Game BASIC Update: More Homebrew Unearthed

For those of you interested in Game BASIC for Sega Saturn, I have a pretty cool update! I mentioned in the full article that the Internet Archive Wayback Machine did a nice job of archiving several Japanese Game BASIC-related sites from back in the day. In my exploration of those archives, I’ve managed to dig up several interesting programs that don’t seem to have filtered out to the English-language web. (Or, at least, they weren’t archived by Satakore.) One is a small but very well made game, while the other two are fairly robust demos. Here’s more info:

Naruto v1.0

So far as I can tell, this has absolutely nothing to do with the cartoon, so don’t get your hopes up if you’re a fan! Instead, the title refers to the spiral/whirlpool pattern that forms the basis of the game. This is an interesting one-button game, somewhat reminiscent of the old classic Snake. But instead of wandering freely around the screen eating food, you’re a constantly spiraling line. The basic goal is the same, though: last as long as you can without running into anything else, all while constantly growing. Holding a button changes the angle of travel. Last as long as you can to rack up high scores and earn big bonus points by skimming the edge of the line.

The unique gimmick of this game is that it saves a recording of your gameplay to the backup device of your choice. The author even held a high-score competition and asked that players send in their best replays! The downloadable archive includes several of these for you to watch and compete against.

This game was created by NAKATH, who produced several other Game BASIC games and demos. There are two version of this archive available, though both contain the same source code and documentation. The difference is that the November 1999 version includes gameplay recordings that were submitted to the author by other players.

Below are links to the original files. I’ve also provided alternate links in the Game BASIC forum thread, along with English translations of the Readme file.

To browse more of NAKATH’s work, here’s a full directory link to browse everything in the Wayback Machine’s archive of his site. You can find some other little demos and games, as well:*/http:/*

Operation Apollo 1

Another one by the prolific NAKATH, this one was apparently inspired when the author viewed the movie Apollo 13! This is a fairly robust gravity demo with a central object (apparently the moon) and an orbiting rocket. You can change the rocket’s angle with the D-Pad and engage its thrusters by holding the A button, thus changing its orbit speed and angle. Zoom in and out with the L and R buttons.

Again, I have provided an English translation and mirrored downloads of the files in the Game BASIC forum thread.

Do Dan Baku

Roughly translating to “Rage Bomb,” this demo is vaguely reminiscent of a Bomberman game, giving you control of a small character in a top-down arena. But instead of dropping your own bombs, you wander around, setting off the bombs that appear and grow automatically. Set off a chain reaction for big points! This seems incomplete, though, as there are no obstacles or enemies, just a very long timer. Still, it’s pretty satisfying to let the screen fill with bombs and then set them all off at once. (Note: this program requires a standard digital control pad to be inserted in port 1 to run.)

The provenance of this game is a little less clear to me than the ones above from NAKATH. I found the program in an archive of The source file credits the programmer as “Bois,” but I’ve been unable to find anything else by this person. There is no readme to translate, but I’ve provided a mirror of the archive and translation of the program headers in the Game BASIC forum thread:

Hopefully you have the chance to explore and enjoy these pieces of Sega Saturn history! If setting up a whole Game BASIC environment to play old games and demos seems intimidating or like a hassle, I’m working on instructions for how to create bootable ISOs to run Game BASIC programs in emulators or on original hardware. Stay tuned! In the meantime, if you find any other interesting programs that deserve to be shared, please leave a comment here or in the forum thread.

How the Saturn Floppy Disk Drive breathed new life into Sega Rally

The Sega Saturn Floppy Disk Drive… Useless, or Totally Useless? (Or Totally Cool?)

Let’s face it, Sega did not make a lot of good decisions in the 90s when it came to hardware add-ons and peripherals. The 32X was a straight up debacle. The Sega CD was criminally underutilized. Both are a big part of how Sega lost the trust of consumers, likely contributing to the poor sales of the Saturn and ultimately the company’s demise as a hardware manufacturer. Oh, and let’s not forget about the crazy crap like the Activator. And even an official Sega Power Strip? What the hell was going on over there?

Well, if you’re not already familiar with it, add another one to the list of poorly supported 90s Sega hardware: the Sega Saturn Floppy Disk Drive. The Saturn FDD is, quite possibly, the most superfluous gaming accessory I’ve ever purchased. I recently bought an “untested/junk” drive purely as a project and to have as a curiosity (because I’m a sucker for hardware oddities). After a bit of tinkering. I actually managed to get it working, and you know what? I kinda love it.

Yeah, part of that is the sheer novelty of digging out 25 year old floppy disks from my closet and actually finding a use for them. But part of it is that it’s, well, legitimately useful. But only if you’re trying to do some very specific things.

The folks over at Sega Saturn Shiro have done a fine job of cataloging just how poorly supported this device was. Though the drive was never released in the US, code for it snuck into a handful of games. And by “handful,” I mean nine actually work. So yeah, if you’re looking at this as an alternative to the internal save RAM or a memory cartridge for typical saved games, forget it. Get yourself another backup RAM cart and sleep better at night, with an extra $200 in your pocket.

That said, there is a value proposition here. A single floppy disk, which should cost you no more than $1 if you don’t already have a few laying around, holds over 22,000 blocks of Saturn data. Compare that to the roughly 8000 blocks in an official Backup Memory cart (about $50 these days for a US version), or the 400+ blocks in the internal memory. Given the sheer amount of space you get, the FDD might be worth considering if you’re looking to use it in a few very specific scenarios. Here, in my opinion, are all of those scenarios. All four of them.

  1. You want to do homebrew with Game BASIC and are looking for a fast and easy way to access lots of raw image, texture, and sound data. Streaming the data from your PC each time you load your game is a painfully slow process. The Saturn’s internal memory isn’t nearly enough for even a couple of image files, and backup memory carts will fill up fast. In my opinion, this is actually a great use for it.
  2. You want to get deep into building or playing homebrew shooting games with Dezaemon 2. This is a fascinating world that I’m only starting to scratch the surface of. Long story short, larger storage is a must when you’re building a whole shoot-em-up of your own.
  3. You really, really want to play the Saturn version of Hexen without passwords and don’t want to waste half a memory cart on it. A non-password save in Hexen requires a backup memory cartridge with 3801 free blocks. Absurd. How did this get through QA? Unfortunately, the game doesn’t support direct save and load with the FDD, but you can always copy it to floppy manually to free up space. This is, in my opinion, a legitimate use. Though the broader question of whether you should really be playing Hexen on the Saturn in the 21st century is a whole other can of worms…

And, finally, the reason that is really motivating this post:

4. Multiple Sega Rally ghost files. If you’ve played Sega Rally, I assume you know that there are ghost cars in the game. Set a fast time on a course, and the next time you race it, there will be a “ghost” of your run for you to race against. But did you know that it’s actually possible to save those and race them again any time you want? Well, for the last 25 years, I had no idea! That’s because I never owned an official Sega memory cartridge that supports direct in-game save. I’ve just had a Pro Action Replay since the 90s, and was content with it. But if you plug in an official cart, the game will automatically save your ghosts for next time! If you have almost 2000 free blocks of space, that is.

Okay, but if it’s possible to save ghosts with just the memory cart, where does the FDD come in? Simple – it’s the easiest way to have multiple ghost files. Normally, the game saves all your best ghosts in one save file, which is why it’s so large (and the fact that Sega didn’t bother to implement any compression, but I digress). This is a problem in Sega Rally for one simple reason:

Lancia Stratos.

The Lancia Stratos is, far and away, the fastest car in the game (yes, there are only three, but my point stands). This is annoying because even a mediocre run in the Stratos will typically blow away an excellent run in the Celica or Delta by several seconds. As a result, all your ghosts will pretty much automatically be Stratos ghosts. And that completely sucks the fun out of trying to improve your times with the Celica and Delta. My solution for this conundrum has been to copy separate saves onto floppy for Stratos ghosts and non-Stratos ghosts, then restore whichever I want to practice with to my official memory cart. And I’m loving it! This has completely rejuvenated my interest in Time Attack mode with the Celica and Delta, sparking a whole new interest in the game that had been missing for years.

Now, you might be thinking “why buy an FDD if I could just have two memory carts for way cheaper and do the same thing?” Again, simple. If a memory cart is present, the game will automatically use that for both your ghosts save AND your records save. In fact, if you have a records save in your internal memory, the game will completely ignore it when a memory cart is present. That means, if you want to maintain a single leader board with all your best times, but keep separate ghost files for the different cars, you’re going to be doing a LOT of tedious cart swapping and copying files back and forth between your separate memory carts, using the Saturn’s internal memory as a go-between. Yeah, you could do it, but it’s a dangerous proposition. The Saturn’s cartridge slot is notoriously delicate and that much swapping will most likely destroy it.

“The floppy drive won’t destroy your Saturn because of cartridge swapping” is a pretty strong endorsement, in my opinion.

Sega Saturn Homebrew with Game BASIC

Sega Saturn for Game BASIC - Complete in Box
Game BASIC for Sega Saturn – Complete in Box

Part 1: Introduction


Game BASIC for Sega Saturn is a homebrew development kit that allows you to program games for the Sega Saturn using the BASIC programming language.  If you’re familiar with the PlayStation’s Net Yaroze platform, think of this as the Saturn’s answer to it – just cheaper and easier to get started with.

Game BASIC’s use of the BASIC language makes for a very low barrier to entry in terms of programming skill.  Though the Saturn is notoriously difficult to program for, Game BASIC makes it easy to get started and is surprisingly powerful, allowing very easy sprite manipulation and straightforward 3D polygon implementation.  It even includes an adapter cable that allows you to communicate with the Saturn from your PC to transfer or save programs and streamline development. For example, here’s a Pilotwings-esque demo, but in Game BASIC:

“Jump” demo, provided with Game BASIC (video courtesy

The caveat?  Game BASIC was released only in Japan, so this means a complete setup can be difficult to obtain and all documentation is in Japanese!  Moreover, the supporting software that allows you to use your PC for streamlined development was intended for the Windows 95 era and flat out does not install on modern systems. Oh, and the adapter cable that allows you to connect your Saturn to your PC is a 25-pin serial connection!

Who in the world still has both Game BASIC and a Windows 95 PC with a physical serial port? Nobody!  (Well, unless you’re Modern Vintage Gamer) But if you’re a brave experimenter who’s not afraid to tinker a bit, there are still multiple options to get everything working, even today!  You can even do a lot just via emulation.  So, let’s head to the Lab and get started…

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