Classic Video Game Blog of Rants, Raves, News and Info

8 Bit Central - Retro Gaming Blog

Archive of Classic Video Game Blog Articles
First Quarter 2014 - January, February, March

Check out the retro gaming info, odd relics, insane homebrews, and the perverse conclusions we've drawn in 2014!

March 2014 Retro Gaming Articles:

March 30, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Politically correct “Spring” comes to the Skylanders and Trigger Happy is poised for Easter

Springtime Trigger Happy's Spring Edition emblem A random trip to Toys R Us led to my discovery of an Easter Skylanders figure for Swap Force! I'm a big fan of holiday variants - in all forms. So, finding an Easter (labeled as "Springtime") festooned Trigger Happy Skylander was awesome! Springtime Trigger Happy is available for Easter!

Springtime Trigger Happy figure with Easter egg styles Last Fall's Pumpkin Head Eye Brawl was an awesome figure, however, his Halloween look did not appear in-game. He still looked the same as the original Giant's figure, proving that he wasn't explicitly programed into the game. Some people were quite surprised and disappointed by this. My son and I played the original Eye Brawl and Halloween version simultaneously. It got fairly confusing... for me.

Springtime Trigger Happy has a pink/purple skin tone and rides an Easter egg bomb - all of which appears in-game while playing! This is a welcome discovery for such a fun character.

Springtime Trigger Happy's Easter packaging He's one of our favorite Tech characters, so it's good fun to be able to play his Easter variation. I keep saying "Easter" even though he's labeled as "Springtime". It reminds me of how some people prefer "Happy Holidays" to "Merry Christmas" to avoid awkward situations with those who don't celebrate Christmas.

I've always thought that was ridiculous. All people are different in various ways - letting religion dictate a holiday greeting is idiotic. So, we're stoked to play Easter Trigger Happy! :)

Springtime Trigger Happy figure diorama Activision made a lot of fun changes to the packaging for Springtime Trigger Happy. The clear plastic around the figure is egg-shaped as opposed to the square shapes for other figures.

There is a zigzag pattern ont he cardboard backer that is reminiscent of Easter eggs. The enclosed trading card bares the same image. This looks like a properly planed holiday release. Well done!
March 29, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Columbia House “Clubs” had everything from LPs & cassettes to video games & a branded Atari 2600 clone

Columbia House logo When I was a kid, Columbia House had a club for every type of media you could imagine. Reel-to-reel, cassettes, 8-tracks, albums, video games, software - they had it all! They went on to have VHS, CD and DVD offerings. The notion of getting 13 albums for a penny seemed like a sweet deal! That initial shipment was a "Christmas morning" sort of event.

Columbia House Video Game Club ad The Columbia House Brand was started in the early 1970s when Columbia Records organized their various music clubs. The Record Club dated back to 1955 as a direct-mail experiment for music sales. By 1063 they accounted for 10% of the recorded music retail market.

The premise of these clubs were based on a dubious business model called, negative option billing which lets customers agree to automatic delivery of products (music in the case of Columbia House) which they must pay for unless they decline the delivery in advance. I always forgot to send the cards back and wound up shipping all sorts of musical atrocities back to them in Terre Haute, Indiana.

I began with the Record Club and still remember the day my buddy & I came home from school to find Van Halen's Fair Warning had arrived - Awesome! I tried again with CDs, but the model was a hassle and I gave up. One of the often forgotten benefits of Columbia House was their commitment to media types. I'm sure this was financially beneficial to them, but they offered various selections on media formats that were no longer commercially available in stores - usually for about 4 or 5 years. To this day, the Columbia House brand is alive and selling DVDs online.

Columbia House Software Club ad Somewhere between LPs and CDs, Columbia House was hawking software and video games via a "club". Around 1983 Columbia House was offering Atari 2600 games as a video game club and a software club that offered Atari Home Computers, Colecovision & Adam, Apple, and Commodore 64 games.

Columbia House Video Game Club magazine poster Many of the clubs features mini magazines containing the month's available selections. They would visually highlight certain offerings, but the Video Game Club was different. Often it was produced as a poster that had game selections on one side and a poster featuring a game title on the other

Perhaps the demographic of the early 80's was more youth oriented, but the Video Game Club mini magazines were pretty cool. There weren't a lot of selections, so nearly each title had a box-cover photo. The reverse side had a poster featuring a game like Donkey Kong Jr., Q*bert, MoonSweeper, etc. You can view a few issues on the Digital Press site.

Columbia House Arcade - game console

The idea of Columbia House selling it's own Atari 2600 clone on which to play games from the Columbia House Video Game Club sounds a bit peculiar. Why bother? There's a history that brings all these things together, making this console offering more logical.

This history goes back to Coleco's Expansion Module #1 which was an add-on to the Colecovision game console that provided Atari 2600 game compatibility. With the Expansion Module #1, the Colecovision boasted the largest software library of any console at the time. Naturally Atari filed an infringement lawsuit, but it went in favor of Coleco since their unit used off-the-shelf parts and nothing proprietary to atari.

Columbia House Arcade - game console Gemini and Columbia House Arcade consoles I'm not sure why Coleco took it one step farther, but they went on to develop a stand-alone 2600 clone called the Gemini. Like the Expansion Module #1, it accepted Atari 2600 cartridges. The Columbia House Arcade console was simply a re-branded Gemini.

The connection between Columbia House and Coleco was CBS! CBS was the parent company of Columbia House and outside of North America The ColecoVision console was distributed by CBS Electronics. This accounts for the ease of bringing an Atari clone under the Columbia House brand as well as the large amount of Video Game Club selections from CBS Electronics

The Columbia House Arcade was sold exclusively via mail order by the Columbia House Video Game Club. When you find these consoles at flea markets and thrift shops, they won't have a box as it wasn't a commercial product requiring the marketing and cost of a shelf-bound product. These units were shipped in plain boxes just the way games from Columbia House were shipped.

Aside from the cartridge slot being located in the upper-right corner of the console, the other notable difference was the controllers. The unit was made from parts that wouldn't cause another Atari lawsuit. I'm sure the case design and joystick/paddles were patented by Atari. Thus, the Gemini and Columbia House Arcade had a controller with both joystick and paddle/dial built into one controller. I'm sure this controller combination also saved money.

This is how Columbia Records went from selling reel-to-reel tapes via mail order to selling Coleco hardware capable of playing the Atari 2600 games they sold via the Columbia House Video Game Club!
March 29, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Are you man enough for GameStop's exclusive Peach Pink 2DS? I was hoping for “Luigi-green”

Last Fall, rumors of a Luigi-branded green 2DS were circulating. I was on the brink of picking up a 2DS and held off in favor of a green model. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. A video soon surfaced showing that the green model was a mod by a fan of the new system. Part of the ruse included a mock-up of a green box!

I bought my son the blue model for Christmas which really ignited my desire to own one too! I was going to pick up a red model to avoid confusion between our 2DSs. Now I'm wondering if I should pick up a Peach Pink 2DS and bask in it's uniqueness...

Peach Pink 2DS - GameStop exclusive I know the second I buy a Peach Pink 2DS, a green model will appear on shelves with a price drop. Isn't that always how it goes? :)
March 28, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Captivated by the ultimate moon shot, my focus moved to the roller controller on Stern's Moon War

Blonde girl in Stern's  Moon War arcade flyer Stern's Moon War flyer - back You don't have to surf the net for long before a pretty blonde shows up in an unexpected place... like a 1980's arcade flyer. This image of Stern's Moon War arcade cabinet comes up occasionally in my online retro gaming travels. Having never seen a Moon Wars cab, I decided to find out more about this arcade game.

Vectrex 3D Imager I was interested to discover it was made by Stern. The manufacturer's name barely made the cut for the front of their marketing collateral. Moon War was released in 1981, between their biggest hit, Berzerk (1980) and it's less popular sequel, Frenzy (1982).

When it comes to controls, Moon War has an interesting set of controls. I've played Asteroids on the 2600 so much that I'm surprised when I encounter an original cabinet and there's no joystick. The same thing happens when I see the dial/wheel on Tempest or the vertical-only functionality of Defender's joystick. And why do I remember Centipede has a trackball and forget about Missile Command? :)

Moon War has a Roller Controller! I've never encountered such a thing, but I'm wondering how Asteroids might have played with such a device. I've heard quite a few people liken Moon War to an Asteroids/Defender hybrid. Your ship spins like in Asteroids, but traverses horizontally like Defender.

This roller controller looks like a hockey puck that's set vertically into the cabinet's control pannel. This gives a pseudo trackball like motion that spins on a single horizontal axis.

Blonde girl in Stern's Moon War arcade controls There's not a lot of info out there about Stern's Moon War. I wasn't even able to find a service manual. The closest thing I could find was mention of several Stern (Moon War included) and Konami arcade games that share a similar 18/36 pin wiring scenario.

You control a small ship that rotates 360 degrees and can travel horizontally through space. There are several types of enemies, some of which shoot at you as you fire on them. None of the videos I found showed game play that included the controls - they were all focused solely on the screen.

Moon War arcade roller controler I'm curious to know how precise the roller controller is. [Asteroids always felt like you're shooting options were on a predetermined axis. You can't always fire exactly where you want to.] I presume it controls the direction of the ship's spin, but I wonder how it reacts to subtle movements versus a hard spin. I'm assuming that it has infinite spin, but that may not be the case.

Trackballs always seemed to give very accurate control - as in Missile Command - where a joystick might have hindered game play. I'm beginning to feel as though I need to make a pilgrimage to find a Moon War cab and see how it played back in 1981. :)
March 27, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Virtual Reality needs standards. Facebook & Oculus Rift are tiny cogs in what VR emergence requires

Oculus Rift is the latest generation of accessory to come along and stir up interest in Virtual Reality (VR) - again. Over the decades we've seen various glasses, goggles and head-mounted displays (HMD) come along with the notion of doing away with TVs, monitors and joysticks. That has yet to happen, and each resurgence of VR excitement neglects to look beyond the current hardware.

Vectrex 3D Imager Virtual Reality is not a head-mounted display. It's not a series of interconnected monitors displaying a panoramic view. It's not a pair of calibrated gloves or a forced feedback device that thumps you in the chest when you bump into a virtual object. It is not an audible "cluck" in a headset when your calibrated glove slaps a virtual chicken.

Virtual Reality is a concept, an idea, a non-existent place. It's different things to different people. I believe the standard definition is... Virtual Reality is something real or imagined that is generated by a computer. Whether I "believe in" what I'm seeing/hearing has to do with the quality of the virtual experience. If I watch a first-person perspective of someone walking on a beach in Maui, I might get a sense of what it's like to vacation there, but at no time do I forget that I'm sitting on my couch with a bag of Cheetos.

Sega VR head-mounted display A promotional DVD from Walt Disney World will show you some of Disney's best attractions and a camera mounted on the front of a roller coaster might generate a thrill, but it won't replace a Disney vacation because from the corner of my eye, I notice a wilting plant that I've forgotten to water.

A HMD, like Oculus Rift, is primarily designed to shield my real view while offering up a digitized alternative. The premise is the same for audible cues. A headset providing the sound of crashing waves might enhance that Maui visual more than the mechanical clunk as my washing machine changes cycles in the next room.

The term 'immersion' is used a lot when discussing VR. A HMD replaces local visuals. A headset replaces nearby sounds. Can we be far from Smell-o-vision and possibly a small tab on our tongue to reinforce the reality that chocolate ice cream tastes like chocolate?

Sony VR head-mounted display But Virtual Reality isn't about sitting around with a HMD strapped to your head like a TV. Virtual Reality is interactive and full of discovery. That computer generated place isn't a picture - it's 3D. So, lets go explore it!

We began to see how gyroscopes work. Turn your head to the left and your field of view shifts to the left. Did you ever try one of those VR maze games at the mall-arcade in the 90s? Turning your head made you turn and tilting let you look up or down a flight of stairs.

That seemed pretty cool until you realize your neck hurts because you're not an owl and your eyes do more tracking than your head. This also parlays into why most mobile robots have wheels, not feet. It's easier to roll and track head-motion than track retina-motion and articulate toes.

Caught in a Rift

This is my reasoning for why Virtual Reality has never caught on and become a standard. The first reason is right there - there is NO standard. People can't even agree on what VR is let alone come up with baselines, standards and some conformity. As cool as Oculus Rift is, the developer kits went out so that folks could tweak their games to make use of it. Oculus Rift - like every other attempt to implant VR - is proprietary!

VR Would you buy a DVD player that only plays documentaries? How about a car that can't be driven on interstate highways? Would you buy a cell phone that could only call and communicate with Motorola devices? Would you buy a television that only displayed NBC programming?

So, I'm guessing you won't buy a Virtual Reality system that only plays Oculus Rift games. Therein lies the challenge. It's easy to say that people buy a PS4 on which to play PS4 games, but Virtual Reality is a much broader than just gaming. Gaming is only one use for this concept/technology.

The customer-base for a proprietary HMD/platform isn't large enough to inspire Virtual Reality as a standard that manufacturers will build hardware to support and media companies will design software around. A HMD for gaming is so small in focus that calling it VR tends to skew perception of what Virtual Reality is.

So often we hear about technology and communication limitations, processor speeds and resolution issues. OK. what happens when technology catches up with our VR dreams? Lets not forget how disastrous the DVD standard once was. After nullifying Laserdisc's viability, two hi-def DVD formats arrived - HD and Blu-ray. There were 3 types of hardware - all of which were incompatible with both new formats. And don't forget Circuit City's foray into adding a modem for their truly bizarre pay-per-view DVD model - also proprietary. Thankfully that was straightened out.

VR Virtual Reality will be susceptible to the same divisions and issues if standards are created by a free-for-all marketplace where the first-to-market rules the roost until they're unseated. I went from Beta to VHS to Laserdisc to DVD. Many of us made that progressive trek - among others (LP - 8-track - cassette - CD - MP3). Should we devise another technology to send down that miserable path?

VR is wide open and has the potential to attract a myriad of different uses that could create job markets we haven't even considered. Labeling a single entry into this field as "Virtual Reality" is like examining the Transportation Industry via the Honda Civic while ignoring all other models, manufacturers, trucks, trains, planes, ships, distribution networks, highway & rail construction, etc...

It's important to be able to see the trees through the forest, but we can't label a few trees a forrest. The Oculus Rift is really cool, but it's a small entry in what needs to be a much larger field - Virtual Reality. Gaming is only one use of Virtual Reality.
March 26, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Ouya abandons “Free” component to cater to game developers... not customers

Beyond being an open platform (that welcomes hacking), the Ouya took that openness one step farther. A mandate of selling a game in the Ouya Store was the inclusion of a free component. Developers were required to have some sort of try-before-you-buy scenario. A developer could post a separate demo version or lock play past the first level without payment. But the developer had to include part of the game for free!

With a new console, creating a new platform with games that were thought of as "phone games", this was a welcome requirement for consumers. For myself, I would never offer up credit card info and buy a game that might be awful, incomplete or flawed. Offering a free component for each game gave consumers reassurance and let developers prove the awesomeness of their work.

When Ouya suddenly reversed this decision and decided developers could post whatever they wanted, I was very surprised. This forces consumers to purchase unknown games without much recourse. I wasn't happy about this decision, but when I read their rationale, I was furious!

Ouya From an article on Games Industry based on a post in Ouya's Blog, Ouya's Bob Mills assert the following reasons for letting developers choose Free-To-Play or a pay-up-front model:
  1. It's about choice. Give devs the freedom to choose. That's openness.
  2. It doesn't make sense, creatively, to put a demo in my game.
  3. Implementing demo content is not within our studio's budget.
  4. I don't really know how to implement a good demo.
A few thoughts on the flimsy list above...

1- In my opinion, openness is about disclosure. Ouya caters to many smaller devs that gamers may not be familiar with. Attracting such devs is a good thing, however a demo of their game gives me the confidence to purchase their game. That is openness.

2- A demo has little bearing on a dev's ability to deliver a compelling or creative offering. If a dev feels it doesn't make sense to incorporate a demo in their game, it may not make sense for me to spend money on their game.

3- I can understand budget constraints as far as a demo is concerned. Choosing not to offer a demo for this reason, is a risk the dev may wish to take.

4- Not knowing how to implement a demo may require some research or adding a few skills.

These reasons seem slanted in the developer's favor and don't strike me as valid reasons for breaking a sales model that set Ouya apart from other platforms. Additionally, these reasons also contend the initial reasons given by Ouya CEO, Julie Uhrman, for the Free-to-play model's importance. I hope devs will continue to provide free components to their games as I think it contributes to the open model of the Ouya and inspires trust in a (perhaps) unknown game or dev studio.

As smaller devs gain access to new channels in which to sell their games, trust with consumers will need to be forged in some form. I hope as the micro-console market expands, devs continue to grow with it via a sales model that benefits all involved - developers and gamers.
March 26, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Tamagotchi pets revive via Android & iOS with Nickelodeon's Jeannette McCurdy as ambassador

vintage Tamagotchi The popular actress, best known for her role as Sam Puckett on Nickelodeon's iCarly and Sam & Cat, will become the face of Tamagotchi L.i.f.e., representing the property and participating in a marketing campaign that will reach fans of her work as well as the millions of young adults who grew up with the Tamagotchi brand.

A Tamagotchi was initially a keychain-sized virtual pet simulation game released in Japan in 1996. It didn't take long for these virtual pets to invade the world. Over the years they have been modernized with better technology and more features until they made the leap to smart phones for Android and iOS.

Jennette McCurdy Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Brand Ambassador Nickelodeon Star Jennette McCurdy was named Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Brand Ambassador
Jennette McCurdy Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Brand Ambassador Nickelodeon Star Jennette McCurdy was named Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. Brand Ambassador

Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. for Android smart phones It's Tamagotchi's 16th anniversary this year and Bandai has created the first ever Tamagotchi L.i.f.e. App, based on the original virtual pet, and it's yours, FREE! It's just like the virtual pet you loved, only better; it's in COLOR, features more characters and higher resolution and a place to keep your Tamagotchi collection. Latest update brings you Generation 2 characters in addition to classic Tamagotchi.

Bandai has continued to make more Tamagotchi apps. The latest app, Angel, features Joan Jett's Any Weather, from her new album Unvarnished.
March 25, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The 1979 APF Imagination Machine wasn't a game console promising computing - it was both

APF Imagination Machine logo In the early days, manufacturers knew that computers could do all sorts of groundbreaking things AND play games. Some of these manufacturers made both game consoles and computers - others looked at their console offerings and wondered how to compete with computers.

As consumers, we didn't know as much about computers as we do today. Understanding memory, processing power, and comparing one device to another was a difficult task. Complicating matters were salesmen. Computer sales were much like today's car sales. Salesmen touted their brand at the expense of the competitor's. Facts were not driving many of the decisions. One thing customers did know was that computers had keyboards!

Everyone knew that game consoles did not have keyboards. Soon, nearly every game console had a "computer plan". COMING SOON! Most computers used televisions for displays, so it was a small leap of faith to attach a keyboard to a game console and - PRESTO - it's a computer! Hmmm.

Mattel Intellivision computer upgrade I can attach a keyboard to my toaster oven and it will make awesome toast. It will not however do any computing, gaming, etc. Programmers used a myriad of tricks to squeeze every ounce of power from early game consoles to get their games to market. The addition of a keyboard usually meant there would be a "learn to type" application or games that allowed more sophisticated options by nature of all the additional input possibilities of a full keyboard. Word-games also became more prolific. But, adding a keyboard did not increase memory or computing power.

Some of these "computer plans" did accomodate memory add-ons and interesting expansion capabilities, but game consoles weren't designed for the roles that computers were dominating. One of the limitations of early game consoles was connectivity to an external device - like a computer upgrade. Most planning accommodated joystick and cartridge inputs. Thus, we saw a lot of 3rd party joysticks on the market, but in terms of computer add-ons, the cart slot was often the only way to connect to the inner electronics.

APF Electronics, Inc. - TV Fun and the Imagination Machine

APF TV Fun - Pong clone In that murky time of consoles vs computers, the Imagination Machine was a combination of both, released by APF Electronics Inc. in 1979. As it's founders, Al and Phil Friedman gave their initials to this consumer electronics company that began with small electronics and shifted into gaming.

APF began a foray into gaming (1976) with a Pong clone called the APF TV Fun. This unit had a speaker and paddle-dials built-in and was able to play 4 games. It was the first unit of this genre to compete with Atari's home Pong offering, using General Instruments' Pong-on-a-chip. This integrated chip gave economic feasibility to competing with Atari - both were sold at Sears.

In 1978 APF released the 8-bit APF-MP1000 game console that had one included game (Rocket Patrol) and a cartridge slot. Unlike the TV fun, it's controllers were removable from the console (wired) and also had a numeric keypad. This was the first component of the upcoming Imagination Machine.

Like the TV Fun's competition with Atari's home Pong, the APF-MP1000 took on Atari's 2600 VCS. In '79 this game console connected with a dock creating the APF Imagination Machine which was a game console/computer hybrid. It provided a full size keyboard and tape drive.

Space Destroyers cart for APF Imagination Machine Oddly, only 15 official game cartridges were ever released by APF. This presumably spans the MP1000 and Imagination Machine. The cassette and floppy drive accessories gave other means for creating and sharing games, but there isn't too much mention of this outside of APF's newsletter.

Game Consoles vs Computers

It's interesting that APF went the route of merging their game console with a "computer" docking unit to later be released as a single unit - which was cancelled due to bankruptcy in '83. Atari seemed to want a delineation between game console and computer. The 5200 was essentially a scaled back 800 computer, but was released about 3 years later.

I've often wondered if Atari saw two distinct markets that wanted similar things, but wouldn't buy a single replacement. Perhaps they felt gamers didn't want the expense of a computer. Those who wanted a computer would reap the benefits of it's gaming power. It may have been a tool vs toy mentality.
APF Imagination Machine
The following game titles were released by APF: Artist and Easel, Backgammon, Baseball, Blackjack, Bowling / Micro Match, Boxing, Brickdown / Shooting Gallery, Budget Manager, Casino, Catena, Hangman / Tic-Tac-Toe / Doodle, Pinball / Dungeon Hunt / Blockout, Rocket Patrol, Space Destroyers, UFO / Sea Monster / Break it down / Rebuild / Shoot.

APF Imagination Machine II was more powerful all-in-one unit offering a similar gaming/computing hybrid. Coinciding with the gaming crash of '83, this followup to the Imagination Machine was canceled.
March 24, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Was Konami's Top Gunner visually coasting on Hollywood's Top Gun despite being Jackal?

Arcade flyer for Konami's Top Gunner aka Jackal When I came across this arcade flyer for Top Gunner, it looked like it was trying to ride on the success of the Top Gun film while clearly not a licensed offshoot. I discovered both entities were released in 1986. The patriotic military theme and the man & woman in the jeep seemed reminiscent of Top Gun's Tom Cruise (before we hated him) & Kelly McGillis dynamic.

I wasn't familiar with Top Gunner, so I did a search to see what various arcade databases had to say. Instantly, I discovered an NES game that I spent hours playing while sitting on the floor in front of the TV - Jackal! Jackal was released for the NES, in North America, in Sept. 1988. I'd never seen Top Gunner in the arcades, so I didn't make the connection.

Apparently, Top Gunner was the North American name given to Tokushu Butai Jackal (translates as 'Special Force Jackal') which was released in Japanese arcades and commonly known as Jackal. In addition to the NES, Jackal was ported to several platforms including: Famicom, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, IBM PC, Mobile phone, and XBLA. The last 2 ports on that list show the lasting value of Jackal. I still play it on NES and via ROM on my Ouya. Top Gun DVD

I recently wrote an article about Sega rebranding it's 1976 arcade game, Moto-Cross, as Fonz to boost it's popularity via the TV show Happy Days. It's hard to imagine that Konami wasn't doing the same thing with the change from Jackal to Top Gunners - and the similarly patriotic visuals.

Arcade flyer for Konami's Top Gunner aka Jackal There's nothing wrong with this (in my opinion), I simply find it interesting how similarities like this occurred. The game's name was changed from Jackal and this flyer was used to seemingly liken Top Gunners to the blockbuster film. Juxtapose that with today's world of legal battles... how far would such a practice get today? There would be infringement lawsuits being filed! We live in complicated times - times that we make unnecessarily complicated.
March 23, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure takes your Android phone back to 1983 by way of various retro consoles

8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure Facebook likes to suggest things to me. As I scroll through my feed, they'll occasionally interrupt with a page they feel deserves my attention. I like to think they are hand-picking fascinating things for my betterment, but I know they are simply honing their knowledge of me to increase the value of selling me out to random advertisers.

When they suggested the 8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure page, I gave Mark Zuckerberg a hint of my inner workings - I clicked and liked the page!

Seeing the icon of Jim and the mention of "8 bit" and I was on my way. Mobile gaming hasn't yet won me over, but when presented with 8-bit styled games, I have to admit I like to have a look. In this case, I'm very glad I did. This game is fun on several levels from great imagery, interesting game play and good controls.

8-Bit Jim's Tribute to Retro Gaming

The images and sound are tribute to retro gaming, but that connection goes deeper. As you wander from place to place you'll encounter various elements of gaming's history with themed areas. The game shifts into wonderfully recreated styles of various retro computers and game consoles. One room is clearly Speccy themed while another looks like you stumbled into the Atari 2600's Adventure game. You'll also recognize Commodore influences among others.

8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure screenshot 8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure screenshot 8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure screenshot 8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure screenshot Click the image above for a slideshow of the retro-themed rooms! Episodes 1 and 2 are available via free download, with a preview for episode 3. All 6 episodes are part of the paid, full version. Another facet of this game that appeals to me is the lack of permissions. Nearly any app I install entails agreeing to a page or two of permissions that make me feel as though I'm authorizing access to everything for everyone! Not so with 8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure installation.

8-Bit Jim's Island Adventure From their website:
Eight Bit Jim is on an adventure. His Pixel Jump-jet has run out of fuel and he needs to find some on a desert island. But it's not that simple. He must run around on PLATFORMS, jump over BADDIES and collect COINS, which is how his days usually turn out.
It's almost like the last 30 years didn't happen. This game doesn't benefit from recent advances in graphics, sound effects and AI. As far as Eight Bit Jim is concerned, it's still 1983.


There's not a lot of info about the developer. At this writing, this seems to be their only game. Outside of the aforementioned Facebook page, there's not much info out there. That's a shame because this is a slick game with a cool tribute to retro gaming... I want them to make more games! :)
March 22, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Redefining cool doesn't necessitate going back to the future. Data East was laden with cool

The Back to the Future pinball table from Data East was released in 1990 a year after the second BTTF movie.

Data East - Back to the Future pinball About 3,000 Back to the Future pinball machines were produced by Data East. Most of the voice samples come from the 2nd Back to the Future movie. It has a 2-line, 16-character-per-line LCD display. Michael J. Fox did not allow his likeness to appear on the game - the "Marty McFly" that appears is a likeness of Paul Faris's (artist) son.
Christopher Lloyd next to a DeLorean wearing Google Glass and playing Marty McFly's Gibson guitar Christopher Lloyd next to a DeLorean wearing Google Glass and playing Marty McFly's Gibson guitar.

Christopher Lloyd has a pretty good grasp on cool ;)

Data East - aka DECO

Known more for video games than pinball, Data East was a Japanese game developer and publisher, operating from 1976 to 2003, with offices in North America. My first exposure to Data East was with 1982's Burger Time arcade game. Since the arcade release, I've loved playing it on the Atari 2600, NES, and on the Wii via Data East Arcade Classics and the rebooted release from MonkeyPaw, BurgerTime World Tour. But Data East made many other games.

Data East logo Beginning as an electronics company with ties to gaming, Data East saw the potential of the growing arcade market and began developing games. Their first original game was Astro Fighter (1980), a 2D space shooter. They survived the test of time where many other devs went out of business for a variety of reasons. In the middle of their reign, they developed pinball tables between 1987 and 1994.

Data East was as much an innovator in pinball development even though they are known more for Video games. They were the first to incorporate stereo sound in a pinball table (Laser War) and first to incorporate a Dot Matrix Display (DMD) in Checkpoint.

Data East's pinball endeavors have ties to Stern Pinball from the era in which Stern was engaged in both video games (Berzerk in 1980) and pinball. I'm not certain of the relationship, but I believe Data East was always a separate entity, but had mutual management of it's pinball development with Stern. Data East's pinball tables often came at high internal cost due to the licensing deals they made. Many of their tables were based on Hollywood movie IPs. They also make custom (one-off) tables for the rich & famous.

Many speculated that the high cost of licensing weakened Data East. Interestingly, Stern Pinball seems to be doing well with much the same high-profile model for it's pinball tables. Stern has recently made tables to commemorate the Ford Mustang, Star Trek and rock bands Metallica and AC/DC. Economic times are always changing. It's too bad this strategy didn't help Data East fend off bankruptcy.
March 21, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

New Mexico EPA takes a cautious stance to minimize extraterrestrial contamination in Alamogordo landfill dig

Resolving the Atari landfill legend sounds like an episode of Myth Busters. Adam & Jamie shovel up a small pile of dirt, see black plastic shards, compare them to existing Atari cartridges and BAM... mystery solved. If only it were that easy. Who signs your permission slip when you want to dig up a defunct landfill?

No Trespassing sign in Alamogordo, NM Yes, this image has been PhotoShop'd ET for Atari 2600 The Mayor and town council saw free publicity and potential tourism dollars and gave this project a resounding, "Hell yeah!". Then the local environmental agency got wind of this diesel-powered dig party and concluded random digging in a landfill might not be such a great idea.

They are denying access to the landfill until a Waste Excavation Plan (WEP) is submitted. There is concern about toxic elements that may exist. This Alamogordo landfill was initially used in the 1920s and shut down in the late 80's. A subsequent study in 2004 discovered elevated chemical levels which have somehow become relevant in 2014.

Fuel Industries and LightBox Interactive, financed by Microsoft, have been put on hold and are not allowed to dig. Among several non specified "issues" with the WEP was it's generic approach to the dig itself. The Solid Waste and Ground Water Bureau want a new WEP with site specific elements. It's hard to say if this is bureaucratic nonsense or unpreparedness on the part of the dig organizers. Time will tell... But by the time it does - will anyone really want to know?

Adding a layer of intrigue...

Maybe this legend has become too real. Once you roll out the excavators, some of the mystique of the myth is lost. Maybe we need to perpetrate some net-tastic disinformation and build up "The Curse of ET." Maybe the dig began, then overnight everyone disappeared. Excavators sat still - the engines running - but all the people were gone. Vanished. Rumor had it that the ghost of ET came to avenge those who claimed ET The Extraterrestrial was the worst game ever and dared to disturb the remains of his game.

Lets revoke some reality and add some mystery to the Atari landfill legend. :)

Maybe the Atari landfill legend should remain a mystery or evolve into “The Curse of E.T.”

March 21, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Wondering if the Oculus Rift will appeal to the Adult Industry? Ariel Rebel likes it

When you see Ariel Rebel (NSFW) discussing her first Oculus Rift experience, don't shrug it off. She's a tech savvy gal and may find a way to leverage VR in a way no one else had thought of!

Ariel Rebel tweets about Oculus Rift Ariel Rebel with the Oculus Rift It's more than "dirty movies". Those who underestimate the adult industry always seem surprised when they make better use of a new technology. From e-commerce to streaming video, the adult industry did it first and pioneered business models that were later copied by others.

Their "unique" content has made (VHS) and broken (Laserdisc) technologies and driven others to new heights. As VR, in the form of HMDs and Google Glass type hardware, surges you can be certain that the Rebels and others will quickly adopt it. Remember not to be too surprised when the latest product innovation has a XXX rating. :)
March 20, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

WalMart gets out the big guns to oust GameStop from the used video game throne

WalMart is a large powerful force and GameStop will need a strong lan to not be obliterated Hailing from the days when I had a Funcoland near my house, I value the used game market tremendously. Through used games I've discovered many IPs & franchises I've gone on to collect.

I love indie game stores, but my area is pretty sparse on that front, so I rely on GameStop for used games. I'll buy new titles now and then, but I love buying a stack of cheap games and racing home to play!

GameStop has long been the leader in used game sales in both sales quantity and margin. Used games make up nearly 30% of their total sales. That isn't too surprising - what other chains exist that are dedicated to games? They're sort of in their own category, but they are not alone. WalMart is looking to seriously get into the used game market. They tried a pilot program in 2009, but shut it down. They're back and rolling it out across 31,000 US stores.

WalMart vs GameStop

WalMart games Let it be known - there is no versus. WalMart isn't re-entering the used game market to take a sliver of the business from GameStop and assorted indie shops. They're in it to dominate. Behind the smiley-faced rollback signs and happy greeters is a visceral management team that divide and conquer. Their best weapon is their size. Think about the buying power of an indie game shop vs GameStop vs WalMart.

That indie shop might buy 40 copies of a new game. GameStop might by 80,000 and WalMart has the resources and customer base to buy 400,000 units. Who do you think gets the best volume discount? The conglomerate that can afford to knock a few bucks off enough products to have massive traffic on any given day. GameStop and WalMart have online stores that may be able to take sales from Amazon, but they lack the backend infrastructure and experience Amazon commands.

A gaming store would seem to have an edge by being exclusive in the industry, however, WalMart can extend credit from a used game and allow the customer to use that credit against an unrelated product with a higher margin. At GameStop, the margins have less range unless you're talking about a PS4 game versus a Star Wars plush toy. But Walmart can up-sell the credit in a much broader sense. Mom doesn't want to go to GameStop, but the family always needs something from WalMart's inventory.

From a recent New York Times article: J. Paul Raines, chief executive of GameStop, predicted that Walmart's entry into the category would bring more attention to the used-game business. "We've been at this for 15 years," he said. "It's in our DNA. We are a very strong competitor in this space.

GameStop games Experience isn't really the key ingredient here. Knowing how to do something in a superior manner has little effect when the competition stomps you flat before your plan launches. WalMart is a powerful entity. Their purchasing department doesn't negotiate terms and pricing, they dictate them. Don't be fooled.

WalMart is huge and that size enables them to get their way. If a manufacturer is prone to sell 10 million units to WalMart, but WalMart won't meet their price... that company stands to be stuck with those 10 million unsold units while WalMat gets them elsewhere. Most purchasing agreements are small enough so these differences don't have lasting effects. WalMart is huge and these deals are not paramount to their existence, but can severely cripple a smaller manufacturer or distributor to whom large deals can make or break.

That $60 price I complain about is an MSRP value that most retailers adhere to. I suspect WalMart honor it as well. Where they win is the credit they can offer versus that of GameStop. In the used market, you can play your own numbers to suit your needs. WalMart can give more credit and have it impact them less if they can flip that credit to a different department. GameStop has games and the flips tend to rely on the value of the credit - which is generally ridiculous. Most pricing I've seen from GameStop can be bested via a yard sale. On the sales end, GameStop only discounts used games a buck or two if they are actively selling the same title as new. WaMart is definitely large enough to trump that!

WalMart has stated that they will only take in games from Wii, PS3, Xbox, and current gen games - no hardware. GameStop has discussed selling "retro games" via the website. This means they'll likely be selling off the PS2 and GameCube discs that haven't yet been sent to the landfill. This separation in tact won't likely save GameStop from the overbearing massiveness of WalMart. WalMart will almost certainly give better credit for trade-ins and Mom's will always opt to go to WalMart over GameStop.

I have plenty of reservations about GameStop, but would hate to see them fall to WalMart, however, I don't think they have the market or power to survive WalMart invading their turf.

walMart

Box-Stores

Here's why I don't like box-stores. Ignoring their large size and incessant need to sell everything to everyone without having a staff to match, they hold no value to the communities in which they exist. They use no local goods or services. All money goes back to headquarters. This pulls money out of your community which is a bad thing in the long run. These massive stores may save you a few bucks here and there, but they slowly ruin your community's economy. Towns are microcosms of larger systems. When goods and services are locally exchanged, there is a greater good in that area. When money is funneled out of the local economy, everyone suffers.

These stores don't care about customers. They care about money. If you buy games at WalMart, they'll only take your money. Compare that experience with your local indie game shop. The difference is stark. The indie shop offers information, advice and friendship. Box-stores offer a self-checkout lane. They are all about money. For me, the shopping experience holds value in the way in which I spend my time. Saving a few bucks to bask in the florescent chill of anonymity at a stadium-sized store defeats the reason I left my house in the first place.

Shop local. Know your merchants. Being friends with the guy at the indie game shop has perks that Walmart will never grasp.
March 19, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Fashion designers embrace armor-inspired designs despite negativity toward “sexy armor” in gaming

A police officer wearing a bulletproof vest has a much better chance of survival in a gun battle than the office wearing only a poly-blend shirt. Death is gender neutral and bullets kill without discrimination. This is likely why we don't hear news interviews with female officers crediting their bullet proof bikini top as a life saver.
Sexy armor sexy armor
The notion of a protective vest has to do with coverage and protection, not style. Thus that aforementioned bulletproof bra does not have a matching thong. Not true in gaming!

Scantily clad female characters have been a staple of gaming since the female form was technologically feasible via gaming hardware. Lara Croft came to us as a series of polygons that could be player-controlled in a digital environment. These days she has all the curves that Angelina Jolie was able to muster on movie screens.
Poison from Final Fight
We were introduced to Poison in the Final Fight games and later Street Fighter. Poison has been cosplayed by many donning her skimpy outfit. What is rarely discussed is her ability to defeat enemies while wearing high heels!

Lara and Poison are just 2 examples of female characters that are not realistically dressed for their endeavors, but have evolved regardless as technology turned blocky pixels into smooth curves.

When you get into armor in gaming, all rules go out the window. From metal thongs to chainmail halter-tops, the outfits (armor?) get kind of crazy. And who loves crazy fashion? Fashion designers!

As designers search for the next big thing, often they'll seek new materials - like metal. Although derided for insufficient protection, gamers know that armor can be sexy. That fact resonated with a few designers at Fashion Week. Infusing styles that conjure medieval-age styles, designers are able to create modern garments that evoke a raw, yet stylish piece.

Chainmail dress Chainmail dress.
Armor inspired dress Armor inspired dress.

Betabrand's Doctoral Models

If donning an evening gown made of chainmail, or a metallic party dress, doesn't fit you fashion sense, try an erudite outfit from Betabrand. If you tire of unrealistic styles and the models who wear them, you'll be relieved to know that Betabrand's models all have Doctorate degrees. No PhD - no modeling for you.

betabrand's PhD models Before you get too excited about Betabrand's realism in modeling, you should know they are the brand that introduced Pinstripe Dress Pant Sweatpants for about $130.
March 18, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Sega made “The Fonz” as cool on arcade screens as he was on Happy Days by re-branding Moto-Cross

The Fonz arcade flyer - 1976 The Fonz arcade flyer Growing up in the 70's, it was hard to be unaffected by the Fonz. As a kid, Arthur Fonzarelli, from TV's Happy Days, was the pinnacle of Cool. Despite this, I was a sensible kid. When the Fonz "action figure" arrived on toy store shelves, I was more than aware that my G.I. Joes were much cooler than the Fonz. What astounds me is that Happy Days aired from January 1974 to September 1984.
Happy Days logo
Is it possible that Fonzie, played by actor Henry winkler, was on the tube when I was still in High School?

That astounds me almost as much as discovering there was an arcade game centered around the Fonz and his motorcycle! In 1976 Sega created a motorcycle racing game that was later re-focused and branded around Fonzie. It was released only 2 years after this American TV show debuted, but Fonzie wasn't introduced as a character until the 2nd season. That dude was pretty cool.

Fonz - The Arcade Game

Fonz is a motorcycle racing game where the course approaches from the horizon (top of the monitor) with twists and turns. You have to stay on course and avoid hitting other racers. Passing 1000 kilometers activates extended play adjustable from 45 to 100 seconds by the arcade operator.

It's interesting that the game is controlled with a motorcycle handlebar interface. In the mid 70's there was no standard or expectation about controls. Manufacturers could let their creativity go wild. The Fonz controls went so far as to allow players to twist the throttle for speed which also moved you farther up the screen - allowing less time to react to turns in the road. Crashes sent forced-feedback to the handlebars. Good stuff!

The Fonz The Operations/Service Manual is full of interesting features. I would have thought that an arcade cab of the mid 70s would be moderately simple in set-up, implementation and operator adjustments. Not so with the Fonz! Both the road's swing width (curves) and swing frequency was adjustable on the PCB. Other variants like the road's shoulder widths and the size of the motorcycles were adjustable to vary crowding (increased difficulty) on the course. An operator could also alter the player's motorcycle and/or the other racers.

The Fonz arcade game used an 8-track tape deck to produce motorcycle sounds.
Remember the use of static or white-noise to simulate "rocket" sounds in video games. I recall quite a a few Atari 2600 racing games that generated engine sounds that lacked the guttural sound of an engine. We excused this anomaly in exchange for the thrill of racing a car on the family television. But Fonzie's motorcycle shouldn't sound like static! He was cool. His bike was cool. You can't absorb his cool factor if it sounds like static.

Sega employed the handlebars with a throttle and forced-feedback to provide an authentic experience. They tout realism right down to the sound. A sound unit, separate from the usual onboard chips, used tape to deliver realistic motorcycle sounds. The sound unit employed an 8-Track tape deck and had it's own 5W power amp, control amp, pre amp and volume controls.

Sega Moto-Cross (Fonz)

Which came first - the chicken or the egg... or the Fonz? If you already have a motorcycle arcade game in 1976 and you wanted to increase it's cool-factor, linking it to Arthur Fonzarelli was the way to do it. Sega did just that! They had an arcade game, Moto-Cross that they probably felt would be more popular if it were likened to the Fonz. They rebranded the cabinet art with the Fonz and out the door it went!

Sega Moto-Cross arcade flyer - 1976 Sega Moto-Cross arcade flyer

The promotional flyer designed for North America shows, Explorer (1974) and Rodeo (1976) pinball machines in the background. Neither one was released outside of Japan.
March 17, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Should I “Re-Fun” my tax refund or save it for GameStop's Back To School sale?

I grew up in an era when a tax refund was this yearly opportunity to even your odds. Maybe it was a downpayment on a new car. Maybe you could pay off your current car loan. Maybe you need a new bed. What about depositing it in your savings account? These days, places like GameStop encourage us to spend that yearly chunk-of-change on a new game console!

GameStop tax refund This scenario catches me off guard every year as retailers vie for whatever money you may have. Doesn't anyone want to pay off some credit card debt rather than spending it immediately?

The same is true of Back To School sales. When I was a kid, such sales netted new pants and shirts. These days, nearly every retailer has a Back To School sale full of things that have no purpose in school. As a kid, those sales were for my clothing, pencils, and notebooks. These days, parents are asked to buy paper towels, markers and toilet paper for the first day of school. Schools are underfunded and decide to re-sod the football field. I await the year that each child is required to arrive on the first day of school with a pallet of roofing shingles.

I expect retailers to be greedy and lure us in each Christmas holiday season, but I grow tired of these tactics at random inappropriate times throughout the year. I'm not Re-Fun-ing my refund! I love video games and I buy them as often as I can, but retailers need to adjust to the new (awful) economy too - just like the rest of us!
March 16, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Chief Science Officer Kiki Stockhammer: the original geek girl for NewTek's Amiga-based Video Toaster

NewTek's Video Toaster logo In the early 1990s I attended the MacWorld Expos as part of my job. At one event I saw a large crowd gathered around a woman who appeared to be sitting in a lifeguard chair - raised high above the ground. She was giving a presentation on an enormous video screen.

This screen's content didn't look like your typical Mac application. There were controls all over the screen and she was switching to screens with still more controls. Out of curiosity I went closer to listen in. I should also admit she was gorgeous and had bright red hair.

In today's world of political-correctness, we're not supposed to mention a woman's physical attributes, but a staple of nearly all trade shows was the "Booth Babe". This dubious title went to the cache of pretty girls who wold hang out at vendor booths and smile and hand out informational flyers and packets. They were often scantily clad and rarely knew much more than the name of the product being showcased.

NewTek's Video Toaster board & software This red-haired woman (Kiki Stockhammer) was clearly not a booth babe. She was commanding the presentation, fielding questions from the crowd and expounding on the virtues of video editing on NewTek's Video Toaster. At the time I was getting my head around desktop publishing and here she was likening the same ease-of-use to video editing.

I immediately discovered Video Toaster User magazine and began fantasizing about buying an Amiga. I often wondered why an Amiga product was at MacWorld. I believe I heard rumors of a Video Toaster NuBus Card, but I don't think it ever came to market. In any event, Macworld Expo was always a good place to showcase innovation.

NewTek's Video Toaster board & software Desktop video today is obviously light years ahead of the 1990 Video Toaster. But the presentation I saw, all those years ago, made me see the possibilities even though I knew little about video technology - especially where computers were involved. I bought the book, Mastering Toaster Technology by Brent Malnack and Phil Kurz. That book gave me enough info to delve deeper and see if I could afford all the needed equipment.

Even priced around $5,000, the Video Toaster offered many of the features available only via $!00,000 rigs. Just as programs like Pagemaker and innovations in the home printer market brought desktop publishing to the masses, the Video Toaster did the same for video. It was used in professional broadcasting studios as well as by filmmakers and hobbyists. People began to see "Toaster" effects on TV and in movies. as some of it's video switches and transitions were easily recognizable. A staple of Kiki's presentations included a demo of the "Kiki Kick". Female legs would sweep the screen, transitioning from one feed to another.

Professional skateboarder turned filmmaker, Stacy Peralta used the Video Toaster for some of his infamous Bones Brigade videos for Powell Peralta. Pro Skater Tony Haw also followed suit and began using the Video Toaster to make skateboard videos. It was also used on The Tonight Show for special effects.

Video Toaster Evolution

Times have changed... Buy any Mac today and it has everything you need to capture, edit and distribute video. That's quite a feat from the early days when you needed time base correctors for each deck/feed attached to the Amiga's Video Toaster. It was initially an elaborate and sophisticated video switch box. Part of the Video Toaster's glory was it's software, LightWave 3D. It became so successful, NewTek began selling it as a standalone product.

Reading up on NewTek fascinated me. To me, they seemed to have a bit of the "Apple" spirit. They were cutting edge and having a lot of fun with it. Using Ms. Stockhammer as a spokeswoman was very clever in an age where that was relatively unheard of. One of their engineers was the brother of actor/comedian Dana Carvey which accounts for him wearing a Video Toaster t-shirt in Wayne's World 2.

After Star Trek, Wil Wheaton briefly worked for NewTek as a Tester on the Video Toaster 4000.
The first Video Toaster model came to market in December 1990 as a board compatible with the Amiga 2000. Requiring the main video slot negated compatibility with other Amiga models where bus slots were typically used for such expansion. The Video Toaster needed the bus slots for time Base Correctors (TBC) to sync video signals.

It wasn't long before the Video Toaster was being sold as a package with an Amiga. Amiga owners were among the first to dive into this amazing technology. The Amiga's system clock was exactly twice the frequency of NTSC, making it easy to sync the two.

Wil Wheaton as a Video Toaster punk One of the major upgrades to the Video Toaster was employing an Amiga 4000 - again making use of it's video slot. With built-in Paint and Character Generation (CG), the Toaster 4000 delivered the power of broadcast studios in a small affordable package.

In another Hollywood connection, Wil Wheaton moved to Topeka, Kansas, after leaving Star Trek, to work at NewTek where he worked as a product tester doing quality control for the Video Toaster 4000. The next entry was the Video Toaster Flyer which enabled non-linear video editing and used hard drives to store video and audio. 2 SCSI buses were used to stor video and a third was for audio. This was a large step from needing 3 VTRs with previous systems.

As video editing became more prominent outside of TV production studios, the style exploded with dynamic edits and creativity beyond what anyone had seen. This technology was in the hands of artists who took a much different approach to video than TV studio executives. What arrived on video tapes didn't look like TV - it was insanely amazing! When you though desktop publishing was a revolution, desktop video delivered tenfold the revolution.

Technology eventually outpaced these products from NewTek. By 2009, the Video Toaster entered a phase-out by NewTek as they transitioned to HD systems. In December 2010, the discontinuation of VT was announced, marking the end of the Video Toaster as a stand alone product. TriCaster systems based on the VT platform were still produced until August 2012, when the TriCaster STUDIO was replaced by the TriCaster 40. This officially marked the end of the Video Toaster.

Warp 11 - Borgasm with Kiki Stockhammer Suck My Spock by Warp 11

Full Circle via Warp 11

Kiki Stockhammer left NewTek in 94 with one of their co-founders to start up a company called Play. She became the iconic first image of Play's product, Snappy. Her skills at trade show presentations was put to good use for Play's next foray into a video, being marketed as a TV station in a box. She took on another role when a few employees started a band that focused entirely on Star Trek, called Warp 11. As their Chief Science Officer, Kiki Stockhammer was on keyboards and vocals. The material ranged from satire to profane and punk rock to blues. They released at least six albums and gained a bit of notoriety via a roast of William Shatner.

Play met it's demise and Kiki went back to NewTek promoting their TV station in a box concept - the TriCaster. Next time you see a really well-made YouTube video, remember that such a creation would not have been possible without the path forged by NewTek's Video Toaster brining video editing to the desktops of those with the creative passion to make something amazing!

See what the Video Toaster could do...
March 15, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Disney Infinity Day at GameStop yields Phineas, Perry & a poster. No sign of a playset or Ferb

Disney Infinity Day at GameStop invitation This morning I dragged myself out of bed early to be the first on line at my local GameStop for Disney Infinity Day. I've done this before and know the drill. I did the same thing last October when GameStop had early-release rights for the Jack Skellington figure.

Similar to last time, I arrived a few minute before the store opened. The security gate was down and there wasn't a single person nearby. I assume mass emailings from Disney and GameStop and web site promotion might entice a few people to show up. Nope. Not a one.

I always think there will be a long line of rabid fans eager to get a new DI figure. Granted, this is only a preview release of 2 figures, but even my local Toys R Us was empty on the morning of the Disney Infinity game release day.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a huge fan of the Toybox part of Disney Infinity and find it strange that they release so many figures that have no corresponding Playset. I decided to go to the store out of love for Phineas & Feb and the free poster. Last October they gave away a free Jack Skellington poster printed on heavy card stock. It was such thick paper, it was difficult to get it to roll up. This time they went the cheaper route and printed it on the sort of thin paper that most posters are printed on - although it is very bright and vibrant.

Ten minutes before my local GameStop opened on Disney Infinity Day Ten minutes before my local GameStop opened on Disney Infinity Day... no one was there - except me. It was only the launch of 2 Phineas & Ferb characters (sans playset), but it was an exclusive preview release only available at GameStop.
Phineas & Ferb poster from GameStop Free Phineas & Agent P poster with purchase of the Phineas & Agent P 2-pack.

I'm still trying to figure out how many playsets are accounted for on the first game disc. I've heard that Star Wars will be part of a new game. The starter pack came with 3 playsets- Cars, Incredibles, and Monsters Inc. There are 3 others, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lone Ranger, and Toy Story. With the release of so many figures that seemingly have no playset, I wonder if the matching worlds for these characters (playsets) are planned for the current game release or maybe planned for a future release. Regardless of actual release date, the game that was originally sold in august 2013 has to include code for all the characters to be released for it.

Skylanders is similar in that the game was released with an initial set of characters. As characters are released months later, they had to be coded into the original game. Thus, the Pumpkin-head Eye Brawl looks like the regular Eye Brawl because the Halloween theme was not coded onto the original game. The pumpkin head look is a cosmetic feature of the figure, but is not displayed in the game.

I like many of the playsets we've bought for Disney Infinity. The playsets let the characters "play" in their own environment, whereas the Toybox is a customizable area that can contain all sorts of detritus. Its hard to say if any more playsets will arrive on retail shelves for characters that currently lack them. Worse is the idea that Disney may not be planning on releasing playsets for all of the characters they deploy for Disney Infinity! I hope that's not the case, but I have yet to see a pattern of progression within this competition to Skylanders.
March 14, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:
March 14, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding game brings some 8bit “Flappy” to iOS & Android

Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding game I'm a sucker for retro 8-bit and skateboarding. Combine the two... you have my attention! Such is the case with Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding which made a recent debut on Android and iOS mobile platforms. Hailing from 4DX Media this game seems to come in the wake of Flappy Bird which created a genre in which navigating a simplistic maze was elevated to insane-difficulty via the control mechanism. Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding is much more difficult than it looks - which is part of the fun.

It's billed as an 8Bit / Retina mashup of graphics. You control a pixilated skater attempting to ollie various heights, being careful not to hit the walls. Just as you had to quickly figure out how many flaps it took to get your bird to the right altitude, this game uses the same premise but you power up your ollie by pressing the screen. Letting go executes your ollie, but you need to gauge how long to hold (build up your po) so your skater clears the obstacle without a painful run-in with the wall or ceiling.

Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding game screen Along the way you accumulate in-game cash. however, with the difficulty of the game, I'm not sure how much of an effect that will have. I like the idea of holding to build pop for your ollie - that's a nice diversion on the "flap" model and lends logically to skateboarding. They say practice makes perfect, but my scores on this game were as dismal as on Flappy Bird. But the lure to keep trying is strong and it's a fun game.

4DX Media also has Flappy Fish and Thrusty Bird - both of which follow the "Flappy" ideology of defeating a gravitational pull via screen taps. Ollie Pop Retro Skateboarding game screen To be honest, I like this genre or easy-play insane-difficulty games. I guess Flappy bird's success has spawned an endless stream of similar games. I happen to like those from 4DX Media.

They offer enough variation in play to make each one somewhat unique and fun to play.
March 14, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Lady Gaga's puke performance at SXSW is no match for Baby Metal's Jpop/metal infusion

As the SXSW festival grows from being an indie music event to more of a techie gathering, elements from video games, technology and music colide for a week in Austin, TX. In a shift away from pure indie music, the SXSW festival had several major headliners including Lady Gaga who decided to up the ante with a bizarre performance involving an artist whose medium is vomit. After being puked on, some Lady Gaga fans were somewhat critical. Go figure.

So how is it that people can also be up in arms about Baby Metal!?!

Lady Gaga at SXSW

Like it or not, layering Jpop over death metal riffs is genius. I love what Baby Metal is doing!

Baby Metal
March 13, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Smaller than Raspberry Pi MAME cabs, JW Custom Arcades are less functional but very cool

Replica model arcade cabinets by JW Custom Arcades Picture 2, JW Custom Arcades Old or discarded PCs used to be prime targets for redistribution as dedicated MAME machines. Retro gamers loaded arcade ROMs, built cabinets and attached arcade quality joysticks and buttons in an effort to recreate arcade dreams in-a-box. Often a keyboard and mouse were stashed nearby for such mundane tasks as shutting down and occasional system crashes. Then the box box became smaller!

Raspberry Pi was conceived as an affordable computer that would inspire children who may not otherwise have access to a computer. It was to reach a broad range of kids and draw them into the digital world where careers can be made and amazing imagination flourishes. The designers took the notion of affordable to heart. The "credit card sized" Raspberry Pi was to sell for $25.

You never know where the next great idea will come from, so better to broaden the field by exposing as many people as possible to the Raspberry Pi's unique aspects. Along came the retro gamers. The allure of a micro computer that could replace the bulky PCs being cannibalized for MAME-readiness was too great. The footprint of an arcade cabinet has shrunk again - via the Raspberry Pi. I'm all for the miniaturization of MAME innards as long as I can still attach arcade-quality sticks and buttons to wail on.

At the same time, I hope interest in Raspberry Pi by retro gamers will help propel it's primary intent - reaching children who will become better prepared to change the world with great ideas!

JW Custom Arcades

But not all arcade games are the same. Some are in Barcades. Some cater to retro gamers. Some display in HD. Some spit out those dreadful redemption tickets. However, JW Custom Arcades (Facebook) are really cool replicas of infamous arcade games! As is sometimes the case, I'm years late to this party and his amazing arcade creations may no longer be available. Still his work is well worth a look. He achieves astounding detail!

Replica model arcade cabinets by JW Custom Arcades From his jW Custom Arcades Facebook page:
I make miniature Arcade Machines as accessories for actions figures or simply for display. All the cabs are made from a stiff BASSWOOD and are made by hand by me. Cabs do not "work" and are for display only.

You'll find some pics on his Facebook page, but there are others on Flickr.
March 12, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Grasshopper Manufacture's Lollipop Chainsaw has reached the one million copies sold milestone

Lollipop Chainsaw sold one million copies tweet Grasshopper Manufacture's Lollipop Chainsaw has reached the million copies sold milestone, 21 months after it went on sale for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360!

Lollipop Chainsaw sold one million copies Released on June 12, 2012 (North America), Lollipop Chainsaw stars one of gaming's most delightful zombie killers - Juliet Starling. As a cheerleader, she has a variety of moves that are upgraded as she achieves goals with her boyfriend, Nick - a dismembered head attached to her waist. With grace and poise she shreds zombies with a chainsaw. Rainbow and glitter abound making this a fun surreal game.

She was brought to life by Suda 51 and voiced by Tara Strong. You may also know Tara's voice from her other voice roles including Harley Quinn from Batman: Arkham, Dil Pickles from Rugrats and All Grown Up!, Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, Timmy Turner and Poof from The Fairly OddParents, Raven from Teen Titans and Teen Titans Go!, and Ben Tennyson from Ben 10.

We highly recommend this game for a uniquely different hack 'n slash zombie experience.
March 11, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

As With AC/DC & Metallica, Stern Pinball puts it's mark on the Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang pinball machines from Stern As creators of Berzerk, Stern Electronics will always hold a special place in my heart every time Evil Otto chases me. But Stern Pinball has always been a separate entity. As other large companies in the pinball world came and went, Stern has stayed dedicated to pinball and is one of the last American manufacturers.

I've always felt they outlasted other manufacturers by finding creatively lucrative ways to insert pinball into new venues. Finding a video arcade game these days can be a challenge. Finding a pinball machine can be even more challenging. They don't go hand-in-hand with video games the way they used to. Any time I find a pinball machine, I always try to drop a quarter and relive the glory days when arcades were hopping and pinball was an integral part of their success!

Pinball hasn't been ruined

Despite all the technical evolutions in developing pinball, I love that it's physical elements live on. You still have a physical ball working with and against gravity. The electronics have improved and enabled new levels of play, but they've never taken away pinball's physical elements!

Pinball could easily have gone the digital route and all the real-time physics converted to pixels and algorithms. There's something magical about giving the flipper buttons a few pumps as the ball settles into the field. There have certainly been several home releases for game consoles with pinball themes and tables. I'm thankful that these games can be enjoyed at home without someone converting the whole genre to pixels. Their electronic intricacy, melded with the rolling balls, makes pinball a unique experience worthy of it's origins.

Stern Pinball aligns with greatness

Stern has a great record for finding powerful tie-ins for their creations. I always loved the Kiss pinball machine from Bally in 1978. An iteration of it made it's way to the PlayStation as Kiss Pinball. Stern has created both AC/DC and Metallica tables that mutually aim the spotlight on both artist and manufacturer.

AC/DC Luci pinball machine from Stern AC/DC "Luci" pinball machine from Stern.
Metallica pinball machine, by Stern Metallica pinball machine, by Stern, with James Hetfield and the table's designer.

Ford Mustang pinball machine from Stern By pairing Stern Pinball with such mega acts, its easy to see how they have forged ahead where other manufactures were unable. Interestingly, I think such relationships are beneficial to both parties. But Stern went bigger with a series of pinball machines from the Motor City. They worked out a deal to promote Ford Mustangs via a new pinball game featuring the Mustang. They created tables to commemorate the Mustang Boss 302, Boss 351 and Boss 429, and a limited-edition game paying tribute to the original Mustang and the new 2015 model.

Ford's media unit worked out this deal for the upcoming 2015 Mustang as well as tribute ames to other popular Mustang models. These models were shown at the 2014 Chicago Auto Show. The cabinet and backboard artwork that pay tribute to 50 years of Mustang. Stern is one of several companies that is celebrating the 50 year anniversary of the Mustang.

Renown for their quality, Stern is continually positioning themselves with other companies that enable them to continue doing what so few companies are doing these days - making amazing pinball machines with cutting edge technology and game play!

If only they'd relinquish the rights to Berzerk... I'd love a reboot!
March 10, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Think you have a CIB or NIB Nintendo NES game? Not without this :)

Is that Complete In Box or New In Box NES game really complete without the styrofoam insert?

Styrofoam insert from a Nintendo NES game
When I was buying NES games off the shelf at local game stores in the mid to late 1980s, I often wondered why the box wasn't smaller as I casually tossed the styrofoam block into the trash. Back then I wasn't a collector. I was a gamer. I wanted to play the game I'd just bought and was quick to dispose of this odd insert without a second thought.

I recently saw an image online of a hunk of NES styrofoam and it was captioned, "If you don't know what this is, your game is incomplete."

I chuckled, but then began wondering if collectors really consider the styrofoam block part of a game's completeness. I often see online pics of collector's various complete games with the box, manual, cart and sometimes a warranty card. I don't recall seeing styrofoam. Then I saw a site that was selling styrofoam blocks (at $2 each) explaining that this would make those "complete" games truly complete.

Really?
What do you think? Does this block of styrofoam really add to a CIB/NIB game's completeness or value?

Styrofoam inserts for Nintendo NES games

Styrofoam's Abridged History

Polystyrene was discovered around 1840 and by the 1930s was being refined into a substance hoped to be a replacement for the die-casting process of the era. Ten years later, Dow Chemical pioneered a way to turn Polystyrene into a foam and trademarked Styrofoam.

Comprised mostly of air, it is buoyant and lightweight. It's thermal qualities have found their way into building materials and other uses requiring insulation in non-standard shapes. We commonly see it used in parcel shipping, known as packing-peanuts.

Of course, Styrene is viewed by the EPA as a possible carcinogen and the creation process of styrofoam releases over 50 chemical by-products. You just can't win...
March 9, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Arcades let me battle foes in space, but the adult industry brought clarity to Earthly nonsense

During my tenure as a youthful arcade delinquent, I blasted asteroids on vector monitors, saved cities with a trackball and rescued humanoids as Captain of the Spaceship Defender. Video games gave me an amazing world to roam. It was a world I loved even when angry apes were throwing barrels at me. To my delight there was also pinball, air-hockey, girls and pizza. Arcades had it all!

arcade This golden age melded with the early stages of home game consoles to which many popular arcade games were ported. Versions of my favorite arcade games were being released on homeward bound cartridges. With a vast majority of video gaming's history occurring during my lifetime, I've loved almost every minute of it's evolution.

However, nothing beats the origins of this electronic revolution.

A lot has changed in 30+ years, but some things are the same. Many games now cost 4 quarters instead of one, but I still play them because it's great fun. As gaming progressed in technology and sophistication, those old games, that started it all, still offer the same fun they did all those years ago. Sometimes these genres are so compelling, developers make new games in the style of those from yesteryear. I can't think of a better tribute to a style or title than to have it rebooted into a new, yet familiar game experience.

Serena from the game, Ultionus Having recently discovered a 1990's style 2D side scroller (released in 2013) named Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge, I was reminded of two things. One, it brought me back to the vibrantly colored 2D scrollers I love. It also reminded me of how politically correct we have to be in these modern times.

The lead character, Serena, is a determined pilot and fighter. This gal kicks ass... and she has very large breasts... that often jiggle.

Keep in mind that Ultionus is in no way an "adult" title. If you take the time to download the demo, you'll see it's a wonderful side-scroller with several other elements that are reminiscent of a 90's game-style.

Nearly every online mention I saw, of Ultionus, had some sort of caveat regarding the author's or publication's stance on women, gamer girls, breasts, etc. Has our society really come to a point where everything has to conform to someone's arbitrary standard? Can't a female video game character have large breasts without requiring disclaimers and warnings?

Porn Goes Galactic

Nebula Award logo As I was searching for info, I came across an adult film set in outer space (NSFW) that was shot partially in a Zero-G plane to simulate weightlessness. It was only a 20-second clip, but it was enough to qualify for the nomination of a Nebula Award - a distinction given to the year's best science fiction works. It didn't win the Nebula, but this may be partly due to the film's title, The Uranus Experiment Part 2 or it's tagline, The 1st gang bang in space.

Ignoring the intergalactic gang bang angle for a moment - here's a porn film partially shot in an actual Zero-G plane with footage offered up for a Nebula! Considering most of these films are shot in hotel rooms, this sort of feat needs to be embraced, not feared and shunned. Sex in the backseat is difficult enough, these folks did it in 20 seconds while free falling with a film crew! Some respect is in order here.

Kate Did it Without Public Outcry

Kate Upton photographed in a Zero-G plane Kate Upton was photographed for Sports Illustrated in a Zero-G plane. Nobody was outraged by her bobbling breasts. There seems to be a double standard being applied here. So often video games are blamed for social issues by those who view the world via snippets, sound bites and out-of-context blurbs!

We live in a broad world full of amazing things. People need to go outside - physically & mentally - to see the big picture. Has social media trained us to digest everything in 140 characters and unintelligible Facebook posts? 8-second sound bites on the TV news are not informational at all - remember, the world extends beyond your field of view.

When porn movies are filmed in Zero-G and no one can see the technology beyond the tits - it may be time to log out and experience the world around us in real time and see things for what they are. False agendas are rampant on the Internet. Don't believe everything you read or hear.

Become a sensible citizen.
This will allow gaming journalists and publications to report on events without having to distance themselves from a buxom female character as though they were fending off the plague! Long live Serena and those who came before her; paving the way for those yet to jiggle!
March 8, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Does the Super NES look better w/ Super Chromacolor? Signals, conversions and CRTs

My family's first color TV was a Zenith that arrived in the early 70's. We marveled at the color, clarity and modern features that our black & white set never had. Evaluating TV sets is a cumbersome task with various styles, stats and specs. Some might say the 4K Ultra HD TVs while others would love an old Zenith Chromacolor set! Welcome to retro gaming :)

The first thing to determine is the type of TV on which you want to play retro games. Many retro gamers prefer the older CRT TVs while others delve into resolution, upscaling and de-interlacing to perfect the retro experience on a modern TV. Hazard City is a great resource for the technology behind modern TVs and how they relate to retro game consoles.

Nintendo SNES The SNES is one of the retro game consoles that has a reputation for putting out a good signal. Despite the quality of it's signal, it's a good 240p signal. Your fancy new flatscreen probably won't upscale it very well.
Zenith Super Chromacolor TV set Zenith Chromacolor Ad - 1972.

When you see the picture quality of a Blu-ray DVD on an ULtra HD TV, one is tempted to buy one and race home with it. Nothing wrong with that unless you're also planning on hooking up your Colecovision in addition to your Blu-ray player. There's a lot of technology in TVs today. So much, that they don't pair well with 30 year old game consoles. In fact, most consoles of the 80s & 90s put out a relatively low-def signal compared to anything made in the last several years.

Think what would happen if the Indy 500 took place on an interstate highway. There's a reason they race on a specialized track. The average highway is so poorly made and maintained, most of the drivers would likely die in the first 15 miles. Much the same with retro gaming and newer TV technologies. No one is likely to die, but the signal sent out by Atari consoles isn't what today's TVs are designed to display.

Retro game console output often needs to be modified to match modern TVs.
They key to classic console and modern TV incompatibilities (resulting in poor quality display) is the mismatching of signals - meaning if we can better match the console's out put to the TV's desired input, we get a better visual display. We want to alter the classic console's output signal so that a modern TV can more easily dsplay it.

The closer the console's output signal matches the modern TV, the better the TV will display that old 5200 or Turbo GrafX game. TVs have the ability to upscale as well as other alterations. The problem is they do so very poorly. You're better off letting an external device do the converting and send a "desirable" signal to the flatscreen TV.

Your game console outputs half the resolution of a 1990's movie or TV broadcast.
However the equipment needed to match an Intellivision to an Ultra HD TV costs more than a CRT (cathode ray tube). This is one of the reasons retro gamers go out of their way to find CRT TVs. Most folks want a flatscreen that can be slung on a wall like a painting, but that's new-school and we're trying to improve upon old-school display tech.

Many people are getting rid of (or did so years ago) their boxy-looking CRT-style TVs in favor of the sleek flatscreens. This is good for retro gamers. Even high-end broadcast quality CRTs like the Sony BVM series that were initially thousands of dollars, but can be found for under $200.

Internal view of a CRT

Media Sizes and Shapes

Movie theater screens and most arcade monitors have always been rectangular (16:9). I'm sure history has an interesting factoid about TV technology, but TV's of the arcade era were nearly square (4:3). I guess no one really thought about the similarities of visual media, but that damn square TV caused all sorts of issues as technology marched forward.

I watched letterboxed laserdiscs on an old CRT and was treated to a thin ban of viewable content. Over time, TVs adopted movie sizing and a host of display possibilities.

Mismatched Specifications

As TVs became optimized for movies, the issue of scanlines comes into play. Scanlines are the thin horizontal lines created as the electron guns "draw" the screen. They do this so quickly that your eye sees motion. Movies and broadcast TV are displayed at 480i (the NTSC standard) with 480 scanlines (31khz).

A majority of classic consoles have a non-interlaced 240p 15kHz output that worked wonderfully with TVs of the 80s & 90s. Mathematically, consoles put out half the scanlines as a movie. This results in black scan lines where no content was "drawn" by the electron guns.

CRTs don't use pixels the way modern TVs do. A modern 1080p TV has 1920 horizontal pixels and 1080 vertical pixels - this never changes. As a result, fixed-pixel displays have to do a lot more processing to handle inputs at a non-native resolution - like your old game console. CRTs don't need to do this because their maximum resolution is constrained by the number of lines they're designed to support, not pixels. Another CRT advantage is they don't have input lag, from processing, but modern displays can be delayed by a frame or two.

Xrgb Mini image processor

Stay Retro and Go LCD

You don't have to have 2 TVs. If you're a movie buff and love your insanely large LCD TV and the clarity of Blu-ray, you can combine that with a passion for retro gaming. An image processor can take over the scaling duties that modern TVs don't do well and output at various resolutions. Essentially you are adding an in-line device that is designed for conversions your TV isn't good at. While this may be frustrating... how many 240p devices exist in the video world today. Products are generally geared to work well with each other. Accommodating older or antiquated technology, for compatibility, adds to a device's cost.

Not too many people need to hook a Sega Genesis to their new flat screen, so manufacturers don't put a lot of effort into conversions of older resolutions. This saves you money when buying an enormous TV. If you're a retro gamer, add an image processor to the mix and you should be able to get a good result. Although, buying an old CRT may be the most cost effective route. ;)
March 7, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

“Ouya Everywhere” seems like: Profits Nowhere. Is my ROM Station doomed?

I read Julie Uhrman's Ouya Everywhere release, but wasn't sure what to make of this development. Those with deep ties to the gaming industry have concurred with Uhrman's statement that this represents Ouya's continued growth, while many others call it the end of Ouya hardware sales. We may be on the cusp of a "better mousetrap" as other vendors enter the micro console market.

I backed their Kickstarter project because I was bored with the stagnation of gaming's seventh generation and the new consoles from the big boys were on the horizon and the Wii U was stumbling. As I thought about what I loved about gaming - it was playing on a large TV. Mobile gaming is on the lower end of my list of gaming options, so I was fascinated by the idea of an Android console. I hoped it would capture the best of both worlds.

Ouya console I wasn't oblivious to mobile gaming's rising popularity, but I'm a retro gamer - a "Donkey Kong" sort of guy. My demands on processing power are pretty minor. My main attraction to the Ouya was having one device that could play a multitude of classic games spanning many different consoles via emulators. So far that has worked well and lets me jump from the 2600 to NES, SNES & Game Boy Advance while allowing some Genesis enjoyment. Fast easy and gives access to amazing games I'd never find on cartridges.

Regarding mobile game development, the thrust behind the Ouya, I like the rapid dev-to-market times. Developing a mobile game is a fairly agile process compared to bringing out a multi-million dollar IP to PlayStation and Xbox. I bought an Ouya so I could play ROMs on a large TV instead of an adequate computer monitor. Besides... how long is my computer's "Spacebar" going to last as a fire-button?!?

Ouya promised to take the speed advantage of mobile development and point it back to the living room TV via Android. I still like that notion. Gaming on cell phones is still an oxymoron to me. I've found quite a few enjoyable games, but my Ouya is primarily loaded with emulators and a USB drive chock full of everything that made childhood grand. Actually, having innumerable ROMS raises it's delight somewhat above "grand". It's a fun console, but needs some improvement on it's controller.

“Ouya Everywhere” Initiates a More Open Platform

Mad Catz M.O.J.O. Micro-Console When you fire up your Ouya to peruse the Discover screen for new games, someone with a Mad Catz M.O.J.O. Micro-Console might be doing the same thing - perusing the Ouya Discover screen. The Ouya folks are letting other compatible devices tap into the Ouya game library. This makes Ouya somewhat of a platform.

"Up until now, the game console experience has been locked inside a box, " said Julie Uhrman, CEO and founder of OUYA. "Together with the hardware veterans at Mad Catz, we end that. Today's announcement signifies the inception of a truly open platform where independent developers can bring their creations to the platforms where gamers actually play: everywhere."

I can't help but wonder what this means for Ouya as a hardware manufacturer. They've already released an updated console with more internal storage, but how long will this continue? I hear rumor of a faster chipset on the Ouya's horizon, yet they have not released much in the way of sales figures to support their growth assertions.

I like the Ouya and feel it has a niche space that I hope it will continue to fill and expand upon! Competition will continue to challenge it, but the fact that Mad Catz created an Android micro console, kind of speaks to Ouya's journey as the first to market to fill a niche that others are getting into. Google and Amazon are rumored to developing micro consoles of various sorts.
March 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Did CBS Electronics deliver the 1st FPS in 1983, on the Atari 2600, w/ Tunnel Runner via RAM Plus?

Is it time to retire Doom as the 1st FPS game and place Tunnel Runner atop that pedestal...? :)

As game consoles leapfrogged each other with better technology in the 80's, consumers were never entirely sure which was best or how long it would delight. At the time there was no measure for how many games might be released for any given console. In hindsight, we know that game libraries differed greatly - some had many titles, while others had relatively few.

Adding to the confusion were consoles like the Colecovision that had graphically superior games to it's competition, but had a relatively small game library in the end, ~230 games in total.

Ram Plus ad from CBS Electronics Nintendo's NES was the first console that really made me believe in console longevity. When the SNES was released, I jumped on it! I was impressed with Starfox and the unique gaming experience it deposited into my living room.

The FX Chip was a slick way to give Firefox (among others) extra capability, from within the game cart. It added to the cost of games containing the chip, but it was preferable to raising the console's price.

Nintendo wasn't the first to do it. The SNES could accomodate the extra 16 pins on the cartridge's PCB, but CBS Electronics' RAM Plus was a 3X memory boost for the Atari 2600. Like the FX Chip, it was a cart enhancement specific for the game and addressable by the console.

The RAM Plus chip provided an extra 256 bytes of memory which I've seen notated as: 12K ROM - or three 4K banks - with 256 bytes of extra RAM.

Doom for the Atari Jaguar - 1994 Putting this in perspective is easier to do visually. I bought Doom for the Jaguar when it was released in 1994 since I'd seen it earlier on PC. Many call Doom the birth of the FPS genre. Technology in the mid 90s gave way to a game in which the viewable perspective was from the character itself. Early game consoles made us believe that a game's primary character was a dot or blocky mass with limited animation. Roaming the mazes of Adventure or Venture on the Atari 2600 were the norm, right? Not always...

Tunnel Runner, released by CBS Electronics in 1983, looks like someone made an 8-bit version of Doom. However, Tunnel Runner pre-dates Doom by nearly a decade! The visual splendor of Doom will always eclipse the prowess of Tunnel Runner due to it's enormous mainstream popularity. Few will admit that FPS was born in 1983. These may be the same folks who've forgotten that man walked on the Moon in 1969, due to Mtv's launch in 1981.

Tunnel Runner screen shot - CBS Electronics We're not looking to rewrite gaming history, but it is interesting to play Tunnel Runner and see how developers were able to create a first-person perspective game that ran surprisingly well on the 2600. Not only was it well done, it's one of those games that is fun to play and offers a challenge. You can play in standard mode where the maze remains the same each play or in "Torture Tunnel" mode where mazes are randomly generated. Doors could drop yo into a random location or even put you back one level! It employs a map screen showing your location and the enemy Zots.

We suggest giving Tunnel Runner a try and see if you don't think FPS games originated in the early 80s. The only exclusionary factor may be that you don't actually shoot at enemies in Tunnel Runner :)
March 5, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Arcade forensics reveal interesting facts from the burn-in pattern on a Ms. Pac-Man monitor

A few days ago, this image (here's the original pic) was making the rounds on the internet. Many people casually mentioned they'd never seen such stark burn-in on a discarded monitor. Clearly this monitor was from a Pac-Man arcade game - the familiar maze is a dead giveaway. If you look closer, you can see Ms. Pac-Man across the screen.

However, for those in the know... there is a wealth of information before us. Take another look....

burn-in pattern on Pac-Man monitor I was astonished at the logical inferences made from what could be seen on this seemingly discarded monitor. If you think forensics is limited to dead bodies and crime scenes, think again! The information here deserves a lot of respect.
The following info comes from a related Reddit comment.

What can we tell from this picture?
  1. This is from a Ms. Pac Man machine, NOT from a Ms. Pac Man / Galaga machine; if that were the case, we should be seeing remnants of the Galaga attract screen (we definitely see the Ms. Pac Man attract screen on there with the "Starring" seen in the middle.)

  2. Ms. Pac Man machines back in the 80's didn't have a way to store the high score if the machine was turned off; furthermore, the default high score is blank when the machine is turned on.

  3. This means that this machine saw a lot of people playing single player, but rarely doubles (not two player simultaneous, of course, but one right after the other). This means it was more often played by one person who was bored; either this was in someone's personal collection (which I'm doubtful of, will touch on that in a bit), or this was more than likely a machine kept in a place like a laundromat (people doing laundry by themselves, likely just to throw a coin in to waste some time).

  4. The single player score's burn in is 100,000 less than the high score. This means that it's someone who doesn't regularly play, or is just bad at the game. I know it's like that if this is a collector who owned it that they could just be bad at the game, but I also know if you wanted the arcade machine, you probably have a passion for it, and as such you want to have a blast with it, and you'll probably pick up a few tricks).

  5. We can't tell how good the best player is, per se; if you can get to Level 7 (the banana stage, as indicated by the icons next to the credit), the fruit start repeating randomly. We can extrapolate this, though: if the player were perfectly grouping and getting every fruit AND every ghost for even the split second they are blue, by the end of Level 7 they would have 120,760. Based off of the high score burn in, that looks closer to 122k; more than likely, they played it loose with the grouping on levels 6 and 7, as grouping on that level is actually kinda tough at times. Then, the player started improvising, and got a few lucky random fruits (source for the scores)

  6. The most common path for players to take on the first screen are down-left from the start, follow that path, hold left until you get to the Energizer, and then chase after blue ghosts. If you were doing this on the first level, you might get lucky and get two ghosts; ghosts only come out based off of how many pellets are still on the screen (unless you die; they still are kinda based off of how many are left, but the timing is different).

  7. One last interesting thing of note: The Credit has a burn in of 0. This is more evidence of being a machine in a public place; would collectors leave their machine to require a coin? Let alone not just drop a bunch of virtual coins so they can play their hearts away.
Source of all of this: The GameFAQs mentioned earlier helped with the scoring, but everything else is due to being a former referee with Twin Galaxies, which means we had to be able to try (not perfectly, obviously) to know as much as we could about a whole bunch of games.

EDIT: I suppose that due to Attract Mode, that #6 may not necessarily apply to the player. Still, the method behind it still stands!

EDIT 2: Another former TG referee pointed something out: Attract mode doesn't work when the machine is set to Free Play, so this is definitely someone's machine that they were looking to make a decent profit on. I'm still guess (THIS is a guess, no evidence) that this machine was at a laundromat; I don't know where else Ms. Pac Man machines would be set up looking for profit.
March 4, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Jennette McCurdy's racy 8-bit selfie reveals more game than skin

Jennette Mcurdy's Nintendo 3DS commercials Jennette McCurdy's 3DS When I see a celebrity name trending on Twitter, my first assumption is: they died. Upon seeing her name, I was curious to find out how Jennette McCurdy had perished. A few clicks verified she is both alive and wears underwear.

Aside from still being credited as "that girl on iCarly," she's been on the cover of several iCarly video games. That show was cancelled a few years ago (Sept 2007 - Nov 2012) and she's now on a spin-off. Entertainment reporters were too eager to publish nude celebrity photos to bother with such details.

I knew there was an iCarly DS game, but I didn't know the show was popular enough to spawn 3 Nintendo DS games; two of which have Wii counterparts. I was accustomed to THQ releasing a lot of TV & movie tie-in games (before being cruelly dismantled), but I was surprised to see the Activision logo on all the the iCarly titles I saw.

The first game, iCarly, was released in Oct. 2009 for Wii and DS. The followup iCarly 2: iJoin the Click was released the following year in Nov. 2010. 2012 saw the release of a food-prep game called iCarly: Groovy Foodie. The first 2 games (wii & DS) were lame and received poor reviews for being short and repetitive. They were seemingly released simply to capitalize on the show's popularity. The 3rd game is a time-management food-prep game where you work as a food vendor creating various meals mentioned on the show.

iCarly games on Nintendo DS and Wii It's a shame that Activision didn't make more robust titles since iCarly was loosely based in technology. The girls were creating a web show based on their various antics. Most kid's programming is awful and idiotic. At least iCarly had a somewhat substantive premise. It's too bad the Activision games didn't give the games a techie backdrop.

An interesting facet of the iCarly website was it's tongue-in-cheek connection with the show. Whacky URLS were often mentioned during the show - many of these fictional website domains were actually purchased and redirected to the main site. There are hints of this in the subsequent spin-off, Sam & Cat. For example each episode's title is displayed as a hashtag during the intro credits.

Last Fall, McCurdy teamed up with Nintendo to do a few commercials for their 3DS At least iCarly had a somewhat substantive premise. character's smart-ass qualities to best several scenarios playing Mario Party: Island Tour. One website stated Jennette is a gamer, listing her favorite video games as Super Smash Bros., Bomberman, and Animal Crossing.

Jeannette McCurdy's selfie in 8-bit Splendor

It doesn't seem right to lead in with notions of racy selfies without delivering the goods. Here's an 8-bit version of Jeannette McCurdy's selfie:

Jennette Mcurdy's racy selfie in 8-bit splendor The original pic wasn't much clearer. She could really use a better camera. They didn't shoot iCarly with lo-fi crap ;)
March 3, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Can Radio Shack be “The Nationwide Supermarket of Sound” again or is 2014 just a makeover?

vintage Radio Shack logo used from 1974 to 1995 I grew up loving Radio Shack! It had every connection and electronic oddity from CBs, scanners & audio equipment to all the crazy antennas I bought and innumerable adapters. I bought all sorts of audio stuff and video processors. They weren't inexpensive or a discount store, but they carried things you couldn't find elsewhere and there was a Shack in every town and everyone had a Free Battery Card!

I went to the Shack for switch boxes to hook up multiple game consoles and all the cables I'd need. Then something happened. All of a sudden they seemed dated and old. As technology marched on it seemed as if the Shack had stayed behind. This isn't uncommon in retail and often takes time for a retail-chain to catch up. However when they made efforts to modernize, they seemed to become a Best Buy/Toys R Us hybrid. Gone were the hobbyist elements. I felt as though their uniqueness had vanished.

Switches for your TV games and computers Part of the changeover that I saw also brought the end to several of their in-house brands and products that I loved. Archer was a brand for their wiring and antenna products. Similarly, the Realistic brand of audio components was retired. The TRS-80 was insanely popular but the IBM-compatible Tandy replacement waned and was canceled in the mid-90s. I saw so many iconic lines disappear.

I'm not sure when this happened, but there was also a change in staffing. When I first stared in wonder at the amazing offerings of Radio Shack, I was a geeky kid in the late 70's who became a rabid fan during the 80s. At that time, Radio Shack employees were technical people. Very often they had backgrounds in engineering, electronics or were hobbyists of one sort or another.

Today, I rarely find a Radio Shack employee who has much interest in the store's product line. Many are register-jockey's who would be just as successful at a Taco Bell or grocery store checkout. I imagine that the same economies of scale that savaged many of the products I loved also took a toll on wages. Experts aren't necessary to support Radio Shack's product line. Anyone can sell a mobile plan with a new phone. We live in a disposable society in which a broken radio is thrown away, not repaired. If you want to build something, you're probably shopping at Ikea, not the Shack.

Kids with a curiosity strive to beat new levels in video games, not building a radio. I built a radio as a kid and it was an epic experience. Kids today would scoff at it's limited FM offerings compared to satellite radio and - given the choice - they'd rather have an iPod. It's not really their fault. Interesting and engaging projects are much harder to find.

In an effort to each a younger hipper audience, Radio Shack has sponsored TBS' King of the Nerds show with a "Radio Shack room" in the house. It is packed with Shack product that can be used in various challenges. The most recent season gave contestants a huge tub full of Radio Shack stuff. I hope this works for them.

Radio Shack has been a part of the TBS show King of the Nerds I received a mass email from their CEO, Joe Magnacca about their exciting new blah blah blah for 2014. It was riddled with marketing jargon with no specifics. He mentions their Super Bowl ad, but there's no link to it! It was definitely a highlight among this year's Super Bowl ads. Since Joe didn't link to the Radio Shack Super Bowl Ad we'll link it.

So, what did Joe mention specifically? Radio Shack has a "price match guarantee". That sounds good, but you know what it really means... they carry the same stuff all the other electronics stores offer. I loved Radio Shack because the had tons of things that no one else offered!

What if I told you an archive of Radio Shack catalogs was available on the internet? I'll admit that the Shack still has a lot of great adapters & connectors and the odd battery that I need for my garage door opener. I bought my first soldering iron from Radio Shack and used it to create arcade quality joysticks for my favorite home game consoles. You can still buy soldering irons at the Shack, but you won't find any projects on which to improve your solders.

Back in the 80's Radio Shack would sell you a PCB, an array of parts and a book of awesome projects to pique your imagination. Certainly times change and I can't stay locked in the 80s, but I wish the Shack would look back on those days for some inspiration towards a more eclectic and alluring product line.

For those wanting a taste of what Radio Shack has sold over the years, visit the Radio Shack Catalogs site. Great stuff!!
March 2, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Ellen disregards head-lice warnings to crash Twitter with epic gaming selfie

A recent CNN report featured a doctor who alleged that group selfie photos are increasing the spread of head lice due to poses in which participant's heads are touching. I can see the logic behind this assessment, but wonder if there's any actual proof of this selfie-lice theory.

Academy Awards host Ellen DeGeneres decided to maximize Samsung's Oscar sponsorship by taking an epic selfie and posting it to Twitter in the hopes of breaking the retweet record. She did indeed break that record as well as Twitter itself. Apparently, Twitter servers couldn't handle the masses who instantly wanted to see her tweet.

SEllen's epic Oscar selfie

Ellen's Oscar Selfie Tweet from the Academy Awards

SEllen's epic Oscar selfie
March 2, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Card Wars game seen on Cartoon Network's Adventure Time gets physical and mobile game release

Popular TV shows, particularly in the "kids" demographic, often get the mobile game treatment. How often does a physical version come to market? Not often enough. Cryptozoic Entertainment comes to the board game rescue! I still love board, card and dice games!

Card Wars game from Cryptozoic Entertainment An episode of Cartoon Network's Adventure Time featured Jake and Finn playing a card game called "Card Wars" in which armies battled based on a lot of very peculiar rules and stipulations. It's apparent complexity made the episode quite funny as Finn's desire to win grew. Apparently many viewers wanted to play this game themselves and suddenly it was rumored that Card Wars was coming to market!

This prompted the phrase, "floop the pig", to become much more popular than it should be. The interesting part is that a physical card game was to be released. We anticipate a web or mobile game for anything that will turn a profit, but it's not often that an in-show reference results in a physical game. I love board games and the way they engage players in a much different way than video games.

The game is now available in physical decks and digital formats for Android and iOs. Many board games have been translated to video games and some work, but most do not. It will be interesting to see the digital and physical decks. I haven't received the actual decks of cards, but I'm excited to see how the digital and physical games differ or align.

Card Wars for iOS Card Wars for iOS.
Card Wars for Android Card Wars for Android.

If you're considering buying the physical card game, check with the seller as I have heard this version comes with codes for the online versions. You don't want to buy the digital version and discover it was free with the actual decks of Card Wars.

The 8-Bit Connection

I can't imagine watching Adventure Time without Regular Show appearing afterwards. They are a great back-to-back combo. Both are supported by web-based games on the Cartoon Network site, both have mobile games and they both have titles on Nintendo's 3DS. If you watch Regular Show, you know that Mordecai and Rigby are both avid gamers, but they never seem to be playing cutting edge games and one game featured a Power Glove type device.

We can only assume they are retro gamers or (more likely) can't afford a new game console. Either way, their game on the Nintendo 3DS, "Regular Show Mordecai and Rigby in 8 bit Land", has a few 8-bit tributes. They get trapped inside a video game and find their way through a pixilated 8-Bit world and find a way out.
March 1, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Disney Infinity's Toybox holds allure for some with the influx of exclusive characters without playsets

When it comes to buying action figures for in-game play, Activision and Disney are fighting for market-share in a genre dominated by Skylanders' 2-year head start. For the record, my son & I were sold on Spyro and Giants by the time Disney decided to take part of the retail pie. Disney has an amazing cache of characters to draw from, but we love Skylanders.

Exclusive Anna figure for Disney Infinity We were excited to see what Disney Infinity would offer compared to Skylanders. Upon launch, we went into the Toybox, found a vast wasteland of nothing and dropped a Playset Piece on the Base. This probably came from the instant gratification of Skylanders. So, we dove into the various Playsets and decided they weren't as compelling or challenging as they should be.

We gave the empty toybox another try. The TV advertising makes it seem absolutely amazing, but when you start out, it's kind of bleak looking and empty. Obviously, you have to play the game and build up resources, but I found the whole experience counter intuitive. However, I must be the only one!

I bought the limited edition Jack Skellington at GameStop and WalMart has offered a few exclusive figures as well. I just received this Target ad for Anna. Obviously, someone digs the Toybox! All of these exclusive characters I've mentioned do not have an accompanying Playset. This means they can only be used in the Toybox area. Each Playset is a world designed around its characters.

Cars has racing games for Lightning and his pals. The Incredibles has a world for the entire Incredible family to engage. Only characters from that world can be played in a Playset. So, you can't drive lightning McQueen through the Incredible's Playset. All characters can be used in the Toybox - with 2-player modes.

I must be doing it wrong when it comes to the Disney Infinity Toybox. Something about it just doesn't reveal itself as the awesome open world it's touted to be. Since so many figures are being released that can ONLY be used in the Toybox, there must be more to it than I have discovered. Until I figure it out... I'm still amped about all the iterations of Skylanders!

February 2014 Retro Gaming Articles:

February 28, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Vanilla Ice is down with Kraft and reprises the Ninja Rap for their TMNT mac & cheese

The first Kiss farewell tour was in the 1996. This roughly coincided with the conclusion of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first animated series on TV. Still touring, releasing studio albums and putting the Kiss logo on everything in sight - they roll strong to this day. Destroyer was the first album I bought when I was a kid. I still love that album and have every release since then. There are several bands from my childhood that rise up now and then, but Kiss never left the spotlight. No reunion tours, they just keep rocking.

Chronology of Teenage Mutan Ninja Turtles movies and video games I've recently bought new releases from Black Sabbath, The Cars, and Van Halen. It feels good to know these guys are still out there making music that resonates with me just as their albums did when I was a kid. Some artists are coming back through new channels - like Vanilla Ice.

I wasn't a huge Vanilla Ice fan, but he had some catchy riffs that made him a strong icon of the 90's. When I discovered his name was Robert Van Winkle, I suddenly found he had a very human side beyond his stage presence. Having appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II Secret of the Ooze with the Ninja Rap track (Often called, "Go Ninja Go"), he did a few TV reality shows including The Vanilla Ice Project - currently on the DIY Network. He's a pretty chill sort of guy. I dig him and am glad he's still pursuing his music.

Kraft Mac & Cheese Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Apparently Kraft - makers of infamous Mac & Cheese - releases a new character each year as a chunk of pasta. Perhaps stars are aligning, but as Michael Bay continues to butcher the beloved quartet, Kraft is releasing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pasta characters in this year's Mac & Cheese.

Along side the animated TV series and various movies, the TMNT video game series has been an epic foray across many years, manufacturers and gaming platforms from the arcade and NES to the Wii and 3DS! We recently created a TMNT infographic detailing their movie and video game releases. It' shard to believe they came on the Arcade scene in 1989 and had home releases via Nintendo in 2013.

Check out the Kraft commercial that has Vanilla Ice reprising his Go Ninja Go chant as a grocery clerk. As he stocks shelves with Kraft Mac & Cheese, he's recognized by a mom who jumps right into the Ninja Rap as her horrified kid looks on in disbelief. The culmination of this ad's awesomeness is when Vanilla Ice looks at the nervous kid and says, "Word to your mother!"

February 27, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Relive 90's 2D gaming with galactic hero Serena's epic quest in Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

Ultionus (pronounced All-Tea-OWN-Us) is a love-letter to the home computer arcade games of the late 80s and early 90s, with colorful 2D visuals, catchy chiptune music by the legendary Jake Kaufman, and seven stages of hard-as-nails gameplay.

Serena S in Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge Galactic hero Serena S has been trolled on Spacebook and embarks on a quest to punish the troll in question, who happens to be The Space Prince. Guide Serena through 7 stages of shoot-em-up action, jumping, shooting, and more jumping and shooting to her ultimate goal of total annihilation of her foe.

Serena S in Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge You'll find the game available for Mac, PC, Ouya, Linux and via Steam. It's heavily inspired by the home computer games of late 80s & 90s, such as Phantis, Halloween Harry, Jill of the Jungle and Astro Marine Corps. You remember games that could fit ten times over onto a single HD floppy disk.

One of the great things about this sort of game is it's light-hearted, doesn't take itself too seriously while delivering difficult game play. It's the difficulty of this style game that makes it really cool as opposed to an excuse to let a big-breasted vixen romp through space.

Serena S in Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge You can easily buy a copy of Ultionus on the dev's website and the chiptune soundtrack is on Bandcamp.

If you loved 2D side-scrollers from the early 90s check out Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge. I love that there's both a Mac version and an Ouya release! I fired up the Ouya version and it's a lot of fun and brings back many memories of this genre. Having a light hearted story arc, it's very fitting that this is NOT an easy game. Serena may be a well-endowed gal, but the playful aspects are nicely counterbalanced by great game play and difficulty.

Demos are available on the website and the Ouya version has a demo. If you played vibrant 2D games in the 90s you owe it to yourself to relive a bit of that glory with Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge.

Check out the trailer below for a quick look at a few of the stages. You'll also find several "Lets Play" videos on YouTube to get more of a sense of it's game play.
February 26, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Chrysler's Jeep prevails over Mario Kart citing “throwing banana peels” as highly illegal

I had an electric ride-in car when I was a little kid (long ago), but licensing wasn't as popular as it is today. Such toys weren't based on pop culture the way they are today. My car was white and based on an old jalopy. It was a lot of fun and I still have vivid memories of driving it around our basement and driveway. I didn't know my jalopy might one day be fashioned after a Jeep, Hummer or a Mustang! It would be nearly 2 decades before Mario would be introduced and become an iconic hero.

Kid's electric Mario Kart Ride-in from JAKKS Pacific Kid's electric Mario Kart Ride-in from JAKKS Pacific. Toys R Us (North America) is taking pre-orders for $199 with a March 7 shipping date.
Fisher Price electric Jeep Wrangler Ride in for Kids Fisher Price electric Jeep Wrangler Ride in for Kids. With a passion for Jeeps, I'd have a difficult time deciding whether to get my child a Mario Kart or a Wrangler. Fortunately, my son is past the age of wanting a ride-in vehicle.

JAKKS Pacific, a designer and marketer of toys, were granted the rights, in February 2013 to produce products based on popular Nintendo characters like Mario and Donkey Kong. The agreement is quite vast, encompassing many Nintendo properties and a wide selection of product from the Mario Kart to Halloween costumes.

Perhaps as Nintendo gets the Wii U back on track, they can use their beloved characters to generate revenue streams in other areas.

Kid's electric Mario Kart Ride-in from JAKKS Pacific You may have seen the Mario Go-Kart video which really makes one wonder if JAKKS' kiddie entry might elicit a market for a more robust version for "big kids" in their forties.

February 25, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Part of my love for retro gaming comes from being able to own Joust on 6 platforms

Joust arcade marquee Williams Electronics released Joust to arcades in 1982. There wasn't as much co-op play in arcades back then. Rampage, with it's 3-player option, was quite unique but didn't arrive until 1986. Fighting games were the first genre in which I was actively aware of co-op (simultaneous) play. Yet, Fighters weren't too prominent until the later 80s. Waiting for your turn, as Player-2, was fairly common in the early days of arcades.

Joust ostrich However, the co-op mode of Joust wasn't just about not having to wait your turn. It changed the traditional dynamic. Typically you were defeating an enemy of some sort. With a co-op game , like Joust, 2 players could join forces to defeat the enemy or they could consider each other as an enemy. Working together was usually the best way to rid the screen of enemies, but once you accidentally killed the other player, they often returned with a vengeance - against you! The dynamic of friend-or-foe could quickly turn.

My son is always happy to work with me in co-op until I accidentally kill him. Then he comes ater me - ignoring everything else on the screen. This whole scene is a lot of fun and creates player interaction outside the game itself. One of my favorite aspects to co-op games - human interaction becomes as important as the on-screen events.

Flash forward to 2014 and my passion for Joust hasn't waned one bit. In fact I was delighted to find it on Midway Arcade Origins for the PS3 that sports the arcade version. Last week my son and I went from playing it on the Atari 800 in the basement to playing it in his Game Fortress on the PS3!

Joust games While claiming ownership of 6 different versions of Joust won't earn any bragging rights, it is one of the things I really love about retro gaming. Joust has been released on numerous game consoles and computers. I have versions for the Atari 2600, 5200 & 7800, NES, PS2 & PS3.

Modern franchises tend to follow the same model, but there are fewer consoles. Some developers like Disney or Activision create a title for Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft consoles and handelds. In today's gaming world, these platforms offer similar abilities and the games look & play in a similar manner across each console.

In the 1980's playing Joust on the 2600 was awesome because - you could! The 5200 and 7800 versions were much better, but the NES was the first home console that offered realistic arcade ports. The more recent PlayStation releases are nearly identical to the original arcade game - much like the ROM for MAME.

As a retro gamer it's a blast to play an arcade perfect round of Joust then fire it up on the Atari 2600 and work my way through the Atari consoles, the NES and maybe even a few levels via MAME. One can experience all the iterations and see the evolution of bringing an arcade game to home consoles and computers. Retro gaming is pretty cool... even on a modern console.
February 24, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

PlayThru uses micro-games to replace online annoyances like CAPTCHA & pre-roll video ads

Are you a human or are you a bot, spammer or other evil irritation? Are You A Human is a company that has innovated a very creative alternative to those awful CAPTCHA challenges. Play a quick game in the same amount of time!

Are You A Human logo You read that your favorite game developer has a new game in the works. A Twitter link takes you to the dev's website where you can join a mailing list to be notified of progress updates. Awesome! You add your name & email but are suddenly stopped by one of those dreadful CAPTCHAs requesting your input.

It's a simple concept - just type in the letters and numbers shown in the box. You click "Submit" and see an error message. Arrggg! Did I mistype something? Did I not press Shift? What the hell is that letter? 1, i, l, o, 0, O?

CAPTCHAs are designed to help ensure a person, as opposed to an automated bot, is submitting info. We all understand that your favorite game developer wants to make games, not babysit a mailing list besieged by web-bots, spammers, hackers and a long list of bothersome folks. Ideally, someone who bothers to complete a CAPTCHA is likely to be human and interested in what's being offered. Those who can't complete the CAPTCHA are deemed bots.

PlayThru replaces online annoyances like CAPTCHA The example above lets you do a simple task that is very intuitive (as long as you can read English). The objects float around and you simply need to put the eyes, mustache and mouth on the face. They also include a few items that are not part of a face. No longer do your eyes strain to figure out what letters are squashed together in a cryptically illiterate fashion.

PlayThru replaces online annoyances like CAPTCHA The object is to create a challenge with easy user recognition, that will make you smile, and takes no more time than completing a CAPTCHA - especially if you mistype a letter. Are You A Human have a wide variety of these fun PlayThru modules that present a variety of challenges to your human-ness.

The one to the right asks that you drag the car to the empty parking space. Most humans are familiar with parking and will not try to park the loaf of bread or the cooked ham.

While this model isn't gaming in the sense of completing an level of Super Mario Bros. or Call of Duty, in order to submit a form, it offers a scenario far more palatable than the traditional CAPTCHA which are unintuitive and frustrating. The notion of parking a cooked ham kind of makes me smile - and isn't that better than CAPTCHA rage?

Computers can play Chess. They can pilot a drone in the Mid-East via a joystick in Texas. But they can't defeat a CAPTCHA? Hmmm.
You can demo several Playthru models on their website. Signing up is free and they have plug-ins for those using template-driven sites like Wordpress as well as a host of options for those seeking to replace CAPTCHAs in Java, PHP, and Pearl among others. Wondering about mobile? Have you ever had a CAPTCHA auto-corrected? Very annoying! These guys have developed PlayThru for HTML5 and optimized for touch control.

The truth is that computers can defeat CAPTCHA and PlayThru too. But Are You A Human have several criteria for success beyond simply finishing the game. They constantly add new games, so once you install their code or plug-in, visitors will constantly see new challenge games. This makes it harder for bots to automate easy pass-throughs

Additionally, they use some human-testing algorithms. Take the "Park the car" example. If a bot "parks" the bread or the ham before the car, they are failed. Text-based CAPTCHAs can't be made more difficult for bots without becoming more difficult for humans. PlayThru lets you decide how strict you want the back-end scoring to be - without making the game any more difficult for humans. So, not only do these micro-games make you smile and reduce frustration, they are secure and robust in very non-traditional ways. This makes false-positives less likely.

While nothing is 100% foolproof, Are You A Human's micro-games are a creative way of taking control over the frustration with traditional CAPTCHAs and making CAPTCHA farms less effective. Cool stuff!
February 23, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Nintendo & McDonald's have taken kids from burgers, toys & Playland game kiosks to wifi at the Golden Arches

McDonalds and Nintendo partnership Partnerships can be as vital to businesses as they are to people. Just as businesses with similar goals can benefit from joining forces, marriage can offer that same advantage to two individuals. However, as divorce rates soar, corporate partnerships don't always have much longevity either. But not always...

Both Nintendo and McDonald's have long histories as family-friendly entities. Ronald McDonald and his crew of campy "food orientated" friends have catered to children via Happy Meals, PlayPlace parties and plastic toys. Nintendo has often been criticized (and wrongly labeled) as a "Kids" game company. While Nintendo does have a family friendly image, they have certainly gone far beyond that demographic to reach a wide array of gamers.

M.C. Kids - Happy Meal Promotion

Virgin's M.C. Kids for Nintendo NES Classic Retro Gaming Video Game Review Regardless of your desires to eat a cheeseburger or swing a wiimote, both of these companies have strong ties with kids. Children are the common denominator that has created a partnership between them since the days of the NES! You may remember Virgin Games M.C. Kids, a side-scrolling adventure game in which a couple of kids help retrieve Ronald McDonald's magic bag that was stolen by the Hamburgler. It's a pretty good game - far more involved than the typical corporate tie-in games. It also had a European release under the name, McDonaldLand.

Originally McDonald's was going to promote the M.C. Kids game via their Happy Meals. Despite some very interesting elements, McDonald's decided against promoting the game and it was sometimes accused of being a SMB copycat. This dispute wasn't centered on Nintendo as much as the game devs, so the gaming/burger relationship marched onward.

Without going into vivid detail, fast food doesn't "agree" with me, so I tend to miss out on many of the video game tie-ins like Happy Meal toys (these from Japan). Nintendo recently announced the inclusion of Super Mario toys in UK Happy Meals! Imagine my surprise when I came across an image of this Nintendo 64 kiosk in a McDonald's playland!

On the few occasions I've visited a McDonald's I've never payed much attention to their indoor play areas. They seemed like a fun thing for kids, but I doubt the McLegal team thinks they're a good idea. however, I imagine the insurance premiums are less than the increased revenue, if that can accurately be quantified. Had I known I could play Nintendo games in these indoor play areas, I might have visited more often!

Nintendo GameCube kiosks in McDonalds I'm accustomed to seeing outdoor playgrounds at some McDonald's locations, but I'd never heard of game kiosks being inside! Above we see GameCube kiosks installed in a McDonalds Playland. Unfortunately, wiping down a table after a family has massacred a meal on it's surface hasn't always carried over to the cleanliness of game kiosks in their play areas. Many posts about Nintendo kiosks at McDonald's mention the filthy screens and controllers encrusted with post-meal sludge. Most of these posts concluded that game kiosks in McDonald's were pretty cool, but so disgusting that they didn't want to touch them.

Ronald McDonald cosplay

Nintendo Zones at the Golden Arches

Today, Nintendo Zones provide complimentary Wi-Fi access for the Nintendo 3DS family of handheld game systems at over over 29,000 locations. They let you access all the standard Wi-Fi features the system offers (eShop, Internet browser, SpotPass, etc), as well as exclusive content available only from these locations - watch 3D videos, full length animations, play demos and trivia challenges, and retailer promotions & coupons.

If you view the Nintendo 3DS Zone locator you'll find a variety of participating stores and restaurants including McDonald's. I believe the last kiosks physically installed in McDonald's restaurants contained Wii hardware. These days, "Nintendo Zones" at McDonald's are simply wifi access points for their handheld systems.

If you doubt the power of the Nintendo/McDonald's partnership, just remember that some folks want to cosplay as McDonald's legendary clown!
February 21, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

From Sesame Street to Billy Ray's kid, Flappy Bird routed static memes to game development

Once that genuinely funny meme hits the social networks, the pixel butchers fire up their hacked versions of PhotoShop to combine horrible typography with atrocious grammar. The end result brings a smile only as far as one ponders the motivation behind replacing hilarity with a faint chuckle. Anger then sets in when the dumbing-down begins reaching for praise as original work.

I've spit liquids, choked on food and forwarded links containing some of the funniest memes the web has offered. Similarly I've rolled my eyes at the ensuing detritus that attempts to ride the coattails of real ingenuity.

memes I installed Flappy Bird upon hearing of it's sudden popularity. I didn't want to miss out on a game that was equally loved for simplicity and hated for difficulty. As I tapped my phone's screen I understood the players' obsession and my desire to throw my phone at the wall.

A Silver Flappy Lining

Then in an odd series of events, Flappy Bird was gone. Just as it was enjoying a meteoritic rise in popularity - GONE! People freaked out and writers took to the web with a variety of angles. Then an interesting thing happened. more games were created!

Sesame Street's Flappy Bert game Sure, some folks tried to sell their iPhones on eBay. with Flappy Bird installed, but I saw a large positive in the midst. Whether you like Flappy Bird or not, you can't deny the flood of games that were created in it's likeness. Some speculated that Flappy Bird was taken down in anticipation of legal action due to copyright infringement. If true, certainly some of the ensuing "Flappy" games are guilty too, but the whole saga didn't dive to the lowest common denominator!

I was certain the PhotoShop hoards would churn out endless FLappy memes with varying degrees of whit - most lacking intelligible meaning. I haven't seen much of that. What I have seen is a slew of 'flappy" games. Instead of the usual disposable humor, we were treated to a variety of interesting Flappy Bird options. I think this emergence of new games is epically better than "flappy" jpeg memes.

I've seen all sorts of winged sprites replacing the original bird to create a humorous take on the original. A favorite is Flappy Bert from Sesame Street. With the added sound of each crash, it's a fun variation on the original. And it's hard not to love Floppo Bird for the Atari 2600. It's an authentic 4K game that runs like a champ via Stella! Versions have also appeared for the ZX SPectrum and Vectrex!

But developers aren't afraid to go out of their way to take the brief beloved bird to more crass levels. flappy bird Miley Cyrus Enter Flying Cyrus. Based on Miley's recent shock value through a series of stunts and her Wrecking Ball video, her shaved head has been added to this Flappy Bird clone. Where are the wings? No wings... it's her wagging tongue.

I've heard a lot of developers grumbling about Flappy Bird and the ensuing clones and rip-off apps, but I think a larger point is being missed. Rather than the idiocy that usually rises in the aftermath, people rallied around this odd situation and created clone-like tribute apps to Flappy Bird. Love them or hate them, game development has a level of creativity way beyond the typical memes loitering all over Facebook.

Perhaps my view is skewed by not being a game dev myself. I can see how a developer would be irked by all these copycat apps that may not be seen as creativity in the eyes of those who code games in a professional capacity. However, I think it's a more creative outlet than the usual garbage. Next time you see a meme full of awful fonts and grammar... wouldn't you prefer a funny game?

flappy bird Miley Cyrus in Flying Cyrus Wrecking Miley comes to Android and iOS via Flying Cyrus
February 20, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The Atari Flashback 64 has fewer games and more marketing verbiage than AFB4

As the Atari Flashback series forges ahead, I keep asking how many of these consoles must I buy in order to have a complete Atari 2600 library? I can't shake the feeling that if I buy 4 or 5 of these things I should - statistically speaking - have a complete 2600 library... right? No.

Atari Flashback 64 I have a modest collection of actual game carts, some of which I bought in conjunction with my first 2600, and a slew of ROMs sitting on my Mac's hard drive. Technically, I have nearly every Atari 2600 game available. Some are home-brews while others are variants of one sort or another.

Still, it bothers me that I can't achieve the same "wholeness" via Flashbacks. I understand that there's a core set of popular games that lure in in the most purchasers and a few obscure titles that reign in the more hardcore folks. In the end, the Flashback series has been relegated to Christmas holiday sales to reignite nostalgia for Asteroids, Missile Command and Space Invaders - the popular games.

Atari Flashback 64

This series of Atari 2600 emulation consoles followed a numeric pattern. I found the Flashback 4 at my local grocery store this past holiday season for about $20. I was unaware that while my local grocer was peddling the Flashback 4, a newer version was being presented to holiday shoppers - the Atari Flashback 64!

It seems to me that we are too far along the gaming chronology to slap a "64" onto this product and a "LIMITED EDITION" moniker prominently displayed. Atari had a hard time claiming their Jaguar was 64-bit and the N64 isn't an Atari product... WTF? Oh - I get it. It has 64 games included. That's a bit odd when the Flashback 4 had 75 games... the prior year!

Additionally, they tout wired joysticks... when the Flashback 4 had wireless controllers the prior year. The most perplexing part of this console release is the lack of coverage - there's next to nothing about the Flashback 64 on the web! Even the AtGames website doesn't have a listing for it!

Compelling AFB Series News

Some very credible info has circulated on AtariAge regarding some interesting news of the Flashback series and AtGames - the manufacturer. There will be another Flashback (5?) in 2014. It is not going to have a cart-slot, but an SD slot may be a reality in the distant future (not likely for 2014).

Along with another AFT release, both Intellivision and Colecovision models will be released with a slew of built-in emulated games. There have been a few retro Intellivision game releases over the years, but Colecovision has been largely ignored. I'd love to see AtGames release a Coleco emu console!
February 15, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Taking time to hang out with my son, player-2

It's again time to detach from the connected world and revel in non-stop video gaming madness with my son. He has a school vacation so we're taking some time together to hang out, play and devour epic snacks.

If there's a child in your life (son, daughter, nephew, etc) take some time to share retro gaming with them. Even if they've been exposed to a modern console already, never underestimate the joy of 8-bit gaming. Despite a passion for PS3, my son always wants to play some retro games with me!

I'll catch up with you all in a week or so. Game on!
February 14, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

February 14th - HAPPY “play video games all day” DAY!

Your significant other knows about this, right?

play video games all day
Here's a guy who made an Ouya game as a mechanism for proposing to his girlfriend...
"The most challenging part of building the game was keeping it a secret," Robert, a 3D artist from Portland said. He had been telling his girlfriend that he was working late at the office, to cover for the fact that he was actually at a friend's house designing the game.

You can see the website he created for it and a video of his girlfriend's reaction.

Alana Evans pornstar and gamer If you're not developing games for your fiance nor spending $125 on a dozen roses that cost $25 any other week, you may be interested to know that porn star Alana Evans is also an avid gamer.

These things are all about perspective, aren't they? :)
February 13, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Pac-Man Fever was one of the few maladies lacking a CDC control & prevention plan

Pac-Man Fever 45 RPM vinyl album Even though Namco's Pac-Man arcade game is over 30 years old, it's difficult to find someone who isn't familiar with the beloved yellow dot-eater. Finding someone who can hum the Pac-Man Fever song (Ted Nugent included) is a little harder.

Pac-Man Fever album Released in 1892 by Ohio music duo Buckner & Garcia, Pac-Man Fever became an iconic theme of early 80's arcade passion. Each of the 8 tracks focused on an arcade game and incorporated sounds from the game. The eight games mentioned on the album are Pac-Man, Frogger Centipede, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Defender, Mousetrap and Berzerk.

Time Magazine acknowledged Pac-Man Fever from both a financial and marketing perspective. They reported that nearly one billion dollars had been ingested in the form of quarters by Pac-Man arcade games by the end of the decade. Additionally, it was one of the first arcade games that spawned income streams outside of arcades. All sorts of Pac-Man products hit retail stores from t-shirts to bedding, board games and posters!

Pac-Man Fever flyer Industry insiders weren't thrilled with Pac-Man when it was peddled to trade shows. They didn't see the genius in it's simplicity. North American arcade patrons were among the first to jump on this game and propel it into gaming's illustrious history.

Part of that history is a series of "firsts" that came from this arcade hit. It was highly influential with gaming's first original mascot, it established the maze-chase game genre and demonstrated the potential of characters in video games. It also opened gaming to an important demographic - Women! But the firsts didin't end there. Pac-Man was gaming's first licensing success, the first video game to feature power-ups, and is cited as the first game to feature cut scenes.

All this historic stardom and one of the more memorable artifacts is a goofy disco-infused arcade album. It's a classic and as a retro gamer, I have a copy of it, but it's not in frequent rotation.

As time marches forward, Pac-Man is still a viable mascot/character, capable of continually evolving into various toys.

Bandai's Pac Panic Spinners Isn't someone out there making a Pac-Man figure that plays a loop from Pac-Man fever? :)
February 12, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Dumping the Alien: Unearthing the Atari Graveyard... an exclusive documentary for Xbox

Dumping the Alien: Unearthing the Atari Graveyard
Last May, when a Canadian media company, Fuel Industries, announced their intention to resolve the Atari landfill legend, I was pretty excited. Lore has it that thousands of E.T. The Extraterrestrial game cartridges (and other Atari excess) may have been dumped in an Alamogordo, New Mexico landfill. The local NM newspaper, witnesses and Atari employees have offered just enough "proof" to keep the legend alive, but no one has gone the distance and found physical proof.

Part of me wants an answer, but part of me knows that the answer all Atari fans want will likely never be found. Upon hearing of Fuel's dig project, I began thinking how awesome it would be to own a small chunk of concrete with several black plastic chards poking out of it. Each time I'd glance at it, I'd remember that E.T. was a much better game than anyone will admit.

excavator - Atari logo An excavation sounded like a good way to hone in on some definitive answers, then I started watching Gold Rush. This Discovery Channel reality show highlights the gold mining efforts of several Alaskan prospectors. Their proven techniques work well for gold, but the effort is measurably more difficult when digging for game carts.

They use excavators to remove earth and large hauling trucks to bring the dirt to a processing area, where gold is separated from dirt. The process of separating the gold relies on the heavy density of gold versus that of dirt. This process goes on as the miners focus on bringing more gold-rich dirt to the processing area.

If you are searching for 30-year-old crushed bits of plastic (game carts) and metal remnants (discarded hardware), you have to put a lot of manpower into separating Atari History from the surrounding dirt. This means you have to focus on digging and searching the dug up dirt. Unlike the gold miners, Fuel has no easy way of knowing if they've found bits of Atari carts without a lot of manual labor of sifting through the dug-up dirt.

Landfills are not simple dump-zones for unwanted detritus. They are finely planned areas with great care given to the type of materials they will store and the treatment of such materials. Much the way a farmer rotates crops, landfills are have a similar rotational plan and often cover vast acreages. Therefore randomly digging is akin to the needle in the haystack metaphor. Recently, there were also rumors that the New Mexico Environment Department wanted to assess the area due to potential chemical contamination from years before. This sort of news means digging could be held up for years. But the dig seems to be rolling forward.

The Microsoft Connection

E.T. The Extraterrestrial game ad Being labeled as a documentary, I want to believe it will be based on fact and explored by a team that is passionate about finding the truth. As Microsoft takes the production helm with plans to deliver this potentially groundbreaking film exclusively on its Xbox network, Atari could become nothing more than a convenient backdrop.

A recent article about Fuel's dig plan (in Stream Daily) leads me to believe that this project is centric to jump starting the Xbox Entertainment Studios as a viable content creator for it's proprietary distribution network. Its doubtful that anything will be found. They say they will dig for 7 to 10 days. Unless they know exactly where to dig within the landfill, they won't find anything.

Atari fans who have been following this story do so out of avid fascination with the tale and the possibility of getting a definitive answer as to whether old game cartridges were really dumped in Alamogordo, NM. As one of the fanatics, I really want to know more about the dig itself. Do they have documentation about where the Atari stuff was specifically buried?

This allegedly happened about 30 years ago, so I'm not sure what would be left. Landfills are not designed to store junk, they are designed to break it down. Even with a cement cap, I would imagine that time has left little more than a putrid soup of what may formerly have been Atari products.

Of concern in the Stream Daily article is the quote,"And if we don't find anything, then we put the story and myth to rest."

Really? They'll put WHAT to rest? That statement makes this project sound like a 10-minute Myth busters segment. If they can't find anything - the legend lives on! I hope they find evidence of this historic tale. Above all, I hope this doesn't turn into a Microsoft PR event that eclipses the Atari story.
February 12, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Our family station wagon had simulated wood-panel stickers but my Ouya sports real wood veneers

Wood panel station wagon
Unlike the hideous wood grain sticker that so many station wagons seemed to sport a few decades ago, the adhesive veneers from Alvin Industries are actually wood - real wood. The pieces are made from high quality Mahogany veneer with an adhesive backing. Just peel and stick!

Alvin Industries wood grain veneers for Ouya Alvin Industries has you covered - quite literally. With several wood grain options to choose from, it's easy to give your Ouya a vintage look.
Alvin Industries wood grain veneers for Ouya

February 11, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

By streamlining the video game content model, Revue Labs removes bias & bolsters quality

In the vast wilds of the Internet, there are both great writers and great websites. We can easily recite a familiar list of these sites and authors. Its much harder to quantify how many duplicate articles have been written about Flappy Bird or an IP's next release date.

Revue Labs seeks to improve online content creation and curation There is certainly value in this information, but there is no reason for the identical letter-for-letter blurb to appear on every single gaming site known to man! I'll admit writing isn't easy. For those proficient at it, it becomes an art form. Sometimes it's difficult to find a new angle on a mainstream idea. Finding that unique angle is the key to developing an avid following of engaged readers.

News is steeped in fact. It's an account of an event, information, person, etc. What makes the news interesting is the reporter. The news media will all collectively jump on the story of a fire at an apartment complex. The standout reporter is the one who interviews the fireman who gave CPR to a puppy or interviews the 7-year-old who was first to call 911. All the rest will lead with the familiar notion that fires are bad - boring!

Gaming news follows the same example. Factual reporting is important, but it's also vital to find your own angle to each news item. Offering original comparisons, opinions or conclusions can add a lot of vitality to an article in addition to the raw facts. Revue Labs is staging a model that rewards original, high quality content and enables all involved to benefit from it.

Revue Labs Stages a Turn-Around for Online Content Creation & Curation

When we see the same information displayed verbatim on many sites, it tarnishes both the information as well as those publishing it. Revue Labs is poised to change this! Adding benefits for writers, publishers and gamers, they are proposing a model that adds value to written content, delivers it to the best publishing outlets and allows the general audience to shape the topics they are interested in reading/learning about. Take a look at Revue Labs' Reddit on this idea.

Revue Labs logo What if a publication's audience could easily convey their interests so that publishers can seek out good writers who are creating excellent content focused on those reader-interests? It makes a nice circle of happiness where gamers get excellent content, publishers boost their readership and writers get paid faster. Remind me again... why isn't this already happening?

Listening to a Metallica CD is not the same as the front-row concert experience. A different perspective can be game changing. Such is the case with Revue Labs. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with their Director of Communications, Lexi Lee, who has an amazing passion for the positive changes Revue Labs wants to bring to online gaming content.

Revue Labs will not be a competitor to the Internet's gaming powerhouses. They are an aggregator of original content and purveyors of quality. Their model allows great writers to provide great content to great publishers/websites. Sounds ... great!

Revue Labs removes bias and bolsters quality This gave me the opportunity to see how Revue Labs is unfurling their model to benefit several different interests in the gaming community. Writers have the opportunity to submit 10 pitches on topics of their choosing, creating what's called a pitch-deck. Submitting ten pitches separates the serious writers from those who write less frequently. Publishers can view the various pitches and decide which ones they want to fund. This submission and selection process is anonymous with neither party aware of the other. This allows for unbiased writing without the trappings of having to cater to outside influences.

At the same time, gamers have the ability to demonstrate interest in various topics which can aid writers and publishers in creating and curating content. Revue Labs almost feels like an ecosystem for written video game content. Quality content will be in demand raising it's value and separating it from the 500 duplicate press releases about a game's release date. With the audience, creators and publishers involved in the process a more even market arises that gives more equality to all involved.

Check out the Revue Labs website and stop by their crowd funding campaign!
February 10, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Best resolution to the mysterious Flappy Bird saga: release it on the Atari 2600. Done!

Flappo Bird is the new Flappy Bird - Now available for the Atari 2600!

Flappo Bird for Atari 2600 While gamers, newscasters and random interested parties try to retrace the steps of developer Dong Nguyen, creator of Flappy Bird, another developer was masterminding a solution.

Was it harassment? Bullying?
Did he really give up $50,000 per day!?!
Was legal action imminent?

So many questions so few answers!

Everyone had a take on this odd story of grand success, internet trolls and eradication of a debatably viable mobile game (ourselves included).

It was likely driven by the reported $50,000 per day income generated by Flappy Bird's online ad revenue. With that amount of money at stake, we all have our own fantasies of what we would do for that sort of money. I suppose it's natural to speculate and yearn for this developer's reasoning.

Flappo Bird for Atari 2600 screen shot

Best Possible Solution to the Removal of Flappy Bird

Have you heard the expression, "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem?"

TACS Games took the bull by the horns and realized the real problem: Lack of Flappy Bird. iPhones with the game installed were selling for thousands on eBay. Apparently some folks can't bear to live without that annoyingly difficult game.

Released as a traditional Atari 2600 4K ROM, will let you enjoy Flappo Bird on a variety of platforms from Macs & PCs to Ouya and beyond. Fire up Stella and flap those wings to your retro gaming heart's delight!!
February 10, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

SanctuaryRPG: when turn-based, loot grabbing, monster slaying adventures go ASCII

SanctuaryRPG
I'll be honest - I'm not a huge fan of RPGs. However, I'm a big fan of innovation and ASCII art! SanctuaryRPG employs both. Set in text and adorned with ASCII, this game offers dynamic game-play not often associated with this style of RPG.

Many games today strive to look like hollywood movies. Technology has certainly enabled that reality, but is it necessary? Certainly, the storyline of many games is far beyond reality, so I think the characters can be as well. Stories have traditionally been told via text and images. Just as a black & white photo can make us re-examine a scene, taking a vintage approach to a game can heighten other aspects that may get lost in modern animation.

Check out the trailer video on the SanctuaryRPG website and download the current release of the game. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what you find!

Sanctuary RPG sword From their website:
SanctuaryRPG is a turn-based, loot grabbing, and monster slaying adventure. Roguelike inspired, the game utilizes breathtaking ASCII art, along with the imagination of the player, to create a world of wizards and warlocks, ghosts and goblins, and even soups and salads. The game was designed to offer truly compelling dungeon-crawling gameplay mixed with a robust action-rpg style combat system.

February 9, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

When Mario finds a Piou Piou impostor in world 1-1, lawsuits may flap into court

Flappy Bird logo The folks at Publisher's Clearinghouse periodically email me with the chance to win $5,000 per week for life. I rarely say no. It sounds good to me, although it has yet to come to fruition. With that mindset, one may have a hard time understanding why someone wouldn't want $50,000 per day!

Such is the quandary of game developer Dong Nguyen who's Flappy Bird mobile app has gained insane popularity which has reportedly translated into $50K in daily ad revenue. Rather than basking in wealth, he has announced removal of the app. The strange phrasing of his Flappy Bird cancelation tweets may be attributed to a language barrier issue, but his reasoning for canceling Flappy Bird is equally puzzling.

Flappy Bird has elements of Piou Piou and Super Mario World Flappy Bird has elements of 2011 mobile game, Piou Piou and Nintendo's Super Mario World.
Outcry on the internet ranges from the peculiarity of the game's cancelation to potential copyright lawsuits and the latter realization, "What if I can no longer play Flappy Bird!?!" Even CNN gave this odd tale a brief on-air mention.

Flappy Bird Taps Retro Simplicity

Why the fuss over a phone game? I felt compelled to install it after stumbling onto it's popularity via social media. It was praised. It was hated (but still loved). High scores were posted. One strategy video suggested taking a hammer to your smart phone as a way to "kick the habit". So, I had to see Flappy Bird!

Instantly I loved the simplicity and the obvious familiarity of various Mario games on the NES. Then I realized why folks are posting high scores - it's a damn tough game. Getting to a double-digit score is a feat. But I like that. It reminds me of those seemingly simple 8-bit games that beat down my morale, but kept me coming back for more! :)

The hidden difficulty of a seemingly simple game - be it on Atari or Nintendo - always kept me engaged. I find today's games are more akin to reading a good book - I want to see how the story unfolds. With Space Invaders, I simply wanted to play longer, clear more levels and get a higher score! I always wanted to shoot the last robot even though Evil Otto was bearing down on me!

Flappy Bird is Forever

Remember that "sexy" pic you uploaded to Facebook? Better judgement settled in and you deleted it. However, in the 45 minutes it was available online, 274 people downloaded that image. A few of those people tweeted it, some reposted it on Facebook while others pinned it on Pinterest and some posted it to questionably-legal amateur porn sites.

How many games of Flappy Bird will be played in a courtroom?
Despite your admirable deletion, within 24 hours three million people had seen your "sexiness". In fact, you may have gone on to become a sex symbol in a foreign country, much the way David Hasselhoff is regarded as a singer in some nations.

Regarding the future installation of Flappy Bird, there's good news for Android users. I'm not sure if this scenario applies to iPhone users, but Android apps are installed via APK files. A quick foray into Google should yield the Flappy Bird APK file that can be copied to your phone and installed. Nothing is ever "really" deleted from the internet. Game on, Flappy Bird!
February 9, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Engage in some tub-time with Skylanders Swap Force for a battle of the suds

Success is defined in many ways. Many associate it with financial gain while others have more personal definitions. Sometimes a video game is deemed successful by the audience it reaches. We know that gamers buy games, but when a game enchants a new audience who graviate to it - then it can grow to the point where you even bathe with it.

Skylanders Swap Force bath set This Skylanders Swap Force bath set contains 2 bath poufs and a bottle of body wash.
Skylanders Swap Force bath set The gender-neutral packaging makes it an easy choice for any kid (or adult) who wants to scrub away the days dirt with Blast Zone and Wash Buckler.

My son has an eagle-eye when it comes to spotting things like this. He pointed it out in the shampoo aisle at our local grocery store. He didn't feel the need to get clean with Blast Zone and Wash Buckler. But they are great character choices for a bath set! :)
February 8, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

With several rare & challenging Atari 2600 titles, CommaVid developed games that are beyond sparse

CommaVid logo I'd never heard of CommaVid - a game developer in the early 1980s. They didn't make a lot of games - very few in fact - but those they made are extremely rare. Some of their Atari 2600 titles weren't even games!

A modest amount of digging reveals that CommaVid weren't your average game developers. On the surface, it seems that they approached game development differently. I say this not from any inside information, but simply from some of their marketing material. They were striving to make original games that would engage gamers on the first-play as well as leave them with the feeling that CommaVid games would have lasting appeal as gamers delved in and improved their skills.

CommaVid games ad CommaVid ad for Mission Omega, Room of Doom, Mines of minos and Cosmic Doom.
This may sound silly. Certainly, the better you are at a game, the more you enjoy it, but I sense a different vibe with CommaVid. Their marketing collateral is one of the few examples I've seen where a game developer seemingly wants to engage the customer, with a game, for a longer timeframe.

Naturally, developers want you to engage their products 'forever', but how many convey that in their marketing? So many companies cranked out games rather than creating engaging experiences. One could argue the revenu-return on each scenario, but good games always beat quantity... i hope!

Check out the ad (at left). I'm not sure what "Playable Video Games" is all about, but I'm loving the notion that they want you to get into their games and boost your joy-factor as you improve your skills! How cool is that!?! :)

Even a simple CommaVid game like Cakewalk has a number of features that take it beyond it's obvious strategy. Basically, you work in a bakery and you mustn't drop the cakes. Simple right? Not so thanks to CommaVid and their desire to challenge gammers.

Utilizing the difficulty switch and offering 16 game variants, Cakewalk offers several options that add ease and difficulty to the game in ways you may not expect of such a simple looking game. The "fast baker" option makes the game easier since you can move faster. The "pause to box" option forces you to remain stationary while placing the boxed cake on the outgoing belt - making the game harder. The joystick is primarily used to move vertically, but the "belt speedup" feature, pushing the joystick right, will speed up the nearest belt. Finally, the "all gingerbread men" option delivers nothing but erratic gingerbread men as opposed to cakes.

The CommaVid logo is a 'comma' with an inset television? CommaVid = COMputer MAgic VIDeo
Cosmic Swarm looks like a cross beween Asteroids and Centipede until the game starts. Firing and ship rotation are both handled by the fire button. Thus, you can fire in a fixed direction then moving the joystick added thrust. It's an interesting control sceme to command. Incoming insects (termites) drop blocks that beging to form an indestructible maze and you have to meet a ship for refueling. There's a lot to take in. :)

CommaVid's Overall Rarity

CommaVid's MagiCard user manual cover For the most part, CommaVid games are very rare. Of their 9 games for the Atari 2600 (2 were prototypes) most hover around ten on the 10-point rarity scale. Part of the rarity may be their short release span, between 1981 - 1983. I suspect part of it may also be the irregular size of their cartridges. They were longer than standard carts. As a 3rd party developer, their packaging was not as standardized as other developers. Along with low quantities, this might have played a role. But let's look at the ultimate in scarcity!

MagiCard for the Atari 2600 by CommaVid

Released in 1982, MagiCard wasn't a game. It was a programming tool of sorts. With this cartridge and accompanying 100-page manual, you had the ability to use assembly language to create your own games. This package was not sold in stores, but was available direct via mail-order. It had no box and both cart and manual were simple black text against white.

If one could wrap rarity inside rarity, this would be it! Had you mail-ordered MagiCard from CommaVid, you would have received a letter offering the opportunity to mail-order their game, Video Life. Interestingly, Video Life does come in a box even though I don't believe it was offered on retail shelves.

Video Life is a life simulation. You begin by drawing a simple shape or picture with the joystick. Depending on the composition of your creation, Video Life replicates it based on a mathematical algorithm. As you play with it you begin to see which patterns become more interesting creations as Video Life builds them.

CommaVid is one of those companies that leaves little public information. Reading their advertising marketing copy makes them seem like a much different company than others of that era. The elements and story arcs to their games also hints at a different approach to delivering a gaming experience to customers. I'm fascinated with their games and hope to find more info about them.
February 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

My Ouya rearranged deck chairs while putting another cryptid on my Android video game console

Ouya game console and a jackalope Code named Jackalope, the latest system update from Ouya offered several good updates to my Android console. This included a 5-star game rating system and the ability to postpone system update installations. So why call it a Jackalope... and what exactly is a Jackalope? The jackalope is a mythical animal described in folklore as a jackrabbit with antelope horns - which has little to do with the updated code. However...

A cryptid is a creature whose existence has been suggested but has not been discovered by the scientific community.
An Ouya engineer recognized that labeling system updates by dates or serial numbers wasn't much fun. Apple seems to have standardized on animals, so the Ouya folks went a step farther and decided on cryptids - mythical animals.

So far they've sent out updates codenamed: Abominable Snowman and Ogopogo. I have to say, I like a company that isn't afraid to have a sense of humor. But their unleashed humor doesn't end there.

Installs traditionally have a fill bar. Often these bars offer no sense of time, duration or any valid metric of time. We've been trained to accept that when the bar is filled, the update will be complete. The notion of relative time is all we're left with.

progress bar The Ouya team hasn't revolutionized the progress bar metaphor, but they have injected more humor than most developers. Sometimes you'll find an actual "estimated time remaining" counter, but that offers little benefit beyond the fill-bar itself. Team Ouya decided to offer on-screen text snippets while the System Update progress bar fills. You'll find gems like:
  • Shifting Bits
  • Downloading Awesome Sauce
  • Reducing Complexity
  • Maximizing Fun Level
  • Bending Genres
  • Peeling Away Layers
  • Opening Flaps
  • Stretching Analogies
  • Calculating Odds
  • Arming Photon Torpedoes
  • Shooting Stars
  • Rearranging Deck Chairs
  • Herding Cats
  • Sharpening Skates
  • Tasting Rainbows
Many have complained about the Ouya for a variety of reasons. I'm still attracted to it's insistence on taking the ease and speed of mobile game development and putting it on my television. Mobile games are sort of fun on phones, but gaming for me is about a large screen and a couch. No one believes simplistic finger-swipe games should be ported to living room TVs. The burden is on developers to create compelling games based on the Android platform.

We've found the Ouya to be a formidable retro gaming platform with many emulators available and easy side-loading of ROMs via flash drives. Combining Ouya's ingenuity and sense of humor, we're glad to have participated in their Kickstarter campaign last year.
February 5, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

King Ltd. has inspired me to trademark my favorite word. I'm deciding between “fart” and “television”

I love Candy Corn. Each Fall, November 1 to be specific, I go to the grocery store and buy a half-dozen bags of price-slashed Candy Corn. At home, I put each bag into a Ziplock freezer-bag and toss them into the freezer. Call me what you will, but I eat Candy Corn all year long. During the savage heat waves of Summer, I whip out a bag of Candy Corn and my son smiles a knowing smile.

retro gaming I wish my zeal for Candy Corn would somehow generate one million dollars per day like Candy Crush Saga. I was in disbelief, but this odd puzzle game from King, does indeed rake in about a million per day.

One might suspect that, like any manufactured product, they have the game's title trademarked. I imagine they do, but in an effort to thwart wold-be copycats, King has successfully trademarked the word 'candy" in europe and are attempting the same in North America!

Remember when that story broke about some entity owning the rights to the "Birthday Song"? As if we're going to mail $10 to someone every time we have to sing Happy Birthday to some jerk at the office.

Can you really trademark a common word?
This story gets much better than just the idiocy of trademarking an every-day word. Developers who have already established games with the word 'candy' in the title are being issued notices that they are infringing on King's trademark. Combatting this is the Candy Jam website that encourages the submission of games involving 'Candy'. The idea is to flood app stores with 'candy' themed games.

I'm not a lawyer, but I'm quite certain one can not copyright or trademark common words. However, following the example set by King, I've decided to trademark the word 'television'. Next time you ask, "What's on TV tonight?" - send me $10 :)
February 4, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Has crowd funding popularity reached a dangerous peak with a dedicated TV show?

Everyone has an opinion about crowd funding. Ask someone who's project has been funded via a site like Kickstarter and they say they love crowd funding. Ask a person who donated $30 and hasn't heard from the campaign organizer in six months and you get a much different response. Everyone seems to like the concept, but the outcome is what dictates the overall opinion.

TV In my experience, risk is the most overlooked aspect of crowd funding. We know which e-mail scams to instantly delete, but we tend to be more trusting of "someone" who takes the time to set up a crowd funding campaign on one of the many available sites. Scams are rampant everywhere, but we tend trust a website with links to a Twitter and Facebook accounts. They must be "good" right?

If a project centers on a cool gaming idea or maybe a reboot of a beloved retro game title, I'm all over it. I always have to slow down and do some actual research before taking out my wallet. It's easy for me to get swept up in the vibe of a retro gaming project without stopping to make sure everything adds up.

When shopping in a store, regardless who created a product, the store protects your purchase in the form of a refund/exchange in most situations. There's no such protection in crowd funding. You donate $20 to a great idea and once they have your money... you hope they make good on it.

The notion of a TV show highlighting various campaigns sounds pretty cool, but I worry that it lends a layer of credibility to crowd funding that builds a trust that may not exist. I would never suggest that campaigns highlighted on TV are not genuine, but adding this sort of content to television may make us trust the model more than we should.

Crowd funding is a fairly new & growing phenomenon, but its important to be cautious and verify facts. You'd never buy a new car without knowing its real value. The same should be true with crowd funding campaigns. However, being relatively new, similar metrics for validation are not readily available for measure. Online auctions/sales sites have ratings systems to qualify sellers. Those seeking crowd funding are likely doing it fo the first time and have no track record to tout.

The Crowd Funder Show

The Crowd Funder Show logo There is no limit to the idiocy dubbed programming by network TV channels. Reality shows have taken over the airwaves largely due to lower production costs. They range from nature themes to business strategies. Some even slide toward the game-show genre. Many rely on personal conflicts and the cameras roll as fights ensue.

Shows like Shark Tank attempt to show that ingenuity hasn't completely faded. The Crowd Funder Show seems to take the high road and showcase various projects that are in the funding phase via internet crowd funding sites. I can't speak directly to the quality of the show since it runs solely on a Buffalo, NY station.

It sounds legit, but the larger story here is: Crowd funding has made it's way to television! When things are presented factually on TV we tend to trust them. As I said, I'm sure the Crowd Funder Show qualifies it's participants, but as crowd funding grows, more TV exposure is quite likely. Our trust in this financing model may also grow. Be cautious out there!

From The Crowd Funder Show website:
In response to the rapidly growing social media phenomenon known as Crowd Funding, The Crowd Funder TV Show is a half hour weekly show that profiles the best, brightest, and most interesting crowd funding projects along with their campaigners who are looking to make a mark, follow a dream or improve a community.

February 3, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Nintendo E-Reader cardboard swipe-cards added levels and mini games to the Game Boy Advance

It's errand-day and little Billy woefully gets into his Mother's car as she shuttles him from the supermarket, to the clothing store, to the salon, and finally the dry cleaner. His only salvation is his Game Boy Advance - the latest handheld from Nintendo in 2001. His Mother deftly swipes her credit card at every stop which does not go unnoticed by Billy. He wants in on that action - swipe card... get cool stuff!

e-Reader logo Nintendo released an odd add-on for the Game Boy Advance in Japan in December 2001 and a year later in North America in September 2002. Connected to the GBA's cart slot, the Nintendo e-Reader, was similar to credit card readers. You could swipe a Nintendo e-Card through the reader and depending on the associated game, the card would enable new levels, items or an entire game.

The Nintendo e-Reader worked primarily in 2 modes. Attached to a GBA, there were cards that contained mini games, complete black-box NES titles and various animations and info. The device also had the ability to add levels to existing games, like SMB3. However, if the e-Reader was in the game slot, where do you put the game cartridge?

The second, and poorly implemented, use of the e-Reader required two Game Boy Advance units and connection cable. In this scenario, you can run the game on one GBA and attach the e-Reader to the other. Um... yeah. On the other hand you could also cable it up to the GameCube to inject content to a GameCube game.

e-Reader kiosk I really like the novelty of the e-Reader and the idea of selling "smaller experiences" on a card of series of cards. However considering the awkwardness of attaching the Reader to the GBA and the fact that content was often split between 5 or 6 cards, 2 GBA units may be required, it's no wonder it was discontinued in early 2004. It was slated for European release, but was quickly pulled from the region.

Gateway for Outside Marketing?

Nintendo has always kept tight control over the content released on their hardware - particularly 3rd party games and accessories. I'm not sure if this was part of the e-Reader "plan", but this device made content creation much easier for those outside the gaming industry. Anyone could potentially take advantage of the Dot Code standard and create content that was very unique and even self contained on the Game Boy Advance.

Think about niche games like Chase The Chuckwagon from the Purina company for the Atari 2600. They created a custom cart with a tie-in to their dog food - the whole premise was based on their TV ad where a puppy was chasing the chuckwagon through the house. But that's a pretty big expenditure for that era.

The standardization of the Dot Code being printed on card-stock is a much easier way for a lot of folks to take advantage of placing their content on the popular GBA. Think of how brands today have online browser games on their websites in order to engage visitors with a fun experience that drives home their product. Once we got passed the Y2K fears, the 00's offered a fresh start for brands to make a big splash on a popular device like the Game Boy Advance.

Nintendo e-reader

Dot Code

It may seem hard to imagine a small card could contain enough code to "install" a game, but long ago we used to store info on multiple punch-cards and codes today, like QR and other barcodes, are increasingly sophisticated.

Nintendo's e-Cards were printed front and back with imagery and info, but their primary value is the Dot Code (shown below) that worked with the e-Reader. Info might be contained on a singel card, other instances, like complete NES games, were printed on several cards. The GBA screen reacted to the attachment of the e-Reader and would guide the user through properly swiping all the needed cards.

e-Reader Dot Code The Dot Code found on the edges of Nintendo e-Cards. The cards came in a few different configurations regarding the printed Dot Code. Smaller items would be printed along the short edge of the card. Larger games might be printed along both long-edges on several cards. Thus, you might get a single promotional card or buy a pack that contain the multiple cards needed for the game.

e-Reader Games

The following NES games were available:
Balloon Fight, Baseball, Clu Clu Land, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, Excitebike, Golf, Ice Climber, Pinball, Mario Bros., Tennis, Urban Champion.

There were also many cards released for Pokemon and Animal Crossing. These tended to be the smaller games suited for information or animations.

Nintendo e-reader

e-Reader Compatibility

Interestingly, the e-reader came out in North America about 1.5 years after the Game Boy Advance came to market. Often an accessory like this is introduced to stimulate sales later in the life cycle of a game device. I still wonder if it's intention was to expand the platform to brands outside of gaming who wanted to promote themselves to the gamer demographic. The e-Reader came out prior to the SP (clamshell) variation. It still works with the SP model, but can not take advantage of the External Extension Connector due to it's location. Despite this, the reader can be attached to the SP model and use the cards that don't require dual-GBA units of function.

e-Reader Hacks

All of the e-Cards have been reverse engineered to digital files that can be printed by an application. When printed on heavy card-stock paper, they will be read by the e-Reader.
February 2, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Today's gameday in NJ, but it's always Super Bowl Sunday on your NES with Tecmo

Tecmo Super Bowl is a football game for the NES released in December 1991. The original Tecmo Bowl proved successful in arcades in 1988 and on the NES in 1989. This led to the Super Bowl sequel that was the first sports video game with licensing of both the league (National Football League) and the player's association (National Football League Players Association). This let Tecmo use both NFL team names and actual player's names.

Tecmo Super Bowl for NES screen shot
Tecmo Bowl for arcade and NES Tecmo Bowl - 1988 (arcade) and February 1989 (NES).
Tecmo Super Bowl for NES - December 1991 Tecmo Super Bowl for NES - December 1991.

Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis versions of Tecmo Super Bowl were released in 1993.
February 1, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Is your arcade too cool for cash? Cashless systems are old news, but Bitcoin is shiny & new

When I saw an article about an arcade cabinet accepting Bitcoin, I became interested in some of the cashless systems being offered to operators. The article spoke of this conversion for "Donkey Kong", but the bitcoin update was on a modern multi-game cab that happened to include DK along with many other games.

I remember TV ads for gas stations that were touting a faster, more efficient payment system using a fob that was tied to your credit card. Simply "waving" it near the gas pump would complete your transaction. You could also do this inside their convenience store to buy a cup of coffee. The concept seemed interesting and possibly on the cusp of a larger movement in how we transact with retailers. On the other hand, I was certain that if I leaned over to grab a Slim Jim, I'd inadvertently pay for someone else's coffe and for that RV that just filled up on pump #4!

arcade change machine As I traveled through various arcades over the years, I've seen the conversion from quarters to tokens and the advent of paper bill-readers on the individual arcade cabinets. One game for $1.00!?! Yikes!

Of course, games are increasing in sophistication & physical size and often incorporate a sit-in environment. It's clear that times are ever changing and slowly reaching out to the actual currency we use!

Cashless Arcade Gaming

I don't see this too often, but dating back to the early 90's there was an arcade that used a cashless system with swipe cards and readers on each machine. This was a fairly unique place that integrated home console game play with traditional arcade cabs as well as a cutting edge (for the era) virtual reality game with 2 sets of VR helmets and widescreen TVs for onlookers. None the less, this advanced set up used amachine to issue swipe cards as well as add funds to them.

The first thing I noticed about this machine was it's independence. Like the traditional change-machines I saw in all arcades, this little machine handled all POS duties leaving employees to assist with customer issues on the gaming floor. No coin boxes to empty. No need to secure on-site cash. It made for a fairly independent arcade.

Oddly, cashless systems never invaded any of the arcades I frequented. Arcade games are expensive for operators. Adding technology has to pay for itself and the arcade cabinet during it's life time. I imagine the added cost of retrofitting for cashless systems was financially out of reach for many arcades. Dave & Buster's is the only example I can think of (I'm sure there are others) who use a cashless system to facilitate ease of play and increase spending. Of course D&B is a large chain which makes such upgrades more cost effective.

How bitcoins Work

Bitcoin logo Bitcoin is a complex system. On the surface it seems like a decentralized financial system that easily shed the trappings and cost of traditional banking. We've sent emails since the dawn of Net connectivity and social media lets everyone share info, images and video. While the extent of Bitcoin sounds as simple as adding another app to your smart phone - a lot has to happen to allow that app to authorize 3 lives in a round of Donkey Kong.

The popularity of direct deposit and debit cards make it quite easy to avoid entering a bank for years at a time. Despite this we know that the bank is an integral part of our retail transactions. Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer system relying on anonymity and cryptography to ensure a digital currency. "Bitcoin" is the technology while "bitcoin" (lowercase) is the currency. But using Bitcoin doesn't put bitcoins in your pocket.
Missile Command arcade game
If you're poised to break your record on Missile Command, you can't pop a bitcoin into the slot. Nor can you put a bitcoin on the edge of the glass to reserve the next round of play. Digital currency is about networks and accountability - block chains. This is what keeps track of how much bitcoin currency you have and all the transactions that account for Bitcoin as a financial medium. As I said, it's a complicated system. There are a few intricacies to it that go beyond understanding how the currency travels, reconciles and fluctuates in value.

Remember Phil Zimmermann's 1991 encryption scenario, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy)? It was a revolutionary stroke of genius that enabled easy encryption and decryption by authorized parties using a key-system. I could send an encrypted email to anyone and include my public key. This enabled only the recipient to decrypt the message. If the message was intercepted, only the real recipient had the correct Key, on their end, to decrypt the message. Bitcoin works in a similar manner as a peer-to-peer payment system.

Playing Missile Command with bitcoins

Mobile gaming is about touch screens and networked games, but the average arcade game is about joysticks & a few Fire-buttons or a steering wheel. These are analog delights that beg to be wailed on as we challenge ourselves with the remarkable games they provide. So, how does my smart phone tell an arcade cabinet that I paid for a game?

Sending a bitcoin payment to another person with a smart phone is an easy thing to envision, even if you've never done it. Paying a merchant is also easy to imagine. But an arcade machine? Well, the machine has to be on a network that enables Bitcoin. The article linked above suggested using a Raspberry Pi computer as the conduit to the arcade owner's digital wallet. That seems like a feasible upgrade for a modern $6,000 multi-game cabinet. Is that same investment rational on a 1980 Missie Command cabinet.
cashless card reader

Hidden Aspects of Going Cashless

I see a lot of promotional info trying to lure arcade and amusement operators to go cashless or upgrade to Bitcoin. They all tout higher consumer spending habits, larger profits and ease of use. Overall, this sounds great and this may become a standard, but I would caution anyone seeking such an upgrade to heavily research the conversion process. Converting a laundry-era coin mech to swipe or Bitcoin may be a costly and labor-intensive undertaking. I love the digital world we live in, but bridging digital to an analog device may not be a cakewalk.

Until Bitcoin becomes more pervasive and understood as a payment option, it's not likely to be worth upgrading unless it's on a large scale. Converting a few machines to Bitcoin won't likely provide a good return on investment. But tuck these cashless technologies in the back of your head... eventually this may be the standard!

January 2014 Retro Gaming Articles:

January 31, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The reason my phone constantly opens NFL Mobile #money #indifference #corruption #kickbacks #greed

cellular BS A recent update to my Android smart phone made a few changes some good while others reek of corporate corruption, kickbacks and everything that reveals most senior management teams are seething whoremongers of fiscal greed and corruption.

I'm a retro gamer at heart who struggles with the notion that a "video game" could be played on a small screen with taps and finger swipes. Growing up with a robust Atari 2600 joystick in my grasp, I destroyed asteroids, attacked the Qotile, fired in defiance at Evil Otto and saved 6 cities from ICBMs.

I'll play Angry birds on my phone. I won't play anything titled, Fruit Ninja. Turkey Chase, from Happy Badger Studios, was the first mobile game that made me re-think gaming on a phone. I've seen Snake on every Nokia, but Turkey Chase was the bridge between my staunch passion for a rugged joystick and the touch-screen control of mobile games.

As I struggle to find my way in mobile gaming, the ability to play games on a mobile device should be an extra perk to an already solid device. Alas, most phones are poorly constructed and wear out surprisingly fast. Making matters worse, your carrier, Verizon for example, has a lot of control over how your device performs. In theory, I should be able to work around this via default settings, but regardless of my settings, NFL Mobile wants to be my "go to" app for everything.

Android football app Do you have this NFL icon on your phone? I do. The last System update installed NFL Mobile. I don't want it. I don't care about football. I am unable to uninstall or remove it. I have a few apps like this and they sit dormant taking up space on my phone. These apps impact me very little. This is not the case with NFL Mobile.

In fact, my phone now offers to launch NFL Mobile every time I click a web link or launch an app from within another. Rather than simply launching the Browser, an intermediary step engages and waits for me to decline launching this ridiculous football app instead of launching the browser.

As I try to embrace my trusty companion, my smart phone, as a gaming platform, I still prefer my DS Lite, 2DS, Caanoo, or NeoGeoX when it comes to mobile gaming. NONE of these platforms remind me of corporate greed and corruption when I simply want to play a game. I'm sure many people enjoy the NFL Mobile app. I wonder if they like it's pervasive need to be an unnecessary part of smart phone usage.
January 30, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The power & traction of video games attracted Life Magazine to Twin Galaxies Arcade in Ottumwa, IA in 1982

I've seen this photo many times. Each time I encounter it, a snippet or caption would reveal a bit more info. I know this photo kept reappearing because is was iconic, important and a milestone in the history of video games. It marked a small-town arcade's, Twin Galaxies, rise to international notoriety! I decided it was time for me to find out a little more about this photo.

gamers gathered in front of the famous Twin Galaxies arcade in Ottumwa, Iowa. Life Magazine's January 1983 issue was the special Year in Pictures issue for 1982 Photo by Life Magazine photographer Enrico Ferorelli - November 7, 1982 Life Magazine's January 1983 issue was the special Year in Pictures issue for 1982 Sixteen of eighteen invited gamers posed for this photo with a half-dozen of the most popular video games of the time and several of the Ottumwa High cheerleaders. Those familiar with moving arcade cabinets know they are heavy. This makes the photo interesting in 2 ways. It was taken outside the infamous Twin Galaxies Arcade yet the photo is set up in the middle of the street and the arcade doesn't seem to be in the photo.

My experience with professional photographers is that it takes a lot of time to set up each shot. You can't just move a few arcade cabs into the street, jump into the frame and snap a picture. I'm sure Life Magazine closed down the street, prepped the shot and may have had to shoo away a few cars.

Time Magazine's January 18, 1982 issue about the popularity of video games Walter Day, opened the Twin Galaxies arcade in November 1981 after spending the Summer visiting many video game arcades. I can only imagine he was scoping out what other operators were doing, but he was also jotting down the high scores he found on each game.

About a year after opening Twin Galaxies, he publicly released his high score list as the Twin Galaxies National Scoreboard and his arcade became known as the official scoreboard of video games. This put a small town in Iowa on the international radar as Walter rose as the officiator of all arcade game records. On November 30, 1982, Mayor Jerry Parker declared Ottumwa, IA the "Video Game Capital of the World."

The Launch of Professional Gaming

When we hear about the multi-million dollar payout from the recent release of Grand Theft Auto V, it sends a clear message about the enormity of video games. The developer budgets and sales figures are astounding, but Walter Day's contributions and the force behind Twin Galaxies is equally amazing regarding that early era of arcades and video games. It was the launching pad for professional gaming and Life Magazine came to Iowa to document the pros of that era!

Twin Galaxies Arcade Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade is a 2007 documentary about the golden age of arcade games that catches up with Walter Day and several of the pros captured in the Life photo. As middle-aged men, they reminisce about the arcade scene in which they grew up and dominated. Paying tribute to Twin Galaxies and the iconic Life Magazine photo, a reunion occurred a few years earlier (Sept. 2005) outside a theater in Laconia, NH. Their goal was to recreate the look and feel of the original Life photo. Footage of this reunion is included in Chasing Ghosts.

For me, the iconic image outside Twin Galaxies represents the power and importance of passion. You don't need an NFL salary to love football. You don't need a pitch-perfect voice to appreciate the resurgence of Black Sabbath. Whether you write code or love "dropping quarters," one person can make a difference in gaming. Don't ever loose sight of your passion as it will take you far!
January 29, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Rovio didn't collude w/ the NSA - Angry Birds is the ONLY video game known to the TV News Media

Data-wrangler Edward Snowden didn't sneak one cookie from the jar and surreptitiously eat it with a wide grin on his face. He uncovered everything known to the cookie-baking Keebler Elves and fled for his life. I'm not interested in his motives or morality. I'm fascinated by the drips of emerging info that are attributed to the "documents" he possesses. Every new morsel of sinister behavior is met with oohs and ahs as though we all thought the World Peace Meter was pegged at "Nice".

Of the many "Spying" stories we've heard, various US intelligence agencies are thought to have spied on everyone including foreign terror cells, your Math teacher and most keyboard-savvy devices powered by electricity. Which brings us to leaky apps and Angry Birds...

No spying "Leaky apps?" you ask, "What's that?"
In theory a leaky app is one that broadcasts info without your knowledge. It may be purposeful as part of the manufacturer's data collection routine or an accidental issue in the creation of the app - most often it's not accidental. Either way, People are upset that the NSA may know something about them. These folks would be shocked at what the average telemarketer knows...

TV News Outlets Randomly Target Rovio's Angry Birds

The TV news media, in an effort to feign relevancy, are reporting on the latest fear - data collection through mobile games. They assert this could be part of the NSA's spying operation. Suddenly that festive red bird from Rovio's popular Angry Birds game is slathered across every news program's reporting of the "video game spying connection". There has been NO connection between Rovio and the game-spying allegations!

Rovio has had to come out and issue press releases and interviews defending allegations by the News Media that Angry Birds is collecting and sharing info with federal agencies. This nonsense was started by the News Media!

It would seem that journalists needed a focal point for their latest unwarranted and unsubstantiated attack on video games. They seemingly chose Angry Birds for it's popularity, but it's more than likely the only mobile game journalists are aware of. No source has offered ANY proof that any Rovio app was involved or mentioned in Snowden's cache of secret documents. Nor has Rovio been implicated by anyone, regarding the spying allegations.

The News Media Fabricated the Nationwide "Knockout Game" connection

Remember the "Knockout Game" story perpetuated by TV news agencies? They were reporting on this phenomena in which random victims were sucker punched and video of the attacks was often posted to Facebook accounts. Guess what - the term "Knockout game" was made up by the news media. The attacks they showed were vicious cowardly acts, but the notion that these were connected events was pure fabrication by the news. Thanks, TV news journalists - we were bored with foreign policy and Jackass hasn't been on cable in ages. These "journalists" should all be fired.

The days of reliable televised news are long gone. Information has become a commodity for news outlets. I've heard CNN anchors begin coverage based on something they saw on Twitter - WTF? They have traded accuracy and validity for ratings and advertising revenue. Viewers need to think for themselves and realize they can't rely on TV news.

PBS Newshour is the one glowing exception to the standard drivel perpetuated on TV.
January 28, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

This “Mario Sales Model” shifts focus from product to benefit

When I first saw this image, I chuckled at it's retro influence, then I realized it's simplistic truth. We don't buy a new shirt to bolster a wardrobe; we buy a new shirt for the way we think we'll look when wearing it. That seems like a simple idea, but we so rarely focus on it.

We take all sorts of risks to obtain power-ups, while playing video games. Justification of the risk doesn't come from picking up flowers or mushrooms, it's our desire to be bigger, faster and valt higher! Alas, when it comes to marketing our wares, we so often forget that a widget is just a widget. The reason someone buys our widget is because of the change it will bring to them.

Mario power-up sales model "People don't buy products; they buy better versions of themselves."

Many retailers become so close to their products that they begin to see them as widgets and sell them as widgets. The reality is they are selling a new experience to a customer, whether it's a new shirt, tool or video game - the item will change and better the user in a way that may seem detached from the product itself.

Don't just sell the widget - sell change.
January 28, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The Retro Arcade Experience Moves to Mobile

Written by guest author, Nadia Hyeong, tech & gaming writer

The Retro Arcade Experience Moves to Mobile Throwbacks aren't only for Thursdays; it's an everyday affair for gamers as many retro arcade games make their way to our smartphones. Mobile games have adapted the nostalgic style of the arcade, creating fresh experiences from these old-time classics. Now considered an art form or a style on its own, 'retro' has become a legitimate genre for the iOS and Android platforms. Nowadays, a plethora of mobile finds effortlessly transport you back to the times of joysticks, SNES, and 8-bit music.

Arcade Invades the Mobile World

Space Invaders made its mark in video game history as one of the first arcade games that broke geographic boundaries. First released in Japan, it traveled all the way to the American roller skate rinks and arcade houses to capture Western sensibilities. Now, its gameplay has become a staple in mobile gaming as evidenced by this newest offering by Retro Dreamer. Velocispider has a premise that is totally bizarre - you control a half-arachnid, half-Velociraptor (hence the name) that shoots out lasers and cannons from its head to protect the eggs against robot aquatic creatures led by an evil businessman. Makes sense? Not a bit. Sounds fun? Definitely. Such is the brilliance of old-school arcade games - crazy plots and simple controls.

Retro games aren't particularly needy for top-notch graphics, but some old school-inspired games are brilliant when paired with the newest advancement in mobile gaming technology. Take for example, Apple's iPhone 5S and its A7 microchip with a 64-bit processor, which O2 describes as having "desktop class architecture and delivering doubled performance". Its highly evolved graphical mechanism is evident with this particular retro app - Pix'n Love Rush. A traditional side-scroller game, this Game and Watch-inspired app looks vibrant on the iPhone 5S even with retro graphics and old-school animations.

Another noteworthy retro game is this app called Commander Pixman. Simple games are no longer developed to be irritable difficult to compensate for its relatively short length. Retro puzzle games are notoriously difficult - Super Ghouls 'n Ghosts, Battletoads, and the Megaman series come to mind. Commander Pixman tells us that the retro movement is adapting to the mobile way of playing. Tailored to be quick, simple, but not at all easy - this app is the representation of the retro's transformation to the mobile platform.

Why Retro is Making a Comeback?

Some would attribute this return to the old sensitive Generation Y. Born and raised during the time when consoles were rising to mainstream success, the twenty-something of today are given many avenues to revisit the past, thanks largely to modern technology.

This trend could be traced back to the downloadable content being offered by video game titans like PlayStation and Xbox. With these simple games being rendered digitally, an expanded library of retro games is made available. Fast internet speeds allow less time spent on downloading, and more time spent sharing and playing. New audiences gain newfound interest in a little bit of video game history. Kids can play the origins of the modern Megaman and Pokemon.

Because the internet is a cornucopia of information spanning the edge of time itself, digital archaeology is as simple as using Google or Wikipedia. It has become easier to participate in such a style with so much research material available at our fingertips. The immense jump in video game technology - from 8-bit pixels to unrefined polygons to real-life replicas of human beings, makes the idea of "retro gaming" an obvious thing.

As the industry focus on mobile computing more than any other aspect of video games, there will always be a retro scene that will exist on the smartphone and tablet market. The combined interest of a nostalgic Generation Y, retro developers tailoring for the mobile market and the ubiquity of the internet combine to ensure the longevity of the retro gaming scene.

About the author:
Nadia Hyeong strives to complete every achievement trophy on the Xbox Live. At the moment, she freelances as a contributor for several tech and gaming websites. She aspires to become a video game creative writer in the future. You may contact her via Twitter @NadiaHyeong.
January 27, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Elephant disks promised pachyderm memory endurance & injected a bit of humor into floppies

Elephant Memory Systems logo Leading Edge Hardware Products was a computer hardware & software manufacturer in the 1980s & 1990s, based in Westborough, MA. They may be best remembered as the distributor of Elephant Memory Systems (EMS) brand floppy disks with their "Elephant. Never forgets" slogan.

The concept came together around the adage that elephants never forget. They used this idea in a number of playful ways that was very contrary to other computer ads of the time. Trunks for the memories.

Scientists are constantly finding more proof in support of their memory. They keep a vigilant watch over other elephants in their group and show signs of recognizing other friendly elephants they have previously encountered. What always strikes me most is their apparent grieving over the body of one of their herd. I was impressed with them every year my parents took me to the circus. Hated clowns. Loved elephants.

EMS is remembered as a premium brand that stood out due to it's powerful elephant logo that was often presented against a bright colored background. Many of their ads also injected a bit of humor around elephants and their lore. Every thing from "memory" to "trunks" was used. This is contrary to the brands inception as a mass-market low cost line.

Elephant Memory Systems disk envelope back side of Elephant Memory Systems disk envelope That sums up my feeling about media in general - its all the same regardless of price. I always spend way too much time trying to evaluate which DVD-r discs are best. They're all the same - some just cost more. Elephant rose up and became one of the top selling media brands in history.

In the early 80s, computers were serious business. Several computers on the market were nothing more than souped-up game consoles, but much of the fun was reserved. This was the IBM era that tended to be bland in a number of ways. EMS presented more of an Mtv attitude in their advertising and packaging.

I vividly remember their paper sleeves on the floppies with the Elephant logo. There were even diskette care tips on the reverse sie of the envelope - don't touch the shiny parts! That logo had a fierce and regal feel to it... and it was just a floppy disk brand. Of course we all remember the aha-moment when we realized single-sided disks really had 2 useable sides.

Elephant Skateboard Known in the skate world as Mike V, professional skateboarder Mike Vallely has long used elephants in his deck graphics. His recently launched Elephant Skateboards company uses an elephant logo quite similar to that of Elephant Memory Systems.

In 1984, Leading Edge released a database application called Nutshell - developed by a company called Nashoba Systems. This application is still regarded as one of the best database applications today. You may known it during it's tenure with Claris as FileMaker and subsequently FileMaker Pro.
January 26, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The Video Game Selection Center in-store kiosk enabled game play without an Atari VCS

Article update 4/30/14: We were recently contacted by Goodwill Hunter who owns the VGSC unit shown below. He provided the PCB photo and a lot of insight and info about this device.

In today's world of retail game sales, we've come to expect demo kiosks. Everyone involved, from manufacturers to gamers & retailers, benefit from letting customers try new hardware as well as the games that run on it. Online trailers can be excellent sales tools by showing various levels and atributes to a geme. What they lack is the ability to convey game play. I've watched trailers that really motivated me, but playing the game in a local store could go either way.
Wii U in-store demo kiosk
Movie trailers, in particular, are masterful at making awful movies look great. Game trailers can have the same effect. Trying the game in a store - with a controller in my hand - always helps to make my final decision. Sometimes the control just feels bad or the excitement of the trailer is totally lacking in the actual demo game play. Then there are times when you know you've found a winner and the whole experience makes you want to play for hours... except you're standing in a crowded game store :)

Modern Game Kiosks

From the mid 1990s forward, I recall a variety of innovative gaming kiosks set up in stores to showcase hardware and games. Predominantly, these kiosks are mini fortresses to protect the hardware and disuade thieves from running off with anything of value. So, we are accustomed to demoing games and hardware on the actual consoles. We don't see controller cables disappearing into mysterious black boxes. Most kiosks let you see the console. This wasn't always the case...

Atari 2600 Video Game Selection Center This Video Game Selection Center has 44 (+ one blank space) Atari 2600 games, set up for 1 or 2 players with control for joysticks and paddles. This unit doesn't have any external branding, but there is an Atari logo on the PCB. These units were designed for Sears.
Atari 2600 Video Game Selection Center Video Game Selection Center's control options.

There are advertisements, from the late 70s & early 80s, showing that the Atari 2600 was being sold by a variety of different kinds of retailers from appliance and TV stores to drug stores and toy stores. No one really knew what it was (electronics, toys, etc) or how to categorize it. Gaming eventually evolved into a category - and an Aisle in many stores. As the 2600 gained competition from Mattel and Coleco, gaming became more established, but retailers still struggled with in-store displays to entice consumers.

Many retailers set up multiple game consoles, each with a game inserted, with a corresponding TV. Sometimes the consoles were bolted down, other times locked in a transparent display case. Retailers were finding ways to engage customers while separating themselves from the other resellers. The interesting thing about the Video Game Selection Center is it is so removed from the 2600 hardware.

Neither an Atari console or it's actual controllers were used to demo the 2600 games. It's a slick device that can demo a lot of titles, but it's interesting that is has no visible branding on it. I thought is may have been conceived during the rift with Sears and Atari. I was later informed that Atari actually built these units for Sears! They were designed by Atari's arcade division and were to be displayed on the counters of Sear's electronics departments.

The Video Game Selection Center was made by Atari?

Like the Atari 2600 Test Console, I wish there was more public information about the Video Game Selection Center. I'm wondering if there are other styles & configurations. I've read that these units were Atari-made, but you have to view the internal PCB to see the Atari logo. I've been told that Atari requested the return of the PCB upon reaching the end of it's useful life with the understanding that the reseller would destroy the console. This accounts for the rarity of the device since there are more PCBs than complete consoles in existence.

From the outset, Atari was very brand conscious. As far back as Pong, clones, copies and duplicates flooded the market. Atari knew they had to protect their brand legally as well as perceptually in the marketplace - put your name/brand on EVERYTHING! As far as I can see this Video Game Selection Center has no mention of 'Atari" in text or logo. In fact, until you read through the list of games on the top face of the unit, there's no indication that it contains 2600 titles. Perhaps in it's era, it would have been contextually obvious that it contained Atari 2600 games, but I find the lack of branding very interesting.

Atari 2600 Video Game Selection Center An online game forum indicated that this device is PCB-driven, containing a large internal board with 2600 ROM-chips soldered in place. I've seen customer demo set-ups like the Parker Brother's kiosk that simply interact with cartridges plugged into a common PCB along with a selection switch. Why would the Video Game Selection Center have an internal PCB making it difficult to add new games in the future. Having the names printed on the face of the unit suggests one would not be changing or rearranging the offered titles.

Another facet I hadn't paid much attention to is the listing of games on the face. They are not alphabetically arranged - or so it seems. The titles are listed with their "Sears" names, but appear in alphabetical order according to their "Atari" names. Being developed by Atari, I'm sure the order of games, on the PCB, made more sense internally to Atari employees who were accustomed to Atari names and SKUs.

Look at the photo showing a close-up of the controls and game selection buttons.I like that this unit is 2-player and supports both Joystick and Paddle games, but look at the selection buttons that let you choose a game. The selection process is broken down into 2 actions - selecting the game number and pressing start.

But the game's number is broken down into 2 actions - each digit of the number is individually selected with a "Tens" and a "Ones" button. Selecting game #27 would entail pressing the Tens button twice and the ones button 7 times. I'm sure your progress is displayed on the monitor. Speaking of which, the video connection goes to a standard RF box just like the Atari 2600.

I liken this to selections within a 2600 game where moving the joystick left was one action and moving right was another. Why would such an odd mechanic be placed on the face of this unit, split into Tens and Ones? That seems like a proto or proof-of-concept move that would be replaced with a more intuitive scenario like a keypad. Atari had a lot of experience from arcades to home consoles - tens & ones seems like an odd choice for anyone with electronic's knowledge. I suspect the decision is tied to some programming aspect of the PCB, but you have to admit it's rather strange.

Video Game Selection Center - Atari logo The PCB image shows the location of the Atari logo on the upper edge of the board. Click the image for a larger view. This "Sears" unit is based on the Atari Point-Of-Purchase (POP). The Atari POP was a large unit with storage, Marquee and a 2600 on a shelf. But wait! That "2600" is only a shell!

The innards of the Atari POP were beneath the shelf. The faux 2600 simply helped guide a game cartridge into a slot on the PCB. This allowed new games to be added via this cart slot. Nestled inside the VGSC for Sears is the same slot, but the outer case does not allow access to it. Same PCB / different outer shell. The Atari POP was a large stand-alone display, whereas the VGSC was designed for countertop use. It may be possible to insert a cart into the slot on the VGSC, but that remains a mystery (to me).

The PCB has 48 ROM slots, numbered 0-47. Slot 0 seems to hold Atari's POP operating system and slots 1-45 hold game ROMs. The last 2 slots are open. The Video Game Selection Center has 3 additional games than the Atari POP units, because it includes 3 games exclusive to Sears; Submarine Commander, Steeplechase, and in the blank slot 44 (so far, no one knows why it's unlabeled) Stellar Track.

Video Game Selection Center's included games:

  • 01 Adventure
  • 02 Target Fun
  • 03 Asteroids
  • 04 Backgammon
  • 05 Basketball
  • 06 Bowling
  • 07 Breakaway
  • 08 Canyon Bomber
  • 09 Poker Plus
  • 10 Circus
  • 11 Tank Plus
  • 12 Dodger Cars
  • 13 Football
  • 14 Golf
  • 15 Hangman
  • 16 Baseball
  • 17 Cannonman
  • 18 Maze Mania
  • 19 Missile Command
  • 20 Night Driver
  • 21 Othello
  • 22 Gunslinger
  • 23 Soccer
  • 24 Darediver
  • 25 Maze
  • 26 Space Invaders
  • 27 Speedway II
  • 28 Superman
  • 29 Tic-Tac-Toe
  • 30 Checkers
  • 31 Chess
  • 32 Pong Sports
  • 33 Pinball
  • 34 Warlords
  • 35 Berzerk
  • 36 Haunted House
  • 37 Math Grand Prix
  • 38 Defender
  • 39 Yar's Revenge
  • 40 Pac-Man
  • 41 Super Breakout
  • 42 Demons to Diamonds
  • 43 Submarine Commander
  • 44 [blank] Stellar Track
  • 45 Steeple Chase

The Video Game Selection Center is another rare piece of Atari history whose answers likely lie with the lucky owners of such devices. Retro collectors are often really great about posting info regarding rare items they own. I wish there was more info available for this fascinating device. More pictures can be found at Atarimania and Classic Games Blog

Again, our thanks to Goodwill Hunter who reached out to us with info, images and further proof that the retro gaming community is comprised of really good people.
January 25, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Intellivision homebrew includes Mattel's 3 Tron games & M Network title for a CIB release of Tron Complete

Tron Complete logo Announced last Fall, Intellivision Revolution will soon be releasing pre-ordered copies of Tron complete for the Intellivision. You can get more details on AtariAge. This will be a limited run of 200 cartridges, with all the trimmings (CIB) box, manual, overlay and a cartridge containing all of Mattel's Tron games. There were 3 games created for the Intellivision and one for the Atari 2600.

Mattel produced 3 Intellivision games based on Disney's 1982 film, Tron. In a short period, Mattel released: Tron Deadly Discs (1982), Tron Maze-A-Tron (1982) and Tron Solar Sailer (1983).

Mattel's 3 Tron games for Intellivision
Mattel's Adventures of Tron for Atari 2600 Tron Maze-A-Tron was being ported to the Atari 2600, under the M Network brand, when it took a life of it's own. Apparently the porting process yielded a much different game and was retitled as Adventures of Tron.

Since the game developed into a much different game, Mattel wanted to release Adventures Of Tron for the Intellivision, but cancelled the title's Intellivision release.

M Network logo

Stealth Brand: M Network

M Network was a Mattel brand that allowed them to bring Intellivision titles to the 2600 with minimal outcry. Intellivision was a prime competitor to the Atari 2600. They wanted to leverage the popularity of their games into the vast install-base of 2600 consoles. Many 3rd party companies were independently developing their own titles for the 2600, but Mattel balked when Atari proposed a game to be developed for the Intellivision.

The M Network cartridges looked pretty strange to Atari owners, but the carts were actually physically similar to Intellivision carts with the addition of a flared base to match the specs for insertion into a VCS. As an Atari-kid, I thought many of Mattel's Intellivision games were poor versions of my beloved 2600 games.

Tron Complete box art Every time I think about Atari and Intellivision, I'm reminded of an early 80's Christmas when my buddy got an Intellivision and we all dashed over to his house to check out the games - we were Atari kids. I have to admit the sports games were impressive. They were far superior to those I'd seen on the 2600, but the space battle games seemed to be copies of the arcade favorites I loved on the 2600.

On the other hand, there are several M Network games, like Astro Blast, that I really like. Of corse I had to snatch up a copy of Intellivision Lives for both my PS2 and Nintendo DS! I should also mention my PSone copy of "A Collection of Classic Games from the Intellivision".

Over time I became more of an Intellivision fan, but never owned the console as a kid - but I do now :)
January 24, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The Apple Macintosh turns 30! Mac SE/30 Yes, I'm aware the SE/30 is not 30 years old. I've always loved the SE - particularly the SE/30... and Frenzy.

January 23, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

If it looks like Mario, plays like Mario, smells like Mario and has 4 dip switches- it's not Mario

The web is buzzing about a $5,000 eBay auction for a single NES game - NWC 1990. I often think about all the carts I never bought - including the ones in the discount bin after Nintendo's first game console was supplanted by a Super upgrade. I have a modest collection of NES games, but you can never have too many. The ugly truth is, there will always be games I don't own.

The rarity of a game is often tied to quantity. When the market is flooded with copies, the price drops. When there are only 90 copies the price can be staggering. But who only makes 90 copies of a game? No one... They really made 116. Oh.

In 1990 Nintendo sponsored/promoted a Nintendo World Championship video game competition that sampled 29 US cities for competitors, in 3 age brackets. The tournament involved 3 variants of NES games: Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris. Players had a peculiar time constraint of 6 minutes and 21 seconds to obtain a high score.

The 90 gray carts (pictured below) were given to finalists after the tournament. The remaining 26 carts were gold and given away via a separate contest. These carts are rare due to low quantity but most notably because they were custom designed for this competition. Semi-finalists got a hat.

Nintendo World Championships 1990 game cartridge The is the "torn label" 1990 Nintendo World Championship cart found on an eBay auction with a starting bid of $5,000. Someone who may not have known the history of this cart wrote "mario" on it. This is likely the first game they encountered if they tried playing it.
Nintendo World Championships 1990 game cartridge This is a documented copy of the gray-cart style of the1990 Nintendo World Championship game cart. A serial number appears on the label's upper left corner.

This customization involved playing snippets of each of the 3 aforementioned games in 6 min 21 secs. You had to:
  • Collect 50 coins in Super Mario Bros.
  • Complete a specialized Nintendo World Championship Rad Racer course
  • Play Tetris until your time expired
The final score from the 3 mini games was calculated as such:
(Super Mario Bros. score) + (Rad Racer score x 10) + (Tetris score x 25) = final score

These carts can go for as much as $20K for the gold versions, so one never knows how high the price could go. On the other hand a quick google search will send you to a ROM file that may give you a hint of what it would be like to win the Nintendo World Championship!

Nintendo World Championships 1990 game cartridge dip Switches Close up of the 4 dip switches that control the various time limits for game play.

Sold for US $99,902.00

Call me crazy, but I doubt that check will show up. NWC carts in really good shape haven't come close to half the winning bid. Combine that with the low Feedback Rating of several of the bidders makes you thing the trolls were out doing their thing.

Nintendo World Championships 1990 game cartridge sold on eBay
January 23, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

After 1 quarter I knew Zaxxon was super, yet I was unaware that Nokia snaked Gremlin's Blockade

When Zaxxon arrived at Mt. Kisco's Electric Playhouse, I was instantly intrigued. I'd never seen a game that exhibited such distinct visual depth. Some game designers were better at creating perspective based on relative sizing of sprites as the approached and retreated, but it would be years before I heard the term "isometric shooter" (I still call it ¾ view). I loved Zaxxon!

Gremlin Industries logo Released for a myriad of home consoles, I had the Atari 2600 version which paled next to the Colecovision cart. Coleco was the first home release to retain the isometric viewpoint. As I discovered it on other platforms, I associated it with Sega... then I heard of Gremlin Industries.

Many of the early "Sega" arcade games were actually branded as Sega/Gremlin. You'll find this from cabinet art to promotional materials. By the time I realized this partnership, Sega was so ingrained in my mind, I'd never seen it in print. Who were these guys partnered with the mighty Sega?

Arcade flyer for Sega/Gremlin's Zaxxon game Zaxxon Arcade Flyer - page 2 Zaxxon Arcade Flyer - page 3 Zaxxon Arcade Flyer - page 4 As it turns out, Gremlin Industries entered the arcade scene in 1976 with a maze game called Blockade. Blockade - page 2 It was similar to the arcade game Nibbler that was released in December 1982 - the first game to support a billion point score.

The success of Blockade enabled Gremlin to stay the course and later partner with Sega. Those who've used Nokia mobile phones may be familiar with an offshoot of this maze genre called, Snake. So prolific was this simple game, it was a standard on all Nokia phones and even made an appearance on Binatone's retro Brick Phone.

In 1979, Gremlin merged with Sega and began labeling new video games by Gremlin with the Sega/Gremlin brand. A few years later, Gremlin was acquired by Bally, yet succumbed to the Crash of 83 and closed shop a year later in 1984. Zaxxon, released in January 1982 in upright & cocktail configurations, appears to be the last game bearing the Sega/Gremlin logo. However, Zaxxon lived on.

Super Zaxxon

Less than one year later, in November 1982, Super Zaxxon tried to capitalize on the success of the original, without Gremlin Industries. Retaining the same ¾ perspective, it was primarily a harder version of Zaxxon. It looked similar to Zaxxon in order to capitalize on the success and familiarity gamers knew, but it delivered a different experience. From faster speed to additional fighters, you also had to navigate a narrow tunnel into the next area and survive 3 Super Zaxxon robots.

Despite not catching on Like the original Zaxxon, both games (Super and otherwise) were ported to the PS2, PSP and PS3 in varying forms on the Sega Genesis Collection compilation game that features many Sega titles.

Super Zaxxon arcade game screen Super Zaxxon arcade game
January 22, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

SyFy Channel's show, Opposite Worlds, integrates social media while releasing “Lord of the Flies”

I'm a simple guy. When King Of The Nerds aired last year, I rooted for the gamer girl with bright pink hair. As the SyFy Channel (screw branding- go back to "SciFi") debuted their social media infused reality show, Opposite Worlds last night, I gravitated toward the gamer girl with bright red hair. As stated - I'm a simple guy :)

Actually, I would have missed this entirely if it weren't for Patrick Scott Patterson's promotion of the show. He's a Video Game Media Personality with a powerful indie voice in the video game industry. One of the contestants is a friend, so he's been encouraging folks to cheer her on. And yes... she's the gamer girl with the bright red hair - Rachel!

the cast of SyFy's Opposite Worlds reality show From the show's website:
In Opposite Worlds, 14 people face off on opposing teams that live in a house separated into two distinctly different worlds: one past and one future, each with its own unique advantages and disadvantages. One by one they will eliminated, with the final standing player crowned Opposite Worlds champion and winning $100,000.

The show opens with 2 groups living in polar opposite conditions. One team toasts with Champaign while the smart-house A/V system describes the lavish details of their living space. The other team, cold and dressed in rags, struggle to light a fire in a very primitive environment. We see the discrepancy and then a curtain falls that allows the two teams to see each other and realize the disparity first-hand. The competition involves the winners getting to choose where they want to live - the lavish future or the disheveled past.

Rachel from SyFy's Opposite Worlds reality show

Viewer engagement via Twitter

Most TV shows bore me and I'm usually working on the computer with the TV serving as background filler. Breaking Bad is an amazing departure from this scenario and AMC went one step farther with their Screen Sync concept that engaged users via the web in real-time with each episode. It wasn't the most dynamic thing ever, but an interesting idea, that was sure to spur other ways to engage viewers... and deliver ads to 2 screens.

Opposite Worlds takes engagement a step farther - in my opinion. Rallying around the popularity of Twitter, they are using a "Popularity Index" to measure viewer's feelings toward each player. Combining the players name with the #OppositeWorlds hashtag and a positive message increases that players "popularity" in the social media sphere- the opposite is true for negative comments.

They are also choosing to run the show 2 nights each week which should peak interest more than the weekly model. This may also spur viewers to engage via Twitter in the 23 hours between shows and on into the next week. I hope this show will further interest, by TV networks to further explore social media engagement and extend this concept across more social networks!

Rachel from SyFy's Opposite Worlds reality show So, it's not just a numbers game or tallying the votes based on hashtags. They are incorporating a Twitter Popularity Index, powered by Verizon, that takes the content of your tweet into account. They use the player's name and hashtag to identify tweets, but using words like "love, awesome and best" should increase popularity, while "jerk, loser and lethargic creep" may downgrade popularity :)

app Keep in mind that Verizon is powering this popularity index. Their latest update, to my smart phone, wants to open every single document with an NFL football app. Every URL and video click or document engaged suggests this NFL app as appropriate. I guess money can make anything happen.

Lord of the Flies

It's obvious that the contestants want to live in the posh future area where showers and edible food are provided. Those enjoying the good life will fight to maintain it while those in the bleaker past area will fight hard to get a hot shower, by winning the right to live in the future area.

The first challenge was a joust of sorts with electronic stun battons atop a raised platform. The goal was to knock your opponent off the platform. The contestants seemed taken aback by the stun battons, but one guy lunged at his apponent and knocking him off the platform and into an ambulance. Clearly he was badly injured, but the show continued as if death was a reasonable expectation.

Then we get to the tweeting fans. Initially, fans tend to rally around someone they admire or align with. As things progress, we see that some folks want to see the "snob" removed from luxury and relegated to the primitive past area. Soon, I'm sure a wide array of motivations (in the form of tweets) will begin to effect the players in ways we might not expect.

Without the police and armed forces, we would quickly devolve to the lowest common denominator.
January 22, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

I yearn to walk down the Atari aisle in a retail store- Jaguar memories rise

I can look at this picture for hours the way some might look at a scenic vista or work of art. The idea of retail shelves full of Atari products overwhelms me. I have one or two memories like this, but my strongest memory of seeing Atari-laden shelves was from the Fall of 1993 when the Jaguar put Atari's name on the tip of many tongues.

Sometimes I wonder why I never took any in-store photos of my early days in Toys R Us and other gaming venues. The simple answer is age. I was a kid. I wanted to play video games, not document their purchase. And don't get me started about cameras of the 70s. My first camera was shaped like Mickey Mouse's face. Taking a photo involved sliding his right ear down. It wasn't like the feather-weight touches on today's cameras. It was more like manually switching train tracks - hence the pics were often blurry.

The Atari aisle in 1983 1983 photo in a Toys R Us (Sunnyvale, CA) via The Atari Museum showing the 5200 listed at $160.00 and the Atari 800 (back shelf, far right) at $500. I can attribute some of my photo neglect on youthful indifference, but there's a wide swath of time in which I wish I had the presence of mind to take more in-store 2600 finds, huge yard sale boxes of NES carts and some of the events I've attended.

These days, I photograph everything my son does... including our frequent trips to TRU and GameStop. 30 years from now - if I'm still alive - I'll have a wonderful documentation of Skylanders displays, Wii U rollouts and rows of game boxes containing those shiny discs.

I wonder if such photos will have a "dated" look like the Atari aisle above. I suspect they will, but I'll also wager that we still won't have flying cars! Damn you, Jetsons!
January 21, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The curtain draws back as Revue Labs connects content to partner

As much as I admire Mary & Susan Test's ability to channel functionality into a ray-gun for their brother, I have this image of Lexi Labcoat carefully honing algorithms as perfection becomes more apparent on a Matrix-inspired display. The Revue Labs logo glows on the wall.

I love technology that takes a different view to an existing problem. While some build bigger mousetraps, I get excited about the team that's genetically engineering a smarter cat. I have the ability to understand things, but left to my own devices, putting a man on the moon would likely involve SCUBA tanks and a catapult. So, I'd be little help in disproving the "made of cheese" notion.

Vicariously I peer into Revue Labs' press releases trying to figure out what they're up to and how their ship will navigate a sea of derivative content strewn along the high tide mark. Important to note that we (8-Bit Central) contribute to the deluge along with others. But we're eager to see some technology applied to the problem.

What strikes me most about thing I read about Revue Labs is that they are devising a solution rather than masking or diluting the problems in online content creation and distribution.

Grand Theft Wii U? It would seem that Partners are the elite getting first dibs on desirable content (inkling of the revenue model?). After a predetermined time, content is released to the general public. So, writers generate content that is curated for Partner review and possible purchase. Some content is ushered out for free. A marketplace emerges.... Editor's rejoice.
January 20, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Anticipatory shipping lets Amazon send you video games before you know you want them

Chia Scooby Raising hype and brand awareness during last November's Cyber Monday shopping day, Amazon unleashed the notion of using an airborne drone to deliver packages. As we became mesmerized by the thought of our skies filling with flying robots hellbent on delivering Grand Theft Auto V to next-gen console purchasers, Amazon was again one step ahead.

"Anticipatory Shipping" they call it. Prior to logging into Amazon and requesting a Chia Pet, Amazon is on the case and is already in the process of shipping chia-infused pottery to your address. In theory, you can click the BUY button, fetch a pitcher of water and walk to your front door to find the postman there with your terracotta Scooby Doo.

Don't open the box - that's an amateur time waster. Simply douse the package with water. A day later Scooby will burst through the moldy cardboard with a lush green mane. Amazing things happen when you meld technology and biology.

As I've said before, not all things need mixing or melding. I cite the Labradoodle as evidence. Why make a peculiar dog when you could use your science to spawn awesomeness!

Quicker Shipping to Thwart Brick & Mortar

Amazon's motivation is to cut delivery times. Whether by local drone or anticipatory shipping - durations are a major hurdle. I can locally source most of what i might buy from Amazon. That being the case, many tend to use Amazon for items that are not time sensitive. If I want a new book for the weekend, I can go to the store on Friday and get the book. Amazon won't deliver my book as quickly in a cost effective manner. Overnight shipping will likely exceed the cost of the book itself - I'd rather buy 2 books locally.

Personally, I don't order anything time sensitive and see the value in trimming delivery time, but that impacts me very little. It's the "anticipatory" aspect that fascinates me. If I were to buy a Wii U controller on the 5th of every month, it would be easy for Amazon to anticipate this and quickly facilitate quicker delivery. It would be equally easy for me to wait until the 15th of the month in the hope of being offered a discount. Just as it costs brick & mortar retailers to keep items on a shelf, it costs Amazon to keep items in anticipatory storage.

Over the course of time Amazon would learn that I'll buy any game whose title contains the string, "Donkey Kong". All this may be the result of data mining and elaborate algorithms, but I'm going to call it sophisticated guessing.

Grand Theft Wii U? As many times as minimal delivery times impress a customer, there's going to be some guy receiving GTAV for Xbox 360 since Amazon doesn't know he sold that console to buy a Wii U. If only he'd bought the Wii U from Amazon. Thus it's easy to see how ones guessing is only sophisticated if it's also accurate.
January 20, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Atarian Video Game Magazine was yesterday's “social media” for Atari's brand expansion

Atarian Patch I became an Atarian Certified Game Player in the mid 90's when I purchased this sew-on patch in a retail store. It may have been at a Hot Topic store or somewhere similar. For a while, Hot Topic was selling Atari-branded shirts among other select products. At the time, I thought little of it, but now I wonder how that patch came to be in a retail store since the Atarian concept (particularly the magazine) ceased in October 1989.

Many gamers originally began joining the Atarian movement in 1988 when Atari began promoting this "club" to expand awareness of the Atari brand and maintain interest in the 2600, 7800 and XE Computers. For $15 you received a t-shirt, patch, membership card and 1- year (six issues) subscription to the Atarian Video Game Magazine. They began with the May/June 1989 issue.

You can view Atarian issues on the AtariAge website.

Other game developers, at the time, were already pushing their own brand-oriented magazines to keep gamers informed and focused on their products. These included Sega, Nintendo and even NEC/Hudson who were supporting the TurboGrafX.

Become An Atarian ad A 1988 "Become An Atarian" ad showcasing the club's offerings. They try hard to show the value in the $15 membership fee by line-listing the actual costs. It was all a wash considering they only published 3 issues!
The Atarian patch on an Atari 5200 Field Service Manual I photographed my Atarian patch on top of my copy the Atari 5200 Field Service Manual since that was the one console not included in the promotional focus of the Atarian campaign.

The focus of the Atarian Magazine is interesting as the 5200 console was ignored while the 7800 with it's meager game library was part of the focus. It shows the significance of the aging (yet insanely fun) 2600 library as a major factor in sustaining/driving the 7800.

In today's market, it seems like overkill to publish a magazine in support of a brand. Keep in mind that some of these "magazines" were just a few pages in length and might be more correctly categorized as newsletters - Atarian was about 30 pages per issue. On the other hand, there is both an official PlayStation as well as Xbox magazine. However, back in the 80's Major companies, like Atari, and individual developers were publishing promotional magazines. Companies like Activision and Imagic were sending their branded publications to subscribers.

The Atarian Video Game Magazine covers The Atarian Video Game Magazine issue 2 cover The Atarian Video Game Magazine issue 3 cover Click the Atarian covers to see a slide show of the 3 available covers. Given the times, publishing information to keep consumers excited about your brand or games, wasn't too far from what happens today. The Internet, e-mail and social media are tools that have evolved since the postal service was packing gamer mailboxes full of upcoming title announcements. These days all that former snail-mail effort is simplified into an HTML newsletter, with a Facebook contest and daily tweets to engage and seek out more gamers... maybe even an image-laden Tumblr account.

Former brand expansion by snail-mail has today evolved into e-mailed newsletters and social media.
We often forget the relative youth of the Net and more so social media. It wasn't all that long ago that nearly all news came from printed newspapers and even magazines. But the Internet has extended it's utility far beyond merely conveying information - it's a virtual library of formerly printed gaming history. You can find all sorts of amazing video game publications in the form of Jpeg image files or PDFs. This includes official publications, newsletters and fanzines.

I love foraging through these bygone publications to see what sort of advertisements were circulating in their heyday. From game announcements that never appeared to printed pricing, it's a captivating history lesson!
January 17, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Some Atari dealers could resolve VCS diagnostic woes with the 2600 Test Console

Dealer flyer for The Atari 2600 Test Console for diagnostics Atari's original CX40 joysticks are pretty robust in my experience. They didn't seem to break as much as simply wear out after years of caring use and frantic space battles. I had friends who got mad and throw their controllers, but even as a kid I was pretty dialed-in to taking care of my stuff.

On rare occasion, my 2600 joystick would act a bit dodgy - suddenly it would become difficult to move left. My solution was to buy a new one. At the time I didn't know there were repair options. And it wasn't until a few weeks ago, that I realized some Atari dealers had diagnostic tools to determine 2600 issues.

The Atari 2600 Test Console was a countertop device with joystick & paddle ports and an A/C outlet. Although useful, this diagnostic device was really a marketing ploy to highlight Atari-made accessories. Atari needed more in-store presence to remain dominant in the face of a growing number of 3rd party manufacturers who were making 2600-compatible accessories.

The pictures below show the Atari Test Console itself, but it was also available as the centerpiece to a rack designed to hold various Atari accessories like joysticks. Thus, you could test your joysticks, discover a problem and snatch a new one right there!

The Atari 2600 Test Console Connect your joysticks, paddles and/or power brick to the Atari 2600 Test Console to view issues with the various internal connections.
The Atari 2600 Test Console I'd love to see pictures or a PDF of the instructions attached to the right side of the Atari 2600 Test Console. Some eBay sellers have eluded to this being a battery-powered device with mention of an included battery pack.

With a joystick or paddle connected to the Atari 2600 Test Console, moving the stick (or spinning the dial) would illuminate the corresponding lights on the Test Console. No light - you have a problem! I'm not sure how useful this would be to a gamer. Either it worked or it didn't. There doesn't seem to be a real need for a diagnostic tool, especially for the power adapter. I suppose if the VCS appeared "dead" the Test Console may be able to determine if the issue was in the replaceable power adapter as opposed to an internal logic board issue.

Dealer message on the back of the Atari 2600 Test Console If you recall, the original Intellivision had an internal power supply, so if it went bad, it was far more difficult to repair/replace. The Intellivision II resolved that with an external power brick.

As I said earlier, this device seems more of a marketing tool that might coax customers to think about replacing a worn joystick. At the same time it pushes the Atari brand as the best choice for any needed replacement.

The Atari Test Console wasn't a perk given to Atari dealers in the early 80's - they had to buy it. I wish there was more online info about this device. I believe it was introduced in 1982, but there seem to be so few of them, I wonder if the dealers simply kept them. I'd love to see what lies in those flip cards on the right hand side!

No pics... no PDF... come on Internet! We need more info about this slick little diagnostic oddity :)
January 16, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Exceptional video game writers get incubated via Revue Labs, providing they stoke the Pitch Deck

The plan slowly rises from the mire in Revue Labs' 2nd press release.

In an effort to shift the way content is created and distributed on the web, Revue Labs has been releasing info in the form of short press releases that lure us into craving more. Rather than posing competition to the existing base of writers, Revue Labs seem to be looking for partners who will write gloriously unbiased articles and pitching to the audience, not an editor with unknown agendas.

Everyone discussing Revue Labs lately has been mentioning their shift in "how things are done". Revue Labs is bringing a new model for online content creation and distribution. Do you know what change does? It accomplishes 2 good things.

  1. It often renders familiar things useless
  2. It makes people mad


Do you know who gets the maddest?
The folks who have the most invested in "the old way" and have been holding us back for eons because of it!

Revue Labs' Pitch Deck concept Their Pitch Deck concept seems to reward writers who generate more content. Revue Labs appear to be inspiring those who produce both quality and quantity, being less interested in a single one-off article. When you've amassed enough content, the higher it's value the more likely it is to be incubated and di$tributed.

Still confused. No worries, me too. Sign up for Revue Labs press releases and follow Director of Communications, Lexi Labcoat who promises to lead us into the light.
January 16, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

In 2006 Bowling got an injection of retro flare from Cosmodog w/ hints of Predicta style

Being horrible at logistics, I tend to be early for the non-essentials and late for the important stuff. A quest to see Walking With Dinosaurs led my son & I to our local theater with an hour to kill. One can never be too early for this particular theater, since they have a small arcade with a Galaga & Pac-Man combo cab.

Arcade Bowling game They frequently rotate cabinets (Galaga is permanent) so, there's always a good chance of finding something new to drop quarters (and dolar bills) into.

This particular day I stopped in my tracks and gazed at an awesomely funky looking game. It had a very open design and a large metal casing around a trackball with bowling-inspired artwork leading to a display that had hints of the old Predicta TVs of the 50s. Speakers were set into retro-diner style setup beneath the display. It oozed wow-factor!

Alas, it was "Out Of Order" so I couldn't get any indication of the visuals. I was able to discern that this was a fairly modern game with a lot of retro styling to give it an older look. I really liked the design, but was disappointed that it wasn't an older machine.

I didn't see the manufacturer label and upon poking around the web, I could only find reference to is as The Arcade Bowling Game. The next disappointment was discovering Hammacher Schlemmer sold it for $7,000. It looks slick, but it was released in 2006 (licensed to Namco by manufacturer, CosmoDog Ltd.). Not old enough for this retro critic. :)

The Arcade Bowling Game Front view of The Arcade Bowling Game showing the tabletop with cup holders.
The Arcade Bowling Game Side view of The Arcade Bowling Game letting you see the unique shape, the monitor mount and the neighboring Galaga/Pac-Man combo cabinet.

The game provides 6 different game challenges for up to 4 players and has a trackball that allows players to bowl down the virtual lane shown on the video screen. This device tries to add some technical sophistication to video bowling by offering 21 different ball styles with 8 to 16 lb. ball weights. The games include half-game regulation 10-pin, full-game regulation 10-pin, three game series regulation 10-pin, 10-pin poker which earns cards for each strike or spare and the best resulting hand wins, trick shot, and blackjack which challenges players to knock down 21 pins out of three racks without going over.

The game contains precise physics models to more accurately reflect actual bowling, including ball spin and direction. The built-in jukebox plays 30 different songs from (and inspired by) the 1950s.

The Arcade Bowling Game instructions The Arcade Bowling Game instructions.
The Arcade Bowling Game track ball The Arcade Bowling Game track ball.

The Arcade Bowling Game selection buttons The Arcade Bowling Game selection buttons.
The Arcade Bowling Game coin/bill slots The Arcade Bowling Game coin/bill slots.

The Arcade Bowling Game is a beautiful creation with great retro style. As an arcade kid from the 80s, I was disappointed it wasn't an older machine and Hammacher Schlemmer has always rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. But it looks great and seems to have a lot of interesting features making it more than just a coin-drop bowling game. Well done, Cosmodog!
January 15, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

ROM-Joy: When you realize you have every retro game ever created at your fingertips

I love collecting carts and cleaning contacts to get older ones to play again, but every now and then you have to break out the RMs to play those elusive titles you can't find/afford. At some point you have to smile when your ROM collection sails past 5,000 games... and keeps going.

When you realize you have every retro game ever created at your fingertips
January 15, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Flatscreen TVs may resemble picture frames, but Bush still makes TV Stands- Atari Carts?

When I came across this image of a Bush TV Game Cart box, a chill ran through me. I felt like I was peering into a portal to my past - a world where one could buy a cart designed specifically to organize your Atari or Intellivision console and games. What a great time that was as we watched the 80s explode into a decade of blatant excess.

Can you imagine the ride home from the store with this cart in the back of Mom's station wagon. Every twist in the road makes you turn to ensure it's secure back there. You and your Dad assemble the cart. And then... then you put your 2600 on it and as you put your carts on the top shelf, you HAVE TO play a game. Good times ensue...

Bush Model G 800 TV Game Cart for Atari or Intellivision Bush Model G 800 TV Game Cart for Atari or Intellivision, circa 1980.
Bush Segments TV Stand Bush Segments TV Stand, available in 2014.

I guess this cart came to market before mid '82 since there is no mention of Colecovision compatibility :)

Bush Model G 800 TV Game Cart for Atari or Intellivision Purely on a lark, I contacted the folks at Cymax who seem to have a division of home entertainment furniture under the name, Bush. I've asked if the Bush line of TV Stands are the same lineage as the Game Cart above. They'll likely think I'm insane.

I'd love to find out that this is the same Bush that formerly made the venerable G 800 TV Game Cart for Atari & Intellivision!
January 14, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Embracing electronics in '77 Parker Brothers released the 1st official Star Wars game in 1982

Parker Brothers game- Code Name: Sector Renown for shelling out tons of money to buy up rights to pop-culture giants, Parker Brothers began to expand beyond their board game image with an electronic table-top game named, Code Name: Sector.

Released in 1977, it came at a time when electronics were becoming the next generation of gaming. Parker Brothers billed it as: The board game where you match wits with a computer. For it's time, it was quite sophisticated and offered game play rarely found in traditional games.

Code Name: Sector is a strategy game that requires thought. You used 4 ships to locate a constantly moving submarine whose location was known only to the computer. You had to plot locations on the board with crayons in accordance with info from the computer. Pretty cool concept for the late 70's! This also makes you aware of how dumbed-down gaming has come as of late. There's far less thought required in today's gaming. They also made several handhel games including Merlin.

Parker Brothers game- Code Name: Sector

Snagging the Big IPs

With a venerable arsenal of in-house IPs to exploit (Monopoly, Risk and Clue), Parker Brothers chose to license the rights to movies and arcade games among other properties. Since they went for the big hits, they often paid top dollar to gain advantage over others biding for similar rights. They opted for Q*Bert and Frogger arcade rights and went for large movie franchises like James Bond's 007 and Star Wars.

Costs often soared since very often they were bidding against experienced video game companies like Atari, Coleco and Mattel! Parker Brothers had little experience in the realm of video game development.

The 2nd Star Wars installment, Empire Strikes Back, was released in May 1980 and the Parker Bros. game arrived in 1982. So, Star Wars was an established thing, meaning licensing came at a premium cost. Still Parker Brothers bought their way in to the Lucas realm. The odd thing is that Parker Brothers owned many high-end licenses, but they were unable to bring many announced titles to market. This included a couple of Star Wars games based on Return of the Jedi.

Released and unreleased Star Wars games from Parker Brothers

Emerging Retail Standards... or not

In the early 80s video games had certainly taken hold, but standards were still emerging which left the retail experience in varying states of flux. As I've said before, I bought my Atari 2600 at an appliance store. Consoles and games were waffling between "electronics" and "toys" in the eyes of retailers and marketers. Thus, promotion took a life of it's own.

Atari wanted their 2600 VCS to be successful, but there wasn't an established model for third party game developers. Were they friends or foes? Did they bolster the VCS or compete with Atari's game sales?

Visit any GameStop and you'll find the games organized by the console they were designed for. In the 80's individual developers wanted to outshine the competition. Who can forget the silver mylar boxes of Imagic or the stylized artwork on Activision boxes? Even Atari made changes to their box art to display a recognizable brand. In an effort to stand out, it seemed that some manufactures had their own displays.

I believe the pictures below are of a Parker Brother's kiosk used in-store to showcase their game offerings.

Parker Brothers game kiosk Parker Brothers game kiosk showing the spaces for the game carts to be inserted.
Parker Brothers game kiosk Parker Brothers game kiosk full of game carts.

Judging from the lack of information about these display kiosks, I can only assume they are quite rare. My guess is that they are left overs from a retailer who sold Parker Brothers' video games. These look like countertop displays that facilitated the display and try-before-you-buy of a lot of 2600 games.

Video game kiosks these days are pretty boring by comparison. Seems we've discovered the formula to retail sales and everyone follows it. The uncharted territory of the early 80's was an amazing time. We need more "uncharted territory" in gaming retail today.
January 13, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Be aware of how the System Transfer Tool works before moving Wii info & downloads to your Wii U

Your help is appreciated:
I need some advice from anyone who has successfully used Nintendo's System Transfer Tool to move downloaded games from a Wii to a Wii U. I understand the basic process, but I have stored all my WiiWare and Virtual Console games (downloads) on an SD card - not the Wii's internal storage. Since the process involves moving an SD card between the 2 systems, I'm wondring if I need to move the downloaded games to my Wii's internal storage. Has anyone been in this situation and successfully used the Transfer Tool? If so, let me know.
Thanks :)


Nintendo lets you move Wii stuff to the new Wii U A huge problem with online gaming accounts was that they are often linked to your game console, not to you. Imagine if you could only log into your email account from your one computer. Think about the hassles if your debit card only worked at one supermarket.

That's been an issue with many game consoles. The hassle comes to light when you replace your console due to failure or upgrade to a newer model. In some cases, you may lose all your game saves, downloads and other stored data. Nintendo has been working to change the way online accounts work - changing it so YOU have an account, not your console.

Nintendo provides instructions on how to transfer Wii data to your Wii U, but don't rush into it!

Nintendo lets you move Wii stuff to the new Wii U

Be Aware of How the Transfer Tool Actually Works Before Proceeding

The process involves a lot of piracy things... otherwise you wouldn't need a "System Transfer Tool". We've all copied things from drive to drive on our computers and we understand the difference between "Move" and "Copy". Video game consoles are not computers so transferring things may not have the results you were expecting!

If this process was simply taking your stuff and moving it from one console to another, you wouldn't need to be aware of what is actually happening in the background. The System Transfer Tool is NOT simply a copying tool like you might liken to copying files on your computer.

Piracy concerns on the part of Nintendo, will not let you use an SD card to simply do a "floppy disk" style transfer. In PC computer terminology, using the System Transfer Tool is more akin to "Moving" a file. In other words, when you are done with this tool, the transfered items, like downloaded games, will no longer reside on your original Wii! You can only play downloaded games from one console - presumably you wish to play them on your newer Wii U. The Transfer Tool moves your data to the Wii U, but downloaded games can no longer be played on the original Wii once they are transfered to the Wii U.

Storage Destinations

Remember when you downloaded R-Type to your Wii from the Virtual Console and they asked you where you wanted to store your download - on your Wii's internal memory or on an SD card? If you were like me and chose the SD card, that may complicate things, I've asked for some assistance with this issue (above) as I'm not sure if all items to be transfered need to be on the Wii's internal memory storage.

The best advice I can offer is do some research before your use the Transfer Tool. From what I understand, you get one chance to do this so you want to make sure everything is in it's place. Don't rush into it as you may do something that can't easily be un-done.
January 12, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

The real reason the Target hack should make you think twice about buying video games at a box-store

Evil is everywhere. If you're a parent, you know that feeling of wanting to protect your child from everything, while knowing you realistically can't. Rather than give up in despair, we do our best to be safe and keep our loved ones protected as best we can. Shouldn't retailers do that for their customers?

buyer beware After untold bazillions of Target shoppers recently had their credit card & personal info stolen, many said, "I'm glad I don't shop there," and they're right! I wouldn't recommend using a credit card at any box-store. But NOT for the reason you may be thinking.

Incorrect Assumptions

We constantly make assumptions as we navigate any given day. We assume driving to the store is safe. We assume using credit card is safe. We assume large retailers care about customers. We assume measures are in place to secure and protect credit card data.

Alas, large retailers care about PROFITS. Target may lose some customers due to this hack, but that's an acceptable and recoverable loss. Large retailers DO NOT have sophisticated protections in place to secure your financial transactions. Do you know what they have to resolve large scale hacking attacks? It's called insurance.

Harsh Reality

Yes, large retailers have insurance to cover ancillary costs due to mishaps or issues - like compromising the financial security of millions of shoppers. Sure, there are many ways to detect, deter and eliminate nearly any hacking attempt, but such luxuries cost money... and quite frankly, you're not worth it!!

Large retailers know it's far cheaper to carry insurance than to install the necessary hardware and software to provide customers a safe and secure shopping experience. You're not worth it to them!

Think about that next time you buy a $60 video game in a box-store and then wonder why you can't get a car loan or mortgage a few years later.

What's the solution? Think about our opening parental quandary. What would you do to protect your child? You'll do what ever it takes, right? Next time you go to Target to take advantage of a sale on the hottest game on launch day, you may want to go to an ATM and get some cash. Is that too much of a hassle for you? No worries... just use your credit card. Just remember, the store you visit only cares about your money, not YOU!
January 12, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Disney Infinity gender-bends for the holidays while Skylanders swapped with a roar

In my view, Disney has a long history of enchanting both boys and girls with their various entertainment offerings and their Infinity video game seemed no different. It has plenty of appeal to boys with characters from Cars, Lone Ranger and Monsters Inc. Disney is also quite good at creating cross-over entities that appeal to boys & girls like the Incredibles and Toy Story.

There had been a dramatic under-representation of princesses on Infinity and Disney chose to resolve that over the Christmas holiday. I had hopes of Wreck-It Ralph and Phineas and Ferb arriving before the holidays, but it was a very Princess Christmas... for infinity. They released Rapunzel, Anna and Elsa in late 2013.

Action figure games at the holidays I found it odd that Disney Infinity's holiday releases were all aimed at girls, with the 3 princess figure releases. I had hoped to get a few more figures/playsets for my son, but the Infinity game seemed to be a "Girls" product for the pre-Christmas shopping season. Early January, I was able to find Wreck-It Ralph. My gender bending comment is with regard to the obvious competition from the new and innovative twist on the Skylanders IP. Release-wise, Disney focused on girls without any new figures for the boys.

Skylanders Swap Force

Skylanders have cleverly released a new game each holiday season with good success. Skylanders, as an IP, always struck me as being more male-oriented, but there are plenty of female characters and some appeal to any kid.

In my opinion, Skylanders is a better game than Infinity. I've felt that Infinity doesn't offer very much with their playsets and the Toybox, although very cool in concept, isn't as easy to create as the TV commercials would suggest. My son is manic for Skylanders, but shows little interest in Infinity.

Skylanders Swap Force concept One of my suspicions is that Skylanders characters have no expectation at the point of sale. You can try them on an in-store demo kiosk and see a few features on the packaging, but they have no history or expectation compared with Infinity. We all know the Disney IPs and the availability of characters. Having watched the Incredibles countless times, I had very specific expectations for the Playset. The same is true of most of the characters for Disney Infinity. And where is the Star Wars Playset?!? :)

I expected Skylanders to dominate the holiday sales, but Activision went another direction and upped the ante on RFID capabilities and ushered in swappable figures that come in 2-parts, allowing players to custom curate capabilities of any one character.

The downside of this change is the need for a new portal that can access the change in RFID. I was skeptical of this idea resounding with consumers. Having bought the original Spyro Skylanders Starter Pack, we didn't need to buy a new portal for Skylanders Giants. Going back to buying another portal may rub some consumers the wrong way. The Swap Force portal is compatible with all the previous games and figures, but it still carries an additional cost over the Giants release.

I love Skylanders, but Disney - in any form - is a powerhouse of development. Since we know the Disney IPs, it is easy to see where they have omitted characters from various playsets - we've seen the films. Skylanders doesn't have this expectation and can freely add characters at will. Where I think Disney can really excel is with the Star Wars IP.

With both Skylanders and Infinity, all the characters have to be coded into the game even if the character is released months later. This is why we were stoked about Halloween Eyebrawl, but disappointed he didn't appear in-game with the pumpkin head. I really hope Disney will release another Infinity title to really enhance and cater to the Star Wars Universe. They could really win me over if Infinity does justice to the wealth of stories and characters available in Star Wars!

For now, we play more Skylanders, but look forward to seeing how Disney advances their action figure game!
January 11, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Rock the new millennium with a new polaroid camera and a brick-phone fit for Crockett's Testarossa

Miami Vice TV show logo When Crockett & Tubbs teamed up on the streets of Miami beween 1984 and 1989, I was hooked! Friday night parties raged hard on either side of my apartment, but for that one hour I was watching Miami Vice and nothing could pull me away. When the white Testarossa became his ride I was infatuated and pretty stoked about that car phone.

Miami Vice TV show logo About 5 years later I dove into web development. This was a time when knowledge of HTML was tantamount to being a programmer - not to be confused with today's toddlers who possess a working knowledge of HTML5 and CSS3. I bought an Apple QuickTake digital camera which gave me the ability to document my passions via digital photography and easily add photos to my website.

By today's standards, the quickTake took abysmal photos using Apple's proprietary PICT format. I guess the Joint Photographic Experts were still Grouping. I've never owned a Polaroid camera, but I was convinced - as a child - that waving a photo in the air was pure magic.

Retro Products in the New Millenium

Imagine my surprise when a casual surf through the web yielded both a retro-style brick-phone and a new polaroid camera. Let the 80's roll on!

The Brick cell phone from Binatone communciations The Brick cell phone from Binatone communications - camera-free and offline... all the time! It works in 2 modes: pair it to your smartphone and use it as a blueTooth handset or insert your phone's sim card and it becomes a GSM phone complete with Snake Game and FM radio. This thing screams RETRO!

View the Brick's marketing site: Meet the Brick.
Check out The Brick's YouTube Channel.
Polaroid Socialmatic digital camera with front & rear facing lenses and wifi Polaroid Socialmatic digital camera with front & rear facing lenses and wifi for instant social media distribution - and apparently selfies.

Back in July 2012 we got wind of a Polaroid-like camera centered around the Instagram social network. It was a concept at the time, but one that we liked. It looks to be launching under Polaroid as the SocialMatic digital camera.

I was skeptical of cameras with built-in wifi. They seemed like a gimmick for those less inclined to figure out how to do things like "upload". After delving deeper into such social voids, it seems as though the quickness of photo posting via wifi opens up real time scenarios that would be quite interesting.

The Brick phone from Binatone

The Brick phone by Binatone

Binatone was founded in the UK in 1958 as an importer and distributor of consumer electronics. Now, you can't use the term "consumer electronics" without wondering if there aren't a few games stashed in that moniker. Or course there are, but lets dig into some history first! :)

Binatone started out importing radios and soon grew to include world receivers, clock radios, cassette players and audio towers. Binatone entered the TV games market in 1974. In 1978 Binatone had the best selling TV game in the UK. In 1980 they introduced their HipFi portable cassette player which outsold the Sony Walkman in the UK market. The next move was to landline phones once the telecomm market had been deregulated. All of this led to the wireless market and this insanely cool retro 80's Brick phone! It's not quite a cell phone in the traditional sense.

The Brick works in 2 modes. Pair it with your iPhone or Android and use it as a bluetooth handset or insert your sim card and convert it into a simplistic 2G phone. It lacks most of the modern features of today's phones, but it makes up for it with an 80's mega cool factor.

For example it's 160x128-pixel display on the 1.8-inch LCD screen lets you enjoy a round of Snake. Snake is a simple game found on many simpler devices and a favorite of fledgling programmers who can learn from it's mechanics. Nokia was renown for putting Snake on their phones. The Brick also has a torch flashlight, FM radio and you can add a microSD card up to 32GB. The mammoth size plays into the 80's vibe, but also affords space for a huge battery that touts a month of standby time and 14 hours of talk time.

The Polarid Socialmatic digital camera

Coming to market in early 2014 the Socialmatic blends some old-school with the modern world. True to the Polaroids of the past, this one will print out a small picture complete with a QR code to let friends easily access your photos from Polaroid servers. Built-in wifi lets you instantly connect photos to various social networks.

It's 14Mpx Front Camera takes most of your pictures, but they also include a 2Mpx Rear Camerafor the obligatory selfies that are oddly popular these days. The Socialmatic has a 4.3" Touchscreen, 4GB Internal Storage, Stereo Speakers, GPS, WiFi and Bluetooth. What else could you need?

With many of these features present on smart phones, some are questioning the need for cameras at all... let alone wifi enabled ones. This has been a common criticism of such devices at this year's CES. I question the printed out image with QR code and the cost of such a feature when the whole digital revolution is about moving away from such things. Will the QR code aspect be enough to intrigue consumers? Hard to say.

My main concern was the Yoda-like wording of the company's website. I'm hoping there's a Quality Assurance team who will update such things.

Polaroid Socialmatic Yoda headlines #StarWars?

Binatone's TV Game Era

Lets go back to that electronics history of Binatone. As I poked around trying to find out how their Brick Phone came to be, I found a few old TV games. They were pong-esque sports titles. These retro gems were released around 1977 - 1978.

Binatone TV Master Mark IV game box Binatone's TV Master Mark IV game box. These consoles (additionally: TV Master 4 plus 2, TV Master MK 6, TV Master MK 8, TV Master MK 10) were released in the UK for black & white TVs. Each console was later released in a similar form factor, but supported color TVs.
Binatone TV Master Mark IV game Binatone's TV Master Mark IV game offered several Pong-like games: squash, squash practice, football, tennis. The paddles are small, with a single dial. They connect through ports on the face of the system, making them detachable. For some reason,there is an on/off switch for the sound which likely means that the games' sound came from the console speaker, not the TV's speaker.

Binatone TV Master Mark IV game Binatone's TV Master Mark IV game and controllers.
Binatone TV Master Mark 10 game Binatone's TV Master Mark 10 game.

Jan 21 Update:
My Brick phone was delivered today and already it makes me smile and I'm excited to figure out all the crazy things it can do!
January 10, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Advertisers are professional liars. Girls should experience math & science. Porn is eternal

Aside from being able to play Wii games on a Wii U, backward compatibility ceased with video gaming's generation 8. That creates somewhat of a clean slate regarding your next game console purchase. Lemming PS3 owners would be more likely buy a PS4 if it could play their PS3 games. The same logic holds true for Xbox owners and the Xbox One.

You may have brand loyalty due to exclusive titles or a preference for your console's online network. Other than trappings from the past, the new consoles offered gamers an easy opportunity to leave the past behind and research the new offerings to see which one best fit their needs.

But that's a hard thing to do!

Advertisers know the dangers in letting consumers make decisions. That presents a risk! Informed consumers doing product research are a manufacturers worst nightmare. Advertisers know they have to TELL consumers which console to buy.

My heroes of the 2013 holiday season are those who bought a Wii U! Pundits derided the Wii U going so far as to claim it as Nintendo's demise and ultimate ruin. Even gamers came out against it. You know what.... it's a great platform and will only get better as the game lib expands.

A Larger Societal Problem

Generally speaking - people are lemmings. It's easier to follow than lead. Independent thinkers are an anomaly. Society has grown accustomed to being "told" what to think rather than being inspired to make their own decisions. Advertisers tell us what to buy. Politicians tell us what policies are best. TV news shows tells us what's important in the world. We live in fear.

Recently there have been some great programs developed to expose math and science to girls with the hope of bringing more women into tech fields. That's a great idea, but speaks to pretty large failures in education, parenting and society at large. We are all responsible for each other. From teachers to parents and neighbors to complete strangers - we as people need to take more interest in each other and spend less time trying to be better than everyone else.

Specialized Programs Need Reinforcement from Home

Creating programs to aid kids in their interests are great, but they are not enough by themselves. The best place to effect change on a child is at home. If a kid isn't inspired to become an astronaut at home, it will be much harder to achieve. When I hear of parents leaving their kids in front of the TV for untold hours, it makes perfect sense that those parents are too busy to talk to their kids about the future and all the great things they CAN achieve.

Girls Like Atari computer camps Programs for girls didn't start last year due to some government statistic. Targeted programs have been around for decades and get better every year. How many of you went to Atari Computer Camps as kids? I'll bet that sort of hands on experience with peers and teachers would leave a massive impact on a child.

Not everyone can be Albert Einstein or Elon Musk, but there's no reason they should be. No child should be compared to those names - they should be inspired to achieve their own greatness in the wake of others who have done so.

Every kid should be stoked to be themselves, not left wondering why they aren't as smart as Elon Musk. Dreams start at home by those who take the time to talk to their kids and inspire them to seek greatness.

Be Yourself

However, it's important to inspire greatness, not dictate it. Getting more girls fascinated with math and science is great, but it isn't for everyone. Some girls grow up and want to be porn stars. That may seem like a parental nightmare, but everyone finds their own happiness and purpose in different ways. You may not approve of this profession, but Jenna Jameson and Jenna Haze have created wildly successful careers for themselves and gone on to do things THEIR way. All types of success are inspirational.

Nolan Bushnell's theory in acting on ideas

Buy a Wii U

It hasn't only been the advertisers trying to taint the prospect of the Wii U. Even hardcore Nintendo fans took pause when it came to buying Nintendo's Wii U both Christmas 2012 and again this past holiday season. Gamers are still downplaying it as a poor choice. This is the sort of division that should not exist. Gamers are gamers. Still the lying advertisers try to con us into buying whatever product they're (mis)representing.

People need to support one another and work together. No one has much to gain by rising up at the cost of knocking someone else down. Get your kids interested in gaming, computers, programming or anything! Inspiration doesn't have to be anything more than your trusted voice of encouragement. My son doesn't like his math class... then I told him how integral math is to video game programming and development. Now math is cool.

The adult industry is a billion dollar behemoth and I'm pretty sure pornography won't soon disappear. Perhaps you don't want your child putting Porn Star on their 1040 form each year, but every kid deserves encouragement. I found my way in the world and so did you. Encourage and inspire your kid, don't tell them what they should be.

There are plenty of awful people in the world. Being a descent human isn't always easy, but it's always rewarding.Think for yourself and inspire independent thought. That is where brilliance is born and nurtured.
January 9, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Owning an NES made me very Mario-centric and I had little interest in Sonic

Starting out my gamer-life with an Atari 2600, I put all my effort (and allowance) into 2600 games. This left little money for Intellivision or Colecovision consoles and games. When the Nintendo NES took the gaming world by storm, I had to have one. Being in better financial standing, I bought games like a crazed lunatic from my local Toys R Us.

Being so absorbed in NES wonderment, I never gave the Genesis much thought. In fact I was such a Mario fanatic that I didn't own any Sega hardware until the Saturn came along.

Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog mascot I jumped back into gaming in 85 and put all my money & attention toward Mario and the NES and never really liked Sega's Sonic the Hedgehog.
Sonic the Hedgehog cosplay I'm beginning to rethink that decision. Sonic has a lot more allure these days :)

The first Sonic game was released in June 1991 to give Sega a mascot to go up against Nintendo's ever-popular Mario. Sonic's development was taken very seriously which goes to show the power of Mario and how much Sega recognized they needed a rival in order to compete.

His blue color came from the color of Sega's logo and allegedly his boots were inspired by Michael Jackson. Many ideas were submitted for consideration as Sega's mascot - several of which were later used in other Sega games.

Sonic has since appeared in comic books, cartoons and toys as well as numerous other licensed items. In 1993, Sonic the Hedgehog became the first video game character in to appear in Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Mario has not had this honor ;)

January 9, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Atari System enabled multiple games in arcade cabinets, but they didn't follow the Mega-Tech or PlayChoice model

The success of the Atari 2600's 12+ year retail run brought post-5200 console compatibility back with the 7800 game console. The 5200 was a stripped down 800 computer without keyboard, but it's prowess was marginalized by poor controllers and a wealth of kids who still loved 2600 games. That's a lot of love for a lot of game cartridges!

Arcades were gold mines in the early 80's and many of the popular games were ported to the home video game consoles. Very often the arcade versions were superior, but that didn't deter a lot of arcade classics being reworked for home systems with lesser capability. But this went both directions. Arcade games were ported to home consoles and home-games were resented in arcade cabinets. Everyone wanted to maximize their potential offerings.

Atari System 1 Flyer for Marble Madness At the same time, arcade operators needed to maximize their floor space, the formula came down to the physical footprint of an arcade cabinet and how many could fit into the arcade's floor plan. The first solution was conversion kits. This allowed operators to change the game inside the cabinet via an upgrade rather than buying a whole new cabinet. This was essentially a PCB-swap and cosmetic updates to the outside. This enabled a "tired" game to be swapped out for a another one.

This was a good first step, but operators needed more value than a single-game cabinet could deliver. The MVS was cart-based and let players choose any of the six available games. This was far more economical than having 6 different cabinets taking up floor space. Nintendo and Sega leveraged their home console libraries and designed arcade cabinets that could play a selection of home-release games. Again this gave more value to the cabinet even though the games were not of the typical arcade sophistication.

We've written a few articles about multi-game arcade solutions from Sega, Nintendo and SNK. We were delighted to discover that Atari was not only part of this revolution, but the first company (of those mentioned) to offer a multi-game (board) arcade solution.

Multi-game Arcade Solution Timeline

The PlayChoice and Mega-Tech solutions were based on proprietary cartridges containing games from their respective "home console" game library. The MVS is more of an arcade-solution as it's home console, the AES, played the identical games as the MVS in the arcade. Atari's System 1 & 2 were based on arcade games, even though some of them were ported to home consoles.

Atari System 1 & 2

Atari System 1 Flyer for Marble Madness
Atari System 1 Manual - schematic Heavily ingrained in the arcades, Atari sought a way to maximize their arcade offerings and be able to bring successful arcade games to their home consoles. System 1 was a generic board that handled many of the common elements to the games it supported. Additional boards could be added that gave the generic board a specific game. This lessened the cost of adding new games to a System 1 cab as opposed to buying a new arcade cabinet. Atari System was comprised of a cabinet like any other cab, except it was configurable for any of the 5 games it worked with. Operators could change the monitor orientation, control panel joysticks and buttons as well as marquees.

System 1 used a large circuit board with a Motorola 68010 main CPU, a MOS Technology 6502 sound CPU, a system ROM, text and graphics display hardware and control interfaces. 2 edge-card connectors allowed a "cartridge board" to be plugged in. This board supplied the main program ROMs, sound program ROMs, graphics ROMs, graphics shift registers, a SLAPSTIC copy protection chip, a Yamaha YM2151 FM sound generator, a POKEY and (for some games) TI TMS5220 LPC speech synthesis chip. When the game board was added to the generic board, the cabinet had everything it needed to play the specific game.

Atari System 1 arcade cabinet Atari System was similar to the various conversion kits, but was designed to be easier to change games and allow an open system to which Atari could release more game boards. It was released in 1984 with 5 games: Marble Madness, Road Blasters, Peter Pack Rat, Road Runner and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

I would say that SNK's MVS was the best solution, especially when the home component (AES) played the identical games! I never encountered a PlayChoice or Mega-Tech cab, but I think I'd be put off having to pay to play home-games in an arcade. I much prefer the solutions that enabled operators to become more efficient and offer more of what arcades were renown for delivering.

Atari system 2 was released shortly after the first and would support these 5 games: 720°, Paperboy, Championship Sprint, Super Sprint and APB: All Points Bulletin. These two systems were similar, but System 2 supported higher resolutions and a DEC CPU that ran a bit faster at 10 MHz.

The reason I began looking into the Atari System was to see if it followed the other model of perhaps bringing Atari cartridges to the arcades. I'm not sure if Atari's home games would have held up as well as their dedicated arcade games did in the black lit arcades of my childhood. Even the PlayChoice and Mega-Tech cabs never seemed to reach too much acclaim. In my opinion, that model was more of a recycling effort than a problem solving effort.

Atari wanted more of their games on arcade floors. They devised a way to make it more efficient and cost effective to do so.
January 8, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Does GameStop suffer an infrastructure problem or are they doomed by more favorable sales models?

When you're standing in one of GameStop's smaller stores, wondering if there's enough oxygen to sustain life until you get through the line at the register, its easy to forget what GameStop really is. They are part of GameStop Corporation. Primarily a gaming retailer, it's an amalgamation (via mergers) of several video game and software retailers.

Back in the day I loved FuncoLand. As a retro gamer, how could I not love a store that was wall-to-wall game cartridges spanning from my childhood up to the latest releases? I was devastated as the chain was reduced and locations began closing. Unbeknownst to me, FuncoLand was just one of several retailers that was part of a larger gaming entity - although perhaps not at that time - GameStop Corporation. Other components are EB Games, Babbage's, Software ETC among others.

Location, Location, Location

In my travels I have found two predominant store scenarios. One is the tiny store with inadequate space for any single game platform. The second is the large expansive store that places stock on all the walls and leaves a large void of wasted space in the store's center. Many of their stores are in shopping malls which leads me to compare them to some of their neighbors. When it comes to maximizing space, Spencer Gifts and Hot Topic have it nailed - not an inch of wasted space. From floor to ceiling, they know how to present product. They aren't even daunted by maximizing walls with 15' ceilings. No drop-ceilings are installed, the product goes vertical!

Despite my love of old and new video games, GameStop is one of the few retailers that consistently angers me. From selling used game discs that appear to have been sand-blasted and new games that are sold in broken cases without manuals to disorganized product display and rude employees - I seldom have good experiences there.

With all the mergers with similar (gaming) retailers, why do GameStop's store locations suffer such disarray? I visited one of their larger locations this past weekend and was astounded to see how poorly product was displayed, and through that, what a disservice they do to their customers.

Poor Display of Used Games

I decided to dig through their remaining PS2 titles and managed to find 4 titles of interest. Of those discs I had to go through 2 or more copies in order to find a disc that wasn't pockmarked & scratched beyond believable reliable use. I was able to sift through the PS2 discs themselves because GameStop has discarded all the cases with box art in favor of discs in paper envelopes. Are you a collector or have a few shelves of PS2 games in cases? How do you like getting a disc in a paper envelope? That's a poor way to sell a product - no case, no manual and scratched!

Namco Museum on PS2 As an example, I saw Namco Museum for PS2 selling for $11 and the 50th Anniversary version was $20... as a disc in a paper sleeve!! Are you kidding me!?! These discs were selling at these prices in a paper sleeve... complete with scratches! For a scratched game disc in a paper sleeve, I'd risk as much as $4 providing it was an outstanding title and I can return it. $20?? No way!

While browsing the scratched PS2 stock, I noticed a very long wall contained a lot of used Xbox titles. It caught my eye because the wall was almost a solid green color. This color was attributed to the generic green cases that GameStop puts Xbox games in when the do not have the original case with it's artwork. None of the other game platforms were this disproportionately sold in generic cases and this makes me wonder if Xbox gamers care about buying complete games. Obviously the game disc is the important component, but I think the packaging has more merit than GameStop seems to offer.

I come from the vinyl record era and was sad to see the miniaturization of album-art when CDs were introduced. I have always felt video game box art and manuals (with artwork and/or screen shots) were important components to the package. For me, it's not only about the game itself. This poor treatment of PS2 game display has been going on for at least a year now and will likely continue until it's more cost effective to dump these games in a landfill.

DS Games get the "Sleeve Display" Treatment

You may have noticed the same treatment of Nintendo DS games. I used to buy GBA titles from a locked case as a cart-only sale. However this sale's scenario came after viable hardware was no longer available. Now, I'm seeing the same treatment for DS titles. GameStop is now placing DS games into both paper disc-sleeves or small plastic flat-packs which may be more of a theft deterrent packaging system. Both the 3DS and 2DS (both currently in the sales channel) are compatible with the older DS format. The practice of discarding original packaging and manuals is a disservice to GameStop customers!

GameStop Employee Response

When I ask GameStop employees about original cases or manuals, they say that "corporate" is saving space by discarding these items. When I ask why there are so many games sold in generic cases, they have a variety of answers that all boil down to determining if a title has resale value. This is done via the title itself, not it's condition or completeness of original packaging.

I'm not saying that any retailer, GameStop or otherwise, should be selling only complete mint-condition games, but I believe the PS2 and DS paper sleeve model will quickly be extended to Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii titles as the new 8th Generation games begin to require more shelf space. It may not be long before GameStop presents more troughs of used game titles, festering in disorder, as they try to focus customers on buying new $400 - $500 game consoles.

Used Tablets

As gaming goes digital and physical products are disappearing in favor of downloads, GameStop is selling used phones and tablets. If they are to have brick & mortar locations, they will need to sell products. Downloads can be sold by manufacturers - they don't need middlemen like GameStop to do that. And even if they did the margins would likely be slimmer than present physical on-shelf products.

I can assure you that I will never by a used tablet or any used hardware from GameStop. When I see the deplorable conditions of their used game discs and the general disorganization of their display on shelves, what condition might a used iPad be in?

Math May Reveal a Solution to Product Display

I've worked for national retailers who had real estate departments dedicated to finding appropriate retail space as the company grew or product demand changed. It's a good strategy to have a mix of location types for a chain like GameStop. Smaller locations have benefits as do larger ones.

The issue I see is that they don't appear to have a solid formula for gauging needed space. Wii U, PS4 and Xbone will quickly expand their libraries and GameStop knows that this new wave (they had it easy for the last 7 years) will become the dominant force as former console titles dwindle. The lack of backward compatibility will quickly negate the value of most PS3 and Xbox 360 titles, but they currently require shelf space.

GameStop's retail floor contains very little stock. Each store's pubic space is primarily comprised of empty display cases (often generic), so they don't have to worry about re-stocking the floor in the same way other retailers do. Part of their lease rate is based on floor space, so they must maximize every inch of it and know how much product can be displayed. This is very formulaic and necessary.

Game packaging (cases, inserts, manuals) have been deemed unimportant, by GameStop, by nature of how they display product. Why then, do generic cases have the same shelf space as original packages? Why decimate the value of older games via paper-sleeve displays when useless generic cases waste prime retail space? If they insist on placing game cases on the sales floor, I think they need to prioritize physical products by demand rather than alphabetizing them and provide customer kiosks for overall availability. They could also benefit from better attention to quality control of the physical media traded-in and sold.

What if they opted not to have empty cases on the sales floor? Couldn't they take some of those used iPads and repurpose them as customer kiosks to aid game sales (new and used)? At the register, the clerk simply locates the actual game media and puts it in a case. The clerk doesn't need an empty case, he/she only needs to know what title you want to buy. But would you go to a GameStop to buy via kiosk when you have the Internet at home?

Hey, wait a minute! Amazon can do all of this without brick & mortar locations! GameStop needs to provide a compelling reason for gamers to shop there rather than online!

The first European to travel the length of the Amazon River was Francisco de Orellana in 1542.
It's been swell, GameStop... but the swelling's gone!
January 7, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

With a new approach to gaming content, Revue Labs' content incubator purports to connect the exceptional

Revue Labs logo Long ago we would wait for gaming magazines filled with info to arrive in the mail. Then the internet delivered information in record breaking timeframes. Now social media lets information flow from the source in real time.

So, there's a lot of information flowing and a lot of people trying to assemble it into meaningful news. What do gamers do with all this info? Overload!

Gaming personality, Patrick Scott Patterson (a powerful indie voice of gaming's potential) taunted on his Facebook page that Revue Labs is poised to "break the mold in video game content". Revue Labs claim, on their website, to be a content incubator that will connect exceptional gaming content with great gaming websites.

PSP facebook post about Revue Labs
Currently, there is very little info on the Revue Labs' site, but we hope to see more soon! Needless to say, our curiosity was piqued and we promptly signed up to see what Revue Labs has in store.

Revue Labs
"...changing the relationship between content creators and gamers".
Could Revue Labs have an algorithm to seek out the best info available and match it to those best suited to distribute it? Who knows?

Lexi Lee, Director of Communications for Revue Labs (recently reborn as Lexi Labcoat), revealed on Twitter that they will soon have a Kickstarter campaign which she will support with daily podcasts. The plot thickens...

Revue Labs tweet
Keep an eye on the Revue Labs website, with links to their social media, and Patrick Scott Patterson, both of whom should have some interesting info about incubation in the near future.
January 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

I hear them say Game Disc, but my mind still hears Game Disk

I've witnessed games go from 5¼ inch floppy disks to very non-floppy 3½ inch floppy disks, but I still have to stop and think when they are called game discs...

Game Disc I hear them say:
Game Disc
Game Disk But my mind hears:
Game Disk

Game Discs
January 6, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

I ponder my diet as Microsoft delves into another Xbone junkfood giveaway

I'll admit I don't engage a healthy diet when it comes to game snacks. There's something about a bowl of salad, grapes or any vegetable combined with humus that just doesn't have the conquering bravado of a bag of chips. On the practical front, my gaming snack choices revolve around controller preservation.

I love Doritos. Although I'm not a dietician or laboratory assistant, I wonder if their nutritional value might be bested by a Tums tablet. My concern is for that odd orange dust that sticks to everything - like my controllers. If I could run my controllers through the dishwasher, I'd scarf Doritos and button-mash like there's no tomorrow. Alas controllers and water are a bad mix, making Doritos a poor snack choice for my game sessions. I have to say I love Slim Jims (although I find "Giant Meat Stick" an odd product name) and will gladly pass over a glass of water for the various iridescent colors of Mt. Dew. Minimal mess.

Last Summer Microsoft apparently sparked some ire over their campaign with Doritos & Mt. Dew for their (then upcoming) Xbox One. A point of contention was that by partnering with junkfood manufacturers Microsoft was perpetuating the notion that video games are the "junkfood" of the entertainment sector. I'd never heard that comparison, I just don't want orange dust or stickiness of unknown origin all over my controllers.

Chef Boyardee Xbone giveaway The Xbone launched and now that it's in-channel MicroSoft has partnered with the meal-in-a-can folks at Chef Boyardee. You can try to win an Xbone via Chef Boyardee on this promo website. I like some of the Chef's product categories, but all of them lose appeal when packaged in cans.

What sort of food comes in cans? Food that can last for years on the shelf of a zombie apocalypse bunker. For me, a meal has gone wrong if I have to employ a can-opener. Yep, soup included. However, I'm fine with a can of baked beans - is that odd?

My mantra about food is to limit the amount of crappy food I ingest. I drink a lot of water, and make meals out of actual food (none of those peculiar microwave meals). As long as your primary meals consist of foods whose preparation doesn't require goggles and a centrifuge, you're on the right track.

They say you shouldn't snack between meals. Apparently this messes with your metabolism. However, snacks and gaming go hand-in-hand. I choose Slim Jim as they satisfy and don't leave disgusting detritus on my controllers- and they're down with Meg Turney.

If you're trying to discern the intent of this post - stop. It escapes me too.
January 5, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Elite Systems is Kickstarting the ZX Spectrum as a BlueTooth controller for their Speccy app

I've never owned a ZX Spectrum, but I've done a fair amount of reading on this device and conclude that it's one of the important pivotal gaming/computing devices in gaming history!

Bluetooth ZX Spectrum Last month I wrote an article about the ZX Spectrum's allure to gamers and developers alike. I'm a fan of the Speccy because it was the only affordable gaming platform that captured the imagination of those who used it and also allowed them to develop games. This openness of the system allowed curiosity to flourish in ways that most systems lock down. It was an amazing device that sparked an insane era of British gaming.

Elite Systems has a Kickstarter campaign to recreate the Sinclair ZX Spectrum as a Bluetooth keyboard, initially for iOS and subsequently for Android / Windows phones & tablets.

You may recall that Elite began in 1984, as a developer and publisher of games for the Sinclair Spectrum and Commodore 64 home computer systems. Today Elite applies that expertise to handheld, mobile and wireless systems.

Bluetooth ZX Spectrum The plan, as I understand it from their Kickstarter page, is to recreate the ZX Spectrum as a BlueTooth device that doubles as a keyboard for any app and interacts with an Elite app that provides more Speccy specific features. Elite has a long history in software, but not as much in hardware.

I'm not clear on the extent of this device's capability. For example, I believe the device is a controller that uses BlueTooth to connect to a phone/tablet/computer which will be running an app on the iOS or Android side that emulates the Speccy. As I understand it, They are not creating a computer that uses BlueTooth to connect a display.

There seems to be a lot of care going into recreating the ZX Spectrum's original design. As a keyboard, many users of the original complained that it was small and difficult to type on. As much as the mobile world could use a good QWERTY device, I'm curious to see how they handle respect for the original design versus increased functionality. Might this become a keyboard for those who've never heard of Sinclair?

We think this project has great potential, but like any hardware project on Kickstarter, you really need to research Elite's info, their Kickstarter campaign and independent sources. Dig in! This could be an astounding product!
January 4, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Sift through your Atari 2600 ROMS and get out your chip tune dancing shoes

Burnkit2600's track Weapons of Past Distractions on an Atari 2600 cartridge In a quest to play those elusive Atari 2600 titles, many of us have downloaded a zip file, double clicked it and stared in wonderment at the 800+ files that appear in a window. As a kid I remember saving up my allowance and debating which Atari game to buy. If I'd only known I could obtain the entire 2600 library for free via a 12-second download. But I had a great childhood, so I can't complain.

Take a look through your Atari 2600 ROMS and see if bk2600 wopd.bin is nestled between Big Bird's Egg Catch and Blackjack. If you have it, fire up Stella and enjoy the jam! This ROM is Burnkit2600's answer to the cassingle!

Burnkit2600 is a chiptune band that have taken musical release to a pinacle of cool with "Weapons of Past Distractions" - on an Atari 2600 cartridge! You can download the track from Bandcamp as well as their other releases. They are self-described as- experimental electronic gurus who blend elements of chip music, circuit bending, digital wizardry and old school analog gear to perform unique virtuosic blends of music with a live rock aesthetic.

Burnkit2600 I'm not sure if the Atari 2600 cartridge version is still available, but you can find more info about Weapons of Past Distractions on the Burnkit2600 website. They also include some great detail about how it came to be and the process of coding the release.
January 1, 2014 Retro Gaming Blog Post:

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year
Happy New Year from all of us at 8-Bit Central!



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