Back when we were kids, my buddy Jeff had all the best board games: Crossbows and Catapults, Dark Tower, and this game from Parker Brothers, Shadowlord.
From what I can remember, Shadowlord was a bit like Monopoly set in space. Players moved around planets, built spaceships, and fought one other. The ultimate goal was to beat the Shadowlord, whose name is Starlord (no relation to Peter Quill). If you want to know more than that, here’s a link to the Cliff Notes version of the manual and here is the full manual. I’m not saying the game was complicated, but the last page of the manual says that due to the challenging nature of this complex game, players are free to call their 1-800 number for clarification of the rules.
While I don’t remember all the details of the game, what I strongly remember were the character cards that came with the game. There are four classes — masters, warriors, merchants, and diplomats — and each one has an associated number (8, 6, 3, and 0). Each player picks one master card. The other cards are drawn and acquired randomly throughout the game.
Each character class serves a different purpose. Warriors are important in battles, merchants allow you to draw more cards, and diplomats prevent your planets from being attacked. That being said, there’s no difference between cards with the same value. All fighters are the same, all merchants are the same, and all diplomats are the same. Their unique names and appearance make no difference in the game.
And yet to us, the different characters were everything! Who wanted to draw old man Kaare when you could get Viggo, a fierce lizard man! Again, within the confines of the game, there’s absolutely no difference between the two cards. They just as easily could have been plain white cards with numbers printed on them, but that would have been nowhere near as cool as these guys.
I have no idea who created the artwork for this game. The manual doesn’t mention anyone’s name, and the cards have a copyright of Parker Brothers printed on them. Best I can tell, none of the cards are signed; neither is the artwork on the box’s lid.
A few years after playing Jeff’s, I got my own copy of Shadowlord from a local discount store. The box had been opened, and when I got it home I discovered it was unplayable due to missing pieces. My mom took me back to the store and the teenage cashier let me combine two boxes into one, thus giving me roughly 1 3/4 copies of the game.
I have no interest in revisiting the game (nor do I have the time or patience to relearn all those rules!), but I recently had a strong desire to see those cards again. The scans I found online were small and incomplete. so I did what any (in)sane person would do — I bought a set of the cards off of eBay, and scanned them in.
The cards are roughly the size of playing cards, but printed on what feels like cardboard. Each picture was as great as I had remembered them, and as I thumbed through them I remembered recalled the dumb backstories we had created for some of them. Folke and Elayne were fraternal twins, the illegitimate offspring of the Air and Fire Masters. Or was it Selwyn? It’s been a long time.
If you want to download the complete set of cards, here you go: shadowlord_cards.zip
After a month and a half off, today is my first day back to school.
At the graduate level, nine credit hours is considered full time enrollment. I’m taking ten in the form of Young Adult Fiction Writing, Writing the Screenplay, and Theories of Professional Writing. I have no idea if I can handle this much school in one semester while juggling things at home and things at work. It will be fun and exciting for us all to see what I fail at first.
Last semester I submitted roughly a dozen short stories to various online magazines and journals. It took a while, but the last rejection slip finally came in this past weekend, right around the time I got the bill for next semester. I hope all of the time and money invested in this dream pays off someday.
Susan and I are the only two people in this house who drink coffee. Between the two of us, we own at least thirty coffee mugs. Because 2017 is The Year of Parting with Things, you might think donating a couple of those mugs would be an easy place to start. I went into the kitchen last week with every intention of picking out a couple of coffee mugs and getting rid of them. Instead I walked out of the kitchen and ordered a MyGift Vintage Rustic Brown Iron Mug Organizer from Amazon, because, and this should be obvious to everyone by now, I am batshit crazy.
Other than coffee, Susan and I occasionally drink hot tea. We also use coffee mugs once a year for dyeing Easter eggs, although I can’t imagine there are many years of that tradition left. Just to recap, on coffee days (when Susan and I both telework from home) we’ll use two mugs. On non-telework days, we’ll use none. We own thirty, and now fifteen of them are sitting on our counter, perched on top of a vintage rustic brown iron mug organizer.
And look how grand they look! The organizer holds fifteen mugs in all, and on it right now are half a dozen Star Wars mugs, a couple we got on vacation, and three my dad had custom made for me. If the mug holder has any drawback at all it’s that it doesn’t rotate. There are even more great mugs on the back side!
And you know what this is?
This is a line of ten sad, generic mugs that don’t even get a spot on the tree! If any mugs are going to get donated they will come out of this pile, except we will never get rid of them because a football team could show up unannounced and all order hot tea all at once.
Discussions are ongoing as to whether the blender and the coffee pot should trade places — after all, having the mugs next to the coffee pot makes sense. I suppose the mixer could be put away in a cupboard, which, now that I think about it, would make enough room for another vintage rustic brown iron mug organizer to hold all our other mugs! Why didn’t I think of that before?
In other news, The Year of Parting with Things is going great!
What do a beat up Star Wars arcade cabinet, a toy telephone that utters horror phrases, and an old iPad case have in common? They are three of the twenty things I’ve parted with so far in 2017. If I get rid of five things a day every day this year, 5 x 365 = 1,825. Minus twenty, that leaves 1,805 to go.
Bill Clinton once famously said “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” and along those same lines, when you say you’re going to throw away 1,825 “things,” at some point you have to define what a thing is, even if it’s only to yourself. I’ve defined a thing as, well, a “thing.” A box of 100 paperclips is not 100 things. It’s one thing. If I were to throw a cake, I wouldn’t count the eggs, flour, and milk separately. This would never be a problem because I would never throw away an entire cake. Regardless, ask me again in November and I might be counting individual dried-up ink pens.
But even if I were to count those ink pens separately, I’d run out of them pretty quickly. I might be able to scrounge up a dozen dead pens, which would barely buy me two days. And technically, I’d be cleaning up my desk of dead pens. If you’re looking for 1,825 things to get rid of, they can’t all be Star Wars arcade cabinets.
Last night, I almost got ahead of myself and got rid of seven things instead of five. You gotta pace yourself, I thought as I left a spiral notebook and a pencil sharpener sitting on the dinner table overnight. First thing this morning I tossed them into the donate tub. Two things down, three more to go.
So far, the number of things I’ve tossed into the trash and the number of things I’ve donated are roughly equal. I don’t know if that ratio will remain the same throughout the year. I’m not really tracking it. I’m taking pictures of some of the more memorable items, like the Star Wars cabinet, but not things like dried-up pens.
Although most people say it takes twenty-one days to build a habit, after only five days I’ve found myself looking for things to get rid of in every room I enter. If I really do keep up this pace, I’ll run out of the easy things early on and may have to face more difficult choices later in the year.
Later today I’ll be printing this list out and reading it twice a day, once every morning and once very night.
01. Watch one movie per week
Easily achievable (I watched 83 last year). Just like 2016, I’ll keep track of the movies on my Media List page. Additionally, I’ll write a sentence or two about each one.
02. Read one book a week.
Last year I averaged less than one book per month, so this will be a huge challenge. I’d like for the majority of these to be fiction, but I’m not setting that as a hard rule.
03. Exercise five times a week.
Thirty minutes, minimum. I’ve done it before. I need to make my health a priority in 2017.
04. Submit one piece of writing per week.
This stuff ain’t gonna publish itself. Depending on my college workload, this is one that could easily slip without regular effort.
05. Self-publish a book.
As of last night, The Collector of Collections is at 50,000 words. I’m still working on the book’s tone, but it’s getting close. It’s just a matter of working on it every day.
06. Submit a book to an agent.
I don’t believe in “only” self-publishing or “only” traditional publishing. Everything has its place, and this is something I would like to do.
07. Get rid of 1,825 things.
1,825 equates to 5 things a day, every day of the year. I started this last year, but got caught up in the picture taking/list making that I tend to get lost in. Whether or not pictures are taken and lists are made, five things are going in the garbage or a donation box every day.
08. Make $1,000 in sales.
I’m going to track my Patreon contributions more closely, along with my digital and traditional sales. $1,000 is a number I can achieve if I am actively working and trying to sell things.
09. Do one home improvement project each week.
A lot of these things are about self-improvement. I want to help out more around the house, too. I’m sure once Susan reads this she’ll have a list ready for me in no time.
10. Clean and reorganize my home office.
I have a fantastic home office area that is so cluttered that I’m embarrassed for even my family to see it at this point. It’s time to get that area set up and turned into an awesome workspace.
The goal is somewhere between one show a week and one show a month. I’ll firm up the details on this in the near future.
I’m not sure what form it will take yet. This is really too ambiguous to list as a resolution as it stands.
In 2016, the FDA once again announced that eating raw cookie dough will kill us all. Somehow I survived, and celebrated by cutting off Beardie, the beard I grew throughout the entirety of 2015. Everyone rejoiced.
On January 1, 2016, our cruise ship docked in Ensenada, Mexico on our way back from Hawaii. Our vacation began in California where we watched Star Wars: A Force Awakens in Hollywood, and ended 2 1/2 weeks later. As of that trip, Susan and I have now been to all fifty states.
Last year we also took road trips to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where we visited the Titanic Museum, rode go-karts, and visited a llama farm outside Knoxville. In July we rented an RV and spent a week in and around Santa Fe, New Mexico. The highlight of that trip was visiting Meow Wolf. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
In 2016 Mason turned 15, Morgan turned 11, Susan and I turned 43, and the two of us celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary. Mason competed in a national Rubik’s Cube competition and came in under the 30 second mark, and Morgan began playing the trombone for band. Mason got his motorcycle’s license, and broke his collarbone (unrelated to the motorcycle) on Morgan’s birthday.
Last year I completed twelve hours of graduate school: Writing the Novel, Readings in Mass Communications, Tutorial in Writing, and Creative Nonfiction. I made headway on several books that I continue to work on, and spent a lot of time writing, editing, and submitting essays and short fiction to various magazines and websites. I lost a semi-regular writing gig when Video Game Trader magazine closed. I had one article published in Replay FX Retro Insider, sold another to the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, and amassed a whole bunch of rejection slips in between the two. I’m hoping the two articles I sold are a sign of things to come in 2017.
School had a significant impact on my life. Over the past year, the scope of RobOHara.com changed quite a bit. I began posting fewer short updates on the blog (those moved to Facebook and Twitter) and shifted my focus to longer articles. When I couldn’t think of anything to write, I posted Star Wednesday entries about my collection. My school workload dug into my podcasting time, which saw a significant decrease in the fall. If it hadn’t been for my Patreon supporters, I might have hung my microphone up permanently. I’m in the process of creating a separate blog for my books and writing projects. Look for that in the next couple of weeks.
My only work trip this year was to meet with coworkers in Washington DC. Unfortunately for them, every time I meet with managers in DC I walk away with multiple job offers. (Eventually, they’ll learn to stop sending me out there!) In October, I accepted a new position and moved to the Client Planning and Design team, where I’ve been happy as a clam ever since. I don’t see any position changes (or trips to DC) in my immediate future.
I had a lot of fun with technology in 2016. I upgraded my workstation to a ThinkServer after in imploded, and replaced the keyboard on my laptop after I accidentally spilled a glass of lemonade into it. I bought two more Raspberry Pi computers; I loaded RetroPie on one and gave the other to Mason. I built a dedicated DOS machine for playing old PC games, and set up a dedicated area for my MiST FPGA computer. I didn’t have much luck finding retro games in thrift stores or antique malls this year, but I did find a used Nintendo Wii for $20 which I modded and set up as a spare game system for the kids. I purchased a WiFi modem for my Commodore 64 and a new Ultimate 1541 II+, meaning my Commodore 64 now has two separate IP addresses. Who could have imagined?
From a pop culture standpoint, 2016 was mostly awful. A few of the people who passed away this year included Kenny “R2-D2” Baker, Prince, Lemmy, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Fidel Castro, John Glenn, Nancy Reagan, Janet Reno, Arnold Palmer, Alan Thicke, Florence Henderson, Garry Shandling, Gene Wilder, Patty Duke, Harper Lee, Abe Vigoda, Garry Marshall, Ron Glass, Doris Roberts, Merle Haggard, Craig Sager, Henry Heimlch, Alan Richman, and Zsa Zsa Gabor. In the time it took me to write this post, George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds passed away. Oklahoma City lost Kevin Durant, and the country elected Donald Trump.
According to my Media Page, I watched 83 movies, watched 10 seasons of television, and read 10 books. The oldest movies I watched were Night Nurse (1931), A Day at the Races (1937), and Gone with the Wind (1939). In 2016 I experienced Twin Peaks for the first time, and made it through several seasons of Barney Miller and The Love Boat. New shows I watched were Stranger Things and Westworld. Of the 10 books I read, six were memoirs by musicians (Marilyn Manson, Sean Yseult, Rex Brown, Joe Jackson, Sebastian Bach, and Scott Ian). I want to, and will, read more books next year. Also next year, I plan to write a bit more about the media I consume — a sentence or two, and where/how I consumed it. In the past I’ve deleted my previous lists, but I think I might just start adding to them.
In December of 2015 we got Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and one year later in December of 2016 we got rogue One: A Star Wars Story. What a good way to begin and end the year.
Between Christmas and New Year’s, I visited Arkadia Retrocade and had a great visit with both old and new friends. Reading, writing, playing games, taking vacations, and visiting with old and new friends — my plans for 2017 won’t be changing a whole lot.
Happy 2017 to you all!
While working on my end-of-2016 post earlier this week I realized I had not visited Arkadia Retrocade this year. This injustice will not stand, I said to myself. Wednesday morning, I hopped in my car and made the four-hour drive to Fayetteville, Arkansas.
I’ve written and podcasted about the place before (and even sold them some of my arcade cabinets), but in case you missed it, Arkadia Retrocade is a retro-style arcade where customers pay a fee to enter, and all games are free to play. They aren’t the only arcade operating with this business model, but they’re the last one I know of that only charges $5 for admission. Literally, for less than a Taco Bell lunch combo, you can walk into Arkadia and play on their 100 arcade games for 8 straight hours. The only thing you can get from Taco Bell for $5 that lasts 8 hours is indigestion.
Some people do not understand the allure of visiting and hanging out in retro arcades, especially one that’s a four-hour drive away from home. On the surface, it’s difficult to explain. On the surface it’s a place full of old arcade games, mostly from the 1980s. If it’s the games you’re interested in, you can install RetroPie on a $35 Raspberry Pi and play every single game Arkadia owns in the comfort of your own home for free. But what’s funny is, each time I go I play fewer games, to the point where it’s not about the games at all. But if it’s not the games, what is the draw? It’s easy to say nostalgia, until you realize many of the arcade’s regulars weren’t even alive when these games were created. Pac-Man is 10-15 years older than most of the employees.
After roaming the arcade for a couple of hours on Wednesday and returning after dinner, I took a seat at the arcade’s bar — the snack bar, that is. There, Arkadia regular and Retroist alum Vic Sage served me a Coke in a glass bottle. Over the next few hours, Vic and I chatted about everything from old toys and games to the state of the arcade. Luca and Rhi joined in on a discussion about Rogue One. Tomas, a kid I hadn’t met before, was asked if he could handle one of the arcade’s New Years Eve traditions. Andy Pickle and I shot the breeze. Later in the evening, John Monkus showed me some of the machines he’s been working on. All the while, arcade customers came and went, buying candy bars and cans of soda at the bar for less than what you would pay at the average vending machine.
I promised my wife that no matter how good of a time I was having, I would leave Arkadia by 8pm so that I would be home by midnight. I pulled out of the parking lot at 10:30pm.
Four hours on the road gives a guy lots of time to think. I can’t help but compare Arkadia to movies like The Breakfast Club and Empire Records, coming of age movies where groups of young people come together and bond despite their differences. There’s no one person at Arkadia with all the answers; everybody helps out whoever they can, however they can, whenever they can. It’s the kind of kinship you can’t buy. In the middle of it all is owner Shea Mathis, a whirling dervish of energy who is always either coming or going. If the guy’s not standing in front of you with a smile, he either just left, or is about to show up. It is Shea who built the stage for this wacky video game dream, but all the actors play an important part.
I’ve driven all over the country visiting retro arcades. I even built an arcade in my own backyard. I’ve been chasing something for a long time, and it wasn’t until Wednesday night that I finally figured out what it is I’ve been chasing. It hasn’t been about the games for a long time. Arkadia Retrocade has it figured out.
When Carrie Fisher suffered a heart attack two days before Christmas, I decided that I would honor her by writing about a Princess Leia toy for this week’s “Star Wednesday” entry. What a shock it was to read on Tuesday that she had passed away. Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher. What a doo doo year this has been.
As I combed through my shelves in search of the perfect tribute, I found a definite absence of Princess Leia toys. I have a few action figures, but not much more. I have entire shelves in my Star Wars room dedicated to Darth Vader, Boba Fett, and R2-D2, but not our favorite princess. I did, however, run across the Epic Force version of Princess Leia, which I decided would be a great toy to feature this week.
Only a handful of “Epic Force” figures were released, including Luke, Leia, C-3P0, Boba Fett, Darth Vader, a Stormtrooper, and a couple of prequel figures. Each one has limited articulation and is mounted to a base that can be manually rotated. Less articulation, a slightly larger scale, and a higher price point allowed for more detailed sculpts. As you can see from the picture above, the Epic Force version of Leia is very screen accurate.
In 2005, a friend of mine and I stumbled upon an estate sale that we later dubbed the “Sale of the Freakin’ Century.” When we entered the house, the very first thing I saw was a stack of boxed Atari 2600 games for $1 each. I bought them all. I bought three working Nintendo systems, a couple of lunchboxes, some glasses, a Pac-Man board game, and lots and lots of Star Wars stuff. I don’t remember how much I spent, but it was every cent I had with me. If they had taken credit cards, I might have got us into bad financial trouble that day.
That’s the day I bought the Epic Force Leia figure. My favorite thing about it is the scene they chose to capture. It would have been easy to pick the go-to “gold bikini” or “white dress” outfits, but they didn’t. Instead they picked Leia from Bespin, with a blaster in her hands. Sometimes people forget that, whether or not she was carrying a blaster, Princess Leia was usually in charge (whether Han Solo was willing to admit it or not.)
Five minutes after being rescued from her holding cell, Leia had already taken over her own escape, blasted a hole in a wall, and ordered her rescuers to dive through the hole into a murky trash compactor. (It may not have seemed like the best plan at the time, but things worked out.)
Time and time again, Princess Leia taught little girls all over the world (and galaxy) that they didn’t need a man to rescue them. She wasn’t a “somebody save me” Disney princess; she was a proactive bad ass. Princess Leia — General Leia, in Episode Seven — was a role model to many women, and the first costume my daughter wore for Halloween.
It all goes back to that Unity Candle ceremony.
When Susan and I got married in 1995, we lit a unity candle during our wedding ceremony. As music played (or maybe somebody sang), each of us started with our own lit candle, and with those we lit a third candle before extinguishing our own. The ceremony is supposed to represent that instead of “you” and “me,” it’s now “us.” I argued, unsuccessfully, that we should keep the original candles lit — after all, even after marriage, there’s still a “you” and a “me,” right?
When it comes to Christmas traditions around here, there’s some “you,” and some “me” that over the years have turned into “us.”
I don’t bring a lot of Christmas traditions to the table, but the few I bring, I’m pretty adamant about. Santa gets left a glass of milk and a plate of cookies, which he eats when he visits during the night. Santa doesn’t wrap the presents he leaves under the tree, but everybody else wraps theirs. Christmas begins at 6am sharp, Christmas morning, and nobody gets to open anything before then. For breakfast, my dad’s coming over and we’re having waffles.
Susan’s family, on the other hand, used to exchange gifts on Christmas Eve and slept in Christmas morning.
And now? Well, there’s “us.”
The week before Christmas, “the girls” get together to bake Christmas cookies. It started out as something Susan, her mom, her sister, and our nieces did. Eventually we added our kids, and now it includes my grandnieces and grandnephew, too.
All of my family and my wife’s family now come over for Christmas Eve. We exchange gifts with my wife’s family (who opens gifts on Christmas Eve), but not my family (who opens gifts on Christmas Day). Most years, we play Dirty Santa, too. I put together a Christmas Slideshow to play on the television in the background.
When it’s bedtime on Christmas Eve, everybody goes to their bedroom and shuts their door and nobody is allowed to come out of their rooms until 6am. Them’s the rules. At six, everybody comes out of their rooms, looks at what Santa brought them, goes through their stocking, and then proceeds to open gifts. In that order.
Somewhere along the way, we began putting up multiple Christmas trees. I don’t know when the tradition that “everybody gets their own tree” began, but it did. This year there are two trees in the front living room and one in the back. Some years, each kid gets a smaller tree in their own room to decorate any way they wish. Also, the trees seem to remain up much longer than they were in my house, growing up. I just go with it.
We’ve been doing all of these things for so long that combined, they’ve become “our” traditions. It will be interesting to see in years to come which ones our kids take away with them and which they let go of.
I’ve seen a lot of articles over the past month (most recently this one on Ars Technica) suggesting that people who can’t find one of those new NES Classic systems in stores should build their own using a Raspberry Pi. I even mentioned the Raspberry Pi as an alternative to a real NES back in September in my Guide to (Many) NES Alternatives article. Since then I’ve had several people ask me how difficult and time consuming it is to get a Raspberry Pi emulation system up and running from scratch.
Today, I decided to build one from scratch.
For my build I used a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B, the newest version of the Pi. A Raspberry Pi by itself costs $40, but that price is a bit of a misnomer. At a bare minimum you’ll need a power supply, an HDMI cable, and a micro SD card. There’s a nice package on Amazon that includes all of those things along with a case, but it’s $80, not $40. You’ll also need a USB keyboard to get things up and running, and eventually you’ll want a couple of joysticks. For my project, I used two wireless Xbox 360 controllers with USB wireless receivers.
With all the parts I needed sitting in a pile in front of me, I started the timer.
The first step involved downloading RetroPie. The .IMG file is 580 MB, so if you have a slow internet connection, bring a book. My internet connection is pretty fast and the download took about five minutes.
EXTRACT RETROPIE ONTO MICRO-SD CARD
Once the download finished, I downloaded Win32 Disk Imager to extract the image onto an SD card. I had the micro-SD card in a USB adapter and this step took about 45 minutes.
PUT CARD IN RASPBERRY PI AND BOOT
With the image on the Raspberry Pi, I inserted the card into the Pi and turned it on. It booted right up.
The Pi recognized my wireless Xbox 360 controller and walked me through configuring it. This took about a minute.
From the main menu I also configured my Raspberry Pi to join my home wireless network. If you’re setting up RetroPie for the first time, here’s a good document to follow.
RetroPie comes with dozens of pre-configured emulators, but no games. For that, you’ll need to use Google. The RetroPie showed up on my network as RETROPIE. All I had to do was connect to the device (“\\RetroPie”) and all the folders I needed to access showed up. For testing purposes, I grabbed Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, and copied them over to the SD card.
RetroPie won’t recognize newly-added games until you reboot. After rebooting the Pi, the NES emulator magically appeared on the main menu.
The next step, called “scraping,” is optional, but nice. RetroPie has the ability to connect to an online database and automatically download information and screenshots about each game. After rebooting my Pi, I ran the scraping utility. This is what the menu looks like now.
From here I launched Super Mario Bros. 3 and…
…there you go. Tracking down ROMs for the other 27 games that appear on the NES Classic took about 10 seconds with Google.
I’ll pause here to say I started this project at 11:00 am. It took approximately 5 minutes to download RetroPie, 45 minutes to extract the image, and another 10-15 minutes to configure the menu. For intermediete computer users, I’d set aside 60-90 minutes to get RetroPie to this point.
I decided to expand mine a bit by adding every NES, SNES, Sega Genesis, and Atari 2600 ROM to mine. I could have sped this part up by switching to an ethernet connection or by copying the ROMs directly to the micro-SD card, but I’m pretty lazy, so wireless connection it was. The “scraping” feature makes the menus look nice, but it’s not particularly quick. If you’re going to build menus for hundreds of games at a time, you might want to let it run overnight.
The next to last step for my little emulation experiment was to get MAME up and running. This was slightly more involved and exceeds the scope of this article, but I decided to go with Libretro (LR-MAME2003), which unfortunately uses a ROM set (0.78) I didn’t have. 7GB of ROMs later, I got MAME up and running. Once I get the ROM samples working on RetroPie, I’ll write another article.
The last step of my project was taking a break and taking the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl!