Category Archives: movies

Oscar Week at TDE: Rocky (1983)

Rocky was a low budget film from 1976, about a local Philadelphia boxer named Rocky Balboa getting a shot at the heavyweight championship. It went toe to toe with heavy-hitters like All the President’s MenNetwork and Taxi Driver at the 1977 Academy Awards, and walked off with the Best Picture prize, along with Best Director for John G. Avildsen. The immense success of the movie put a young Sylvester Stallone on the map, and was followed up by no less than five sequels, along with numerous video game adaptations.

We deal here with Rocky Super-Action Boxing for the ColecoVision. It actually covered the ground of the third Rocky film, with the titular hero going up against Clubber Lang, played with verve by Mr. T. As indicated by the game’s long name, it was made for use with Coleco’s complicated Super Action Controllers, which themselves bear resemblance to boxing gloves. There’s no motion-detection though… players control body movements with the large joystick on top of the controller, and throw and block punches with the four finger buttons.

The Super Action Controllers, peripherals for the ColecoVision, a home video game system by Coleco

ColecoVision Super Action Controllers

The gameplay is pretty good as far as boxing games of the era go. There’s three horizontal  “lanes” which the players can move up and down in, and their position vs. the other boxer regulates whether punches register and can be blocked. This adds a bit of strategy as the pugilists jockey for the superior positioning. The game also offers a surprising amount of variety with the settings: you can play against the computer as either Rocky or Clubber with the CPU taking up the role of the other boxer with adjustable skill levels, and there is even a one-on-one mode where two humans can face each other in the ring. Typically from the ColecoVision, the graphics are also a standout. Everything is colourful and clear, and the boxers are rendered quite well.  We even get a referee wandering around the ring, keeping an eye on the proceedings. A player can really get into the role of Rocky Balboa and end up jabbing the air while holding the fancy Super Action Controllers.

Should I say it?  Yes, I should.  It’s a knockout. Even Mickey would be proud, ya bum!

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Oscar Week at TDE: M*A*S*H (1983)

The film M*A*S*H, released in 1970, was ostensibly about a forward line mobile hospital and its staff who try to keep their sanity intact during the Korean War, but everyone knew it was a thinly veiled metaphor for a different conflict; the Vietnam War, then raging both abroad and at home, with the fatal Kent State shooting of protesting students by National Guard troops happening only two months after the film’s release.

The movie was directed by Robert Altman, who had made a career for himself directing shows during the early days of television. Tapping public angst over the growing morass of Vietnam, MASH exploded onto the screen and helped cement Altman as a counter-culture hero, thumbing his nose at authority like the beleaguered doctors in the film.  While nominated for Best Picture, MASH lost the prize to another, more obvious war picture, Patton. It did, however, walk away with the award for Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium. Two years after the MASH theatrical release, it was turned into a wildly popular TV show on CBS.

M*A*S*H the video game, however, is merely a shallow attempt at cashing in on the final days of the TV show, which ended its 11 year run in 1983, the same year the game came out.  Released for the Atari 2600/VCS, the premise is the kind of pure insanity that would make the show’s recurring psychiatrist character, Sidney, drool: it charges medic Hawkeye Pierce with alternating between piloting a helicopter to pick up sky-diving medics and wounded soldiers, and performing surgeries to remove shrapnel from patients.

It’s easy to see why designer Douglas Neubauer, of Star Raiders (Atari 8-bit computers) fame, used the pseudonym “Dallas North” as credit for this game, which was released by Fox Video Games. This exercise was merely another attempt by Fox at jumping on the VCS/2600 bandwagon by trafficking in product based on a 20th Century Fox property. The company features fairly prominently in this series of posts, so stay tuned for other examples. The game made it to computer platforms as well, with a version for Atari’s 8-bit computer line, as well as the TI-99/4A system.

M*A*S*H is also probably the only video game in history to feature the term “Ferret Face”. So there’s that.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Oscar Week at TDE: Star Wars (1983)

George Lucas’ movie Star Wars doesn’t require much of an introduction. The science fiction epic was released in 1977 and forever changed the film industry. The fact that it didn’t snag the Best Picture oscar at the Academy Awards ceremony (that honour went to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall) the following year is often considered a bit of a robbery. Star Wars buffs can take consolation that John Williams won for Best Score, which also features prominently in the arcade game.

It’s to the great credit of Atari’s Star Wars arcade game that it lives up to the original material. Designed by Mike Hally, it was based off an earlier unfinished game by Battlezone creator Ed Rotberg. Utilizing Atari’s colour Quadrascan vector graphics hardware, the game totally immersed players in a galaxy far, far away… especially if they were playing the sit-down cockpit version. The game covered the action that takes place in the film’s final reel: Luke Skywalker as Red Five, joining the attack against the dreaded Imperial Death Star. Controlling Luke’s X-Wing fighter, gamers fended off a wave of enemy TIE fighters, then swooped down into the famous Star Wars trench scene in a race to deliver the final shot into the exhaust port, then out in time to watch the great conflagration as the deadly technological terror explodes. Then rinse and repeat, as the TIE fighters became more numerous and active, and the surface defenses of the Death Star increased in complexity and difficulty.

Not only did we have detailed and fluid vector graphics, we also got snippets Williams’ aforementioned rousing music score, as well as well-done and dramatic voice synthesis straight from the film. Add to that famed Atari controller engineer Jerry Liachek’s great-feeling flight yolk controller, and you had the makings of an undisputed classic. Atari’s Star Wars arcade game deserves its place as one of the greatest games of all time.

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

The Towering Inferno (VCS/2600, U.S. Games 1982)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
Rocky (ColecoVision, Coleco 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

Oscar Week at TDE: The Towering Inferno (1982)

In the lead up to the Academy awards on March 2nd, 2014, The Dot Eaters goes to the Academy Awards. We will be profiling video games based on movies that either won or were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.

Today’s pick might surprise you.  Yes, in 1975 The Towering Inferno was nominated for Best Picture.  I’m not sure how much money producer Irwin Allen lavished on the Oscar committee to nominate this disaster flick…. or perhaps he just threatened to lock them in a burning building. While it didn’t win Best Picture, it did make off with the Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music, Original Song awards.

The game, made in 1982 for the Atari 2600 by U.S. Games (a division of General Mills, known for high-tech products such as oatmeal), certainly didn’t earn any awards. It is a cut and dried maze game, where players must guide firemen into the titular building in an attempt to rescue four survivors, who slowly perish one by one as time ticks on.  They have a rather anemic water hose they can use to clear a path through a maze of burning walls to the survivors, who for some reason are huddled behind a white window at the top of every floor. If the player makes it out the bottom exit with at least one survivor, they move to the next floor and repeat until all the floors are extinguished.  There are actually nine towering infernos in the game, with the player moving to the next one after finishing the previous one.

While pretty standard in gameplay, The Towering Inferno actually employs a bit of strategy… do you take your time to extinguish the flames and make a safe pathway, or is it a reckless rush to save as many survivors as possible?  What would Steve McQueen do?  Following is a video of the game in action.  Witness the burning spectacle that is… The Towering Inferno!

Here are the rest of the Oscar Week articles on TDE:

Star Wars (Arcade, Atari 1983)
M*A*S*H (VCS/2600 Fox Video Games 1983)
The Wizard of Oz (SNES, Manley/SETA 1993)
Jaws (Amiga, Intelligent Design/Screen 7 1989)

 

Long Lived Is The New Flesh

There’s certain movies that immediately tickle my memory of those days of my youth, hunched over in front of the TV, tightly gripping the joystick of my Atari. Sure, there’s the ones from the early 80’s dedicated directly to the subject of video games, such as Tron or WarGames,  which I’ve covered in my series of Games on Film articles. And there’s some that are simply of that era. Then there are some that cause a deeper itch in my psyche.

There’s Videodrome.

I was a teenager when I first watched Videodrome, which actually celebrated its 30th anniversary this year.  It wasn’t my first film by Canadian writer and director David Cronenberg; Scanners had come out a couple of years earlier and had definitely made an impression on me.  Videodrome, however, changed something inside of me. It wasn’t some earth-shaking epiphany, though, where you crane your neck and cry “Eureka!”.  The movie is like the video virus portrayed in its story. It doesn’t influence you, it infects you. It literalized viral videos before anyone ever heard of Internet memes.   Before most had ever heard of the Internet, even.

photo of Marshall McLuhan, 1966

McLuhan, 1966 photo by Henri Dauman

The movie is itself heavily influenced by the works of Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian media analyst and philosopher who famously coined the term “The medium is the message”.  McLuhan’s warnings of the invasive power of television to shape reality in its own images, of how it was becoming a complete electronic extension of man, so impacted Cronenberg that the character of Brian O’blivion in the film is based on the media critic. The film is more viscerally prescient than McLuhan’s casual statements of dehumanization. Videodrome is about the first “reality” television show.

It is also about the battle of hearts and minds fought through the arena of the television set, so it’s no wonder that protagonist Max Renn, played by James Woods, has an Atari 2600 setup plugged into his TV.  What more literally represents a battle through the TV more than a video game?  They have a place in the New Flesh, as shown in this iconic scene from the film:

Cronenberg would again probe the idea of the mating of reality and fantasy, of technology and the flesh, in eXistenZ (1999). Dealing directly with video games and virtual reality, the movie would not be quite so prescient this time; its thunder would be stolen by the mind-bending, time-stopping pyrotechnics of The Matrix, released earlier the same year.

With crushing casualness, McLuhan said “The medium is the message”. Cronenberg has a rejoinder:  “The medium is the flesh”.  Long live the New Flesh.

For anyone interested in director David Cronenberg and his wonderfully weird body of work, I highly recommend picking up the book Cronenberg On Cronenberg.

 

Gameplay from arcade version of Asteroids

This Asteroids Trailer Will Rock Your World

Back in the heady days of 2011 I posted about a movie version of the classic Atari coin-op Asteroids, being developed by Universal as a project for Master of Disaster Roland Emmerich.  I haven’t heard much about that project since, but I’m thinking it ought to be just scuttled right now, because THIS version looks way better:


As always, for more information on the history of Atari’s seminal arcade game Asteroids, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.

Title for The Wizard, a video game movie by Universal 1989

Celebrating Famicom’s 30th – The Wizard

As part of our celebration of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Famicom, the Japanese video game system by Nintendo that was later adapted for the North American market as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), I’m posting my review of The Wizard. It’s a 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that many consider as simply a 100 minute commercial for Nintendo. I made this initially for Ten Point Review, where we rate a movie according to four criteria, and then add and/or subtract points as we see fit in order to come up with a numerical rating between 0 – 10. Time to watch people play games!

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Still from WarGames, a video game themed movie starring John Wood, by MGM/UA 1983

30th Anniversary of Release of WarGames To Theatres

It was 30 years ago today, on June 3, 1983, that WarGames was launched into theatres.  While the computer equipment involved has invariably increased in complexity and power over the intervening years, the story of young computer genius David Lightman infiltrating the NORAD war plans computer and leading the world to the edge of mass destruction retains it powers, while reducing the feigned complexity of nuclear war down to the simplicity of a game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

Issued in an era where home computers were just starting to enter the public consciousness and online activities practically unheard of, WarGames had a lasting impact, both in its realistic portrayal of the world of computer hacking, as well as the idea of letting computers and their binary   attitudes take over decision-making in the military industrial complex.

It’s also a damn fun ride. You can jump to the story of the production of WarGames here on TDE, and read my review of the movie over at Ten Point Review.  It’s either that, or a nice game of chess.

The Death Star from the SF movie Star Wars

Imperial Stooges Slam U.S. Death Star Decision

It all started with a petition submitted to the U.S. government via the “We the People” website, designed to give voice to citizens about pressing matters to the people.  Any petition that receives at least 25,000 signatures within 30 days of being submitted will get an official response from the White House.

Of course, the idea of “pressing matters” differs among people, and so a petition to secure funding and begin construction of a Death Star, the moon-sized orbiting battle station first revealed in 1977’s Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, passed the response threshold with 34,435 signatures.  Hence, the Chief of the Science and Space Branch of the White House Office of Management and Budget Paul Shawcross issued an official statement of how such an appropriation of funds would be fiscally irresponsible ($850,000,000,000,000,000), not to mention immoral and the results easily destructible by a one-man starship.

Darth Vader, a character from the SF movie Star Wars

Pray I don’t alter it further

 
Now in response to the response, the official Star Wars Blog has presented a PR release by the Galactic Empire, slamming Earth as primitive and cowardly.  I, for one, think we need to get cracking on updating the International Space Station.  Perhaps Lord Vader could think of some ways of motivating us to get back on a Death Star schedule.

Can This Wizard Save Pinball?

From its modern incarnation with the advent of the flipper after WWII, pinball enjoyed a long run as the go-to electronic amusement pastime.  It lasted until the 70’s, when the shimmering graphics and bloop and bleep siren call of video games lured players away from mechanical playgrounds to ephemeral worlds comprised of phosphors on a screen.

Pinball limped along, the market steadily shrinking until a few old warhorse manufacturers remained, companies like Williams, who attempted to resurrect  the genre with a daring video/pinball hybrid system in 1999 called Pinball 2000.  As detailed in the excellent documentary TILT: The Battle to Save Pinball (Two-Disc Set), this gambled failed, Williams moved to the more lucrative slot machine market, and so pinball has languished as a niche collector’s market.

But now former arcade operator and online pinball machine retailer “Jersey” Jack Guarieri has hopes to propel the silver ball back into public consciousness with a new machine of his own design, based on a slightly dated property… The Wizard of Oz.  Guarieri’s sense of timing might be spot on though, riding the buzz of the upcoming Disney prequel to Wizard, Oz: The Great and Powerful.  Only time will tell if Guarieri is truly the wizard who can save pinball.

Slate has the story here:

via Digg