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Retro Gaming Hacks by Chris Kohler

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Retro-Hack the GP32

Use the Korean handheld marvel to play retro games and other bizarre amusements.

In the early years of the 21st century, a Korean company decided to try something a little different in the handheld arena. As gamers went about their business, they were scrutinized and studied, as Gamepark slowly and surely drew its plans against us. The fruit of Gamepark’s loins? The GP32 handheld, a 320 x 240 pixel monster with a 32-bit ARM9 RISC CPU, 8-MB SDRAM, and up to 128MB of storage memory on a normal SMC smart media memory card, with data transferred from any PC using USB.

The advantages of such an open system for the GP32 are obvious in terms of homebrew content, and Gaming Hacks, the previous book in the hacks series that dealt with, well, gaming hacks, has a hack devoted to cool things you can do with the GP32, from running alternate operating systems to notable emulators—even overclocking it. But honestly, that book’s hack just scraped the surface, especially in the retro arena—the fact is that there’s much more you can do with your GP32, especially with the plethora of new software coming out for it.

So, here are some pleasant, advanced, retro-related starting points for the Korean handheld, which definitely doesn’t have the firepower of new handhelds such as Sony’s PSP, but has an adorably free attitude to software (you can download and run any executable you like), meaning that it will continue to be adopted for some time to come by the cult-loving, niche, and plain crazy among us.

MAME for GP32

In particular, much progress has been made in recent months on MAME for GP32. Previously thought to be a near-impossible project, perhaps due to the relative size of the MAME code-base, there are now playable versions of MAME in existence. The GP32 port author, Franxis has the latest information on this on his web page (http://www.talfi.net/gp32_franxis/). As of press time, the new executables were withheld until the source code could be published, but are likely to have debuted by the time you read this.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean that Metal Slug or Primal Rage (both emulated in MAME) will work in this new version of GP32 MAME. In fact, due to the relatively lethargic GP32 processor (though it’s a lot heartier than many other previous-gen handhelds!), those games will likely never work. But earlier custom-hardware games such as Pac-Man definitely behave well on GP32, especially if you rotate the screen ninety degrees to maximize the available height for the game’s display.

In fact, talking of the little yellow dot-gobbling fellow, Franxis has also converted Pac-Man emulator MultiPac to GP32. Originally created by MAME founder Nicola Salmoria as a predecessor to the multi-arcade emulator, it’s a history lesson and a good low-end example of MAME stylings. Also downloadable via Franxis’ page, (http://www.talfi.net/gp32_franxis/), MultiPac GP32 will help you emulate other games on the same hardware, including Ms. Pac-Man, Crush Roller, and the multitude of Pac-clones.

Beats of Rage GP32

Although you may find it mentioned elsewhere, since Beats of Rage appears on multiple platforms, this strange retro-styled 2D scrolling beat-em-up takes, in its original form, much gameplay inspiration from Sega’s classic Streets of Rage series, plus many sprites from SNK’s even more cultish King of Fighters series.

So, at a base level, that’s exactly what you get—a GP32 version that looks borderline stunning, and runs at an eminently sensible speed on the GP32, available from the official Beats of Rage page (http://www.segaforums.com/senileteam/bor_game.php). But the whole fun of Beats of Rage is the inordinate ease in which you can mod it to make your own version of the game— just swap the BOR.PAK file with the custom .PAK file made by the modder, and you’re ready to go.

There are some particularly cool Beats of Rage mods which run great on the GP32, and I’d like to highlight the following particularly smart ones:

Kill Bill (http://jypy32.free.fr/GP32News/Games/GP32_BOR_KillBill.rar)

A stunning, if extremely short version of Kill Bill Vol.1, with The Bride as your main player character, and any number of the Crazy 88s to fight, all the way up to O-Ren Ishii. Beautifully drawn sprites and a keen sense of carnage make this an extremely fun mod, at least for the limited amount of time it lasts.

Golden Axe: Curse Of Death-Adder (http://jypy32.free.fr/GP32News/Games/goldenaxe.zip)

Obviously, this is use of the same engine to approximate the classic Sega sideways-scroller Golden Axe, and although it’s currently billed as the Final Demo version, it’s clear that creator FunkMeister Smith has done a great job of making things look authentic.

Naruto (http://www.gp32x.de/cgi-bin/cfiles.cgi?0,0,0,0,11,213)

Based on the anime, and again decidedly unofficial, this mod is notable for the sheer insane amount of enemies it throws at you. Yes, it’s likely excessive when there are literally tens of sprites on-screen, but you have to appreciate the insanity of author HungryMan.

If you’re looking for more along the same lines, the excellent GP32x site has an entire file section (http://www.gp32x.de/cgi-bin/cfiles.cgi?0,0,0,0,11) filled with GP32-specific Beats of Rage mods, so go crazy, and see what you can dig out.

Go Super-Retro with GP81

Some people seem to think that they’re quite retro enough when they, say, grab a Genesis emulator. Not acceptable. Emulator authors often have a way of gravitating to the more obscure; the appearance of GP81, a Sinclair ZX 81 emulator for the GP32 by Woogal (http://gp32.sector808.org/gp81.php ), is a prime example of that rule.

The ZX 81, which debuted back in 1981, was a machine created by the legendary Sir Clive Sinclair, also maker of the later ZX Spectrum computer and the infamous flop that was the Sinclair C5 electric car. It has just 8k of ROM, and its infamous rubber keys on the full keyboard were a bane to many, but a good touchpoint for many relentless nostalgists. It was sold (in a slightly reconfigured versions) as the Timex Sinclair 1000 in the United States, for those wondering why they definitely haven’t heard of it.

Largely big in Europe, the Z81 emulator has nonetheless been ported to GP32, and its extremely rudimentary games are an intriguing throwback to the very early days of home computers. Matt Barber’s ZX 81 game charts (http://www.honneamise.u-net.com/zx81/zx81cht.txt) give you a good idea of the kind of titles to look for if you want to try the top ZX 81 games at the time.

Mazogs, a large sprited maze title, was a highlight for many. And the extremely influential 3D Monster Maze, which many claim is the first 3D game on a home computer, is another top tip—surprisingly suspense-filled, as you try to sneak through the maze without being eaten by the tyrannosaurus rex.

Incidentally, Woogal has created a number of other neat applications for GP32, including Lazy Reader (http://gp32.sector808.org/lazyreader.php ), an auto-scrolling text viewing app, plus the surreal but excellent homebrew game Lacuna (http://gp32.sector808.org/lacuna.php), and the still in development YAFL (http://gp32.sector808.org/yafl.php). YAFL, of course, stands for Yet Another File Loader.

Simon Carless

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