Tag Archives: Atari

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.

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Desert Falcon Review

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As someone who buys, and replays old games it’s unsurprising to see shmups for classic consoles skyrocketing in price these days. A recent trip to Retro Games Plus reminded me of that fact. But sometimes you find surprises in your travels. I picked up Shinobi III as it was priced at a bargain, and I found a late release VCS shmup die-hard fans, and collectors may want to look into.

PROS: Considering the limitations of the Television Interface Adapter, it’s impressive.

CONS: These limitations also hinder some of the play control.

HOLY CRAP: This game has quite the imposing boss. At least on the 2600.

Now before I start, I also have to point out that this one actually came out for two of Atari’s 8-bit consoles. The 7800, as well as the 2600. This review will focus mostly on the 2600 version, as I don’t presently have the 7800 cartridge.  I have however played it on the original Atari Flashback console, so I can comment a little bit on the differences.

Desert Falcon is played through an isometric view. Not a lot of classic shoot ’em ups beyond Sega’s Zaxxon have done this. But aside from that one similarity, it’s its own unique take on the genre. The game takes place in Egypt where you pilot a giant bird. You can move left or right, but you can also move yourself up or down as you fly. Going all the way to the ground will land the bird.

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Of course being a shooter, you’ll be shooting at enemies. These include enemy birds, fireballs, and more. But that’s not what makes this game unique. Throughout the game are hieroglyphs that you can land upon, and claim for yourself. Not only do these give you large point bonuses, landing the right combinations of them can give you power ups. It’s something that gives the game a way to set itself apart other than the setting. These power ups can warp you to the boss, give you invulnerability, or even impede the boss.

The game has one lone boss who appears at the end of every stage, the Howling Sphinx. You have to shoot him in a very specific spot in the face to defeat him, and he summons waves of enemy birds, while spitting fire at you. All the while, making a noise you wouldn’t think the 2600/7800 sound chip could make possible. If you defeat the boss, you get to fly through a bonus stage grabbing treasure before going onto the next stage.

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Desert Falcon isn’t a terrible game, but it is hobbled by some issues with its graphics. This is especially the case with the 2600 version of the game. It simply cannot produce the detailed sprites seen in the 7800 version. So while you can get a rough idea of what you’re flying over, like monuments, pyramids, and lakes you don’t get the level of depth perception it requires. It can be hard to tell if your too low, or not over left or right enough to avoid things. Touching anything in the game will knock you out, and you can only get knocked out a handful of times before seeing a Game Over.

You’ll also have to pay really close attention to where the bird’s shadow is on the ground. Because again, it isn’t always obvious if you’re on the same plane as enemies. The Atari 7800 version looks much more detailed, with a better sense of where everything is. As such if you have a 7800 this is the preferred version to go with. That being said, again the 2600 version isn’t bad. It’s one of the games worth looking into as it does push the graphics hardware even though other games may still look better.

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If you still don’t have a 2600, or 7800 there are legitimate re-releases of the game you can find. The 2600 version can be found on several of the Atari Flashback consoles, the compilations on the PS4/XB1, and Atari Vault on Steam (Which is a great compilation.). The 7800 version also appeared on the inaugural edition of the Flashback line of all-in-one consoles. If you do own either original system however, it isn’t a wallet buster at the time of this writing. It’s an uncommon game, but unlike some of the other obscure games out there it can be had fairly inexpensively. If you have the option go for the 7800 version. But if you love some of the more curious releases, the 2600 version isn’t a bad game to have in your collection.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

Frostbite Review

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Last week I looked at a pretty great handheld with a bunch of Atari 2600 games on it. Seeing how we’re in the midst of the holiday season, and snow is beginning to trickle down upon us  I thought I’d go with a theme. A seasonal theme. So this week coming off of the Flashback portable I’m revisiting the glorious 2600 again to talk about Frostbite.

PROS: An excellent combination of puzzles, and platform jumping!

CONS: Sensitive controls.

POLAR BEAR: Frostbite’s lone boss isn’t the lovable Coca-Cola mascot you love.

Created by Steve Cartwright, Frostbite is one of the best Activision published Atari 2600 games you may have missed. So often when talking about Activision’s earliest games we remember the super hits. Pitfall!, River Raid, and Kaboom!. But a lot of other great games they put out in their heyday often get lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because Frostbite is not only one of the best Activision games, it’s one of the best games on the Atari 2600.

There are a lot of games on the console that can land in that pantheon. So why does Frostbite deserve to join them? What does this game do better than other games of the type? Frostbite takes one major cue from Q*Bert, and builds an entirely new concept around it. In that game you jump on the top surfaces of blocks to change their colors until they all match. But in this game you play as a builder named Frostbite Bailey. Frostbite Bailey needs to build an igloo to survive in. In order to do this you have to jump on ice floes as they float down an icy ocean current. When you land on one, a brick shows up on the shore, and the ice flow changes to a blue color.

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Once every row of ice floes turns blue, they turn snow-white again, and you continue building your igloo by jumping on them. When the last jump is made, a door appears, and you can enter your igloo to end the level. While the concept sounds simple enough, you’ll find the game is anything but easy. Moreover, the better you become, the more difficult the hurdles that are thrown in front of you. Besides all of this, there is a thermometer that acts as a timer. If you can’t complete a level before the temperature hits zero, you’ll freeze to death. And you really do. The death animation shows your dead corpse turn blue in the icy tundra. There are a litany of ways to die in Frostbite. Miss a jump, and you’ll drown in a watery grave as your heart stops. Animals will pull you into the ocean to kill you. Or chase you down, and maul you.

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The really nice thing is, you’re eased into the mechanics. The first level runs very slow, and you’ll only have the snow geese to contend with, while you jump around building your igloo. But each successive level adds more danger. First these dangers are minor. King crabs join the fray. Ice floes become rows of smaller chunks. But by the fourth level things start to kick into overdrive. Ice flows break apart or sink after so many seconds spent standing on them. Killer clams show up. The enemy attack patterns begin to change. The toughest addition is the polar bear who comes out of hibernation. From this point on, you’ll have a boss you cannot kill. All you can do is attempt to sneak into your igloo once it is built. If you get spotted at all by the bear, it will chase you down, and kill you off-screen.

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But to balance these challenges are some nice scoring mechanisms. To start with, you’ll get points for jumping on ice floes. You get points for any degrees left on the temperature timer at the end of every round. Sometimes the game will throw you a bone by sending out a row of fish where you may normally see killer crabs, clams, and geese. These can be eaten for points. Every 5,000 points you score nets you a 1-Up. Fish also add a big risk/reward element. Do you go for the extra food points, or just try to get into your igloo before you freeze to death?

But even with the extra credits, you’re forced to do better. You’ll soon learn in later stages you have to make a lot of diagonal jumps. Because going directly up or down many times will land you right on a crab who will pull you into the ocean, and kill you by hypothermia. You’ll also need to master this if you have any hope of successfully avoiding polar bears. The polar bears love to stalk the doorway of your igloo once it’s been built, and you’ll need enough clearance to quickly get away, and into the igloo.

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On top of all of this Frostbite triples the speed of the game every major score metric. You’ll first notice it if you can crack 10,000 points. But at every noteworthy score it gets faster, and faster. Back when the game was new, Activision gave high scorers one of their coveted patches if they could crack 40,000. With some practice, and determination this is achievable. What is really astonishing after playing the game, is discovering footage of players reaching scores in the hundreds of thousands of points.

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But here’s the thing. Even though Frostbite may have released in the summer of 1983 it retains a level of addictive gameplay on par with mainstays like Tetris. Like any of your favorite games it has a great mix of elements that will keep you coming back once you’ve played it. It also has that classic Activision look. Simple graphics, yet somehow laced with enough detail that it looks a cut above most other games. Activision, and Imagic were wonderful in this regard. Frostbite is no exception. Bailey has some nice touches like his hair peeking out from under his hood, and all of the creatures have cool animations going on. There isn’t anything in the way of music, but the sound effects go along with everything nicely. Especially the gnashing teeth of the polar bear when he gets you.

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If you collect for the VCS, Frostbite, like many Activision games should be on your buy list. It isn’t a very common game, but it isn’t outlandishly rare either. It’s one of the more affordable uncommon games too. If you don’t have an Atari 2600 on hand, there are a number of Activision 2600 collections that include the game. The Activision Anthology on the PC, and PS2 being one of the best. There is also a mobile version of the Activision Anthology, making Frostbite, and other titles playable on modern tablets, and phones. Of course nothing beats playing on the original hardware, but these are great alternatives.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Atgames Atari Flashback Portable Review

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Have you heard the cries? Everyone clamoring for an NES mini, a tiny replica of Nintendo’s seminal console with 30 built-in ROMs. But this isn’t an entirely new idea. For almost a decade now, Atari has been doing just that. Miniature versions of their most popular consoles under the Atari Flashback moniker. However after the fourth revision, they handed off production to a third-party called Atgames.

PROS:60 VCS games covering commons, rarities, prototypes & homebrew. In a handheld!

CONS: Permanent battery. Some of the game inclusions are odd ones.

STRANGER: You can buy one in Bed Bath & Beyond.

Atgames has the dubious honor of making All-in-One Sega Genesis clones with, bad sound emulation. But while their track record with the Sega license has been less than stellar, their time on the Atari Flashback line has been good. Since taking over the reigns from Atari for the most part, the casings have been similar. Although the insides have been different. They’ve been systems on a chip, with emulation. But these have been pretty good by most accounts. A move even Atari was doing with the line themselves, with the lone exception of the Flashback 2, which used the original MOS 6502 chipset the original Atari 2600 did.

With the Atari Flashback Portable, Atgames has taken the same principle, but moved it into a handheld setup. And honestly, it’s a pretty good handheld. Right away, you’ll notice that it isn’t very large. It’s smaller than any of the Nintendo 3DS family of consoles, or any of the Sony portable consoles. Being an All-In-One, it doesn’t have a slot for cartridges.

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In the box you’ll get the console, a small instruction manual, and a 5 pin USB cable. The USB cable will let you recharge the battery in the console using your computer. You can buy a USB wall adapter to charge it from an outlet separately. Also sold separately is an optional AV cable you can buy from Atgames directly. That will let you hook the system up to a TV with composite cable inputs. Nice if you have an older model TV, but with many new TVs this is moot in many cases since a lot of the new models don’t include legacy inputs. So if you do want to use this with a modern TV you’ll also need a composite switch box that will connect to a HDMI port in addition to a composite cable.

One nice thing is that the system comes with a pre-charged battery so you can play it once you open the box. On the underside is the power button, and along the top you’ll have a volume dial, AV out port, a headphone jack, and an SD Card slot. The face of the unit gives you a D-Pad, and a fire button. In addition to those, the switches from the original 2600 have all been replicated as buttons. So you’ll have a Reset button at the top right, a Select button, Left, and Right Difficulty buttons, and even a Black & White TV toggle button.

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They also added a pause button (something the original VCS never had), and a menu button which is used to back out of games to go to the game list. When you turn the unit on you’ll go right into the game menu. Each of the 60 titles has a photo of the original box art, or a mock-up of box art. Pressing the fire button will boot up the game you’ve selected.

Construction of the console feels pretty nice. The D-pad is comfortable, and responsive, as are the face buttons. It’s pretty comfortable to hold. It’s lightweight, but it doesn’t feel shoddy. Around the screen is a pretty nice piano gloss finish, and the screen itself is also pretty nice. It’s really sharp, graphics look crisp, and things are easy to see despite the small size. The viewing angle is pretty good too for what it is. If you tilt it wildly far of course, it isn’t going to look good. But you don’t have to look at the screen dead on either. As far as screens go for a budget AIO handheld like this, it’s very good.

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But the big reason Atari fans may want to buy this is because it has an SD Card reader. You can put 2600 ROMs on a card, and then run those games on the Atari Flashback Portable. This is a great way to play homebrew on the go. If you want to play Halo 2600, or Zippy while spending an hour in a coffeehouse you can do it. You can also run many of your personal backups on it. The downside with this is that the feature can be abused with people running pirated games on it. It remains to be seen what Atgames will do if this becomes a widespread issue. Companies like Activision are still pretty protective of their original games from the era, often releasing retro game compilations, and devices of their own. Keep in mind that not every SD card is viewable by the slot. Smaller capacity cards are more likely to work with it, than high-capacity cards (SDHC). Try to find a card with 2GB or less if possible.

Battery life is really good. You can get several hours of game time before you have to recharge the battery. But that leads me into the console’s faults. There are two major problems with the Atari Flashback Portable that I must note. As much as I enjoy the system for what it is, the fact that it has a permanent battery is a big concern. Granted it isn’t very expensive, but in a few years when it fails to hold a charge any longer you’ll have two options: A.) Run the system on a USB charger through an outlet or a computer. Or B.) Pray Atgames as a newer model out with the same or better features, and replace the unit with the new one. You’ll lose portability with the first option, and if the line isn’t in production anymore when it happens you’re forced to use it plugged.

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Going with common batteries may have decreased the play time you would have, but it wouldn’t make customers feel like they’re forced into replacing it. Alternatively, they could have gone with a replaceable proprietary battery. This may have made the device cost more, but again, people could opt to buy a backup battery instead of having to get a new system or plug it in all of the time once the initial battery died.

The second problem is the game line up. Don’t get me wrong, the overwhelming majority of the game selection is great. You’re getting must play titles like the 2600 versions of Asteroids, Centipede, Millipede, Missile Command, or Crystal Castles. There are gems on here like Yars’ Revenge, Secret Quest, and Solaris. You even get a number of rare games, prototypes, and indie homebrew games on here if you can believe it.

Where the line up falters are some of the inclusions. Atgames bundled in Circus Atari, Breakout, Super Breakout, and Demons To Diamonds. These games used the 2600 Paddle controllers on the original VCS. The games do play with the D-Pad, but the D-Pad doesn’t control these games nearly as well as the Paddle controllers did. Beyond that, the line up is solid. Though to be able to play the Swordquest games properly in a public setting you’ll need to download, and print the manuals, and DC Comics the original cartridges came with as they required them in order to play through them properly.

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But beyond those two major caveats, the Atari Flashback Portable is really awesome. Fans, and collectors will enjoy it because there is now a convenient way to play these on the go. Sure you can buy these games on Steam, and play them on your laptop. But the portable makes this quick, and easy. There are also perfect games for some situations on the console For instance; in a doctor’s office or on a commute, where you can shoot for a high score in that 15 minutes. Obviously one can spend hours playing on it as well.

It’s pretty cool all around, but it’s especially nice for people who are lapsed, who haven’t picked up a game for themselves in 30 years. It has a nostalgic factor to it. It’s also a great device for retro game fans, since they can play most Atari 2600 files on it. Sadly the emulation won’t run quite everything, but it does work with the majority of titles. One might also consider picking this up if they’re interested in experiencing Atari 2600 games for the first time, but aren’t interested enough to devote time, and money into collecting the original console, accessories, and game cartridges. It’s a great way for a newcomer to learn about the first mass market console without having to make a major investment.

If only Atgames went with a replaceable battery, and thought out the game selection better. This would have been a must-own. As it stands though, it is still a great device worth checking out if you’re an Atari enthusiast, or a newcomer who is interested in the history, and enjoyment of video games.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Dark Chambers Review

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Ah, Gauntlet. A long running franchise created by Ed Logg. Games were put out by Atari, and (after the arcade division was sold to them by Warner Communications) Midway (which was ironically sold back to Warner Bros.) in the arcades, and a wide variety of platforms over the years. But there was an obscure game that inspired Ed Logg to create Gauntlet. That game was called Dandy.

PROS: Excellent play control. Challenging.

CONS: Two players instead of four.

WEIRD: The game came out after the one its predecessor inspired.

Dandy was one of the earliest arcade style dungeon crawlers. Created by John Palevich, it was part of Atari’s, Atari Program Exchange. Basically, a scouting program that allowed budding programmers, of professional or amateur levels to submit software. Software that met the criteria would become commercially available through a mail-order catalog.

Dandy was created while Palevich worked at Atari. The game made it through the A.P.E. process, and would be released for the Atari 8-bit family of computers. The game became a cult hit within Atari, and a scant two years later Gauntlet would build upon Dandy’s core ideas, and become the powerhouse it did. In fact, Ed Logg credited Gauntlet’s inspiration to Dandy in 2012.

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This is where Dark Chambers comes in. Years later, after Warner sold the home division of Atari to the Tramiel family.  Atari Corporation would finally release the 7800, and would re-release the Atari 2600 as a slim model that became known as the Atari 2600 Jr. By this point Nintendo had reinvigorated the home console market, and taken nearly every publisher along with them. Sega, and Atari would see scant support releasing too far behind Nintendo. Both companies would do fairly well for themselves in the console space, but would still fall very short of Nintendo’s performance.

In order to compete Atari would find itself going to its computer market space, and securing ports to fill the some of the void left by publishers that followed Nintendo. John Palevich’s Dandy would be retooled for the 7800, and 2600. It was given a new title to separate this version from its predecessor.

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Dark Chambers may not be quite as robust as Dandy or Gauntlet. But it is still one of the best games you’ll ever find for Atari’s two greatest home consoles. Like the other two games, you have to explore dungeons, look for treasure, items, and health. All while taking down enemies, and trying to stay alive.

Unlike Gauntlet, there aren’t any classes to speak of. There aren’t as many on-screen bad guys as in Gauntlet or Dandy. You’re also limited to two players in Dark Chambers. To compensate for this, Dark Chambers’ villains are more powerful, and take several forms.  You’ll find reapers, wraiths, skeletons, evil clerics, and more across the 26 stages.

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Much like Gauntlet there are teleportation devices that spawn in endless waves of enemies until you destroy them. Destroying them can sometimes leave a health pickup, a treasure, or even a power up. Power ups are broken down into three items. There’s a dagger. Picking this up makes your shots deal a lot more damage. These are the most important pickups because in later stages you’ll be running into newer, more difficult monsters.

Almost as important is the shield. Picking this up means that if you get hit you won’t take as much damage. But don’t get careless, because you can go down fairly quickly if you get cornered. Shields, or no shields. There is also a hand gun. This doesn’t give you an actual gun, but what it does do is make your dagger shots much faster. Finally, there’s the wick bomb. This basically acts as a smart bomb, and kills all of the enemies on the screen.

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But even with these power ups, Dark Chambers isn’t a  cake walk. Finding the exit in each of the stages gets harder as you find locked doors that require keys, maps that can prove to be pretty intricate, and difficult mazes to find your way through. The enemies in the game also don’t simply die. There is an enemy hierarchy. If you kill a skeleton for instance, it will turn into a zombie. You can then kill the zombie. What this means is some of the really tough enemies will go down the scale as you kill them several times, until they become zombies you can kill permanently. On top of all of this you only get one life. No continues.

Obviously the 7800 version of Dark Chambers is the better looking of the two versions. There are some great textures for background patterns, and the details on the enemies is really nice. It can hang with the NES versions of Gauntlet, and Gauntlet II in terms of visual presentation.  But the 2600 version of Dark Chambers isn’t a terrible looking game considering the divide in horsepower. Walls are single color lines, but the character sprites are pretty good, using shapes to a great avail. As such, characters may only be one or two color sprites, yet convey the impression that they’re a lot more detailed than they are. When you see the game in action, it comes off as pretty impressive in spite of its rudimentary graphics.

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Moreover, the 2600 version’s mazes are zoomed in, scrolling vertically, but not horizontally. There’s a really cool fade effect when moving horizontally into the next room. Because of this the 2600 version of Dark Chambers can sometimes feel like an Action RPG even though it very clearly follows the same gameplay cues the 7800 version does. By contrast the 7800’s mazes scroll in all directions giving the game a faster feel. It ends up feeling a bit closer to the original Dandy, or Gauntlet in this regard, though again, with its own distinct rules. To be honest it’s well worth checking out both of these versions if you have the opportunity.

Sound wise there isn’t much to talk about however. Neither version gives you much of anything in terms of chip tunes, and the sound effects are all rather generic. They get the job done for the kind of game it is, but there isn’t anything memorable in the audio department.

Beating either version doesn’t give you an ending, or credits. It just starts over with a higher difficulty level. However you can start the game on various difficulty levels. In the case of the 2600 version, the difficulty is represented by a teddy bear which becomes more grizzled as you choose higher difficulty settings.

All, in all I highly recommend Dark Chambers. Especially if you’re a big fan of any given version of Gauntlet. I would also implore fans of modern-day rogue-likes  to give it a chance so long as they own a 2600 or 7800. It’s a lot of fun, and the one life challenge can make the game even more compelling to those who love their video games tough.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Retro World Expo 2016 Recap

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Last year’s inaugural Retro World Expo was a rousing success. It gave fans in New England a chance to meet YouTube celebrities, gorge on classic gaming, and mingle with thousands of fans. Not to mention the droves of exhibitors who showed up to sell their products. It was a great time last year.

Well, that success translated into an even better convention this year. This time the event took the course of a weekend, rather than one single day. Again, there were some great guests. Returning from last year, were  many of Retroware’s finest. Creators Lance Cortez, and John Delia were back, along with”Pixel” Dan Eardley, The Gaming Historian (Norman Caruso), and The Game Chasers. But joining them were Pat “The NES Punk” Conti,  the creators of Stop Skeletons From Fighting, and Mortal Kombat’s own Daniel Pesina.  Josh Tsui also made an appearance. He was one of Midway’s Mortal Kombat 4 designers. These days he heads up Robomodo, a small developer known for mobile. But they’ve also done some of the later Tony Hawk games.

But there were even more guests! Nick Mueeler, and Ste Kulou were there. They began HD Retrovision, a company known for component cables for old systems. They returned this year with Robert Neal of RetroRGB fame. They were there educating fans on signal types, cable types, the differences between them, and performance.

Wood Hawker was back again too. You may know him from his show The Game Quest where he travels the world hunting for games. He’s even done a number of crossovers with some of the biggest names on YouTube.

Antoine Clerc Renaud also made an appearance this year. He wrote much of the Complete History of Coleco, a book about the company behind the Colecovision. As well as the Adam, and several memorable toy lines.

Eric Lappe of The Video Game Years fame was also there, as well as cover sensation Banjo Guy Ollie! Rounding things out were RF Generation who have a database archive site where you can pull up information about games for a vast variety of platforms. They also do a solid podcast.

Beyond the guests were a host of bands who played shows throughout the two days in the arcade area. Epic Game Music was the most popular, but Lame Genie, The World Is Square, and You Bred Raptors were also heard during the convention. All of the bands absolutely crushed it, gracing the arcade with driving blends of hard rock, and (in the case of TWIS) folk. On the main show floor, Radlib was playing throughout both days.

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The arcade was bursting with classics this year. Centipede, Missile Command, Asteroids Deluxe, Crystal Castles, and The Star Wars Arcade game were on hand representing classic Atari. Representing Nintendo’s arcade heyday were Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye. Sega classics were there too. Turbo Outrun, After Burner, Thunder Blade, and Shinobi. There were a lot more games on hand beyond even those! Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt. Konami’s Gyruss, and Frogger. Capcom’s Final Fight, Street Fighter II CE, Street Fighter Alpha 3, Knights Of The Round, and Ghouls N’ Ghosts. Still need more? On the Midway/Williams front NARC, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat III, and Mortal Kombat IV could be seen. Namco’s Ms. Pac-Man was also on free play.

The arcade also had a pretty decent selection of Pinball machines. I couldn’t get them all listed, but the Nightmare On Elm Street machine was especially fun to play. Even though I’m terrible at pinball, I had fun failing miserably. Thanks in part to the great sound effects, challenging design, and fantastic aesthetic.

The console game room also returned, though this time it was given a different area, rather than share the floor space of the arcade with the cabinets. Again, there were a lot of great classic systems set up. Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,  Atari Jaguar, and other old systems were prevalent. Although I didn’t see as many pre NES game consoles this year. A little disappointing for old timers like me, but the plethora of vintage arcade machines more than made up for it.

The console area also had a lot of tournaments run by Game Haven, which is this really cool LAN center in Norwalk, CT. They let you go in with friends, and rent time on computers, and consoles for tournaments, practice, or just to play for fun with friends in a local environment. So having them run the tournament ladders seemed like a good fit. There were tournaments for NHL ’94, and NBA Jam on the Genesis. A Mortal Kombat II tournament, and Super Street Fighter II tournament on the Super NES. For the competitive wrestling fan, there was also a WWF No Mercy tournament on the Nintendo 64. There was even a bonus challenge centered around the infamous E.T. The Extra Terrestrial for the Atari 2600.

Plus on top of all of these, was a Super Smash Bros. 4 tournament, which drew quite the following at the show. This one was hosted by Legacy Tournaments which specializes in regional Smash Tournaments.

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Of course there were also countless returning vendors. But among them were a couple of indie developers showing off some of their upcoming games. The first of these was a company called Giant Evil Robot. They were showing off a game called Mecha-Tokyo Rush. The version at the show was a nearly final version in a demo mode. Mecha-Tokyo Rush is an endless runner. But to set it apart from the plethora of other endless runners on the market, it implements elements of the Mega Man games. So you’ll be able to select stages, earn items from boss fights, and blast robots. But, being an endless runner you never bother with moving. The game just moves along, and you time your jumps accordingly. But you’ll do so while shooting . Visually, the version at the show didn’t look half bad. It had a decent 16-bit look to it. The full game will let players choose different characters, and items. The keys on the demo laptop weren’t ideal so I asked the representative if it would allow players to use a game pad, and I was told they may add functionality down the line. At launch it won’t. The game will be a F2P game with things you can unlock with game credit. I wasn’t given any specifics about it. The game does look a cut above some other F2P stuff you may have tried, so hopefully the final game turns out well.

The other developer booth was interesting because it was both about a documentary, and an upcoming game. The New 8-Bit Heroes is the documentary. It follows the designer of a new game called Mystic Searches, and the progress of developing the game. That designer’s name is Joe Granato. He found old design documents he made as a kid, and decided to make his childhood dream game. But here’s where things get really engrossing. The game was made to run on an NES. The NES like a lot of platforms in the 1980’s ran on a MOS 6502 processor, or variant. The Atari 2600, NES, Commodore 64, and many other platforms used it. Back then, most programs were written in assembly language, and translated into machine language. Which meant they had to be written in a language like PASCAL  or a complicated Hex system, and pretty much everything had to be coded in. Even the graphics, and sound.

These days, most games run on an engine. Many games share one. Unreal Engine, Unity, and others are used by countless games, which lessens some of the workload as an engine does a lot of background work freeing up programmers, artists, etc. to focus on other things. That’s probably an oversimplification on my part, but the point is, this makes things easier.

Anyway, during the course of making Mystic Searches, the designers quickly realized how long writing a game in  6502 assembly language was going to take. So they wrote their own Graphic User Interfaces for things. Things like placing graphics tiles. Things like attributing properties to objects. Eventually, they had enough GUIs made that they essentially built their own game engine!

So they’re going to be launching a Kickstarter for the engine. Not only will it let end users build a game with the included assets, but advanced users can import their own sprites, music, and content. It’s simple enough that an average person can make something on their own. But deep enough that aspiring developers can make something very involved. The hope is that the final revision will let people do different genres. RPGs, Shmups, Platformers, and more. But the most exciting part of all of this is that the program will allow end users to flash their games to an actual NES Game Pak!

They had a working prototype set up at the convention so that show goers could check it out for themselves. After trying it out, I was very impressed with what I was shown. I grew up typing game programs out of magazines in BASIC, or into Hex address compilers. Suffice it to say, I was pretty terrible at it. Even though technically all of the work (aside from hours typing it in) was already done for the reader.Plus playing a game, is more fun than typing in a game. But here, the tools, while still requiring a bit of learning, and experimenting, were still understandable. You don’t need to know how to code anything in order to use it. It reminded me a lot of using map editors for the original DOOM. Or games like the Shoot ’em up Construction Kit.

I asked a few questions during my time with it, and got a few details in the answers. I asked if there were any plans to have a business level license for other developers, and was told there really wouldn’t be. Anyone can pretty much buy the utility, and do what they want. The license does say however, that anyone who wants to sell a game they make with the utility cannot use any of the utility’s assets. Meaning they have to draw all their own sprites, background art, etc., as well as write their own music. The reason being that the utility was used to make Mystic Searches, and as such the assets are intrinsically tied to that IP.

But they want as many developers, and hobbyists as possible to use the product. So they aren’t looking to have the typical Business, and Consumer licenses many other software utilities do.

I asked if there was a way to import one’s own content, or even piggyback their own code onto the utility, and was told one can definitely do it. They really want the product to be as open as possible while keeping things simplified for beginners.

Another person asked about pricing. Nothing is set in stone, so they didn’t have a finalized price at the time of the show, but they were shooting for a sub $100 mark. This would give the customer the hardware to make their NES Game Pak when they were ready. They also said they may have one SKU for just the software utility, and a separate one for the hardware. They added, that there would be a list of suppliers for the hardware so that if one doesn’t want to buy it all from the developer, they can get the hardware elsewhere if they wanted to. Mystic Searches is shooting for a holiday release, while the utility release isn’t as concrete.

I asked about any plans for retailers, and was told they were discussing ways to possibly have a program with small businesses to print future games on demand. This could take some risk away as a small store wouldn’t have to buy a case of copies of Mystic Searches or future titles. Instead the store could print as few or as many as they needed. This would be an entirely different venture than the utility they were showing off however.

If the final products turn out as well as what I saw during the show, the homebrew community is going to be very pleased. Mystic Searches is looking to be a really good send up of games like The Legend Of Zelda, Ys I+II, and Crystalis. It’s also coming out in three different Game Pak casings. A standard gray color for $40. A black color with custom artwork by Morgan Davidson will set you back $64. Finally, there’s the limited edition wood grain version, which brings a hint of Atari 2600 heavy sixer to the Nintendo Entertainment System. This one is an expensive $128 as it is hand carved. Aside from the special cartridges it seems about in line with what most other homebrew games cost.

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There were a lot of panels this year, and I managed to get into three of them. The first of which was The Gaming Historian panel with Norman Caruso. This year, he did a live entry into The Gaming Historian series where he talked about the making of the infamous Super Mario Bros. movie. He went over many things that happened behind the scenes. Tension between the cast, and the directors. The constant rewrites to the script, some of which even happened during filming, and of course Nintendo’s involvement in the film.

After the history lesson, Norman took volunteers for another game of Video Game History Jeopardy. This year I was actually selected as a contestant! Competition was stiff though, as both of my opponents were very keen. One of them could have been a professor when it came to Sonic The Hedgehog which was one of the categories. After a very exciting game came the final Jeopardy question that nobody got right. But luck shined on me when it turned out my two opponents put everything on the line, and I had put all but one dollar on the line. I suppose watching a lot of Jeopardy as a kid paid off.

After the Jeopardy game, Norman took a quick Q & A session. One of the questions that stood out was when a fan asked what had happened to The Nintendo buyout of the Mariners episode of The Gaming Historian. Apparently it wasn’t Nintendo that had tied things up. It was the MLB. But not all hope for the episode is lost, both parties are trying to work things out.

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The second panel I managed to get into was Pixel Dan’s panel. Dan is the proprietor of a YouTube channel where he reviews toys. He also goes to toy shows all around the country, and interviews toy designers, and toy company representatives about upcoming toys. In the panel he talked about some of the more esoteric toy lines of the 80’s, and 90’s. Some of the stand outs were Food Fighters, a line where food items take the roles of opposing armies. He also brought up the Rock Lords line, a subset of the Go Bots line where robot warriors turned into rocks as opposed to vehicles. He also gave overviews to Army Ants, a line of army themed ant figurines  and Computer Warriors. This was an interesting if failed line of toys that transformed ordinary household items into secret military installations, and vehicles.

Rounding things out were the Stone Protectors, a line that combined the action of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the classic wishing troll dolls. The end product was a group of Troll superheroes who fought aliens. The toys also had flintlock embedded in them so that when you used their action feature you could see sparks light up the gems in their chests!

It was a nostalgic look back at a time when toy companies were a lot more willing to take chances. A time when people designing toys had a lot more creative, and artistic freedom. These days companies are more risk averse since they no longer only have to compete with each other, but with game, and tech companies too. This results in a large reliance on licensed IPs like movies.

After looking at some great toy lines, Dan brought in Norman Caruso to show off the premier episode of From Plastic To Pixels. It’s a new project the two are working on, highlighting video games that have been based on toys. The first episode showcases the M.U.S.C.L.E. NES game.  They mentioned some of the games in future episodes, but you’ll have to watch the show to see what they are.

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The third panel I attended on Saturday was Pat Contri’s. Pat talked a bit about his new book,  Ultimate Nintendo: Guide To The NES Library 1985 – 1995.  In it, you’ll find every commercially produced game ever made for the console. Pat has painstakingly collected, and rated each title as well as given a rarity rating to each title. The titles don’t just end with the games Nintendo licensed. He included unlicensed games, and even the European PAL territory exclusives.

I asked him how long it took to make, because the production values ate amazing. He said it took him three years to do, and it had an impact on his primary projects like Pat The NES Punk episodes. Another person in attendance asked him if he would be doing a Super Nintendo guide. He didn’t rule it out entirely, but it isn’t anything pending right now. He did reveal however that there is a companion app being made for smart phones. The app will have the information in the book, as well as ties to online price guides.

At the end of the panel Pat selected fans to take the Pat The NES Punk challenge. There were three sets of fans put in one on one match ups. My friend Jordan managed to get into the first challenge, where he played Sky Kid against an opponent. There was an issue with the second controller though so instead the challenge was changed to Ghosts N’ Goblins. Whoever got the furthest on one life would be the victor. Jordan won this handily by getting to the first boss.

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The second challenge was a Vs. Excitebike matchup on the Famicom Disk System. The players in this round kept pace with one another going back, and forth a lot in a one lap race. The final challenge was an entertaining bout of two player Donkey Kong Jr. Math. The winners each received a digital version of Pat’s new book, and the losers won a bad game to rip on.

At the end of the first day there was also an auction for some really cool gaming items. A few of the arcade cabinets in the arcade were up for auction. After these were auctioned off, things moved into the panel room, and continued. Some of the items that went for huge money included old storefront Nintendo, Sega, and Sony neon signs. Some of these went for several hundred dollars. The first three Mega Man games were  sold, as well as the very rare Flintstones Surprise At Dino Peak NES Game Pak. This game went for $750, which is actually a little bit lower than the current average online price. I was really excited to see a boxed Commodore 128, and 1571 disk drive. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to be the winner of said computer. But it was great getting to see one  in such great condition. The winner also won an auction for the Coleco Adam computer.

After that was a karaoke session in the arcade room to close out the day.

Sunday, there were a few other panels including one with the Game Chasers. I unfortunately was unable to make it back in time for that panel. But I was surprised to see pro wrestling legend Tony Atlas walking the floor! He was very cordial, and was willing to make a second attempt at taking a photo when I had an issue with my camera. I bought a signed print from him. Really awesome experience.

I got the opportunity to talk to Pixel Dan, Norman Caruso, and Pat Contri over the course of the show as well. All of them were very kind, and very cool. If you haven’t seen any of their material definitely check it out. They’re very good at what they do. I also picked up Pat’s book, and I can say it is worth every penny. As I said earlier, it is a very impressive guide for anybody who likes to go back, and play or collect NES games.

Speaking of picking things up, there were a lot of excellent vendors at the show this year. Two Nerds returned from last year, selling some awesome screen printed glassware. Last year I’d gotten a great Samus Aran beer stein, which I use all of the time. I introduced one of my friends to their rep, and he immediately bought a Jack Skellington themed glass for his many servings of Pepsi.

Of course, Retro Games Plus was back, and if you’re ever in Connecticut it is always worth visiting their store for old games. They have some of the best selection, and pricing in the area. Level 01 was also present again, as well as one of the area Game Xchange  franchisees. These are also pretty good places to go hunting. Another area small business called 1UP was there as well. Which I can also recommend. It’s run by a husband, and wife duo who try to get out to as many conventions as possible. I’ve gotten things from them before, and it has always been in great condition.

But there were also a TON of new vendors this time around with a lot of great stuff. Some of which has generally been impossible for me to find locally. I was pleasantly surprised to find many of them had a great assortment of Atari 2600, Colecovision, Intellivision, and other platforms from the early days many of us grew up in.  My buddy Chris Trentham was there with a booth of his own. I got some nice deals on some Commodore 64 cartridges, as well as a copy of the scarce Frogger II for the Atari 2600.

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From one of the vendors (I feel bad that I can’t remember every one of them) I managed to snag a copy of Tac-Scan, and Jr. Pac-Man for my Atari 2600 collection, and I also found a great deal on the VCS version of Congo Bongo from of all vendors, a graphic design vendor called  DSquared. One of their artists, Doug Chapel was selling some Atari cartridges in addition to his artwork. We talked about VCS collecting, VCS homebrew for a few minutes. He does some nice stuff. If you need some custom art give their site a look.

While on the subject of art, there were a lot of artists among the vendors this year as well. Some of the other standouts were Justm3hStudios, an artist who does a lot of custom buttons, and sketches. A guy named Chris Vales was doing some impressive Overwatch themed work, and Tom Ryan Studios was there. I saw him previously at ConnectiCon. Another fantastic art duo you might want to check out is  East Of Haven. They had some terrific pencil work on display, and were doing commissions.

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Russ Lyman was on the floor getting some footage for his always fun, YouTube channel, and he may have received a few surprise cameos for an upcoming video. I also spent some time talking about games far worse than E.T.  with the terrific guys from RF Generation. Stuff like the Data Design Interactive stuff on the Wii for instance.

Sadly, I didn’t get to see or do everything. There was so much this year. I didn’t even mention the cosplay contest or the Table top gaming.  I really hope this year was more successful than last year, because this convention has the potential to become an annual tradition. It could also become as big as some of the other major conventions in time. It was a blast of a weekend, and with any luck at all I’ll be visiting again in 2017.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns Review

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Last week we looked at one of the most important games in history. It was one of the first platformers. One of the best early console, and home computer games. It was also one of the best games to debut on the seminal Atari 2600.  So a sequel was only natural. Unfortunately, the great video game industry crash meant that a lot of people never got to play it when it came out. Which is a shame because once again, David Crane’s Pitfall Harry, performed a few more major firsts.

PROS: Improved visuals, added music, effects, and more!

CONS: In some ways, this is an easier game.

SCORPIONS: Even deadlier now thanks to a glitch.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns is not only one of the best games on the Atari 2600, it is one of the most memorable experiences to come out of the golden age of video games. This is partly due to it being one of the earliest games to have features we take for granted today. The object of Pitfall II is also a little bit different here. In the first game, you’re trying to figure out a path through a jungle that will lead you to all of its treasures. All under a time limit, on two lives. All while doing it in the shortest time possible, with the least amount of mistakes.

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In Pitfall II, Pitfall Harry has to find a very specific diamond ring, as well as rescue his niece Rhonda, and pet mountain lion Quickclaw who have gotten themselves trapped in a cavern. These characters were first introduced in the Pitfall cartoon. So their appearance in this game could make the show canon. At least in the eyes of some. Gameplay is built off of the core of the first Pitfall. You still have a flip-screen mechanic when going left to right. But when going vertically the game adds scrolling into the mix.

It isn’t even something you question. It just feels like a natural extension of the game play. While you won’t be swinging over ponds, tar pits, and jumping on crocodile or alligator heads you still look for treasure. Sure, saving your relative, pet, and getting that diamond are the main goal. But if you want any hope of a perfect score you need to find every last gold bar too. Pitfall II also introduces a checkpoint system.

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These days, many games have checkpoints. But back in the days of names like Atari, Coleco, and Commodore the concept was rare. On home computer platforms you could save your progress in some RPGs. or your high score in some arcade ports. But checkpoints were especially rare on computers. They were non-existent on consoles. The fact you don’t have to start the entire game over if you make a mistake in this game was sorcery at the time. It also doesn’t have a count down, which may make you calmer.

Still, the one drawback to checkpoints in Pitfall II is that it makes the game much easier. There are also unlimited lives. So really it is impossible to lose. As long as you can get to the three main targets you can beat the game. To alleviate this sticking point, the game still has a monetary punishment for mistakes. You see, like its predecessor you lose a lot of money if you have to go back to a checkpoint. In fact, the further ahead of the last checkpoint you touched (a small cross on the ground you walk over), the more money you’ll lose. You also lose money if you fall, and land on your feet. So if you miss a jump, and land two or three levels lower (you can change your trajectory a few pixels by trying to move as you fall) your score gets lighter. You gain money for finding gold bars. You gain money for hitting each of your three metrics.

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Though there may not be a clock winding down to a Game Over for you should it get to zero, there is a clock. The game times you for your overall performance in hitting your three metrics. Which makes Pitfall II a speed runner’s challenge. Whereas before, the challenge was getting it all done in less than a half-hour making no mistakes. Now it’s about finding every last bar of gold, your ring, pet, and niece in the quickest time possible. Also without making any mistakes. Because you want to be the one with a perfect score in the shortest amount of time.

So while beating Pitfall II is easier than beating Pitfall, Pitfall II is actually harder when you put the restrictions of a speed runner on yourself. Because the dangers are not very easy to avoid. The very first enemy you run into will dash your hopes. If you fall into a hole early on you’ve missed the first bar of gold, and a perfect score. Playing the game with the mindset of a classic gaming champion can potentially keep you playing this game for years.

Visually the game sees a respectable jump over the first game. Little graphical details like the indents, and grooves on a boulder pop up immediately. The wider variety in enemies is also noticeable quickly. There are killer birds that I’m convinced were analyzed deeply by Konami’s designers. Because Castlevania’s Medusa heads fly in an eerily similar pattern. You also have bats to deal with, electric eels, and of course the classic mutant scorpions that are just as big as Pitfall Harry.

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And little glitches don’t break the game but add new challenges. If you climb a ladder to find there are scorpions above, and below you sometimes being in just the right place on the ladder will make them pace right where you need to climb off of the ladder. Sometimes the wave in the pattern of the flying birds may change, meaning you have to quickly realize where the arcs in it have moved to.

Of course, Pitfall II let’s you explore at your own pace. So when you’re first starting out, you may miss the diamond ring, or Rhonda on your first pass. Congratulations. The game doesn’t end, a little creature forces you out of Quickclaw’s cowering space. Now you have to go explore again. If you do beat the game, Harry jumps about with excitement as the theme song speeds up again.

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Speaking of music, Pitfall II was such a massive game at the time, that David Crane engineered a sound chip that is embedded in every copy of Pitfall II. The game squeezes every last bit of processing power out of the Atari 2600, and to even play music during it, would have been impossible otherwise. So Pitfall II is one of the earliest video games featuring some sort of tech being piggybacked onto its ROM cartridge. Something we wouldn’t see much again for a while. This can almost be seen as a precursor to Nintendo’s MMC chips used in some NES Game Paks.

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns was also ported to a wide variety of platforms. The Commodore 64 version is one of the better known versions being redone from the ground up by Tim Shotter. The end result is a nearly 1:1 experience compared with the 2600 version. The Atari 800 version, and Atari 5200 version were given an additional subtitle called Adventurer’s Edition because the coder Mike Lorenzen added an entire bonus cavern as well as a second ending for those who beat the game, and then beat the bonus cavern.

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These versions look a little bit closer to the 2600 version than the C64 version does, though the C64 version gets a slight edge in the audio thanks to the superior sound processing power of its SID chip. Pitfall II also saw versions on the Colecovision, Apple II, TRS-80, and the IBM PCjr. One of the most interesting ports of Pitfall II is Sega’s. Sega got the rights from Activision to make their own version of the game for arcades, and for the SG-1000 console in Japan. This version is less a Pitfall II port, and more of a blend of Pitfall, and Pitfall II: Lost Caverns.

Of course every one of these ports has its own charm but the Atari 2600 original stands out due to its historical significance. That said, if you collect games for any of the platforms it appeared on, Pitfall II is a game you should pick up, and play.

Final Score: 9 out of 10

ConnectiCon 2016 Recap

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Ah, ConnectiCon. As a resident of CT, it has become my annual mini-vacation. It isn’t too expensive as long as you buy your passes early. If you’re willing to commute, the cost of gas, and convention center parking is far less than area hotel fare. Plus it always seems to coincide with other fun events in Hartford, so there’s generally enough to do most of the time. There are usually a pretty nice list of celebrities, internet personalities, writers, and artists to meet. There are a lot of panels, cosplayers, rooms devoted to gaming, and tournaments to enter.

This year they had a few changes. First, the convention center changed its hours. In previous years, events the first two days went on to 10pm or later. This year the convention center closed up shop at 9pm. There were after hours events in the area hotels, and restaurants. But attendees used to late night panels would find themselves disappointed. It probably wasn’t the convention’s doing. But they’ll sadly get some of the blame. One thing they could have organized better were the lines during the Friday opening. In my experience, the first few staff members I talked to didn’t explain where the pre-registration line was very well. Both prepaid, and yet-to-pay lines were in the garage. I spent a confusing few moments until someone led a rallying cry that gathered those of us who pre-registered online, into the proper line.

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But beyond that, I really didn’t have too much to complain about over my three days. None of the staff came off as snippy or ornery. Even in that confusion.

I pretty much stick to panels at conventions. They’re typically the most interesting parts of a convention to me. Though I did spend some time getting photos of some of the more impressive cosplays I bumped into. There were a lot of pretty good ones this year. Sadly my camera’s motor decided to start acting up on me this year. So I didn’t get the number of photos I would have liked to.

Still, there were a few pretty good ones I managed to snap. There were also a lot of great panels I managed to get into. I didn’t get into every panel I wanted to due to conflicting schedules. But overall, I did get to see most of what I wanted to. On Friday I  made it into two main panels.

The first was the Channel Awesome panel. This was a lot of fun. Doug Walker reprised his role as the ever popular Nostalgia Critic. This year his brother Rob, and actors Malcolm Ray, and Tamara Chambers came along for a question, and answer panel. A lot of the questions were some you might expect. About their favorite episodes, favorite, and least favorite movies. But there were some unexpected ones, like personal childhood memories. Malcolm, and Tamara loved doing plays early on. While Rob enjoyed a trip where he learned his mastery of impersonating Jeff Goldblum.

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The audience also got to participate in a sight gag for an upcoming episode of The Nostalgia Critic, and the cast was there all three days feverishly meeting with fans, and signing autographs. I didn’t get a chance to speak with any of them this time around, but in previous years I have. They’ve always been appreciative of their audience, and generally very nice folks in person.

I also attended the Uncle Yo standup routine panel which did have most everyone laughing a lot. The material had a couple of funny political barbs. But a lot of the jokes ended up centering around cat ownership when the room was given an option.  He did plenty of gaming jokes too. Mighty No. 9, Pokémon, Zelda, and the Game Boy were all subjects of some funny gags. There was also a lovingly crafted tribute to his family. Really great stuff. If you have the chance to see him in your area, check it out. He has some pretty nice material. Particularly if you dig games.

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The convention also coincided with the Hartford Riverfest event this year. So I followed some friends, and acquaintances over to that event when I began to feel hungry. If you’re ever in the area when this is going on, I highly recommend you check it out. Get this, they have a smorgasbord of interesting, different food trucks. Typically, many of us hear “Food Truck”, and we just think “Carnival food.”. We think about corn dogs, burgers, and ice cream. This event had a bunch of stuff beyond that. There was one truck that was centered around making custom slush drinks. There was a truck centered around Irish themed foods. I bought a corned beef grilled cheese sandwich. It came on grilled rye bread, and it was awesome. There was one truck that served barbecue. Pulled pork, ribs, drumsticks. If it had barbecue in the title, it served it.

Aside from a bad heat headache by that point it was a pretty good day. I spent most of the rest of it mingling with fans, and wandering the dealer room. Next to that was the electronic gaming area, half was made up of console, and PC gaming stations, while the rest was composed of arcade  games, and a tabletop area. Most of the arcade games were rhythm games, though the table flipping game from last year made a return. They also had arcade versions of Pokken Tournament, and Street Fighter V set up.

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In the console area I saw Super Smash Bros Wii U, Street Fighter II HD Remix, Call Of Duty AW, Marvel Vs. Capcom 3 Ultimate, Ultra Street Fighter V, Mortal Kombat X, Killer Instinct, Mario Kart 8, and a smattering of other games. On the PC side there were huge set ups for League Of Legends, and Overwatch. There were ongoing tournaments for Super Smash Bros Wii U, and League of Legends which were being live streamed. Over in the adjacent hotel they had one main room devoted to RPGs. Pen, and Paper, and Card games.

 

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Day two started out with a bang. I went to a panel centered around the Atari 2600. It focused on game design, and how the limitations of the VCS forced early game programmers to be even more creative. Creating not only game ideas, but techniques to squeeze those ideas into a very limited amount of memory, and storage space at the time. It served as a lesson to aspiring creators that limitations can be a motivator. It also served as a reminder that one should start small, focusing on a core game play idea to build a game around. Even if you weren’t a budding programmer, it was a great showcase of just what makes the Atari 2600 such a fun console.

 

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After that I made it into two Star Trek panels. The first one was a smaller panel focusing on the future of the franchise. Star Trek is about to become 50 years old. There was a moment of silence for the late Anton Yelchin who tragically passed away in an automobile accident recently. After that discussion moved onto the upcoming film Star Trek Beyond, the new series coming to CBS’ streaming service, and the legal battles many of the fan projects are facing. One of them is in the midst of a lawsuit over the money that was raised on Kickstarter to complete it. Even though it was to pay the actors, and supplies to build sets, props, and make costumes. CBS apparently sees this as infringement. So much so that they released a set of guidelines that they want fan projects to abide by. These guidelines are so insanely restrictive, they basically disallow fans to make fan films. One high-profile fan project had to basically retitle the project, and make a laundry list of alterations to keep itself alive. Unfortunately many of the backers jumped in for a Star Trek project, that they’re no longer getting. The entire thing is a mess, but something that could see how fan projects by fandoms are going to be treated going forward.

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There was also some discussion centered around the many changes, and updates to Star Trek Online over the past couple of years. It’s also being ported to the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. Even the newest expansion Agents Of Yesterday, which ties the game into the Temporal Cold War storyline that was prevalent in Star Trek Enterprise. Things do seem to have been improved immensely since the game originally came out back in 2010. You can grind for chests that will have crew members, resources, or star ships in them. Since the game became a F2P title, you can try to play through the game without spending money on chests, but it can prove very difficult. The storyline takes place after the events of the 2009 reboot, making the game part of the original TOS/TNG/DS9/VOY time line. You get to see how ships, and races evolved in that time line. There are ways to play classes from every era as well.

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After that panel I got to see another Star Trek panel with Nana Visitor, and Michael Dorn. This was a great panel where the two actors took questions from the room. Discussions about behind the scenes practical jokes, disagreements on the set, the shock of Terry Farrell’s departure from DS9, and other anecdotes. Nana, and Michael both reminded us that Star Trek has always been a show about morality plays. A show that made people think. Sometimes about subjects that can be uncomfortable. One can only hope the upcoming series, and film will retain that quality.

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In between panels I often returned to the dealer’s area. I got to meet artist Tom Ryan while I was there the previous day, where he had some amazing work on display. So I returned the second day when I hadn’t left my cash in my car like an idiot. You should really check out his work at Tom Ryan’s Studio. It’s really amazing stuff. I ended up buying a really cool original ThunderCats print. He does all kinds of  work. Including commercial art commissions for breweries. He’s very kind, and very talented. Definitely check out his booth if he comes to a convention near you.

I also briefly got a chance to speak with Honest Trailers’ own Jon Bailey. He was really friendly, and genuinely enjoyed interacting with people. He also does a ton of voice work for commercials, shows, and video games. Just like the case with Tom Ryan, If he shows up at a convention near you, pay him a visit. He’s pretty swell in person.

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One of the  most entertaining panels I attended was for voice actor, Jess Harnell it opened up when a young fan led the room in an introduction by singing the Animaniacs theme. Around half way through, he forgot a word or two, and faked his way through it but still did a really good job overall. Jess was pretty impressive. He talked a bit about his band Rock Sugar. Unbeknownst to many, he has a music career. He loves hard rock, so his band came up with an idea. “What if a hard rock band thought that the pop rock, and ballads were hard rock?” So their project was born. It’s pretty great stuff. The results are some very fun mash-up covers of pop songs, done in the vein of metal songs.

These mash-up covers are so good in fact, that if you put them on without telling your friends what they are, they’ll be shocked when Enter Sandman turns into Don’t Stop Believin’. He has also been able to open for a lot of hard rock bands like AC/DC. It’s really impressive, and if you have the opportunity check it out. It’s pretty great.

He also talked a bit about how William Shatner once confused him for Gene Simmons, his first time meeting Steven Spielberg, and an odd time helping Pierce Brosnan record lines in Quest For Camelot. He’s also done some roles you may not be aware of, including the voice over on America’s Funniest Home Videos. 

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Another really cool thing happened in the panel, Rob Paulsen ( most known as the voice of Pinky of Pinky, and the Brain) called into the panel to talk to the audience! He, and Tress MacNeille  were originally going to be guests at the con, but unfortunately became ill before the show. So they couldn’t make it. But he did want to thank all of the fans personally, and he hopes to make it to next year’s convention. Rob, and Tress also pre-signed a number of photos so that if you wanted Jess’ autograph, you also got theirs.

After the panel nearly all  in attendance of the panel went to Jess Harnell’s booth. He was very kind to everyone. He went above, and beyond in his interaction with the fandom. I bought a copy of his band’s Reimaginator album, and he was even kind enough to sign it with a personalization. If any of the Animaniacs cast shows up at a con near you, pay them a visit. I got to meet Maurice Lamarche last year, Rob Paulsen the year before that, and they’ve all just been wonderful people.

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After that it was time for our annual trek to City Steam Brewery in Hartford. Not only do they make some of my favorite beers, they also make some of the best pub food in Connecticut. They have a huge restaurant built into the brewery, as well as a comedy club, business meeting rooms, and a bunch of stuff. It coincides with my buddy Dan’s birthday nearly every year, so he tries to get as many friends, and acquaintances as possible to have dinner together there. Dan also helms the Best Spuds channel on YouTube, and all of the spuds were there. I can’t say enough good things about the food, or service there. So often people only want to talk about bad experiences. I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience there. The food is always good. If in a rare instance they’ve gotten an order wrong it’s been promptly fixed.

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Plus there’s nothing quite like getting your favorite beer fresh. It might taste great out of a bottle or can into a frosted glass. But getting it fresh from the brewery is even better. I had some Buffalo chicken nachos, a black bean burger, and thanks to my friends getting full, two fish tacos. All of which was very delicious. I added another City Steam glass to my beer glass collection, as well as a Naughty Nurse IPA T-shirt to my closet full of T-shirts. Speaking of the beer,  Their new Wacked Out Wheat is really good. It has elements of both an India Pale Ale, and a Hefeweizen blended with mango, and pineapple. It was spectacular. I also went with a nice glass of Naughty Nurse IPA. It’s light, bitter, yet full of citrus notes. It’s fantastic bottled. Again, it’s even better fresh.

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The final day of ConnectiCon is always shorter, and usually, they put all of the best panels in the schedule for the first two days. Last year they tried to alleviating this by having some stuff on day three. This year, they did a little bit better by once again having some of the bigger guests do panels on the final day.

The first of these was a riveting panel by John Rhys-Davies, where he  talked about some of the challenges the crew faced during the filming of The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and how they were able to overcome them. As well as how much one can benefit from optimal management skills, and the effect of scale in many topics. He also talked about some of the debates he had with writers in his time on Sliders, as well as his passion for theatre. Particularly Shakespearean plays. He even spent time talking about how Tolkien’s wartime experiences influenced the Lord of the Rings, as well as some time talking about general world history.

The second was a Q&A session with Michael Dorn. This one differed from the previous panel in that he was the only guest. A lot of similar questions were asked this time around, but he also spent some time talking about his love of tennis, and his love of aviation. He told the crowd about some experiences he had when accepting invitations from branches of the armed forces. He was humbled, and grateful for the opportunity to fly F-16’s, F/A-18 Hornets, and be a guest pilot with the Blue Angels. But he is especially appreciative of the young men, and women who work in the armed forces, doing dangerous jobs on carriers, and other means. He also talked about how seriously he takes all roles including comedic ones. He also really enjoys watching South Park, and cited how it can be edgy, without doing so just for the sake of doing so. Rather to illustrate a point.

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The final panel I got to see during the con was a panel on level design using Doom builder. This was hosted by aspiring indie developer Zodiacw who not only gave a nice tutorial on some of the basic tools, but gave an in-depth look at the importance of map design. Which also brought about conversations on how map making, and game design are intertwined. A map designer can set up game rules by setting expectations with a simple wall texture. Or easily lose players by not following the rules they’ve set up in previous stages. They also discussed how one can still impress medium, and large studios by pushing the boundaries of an older engine with a keen understanding of map design. As well as carrying the knowledge taken from making maps for Doom into newer, and more complex engines. Even if you aren’t someone who would want to make a career out of making custom content, the panel made even doing so for fun quite palatable.

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Aside from some confusion surrounding the pre-registration line on the first day, I had a pretty great time at ConnectiCon. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten into some of the other panels like Tom Kenny’s (SpongeBob Squarepants), Walter Koenig’s (Star Trek), or Sean Astin’s (Goonies, LOTR) but this is a convention that seems to get a little bit bigger every year when it comes to getting big names. So it simply isn’t possible to see every panel. But what I did get to experience was great, and as in year’s past many of the panels felt inspirational.

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For those who aren’t interested in the celebrity, and internet personality aspect, there was still plenty to do. There were a number of cosplay events, like the always popular masquerade, belly dance off, and death match. The video game area was populated the entire three days, and there were a lot of participants in the League Of Legends, and Smash tournaments. There were the aforementioned tabletop, card, and RPG game areas, and they even had an all day karaoke stage set up. I’m sure I’m forgetting a bunch of other things. The convention center closing earlier this year was a bit of a bummer for the older portion of the crowd. But that was partially made up for with area restaurants, movie theatres, and a brewery to boot. Still, having the late night events moved to one of those places, or eliminated was a little bit disappointing. But overall my complaints are fairly minor. I still had a great three-day weekend leading into a week away from working. ConnectiCon is in many ways an inexpensive vacation for me. If this year’s experience is any indication, this will continue to be.

If you’ve stumbled upon this recap, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. If you’re interested in attending the convention you can get more info at ConnectiCon’s own website.

 

Cosmic Ark Review

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Last time on the blog we looked at Atlantis. A game that combined defending the lost city during its death throes with classic arcade action. But this time we’ll be going over the sequel. Cosmic Ark plays completely differently than the previous game. None of the skills you learned from the previous game will help you here at all whatsoever. But fear not! It does continue where Atlantis left off.

PROS: Experimental game ideas gone right.

CONS: The planetary defense system.

SPACE NOAH ADVENTURES: ABDUCTION: Could have been an alternate title.

Remember the little ship that flew away when you finally lost in Atlantis? Well it’s actually a mothership, and it turns out that now you have to rebuild your civilization. How do you do this? By taking a page from the Old Testament, and rounding up pairs of living things. As well as sentient beings. Cosmic Ark  merges Noah’s mission of preserving civilization in the wake of a cataclysm with episodes of Unsolved Mysteries.

In fact you might even want to play this game while the Unsolved Mysteries theme song is playing. It did have a number of episodes centered around U.F.O. sightings, and alien abduction stories. It was one of the creepiest shows on television. But I’m getting away from the topic at hand here, so I’ll refocus.

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Cosmic Ark is broken up into two stages. A space stage, and an alien abduction stage. Both of these stages alternate until you lose. Once again, this is a game about high score. In the space stage your mothership is in the center of the screen. You can shoot lasers above you, below you, and on either side by moving the joystick up, down, left, and right. Asteroids will appear in any direction, and you have to shoot them all. If an asteroid hits the ship, it explodes, and you have to play the stage again. You’ll keep going until the red meter below your score runs out, or until you complete the stage. Every collision drains part of the meter. Explode too many times, and it’s game over.

But if you succeed, you’re sent down to a planet’s surface. In this stage you pilot an away team in their own saucer. You’ll leave the mothership, and fly down to beam up two inhabitants. Once you have them on board, you fly back into the mothership, and go back into space, where you’ll play another round of the space stage. But things don’t go so swimmingly as the game progresses.

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Every time you make it back to the first stage, the asteroids become faster, and the order becomes even more random. Eventually you’ll get to a point where it’s impossible to continue, and you’ll have to accept your final score. The second stage becomes more difficult in a few ways. For one thing, if you don’t abduct beings fast enough, the mothership will sound an alarm. If this happens, you need to quickly get into the mothership, and shoot down asteroids so you can leave, and go back into space. If the ship is hit, you go back to the space stage anyway, but with a much lower bill of health.

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Successive trips to planet surfaces will reveal planetary defense systems. Laser guns will raise, and lower from the left, and right to shoot down your scout ship. If you get shot down you can send another before the alarm goes off. But note that if you are shot down, anyone you’ve abducted will fall to the ground, and you’ll need to abduct them again. So what you’ll need to do is act fast, and abandon the mission when you hear the alarms. Otherwise you risk  your mothership from being destroyed. Worst case scenario is you’ll repeat the same planet after the following space stage. Each planetary visit will change-up the kinds of organisms you’ll need to abduct too.

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Of course, you will, again, get to a point where you’re unable to ward off asteroids, giving you a final score. Fortunately the game controls very well, and is pretty easy to get the hang of. Cosmic Ark stands out from the hundreds of other Atari 2600 games because of just how bizarre it is. Most other sequels will give you more of what you loved about their predecessors. Cosmic Ark takes chances with some weird ideas. But as crazy as it’s going to sound, it’s a lot of fun to play! Part of the fun is obviously the challenge of it all. But it’s also great trying to see what the people of each planet are going to look like. Kidnapping people in a makeshift attempt to rebuild your empire shouldn’t sound compelling. But somehow it is in Cosmic Ark. Demented. Twisted. But somehow a great time. If you have an Atari 2600, pick it up.

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In the end you’ll lose, but once again, there’s a backup plan. When the mothership explodes, your scout ship survives the blast. One can only wonder how things would have gone if this had become a trilogy.

Final Score: 8 out of 10

Atlantis Review

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Sometimes I like to go back, and jam on the games I grew up with. For a number of reasons. There’s the nostalgia. The memories of childhood Christmases, and birthdays. There’s also the fact that a lot of these games still hold up today. I can still enjoy them now as much as I did back then. Plus, it’s always nice to see people I have a few years on, discovering them, and enjoying them. Of course sometimes you might run into something from the past, you hope will stay there. But this game isn’t one of those.

PROS: Fast paced arcade action.

CONS: No matter how good you are, you will lose.

COLLECTOR’S GOLD: The extremely limited pseudo sequel.

Atlantis is a classic game for some very classic consoles. It takes the idea of Armageddon from Missile Command, and plays it out a bit differently in another setting. In this game instead of things taking place over a nation of cities during a nuclear war, it takes pace in Atlantis. You’re put in charge of defending the lost city as a race of extra terrestrial forces invade. The city has a number of important structures you need to protect.

You do this by using the three attack cannons peeking out of the sea. There are cannons on the left, and right corners followed by one in the center of the city. Ships fly above the city attacking you. In the earliest goings you’ll find the enemies aren’t much of a threat at all. They barely provoke you at all, fly slowly, and are fairly easy to shoot down. But don’t let your guard down. Because as time goes on they become much more brazen.

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There are several ships you need to shoot down. Some of the designs borrowed from pop culture, they all can become threatening. There are the Constitution class ships from Starfleet,  Klingon D7’s, and Rebel X-Wing fighters. Generally the, two Star Trek knockoffs don’t become a problem until the third pass. Each ship makes a run above, getting lower, and lower if you don’t manage to shoot it down. On the third pass, they begin firing death beams over structures. The Star Wars knock off is actually the biggest threat to you, because of its high rate of speed. It will drop photon torpedoes on buildings in the blink of an eye, too. The one saving grace is that for some reason, destroying one, kills every enemy on the screen. You can also hear them coming, as their engines make a distinct, and stressful noise.

You shoot each of the cannons by moving the joystick in the proper direction while pressing the fire button. Push left for the left cannon, and right for the right cannon. Not pushing the stick at all, means you’ll be firing the center cannon. But keep in mind, the ships will also target the cannons too. So you can actually be left defenseless. If you can earn enough points, you can rebuild your cannons. But if all of the landmarks are obliterated before you do, it is all for naught. When you have a nail-biting wave take out your last cannon, you’re forced to watch the genocide of your people in horror. But there is a little bit of hope. When you lose, a tiny ship is seen escaping the ruins of Atlantis.

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If you couldn’t tell, this game is a high score game. Which is one of the most common goals in games of the era. Still, it manages to tell a story in that burst of action, while being a fun game. Moreover Imagic also added a two player mode where each person manages a cannon, and work together to get a team score.

But it doesn’t end there, because the game was ported to a couple of other platforms, the Magnavox Odyssey 2, Commodore Vic-20, Atari 8-bit family, and the Mattel Intellivision. The Odyssey 2 version is probably the worst looking of the ports, while the Vic-20 has a much more detailed landscape. In between these are the Atari computer version. Basically, these versions are direct ports of the Atari 2600 original. But the Intellivision port actually takes a few liberties with the formula, making it feel like a director’s cut.

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There’s an obvious upgrade to the graphics, making it look almost as good as the Vic-20 port. It also adds day, and night cycles to the game between waves of enemy ships. During the battles you’ll move a cursor around the screen shooting at the invaders. You still have, left, and right cannons. Pressing the left or right buttons on the controller will fire from the proper cannon. Pressing the zero key launches a saucer you can fly about the screen to shoot down threats instead of using the cursor. But if you crash it, or are shot down you can’t launch another one until the next day cycle. This version also changes up the look of the enemy ships to Tie Fighters, and other borrowed designs. When the night falls however, spotlights look to the sky, and the threats are only visible when in the light. This, and the attack saucer are pretty impressive features considering the time of release.

The end game is the same however. Enemies will bomb the landmarks until nothing remains except for your score, forcing your survivors to flee in a derelict mothership. Ultimately, Atlantis is one of the best console games of the era. It plays to each platform’s strengths, including the computer ports. It’s fast paced, and addictive. It’s still a really fun game to play from time to time, and it’s competitive. There was also a sequel, Atlantis II that was never sold. Atlantis II is actually not so much a sequel, as it was an upgrade. Think of it a bit like the progression from Street Fighter II: Champion Edition to Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting. The same core concept is there, but everything has been sped up, and tweaked to be much more difficult.

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But Atlantis II was only made for a competition Imagic had created for Atlantis. Players would mail in their high scores in an attempt to win the rights to a vast cash prize. The top four players would be flown out to Bermuda for a chance to face each other for the money. The thing is more than four players were able to max out the score. So Imagic made the aforementioned tweaks to the game, altered the typeface on the scoreboard, and sent the winners this altered version. These players were given two days to play, and send in their highest scores again. Those winners were then selected to be flown out to a competition for the prize money.

As a result Atlantis II is actually one of the most sought after 2600 games due to the rarity. The few times they show up, they fetch upwards of a couple of thousand dollars. They’re also easy for con artists to fake because the game is the exact same cartridge as Atlantis. The only physical difference is an Atlantis II sticker thrown on the box, and cartridge. The only real way to know if the game is legitimate is to play it, and see if the numbers on the scoreboard look different.

But if you wanted to know if Atlantis saw a real sequel it did. It all centers around that derelict mothership I mentioned earlier. Atlantis would be followed by Cosmic Ark.

Final Score: 8 out of 10