Archive for the Videogames Category

Whenever I start a new project it’s not uncommon for me to dump all of my spare time into it and neglect my other projects, at least temporarily. Whenever my blog and podcast output wanes, you can bet I’ve been sidetracked.

My latest project is a Facebook page called Vintage Videogame Ads. Even if you don’t have a Facebook account (who reading this does not have a Facebook account?) you can access the page here: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds.

Back in the 8-bit days of computing, advertisements in computer and videogame magazines were a great way to discover new games. Each time my mom would take me to the supermarket with her I would hand out at the magazine rack, skimming through computer magazines to find the game reviews and the latest ads.

This project started several years ago with the purchase of a Plustek OpticBook scanner. The OpticBook scanner is specially designed for scanning in books. I have a couple dozen computer and videogame magazines from the 1980s, and this scanner allowed me to scan them all into the computer. I love reading the old articles and game reviews, but I found I loved looking at the old ads even more — so much so that I pulled all the ads out and placed them in their own folder.

After going through all the magazines I owned I ended up with around 400 ads. Roughly 200 of those were ads for games or game companies and the other 200 were ads for hardware or services. I’ve been wanting to share them for a while but hadn’t quite figured out the right venue. It hit me the other night that a Facebook album would be perfect, so that’s what I did.

If I made any mistake at all it’s that I uploaded all of them at once, dumping 300 new photos into the group at once. By doing that, I ran myself out of new material almost immediately. After searching the garage I found another half-dozen magazines. Now that the well is dry, I’ve begun phase two of the project. I have hundreds of old computer and videogame magazines in PDF format. I spent the past three evenings converting every issue of RUN Magazine from PDF to JPG and pulling all the ads out of that stack. I have runs of lots of other magazines too, so I should have source material to pull from for years to come. Because they’re coming from different sources the ads are of varying quality. If I find better scans I’ll replace them as time goes on; if I run across the actual magazines, I’ll scan in better copies myself. I’ve also throttled the number of pictures I’m uploading to 2 or 3 at a time. It’s a much more enjoyable way to appreciate the ads.

Along with the game ads, I’m also really enjoying the hardware ads. As you move through time you can watch prices drop. I have ads with Commodore 64s ranging in price from $299 to $99. There’s a series of ads selling Sanyo monitors that drops $10 in price every month. It’s one thing to tell someone you remember when hard drives cost thousands of dollars, but it’s another thing to see the advertisements for yourself. Technically these aren’t “videogame” ads but so far I haven’t received any complaints about posting them.

The only bad thing about projects like these is that there’s no end, ever. My biggest hurdle at the moment is making sure that all of my scans are named properly to ensure that I don’t end up with tons of duplicates. That will come with time I suppose. What I have the most problem with are ads from game companies that feature multiple games. For example, I have “Heroes of the Lance (AD&D, SSI).jpg” along with “SSI (3 AD&D Games).jpg”. I’m trying to include enough information in the file names to be able to search and find similar ads (all SSI ads, for example) and that may take a little work — but that’s work on my end, not yours. All you need to do to enjoy the ads is to head over to the Facebook page where you can browse through the photos or “like” the page to receive updates whenever I post new ones. Feel free to post any you have as well!

Link: www.facebook.com/VintageVideogameAds

My friend Sean and I were recently talking about how Thanksgiving can be almost like two separate holidays for kids and adults. While the adults enjoy talking and eating and watching football, the kids are often left to entertain themselves. I decided to do something fun for the kids this year and drag one of my few remaining arcade cabinets in from the garage and set it up in the back dining room.

This machine began life as a Williams cabinet — either Defender or Joust, I think. Someone converted it to a Buster Bros. machine many years ago, and I bought it at an auction for $50 in non-working condition. The problem turned out to be a faulty power cord, which was definitely the easiest arcade repair I ever successfully performed. The game worked for a couple of years and then the board inside died, so I replaced it with a “48-in-1″ multigame PCB. (“48-in-1″ means that the board has 48 different classic games included on 1 single board.) Then the monitor died and I replaced it with a computer monitor. Since the 48-in-1 is a vertical PCB, I mounted the monitor on its side.

The game was a success, I think. My kids broke the machine in for me before anyone arrived. Morgan’s favorite game is Centipede. Even though the 48-in-1 does not support a trackball she still loves playing it, blissfully unaware at how difficult and unnatural it is to play using a joystick. Mason on the other hand likes to go through all the games and try them all. I’ve caught him playing Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Zaxxon, and Galaga, to name a few. In the picture above, my nephew Griffin is playing Burgertime while my other nephew Phoenix climbs onto a stool for a closer look with Mason watching on from behind.

This morning on “Black Friday,” Mason was the first one to fire up the machine. I posted a fairly weak Donkey Kong high score yesterday of 39,300, but Mason watched how I did it and has been trying to beat that score off and on ever since. I’m sure he’ll do it eventually. Later, mommy got in on the action as well. Susan’s score was 400 and her question before they started was “Am I Mario or the Donkey?” which is funny because there’s no donkey in Donkey Kong.

This particular cabinet is too rough to keep inside the house for long. The coin door is rusted, the sides of the cabinet are gouged, and the control panel is all scratched up. And while the 48-in-1 board offers a decent selection of games, I’m already starting to get requests. (“Does it play Tetris?” “No.” “Does it play Dr. Mario?” “No.” “Does it play Gauntlet?” “No.”) This may be the nudge I need to finally put together a proper MAME cabinet, one that looks nice enough to stay inside the house permanently.

Until then though… back to that Donkey Kong score.

Earlier this week I wrote about the time I spent at the 1UP Arcade in Denver attending the Kong Off 3, but my buddy Robb Sherwin took me to visit a few other local arcades over the weekend as well.

THE 2UP
717 East Colfax Avenue, Denver, Colorado

Just across town from the 1UP is the 2UP. While the space may be slightly smaller, the fun was just as big. My buddy Robb (you can see him in the picture there) and I spent several hours hanging out at the 2UP playing games and watching football. Like the 1UP, all the pinball games were set to 50 cents and all the arcade games were set to a quarter. Mostly we played pinball, flipping away at the Metallica, Playboy, and Addams Family tables, but we did manage to squeeze in a few rounds of Paperboy as well. The 2UP is a bar which means it’s 21 to enter (no kiddos allowed). The staff were nice, the drinks were good, and the games were great. The only thing not great about the 2UP is the location. Several people we told we were going to the 2UP advised us to “have a good time and try not to get stabbed.” The area didn’t seem particularly bad to me but there were quite a few homeless people hanging around outside. Fortunately we were able to park literally outside the front door, so making a safe escape to our cars wasn’t an issue.

Lyons Classic Pinball
339-A Main Street, Lyons, Colorado

45 miles north of Denver is Lyons, Colorado, home of Lyons Classic Pinball and Games. (We were underwhelmed by the “games” part until we learned they were next door in a bar.) In what once was a house sits 30 classic pinball tables. Some are old, some are new, some are unique, and all were awesome. The middle of the arcade features a room full of music-themed pinball tables. In the picture above you can see KISS, Guns N’ Roses, Monster Bash, Wizard! (Tommy), and Metallica (again). On the other side of the room sat Rolling Stones, Capt. Fantastic (Elton John), Ted Nugent, and AC/DC. There was also a gigantic Hercules table (it’s so big it uses cue balls for pinballs!), Banzai Run (the only table where you can launch a pinball up into the backglass!) and a head-to-head Joust pinball machine.

There were only two arcade games on site: an environmental Discs of Tron and a multicade. We learned that the rest of the games were next door at Oskar’s, so we went there next.

Prices on the tables vary, from a quarter (for the old ones) to a dollar (for the band new ones). Other than the Wizard of Oz table, all the machines were up and running and looked super clean. It’s a bit of a haul from Denver, but if you’re into pinball it’s a great location to visit.

Oskar Blues Grill & Brew
303 Main Street, Lyons, Colorado


(My camera phone pictures did not turn out, so here is a picture of Oskar’s arcade from Flickr member Wally Gobetz.)

Next door to the Lyons Classic Pinball Arcade is the Oskar Blues Grill & Brew. It’s a blues bar and so inside it looks like a bar, except there’s a back room that’s full of arcade games. Because it’s a bar and there was a band playing there was a $5 cover charge to get in. From what I understand when there’s not a band, there’s no cover.

According to the website, the back room is home to the following games: Battlezone, Centipede, Dig Dug, Donkey Kong, Frogger, Galaga/Multi-cade, Gorf, Ms. Pac-Man, Out Run, Paperboy, Phoenix, Q*bert, Super Mario Bros., Tetris, Tron, and a Williams Multi-cade with Bubbles, Robotron, Defender, Sinistar, Houst, Splay, Moon Patrol, Stargate. I didn’t write them all down, but that seems about right. It was interesting that three or four of the cabinets (I remember Centipede, Dig Dug, Gorf, and maybe one of the Pacs) are cabarets, which you don’t see everyday. Maybe of the machines were in “played” vs. “restored” condition, but everything we tried worked.

To whom it may concern:

I am writing to inform you that effective immediately, my son will no longer be delivering newspapers for the Daily Sun. Additionally, I have grave concerns regarding the safety of the route he was assigned that I would like to bring to your attention.

I initially allowed my son to take this part time job due to its relatively straight forward route and small number of customers. Despite only having ten customers (on a street with 20 houses), my son must cross three busy intersections. Despite having crosswalks, cross traffic does not stop or even yield. My son has been run over multiple times by men on motorcycles and women in convertibles. Throughout the neighborhood, my son has to frequently switch between riding his bicycle on the sidewalk and directly in the street. In the street my son has been involved in more than one head on collision. He has also ruined more bicycles than I can count by driving into drains and open manholes. The sidewalk is not much better; it is littered with fences, fire hydrants and other obstacles.

While logic dictates that the sidewalk would be a safe place for a child to ride his bicycle, clearly in this neighborhood it is not. The sidewalk is constantly overcrowded, filled with punks on skateboards, women with shopping carts, and breakdancers. To avoid hitting a man with a purple mohawk riding a unicycle, my son swerved into the street and struck a man using a jackhammer (with absolutely no safety cones or warning equipment set up to warn others). When he returned to the sidewalk, he was run over by an unmanned lawnmower.

The residents of the neighborhood are as unforgiving as they are careless. My son is only given ten newspapers for ten subscribers. This is not acceptable as he must constantly use the papers to thwart burglaries and defend himself from other dangers. While additional bundles of paper are scattered around the neighborhood (presumably from previous paperboys!) most of them get used to repel all the stray cats and dogs that constantly attack my son. At no point did anyone mention to me or my son that his route would be filled with so many abandoned houses, some of them bearing gravestones. When my son missed delivering a single paper to a single subscriber, they cancelled their subscription. When attempting to deliver them a paper the following day, the homeowner backed over my son with his Hearse.

To be honest, I am quite surprised that anyone in this neighborhood subscribes to, let alone reads, a daily periodical. In an attempt to deliver newspapers the denizens of this town have attempted to set off bombs near my son’s path and chased him with remote controlled cars in an attempt to cause him to crash. He has been knocked off his bike more than once by winos and chased by both tornadoes and the Grim Reaper. The Grim Reaper! Yesterday he was forced to break up a fist fight between two grown men by hitting them with a newspaper!

After hearing all these tales from my son, I recommended that he work on his bicycle skills. He told me at the end of the neighborhood there is a training section filled with moving ramps and targets. My son said he did really well in the training area and was awarded bonus points. I don’t know what bonus points are worth. I know that our insurance will not accept them as deductible payments toward our multiple insurance claims, and they apparently cannot be traded in for bicycles.

Seven times this week my son has been struck by errant car tires rolling in and out of people’s driveways and down the street. I have never heard of anyone being struck by a car tire before, let alone seven times in the same week. This is absolutely ridiculous and I will not stand for it.

Please accept this letter as an official resignation for my son. I believe it would be in your best interest to warn future paperboys about the potential hazards lurking along this route. It would also be a good idea to provide pads and/or a helmet to any future paperboys. They’re going to need it.

Last weekend, the day before I hopped into Susan’s car and drove 15 hours from Oklahoma City to Tempe, Arizona for a training class, I bought the new PS3/GTAV bundle. For $260, you can get Grand Theft Auto V (which retails for $60) and a new, 500gb PlayStation 3. I still have my 60gb launch PlayStation 3 in the den, but Mason has had it tied up with Call of Duty for months. I brought the new PS3 with me to Tempe (along with a spare HDMI cable) and hooked the console up in my hotel room. Mason (who is 11) told me that some of his friends are already playing GTAV and wanted to know if he could play my copy while I was out of town. After all, “it’s just a game, Dad!”

In the game’s opening training sequence, you will learn how to control your character by participating in a bank robbery. Your first job will be to point your gun at hostages to get them to move into the bank’s vault. You point your gun by holding down L2 on the controller. If you accidentally hit R2 you will shoot the hostage, at which point one of your accomplices will shoot you and you will fail the mission. I did that. After restarting, I retaliated by shooting my partner first. Again, I failed the mission. On my third attempt, I took cover behind a desk and opened fire on everyone in the room. 45 seconds into Grand Theft Auto V and I had already gone on my first murderous rampage.

Also within the first 45 seconds you’ll hear your first f-bomb, and your second, and your tenth, along with a few mother f’ers thrown in for good measure. Unlike some movies where they don’t introduce nudity until the second or third act, less than a minute into the game it has been made painfully obvious that this is not intended for kids.

Eventually I did rob the bank as I was supposed to, which led me to a shootout with cops. During this phase I learned that shooting cops in the leg or torso isn’t very effective because they can still shoot back at you while lying on the ground, bleeding. Head shots are key here. After shooting those copes, more cops showed up. I shot them too. I should note that to walk, sprint, take cover, aim, and shoot requires more buttons than all video games previously released combined. My gangster name is Fumble Fingers. Whenever I meant to take cover, I jumped around like the time Curly got ants in his pants. Whenever I tried to shoot I somehow put away my gun and began punching at air. It’s a wonder I was every able to shoot all the cops in the head, but eventually I did.

Then I hopped in a getaway car, got hit by a train and died. Mission complete.

In the next mission I played as Franklin, a street-wise thug. My first mission as Franklin was to repossess a car and follow his friend Lamar through city streets.

I have spent years erasing the n-word from my vocabulary. I don’t like hearing it, and I would never say it (unless I was in my car alone listening to old gangster rap). Franklin and Lamar however looooovet the n-word. This is what the next five minutes of the game sounds like:

“N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD N-WORD.”

The next mission teaches you how to drive. It also taught me how to hit pedestrians, sideswipe cars, and ploy into motorcyclists.

With that mission out of the way it was time for my next awesome mission, which was to change Franklin’s clothes and go get a haircut.

I must admit, after having already acquired a taste for blood, playing dress up with Franklin seemed a bit lame. Instead of taking Franklin to the barber shop as instructed, we stole a city bus, rammed police cars until the cops shot out my tires, abandoned the bus for a cement truck, and caused mayhem until I was forced off the road into the ocean. I was able to make it back to the shore, where a police officer promptly shot me in the head. Good night, Franklin.

From a technological standpoint, Grand Theft Auto V is simply amazing. I read somewhere that the city in GTAV is bigger than all the other games combined. It is truly wonderful technology; I’m just not so sure we’re using it in the name of good at this point. I’ll write more as I work through through the game.

I had heard of the website Bundle-in-a-Box before, but never really looked into it until one of my friends Robb Sherwin had one of his games added to a bundle. What Bundle-in-a-Box does is group several games together and allow their customers to pay whatever price they think the bundle is worth. The games are downloadable and DRM-free so you can install them wherever and to whatever you want.

This week’s bundle contains five games and the minimum price you can pay is $2, which works out to be 40 cents per game. If you go crazy and pay more than the average price (which is currently $5.85), you get four additional games for a total of nine in all. $5.85 for 9 games is 65 cents per game, big spender.

This is the part where I talk about what you else in this world you could get for 40 cents instead of a game. McDonald’s now charges 25 cents for additional tiny plastic cups of McNugget dipping sauce, so with 40 cents in your pocket, you could buy one additional container of sweet and sour sauce there. For 40 cents you couldn’t afford the cheapest item on Taco Bell’s menu, a “cheesy roll-up,” which is a tortilla with some melted cheese inside it that costs 79 cents. At the mall, a single gumball from the gumball machine costs fifty cents, so you couldn’t buy one of those either. The cost of a single stamp is 46 cents now, so with only 40 cents to your name you couldn’t buy enough postage to mail a latter to your next door neighbor. I suppose on iTunes you could buy 40% of a single song. I’m not sure they pro-rate them that way, but you get the idea.

One of the downfalls of digital distribution, be it games or music or movies or books, is that many consumers think digital goods should cost less than their physical counterparts. And I agree, to an extent. When I first added my book Commodork (which retails for $15 in paperback) to the Amazon digital bookstore, the initial price Amazon suggested was $9.99 which I was told by potential consumers was too high. I almost immediately lowered the price to $4.99, which I was also told was too high. Currently you can buy DRM-free PDF copies of my books Commodork and Invading Spaces for $2.99 each from my website. Each of those books represents a year’s worth of work. I wrote Commodork by waking up early and writing, staying up late and writing, and writing on weekends. For a year. If you figure I worked on Commodork 10 hours a week for an entire year, at $2.99 that means I earned a whopping .006 (six one-thousandths) cents per hour. Robb Sherwin told me last night he spent 2 1/2 years working on Necrotic Drift, his game in this week’s Bundle in a Box. A game which, again, you can own for 40 cents.

For Christmas, my son and I each got a new game for the PlayStation 3 (Call of Duty and Need for Speed). The total price of these two games combined with tax was $130. The cost for 5 games here is a minimum of $2. I won’t lie; I paid the whopping $6 to get 9 games. That’s more than “cheesy roll-up” money, but it barely covers the price of a combo meal.

Bundle-in-a-Box takes PayPal, Google Checkout, and credit cards. When I bought my Bundle it took about 8 seconds to pay and then I received the e-mail containing the download information about 4 seconds later. It will take you much less time to buy these games than it will take you to read anything I’ve ever written. Ever.

This week’s bundle contains an RPG, puzzle games, a couple of graphical adventure games, and of course my friend Robb’s text adventure. Won’t you consider buying a bundle of 40 cent games this week?

Link: Bundle-in-a-Box

Finally, we’re back on track with this week’s podcast.

This week’s show is all about the Nintendo Entertainment System — the NES, for short. In this episode you’ll get to hear about how and when I got my first NES and what games I used to play. You’ll also learn about the horrible television I used to own, how I built up my collection of 300+ cartridges, and the exact moment I realized my girlfriend was also my soul mate. I also answer questions from callers about Commodore RAM Expansion Units and the best retro computer to bludgeon someone to death with.

Link: YDKF Episode 123: The CFFA 3000
Facebook: You Don’t Know Flack

Here’s the second post that got gummed up in the system.

Episode 125 of You Don’t Know Flack is all about the video game crash of 1983. “It was a dark and stormy night…” or was it really? In this episode I talk all about the causes of the video game crash of 1983, and why I missed it. From the voice mail box I answer the question, “what’s the worst arcade conversion I’ve ever seen?”

Link: YDKF Episode 125: The Video Game Crash of 1983
Facebook:
You Don’t Know Flack

(Video Game Crash. Get it?)

This podcast is actually two weeks old, but for some reason this announcement didn’t go through.

So, here it is.

Episode 124 of You Don’t Know Flack is a recap of my visit to the new Arkansas retro arcade, Arkadia Retrocade. Our visit to the arcade sure helped cure my case of Pac-Man Fever!

Link: YDKF Episode 124: The Arkadia Retrocade
Facebook: You Don’t Know Flack

(I have no idea why he is pretending to play guitar in this clip.)

Over the years I have set up and broken down my old gaming systems and computers many, many times. Sometimes — often times, actually — it seems like I spend more time connecting and configuring and reconnecting and reconfiguring them than I do actually playing games on them. When it comes to old hardware I have a softer spot in my heart for old computers than old console gaming systems, but the biggest problem with them is that they take up so much space. At one time in our old house I had over 20 video game consoles sitting on a relatively small set of shelves all hooked up to one single television. In that same room I had my three favorite old computers (a C64, an Amiga, and an Apple II) hooked up to three separate monitors tying up an entire 8′ table.

The other day I decided, why can’t I do that with my computers as well? Almost every flat screen television on the market now has multiple connections that would support these old computers. Last night while shopping at Sam’s Club I decided to pull the trigger and do something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while now.

For just under $350 I purchased a Sanyo 40″ flatscreen LCD television. They had bigger and smaller models with more and fewer features (actually there were few there with fewer features than this one), but it had all the right inputs for the job and the price was right.

As I said last night on Facebook, “the milk crate is temporary.” The television’s stand isn’t tall enough by itself so I needed to lift it up a bit. I’ll replace the milk crate this weekend with something else, but in the meantime it’ll do. My old trusty Commodore 64 plugged right into the television’s composite input and looks great. I did have to figure out how to set the default picture size on the television to 4:3 instead of 16:9 letterbox to keep the picture from being stretched out.

With the C64 up and running, the Amiga was next. The Amiga looks particularly crappy when connected via the composite cable. I found a couple of “VGA Flicker Fixers” in the ~$100 range that I will research and look into purchasing. So it’s not a great picture at the moment, but it’s working.

With the two Commodore products out of the way it was time to hook up the old Apple II. In a recent episode of You Don’t Know Flack I talked about the CFFA 3000, a compact flash/USB card reader for the Apple II. After reconnecting the composite cable from the Apple into the television and selecting a disk image, I was immediately greeted by the familiar sounds of Karateka. I don’t mind saying, the project took a back seat for a few minutes as I kicked and punched my way through a few enemy combatants.

That’s what they all look like now, sans any real cable management and with a milk crate in the picture. This weekend I’ll re-run all the cords and replace the milk crate with a proper stand.