Saturday, December 27, 2014

Boxing day blowout 2014 part 1

Somewhere I have it on the record that for me as a teenager what Christmas meant was a chance to get on to my local BBSes while everyone else was unwrapping their presents, taking advantage of the extraordinary cleared phone lines to whomp everyone in the daily online games while they were foolishly occupied (distracted, I had it) with their family and seasonal cheer. My early bachelorhood didn't challenge this somewhat misanthropic approach to the holiday, but as I've settled down and become a family man I've had to get up to speed with some of the social niceties that allow one to celebrate Christmas as an adult. (My standing in the LORD high score table has suffered quite a bit as a consequence, I can assure you.)

At times I've felt that perhaps my gaming monomania might exact some toll on my family life, and so I am always pleasantly surprised (and somewhat puzzled) to receive gaming paraphernalia as presents -- catering to the me that I am rather than nurturing the me they might prefer me to be. Go figure. Here's my "Christmas eve" haul, of gifts I received before my thrift store / garage sale maniac (which I mean in the nicest possible way) mother-in-common-law, who is generous to a fault, gets her hands on the giving and steps it up several notches:

For starters, there are three t-shirts. I only make an effort to wear my gaming clothes at my retro game parties, which only happen twice a year; obviously to give these threads their due, I'm going to have to step up the pace (and throw more parties?) The Atari shirt appears to be vintage, while the other two are from the designers at Pop Chart Labs and will get a bit deeper scrutiny below. Then we have a cherry red Nintendo Game Boy (now I have two, in different colours... down that path madness lies!) in a protective case bedecked with period Nintendo stickers and all 4/4 of the limited edition (?) run of Angry Birds: Space candies (and for folks who remember my previous reference to those upset avians, back in the Realia post, that chew toy went into the garbage last week, not lasting even a year -- but not entering my collection after a year in my dog's jaws.) You can see a mug and a "Whiz-Kid" educational pseudo-computer. Look carefully beneath its box and you see some computery chocolate bonbons, then a layer of decade-ish old gaming magazines (which yield more game ads for me to scan -- grr, especially double-page ones -- which in turn yield more blog posts here) topped with a layer of curated (Sonic -- regrettably, judging from the reviews -- and Kirby, last seen stunning my partner with sticker shock upon seeing its $60 price tag when fresh) and happenstance (Medal of Honor, Smarty Pants) Wii finds. And as a peculiar afterthought, one of those infuriating (no thumbsticks! It's hard to go back) PlayStation 1 controllers off to the right. A respectable haul, by any standard.
This mug is perplexing and awesome. I do not read Japanese characters regrettably so the deeper wisdom contained on the monitor is lost on me. (There is a second line of it, in black-on-black: doubly encrypted, if you will.) The character design of the speaker is similarly baffling, and even the structural topography of the mug is ... at variance from the mean.
I bet you didn't even know that there were chocolatiers making treats in the shapes of 8-bit (or in the words of the catalogue, "old") microcomputers! (Apparently they also have terminals. Classic!) So what machine do you think it's trying to evoke -- an Apple II perhaps, or a TRS-80, or perhaps a C64? Or indeed, maybe all three.
The Pac-Man shirt admittedly confuses me a little bit with the multiple levels it's working on. "Games Played in the 1980s / Pac-Man Trivial Pursuit" means... well, if it were a pie chart, five sixths of it would be taken up with whatever the yellow signifies (rounds of Pac-man and Trivial Pursuit played vs. all rounds of all games played?) And of course, if you were playing a round of Trivial Pursuit (perhaps a video game-themed variety), you would eventually end up with a playing piece filled up with 5 of 6 "pie slices". And, of course, a 5/6 filled circle coloured yellow is strongly reminiscent of Pac-Man in the mouth-fully-open position. But what is it all supposed to signify? One shirt sale, I fear.
This one is quite a bit denser: a complete catalogue, as best as I can tell, of various joysticks and input devices used for various home computers and consoles across the ages. Controllers old and new turn up in this design, including several I don't recognize and probably have never seen before -- some of my favourite appearances include both the Bandai Power Pad for the NES and its descendent, the Dance Dance Revolution dance mat; in addition to the Power Glove, there is the NES' Zapper light gun as well as the Sega Master System's phaser, the SNES' Super Scope 6, and Konami's proprietary light gun -- the justifier. I spot my recent acquisition, the NES Advantage, as well as several renowned single-purpose controllers like the Samba de Amigos maracas and a Guitar Hero guitar... and the Miracle Piano Teaching System?!... and are those the Sega Activator and Broderbund's U-Force I spot? Anyhow, it would be neat to collaboratively number them all and peg them all down -- I've spotted some variations, so I think in some cases we have multiple versions of joysticks for the same machine present. In any case, its appeal is far more immediate and straightforward than with the previous t-shirt.
The pre-computer that's the bridge to a personal computer!

* math... music... spelling... logic and more makes learning fun and easy
additional programs available to keep young minds growing
parental assistance recommended for younger children

Le pré-ordinateur qui est une passerelle aux enfants vers l'ordinateur individuel!

* les mathématiques... la musique... l'orthographe la logique et davantage
* grâce à lui, apprendre devient facile et amusant
* programmes supplémentaires disponibles pour faire croître leur jeune cerveau.
* l'attention des parents est recommendee pour les très jeunes enfants

It would take me some time to report on this curious "pre-computer". Benj Edwards over at has covered a few different models from the same line -- and from the looks of things, the Hong Kong-based vtech, est. 1976, is, unlike so many other tech companies... still in business today! Presumably their support for such antiquated devices, however, is somewhat limited. It looks like it superimposes LED readouts with backdrop overlays; other models are described as having a small number of BASIC programs in ROM, invoked with a bar code scanner of sorts when data-free "program cards" are inserted. (Not so different from today's launch-day DLC!)
Une passerelle aux enfants vers l'ordinateur individuel!

Enseigne les mathématiques, l'orthographe, la musique et bien d'autres choses encore! * Clavier ordinateur
* Écran à cristaux liquides animé
* Fonction mémoire... programmable
* Effets sonores imitant ceux de l'ordinateur
* 50 programmes logiciels cartes... maths... musique... orthographe... logique... et davantage.
* Programmes supplémentaires sur cartes et cartouches disponibles pour faire croître leur jeune cerveau.

OK, that's all well and good, but you don't speak French!
A child's bridge to a personal computer!

Teaches, math, spelling, music, and more! * Computer-like keyboard
* Animated LCD screen
* Memory storage... programmable
* Computer-like sounds/effects
* 50 software program cards... math... music... spelling... logic... and more.
* Additional program cards and cartridges available to keep young minds growing.

Parts of this are actually more troubling in English than in French: the first thing it should teach, is, correct, comma, use. What makes a keyboard or sound-effects computer-like? And the folks in layout keep choosing to italicize the bits about the cultivation of young minds while that convention is apparently unknown in Francophone territories (where they also side with the brain in the mind/brain split.)

These machines appear to date to about 1984, so given the general gutlessness of the home computers circulating at that time it's head-scratching how much lower one can stoop for a training-wheels "pre-computer". One thing's certain, it almost certainly couldn't run Zork.

I found the company's logo so compelling I was forced to render it in ANSI art.
I suppose that means that my next post will need to be another instalment of our video game ANSI art theatre, to be followed before New Year, hopefully, with the thrilling conclusion -- part II -- of Gamey Stuff I Received Over These Holidays. PS, please don't forget, I am giving away Steam codes for games here. I haven't had any takers yet, so I'm wary of throwing more out there... but once there's a nibble, I'll extend further codes. After all, with the games already in my library, the codes aren't doing me any good. Cheers!