Category Archives: Commentary

ConnectiCon 2018 Recap

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Another summer has come, and with it another ConnectiCon. I generally look forward to attending every year. There’s almost always something to look forward to. A certain guest, or a certain panel. There are workshops, contests, and a lot of other things going on. Even if none of that appeals to you any given year, there are still plenty of people to meet, video games to play, and board games to play. You can also bet on a lot of vendors showing up, and chances are you’ll end up going home with something.

Unfortunately this year, my work schedule, and health issues kept me from being able to attend the entire duration of the show this year. The convention really runs three days, although if you count the ability to pick up your badge a day early you can technically say four. But in any case, I usually go for the whole weekend, and try to get into as many panels as possible. This year I could only attend Saturday, but I still tried to get in as much as I could into the day.

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When you attend the show, there are three lines upon arrival. One for weekend guests to get a discounted parking pass, a second for those who pre-ordered their tickets, and a third for those who did not. This was the first year I would be in the third line, but aside from a long wait time (a lot of other people were apparently last-minute) it really wasn’t that bad. Things moved along pretty smoothly in general, and while I was waiting I chatted up a few of the others in line. This is one of the things about the show I like, and that is for the most part everyone gets along. There are exceptions of course, but most of the time people get along. So often people forget just how much hobbies can bring people together. You might not see eye to eye on any given topic, but you can both agree that F-Zero GX is pretty cool.

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One of the cosplayers in line was a kind gentleman whose selection would impress one of my fellow bloggers. He did a terrific job on short notice making a Red Mage costume inspired by the class from the original Final Fantasy. This is also where I have to inform you of some bad news. Like an idiot I had left my memory card at home, so I was forced to take pictures with my sub par cell phone. So unfortunately most of these will be fairly small. Still, I wanted to make sure I had *something* to represent the weekend.

I also have to give a major thanks to the Best Spuds, and a congratulation to them for cracking a major milestone on YouTube. They hung out with me a lot of the day, and were kind enough to check on me as they know I’m not at one-hundred percent. If you haven’t gotten around to watching their stuff on YouTube you really ought to. They blend traditional Let’s Play conventions with sight gags, and comedy in their own way. Some of the bigger names on the platform have even challenged them to take on some difficult games. Some of them because they’re genuinely good, but challenging titles. Others because they’re broken, and notorious for being almost impossible. But in either case the results are entertaining. One small anecdote from that morning happened on my way down a hall. One of the ConnectiCon staff members saw my CGR 2085 shirt, and shouted “TRUXTON!”. So we spent a few moments talking about Mark Bussler’s show, and some of the other regional cons the staff member worked on. He got to see Machinae Supremacy play at MAGFest one year, which sounded like quite the experience. If you haven’t heard them, check out some of their stuff on YouTube sometime. They’re great.

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Speaking of YouTube, I was able to get into one panel that morning.  Helmed by Random Encounters, the panel centered around ways to improve your content, and drive. Rob Walker, and Doug Walker of Nostalgia Critic fame joined in shortly thereafter. Random Encounters is a channel that does their own musicals based upon video game characters, and storylines. It was a pretty good panel overall. Some of the things they brought up in the panel could be applied to other creative endeavors as well.  Things like making content first, and foremost because it’s something one is passionate about doing. If one tries entering the arena as a get rich quick scheme, it probably isn’t going to happen. The odds of posting one video, and having it become a phenomenon is similar to the odds of winning the lottery. All of the panelists also drove home the point of consistency on YouTube, constantly giving potential fans something new. But the team of Random Encounters also reminded the audience that if one project does well it doesn’t guarantee that every project will. There will be ups, and downs for every creator of every size.

Throughout the Q&A there were plenty of good discussions, and anecdotes. There was a point where the idea of diversification came up. With all of the rules YouTube changes frequently, there are no guarantees things will always be good or bad. Some YouTube names like Classic Game Room have moved their shows to other platforms like Amazon Prime in addition to or in lieu of YouTube with better success. But even names that have better success on YouTube have followed that show’s lead by offering other merchandise to help fund their projects. As well as services like Patreon that allow fans to directly contribute to the projects if they wish.

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All of the panelists also were asked about how they were able to get some of their guests, and collaborators to do crossovers. Many of these came down to already having a project ready to go to present to them, and simply asking without expecting to get a “Yes.” for an answer. When they did, they were grateful for it, but acknowledged there were far many more times when that answer was a respectful “No.”.

There were even some moments with fan interactions, like the M.Bison cosplayer who projected a very good impression of the late Raul Julia’s classic performance of the character. He had a back, and forth with Doug Walker who had reviewed the Street Fighter Movie as The Nostalgia Critic years ago. Everyone on the panel really adored one cosplayer’s Butterfree Pokémon costume with working wings. One of the Random Encounters team liked my Atari trucker cap. So that was nice.

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Nintendo Of America was also at ConnectiCon. Not for a panel, but to let people check out their Mario Tennis Aces, and Labo products. They also gave out a TON of cool swag. I got my nieces a few free posters, and Splatoon 2 plastic cups. I spent some time on Mario Tennis Aces, and while one or two matches aren’t enough to really give it a full on review, it was a pretty fun time. It has a large roster of Super Mario Bros. characters to choose from, and the mechanics seem to be about on point for a Mario sports game. There seemed to be an emphasis on not just hitting the ball, but on the timing, and using the traps within the environment to ones’ advantage. It certainly won’t interest everyone, but it did seem like an enjoyable enough game for the most part.

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The one panel I wanted to get into was the Voice Actor Cards Against Humanity panel. Unfortunately when I went to double-check the time for it, it was crossed off, so it appeared to have been cancelled. There were a number of high-profile voice actors who came out to this year’s show including Steve Blum (Cowboy Bebop) who I was really excited to see. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, though I did catch a glimpse of him through the massive crowd of fans around his booth. Hopefully, he’ll return another year. Jon St. John was back this year, and I was told also had another fantastic panel this year on Friday.  Some of the other big names were Ron Rubin (X-Men), Cal Dodd (Wolverine), Katie Griffin (Sailor Moon), Susan Roman (Sailor Moon), Nolan North (Nathan Drake in Uncharted), Troy Baker (Joel in The Last Of Us) among others. It was a great year for those who wanted to meet actors who have done work in anime, and games.

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Speaking of games, the gaming area was greatly expanded over last year’s show. This year they even had an F-Zero AX cabinet! For those who don’t know, back in 2003 when F-Zero GX came out on the Nintendo Gamecube, Sega also made an arcade version called F-Zero AX. They’re the same game on paper. You won’t see much of a difference in graphics quality, or sound. However, the arcade cabinet had many racers, and tracks that were playable fairly quickly, that were almost impossible to unlock on the Gamecube version for many people. Why? Because doing so required top honors in its courses, and missions on the highest difficulty settings. However, if you brought your Gamecube memory card, with an F-Zero GX file on it to the arcade cab, these would unlock when you came back home to play the home version. The thing is, this was at a time when arcades were dwindling in North America. So for many people, seeing one of these cabs was all but impossible. This was compounded when only a proverbial handful of these cabs made it to North America anyway.

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So imagine the joy I felt upon seeing one in person! They also had a Mortal Kombat II machine, several Street Fighter games, a vast selection of rhythm games, and a classic Centipede machine. Unfortunately for me the Centipede machine wouldn’t save scores, so when I toppled the high score, I had to take a snapshot for proof. The dealer section was also much bigger this year. There weren’t a ton of video game vendors, though I managed to spot three of them. One was a massive vendor of Japanese imports. I found them a bit high, even for a convention but it was cool seeing never opened, Japanese region Super Famicoms, Sega Dreamcasts, Nintendo 64’s alongside a plethora of Japanese exclusives, and other cool stuff.

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The second vendor only had a smattering of NES, and PS1 games amongst the large selection of soundtrack albums. I was tempted to pick up a few of these OSTs, but ultimately didn’t. I probably should have picked up the lone Rockman boxed set I saw there but it is what it is. The third vendor was Retro Games Plus who had a booth for the upcoming RetroWorldExpo. But they also had a selection of games on hand to sell. I found a game I hadn’t seen before, but looked interesting called Weaponlord for the Super NES. It hadn’t been marked, but it was in great shape so I asked about the price. So after looking it up, the rep told me it would be $15. So I picked it up.

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After browsing the floor with friends, we headed out to get lunch. Again the show coincided with Hartford’s Riverfest. An event where the city brings many food trucks, and some live entertainment along the Connecticut River. It culminates at night with a fireworks celebration. (More on that later.) This year the Chompers truck from last year was back. So I tried their new taco variation of their food balls. They were really good. Not too spicy, they did in fact, taste like tacos inside of a breaded meatball. They also had a sour cream, and mild salsa dip for them. We spent some time checking out the area before heading back. We walked the floor getting a few photos in, before going to the dealer room one last run. While there I found a heavily discounted copy of The Art Of Atari Poster Collection book. It’s fantastic, compiling most of the Atari 2600 box art covered in Tim Lapetino’s book The Art Of Atari. But here, all of the paintings that graced these covers, are presented without any text on them. The original artwork on pages that can be removed, framed, and hung on the wall in poster form. At less than half of the MSRP I couldn’t say “No.”.

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Shortly after that we went to Bear’s Smokehouse BBQ for dinner. If you’re in Hartford, and you’re in the mood for grilled meats, this is a great place. I had their Mac Attack with Brisket. It was awesome. Macaroni, and Cheese topped with Brisket, and they had a sweet, and tangy sauce seared in. It also wasn’t that much more expensive than going to a traditional diner, and the service was great. We headed back to the Convention Center, and that’s when a bit of commotion happened. The Riverfest fireworks where going off, when we saw crowd come running from the Convention Center, and police coming speeding in to investigate. We would later find out that there was an altercation between two attendees, and someone hearing the fireworks though a gun had discharged. So people panicked. According to the Hartford Courant though, Oddly enough while this was going on, further away, someone did in fact shoot a stolen gun at absolutely nothing, and was promptly arrested.

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This is the only time in any of the years I’ve attended the show that anything like this has ever happened. But in spite of the hysteria, the police did do a good job of getting to the bottom of it quickly. Shortly after we got back inside the convention put out an alert that things were safe again. The entire thing was over with fairly quickly. Thankfully nobody was hurt in any of it. After that short fit of panic we went to the bar in the Marriott connected to the Convention Center, and winded down with a drink.

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All in all, I had a great time. Save for a short-lived scare I didn’t really have much to complain about here. ConnectiCon is a great show to visit. Again, it’s one of the larger conventions that focuses on the community aspect of fandoms. That being said, I would have liked to have been able to attend the whole weekend this year. I could have made some more of the panels. I also really would have liked to have seen Steve Blum, and Jon St. John play that card game. But perhaps they’ll return next year. Even though I could only experience the one day this time around, I still had a mostly terrific experience. Here’s hoping next year’s show will be even better, I’ll be able to experience all three days, and I won’t forget crucial equipment.

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Intermittence.

You may have noticed here lately that there have been some gaps in between articles. It isn’t because I’ve grown weary of writing at all. Rather, I’ve had some health issues as of late. So juggling my work schedule, finding games to play to talk about, and the constant trips to the doctor offices has cut into my time. This doesn’t mean I’m not writing anymore, I’ll still be doing reviews. But they may not always land weekly as I’ve generally done most of the time.

Unfortunately for me it turns out I have an issue with my gall bladder. Next month I’ll be seeing a surgeon about it, and more than likely it will have to come out. On top of this I potentially have a stomach ulcer, or other digestive issue that I have to look for abnormalities for. There could be a point in which they’ll have to go through further medical procedures to sort this out.

So in the interim, I’ll still be working on articles for the blog, but they probably aren’t going to hit my usual frequency until I’m cleared. I thank everyone for their patience, and support. I do have a few pickups in the pipeline that I hope to get to soon. I’ve also had a few streams on my twitch page lately, so you can also check those out when they occur.

Again, I thank everyone for their patience, and support while I try to get through this.

Most anticipated titles shown at E3

Man, what a hectic last few weeks, with more to come. It’s kept me away from time to do much. Though at least I was able to get a couple of streaming nights in. Still, I missed most of the E3 conferences, and I’ve been playing catch up. All three of the platform holders had pretty average events this year. Bethesda did a 180 from last year, even if none of the people in attendance seemed to know who Andrew W.K. is.

Ubisoft seemed bog standard. I didn’t see EA’s though the reception doesn’t appear to have been too warm. But beyond the big conferences there were a lot of trailers, and announcements of smaller titles. And I tend to like to pay attention to those, because they can often turn out to be as exciting as the hyped stuff. So these are some of the titles I saw that caught my attention. Hopefully they’ll turn out to be great games we want in our computer, and console game libraries.

Daemon X Machina

Nintendo’s Direct was the first time I’d heard anything about this game. But a trailer’s job is to generate interest in the subject matter. So mission accomplished. It appears to be some kind of action game involving mechs. But what sets this apart (at least in the trailer) is the No More Heroes unsaturated art style, and a rocking industrial metal soundtrack. It goes really well with the depictions of exploding robots, and bloody skies. I want to hear more about this one. If you’re a fan of Voltron, MechWarrior, Metal Storm, Transformers, Gundam, or giant killer death bots in general, you may want to too.

Insurgency: Sandstorm

I’ve been looking forward to seeing more about this once since it was announced. The original game is a wonderful blend of tactical shooter, and team shooter. There isn’t much of a HUD if any. There aren’t any kill cams. Most of the weapons will kill you in one or two hits. If you have body armor, maybe three. There aren’t any unlockable items that require grinding. If your class can use a weapon, you can use it. They balance this with a point system that forces trade offs. And it has all of the modes a Battlefield player might want. This sequel hopes to bring that experience to consoles next year after it launches in September on computers. Without the focus on loot boxes or battle royal modes this could be something Battlefield, and Call Of Duty veterans may want to check out. For those who don’t like to deal with sore sports online, it also offers a robust one player campaign. To sweeten the deal NWI is bringing it out at less than half the cost of a AAA release, and giving customers who bought the old game 10% off. They’re giving an additional 10% off to people who preorder.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Frankly, I don’t know how you don’t get at least a little bit excited for this one. Even if you’re a staunch fan of traditional fighters like Street Fighter, or 3D fighters like Soul Calibur or Tekken, this one should still impress you. Maybe just a tiny bit, but still. They’ve reworked the damage for 1 on 1 fights, heavily nerfed repeated dodges, and made short hop attacking a little bit easier. This is going to make the competitive end of the audience intrigued, and in some cases happy. For the rest of us, this is giving a lot of great stuff too. If you bought the figures, and adapters for your Gamecube controllers, they’ll all work on it. Every character from every previous Smash game is in here. Plus there is bunch of new assist trophies, items, and even some new characters.  This one comes out later this year, and I can already sense many will fire up the older games to practice up.

Serious Sam 4

Serious Sam may not have the star power he did back in the early 2000’s. But you’re always guaranteed a fun time filled with mindless action. For those who don’t know, this long running series by Croteam puts you in a large campaign of stages that have you constantly shooting, and managing resources. Some compare it to stuff like the original Doom. But that’s actually a long way off. The level designs are often interlocked arenas. So you’ll enter a room, destroy a wave of enemies, get an item, and destroy another. The thing is each room potentially has hundreds of enemies to contend with at a time. It’s more accurate to compare it to old Midway games like Robotron 2084, Smash TV, and Total Carnage. But the constant introduction of new enemy types, weapons, and the vast number of Easter Eggs to find keeps them fresh. This time they got the writer of The Talos Principle to write the story for Serious Sam 4. So who knows if Serious Sam will be Serious? Either way, I find these games fun so I hope to check this one out as well.

RAGE 2

Yes I know, there are a lot of shooters on here. But I did enjoy the original Rage when it came out. Abrupt ending aside, it was pretty cool. The desert was a hub world with towns in it. It had a pretty entertaining Mad Max inspired story, and it had the shooting you’d expect an iD game to have. So this sequel has me intrigued. The desert is more than a hub world supposedly, and there are a larger multitude of factions. The action looked good, and so I’m hoping for the best. The original didn’t sell horribly but it didn’t sell Doom, or Wolfenstein numbers either. So I was honestly surprised this sequel was green lit. Still, I liked the old one, and this one looks like it could be an improvement.

Tunic

I know there are a ton of Legend Of Zelda clones out there. But this one stood out to me during the Microsoft conference. It doesn’t look like it does a ton of new things with the gameplay, but at the same time it has an inviting art style, and I loved seeing some of the character designs. Hopefully it turns out really well. It displayed a fairly large map so there will be a lot of ground to cover.

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Similarly, at the Sony show there were a lot of big, anticipated games. But once again, something smaller showed up in the line of trailers. This one is by Remedy who invented the Max Payne franchise years ago. They also did the Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. While Quantum Break was derided for making people watch long, episodic cut scenes, this seems to have eschewed that experiment. The protagonist has this telekinetic ability allowing her to pick things up remotely, and use them as weapons. Sure it’s not the most original idea. But it looks cool in this one. When you’re done with The Last Of Us 2 you might want to pop this in. It looks fun.

Super Mario Party

I rarely get excited about a Mario Party game. Don’t get me wrong. I have most of them. Even the least exciting iterations are still a hit during holidays, and get together moments. But Super Mario Party is the first one in a long time that I kind of really want to play. For starters the frame rate (at least in the trailer) seems like it will be 60 fps on most modern HD TVs which will be pure glory for some of those mini games. Second of all, they seem to be doing interesting things with it if you network two Switches together. On the flip side, my nieces only continue to learn games in 8 seconds. So when I visit my Sister I’m likely leaving with the least amount of stars. They’re pretty good at Smash, and Kart too. But I suppose it happens to even the best of us. We get old, and our siblings’ progeny dethrone us eventually. Still, Super Mario Party looks pretty great even if it will leave me with zero stars.

Ninjala

I really want to see more about this one. Ninja kids Nerf sword fighting while doing parkour, and Baby metal is rocking out in the background? It looks like there is a big reliance on bubblegum. Not sure what that’s about, but it also looks like there is co-op, and versus modes in it. The trailer doesn’t go into much detail, but like Daemon X Machina, I am intrigued.

Ghost of Tsushima

This game looked really cool. The trailer didn’t show off much of what the objective or story was. But the combat, the environments, and characters looked really compelling. I would have liked them to have spent a little bit more time on it. But in any case, Sucker Punch got me talking about this game, and if you missed it or forgot about it, you may want to follow this one. Again, hoping it turns out great. But it looked really good, and like something those with a PS4 ought to look into.

Octopath Traveler

Even though I veer more toward the instant gratification of action genres, I do like a good RPG now, and again. This game has me interested for a few reasons. One is the look of everything. It reminds me a bit of the Ys remasters with its blend of 3D models, and 2D sprites. The filters on everything makes it look unique too. Another reason is that it’s giving players eight different characters to play with, each with their own career paths, and storylines. So it looks like it can be something a die-hard RPG fan can marathon for days. But also something someone with limited time can span out over a year by playing through one story, taking a break, then going back to it.

Mega Man 11

I’m a huge fan of the Classic Mega Man series. I’ve played through all of them. 1-10, as well as the GB line, and the side game Mega Man & Bass. This one looks like they’re trying to make it accessible to newcomers with a bullet time mechanic. But they’re leaving it optional so veterans can play completely old-school. They’re also returning to a more modern 2.5D look. It’ll be interesting to see how they do without Inafune at the helm. But the trailer does look decidedly Mega Man.

Cyberpunk 2077

CD Projekt Red always seems to deliver solid RPGs. (A few of which I still need to finish.) But this one looks like a big departure from what we normally see. It’s Sci-Fi instead of Fantasy. It’s taking inspiration from a pen, and paper series, and yet also seems to have action elements.  I do want to see where they take the not too distant future theme compared to some of the others that have ventured there.

The Messenger

They showed off a little more of this one in some interviews, and I’m even more excited about it than when I saw the initial trailer two months ago or so. It’s a love letter to both the NES Ninja Gaiden Trilogy, as well as action platformers on the Super NES. It’s fast, frantic, and being built with speedrunners in mind. The visual changes are tied to the game’s story, and it’s been confirmed to not only release on the Switch, but on PC as well. As someone who loves action platformers, I’m really looking forward to this one.

Metal Wolf Chaos XD

Originally released on the inaugural Xbox, most have never played this one. Because it was exclusive to the Japanese market at the time. These days, finding an original copy for your Xbox is an expensive endeavor. It’s a mech action game with the premise of a DTV B Movie.  By From Software no less. Devolver Digital is re-releasing this game with some updated visual options on Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. It’s completely silly, and over the top. If the high aftermarket prices online have kept you from getting this already, this is one remaster you might not want to miss.

 

So there you go. This year’s show might not have had the hype, and power of last year, but there was still plenty to look forward to. Whether you looked for grandiose blockbusters, or indie games, or somewhere in between. These were some of mine, and I hope you enjoyed this run down. Hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing some of these as much as I did. What were some of your E3 announcements? Feel free to comment below.

The crossover event of the year

Well okay, that might be a bit of hyperbole. But I was invited to do a crossover with the folks over at The Well-Red Mage. A gaming blog that puts out some of the most intricately detailed articles you will ever read. It’s great stuff. Even your favorite magazines as a teenager covering the latest Mortal Kombat game never went this deep in the weeds.

Anyway, they’re doing a massive event this month highlighting games on different systems you should consider adding to your collection. I was asked to help by going over some classic Commodore 64 goodness. So crack a beer, click the link, and enjoy. And while you’re there you may want to check out the other articles throughout the rest of the month. They’ll feature some other great guests you ought to check out. Thanks to The Well-Red Mage for the opportunity.

Console Challenge Day 3: Top 7 best Commodore 64 games!

Pop the game in, and live to win.

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With all of the Splatoon 2 I’ve played as of late (It’s a great game, if you’ve got a Nintendo Switch you ought to check it out.) I got to thinking about previous multiplayer shooters I’ve gone back to again, and again, and again. I’ve reviewed a number of them on this blog, and in some previous ones I’ve had over the years. Obviously I talked a lot about the features, modes, how they work, and how these make for a good game.

But over my life growing up with games, I’ve found I get very competitive. More so with myself than opponents. Though I’ll put my best attempt at winning forward, I know, at least in the realm of video games, I can’t claim to be the top guy. If I were, I could be like the great Chris Jericho cutting amazing promos, and winning e-sports championships. (Seriously, Chris Jericho is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. That’s one of my favorite of his promos. It’s great. That feud gave 2012 one of the best WrestleMania shows ever.)

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Where was I? Oh right. Competitive gaming. More particularly why do I find it so compelling? It’s hard to describe really. Depending on the game there could be one or many goals. You may have to fill a role on a team, and work well with everyone else while focusing on your task. But you have to be well-rounded enough to pick up the slack if someone else falls. In another game it could be a free-for-all where you only have to focus on your own performance, hopefully being a cut above everyone else in the match. It could be a one on one game like a fighting game, where you have to not only continually hone your own skills, but be aware of both your own weaknesses, and your opponent’s weaknesses.

Then you have the cerebral aspect of strategy. In an actual strategy game it might be about managing resources, properly placing units, and making contingency plans in case your current plan of action doesn’t pan out. But there are different layers of strategy in any game. In a turf war round in Splatoon 2, you may decide to paint your side thoroughly, and slowly push ahead with a defensive focus. Or you could decide to just rush ahead, and get early claim at the middle ground. Then hope you can hold it, while touching up all you’ve skipped at the start. Or you could send two people ahead, and leave two behind. What load outs does everyone have? You could create a plan of action around your armaments. There is a lot more to think about than you might realize.

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I remember way back in 2004, when I first got Unreal Tournament 2004. I had played the first game (commonly referred to as UT99) to death working at a OEM at the time. I loved it so much, I was excited to pick up the 2003 edition, and of course the 2004 version was lauded for ironing out some balance issues, adding new modes, and options. Though some weren’t fans of its omission of a few features in the process. But I digress. I had decided I wanted to get better at the game. Not to be a professional player (which wasn’t as common as it is today. There was no Twitch. There were a handful of major tournaments, and a number of smaller, regional ones. The major competitor back then was Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel, and chances were I was never going to go up against him on TV. Obviously, I never have.) but just to be able to get a win online occasionally. To not always be at the bottom of the scoreboard. Also to beat my coworkers.

Anyway, I decided that I was going to improve by focusing on one weapon in the game, and becoming proficient with it. That weapon was the Bio-Rifle. It was probably the least popular weapon in the original game, and so in the world of 2003/2004 not much more. People were enamored with stalwarts like the Flak Cannon, or the Mini-gun or the Shock Rifle (Those shock combos are known to clear rooms.). But I found the weapon to be pretty cool once I started getting a handle on it. In the Unreal Tournament games, every weapon has two firing modes. The Flak Cannon shoots shrapnel, or a bomb. The Shock Rifle shoots a laser, or an orb. You can shoot the orb with the laser to make an explosion. In the case of the Bio-Rifle you can shoot slime on the ground, walls, ceilings, etc. If people touch it, they get injured. But, you can hold the secondary fire, you can charge a single glob of slime. When you let go of the button, it shoots it off in an arc. If that glob touches someone, more often than not they’ll die, or be on their last 5% of health.

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Each version of Unreal Tournament has a different design, and physics for the weapon, so you can’t expect to be a whiz overnight going from UT to UT2004 or from UT2004 to UT3. But the point is it became my de facto weapon in the series. And I honestly became pretty good with it. I was no Fatal1ty by any means, but I started finding myself in the top 5 in a full death match game of 20 people more often than not. At least on public games. Well imagine my surprise when a couple of other players noticed this, and asked me to be on their team. I ended up not only improving my own skills for my own personal goals. But I impressed players who were even better than I was. As someone who has always had self-confidence issues, low self-esteem, and other problems this was a pleasant surprise to me. Anyway, for a good four years or more we frequently played against other teams in scrim, and had fun trying to master the game together. Improving trick jumping skills, getting better at other modes, and mods. At one point our head player rented server space where we had our own public server, where we hosted our own maps. They weren’t the best maps. But they were our own!

We disbanded after the UT series went dormant where others moved onto other games. Though from time to time I may see them online playing something else. But the bigger point is that competitive games can really drive you to want to keep playing them when their formulas gel with you. Some of the early Battlefield games were like that for me. Chivalry: Medieval Warfare was like that for me. It may have had some issues that kept it from perfection, but it was a blast to play, and the melee combat was, and still is quite novel. Not too many games make swinging a sword deeper than a left mouse button click. Toxikk was probably one of the better attempts to bring back the movement focused arena shooting that the Quake, and Unreal games gave us.

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But even long before these games I’ve found competitive games compelling. As a teenager, and young adult I gorged on Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, World Heroes, Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and other fighting games. I loved Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Rise Of The Triad campaigns. I loved calling my friend via a modem, and 1v1 deathmatching even more. I’m not the biggest sports fan out there, as a casual fan. But NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, NHL Hitz, and Sega Soccer Slam gave some of the most intense gaming moments ever when they were new.

Even when I was growing up, there were a plethora of great competitive games I played with my younger brother. And I’ll admit, I often hated it when he’d beat me. Here I was, putting in time to try to master stealth, and ricochet tactics in tank mode on Combat. He somehow just knew where I was on the screen. To this day, I cannot defeat him in Warlords, one of my favorite Atari 2600 games of all time. And this is a man who rarely gets the game time I do, due to the fact that he owns, and operates a small business. Sometimes you just end up with a sibling who picks a game up like it’s second nature.

Be that as it may, whether you’re going for a high score in Kaboom!, trying to place first on Rainbow Road, or blow up the enemy cache in Insurgency, there’s something enthralling about competing against friends or strangers. There’s the joyous feeling of riding high when you’re victorious. There’s the humbling nature of a soul-crushing defeat. There’s a stressful, yet entertaining feeling you get when it’s neck, and neck, and that last second, or last frag, or last goal is about to transpire.

Obviously, not all of us handle a loss like a civilized person. I would argue that at one time or another we’ve all been guilty of this. Flipping the chess board. Screaming like a petulant five-year old. But there’s no place for the awful stuff some spew over a chat microphone. You never know who is on the other end of a headset, so one really needs to behave as if they were walking through a crowded mall. Not be a nuisance who is going to regret saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. Fortunately, in most cases you can mute all of the instigators. But in the end sometimes it pays to remind oneself to take the loss like a grown up. Set down the controller afterward, and go do something else for an hour or two. Competition should feel exciting, and even cutthroat at times. But it should also come with a feeling of enjoyment. If it stops feeling fun, it’s time to take a breather.

Of course, there are going to be those who get a rise out of getting others upset in any given game. And it ruins the experience. But this falls in line a bit with sore losing too. In the sense that after the round ends, stop playing, do something else. Don’t rage quit, and further worsen things for other people. Don’t flip out, and give the bullies what they want. You have to be the bigger person. Which is admittedly easier said than done sometimes. That’s what made this classic Family Guy moment so funny.

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In spite of these circumstances, I still find myself constantly going back to competitive games. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy solitary experiences. I like a single-player experience as much as the next player. And in some cases one could argue, you can even get competitive with yourself. Can you speed run a game faster than before? Can you get the best possible ending? Can you find every last item? Can you complete every side quest? Can you get a kill screen going for a high score? Can you speed run a kill screen?

But the point is competition is one of the highlights of gaming. Sure, not every game needs to cram a death match or tower defense mode into it. Especially in games where a story driven experience is the focal point. But competition can be its own reward. Giving players a drive to improve, little by little with every match. Learning more about the mechanics, or building a strategy with each setback. Getting that feeling of accomplishment waving over them with their first big win.

And you don’t have to be a professional player to get that kind of experience. You can find it in your inner circle of friends, and relatives on game night. Or on a holiday gathering. Or when you all get out of work at 9pm. Competitive games are also something anyone can enjoy. You don’t always have the time to devote to a 60 hour RPG, or a 10 hour campaign. But most of us can squeeze in an hour of ten minute matches into an otherwise busy week with friends.

But I’ve done enough long-winded rambling. Hopefully I’ve opened up a point of conversation, or have given someone something to think about. What about you? Do you have the drive to pop more balloons in Circus Atari than your siblings? Get more frags than your friends in Quake? Shut down your Aunt in Mario Kart? Sound off below.

Holiday gaming gifting for the frugal.

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Man, what a crazy couple of weeks. I’ve been insanely busy with deliveries at my paid gig. Between this, and Thanksgiving week I haven’t had much in the way of *me* time. But I did find a few morsels of time finally this evening, so I’m trying something a little bit different. If you’re like me, the holiday weeks are not only very time-consuming, they’re wallet busting. Not only do you want to get the people closest to you something off of their list, you may want to do a little something for your friends. Or even Pete in accounting. But after getting that Nintendo Switch for your kids, that Gibson guitar your wife has been eyeing, and that new 4K TV for your aging parents, there isn’t much left in the tank.

Fear not! These are some pretty cool gifts you can pick up, that won’t break the bank. At least not too much. Some of these will be games, others trinkets. But hopefully they’ll give you some ideas. Some of these have deals that are ending soon, but I’ve tried to find some that aren’t too expensive at full price either. And some of these I’ve reviewed a while ago, but now can be had for less due to their age. But just because something is older than 6 months doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. It’s still new if the person hasn’t played it.

So let’s have at it!

Digital Games

Digital Downloads can be a great way to save some money, and still give someone in your life an entertaining gift. I do this a lot every year, and I’m sharing that tactic with you. Steam, and GoG have amazing sales every year. As I type this there are two days left to their respective autumn sales, and Steam will likely follow it up with their annual Winter sale. But even some of the console manufacturers have thrown in some discounts. So do look into Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft’s digital store fronts in case of any promotions they may happen to put up. Some games I recommend:

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Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams

Anyone who knows me, or has been reading awhile knows I’m a huge fan of this game. It’s one of my favorite titles ever. But even if I weren’t, the quality is obvious. It has wonderful graphics, an amazing soundtrack, and a cool morphing mechanic. It twists you between parallel worlds. One a whimsical dream, the other a horrifying nightmare. But you’ll have to use this to solve puzzles, collect gems, and succeed in general. It’s also got a plethora of secrets, and unlockable modes. It’s a scant $3.59 with it’s expansion on Steam until 11/28. PS4, and Wii U owners can track down the disc version for around $20 on Amazon.

 

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Ultionus: A Tale Of Petty Revenge

This one is a great choice for the friend who loves challenging action games, and shmups. Just know it is inspired by old computer games where movement was more calculated than it was brisk. That said, this one is a fun game for anyone who can get past that caveat, and it’s even better for one who grew up on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and Amiga. It has great pixel art, a great sense of humor, and a lot of love for Phantis. It’s just shy of $5 on Steam until the sale ends. Then it goes back to the regular low price of $7.

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Undertale

If you have a friend who still hasn’t tried this one out, it’s a meager $5 right now rather than the usual $10. At least on Steam. But even if you spend the full ten dollars, that’s about what you’d spend treating them to lunch at their fast food staple of choice. Undertale is pretty cool too. While I’m not the hardcore fan many people are, I can attest to the fact that it is a fun RPG with some great humor, swerves, and a love of 8-bit computers. It also implements some bullet hell shmup mechanics in a creative way. It also has multiple endings, giving it a good sense of replay value. It’s also on consoles, so you’re not limited to the computer, though you’ll likely pay less for the PC version.

Ikaruga 

You may not realize Treasure’s classic is on Steam, and that like the previous game on the list it’s $5. $10 normally. Here’s the thing. A lot of retro fans obsess over getting the Japanese Dreamcast version or the Nintendo Gamecube release. These can easily exceed $40 for a used copy, and well beyond that if they have their case, and manual inside. If you have a collector friend, who also has a PC, you may want to get this one for them digitally. They can enjoy it legitimately, and you can save a lot of money.

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The entire run of Ultima can be had on GoG fairly cheap. They have their own sale running alongside Valve’s, and have made these games even cheaper. For a mere $3.58 you can get the best of the series via two bundles. Ultima is one of the most important RPG series in the genre. Many of the conventions you see in RPGs, and even some JRPGs were inspired by Richard Garriott’s seminal series. It starts out simple, but eventually gives you a compelling overall story, and an open world to get immersed in. It may not look like The Witcher, but you should probably play these if you love RPGs. And while it might not elicit the same joy cloth maps, and trinkets do being digital, the GoG release means you don’t need to know how to use DOSBox. GoG releases have DOS emulation wrappers built around them, so all you have to do is click *play*. Later Ultimas didn’t have the core elements these did, so you may want to pass. But if you’re still interested, those are also on GoG’s sale. A great gift for the Retro RPG fan in your life.

The Witcher Series

Speaking of The Witcher, the entire series can be found digitally for very affordable prices right now. And with Steam’s winter sale coming up, you can remind yourself to nab them if you miss the current offers. If you didn’t already know this, these games offer vast worlds to explore, tons of missions, and all of the levelling up you could possibly want. CDProjektRed has made a trilogy of excellent RPGs that would please about anybody. These sales aren’t as deep as some of the other games I’m mentioning, but they’re still worth looking into.

Rocket League

Rocket League may not be the newest game anymore, but it’s as fun, and as compelling as ever. Plus with the recent release on Nintendo Switch, and cross-play, there’s never been a better time to check this game out. The PC version is only $10 in this current Steam sale. If you’re uninitiated with it, it’s like a mash-up of Super Mario Strikers, and RC Pro-Am. If RC Pro-Am could jump with hydraulics, and do bicycle kicks. It’s one of the most fun arcade soccer games ever made. Even if your friend doesn’t usually gravitate toward sports games, they’ll probably really enjoy this on whatever platform they have.

Insurgency

This is one modern military shooter worth playing, and the fact that it’s less than $2 during Steam, and Humble Bundle sales makes it even better. It’s a few years old now, but it still has a sizable community, and you can still get into a full game. It eschews just some annoyances other modern military shooters have. No grinding away for guns. No micro-transactions. Here every player gets points to use every round on their layout. Every weapon is available, and attachments, as well as side gear. The catch is you won’t have enough to equip everything so it balances out nicely. Too much fire power you’ll have no protection. Too much protection you’ll be slow, and low on ammo. It also encourages team work, and objectives over kills. Though you’ll still have players who care about kills, ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Also there are no kill cams, and barely any HUDs to speak of. It’s a wonderful blend of Rainbow Six 3’s realistic damage, and movement, with modes popularized by games like Battlefield. If you have a friend looking for something different from the typical Activision or EA annual release, get them this one. If they like it tell them to keep their eyes out for the sequel. If it’s half as good as this one, it should be quite the game indeed.

Guilty Gear XX Accent Core Plus R/Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator

This may not be the latest, and greatest Guilty Gear game around. But it is the definitive version of the XX line. All of the Guilty Gear games have some astonishing animation in them, and a wealth of great characters to choose from. If you get this during the Steam sale, it’s a meager $3, and will give a fighting game fan who missed it, hours upon hours of fun.  If you do want to get that friend Guilty Gear Xrd Revelator instead, being that it’s newer, it will set you back $15. This one is more advanced, looks slicker (Runs on the Unreal Engine), and is also a blast. The fighting system also has refinements over the older series so it doesn’t play exactly the same. But either game makes an excellent gift.

Ys series (Most of it)

Ys Origin, the re-mastered Ys 1&2, Oath In Felghana (Ys III), Ark Of Napishtim (Ys VI), and Ys VII, all have huge discounts, with the oldest games coming in for under $5 in most cases. This is a wonderful series of action RPGs dating back to the NEC PC-8801 computer in Japan. In recent years XSEED, managed to get the re-mastered editions localized, and on Steam. Their tireless work is your gain, as these titles are worth every penny. If you have a friend who loves JRPGs, and hasn’t played this series, all of these are great options, though I may start them with Ys Origin. It’s a prequel that kicks everything off, and explains a lot of back story the original games only touched on.

Cities Skylines

If you have a friend who can’t get enough of old school management games, and they’ve blown through Civilization 5, Sim City 4, and the Tropico series like a hot knife through butter, they’ll probably dig this one. And with the current sale price of $7.49 it’s a steal. I recently watched my buddy Xonticus stream it for Extra Life. It’s easily as deep as any Sim City title, and it has a lot of its own cool little details, and world animations.

 

Physical Games

You can often times find pleasant surprises in the used, and clearance bins at traditional retailers. Here are some really good ones I’ve found over the past year. Of course your mileage may vary as stock, and prices change. But that said, keep an eye out anyway. You may just find one of these.

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Axiom Verge PC Game Trust Steel Book Edition (And other games in this format.)

Game Trust is a label GameStop created for some exclusive physical indie game releases. They partnered with indiebox to produce a few special editions of some of these games. For whatever reason, the company decided to put these titles on clearance. All of these are worth picking up if you see them in your local GameStop. Axiom Verge is probably the best of them. But they also did Steel Books for Guacamelee, Rogue Legacy, Punch Club, Nuclear Throne, Chariot, Thomas Was Alone, Stories: The Path Of Destinies, Awesomenauts, and Jotun. These editions not only include the digital key for Steam, but a physical disc with the game on it, as well as the game’s particular soundtrack album on a studio CD. The cases are made of aluminum, and are a sight to behold. I only paid about $5 for my copies of Axiom Verge, and Rogue Legacy. Hit up your local store’s clearance bins. You just might get lucky.

Bloodborne, The Last Of Us Remastered (Best Buy)

While I was out shopping for Christmas gifts, I noticed two pretty good games, are now at a budget price point. And even cheaper for the week of Cyber Monday this year at Best Buy. Bloodborne, and The Last Of Us on PS4, are only $20. But with this year’s sale, you can shave off another $5. If you have a pal with a PS4 who hasn’t picked up either of them, it’s a pretty good deal.

A plethora of PS4 Deals on Newegg.

I generally go to Newegg for parts. But a quick glance at their Cyber Monday deals tells me, to tell you, to go look at their store for PS4 game deals. A lot of games are ridiculously cheap.  Doom (2016), Dishonored 2, Ratchet & Clank, and Until Dawn are $15. Not bad at all for those on your list with a PS4.

“What if my friends have an XBOX One?”

Microsoft’s store has a TON of XB1 stuff at cutthroat prices. Injustice 2, Super Lucky’s Tale, Gears Of War 4, Fallout 4 (Standard), Prey, Watch Dogs 2 all were severed down to $20. Dishonored 2 is $12.

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Gaming Tchotchkes 

Sometimes you may go through a thousand awesome bargains, but realize your friend probably won’t be into any of them, because they’re not in their genre of choice. Or because they have them already. Or they’re on a platform they don’t own. Not to worry! You can still find something affordable, and fun to accent their favorite hobby in a different way.

Pint Glasses.

Maybe they drink beer. Maybe they drink soda. Maybe they only stick to water. Whatever the case, when you’re playing through a 140 hour RPG, mastering a fighting game character, or just enjoying some Pac-Man here are some great, stylish glasses to gulp down a beverage while doing so.

Obviously you can get some decent game-themed glasses at GameStop or Think Geek as they’re the same company. Often times if you catch a closeout you can get a pretty cool Pokémon, Zelda, Mario, or Pac-Man glass for a few bucks. And who doesn’t like to jazz up their glassware with a nice print. But you have some other options too. I’ve had some luck at Spencer’s Gifts. Last year I got my co-workers some Nintendo themed glassware, but also one in particular an excellent Cyberdemon glass from Doom.

Sometimes you can even find them in an unexpected place. Wandering through a Kohl’s I’ve even found a few Pac-Man glasses. But also don’t discount the idea of helping out one of your favorite internet personalities. As most readers know I’m a big fan of Classic Game Room. As luck would have it, the show has a wealth of show themed Beer Steins, Pint Glasses, and Coffee mugs along with the usual things you might expect. Some of them may even go on sale before the holidays arrive.

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T-Shirts, and Discs

Continuing on from that, if there is a game focused blog, or YouTube show your friend or relative follows, see if it has any merchandise. Many of them do put out DVD’s Blu Ray’s, and T-Shirts. Purchasing one of them not only gets your pal an awesome piece of swag, but supports a small biz, or labor of love in the process. Plus you know that nobody else thought to give the person an awesome Heyzoos The Coked-Up Chicken Stein. I know the focus here was to stay affordable, but some of these items are worth the extra money if you can get a few other people to go in on it with you. Pat Contri’s NES Guide Book isn’t cheap. But it’s also something one would definitely want to go with their game collection.

Individual Artists

A ton of really talented artists out there make some great gaming themed art. Like the YouTubers, and bloggers above a lot of the merchandise is similar. But when you get a print from Tom Ryan’s Studio, for example you’re getting quality. There are also a few great shops you can get stuff featuring independent artists work on. NeatoShop, and Teepublic have some terrific prints you can get from these artists, and they often have sales. Neatoshop’s print quality is a bit better, though Teepublic has a wider range of artists. In either case, you can get some memorable prints that won’t break the bank.

Action figures, and other knickknacks 

I’m not talking about the stuff from NECA that costs $30 (Though that Atari 2600 Texas Chainsaw Massacre Leather Face figure is pretty bitching). But hit up those clearance aisles, and you may be surprised with some cheap, but cool finds. Does your friend dig Funko’s POP vinyls? Often times some nice game themed ones will be closed out to make way for new ones. Why not get that co-worker a DOOM guy for a few bucks that they don’t already have? Another great option are the World Of Nintendo 6 inch figures from Jakks Pacific. These usually sell for $10 or less, and dress up any Nintendo fan’s shelf, desk, or cubicle nicely. And of course, The Amiibo figurines are another nice gesture, as the details on them are great. Even if they aren’t going to use them with a Wii U, 3DS, or Switch game.

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Retro

Of course if they’re into collecting old games, we instantly think of $170 copies of Mega Man 7 or $1,000 copies of Little Samson. But there are still a lot of great bargains on old games out there. I won’t list a ton of examples as I’m running long. But things like MagMax, Abadox, or Blaster Master on the NES can all be had for a few dollars. And these are really fun games that not everybody has. You just have to do some research to find some of these titles, and of course figure out if the person you’d give them to already has them.

Hopefully this has given someone out there with a shoestring budget some ideas. You can really find some good stuff out there without maxing out your card, or depleting your accounts. Obviously presents aren’t the focal point of the holidays. Appreciating those in your life, and helping those you can afford to should be. But we all have those people we want to do something nice for in our hobby. So look into these deals while they’re up for the next day or so. I apologize in getting to this so late, but such is the way of a busy week.

Retro World Expo 2017 Recap

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Now in its third year, RetroWorld Expo has slowly built up momentum over its humble beginnings. While it still isn’t the size of something like one of the PAX shows, it has made quite the impressive successes over the first two iterations. The biggest change this year was the move from the Oakdale center in Wallingford, CT to the Hartford Convention Center in Hartford, CT. Due to this, the show was able to increase the floor space, and use conference rooms for panels.

Getting into the show was very smooth, and easy. I didn’t have to go through two or three different lines to get in. I simply showed my ticket receipt to the volunteer at the booth, got my wristband, and got in. Of course, I would hinder myself a little bit by not gassing up the car before making the drive. (More on that later.)

 

Upon walking onto the floor, I saw a few familiar faces as I took a quick gander at some of the vendors’ booths.  One of whom was Tom Ryan. I’ve talked about him in the past, as he does phenomenal artwork. A couple of years ago I got an awesome Thundercats print from him. This year he had an amazing Masters Of The Universe print! It features a very detailed Castle Grayskull, while a Darth Vader-esque Skeletor appears in the background. In the foreground there’s a really great silhouette of He-Man with the Power Sword. It’s awesome. It looks even better in person.

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After catching up with a few people I headed upstairs, as “Pixel” Dan Eardley was back again, and I wanted to get into his panel, as they’ve always been entertaining. This year didn’t disappoint, as he talked a bit about some upcoming crossovers. I can’t really go into too much detail about them as I don’t want to spoil anything for anybody. Suffice it to say, you’ll be pretty impressed with the first of these. After showcasing it early to those of us in the panel, he was also kind enough to show off a small home video clip that was quite heartwarming.

After this, he showed off some teaser footage with The Gaming Historian, and Eric Lappe of Let’s Get. There will be a few new episodes of From Plastic To Pixels coming down the pike. This is a series that focuses on showing off video games based on toy lines. It’s a fun show because it goes beyond a typical Let’s Play show by bringing in some of toy, and game knowledge. If you haven’t seen it yet, check it out. The panel closed out with a short Q & A segment with attendees. Some of the questions revolved around the upcoming episodes, that I don’t want to spoil. But a few questions were asked about some vintage toys, and games.

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I was a guest on Big Bucks Entertainment’s Super Millionaire. This is a company that does covers of the Game Shows you likely grew up watching. They did two of them throughout the course of the show. One being the update of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and the other being Press Your Luck.  To get on the show, the company put up question challenges on its Facebook group. Leading up to the show, I had taken a shot in the dark, and answered a question. Well, it turns out I was right, and was put into the pool of potential guests.

So I showed up with my buddy Jordan as my lifeline. We were given a rundown of the game rules, and stage procedures. There were three of us who made it on. One of whom turned out to be a member of Super Retro Throwback Reviews. They had their own booth nearby. One of the judges turned out to be one of my good friends Russ Lyman, who was also in a panel later on in the show. He has a swell YouTube show where he combines VLOGs, DIY repair, gaming into one entertaining channel. He’s the one who got this snapshot of me on stage! He also brought his custom car to the show for everyone to see. None of us got very far into the game. Of the three I actually did the worst. I got all of the questions up to the first tier nicely. But upon reaching that first checkpoint I got the question wrong. I didn’t want to waste my lifelines. In hindsight I probably should have. But it was still a very fun experience.

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But it didn’t end there because they kept the show going with audience members. Most of them didn’t fare much better than those of us who played initially. My lifeline got to go on, and had to use all of the lifelines on the first three questions. None of which covered game knowledge. (Thankfully when he called me up, I guessed the question right.) But after he lost, there was an attendee that came within inches of winning the entire game. Unfortunately the Judges were wrong about the voice actor who played Sinistar (It was John Doremus), and he went with their guess. Nevertheless, as I said before it was a lot of fun, and the quality of the set props was pretty good. It made for a great facsimile, and even the Press Your Luck set was pretty awesome.

I got in a little bit of shopping with a couple of friends after that. We found one husband & wife run vendor booth with a ton of vintage Atari games in addition to the NES, Master System, Genesis, and Super NES games on display. Many of them were boxed, and complete! I found a complete copy of Fatal Run which is one of the late life 2600 releases. There was also a complete copy of Kung Fu Master my friend Jordan picked up. There was also a rarely seen complete copy of Red Label Space Invaders. These were just some of the 2600 highlights. There were a ton of great games for all of the platforms, but the 2600 selection was unreal.

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I found an old 7800 Alien Brigade Ad from an outfit called Glossed Over. They find vintage ads in great quality, and preserve them in laminate. They had a ton of memorable Nintendo, and Sega print ads. But there’s something special about the old Atari game ads. A few tables from where I found Fatal Run, I finally procured a copy of Tapper for the 2600! Up until the convention I had only ever seen it once before, so I picked it up on the spot.

But there wasn’t a ton of time left to keep shopping, the RetroWorld Expo brought back the auction from last year. Hosted by TV’s Travis Landry, the auction went on for three hours. I saw some of the items before they went up, and most of those seemed to be in decent shape. There was a really nice Commodore 64 set up among the items that included a Bread bin NTSC Commodore 64 model, a First-party joystick, a 1541 Disk Drive, and it had the box, and manuals. The box looked beat up, but everything else looked pristine.

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So I sat through the auction with a few friends, and of course I didn’t win the C64 set up. After it got beyond the aftermarket value, I had to give up. But it kept climbing. In fact many items got spectacularly high. Not as crazy as last year’s auction. But still pretty high. There was a Nintendo World Championships cartridge that nobody bid on because the opening bid was astronomical. It was nice to see one in person though! Some of the highlights for me were the bidding war that broke out over a Little Samson cartridge, which ended around $800. (Which is oddly enough a steal considering it goes for over $1,000 in many cases.) As well as the fervor over a really nice Sega Sonic store display sign, and the fact there were TWO copies of Mega Turrican up for grabs. Those were the other two items I took a shot on, but lost both.

Some other items that went up included a few lots. One was a box of NES common games. Another one was a bunch of Master System games. Beyond that, a pretty nice Atari 5200 bundle, and a copy of Power Strike on the Master System. I’m sure there are a bunch of other items I’m forgetting. It was still pretty exciting though. It’s a shame not many toy collectors were on hand, because there were a bunch of figures, and busts that went for well below what you’d typically expect to pay.  A couple of NES Classic Minis went for auction too, and went for a bunch of money. With the announcement that they’re going to be re-released again at retail, this kind of surprised me. Still, it was nice seeing some of this stuff. Like the Nintendo branded retail case I still remember seeing in Bradlees back in the day.

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I spent some more time on the floor, I got in a few rounds of Missile Command, and Street Fighter II in the arcade. I also found my buddy Bijhan had a booth where he let me have a complete boxed copy of Gunship for MS-DOS. My friend Jordan also hooked me up with a Shadow Warrior 2 scroll, and bag. As the sales floor started to close up for the night, I managed to find a copy of Pac-Attack for the Super NES. There was another after party this year, but I had to skip it due to the low amount of gas in the car. Since I commuted to the show, I wanted to make sure I got fuel before the stations might have closed. A few people were kind enough to point me to a couple of options. I managed to get to one, gas up, and get back to town.

Day two I went back to Hartford, for the rest of the show. I got there a little bit early, and I bumped into Pat “The NES Punk” Contri walking the floor. Just as last year, he was very kind, and cordial. I politely asked him if he had another copy of his NES Guide book. He took me to his booth to get one, and on the way over I told him where I’d found my deals the day before. He thanked me for buying a copy, I thanked him for his time, and let him get back to his game hunting. After that, I ran into my friends Chris, and Brian who had a small vendor booth for the weekend. Somehow I’d missed it the first day. They had a few coveted items, but I ended up getting some deals on some slightly less common games. I found RoboWarrior for the NES, and Desert Strike for the Super NES for a pittance. And it wasn’t just because I’m friends with them, they gave anyone who came by, bundle pricing if they bought multiple items. It’s part of why they do pretty well for themselves at events, and meets. I also got to catch up with Noah, and Paul from Retro Gaming Arts, and Rax The Great.

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There was another booth I can’t remember the name of, but the business was another really nice group of people. They had noticed all of the stuff I was carrying along with my camera, and offered a bag before I even started shopping. And when I did peruse their racks not only did I find a Joe & Mac cartridge for the Super NES, at a really good price (The first one, not the obscure sequel), it came in a protective plastic box. In fact every loose cartridge they sold did, and they were in excellent condition.

After this though, I went back up for several panels. The first one was the RFGeneration Collectorcast Reunion show. Bil McGee, Duke, and Rich Franklin did a live podcast where they talked about collecting tips. Budgeting for items at conventions. Networking, and making friends. Helping those friends find things they need. As well as reminiscing about road stories, and times where they had to go into some strange, or even scary places to find those coveted titles. All of which resulted in a lot of funny moments. Bil McGee does a lot of behind the scenes planning of RetroWorld every year so there was some time spent on what is involved in the process. It was a really entertaining, and informative panel overall. Plus their site is a pretty good source of information for collecting games.

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Especially their databases. At the end of the panel there was a short Q&A session. Some people asked about some of the topics discussed. I asked them to pair a beer with their favorite classic game. Duke didn’t drink so his answer was soda, as in many old games there were billboards in levels advertising fictional ones. Rich, paired stout with Tempest (which is an excellent choice.) Bil loved the question, and gave several examples that I can’t remember. But one that did stand out was drinking Lord Hobo Boom Sauce, or Consolation prize for any game that had shotguns. Because this would reference the cult movie Hobo with a shotgun. One can’t argue with that logic, although the audience erupted into laughter when Duke said he wouldn’t drink from anything called Lord Hobo.

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The next panel was The Gaming Historian panel. This year, Norman Caruso went with a similar format to the panel as he did last year. But this year he went with a topic that wasn’t child friendly. To which he warned the parents in the audience who promptly took their kids out. He went over a major Rock star scandal from several years ago, and cleared up a lot of the misconceptions about it. He also told us about an upcoming episode of The Gaming Historian, which like the Pixel Dan panel, I can’t really talk about here, as I don’t want to spoil episodes. All I can say about it, is that it’s going to be longer than most of his usual episodes are. He rounded out the show with a quick Q&A where most of the questions centered around the subject matter of the panel. But he was also asked about what happened to his episode about Nintendo’s purchase of the Mariners.

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Major League Baseball was immediately livid about it, and actually sent him a cease, and desist letter. So he tried to get into contact with them to iron things out. One representative liked the episode, and considered buying the episode. But only if things were cleared with Nintendo. Nintendo was fine with the episode. But when he went back to Major League Baseball, they ultimately decided they weren’t going to make any deals, and demanded the episode stay pulled. MLB is notorious for going after people, and fining them for seemingly innocuous things. In the 80’s they often sued people for taping games to a VHS tape to be viewed when they got home from work. All because they were that afraid, someone would try to sell the taped game. So as the potential debts piled up, Norman had to pull the episode.

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The panel ended with another Gaming Historian Jeopardy match. This year’s contestants did battle for a free Gaming Historian T-Shirt. Most of the questions were new, though there were a few repeats from last year. At first one of the contestants was running away with it, but before long all three were in the running. When Final Jeopardy hit though, two contestants gave Celebrity Jeopardy SNL Skit-esque answers, allowing the victor to claim the prize.

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After the panel ended The Game Chasers panel started, and they invited Norman to stick around for it. It was a really fun panel because it felt like a really good podcast. The banter was really good, and it led to a lot of hilarious road stories. One of the stories was about a debate over what really constitutes slippin’. Another was an argument Jay had with a cast member about what the official credentials for guacamole are. One moment that stuck out was when Norm told Jay about how great The Golden Girls is, and Jay thought he was being set up. But the audience reassured him it’s a timeless show. There were of course a few gross out stories that wouldn’t make the show. But overall it was a lot of laughter, and a lot of fun.

After that panel came the Connecticut Local YouTubers panel. This one featured my buddy Russ Lyman, Culture Dog, Miketendo, and Retroware TV’s own John Delia. After giving an overview of what each of them covers, they opened things up for questions. There was a lot of good advice in the panel, trying to know your audience.  How to discern constructive criticism from noise. Showing appreciation for those who appreciate you. I got to ask John about his experience with getting The Video Game Years on Amazon. He told us that the way the payments from Amazon work, is much better than the way it worked on YouTube. In a couple of months the show made more than it did on YouTube. This also led into the topic of finding new audiences. Because he found a lot of people on Amazon like to binge watch more than they do on YouTube. So a whole new group of people discovered it, and watched it.

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Some of the challenges he ran into had a lot to do with closed captioning. Amazon requires every show creators put up include the feature. So getting the show on the service took hundreds of hours of added work. Once they got the captioning done, the show got rejected again because of the static images. So they had to edit out some of the static logos to get it ready. When it finally did get submitted in the right state, they still had to call Amazon, and explain everything they just went through. The company then looked, said “You’re right”, and launched it, where it has been a success.

Some of the other attendees then asked the panel if they would just move to Amazon, and the answers were no, because of the different groups who watch or listen. Culture Dog, and Miketendo brought up the importance of one’s authentic self. People can tell when you stray from it. Russ mentioned that even if you do a bunch of different content, there should be something that ties them together. As an example he noted how much of his Do It Yourself content references gaming. That means a few of the viewers who come to the channel for game stuff might check out some of the DIY episodes. Everyone on the panel talked about doing YouTube shows out of the love of the hobby over coming out of the gate looking to be an overnight success. For a variety of reasons.

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After that wrapped up,  Joe Granato returned from last year’s convention with a major update on his NES Maker, and Mystic Searches, projects. He briefly showed off a trailer for his New 8-Bit Heroes documentary, and then jumped into the updates. He started out that process by explaining how the project started out. He, and his team found his old childhood ideas for an NES game, and decided to make that dream a reality. What they found in the process was just how complicated MOS 6502 assembly coding truly was, and after a short time found the project was going to take a very long time. So in the process they ended up coding their own editor to deal with mapping, objects, characters, and other assets.

So while using the tool to get the game made, they found potential in selling the editor as a standalone product when it’s completed. This will let people make their own NES games, and flash them to an actual NES Game Pak. Joe did concede there are some limits in it, as it was made to cater to RPG, and Adventure genres. But that people have demonstrated other genres can be done with it, though you may need to take up coding for some of that.

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He also showed off some more of Mystic Searches, and the progress on it. The over world appears to be finished, and everything looks pretty tight. They’re shooting to get it out by early next year, and the three versions of the Game Pak were shown again this year. He also noted they’re also looking for a Steam release, and they’re in the process of getting a Nintendo Switch license. There aren’t any planned ports for other vintage platforms like The Commodore 64, Super Nintendo, or Atari platforms. Hopefully the final game, and utility turn out well. It is pretty apparent a lot of love has gone into making it thus far. There were even some real world locations referenced in the game’s over world. But keep an eye on this one. Mystic Searches, and NES Maker could be quite the homebrew titles when they come out.

I finished out the day by heading back down to do  some more hunting for the last hour or so. I stopped by Bijhan’s booth again, and he let me have a MOC Smash Mario Amiibo. Which was super cool of him. I was also a million times grateful to Norman Caruso. I stopped by his booth to pick up his Gaming Historian Blu Ray, and thank him for coming to the convention again. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I left my phone there like an idiot. I bumped into some of my pals in The Best Spuds, and played some WWF No Mercy before leaving the show. I couldn’t find my phone, but of course the convention center was closing up. So all I could do was quickly check the Lost, and Found before leaving. Of course the phone wasn’t there. Well when I got home, I found a message from my friend Antoinette in our trade group. Norman had found my phone, and asked around to see if anybody knew who owned it. She recognized it as mine, and tagged me. I’m super thankful to the both of them, as I’m not quite ready to go get a new one just yet.

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That’s one of the best things this convention showcased to me this year. The wonderful sense of community here. People from all backgrounds coming together over a love of classic gaming. Every year I get to meet new people, and go to events. Even if you don’t see anything to buy, and you aren’t interested in the panels, there are tons of arcade games to play. There are a lot of  console, and computer games to play. There were even a host of tournaments hosted by my buddy Aldo this year. Including a big Overwatch tournament, Super Street Fighter II, Super Smash Bros. Wii U, and Mario Kart 64 among others.

They even had a couple of high-profile Cosplayers Midge Scully, and Maya Gagne there. I didn’t get a chance to see them, but they were there. Some other guests I didn’t get to see were Wood Hawker, and RGT85. Also Daniel Pesina came back with John Parrish this time. I also unfortunately didn’t get a chance to see them. If you’re not familiar with them, they were two of the motion capture actors in the earliest Mortal Kombat games. If you get the chance to see them you should.  Hopefully everyone returns next year, and I can rectify missing some of them.

Honestly as small as RetroWorld Expo is compared to larger conventions, it still has so much going on it’s impossible to see it all. Really, the only nitpick I really had this year, was the gap of time between the first night’s shutdown, and the after party I missed due to my own incompetence. Mainly because it breaks up the flow. There’s an hour-long window of nothing to do. I feel like if they could have either started the after party right away, or had a small panel to fill that gap problem

That said some of the stuff in the after party would have been fun. There was a drink, and draw event, one room had Culture Dog playing movies on LaserDisc, and then there was another spot for club music, and mingling. Again, in the grand scheme of things a very minor nitpick, and due to my own ineptitude didn’t matter anyway. The good vastly outweighed the bad this year. A part of me already can’t wait to see what they do next year.

ConnectiCon 2017 Recap

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Have you missed me? Well, I’m back after a packed three-day weekend. It was this year’s ConnectiCon, one of the higher profile conventions in my neck of the woods. For those who don’t know, it’s a three-day convention that aspires to be as varied as possible. The show makes an attempt to have representation from comics, anime’, film, television, books, online personalities, and gaming.

Last year’s show was a tough act to follow, as it had many more recognizable names to the casual observer. But there were plenty of good, and even great things for visitors to look forward to this year. Operationally, I can only speak as a paying visitor, but I saw improvements in terms of managing lines, addressing concerns, and trying to make things a bit easier to navigate. Getting my weekend pass was pretty seamless. The pre-registration line was easier to find. Wait times went down, and it looked like even though paying at the door was more complicated, I didn’t really see any outbursts from customers about it.

 

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Line management to get into panels was easier to follow. There were a couple of panels that probably should have been scheduled in bigger rooms though, as a number of the guests they had, were pretty big draws. If you didn’t find out about some of them early enough, you weren’t getting in. Among them being Sylvester McCoy (Dr. Who), Jeremy Shada (Adventure Time), Courtenay Taylor (Regular Show), the cast of The Nostalgia Critic, Andre Meadows (Black Nerd Comedy), and Team Four Star (Dragon Ball Z Abridged). That being said, there were still plenty of great panels in addition to these, hosted by some talent some may not have been aware of.

Friday

My first day went pretty swimmingly. After waiting in a long, but quick-moving line, I had my badge, and began walking the floor. I started out with the Opening Ceremony panel, where there were a few segments covering the general behavioral rules, reminders to stay hydrated in the heat, and a fun game of Mad Libs. They also introduced Bruce Nesmith of Bethesda, who was doing a game industry panel. Unfortunately it was one of many panels I didn’t get into. I also missed the Andre Meadows panel that day due to panel overlap.  As I mentioned earlier, while there may not have been as many big names this year, there were still a ton of great panels. I managed to get into the Art The Hypnotist panel this year. It was a very interesting one. Hypnotism isn’t something I’m very knowledgeable about. Up until this panel, I’d only had a bare-bones, stereotypical movie understanding of what exactly it entails. I’m not a sudden expert on it now either. But I did get a bit of entertainment, and education out of it.

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Art started out by explaining the process. Everyone would be tired out, and put into a sleepy state through a combination of soft music, and meditation. Then he would go around the room, find people who were in a deeper sleep state, and ask them if they were comfortable going on stage. Eventually, when there were enough volunteers the show began. Over the course of a couple of hours, Art would demonstrate that he could make them think they didn’t know the number 9, which perplexed the volunteers. There was also a point in which three volunteers were asked to go on stage in front of the hypnotized, and the subjects were made more or less attractive using the words Iced Tea, and Beer.  There were a bunch of other tricks too. But the great thing here, is that by the end all of the volunteers would remember everything, and everyone in the room was in on it. So it was funny, and exciting. But it also didn’t leave anybody feeling embarrassed or mortified. If he ever does a show near you, check it out. It’s something different from the norm. At least it was for me. My buddy Dan from The Best Spuds was also there, and he loved every minute of it.

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I spent a good amount of time after that panel checking out the gaming section, and this was greatly expanded this year. Not only were there even more arcade games than last year, they even added some pinball machines to the mix. So I spent a few times over the weekend playing the Simpson’s Pinball Party Machine, Double Dragon, and Street Fighter II. They also had a pretty cool Gundam themed fighting game I’d never seen before. So that was pretty awesome. Of course I was surprised, and overjoyed to see one of the many PS4’s they had set up was running Rogue Stormers. If you still haven’t played this one yet, you really should.

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This year the convention also coincided with Hartford Riverfest  So the Best Spuds, and I checked out some of the food trucks in attendance. We found one called Chompers, that served bacon cheeseburgers, and chicken parmesan in deep-fried ball form. They’re deceptive in that the size of them makes you think one order isn’t going to be enough. One order really is. But I’m still glad I bought one of each kind. They were awesome.

Saturday

On Saturday, I managed to get into a couple of panels. The first being the Nostalgia Critic Q&A panel. Doug Walker has said that ConnectiCon is one of his favorite conventions to attend, and so this year he returned along with his Father Barney, Brother Rob, Tamara Chambers, Jim Jarosz, and Malcom Ray. But there was also a surprise appearance from Andre Meadows who would arrive before Malcom arrived, as Malcom was feeling a little under the weather. As in previous years, fans got to ask questions to the cast about the show, which is in its tenth year. As well as any other questions. There were some you’d expect, and some you wouldn’t. But the best part of the panel was when a nervous child was reassured by a kind Doug who traded places with him. The kid sat at the desk with the other Channel Awesome players, and Doug would sit in the audience while the kid asked everyone his question. Which escapes me as of this writing. But it was a kind moment.

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One fan asked the group what their favorite guilty pleasures were, which elicited a number of answers. The first Transformers movie. Moulin Rouge. Watching a child do better at running a panel than Doug Walker. (That was Rob Walker’s answer.) But through it all, the panelists were very kind, and appreciative of the fandom.

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After the Nostalgia Critic panel I found a short panel on Hip Hop music. Basically, it was a short history of the genre, and some of its subgenres. But later in the panel it covered some newer subgenres like Nerdcore, as well as some of the experimentation going on in some of the more obscure circles of Hip Hop. Overall it was pretty decent for anybody looking to get more into the genre. Later on I would get into a content creation panel hosted by Mark “Cornshaq” Davis the 3rd. Which was a very insightful look at getting a foothold in making YouTube video content. But the really great takeaway from it, was just how much of the knowledge presented is applicable to most any creative endeavor. How to interact with readers/viewers/etc. properly. How to get the word out, and advertise without coming off as desperate. Digging deep, and having the courage to try new things. Differentiating between genuine criticism, and those who just want to be jerks. Listening to genuine criticism. Differentiation. Links to other resources. The importance of branding. How seemingly small, unimportant details can actually be a great assistance at times. As well as practices to avoid! Obviously, for the purposes of a recap, I can’t go into great length here, but there was a lot of useful information. If you like game content in video form, check out his channel too. It’s pretty good stuff, and he often mentions things you may not be aware of.

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After the panel, I got a chance to talk a bit more with Cornshaq, and the guys over at Nerdfit Network. We just had fun talking conventions, pro wrestling, and craft beer for a while. I had a really fun time talking about the events leading into WWE’s Great Balls Of Fire Pay-Per-View. Like the sometimes hilarious over-the-top levels of violence between Roman Reigns, and Braun Strowman. Like when Braun tipped an ambulance over with Roman inside. All of whom were very kind, and friendly.  If you haven’t seen any of their material, give them a shot. They were a really swell group of people.

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Speaking of swell people, when I was in the dealer area, I met some of the creators from Darby Pop. They were very cool people, and they have some interesting spins on traditional comic book themes. Writer Jeff Kline was even kind enough to sign the Indestructible trade I picked up at their booth. It’s a really cool premise, about a man who is mistakenly identified as a super hero, and is suddenly thrown into a world of celebrity. All the while wondering how he is going to last before everybody learns the truth. I haven’t gotten that far into it yet, but so far I really like what I’ve read. The artwork is pretty slick too. You can find their stuff online if it sounds like something you’d be interested in checking out for yourself.

 

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Every year that I make it out to ConnectiCon I look forward to meeting up with friends at the City Steam Brewery. They make some of my favorite beer, so when their old Brewmaster retired, his successor had a tall order to fill. Well since then, the current Brewmaster has made a bunch of new recipes. On top of that, the food in their restaurant is as awesome as ever. I tried their new IPAs, Jungle Crush, and Woo! (Which immediately made me remember The Nature Boy Ric Flair.). Both of which were excellent, though the fruity, citrus notes in Woo!, make for one of the best new things I’ve tried recently. I can only hope they start bottling, canning it, and getting distributors to pick it up. It is really good. Also really good was the Macaroni & Cheese Cheeseburger.

Sunday

Sunday was surprising because it was a much shorter day than previous years. For all intents, and purposes the day was over by 3pm even though the Convention Center was open until 6pm. But that being said, I did get some panels squeezed in. The biggest being the Team Four Star all-ages panel. These guys are hilarious online, but even funnier in person. I was unable to get into their 18+ panel the prior Friday,  but this panel was still really good. It was another Question, and Answer format. But there were a lot of varied questions this time around. Not only about their work on the long running Dragon Ball Z Abridged series, but about what is coming next. As the DBZ material begins to run dry, the group is looking to branch out into more original series. They didn’t give much in the way of details. But after getting to ask them if they had considered doing mash-ups or skits like Nicolas Cage as Robocop, Anthony Sardinha immediately did a spot on impersonation. Scott Frerichs also stated they’re steering away from doing much with Dragon Ball Super, as the show is newer, and involves a lot more red tape. Throughout the panel there were many jokes, character voice gags, and friendly banter. A lot of fun.

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After that panel, I made it into Jay Little’s panel on making gaming more accessible. Which was pretty insightful. He’s been designing both video games, and table top board games for over 20 years, as well as teaching design in Wisconsin. The experience came through in the panel.The presentation went over how creators could make steps toward making design decisions that would make things more palatable to those with a disability. Or taking balance into consideration to make things deep enough for die-hard fans, but not so difficult to turn off any potential new players. As well as making games more appealing to players of all stripes, and backgrounds. There were also some figures about how much more a game’s development costs rise when a team decides to add these features further along in development, rather than including them in the planning stages. For anybody who follows the creative or business end of video games, it was a really good panel. If he’s slated to give one of these panels at a convention in your area, you should check it out.

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My day closed out with a cool panel about creating pixel art. It was hosted by the same person who gave a tutorial on creating levels for the original DOOM at last year’s ConnectiCon. It was an interesting look at the medium, and the creative benefits of limited color palettes in retro games. Be they the JRPGs that graced the NES, the deep adventures that awaited on the Super NES, and Sega Genesis. Or even the vintage computers like the Commodore 64, or Atari ST. There were even some examples of creating sprite sheets for animation, and layering.

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After the final panel, I took a final run through the dealer’s area, and gaming area. I didn’t get into as many panels as I would have liked this year. But while there weren’t as many celebrities this year, there were still a lot of excellent guests. Steve Lavigne was there. He did a lot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles stuff for Mirage, and Playmates. He still does. Guy GilChrist was there. He’s done a ton of work for Jim Henson. I didn’t get to meet either of them either. But the point being, there were still a lot of interesting people. Even if meeting creators or celebrities wasn’t your thing, there were other things to do. the RKO Army Shadowcast show came back again. The Cosplay Death match was back, and if you were over 21 you could buy beer while watching it.  The annual AMV contest, and masquerade were back too. And if all else failed, there were the karaoke, and expanded gaming areas to take part in.

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Still, there were a number of workshops, and panels from previous years that didn’t return this year. So for some attendees things might not have been as exciting as in previous years. Hopefully next year retains the pluses of this year’s event, and brings back more of the stuff that this year didn’t seem to have. I was also perplexed that the program book for this year didn’t list any of the panel descriptions or schedules. The book just directed readers to look at the times on their computers, tablets, and phones. The thing is, this isn’t always as convenient as a book, and not everyone has a modern smart phone. Those with a prepaid phone, or without a phone at all, basically had to walk to every room in the building to see what panels were going on. Some of the panel titles weren’t listed on Friday too. Which meant that if you didn’t have your phone, or if it was out of battery power, you couldn’t see what panel was happening.  It was the one big grievance I had with the show this year. Even if it hadn’t affected me, it still would have affected some.  That said, I still had a fun three-day break from every day life. So overall I can’t complain too much. 2017 wasn’t as good as 2016. But it was still worth the annual commute to Hartford.

Commodore 64 mini-guide, and a concert I went to.

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Sorry for being a little bit late this week. I was able to see a fantastic concert for the first time in many moons. I had to take full advantage of that fact. I got to see The Dollyrots for the second time ever (They don’t get out to New England very often), and it was awesome. An area band, Chaser Eight opened for them, and had an absolute killer set. Then the Dollyrots got on stage, and crushed it too. If you’ve never heard either band, and you like rock n’ roll, do check them out. Chaser Eight is pretty great, with elements of Alt-Rock, Glam, and straight up rock. It just works. The Dollyrots on the other hand, are an amazing Pop Punk trio led by Kelly Ogden, and Luis Cabezas. They have a really great blend of the sound of the early Rock groups like The Ronettes, and 1970’s Punk bands like The Ramones. Over the years they’ve grown as musicians but the roots are still apparent. It was a great show. Both bands were very approachable, and kind. They hung out with everyone at the bar after playing for a bit, and visited with fans like family you love, but don’t get to see all of the time. It was awesome. If either comes to your area, go see them. If they’re in your town as you’re reading this, just stop reading, and go see them. What are you waiting around for? Go!

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Okay, you’re back? Good. I hope you had as great a time as I did. Anyway, lately I’ve talked a lot about the mighty Commodore 64, its library, and a great C64 peripheral. It’s one of the best platforms of all time. It was sold more than any other computer in its day, and there are a plethora of great games on it. With those, the demo scene, and even a few great bands using its sound chip, you may have thought about getting one. As a lifelong fan of the computer, I can point to some facts, and information you’ll need to know if you’re going to collect for the C64. Now this isn’t going to be the most in-depth look at the platform. There are books that go into the detailed information over the course of several hundred pages for that sort of thing. But these are some key things to look for, and some things to be aware of. There may even be a few things that intrigue a casual reader. So feel free to read on.

First of all, there were a few models. The first version is often called the bread bin model. This came in a couple of variants. The silver label variant is the earliest version, and is sought after by the most devoted Commodore fans. These have the logo in a silver style paint. The drawback with this variant is it has a 5 pin DIN connector for video, where the later models (which had a rainbow of colors next to the logo) used an 8 pin DIN connector for video. Later models also added support for S-Video which is a major jump over the stock RF cable, and switch box that all models can use. The image will be much cleaner, and clearer. Provided of course you track down one of the cables.  After the bread bin model, Commodore released the C64c, which has many of the same updates as the rainbow variant of the bread bin. It also has a couple of chip refinements, and a redesigned bezel.  It should also be noted that while you gain the S-Video, and slightly better power connector in later models, you lose the ceramics for heat reduction on chips. To remedy this, later models have a metal shield inside to draw some heat, but this still isn’t always an effective solution. In Europe some later models didn’t have a metal shield, but a metal coated cardboard one, which trapped heat in some cases.

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Aside from the revisions to the standard Commodore 64, there were alternate versions altogether. The SX-64 was one of the earliest portable computers, as it had a built-in screen, and floppy drive. These things weigh a good 20 lbs. though, so they’re not portable in the sense you’re used to.  In Japan, there was a short-lived version of the C64 called the Commodore MAX. But this cut some functionality. So it didn’t compete on the games or business end, and quickly disappeared. There was also the C64 Game System. But this cut out all of the computer aspects of the computer to play cartridge games. Unfortunately this also broke compatibility with most of the game library as by 1990, the best titles were on tape or diskette.  All three of these variants are considered collector’s items. But unless you just have to have a conversation piece in your collection, I would focus on a regular C64 instead. These alternate versions can also be expensive.

The one noteworthy alternate Commodore 64 is the Commodore 128. This doubled the amount of memory in the computer, and could run all of the C64 software. The catch is it has to be run in C64 mode, as some of the revisions to the hardware led to some incompatibility in 128 mode. But the 128 did well with business, and productivity users, as there were applications that did take advantage of the extra memory. There were two versions, the standard C128, and the C128D. The latter made the keyboard an external peripheral, and included a built-in 1571 floppy diskette drive. The C128D can get expensive as a result, as finding one with a working drive is getting harder.

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There are a couple of risks involved when getting into the platform. But these can be mitigated if you’re wise enough to do a couple of simple things. First, when you find a potential C64 purchase, confirm it is working. If it’s a store, they should be willing to hook it up, and confirm it’s operational. Second, make certain the Power Supply Unit not only works, but is in great shape. The PSU actually has two rails inside. One powers the motherboard, and most of the system, while the other powers the sound chip. As a means to control costs, it is encased in a resin material. However there’s a chance even a working PSU can overheat. Depending on the problem, a bad PSU can fry components inside the computer. That’s why it’s imperative you get a plug-in as pristine condition as possible. You’ll want to make sure it sits out in the open where heat can escape, and if you’re paranoid, you can always have a small desk fan blowing on it. Also keep in mind some of the later bread bin releases may have heat issues from the cost reduced RF shield. These are mostly in PAL territory releases. But again, keeping things cool can help mitigate a problem.

With that out-of-the-way, you’ll want to start gaming. But what else will you need? This depends a bit on what territory you’re in, and whether or not you plan to do any importing. Since I’m in the US, I’ll focus on that, but I’ll touch a bit on other parts of the world in a bit. When the C64 arrived on the scene, games for it started out on cartridge. They had about as much space as the ones found on consoles that were out at the time. Not every user had an external drive right away either, so it made sense for publishers to put games on cartridges. Some of the earliest software also came on cartridges, and this even includes diagnostic software, which may or may not work depending on the hardware issue. If applicable you can turn on the computer with a diagnostic cartridge, and it will let you run simple tests to determine if a chip has gone bad.  But this isn’t always a sure thing, since some hardware failures won’t give you anything other than the blackness of space on your screen. More on that later.

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So a lot of the earliest stuff was out on cartridge. Activision ported many of its console games to the C64 including H.E.R.O., Beamrider, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, and River Raid. But there were a number of great games on cartridge. Eventually however, publishers found alternatives that gave developers more space at a lower cost. The first of these were cassette tapes. Games, and other programs could be published on audio cassettes. These were also cheap, and so many titles started being released on cassette.

In order to run these programs you’ll need a datasette drive. These are basically old school cassette decks. If you want an in-depth look at how these worked, I highly recommend this video from the 8-Bit Guy. In European territories this is the format nearly all of the biggest titles came on, due to the lower production costs. There is one thing for newcomers to be aware of though, and that’s long load times. A lot of larger games on tape can take minutes to load. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t that big a deal. Even today’s console games can take eons to load if you’re playing them off disc, rather than installing them. Still, if you’re short on patience, you’ll need to learn to gather some if you need to run a game off of cassette.

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In North America, prices of writable media began to fall after a while though, and so many games began the move to 5.25″ Floppy Diskettes. these eliminated the storage concerns for a long time. When they cropped up again, many developers simply made games that took multiple disks to get through. To play these games you’ll need a 1541 or a 1541-II floppy diskette drive. There were a few aftermarket drives as well like The Enhancer 2000. In the USA, nearly every notable game came on floppy diskette. Even games that were previously released on cartridge or cassette tape. Most games released on floppy take a lot less time to load over cassette releases. However they’re not quite as fast as one would hope due to a slow port speed. To help with this, there are a number of Fast Loader cartridges you can get. These take some of the load off, and do shave some time off of loading. Again, 8-Bit Guy has a great video on the specifics of how this worked that I won’t go into here. Just know, that an Epyx Fast Load cartridge, or equivalent is something you want if you’re going to play games on Floppy Diskettes.

Once you have all of those in order, you’ll probably want to look into controllers. Most games took advantage of joysticks, though many also had keyboard binds. Almost any controller with a DB9 connector will fit the ports. Atari 2600 joysticks, Sega Genesis pads, and so on. However, it is NOT recommended you use a Sega Genesis pad, because the Sega Genesis pad draws more power than the controller ports need, so there is the chance you can blow a controller port in the process. So it’s best to stick to controllers built with either the C64, or Atari 2600 in mind. My controller of choice is the Slik Stik by Suncom. But there are no shortage of joystick options. Note that some games still utilized two button schemes, at a time when nearly all controllers were one button controllers. The work around most developers went with, was using the space bar.  Depending on the title it may take a little getting used to. In slower paced games it’s rarely a problem, in action games, you’ll want the joystick right in front of the computer so you can easily press the space bar when you need to.

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Now the thing to remember is, this is still a computer platform. So you can do more than game on it. In fact if you’re willing to learn the Commodore variant of BASIC, you can code your own homebrew games for the machine. Which a lot of people did. So you may even have fun tracking down old, defunct Commodore 64 themed magazines. Some of them have been archived like the entire run of Ahoy!. Not only do you get the sensation you feel when looking at an old Nintendo Power, you get programs. Long before the advent of getting a CD full of demos with your game magazine, computer magazines had program articles. You could type in these programs, save them to a diskette, and run them whenever you wanted. Many of them were written entirely in BASIC, although some were written in machine language, and you typed them into a HEX editor program. But you could save them to diskette! Some of these were really good too, like Mystery At Mycroft Mews, where you had to go around a town as detectives, solve murders, and bring the right suspect to trial.

Aside from gaming, there are a wealth of old productivity, and business programs you can find, but honestly, they’re not really going to be much value beyond the history. It is nice to see the original Print Shop in action, or some of the word processors of the time. But you’re probably not going to send your masterpiece novel to a literary agent on a 5.25″ Floppy these days. Still, you can still find old dot matrix printers, and the ribbons though they’re getting scarce.

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But in the more interesting range you can find things like the Koala pad, which is one of the earliest graphics tablets. You could draw with a stylus, and save your art to diskette. There were a bunch of clones that came afterward. But if you draw on a modern Wacom graphics tablet, and wonder where the earliest versions of the tech came from, their infancy took place on 8-bit home computers. You can also find the original 300 baud modems, that let users connect to services like Quantum Link back then (LazyGameReviews did a wonderful video on that service.) But these days, there are homebrew network cards, and browsers tinkerers can invest in.

One of the craziest things I have in my collection is the Hearsay 1000. A cartridge, and software combo that reads whatever you type, back to you. In a kind of creepy robot voice. The software is far from perfect, it doesn’t account for pronunciation, so it can only read things as they are spelled. So if you type in the name “Barbara” it will say it back as “Bar-Bar-A”. But this is where stuff like Dragon Naturally Speaking got its start. Building off of this early tech, or properly doing what it was trying to. If you find a Hearsay 1000, don’t use it while playing games with voice samples. It will yell “HEARSAY ONE THOUSAND!”, and then crash the computer. Then you’ll have to turn it off, disconnect the module, and turn it back on. Then load your game again. Considering you’re going to wait a while for Ghostbusters to load again, best to know that up front.

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Of course not too long ago, I reviewed the SD2EIC. This is a must own peripheral because you can make disk images, or download images of stuff you own to an SD Card. It’s also great if you do happen to have old disks with personal files on them, and want to save those along with your other programs. Plus the load times, are dramatically cut down.

One also needs to take into account the difference between PAL, and NTSC territories If they plan on importing. A lot of really great games including some of the best were exclusive to Europe. While most of these are playable on a North American C64, the speed differences can often lead to all kinds of glitches. Random characters popping up, graphics showing up in grayscale rather than in color, some extreme cases will involve lock ups, and crashes. One can convert their computer via modifying it, but this isn’t recommended if you don’t know your way around altering a circuit board. My advice is to either deal with the glitches if you import a game or follow the purist. Purists will import a PAL C64, peripherals, and either a PAL monitor or else using a scaler with their HDTV to run a native 50 hz signal from the computer. You’ll also want a power converter as the electrical outlets, and standards are different. If you’re in a PAL territory, and you want some of the NTSC exclusives, you’ll see similar issues. So again, purists will want to import an NTSC setup, and use a power converter.

While some of this may get a little complicated, it is worth the plunge. Once you have a fully functional C64 setup, there really isn’t anything else like it.  The unique sound of its sound chip (known as the SID) is popular to this day. The wide, and varied library gets you a large variety of original games, multi platform games, and arcade ports. As is the case with every platform you’ll find a lot of good games, some truly great games, and a fair number of bad ones. I highly recommend visiting Lemon64 for its wealth of information, and its game archive. Plus they have a very helpful community if you do run into issues. Thanks to them I discovered a wonderful hobbyist who does repairs, and builds a lot of high quality homebrew accessories, and power supplies. When my C64c gave me a dreaded Black Screen Of Death last month I got in contact with Ray Carlsen, After some back, and forth messaging I ended up sending him the machine. Having some background in PC repairs, and upgrades I had taken it apart, checked the motherboard, found no bad capacitors. The fuse was intact, and working. I didn’t see any corrosion on chips. But I had no way to test them, and I was stumped. Well he was able to determine I had a minor issue with my power connector, and that my PSU was on its way out. He installed a breaker to prevent the components from frying from a bad PSU. I also ordered one of his homebrew PSUs. When the computer came back, not only was everything working the way it is supposed to, but he somehow got it looking much newer than when I had sent it in. Now he isn’t a traditional business, so he doesn’t do bulk jobs. Don’t go looking to send him 50 broken C64 computers. That isn’t what he is about. But he’ll charge you a fair price to fix a single machine, and take a look at some of his PSU models. With the originals drying up, it can’t hurt to have a spare.

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The Commodore 64 may have been a home computer, but it was one of the most important platforms in video game history. It’s where many games went after the infamous crash in North America, and even after the rise of the NES it still retained a viable market share. In Europe it was also a major contender throughout the 80’s, and 90’s. Although there are some things to be aware of if you want to begin collecting for one, it can be a rewarding experience. Prices fluctuate constantly, but expect to spend between $50 – $150 for a working model with a good PSU. With that alone, you’ll be set for any cartridge games. But chances are you’ll want some of the higher profile releases. A 1541 Floppy drive will set you back about $50. There are deals out there to be had, but many of the cheap ones aren’t tested, so you may be buying a worn out drive. On the budget end though, Datasette drives are fairly inexpensive. So keep an eye out for one of those.

Then, you’ll be ready to pick up some C64 games! Just like on retro consoles, some games are cheap, and common. Some are rare, and expensive. A lot of times you can make out well, by buying lots. A lot of games don’t require anything beyond a floppy diskette, cartridge or cassette. But there are games that have manual protection. So do some research on a title before you buy it. For example, you’ll want to look for complete copies of certain RPGs as they require a code wheel, or manual as a means of copy protection. (IE: Type in the first word in the third paragraph on page 13.) Plus it’s nice to have the manuals, and keyboard overlays for flight sims, RPGs, or point, and click adventure games. Action genres usually didn’t have these vast control schemes requiring hot keys. But a handful did use manual protection so make sure the game you’re interested in isn’t one of them if you’re looking at a loose copy.

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Also be sure to keep your disk based games in sleeves when you’re not using them, and don’t let them get too hot or cold. Definitely keep them away from magnets, as that will corrupt the disk, and destroy your game. It was a lesson we children learned quickly back when home computers were first gaining prominence.  Finally, the Commodore 64, and other computers of the era were powered by variants of Microsoft BASIC. So you’ll need to know a few basic (Ha, ha!) commands. The most important being LOAD”*”,8,1 which for all intents, and purposes tells the disk drive to load the first file on a disk (Usually the executable) into memory. Then when the computer says ‘READY” you can simply type “RUN”, press RETURN, and fire up your game.

That should about do it this time. But keep in mind how many great things the retro games, and computing scene keeps pumping out for the mighty C64. Here’s hoping the new motherboards, network cards, card readers, and even homebrew games continue preserving one of gaming’s most iconic platforms.

 

 

10 Sodas that pair well with video games

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Last time we looked at beer. This time it’s all about the soda. As someone who has far too much of it in his short run, I think I can pick out a few good ones. And I have. Just don’t house more than a couple of these. You’ll probably be up all night, long after your marathon of every mainline Super Mario Bros. game has ended.

What makes soda such a great companion to games, is also its greatest curse. The copious amounts of caffeine, and sugar. It’s wonderful while you’re playing. Keeping you alert, and being delicious. But man, the crash. I’ve had jobs where I’m embarrassed to say I’ve put away more than 2 liters by myself on a few shifts. And STILL made a trip to Starbucks on the way home. The lessons? 1.) This will get you through overnight inventory, and any tournament with ease. 2.) You’re not going to wake up on time the next day, and will be draaaaaaaaagging.

So while too many beers, may kill your kidney, liver, and give you alcohol poisoning, too many sodas can kill your kidney, pancreas, and probably activate diabetes. The point is too much of anything is not a good thing for us. Come to think of it, after this is written, I should probably go for a jog to burn off the Venti Vanilla Latte I just gulped down.

With that morbid thought out-of-the-way, here are 10 tasty combinations of carbonated water, and high fructose corn syrup for that next afternoon of Street Fighter II. Again, this is not a *TOP* ten. Just ten that I can highly recommend. All of them are pretty good, and you can probably get most of them. Soda is a little bit less regional. Though there are still some that are.

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10. RC Cola

Forget Pepsi, and Coke for a minute. They’re the Mario, and Sonic of soda. Everybody knows, and adores them. How about rolling with the Alex Kidd of soda? RC is somewhere between the sweet Pepsi, and more bubbly Coke. It’s also a bit cheaper (around here it’s always in 2 liters for 99 cents.), and has a taste a cut above all of the other budget colas. It may have gotten a funny mirage joke in Family Guy, but that doesn’t make it bad at all. It’s nothing crazy, or over the top. But if you want something simple to drink while playing in the Miracle World, this one will suffice.

09. SURGE

Coke recently brought this one back to the States. In their never-ending quest to dethrone Mountain Dew, they’ve tried many formulas. This one is honestly their best attempt. It’s a bit more citrusy than Pepsi’s juggernaut. It also has the edge when it comes to warming up. Let’s face it. As much as we all like Dew, it gets gross if you don’t finish it while it’s cold. That doesn’t make warm Surge good. But it isn’t as bad. Plus it still has all of the 1990’s ad campaign art on the can. Making it go along with any EXTREME game or franchise. NBA Jam, Smash T.V., Mortal Kombat II, and Killer Instinct all pair well with this one. This may be another one of those limited time comebacks though, so get it if you see it.

08. Virgil’s Root Beer

This one is going to seem like it doesn’t belong. It doesn’t have the artificial flavors, and colors of mass market cola. It won’t keep you awake as there isn’t much in the way of anything of caffeine in it. It DOES have a lot of sugar though. So you’ll still get that burst of a sugar high. But it is one of the few craft sodas that nails it in flavor. Forget IBC. Forget A&W. Virgil’s is going to be your go to soda for Tapper. It is really awesome root beer. Definitely not cheap compared to some of the other sodas here. But it is worth the extra couple of bucks if you can swing it. Virgil’s is insanely good at what it does.

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07. Freaky Dog Barkin’ Birch Soda

Freaky Dog is a regional soda, so you may have trouble finding it locally. But if you can find some online, or you visit Connecticut, stock up. Freaky Dog makes a lot of pretty good soda. But the Barkin’ Birch is one of the best. It’s so good, that even an area bar in town serves it to designated drivers. So what makes this one so good? It gets the Birch flavor down perfectly, and balances it with just the right amount of  cane sugar, and carbonation. There is nothing quite like old-school hand crafted soda. Plus Birch beer goes well with anything full of fast action. I find it’s something I roll with during shmups. In fact, if you’re firing up some Giga Wing, Ikaruga, or Deathsmiles, you’re going to break a sweat. Cool down with Barkin’ Birch. You won’t regret it.

06. Mountain Dew Dewshine

Even Pepsi is trying to mix things up with premium soda. So they introduced Dewshine. Honestly, it’s worth the extra money. What you lose in yellow color, you make up for in flavor. Dewshine is sweet. Dewshine is citrusy. Dewshine tastes better than any of the other versions of Mountain Dew, and I’ve had far too many of all of them.  It also goes for pure cane sugar over other sweeteners.  This one goes great with many games, but I’ve probably had it mostly in competitive multiplayer. Mario Kart 8, Splatoon, and Overwatch matches have been washed down with Pepsi’s moonshine themed soda. Check it out if you haven’t already. It’s pretty great.

07. Mountain Dew DEW S.A.

We all loved Mountain Dew Voltage when it came out. Code Red, some loved. Some were lukewarm on. White Out quickly became the soda for the Smirnoff Ice fan. (Seriously they taste very similar.) So now someone at Pepsi got the bright idea of mixing the three of them. The end result is delicious. One wonders why they didn’t think of this sooner. It kind of tastes like letting your favorite stick of Flavor-Ice melt, and then carbonating it in a Sodastream. Pairs really well with Rocket League. Which just beckons a soda that will make you alert. I’ve been enjoying this one a lot over the past couple of days. I’ll miss it when I go back to drinking water after it’s gone.

06. Flathead Lake Gourmet Green Apple Soda

I hesitate to call this one “Gourmet”. One look at the ingredients made me wonder why on Earth the folks at the grocery store put this in the health food aisle. Really. They did. But the peculiar art still grabbed me, and I gave this stuff a shot. The folks at Flathead Lake, do know confectionery flavor. Because upon sipping this, you will immediately remember what a sour green apple Jolly Rancher tastes like. That’s what this is. Jolly Rancher, as a soda. Which is pretty awesome. I proceeded to drink two bottles during some Toxikk matches. This was after drinking the first two at work. I had a sugar crash. But Flathead Lake is pretty damn delicious.

05. Trader Joe’s Vintage Soda

This is another one for folks that want just a great all around cola when playing through Shovel Knight, or classics like Mega Man II. It’s light, tastes sweet, but not too sweet, and has the body one would expect a standard cola to have. They’re a little bit more expensive than a mass market soda, but they also undercut sodas from healthier alternative brands. If you live near a Trader Joe’s, stop in, and try this one. It’s pretty good.

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04. Red Rain Energy Soda

This is made by an outfit out of Canada. I can’t speak for other countries, but here in the US, I’ve only ever found it in dollar discount stores. But when you only cost a dollar, AND you taste better than Red Bull, AND you’re just as effective, well it’s worth the run-on sentence. It’s got the tartness most energy drinks I’ve tried also have. But where things like Monster feel like a golf ball in my stomach, Red Rain doesn’t. So if you’re going to try to play through a 40 hour JRPG in a couple of sittings, check it out. It’s sure to keep you awake through your favorite Final Fantasy, or your Chrono Trigger speed run.

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03. Shasta Orange Soda

There’s a reason this one was referenced in Futurama. It’s timeless. It’s also inexpensive which is why it’s found seated alongside Red Rain around here. Plus who doesn’t like a good orange soda? This one goes great with all of the classics. Space Invaders, Dig Dug, Galaxian, Asteroids, Centipede, and Berzerk! Just don’t forget that all Rush mix tape.

02. Virgil’s Cream Soda

Virgil’s makes it on the list a second time with its excellent cream soda. Honestly, this one is as enjoyable as their Root Beer. It’s light bodied, has mild sweet notes of vanilla, and is refreshing. When you’re firing up some Forza, Gran Turismo, or Assetto Corsa, it’s a nice way to celebrate your big win.

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01. BAWLS

This stuff is one of the best energy sodas of all time. It’s made with guarana, which has caffeine in it. It’s delicious.  It also doesn’t feel heavy. You can drink a couple of them (though you really shouldn’t), and not feel sick. It has enough of a kick to keep you awake for hours. After having just one of these, it’s easy to see why it was so popular at LAN parties, and tournaments. Ask any veteran of Quake III Arena, or Unreal Tournament, and they’ll attest to how tasty, and effective Bawls is. Within the last decade though, the company behind Bawls has had its ups, and downs. As such, you can’t find it in every 7 Eleven anymore. These days you almost only ever find it online by the case. But if you haven’t had Bawls, it’s worth ordering one for the experience.  Pairs well with just about any competitive arena shooter where reflexes are key. It also goes nicely with any RTS. Warcraft, StarCraft, Dawn Of War II, you name it.

So that’s my soda list! Again, not a top ten, just some really good stuff I’ve had gaming over the years. I hope you’ve enjoyed the list, and my sad attempts at advertisement parody. Is there something from your neck of the woods we should chug down? Talk about it in the comments below! Next time we’ll be back with a proper review!