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Game Boy History made Tonight!!


koifish

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I am ecstatic to share that I was fortunate enough to be part of a historic moment. Tonight, at the Pink Gorilla Games store in Seattle's University District, a group of players became the first in history to play a 16-player game of Faceball 2000! Released in 1992, this game boy game was a conversion of MIDI Maze for Atari ST, a very early first-person shooter which supported 16 player link play, using the MIDI ports on the ST for linking the computers together. In 2005, the systems programmer for Faceball 2000, Robert Champagne, did an interview, in which he confirmed that just like MIDI Maze, Faceball 2000 for Game Boy was also given a 16 player mode! They had intended to ship the game with a custom link adapter to make it work, but never did, because Nintendo told them not to do it. Moreover, he stated that even in development, they never actually had 16 game boys to do it with, and so never fully confirmed it was possible (at the time, they got to 10 and figured that was enough without buying more hardware). However, he cleared the air and confirmed that they never took the 16-player mode out, and it was still present and (ostensibly) working in every sold copy of the game!

So, for almost 20 years, people have known about this feature, but have not found a confirmed way of doing it. Over the years, both myself and another team member have independently found that we could make this multiplayer mode work with daisy-chained GBA cables, but as you went higher in player count, the game would freeze and crash, failing to load. The problems ended up being not only unreliable link cables, and voltage creep on the link cables throwing off data signals, but also a software bug with the spawner, which made it impossible to actually start a game with 16 players.

Enter the team; Bob, who organized individuals with different talents, Alex, who built a more effective link cable harness, and solved the programming bug, and Sierra, who implemented the fixes, built and tested/improved the link harness, and created the final patched rom. With all this, a pile of game boys, and a group of 16 willing individuals, we tried several times before getting a working game of 16 players. Finally, real proof that Faceball 2000's long-sought after 16-player multiplayer actually worked! After that, the fun was real, as we finally played 16 players simultaneously on a game boy game! We were even lucky enough that, despite the finnicky nature of the game, the match was completed successfully without crashing! A friend of the group had the good fortune to become the first ever winner of a 16 player faceball game.

We were also very fortunate to have Robert Champagne present and part of the group playing the game, as well as other special guest Michael Park, a main team member behind MIDI Maze! It was an incredible experience and I was so glad to be able to be a part of it. One member of the group is working on a small video of sorts to commemorate the event, which I'll share when it is uploaded. I hope someday to play another 16 player game. It was truly amazing, especially after having known about this game personally for over a decade, and wondering if the legendary 16 player mode was really possible. Finally we have proof that it is! Truly amazing stuff.

My "home video" of our first test, simply showing the link adapter working, and showing that the 16-player mode is indeed functioning correctly:

https://files.catbox.moe/uecrt1.MP4

The original interview with Robert Champagne in which he confirmed a 16-player mode existed:

https://web.archive.org/web/20100509163809/http://fb2k.retro-spect.ca/rchampagne.html

Edited by koifish
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That's so cool, can't wait to see the video.  Would love to read more about the technical aspects of the programming bug and the link harness too.

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koifish

Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, Ferris Bueller said:

I feel like I saw a video of this last year attempted at a con? Congrats! Fun stuff.

Yeah, the same group (sans me) tried to do it at PRGE 2022, but it didn't work. That's how the bugs and hardware issues were eventually found. (The funny part is how I learned that they were doing this, only AFTER the expo was over. I was at the same con, at the same time, and literally down the hall from them, and I had no idea it was happening! The main organizer and I met years ago over FB 16 player, but we hadn't chatted in a while, and reconnected only after PRGE was over. Figures, right?)

I went ahead and uploaded a "home video" that I took of the event. Here you can clearly see the 16-player mode is live and working. No gameplay, however; This was just the first test run. We shut it down and then tried a few more times before getting it to run for a real game (the main problem we found was human interference; We found from experience that the safest way to start a game was to have everyone keep their GBs on the table, and then pick them up once the round started).

Anyway, I will link the proper video when it is finished, at a yet-unknown date. At least here you can see, yes, it's really real!

https://files.catbox.moe/uecrt1.MP4

Edited by koifish
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But if it was a modified ROM, what's the significance? I'm sure you can get 32 working by modifying it further.

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I would argue that Code Monkey is right on this one because even to fix bugs, it’s not a truly 16 player game if it doesn’t “just work”.

But I do want to come here and say that it’s still “GB History” as the game, I assume, was intended to have this mode and with a big patch and not significant re-engineering, you pulled off a 16-player game on Game Boys.  I can’t even imagine how that’s possible with all of the cross-communication required from each device, back to one another.

Anyway, thanks for sharing and I can’t wait to see the full video.

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koifish

Posted (edited)

2 hours ago, RH said:

But I do want to come here and say that it’s still “GB History” as the game, I assume, was intended to have this mode and with a big patch and not significant re-engineering, you pulled off a 16-player game on Game Boys.

EDIT: On retrospective, I realize this confusion is my fault, because I didn't explain the game's history well enough in the first post. I've updated it above to reflect this oversight.

To expound, you are correct; I bring up 16 players specifically because the game was designed from the start to support it and is feature built for that purpose. See the interview below (incidentally, with the same programmer who was at the event last night):

https://web.archive.org/web/20100509163809/http://fb2k.retro-spect.ca/rchampagne.html

It does pay to point out that he does allude to 16 having been a chosen limit (probably to match MIDI Maze, which I've read also supported 16 players) and that he claims you could have done more. I've spoken with a team member about the question of going over 16 players, and while they argue in theory it may be possible, it would likely require substantial rework, as the game is programmed around the player ID/player count value being no higher than 16. I won't attempt to answer here whether or not it's possible to go above that, only that 16 was always the stated end point and so that was the goal.

As Robert states in that interview, the thing that caused this was that, when the game was developed, the team didn't have enough game boys to test up to 16 players. They were only ever able to get around 10 game boys. So as a result, they never were able to find the bug that resulted when you went for 16. Indeed, we have found the same; On the original release carts, you can do 8 players very stably, and 10 is manageable; It's when you get to the teens that things fall apart. So, it's possible that they got 10 working, and simply assumed the rest would as well, for want of not having time/money/etc. to buy more hardware. I could see if I could ask Robert about that for clarity, but that's my present hypothesis for why it was not found. The team only ever found it by going to the maximum player count, which is what led to the bug fix.

So to answer @Code Monkey's question, it's significant because it's finally hard proof of something that has been a known intended feature of the game since Robert's interview in 2005, but that disparate groups have since tried and failed to make work for what is now almost 20 years. Unless there is someone somewhere that has done the same things seen here, and who has simply not recorded and shared it in any way, then this is the world's first successful go of it, and the first to have recorded proof as well.

Edited by koifish
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Hi folks!

 

To clarify a few details:

 

The original 1991 game paks can be used up to 15 players with no modifications to the code at all.  The only things to keep in mind are:

 

A.) Using old hardware (and especially if you use GBA Link cables rather than a custom solution), you're going to run into a lot of issues with old wires, dirty/loose ports, and bad connections.  1 bad connection kills the game.

B.) If you're not using a custom solution, there is a voltage issue created when using more than eight systems/cables.  This makes more than eight players unstable.  This was corrected for in our custom adapter.

C.) If you have 14 or 15 players, there are two maps that you cannot select.  In very simple terms, there's "not enough room" to spawn everyone in (by the way the game spawns players in at the start.  14 players is hit or miss if it'll work on these two maps and 15 won't work at all.  16 wouldn't either, if it did work.

D.) The 16 player mode that was intended does *not* work with 16 players in the original ROM/retail carts.  Long story short (and the video being made will go into more detail), there's a bug in the code that essentially causes 16 players to be read by the game as zero players.

 

That brings us to our patched ROM game paks.  Our crew created two versions:

The first one is the original, 1991 ROM with the only change being the fix for the 16 player code causing it to not read as zero players.

The second was the original code, patched with the 16 player fix and the GBC "DX" hack that adds color and takes advantage of the faster GBC processor to increase the speed.

With both of these versions, you still run into A, B, and C from above.

Our crew was able to get a steady, reliable 15 player connection using the custom link hardware and fully original game carts - which is still a feat in and of itself that the game can support this.

The game would have likely shipped with fixed 16 player support, however, the company that developed it (Xanth) had five employees and ten Game Boys at the time Nintendo nixed their custom adapter they planned.  They left the code in, but just never fully tested it, since it wasn't going to officially be a feature.

So, the tl;dr, Can the original Faceball 2000 for the GameBoy support 16 players?  No*. 

*It _can_ support 15, 16 requires a bug patch, which isn't possible to do on original GameBoy carts.

After SSFF gets their video up, more info about all this will be released. :)

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