Saturday, October 30, 2010

Amstrad GX4000

Today on the internet I stumbled across a console with which I was completely unfamiliar - the Amstrad GX4000. So, in accordance with my usual routine in such circumstances, I felt compelled to learn a little about it and, of course, to add it to the ever-growing list of systems I emulate on the game cab at home.

Here is a TV commercial for the system:

Amstrad released the GX4000 (only in the UK) in 1990 to compete with the other popular 8-bit consoles of the time, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System. It was essentially a stripped down version of their CPC 6128+ computer and did have some hardware advantages over the other consoles, but unfortunately for Amstrad, Sega released the Mega Drive (Genesis) that same year to bring consoles into the 16-bit generation and the SNES followed shortly thereafter - so the GX4000 became obsolete almost immediately.

There were several other factors in its failure - inadequate advertising, the existing hold that Sega and Nintendo had on the industry, the complete lack of games for the system (fewer than 40 produced in the system's lifetime), and the fact that most of its games were just straight ports of older CPC games that were readily available at much lower prices on tape or disk.

I for one think it looks pretty cool though. How can you not like a system that looks so much like a rebel snow speeder from Empire Strikes Back?

The Amstrad GX4000

The Rebel Snow Speeder
It looks like it might have a little Cylon Raider mixed in there too which doesn't hurt in my book.

It came with the pack-in game Burnin' Rubber - which I assumed would be the European version of Bump n' Jump but actually turned out to be a racing game that was somewhere between Pole Position and OutRun. A decent little racing game that actually featured "drafting" where you could increase your speed if you approached directly behind a car to take advantage of their wind-breaking. But certainly no killer-app.

One fan even made a website as a tribute to the Amstrad GX4000 -

A glance on eBay shows these things are available for dirt cheap in the UK, but most of them didn't ship to the US and I don't even know if they would work with US power or on a NTSC TV so I found a good emulator for it instead. If you are disturbed like I am and want to try out a few of the GX4000 games then check out WinAPE at - it's a nifty little emulator. And you can download and try some of the games from theoldcomputer.comI played a few just to check out the console's capabilities and they were OK - but probably nothing that would bring me back to it -which I guess is what the general public thought back in 1990. But regardless, now I'm ready in case someone somewhere happens to recommend some obscure GX4000 game to me!

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Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Birthday PS2... and I Hate the Term "Shmup"

A quickie post here. Apparently the PS2 was launched in the U.S. 10 years ago this week and in honor of that b'day I want to mention a PS2 post I saw on the excellent blog Retrogaming with Racketboy - "the PS2 Shmups Library" - mostly to bookmark it here for my own purposes because I am a big shooter fan and would like to try out some of the games mentioned in the post one of these days. I've never played a PS2 shooter.

One other thing. I used it because it is in the title of the blog post, but I absolutely hate the term "shmup". I see it fairly often online these days so apparently it is fairly common - at least among the younger crowd I'm guessing, but I'm 41 so I'll just stick with the good ol' generic "shooter". And if I want to get more specific to avoid confusion I'll just add a word - for example, "River Raid on the Atari is a great vertical shooter, but if you like horizontal shooters you gotta check out Chopper Command" - see what I did there kids?

I would love this t-shirt except for that ridiculous word across the top

I'm a little more comfortable with the unabbreviated version of the word - "shoot 'em up" - which clearly has entirely too many syllables to bother saying in toto, but even that term feels kind of stupid to me and essentially adds nothing. At first I thought this was just an age thing - old dog and new tricks and all that, but I just learned the term "bullet hell" not too long ago and I'm fine with that one. So I concluded that I am only resistant to those new video game terms that just sound fucking stupid - like shmup.

Hmm - I didn't realize I had a rant in me tonight. Must be sleepy. Don't even get me started on the idiotic term "pwned"...

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

HAAG Arcade Expo! (Part 2)

As Pungent Onion mentioned in a previous post - we recently spent 2 game-filled days in attendance at the Houston Area Arcade Group's 9th annual Arcade Expo.  There were a ton of games and the usual favorites were there, but there were a couple of unexpected surprise stars:

Quantum:  This 1982 color vector game by Atari is a bit like the game QIX. You use a trackball to control a probe with a trailing tail to encircle atomic particles which destroys them for points. Touch the particles and your probe explodes. Simple concept but great game. Joystix used to have this game, but I never played it until the Expo and I quite liked it!

Varkon:  In 1982 arcade games were all the rage and pinball was on the way out. So Williams designed this 1982 pinball to look like an arcade cabinet! The playfield was hidden at the bottom and reflected onto a vertical mirror like an arcade monitor while the flippers were controlled by dual joysticks a la Robotron. The most unique pinball I've ever seen and quite fun to boot. Unfortunately, someone broke the right flipper on Saturday but luckily we had played it quite a bit on Friday.

There was also a couple of unexpected disappointments:

Slugfest:  This 1991 Williams game is a bat-and-ball type where the ball is pitched to you from the center of the playfield and you bat it into various targets. 2 players can play simultaneously with one person pitching and one batting. There were several new features on the typical bat and ball game such as you could put spin on the pitch with breaking balls, steal bases, throw out runners, pinch hit, etc. We'd played the game before at Joystix (gone now) and loved it so expected some good fun - but the sound was tuned to an ear-piercing frequency and dialed up to 5000 decibals so I could barely play in between wiping away my sonic-induced nosebleeds.

Joust Pinball:  This 1983 pinball by Williams offers 2-player simultaneous play, is based on an all-time great arcade game, looks great, and is very rare. Plus I recently posted about the guy selling one on eBay so it was fresh in my mind and I was really expecting big things. I'm not saying it was terrible - but there are so few targets on the playfield and the hype in my mind was so high that I came away feeling a bit meh. And it's biggest downfall for me was that, unlike most other pinballs, it was pretty much worthless as a 1-player game.

Pungent and I did a walkthrough of the gaming area which he recorded on his trusty iPhone. I spliced the video files together and here is the product if you care to take a look at the various games that were there. The video is pretty long (see aforemention 'ton of games'), but we had to document them in case we ever had to prove it in a gaming court of law!

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

After Burner!

Another classic game they had in residence at the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire was the 1987 cockpit version of After Burner - where you pilot a F-14 Tomcat and destroy enemy fighters with machine guns and missiles while avoiding their fire with the throttle and flight stick. Coincidentally, Gnome had just recently posted in his excellent blog Retro Treasures about a guy who was selling one of these beauties on eBay for about $3K. When it comes to gaming I typically let myself float on the winds of coincidence so when I saw this baby at the museum I had to hop in for a spin.

Actually, most of my younger experience on After Burner was with the stand-up version and I was neither that fond of it nor very good at it (perhaps the former was a result of the latter). But one day I tried the deluxe version with its rotating flight-simulating cockpit, surround sound, and various lights on the control panel and all of a sudden this mediocre (to me) game became a pretty cool game after all.

Upon trying the game at the ACAM I discovered that I still found it quite enjoyable and that I was still awful at it. I did take a brief video of the experience and given my level of proficiency at the game the key word here is BRIEF.  Check it out.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

And Now... Finally... Kneel Before Death Race

I just got back from a week-long vacation in New England and a key part of the trip for me was a visit to the American Classic Arcade Museum - part of the Funspot Arcade in Laconia, New Hampshire. I tried to record a walk-through video of the place but I was fighting a dying camera battery and an overwhelming sense of awe and excitement that kept interfering with the efficiency of the recording. So that video needs to be cleaned up a bit first if I am going to post it.

But I did want to do go ahead and do a quick post about one particular game that I have been trying to play for a while now and finally got a chance to at the Museum - Death Race.  I did a post about Death Race back in August and now that I've actually played it I must say the game was much more fun than I initially expected it to be. Simple but fun - just like a good arcade game is supposed to be. And I only played it in 1-player mode - I'm sure playing 2 player would be even better.

You have 90 seconds to run down as many gremlins as possible and my high score of 18 wasn't quite enough to qualify for "Expert Driver" status but I'm happy with my "Gremlin Hunter" title.  I only played it 3-4 times, but if there weren't SO MANY other games there drawing my attention away I would have happily played it several more.

It was pretty dark in there so the video quality is not top notch - but if you care to check it out here ya go.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

HAAG Arcade Expo! (Part 1)

As entertaining as topics from MadPlanet or Fallguy? Little chance of that! But, given the topic of the HAAG Arcade Expo, well, I can't screw it up too bad!! This is the first of 2 or 3, or maybe 4 or 5 posts (not sure when this will get horribly boring) about the Expo; both MadPlanet and I made it both days. To start, it was a great time and there's rarely a chance to spend about 20 hours playing lots of cool games over a 30 hour period. Some games never showed up (Death Race, Crazy Climber, etc), but there were also some games you rarely see (Joust pinball, Varkon pinball, and some old school stuff) that made up for it. The second post will have video of every game that was there, for now you'll have to put up with some mindless chatter about what we came across and my general impression of the event.

First, and most important, as of Saturday about 8:45 PM I had high score on Millipede of 94,125. Not sure how it finished up at 2 or 3 AM, but I am pretty damn proud of that accomplishment. I've got to believe (really, it's the only inspriation I have at this point) a few half-way decent players were on before me. Plus, MadPlanet already confirmed that his high score on his cabinet at home was only 92k and some change; nice being the king of the hill if even for a short time. I'm guessing that on return from the NE, MP will have already beaten or make it a mission to beat my score and it will fall within 2-3 weeks; feel free to let me down on this one.

So, on to things that other people care about. The games at the Expo included the following:

Cabinets (53 total):
  • Bubbles
  • Robotron
  • Joust
  • Mystic Marathon
  • Make Trax
  • Mystic Marathon (Prototype)
  • Battle Zone
  • Millipede
  • Journey
  • Gravitar
  • Joust 2
  • Dig Dug
  • Root Beer Tapper
  • Qubes
  • Defender (sit down version)
  • Track & Field
  • Astroids
  • Lunar Lander
  • Star Gate
  • Mario
  • Popeye
  • Donkey Kong
  • Galaga
  • Pong
  • Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
  • Spy Hunter
  • Ms Pacman
  • Tutankhan
  • Tempest
  • Major Havoc
  • Quantum
  • Black Widow
  • StarFire
  • Space Encounters
  • Return of the Jedi
  • Star Wars
  • Star Trek Voyager
  • Star Trek
  • Off-Road
  • Bubble Bobble
  • Guitar Hero
  • After Burner
  • RoboCop
  • Asteroids
  • Great 1,000 Mile Rally
  • Xybots
  • Tron
  • Baby Pacman
  • [plus 5 I couldn't ID from the video]

Pinballs (51 total):

  • Fish Tales
  • Eight Ball
  • Arena
  • Gophers
  • High Speed
  • Indiana Jones
  • Star Wars
  • Varkon
  • Adams Family
  • Doctor Who
  • Revenge from Mars
  • Check Point
  • Junk Yard
  • Gophers
  • The Who's Tommy
  • Johnny Mnemonic
  • Demolition Man
  • Fish Tales
  • WhirlWind
  • Joust (2-player)
  • Gilligan's Island
  • Elvira
  • NBA
  • Pin Bot
  • EarthShaking
  • Pinball Magic
  • Diner(?)
  • Bad Cats
  • Batman
  • Iron Man
  • 24
  • CSI
  • Corvette
  • Roller Coaster
  • Frankenstein
  • Scared ???
  • Attack from Mars
  • Champion Pub
  • Black Hole
  • Star Trek
  • Eight Ball
  • World Cup
  • Flash
  • High Speed
  • Jungle Lord
  • Lethal Weapon 3
  • Star Wars
  • FunHouse
  • Avatar
  • Attack from Mars
  • [plus 1 I couldn't ID from the video]

Old Scool Pinballs (8 total):

  • Unnamed (Flags)
  • Sally
  • Flipper Pool
  • Kings & Queens
  • Sing Along
  • Bank-A-Ball
  • Hi-Score Pool
  • Suspense

Old Scool Cabinets/Pinball-ish (5 total):

  • Baseball ???
  • Strike Zone
  • Unknown (Crazy marble game)
  • Little League
  • Shooting Gallery


  • Atari 2600
  • Atari 5200
  • Atari 7800
  • Comodore
  • Vectorex
  • ...and some others I can't ID on the video
So, what's next? Part 2 will hopefully be the videos showing all the games, and part 3 should include a bit of commentary on some of the games. There were a few that were surprisingly good, and a few that fell short of be continued.........

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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Hardball! on the Commodore 64

I am seriously considering buying this factory-sealed new boxed game of Hardball! for the Commodore 64 on eBay for $14.99.  Maybe a little steep with the $5 shipping thrown on top, but Hardball! is definitely on my classics list and I can state with certainty that it still holds up pretty darn well (for me at least) because I played a game of it versus FG40 just a couple of years ago and it was still great fun.  Oh Hank Contos, how I miss you and your "somebody gonna pay" attitude. I'd probably rate hardball as my second favorite baseball video game of all time - and I've played a lot of them. Hardball was released in 1985 on multiple systems and I played the hell out of it on two of them - the Commodore 64 and the Mac 512K - both excellent versions with enough differences to keep it interesting.

But I saw one guy on the Hardball forum who apparently loved it even more than I did.  He played an entire season of 162 games against the computer and kept unbelievably meticulous offline records to support a very impressive statistical evaluation while finishing the season at 141-21.  Check out his posts on the effort here. Who was the offensive star in his season?  The flamboyant Willie Barnes who hit .457 with 100 home runs and 204 RBIs - that's not a bad year.

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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Firebug Ad - It Sizzles!

In the previous post I talked about a controversial old game by Muse for the Apple II called "Firebug" and today I stumbled across an old magazine ad for the game on the website so I just had to do a follow-up post.  Don't ask me to explain why - my brain wasn't quite ready to let go of Firebug yet and as usual I'm just along for the ride.

So here it is - for the original retail price of $24.95 - Firebug.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Firebug - You Made an Ash of Yourself

I was reading the January 1983 edition of Video Games Magazine (yeah - that's the kind of stuff I do) and saw an article about a controversial game on the Apple II called "Firebug" by Muse Software.  In the game you are a "firebug" whose job is to set fire to several different floors of a building using a lit fuse and several gas cans - the more fire damage, the higher your score.  Fire officials were outraged by the game and were concerned that it would encourage kids to become arsonists.  I then discovered the game was created by Silas Warner, who also made Castle Wolfenstein which was one of my all-time favorites on the C64 - so I decided to give Firebug a go.

When the game begins you get to select the length of your fuse - the shorter the fuse, the higher the difficulty level of the game.  Then you (a 3x3 square) start running through a maze of walls on the fifth floor of the building stringing the fuse behind you which eventually lights and burns toward you.  Gas cans are scattered throughout the maze and when you run over them you knock them over which creates a spreading puddle of gasoline that the trailing lit fuse quickly ignites.  If you run by the can without knocking it over the lit fuse will cause the gas can to explode into a fireball when it reaches it.  You can also pick up the gas cans and drop them in other locations in an effort to maximize your fire damage.  If the fire touches you it's a gruesome death and game over - remember that kids!  Once you've created as much charcoal as possible without igniting yourself you escape down the stairs to the next lower floor and proceed to burn that one down too.  Each lower floor brings tighter and more complex mazes until you burn down the first floor and escape out the front door.  Here is a brief video of the gameplay:

The game ran on Apple II's Lo-Res graphics mode which only displayed 16 colors with a 40x48 resolution so as you can see the graphics were quite primitive even for 1982.  But the colorful display when the fire exploded and burned was pretty cool - I imagine that effect was pretty impressive back then.  Actually I think it looks kinda cool now.  Also, the game stores high scores with the player's initials - a feature that I have always appreciated.

My only real complaint with the game is that it ends after you escape the first floor so you only get 5 floors of play before the game is over which doesn't take long at all.  I would have liked them to have allowed you to run into another building and continue the game.  Then again, maybe I'm just missing something because several people on the high score list had higher levels listed by their names and mine just said level 1.  Maybe if you burn down 100% of every floor then it lets you continue - I don't know.

So all in all I think it's a decent little game.  I can see where the simple gameplay could be addictive and the colorful burning effects would have looked pretty cool back in the day, but without the benefit of Apple II nostalgia I probably won't be coming back to this game much in this day and age, especially due to the apparent 5-floor limitation.  Still, I did enjoy it while I was playing it.  I would definitely put it in my list of top 10 favorite games of all time for the Apple II. Just don't ask me how many Apple II games I've ever played.

If you'd like to try it for yourself download the AppleWin emulator HERE and a copy of the game HERE from RetroCPU.

Also, now that you've witnessed the horror, here are the pages from the 1983 VGM article if you care to read them - click to expand.

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