Archive for the ‘Video Games’ Category

Synopsis Quest: JRPG Parody fun

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Synoposis Quest is a mashup of Warioware and 8-bit JRPG parody with some solid puzzles and cute humor. Should take you 10-20 minutes to kick it.

Inside every man is a little boy

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Wow.  Painful Superbowl ads of yesteryear…

Space Invaders never get old

Tuesday, August 11th, 2009

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a classic shmup.  If there’s another thing I love, it’s weird modern takes on old games.  Space Invaders is hardly the only game to get this treatment, but it gets it fairly regularly and usually in an official fashion.

They're HEEERE!

They're HEEERE!

The latest rad version of this phenomenon is Space Invaders Infinity Gene.  This is really more like a modern shmup (with touch screen controls, actual good ones) with Space Invaders graphics and a vector-art sensibility than it is like old-school Space Invaders, but that doesn’t stop me from loving it.

The idea is that as you score points in the game, you fill up a “Gene” bad that unlocks new abilities, and it seems like if you replay you can unlock multiple abilities per level that you use as you replay (I don’t know if the abilities get unlocked in order or if you have to be on a specific level to unlock a certain ability) giving you more and cooler things to do as you bust some pixels.  All this accompanied by some great electronic music and sound effects.

Of course, if you missed it and have an Xbox 360, you should probably get your hands on Space Invaders Extreme, which goes a little more retro in the graphics area, and makes the whole thing into a crazy rhythmic affair with your shots and kills actually syncing into the music.  (This game also exists on PSP and Nintendo DS, but I ain’t got those).  And if you like THAT, don’t forget that Namco did something similar for Pac-Man and Galaga.  I have and love them all, but there’s frankly on so much a man can play at a given time.

Late edit: Holy crap, this game can just up and create new levels based off songs in your library.

Zelda Rap. Wiki-wiki-wik!

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009

Look, I know we’ve all seen the Zelda rap, but on rewatching it, I think there’s funnier stuff here than the song itself:  First, you have the nerd kid using his games and cool toys to keep the cool friend around.  Sad, yet realistic.  Then you’ve got the voice saying “Your parents help you hook it up!”  It’s bad enough that they assume kids can’t hook up an NES, but the voice used seems to be using of the condescending uncle sort of tone.  Hey, I can do this shit, DAD!

Coming This Christmas from Atari: Disappointment!

Sunday, December 7th, 2008

No, ET! Get the hell out of my house with your crappy game! What have you done with Santa?


Saturday, December 6th, 2008

Wow, here’s an ad that really makes you want to get an Atari 5200 (the one with Pac-man games that didn’t cause horrible seizures)!  Who knew Santa was so hi-tech?

In other news: There was a Wacky Wallwalkers cartoon?  Why the hell was there a Wacky Wallwalkers cartoon?  God damn it 1980s, is there anything you wouldn’t turn into a horrible cartoon?

Oh yeah, TI-99/4a games!

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Now, my family was always very tech oriented, but we didn’t always pick the most popular systems.  Oddyssey2 instead of Atari 2600? Yep. TI-99/4a instead of an Apple II? You betcha!

Still, I’m not going to complain. Everyone else had the common stuff, so I got to see more than my share of it, and I got to see the less well known but often amazing games available for the underdogs. In the case of the TI-99/4a, some of those games were actually pretty good, and at least looked better than the damn C64 stuff.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get emulated games for the system, and legal to boot. I guess the Texas Instruments folks realized they weren’t about to get a huge Jakk’s Pacific deal for their stuff? If you download Classic99, it comes with ROMs for many of the most classic games.

But wait, there’s more! This “Dreamcodex” fellow (a Mr. Howard Kistler) has ported some of these games to Java, complete with fancied-up graphics! Let’s see what he’s done.

Hunt the Wumpus

Old Wumpus meets new Wumpus.

Old Wumpus meets new Wumpus.

This has always been one of my favorites. It’s simple, challenging, and very logic based. He got the basic gameplay here fine, which isn’t too much of a task, but where he really knocked it out of the park was making it look pretty with all new graphics without tossing the appeal of the nice basic circular room layout. Even his all new death and victory screens manage to be unique without losing the charm of the classic. My heart used to skip a beat when I accidentally walked into the Wumpus, and I find myself equally startled and terrified by the updated monster face.

ARGLE BARGLE! (click for retro terror)

ARGLE BARGLE! (click for retro terror)

I know this game originally existed in text form, and there have been a dozen variations on it each with their own ideas, but I grew up on this one. It’s the version I know and love, and I don’t adjust well to change! Don’t ask me to change! Here I have the version I want with nice new pretty pictures, and I can even play it right in my web browser! This has definitely replaced minesweeper as my time-wasting puzzle game of choice.

The game does leave out the classic blindfold mode (where the map only shows the current room you are in) but I can live without that. At that point I’m sure I could just go back to the basic text adventure version of the game.

Tunnels of Doom (Reboot)

Tunnels of Doom is a game that even now seems way ahead of its time. The graphics may be poop, but so was everything then. The real meat, the gameplay, was still basically valid in the later Ultima games in the end of the 80s.

Look at all this great stuff!

Look at all this great stuff!

That’s right, while bogged down crawling through dungeons in Ultima V, I had a flashback. The dungeons worked nearly exactly the same as this 82 classic, down the “3D” dungeon movement and the overhead tactical combat. Of course, Tunnels of Doom lacked a huge epic story and a massive overworld and quests and NPCs, but the dungeon crawl bit was pretty much the perfection of a formula that worked up until “real-time” took over even the beloved RPG genre.



In addition to neat, pseudo-3D dungeons and real time combat, the game featured unique things like an excellent vault-cracking minigame (not unlike mastermind) and the ability to bribe your enemies for safe passage.  You were also battling a timer in some quests, as well as the need to keep fed.  Fortunately, the update gives you a nice bar on each side so you can always track your characters’ stats, as well as time and rations.  A nice change, because you had to expect to return to the store fairly often for upgrades and supplies.

Rats, the cannon fodder of the RPG world

Rats, the cannon fodder of the RPG world

Now, due to the control options available at the time, both the original and this remake require memorization of a lot more specific key combos than anyone is used to by today’s standards, but at least the remake effort included a snazzy, comprehensive manual and benefits from modern interface decisions and larger keyboards. Also, those who remember the original game may remember having to load and save your games with a clunky audio tape drive (ok, there was a floppy, but nobody could afford it). It is a huge blessing of modern computers to no longer have to wait for up to an hour listening to “The Greatest Hits of 1200 Baud Modems.”  This is one game where the original is a little too much of a pain by modern standards to sustain the nostalgia, and I’m glad the remake takes it to a bearable level.

All the excitement of stats.

All the excitement of stats.

The really hardcore amongst us may remember that you could make your own custom dungeon scenarios, complete with custom classes, monsters, and weapons.  The remake comes with amazing set of tools that allow you to actually import those old scenarios.  Mostly I just played the original quest, but that’s a great feature, and it’s nice to see someone put the effort into making those files available to a modern audience.

Munchman/Munch Mates

Totally not Pac-man.

Totally not Pac-man.

Munchman (the remake is called Munch Mates) isn’t really a classic to me as I never played it much. I’m more of a Chisolm Trail kinda guy, but as far as Pac-man clones go, this one is pretty solid. In this one, you fill in spaces instead of clearing them out, but the end result is the same. I wouldn’t say it’s as creative as K.C. Munckin, but it’s good fun.

Here we have an above and beyond kind of situation, where the remake brings in a new maze for “Munch Missy” and a version of the maze based on the prototype of the original game. Oddly enough, this runs unplayably fast on my Vista machine , but this is probably an issue with my Java install itself rather than the game (it works fine on my laptop with XP).

Now, if these newfangled graphics are too much for you, or you miss some of the other TI-99/4a games, you can always check out Classic99 (linked above). I’m mostly going to stick with these, because Tunnels of Doom and Hunt the Wumpus were always my classics, and it’s nice to be able to play visually solid versions of them without loading up an emulator. But hey, if anyone decides to update Parsec or Chisolm Trail, let me know!

Top 5 Atari 2600/VCS Games

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Sorry I’ve been neglecting this site. There’s been some busy times. With video games…

But on that subject, let’s talk about some of the best games to have ever been available in the homes of young folks. I didn’t have a 2600 of my own, but was graced with the much cooler library of the off-beat Odyssey2 (but we’ll talk about that another time). Everyone else had a 2600 though, so I got to spend some serious time with the library. Most of the games don’t stand up well compared to what we’ve got now. Heck, most of them weren’t even that good for the time, but you weren’t about to get arcade quality in the home back then. Let’s take a look at some of the best of them. Games I can even play to this day (except Demon Attack, which isn’t on my Flashback 2.0).

Without further ado, here’s my Top 5:

1 – Demon Attack

Demons, attacking.

Demons, attacking.

Ok, I know I just made fun of the box, but this game was really classic. Atari never got a decent iteration of Galaga or Galaxians, but this took things to the next level. First of all the game was a lot more active than any competitors out there. The demons were fast, unpredictable, and mean. They might swoop for you in a kamikaze attack, or maybe shoot a beam that moved with them. Sometimes when you shot them, they just split into two smaller, harder to hit targets and fired the same big old beams at you. Sometimes they just made you throw the controller with rage. Well, me anyways.

It wasn’t just the enhanced difficulty and unique enemies that sold the game, though. It looked good, with a ton of color and some sharply defined sprites that you don’t see in a lot of old Atari games. And the sound was practically terrifying, with a heartbeat thump that was as terrifying as the Telltale Heart.

2 – Adventure

Adventure.  You are the dot.

Adventure. You are the dot.

Ok, the hero of Adventure may not have as much personality as Dirk the Daring, but this was still the first epic fantasy adventure you could play at home. It had castles, dragons, horrible bats, and the deadly enchanted…arrow. Yeah. That’s supposed to be a sword, but it’s just not, man.

Still, the game manged to seem huge, with 29 screens of gameworld (plus one of the first easter egg screens) and multiple items that were needed to overcome the obstacles in your quest. Also the game could take forever because of that *&#$ bat, who would just take whatever you were holding and give you useless crap. Or an angry dragon. Yes. A bat carrying a dragon makes sense.

Still, as long as you had the wit and patience, you could always finish the game. Adventure was one of the first video games where you couldn’t die, but that didn’t necessarily make the harder levels feel any easier. Yet it was all worth it when you brought that grail back into your castle and witnessed the glorious victory palette-cycling.

3 – Pitfall

Amazing 3-color sprites!

Amazing 3-color sprites!

Oh yes. The first real home platformer. The first one that looked any good, anyways. Pitfall was a relentlessly hard game, but memorization could take you a long way. Sure all you did was run back and forth and jump over obstacles, but many would say that aside from a little vertical depth, that’s all you did in most platform games. And it certainly did a great job of skirting the line where it was hard enough to be rewarding, but not so impossible that you felt like it was deliberately crushing your hopes and dreams.

Like Demon Attack, Pitfall also showed us that a talented 3rd party developer could really make a pretty game. Solid colors and spites that didn’t look like splotches were pretty amazing. The 3-color Pitfall Harry probably had the most personality we’d see in a home videogame character until Super Mario Bros. hit the scene.

Pitfall II eventually did build a huge, open game world, but there’s something to be said for the simple challenge of just staying alive through screen after screen of jerkwad crocodiles and obnoxious scorpions. And amazingly passive snakes. Those were some damn lazy snakes.

4 – Combat

Not pictured: the same exact thing but with planes

Not pictured: the same exact thing but with planes

Before there was Street Fighter, true men resolved their differences over Combat. It’s still hard to believe that 2 dinky tank sprites could generate such visceral competition, but that game was a brutal test of skill. And concealed in the game modes were anything from hardcore skill-based ricochet tanks battles, to comical gage battles between a giant plane and and air force of smaller opponents (this was hideously unbalanced in favor of the smaller planes, but little kids always wanted to be the big, badass one).

Moreso than later games, Combat was a true test of skill vs. skill. No character balance, no random powerups. Only your feeble steering came between you and certain death.

5 – Yar’s Revenge

Fly vs. Enormous Space Cannon: Guess which one you are.

Fly vs. Enormous Space Cannon: Guess which one you are.

Coming late in the game from Atari, Yar’s Revenge showed something that wouldn’t be seen for a while in their console division: creativity. Not long after this, Atari would begin pushing out mediocre ports of their arcade games, and even more mediocre clones of industry standard formulas, some of which had horrible licenses attached.

Yar’s Revenge was a repeating boss fight, at least we would call it that these days. You had to coordinate the actions of your little robotic fly as you gradually ate away at the shields of a dealy super cannon with your puny laser. While doing this you were chased by space missiles and could potentially be shot by the super cannon. Only with the deadly cannon exposed could you retaliate with your own weapon of mass destruction. The overall experience was something a little different from the classic shooter of the time and really required you to divide your attention among multiple threats and stratgeies.

Also it came with a rockin’ comic book. Gotta love the comic books.

Secret Plan: Lay our eggs on some rotten meat.  Don\'t tell anyone.

Secret Plan: Lay our eggs on some rotten meat. Don't tell anyone.

Well, some people may be enraged by my lack of River Raid, or that sweet Return of the Jedi game, but as far as I am concerned, these are the real classics. I still play all of these except Demon Attack on my Flashback 2.0 (and the lack of Demon Attack is sorely disappointing). I can’t say that about a lot of home retrogames.

Video game cover on the cheap

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Demon Attack was one of the best games for the Atari 2600 (or VCS for you old folks) but man, I forgot about this cover:

I bet that cost them a whole five bucks.

I bet that cost them a whole five bucks.

I had those dinosaur toys and the GI Joe stuff those missiles came from. Someone should have paid me to glue them together and spraypaint them silver. I’m pretty sure I could have done that.

Rick Dyer and the world of interactive cartoons that never was

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

In 1982, just as everyone was getting used to the fancy graphics of Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga, a new type of game hit the scenes. Instead of being faced with a colorful splash of pixels or a sharp green vector image, arcade-goers were suddenly face to face with this:!!

That’s right, Dragon’s Lair wasn’t just an interactive cartoon; it was good one. The project was the child of Rick Dyer, who saw a lot of potential for interactive media, and Don Bluth, former Disney animator and creator of the Secret of NIMH movie. So the cartoon art in Dragon’s Lair wasn’t some cheap mass-produced crap, but smooth animations and sharp colors and backgrounds. This shows nowhere better than the game’s damsel in distress, Princess Daphne, a girl so hot, that she could only be hotter if she and Jessica Rabbit…You know what? Let’s move on.

Sweet, sweet sugar

Sweet, sweet sugar

That’s not to say Dragon’s Lair ate Pac-Man’s lunch (which is usually a brown paper bag with a couple of dots, a power pellet sandwich, and a Hi-C juice box). As a game, it still had some serious flaws. Because it was really just a laserdisc with some tags to check for input, each situation had only one outcome, and the correct control had to be pressed at the exact correct time. Instead of a dynamic reaction to various enemy patterns and random chance, it was pure memorization of when to hit which button. That’s not to say it wasn’t a fun game, but the replayability wasn’t there. It turned out ok for arcade owners in the end; they just charged 75 cents a play for the new fad. Longer lines to play the new game formed than had ever been seen in an arcade, and the folks who had mastered the game didn’t seem to mind playing it again and again for the audiences they drew.

Dragon’s Lair was such an smash hit that it was quickly followed by the science-fictioney Space Ace, which featured similar great animation, and another hot cartoon babe, Kimberley, to rescue. Soon it seemed like no solid arcade would be without one of the two.

Uniform discipline is lax amongst space heroes.

Uniform discipline is lax amongst space heroes.

And then that was it. There were a few very terrible attempts by other companies to cash in, but they weren’t something you saw very often.

It wasn’t until 1991 that a nostalgia-fueled Dragon’s Lair sequel hit the revived arcade scene. Even discounting the video game crash that occurred in the US in the early 80s, it seemed mysterious that this promising genre would go away so quickly. So what happened?

Well, for one thing, the arcade units were not the incredible money maker they seemed to be at first. Due to its fragile nature, and the fact that it wasn’t designed to run constantly for hours at a time, the laserdisk player in the machine would frequently break if the machine was smacked or kicked. You know, the two fates that most arcade machines suffer hundreds of times a day? Repairs on the machine were apparently not cheap, either. Although the machines still probably drew a profit (and customers for other machines), the frustration of constantly having to service them and explain to customers the “Out of order” signs likely kept people from ordering new machines.

The basic gameplay and single path of the story also limited customer interest after the gimmick wore off. Space Ace actually mitigated this by having multiple options for some of the challenges, but once someone had seen the games a few times, they were unlikely to come back. Arcades always have dark and dusty corners where the forgotten games of yesteryear are assembled so they don’t shame the newer and prettier ones, but even those games usually have a handful of devotees still dumping quarters into them.

To top it all off, Rick Dyer had decided to start a company based around taking laserdisc video games into the home. The problem was that the console was 2500 bucks. That’s 2500 bucks in 1985 money. The “Halcyon” seems to have been an obviously bad idea, but he went ahead with it anyways. His planned first game, Thayer’s Quest, was more like a modern adventure game in terms of having an inventory and the ability to go to multiple areas, but it wasn’t the same level of quality as his arcade games, and he didn’t really have a lot of other titles to follow it up (the Halcyon flier lists a few, but apparently only Thayer’s Quest and a football game were finished). His company went belly up, but a few copies of Thayer’s Quest made it to the arcades where nobody paid any attention to them.

That’s not to say people were totally done with the franchises, though. Aside from the typical merchandising, there were numerous “ports” and “sequels” of the game that varied from platform games to cut down full-motion video like the arcade to something in between. The result was rarely anything to be proud of. And despite being more suited to a Saturday morning cartoon form than most games, the end result was pretty mediocre, even with the voice of Destro for the evil dragon.

The real travesty was the Space Ace cartoon. Part of the “Saturday Supercade” collection (individual cartoons that were each based on a different video game), it replaced Don Bluth’s beautiful hand-drawn animation with, well, horrible garbage. The voice of Destro couldn’t save this one.

In the end, Mr. Dyer didn’t really make a strong return to the full-motion genre until Dragon’s Lair II and the “Holographic” Time Traveller games in the 90s, around when a few other companies began trying out live action games like Mad Dog McCree. By then, CD-rom games systems were presenting us with more of these full-motion games in the home (including some schlock that had been developed for another failed video-based console), and some of those games were making us realize that maybe the genre was not a good idea. Still, at least we’ll always have memories of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace and their awesome and painful death sequences.