Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Otto Project: Notes and Planning...


Many years ago, after hearing about "Crazy Otto", I've wanted the ROMset so that I could play it.  Crazy Otto was a hack/modification that GenComp (General Computing/GCC, a group out of MIT) made.  It was a board with a couple of roms that sat on a Pac-Man board, and gave the game a few updates; four maps, multicolor maps, smarter enemies, cut-scenes between some levels... If this sounds familiar, it should.  After various events, Midway acquired it and it was rebadged as "Ms. Pac-Man". Mind you, it went through a few variations, namely Super Pac-Man, Pac-Woman, and Miss Pac-Man... more on those in another post.

I recently decided to pick this project back up, mainly because of a bunch more info about Otto hit the internet in 2012.  Some design docs, screen grabs from various incarnations of the game, the graphics set, have all been released, but in modern formats... mainly Steve Golson's presentation at PAX 2012 as well as a very recent presentation at MIT. From these, as well as his presentation materials from them (PDF, MOV, etc) I am able to get a lot of information to dive back into this project.  He has also said in the MIT talk that he will release the ROMs when Namco releases ROMs for Pac-Man... which pretty much means "never", so my recreations are probably the closest we'll come to playing it in our own arcades...

My Previous Effort

I had started to work on this a few years back, going completely on the one screenshot that existed, which was from Time magazine.  The photographer apparently found one of three Crazy Otto machines in the country, out of 50,000 machines.  Here's my attempt at reproducing the graphics ROM based on the screenshot.  You'll be able to compare this with the final version, showing how close I got it. (spoiler alert: not very.)

Pac Man scuttles about maze, eating dots.


After seeing the material that has come to light, I now have to answer a few questions to understand where I'm going to take this project.
  1. Should I put some sort of watermark in the ROMS/on the screen to indicate this is a recreation?
  2. Which version of Otto should I reproduce? The earlier or the later version.
    1. Earlier version had different names, and used the Pac-Man attract screens
    2. Later version had differenter names, and used the Ms. Pac-Man attract screens
    3. Graphics-rom only hack, using Ms.Pac program roms.
  3. How accurate do I want to get?  Should I make my graphics ROM identical to Otto, requiring more code hacks, or should I make it more convenient to implement, but less binary-accurate?
  4. Do I want to make it require bootleg hardware, or figure out shoving it into an authentic Ms.Pac board?
I'm going to answer these questions now...  (I wrote these questions about two weeks ago, before I started on the project.  I'm going to answer them now, based on the acutality of the products produced.)

  1. 1. Yes.  The program ROMs have an indication in them that this was a recreation made by me.  On top of this, the startup routine displays a message stating which recreation it is, what date it was released on (as per Steve Golson's talk), and contact information for me.  It also requires that the player press a button or move the joystick to proceed into the game itself.
  2. Due to the way the animations frame sequences were to be stored (compared to the final MsPac -- moving North vs moving South required different sprites) It was impossible to make a graphics-only romhack.  So, the versions chosen for the project are:
    1. "OttoP1" 10/12/1981 - Pac-Man attract sequence, Otto graphics pixel-perfect, GENCOMP
    2. "OttoP2" 10/20/1981 - Ms. Pac-Man attract sequence, Midway copyright.
    3. "OttoP3" 10/29/1981 - Same as P2, but with a slightly different Midway copyright.
    4. "SuperP4M" 10/29/1981 - Same as P3, but with Pac-Man instead of Otto
    5. "SuperP4G" 10/29/1981 - Same as P4M, but with Ghosts instead of monsters.
    6. "WomanP5" 11/12/1981 - Same as P3, but with "Pac Woman" graphics
  3. All romsets were started with the graphics ROMs, adjusting animation sequences, sprite indexing, other patches to accomodate the layout of the graphics ROMs.
  4. It requires bootleg hardware.  In MAME, it uses "mspacmab", the one with "boot1".."boot6" rom images. 
That all said, the next post will have screenshots, links to ROMset downloads, and further explanation of all of the patches required to make this work...