bomberman, then called Bomberman SS.

"It’s been noted that this demo is built on a prototype version of the game: the Hudson logo and title screen don’t match the released version," writes Saturn hacker Bo Bayles. "But that’s all that can be seen, given the limited nature of the preview …or is it?"

Reader: it sure as heck isn't. Bayles discovered that a complete build of the game was hiding on the disc for the last 28 years, hiding behind that single round demo. All of a sudden, we can not just see, but play, a prototype version of what I think is probably the most beloved (or at least most novel) Bomberman game ever. And it features two characters who wouldn't make it into the final game.

Sagely following the hack everything mantra, Bayles figured if one Saturn demo disc was hiding a prototype game, others could be too. Bingo: Two more Saturn Bomberman prototypes on a pair of slightly later demo discs. "These builds are closer to the final game: they’ve got the newer Hudson logo and title screen, and don’t have Ziria or Pretty Bomber," Bayles wrote. "I haven’t analyzed them deeply yet, but I think the most interesting thing about them is that the debug menu doesn’t really render — you can navigate, but its text is invisible."

While there may not be anything wildly different about these other versions of Saturn Bomberman, it's a rare treat to be able to see and study unreleased versions of game at all, especially from the '90s. Now that Bayles has shown the world they exist, perhaps our foremost Bomberscholars will descend upon these demo disc versions and tell us What it All Means. You can grab a patch to gain access to the prototypes if you can also track down the demo discs.

I recommend Bayles' newsletter Rings of Saturn for more cool hacking discoveries, like how he found out there was a code in Clockwork Knight 2 that let you unlock the full original game within it. That code was rumored back in '96, but seemingly remained undiscovered until Bayles examined the code and found that pressing the right buttons on the title screen would increment a counter that then flipped a memory address after the proper sequence, unlocking the option to launch the first game.

Next up: More hacking? You betcha!!!

2. .hack//Translate: a fan translation 12 years in the making

Gotta say, I'm not sure I've seen a fan translation project that wrapped up more than a decade after it began. That is some serious commitment. The .hack//Link fan translation page lists its entire history, beginning with subtitled videos of the PSP game's cutscenes uploaded to YouTube in 2011. Over the following years, more and more bits of the game were translated, with patches coming once or twice a year converting more and more pieces of the game into English. Version 1.0 landed in October 2018, "considered full and complete in regards to story," but with some bits of the game left unfinished. After some subsequent fixes, there was nothing for five years—and then a major 2.0 update in December, finishing off .hack//Link once and for all with "a 100% complete story translation."

.hack is a series I have a weird amount of nostalgia for considering I've played maybe 30 minutes of it. One of my best friends (sup Stevo) bought the first game .hack//Infection back in 2003, when I didn't yet have a PlayStation 2 and still viewed its seemingly endless supply of Japanese RPGs with awe and a little jealousy. He also picked up the second, //Mutation, before dropping off, probably because each one cost $50 and was a kinda mid, samey hack-and-slash.

You have to click through to watch this video but it's the only upload featuring the new translation patch

I am probably nostalgic for .hack precisely because I didn't play it — the concept was way cooler than the execution. 2003 was a year before I really immersed myself in the internet and became a teen of of the forum-and-AIM generation, and I was so fascinated by the premise of .hack, and maybe even a little confused by it. I knew massively multiplayer online games like Final Fantasy 11 existed, and .hack was one of those... but not? A pretend online world that you could run around in? And the story somehow crossed over with an anime? I don't think I really understood it, but it sounded cool as hell, all the mystique and the possibility of post-Y2K internet channeled into a cross media project.

Anyway, the point of all this is that despite never playing .hack I kinda get why someone would be dedicated to finishing a fan translation a decade after it was started even though the first Reddit result for this particular game is "Why is LINK so reviled?" and the only review on GameFAQs calls it "A really bad game that's a disgrace to the .hack series." Hey, it's still not a "legendary shitty game," at least! Good or bad, I respect the hell out of anyone's commitment to a game that matters this much to them.

The translation site includes a patch download and instructions for getting it running on an actual PSP, if you don't fancy using PPSSPP.

Patching In

🔵 RPSC3 v0.0.30 Alpha lands – The PS3 emulator sees its first tagged release since July 2023, with a predictably giant list of updates. If you're an RPCS3 user, you'll know that the auto-updater will keep you on the latest unstable build, so this is less "finally, a new version" and more "finally, a shitload of bullet points to read!" A few that stood out to me: fixing mismatched textures that could cause crashes, a Guitar Hero fix, addition of a pressure sensitivity deadzone for buttons, support for the Tony Hawk RIDE skateboard, and a trophy column.

🖱️Duckstation – You can now use the PlayStation Mouse in point-and-click adventure Discworld.

🎮 Panda3DS no longer supports ontrollers. However, it does now support controllers.

🧠 Yuzu rethinks memory – The early access build of Yuzu now more accurately emulates the Switch's System Memory Management Unit, with a couple key advantages including being able to run multiple processes at once (e.g. a game and applet like the software keyboard over top of it). This should now use less memory, though I'm not sure to what degree that will be impactful.

    • Another recent Yuzu update should fix some slowdown in Pikmin 4.

🪐Sega Saturn emulator Kronos adds 21 new playable games – Version 2.6, released on Christmas eve, can now run Resident Evil, Shining Wisdom, the classically weird Baku Baku Animal, and more. And there's a video showing them off!

Core Report

🍓 It's raining Mega System 1 cores – The Coin-Op Collection folks have started off 2024 with a pile of games for the Jaleco 1988 Mega System 1 arcade board. The list includes the original Earth Defense Force (unrelated) and a cutesy shmup called Plus Alpha, which happened to get a Switch port in 2020. You should be able to grab them via update_all, or via zips at the Patreon link above (no subscription necessary).

🍄 SNESTang snackifies the Super Nintendo – Well, Nintendo's SNES Classic can no longer go by the SNES Mini, because this little guy has just locked down the nickname. The teensy FPGA system can currently only run "about half of the top 50 SNES games" and faces some stiff performance challenges with its tiny board, which doesn't pack the oomph of the MiSTer's DE10-Nano.

But the games that do work "work flawlessly" even in this very work-in-progress port of the MiSTer's SNES core, and developer nand2mario estimates the parts needed only cost about $60. That makes it the smallest and cheapest hardware emulated SNES out there, unless Analogue swoops in with a 75% discount on a Super Nt reprint one of these days.

💾 MiSTer Commodore 128 goes Mega – In noting this update I learned that circa 2012 people were going on a specific BBS to mail order a "MegaBit Internal Rom Adaptor" for the Commodore 128 from a guy named Dan Newbury. For 25 bucks you could update your computer from 1985 with new programs and more memory. I read about this in a Usenet conversation and on a webpage that includes photographs with the old digital camera yellow date stamp on them. All of which is to say: Deep goddamn cut.

🏎️ N64 optimization goes vroom – N64 core Developer Robert Peip keeps working wonders, refactoring some of the core to shrink its footprint. He estimates the finished core will be able to fit within 90% of the DE10-Nano's total Adaptive Logic Modules. tl;dr: it'll work with processing power to spare.

Translation Station

💣 ファイト Fight, Bomberman!! – Yea dawg, more Bomberman this issue. The never-localized sequel to Saturn Bomberman now has a playable translation in beta! Saturn Bomberman Fight!! missed being the first 3D Bomberman by a mere three months, beaten to the milestone by Bomberman 64. It's isometric and scales multiplayer back to only four players, compared to the legendary 10 players in Saturn Bomberman. I think most Gamers of a Certain Age are highly susceptible to Saturn-era 2D and 3D art, though, so Bomberman Fight!! has its place in the world.

Grab the beta here and take a look at this beauty (and also, a WIP screenshot showing how much work replacing text can be).

Good pixels

PC-98 dump? PC-98 dump.