Modern and Retro Gaming at Florida Supercon 2013

Florida Supercon 2013

Modern and Retro Gaming at Florida Supercon 2013

It was like finding an island oasis in the middle of another oasis. Florida Supercon 2013 featured a ton of awesome comic books, comic related merchandise, guest stars, Cosplayers and yes oh yes, video games, modern and classic.

The video game section was away from the main convention hall right next to the band stage so you could listen to bands rock out while playing everything from League of Legends to Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. On the other side of what I called the gamers hall was the concession stand so we had video games nestled between music and food, it doesn’t get much better.

Florida Supercon 2013

Over at the Origin PC video game station we found our friends showcasing more of their awesome video game PC’s. We never get tired of seeing their tri-screen display that is any gamers dream. We also got a look at the powerful, but compact Chronos machines and I got to try the Nvidia Shield hands on. By the way, the Shield was playing Borderlands off of one of the Origin PC machines and it looked and played great.

ORIGIN PC also featured a live demonstration of Intel’s insanely fast “Thunderbolt” technology with their high-performance systems and showed a full video explaining all of its amazing new features! Don’t know what Thunderbolt is? You can learn all about it here: http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/io/thunderbolt/thunderbolt-technology-developer.html

origin pc - intel thunderbolt
Origin PC had a lot of systems set up so gamers could come and play as they wished on them, but they also held some tournaments where the best of the best could win some cold hard cash. I got a chance to take a look at the League of Legends tournament and as always it did not disappoint. It was great to see them there and keeping PC gaming going strong.

Stealth Mobile Gaming - Florida Supercon 2013

Now we already talked about Stealth Mobile Gaming and their awesome outdoor mobile gaming stations, but there was more retro gaming inside. Right across from Origin PC was the Florida Arcade & Pinball Exposition which featured classic arcade cabinets of many of your favorite retro games. These are original arcade cabinets and were all free to play. They featured games including Donkey Kong, Asteroids and Pac-Man. In addition, they had both classic and modern Pinball machines including, Spider-Man and a cool new one called AC/DC.

We had a chance to talk a little about the games and the group of collectors who shared their awesome arcade and pinball machines so fans could get their fill. You can check out that interview on our upcoming podcast.

Florida Supercon 2013

 Last but not least we found another retro gaming heaven within heaven itself. To the left of Origin PC and across from the console gaming tournaments we found a table featuring a ton of incredible classic games from NES up to N64. You could pick out any game you wanted and play it on one of the many television screens and console systems setup behind the table. I saw people playing Mario Cart, Strider and an awesome game of Smash Bros.


Now I am not sure if you have seen Jace Hall’s ultimate game machine, but it look as if we found its brother or sister depending on your view. In the back center was a breathtakingly beautiful arcade cabinet that allowed you to play a multitude of games off of the M.A,M.E emulator platform. This machine looked awesome with all the bells and whistles that would make any gamer smile. You could literally surround yourself in classic gaming all day for no additional cost.

Florida Supercon 2013

It was great to see so much classic gaming at a Comic Convention. Everyone I talked to was surprised at how many people turned out to play these classic games. I was not surprised. Classic gaming is in all gamers and sure, we love the modern games, but classic games have a special place in our hearts and always will. I can wait till next year to see them expand on it.

Berzerk

“Intruder alert! Intruder alert!”

atari_2600_berzerk_gameplay screenshot

You are that intruder. You play as a “humanoid” trapped in an unlimited amount of single-screen mazes, chased (very slowly) by Cylon-looking robots with lasers. I have no idea why you are there, and why the robots hate you so much, but they are constantly shouting orders like “Kill!”,”Destroy!”, and “Attack!” via speech synthesis, a rarity in 1980 arcade games.

atari_2600_berzerk_gameplay screenshot

I remember being addicted to this game back in the day…simple to learn, difficult to master. With one joystick (to move/shoot in 8 directions) and one button (laser), your objective is to survive as long as possible by shooting the robots that are blocking your way to the exit on the other side of the each maze-screen.

Everything has an “electric” feel to it, from the laser shots to instant death from brushing against a wall. You receive points by destroying the robots, but you can’t hang around too long before escaping or “Evil” Otto will quickly be on your ass. Otto, a body-less smiley face, is the “Smoke Monster” of video games. A true indestructible enemy that will chase you down like a heat-seeking missile.

atari_2600_berzerk_gameplay screenshot

Simple, but addictive, gameplay kept my quarters flowing in the early ’80′s, always wanting my shot at Otto…but it was not to be. One of the more underrated “villains” in video-game history, he was always taunting me and I could do nothing about it.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb4gWvqbsYA[/youtube]

Highly recommended if you get a chance to play on MAME.

8/10

Arcade Classics: What happened to them all?

It is easily the most common question I get when I chat with anyone about the classic arcade games of the early 1980s. What happened to them all?

Tron

They remember those days just as I do. Video arcades were commonplace and practically every type of business out there had arcade games in them. I remember seeing a Defender in the window of a flower shop, Ms. Pac-Man and Galaga machines at the local Denny’s and entire gamerooms in select 7-Eleven stores. These machines were literally everywhere.

Over time a number of these machines have ended up in homes, mostly as an addition to a rec room or something fun in the corner of the garage. A smaller number of home collectors are deeply dedicated, some with dozens or even hundreds of machines. In recent years, arcades and taverns with classic themes are popping up around the country, giving an extent of new life to a bygone era.

Atari Football

What most casual and even many die-hard classic arcade fans don’t realize is that the vast majority of machines from the early eighties arcade boom are long gone from the planet. While games such as AsteroidsSpace InvadersPac-Man and Donkey Kong set arcade sales records that still stand today, most did not survive.

Today I provide some insight into why. While none of this is going to cover things in depth, it is going to touch on the basic answers to that common question.

The Great Video Game Crash

Atari Pole Position

While it is becoming a hardly known legend to the younger generations of gamers, the entire North American video game industry crashed hard in 1983 and 1984. The arcade market and home console markets crashed for different reasons, with the coin-ops dropped off first. Things slowed in the summer of 1982 and went into a free-fall the next year, due in large part to oversaturation of the marketplace and aging equipment.

By 1984, a great number of arcade operators had gone out of business. Those that survived had significantly smaller operations and routes. The vast majority of arcade machines seen in non-arcade businesses were never owned by those businesses but rather by vendors who installed the machines in those locations for a cut of the revenue.

Operators were stuck with huge inventories of machines nobody wanted to play anymore, and with almost everyone forced to scale back operations, most older machines had no resale value or potential buyers. Everyone had enough Scramble and Galaxian machines gathering dust in a warehouse already.

Joust

So they trashed them.

Many machines were gutted for useful parts such as monitors and coin doors then had their cabinets smashed, burned or taken to a landfill. Others were left to rot in abandoned warehouses, sheds or fields.

This practice actually still continues today. Me and a friend came across an antique store a few years ago that had obtained a few trailers of early eighties machines. Thinking they had no value they left the open trailers outside and smashed up entire machines until they’d filled their dumpsters. By the time we got there, we found pieces of games such as Donkey Kong Junior andCentipede in the trash and the machines still in tact had been rained on so much they were falling apart.

While there are hobbyists who restore classic machines scattered across the country, it is commonplace for them to use several machines to complete one full restoration, trashing the rest.

Conversions, Multicades and MAME

Mame arcade cabinet

Most classic arcade machines that didn’t end up as scrap were converted into newer game titles, and still are today.

The first successful conversion kit game was Mr. Do! in 1983, starting a trend that helped operators survive at least a while longer. For a far lesser price than a full arcade machine, vendors could purchase kits with new electronics, graphics and sometimes wiring which was used to turn that old Qix or Berzerk machine into a brand new game title.

While most arcade manufacturers resisted this trend as long as they could, they were forced to change with the times and start offering kits to operators. Some, such as Nintendo and Atari, began to produce kits designed to specifically convert their older titles.

Pac-Man

 

This trend continued through the middle of the decade but slowed for a time in the late 1980s. A bit of a resurgence in the arcade market came along with the rebirth of the home console industry during this time, and dedicated machines of newer hit titles began to sell once again. Most converted machines were simply converted again to newer titles for street locations.

The next big period of conversion mania came with Street Fighter II in 1991 and 1992. This game earned so much money so quickly that many operators quickly bought kits for every arcade cabinet they had in storage. Years ago I met an operator that literally converted every remaining early 80s machine he had to SFII when it was hot, and remember locations with classic machines such as BurgerTime and Front Line that they converted at this time.

Donkey Kong 3

In recent years the conversion mania has continued in two forms. Over the past decade an influx of overseas knock off boards often dubbed as “Multicades” have made their way into North America. These bootleg boards contain dozens and sometimes hundreds of games. Many arcade machine resellers have gutted surviving classics in favor of converting them into these multi-game machines in the name of making a buck.

Other home collectors have built arcade machines based on the MAME emulation program. While some of these MAME fans have built their arcade rigs from classic cabinets that were already stripped or converted beyond reasonable restoration, others have posted blogs where they show their process of gutting a surviving arcade machine to build it into a computer-based conversion.

Several arcade conversions have appeared on these popular treasure-hunting television programs in recent years, often without the people on the show seemingly aware of it. An episode of Pawn Stars saw someone bring three “Japanese Arcade Games” into the Las Vegas shop, two of which were conversions from Defender machines. The Ms. Pac-Man machine that appeared on an episode of Auction Hunters was actually a conversion of an original Pac-Man machine, a cabinet that is similar but quite different in many ways as well.

Arcade Passports Required

Ms. Pac-Man

Classic-era arcade machines that weren’t trashed, left to rot or converted may not reside in the country at all anymore. Several people in southern states have confirmed to me in the past that they have shipped and sold entire box trucks of older arcade machines to Mexico.

The current world record holder on Taito rarity Zoo Keeper had his machine shipped to his Australia home from the United States.

Preservation is Key

Trojan

At the present time it seems that the number of people who’d rather turn a retro arcade machine into a Multicade or MAME machine far outnumbers those who would rather try to restore them into their former glory. It is a long and often expensive task to do so.

However, these machines are pieces of pop culture and video game industry history. Just as memorabilia from films, television and various sports have seen efforts to save and preserve their history over time, video games are finally starting to see signs of a preservation effort.

The efforts of groups such as Southern California’s Videogame History Museum and New Hampshire’s American Classic Arcade Museum should be noted for being among the first in the country to take serious steps in this direction as well as many individual collectors across the country such as New Jersey’s Richie Knucklez and Cat DeSpira in the Pacific Northwest.

In time, such efforts may turn the question from “What happened to them all?” to “Did you see all that are left?”

Everything you ever wanted to know about Pac-Man, but were afraid to ask

The Pac-Man Dossier

Everything you ever wanted to know about Pac-Man, but were afraid to ask

The original Pac-Man arcade game might be pushing 32 years of age, but the name still has interest with video game fans of all generations.  Pac-champ David Race once again made international headlines when RecordSetter announced he’d set another new speed record while the recent online World’s Biggest Pac-Man game estimates more than 40 man-hours have been played on their website in the past year.

Casual players and observers who think there isn’t much to Pac-Man strategy and gameplay might be surprised by a visit to the Pac-Man Dossier website.  This labor of love by dot gobbling fan Jamey Pittman goes deep into the Pac-Man program, explaining not only strategies but how the game thinks and reacts to the player’s every move.

“As a kid, my grandparents would often take me to a local shopping mall that had a Gold Rush arcade,” Pittman recalled. “This is where I encountered my first Pac-Man machine in 1980 or 1981. Up to that point, I had dropped most of my quarters into space-themed, ‘shoot ’em up’ titles like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but that all changed once I saw Pac-Man.  Everything about it seemed so new and different compared to what I was used to: the cabinet, the colorful characters, the sounds, everything.”

Decades later, Pittman once again returned to the deep blue maze.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JLfugsoU3d0[/youtube]

“The game studio I was a software developer for went under in 2008, and I suddenly found myself with a lot of time on my hands,” he said. “I started playing a lot of Pac-Man using the MAME emulator and realized that, as much as I enjoy playing Pac-Man, it would be even more fun to reverse engineer the game and finally learn how the ghosts work ‘under the hood’, so to speak. So I set out to fill in the many gaps in the internet’s collective knowledge base on the inner workings of Pac-Man. The goal was to conclusively prove how every part of the game functioned, especially everything related to ghost behavior, and put everything I learned into one reference document to share with interested parties.”

With input from several Pac-Man champs and classic arcade reverse-engineering guru Don Hodges, Pittman completed the Dossier after two months of work.  With explanations on every aspect of Pac-Man from how the monsters react to player movements to why and how the player can sometimes pass through an enemy without losing a life, Pittman notes a few programming bugs in particular that caught his eye.

“I think one of the more interesting tidbits was how the chase mode logic for Pinky and Inky works slightly differently when Pac-Man is facing upward,” he said. “After noticing this subtle discrepancy in Pinky’s targeting algorithm, Don and I did some additional code analysis and concluded the game developers screwed up by leaving an overflow bug in the code used for calculating tile offsets relative to Pac-Man’s current position. Another interesting bug I uncovered is how to trap three of the ghosts inside their home during the first two levels of play. That one took some time to figure out as the code governing when and how ghosts leave their home is fairly convoluted.”

Since launching, the Pac-Man Dossier has received hits from over 300,000 unique visitors and was even used as a learning tool when Google developed their popular Pac-Man 30th Anniversary Doodle in 2010.  If time allows, Pittman says he may do similar site for another arcade classic.

“I could easily do an sister site on Ms. Pac-Man as it’s based on the original Pac-Man code,” he said.  “Both I and Don have already spent a lot of time looking over that game’s disassembled code.  But in terms of choosing a completely different title, I think I would most enjoy tearing Centipede completely apart. Defenderor Joust would be fun projects as well.”

The Pac-Man Dossier can be visited by clicking here.

Patrick Scott Patterson has been a gamer since 1981, acting as a writer, technician and world record holder on several game titles. He has appeared numerous times in the yearly editions of Guinness World Records: Gamer’s Edition. In addition to writing here, Patterson has also written for Yahoo!, Twin Galaxies, VGEVO and Gameroom Magazine, and is always looking for unique and positive news to report from the video gaming world.

Namco Museum: 50th Anniversary Arcade Collection

Well, well…. It hasn’t been so long ago… I mean it’s only been 50 years since the founding of Namco and almost 30 years since the oldest game of this compilation was released. On the other hand this blog has existed for less than one day, and this definitely is the first PC game review to appear here. That’s quite a paradox. Maybe.

Anyway. Namco’s Museum is an almost decent (budget) collection of some classic, some not so classic and a few pointless games, hoping to please retro gamers, to teach new gamers some old tricks, to teach young dogs strange tricks or to please the average casual gamer. There are 16 games on offer, two of which (PacMania and Galaga `88) are unlockable by attaining (pretty low) highscores in PacMan, Ms. PacMan or the original Galaga, which are actually three of the best titles available in this compilation, and are decently emulated. The other games included are:

Dragon Spirit, which I had never played before, and is a passable top down shooter with an appropriately ridiculous backstory and cute graphics .
Pole Position and the radically samey Pole Position II, both aged beyond recognition (they used to be quite nice guys back then) but excellently emulated.
Galaxian, which has always been a poor man’s Space Invaders.
Mappy, the strange little unknown game that is fun for five minutes, but tends to get nervous, act stranger and gradually reduces the poor player to a horrified excuse of a person.
Rolling Thunder, a decent platformer/shooter with nice graphics.
Xevious, the classic Namco Classic.
Skykid, which is pointless, annoying and obscure, but I guess perfectly emulating the horror of being a skykid (?).
Rally-X, a very interesting car game. An absolute time sink.

Oh sorry, almost forgot. When (and if) you buy Namco Museum you will also be able to play Digout and Bosconian.

That’s the deal. Just take into consideration that there are virtually no extras (like interviews, photos, videos etc), very few options, very slight but usually annoying sound problems and the overall presentation isn’t as sleek as it should have been. And you could always download MAME for free instead. On the plus side you get to hear five ‘classic’ 80s songs while browsing through the games and it wont cost you a fortune.

That’s a (five) out of (ten).

 

Unreleased: Tattoo Assassins

[youtube id=”kZpj5WaL74″ width=”633″ height=”356″]

Tattoo Assassins

Sometimes you might turn on the television or read something on the internet and say; “I can make something better than that.” Most of the time once you say that you realize you can’t and it ends there. In the video game world and Hollywood for that matter, that voice is almost never there telling you to stop before you make a fool of yourself and because of that we have games like Tattoo Assassins.

To be released in 1994, Tattoo Assassins was to be the answer to the arcade hit, Mortal Kombat. Developed by Data East the game featured real life actors fighting each other and using digitized graphics, the same as the original Mortal Kombat. The game was to feature over 2196 finishing moves and that included animal-based finishers like what you may have seen in Mortal Kombat 3 and some nudity-based finishers, which were rumored to be in Mortal Kombat but were never there.

Tattoo Assassins featured Joe Kaminkow of Data East Pinball and Bob Gale, screenwriter for Back to the Future.  Each character had magical tattoos that came to life when you preformed a special move or finishing maneuver. One of the finishers was dropping a DeLorean on an opponent and another was turning your opponent into a hamburger, a reference to Back to the Future and Burger Time respectfully. What was not respectful but funny was a finishing move that gave your opponent massive diarrhea.

So what happened with the game? While internal development issues, management problems and deadline woes were blamed for the demise of Tattoo Assassins it was the negative feedback from testers that lead to the shutdown of production. In addition, new games like Killer Instinct and Primal Rage were already in the arcades and doing very well.

In the end, two dozen arcade machines were produced, but most of them were destroyed. I am sure you can find someone that owns one, but if you really want to play Tattoo Assassins you can find a ROM version of the game for M.A.M.E. Perhaps it is worth checking out just for the nudalities.

 

My Favourite Games – Part 5

It’s been a pretty busy last week or so here in RKS Land, so sorry for no posts for a while. I have decided in the intervening days that I should expand my Top 30 Favourite Games to a Top 50. I’ve simply thought of too many great games that would have to be left out of a Top 30! So, as the five games I’m posting here bring the total so far to 25, I think I’ll take a break from the favourite game list for a while and try to establish some of my other planned types of posts. So, tomorrow (hopefully!), will be the first of my silly Top Five lists! In the meantime, here’s the next five of my Favourite Games…

Gradius – PC Engine (1991)

Gradius – PC Engine

Or Nemesis, to use its correct UK title, but I always preferred the Japanese name. Regardless of what you call it, no one can deny the effect it has had on the genre it helped to define. Some say it was the first shoot ’em up to feature power-ups; others claim it was the first to feature end-of-level-bosses. It certainly had unique and creative stages for such an early game. The PC Engine version is my favourite and is almost arcade-perfect. In fact, it even has a whole extra level and an awesome remixed soundtrack! For a while, the Speccy version was the only one that I’d played, and, based on that version, I steered clear of others. However, when I got it for free with my PC Engine, I figured I’d give it another try, and I’m pleased I did! Whilst very tough going, and suffering from a bit of slow-down when things get busy, it’s a supremely playable shooter and features lovely crisp graphics, great music, and enough variety and hectic shooting action to keep any fan happy for a good while!

Bubble Bobble – Saturn (1996)

Bubble Bobble – Saturn

What more can be said about this classic? I first enjoyed this game when I received the excellent Spectrum version as a gift many moons ago. I found it really tough going but loved every minute all the same. Then, a good few years later, I got the Sega Master System version which, for one reason or another, seemed to be quite a bit easier, and I got right to the end of the game. Maybe it was easier, maybe I was just better – it had been so long since I’d played the Speccy version it’s hard to say! Then came the arcade-perfect Saturn version, bundled with Rainbow Islands, which gave me plenty of oppotunity for practice again. Since then, I’ve played through the game on MAME, grabbing a screenshot of each of the 100 stages in the process. Now THAT was hard! Still, it never seems to matter how hard this game is, it’s always super-playable. That could be down to the highly intricate secrets, which sees bonuses and collectibles change depending on how you play, but it’s most likely because it’s simply such a great game. And that damn music!

Streets of Rage 2 – Mega Drive (1992)

Streets of Rage 2 – Mega Drive

It’s testament to this game’s greatness that countless Sega fans and fighting game fans alike still pine for another game in the series after all these years! It’s little wonder too. I remember when the first SOR game came out – it was a revelation, intended to rival Capcoms Final Fight on the recently released SNES, but in the mind of many it was superior. After such a groundbreaking first game, I for one wasn’t expecting a great deal from the sequel. But, as we all now know, it was amazing! Bigger, better graphics, another fantastic soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro, more playable characters (including the lovely Blaze once again!), and an even larger game to play though. SOR2 is still counted among the greatest games of its type, and universally revered, and it’s easy to see why.

Street Fighter 3: Third Strike – Dreamcast (1999)

Street Fighter 3 Third Strike – Dreamcast

Capcom sure took their sweet time with this! A lot of years, and countless variations of SF2 passed before it finally arrived. I haven’t played either of the previous versions of SF3, but if this DC version is anything to go by, they’ll certainly be passable! The character roster in this game is arguably less appealing (though also less sterotyped) than the fighters in the great SF2, but their nuances also take longer to learn, not to mention master, and be mastered they must, for this is a pretty tough game! I can just about finish it on default difficulty using the ever-reliable Ryu (now complete with a ruling new side-kick), although the final boss character, Gill, is a right bunghole! Various intricate new features also arrived with this sequel of the kind that I have trouble mastering, such as the much-praised ‘parrying’ system, but even if you’re as crap as me, you’ll still find a lot of hyper-fighting action here!

The New Zealand Story – Mega Drive (1990)

The New Zealand Story – Mega Drive

This is another one I first played on the Speccy. I still recall the time I was having a really good session one morning before school, so I paused it (using my fancy Multiface 3) so I could resume when I got home, only there was a big storm which caused a powercut! Grrrr! Anyway, a few years later, I was lucky enough to obtain this awesome Japan-only MD version from my friend Stu and his brother Darren. The first thing that struck me about it was that the levels were different! I’m still not sure why, actually, but I’ve played this version so many times now, I almost can’t remember what the original level designs were! Anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter too much. The key ingredient with games like this is the gameplay and addictiveness, and NZS has both in abundance! As Stu will testify, it can be a damn tough game, but it’s also among Taito’s most playable.

Yeay! 🙂 I finally finished the next post! It’s taken me a while due to certain unforeseen circumstances, but hopefully a more regular posting service will resume now! Next time, I’ll try something a bit different and resume the Top 30 (now the Top 50!) another time…

Free Stuff: Zophar’s Domain – Home to all Emulators

Zophars Domain logoFree Stuff: Zophar’s Domain – Home to all Emulators

Many of us grew up playing on many different platforms and systems. Whether you were a computer person or a console gamer, it probably has been many years since that was our main gaming platform. Just because we are now playing on modern computers and consoles doesn’t mean that we won’t get the urge to play a classic game from a dead system of our younger days. That’s where emulators come in, and Zophar’s Domain has EVERY emulator you can think of from any platform to any platform.

Zophar’s Domain Logo

Whether you use a Windows PC, a Linux system, BeOS, an Apple, an Amiga, a console, a phone, or a calculator, if there is an emulator for it so that you can run old computer or system like a Commodore 64, a Commodore Amiga, a Sinclair Spectrum, an Atari console or computer, a 3DO console, a Turbo Grafixx 16, arcade (MAME always comes to mind), any Nintendo or Sega system (ZNES and Genecyst always come to my mind when I think of emulators for these), or some rarer ones, Zophar’s Domain will have them if they exist (usually).

As a quick summary, usually when you want to emulate something you need a properly installed emulator and you’ll need a bunch of ROMs (think of them as disk/cartridge images for games/software/etc, depending on the platform). Now, although Zophar’s Domain will give you the emulators you need and you have every right to emulate software that you have already bought before, the legality of sharing ROMs is not as clear. For that reason, you will NOT find ROMs at Zophar’s Domain but it’s really easy to find them, even using google these days or torrents.

So… fire up a good emulator and relive part of your childhood once again! Either click the name Zophar’s Domain above or click here. If you’re too lazy to install an emulator on whatever it is you use or are worried of the legality of it, you can always go to our arcade section and play an emulator directly from Obsolete Gamer.

Gamer Profile: Alex Aguila

Alex Aguila

There are those who play video games, those who immerse themselves in the video game culture and then those for who gaming is really a part of them. There are millions of fans, but when you truly have a love for all things gaming it sets us apart from the rest. I was honored to spend a few hours with one such person for whom gaming had touched at an early age and stayed with him throughout his life.

Alex Aguila’s love of all things electronic gaming led him to co-founding Alienware, but his love of gaming began long before.  From a very early age he became fascinated with video games, so much so, that after seeing the Atari 2600 in action he saved up money  From there he began collecting games from Colecovision to the Commodore 64. Even before the success of Alienware, Alex had an impressive gaming collection that has continued to grow over the years.

I was able to personally view his collection and it was awe inspiring. It was much more than the sheer volume, but the care he took in preserving them and the joy he had in talking about them. Many older games were still wrapped in their original plastic. Others though opened were in pristine condition and we talked about how classic games had a collectors feel long before expensive over bloated collectors’ editions of games became the norm.

What made me smile like a child in Electronics Boutique was that I could hear in his voice that he truly cared about the gaming industry. There was excitement in his voice when we talked about the past and how in the 90’s a golden age of gaming began when there was so much choice in gaming in arcades, home console systems and the emerging PC gaming market.

Simply put when you convert a shower into a display case for your collection of console systems you know you have a true gamer before you. Besides the normal Sega Genesis and Nintendo Entertainment System, Alex also had systems I was not aware of like the Vectrex which is an all in one video game system that used vector graphics. Alex then showed me an Atari that was unopened and joked about how he posted on Atari Age that he was considering opening it so he could play. He told me many people offered to send him opened Atari systems just so he would keep his sealed.

In addition to console systems Alex also had an impressive collection of handheld videos games. Long before the Gameboy, these simple but addictive games ruled the market. Then I took a look at his clone’s collection. Clones are systems made by third parties that can play games from systems such as the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Some, like the FC twin allow you to play both Super and classic Nintendo games on the game console. Another cool device was the Retro Mini portable, a device that used the original NES cartridges, but allows you to take it on the go.

Alex is a complete fan of all things electronic gaming meaning that he can enjoy playing the original Atari 2600 using the original cartridge as well as utilizing modern equipment and technology such as emulators. He stressed the importance of those in the community who work to not only preserve classic gaming, but allow new fans to enjoy games of the past. Using programs such as DOSBox allows many gamers to play classic PC games that just won’t run correctly on today’s operating systems.

When I walked into Alex’s arcade room I almost fainted. It was like something out of my childhood dreams except for the large Dallas Cowboys star on the wall. Right away what caught my eye was the M.A.M.E. arcade cabinet next to the air hockey machine. However, something else that caught my eye was the collection of pinball machines. Unfortunately, there seems to be a disconnect between pinball fans and video game fans and it was good to see that Alex enjoyed both.

On the back wall were several classic arcade cabinets including Defender, Joust and Robotron. The systems were all from Retrocade and Alex explained that originally he wanted to keep the classic original cabinets, but it is truly a lot of work dangerous even to care and maintain due to the circuit boards and electronics used in those older systems.

Alienware-Logo-Wallpaper

After my tour I sat down with Alex and we talked about his own gaming history from his first console to meeting game designers and developers with Michael Dell. I was even able to instigate a challenge between Alex and Arthur Lewis, Alienware’s general manager.

This began during my coverage at E3 where I was able to talk to Arthur over at the Alienware booth. In addition to telling me about his own love of gaming he mentioned getting together with Alex to play Tecmo Bowl and that they were scheduled to have a game soon.

Arthur Lewis @ E3

Alex tells a story about a classic gaming of Tecmo Bowl against Arthur where the loser would have to walk around the hotel halls in their underwear. Alex lost and believed the underwear thing was just a joke, unfortunately it was not. Alex said that it has been a while since they had played and that if a rematch did come about Arthur would find himself on the losing end. Of course, I plan to press this to see if a rematch will happen though I doubt the loser will have to do anything too embarrassing.

Alex Aguila Interview

PlayPlay

Saying goodbye I felt slightly sad to be honest. Being there and seeing someone love video gaming as much as I do reminded me of my summer days of spending hours doing nothing but gaming. On the other hand it is truly nice to find people who continue doing something they love even as they mature and their lives change. My day with a true gamer, Alex Aguila is not one I will soon forget.

Memories of Gaming 1997-2003

3dfx logo - a symbol of quality
3dfx logo – a symbol of quality

Memories of Gaming 1997-2003 by Honorabili

Around the year 1997, I started to go a lot to ebgames to buy a lot of PC games. Rather than go for whatever was the top title that week, I would always check out what games they had for sale in their bargain bin. I did buy hit games like Carmageddon, Fallout 1, Master of Orion 2, and Grand Theft Auto 1 but for the most part from 1997 til about 2003, I stuck to buying cheap games. The bargain bin had a lot of failed games that were either bad or had failed in their marketing and distribution and nobody knew about them or they were simply budget titles that did not have the best graphics but had awesome enough gameplay that they got released.

My criteria for buying these games was that they had to cost usually about $1-10. For me to buy one that was $15, it had to have been highly recommended or praised. This shopping included buying used copies of games as well. I also bought a lot of stuff based on the brands of developers and publishers. Almost anything that got made by Microprose and Interplay was bought for sure. They were my favorite company in those years up until Brian Fargo lost control of the company and Herve Caen destroyed the company. Because I would still play the popular titles at the time but I would also played a ton of obscure and lost titles, I gained a good understanding as to why games and gaming companies fail. As far as Microprose goes, went they got liquidated I remember buying all of their games (multiple copies too) for 25 cents a piece!

Back in 97-03, my life consisted of going to college, hanging out with my friend Bruce and little brother, watching a ton of VHS movies which we usually rented from Future Video or Hollywood video (both are out of business now), playing a ton of video games, and buying video games almost every weekend. Usually Bruce or my brother and I would go and scout out 3-4 stores at a time seeing which ones had the best deals and stock. We would go a lot to The Falls, Miami International Mall, Dadeland, and later Dolphin Mall. I usually had a policy of buying at least one game each time I went into those stores, even if it was a crappy $1-2 game (of which I bought plenty of!). I remember one time that Bruce and I went in to buy what was either Fallout 2 or Carmageddon 2 and we ended up walking out with about $300-400 of cheap games.

After buying a bunch of these games, we would test out a bunch on the crappy LAN we built using our main machines which were initially powered by AMD K6-2’s and our bitch computers usually were a bunch of trade-ins I got from my PC repair/building business that were Celerons or Pentium I’s or 686’s. Sometimes we would just setup multiplayer games of a specific game to see if we could get it to run because maybe the multiplayer component of a game was utter crap.

I remember very well when I tried to run Carmageddon 1 on my AMD 486 DX-4 100 Mhz and the game was a slide-show. Quickly after that I jumped to my AMD K6-2 266 Mhz with 128 MB of RAM and a Diamond Stealth 2000 video card tied to a Creative 3dfx Voodoo 2 with 4 MB of RAM. I got addicted to Glide games quickly… Thanks to my gaming I got a lot of orders for gaming computers which paid for my college and taught me more about the real business world than many classes I took and books I read ever were able to show me.

What I like about 97-03 was that I saw the explosion of graphics acceleration for PCs. We also experienced the graphics acceleration and CPU wars. Some casualties of the graphics acceleration were were 3dfx, S3 and PowerVR. Some victims of the CPU wars were Centaur, Cyrix, and VIA. I remember the race to hit 1 Ghz with AMD hitting it stable with their Athlon and Intel’s 1 Ghz P3 being a complete mess that melted. A lot of hardware that comes to mind of these days are: 3dfx, the TNT 2, Voodoo 2 and 3, AMD K6-2 and K6-3, Pentium 2 & 3, Athlon and Athlon XP, Matrox, ATI vs nVidia, Radeons vs GeForce cards, AMD vs Intel, SDRAM & DDR, PC100 & PC133, introduction of SATA drives, introduction of RAID to gaming PCs.

Around these years we also started to see a differentiation between the kind of gamers that were attracted to PC gaming vs console gaming. I also began to see that for PC gaming some years were good strong years and some years just about nothing good came out.

In these years we also saw a giant growth in the availability of better broadband and the explosion of the internet (and the dot com bubble burst). In terms of gaming this improved multiplayer games and the availability of pirated software and games. We saw stuff like Scour and Napster and WinMX rise and fall. Then came torrents, which are still going strong.

Apart from the usual pirated games, we saw the rise of emulation. Emulation has always been around just about, even in the 60s and 70s with mainframes trying to emulate rival companies operations. Certainly around the time the AMD K6-2 and Intel Pentium II were commonly available we saw a lot of good NES and SNES emulation, as well as Sega Genesis, and even c64 (which doesn’t take much to run) and the Amiga emualators (which took a lot to run when they first came out). Playstation 1 emulators were out, as well as Nintendo 64 but initial performance and availability of these was terrible. Around this time I got to know well sites such as zophar.net. You also saw the growth of MAME and ROMs for all sorts of systems going around.

These years also saw an explosion in video game and computer music remixing. I even took part of this, even killing RKO, the home of c64 remixes. General video game remixing blew up on sites such as OverClocked Remix. I made a lot of good friends at remix64 and micromusic.

Some PC gamers in 1997-2003 were either of the camp that cared only for framerates (FPS junkies) or image quality. Around the late 90s, I felt that 3dfx had the best graphics but lowest frame rates, then came ATI, and with nVidia having highest frame-rates but lower quality renders.

We also saw around these years the rise of the mp3/ogg files. Many games before used proprietary sound formats and also a lot of MOD tracker formats. CD quality audio became a standard for games around this time. Initial games at this time had actual CD audio tracks incorporated into the game CDs.

Other trends include the further increase of popularity of first person shooters in the form of the Doom games, Quake series, Unreal Tournament series, Half-Life, Counterstrike, Medal of Honor and Call of Duty, Far Cry, etc. We saw just about the death of turn based strategy games and the explosion of more real time strategy games. Although Ultima Online was around, then came the explosion of Everquest (which made me a lot of money), and other MMOs.

Conclusion:

These were great times for gaming for my friends and I because back then we had the time to do it. Later on complications such as girlfriends and wives and shitty jobs and children interfered with our hobby. The equivalent of me getting cheap games these days are the Steam sales and the gog.com sales. I have enough old games that I can relive parts of the old days any day I want! (well, except having my old friends to LAN it up with)

Gyruss

Gyruss Arcade
Gyruss Arcade

Gyruss review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“My favorite video game from my early youth”

Overall Score:
10 out of 10

Overview & my history with this game:

This review is specifically for the arcade and c64 versions. I haven’t played the other versions and I know the NES one is different (includes bosses, different music, etc.)

This was the first Konami game I ever saw or played, although it’s not their first game. People were impressed with Pacman but this was the first game that showed me that video games were going to be the future. This is the first game I remember having upgrades and also the concept of getting a “perfect”. This was the first game I played that had bonus stages too.

You take the role of a starship fighter pilot trying to fight your way to earth. The entire solar system has been taken over by a legion of enemy fighters and space stations. Your lone fighter will get swarm attacked by a pack of enemy fighters that will come at you in a specific attack pattern depending on what squadron you’re fighting and what planet you’re traveling to next. Your ship rotates around the center of the screen as you fight your enemies and keep flying forward. You start at Neptune and travel in order of the planets until you make it to Earth.

Gyruss Perfect
Gyruss Perfect

Not only are fighters coming at you at a fast rate but you have to deal with the projectiles they sometimes fire at you, passing asteroids, energy barriers that can rip you apart, and space stations that spawn at the end of a stage. Everything in this game kills you with one shot. If you get touched by an enemy ship or any other object, you instantly die.

At the end of the level, when there are a swarm of enemy fighters circling in the background, 2-3 enemy space stations will appear, one which, if you haven’t picked up the upgrade yet, will make two beams circle around the screen and land on your ship once you kill it, giving your weapon twice the width in spread.

If you kill a certain grouping of enemies in a specifically quick manner and leave no survivors the game also awards you with bonus points. This matters in this game, actually, because you get bonus lives based on your score.

The game loops when you beat it until you run out of lives.

This game has always made me think of the movie The Last Starfighter. In my mind, as a child, I imagined that it took place in that universe and the main character was fighting his way back home.

Gyruss is available originally for the Atari computers as well as 2600 and 5200 consoles, the ColecoVision console, the Commodore 64, and for the NES. The game got rereleased for Playstation, Gameboy Advanced, and Xbox Live Arcade.

Fun Factor:

Gyruss is a ton of fun and my favorite early shooter game. It’s a lot of fun to hear the swarm sound of a group of fighters jumping out at you in a really fast pattern and you blasting away as much as possible trying to kill them all and gain the bonus points while keeping them from ramming you or shooting you as well.

You can see how intense the action is in the following video:

Fun Factor gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

There is no way to change the difficulty but the game is challenging enough for most gamers as it is. The longer you play it, the harder it gets. The enemies will attack you more often in each passing stage. Overall, the game is tough near the later stages but it’s still playable.

Since you can’t change the difficulty that hurts it but it’s hard enough for most players. I give Difficulty Versatility a score of 7 out of 10.

Value:

Most people will just play this on M.A.M.E. these days so basically the ROM is free. Technically, you’re not supposed to play ROMs unless you own the game already.

The link to download the c64 emulated version is the following from c64.com.

I couldn’t easily find the Playstation and GBA versions for sale as they might be out of print.

Since most people will play the emulated versions, I’d give Value a score of 10 out of 10.

Replayability:

I’ve been playing Gyruss since the early 80s and I visit it often when I’m in a retro arcade/c64 gaming mood. The mix of the music, retro sounds, non-stop gameplay keeps me having fun even though it’s been many years that I’ve been playing this gem. It’s hard for me to get tired of the gameplay. Replayability get a score of 9 out of 10.

Sound:

The sound effects are super retro and they’re brilliant. My favorite sound effects are the blast of the main gun, the teleportation sound from when you warp to the next stage, the gun UPGRADE sound (oh god yes), and the explosion when one bites the dust. The rest of the sounds are great and sound like a perfect blend of retro arcade.

Sound gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Music:

The music to Gyruss is a simplied and sped up version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue is D minor:

To me classical music in games, especially ones with a ton of action is pretty epic.

Music gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Graphics:

For an early 80s game, this game looks simply amazing. Most of the enemies for the main stages look the same but the enemies for the bonus stages look unique depending on which bonus stage you are doing. The game looks like a total evolution over Space Invaders. Graphics get a score of 10 out of 10, considering this is a 1983 game.

Stability/Reliability:

Since the 80s I’ve never seen this game crash or get stuck once, not even after playing it for ours on my old c64. Stability/Reliability are perfect and get a 10 out of 10.

Controls:

On all versions, the controls are really simple. Left rotates you in that direction and right rotates you in that direction. Fire just fires for all versions. Nothing fancy or confusing there.

For the arcade version, the ship will rotate in the direction of where you have the joystick pointed towards. If you keep it towards the top and you keep pointing up, the ship will just stay there once it’s topped out there.

For the c64 version, it’s a little different. Left moves you counter-clockwise, and right moves you clockwise, no matter what.

Controls can’t get simpler than that. Controls get a score of 10 out of 10.

Performance:

Perfect performance, even when the game just came out. Performance gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Conclusion:

Gyruss is a classic arcade game that should be played by everybody, especially retro arcade gaming junkies!

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Dig Dug review

Dig Dug in-game
Dig Dug in-game shot

Dig Dug review by Honorabili

One Sentence Review:

“Pop that monster!”

Overall Score:
9 out of 10

Overview:

Dig Dug consists of you being this blue man in a white suit that digs your way underground to kill monsters in tunnels. You do this by impaling them with an air pump that has like a tip like Scorpion’s weapon in Mortal Kombat (weird, I know but it’s cute!). You them pump the little monsters with enough air until they pop like a balloon. The game keeps progressing as you kill more monsters and there are none left in that level. Each level is progressively harder (especially when multiple enemies come at you at once).

You can get an extra man every 20000 points and you can pick up fruit in the middle of the stage when you kill enemies in a spectacular way, accelerating your 1UP rate.

The original game keeps going for 256 levels with the remake having about 400 levels.

The game is available on most Ataris, the Intellivision, Apple II, Commodore VIC 20 and c64, for PC, NES, gameboy, Wii, and the TI-99/4A. The remake is also available under Namco Classic Collection Volume 2 for Xbox, Gamecube, and the PS2.

Fun Factor:

I always thought it was a trip to fill up cute little monsters with air and watch their belly burst. If you’re braindead like me then you will love this kind of action. As the game will become much harder later, you will have to react instantly to the onslaught of monsters and have to adapt to using the terrain to your advantage and tricking the game’s A.I. by timing your attacks. You will sometimes have to run like a little bitch for your life and that can be fun to do especially in an old game! Fun Factor gets a score of 1o out of 10.

Difficulty Versatility:

Dig Dug is a challenging game. It’s from an era where if you wanted to get a high score you had to be a good gamer. Continues? Never heard of them. You put in a quarter and you got a set amount of lives. If you lost them all, you had to pay again to replay from the beginning. If you like your games easy then Dig Dug is not a game for you. If you like a game where the A.I. will eventually come at you from every direction, really fast then this is your game. You do get one more life though every 20000 points.

The first levels are easy and the game constantly keeps acccelerating in diffuculty. There’s no way to alter that but the game is challenging enough as it is. Difficulty Versatility gets a score of 9 out of 10.

Value:

Since this game is so old now, most people will probably play the emulated (usually MAME) version which you can get for free.

The PS2 Namco Classic Collection version is now out of print and not available online. You can track it down either by calling your local game stores or finding it through ebay.

The Wii version you can probably get online from their store for probably a few dollars.

Overall, since you can either play this game for free or for a few dollars for the PS2 or Wii version, Value gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Replayability:

Most classic arcade games are highly addictive/replayable, unless you find them too hard/frustrating for you. You can pretty much set your own goal as you what you want your experienced with this game to be, whether to get to whatever number of level or whatever your high score will be.

Myself, I find this game fun and I often wonder to what level I can get to the next time I play. Considering I’ve played this game thousands of times since the 80s and I still play it, the game is a classic and very replayable. I give replayability a score of 9 out of 10.

Sound:

The sounds mainly consist of hearing the dragon roar (whistle) and your pump that fills up the cute monsters and pops the living hell out of them. For an old game the sounds are really well done and I think Sound deserves a score of 1o out of 10.

Music:

The music is so simple but it’s so catchy. The music is interactive in the sense that the little jingle will only play whenever your guy is walking. Mega64 makes fun of that fact and made a video where they go around harrassing people with it! Here is a video showing that:

It’s catchy and it keeps you playing this hectic little game. For a few simple notes, it’s a classic. Overall the game has like 4 little melodies but the main melody is the one that you will hear the most. Music gets a score of 10 out of 10.

Graphics:

The graphics look pretty cute for this old game and they are actually great. It’s fun watching the monsters blow up like a balloon and then POP! Graphics get a score of 10 out of 10.

Stability/Reliability:

This game actually has 2 bugs.

If you get to the end of the game, the game has a kill screen where you are basically stuck because the game will not progress any further. This happens when you get to the last level of the game (level 256) and beat it.

The other bug happens if you drop a rock on an enemy while you are pumping it with air and snuff it. It basically makes all enemies disappear making the level unbeatable but the work around is to trigger another rock to fall.

Other than those two bugs, mainly the rock one (because most people will NOT get to the last level), the game is rock solid. Stability/Reliability get a score of 8 out of 10.

Controls:

The controls are simple. Up is up and so forth, and the fire button always triggers the harpoon gun/pump which lets you kill enemies. Other than that you walk into the ground to tunnel and you make rocks fall by leaving a tunnel under it (to try to trick a monster into getting crushed). Controls get a score of 10 out of 10.

Performance:

The game runs flawless whether you play it on an arcade machine, emulation (MAME, etc), or on a console remake of it. If only all games could run as well as old games! Performance gets a score of 10 out of 10.

My history with this game:

This is one of the first games where I was impressed by an arcade game, specifically Namco and Atari. I remember seeing this around the same time I first played Ms. Pacman, another arcade favorite of mine. I’ve played Dig Dug over 1000 times, literally. It’s not as popular as the Pacman games but among the arcade community, it’s always a classic.

If you’ve never played Dig Dug, you are missing out on a major arcade game that is a corner stone for arcade gaming history. Go play it and stop reading this.