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Thread: Sega Chess

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    Blast processor Melf's Avatar
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    Master System Sega Chess

    Chess, the game of kings, actually had an official release for the Master System, though it was only in Europe. Though competent, the game pales in comparison to its unlicensed Genesis sibling. Still, if you're a fan of the game and really need to play an 8-bit version of it, then Sega Chess might be something worth looking into. Read the full review for more information.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert bertodecosta's Avatar
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    I though James gonna give this more than 7 since it's the only way to play a chess on Master System, lol.
    A fair score indeed. Also there is much details in the review, I like it.

    Unrelated to the review, I love the artwork of its packaging box.
    The horse looks lovely.


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    Quote Originally Posted by bertodecosta View Post
    since it's the only way to play a chess on Master System
    Well, there's a way to play The Chessmaster
    http://www.smspower.org/Hacks/Chessmaster-GG-GG2SMS
    and
    http://www.sega-16.com/forum/showthr...r-System-ports

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    Master System

    Quote Originally Posted by chilled View Post
    ^Interesting, I didn't realize Game Gear Chessmaster got hacked to run on Master System. It's from 2015 though, so it's a modern-day hack; so the article is still accurate AFAIK (that Sega Chess was the only way to play chess on SMS.)

    Also: Is that hack really just a proof-of-concept type of project? Or do people really buy repro carts for their SMS? Maybe it shouldn't surprise me but it's hard for me to imagine lol.

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    Sega Chess is one game that eludes me, because I never payed any attention to it until now. Playing Clubhouse Games on Nintendo DS, I just got back in to playing chess (I've already become a real devil at the much simpler Checkers/Draughts). Grew up playing it from time to time against my dad who taught me, though he was hardly an expert himself. The graphics and perspective don't look too bad for a Master System title, by any means.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert Aleste's Avatar
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    I wonder if the game is so unplayable even at lower settings...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleste View Post
    I wonder if the game is so unplayable even at lower settings...
    I consider the presentation to be ugly, regardless all the settings... which ruins the experience, imo.

    You do have a point implicitly, that the game doesn't take forever to think on lower difficulty settings... but then the problem is, that you know you're playing against sub-par gameplay. And that won't really be helping you practice / learn, as well as possible. At least, that's how I think of it. A chess videogame would be hoped to have solid AI for practicing / learning, through the gameplay.

    However an enjoyable, solid 8-bit chess videogame is Game Gear's The Chessmaster. The challenge is mostly solid, but imperfect (like a human being)... with top difficulty taking only about 20 minutes for most moves IIRC. Presentation is sparse but clean and clear. The old man voice is nice lol.

    And an actually advanced chess videogame is Genesis "Chess" from 1998, a Russian-only unofficial release, which can now probably be found everywhere online, or as a repro, etc. Top-difficulty only takes about 5 minutes per move, for altogether very impressive gameplay, which you can legitimately practice and learn from playing against.


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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert Aleste's Avatar
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    Well, yeah but my point is... Reading around there's no question that Chessmaster was the undisputed king back in the day. So not just "solid", you're comparing with the very best around.

    The time factor however: I've found this interesting thread at Atari age,

    https://atariage.com/forums/topic/19...ge/5/#comments

    And I've seen there that with these old programs hours and hours of waiting for a move are practically a given. It's something that before 300x or faster emulators wasn't really possible to test: I guess the VCS and the SMS would melt long before the end of the play.

    Finally, the review mentions a kind of "force move" which is considered a way to cheat, but from what I gather, the force move is a standard and necessary option in these programs, se for example the description of Chessmaster here:

    http://kantack.com/chess/exclvgmby.htm

    Indeed, with a mode called "infinite thinking" I dread to imagine what the reaction would have been without a "force move" option at all. So yes, the quirk that going to options equates to force may be unsettling but hardly game breaking.

    I guess what I'm trying to understand is how much decent and respectable this engine is on its own, once one removed the great Chessmaster from the equation. Would this lose against Battle Chess (1988) which is notorious for having weak AI, or against Video Chess which instead has a great reputation despite the limitations and the fact that it was over a decade before Sega Chess? Having a couple of fights might help to understand what kind of elo rating this engine is capable of.

    I understand that having Chessmaster on Game Gear of all places makes its absence on the Master System even more glaring, but I find interesting that they decided to market a Chess game nonetheless, building it from scratch...
    Last edited by Aleste; 03-27-2020 at 08:20 AM.

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    Raging in the Streets goldenband's Avatar
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    I'll need to give Sega Chess a shot and see what I think! I'm one of the posters on that AtariAge thread, as I mentioned to Aleste privately, and playing these older games -- and beating them on max difficulty with the Black pieces -- is a project of mine.

    I don't expect every older chess engine to be terribly strong, but I think it ought to have a decent opening book -- to save users some time if a well-known line is played -- and I think it ought to be designed such that when checkmate approaches, it speeds up calculations.

    It's terribly irritating when you're three moves from checkmating the CPU by force, and it insists on cogitating at length, as though its demise weren't inevitable at that point.

    BTW "infinite" mode on the Chessmaster games kicks out a move eventually, it just takes a while (hours, potentially). No idea what the 32-bit games do, since at least the 8- and 16-bit games have an easily-reached hard limit based on available RAM.

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    Raging in the Streets goldenband's Avatar
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    OK, I played a few games with Sega Chess last night (in an emulator with no speedup), and I definitely disagree with the review.

    This is a classy little chess game, and gives the Master System something roughly comparable to the excellent NES Chessmaster, but with better production values and more bells and whistles. The graphics are nice and clear, the presentation is very solid, and the victory tune when you win the game with the White pieces is crazy long -- almost Follin-esque.

    I will say that the game acts very glitchy when you promote a piece -- twice, the timer stopped counting and it acted as though it had frozen; the cursor was still mobile but I couldn't select any options. Only when the CPU suddenly moved did I realize the game hadn't crashed, but was just temporarily softlocked while the CPU thought about its next move, even though the screen hadn't yet updated to show my promotion!

    I don't think judging this game by its "infinite" thinking mode is really appropriate. That's more of an extra than a primary mode, I think, especially because it's specifically sequenced after the Adaptive mode in the menu, separately from all the other difficulties which run consecutively.

    Put differently, unlike Chessmaster which always hectors you to "try a harder difficulty" or whatever it is, Sega Chess gives you an unblemished victory on seemingly all levels.

    Anyway, I played three games against Sega Chess last night, beating Amateur and Professional difficulties with White, and Grand Chess Master with Black, all of which took under six hours for all three games (consecutively). It acquits itself well, though in certain crunch situations it falls prey to typical computer chess shortcomings of the 1980s (accounting for the quality lag of console vs. computer chess).

    Here's the win over Grand Chess Master difficulty:



    [White "Sega Chess, Grand Chess Master difficulty"]
    [Black "goldenband"]
    [Result "0-1]
    [Date "2020.03.28"]

    1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. Bb5+ Bd7 4. Bc4 Bg4 5. f3 Bf5 6. Nc3 Nbd7 7. d3 Nb6 8. Qe2 Nbxd5 9. Nxd5 Nxd5 10. Qe5 Be6 11. Bd2 Qd6 12. f4 O-O-O 13. Nf3 f6 14. Qe4 Bg4 15. O-O-O f5 16. Qxd5 Qxd5 17. Bxd5 Rxd5 18. Rhf1 g6 19. Rde1 Bxf3 20. Rxf3 Kd7 21. Bc3 Rg8 22. Rh3 h5 23. Rhe3 g5 24. fxg5 Rxg5 25. R3e2 e6 26. Bf6 Rg6 27. Rxe6 Rxg2 28. R6e2 Rxe2 29. Rxe2 f4 30. Re4 Rf5 31. Bd4 Bh6 32. Kb1 Bg5 33. Bxa7 b6 34. Rc4 f3 35. Rd4+ Kc8 36. Re4 f2 37. Re8+ Kd7 38. a3 Kxe8 39. Bb8 f1=Q+ 40. Ka2 Rb5 41. a4 Rb4 42. b3 Bf6 43. d4 Bxd4 44. Ka3 Bc3 45. Bxc7 Qa1# 0-1


    Sega Chess met my opening well, and the right response on the tenth move (10...e6) would have required me to sacrifice a pawn for excellent compensation -- subtle stuff.

    Instead I played into a worse position and compounded the error with the anti-positional 15...f5, but I sort of figured I'd outplay the CPU from that kind of position, and I was right -- barely. The CPU's 23rd move was not great and I managed to equalize around then, liquidating my e-pawn and turning my weak f-pawn into a strong passer.

    Afterward, a series of inexact moves culminated in two terrible blunders -- first, the poor 32. Kb1?: why have the king retreat from the action?

    Then, worst of all, the game-losing and awful 33. Bxa7??, which I intentionally provoked with a waiting move, 32...Bg5, in hopes that the CPU would grab the rook's pawn. Because of the horizon effect it couldn't see that it either forfeits the bishop, allows my f-pawn to promote, or both. From there it was just clean-up.

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    Japanese Sonic CD FTW!!! Master of Shinobi Ecco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleste View Post
    Well, yeah but my point is... Reading around there's no question that Chessmaster was the undisputed king back in the day. So not just "solid", you're comparing with the very best around.

    The time factor however: I've found this interesting thread at Atari age,

    https://atariage.com/forums/topic/19...ge/5/#comments

    And I've seen there that with these old programs hours and hours of waiting for a move are practically a given. It's something that before 300x or faster emulators wasn't really possible to test: I guess the VCS and the SMS would melt long before the end of the play.

    Finally, the review mentions a kind of "force move" which is considered a way to cheat, but from what I gather, the force move is a standard and necessary option in these programs, se for example the description of Chessmaster here:

    http://kantack.com/chess/exclvgmby.htm

    Indeed, with a mode called "infinite thinking" I dread to imagine what the reaction would have been without a "force move" option at all. So yes, the quirk that going to options equates to force may be unsettling but hardly game breaking.

    I guess what I'm trying to understand is how much decent and respectable this engine is on its own, once one removed the great Chessmaster from the equation. Would this lose against Battle Chess (1988) which is notorious for having weak AI, or against Video Chess which instead has a great reputation despite the limitations and the fact that it was over a decade before Sega Chess? Having a couple of fights might help to understand what kind of elo rating this engine is capable of.

    I understand that having Chessmaster on Game Gear of all places makes its absence on the Master System even more glaring, but I find interesting that they decided to market a Chess game nonetheless, building it from scratch...
    ^I may have to look more into all this...

    However, to be clear, GG's The Chessmaster isn't perfect. Its AI is solid but flawed, like a person. Presentation is clear and sparse. Its hints are worthless. Replaying it enough, back and forth, makes its pieces glitch out. However, those shortcomings are not important, and it's a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.

    For Master System's Sega Chess, the presentation is just cluttered and ugly imo, and this really kills the enjoyment imo. (However, some folks will disagree that the visuals matter for chess. Though imo they're very important to enjoying looking at it.)

    Also it's important that GG's Chessmaster released the same year, 1991, yet it's fully able to perform at its very top difficulty, at about 20min. per move. Whereas Sega Chess wants DAYS per move at top difficulty. It's a relevant and meaningful comparison, lol.

    Regardless you do have a point that the review didn't really try to assess its gameplay at lesser settings... because, well, then the gameplay is deliberately reduced. But maybe for this one title, perhaps that's how it should be assessed?

    I'm not sure; I gotta go to work right now; I'll come back to this later...

  12. #12
    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert Aleste's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecco View Post
    However, to be clear, GG's The Chessmaster isn't perfect. Its AI is solid but flawed, like a person. Presentation is clear and sparse. Its hints are worthless.
    Goldenband, thanks for your informative reply. It's cool that you took time to evaluate the game in three matches. I came to Sega Chess intrigued by the "CPU vs CPU" aspect of things, and I can probably assess with confidence that, at least in the realm of commercially available SMS games, this should be the most sophisticate AI written for the game console. Not much else is around in fact: a manager mode in Speedball 2 might probably snatch the second place easily.

    Ecco, thanks for your reply. Well, when I said "Chessmaster" is the undisputed best, I had the series in mind, or rather, the exceptional engine written for the original 1986 Chessmaster 2000, which I guess ended up into the Game Gear in some reduced form.

    In fact, seeing how Chessmaster is so older, and that it already had a significant proper sequel on home computers ("The Fidelity Chessmaster 2100" released in 1990) it would be cool to understand if the nineties console Chessmasters (Gameboy, Gameboy "New", Game Gear and SNES) are spawned from the original 1986 release, or are updates of the 1988 NES code, or else if they incorporate code from the 1990 "Fidelity" sequel.

    Regardless of this, it'd be also interesting to understand how the Chessmaster engine relates to the available RAM and clock speed of the machine that runs it... What I mean is, a 1986 Chessmaster running on a Commodore Amiga 500 with one meg RAM expansion should trounce a 1991 SNES Chessmaster that can use 128k of console RAM?

    All these factors should be considered. The NES for example has 2k of default RAM (not sure of the Chessmaster cartridge adds to that total), while SMS and Game Gear have 8k of RAM...
    Last edited by Aleste; 03-28-2020 at 08:48 PM.

  13. #13
    Raging in the Streets goldenband's Avatar
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    It's been about a year and a half since I beat GG Chessmaster, so I had to go back and look at my old review to see what the experience of playing it was like:

    "The Game Gear version adds speech samples and adjusts the menus to fit the portable screen. However, it also takes away the opening book, which slows down the early stages of the game tremendously, and it also seems to be considerably weaker than the NES game. I managed to mess up royally several times in the game I won, yet still find my way back to victory; I don't think that would have been possible [in the NES version]. It also doesn't provide a separate victory screen when you win, which is annoying.

    Finally, the CPU tends to fall into weird rabbit holes on higher difficulty levels, sometimes taking an hour to choose between two moves when one leads to mate on the next move. That shouldn't happen, especially on a portable system, so this Game Gear version gets a C."

    Based on that, I definitely would rate Sega Chess above the GG version of Chessmaster. No opening book + no victory screen + consuming an hour for no particular reason, plus the game-breaking glitches mentioned in the review, makes for a more frustrating and less enjoyable package, IMHO. And I don't find its graphic design off-putting at all.

    I'm extremely sympathetic to the idea that, when evaluating a chess program, its performance on the highest difficulty setting should absolutely be part of the equation. But I also think "Infinite" mode is...kind of a red herring, for which I blame the people behind Chessmaster. Or in any event, it's a giant pain in the ass.

    On modern engines, Infinite mode would more or less live up to its name. The only limit on the analytical depth of Stockfish, for instance, would be disk space and/or RAM, so the engine could potentially run for weeks, months, even years without an issue. Obviously that's not practical from a gameplay perspective.

    So what's the ideal way to evaluate a chess engine? To have it play to its maximum strength, yes, but with a time limit for both the human and CPU players -- whether you both get 5 minutes, 30 minutes, or 2 hours for the game. If you each get 5 minutes, then you're testing its play at fast time controls; give it 2 hours, and it's a fair test of its "classical" chess chops.

    Since Sega Chess and Chessmaster offer no option for timed play, the only thing we can do is to let it exhaust its available RAM for each move. But I don't think the fact that Chessmaster GG exhausts its RAM quicker than Sega Chess should be held against the latter game.

    Really, Infinite isn't the way that most people will use the game -- they'll play on whatever difficulty best matches their skill level -- and it's not an enjoyable or practical way to play for fun. It's an interesting data point to see how it plays on Infinite, but otherwise its only value is as a means of testing the absolute strength of the engine (or of using it to deeply analyze a position for you, but now we have Stockfish etc.), and from a player's perspective its inclusion is almost kind of irritating.
    Last edited by goldenband; 03-28-2020 at 09:14 PM.

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    Hedgehog-in-Training Hedgehog-in-TrainingWildside Expert Aleste's Avatar
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    Maybe you have seen this already, but someone did a match of Chessmaster GB vs GG that ended in a draw.

    https://youtu.be/0FRcARZnUp8

    Considering the Game Gear and the SMS are quite close hardware-wise, a match like this would probably be an interesting thing to try.

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    Japanese Sonic CD FTW!!! Master of Shinobi Ecco's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Aleste View Post
    Goldenband, thanks for your informative reply. It's cool that you took time to evaluate the game in three matches. I came to Sega Chess intrigued by the "CPU vs CPU" aspect of things, and I can probably assess with confidence that, at least in the realm of commercially available SMS games, this should be the most sophisticate AI written for the game console. Not much else is around in fact: a manager mode in Speedball 2 might probably snatch the second place easily.

    Ecco, thanks for your reply. Well, when I said "Chessmaster" is the undisputed best, I had the series in mind, or rather, the exceptional engine written for the original 1986 Chessmaster 2000, which I guess ended up into the Game Gear in some reduced form.

    In fact, seeing how Chessmaster is so older, and that it already had a significant proper sequel on home computers ("The Fidelity Chessmaster 2100" released in 1990) it would be cool to understand if the nineties console Chessmasters (Gameboy, Gameboy "New", Game Gear and SNES) are spawned from the original 1986 release, or are updates of the 1988 NES code, or else if they incorporate code from the 1990 "Fidelity" sequel.

    Regardless of this, it'd be also interesting to understand how the Chessmaster engine relates to the available RAM and clock speed of the machine that runs it... What I mean is, a 1986 Chessmaster running on a Commodore Amiga 500 with one meg RAM expansion should trounce a 1991 SNES Chessmaster that can use 128k of console RAM?

    All these factors should be considered. The NES for example has 2k of default RAM (not sure of the Chessmaster cartridge adds to that total), while SMS and Game Gear have 8k of RAM...
    Interesting points. I'm not really sure what to say, besides that I agree that it would be nice to learn more about these details / aspects of these different games.

    Though I'm not really someone to check out these technical aspects myself, unfortunately (like the RAM usage etc.).


    I've also only played the chess videogames which have been natural for me to play: Those on Genesis, Sega CD, Master System, and Game Gear. (And in more recent years, I got into chess.com, and more recently, Apple Chess, which came on my iMac.)

    But so basically I can't really comment on any Nintendo chess games, or other computer chess games, etc.

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