Saturday, June 29, 2013

"Mines of Titan", 1988.

In a very exciting development, my favorite new blog of 2013, The CRPG Addict, has now moved on to playing through a game I have an ad for: Westwood's 1988 "Mines of Titan", aka "Mars Saga".
How do you lose a city?
Stranded on the frozen wastes of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, you find yourself trapped in a dying colony filled with dangerous characters and you are faced with an ever mounting mystery. Who or what has caused a city to disappear? Find out for yourself in the first-rate Science Fiction RPG!
It's an updated re-release of sorts, transplanted from Mars to Titan with extra quests following an initial publication under EA as "Mars Saga". Vestiges of its Martian origins remain in the final product, as plot-related characters are apparently saddled with names derived from author Philip K. Dick's story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (later adapted -- twice! -- into the sci-fi action movie Total Recall.)

The ad artwork is essentially the same as the back of the game's box. The big, off-point INFOCOM logo is added to the lunar landscape with monster footprints, and the file folder spills a few pages of screenshots. The ad is a bit weak by the legendary standards of Infocom, and I imagine that's a consequence of their new antagonistic owners at Activision / Mediagenic following their bailout in 1987 (after the public was less than enthusiastic about buying the Cornerstone spreadsheet application from a games company.) Acquisition terms not only forced them to terminate their successful promotional, packaging and "feelie" relationship with Giardini/Russell (and work with Activision's in-house services) but also demanded they release more games per year on a smaller budget. In short, a recipe for failure. Could that explain why this game is being made by Westwood for Activision under the Infocom imprint? Yes, it is confusing.

Westwood is still hiding out in the shadows here, building a portfolio of great work published by SSI (starting with Questron 2, Hillsfar, Roadwar 2000, Nightmare on Elm Street and culminating in the first two Eye of the Beholder games) and the shambling Infocom/Activision walking dead company (including BattleTech: The Crescent Hawks' Revenge called out on the package (misleadingly suggesting they, and not FASA of Shadowrun fame, are responsible for the property) and the later Circuit's Edge, which seems to share a lot in common with this game technologically.) As SSI lost its groove (read: lost exclusive use of the D&D license) Westwood managed to swing a sweet deal with Virgin and all their practice polishing up production values doing grunt work for bosses like Disney began paying off in Lands of Lore, Dune 2, the Legend of Kyrandia, and Command & Conquer (Young Merlin we have already seen) ... which meant that suddenly they were substantial enough competition to EA that, in a boring and regretful story heard too many times in the '90s, they had to be purchased, liquidated, and shuttered, as with Bullfrog, Origin, Kesmai and Maxis. Stand aside, boys, there are annual sports games to be made here.

Westwood Associates really warrant a retrospective series of their own, and maybe sometime soon I'll re-hash some of this territory with ads for their other games. In the meantime, please pardon the disruption -- I do still have ads for a couple more cyberpunk-ish games and I do intend to get them all out of my system before starting another series of posts here. This was just a matter of timing. Fittingly, the next post actually is for another Westwood game, also inspired by Philip K. Dick.

Friday, June 28, 2013

"Shadowrun", 1993, SNES.

FASA's "Shadowrun" pen-and-paper RPG was an odd duck. "Hey, you got your dragon in my cyberpunk!" "Hey, you got your street samurai in my elfin fantasie!" "Hm... NOT BAD... BUT DIFFICULT TO MARKET EFFECTIVELY!" It earned Pacific Northwest points by making Seattle the most interesting milieu of its genre-hybrid future, territory also explored (hybrid that is, not Seattle specifically) by Torg with lesser success and Rifts likely with greater.


Watch your back... shoot straight... and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon.

Not a lot to run with: there are unexpected dangers, you want accuracy (and, arguably, forthrightness), plus -- here's the name of a Shadowrun novel whose plot this game borrows a great deal from! The overall slogan appears to derive from a canonical SR source, but is missing the third axiom: "conserve ammo." Nintendo of America bowdlerizing things for more perceived overall family-friendliness again?

The artwork is evocative -- impressively so, considering how little there is going on: a goat skull (like, as The Maxx famously opined, an Eagles album cover) and the Shadowrun logo whose S contains both Celtic knotwork and Pacific Northwest First Nations style, on a scroll with circuit diagrams, all above an obscured man's face against a backdrop of cyberspace circuitry and a city skyline. Plus, three screen shots, letting you know this outstanding game includes a boat, a waterfront area, and, excitingly, a crypt door.

There were three entirely different Shadowrun games released in the early '90s for the SNES, Genesis and Sega CD, plus of course another one a few years ago for the Xbox 360 that decided the best way to showcase the deep and unique setting was to present a generic deathmatch FPS. This one was made by our friends in Beam, taking adventure-game lessons to heart that they'd recently learned from the making of Nightshade, which you may recall. I haven't played any of them through, so can't comment extensively.

But wait, there's more! There was a Shadowrun sweepstakes! It manages to engage a great deal more of the game and setting than the game's own ad does. Go figure. Either the folks behind the sweepstakes ad were working harder than they needed to, or the folks behind the game's ad weren't working hard enough.

And Go Wild In The Aisle.

Win a $500 Electronics Boutique Shopping Spree
or one of over 2,000 other prizes.

You could find yourself in the year 2050, running for your life in a race against time, technology and termination... or you could enter Data East's Shadowrun Sweepstakes and find yourself going wild in the aisles of Electronics Boutique. That's right, cruise the store and load up on all the stuff you gotta have. And when you get to the check-out stand, tell the cashier...
"Put away that scanner, Pal... IT'S ALL FREE!"

On top of the shopping spree, Data East will fork over more than 2,000 prizes -- from Shadowrun T-shirts and satin jackets to limited-edition Shadowrun prints by the original Shadowrun artists -- in a random drawing of sweepstakes entrants. And don't forget to play Shadowrun -- the hottest strategy-adventure cart of 1993 -- and shatter the megaplexes before your friends.
For info on getting an official sweepstakes entry form just check out any package of Shadowrun for the Super NES
... and get ready to go wild!

I always like to analyse the contents of shopping-spree baskets in these sweepstakes ads. I see a copy of the Shadowrun RPG, some video gaming gloves, a Super NES Super Scope 6, a Game Genie, the SNES Congo's Caper box (also published, like Shadowrun SNES, by Data East), along with another unidentified SNES game box behind it (probably the Data East Dragon's Lair for SNES, that could be Dirk the Daring waving his sword.) There are not one but two Turbo Touch 360° joysticks, plus bizarrely a copy of the Shadowrun SNES cart -- which the sweepstakes winner must have had to begin with in order to enter the sweepstakes! Of course, the way it's presented makes it look kind of like this Shadowrunnian character is winning the EB basket -- but of course if you live in Shadowrun, why would you want to play Shadowrun?

The source of the sweepstakes poster artwork is a bit of a mystery -- it's head and shoulders over the box art, and appears to have been used in an overall better ad I only just discovered now over at Theodor Lauppert's tremendous game resource website, emblazoned with a motto no publisher would dare today: "Download or Die".

That's all for now. Catch you on the Matrix, deckers!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

"Hacker 2: The Doomsday Papers", 1986.

What better way to follow an ad for Hacker than with an ad for its sequel, also lifted from World 1-1. I know, cyberpunk "week" is dragging on a little bit here, but when it's done, it's territory we likely won't be revisiting! After all, we are living the future today. (I know, it's more mundane than you expected, isn't it?)


The Doomsday Papers

First the US government was the authority ("U.S. GOVERNMENT"), then the Secret Service came along to underwrite it in a shadowy fashion. Then the FBI ("THE BUREAU") sprouted its own wing of secret police, then the CIA, then the NSA, then the DHS. Somewhere along the way, hackers went from being the enemies of the state to being organs of the state. This ad is a bit early on in the game, but it marks an early public indication, albeit a fictitious one, of hackers going from being menaces to authority to being tools on its behalf. (Whether they remain hackers after going on the payroll of The Man remains a contentious matter.)

Who knows, maybe an ad like this first drew little Edward Snowden into the NSA. But if the game were made today (or a sequel, heck -- Activision is still a going concern, after all), the Uncle Sam stand-in wouldn't be a Man In Black but a Guy Fawkes mask-wearing legionnare of Anonymous. And, in keeping with the plus ça change motif, THE RUSSIANS are still playing their part today. (Activision, please -- that should have been THE SOVIETS in '86.)

"Available from SERIOUS Home Computer Software stockists!"

... But not from frivolous ones.


PS, as a bonus extra, though the William Gibson connection is rapidly receding into the mists of time, here's a Lorem Ipsum "Greek" generator of boilerplate text derived from a Gibsonian lexicon, courtesy of the highly-literary Vananodyne.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Hacker", 1985. (Part II)

Again liberally lifting from World 1-1, it's a variant ad design for the game Hacker we've just covered in such depth! So I won't have much to say about it beyond a look at the ad design...


You've stumbled into an unknown computer system.
Now what?

One word appears on your screen.
What do you do now?
You don't know the password.
You don't even know what computer system you've hacked into.
But you do know that you must find out more.
There are no instructions.
No rules.
No clues.
You're completely on your own.
You've found your way in.
But is there a way out?

Nice and suspenseful. I imagine most computer systems hackers stumbled upon (with such cast-a-wide-net methods as wardialing) would have been unknown. What the system is is secondary to the your finding it and evaluating if its security can be compromised. Only then does the hacker concern themselves for its rich chewy nougat centre. "Is there a way out?" Sure -- hang up. Then there are the phone company records, but surely you've been following the dictates of the Bible of Nuiwanda: Thou shalt not box over thine own line!

This is just box art, but I appreciate the details (you may have to consult the better-lit box art over at Mobygames to keep up) -- the headphones, the map, the calculator, the mug of coffee. No crass stereotypes, just a craftsman and the tools of his trade.

Anyhow, that's all for that! Since we last chatted, I've found a reference (something else I've written elsewhere 8) to one of the BBS door games I was talking about last time around. And here is a greater list of games about or at least with mini-games concerning themselves for hacking.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

"Hacker", 1985

Well, Jennie Faber and Josh liked yesterday's post on Neuromancer, so let's see if I can come up with anything else remotely hacker-ish. ... Ah, yes. "Hacker". I've lifted this scan from Benj Edwards' Vintage Computing site.

You've Stumbled Into An Unknown Computer System.

Now What?

Welcome To The Next Generation Of Home Computer Software.

"Plunge into every hacker's dream." -Rick Manning/Louisville Times
"...the most mysterious game ever." -Rawson Stovall/"The Vid Kid"
"An open screen says 'logon please.' That's it, no instructions." -Technology Notebook/Gannett News Service
"Just like in real life, there are no rules, no clues, no instructions." -David Greising/Technology Memo

To stumble into somebody else's computer system. To be someplace you're really not supposed to be. And to get the strange feeling that it really does matter. 'LOGON PLEASE' is all you get to start with. That's it. From there, it's up to you. If you're clever enough and smart enough, you could discover a world you've never before experienced on your computer. Very tempting.

What more can we say? Well, someone as clever and smart as you certainly wouldn't want any hints, right? So all we'll say is it was created by legendary designer, Steve Cartwright.

Well, that ad certainly leaves things open. "Now what?" indeed. The game is notorious for opening with a simulated login screen inspired by the film "War Games", against which you have to bash your head a few times before "crack"ing it and obtaining access to the bizarre systems beneath. The game jumps the shark a little then, providing the player with control over geothermally-powered robots that traverse a global network of underground tunnels, seeking to retrieve portions of a sensitive shredded document. Hey, what happened to my cybercrime game?

Anyhow, the ad text doesn't give us much more to work with beyond some bon mots from reviewers, so we have to wrap up with a closer look at the cv of the celebrity game designer on whom the whole ad rests, Steve Cartwright. He was the fifth designer at Activision, apparently on the basis of having been David Crane's college roommate, and developed some reputation designing the Atari 2600 titles Barnstorming, Frostbite, MegaMania, Plaque Attack and SeaQuest, none of which bring any particular mental image to my encyclopediac mind's eye. At the time these were apparently sufficient to categorize him as "legendary", but it seems these are the kind of legacy-less stealth classics which were never diluted by crassly being ported to other platforms or having sequels made.

Wikipedia assigns him some dubious distinctions, either of dubious merit...

* Directed / patented first use of mouse-over to collect on-screen rewards (Zoo World 2)
* Designed / developed first political boxing game (Bush vs. Kerry Boxing)
* Designed / developed first game game using actors against a blue screen (Lost in LA)
or dubious accuracy...
* Designed / produced EA's first multi-player sports game (PGA TOUR Pro) -- (what, not 1988's Zany Golf or Caveman Ugh-Lympics? PGA TOUR pro was '97! That's a bit late in the game... this must be "multi-player" with an asterisk or three.)
* Conceived first video game sequel (Pitfall II) -- (really, not 1982's Super Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man (admittedly unofficial, but ultimately vindicated by history)? (Or, ahem, some will point to Wumpus the prior decade.) Pitfall II was 1984! It may well be the case, however, that Pitfall was the first to have a sequel uncreatively named "[GAME NAME] 2".)
My intention isn't to defame Steve Cartwright, of course. I just think that his Wikipedia page looks a little puffed-up. Moving right along... the hacking game theme has probably been underutilized. Core War may be the fullest flowering of programming-as-gameplay, though the Kevin Mitnick-style "social engineering" hacking is tougher to pull off outside of a social, interacting-with-real-people context. I have a recollection of a BBS door game that was primarily concerned with (simulatedly) compromising other operators' boxes, pantomiming cybercrime, and of course one could argue that the territorial pissing matches of the script kiddies' botnets represents a kind of game also. But... I digress. Until tomorrow, and its digression! Hack the planet!

Monday, June 17, 2013

"Neuromancer", 1988.

So many directions I could go here. Do I continue my parade of '80s franchises revisited? Maybe next post...

One of my latest blog finds (making me bemoan our imminently Google Reader-free future) is the astounding project mounted by The CRPG Addict, to document his playing through every MS-DOS CRPG in chronological order. Having just ascended in NetHack at long last, he's currently playing through a shareware game that I suspect never got any print advertising, so I can't actively cross-promote it yet. However, his quixotic quest has inspired another blogger, Trickster, to follow his lead, playing through significant PC graphical adventure games in chronological order over at The Adventure Gamer. At the moment he's playing through Interplay's Neuromancer, and -- what ho! -- I happen to have an awesome ad for it (admittedly a simple adaptation of awesome box art) sitting here in my slush pile, courtesy of World 1-1.



Nowadays, hacking can get you into trouble. A hundred years from now, it can get you killed.

Actually, death isn't bad. It's better than being a "Wilson". Of course, any hacker in his right mind would rather be a Wilson than lose all his neurons.
So what have you got going for you? About 30 megs on line, several viruses, and a wise-cracking ROM construct tagging along. You're just a cowboy trying to stay a step ahead of the AI's in a world where paranoia's not an illusion, everyone IS trying to flatline you.

It's party time in Cyberspace.

  • Drawn from the pages of the smash cyberpunk novel "Neuromancer" by William Gibson
  • Skill-based role-playing game by the designers of "The Bard's Tale" and "Wasteland"
  • Original sound track by DEVO
  • Soon to be a major motion picture from Cabana Boy Productions
  • Multiple paths to a successful conclusion
Do I need to discuss William Gibson's 1984 novel here? Surely I do not, here of all places -- would blogs even exist were it not for this book? Unclear. (Do I need to discuss my two years in elementary school with his son? Surely it falls somewhat out of scope.) Do I need to go over the merits of the game? I don't know, Trickster is doing a pretty good job of that as he goes. OK, let's just pore over the ad:

"Wilson"? Ahh... "30 megs on line"? That is, two 2001-era free Geocities accounts? Just how did Gibson manage to anticipate the future of computing extrapolated from lousy 1988 tech? "A wise-cracking ROM construct tagging along" -- please, could we not? I don't know about the rest of Devo, but Mark Mothersbaugh has been making piles of music for games (and other sources -- hello, Swiffer) for yonks over at Mutato Muzika. "Soon to be a major motion picture" -- how's that going, Cabana Boy?

And for bonus points: Timothy Leary is thanked in the game's credits.

OK, so I didn't have that many tuppence to throw in -- but isn't that great box art?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

"Oil Change", Windows '95, 1996.

Warning: yes, it's an ad post; no, not from a comic book; no, it's not about a game, just game-related utility software.

Recently I made a stink talking about how it was my daughter's birthday and the occasion was too special for me to spend time writing about old video game ads. Well, today is Father's Day, so the pendulum has swung the other way and today I get to explore a topic of interest to me in even greater self-indulgence than I usually demonstrate here, unapologetically falling outside our customary scope.

For I Am The Master Of Outdated Games

Take Back Control With Oil Change

Outdated games can lead to ghastly computer crashes, mutated graphics, and wretched sounds. I am the master of these diabolic disruptions. The only thing that can ruin the reign I hold over your PC is Oil Change from CyberMedia. Oil Change automatically updates over 400 games for your PC, leaving your games running smoother, faster, better. I despise that! Oil Change updates everything from the latest versions of software, shareware, and hardware drivers, to helpful game hints, tips, and cheats. I dare you to take back control! Stop by your local store to pick up a full copy of Oil Change, or visit the CyberMedia web site at to download a free trial version.

The choice is yours -- Oil Change, or me.

This is awesome. This clown (the printed url, ha ha, still semi-active, suggests he's some kind of phantom) thinks he's the master of outdated games, but I subscribe to at least a dozen bloggers who are guaranteed to eat him for breakfast.

A little research suggests that CyberMedia (could there exist a more '90s company name?) was gobbled up by McAfee (this product's website still exists, but all links take you to McAfee), but that this product continued keeping old programs relatively up-to-date for at least a few years, updating drivers and plug-ins as needed. The list of products supported is impressive: some of the companies still exist, but many of them already seem like fond old memories as of 1996! Lotus, Wordperfect, Stac, Broderbund, Berkeley Systems, Prodigy, Delrina, Spinnaker, Hercules video displays, Turtle Beach sound cards... perhaps theirs would be the programs held on to by people who feel that an automotive analogy would be the most appropriate one for computer maintenance. Maybe the same sorts of people who would buy software (apparently on an annual subscription basis) as the result of a dare from a fictitious character in an advertisement.

Some reviews for the product are still out there, hilariously of-their-time:

[Y]ou can purchase and download the software directly from CyberMedia's Web site. It's a 3.1MB file, so grab a snack and be prepared for a 25-minute download
Of course, the main thrust of the product was to keep applications going through hardware and environment upgrades, sometimes seemingly impossible in an era when the "DOS ain't done 'til Lotus won't run" myth was plausible. But it is interested to see the bone extended to gamers also; admittedly at the time we weren't so much aware that gameplay fun wouldn't just scale endlessly as computer capabilities did, and by the time MS-DOS functionality was more-or-less borked, it wouldn't have occurred to many of us to blow the dust off the boxes and go back to the beloved floppies of our youth anyhow. Then we got SCUMMVM in '01 and DOSBox in '02. (Ironically, this very generation of Windows -- '95, '98, '00 -- is very difficult to get our games to run under on contemporary machines. By the time I found a boxed copy of Starship Titanic, I no longer had a computer capable of running it -- my new computer was just too good. But where was Oil Change to help me then?) (Alley Cat, on the other hand, from 1984, not only still runs but doesn't even have timing issues!)

I am a bit curious as to why the Master of Outdated Games (and gee, that's a value-loaded adjective: not just the chronological "old" or the cherished "classic" but the actually deprecated "outdated") takes such sadistic glee in interfering with the presentation of old programs. If you were master of a domain, wouldn't you want it to reflect well on your orderly rule? Well, he despises that. This ghoul seems to take delight in their brokenness. I know, I've never quite gotten the psychology of advertising either.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

"Death and Return of Superman", 1994.

So, yesterday was a Superman game, and because this is Man of Steel weekend, and if I miss these now I might be waiting a long time for any kind of relevant setting for these ads, here's ANOTHER Superman game. It gets TWO ads! First, the "teaser trailer"...

You may recall these events in the comics: "Doomsday" (no ham-handedness here) escapes from containment and massacres his way across the Midwest (I have a recollection of him breaking a mighty, noble forest stag in half, just because he could, and because he was such a bad-ass) before a final showdown in Metropolis, where he apparently kills and is killed by Superman, in what we like to refer to as a "Kryptonian standoff". Four dauphins appear, pretending to the mantle of Superiority -- Steel, the black arms designer; Superboy, an immature Superman clone; the cyborg; and a tough Kryptonian. Eventually Supes' body disappears, he comes back alive with reduced powers and a ridiculous new costume, plus ça change, etc. Anyhow, while this event was in the works for some time, its approach was somewhat telegraphed... I don't know but it's possible this teaser ad appeared contemporarily with the comics events in a campaign of cross-promotional synchronicity. "Why are there four different styles of Superman insignia? That's intriguing..." In retrospect, each logo represents one of the claimants (or something like that -- there are only four variants, one of which appears to be the standard style, representing five different flavours of Superman. Go figure.) The ad tells you that the comic book event is happening, and that there will be a video game adaptation.

The Super NES Game from Sunsoft
Available Now!

This ad gives us a bit more to sink our teeth into: a bloody Superman logo!  Doomsday's stony fist punching right through!  The Supermanian impostors, named and depicted!  Screenshots!  Also: SunSoft's mascot, Aero the Acro-bat.  I don't know if they think they're benefiting this game by associating it with Areo or vice versa.

This ad leaves us with fewer unanswered questions (like: why does SunSoft feel that "from" is the only word in the bottom blurb unworthy of capitalization, while elevating Game and Now?") but as usual the interesting part of the story is what is left between the lines.  For instance: this game was joingly developed and released for SNES and Genesis -- why emphasis only the one platform here when your product's platform ubiquity is an asset?  OK, that's curious but not interesting.  What's interesting is that we're looking at the handiwork of future titans before they maneuvred into a shots-calling position.  This unglamorous and basically uncredited hack work for pay was followed up the following year with Justice League Task Force -- the Street Fighter to this game's Final Fight -- but another game they released this year was WarCraft: Orcs and Humans.  Yes!  The ad says SunSoft but the bits say Blizzard!  SunSoft was just the publisher, which translates to: front the dough, take all the credit.

I appreciate that's not much of a big reveal.  But it's fun to see Blizzard here in its infancy, starting to distance itself from this kind of thankless franchise-milling and defining its own space... then in 2011, we see the launch of DC Universe Online, an attempt for this property, left behind by Blizzard, to catch up in the MMORPG space Blizzard made its own.  Somewhere in the mix are a couple drams of poetic justice.

Friday, June 14, 2013

"Superman: The Mysterious Mr. Mist", 1996.

We have previously seen evidence of the axiom that there has never been a good game made using the Superman license. To be fair, even the movies have a spotty track record, and the comics themselves aren't everyone's cup of tea. A new movie, Man of Steel, is at the threshold, possibly to yield dubious games of its own. Here we visit a previous stop on Supe's checkered past in the world of games:
CD-ROM Comic Books Burst
onto the Scene!

Featuring animation from the classic 1960's Saturday Morning cartoons

Click and Panels Spring to Life with Animation!

Works on
Windows & Macintosh

Multimedia Action in Every Panel!

Experience your favorite DC Comics Super Heroes in comic books with a multimedia twist. Every panel reveals action video, hidden animated "hot spots," or plot clues that bring the story to life. Enter a world of adventure that unfolds before you in the most entertaining comic books you'll ever read with a mouse!

Inverse Ink was a crew of multimedia miscreants who drank a little too deep from the intermedia well. In 1995 they managed to squeak out two prototype "issues" of their CD-rom multimedia comic book Reflux (not a word with traditionally positive connotations), and by the following year they'd managed to obtain access to some b-side material from the Warner Bros. vaults, to work their dubious magic on their dusty cast-offs. They were given the lucrative Superman and Batman properties to work with, and, the other side of the coin, stuck with Superbox and Aquaman as well.

Four years later the folks behind Cyberswine (starting out the year after these flops) would try a similar arrangement, "The Multipath Adventures of Superman: Menace of Metallo", to similar effect. It may be the case that we just haven't found the right approach to enrich multimedia comic books yet (me, I like Jason Shiga's Meanwhile, though that's hardly superhero stuffs), or it may be the case that all such ventures are fundamentally doomed. Freedom Force is probably the best possible marriage of genre, form and gameplay fun. But I digress.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Garage Sale report: the Sega CD.

And, not to further the derailing of this blog to a thrift store find journal, this past weekend's garage sale treasure:

"Rowan, you should come look at this, says my partner Jen. It's a Genesis." "Oh, no bother, I already have one! No point in buying the same console twice!" "But this one had a CD player attached to it!" "You have my attention." Typically $5 is my mystery game threshold price -- given the cost of eg. a movie ticket weighed against how much of your time it fills, pretty much the only way a game can't sustain $5 of value is if it just doesn't work, avoiding such hassles being the whole reason I got into the investigation of console games in the first place. So that makes it a great price for a whole console, especially one I've never seen before. Even one with no cords -- I have a working Genesis, so surely I can just Frankenstein those parts in to this unit... wait... hang on...

Really, Sega? You need two AC adaptor wall warts to use this hybrid machine, which otherwise duplexes all input and output through shared integrated circuitry? Envision this scenario -- it's 1993, and your wall outlet has two spots for plugs. Genesis, CD, television set: pick two. (If I'd had the dubious fortune to find a 32X -- the third element of the uberGenesis gestalt, Human Centipede-ing down the Genesis' neck, I would have found that it, also, had independent power requirements.) Well, perhaps it's no coincidence that Sega is out of the hardware biz. This means sadly I need to find some additional cables before this steal is useable (or rather, before I can even begin to appraise whether it works or not. Of course, that would also require at least one Sega CD game, a glaring omission in my collection thus far. I avoid collecting games for machines I don't own since, uh, what am I going to do with them? Realistically, console-less games only get played slightly less than the ones I do have the consoles for near at hand.)

These machines came with an infra-red sensor attached to the joystick ports, remnants of some wireless control scheme, sans controllers. Will I miss the wireless controllers? Not really, I confess. Today, he said, over a week since beginning writing this post, I learned about Hyperkin's Retron 5, a piece of new 4-in-one (NES, SNES, Genesis, Game Boy) retro cartridge player. It or something like it could happily render much of my hardware mausoleum obsolete, though admittedly earlier cartridge games (read: Atari 2600, Intellivision, Colecovision) remain unsupported. What I'm holding out for is something like it that just has a CD/DVD tray and is able to render intelligible all games written to that disc media across numerous disparate (and several still-problematic-to-emulate) console platforms including the PC-Engine, 3DO, CD-i, Sega CD, Saturn, Dreamcast, Gamecube, Playstations 1 and 2, Xbox The First... you get the idea. The guts would need to be far beefier, but on the software input side, things would be considerably streamlined. But I digress.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

"Beast Wars", PlayStation 1, 1997.

This blog is riding madly off in all directions, taking stabs at new kind of territory like garage sale finds, inherited collections and book reviews... but once in a while it's nice to just go back to its roots and run a video game print advertisement from a comic book. Today's: Beast Wars.
takes on a whole new meaning when BEASTS can CHANGE into ROBOTS armed to the teeth with hi-tech weaponry and bent on RULING THE UNIVERSE!
Command state-of-the-art Transformers! Be a heroic Maximal like Cheetor and change from beast...
... to robot fighting machine with awesome firepowers!
Or choose to be an evil Predicon like the terrifying Megatron!
Battle in rugged 3D terrain with natural hazards and enemy armies. Defeat rival Transformers in head-to-head combat!
Maximize! Terrorize! Fight for control of the Energon supply!

You grow up and leave the things of childhood behind (for a time), unaware that all the while, the things of childhood keep on chugging along, growing ever more refined like inbred dog breeds to grotesquely inflate the qualities which are perceived to lie at the essential core of a given franchise. So all the while, He-Man, G.I. Joe, My Little Pony, Teenaged Mutant Ninja Turtles and Strawberry Shortcake keep being re-invented and re-launched in toy, comic and television form to better suit the tastes of the moment, first gnarly, then extreme, then dark and gritty, now post-modern and ironic, and then on to a glowing cherishing nostalgia again after the history-erase button is pressed, again. By and large, the shark was jumped when they assaulted the fortress of Major Motion Picture, but some of these franchises would unbeknownst to us get the chance to jump multiple sharks, emerging virtually beyond recognition on the other end.
Beast Wars (bizarrely aka "Beasties" here where it was made by Rainmaker aka Mainframe of Reboot fame, dodging a prohibition on marketing war to children) is just such a transformation, turning stylishly 2D-animated robot cars into crudely 3D-animated robot animals. Even the Transformers wiki regrettably describes this development as one "reviled by many Transfans when it first hit the airwaves".

The thing that gets me about this ad specifically is its "nephew art" quality, reminding me of poster art I made myself for doomed performances, with nothing but a crude visual concept to run with. (Design acumen and skill would have to wait, we were operating on tight deadlines.)

OK, so we've got animal robots, get me an animal texture -- scales, feathers, maybe zebra stripes NO WAIT, leopard spots that's great! But they're robots, so there's like electronics underneath... hang on, Carl, open up your PC cover, I'm going to get a better circuit board reference than I could ever draw... OK, and they're, like, fighting, so the skin gets torn and you see the microchips beneath... yeah, they're probably shooting animal guns or something, I don't know, have them biting NO clawing, that's easier to draw. Animal claws? But how do you know the attacker is a robot also? Wait, I've got it: the chromed hand, clawed fingertips, a Boris Vallejo special.
The part I like the best is how advanced Cybertronian electronics simultaneously from the far past and the near future are given to look identical to Earthian consumer electronics circa the print date of the ad. Pile enough Compaq PC clones together and end up with a Transformer? or at least a Beast Warrior? (I know, if the design was too far abstracted away from mid-'90s Earth electronics, how would we even recognize the guts as electronics? Are Transformers even electronic, or rather -- Energon-ic? So many questions, all of them totally stupid.)

I do like the RANDOM edgy Wired typographical LAYOUT we SAW earlier in the Make Your Own Video ad. "State-of-the-art"? I would venture to say transforming animal robots are well beyond the state of the art as we knew it in '97, declassified government prototypes nonwithstanding. "Awesome firepowers"? Individual robots don't only have one awesome firepower, but at least another firepower that is also awesome. If the rugged 3D terrain didn't have enemy armies, it would be pretty boring. "Maximize"?! What are you even trying to say, here? Do whatever it is a Maximal does? Why aren't the opposites of Maximals Minimals? Then the ad closes saying it will "bring out the beast in you", but what it actually portrays is bringing the robot out of a beast.

The '90s. So conflicted. Not an animal, not yet a robot.

Monday, June 3, 2013

A day off

(Note: written last night, posted this morning.)

Am I going to discuss old video games, their ads, or the thousands of people who enjoy reading my thoughts on these esoteric matters?  No, I am not.  Not today.  Today is a rightly earned day off.  It's my daughter's first birthday!  (I will have to find a 2UP mushroom for this time next year.) In a roundabout way I have her to thank for this blog, since it was in anticipation of her arrival that I was nudged to liquidate my comic book collection (so as to make room for diaper inserts etc.)  The stories I had read and was prepared to make my peace with, but I couldn't bear the idea of losing all that primary source material for the marketing of old video games.  So, in what appeared to my partner to be a species of endless passive-aggressive delaying, I went through all of them (several long boxes worth) and scanned every game ad.

I started writing here back in March 2012, before my daughter's actual arrival but after I'd amassed an already profound and remarkable slush pile of game ad scans.  It's been 135 posts over 455 days since then, about a post every three days, or a quarter of my Tweet frequency -- but of course each of these posts is much more substantial (well OK no, but at least voluminous) than four Tweets combined.  By most reasonable standards, this is a torrential whirlwind of blogging, even it is primarily for an audience of one regular commentator.  (My prior semi-pro graphomania at is, well, an unreasonable standard to hold this activity up to.)

Ah, the calm before the storm.  (Hm, that's a bug - the summary jumps on-screen from June 2011 to July 2012.  Probably a consequence of the "all-time" view insisting on including zero'd data from five years for a two-year-old blog.  Google, get it together!)  If my partner thought I was passive-aggressively wasting time before, that was nothing compared to what lay ahead!  The blog only really began to pick up after our baby arrived, and I suspect its biggest boost was the extra-large student-sized 45-minute coffee breaks I got during a clinical internship starting in September 2012... all that time to kill, and me a coffee teetotaler.  If I'd had Internet access I could have happily just frittered that time away but in its absence I had to make myself somehow "productive" instead, ugh!

Of course the internship is behind me now (and actually, though home time is on the up and up as employment hours haven't yet risen to meet the internship hours, blogging time is way down as there are always more useful ways for me to help out at home) but I've got to keep chugging along at some pace (my personal minimum is one a week here) because after having amassed such a swell collection of game ads, I'l be damned if they don't get shared with the world.  There's just no drive to get it done in a timely matter since, y'know, if an ad has waited 30 years to be blogged about, what's another week or two?

I don't know how likely this aspiration is, but I hope that my daughter is able to, at some point, on some level, appreciate her old man's retro-gaming hobby.  Many of these games are pointedly engineered for kids and I like to believe that there's a timeless element to some corners of this pursuit (eg. Tetris -- will it ever be surpassed?) that rapidly changing trends in technology and home entertainment won't entirely leave in the dust.  "Dad, how were you able to enjoy these stupid platform games with big pixels and irritating chiptunes? There's no way that even nostalgia could salvage this crud!"  Maybe it's too much to hope for that she'll be able to play text adventures with me (c'mon honey, the teletype terminal is period-authentic!), but maybe she can still log a few hours in the basement with pappy grinding away at Animal Crossing before going to her friend's Third Penguin Lifecraft VR chatroom and playing Erotic Mario Deathmatch XVII on her glasses.

I missed a certain critical window with my nephew, who I thought I might be able to introduce to gamebooks (you are aware of my interest in gamebooks, are you not?) -- I quietly curated a dozen classics to introduce to one awkward pre-teen at the age at which this awkward pre-teen had discovered them, but by that point he had enough suspicion of adults to automatically and instinctively reject anything recommended as being potentially up his alley.  It's like: since nobody appreciates my profound and underrated maturity and intellect beyond my years, it logically follows that anything anyone might find suitable for a normal person of my age can be instantly dismissed as kiddie stuff.  Well all right.  I was still the only adult in his world who was capable of holding a conversation with him about Return of the King or Ratchet and Clank, but if he felt that The Black Cauldron and Deathtrap Dungeon were beneath him, well, it's his loss.  Maybe I can turn on his eventual children to them, and I won't become at that time the equivalent to a middle-aged man with an eerie enthusiasm for Howdy Doody and Bozo the Clown, understanding them to be timeless classics for children of all ages and not merely transient cultural artefacts tied to a moment in time and a specific generational cohort.  "Hey, kids!  Wanna come over to my place and play VIDEO GAMES?  Here, I'll dust off the old Magnavox Odyssey.  Hm, musta blown a fuse.  Well hey, here's something that'll keep you busy for hours -- it's called Simon.  Oh hey, outta batteries.  Well, check this out -- it's a puzzle we used to call the Rubik's Cube."  This actually leads very neatly to a donut shop in North Vancouver (Lonsdale & 25th 29th) that does double duty as a grown man's boxed toy collection showcase, but that's sadly a bit too tangential to pursue.

Anyhow.  En route to our family celebration of my daughter's 1st (ah yes, the subject of this post), we made a random stop at a garage sale and I found an offer I couldn't refuse for my next Retro Console shindig: wretched party games for the Gamecube and an SNES with a couple of classic cartridges.  The exciting find was the Super Game Boy adaptor, allowing Game Boy carts to be played through the SNES (and consequently, on a TV or projector screen rather than on a pea soup postage stamp).  This means that I'll have two more platforms on the menu at my next party (three actually -- I've been tipped off that an NES is on its way to me) and we'll be boldly marching backwards into the big-pixel nostalgia I claimed but couldn't actually produce the hardware to revive.  (Except... alas! the SNES doesn't work.  Given the condition of the unit and several of its cables, there are numerous suspects for the weak link in the chain.  But given a second SNES eventually stumbled upon, we have many potential spare parts -- like buying sports cars in pairs, the second with which to repair the first.)

A heads-up to the locals -- on an occasion or two I've remarked on that video game party that awakened this element to my personality, Video In's fundraiser where they set up lots of old consoles on lots of displays and had people interact with them all night long.  It's been something like seven years (apparently the amount of setup sweat was disproportionate to the amount of funds raised) but they're doing it again: June 14, 6 pm, through to June 15, 6 am: the Video Game Orgy returns.

In conclusion: happy birthday to my daughter, and I hope that someday she's able to enjoy video gaming (at least, in moderation); that by that point, gaming culture (both among developers and players) will be less toxic to women (I'm looking at you, Fat Princess!); and that some nugget from the previous gaming eras whose sparks I try to keep alive here will be found salvageable as classic and not just retrograde.  But until then, we have a lot of unplugged play to conduct, so if you'll pardon me...