Memoirs of an Action 52 Programmer

In which I chronicle my memories of working on Action 52.
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A First (New) Look at the Games

Albert Hernandez
United States
Greenville
SC
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Microbadge: May the wings of the butterfly kiss the sun...Microbadge: Merry ChristmasMicrobadge: Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) series fanMicrobadge: Merry ChristmasMicrobadge: ...and find your shoulder to light on.
So I have been playing a bit of Action 52 this last week! It's been quite a while since I last played. It was in 2013 when I flew out to Miami for a small Action 52 reunion. Even then it was only a couple of minutes. If you want to play Action 52, it's not hard to do at all. At the least, all you need is an NES emulator and a copy of the ROM. Both of those are easy enough to find with a small amount of looking on-line.

Here's how I did it...
Raspberry Pi running the RetroPie OS
A download of the ROM
A Bluetooth controller that looks like a cross between an old NES/SNES controller.

The results are really good and it takes me way back. It's funny but when I first played Action 52 as I was developing it, I was downloading the ROMs into an emulator.

My thought had been to write about the first game, Fire Breathers but then the cartridge loads and it shows that intro sequence of "Lights, Camera, Action 52" followed by the menu and realized that's were I really need to start. Honestly, I don't recall making the lights, camera, Action 52 sequence but maybe I did. Probably I did. The menu though, that wasn't my work. That was the other programmer, Vince #2.

As I recall, the intro sequence was Vince Perri's idea. I'm pretty sure he came up with the Lights, Camera, Action 52. Who came up with the idea of using the Rob Base sample I don't know but it I think that's probably the best part of the intro! I don't recall music or sounds on the NES ever really sounding as good as that did.. it's all very blippy music so this was a fresh take.. it was supposed to tell you something different was about to happen.

The menu was the "work" of the other Vince, the programmer that was hired to help me. When he came on, it was such a relief. One, I was grateful for help because I knew I couldn't do this all alone and, two, I has keen on learning some things from someone else. This was going to be good... or so I thought. This other Vince turned out to be a joke and we figured that out early on.

He told us a few things that made his integrity suspect. First, he told us he had programmed some classic arcade game. I forget which it was, either Galaga or Galaxian or something like that. The second thing he mentioned that was suspect was that he had a CD recorder he had gotten in Japan. We kept trying to get him to show us the recorder or copy CDs for us but he kept avoiding it with statements like "Oh, I lent it to my friend". We knew he was lying and got pretty annoyed with him. Just to prove my point, not that I still hold a grudge, but according to Wikipedia "CD-R recording systems available in 1990 were similar to the washing machine-sized Meridian CD Publisher, based on the two-piece rack mount Yamaha PDS audio recorder costing $35,000, not including the required external ECC circuitry for data encoding, SCSI hard drive subsystem, and MS-DOS control computer." and "by 1992, the cost of typical recorders was down to $10,000–12,000".

So I still hold a grudge against this guy, but not because of his CD-R. In the end, the only help he was able to provide was to make the new menu for the 52 games. What's worse, is that he didn't make a new menu. All he did was replace the text in the bootleg game Vince had gotten from his son and then implemented the bank switching code to switch the menu to the games. In fact, he may not have had to do anything to make that happen. Chronos Engineering developed the cartridge hardware and may have copied how the bank switching worked for the pirate cartridge. If so, then there was nothing for Vince to do there. The amount of effort involved he put in was trivial. I was working super-hard to get these games made and all he could do was copy the stupid menu... grrrrr.

Actually, even getting that out of him was hard to do. He was being really slow about getting his stuff done. I was at the office one day and Vince Perri came by. He was annoyed at how little work Vince the programmer was doing so we went to the other room where the phone was and called his lawyer friend. The half of the conversation that I could here went like this.

"I want you to send someone over to talk to this guy." After a pause, "no, don't hurt him, just scare him a bit."

You can imagine my reaction after hearing that. I swear I started typing faster then. I didn't want to get on Vince's bad side. I didn't need anybody to come by and scare me, not that I would be at home. I was just about living at the office. I realize I only heard half a conversation and this could very well be a Three's Company style misunderstanding. Who knows what the person at the other side actually said.

Anyway, there are are a few other comments worth making about the menu itself.
I dislike how it starts with a game halfway down the screen selected. It should start at #1, especially since you can scroll up at the top to get to the bottom and visa versa.
I like how each page is a different color.
The game names on the menu don't match the game names on the rulebook. That's because they were entered by Vince the programmer. He seems to have made some typos but he also had to do some abbreviations to make it fit. I suppose he could have put fewer games on each page and added a few pages, then the full titles would be available. Of course, that would have required some programming.

I actually had been looking forward to making the menu and had planned on making something original and not just stealing the menu from the pirated game.
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