Author Archives: William

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About William

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Promotional Photo Theatre: Crazy Lady

Some advice on romance for you from a retro video game historian: Find someone who looks at you the way this lady looks at the guy running the Aquarius Home Computer System, by Mattel Electronics.

On second thought, maybe don’t. She looks like she’s thinking about slitting his throat while he sleeps tonight, and whether she could completely bathe her naked body in the amount of blood that came out of him.

And another thing: this photo seems to prove just how unuseable the crap keyboard on the Aquarius was. Look at the man’s fingers, curled up like an old, arthritic witch in order to press on those tiny, rubbery chiclet-keys. The computer came with a built-in flavour of Microsoft BASIC, but can you imagine trying to program on that thing? 20 minutes and I’d be longing for release, as the pumping blood from my carotid artery splashed on my wife’s writhing body.

Also, the dude has a Mini Expander AND two memory packs, but hasn’t installed them into the computer? That means he’s stuck with the anemic 4K standard RAM in the Aquarius. Yes honey, you can bring the kitchen knife to bed tonight.

For more information on the Mattel Aquarius, as well as the company’s famous home console Intellivision, consult your local Dot Eaters entry, here.

Title screen for Super Mario Bros., a video game for the Famicom by Nintendo 1985

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – Super Mario Bros.

(This article was originally posted to The Dot Eaters on July 15, 2013)

Here is the last of the TDE articles detailing various aspects of the Famicom, as well as the NES, the North American version of the console released in 1985.  These posts celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Famicom, and lead up to the full history of the Famicom, to be posted tomorrow. The post today also falls on the 30th anniversary of Mario Bros., so two koopa’s with one fireball, so to speak.  While Famicom project lead Masayuki Uemura and his team at R&D2 labs at Nintendo do great work putting together the hardware of the famed video game console, it’s the games for the system that give it longevity.  And there’s few games that boost Famicom and NES sales as much as Super Mario Bros..

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A Video Game Movie Review: Joysticks (1983)

The following is a movie review of mine from Ten Point Review. The idea of the site is to rate a movie according to four criteria, and then add and subtract points from that sub-total depending on how you react to various other aspects of the film, thusly coming up with a score of between 0 – 10.

This article was originally published on The Dot Eaters on Jun. 25, 2013

Enjoy.

You might be thinking, “Why the hell review this chunk of cinematic excrement?”. If so, I see you’ve already watched Joysticks. Also, good question. I asked myself this very thing about 1000 times while subjecting myself to the movie.

As a video game historian, you’d think Joysticks would be right up my alley. I squee with delight at quick glimpses of classic arcade games in movies like Tron and WarGames. I even jones on the scene in the 1978 version of Dawn of the Dead where they’re in the arcade playing all those classic 70’s games like Starship.  And I have to say, Joysticks does not skimp on the video games.  Heck, even the opening credits are interspersed with plenty of 80’s video game footage.

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Promotional Photo Theatre: Lonesome Dove Shirt

Promo shot of the Keyboard Component, a computer upgrade for the Intellivision video game console

Here, Mom goggles at the ridiculous language on the screen, while the men go through the motions of learning Conversational French on the Intellivision Keyboard Component. Which appears gigantic in this image. I mean, that is a pretty big table it’s sitting on, but still Mom is shoved over to one edge, and Dad has to hover his elbows OVER the other side while typing on those big, clunky keys.

But I digress. Perhaps the apparent awkwardness between Father and Son has more to do with the kid’s shirt. Look at it. Powder blue with two giant white roses embroidered on it. Dad is probably thinking “I can’t believe a jackass who would submit to a shirt like that came out of my ballsack!” Or Balzac, as it were. C’est l’humour!

There’s also something going on with Jr.’s nose. It’s too red and bulbous. It could be that the “who gives a flying fart?” look on the guys’ faces is due to them nipping at the sherry a bit too hard before rolling over the gargantuan computer on its crash-cart to learn the language of romance. Mon dieu, c’est tellement grand!

For more information on the Intellivision game console and the Keyboard Component, consult your local Dot Eaters entry!

The Atari Lynx Handheld – 30 Years Old Today

The story of the Atari Lynx handheld console is another one for the “Squandered Chances by Atari” file. You find a lot of these in the later years of the company. 30 years on, let’s take a look at this ill-fated marvel.

Heading into the final stretch of the 80’s, product sales are failing to meet the projections of computer game company Epyx. The C64 is dropping off the scope as a gaming platform, and a hardware project is draining resources, called Handy. It is designed by Dave Needle and R.J. Mical, of the Amiga computer development team at Commodore. Handy is to be the world’s first colour hand-held game device but is proving to be an elongated drag on Epyx, with two years and a reported $8 million sunk into its development.

Image of the Atari Lynx handheld game unit, 1989

The ill-fated Atari Lynx

 

Another problem for Epyx is that its games are some of the most pirated computer titles around, with practically everyone with a C64 playing Summer Games and Impossible Mission but few actually paying for the privilege. The Handy project is eventually sold to Atari, via a deal that makes the video game and computer company a part owner of Epyx. Announcing the colour handheld system as the PCES or Portable Color Entertainment System at the Summer CES in 1989, Atari eventually renames the system as the Lynx. Meanwhile, Epyx reorganizes, dropping the distribution part of the company to focus on game development for consoles. They also lay off 85% of their workforce, along with the departure of Mical, Needle and company head David Morse.

Atari/Tengen arcade port of Rampart, one of the better games for the Lynx

The new name of Atari’s handheld device highlights the fact that up to eight of the devices can be linked together via a cable, for head-to-head play. It also sports a 3 1/2-inch colour LCD screen with a resolution of 160×102 pixels, capable of displaying 16 colours at a time out of a palette of 4,096. A powerful screen indeed, but also responsible for the reputation of the Lynx as a notorious battery-killer. Inside the case also resides a 16mHz 65C02 processor.

Lynx sees a limited rollout, first hitting the New York City area on September 1, 1989. In the early part of 1990, the system begins selling in five more markets: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston. It is available nationally through 1990.  While technically superior to the recently released Nintendo Gameboy portable game system, the $149.95 Lynx and its games lineup ultimately fail to compete against Nintendo’s juggernaut.

Another “What Might Have Been” for the books.

For more information on the history of vaunted computer game maker Epyx, consult your local Dot Eaters entry here.

For more on the history of industry giant Atari, click here.

Ad for Lynx, a hand-held video game system by Atari

1994 ad for the Atari handheld gaming system Lynx.

 

The Sheriff Goes Insane! in ‘Law of the West’


It ain’t easy being the keeper of the peace in sun-drenched, wild-west town Gold Gulch. So, what would happen if the lawman of the town, with trusty firearm at his hip, slowly lost his spit one day? Bill gives you a brief rundown of the C64 classic computer game Law of the West, and a little bit about Alan Miller, the famed game designer who made it. Then, watch in horror at the inevitable carnage of a peace officer on the edge.

For more information on Activision, the company Miller helped found, check out your local Dot Eaters entry here.

Grand Openings: Parasite Eve (Squaresoft 1998)

Squaresoft’s Parasite Eve was based on a popular Japanese book written by pharmacologist Hideaki Sena in his free time. Doing testing on mitochondria cells, producers of electrical energy in organisms, he started to wonder about the results if mitochondria decided it had had enough and took over the bodies it was residing in. 

Sena was happy with the video game adaptation of his work, an adaptation that went on to big success in its own right, and spawned two sequels. 

All NYPD cop Ms. Brea wanted was an evening at the opera without the actors and audience spontaneously bursting into flame. Unfortunately, as we see in this horrifying PlayStation game intro, she didn’t get her wish.


Grand Openings: PowerMonger

You’d be hard-pressed not to feel your blood quicken in anticipation of the coming battles as the intro to 1990’s PowerMonger unfurls like a kingdom banner. The game intro featured in this installment of Grand Openings was a revelation on the Amiga computer, telling a whole narrative of conquest through stirring music and effective animations.

PowerMonger itself was a fun RTS, offering a huge landmass to take over and varying strategies with which to do it. While it eventually became a tad repetitive as you steamrollered opposing armies over and over again, the nearly endless permutations of lands to fight on and fascinating little touches in gameplay never let it get boring. 

You knew Peter Molyneux and his game company Bullfrog Productions had something grand up their sleeves as this mini-movie played at the beginning of their exceedingly fun war RTS game. To arms!


You can follow my commentary as I play through the first few levels of PowerMonger here in this TDE WePlay video.

Grand Openings: Chrono Cross

With the start of a new video series, we look at some great intros to classic games that set an atmospheric tone for the rest of the proceedings. 

We start with Chrono Cross for the PlayStation, yet another staggering RPG by the masters of the genre, Squaresoft. A sequel to Chrono Trigger on the SNES, Chrono Cross was a big hit, both critically and at the cash register, moving over 1.5 million units.

The intro to the game is suitably epic, giving quick glimpses of young protagonist Serge’s coming adventures, and ends with him making a startling discover…. he has apparently died. It also features truly amazing music from composer Yasunori Mitsuda, that perfectly captures the emotional sweep of the game.