Wednesday, December 26, 2012

We interrupt this blog...

When I'm not writing about video game ads here, I have another blog wherein I present gamebooks, video games' neglected and spurned half-siblings, in the HTML which they always cried out for -- allowing a certain automatic internal linking which facilitates their "play". During a certain critical window, circa 1983-1986, their kinship to video games was more apparent, and indeed they were advertised in a similar way -- with ads in comic books, two variant paths to the heart of a reluctant reader.
Because that blog has just celebrated a milestone of its own, quick on the heels of our milestone here, I just shared there an artefact of that brief moment over overlap in the Venn diagram of these two different families of gaming, and so, like a comic book crossover between rival countries, I will also now post a gamebook ad found in comic books here.
Are you ready for fantastic adventures?
The choice is yours!


Here, at last, are books that go beyond reading to real challenge and adventure. Books in which you choose the endings, you make the decisions, you shape the direction the stories turn, you become the hero. Get into the action now! Available wherever books are sold. Join the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE FAN CLUB! Write for details

I don't know that "challenge" is the correct way to describe the puzzle of working your way through a CYOA book. They have happy endings, and unhappy endings, and many, apparently value-neutral choices. To avoid being overly didactic and goody-two-shoes (kids hate that) rather than reinforcing good behavior with good endings, every choice is like taking a spin on the wheel of fortune where BANKRUPT is replaced by SUDDEN AND ARBITRARY DEATH. Story endings fly fast and furious, and are rarely predictable from what came before. Typically the stories don't follow a consistent world model, so a character who can help the character in one plot fork may still be present, but as an antagonist, in another one... so on subsequent replays, prior knowledge of the game won't necessarily help players to make good choices! It's a challenge in the same way that playing pachinko is a challenge. So it is with choosing the endings, like a blindfolded man throwing darts, and shaping the direction the stories turn... like a rat running a fresh maze.

One thing these books did revel in was genre. The artwork in this ad comes from the cover art of a book entitled War With the Evil Power Master. Is he a Master of Evil Powers or a Power Master who is Evil? Where's an Oxford comma when I need one?

Friday, December 21, 2012

"Moon Patrol", 1983.

Things have been slow on this end, but as this blog just surpassed 4000 views, I thought I ought to do something to celebrate... toss a bone to the quiet readers who have been appreciating our increasingly long tail here. So here's another ad-as-comic-strip, one of my favorite styles due to the neat dovetailing with the comic book medium in which these ads were being published! Nothing as nice as the TurboGrafx-16 centrefolds we've seen, but it's still a nice piece of work. This advertises both the version for the popular Atari 2600 and the ill-fated, incompatible 5200 (which eventually, like the ColecoVision and IntelliVision, got an adaptor allowing 2600 cartridges, but ... too little too late.)
Neil Armstrong: "Houston, this is Apollo. I'm on the ladder !"
Mission Control: "Roger, we've got the picture!"
Neil Armstrong: "That's one small step for... Hey, somebody's up here !!"
Mission Control: "Are you buggy ? ? ?"
Neil Armstrong: "No, a moon buggy!!"
"Neil Armstrong: "It's jumping over craters and blowing up rocks!!!"
Mission Control: "Apollo, what's it like up there?"
Neil Armstrong: "It's just like in the arcade!

I could tell you that Moon Patrol is awesome, but you already know that. I could pass along the apocryphal note that it was the first game allowing score continuation after death with a new coin (and hence the end of the "high score = further anyone got on one credit" era), but, well, I just did.
I dig the way they situate this weird videogame situation, mashing it up with actual lunar history. Of course, Armstrong's moonwalk mission was Apollo 11, while the US wouldn't be using lunar rovers on the surface until Apollo 15, 16 and 17 in 1971 and '72. (Thank you, Wikipedia!) So is what we're seeing here the earlier Soviet Lunokhod rover? Nope -- that was still a year after "One small step..." Sadly, this comic strip must just be conceived as a writer's whimsy and not an actual rigorous extrapolation from known events. Moon Patrol: it's not historical canon.
The panels aren't especially well-used -- only one full panel is devoted to a depiction of gameplay -- though perhaps that suffices, as further panels wouldn't look much different. The dialogue is predictably weak -- a single "buggy" pun in place of humour. The parting line, "It's just like in the arcade!" coming from the departing lander, leaves an opening for a tie-in to a home conversion of Atari's 1979 Lunar Lander arcade game, but no such conversion exists, alas! (You could multiplex the games -- first, you need to successfully land the lander, then you have to drive the buggy on patrol. Missed opportunity, Nolan!)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sears Nintendo ad, ~1988

There are a few problems with this ad. I am not the first to notice it, but it bears repeating. As a schoolboy attending a rich kids' school with only a Radio Shack TRS-80 CoCo to his name, it was critical for me to glean information about contemporary trends in kids' culture from whatever sources I could find; I may not have owned a console but I darned well knew what the hot games were; similarly, I didn't see the hit movies but I did manage to piece their plots together from the trading card series. Taking up a position at the magazine rack at the grocery store while my parents shopped for essentials allowed me to learn vital hints and tricks needed to pass games I didn't own and wouldn't play for years to come. Things like a Warp Whistle took on a mythic proportion in my imagination, unconstrained by mere 8-bit games limiting their proportions in the actual. So when ads like this absently mixed up three quarters of their screen shots (but thanks for including each cartridge's identical weight, guys), that really messed with snots like me for whom such second-hand details were a vital pulse, a key link to a world I didn't live in but had to be conversant with.
Zelda II - Adventure of Link. Wt. 8 oz. 49JB64785 - $44.83
Super Mario Brothers II. Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65957 - $42.97
Simons Quest Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65982 - $37.97
Blades of Steel Wt. 8 oz. 49JB65989 - $39.97
Nintendo video game cartridges provide some of the most sophisticated arcade-quality games with impressive graphics, color, music and excitement. Imported. Warranted. Wt. 8 oz
Nintendo Action Set$99.99
Action Set is all you need to play with power! Challenging system's base unit has two microchips to provide superior graphics and sound effects. Ultra-accurate Zapper light gun operates up to 16 ft. from TV by receiving light from the screen; it's so accurate, if you're a fraction of an inch off target, you've missed! Includes Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt game, 2 fast-action controllers, 6-ft. cord and hookup accessories. High-impact plastic housing. Warranted. For ages 8 years and up.
49JB65951 - Wt. 7 lbs. 4 oz. Now $99.99

I know, when you're not the one playing them, all platformers look the same. As you've no doubt noticed by now, they've mixed up the shots to Simon's Quest and Link, and bizarrely used a Super Mario Bros 1 screen shot to represent SMB 2 (it's just more of the same, right? Maybe in Japan...) Now if you don't get a chance to play these games in any kind of depth, it can be deceptive: you can be made to ask yourself if there's a whole aspect to a game you've managed to overlook, or worse yet, if you had misremembered which was which. Either way, misleading illustrations aren't a good thing: hey, Zelda 2 looks just like a Castlevania rip-off! May as well not bother with it.
And yes, there's something distinctly "off" about the illustrations of King Bowser and his troop of chicken-ish Koopas chasing the wild-eyed Super Mario, spokesperson for the performance-enhancing mood-altering properties of 'shrooms.
Now, I must confess to some curiosity over who, at this time, is offering more sophisticated arcade-quality games than Nintendo, barring arcades. "With impressive graphics, color, music and excitement." Sorry, but you know the old rule about video games: graphics, color, music, excitement: pick three. (And which of those descriptors is the "impressive" intended to refer to? Do these games have impressive excitement? And, more worryingly, is the mere presence of color intended to be a selling point at this time?)
On to the Nintendo Action Set. I'm having a hard time categorizing how the word "challenging" is used there, as though I might slap the NES with a glove and propose a duel. Two microchips, eh? Call me when you hit three. You know, if a fraction of an inch is all it takes for me to miss the shot, I think that light gun's accuracy perhaps exceeds my requirements. Good to know it comes with the fast-action controllers, because the lethargic-tedium ones my Colecovision shipped with were really the pits. Which of the unit's many cords are 6 ft.? The controllers'? The power cord? And how kind of them not only to include the necessary hookup accessories, but to crow about it! No soldering required! When they say "high-impact plastic housing" that doesn't mean that the NES will sustain bludgeoning damage, does it? (Perhaps that it will sell well in pre-fab suburban subdivisions.) And then the ad ends with really sad news for your 6-year-old cousin.
One final note; I couldn't be arsed to write up the name and price of every game in their list (though apparently, neither could they -- Dr. Jekyell?  Wizzard and Warrior?), but it's a bit odd to me that the most expensive ones are all sports conversions, among my least-favorite genre. (Is the premise that you get more competitive re-play value out of them, so price them higher?)
OK, that's all here. Mixing up the screen shots is really all it needs to forever live in infamy; all the other oddness is just gravy.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mega Man 2 + Strider, NES, 1989.

As with the Willow ad and the design-related Bionic Commando ad, this one also follows a certain advertising convention of Capcom-published NES games circa 1988-89 even though it advertises two fundamentally unrelated games, Strider and Mega Man 2. "Here are two of the games we're selling, but we didn't want to buy them individual ads!" Just like Bandai!
These games actually do have a connection: beyond being futuristic SF Capcom NES games, they both feature cover artwork (which this scan does no favors to -- but skip to the bottom for better ones!) from the same artist, one Marc Ericksen, a commercial artist who was in the right place at the right time to enjoy a fabulous 20-year run drafting cover artwork for classic games from classic companies. Recently he's launched a portfolio website,, with a specific focus on his game cover artwork, with an eye toward making high-quality prints of them available for sale, for pretty much the first time ever, to nerdy nostalgic art connoisseurs. The blog at that portfolio site is gradually filling up with fantastic details, such as the story of how the pistol ended up in Mega Man's cannon-hand on that cover, or how the Kazakh guard on the cover of Strider was actually an artist he shared studio space with, paleofauna illustrator par excellence Carl Buell, and who turned up in all sorts of Marc's cover artwork whenever a macho model was called for -- often getting punched off of a motorbike, kicked in the face, or in this case, stabbing Strider with a bayonet. In Marc's gallery, you can find endless permutations of Carl suffering abuse, and plenty of beautiful images of game box artwork, including much better images of the art featured on these two games' boxes. If this field interests you at all (and let's face it, would you be here if it didn't?) it's well worth checking out.
Stand by, gamers! Capcom introduces two new thrilling games to its Nintendo series. And as always, the graphics are hot and the action intense.
First, experience the ultimate character adventure game! As MegaMan, you must conquer and control the eight empires of the evil Dr. Wily. But beware of his sinister robots that rule each empire. Their special powers present a unique challenge at every level.
Then, prepare for undercover action as the Strider. Your orders are to enter Russia and infiltrate the Red Army, returning enemy secrets to your superiors. But be extremely cautious. You know what the Russians do to spies!
So get set for radical action in these exciting additions to the Nintendo Entertainment System. From Capcom, U.S.A.
MegaMan 2 Screen Shot
Strider Screen Shot

Radical means going to the root of something, a kind of fundamentalism. (You can see these two words etymologically reunited in the ancient Greek punishment of the "radish up the fundament", but I digress.) I don't know that there's anything especially traditional or "back to the roots" about these games, so we must be talking '80s gnarly surfer-slang instead. As for the "hot"ness of the graphics, let's be fair here: the slightly earlier Strider arcade game was amazing eye candy, but this was just the NES. Now, if we were talking about Bubble Bath Babes... but I digress!So: MM2, the ultimate "character adventure" game. There's a genre designation that was DOA! Like when they called FPS games "ego-shooters." I gather it means a platform game with an iconic mascot?
Strider always confused me. A friend and I rented it overnight back in the day and were expecting something a little more LOTR-ish from the title. This box artwork, though well rendered, also muddled things a little bit -- why is he fighting a cowboy? (Wait, the Old West doesn't maintain a monopoly on floppy hats. You know, I have no idea what the fashion is in Kazakhstan, though the ad glosses over the very specific exoticism as "Russia".) The write-up here seems to frame it as a stealth/intrigue game of sorts, though anyone who has played it will tell you that putting it in those terms would be a big pile of hooey. Indeed, while the MegaMan 2 write-up describes some basic tenets of MegaMan gameplay, the Strider blurb focuses almost entirely on the plot -- plot which you don't even see much of in the game! (Don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of video game story. I collect game novelizations in hopes of uncovering some supplementary context explaining specifically why I'm supposed to punch these anonymous mooks in the solar plexus over and over and over again. Admittedly I am generally disappointed in this quest, but I carry on idealistically regardless.)
It's a bit baffling why Willow got a whole ad to itself but MegaMan 2 didn't. But in any case -- Capcom didn't need to design a new ad look for these releases, it just got one more scrape out of the bottom of the barrel for this particular design. (There's no way those games could be so precariously balancing on that pedestal!)

Here's an update, straight from Marc's site -- better images of those boxes' cover artwork:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Superman III Movie Sweepstakes, 1983.

One more bit of Superman business, and I'm not sure what's sadder, Superman 64 or this. So, remember that Warner Bros. and DC Comics are basically the same company, and have been since, say, '67 or so. (Conversely, keeping up with the Joneses, Marvel Comics is now part of Disney. The era of the entertainment Keiretsu is truly upon us!) Well, for a while in the early '80s, Atari was part of that corporate family also, hence eg. the 82-86 comic series Atari Force from whence I derive this blog's header artwork. (This continues apace, incidentally; for instance, that same Warner Bros. recently acquired Midway Games, making it owner of, among other things, the Mortal Kombat franchise.)
Enter the Superman III Movie Sweepstakes
and you may win an Atari 5200 Supersystem!
DC Comics and Warner Bros. are giving you a chance to win lots of great prizes! Superman III stars Christopher Reeve and Richard Pryor and, co-stars Jackie Cooper, Marf McClure, Annette O'Toole, Annie Ross, Pamela Stephenson, Robert Vaughan, and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane(tm). The star of the Superman III Movie Sweepstakes could be you! No purchase necessary.
First prize. Atari 5200 Supersystem from Atari! It comes with computer and a surprise videogame cartridge unit and two hand controls, and can be hooked up with any television set to provide hours of enjoyment! Value $309.90.
50 Second Prizes! The Great Superman Comic Book Collection, time honored classics featuring the Man of Steel. Value $10.
100 Third prizes! Superman III soundtrack. A 12" 331/3 vinyl disk with all the great sounds of the movie hit of the summer! Value $9.98!
100 Fourth prizes! One jar of SUPERMAN Peanut Butter! Its strength is its great taste. Value $2.19.
1000 Fifth prizes! One year subscription to Superman! Twelve titanic months of adventure with the Last Son of Krypton(tm)! Value $7.20.
Plus: the first 2,500 entrants will receive a free copy of the official Superman III movie poster!
Here's how to enter! ...
So what we have is tentacles 1, 2 and 3 of the same octopus trying to use each other to build up an aura of ineffable coolness. You could win Our Game System by participating in our contest promoting Our Movie, based on Our Comic Book, which we are using to promote both Our Movie and Our Game System IN Our Comic Book. Or as some wag on e2 put it once, "someday you will drive your Sony to the Sony to pick up some more Sony." Do you really need to know / will you care just who all the actors in the movie are in order to enter the sweepstakes in hopes of winning your white elephant, the Atari 5200 (with surprise videogame cartridge -- even the game in the ad is a surprise, revealing only its unsurprising manufacturer)?

I love how despite Warner Bros. being a massive entertainment corporation, they can only spare one of the $309 video game units as a prize for their sweepstakes -- surely the page of advertising was worth at least that much (in lost revenue). But that's okay, since they have other great prizes... like... a jar of peanut butter. I didn't remember that particular product from my youth, but I was a less cynical lad and probably would have clamoured for my mother to buy it. "But mom, it's super-peanutty!"

Wikipedia claims that A video game for Superman III was planned for the Atari 5200 but was never released, giving these sweepstakes a marginally less tenuous (well, for vapourware) connection beyond shared ownership.

Not much else to say but noting signs of the times; movie soundtrack on vinyl, low cost of a year's subscription to the comic, etc. I do dig the hand-drawn rendition of the game console; don't use crisp blueprints, computer-generated imagery or indeed, a photograph (though that peanut butter looks pretty fumetti-ish... and of course, a drawing of a record isn't so much a flight of fancy as a rendition of several circles) -- keep it real by keeping a penciller employed! Gotta say, though, that looks like an awkward place for the controllers to come out for 2-player games. What are those ports on the front for if not controllers?

Monday, December 10, 2012

"The New Adventures of Superman", Nintendo 64, 1999.

How to better follow up a game based on Batman: the Animated series than to do an ad for a game based on its Superman-derived follow-up? From the looks of things I already know of this game, as the notorious "Superman 64", the game so bad it partially contributed to the sinking of the whole console's reputation. I didn't know it had a Playstation port! (That's because it never came to market -- after being torn a new one in the press, the developers made the mistake of fixing the problems introduced into the game after late-breaking interference from the property owners... but found that their ability to use the license had expired in the interim. Messes up the ads when products included in them never end up existing! Also, indicated only by a logo, this promotes a different, far better-received adaptation of the cartoon Titus made for the Game Boy.) Nonetheless, here it is in two different flavours of ads!
Extraordinarily, the newspaper in the ad isn't just Greeked out with Lorem Ipsum, but filled with actual game-relevant text. (Some might speculate that more care went into the ad than into the game.) So here I have transcribed most of it for you...
The New Superman Adventures

  • You have the power - super strength, x-ray, heat vision, flight and more.
  • 16 mission-based levels
  • Battle enemies from the series, "The New Superman Adventures", as seen on Kids' WB
  • Up to 4 players simultaneously.
Buy early and receive a free collector's edition DC comic book.
Ultimate Edition 8 Copyright Daily Planet 1998 * A GREAT METROPOLITAN NEWSPAPER

* Superman clears the air, Metropolis breathes a sigh of relief.
By RON TROUPE, Daily Planet Staff Writer

METROPOLIS - In the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, The Man Of Steel has done it again. As you read this, he's back in town and back on duty, cleaning up the skies over Metropolis after the mysterious outbreak of Kryptonite fog.
Using his X-ray Vision (and a special Anti-Kryptonite suit developed by S.T.A.R. labs) to scan the city, Superman has already located and dismantled several of the new Kryptonite fog generators. ...
Finding the remaining generators and the parties responsible is now tops on The Man Of Steel's "To Do" list.
So stand by if you're still seeing green! Truth, Justice, and the American Way are coming to a neighbourhood near you.

"... Truth, Justice, and the American Way are coming to a neighbourhood near you."
Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane and staff photographer Jimmy Olsen are missing and presumed kidnapped. An anonymous caller left a tip saying they were safe and being held in another part of the city. The call could not be...
Who cares about the show airing on WB Kids? Oh wait, WB owns DC... I don't actually have much to say about this particular ad -- the game's notoriety overshadows any remarks I might come up with about the ad. Like Archie's Edsel car, Clark Kent's employment at a newspaper is becoming increasingly dated baggage for the character. Do you think that this lad is a member of Metropolis' Newsboy Legion? Here's the extended re-mix -- while it certainly lends more flavour, I don't think that it carries anything so important as to justify buying 2 pages of advertising over 1, unless of course DC's comics were offering their pages up at a subsidy to this adaptation of their flagship product.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

"The Adventures of Batman and Robin", SNES, 1994.

Where was I? Ah yes, I needed to wrap up the Batman thread. This is one of three flavours of licensed game adaptations patterned after this particular manifestation of Batman, his classy mid-'90s art deco cartoon series -- two others were released for the Sega Genesis and Sega CD, with different plots and sequences. They were different games, similarly titled and with the same aesthetic.
Is this the game or the TV show?
Only Alfred(tm) knows for sure.
And he's not talking. So you'll just have to find out for yourself in Konami's The Adventures of Batman and Robin video game. The new 16 meg blockbuster for your SUPER NES. Plunge into the underworld of Gotham City and battle the Dark Knight's archenemies through 8 sinister levels. Each based on actual adventures from the animated TV series. Strap on Batman's utility belt and choose his weapons wisely. 'Cause you'll need more than fast fists to make it to the next crime scene alive.
Hurl a gas grenade and crack up The Joker on a lunch-losing roller coaster ride. Launch your Batarang and prune back Poison Ivy in her evil greenhouse. Then unleash your plastic explosives to unstuff the Scarecrow's plans to strike fear into the populace. Follow the Bat Signal to Konami's The Adventures of Batman And Robin video game. It's all the nonstop action of the animated TV series. Without all those annoying commercials.
Ironically, here we are on a blog exclusively dedicated to annoying commercials. And more specifically, the annoying-commercial-hating annoying-commercial opens with a reference to a famous annoying commercial, Clairol's "only her hairdresser knows for sure" from 1956. Which is, of course, a long time ago, but still much younger than Batman himself.

Do you know the number one way to make future readers snicker at your ad copy? Boast about the file size of your game data as though it's a large quantity.

It's a bit cynical perhaps to suggest that the only thing awaiting Batman's successful survival is just "the next crime scene". Shades of Camus' Myth of Sisyphus. (Surprisingly, I am not the first to come up with this comparison, though if I was two weeks earlier I might have been. It could use more rigor, but this blog is not the place for that variety of rigor, not at least until Camus is adapted into comic book format -- and what kinds of ads will run in those rags?)

And then the curse of the Batman ad: the contractually obligatory grocery list of his accessories and the villains present in this game. In the future, can we just take it as a given that Batman throws Batarangs and drives a Batmobile without being forced to have it painfully spelled out repeatedly? One success of this cartoon series is widening the generally-recognized segment of Batman's Rogue's Gallery, previously restricted to the handful depicted in Adam West's movie. Thanks to the cartoon, we get to continue appreciating the Scarecrow and Poison Ivy's graduation to the A-list (as well as Harley Quinn, who as noted earlier originated in the cartoon) as well as some cutely awkward wordplay here -- pruning back Poison Ivy in her evil greenhouse (what makes a greenhouse evil? its incubation of nightshades?) and "unstuffing" Scarecrow's terroristic plots (with plastic explosives -- typically more often used in the execution of competing terroristic plots.) And of course, only starting in the '90s would a roller coaster ride's "lunch-losing"ness be touted as a selling point. (Really? I will totally purchase this game if Batman is depicted vomiting in it! I'll buy two copies if he is shown soiling his utility belt!) And that's a wrap for Batman! (I know, you were expecting something more... cowl-like?)

Saturday, December 1, 2012

"Batman - Rise of Sin Tzu", 2003.

Jim Lee's first publication credit was the artwork for "Samurai Santa" back in 1986, and as you can see he hasn't grown that much since. (Come to think of it, I gave that one away while I was liquidating my collection, in the process of which I scanned all these ads. Aw, snap!)
Beyond madness, beyond evil,
and a master of the deadly arts of war, the mastermind Sin Tzu is driven by a lone desire -- to conquer.
Sin Tzu designed by comics legend Jim Lee
Sin Tzu, cunning master of strategy and martial arts, makes history as the first Batman character to debut in a videogame.
Play solo or recruit a friend to defend Gotham City from the new rising evil. 4 PLAYABLE CHARACTERS:
Play as Batman, Robin, Batgirl, or Nightwing.

I know much is made of Harley Quinn's introduction to Batman canon (Batmanon?) via the animated series, but that may bear somewhat more prestige than the dubious distinction of being the first character to come to its canon from a video game. (Where by "come to its canon" we mean: appear in one video game, then quietly sink into obscurity forever.) Sin is no Harley.

So the character has all the tactical acumen of Sun "Art of War" Tzu and a bottomless appetite for victory. Also, a yin-yang sign on his forehead, to signify a profound misunderstanding of Taoist principles. The game can garner kudos for featuring second-stringer bosses and playable protagonist characters beyond the standard A-list, but to look at this ad those are entirely secondary concerns. What this ad wants you to know is that since you are a comics reader, you must respect the work of Jim Lee, who was on the ground floor of Image before, uh, running DC into the ground, an ongoing project. I guess at the time of this game he was only ruining one franchise at a time instead of the entire company simultaneously. Are those fingers or claws? I don't know -- Jim Lee!

In a fair and just world, Flint Dille's involvement would be as pronounced as Jim Lee's. (Yes, of those Dilles.) But in a fair and just world, there would be no need for Batman!