Monday, April 25, 2011

Street Fighter II Bonus Round With the Car

OK - I'm risking insult from Pungent Onion by mailing it in with another "look at this embedded video about Street Fighter II that I found" but screw it.

If you never played Street Fighter II well you probably won't find this little video amusing at all (looks around room warily for Onion), but if you DID play it you will recall the wonderful bonus rounds woven in between battles where you tried to either a) beat the hell out of a parked car or b) smash barrels that rolled down at you from elevated ramps.

The whimsical guys over at Dorkly spun the former off into a little video with Blanka as a meter maid that I thought was amusing. I've got to learn how to make my own animations so I can do stuff like this.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Chicken Shift - My Favorite Arcade Game Controlled By Only Two Buttons

Well, the last post was about an obscure arcade game that I discovered on MAME and have never seen in real life that stinks. So today let me introduce you to an obscure arcade game that I discovered on MAME and have never seen in real life that is quite fun. Chicken Shift!

Chicken Shift was released by Bally-Sente in 1984. A little background on Bally-Sente - in 1983 Nolan Bushnell, co-founder of Atari, bought the arcade game company Videa, renamed it Sente, and made it a division of his Chuck E. Cheese Pizza Time Theatre company. When Bushnell left Atari in 1978 he was forced to sign a non-competitive agreement that had kept him out of the video game business for several years but now his banishment was up and Bushnell planned to use Sente to re-enter the arcade market with a splash with several ideas like the Sente Arcade Computer I - one of the first arcade systems to use interchangeable "cartridges" (swappable PCBs).

Unfortunately for Bushnell, Pizza Time Theatre was struggling and by 1984 was forced to file for bankruptcy so the Sente division was sold to Bally Manufacturing - and from that union the lovely baby Chicken Shift was hatched.

I love the simplicity of this game.  Just check out that control panel - one big fat blue button labeled "blue things" and one big fat red button labeled "red things", and that's it!

And the instructions printed on the panel tell it plain and simple - "Red buttons shift red things. Blue buttons shift blue things." Not since the days of Pong's "Avoid missing ball for high score" have I seen such concise gameplay instructions.

The game consists of three distinct types of levels and each one has blue and red items that you activate (switch between two states e.g. up or down) by pushing the blue or red button, respectively.

In the first level type there are chickens along the top of the screen laying eggs that roll down into a series of interconnected chutes some of which have red or blue pipes at various places and when you hit the matching color all the pipes of that color switch states - e.g. an elbow pipe that is pointing to the left flips to point to the right. As eggs approach the colored sections you need to be sure they are in the proper position. If you don't have the pipe facing the right way when an egg approaches the egg falls and smashes onto the floor below and after three eggs are smashed a swarm of termites spills out of a big box the farmer hung on the wall (rather poor planning really) and the termites eat all the wooden chutes - and there goes one of your three lives. If you succeed the eggs roll safely into egg cartons that are located at the bottom of the screen and when the carton is full the level is complete. It sounds fairly simple but it gets quite hectic very quickly when multiple eggs start coming at you full blast.

In the second level there are chicks hopping along a few rows that have blue and red platforms that you flip up/down and in/out. It is your job to position the red and blue things so that they lower the chicks to the lower floor and also serve as a barricade to stop the little dolts from wandering off the end of the platform and falling to their death. If you can guide them all the way to the window they hatch and fly out to sweet freedom. When all the chicks escape out the window the level is complete. This level is my least favorite of the three types of levels.

In the third level type chicks are hopping along platforms at the bottom and you use red and blue flippers to flip them over onto other platforms over and over until you eventually get them flipped into the safety of the nests waiting for them along the top of the screen. Strangely, when the chicks land in their nests they instantaneously transform into adult chickens. For some reason the volume really kicks up a few notches on this level which is annoying, but I have no way of knowing if it was that way on the original game or if it is just a MAME bug.  You get points for each nest you fill and when they are all filled with a chicken the level is complete.

After you successfully navigate the third level type play comes back to the first type although the pipeline is more complex this time with more and different kinds of moveable pieces and more fast paced eggs being rolled at you which increases the difficulty level. That same approach is shared by the other levels as well and play continues to get more difficult as you go in true arcade fashion.

You get a 1000 point bonus if you complete a level without dropping any eggs/chicks.  And there are other little details that affect your strategy too like bonus points for shifting the pipes and directing the eggs to a certain side that is lit up. The graphics for the game are pretty good for a 1984 game but aren't going to knock your socks off. The sound is decent too although the theme music does get old after a while. Of course the reason to check out this title is the gameplay. This kind of puzzle-driven gameplay is timeless and a lot of fun - or at least for me it is.

So I highly recommend you check out this obscure little game, but if you can't find a copy of the compilation Bally-Sente's Greatest Arcade Hits, well that's because Bally-Sente didn't HAVE any arcade hits and therefore none of their games got ported to any system.  And I have no earthly idea where a real Chicken Shift machine might be so if you want to try it out you should download the ROM and boot it up on MAME. Since the controls are just 2 buttons it translates quite nicely into play with a regular keyboad so you really have no excuse.

A few Google searches confirms that there isn't very much on the web about Chicken Shift - but I did find a rather amusing Chicken Shift FAQ by Nathan White, the current holder of the high score on Twin Galaxies of 159,280. My high score so far is only about half that at 73,290. Let me know if you beat it!

Since I originally posted this I learned that Jon Kinsting developed and programmed Chicken Shift at Bally-Sente and while wandering around the internet I came across his website and what do you know Jon actually saw my post and mentioned it on his site. Thanks for a great arcade game Jon!

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Friday, April 15, 2011

Barrier - My Lowest Rated Arcade Game

I often play randomly selected games on my MAME cab and I try to always assign a personal rating of 1-10 to the games I play. And out of a LOT of games so far the lowest rated game I've played is one called Barrier. The game derives its name from the impenetrable barrier it erects between you and enjoyment.  And since I was subjected to it I'm going to share the misery and subject you to it too.

The flyer describes the game. "Avoid the forces of evil by evading diamond shaped alien forces. Are they supernatural or intergalactic? No time to tell. A second's hesitation means instant destruction. Each forward move scores a point for the good guy!...". Huh? What the hell does that mean? Well, as meaningless as that sales blurb is it adds more depth to this game than it merits.

Barrier was a vector game released in 1979 by Vectorbeam. The game used a large X-Y monitor that was too large for the cabinet so 70% of the monitor was actually covered by the bezel. This only allowed a small triangular playfield to show through.

In Barrier you are a triangle at the front end of a 3x10 grid that leads off into the screen in pseudo-3D fashion and you must use 4 directional buttons to navigate your way forward though the grid while avoiding the diamonds that are trying to collide with you. If they touch you you die. When you reach the far end of the grid your triangle returns to the front of the grid and you keep on going.

So basically this is a full-size arcade version of the old Mattel handheld football game except it runs vertically (in a half-ass 3-D into the screen sorta way) instead of horizontally.

And in fact, I just discovered from reading Tim Skelly's History of Cinematronics and Vectorbeam that is EXACTLY what it was intended to be. Tim Skelly was an arcade designer and programmer with Cinematronics and recalls:

"Somewhere around the time I was finishing Starhawk, we hired Rob Patton as a second game programmer. He stayed busy learning the system while I was working on Starhawk and Sundance. One day Jim Pierce walked into the lab with a Mattell handheld football game. This was the first handheld game and extremely popular, despite being incredibly simple, with just a few LEDs for a display. Jim thought we should turn it into a video game. I told him that it would certainly stink as a video game and would probably mean a law suit from Mattell. He forgot about it for a while, but when it became clear that Rob had run out of things to do, Jim talked me into letting Rob program it strictly as a learning exercise. That game was Blitz, later Barrier. To make Jim happy, we put it out on test. It did very poorly, to put it nicely, and we stuffed it in the closet."

Vectorbeam had released the successful game Speed Freak and was in the market for another game to keep the assembly lines running, but they didn't have any ready so they approached Cinematronics to see if they had any they were interested in selling. Cinematronics sold them Barrier, and in the words of Tim Skelly, "laughed our asses off about it". After extremely poor Barrier sales (surprise!) Vectorbeam ended up selling all its assets to Cinematronics.

Old-day arcade corporate sabotage or just a sucky game and a stupid company? I don't know but the back story is the most interesting part of the game because Skelly was right, it stinks as a video game.

The gameplay, graphics, and sound are all pathetic so if you happen to have a full set of MAME ROMs and have never gotten around to playing this one, well go ahead and play it once just in case you ever encounter some dude who actually remembers this wart. But then quickly delete the files so no Barrier viruses are spread to other games.

The only positive thing I can say is that the bezel artwork is kinda cool - picturing a hooded evil looking individual that I can only assume is a Vectorbeam executive beckoning desperately for you to put a quarter into this turd as their company was circling the drain.

And in case you're curious I originally rated this game 1 company-crippling games out of 10, but then I revisited it and decided if you had 2 players and you were both high and/or drunk then it might be slightly better than punching each other in the nuts so... I upped it to 1.5.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Game Boy Music Video

Once again the guys over at Botchweed pointed me to a pretty cool video. This guy used percussive sounds (and just a little electric buzz) from his original Game Boy to make a music video in the same spirit as those guys from Stomp that do it live with trash can lids and paper bags etc. Check it out.

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

I Too Always Thought Chun-Li Was Hot

Keeping my personal string of daily posts alive, here is a quickie post of a comical little Street Fighter II video that I stumbled onto over at Dorkly.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Questprobe Featuring the Hulk

I came across an interview with adventure game godfather Scott Adams in an old copy of Power Play magazine which was focused on the Questprobe series of games - illustrated text adventure games where you played as a Marvel Comics superhero. More specifically the article was about the first Questprobe game featuring the Hulk since that was the only one out at the time. 

I played a lot of Scott Adams' adventure games on my old VIC-20 and loved them and I was heavily into comic books back in those days so I remember being pretty optimistic about this game back in 1984. I honestly can't remember if I had an original retail copy of it or just a backup (I admit it - I did that sort of thing sometimes), but I do remember being disappointed in it. Probably because by then I think I was already knee-deep in the more complex narratives and more sophisticated parser of the Infocom titles. So, although the simpler stories and 2-word parser games seemed pretty awesome in the VIC days they had lost some of their edge as the mid-80's approached. In fact I don't recall ever actually finishing it.  I think I may have gotten stuck somewhere and/or lost interest a little and just moved on to another game like one of the Zorks or something like that. So I decided to finally go back and finish the game to check it off the list.

In the game you are Bruce Banner - and the Hulk of course when he gets cheezed off.  You start the game off immediately in a jam - tied to a chair. No explanation or story or anything but obviously you need to get up so "bite lip" and bingo bango you turn into the hulk and break the ropes. You use that little mechanic a lot. Unlike the previous Scott Adams adventure games I had played, the Hulk was illustrated so in addition to the text description you could actually see what was going on. The graphics are certainly nothing to get excited about but were probably pretty good for 1984. No sound.

Notice how they put the trademark (Tm) symbol after the Incredible Hulk's name. That was on there every single time his name is mentioned and it annoyed the heck out of me.  They did the same with Ant-Man, Doctor Strange, and Ultron, whose surprise appearances in the game were spoiled at the very beginning with their names listed to show that they were also Trademarked. Was that really necessary? I'm assuming that is something that Marvel insisted on.  Anyway, like a lot of the really old adventure games the story was basically a flimsy excuse for you to recover all the "treasures" - in this case 16 gems and the all-important Bio-Gem. In fact the story didn't even really tell you anything about the gems - you just started coming across them so you KNEW you had to pick them up and a sign in one room politely informed you to Leave the Gems Here. Useful bit of info.

In the game you meet the "Chief Examiner" (remember how you used to have to "examine" everything back in the day on text adventures?) who is apparently behind the situation you are in and in fact you see him at his desk working on the next Scott Adams adventure game, so I assumed at the time that it was supposed to be Scott Adams. The game also lets you refer to him as "Scott" and the article in Power Play further confirmed my assumption.

In conjunction with the game, Marvel Comics even released an actual comic with a more in-depth account of the story. At least that is what I've heard - I never ready any of the Questprobe comics. Maybe I'll track down a cbr/cbz of it and check it out.

They planned to release a game and comic every 3-5 months for a total of about 12-13 games, but they only got around to releasing 3 of them - #1 with the Hulk, #2 with Spiderman, and #3 with the Human Torch and the Thing. Scott was working on the fourth title featuring the X-Men when his company Adventure International declared bankruptcy in 1985.

So how did I like the game playing it 27 years after it was produced?  Meh - looks like I had it right the first time - disappointed. Oh well, what did I expect? I was disappointed back in the 80's and the feeling remained. I did KIND of enjoy going back and playing it from a nostalgic standpoint but the game just didn't hold up very well at all. Plus, there were a couple of dead-ends you could easily fall into which would basically make it so that you couldn't complete the game by collecting ALL the treasures which was annoying.

Hard to rate, but I'm thinking maybe 4.5 pairs of torn purple pants out of 10. Overall, it just seemed like a much more diluted effort than I had seen before from Mr. Adams - of course I had played the previous games when I was a pre-teen or early teen and computer gaming was in its infancy or at least early adolescence so my historical perspective is probably a bit skewed by my age and the state of the industry at the time.

So I wouldn't exactly recommend it to someone in this day and age. If you wanted to try out some of the pioneering Scott Adams titles to see what the early days were like I would recommend trying some of the older ones like Adventureland, The Count, or Voodoo Castle instead. But if you DID want to check out the Hulk you have plenty of platforms to choose from - it was released on Commodore 64, DOS, ZX Spectrum, Atari 800, and Apple II computers. And of course there is always emulation and so-called abandonware if you like that sort of thing. Plus it is quite short so it wouldn't take you very long to experience. And, unlike the pre-internet days of my first experience there is actually a walkthrough for the game that you can use if you do get stuck - HERE. So feel free to Bite Lip.

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Friday, April 8, 2011

Petroglyphs and My First Xbox Game

The next day of our recent RV trip found us wandering through Petroglyph National Monument outside Albuquerque, New Mexico looking at petroglyphs carved into the rock centuries before by American Indians and later by Spanish explorers.

...and if you take that middle petroglyph and flip it upside-down it looks a lot like a certain game company logo.

Yeah - that's how I decided on my next post. Gotta point the ship somewhere before I can start sailing right?  So does this mean that the Pueblo Native Americans of the region actually played Day of the Tentacle centuries before it was released?  Probably. But I'm ashamed to admit I never played that particular classic (it's on my to-do list though!) so I can't talk about it.

As I'm writing this searching for direction I'm also watching a documentary on Dragon*Con - a huge fantasy sci-fi convention in Atlanta and I see Stormtroopers everywhere - so I steer the ship toward that shining Death Star. I'm a huge Star Wars fan and so it's no surprise really that my very first Xbox game was a LucasArts game set in the Star Wars universe - Star Wars Battlefront.

I was very late to the Xbox party. After the original PlayStation, I took a long hiatus from gaming (other than MAME) until I got my PS3. So I completely missed on the original XBox and all the other consoles of that generation. Then about 3 years ago or so I traded a guy my X-Arcade Tankstick for a modded original XBox, and the first XBox game I picked up was a used copy of Star Wars Battlefront.

Before Battlefront the last Star Wars game I played was probably Empire Strikes Back on the Atari 2600, so when I booted up Battlefront it was pretty damn impressive. I found the attention to detail from the Star Wars universe to be pretty remarkable. Graphics were excellent and the sound was incredible with all the immediately recognizable sounds of the Star Wars universe captured - be it the scream of a Tie Fighter or the spitting of a blaster. And you can pilot any vehicle you find - AT ATs, tie fighters, X-wings, speeder bikes, snow speeders - anything. I mean - how cool is that?! I remember seeing a tie fighter sitting there the first time and I just walked around it to check it out thinking 'hey that's cool'. Then I boarded it and started flying around blasting guys and it became 'holy shit that's awesome!'. Vader makers appearances, Luke makes appearances, this game has it all.

The gameplay is pretty repetitive - there aren't any side missions or minigames or puzzles or anything extraneous like that - just the simple goal of capturing all the other team's checkpoints or killing them all off before they do the same to you. Before launching into each battle you get to see a cool introduction to the scenario made from real clips from the actual movies and a narration of the goal from a prominent goodie or baddie.

The single-player campaign was fairly short and didn't really have much of a linear story to it - it just puts you in the middle of the various big battles that took place (and some that COULD have taken place) during the Clone Wars in episodes 1-3 and the Galactic Civil War in episodes 4-6. The various exotic planets in the Star Wars universe (e.g. desert planet Tatoine, the cloud city of Bespin, the Ice Planet Hoth, the forest planet of Endor) are all so unique and over the top it translated into really cool and varied battle maps. You can play as any of a ton of different character types on the good guy sides (e.g. wookies, rebel X-wing pilots, Gungans) or the bad guy sides (e.g. imperial storm troopers, shock troopers, tie fighter pilots, attack droids).

The brevity of the single player campaign may have been a drawback when it was released in 2004, but at this point it keeps the the experience short enough to be just about right (for me anyway) for a cheap older title. I did miss a few things I'd gotten used to on newer games like running faster and melee attacks - like a Wookie wouldn't just toss a storm trooper through a window if he was close enough to grab him? C'mon. But still I quite enjoyed it.

Unfortunately you can't play the online multiplayer anymore since they shut down the original Xbox Live last year, so that cuts heavily into the replay value, and there have been several other installments in the franchise that I assume have improved on the formula, but if you haven't played any of those, you can pick up a used copy of the original for peanuts these days for Xbox, PS2, or PC and if you like Star Wars and shooters like I do then you'll like this one.

Now I gotta think of a game to associate with the Petrified Forest National Park...

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Bioshock Anti-Drug Posters

Thanks to Shawn at Botchweed for pointing out the series of Bioshock anti-drug posters posted over at Dorkly that warn against the dangers of plasmids.  I thought they were pretty cool.  Of course I was drunk at the time so who knows.  I love irony.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Roswell, New Mexico and Wacko

Day 2 of the RV trip saw us driving through the town of Roswell - the little town in New Mexico where in 1947 the U.S. military recovered a crashed flying saucer along with the bodies of its alien pilots. Mogul shmogul - Jonathan Frakes said it's for real and that's good enough for me! 

So today's semi-randomly chosen featured game is - no not Area 51 - Wacko!  Ever heard of it?

Wacko was released by Bally/Midway in 1982 and has some unique features that make it stand out to me as a pretty cool game. The first thing you'll notice as you approach the game is the wacked out angle at which the entire cabinet slants.  Check out the picture in the flyer below.

It's not just the marquee, the entire control panel is slanted so that the right side is a full 3 inches lower than the left side!  In fact the slant of the control panel actually caused problems with the operation of the trackball so they had to install the trackball upside down in order for it to work properly.

The other unique feature of the game is the trackball/joystick combination controller. You use a trackball to 'krooz' around a lunar landscape in the the flying saucer of the breakfast-cereal-named alien Kap'n Krooz'r, and use the joystick to fire Robotron-style at cartoonish monsters ambling about.

Compared with other games released at the time the colorful cartoony graphics were quite impressive. Originally Midway planned to use a wizard shooting cute animals, but decided to go dark and shoot monsters instead. Then they switched the wizard to Kap'n Krooz'r (ugh) who was the main character from another Midway game called Kozmik Krooz'r. Midway hoped he would catch on as a popular mascot/franchise like Pac-Man did, but unfortunately for them it didn't quite work out.

To destroy the monsters you have to shoot them in matching pairs - there are two of several different kinds of monsters running around so for example, you would shoot a green dragon with your first shot which causes him to stop and shake for a couple of seconds and then you have to shot the other green dragon before he stops shaking for both of the dragons to be destroyed. If any monster touches you of course you die.

It sounds a little like a kid's game I suppose, but as the levels progress the rules get more complicated and it quickly get very challenging - if you shoot a dragon with your first shot but hit a vampire with your second shot the two creatures switch top halves resulting in two mutants that you have to unmix before you can kill them. Further levels introduce even more challenges.

I had never seen a Wacko machine before until I bumped into one at Joystix here in Houston one day, and I've pretty much played it on every return trip since then. Wacko was also featured fairly often on the TV show Starcade, either as the game that the contestants were playing or as the arcade prize.

Wacko was designed and programmed by Steve Meyer who, I discovered upon writing this, also designed and programmed Tapper and Timber, two other unique favorites of mine.

This is another game I wouldn't mind adding to my personal collection of arcade machines - if said collection ever begins. And what do you know, a working Wacko is currently being offered on eBay for the not too unreasonable buy-it-now price of $995. Of course shipping costs on that bad boy are gonna eat your lunch - but if you live in Connecticut and can pick up locally well that's something to consider.  Check out the auction HERE.

Wacko wasn't ported to any consoles at the time, but in 2004 it was included in the compilation title Midway Arcade Treasures 2 for Microsoft XBOX, Nintendo Gamecube, and Sony Playstation 2. It was also included in the 2006 Midway Arcade Treasures Deluxe Edition for PC.  You can pick those up dirt cheap and I assume it should play pretty well with a dual analog joystick setup - of course the best way to experience it is with the real trackball/joystick rig so if you're in Houston on the first or last Friday of the month check it out at Joystix (if it's still there).

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pinballz Arcade in Austin, Texas (and the Quest for Sea Wolf Complete!)

Greetings fellow video game enthusiasts! Sorry for the long delay since my last post, Mrs. MP and I spent the last 9 days or so wandering semi-aimlessly around the American Southwest in an RV. A nice respite from the dull daily demands of work that have now refixed their grip upon me. 

But just because I was knee-deep in non-electronic nature don't think for a minute that I wasn't able to work in SOME gaming. The very first day of the trip brought us through Austin which provided the perfect opportunity to check out the great new arcade up there - Pinballz!

Pinballz opened late last year in a 13,000 square foot facility and boasts a huge collection of new and old video games, pinball games, redemption games, and other arcade favorites like foosball, skeeball, air hockey, etc. and I'll tell you right now that I am already looking forward to my next visit.

As the name implies they have a GREAT selection of pinball machines. As I walked around I immediately saw all the classics - Medieval Madness, Twilight Zone, Addams Family, Taxi, Tales of the Arabian Knights, Gorgar, Fire!, Doctor Who, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Attack from Mars and tons more. They also had all the latest ones such as Iron Man, Lord of the Rings, Elvis, Batman the Dark Knight, Indiana Jones, Big Buck Hunter and Avatar.  I didn't see the brand new Rolling Stones pin anywhere yet but I would assume it is on their buy list.

I even got to play a fun pin I'd only seen once before in a Baltimore crab house/arcade called Twister (based on the movie). It has a fan mounted to the back that blows when the storms pick up and a spinning magnetic disk that spins like a tornado and redirects the balls that cross it. What's really cool is when you get a 5-ball multiball and all the balls get magnetized to the spinner and it spins around like wild until the bundle flies apart and balls go everywhere. Amazingly my wife beat me at it on three straight games - and by beat I mean SLAUGHTERED! She was like a Twister savante. She played as if she could play the game with her eyes closed, in fact I'm fairly certain she did just that on several occasions so I have no idea how she defeated me so handily, but she absolutely crushed me. Her unprecedented victories lent a unique twist to the visit - and hopefully also helped her cope for the evening with my incessant need to play games.

All the pins I played were in excellent condition - they looked and played great.  So needless to say, if you like pinball you should most definitely check out this place if you get a chance. You can see their current list of over 80 pinball games HERE.

But as much as I love pinball I've always been more of a video game guy and thankfully they had over 50 of those on hand as well!  You can check out their full list of video games HERE, HERE and HERE.  There was a nice variety of games and just like with the pins, most of the arcade cabinets were in excellent condition.

All the video games required at least 2 quarters to play which was a bit of a turnoff for me since back in the day when I did most of my playing everything was a single quarter - so pushing in two of them removed me from the nostalgic ambience a bit, but no big deal. I was happy to donate my 50 cents per play. If anything maybe it encouraged me to play a little harder like back in the day when 25 cents seemed like a little more money than it does now.

I had a blast playing the rare oldies like Tempest, Space Invaders Deluxe, Black Widow, Tron, Metal Slug 3, Gyruss, and Narc (an old favorite of mine from the late 80's) and even played a couple of games that I had never played before like Quasar and the arcade version of Feeding Frenzy, but by far the jewel of the collection for me was Sea Wolf. 

I think Sea Wolf is the oldest coin-op arcade game I specifically recall playing - probably back in the late 70's at a campground our family used to go to when I was around 9 or 10 years old.  I have been looking for a working Sea Wolf for a while and even my pilgrimage to the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire didn't prove fruitful (they had one but the monitor was bad). But once inside Pinballz I turned the corner to my left and there she was in all her old-school glory.

Sea Wolf was originally released by Midway way back in 1976 as a video game update to the 1970 electromechanical Midway game Sea Devil (which was itself the offspring of the 1966 game Periscope). The game is basically a single-screen vertical shooter in which you fire torpedoes from a submarine to destroy enemy ships that raced across the surface of the sea. Naturally, smaller faster vessels were worth more points than the slower larger ones. The ocean was also littered with mines that would serve to block your torpedoes and allow the enemies to escape unscathed.

Sea Wolf has a unique cabinet with a periscope that you looked through (Battlezone-style before Battlezone) and rotated left or right to aim your torpedoes which you fired by depressing the button on the right periscope handle.

The sound effects are very simple but awesome with the radar ping, the motor of the PT boats whizzing across the screen, the whoosh of the torpedoes being fired and the rumble of the explosions.

The graphics are black and white (hey it was 1976) but Midway added a blue overlay to provide the ocean color (so basically everything is blue). Back-lit transparancies were reflected inside the scope to show the target crosshairs, number of torpedoes left, and a reload light that flashed when you have launched all five torpedoes after which point you would have to wait momentarily while your men reloaded 5 more torpedoes. Onlookers could see the action on the ocean but only you could see all these indicators through the periscope. The explosions were displayed similarly with clearly drawn yellow and orange jagged displays (kind of like the "Bam!" "Pow" shapes that flashed on the old Batman TV show after Bats slugged the Joker). These old-school non-video features are faithfully simulated in MAME as long as you have the required artwork files installed and it definitely adds to the game so if you play MAME download the artwork files and play it! Just note you want to use an analog device for aiming - I use a trackball at home but a mouse should work just fine.

The game is time-based. You have an alloted amount of time (typically 70 seconds) to destroy as many ships as you can before the game is over. If you reach a certain score (4000 points I believe) bonus time is awarded. Also, Sea Wolf was one of the first arcade games to save and display the high score (until the machine was turned off). I have heard that the 1974 game Speed Race was actually the first, but I haven't been able to find that one yet to confirm that for myself.  The game was ported to the VIC-20 (which I owned but have no idea where it is now), the Commodore 64, and the Bally Astrocade.

The game was followed by Sea Wolf II in 1978, and by a current-gen arcade version in 2008 which came in both a sitdown and upright model.

All the games also had price tags on them so if you couldn't get enough play time in on your visit you could always just buy it and take it home.  The prices looked to be on the high side with a lot of prices hovering around the $2K mark, but like I mentioned before they WERE generally in excellent condition and the prices seemed to be fairly close to what I've seen at Joystix in Houston too so not too unexpected.

They also had a snack counter that sold things like water, energy drinks, and chips and are reportedly on the verge of opening a full-service place in-house called Mikki’s Replay CafĂ© that will offer food and drink - including beer and wine if you are so inclined (which I often am).

So I have to say I thorougly enjoyed this place and wish them the best of luck because I fully intend to plan return visits in the near future. If you enjoy arcade games or pinball and live anywhere in Texas - yes even you El Paso and Amarillo folks out there (hey you've got a car don't ya?!) then you simply MUST check out Pinballz Arcade.

And be sure to tell them MadPlanet sent you.  They won't know what the hell you are talking about, but it would greatly amuse me if you did so.

8940 Research Blvd., Suite 100
Austin, TX 78758
Phone: 512-420-TILT (8458)

[Updated 5/26/2011 with new extended hours]
Monday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Tuesday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Wednesday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Thursday: Noon - 10:00 PM
Friday: Noon-1:00 AM
Saturday: Noon-1:00 AM
Sunday: Noon-10:00 PM

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