Monday, March 25, 2013

"Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus", 1998.

"Indie" in software development is a slippery sobriquet, not only making reference to material conditions, which change, but attitudes, which may be more idealistically resistant to a new situation. Scott "Adventureland" Adams was pretty much through his whole career; when Steves Jobs and Wozniak were assembling Apple Is in a garage from Atari's spare parts, they were indie; J. Ro was during Commander Keen but no longer during Daikatana. I like to think of it as essentially glossing "not sold in boxes on store shelves" (I give Scott Adams a free pass, as he had to visit the stores and convince their proprietors to allow him to essentially consign the games, as perhaps the first microcomputer game developer to sell games in stores.) That doesn't mean, however, that no games are being sold -- enough of a mint was made with voluntary payments for shareware Keen that iD's split was sufficient to fund the development of Wolfenstein 3D, whose shareware proceeds funded Doom, whose shareware proceeds funded Quake, whose shareware proceeds funded... being purchased outright by Bethseda (who enjoyed the honour of eating the development costs of Rage themselves, presumably.) But you get the idea.

Now, things are different -- in light of the leaps and strides achieved in the game industry's expansion, the A-level devteams of yesteryear's big-ticket hits can be seen in retrospect to more closely resemble today's indie teams... only today's teams have better tools and bigger iron to work with. This is yielding a curious phenomenon in the premiere indie publishing tool -- the Bundle -- where today's freshest indie hits are beginning to rub elbows with big sellers from a decade ago. (And why not? Starcraft Battle Chest excepted, it's not like these old games are being stocked on store shelves anymore, either!) Yesterday's titan + time = retroactive indie.

This is admittedly a significant digression for me to open on, but when I got the news this morning that this ad's game was part of the latest game bundle (which I'm talking about here foolishly without any sponsorship hooks -- just out of a foolish interest in being timely and relevant, something that's hard to achieve on this beat), it got bumped up in the queue. I gather the series had an ecological, anti-corporate message flying beneath the radar, obfuscated behind a smokescreen of gross body humour. I suppose I can get behind all of those things! It's probably a shame that the visionary iconoclasts at Oddworld Inhabitants only enjoyed as narrow a slice of the limelight as they did, but all things considered, we should probably be glad any of their games got funded at all.

Now You're Cooking With Gas.

Flesh-eating Fleeches! Undead Mudombies! Bone-grinding Greeters!
Tons of cool new power-ups! Invisibility! Healing powers! And more!
Abe gets all emotional! More panic! More talking! More pleading!
Save the Mudokons and save your game anywhere!

Other heroes have swords, chainsaws, and vaporizers to deal with their monstrous enemies. In Oddworld, all you've got is gas. Abe now has the ability to possess his own farts and blow his enemies away! It's a power he's going to need if he's going to stop the Glukkon Meat Barons from making Soulstorm Brew -- the only beverage made from real Mudokon tears and bones. Fart possession. No other game has it and frankly, we're not sure any other game would want it!

In odd we trust

This is a lavishly rendered fart joke. By the standards of its time, we're looking at dozens of man-hours worth of work for a schoolyard punchline. It's a compromise Marketing is making with parents: "Other heroes have swords, chainsaws, and vaporizers" but if you don't want to babysit your loving angels with murder simulators, the compelling option is the sophomoric "fart possession". You can't prevent them from growing up and losing their innocence, but you can at least keep them immature for a few more months.

There's a curious frankness in the developers' shame at resorting to such an underhanded hook: "No other game has it and frankly, we're not sure any other game would want it!" But it beats writing spreadsheets (or hm, still more profound humiliations), none of which ever implemented fart possession functionality. (Excel '97 contained a flight simulator easter egg, but despite the recycled air in the simulated cabin... OK, this gag will take more work to compelte than it's worth.) Abe sure doesn't look regretful, however. (I'm regretful that the camera angle and page gutter denies us a good look at even one of the robot-legged opponents his gas has flattened, as they're more intriguing to me than the two fists-with-teeth we get a good look at. Are robots even susceptible to farts? I suppose cyborgs sure are.)

Now to the screenshot captions, for the other selling points. At least three different kinds of opponents, with ridiculous names. "Tons" of cool new power-ups seems to indicate an unknown number greater than 2. I don't even known what to make of the next caption: is a panicked, emotional avatar a desirable thing? (On par with fart possession at least?) Does this indicate a kind of unreliable protagonist morale, like military units in wargames which may refuse their orders when shell-shocked? Talking and pleading are two attitudes of the same basic action, and my recollection is that this series uses utterances to invoke special powers and social skills. Which means... a reiteration of the previous point? The final point asserts a game goal and touts what should be basic game functionality, save-anywhere-ness. To me, it's not so much a reason to buy the game as a negation of a reason to not buy it, bringing us back to zero and putting it on the table.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Mighty Morphin Power Rangers", 1994.

Before my customary analysis, which in the case of this ad is fairly meager, I thought that given the general theme of the blog you might be interested in my upcoming birthday party -- not necessarily in attending it, just in the nature of the festivities. Like perhaps many of you, I have an electronics graveyard in my basement, one I actively cultivate. When I see an old computer or games console at a thrift store or garage sale, if the price is right, and if it's reasonably likely to be in working condition (hence, no red-ring'd Xbox 360 in this lot), I acquire it. In effect, this is a transfer of a dust-gathering obsolete machine from one man's basement to another, where the dust collection continues almost uninterrupted. My thoughtful and gracious partner suggested that this year, I bring the lot up into the stark, unblinking daylight of the living room, and have some nerdy friends over to travel down memory lane with these nostalgic piles of transistors. I once had a lot of fun at a fundraiser event Video In put on, the all-night "video game orgy", where the entire facility was taken over by various makes and models of 40 years' worth of entertainment electronics. (They raised very little money -- I made an in-kind donation of an NES and a Genesis assembled piecemeal from thrift store finds, in addition to a set of video game music my band performed, and the whole setup took volunteers ages to get up and running... so they never did another one, but me being me, I never forgot it.)
So here's what I'll have on tap for my friends to use as time machines with me:
A VIC-20, with games-on-tape (and the deck required), plus a handful of cartridges. A mighty C=64 with no disk drive, capable of running the most powerful program we care to type into it. An epic Amiga 2000 that we can pretty much mint new disks for as needed. A curious Compaq MS-DOS laptop that will run Win 3.x if needed, though that platform's only "killer app" game was somewhat of a ... solitary pursuit. There's a 1994-era Mac desktop machine I keep on ice in case I want to bust open some Hypercard stacks, which modern Intel Macs can no longer even pretend to care about. I just about crapped myself when I saw the 3DO in a thrift store, and ever since we have mistakenly bought three or four Windows games by its successor, the 3DO Company, thinking they might run on this machine and provide us with an excuse for continuing to own it. (The 3DO story is actually funnier: I got very excited when I saw it in the store, but passed it up because of cool financial calculation and a rare window of rational thinking. But when I was more solvent, I had second thoughts -- to date, it's the only specimen I've ever seen in the wild -- and my partner suggested I go back and get it, knowing full well I wouldn't find it... because she had bought it for me! I was pretty baffled when I re-entered the shop and found that someone else had bought it. But why would they have? That would require the rare combination of knowing what they were looking at AND assigning a positive value to it. But I digress.) Sega is well represented, with a Genesis, a Game Gear, a Saturn, and a Dreamcast. The competition similarly, with an N64, a Gamecube, and even a DS in effect. (My SNES is lent out semi indefinitely, alas.) The ruler of the roost is the PS2, with a ton of games, and which also plays terrible terrible PS1 software, which is also present in abundance.
I don't have enough screens to demonstrate these all on simultaneously, since several of them are devoid of games to play, it evens out. (Of further consideration: the wiring in my townhouse is sufficiently aged that our fuses certainly couldn't handle all of them turned on simultaneously. It would be vindicating for the old machines to go out in a blaze of glory, but not yet. My baby daughter needs a proper education first.) I've only got three screens for our use (including one projector: maybe we'll be seeing some Big Pixels, writ large) so getting some multiplayer options on-tap will be the order of the day. Scorched Earth and Bump 'n Jump have already been installed on the laptop (along with the handful of games my ANSI art group "published"); I should rustle up a port of M.U.L.E. for the Amiga, though we've already had a request for Jeff Minter's Llamatron. I think The YaK warrants projection.) Additionally, we've got the fabulous Q-bert board game (which, from the looks of things, plays exactly like the video game, except with players doing all of the tedious housekeeping the computer is so good at doing), and a weird 2-player gamebook from my extensive gamebook collection, so there should be something for everyone. Well, for every nerd, at least. Now, let's look at some video game ads!
Sega, Sega, Sega. You've betrayed your cool evangelists. This is not a game on the system whose name rap stars would holler at each other backstage as a shibboleth of hipness. Just because something is successful in some medium does not mean that it will bring success to your medium. If your platforms were the only ones featuring games starring mega kids' celebrities Barney and Elmo, you would be well-advised to conceal that fact rather than to shout it from the rooftops. Yes, the Power Rangers made someone a pile of cash. Yes, they do a lot of fighting on their show, and yes, people love Street Fighter brawler clones. But the sum is inequal to the parts: think back to the expression that though the French are funny, sex is funny and farces are funny, no French sex farce is funny. Though the genre fits, these are characters who I am sure never turned up in any MUGEN fan-creation. It's just fundamentally an embarrassing combination, like Angry Birds Star Wars (though admittedly, it's hard to say which party that's more embarrassing for.) This is an ad that says: buy a Super Nintendo, a Game Boy or a Nintendo 64. (And this from a regular Power Rangers viewer -- things were pretty thin on the ground for a kaiju fan in the early '90s, and their ridiculous antics squirted a final injection of fuel into my elementary-school giant monster tabletop wargame, Godzilla Eats Everything, or G.E.E. for short. But then my access to computer games increased, after writing a poem celebrating a BBS named "Forged Reality", and consequently my own game-creating brainstorm declined -- since, after all, there are only so many hours in a day. But that's enough of that digression.)
I was always irked by the absence of the apostrophe in "Morphin". But I suppose if you're a stickler for detail the series has higher-calibre inconsistencies to be irritated by. You can bet your sweet bippy they made sure to include the little "Saban's" slug. I am given to understand that the Sega CD is a totally different game from the other two, though making use of the same license, more of a Dragon's Lair FMV spectacular. These fine points fall beyond the scope of this blog, which is really here to provide me with an excuse to go on about tangential anecdotes from my feckless youth.

Friday, March 22, 2013

"Hydlide", NES, 1989.

Thanks for the seven thousand of you who've enjoyed this blog so far! (Or, the one of you who enjoyed it seven thousand times. Sir, hats off.) In celebration, I'll indicate the difference you get when you procure your video game ads from comics vs. when you go to trade publications for them.

Get all fired up...
for the Adventure
of a Lifetime
Role playing!
Password feature!
2 speed levels!

With a full name like Fujisankei Communications International, I can see why they went as FCI. I don't have a lot to say about this game: initially released on Japanese platforms in '84, after five years it made its way to the English-speakers on the NES and everyone saw this ad in comic books. But the comics readers were missing out, because it turns out the ad was just a pale interpretation of the game's cover artwork, which is exactly the same -- only greater in every regard:
It's a bit surprising that the comics ads were so much shoddier, since you could assume that a game magazine would be mostly print with some spot illustrations while a comic would be primarily pictures on every page. Wouldn't the quality of the artwork reproduction then take precedence? It turns out, no: consumers would pay low comics prices for minimalist art and higher prices for specialty magazines. It's impressive how much the comic ad retains (eg. identical text, despite dropping the screen shots... though I still wish marketers touting "role playing/action-adventure" would make up their mind) -- what you get there is kind of a rendition of the box art at 40 paces. All the salient details are present, just all simplified -- and perhaps rendered more in a comic book art style? This would be pure speculation on my part.

It's just striking: gee whiz, for being similar, those ads are quite different. But for being different, they're quite similar. Typically I'd imagine an ad campaign requiring two different images for different print qualities would just run two fundamentally different ads, but not so for FCI.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Gear Up, Game Gear, 1993

A publisher listing unrelated products in the same ad, a tale as old as time. But at a casual glance, what this ad says is: "What a team!" To be sure, the disparate franchises making appearances here in this ad make it look like Acclaim (sorry, sorry -- Flying Edge or, as Matthew would put it -- [Acclaim]) is promoting a Marvel vs. Capcom style Super Smash Bros.-type mash-up, which they're not... but it would be a great idea! MUGEN: we actually shelled out for the licensed characters! And, y'know what, if Dark Horse could do it with comics, why couldn't the game publishers pull it off? And the mind gets to wander -- if Macho Man Randy Savage, Spider-Man and the Terminator were on a team, who would assume what role? Which one is the tank, the healer, the scout? (Well, Arnie is obviously #1, and Spidey is obviously #2, and Randy... makes a poor fit for #2, but has it thrust upon him anyway. Then I tried to look up a vaguely-remembered clip of him deep-frying a Mars Bar on Martha Stewart, and learn that he died in 2011! Where were the armchair eulogists of Twitter then?)



WWF WrestleMania Steel Cage Challenge

Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six

Terminator 2: Judgment Day DESTROY CYBERDYNE RESEARCH!

For more portable power, check out the bodyslamming excitement of WWF WrestleMania Steel Cage Challenge, the amazing web-swinging action of Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six, and the explosive firepower of Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Gear up for great graphics and game play with the biggest superstars on Game Gear!

Looking at these screenshots, it's hard to believe that the Game Boy had a longer production life than the Game Gear. (And don't get me started on the Lynx!) Of course, the critical factor was that the Game Boy had a longer battery life, substantially, than these greedier and beefier handheld consoles.

Anyhow, not much else to say about this ad. "15 feet of steel"? Ugh. "Unplug Electro"? In which socket is he connected? "Army of arms"? You're being redundant. And of course they didn't need to come up with a quip for T2, it came jam-packed with its own.

I do like the small print:

ENDOSKELETON and Depiction of ENDOSKELETON are trademarks of Carolco Pictures Inc. Computer game (c) 1993 Acclaim Entertainment, Inc.
... and we will assert these trademarks regardless of whether the phrase or depiction of ENDOSKELETON appear anywhere in this ad or not.

"Pitfall II: Lost Caverns", 1984.

See what I was talking about there?



Get the number one software entertainment title of the year for your Commodore 64, Atari, Apple II and IBM PCjr computer systems. Also available for major game systems.
Designed by David Crane.


This game sees Pitfall Harry searching for the Raj diamond in the Andes, which suggests to me that his grasp on geography is perhaps a tad suspect. The layout of this ad is, as I noted, essentially the same as the previous ad, but (as the vice cop said when he raided the fetish club) there are some conspicuous deviations. Particularly, one year later, we no longer say "major home computer systems", we name them. Sorry, TI-99/4A, you're officially out of the club now. (Mobygames reveals it also saw release on the Spectrum, MSX and CoCo, so systems needn't have been that major here! Then we see also that one of the major game systems it was released on was the SG-1000, Sega's first failed kick at the can. So just what does "major" meant then, anyhow? Why, whatever the marketers want it to. You know the C64 was legitimately major because it's the one modelling the game at the bottom.) I like how the picture's caption can nearly apply just as well to Crane's later "A Boy And His Blob", one of my favorites. Not until now do I see it as a spiritual inheritor to Pitfall. That and Tomb Raider, maybe the only time those two games will turn up together on any list. The photo is an odd one, taken of a spelunker from below. Forget the hero portrayed in the picture, the real brave character is the photographer who went down first into the darkness and set up the shot! Anyhow, these deeper caverns are one way in which the sequel expanded the world of the original game (an angle reaching full fruition in titles such as Ozisoft's A Journey to the Centre of the Earth.) That revelation combined with this promotional artwork puts me in mind of an Atari 2600 platformer adaptation of Crowther & Woods seminal text game ADVENTURE, more faithful than Warren Robinett's inspired attempt. But that there is a true, full-strength digression, and so here I must wrap it up.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"Decathlon", 1983,

Now, for a change of pace, we return to an ad for an old video game.





As you'll see, this ad also follows a kind of template employed by Activision in its early days. It's minimalist, especially in its text (practically Imagist like a breath's-length poem by Ezra Pound!), but grabs the viewer's attention with an action photograph capturing the feel the game hopes to evoke.

An interesting slogan from Activision -- an interesting concern that's still chugging along after all these years, after a weird hiccup with the Mediagenic deal. In its infancy, as demonstrated here, it featured plenty of games interpreting real life sports... not a huge market segment today.

The early '80s were such a diverse but mercurial petri dish of consumer electronics that this strategy of proclaiming your game "available for major home computer and game systems" was probably a good way to go -- not committing to any given platform in case the bottom fell out of it next week, not appearing to strategically overlook any rising star, and proclaiming a kinship to the major players of the industry.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

"Ready Player One", 2011.

As my interests are admittedly somewhat esoteric, it's very rarely that I feel squarely in the sights of an advertiser or trend. My market segment is a razor's edge, and most of the things I'm interested in buying are goods not presently found for sale in stores. Consequently it was with a modicum of uneasiness that I enjoyed Ernest Cline's 2011 novel Ready Player One, as again and again I felt uncannily that the author had written the book for me -- that I was, in a sense, being pandered to... a very strange experience! I had some concerns that his successful run of hitting the right notes for me with a series of particular generational cultural references might distract me from the ability to come up with a more objective overall evaluation of the book's merits. Sure, it's filled with things that I love, but is it actually any good? Fo shizzle you can cook a meal using all my favorite ingredients, but that doesn't mean that they're any good as a meal all mixed together.

(Further ensnaring me is my personal weakness for treasure hunts; back in the early '90s, a copy of Bamber Gasgoigne's "Quest for the Golden Hare", about Kit Williams' Masquerade and the craze surrounding it, inspired me to hash out the outlining framework for a cyberspace treasure hunt on dial-up BBSes, with clues hidden in offline message reader taglines, online game victory congratulations, file section FILE_ID.DIZ descriptions, high score tables in downloadable games, and SysOp chat sessions. It would guarantee traffic to partcipating boards, and allow them to showcase the elements of their nodes they were proudest of... but fell apart when it came to coming up with a prize to offer the victor. As I was a feckless 11-year-old with no capital (and that's right, lacking even feck), I suggested every participating SysOp chip in $5 for a grand prize (for the free advertising, of a sort), and that was the end of that! And then... as it turned out, that was the end of BBSes. But I digress.)

The cover blurb from USA Today is surprisingly bang-on, describing the book as a mash-up of the Matrix and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Though the story primarily elapses in cyberspace, it lacks the literary aspirations of eg. Neuromancer (with its famous opening sentence, "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel") or the sheer audacious scope of Snow Crash. (This lack of aspirations or audaciousness isn't necessarily a bad thing: unlike in both those books, here I never had any "what the heck is going on right now?" moments.)

The story is a straightforward one of a treasure hunt -- the treasure being a fabulous fortune with the fate of the OASIS, a kind of limitless free-to-play virtual reality MMORPG, at stake. The treasure hunt consists of a handful of clues pertaining to the late, eccentric OASIS designer's preoccupation with nerdy cultural artifacts from the '80s... a perfect framing device for any author who ever wanted his characters to experience firsthand eg., Zork, WarGames, and early D&D modules. If you're familiar with these topics, you need no elaboration. If you're not, the author gives you just enough to get up to speed before dropping you off at the next pop culture reference. Like a mystery, there must be a straightforward method to writing these: begin at your conclusion and then work backwards seeding pointers to it. In the book, the contest has such a grip on the popular imagination that everyone in the year 2045 is a fully conversant scholar of the '80s, prepared to hold forth at length on such weighty matters as John Hughes movies, Rush's discography and Atari vector arcade machines, dubbing themselves "easter egg hunters" (or "gunters") after the obligatory etymological unpacking of Warren Robinett's hidden invention.

The plot is almost secondary: to me the work is primarily notable due to the mere fact that Random House published a book in which the TRS-80 CoCo game Madness and the Minotaur is name-checked, my first text adventure on my first home computer, both pretty obscure even to rabid gamers. It's details like this which make the book feel so crafted to appeal specifically to me, but will you enjoy it? You don't need to share the nostalgia to appreciate the story, but it probably helps. (The specifics do sell me on the book, precisely because the enriching little particulars are the sort of thing that greatly enhance my enjoyment of the work but could never be inserted into something to increase its marketability. They're merely flavour without being a hook, if that makes sense.)

Ultimately we are introduced to several rival independent gunters (including an obligatory love interest), following the protagonist's lead after he initially accidentally blows the beginning of the case wide open. We learn more about them (including the obligatory "on the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" trope) as they vie against each other, gunter clans, and a sinister corporate interest not above griefing and crossing the line into manipulating players in their off-line lives, an underexplored setting of a neglected post-post-scarcity society where children play in junkyards, families live in piles of RV trailers and debtors become indentured servants. Le plus ca change...

For occasions such as this, I extend the following piece of effusive, yet reserved, praise: "the best book of its kind ever written." (Typically, the subject of my faint praise will also be the only book of its kind ever written.)


Thanks to the anonymous neighbour who, despite barely knowing me, sized me up to a T and dropped this in my mailbox!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"Reflections of a Rock Super-Hero", 1975.

This is the sort of thing I had in mind when I agonized in that last post about how to reconcile the weird non-video game stuff I find in comics with weird video game stuff I find in non-comics. Ultimately, I can't: the blog will simply have to maintain a high but not exclusive signal-to-noise ratio. I may only end up 90% on-point but hopefully the other 10% will still be a curious diversion.

I'm not going to go into great detail regarding this curio: several other bloggers have already covered it pretty thoroughly. But when I scanned it, I didn't know that.

So here it is, the ad for Lofesong Records' 1975 rock opera of the Spider-Man story:

ONLY $6.98




P.O. BOX 777

CASSETTE ($8.37)
8-TRACK TAPE ($8.37)
I really don't have anything to ad. It speaks for itself. The bloggers speak for the rest. (If you get a chance, do look up the reverse album art there, it's really quite something.)

Instead, since we've already determined that you fit the interest profile, if not necessarily the location one, I can tell you about the mother of all comic book sales going on here in Vancouver:

April 5 at 12:00pm until April 7 at 3:00pm 1055 Vernon Drive Vancouver B.C. "Do you collect comic books? Know someone who does? This is your chance to bid on one of the largest, most extensive collections in Canada. Silver age, Bronze Age, or Modern Day, there is something for everyone! Viewing takes place on Friday April 5, starting at noon until 7:00pm. For those of you who do not live in the Vancouver area, check out the collection online, where comic lots are being updated daily in March!
Happy hunting, everyone!"

Monday, March 4, 2013

the latest haul...

I have a disclosure to make. As you've noticed, that last post didn't come from a comic book scan, but from a copy of Nintendo Power magazine. I haven't run out of comic ad scans (though I am out of actual comics!), though increasingly I am finding more-compelling game ad material from other sources -- first in basement back stacks of TSR's house organ Dragon Magazine, which primarily covered pen-and-paper role-playing and tabletop wargaming, then in a handful of old copies of Wired and Compute!, from other blogs, and finally... well, here's the mother lode: Last weekend, Jeremy was kind enough to bequeath to me his much-cherished collection (incomplete and in mixed condition, but of endless interest to one such as myself) of copies of (the recently-defunct!) Nintendo Power magazine and some related publications. Now, everything in such a magazine can be considered to be a video game ad of some sort or another, but (Howard & Nester aside) they're not much for comics. Now, this blog has a pretty straightforward mandate: "shilling epilepsy" means "video game advertising" (not just in reference to the hypnotic flashes in vector arcades and Jeff Minter productions, but also the notorious 1997 Japanese Pokemon epilepsy epidemic), and "to mouth-breathers" means specifically targeting the audience of juvenile delinquents and (as I've learned) Vietnam vets who were widely understood to be the primary markets for comic books circa the early '80s. Video game comic book ads: it's the site's URL. Seems cut and dry, don't it? But I can't resist occasionally throwing in other nerdy, game-unrelated finds advertised in comics, or depictions of video games in comics -- all still neighbours under the same umbrella. And now, I can't resist also throwing in game ads from non-comics sources.
Naturally this throws the whole thing out of whack. Already I've considered making the next post a book review, with no comics or even magazine connection whatsoever. The centre cannot hold! Even in the more general case described above, the sophisticated way a game is marketed to a hip, high-earning Wired reader is very different from how a Star Wars radio adaptation is marketed to kids in a comic book. In a perfect world, my blog would be a diverse enough place where these could happily sit side by side without any idiosyncracy. This is why I selected "NicheInterests" as my Etsy and eBay username -- nothing else really covered my weird spread of Intellivision cartridges, accordion records and Choose Your Own Adventure paperbacks.) But here I should really defer to the readers. I've taken the liberty of squatting (it was taken on Blogger, sadly -- unused since '06!) and am prepared to move the show over there, to discuss video game ads from all sources and across all media (ah, reviews of TV ads!), if it makes me less of a dirty liar.
Or if you don't care, and apathy rules the day (anything beyond antipathy will really do), I will just carry on here as I like, indulging my inspired genius and confusing the heck out of new readers. This is why, when you start a blog, you should pick a name as widely-inclusive as "Boingboing". I could have just named it "Nerdy Stuffs & Sundry" but then where's the hook? All that annouces is that here is a trough, ladies and gentle persons, and I shall be wallowing in it.
Me, I've painted myself into a corner. But I hope you'll find it an interesting place.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Nintendo National Challenge Tour 1990

What is the what here?
Bigger, better, more exciting than ever...
Canada has never seen anything like it before. We may never see anything like it again!
It's the most exciting, most incredible, most humongous Nintendo event ever, and it just wrapped up.
The Nintendo National Challenge 1990, sponsored by Nintendo and Game Boy, is what it was called, but the thousands of Nintendo fanatics who took part just called it outstanding. It was a chance for many to try out Super Mario Bros. 3 and the amazing Nintendo Game Boy for the first time.
The challenge to players across the country was to reach their highest score possible in 4 minutes of Super Mario Bros. 3. These are some of the top scorers in the country:
[insert boring list here]
Congratulations to these and all our other daily winners. The 3 top scores from each region -- East, Central, and West -- had been invited to an all-expenses paid trip for two days to Canada's Wonderland, outside Toronto.
other prize winners
It's during that trip they took part in the Nintendo Challenge Championship -- with a chance to win all the (electronic) marbles.
Hope you joined us for the grand finale to one of the year's great events -- the Nintendo Challenge Tour 1990! See you all next year!
I'm not going to remark on the copy here, except to note that: wow, Canada warranted a separate tour of its own (US tour touched on here), sponsored (look closely at the truck) by CanTel? Also, "East, Central, and West" == Quebec, Ontario, and Alberta? Were there no worthy Nintendo gladiators to be found in Saskatchewan an Manitoba, or did this tour just consist of occasional northward border raids of a tractor trailer covering the northern US route of their tour? (Even so, Alberta doesn't make sense, its two cities of note being Canada's grand exception to the conventional wisdom about our populace clustering within 50 km of the US border like a string of pearls.)
So, the truck. On the left I see disembodied hands operating the Nintendo Advantage, their in-house enhanced joystick model, beneath a GAME BOY logo and something illegible in a corner starburst. Then, in the middle, the tour announces itself. Underneath: Mattel logos. ?! Off to the far right, we see Super Mario himself bursting from an old TV (remember when they looked like that?), Kool-Aid-Man style. (Wario emerges more like something from Videodrome.) Even if the advertorial text didn't boast of the opportunity to preview Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario's presentation here gives it away, slinging a Doki Doki Panic turnip with which to feed Wart, somewhere down the line. (His glowing "Iron Fist" gloved hand is a bit misleading, since while he uses it to smash bricks by the pallet-load in SMB1, their only interaction in SMB2 is to pick the bricks up and then throw them to smash elsewhere. Or is this a premonition of a return to the Super Mario with canonical powers (and, well, many more) awaiting us in Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario Land for the Game Boy?
At the bottom right of the puff piece we see the logo for the new Game Boy product, with the subtitle: "COMPACT VIDEO GAME SYSTEM". Soon it would be a fixture, a household name, but they still had to awkwardly describe it here (really, "compact" and not "portable"?) Try to imagine a time when the iPod would have been qualified with a phrase like "MOBILE MUSIC PLAYBACK SYSTEM" as though we weren't all fully aware of what it signified?
I don't know what to say. Just what was that truck filled with? That's a lot of Game Boys. Heck, that would be a lot of arcade cabinets. Maybe its interior is just one long deluxe rumpus room, filled with beanbag chairs, pop machines and (neglected) foosball tables as well as a row of thrift-store teevees and fervently overheated NES units with sticky, tangled controllers. Do you think the truck actually drove across this great land like a magnificent billboard on wheels or was it just posed here for photo-ops before being dismantled and its puny load shipped from city to city?
There was no "next year", was there? A 1991 tour? Like any kid alive in the free world at that moment in time, even though I didn't own a NES, I was fully aware of the approach of SMB3. To some extent the movie The Wizard acted as a full-length feature film advertisement for it -- and though I was only aware of that flick second-hand as well, the ledgers of the rumours grew and grew, compounding and cumulatively pointing to something fully legit. But as far as massive mothercorp promotions go, this must have been the end of the line for the NES -- and the end of Nintendo's run as uncontested king of the coop. Sega took the prize for the next generation with the Genesis, Sony the next two with their PlayStations 1 and 2... and Nintendo was never again in a position to represent the whole exciting future of video gamedom in the back of a semi trailer. This brings to mind Michael Moore's bit a few years later in his television show "TV Nation", where he paints a big rig red with a yellow hammer and sickle on it and takes Communism on its farewell tour through the Deep South. But that's a digression if I ever heard one!
A couple of years back I saw a minibus parked at Chinatown's outdoor Night Market, offering demos of Nintendo's new 3DS, units physically tethered to their handlers. I could not pass up the glimpse into the future-present (ask me sometime a conversation I had with my neighbour recently about living in the future, where society and individual's habits have not yet "caught up to" technological development -- I countered that I was not only not living in the present, I was pointed in the wrong direction and gaining speed, hatching schemes for elaborate MS-DOS trickery and even devising a free, but slow, reinvention of the telegraph, piggybacking on the phone system -- transmitting letters in that "use frequency" ETAOIN SHRDLU sequence that ruins Wheel of Fortune -- counting and loging unanswered rings to a remote phone. And then there's the time I tried to implement error-correcting packet switching through the postal system -- very expensive in stamps. But this boldly tresspasses beyond even digression.) That game's bizarre demonstration (zapping 3D Space Invaders patterned after a scan of my own face) would have been beyond the wildest imaginings of those champions in 1990, but here in 2011 I dismissed it as a distracting novelty before getting back to business: hunkering down for further serious analysis of the classic games from the golden age of ... 1990. Huh. They didn't know how good they had it!

(Update, 2017: this post has sparked some discussion and debate!) (Updated update, later in 2017: the other shoe has dropped and my Nintendo Power stash is being divided into lots and sold on ebay. But happily, while poring over just what I had here, I found the source of this scan -- the back page of the Fall 1990 issues of Nintendo Power Flash, a Mattel-circulated Canada-exclusive "here are some NES games we can sell you" periodical of some four to sixteen pages. Here, shortly, you'll be able to find some related images from the back pages of the Spring and Summer/Fall 1989 issues:)