Category Archives: Commentary

Bosses and the RAAAAAAAGE they sometimes instill.

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I recently went back and replayed the Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion. I had beaten the story mode when it came out. But I had also skipped a few stages and so I had decided to go back and 100% the game. With the upcoming Splatfest, I figured now would be as good a time as any to finish up the 10 or so stages I didn’t do, and replay the handful I glossed over near the end. I had also heard tales of just how difficult the super-secret boss encounter in the game is. To experience that you need to clear every one of the 80 stages, and pay Pearl any of the money you may have borrowed from her to enter stages if you had run out of it trying to clear stages. So over two nights, that’s what I did. Sunday night I cleared all but about three remaining stages. Then Monday night after a grueling workday I finished those up. As I unlocked the super-secret boss encounter I was reminded of many of the toughest fights I played through over my lifetime. This by no means a list of the absolutely most difficult. But a number of the ones that immediately came to mind. Also yes, I will talk about the one I defeated last Monday night.

Also, I know many of you may not have played some of these games and worry about spoilers. So you may want to skip over some of these with your hyper scroll wheel or you may want to click the back button. On the other hand, I don’t think any of these are from games that came out this year thus far. So I think enough time has passed for most of these.

Why do these encounters stick out in our minds?  I think there are multiple reasons. Some of them are as simple as “This character is a cheap bastard, and I’m glad I never have to do it again.” Others might be cheap bastards too. But they have a cool design, awesome backstory, or something else that goes along with that well. You expect Dr. Wily to be a cheap bastard. He’s cowardly, crosses his fingers. But sometimes still shocks you with the lows he will sink to. Other villains exude confidence and a demeanor that put you into a false sense of security. You’ll think to yourself “This bad guy doesn’t need to be cheap. They’re just going to be a fair challenge that I’ll just have to practice a lot.” And then the game goes “To Hell with that.”. There are other bosses that are sometimes far more brutal than the final bosses they answer to.

Anyway, these fictional entities often get our blood boiling. They bruise our egos. They often don’t play by the very rules they set, and they constantly cheat. But why would we expect anything different? These are villains after all. Some of them are defeated by our pure skill. Others are defeated by completely cheesing them. But we love and hate all of these antagonists for being the world’s biggest stinkers. So here are some of the ones I’ll certainly never forget. And again, these are by no means the most definitively toughest encounters, just ten of the ones that stuck out in a sea of thousands.

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10. Dr. Wily Machine #10 (Mega Man 10)

I’ll be you were probably thinking I would mention the Dinosaur vehicle bot with two forms and subsequent saucer fight from the previous game. Or perhaps the 11th Wily Machine in the following game. A lot of you were probably thinking the Wily Castle 2 Dragon, or Wily Machine #2. But Mega Man 10’s next to the last encounter is somehow at least to me, a little more salt inducing. For the first form, things aren’t too bad. He does the “Shoot missiles that can be used as platforms” thing previous Mega Man bosses have. But then after you blow up the Pirate ship skull faceplate, Dr. Wily gets stupid cheap. He fires an orb that keeps you from moving so that he can get you caught in not one, but two clouds to ground lightning bolts. And while all of this can be avoided once you know what to do, you’re going to die like a hundred times figuring it out. Plus you have to do the required robot master gauntlet when you run out of lives again before fighting him. I’m told playing on the lower setting makes him a tad slower. But it’s still some cheap stuff. Definitely one of the Dr. Wily encounters you will probably lose your cool on.

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09. Dark Fact (Ys 1.)

Dark Fact is an asshole in every version of Ys. In some versions, he might be slightly slower. But he’s still one of the biggest jerks in boss encounters. He flies around the room doing a figure 8 pattern and you have to run up and stab him. Sounds simple enough right? Well, then he summons fireballs. Of the bullet-hell shoot ’em up variety. So you’ve got to try to avoid taking too many third-degree burns while trying to stab him. And with all of that going on, he also randomly destroys part of the floor so you either: A.) Get stuck in one part of the room eating fireballs until you die. Or B) Manage to somehow not burn to death while getting enough stab wounds in that he finally bleeds out. Suffice it to say many of you will be flipping tables when you get to him. This boss took me many, many attempts to defeat, and what a sigh of relief it was when I finally put him down.

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08. Bowser (Super Mario Odyssey) 

Yeah, Bowser would have to get on here somewhere. By no means the most difficult of the examples listed here, he gets a very memorable appearance that will stick with you. At first, it doesn’t seem like much of a fight. It repeats an earlier encounter. He throws his hat at you, and you need to take control of it to knock him out of the arena. But this is easier said than done because he sends a ton of crap at you to keep you from getting to him. He jumps onto the ground sending out rings of fire. He shields himself with flames while breathing out the longest flamethrower breath possible. And each time you do get to him he throws more decoy hats as well as increases the number of flame rings and flamethrowers and tail swings at you. But unlike other Mario games, you don’t really beat him when you beat him. Because the game goes all Metroid and throws a self-destruct sequence into high gear. So you have to take control of the King of the Koopas in order to escape in an honestly quite challenging platforming section. You’ve only got so much time and for all the power Bowser has, he’s slow. So good luck with that one. Still, it’s one of the coolest Mario moments ever. And if that’s not enough for you there’s even a harder third version of the fight hidden in the metagame.

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07. Demogorgon (Forbidden Forest)

This one gets on here because he requires two major metrics in order to be defeated. You have to hit a pixel-perfect spot to pierce his heart and you have to do it in only 60 seconds. Succeed and the game will loop allowing you to go on. Fail, and it’s Game Over. His pixelated visage will come down from the heavens oh so menacingly. Even if you have extra lives in reserve. It matters not.  On top of this, The Demogorgon is only visible when lightning strikes. The only help you’re given is sometimes seeing the background distort if he happens to be there. Sometimes, but not always. You’re likely going to hear that shrieking ear-piercing BEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEP BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP in your dreams.

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06. Evil Otto (Berzerk) 

Evil Otto is invincible. He was also inspired by the game’s creator’s boss as he reportedly smiled when he yelled at people. Evil Otto will relentlessly hunt you down and hump your corpse. Forget your childish opponents in your favorite shooter. The smiley face of doom did it first. You can’t shoot him. You can’t hope one of his subservient robots turns on him. All you can do is run. The rare exception is the children’s mode in the Atari 2600 port where he can be killed. But even going into baby mode won’t help you. Because Evil Otto will still respawn. Good luck sleeping tonight.

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05. Jasper Batt Jr. (No More Heroes 2)

This guy is an annoying pain in the ass. He drives a hovercar around his office so you can’t hit him with your swords. He also has a slew of death lasers that generate throughout the office, and can even summon a giant death beam. After you manage to weaken him through some well-timed strikes that lead to QTEs when he tries to run you down, the cheapness goes up to eleven. After you blow up his car he becomes a supervillain. And as a supervillain, he either shoots around 50 bats at you, teleports the second you go to hit him or manages to land one of his Incredible Hulk punches on you. When you really start to put the hurt on him he gets even cheaper.  Warping around like a Dragonball Z character, throwing tornadoes at you while giving you more suplexes and piledrivers than Mike Haggar. If you somehow survive all of that he becomes a Godzilla you have to cut up from a rooftop while avoiding death beams he spits out. If you manage to pull it off, you’ve defeated one of the toughest bosses out there.

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04. God Rugal (Capcom Vs. SNK 2)

This guy is SNK Boss Syndrome to the nth degree. First of all, the guy will take off nearly a quarter or more of your life bar with any given move. He will also repeat specials at an impossible speed and land combos that no human player could reasonably pull off. Your only hope is to block like crazy and find the one move the computer didn’t account for and spam it until you maybe win. That is if he doesn’t clown you before you can figure it out. Which he will. SNK was always a genius with its evil boss plan. An idea Capcom implemented here, and something even Midway rode within Mortal Kombat games. Make the bracket pretty doable, and then suck out hundreds of tokens from people who made 98% of the journey and really want to see that final 2%. In this case, though reaching him or the other secret Akuma variant also requires you to keep up your performance score. That means winning with Supers and Perfects on the way. If you pull that off, the ending of the tournament is interrupted and you’ll face one of the two ultimate boss variations. And if you get God Rugal there will likely be a broken controller in your future.

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03. Grim Matchstick (Cuphead)

A lot of Cuphead is difficult since being Nintendo hard is kind of the point of the game besides honoring 1930’s era animation. But Grim Matchstick is the one boss that really stands out from the crowd of bosses for me. He’s clearly inspired by the Dr. Wily Mecha Dragon boss in Wily Castle 2 (Mega Man 2) but other than jumping on clouds like blocks, the fight is a completely original experience. He starts out the way you might expect. Spitting projectiles you need to avoid while shooting him. But before you know it he has boulders flying at you in different combinations of three patterns. While also dodging other projectiles. If you last long enough, he ends up behind you where he spits out a marching band of flames. And you still need to avoid other things at the same time. Make it past all of that and he becomes a Hydra. With practice he is beatable. He’s still very much a pattern memorization exercise. But that doesn’t make him any less tough.

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02. Gurglewocky (Giana Sisters Twisted Dreams)

Gurglewocky is easily one of the toughest bosses you’ll face in a game. He’s a three form affair that requires a lot of memorization and dexterity. When you first reach him they take a page from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, where he chases you down Bowser style. Fitting as the original Commodore 64 game borrowed Super Mario elements. But from that quick moment, things kick into overdrive. He becomes a background boss where he uses a variety of attacks. He’ll swing his tail at you. He’ll spit a fireball into the air and cause it to rain fireballs. He’ll also fill the floor below you with lava leaving you with only some moving platforms and temporary blocks to stand on. When this happens, if he does the fire rain I mentioned earlier, the fireballs shoot back up out of the lava while the other fireballs are still raining down. Not enough for you? Sometimes he’ll shoot larger fireballs that you can avoid a little bit easier. But if they land in the lava, it causes fire columns to go from lava coated floor to ceiling.

After around three of these attacks, he’ll spit a flaming rock out that follows you around as you avoid more of these attacks. He usually does another one after this, and then shoots a line of fire out that goes either clockwise or counterclockwise. Depending on which world you’re in at the time (Dream or Nightmare) You’ll have to shift it to the opposite color of the flame on the boulder that’s been chasing you. The fire breath will then clear the fire off of the rock so you can knock it back at him. Do this three times and you can move onto the next phase. But before you can, he’ll likely flood the entire room with lava except for the very top line. You’re going to die a ton of times on this form. If you can manage to get past this and hit him three times you can escape. But he appears again! After you almost get crushed by boulders you have to dash attack his mouth at just the right time. Pull it off and you can say you’ve saved Maria! Even though that means you’re just going to be moving onto the Expansion pack content.

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01. Inner Agent #3 (Splatoon 2 Octo Expansion)

And this leads me to the battle I had with the super-secret boss in Nintendo’s 80 stage DLC for Splatoon 2. Inner Agent #3 can only be faced if you’ve beaten every stage and owe Pearl no money. (Stages cost money to enter and if you lose the level you pay to continue or reenter it later. If you run out of money Pearl will give you more. You can repay it to her when you earn money back for beating stages.) And the stages have to be beaten. You can’t use the game’s level skip mechanic. So you’ll have to go to any stage you used the mechanic on, and replay it. Once you have all of that done you can face the boss by going to a previously closed locker. This initiates a flashback where our expansion pack protagonist Agent #8 faces the protagonist from the original Splatoon (Wii U).

I had heard from a lot of players in the Splatoon 2 community that this was one of the hardest fights in videogames. But I went in with just a dash of skepticism. Surely some of this was just hyperbole. Nintendo game bosses are usually a nice balance of tough and fair. This is not one of those bosses. The match starts out with Agent #3 turning at you slowly before divebombing into the arena as the Squid Sisters’ Calamari Inkantation comes on. They start with an immediate Splashdown special and proceed to throw auto bombs while shooting at you. Shortly after this, they start initiating Inkjet specials (Two different specials so far when they should only be able to use one.). If you can manage to injure them enough to break a temporary shield they then go back to a Splashdown special and then the Bubble Blower special. This creates giant Bubbles they can explode for massive damage and kill potential. All while still throwing auto bombs that are basically homing bombs. Survive this, and they begin throwing a massive slew of auto bombs while also shooting you. Get past this, break their shield again and they’ll begin to ride a UFO while they shoot continual Tenta Missiles at you while throwing auto bombs and shooting at you. So now you have homing explosives of two varieties coming at you.

You have to throw Splat Bombs (Grenades) at them until their shield breaks again. This is where the unfair cheapness really kicks in. They do three Splashdown specials in a row while throwing more auto bombs at you. This becomes a war of attrition trying to get in a few hits while avoiding massive assaults. Keep in mind you also need to have the floor covered in your ink to be able to escape these attacks, and each attack only makes the floor more and more their color. Also when you shoot at them they will start dodge rolling out of the way despite the fact they aren’t using dualies (the only weapon class that allows one to use this move.) If you can somehow break their shield in between avoiding all of that. Then, you’ll knock them out and get the win. Winning gets you a cosmetic item for multiplayer. It’s not much, but as it is the only way to get it, at least other players will know you went through a proverbial war. By some miracle, I did it on my eighth attempt or so. But I can see why many put this high on their lists of tough bosses. All of that said, when you understand the patterns well enough you can defeat them. But even with that understanding, it isn’t an easy fight. People may mock me for comparing Inner Agent #3 to an SNK boss, but until you’ve gotten there yourself you’ll never know just how apropos that it really is.

But as I said earlier, this is by no means a “Top hardest” list by any means. Just some of the ones that came to mind as I was entering the fight with Inner Agent #3. There is a slew of challenging bosses out there. I can already hear fans of Ninja Gaiden, Dark Souls, Guilty Gear, Castlevania, Final Fight, and Streets Of Rage getting ready to beat me to death with their keyboards. So what say you? What are some of your toughest boss encounters? Which ones made you lose your composure, break your controller, or simply say “Fiddle DeeDee”? Tell your stories in the comments below.

 

Overtime, musings, and dormant styles.

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With everyone going into panic mode around here with the virus scare I’ve been working most of the time. It’s essential to retail and we’ve been short-staffed so I’ve had a couple of weeks with overtime. I’ve managed to get in a stream in or two but not a lot of time to write. Last weekend though I somehow managed to get the weekend free so I decided to stream one of my favorite series: Unreal Tournament.

I wrote a lengthy retrospective a few years ago so I won’t be going deep into the games themselves here. Rather I’ll talk a bit about the things going on in my life at the time these came out and what they really meant to me. Also replaying these games this weekend brought up a bigger question that I’ll get to a little bit later.

The original Unreal Tournament came out in November of 1999. It’s hard to believe but the series is going to be 21 years old this November. By October of 2000, the Game Of The Year Edition was released which had the extra content that had been added later included. Around this time I had left a now-defunct footwear retailer to work at a now-defunct OEM. I needed that change. I was taken advantage of by the new boss I had at the time. Was constantly called in anytime anyone else called out. I was cursed by my own work ethic. And yet I knew if I had called out or slacked the way some of my coworkers had, I’d have been dropped like a bad habit. And working with and selling computers was far more interesting to me than a self-serve shoe store. And of course, at the OEM we often had demos of games.  It was the second of two games I bought where I knew I was going to have to replace my computer at the time. (The first game was SiN.) My CD ROM drive was too slow to load the audio during SiN, and my Pentium 200 was barely handling it. Plus my Packard Bell had integrated video and no expansion slot for a graphics card. I had played UT in software mode on it, and it did run. But the grainy Game Boy Advance level visuals made seeing people with shock rifles in the distance impossible. When my brother and I played the game over a crossover cable, I had zero chance against his new 900mhz Athlon and TNT 2 combination.

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Fast forward and I had gotten a deal through work. My 1.2Ghz Athlon with 256MB RAM and a GeForce 2 were prepped to play it. That game consumed us after work. Sometimes we would stay after closing the showroom and repair center to play that on LAN through the server we had. I’ll never forget the one night a coworker got up from his station to look at my monitor to tell everyone where I was sniping them from. I had been on a sizeable killing spree as I picked them off. “Double Kill!” “Triple Kill!” “Mega Kill!” “M-M-M-MONSTER KILL!”. That came to a quick end when the staff collectively jumped me with miniguns, rippers, and rockets.

It (along with  Quake III Arena) was great because it took the secondary mode we’d played in DOOM over the modem, and made it into its own game. It also went in a different direction than Quake III Arena. It implemented a dodge system and a feigning death feature. Whereas Quake focused on speeding up momentum with advanced strategies like strafe jumping and rocket jumping. Both were excellent. Taking the same basic concepts and doing entirely different executions on them. Thus the Arena shooter was cemented as a subgenre.

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A few years later Epic would partner with Infogrames (Who had just bought Atari and rebranded itself as such) as a publisher and announce UT would be a yearly release. This was because they looked at the game’s story of futuristic blood sport and figured it could mirror what Sports games had done as a genre. So when UT2003 came out it started with an almost pro wrestling level introduction. It had its share of bugs and balancing issues. Plus not everyone was sold on the higher system requirements. Still, I remember the game demo being useful as it was on three of our stations at the time and I could show people that the cheap system wouldn’t run it (Or other games) well, due to the cost-cutting measures. (Low-end processor. integrated video. No card slot expansion due to the use of a flex case) but the midrange and high end would run it rather fantastically. Plus I enjoyed the demo so much when we got it available I picked it up. As I’ve said elsewhere before, it was here that I started to get into the higher-level stuff. I had decided I wanted to “Git Gud” as the kids say these days and that meant playing and researching a lot. And I still went back to the older game too as coworkers played it a lot, and even my friends and relatives enjoyed it.

I started out (and maybe this will help some of you out in a more modern game you enjoy) small. First, I decided that I would get 5 frags per round. I knew I had no hope of coming out on top consistently. There were just too many great players out there. But I was going to get that five kills. Middle. Bottom. I didn’t care. All that mattered was that I would get five kills. It was a small, achievable, reasonable goal. It took a good couple of weeks of playing to do that consistently. But once I got there, I moved the goal post. TEN frags per round.

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The other thing I noticed early on even in the first game was that people often ignored the Bio Rifle unless it was the only gun other than the starting weapon they had any ammo for. (In the first game you started with a pistol. In 2003 they started you off with an assault rifle.)  Much like in the Fighting game community, competitive shooters often have tier lists. (Now Maximillian Dood did a wonderful rant about how they’re often misused in fighters today.) But the same logic can apply to shooters. And while they’re not taken as gospel the way they can be in a fighting game community, they do sometimes have people treating some of the less popular weapons as ignorable and the more popular ones as coveted. Like the Energy sword in the original Halo for example. I remember people being called cheap for using it because people on the receiving end often couldn’t find a counter. In Unreal Tournament people often said that about the Flak Cannon and the Shock Rifle. Namely, because the Flak Cannon’s primary shot could ricochet shrapnel around corners and the Shock Rifle could shoot its secondary ammo with its primary shot after the secondary ammo had been fired. Causing a massive blast that could often kill more than 3 people at once if they were in close proximity.

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By contrast, nobody wanted to touch the Bio Rifle. So I decided since I wasn’t very good anyway, why not use the weapon nobody liked? So over time, I learned that the secondary fire could be held to charge up the slime almost like a spring on a pinball cabinet. And that a full charge would often one-shot someone unless they had full armor, and extra health. Even if they survived, they would be a mere two bullets or a laser or an explosion away from death. So I began practicing that weapon a lot.

Unreal Tournament 2003 also had a couple of extra game types the first one didn’t have which made the game stand out even more. The big one was Bombing Run which was like Football crossed with Team Deathmatch. It wasn’t my favorite mode, but it was interesting nevertheless. UT2k3 was also a crash course in video card upgrades for me along with Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Around this time Nvidia had released their GeForce 4 line of cards, and they didn’t have the most forthcoming naming convention. They had an MX line and a TI (Titanium) line of cards. And unfortunately, they didn’t do the best job of explaining what each was. I bought a GeForce 4400 MX from EB Games when I bought Serious Sam The Second Encounter. Only to find that it wasn’t a big leap in performance over my GeForce 2. It wasn’t until after this I did more research to find out it was basically a GeForce 2 with some more features thrown in. Nice for a buyer moving up from the onboard video. Not so much for someone who already had a card. Fortunately, a coworker needed a card for a slightly older rig so he was willing to buy it from me for a little less than I’d paid. I then ordered a GeForce 4 TI 4600 which was vastly superior. I had also upgraded the RAM to 512MB at one point.

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Still, a year and a half later Unreal Tournament 2004 was to be out. By this time in 2003 things at my job at the OEM weren’t so great. The dot com bust had hurt a bunch of stuff in tech. There was a price war, Things were on the downslope. It was also a time when I was tweaking any possible thing I could to get the best performance in games on my hardware. When I couldn’t crack 60FPS on my computer I had to take drastic action to ensure UT2k3 had as much memory freed up as possible. So I went into Windows ME and turned off all the visual flair making it look like a Windows 98 desktop. Still not content, I turned off animated windows, I tweaked all of the power settings. I even went into the services and disabled so many features I didn’t think I would ever need. Sure things looked pretty plain, but it held me over until I had my next upgrade. I was running the game at 70 FPS on medium to high settings. Pretty cool. Our showroom was scuttled later that year and I ended up taking a transfer to another showroom an hour or so away.  And things were pretty tense. We were given impossible metrics to hit and they eventually expected us to get business in the door by telemarketing out to small businesses in the town. Which obviously failed spectacularly. And our boss at the time just barked at us all the time about all of it even when we had great weeks.

I got along with everyone else though. But UT2003 got me through a number of particularly stressful patches at the time. I could stop worrying about the other shoe potentially falling when I would get home. It wasn’t all bad.  And I would also make a few friends which would eventually lead to me being on an actual team! I also became better friends with a couple of the folks I worked with. One of whom was into a lot of the same bands as I was. So we talked about music and went to some of the same New York and New England shows together. The best being getting to see The Mr. T Experience play The Space in February 2004. Unreal Tournament 2004 would drop in March of 2004. Things were getting really untenable at my job at this point, and many of us were considering walking out. A few weeks later we were told we were all losing our jobs by the end of April anyway. So we grit our teeth and bore it in order to get our severance, which was honestly a very good set of release benefits. I still had a little left by the time I landed another job months later.

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It was around this time I would discover the Super Witch server, where a number of regulars would play. And some of the better players had noticed my proficiency with the Bio Rifle. I was able to hold my own, often getting near the top of the board until tournament level players would pop in and clown me. But before long I was surprised to find a lot of these guys were impressed enough they wanted to help me learn some of the more advanced movement I hadn’t quite pulled off on my own. How to combine wall dodges with double jumps to get to harder to reach areas. Using an elevator jumps more effectively. Better planning map routes to beat people to power-ups. Eventually, I would be invited to join Maximum Carnage. And after a few months of being unemployed, I ended up getting a tech sales job at a big-box retailer. Probably not the one you’re thinking of. But I don’t look to stir the pot so I never mention names. Anyway, by this time I had resolved to build my first homebrew machine. I went with an Athlon 64 3500+ 1GB RAM and a GeForce 6600GT if my memory serves me right. So playing UT2k4 at maximum settings was very impressive at the time. A few years later I went with an X2 4600+ Processor upgrade

My job wasn’t that impressive, but at least on some level, I was still able to do some of what I liked about the previous job. Yes, I dealt with a lot of undue pressure because everything was in sheer panic mode, especially at the end. But getting to talk about tech, tying hardware to someone’s needs, and making people (hopefully) happy with a purchase was something I honestly liked most of the time. I also learned we actually did some repairs in the big box store but the company never advertised this at the time for whatever reason. We had one devoted technician for it, and he would come in a couple of days a week but went to several stores to do this work. I got to speak with him about it from time to time but in the interim, I mostly had the mundane task of sorting deliveries between my department and the others, then putting it all out in between helping people.

The people there at the time weren’t flogging me or anything (yet) but they seemed mostly cold. Nobody was all that personable. You were only spoken to when you needed to be. “Do this task.” “Mention this promo.” “Answer the phone with this call script.” It was a very clinical environment. There was one personable person in another department who ended up being there around as long as I was. So my early days consisted of work, then go home. Sometimes I would go hang out at the nearby record store I frequented regularly after work but more so as we weren’t that far away from it.

I had also joined a local writing group around then, so on nights that I could make the meetups at the local bookstore, I would go share my poetry, and talk about my writing process. It was definitely an older crowd. Not a lot of people my own age were there but I did enjoy that because a lot of what I wrote about was personal. Some of them fictionalized. Some of it was allegorical. But still very much about the inward feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and loneliness I dealt with (and still sometimes deal with though I’m much better today). I also had a very scant few people I felt I could confide in at the time. So this was a creative and therapeutic outlet for me. The other had become my love of Unreal Tournament.

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When the bookstore closed there were a couple of places the writing group would meet up instead, but eventually that folded. In my time there I got the sense that people thought I had a modicum of talent, but probably didn’t like the ratio leaning so much into the dark themes versus the light themes. There were two people there Leon and Josh who I felt did fantastic commentary in their work. I felt happy when Josh actually managed to get something published, and I got to meet a couple of authors in my time there. Lauren Baratz-Logsted was pretty cool. Not exactly game related, but she has a few great novels you ought to look into if you’re looking for something different.

Anyway, I lost touch with everyone there but the Maximum Carnage clan had been a great group of people too. I was mingling with a great group of players, I was getting much better at all of the UT games up to that point, and we were consistently playing in scrims with tournament level clans. Unfortunately, we never got to the tournament level ourselves but we came pretty damn close.  By 2007 though Epic would prepare the third installment in the series which would come out in November.

This is where the series started to peter out, though it wasn’t instantaneous. There were good things and bad things going on. Unreal Tournament III was a great game. Make no mistake. It was a considerable visual upgrade. It retained a fast pace the series had been known for, and it even kept some of the most popular stuff from the previous game. The thing is the underlying gameplay did make some changes. The fanbase liked UT and UT2k4. With 2k4 they basically had fixed the problems 2k3 had while retaining all of the good stuff. Plus it gave everyone the highly acclaimed Onslaught mode. But UT fans also had their preferences. Some in the community preferred the original 1999 game. They liked the heavier gravity and the armor system. The fans who preferred the 2003/2004 model enjoyed some advanced movement techniques like the dodge jump or the double jump wall dodge. The lighter gravity also meant that maps were built around trick jumping. And there was a wide variety of outlandish characters. The 2003/2004 versions also employed an interesting adrenaline mechanic, where rather than picking up power-up icons like in UT99, collecting 100 pills would let you perform a special movement sequence to get the same effect. For instance, strafing left, left, right, right, would initiate the invisibility power-up.

Unreal Tournament III tried to bridge that gap. It went with a similar weight to the original game and used its shield belts, and jump boots too. But it also lets you do the advanced dodges featured in 2003/2004. But the other thing it did that many in the community didn’t like was using the art style of another popular game Epic had made for the Xbox 360; Gears Of War. Gone were the regular but interesting future soldiers of UT99 and the variety of sci-fi horror characters of 2003/2004. Instead, the characters had the big bulky space armor of the Marcus Fenix variety.

One other thing that set the game back a bit was the high (at the time) requirements for the PC version. While Crytek’s Crysis was even higher, both games had scrutinized releases as a result. That said, I had loved the series so much it was one of the few times I’ve actually bought a collector’s edition. Previously, I had even bought a book on creating content with the Unreal 2 Engine and even made a few crude UT2k4 maps in it. My clan took those maps and made them look pretty cool, adding advanced geometry and original textures. We also had the Zounds mutator on the server which had let us type certain words in chat to hear sound bites. Every time one typed in “Goo” into the chat you would hear Will Smith in Independence Day yelling “Oh you did NOT shoot that green shit at me!” 

The UT3 collector’s edition came with some cool stuff. A hardcover art book that you normally would pay a decent amount for if you saw it in a bookstore, as well as a number of videos on the making of the game, and even some interviews with Mark Rein and Mike Capps. It has a similar steelbook to the one Nintendo used for the Metroid Prime Trilogy. Very nice. Despite all of the things going against it, it still did adequately and Epic tried to make up for it with the Titan Black update. While I personally enjoyed UT3 most of the people in Maximum Carnage still played far more UT2k4. Sadly, we disbanded by the middle of 2008 or so. Which wasn’t the best time for me because I had a relationship end. Not a serious one. But it still hurt. Three games got me through it. Unreal Tournament 2004, Unreal Tournament III,  on my computer and the copy of No More Heroes my friend had given to me on the Wii for my birthday around then.

But this was also the time Call Of Duty 4 would be so popular it would almost transplant the Arena FPS as a subgenre. There had been popular military shooters before. The earlier entries of Call Of Duty all did well enough, and Battlefield 1942 surely inspired the Onslaught mode that was in Unreal Tournament 2004. But the grounded realism proved very popular and the Arena FPS would take a backseat.

There were flashes here and there. id Software had some success with Quake Live, which (at the time) was Quake III Arena running in a browser. It was popular enough that it even retained a presence in tournaments for a long time. But on the whole, the publishers shifted gears to military shooters. Call Of Duty, of course, was more focused on individual scoring while Battlefield was a little more team-oriented. But Medal Of Honor, Brothers In Arms, Arma, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon, Day Of Defeat were but a handful of the many names that would become quite popular. Even Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six had left a lot of its tactical shooting mechanics in the dust by then giving us stuff like Lockdown, Vegas, and Vegas 2 instead.

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Replaying the Unreal Tournament series not only took me back to those days in my life, but it was also a reminder of what makes the Arena shooter such a great subgenre. Like other multiplayer games, there’s obviously the thrill of competition. But when it comes to the way they play, there is little else like them. First of all, speed. Arena FPS games focus a lot on an arcade experience. So one of the things you need to do is constantly tweak your hand and eye coordination. It isn’t enough to shoot at people. You have to be able to shoot them quickly and efficiently. You also have to make good use of footwork. If you’re a great shot, but horrible at moving, you’re probably getting taken out by different opponent than the one you’re trying to take down. And even if you’re fantastic that might happen anyway.

Arena shooters easy to pick up and play. Anyone can hop in, get a couple of kills and have a good time. But they have a fairly deep meta game in spite of the simplicity. That’s what has made them (along with fighting games) pioneers in the e-sports realm. People like Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel made names for themselves in Quake and Unreal Tournament. They paved the way for the names and genres you see represented today. Even if you don’t have tournaments and endorsements as your video game end goal, learning those advanced techniques can be addicting and very rewarding at the same time. The first time you’re able to find a secret room in a map because you mastered an elevator jump or the first time you survive a shock combo because you timed a dodge jump just right feels very good. When you find you can get around a map with trick jumps faster than you can by walking. These are all examples of the sense of wonder you get when something just clicks.

Of course, since their heyday, we’ve seen Military Shooters, Hero Shooters, and Battle Royale Shooters become the popular FPS multiplayer subgenres. We already talked a bit about the Call Of Duty and Battlefields. But games like Overwatch have proven popular too. Games were rather than grab everything on a map, or begin with a loadout you start with a character. Said character is designed to play a certain role on a team and you try to plan your team composition not only around your own talents but what character is the best at a given task on a certain map.

All of these games take elements from those old school games of course. Military Shooters try to have balanced maps and reward cooperation. Hero Shooters retain some of the fantastical elements. Sometimes in the weapons or utilities of a certain character. Or the otherworldly aesthetic of a certain location. Although it’s a Third-Person Shooter, I find there are many parallels between Nintendo’s Splatoon games and the Unreal Tournament games. Both series, while very different in their goals require a mastery of movement. Where UT has advanced techniques like dodges or wall dodges to quickly cover ground or use them as an unorthodox means of travel, Splatoon requires you to learn how to do swim jumps. Or learn how to swim up walls, or jump between walls to get to a place that was once thought impossible to see. Splatoon’s Bubble Blower Special is eerily close to Unreal Tournament’s Shock Combo.

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These days, the Battle Royale subgenre is all of the rages. Games like Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, and Apex Legends are always talked about, have huge fanbases and even push their share of collectible merchandise like action figures and resin statues. They’re frequently headlining video game tournaments, and are played by a lot of the world’s top players for thousands of dollars in prize money. And while it would be easy to write them off as a lottery where you run from a dome, that wouldn’t be fair. At their core, they’re the Last Man Standing mode featured in many old school deathmatch games. But expanded to 100 players. Also, like the Arena Shooters of old, you have to go explore to find yourself a weapon of note. And to the subgenre’s credit, the dome mechanic keeps everything from devolving into a snore where every player who finds a long-range sniper rifle will just camp for three hours in the hopes that everyone else will get bored and walk out into the line of fire. It basically forces every player to do so.

Still, I personally wish the Arena FPS subgenre would come back to the forefront of popularity. It’s a fantastic one for the reasons I’ve outlined earlier. Many people agree and likely have similar fond memories of firing up Quake or Unreal, staying up until 4am playing against friends over the internet with a few beers. Or hardcore types going to BYOB LAN parties or local tournaments for the fellowship, community, and competition.

Since then there have been occasional attempts by smaller developers to bring the subgenre back. Nexius was born out of that desire back in 2012 but didn’t get very far out of the gate despite being pretty respectable. Fast forward to 2014 and Reflex Arena hit Steam in an attempt to give people unsatisfied with the lack of a proper Quake entry something to like. To its credit, it did a fantastic job of bringing back the Quake III Arena feel. But it didn’t hold onto a big group of players for very long. The arguably most successful attempt was Toxikk which brought back the Unreal Tournament 2004 gameplay nearly 1:1 on Unreal Engine 3. It came out four years ago now and held a sizable number of players for almost two years. But eventually, it too petered out.

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Epic Games DID have an Unreal Tournament IV in the works. It was going to be a collaborative experiment where they would again align with Digital Extremes, as well as content creators. The original plan was to build the game and ship it for free. Then when the end-users got their hands on the game and tools, they could make their own maps, mods, and total conversions as they had with UT, UT2k3/2k4, and UT3. The difference now being they would sell those on Epic’s digital store and take a cut to cover the cost of production. As well as a profit I’m sure. It actually got pretty far along and you can still download it from their store. The thing is it was canceled when Epic Games realized just how much oil they had struck with Fortnite. The people they had working on Unreal Tournament were moved to Fortnite and the game was put on indefinite hiatus. It’s highly unlikely it will ever see completion at this point.

The other thing, of course, is that games of this ilk can cost millions of dollars to make. Especially if it’s going to have the bleeding edge Hollywood visuals and sound of a AAA blockbuster release. Sadly, that means the Epic Games’, Bethesda’s, EA’s, Activision’s, Ubisoft’s, or Warners of the world probably aren’t going to put the money up to make a go of it. If only the old-timers like me buy it, that probably isn’t enough of a profit to impress their shareholders.

It isn’t only Arena Shooters in this boat mind you. There are other video game genres and subgenres that lie dormant today. Most esoteric these days are probably hex-based strategy games and text adventures. Which still exist and have their rabid fanbases. But they’re not exactly games you’re going to hear about around the watercooler. Be that as it may, it isn’t entirely hopeless either. Things come and go in popularity sometimes. And in the world of gaming, this has happened many times. Back in the age of the Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and Sony PlayStation, there were many who thought the 2D platformer would forever have a fork in its back. Super Mario 64, Banjo Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, were all games that people were about at the time. Nearly everyone was trying to make games where the mascot was made of polygons rather than sprites.

But 2D platformers would eventually come back into vogue and they sit alongside the 2.5D, and 3D platformers today as if nothing had ever happened to them. There was also a time when Square Enix thought their old school JRPGs were done. But just a few years ago Octopath Traveler’s success showed Square Enix that there is still plenty of gas in the tank. It did so well on the Switch that last year they ported the game to PC. Before the release of Street Fighter IV, it was widely thought Capcom may never make another one. The people behind it had to plead their case multiple times before the company would let them make it. Thankfully, they were able to. Not only did it lead the way for other Capcom fighting games, but other companies also brought back their fighting games as well. There was a reemergence of the genre as a whole.

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So there’s always the chance a newcomer will make the Arena Shooter that clicks again, or there’s evidence that enough people do want a proper Unreal Tournament or Quake that Epic Games or Bethesda bring one to market again. The good news is that the old UT and Quake games are still around. The indie releases of recent years are still around. All of which support LAN play. So if nothing else, if you can get a few friends to pick up one of them you can still enjoy them. Maybe you won’t see the same level of competition you would have seen 21 years ago. But they don’t have to die with the generation of people who played them in their prime. I hope some of you will be willing to check the genre out. And some of them like Quake Champions and Toxikk can be played for nothing.

Arena Shooters and Unreal Tournament, in particular, helped me cope, helped me connect with people, made me a better player and even gave me the drive to learn something new. I may not have become a professional player. I may not have gotten a better job or fame or fortune. But I did see some positive things come from what was otherwise a silly game meant for fun. So I’ll always fondly remember them, and I’ll likely keep an eye out for the next attempt at spotlighting the subgenre.

Super Mario Multiverse: Mario Bros.

 

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Well, the stars have aligned, the time has flown and here we are. The Well-Red Mage invited I as well as a slew of others to take part in the Super Mario Multiverse special crossover event. In it, you’ll see some words about the many, many, MANY games featuring Nintendo’s mustached mascot. Everyone remembers Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and Super Mario 64. But not a lot of people comparably talk about the first major game where his name was in the title.

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Mario Bros. came at a weird time for many of us. It bridged the gap between Mario’s adventures as a construction worker trying to save his girlfriend from a crazed ape and his time as a plumber trying to save royalty from a dragon turtle. And while a lot of people knew about it well in advance of Super Mario Bros. Some people didn’t. In fact, some people still don’t know it’s a thing. Imagine my surprise for instance, when a former coworker tried playing it on the Famiclone handheld I’d brought in for my lunch break one day. He kept trying to jump on the shell creepers and flies to no avail.

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Travel back to 1983 however, and you’ll find there were a few home versions released across several platforms. In Japan, the Famicom obviously got a version. But Hudson Soft also ported the game to the PC-88 computer. Ocean Software would port the game to a slew of computers in the European market including the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64. Here in the United States Atari would get the publishing rights and proceeded to release the game for the Atari 2600 and Atari 5200.  The 5200 version is interesting because the console largely used the same components as Atari’s 8-bit computer line, the 400/800, XL (and later under Tramiel) XE. Despite this fact, the 5200, and 400/800 versions were different games. When the XE came out years later, a vastly superior version came out from Atari Corp. which was backward compatible with the 400/800 and XL lines. It makes one wonder why this couldn’t have simply been on the 5200 years earlier.

Atari also published North American computer versions on its Atarisoft label. Most famously for the Commodore 64. Of course, the North American video game market crash was right around the corner. So before long Warner Communications (Warner Media) would sell the home division of Atari to Jack Tramiel, who had been pushed out of Commodore. This version of Atari was called Atari Corp. to differentiate itself from the Arcade division Warner still owned. Which they sold to Midway, who renamed it Atari Games West, folded it back into Midway, and then Midway sold itself to Time Warner. (Warner Media.).

 

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But I almost went on a tangent of coincidence there. We’re talking about Mario Bros. And Atari Corp. would port Mario Bros. to the Atari 7800, and the Atari 400/800/XE. At a time when the NES was already killing it with Super Mario Bros. Though you can also find Mario Bros. on the NES as well. It’s also interesting how the porting rights worked out back then as it often led to computer platforms getting two versions of the same game. In this case, Ocean brought Mario Bros. to European C64 owners while Atari brought Mario Bros. to North American C64 owners.

 

As an aside, there were a bunch of unofficial ports and sequels like Thundersoft’s Mario Bros II, which was more or less a reworking of Mario’s Cement Factory into a bottling plant. You filled cases of bottles and put them on a truck. And if you messed up, the boss would come out of their office and berate the Mario Bros. Thundersoft was mostly known as a group of European code crackers who would give away retail games with the anti-piracy measures removed. But this seems to be the one lone quasi-original thing they did. which they also gave away. It does, of course, use Nintendo’s characters and concept. But it doesn’t seem to have lifted graphics. Many of the other ports and clones of Mario Bros. walked much closer along the line of legality.

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Nintendo itself has also given the game these stealth reissues over the years. As a mini-game in Super Mario Bros. 3 then again as a mini-game in Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga. The port jobs, in general, are pretty good. Save for one or two bad ones, every one of them gets the core concept right. Some even go above and beyond. Atari’s Commodore 64 (as Atarisoft), and Atari 2600 versions are fantastic. Yes. The Atari 2600 version is a great version of Mario Bros. Atari Corp. also re-released it when they brought out the 7800 version which is also an excellent version of Mario Bros. In PAL (European) territories the 2600 re-release came as a red label variant no less, driving completionists just a little bit more crazy as there were already two domestic silver label variants in the wild.

 

Despite, all of the ways that Mario Bros. has been available to play though, a lot of people never checked it out. Particularly, Stateside. There are a few reasons for this, but many hypothesize the North American video game market crash certainly didn’t help. Fewer people were getting games as there was a lot of drivel out there at the time. There were also a lot of consoles out there. Sure most of us remember Atari 2600, Colecovision, and Intellivision. Thanks to the wealth of info out there today many of us wish we had maybe gotten a Vectrex. But ask the average person about an underlooked good system like the Magnavox Odyssey 2, and you’ll get a blank stare. Ask about the Emerson Arcadia 2001 and they may start wondering if you’re from another world. Or on a watchlist.

 

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These days, people worry if a fourth contender tries to enter the console market. Well, back in 1983 there were far more than four video game systems on store shelves. And most of them looked about the same in what they could do. Even the ones that looked better still had very similar games on them. There were also a lot of tiny upstarts throwing whatever they could at the wall to see what would stick.

 

And the home computers were running the same games at a higher fidelity, running their own deeper experiences the consoles didn’t have the features to handle, and they were getting down to similar prices. Before long everything would implode and Mario Bros. was one game that for at least a few people got lost in the shuffle. Some of this was felt in arcades too. While I can remember seeing Donkey Kong, and Donkey Kong Jr. among the machine selection at Chuck E. Cheese, I really only remember seeing Mario Bros. at Riverside Park when the family went to Agawam, MA. on a summer day. (It’s Six Flags New England now.)

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My first experience with the Atari 2600 version was at a friend’s. They had the Atari 2600 Jr. as well as an NES. I had never seen it before. But there it was. And while it isn’t the prettiest version of the game, it nails most of the gameplay down. There are a couple of tiny things missing like the ability to jump on the POW block. But the most important stuff is there. I’d imagine a lot of people’s first experience with a Mario game was Super Mario Bros. if it hadn’t been Donkey Kong. The NES was a juggernaut largely in part because of it. And it’s much more vast, and a more complex game compared to regular Mario Bros. But here’s the thing. Everyone who has played Super Mario Bros. but not Mario Bros. Should play Mario Bros. And before everybody jumps down my throat just hear me out.

First of all, it’s a really fun game. One that has a great sense of risk vs. reward. It’s also quite competitive when you get a second player as Mario and Luigi have to rally to outscore one another. It even can be dastardly when you’re intentionally bumping your opponent into enemies to stay alive longer. But more importantly than that, many of the things you love about Super Mario Bros. began here. Shellcreepers were the forebears to the Koopas. Coins are a big part of both games. and it got the ball rolling on Mario’s platforming style. There will be plenty of times you find yourself in situations where pixel-perfect jumps and timing are the only way to get out of hot water.

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Mario Bros. is also where the earliest series’ jumping physics got started. While not the same as in the Super Mario Bros. trilogy on the NES, they are similar. You can see what that classic bump and jump gameplay was built upon. Most of the Super Mario games feature bonus stages and even those are in Mario Bros. in the form of coin stages. Speaking of coins, they make that familiar sound whenever you collect them. But in Mario Bros.,  you had better get all of them if you want that sweet stack of bonus round points. And Mario Bros. even proves itself a viable stage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Even more so than Donkey Kong’s 75m stage.

It’s a game that is important on so many levels and is sadly overshadowed by historical factors and future Mario releases. Thankfully, Nintendo often reminds us of this with its presence in newer releases. And there is a slew of ways to play it today. Any number of the aforementioned home ports are out there for collectors to seek out. And you can still get the arcade version on the Nintendo Switch through the e-shop. The Nintendo Online service also includes sone NES and Super NES ROMs you can download at no additional charge. One of those games is the NES port of Mario Bros. So if you own a Switch, and have been considering paying the annual $20 to play against your friends in Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Splatoon 2, you’ll also be able to check out NES Mario Bros. without having to track down the original Game Pak.

In any case, the next time you find yourself in a conversation about important Super Mario moments, remember that between chasing down a gorilla to save his ex-girlfriend and chasing down a dragon-turtle to save his current one, Mario ran a successful plumbing business with his brother Luigi. And it was during those years he gained the skills he needed to save the Mushroom Kingdom hundreds of times over.

MAGECAST Episode #036

With a lot of crazy extra work hours as of late, and trying to work on some holiday stuff I haven’t had the time to write as much as I’d like. But I was a guest over on the Well-Red Mage’s podcast recently. We had a nice in-depth discussion about Street Fighter II, it impacts on the fighting genre, arcades, and we also had numerous tangents. I also got the chance to mention a number of other fantastic people you ought to check out. It was a fun experience I was happy to be able to be a part of. If you missed it, you can check the link below. And do be sure to visit The Well-Red Mage. They do some great reviews and other articles on their blog.

http://magecast.buzzsprout.com/199140/2176583-036-super-turbo-hyper-ultra-hd-challenger-remix-edition-ii-street-fighter-ii

The trouble with tier lists

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Any game with a competitive setting in mind will have a host of tools for players to choose from. Okay, well most competitive games anyway. You really don’t get to select from a variety of paddles in PONG. But throughout the history of video games, many games have given the players who’ve enjoyed them some variety. By the time the Commodore 64 rolled around we had games like Mail Order Monsters where we were choosing which giant twisted creatures we were going to command and level against one another.

Of course, by the mid-1990s we had reached a point where games didn’t have to give both competitors carbon copies of one another. This was also the period when fighting games would truly evolve beyond the usual martial arts competition games we’d seen before. Data East had given us Karate Champ, Epyx had given us World Karate Championship (a.k.a. International Karate), but Capcom’s Street Fighter would move the needle a bit. It had the same approach as Nintendo’s Punch-Out!! in the sense that you were going to essentially be playing a boss rush. To a lesser extent, one could point to Konami’s Yie Ar Kung Fu.

But Street Fighter would spawn Street Fighter II and SNK’s Fatal Fury. and before long the genre would see a slew of contenders. This is the point where fighting games gave players several characters to choose from. Mortal Kombat, Virtua Fighter, Killer Instinct, Tekken, and a host of other contenders would also enter the fray. All of them would put their own spins and tweaks on the fighting game formula.

While this was going on in arcades, in the PC Gaming side of things another major genre we love today was coming up: First-Person-Shooters. Obviously, we think of games like Wolfenstein 3D and DOOM for wowing everyone by putting us in the head of a hero. But DOOM, Rise Of The Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake brought us the Deathmatch. And while most of these games gave us all the same character, they all had different weapons strewn throughout their maps. Before long, the FPS would be bringing us multiplayer-focused experiences like Quake III Arena and Unreal Tournament. 

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But these genres’ options in characters and weapons both led to something. Something called the tier list.

Tier lists are most referenced in fighting games but they also show up in First-Person Shooters due to the possible weapon matchups that can occur at any given time. Within a few weeks of release, you’ll begin to see them pop up in their respective game communities. Showing off brackets that group the combatants or the weapons into different levels or “Tiers” of effectiveness in battle.

These lists change continually over the lifespan of their respective games. As new strategies are discovered, new content is added via DLC, and when patches are created by the developers to fix bugs or rebalance the game they’re redone. Who makes these lists? Usually, it’s the absolute best players of any given competitive game. The top 1% of the top 10% of tournament level players. Here, they lay their opinions down at the feet of everyone in the community. And to be honest, at that level of play it makes some sense. It gives the absolute best players a good idea of which matchups are going to be the most difficult, or most balanced among two players of equal skill.

The problem is that these lists are not gospel. Even among the top bracket, there will be a lot of debate because one player might intricately know a supposedly lower-tier character or weapon has a technique or talent that isn’t being given enough credit by the author. And sometimes these debates may change the writer’s mind.

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Be that as it may, the unfortunate trend in recent years has been that average people have been taking these lists as concrete law. Leading to a swath of people entering into a game like Street Fighter V, going on Eventhubs to find Karin on the top of the list and immediately choosing to use them. Because they want to win, and in their minds being number 1 on their list means they should always win.

It doesn’t take anything else into account. Why did the authors think Karin was the best character in the game? What does the character have over the other characters? How complicated are these advantages to learn? Are they really *that* much better? Because if one pays any attention they’ll notice that some matchups are nearly even, and there are even a couple of characters that give them some trouble.

And whether you decide to believe a list or not, these were generally made by people who have tens of thousands upon tens of thousands of hours in experience in it. Those who have mastered most of the fighters in a game or weapons in a game as well as arenas and maps. What they’re talking about pertains to a very small portion of the audience playing the game regularly. Although with things like Tiermaker, pretty much anyone can make one about anything. I made a joke list for a private group below.

 

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The reality is that if you take any of the best players in a given game, and force them to use the tools they haven’t written a lot of fondness for they’ll still likely win even if they think they’re using inferior tools. Because they have enough of a handle on the ins and outs of that weapon. They know exactly where the best sniper locations are, and they’ll still take you out with the pea shooter. They know when you’re going to try to use that awesome super and they’re going to make you whiff it. And when you do they will absolutely punish you.

Until you get to that kind of a level of talent in your favorite competitive game, pay no mind to these kinds of lists. Instead, find that character you like, or that weapon you feel comfortable with and try to go as far as you can with them. Along the way, you may just discover things even some of those who are objectively better than you haven’t yet. Then use those things to your advantage. To truly get better at any competitive game you’ll have to get used to losing and analyzing those losses. Eventually, you’ll start finding those holes in your plans and patching them. You’ll change strategies. Something far more effective than looking at a list and changing a character or a weapon.

Splatoon 2’s competitive scene map debate.

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Recently, one of the top European Splatoon 2 players did a couple of video episodes on their thoughts about how they felt they could grow the community. Ways to help not only the top players keep their knowledge of the game ever-growing, but to welcome more people who are new to the multiplayer aspect of the game into playing more competitively. One of the major thoughts he had about this was to have the tournament scene agree on reducing the number of maps to use.

ThatSrb2DUDE argues that due to the fact that there are four major modes in the game (five if you find the odd tournament that includes the base Turf War mode) there are north of 100 maps in the game when you consider that there are small changes to each map for each mode. For example, if you fire up Shellendorf Institute on Splat Zones, you’ll notice some slight alterations to the basic Turf War version of the map. And that this added complexity could potentially turn off some people from getting into the competitive side of the game because of it. Instead of knowing 23 basic maps they have to know the 23 basic maps plus the four variations of each. So in a way, yes that’s 92 if you count variations. 115 if you’re also counting the basic Turf War mode as well. As he points out, most of the tournaments don’t play Turf War, but a handful of tournaments do play them so it’s worth noting.

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I want to start out by saying I do see where this movement comes from. If you’ve never played the game or you’ve only played a little of it and then decide you’d like to see what competitive gaming is like,  that is a lot of nuances to get by. Many of the changes to the maps between are true, minor, but they can greatly change the methods of which you traverse your way to the goals.

Be that as it may, I think I have a unique perspective on this, as from 2002-2009 I played a lot of competitive Unreal Tournament games. Now while I was never anywhere near a top dog in terms of getting out to scores of tournaments and racking up wins, I was in a clan and we had a lot of scrimmages. UT, UT 2k3/2k4. and UT3  all featured a scene with far more maps than Splatoon 2. That’s because not only were there whichever maps came with the game but also multiple modes and the community created thousands of maps and mods. Many of these also were played in tournaments.

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He brings up the point in the video that some may cite a lack of variety if some map/mode combinations were ignored but that all 23 base maps would have at least one of their variants played so there would still be variety. And that is true. But from my time in UT, the map variety could be endless depending on the given tournament you were in. But many would point out and rightfully so, that in UT most of the maps were made for specific modes. Facing Worlds was made for CTF for example.

Still, it was possible for the community to alter maps for other modes or even invent entirely new ones. I know my clan had a hell of a time playing 2k4 Freeze Tag, a fun take on Team Deathmatch where everyone was frozen in place when killed, and a teammate would have to revive you. The round would end when one side was entirely frozen. It’s the vast kind of variety that I became accustomed to. If my memory serves me right a number of contests implemented some of this community content. Modes, maps, bright skins, the list goes on. But of course, some of these events had their own specific rules. It wasn’t just one wholesale ruleset across the board. On our server, we kept a large swath of maps going in the UT2k4 rotation. Ask most veterans of the game, and they’ll tell you as great as a map as it was, playing only Rankin could get old quick. (It was the lone map on many of the demo servers that let you try the game out.) That isn’t to say there weren’t favorites. Every UT had a variant of Deck. The original version had Conveyor, the iconic Facing Worlds and the beloved low gravity map Morpheus. UT2k4 gave us the aforementioned Rankin, Citadel, Albatross, and many more. UT3 had a few memorable ones too like Shangrila, Tolan, and Rising Sun. And it wasn’t long before each game would see ports of each other’s maps showing up in addition to the slew of community content.

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And I think that’s where my opinion would lie. I think every tournament should be able to decide on their own which maps and mode combinations are permissible. The exception being a Nintendo backed tournament, where Nintendo would probably decide that. But since they generally do their own World Championships I don’t think that would be an issue. This way one show might allow for say Clam Blitz on Walleye Warehouse when another show might not.

I think within those organizations though they should hear all opinions because not everything the top players want is going to be appreciated by the lower-ranked players until they get to that level. At the same time, sometimes someone who is starting out can bring a perspective the more skilled players hadn’t considered before, and the organizers can try to find a ruleset that they feel best fits the needs of the different player levels.

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Having said all of that, I know the current professional players have a much different perspective than I do being on a different (ie: higher) level. They’re going to know things about the game that I don’t. They’re going to have a larger range of experience and knowledge seeing they have played thousands of hours more than someone at my level. Against the best players in the world, I should add. They are going to have information that is invaluable. So that isn’t to say I’m completely dismissing the idea of a mode reduction should all of the shows adopt it. And if I were to enter a tournament with three friends I don’t think any of us would suddenly not play because Arowana Mall‘s Tower Control variant wasn’t included.

But opinions were called for across the spectrum. And because I religiously played a game that called for an insane number of variations at the time,  I have no problem personally, with the maps in Splatoon 2. Or their variants. Although I will concede that ThatSrb2DUDE’s point about clams spawning near goals in Clam Blitz could be seen as cheap. If you have someone stocked up on Ninja perks, and speed perks, they could conceivably sneak into enemy territory, and rack up a bunch of free points before getting noticed with little effort. Maybe that’s something Nintendo could look into with a future patch.

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In closing, I will say one thing I absolutely do not want to see happen is barriers being placed in between skill levels. Let me explain what I mean, using a game I loved playing as an example. Near the end of its peak, Chivalry: Medieval Warfare had a lot of beginners pick it up during deep discounted Steam Summer Sales. And they weren’t being retained due to the high skill ceiling. Now part of the turnoff obviously were some of the indifferent or even sometimes cold veterans whose attitudes were “Git Gud” rather than ask “What are you needing help with?” But worse than that, the developer didn’t address their concerns either. Instead of helping to cultivate a better environment they created “Beginner” servers where only low-skill number players could play together. In doing this it didn’t enable any of them to learn any nuance or meta-strategy. So when they got too high a level to play on the beginner servers they were just thrown to the wolves and slaughtered where many just stopped playing altogether. As wonderful as that game was, It was a huge problem that ended the life of that game far sooner than it should have. I don’t see that happening in Splatoon 2, at least on Nintendo’s end. They’ve always been good about trying to make games interesting for dabblers and enthusiasts alike.

But I don’t want to see that happen in circles of the community. You don’t want to have a system that coddles new players. They’ll never grow without challenges to overcome. But you also don’t want to inadvertently create a gatekeeping scenario where only people already way into the game will want to get invested. It is a video game after all, and most of us, even the competitive ones want to have fun. More importantly, we want people to play against, and those people are only sticking around if there’s some fun to be had in doing so. So if you do see someone new playing the game on stream or at a convention or your house, be welcoming to people. One thing I’ll never forget about Unreal Tournament III was a loading screen tip that rings true. “Practice good sportsmanship. You were an n00b once too.”

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Again I’m not a top dog in Splatoon 2 by any means. I’m just a big fan of the game trying to grind his way to X rank if it’s possible. I’m not in a clan and I’m probably one of the older fans as I have the salt and pepper on my chin as I crack open my can of IPA. Still, I think for a geezer in the “A” ranks, I hold my own most of the time. And no I don’t think the game should be UT, I very much enjoy it for what it is. It’s an excellent and unique take on one of my favorite genres. But I see parallels at times. Having a wide range of modes and maps is one such example.

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Anyway, if you play any Splatoon 2 or even if you don’t, what do you think? ThatSrb2DUDE posted a link to a survey, that I’ll put below! It runs to 11/8/19 so you have a few days to look it over and make your voice heard. And hey, again, I am not a top-level player by any means so don’t take my opinions as facts here. But if you do happen to be at the top of the mountain reaching for the brass ring, I hope something I’ve talked about is at least useful to some degree. Either way, it’s definitely an interesting topic to weigh in on whether you’re a top-level player, a fan like me who plays regularly, or even an occasional dabbler.

Competitive Splatoon Survey.

Retro World Expo 2019 recap

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Now in its fifth year, Retro World Expo is slowly growing into one of the best conventions in New England. There are consistently good guests and panels. There are always plenty of things to keep you busy. And there are a lot of vendors with a variety of games, collectibles, and other stuff waiting for you if you’re out to shop.

Some of the layout concerns of previous years appeared to have been taken to heart. Checking into the show was easy. Just like last year, it was easy to follow the line to the window for people who paid ahead of time. Traffic for people paying for entry seemed straightforward as well. Going onto the show floor, everything was more condensed. There were as many vendors, guests, and events as last year, but it was less spaced out. But not so crammed that one couldn’t move.

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Getting there on time was impeded by some road work on Interstate 84 on my way in. So I missed about a half-hour of the morning festivities. This year, the convention moved all of the panels to the afternoon so that actually allowed some of the other events and attractions to shine a bit more.

 

This year Big Bucks Entertainment was back with their fantastic game show recreations. These events are great as Davira is able to get pretty good facsimiles of popular game shows going in a convention setting. This year he brought back Press Your Luck, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? I caught the Press Your Luck show in the morning, and it featured one of the closest contests I think I’ve seen. The contestants were two guys and an older woman who didn’t really play many games. Her children did. Despite this fact, she managed to get enough questions right in the two rounds to earn a lot of spins. She went on to get a score in the tens of thousands before moving along. At the end of the second round, however, one of the other contestants had no money and only a final spin. They somehow managed to land on a streak of money and free spin combinations to nearly overtake the woman. But they couldn’t quite pull it off.

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Over the course of the contest, they had a charity tie in where audience members would be called upon some spins. If the contestant landed on a prize space the audience member would get a free prize. If they landed on a Whammy, the contestant would not only lose all of their money but the audience members’ prizes as well. Except for two of the audience members who were called up. They were kids, so even though they didn’t win they were given the free prize anyway.  Somehow there was enough time left that three other audience members were able to play a couple of Whammy rounds. This wasn’t as close as the primary round but it was still fun.

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I got in some time with a couple of Coin-ops. I played some Centipede, managing to beat the high score. Sadly, the machine didn’t save my score but Centipede is always a fun arcade game to play. This year the KRULL machine was back and it was in working order! Not only is KRULL a wonderful Sci-Fi action-adventure movie it also saw two licensed video games. One was on the Atari 2600, and the other was this cabinet. It’s a twin-stick shooter that is composed of different waves inspired by scenes from the film. You have to find the pieces to your Glave while avoiding boulders one wave. Then you have to recruit an army in another. Then you have to defend and protect your army in another. and so on and so forth. It’s also brutally difficult. But one of those brutally difficult games you keep putting quarters into because it’s just so cool.

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I browsed around the floor a bit looking to see if I could find anything on my list or any surprises. I actually found one vendor with a lot of random games and toys. While I didn’t find any games, I did see some Masters Of The Universe figures in pretty respectable shape. They were all loose, and most of them were incomplete. But they were selling everything ridiculously cheap. I found a Spikor in excellent shape. He was missing his cudgel but the figure itself had little to no paint wear. When I asked how much they wanted for it they said “Six dollars.” I bought it on the spot. I bumped into “Pixel” Dan Eardley and had a short conversation about MOTU and some gaming. PixelDan had missed last year’s show but was glad to be back out for this fifth show.

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I ran into another YouTuber shortly after that, Rewind Mike! He had come to the show scouring the floor not for games, but for albums. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with him but it was fun checking out a few booths and talking about our lack of luck finding what we were looking for. We also saw my pal TheReNesance! He’s also known as The Gamescape Artist and he is a fantastic painter. He does phenomenal artwork based on iconic scenes from video games past and present. He also does commissions! And he also has a YouTube and Twitch channel where he has footage and live streams of games as well as his work! Be sure to check him out!

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I then hit up PixelDan’s panel. It was an interesting one because he gave us not only a sneak peek of his upcoming Toysplosion episode (a series where he goes over the history of a different toyline each episode.) but he also let everyone in on some details about his upcoming project with Dark Horse Comics! He has helmed a comprehensive guide on all of the past Masters Of The Universe toylines. Masters Of The Universe (1982-1988), Princess Of Power (1985-1987), He-Man (sometimes called New Adventures) (1989-1992), Masters Of The Universe: Commemorative Edition (1999-2001), Masters Of The Universe: Modern Series (often called 200x) (2002-2004), Masters Of The Universe Classics (2008-present) The book won’t include things on upcoming lines or the erroneous merchandise. But it’s being designed to appeal to the casual fan who may remember a few of the toys they owned as children as well as giving hardcore fans a lot of the details they’re looking for. Personally, I can’t wait to check it out because I’ve been waiting for a guide like this for some time. So I hope it does well for Dark Horse and PixelDan. Dark Horse has put out similar books in the past for other properties including Nintendo’s.

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After PixelDan’s panel, I went to the XVGM Radio Panel where Mike Levy and Justin Schneider talked a bit about the differences between the Sega Genesis and Super NES in terms of sound. The Sega Genesis had two chips. Texas Instruments’ SN76489 and a Yamaha YM2612 for backward compatibility with Sega Master System titles. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System had a custom chip; the S-SMP which was made for Nintendo by Sony. The technical differences led to very different sounds. So after going over each sound solution, they compared the same tracks on both consoles, as well as play some of the most notable songs from each. The audience got to vote of course, and the matchups were mostly evenly matched, although there were a few decisive victories too. XVGM Radio is a pretty cool, and informative podcast where they talk about game music and often even get interviews with composers. So definitely check it out.

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I went back down to the main floor after the panel and ran into some other people. Peter Lazarski and Juu Hachi of Imaginary Monsters were at the show. Unlike last year they weren’t there to show off any of their game. They were just there as regular attendees. I saw some of the Cosplay contest with them before looking around the floor some more. There were some upcoming indie games there, however.

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Jumpmen Gaming was back with Sentinel Zero. Except that the game is no longer called Sentinel Zero it’s title has been changed to Cardinal Conclave. It has also changed focus. Instead of being a traditional horizontal Shoot ’em up, it has taken a page from Studio MDHR’s Cuphead by becoming more of a boss rush game. It still utilizes a shmup feel though. You’ll be going over a map much like Cuphead, choosing a stage based on your current level, and going into a boss fight. To be fair, a few of these still have a traditional lead-in where you mow down small enemies before contending with a boss. But for the most part, it’s a boss rush shooter. The game does play much better than the early build from last year and the graphics have been sharpened up nicely. I was informed it has entered Early Access on Steam. Just remember when buying Early Access games you’re buying something that isn’t done. That said, it does look promising.

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There was also an interesting game called Cloak And Dasher by a developer called Spirit Stone Studio. It’s a puzzle-platform game that puts you in the role of a cloaked fellow who can jump and dash. You have to play in these maps that are often a single screen where the object is to escape a maze. Unfortunately for you, there is a smorgasbord of death traps and enemies to contend with. The demo at the show was timed and you had to get through 23 maps before time ran out. You had unlimited lives. And what I saw was honestly quite fun. It has a visual style that is somewhere between Broforce and Super Meat Boy. The comparison is apropos because some of these stages could become pretty difficult. It had elements of several games, Super Meat Boy, Boulder Dash, Mega Man X, and Battle Kid all came to mind as I went through the demo. It too has an Early Access release on Steam.

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Joe Granato was back with NES Maker, and it is now a full-fledged product you can buy. If you didn’t read any of my previous recaps, he has been to a few previous RetroWorldExpo shows with it as it was being made. The utility was made during the progress of an NES game he was making called Mystic Searches. A vintage Action RPG made in the mold of games like The Legend Of Zelda, and Ys. In any event, working in 6502 assembly language and HEX editing was proving exhausting. So he and his team created a GUI mapper program that would let them design their game worlds on their desktop and then the program would convert everything to 6502 (The class of CPU in the NES and a host of other consoles and microcomputers of the 1980s) language. This would vastly speed up the production of their game. But in the process, they found they could also offer the utility they built as a standalone product for budding indie game makers interested in the homebrew scene. NES Maker is that utility. With it, you can make almost anything you want on the NES within reason. Of course, there are limits based on how the team designed the tools. But after only a fairly short time on the market it’s been a success. And there are already a lot of new games being made with it. It even has the ability to flash your games to physical NES Game Paks. So if you’ve ever dreamed of making your own games you can play on an original NES, it might be something you want to look into.

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Another returning studio was Giant Evil Robot who made Mecha-Tokyo Rush. It was an on-rails, auto-scrolling Mega Man clone that took elements of endless runners along for the ride. It seemed like a decent enough game, even with it taking a free-to-play model shortly upon release. However, this new game is a Mega Man clone that could prove to be one of the better ones out there. Star Girl Proxima has none of the endless runner stuff from their previous effort. It also looks a lot nicer, with a much better color palette. The controls in the demo they provided felt somewhere between Mega Man and Mega Man X. It doesn’t have quite the weight of the classic series, but there is a heavier feeling when jumping than in the X series. Your Star Girl can also dash like X, which is good because some of the jumps will require it. That said, it’s still a work in progress and while they said they’re shooting for a 2019 release, the build they showed off still had no proper end to it.

Still, even if it doesn’t make it out this year it is clear it’s already an improvement over their previous game. The demo had several sections where one had to have pixel-perfect timing to get around projectiles as well as one where a giant octopus robot destroyed parts of the scenery as regular enemies attacked you. It was a challenge, yes, but it felt good. About the only complaint, I had with it when asked by the rep was that in the early goings it wasn’t always clear where the backgrounds and foregrounds were. I kept accidentally jumping into pits as a result. They said it was something a few people mentioned so the final product will likely make platforms more obvious. Overall, I was pretty impressed with the demo. Hopefully, it will be indicative of what we can expect from the game at launch.

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As the first day winded down and the main floor closed it was time to get some food. My friends from Imaginary Monsters are also fans of Craft Beer like me. So we ended up going to City Steam Brewery which is a short walk from the Hartford Convention Center. Last year they picked up a new brewmaster who has been making a number of new and sometimes experimental beers. The three of us each ordered a flight, and the one interesting thing we all decided to try was their new sour beer. It’s called Our Princess Is In Another Castle. It’s made with peaches and jalapenos and it’s amazing. When they brought over the flights we could smell the peppers from the glasses. The spiciness from the jalapenos balances with the sweetness of the peaches really well. And while it isn’t a particularly potent beer, it is light, crisp, and delicious. The food there has also been very good. No place is perfect. But I have yet to have a bad experience. I was a little bit disappointed to see their menu has been simplified, but the quality of the meals were as good as ever. I had a Bratwurst to go with my Oktoberfest, Sour, IPA, and Porter flight. Then I ended up getting a pint of Our Princess Is In Another Castle. Peter got the Nachos, and as you can see in the image, he got his money’s worth. I ended up getting a growler of the Sour because it was that impressive. And I’m someone who generally prefers IPAs or Stouts.

After getting food we headed back to the convention center and caught the tail end of the afterparty. There’s about an hour-long lull after the day ends and then they put on an event where you can drink, listen to live music, and more. Falconeer was finishing up a set of Neo New Wave dance tracks. I proceeded to get destroyed by my buddy Aldo at a Street Fighter II arcade cab. (It wasn’t entirely my fault. The buttons were messed up.) while it was going on. And then I competed with Imaginary Monsters for a high score on After Burner. After that, I would see Mike Levy take on Aldo in broken Street Fighter II, and also lose. But it was still fun. Davira from Big Bucks Entertainment had also been running Celebrity Press Your Luck with some of the guests as contestants but unfortunately, I didn’t get back from the brewery in time to catch that.

With that, the first night ended, and I made the hour trek home. I caught some of my pal Sirhcman’s Livestream of Jackbox Party and then went to sleep. The next day, I would return for day two.

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Day two was considerably shorter but it was still packed with some interesting things. FRAG was there this year again, and they organized the various tournaments during the show. There were the fighting game tournaments, and such that you would expect. But there was also a retro game competition where you had to play each of the old school games set up, and they would record your scores. You could replay all you wanted in order to replace your scores with higher ones until the qualifying time was over. The top six would go on to do an entirely new set of challenges with the winner of that tournament round receiving a $100 credit they could use at any of the vendors at the show! It was a pretty cool idea, so I took a stab at it. While I did alright on a couple of the challenges, some of the games on the list I was just terrible at playing. On top of this, they used the NES version of Q*Bert which while not quite as awful as some would have you believe, is still tough to master thanks to the confusing control scheme options in it. Why couldn’t Konami just go with the diamond layout Parker Bros. did on their Atari 2600 port? But I’ve begun to ramble. The game selection honestly, was pretty good. There were scoring and speed run challenges on games like Mappy, Super Hang-On, Warioware, Spelunker, Super Mario 64, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater II, and several others. Of course, what drew me into the whole thing was spying an Atari 2600 running Kaboom! I managed to get a respectable 1,255 points in the game. And while that may sound low believe me when I say that most people have a tough time getting more than 300 points. Kaboom! is quite the challenge.

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Anyway, I obviously didn’t even qualify to make the top six player bracket. But I did have fun making the attempt even if it proved feeble. But at this point, I realized I was running late to check out any of the panels. So I managed to get into Pam D’s panel. She does a YouTube show  Cannot Be Tamed. She was showing off some footage for an upcoming video that I won’t spoil here, followed by some Q & A. Some of the discussions were about giving games a second chance, finding comparable features between two very different games made by the same company, and the perception some have about video games being for males despite the fact that women and girls have been gaming since video games have existed. Definitely an insightful, and engaging panel.

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I managed to catch the last couple of minutes of Joe Granato’s panel. He was going over some of the details of NES Maker I talked about earlier. One interesting thing that came up was when someone asked about the most difficult part of making things for the NES. He talked about how the NES’ limited RAM meant that he had to code a Bank Switching routine so that information or content could be swapped into memory at just the right time. Otherwise, things would exceed the memory limits and crash. He talked about how despite the limitations of the utility, people have already done things with it he didn’t think would be possible. Graphical effects like Parallax Scrolling was one example. Another was a complete text adventure.

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After his panel ended, Mike Stulir VP of the American Classic Arcade Museum had a panel going over the history of the ACAM and an overview of what they do. A labor of love, it’s a non-profit that tries to salvage, save, and even restore vintage arcade games so that future generations can experience the history of the arcade business. One of the more fascinating aspects of this is how involved restoring some of these machines can be. He talked about how they received an incredibly rare Death Race 2000 machine. It was produced by Exidy and was one of the first games that ignited the video game violence controversy. Inspired by the Death Race movie, the internal name was called Pedestrian, and the goal of the game was to score points by running over people with your car. Even though games of the time had graphics composed of simple shapes the concept started an uproar and the game would fade into obscurity.

Unfortunately, the cabinet they received had come from a basement that had flooded and it wasn’t up on a pallet when it did. So the particleboard Exidy used had rotted, and parts of the cabinet were falling off. Moreover, the side panel was even split in half so the structural integrity was unsalvageable. But the game’s motherboard, chips, and every piece of electronics were fine. So they were able to create a template from the cabinet parts, and reproduce a proper cabinet out of plywood. But the other problem was the screen printing on the old plywood wasn’t something easily created. They had to send the old plywood to a company in Florida who would scan it into their software and then ship them new decals. They also had to fly in a specialist from the Pacific Northwest to properly apply them.

Of course, all of this stuff costs money, and being a non-profit run by volunteers they depend on donations to keep the venture going. If that sounds like something you can afford to contribute to you can go right to their website to find out how. I got to ask Mr. Stulir about how restoration may affect the value of these machines as in other collectibles and antique markets things will plummet when there aren’t all original parts there. He said that they don’t like having to restore cabinets in the manner they saved their Death Race machine. But in cases like that one, they have to decide if keeping a machine playable is more beneficial than retaining every last original part. Usually, they prefer to find new old stock or take good parts from another otherwise unsalvagable machine to fix a broken machine with. With Death Race having so few still remaining, keeping the machine alive was a better fit so that visitors can still experience the game.

But that was just the introduction. The rest of the panel was devoted to the life of Ralph Baer. Most people know he was the inventor of the Magnavox Odyssey and that pretty much everything we love about video games can be traced back to his work. But did you know his family barely escaped Germany in the lead up to World War II, emigrated to the USA, and that he’d be drafted to fight in the war effort? He thought of a lot of ideas that wouldn’t be realized until decades later by others. Like the ability to use a modem to buy things off of an infomercial or remote classes where a viewer could interact with a teacher’s lesson from home. And of course, before the Odyssey became a reality his Brown Box would lay the groundwork in 1968.

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The last panel was the Connecticut YouTuber Panel. So Mike Levy (DYHPTG), Russ Lyman, Culture Dog, and Paul of Retro Gaming Arts returned from last year. New this year were Dan and Nick of The Best Spuds. As well as Geeky Panda who I met on the floor last year. And Steven Christina Jr. of Super Retro Throwback was also featured! He interviewed me at last year’s show. Each of the guests briefly went over their channels and played their respective trailers. They also took a moment to talk about RAX The Great’s channel. He was originally slated to return to RetroWorldExpo this year but had gotten a bad head cold and was unable to attend. All of the panelists talked about their various setups involved in making their content. They also reminded the audience that like any creative endeavor, go into making internet videos out of passion. None of the panelists made much money doing YouTube if any. There were some humorous moments in the panel too with some slight references to each other’s respective shows.

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With the final panel over with it was time to leave the Hartford Convention Center and make the hour-long trek home. The show is becoming one of my favorite things to look forward to every year. I get to see people I don’t get to be around very often due to life, and work schedules. I get to geek out with fellow video game fans, and in a way, it feels like you’re going home.  And there’s a ton of stuff I didn’t even get to take part in because it’s impossible to see everything. There were the tournaments, there were a few guests I didn’t get the chance to see or see again. Game Dave was there, Adam and Shane of Rerez were there, Jay Hunter of the Game Chasers came back, Stop Skeletons From Fighting was there, there were bands like RF Switch playing sets.  I’m missing a bunch more, there is just so much going on. And it all feels very community-driven where some of the larger shows are more about seeing new games or media six to twelve months before it comes out.  I could complain about not finding much to buy, but honestly, that’s more on me for having found much of what I wanted anyway. And between the final two panels I attended I did end up going back to the vendor, I found Spikor from and it turned out he had a Fisto with the armor and sword included for $15. So two MOTU figures in great shape are still pretty good. Here’s hoping a sixth RetroWorldExpo continues the tradition.

 

Another Tag! Plus a challenge of my own.

Well, they’ve done it again. A while ago I was once again tagged by Red Metal to answer a few questions. Unfortunately for me, life was a bit busy and I was also playing through a lot of Astral Chain to get out the review.  But I’m ready now! so here we go. These are fun so I hope you enjoy them. And give Red Metal a follow. They put out some rather in-depth long-form reviews.

 

Here are the questions I get to answer:

  1. Have you ever been involved in an emergency situation (e.g. a burning building/an earthquake)?
  2. What is the worst film you’ve ever seen in theaters?
  3. What is the best film you’ve ever seen in theaters?
  4. What is the strangest method by which you discovered a work you enjoy?
  5. What do you feel is the greatest compilation of collected works in your collection (of games/films/music/books/etc.)?
  6. Have you ever re-experienced a work you enjoyed a long time ago only to determine it has not aged well?
  7. Have you ever re-experienced a work you hated (or were indifferent towards) a long time ago only to warm up to it?
  8. What is your favorite opening theme to a television show?
  9. Excluding Western comic books, what series with a single, ongoing narrative do you feel has (or had) gone on for far too long? In other words, I’m not counting shows or other forms of media with entirely self-contained episodes such as The Simpsons or anthological works such as The Twilight Zone with this question.
  10. Have you ever been invested in a series only to be heartbroken when it was cut short with no resolution?
  11. Do you prefer hardcover or paperback books?

 

1.) The closest thing I can say I’ve come to an emergency situation is coming home as a kid to find our home had been broken into. If it’s never happened to you, it’s an awful feeling. Not only did someone potentially take some of your most prized possessions, the feeling of violation really takes a toll on you. You feel your stomach sink completely out of yourself. You fear they may be around somewhere. Your mind really goes to dark places. Even though the second time there was evidence they were scared off by our arrival and they dropped something they stole from a previous robbery we still feared they may come back. It sucks and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

2.) The worst film I’ve seen in theatres? It’s probably a bit cliche to say at this point. But I’m going to say Mac And Me. You can find all of the YouTube rants in existence to go over how bad it really is. But even seeing it on TV isn’t nearly the same. Again, I was a kid. My Father thought, “Hey my kids liked E.T. this is being advertised as an E.T. like, let’s go see it.” When you’re a kid going to the movies is a thing of wonder. Even a mediocre movie is something you don’t experience the same way at home. We all came out kind of disappointed we’d essentially seen a 90-minute product placement vehicle with an uninteresting and sometimes incoherent story. While it isn’t the worst movie you’ll ever see, it isn’t good, and it’s made worse in a theatrical setting.

3.) By contrast, this is a very hard question. Because I grew up at a time when a lot of good things were coming out. Star Wars, Back To The Future, Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan. There were tons of great films. But I’m going to say The Last Starfighter for a few reasons. Is it the *best* movie I’ve seen? No. And from a critical standpoint, it might not be the best I had going to the movies. But from an entertainment standpoint, I think it probably was with The Neverending Story right behind it. I can still vividly remember the day I went to see it. We had been pretty good all week, and my parents had a little extra to have a family day out. We went to Chuck E. Cheese (this was at a time when the food wasn’t completely terrible and they had actual arcade games. Have you ever taken your nieces or nephews to one these days? It’s ticket redemption prize machines. Where is Berzerk? Where is Pac-Man? Hell, where is Street Fighter II?) After that we went to Toys R Us where I got a Roton for my Skeletor to grind heroes into gibs with. Then met my Aunt for dinner and saw The Last Starfighter on the big screen. And any child of the 80s will tell you, alien Robert Preston showing up to tell you that getting the hi-score on a spaceship rail shooter meant that you got to defend the universe from an army of reptoids with bloodlust was one awesome scenario. And even rewatching it today is one hell of a fun time. Sure there are some hokey moments. But on the whole, it’s a pretty fantastic popcorn movie. Perhaps since they tagged me to answer these questions Red Metal should revisit the movie and write about it? 

4.) The strangest method I’ve discovered an awesome piece of work? Probably the day I left on the TV as background noise on my day off several years ago now. I heard a funny line of dialogue and before long had become an instant fan of Regular Show.

5.) Best compilation? That’s tough to say because while a lot of them are great they come with some baggage. I’d love to say Unreal Anthology, as it gives you every major Unreal and Unreal Tournament entry as well as a partial soundtrack album. But, UT2004 is missing a major bonus content patch. It also came out ahead of UT3 so that game isn’t in the box. I guess in lieu of that I’m going to say the Metal Slug Anthology on Nintendo Wii. It truly does include every game in the series up to that point, the emulation is rather good, and it costs far less than buying each entry digitally on storefronts. It’s certainly cheaper than getting a working Neo Geo and all of the cartridges.

6.) I wouldn’t say they haven’t aged well, but their control schemes have been far surpassed so it takes some time getting reacquainted with them and for this spot, I’ll say Rare’s two groundbreaking console shooters Goldeneye 007, and Perfect Dark. Still fantastic games, but having spent decades on mice, keyboards, gyroscopic controllers, and thumbsticks these games take some getting used to. Other N64 shooters fared better using the D-pad or C- buttons as a stand-in for WASD, and the thumbstick as a mouse.

7.) A game I changed my mind on for the better? Again, going back to Frogs & Flies. My Grandmother gave it to me one year for my birthday as a child. I faked a smile and thanked her but inside I was disappointed by the lack of killer robots, spaceships, and lasers. But later that night after all of the other toys and games had been played I fired it up. Only to find that it is one of the most surprisingly cutthroat and challenging multiplayer games ever made. Even today you may think it looks primitive and the premise bland. But Frogs & Flies is amazing. Pure one on one competitive bliss. Honestly, if an updated version showed up tomorrow I wouldn’t think twice about trying it out.

8.) This is a two-way tie because they’re both so great. He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe because it’s MOTU. It sets up everything you need to know in 60 seconds, and that Shuki Levy penned music is just great. Right next to He-Man is Magnum P.I. You can put that Mike Post music as a backdrop to anything and it instantly becomes awesome. Don’t believe me? Put it on while doing your dishes. Driving to work. Taking out the garbage. Vacuuming. Dusting. And it was one of the coolest shows ever made to boot.

9.) I don’t know any serialized show has gone on too long, as long as someone behind it still thinks of compelling stories within the scope of its universe it’s fine. Really this question is about jumping the shark moments where things even betray the series in question with something so over-the-top it’s not even believable by its own standards. I don’t watch much TV these days though save for some Pro Wrestling, and reruns. And while there are some stupid things in Wrestling programs, it’s not enough to want the operations to stop doing shows altogether. Just to wrap up the bad stories, and get better bookers to tell good ones. That said, I personally do not see the fascination with these Reality TV shows.

10.) Who hasn’t? Nearly anyone who played the two Half-Life games and their episodic add-ons will know this pain. I can also throw The Conduit and Conduit 2 into this category. I enjoyed both of these and although the latter began to veer into the very silly, I still kind of wanted to see where High Voltage Software was going to go with it.

11.) I’m of two minds. I like Hardcovers. They hold up better. They stick out nicely. But Paperbacks are smaller, cost less and allow you to have more books in a smaller amount of space. I guess it depends on the book and if it’s tied to a series I’m heavily invested in or something that just really captured my imagination and got me to really love it.

And I suppose with that I’ll come up with some questions for a couple of people.

1.) When you’ve had 1 hour of sleep and need to do a full-time shift do you reach for: Coffee, tea, soda, or something else to stay awake and why?

2.) What is a video game/series you really wish had more attention than it does and why?

3.) Pair your favorite game with a proper wine or beer.

4.) Pick one game that came out “Before your time” that you think looks interesting and tell us why.

5.) Pick one game that is outside of your comfort zone that you think you might be willing to check out.

And I nominate:

Red Metal

The Otaku Judge

MoeGamer

PlayLegit

The Well-Red Mage

Yheela

HungryGoriya

Shameful Narcissist

Lightning Ellen

Esperdreams

Mike at XVGM

sirhcman

Whoever takes up the challenge, I await to see your responses!

Update, and some Splatoon 2 goodness

Hello all! I know I lied a bit dormant the last week or two. My siblings went on vacation so I was bouncing between working and taking care of Brownie. He’s a 13-year-old Yorkshire Terrier who needs constant attention. As such it didn’t leave much time for writing up reviews.

But in the interim, I did discover a cool little video from a YouTuber NintendoCade. Here they break down how North American Splatoon 2 Players can nab some costume options that were previously only opened up to Japanese players. If you’re on the My Nintendo program it’s actually pretty easy:

Unlocking Japanese costume options in North American Splatoon 2

I should also note there are some Splatoon themed 3DS themes on there too. One of which will actually cost you 20 gold coins (The shop currency you get by registering your Nintendo Switch games). Still, if you have a 3DS knocking around, and you revisit it every so often, hearing Calamari Inkantation between games isn’t a bad thing.

I’m going to try to get back to regular updates again now that things have subsided a little bit in my personal life. I was gifted a couple of things for my birthday recently, so those are already in the pipeline of things to go over when I’m done with them. Hopefully, all is well with you! If you have a copy of Splatoon 2 go pick up your free gear while you can! And if that wasn’t enough, Nintendo just posted another balance patch!

Empire Game Expo Recap

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Over the last several years, I’ve visited ConnectiCon in July. It’s in my backyard. It’s a smaller show but every year the names become bigger. It’s got a sense of community, and it’s generally become something I look forward to. Unfortunately, this year with some stuff going on in my personal life and some shake-ups at work I wasn’t able to put in for the time off this year for the 3 to 4 days to visit. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to get out to a convention this summer.

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But I unexpectedly won a ticket from Mike Levy for Empire Game Expo. And fortunately, I was able to get my schedule reworked to compensate for the one day. So I printed my QR code and directions for the trek to New York’s Capital. I hadn’t been that far into NY since I was a kid. Getting there was fairly easy for me. It was a jaunt from I-84 to I-87. A long, “L” shaped two-hours or so on the road. There’s a lot of beauty along that ride. A lot of scenery. That said, there were some really shaky moments in the early leg. I-84 needs a fair amount of work in my neck of the woods. It needs even more, the closer you get to Newburgh. But I’ve begun to ramble.

The convention was in The Red Lion Hotel in Albany, NY. The venue was actually quite nice. Clean, Spacious, and there’s even a massive indoor pool for those staying there. There was a slew of old, and current consoles set up in free play areas, as well as a rather impressive vintage computer exhibit set up where you could play on old computers.

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Imagine my surprise when I saw both models of the Commodore 64, both running on vintage Commodore monitors, running C64 games. Moreover, they had other classic machines like the Atari ST and Apple II running too. If that wasn’t enough, there was a bench filled with old DOS, and Windows configurations ranging from the days of the XT to the days of the Pentium III. It warmed my heart to see the classic computer formats get some well-deserved attention.

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I also got some time in with the Atari 2600 version of Missile Command and had a respectable score no less! There were many of the consoles you would hope to see at a convention, present and operational. There were also a handful of arcade cabinets above the pool area. It felt a bit anemic though as there weren’t very many games to choose from. After getting home and doing some research this wasn’t really the show’s fault. It’s whatever machines the hotel decided to have up year-round for guests.

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In addition to that, there were a few games that there were tournaments for.  There were Tournaments for Goldeneye 007, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Smash Bros. Melee, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. going on. There were also Events for Tetris, Apex Legends, Fortnite, along with a couple of fighting game tournaments for Tekken 7, and Street Fighter II Turbo. Not a bad selection of titles for competitive players.

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I did manage to get into a couple of panels. Mike Levy and Russ Lyman had a joint panel together talking about DIY projects, as well as going over some tips for people getting into collecting old games. Russ talked a bit more about how he made some of the cosmetic modifications to his car. Like making knobs for the stick shift, inexpensively painting the car, and how he had the custom decals made. He also brought up some simple, yet innovative ways to hang your photos, posters, and other framed art. Mike discussed simpler modifications one can do to their devices that don’t require solder jobs. He also shared some handy tips on removing used game store price tags from the DVD case overlays commonly found on games. He also brought up the importance of wrapping your wired controllers, and ac adapters properly. Both guests pointed to the episodes on their respective channels on these topics.

EmpireExpoMike

Mike also had the opportunity to host a panel with Rodney Alan Greenblat. A renowned artist who you likely know as the father of PaRappa The Rapper. It was a fascinating panel. Not only for fans of the games and the stories behind their creation. But because of the long body of his work and some of the personal stories he spoke of. Mike Levy will have the entire panel up on his channel in the coming days. But some of the highlights for me were his work with bands. In addition to the sculptures and paintings, he’s done prior to being involved in game development he has done many album covers for musicians and artists. Two that really stood out to me were Shonen Knife and Puffy AmiYumi. 

EmpireExpoRuss

I did get to ask him about some of the differences between working on art for musicians and game development. And he pointed out that more than any other medium, video games were far more collaborative. While often times, a rock band may have a creative vision he or another artist has to work within, that’s about all the hands involved. In most cases anyway. With a video game project, there are artists to work with, animators to work with to ensure everyone is happy with how things move. Sound effects teams and voice actors have to have input or information to work with to ensure the voices properly portray the visuals, and mannerisms of the characters we interact with. That’s before factoring what executives and legal teams may do.

Someone else asked about the omission of a Hell-themed stage in Um Jammer Lammy. This was one such case. The executives in Japan and Europe liked how the game was coming along just fine. But the North American branch wasn’t behind the idea of a Hell level. So they pushed for it to be changed. As a result, the team was told they had to create an entirely new level for North American players. Which proved to be challenging because the game was nearing the end of production.

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He also talked a bit about his works on books and art about Buddhism. As well as his shop in Catskill, NY where he has a lot of his art on display. It’s open three days a week. He still works fairly regularly on new art and other projects. He also would love to do another PaRappa game, but due to the way, the rights fall it requires the approval of several decision makers. And many of the folks who worked on the old games aren’t with Sony anymore. Still, he holds out hope he’ll be able to get out another game in the series.

Overall, a fantastic panel. I didn’t talk about nearly everything in it, so I highly recommend you check it out for yourself when Mike gets it uploaded to his channel.

I didn’t get into any of the other panels, but Cherami Leigh and Mela Lee were there. Both of whom are well known in the realm of voice acting. Many anime titles and video games feature their work. Mela Lee was featured recently as Jade in Mortal Kombat 11.  There wasn’t much of anything in terms of food in the convention. But one vendor there was called Bard & Baker cafe, they made some fantastic pastries. I bought a carrot cake muffin which was able to tide me over until later. Their core business in Troy, NY combines a board game center and a cafe’. If you’re in that area and like having some good food while you play Stratego with a friend, check them out. 

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Speaking of vendors, there was a room filled to the brim with vendors selling everything from retro games to collectibles to crafts. I picked up a couple of things while I was there. A shop called Infinite Lives was there and among the slew of vintage games they had stood one lone copy of Polaris for the Atari 2600. This was one of the fabled Tigervision games. A line of games by the company that would become Tiger Electronics. This particular one is based on the Taito arcade game of the same name. And while this game isn’t nearly as tough or as expensive to find as the coveted River Patrol, it isn’t something you’ll see very often. As such, I pretty much had to get it and the price was fair.

A couple of vendors I recognized as they were friends and acquaintances from Connecticut. Antoinette who you might recognize from The Best Spuds channel does a lot of really great art. Glossed Over was there too. They take the best looking ads from old magazines and turn them into something you can easily frame. I picked up a Japanese Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion ad, and a gorgeous Sin & Punishment: Star Successor spot from them. Russ Lyman and Mike Levy shared a booth where they had some art and retro stuff of their own for sale.

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But the biggest purchase I made actually came from Underworld Gamez. This is an organization that puts fighting game tournaments together at conventions. I didn’t realize they had a lot of merchandise. However, I was elated when I found a pair of Callie and Marie plushies for well below the online prices. It was the perfect gift for someone other than myself, so I hope they’re enjoying them.

I did want to point out a couple of nice booths despite not buying anything from them because they did wonderful work. Toying Around is a store in Johnstown, NY. that deals in a lot of pop culture merch and games. But they also had some nice silk screened trucker hats. And while I didn’t see a print that worked for me, they appeared to be higher quality than I usually see at these sorts of events. Plus the representative was a rather friendly fellow. Another one was Sticky Kitty Studios. This booth had a lot of handmade crafts, but it also had these really nice custom winter hats decked out with video game graphics. If they pop up at a con near you go look at their stuff.

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All in all a pretty fun time. And from what I understand this is a spin-off convention from the much larger Retro Game Con which is held further west in the Syracuse, NY. area. For an inaugural year, this was quite a nice convention. It had compelling guests, a large number of vendors, and a few great tournaments. And it had a vintage computer gaming area. Something even some larger shows do not have. I didn’t even get to mention the Video Game Trivia event, Cosplay contests, Board Game Tournaments, or that Super Thrash Bros. was there to play a show. Extra Life also raffled off some great stuff for charity.

If I were to suggest anything for next year it would be to bring in a wider selection of arcade cabinets rather than relying on the hotel’s small segment. There was an after party too, but with the long commute ahead of me I didn’t stay for that. But ultimately I had a nice experience. I wish everybody involved the best. This has the potential to become a great event for anyone in that part of the State of NY, as well as visitors to the area. If you live in upstate NY and have longed for a local show to go to, do check it out if you can. There’s at least something for everyone.