NES Strider was not programmed well
September 16, 2023 9:55 PM   Subscribe

When people mention Strider, they tend to think of Capcom's flashy classic arcade platformer, with Strider Hiryu slashing apart fur cap-wearing robots with his plasma sword. Hardcore Gaming 101 has its history. The arcade game was a classic; the NES game, somewhat less so. It was extremely badly implemented, and not even released in Japan. Displaced Gamers' Behind The Code series currently has two videos about it, about why it displays garbage sprites (15m) and its awful physics (19m), which let you wall jump, but only with frame-perfect timing, and not even the right frame. It's rather technical, but I trust that you can fast-forward through the bits you're not interested in.
posted by JHarris (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
These videos are maybe a level of geekery a bit deeper than the norm for Metafilter, but I think at least some of you will like it. If you don't, well, there are other posts.
posted by JHarris at 10:23 PM on September 16 [3 favorites]

My only exposure to this game in the 90s was some VHS tape strategy guide. Based on this analysis, sounds like this may have been the correct way to experience it.
posted by pwnguin at 10:54 PM on September 16

The series on Hardcore Gaming 101 regards the NES game fondly, although acknowledging how glitchy it is.
posted by JHarris at 11:08 PM on September 16

Jeremy Parish covered Strider for the NES as part of his Metroidvania Works series tracing the history of the genre. Sadly, he also points out it was a glitchy mess that's more linear than one would think, though it would inspire a more proper Strider metroidvania that was released a few years back.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:17 PM on September 16 [4 favorites]

Wow. I just watched some of the arcade game and the difference is remarkable.
posted by brundlefly at 11:55 PM on September 16 [1 favorite]

Back in the early days of the internet, there was a page of rumors and conspiracy theories called "Ralph's List of Mysterious Video Game Deaths" which claimed that the programmer of the NES port of Strider was so ashamed he was said to have committed suicide.
posted by rikschell at 4:05 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

I liked the game even though it was janky as hell. There's one part where you have to make like eight of those bullshit wall jumps in a row. So infuriating!

Still, a solid IP and character/world design, I would totally be down for a remake or sequel, plenty of newer and worse games have had more.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:59 AM on September 17 [3 favorites]

SaltySalticid, the link in the FPP to Hardcore Gaming 101 reveals that Strider was part of a projected multimedia franchise, that included a manga. While the arcade game certainly is evocative, with its fur cap-wearing robots, Soviet Politboro that turns in a huge flying robot centipede wielding a hammer and sickle, gorilla android miniboss, mecha-T-rex level boss, gravity-flipping battleship level, and countless other oddities, it's revealed in that article that it has very little to do with the manga. The NES game is much closer to it in plot. Presumably you could find the manga somewhere and get filled in on the other adventures of Strider Hiryu.

The NES game, for some reason, was never released in the territory of the manga. The subpage on NES Strider mentions that a prototype of a Famicom version has been found, but it's even more janky than the version we got.
posted by JHarris at 7:09 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Still, a solid IP and character/world design, I would totally be down for a remake or sequel, plenty of newer and worse games have had more.

Good news: there was a modern Strider exploratory platfomer made a few years back - it should be on the Playstation Store for PS4. I played it back when it was a PS+ game, and it was a solid title.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:01 AM on September 17 [1 favorite]

The deep dive into how NES software populates the screen is super interesting and explains a lot of how old NES titles behaved when they started hitting their capacity for moving elements. It makes an intuitive kind of sense that "more stuff means the game moves slower or skips some things" but it's cool to see the mechanics laid out, and it illustrates how efficient and skillful the programming was in the really good games, to make them as sophisticated as they were. I thought the aside about how Mega Man managed to maintain the integrity of its soundtrack when the game got choppy was especially cool.
posted by Phobos the Space Potato at 11:35 AM on September 17 [2 favorites]

> Presumably you could find the manga somewhere

can confirm
posted by glonous keming at 3:02 PM on September 17

The highly public in depth analysis of that badly written code was giving me the vestiges of a panic attack.
posted by CynicalKnight at 3:06 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

I played the arcade version so much in college I memorized it to the point I could finish it on one life.
posted by schoolgirl report at 3:19 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Arcade Strider, from Capcom, was a marvel at the time. It's really short, only five stages and none of them are very long, but they are packed with ideas. In just the first level you have the fur cap-wearing robots, soldiers that back away from you, alternate routes (including one with a bona fide skippable miniboss, a Russian strongman kind of enemy), an eye-robot with bouncing lasers, wall climbing sections, an atmospheric platforming section somersaulting through the night sky with Russian architecture looming in the background, and the robot Politboro end boss. Each of these sections, including the boss, can be over in seconds, but even so the game is constantly switching music tracks, even when some of them never get the chance to play more than a few seconds. It's almost embarrassing how many ideas it squeezes into its short play time. It's really something, an example of how wonderful arcade gaming could be in those heady years before fighting games came in and took over. (Which was also largely Capcom's fault.)
posted by JHarris at 3:35 PM on September 17 [2 favorites]

This was very interesting.

I'm really surprised the implementation of something like a platformer game is so complicated, so full of interrelated tests, such a thicket of special conditions. I had always imagined it would be cleverer. That the data structures describing the levels would somehow make much of the collision / ejection stuff simpler and more obvious.

Given what it's really like, it's hardly surprising that some of them feel so much better to play than others.

I've poked at the Godot game engine with a stick recently, and the platformer demo in there works in a similar way.
posted by Western Infidels at 4:13 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Platformer physics is deceptively tricky, here's a flowchart (link to former birdsite) of collision handling for SMB1. There's a lot of heuristics that wouldn't necessarily work in other games, and they're tuned not only for "correctness" but for playability.
posted by credulous at 4:18 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

That the data structures describing the levels would somehow make much of the collision / ejection stuff simpler and more obvious.

It was a time where everyone pretty much had to roll their own physics. There was no internet to search for source code on or even talk with your fellow developers for hints. Instead, I think largely people passed around information in their own studios and got what tricks they could be disassembling the work of others.

Now I think largely the canonical guide to doing this kind of thing is Higher-Order Fun's 11-year-old guide to implementing 2D platformers, which is pretty damn awesome.
posted by JHarris at 4:58 PM on September 17 [4 favorites]

And thanks for linking to that credulous! It's sad to think of all the things like that that will be lost as the Musky stink grows even stronger over there. I made sure to save a local copy of that flowchart.
posted by JHarris at 5:01 PM on September 17 [1 favorite]

Good news: there was a modern Strider exploratory platfomer made a few years back - it should be on the Playstation Store for PS4. I played it back when it was a PS+ game, and it was a solid title.

The HG101 series has a page on that, and all the other Strider games there's been. It's been a mixed bag series: a couple of really terrible games, but also some really great ones.
posted by JHarris at 5:29 PM on September 17

I mean, yes, it took me hours to master the wall-jump. But dang, once you learned to do it, it really felt like an accomplishment. I loved the NES version of Strider, I just hated that to get to the final boss you had to like jump down into spikes or something, which was totally illogical.
posted by warreng at 8:36 PM on September 17

I'm going to preface this by saying I'm pro-good-code and everything, but as a kid the glitchiness made NES Strider seem extra cyber . I found it really immersive, and maybe the Yggdrasil stuff was boilerplate "dark supernatural roots of a modern enemy" stuff, but I was unsettled by the end!

The arcade version both looked and felt impressive, but I think it worked better as a big game with lots of places to visit. NES Strider was very generous with that.

I'll caveat this by saying I last played it when I was eleven. But I'll caveat that by saying it is legit to make games that astound eleven-year-olds.
posted by ignignokt at 11:25 AM on September 18 [2 favorites]

Nicole’s recent blog post about how the Atari 2600 draws the screen a line at a time also compares it to the video arcade versions and how the home consoles really had to compromise on everything to work with their limited hardware. It’s fascinating how much the developers fit into such tiny resources.
posted by autopilot at 11:59 AM on September 18 [1 favorite]

Welcome to the Red Dragon, Hiryu!

We'll dance on your grave.
posted by Chronorin at 1:39 AM on September 19 [1 favorite]

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