Behind the curtain, the Bubble Bobble Lost Cave dev team was still holding breath. Yes, the patch has been released as intended. Yes, lots of Bubble Bobble fans around the world played it and appreciated it. Yes, feedback from media and forum communities had been flattering. But there was still an achievement to unlock – maybe the bigger one, maybe a trivial one, depending on how you look at it:
to run Lost Cave on the original coin-op hardware.
because, not having an original Bubble Bobble PCB, we could test in only under emulation.
And that’s wonderful, God bless MAME! We managed to make it run on iPodpadphone, on the Dreamcast, on Xbox, on the original Taito Legends package (where you can always get Bubble Bobble ROMs legally). Basically, If MAME runs on a device, you can play Lost Cave there. But the pride of seeing it running on the orignal hardware, well, that’s something else. Think of it – running a romhack on the original Bubble Bobble PCB from the Eighties. This may mean nothing to you, it’s perfectly fair, but to us it’s like linking together the alpha and the omega of our work.
In theory, it’s a automatic consequence of the way we worked: we just heavily modified the original data, with no hack on the emulated hardware side: if it works on emulators, it must work on the real thing, via a simple ROM swap (made easy by the socketed ROMs on the board). Aladar, the one who understands the technical part, put a lot of effort in it. But sometimes practice defies the logic of theory. Especially when you don’t have a pricey, lovely original Bubble Bobble PCB to test it…
Luckily, just under the original release of Lost Cave, the greatest Bubble Bobble enthusiasts in the world spreaded the word, which eventually reached http://www.jammaplus.co.uk, one of the most important forums about coin-op. Among its members is Olliver Cotton aka muddymusic, which happens to be one of the strongest Bubble Bobble players in the world (if not the strongest). He owns an original Bubble Bobble PCB, mounted on what looks like a Egret II Taito cab. And he immediately said he wanted to try the ROM swap, even before the Lost Cave dev team said hello on the forum.
To cut the long story short (here’s the complete, unabridged forum thread) Olly finally managed to do it thanks to the invaluable help of andyman, another forum aficionado, against all odds, faulty EPROMs and postal madness:
You can also check his former attempts on his Youtube channel – I (Bisboch) was quite scared by those ones, but Aladar was reasonably confident that the problems were caused by a phisically defective ROM, and not because the hardware was detecting our hacked data as, well, hacked data. He triple-checked everything, anyway, and in the end he was totally right – when Olly got a fully functioning Lost Cave set… it just worked! And the one in the video is his FIRST coin on Lost Cave. Quite impressive. His feedback is quite surprising too: since he can play in a way we could never dream to achieve, he’s spotting some critical points thu’ the game which we really underestimated during beta test.
How to celebrate this? Well, let me see… you could try to write on the hi-score table “BUB”, start a new match and see what happens on round 1, for example! In the meantime, we’ll keep writing the huge documentation opus for the 100 levels. Slowly but surely.