Monday, February 28, 2011

Ubisoft's We Dare

I noticed that Ubisoft has caused a bit of a stir with the impending release of their new minigame title for the Wii and PS3 called We Dare, which is described as a ", quirky party game that offers a large variety of hilarious, innovative and physical, sometimes kinky, challenges."  Check out the trailer.

Well, I agree that the ladies in the commercial do look sexy but beyond that... meh. Seems like the gameplay is too lame and awkward for a party game and too goofy and contrived for sex-play. And just what the hell is so laugh-out-loud funny? Oh sure, anything can be an outrageously funny sex-game if you are high as a kite! Have you ever tried Resident Evil 2... on weed? Pure hilarious erotica.

But in all fairness, I'm a middle-aged married old fart so I'm probably not the target demographic here. I suppose if it were a first date or something and you could convince the girl to bend over your lap for a spanking like that then yeah that could be a decent physical icebreaker, but I just don't see it happening outside of a Penthouse forum letter. Unless of course you slip the girl something extra in her drink like those two wiiild and craaazy guys obviously did!

The game is currently slated for release in Europe and Australia, but Ubisoft reportedly told IGN that it would "absolutely NOT see release in the United States". Unfortunately Americans are entirely too sexually repressed to appreciate the forbidden erotic pleasures of We Dare. So sorry, you Americans will just have to be satisfied with whatever sexual gaming devices you already own.

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I was reading Gnome's recent post about his brand-spanking new copy of Oil's Well, a great computer game by Sierra, and it reminded me of the old obscure arcade game that came out the year before the original Oil's Well that I assume was the inspiration for it - Anteater. And since Anteater is my second favorite Stern arcade game (Berzerk being number one of course) I thought I would do a post about it.

Anteater was released in 1982 by Stern and apparently licensed to Tago Electronics for release. It is one of those favorites of mine that I discovered on MAME - I've never seen a real one in person - and based on the pics of generic Anteater cabs I've seen and the arcade flyers like the one below - it appears possible that maybe ALL of the Anteaters were sold as conversion kits from Tago. I'm not sure, but either way it is a really enjoyable game that seems simplistic on the surface but actually has a fair amount of strategy involved.

In Anteater you play... anyone? anyone? an Anteater... and you extend your tongue throughout a large underground maze to catch and eat ant larvae, ants, and other creepy crawlies for points. The controls are simple - a single 4-way joystick to slowly probe the maze with your tongue and a single action button to rapidly retract your tongue back to your mouth. Stationary ant larvae are scattered throughout the maze in Pac-Man fashion for you to freely chomp for 10 points each with no fear of immediate reprisal, but ants are also patrolling the maze and are none too pleased with your activities. You can eat the ants (for 100 points) by running your tongue straight into them head-on, but if an ant touches any other part of your tongue while it is extended it delivers a painful bite to which you are apparently deathly allergic because it kills you right off. Not sure how that sort of hypersensitive tongue evolved on an Anteater, but there it is. So while you are sliding your tongue all around the maze you have to constantly be aware of ants approaching your tongue in the rest of the maze and if you see one coming you have to either retract your tongue to get out of the way or try to eat the ant before he gets to you.

The worms are a little different than the ants in that they have some sort of noxious substance on their head that kills you if you taste it head-on - so you have to hit them from behind to eat them (200 points). Although for some inexplicable reason they have absolutely no effect on the rest of your tongue so, unlike the ants, you don't have to worry about the worms running into you, just don't lick their head and you're good.

At the bottom of the underground maze there are two queen ants - they are fat and juicy and totally defenseless and if you eat them they are worth a whopping 1000 points each - but more importantly each time you eat one it destroys all the bugs on the screen. So you should save them for when you need to use a smart bomb to keep from getting killed.

After you complete a few anthills caterpillars start making an appearance too, but they are just ant-wannabes so treat them just like you would an ant - eat them however you like and don't let them touch any part of your tongue except the tip.

By far, the scariest member of the bug family in this game is the spider. As you play a level the sun is moving across the sky and when darkness falls the spider comes out. The spider can not be eaten and will follow your tongue down to the tip to deliver a killing bite when it gets there. So when the spider comes out your only choice is to either haul ass and finish eating all the ant larvae left on the screen to finish the level or eat a queen ant to kill the spider before he gets to the tip of your tongue.

At the end of each level you get an "ant times worm bonus" which is just what it says - the number of ants you ate multiplied by the number of worms you ate then multiplied by ten to make it respectable. Then the anteater wanders off to another anthill and starts again - with a change in color pallete for each new level. Every 20,000 points nets you an extra anteater.

Anteater was also released in Germany as "Ameisenbaer" and in the UK as "The Anteater" (not sure why the addition of the word "the" makes it more British but that's what I read). The original creator, Christian Oberth, followed up by writing a clone himself for the Apple II and Atari 800 in 1983 called "Ardy the Aardvark" and a prototype was created for the Atari 2600 in 1983 but was never released. Sierra Online's Oil's Well was also released in 1983 with a different premise but very similar gameplay (drill head drilling for oil instead of tongue eating bugs). A port was also released for the Commodore 64 in 1986 called "Aardvark" which was technically a port of Ardy, but Anteater begat Ardy begat Aardvark.

Freddie Morrish holds the world record for Anteater with 219,320 points on October 9, 1983. When I booted up the game last night to grab a few screenshots I actually hit my current high score (on a MAME cab) of 52,300.

I'm quite fond of Anteater. Yeah it is repetitive but I find it fun. There is something satisfying to me about slowly progressing in a considered manner taking out ants as I descend into the maze punctuated by brief hectic periods of action when ants are coming at me from multiple directions at once. The graphics are pretty simplistic but serviceable with some funky lime-green, orange, and hot-pink colors to give it a unique flavor. And the music?  Well, the only good thing I can say about the music is that it is sparse, because what there is of it is bad.

Overall, I give Anteater 7.9 ant-bitten swollen tongues out of 10. If you are a MAME guy I highly recommend you check it out and if you beat my high score let me know!

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Foghat on the Atari 2600?

On my way to work today I was listening to a classic rock station and I heard the song Slow Ride by the 70's group Foghat TWICE. I would be hard-pressed to name another Foghat tune but I was very familiar with this one as it is the very first song in Guitar Hero III (the only Guitar Hero that I own).

And it reminded me of an ad I saw a while back for a Foghat 8-track that was also an Atari game.  So I googled it and found the ad.  Mik, you thought that family on your 2600 boxes was crazy - check out this guy. Hard to tell if he is having the greatest time of his life or is in excruciating agony!

I was interested in searching out and possibly buying this unique product that was an Atari cartridge on one end and a Foghat 8-track tape on the other - but other than the image there wasn't much info out there. Then I found the apparent source material from which the image seems to have sprung - this article from the Van Gogh-Goghs website. A minute or so of exploring this web comedy site told me for sure that this ad was just a fake. Darn!

But at least the search did lead me to discover a different type of Atari game cartridge that I had never seen before - the double-ender. These fairly rare 3rd party cartridges had two separate ROM chips - one at each end of the cartridge. So if you inserted it into your Atari 2600 one way you had one game and then you could flip it around and you had another game.  Not sure if that is more practical really than just buying two separate cartridges, but pretty cool anyway!  Plus if you are ever out on a boat and your motor goes out you could paddle back to shore with the cartridge.  Look how long this thing is!  A quick scan of eBay shows several for sale ranging from around $14-$35 with shipping.

...and as often happens to me in my video game wanderings - this research circled back around to another game that I just recently took a look at - Custer's Revenge.  When I did that previous post, I had read that the company PlayAround had purchased the rights to Mystique's "adult-oriented" 2600 titles and re-released them as 2-in-1 cartridges - one of which was "General Re-Treat / Westward Ho!".  Westward Ho! was just Custer's Revenge with a different title, but in General Re-Treat, Custer was the one on the cactus and you played as the Native American girl trying to get to him. Radically different gameplay...

But what I didn't realize at the time was these re-releases were actually these so-called double-enders.  So I leave you with a couple of pictures of their classic double-ender "General Re-Treat / Westward Ho!" that I found on the excellent Atari website - Atari Mania. Enjoy!

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Munchman for the TI-99/4A

[Updated 2/16/2011]
On this day in 1978 Texas Instruments patented the first "micro on a chip" - or so I'm told from several "on this day in history websites". So I thought it would be a nice time to do a quick post on the ONLY Texas Instruments TI-99/4A game that I remember ever playing on the real computer back in the day - Munchman.
Obviously, Pac-Man was incredibly popular in the early '80s so virtually every system had its own clone of the game and Munchman was the TI-99/4A's version. I never owned a TI-99/4A but I remember they always had one on display at the local Sears store, and whenever my parents would go to Sears I would typically park it over in the computer/games department and play until they got finished looking at whatever the hell adults look at in Sears (I still don't know).  The game that I usually hit there was Munchman.

It was released in 1982 for $39.95 and was pretty much exactly the same as Pac-Man except that, in an effort to avoid litigation, Texas Instruments made it so that instead of eating dots the main character ran around the maze laying chain.  And you had to interconnect a chain throughout the entire maze to complete a level. So it was sort of the negative-zone version of Pac-Man. You could control your "munchman" with either the keyboard or a joystick. Frankly I think the gameplay of Munchman was more derivative of Pac-Man than K.C. Munchkin was, but K.C. is the one that Atari actually sued. Go figure.

I remember being impressed with the graphics - they were simplistic but sharp and colorful and on a white background which was unique - it kind of reminded me of the colored pen and ink designs I used to make on the Spirograph when I was younger.

Munchman on the TI-99/4A

Spirograph Design
I also remember being impressed with how smooth the animation was - much more fluid than Atari 2600's much-maligned 1982 port of Pac-Man.

The "ghosts" in Munchman were called Hoonos and the "power pills" were Texas-shaped T.I logos. There were also a few minor differences in gameplay aside from the cosmetic differences - every 20 mazes the maze becomes invisible with no trailing chains and you must eat all the T.I. logos to progress. I admit that I never got to level 20 in the store but read this online prior to this post. So I guess it gives me something to work toward. Also, the Hoonos become faster, more agressive and smarter with each successive level so the game becomes more and more challenging as you progress.

I was recently reminded of Munchman from Gnome's excellent review of the TI-99/4A game TI Invaders (a cool Space Invaders clone). He mentioned the Win994A emulator which I found to work quite well so I officially added it to the list of emulators on the home gaming cab. And Munchman still stood up quite well for a 1982 Pac-Man variant. So if you care to give Munchman or any of the other old TI-99/4A games a try but don't happen to own the system why not install Win994A and download a few old TI-99/4A games from and give them a go.  If you discover any other TI-99/4A gems be sure to let me know!

[Update:  I originally linked to for the game ROMs but I forgot I had problems running theirs so I switched it to the directory which ran fine. My Apologies!] 

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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Shark! Shark! for the Intellivision (and Feeding Frenzy for the Xbox 360)

I was reading through some more old gaming magazines and I came across an old review for the Intellivision game Shark! Shark! in the November 1983 issue of Videogaming and Computer Gaming Illustrated. For some reason I always enjoy reading the reviews of these old games that were written when they were new. Here is a copy of the review if you care to check it out (summary: they quite liked it).

I had heard of Shark! Shark! but never had the opportunity to play it back in the day. But the article included a screenshot of the game which immediatey made me think - hey that looks a lot like an old-school version of Feeding Frenzy - a fun little Xbox Live Arcade game I bought dirt cheap on a used compilation disk (it cost me around $2 for 6 games).

Shark! Shark! screenshot

Feeding Frenzy screenshot
My curiosity was sufficiently piqued that I decided to give Shark! Shark! a try. This was one of those lower-tier curiosities that didn't quite spur me to hit eBay for the original game to play on my Intellivision II, but with the Bliss emulator and an Intellivision controller-to-USB adapter that I bought from Retrozone a few years back it emulates the original experience very well.

It only took a minute of playing Shark! Shark! to conclude that yes indeed, Feeding Frenzy is pretty much an uncredited ripoff of the Intellivision original. In the game you control a fish swimming around in the ocean eating smaller fish for points. After every 1000 points you grow in size which allows you to eat even bigger fish for more points. If you touch a fish that is bigger than you then YOU get eaten - makes sense - so you are constantly swimming around to avoid larger fish, sharks, jellyfish, seahorses, lobsters, and crabs that would love nothing more than to excrete your undigested remnants through their waterproof ani.

I don't know if you ever get large enough to eat the shark straight on but you can sneak up behind him and bite his tail and if you can manage to bite him at least three times (more as the levels progress) without him chomping you then he dies and sinks to the ocean floor (Feeding Frenzy stole this exact same gameplay mechanic too).  Also you can eat the lobsters that jump up at you from the sea floor, but only if you bite them on their way back down. If they hit you on the way up you're sushi and you start over as a small fish. You start the game with 5 small fish and you get a free small fish for every shark, crab, or lobster that you manage to kill. You also get 3 "darts" where you are able to kick in a burst of speed to either catch your prey or avoid your predator. The overlay shows 3 different darts but they all seemed to be the same speed so I don't think there is any difference.

Shark! Shark! Overlay
At the end of the game it plays a nice little song and displays the high score. One bit of trivia - Mattel was going to play "Mack the Knife" when the game was over (with the lyric "Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth dear...") and even put together a nice arrangement for the prototype but when their lawyers tracked down the song owners to obtain the license they discovered it was owned by Warner Communications - the parent company of their arch-rival Atari.  So they trashed that idea and wrote an original tune instead.

The graphics were decent for an Intellivision game and I thought the sound effects, although simplistic, did a pretty good job of simulating an underwater experience. Also, it offers a cool 2-player simultaneous competitive play where you can eat smaller fish to grow but can also eat your opponent if he is smaller. That is a nice variation that I don't think is even offered by Feeding Frenzy.

Overall I enjoyed the game and think it would make a good addition to an Intellivision collection. I only have 2 complaints - 1) the action is a little too slow to develop in the early parts of the game and 2) the gameplay is virtually 100% based on 360 degree movement and that damn circular control pad on the Intellivision controller has always driven me nuts. So it makes it a little tough to control sometimes - for me anyway. But that is a system controller issue rather than the fault of the game itself.

If you don't have an Intellivision and don't care for emulators - Shark! Shark! is included on the excellent Intellivision compilation - 'Intellivision Lives' which is available for the PC, XBox, Gamecube, Playstation 2, iPhone, XBox 360, and Nintendo DS. I have it on the original XBox but I am rather intrigued by the DS version which uses the bottom touchscreen to simulate the original overlay controller action and the upper screen for the monitor.

Intellivision's Utopia on the Nintendo DS
One last note.  Writing this I discovered that the original design for Shark! Shark! was created by Don Daglow while he was Director of Intellivision Game Development. Daglow, along with Eddie Dombrower, wrote my absolute all-time favorite baseball video game (and one of my favorite PC games of any genre) - Earl Weaver Baseball.  He also wrote the first ever baseball computer game on a PDP-10 mainframe in 1971, the excellent Tony LaRussa Baseball in 1991, and a number of other Intellivision classics, but for me Earl Weaver Baseball is the true feather in his cap!  Daglow's design for Shark! Shark! was enhanced and programmed by Ji Wen Tsao, one of the first female video game programmers in the industry.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011


On this day in 1996 (just barely posted under the wire) IBM's 'Deep Blue' became the first computer to beat a reigning world champion at a game of chess, beating international grandmaster Garry Kasparov in Philadelphia. So I thought a quick Chessmaster post was in order.

I was introduced to the franchise on my trusty Commodore 64 with Chessmaster 2000 and I rather enjoyed playing that game.

More often I would play my brothers instead as I preferred the element of human competition and the associated joy and agony of victory and defeat, but still I did enjoy playing the computer too.

Over the years I tried a few other computer chess games but didn't care for any of them. I'm not talking about games like Battle Chess or Archon - but just standard games of chess.  With a game like chess you wouldn't think that there would be that much of a difference between different franchises, but for me all the ones I tried paled in comparison to Chessmaster. But I moved on to other games, other systems, etc. and my love affair with Chessmaster faded into the past.

Then about 3 or 4 years ago I sold some old paperbacks to a Half-Price Books and I noticed a boxed copy of Chessmaster 10th Edition on the shelf for $6.95. I hadn't played any computer chess in years but I had about $7 in store credit so I bought it. And it is now on my list of PC favorites. It is one of those rare games that I almost never play, but do love, and can pick up and play a game pretty much any time without it ever really getting old. And although the incremental improvements between successive versions of Chessmaster may be minor, I hadn't really played one in about 15 years so the improvement over the last one I saw was HUGE.

It had all kinds of beautiful fully animated boards you could use, online play, customizable opponent personalities, chess academy, just tons of different features.  And one pretty cool item they included with the 10th edition was a pair of the old-fashioned red and blue 3D glasses that you could wear and switch the screen to 3D mode so you could play in amazing 3D!  The effect was pretty cool too.  Although admittedly I did tire of wearing them fairly quickly and resorted to my standard 3D eyeballs. Still, I did appreciate their effort to include a feelie with the game to set themself apart from other games a little. After all chess is not exactly that exciting of a draw to the masses so anything to spice it up a little. I can't remember the last time someone asked me if I preordered the new Chessmaster or saw a Chessmaster cardboard promotional display at Gamestop.

They've made a few more since my 10th edition (released in 2004) but my recommendation if you have any interest at all in chess is to grab a copy of the 10th edition which can be had for dirt cheap since it is a few versions old at this point and you will basically be covered for computer chess for the next decade or so. And if you don't know chess but want to learn the chess tutorial features of the game are excellent. It might not be as sexy as most games out there, but with essentially infinite replay value, Chessmaster 10th edition makes it onto my "desert island" list of games.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dead Space 2 and the Church of Unitology

I love science fiction and I love horror movies - so it is only natural that I love the survival-horror 3rd person shooter Dead Space. I played the first game on PS3 and I played MOST of the rail shooter Dead Space Extraction on the Wii (still have to go back and finish that one). I even rented the movie Dead Space Downfall and downloaded and watched all the animated comics from PSN. So it's no surprise that I am quite enjoying playing the new sequel creatively named Dead Space 2 (damn not even a colon with a subtitle?).  I've put maybe 5 hours into the game so far and it has already scared me into and back out of arrhythmia on several occassions.

The perspective and gameplay are reminscient of Resident Evil IV, so if you've played that classic you might consider this Resident Evil IV in space.  You play as engineer Isaac Clarke who, 3 years after the events of Dead Space 1, wakes up on the Sprawl, a formerly densely-populated space station built on Saturn's moon Titan. I say FORMERLY densely populated because it is now overrun with necromorphs who are quickly and efficiently killing the remaining good people of the Sprawl and converting their corpses into more necromorphs who must be dismembered to be killed (the trusty ol' headshot just pisses them off). So wake up and try not to get killed before you can figure out exactly what the hell is going on and how to escape!

Just like the first one, the atmosphere of the game is dark and quite scary, with a big part of the spookiness coming from Visceral Games' masterful handling of the sound effects and music - it really accents the environment perfectly, especially when piped through a surround sound system with all the lights off (my favorite way to play scary games). But none of that is why I posted about a game you can read about in a million places right now - I just felt compelled to chat a bit about what I found to be the creepiest part of this game - the Church of Unitology.

In the first Dead Space you get brief inferential glimpses into the Church of Unitology through the text, video, and audio logs of its members that you stumble upon aboard the mining ship Ishimura. And that was creepy enough. But in Dead Space 2 you actually wander through their church on Titan exploring their indoctrination center, seeing their recruitment posters, listening to their audio logs, viewing their museum exhibits, gaping up at giant statues of their revered founder Michael Altman, and generally just witnessing numerous first-hand examples of the creepiness of this religion which is like an ultra-dark/hellish version of Scientology (apologies to any Unitologist readers).

One of the many recruitment posters you'll see

The Unitologists worhip the Marker, a double-helical obelisk with unusual powers to infect people's minds and DNA that serves as the source of this whole nightmare. You can see the Marker inside the egg being held up in the Unitology poster above. Symbolic of the Marker allowing these people to be reborn as one - or something to that effect.

The Marker

I have always found religious zealots to be rather creepy to begin with, but the Unitologists really take it to the next level by embracing the idea of being horribly killed by necromorphs to experience the bliss of the unique brand of afterlife they offer - becoming animated pieces of a mauled and mutated corpse whose sole purpose is to convert other corpses to the same. But of course that credo isn't going to attract too many new members so the controlling arm of the church spins it and talks about the ideals of unity and "convergeance" when in actuality their ultimate religious goal is to convert all humanity into the undead necromorphs whom they consider to be the next holy evolutionary step for humanity.

One thing I will give the church credit for - beautiful architecture. They've proudly incorporated the Marker into their columns and towers, but also more subtly into other stylistic touches as well. Subconsiously I began looking for the holy Marker everywhere as I wandered around.  And now I'm seeing the Marker all around me!  Sunday morning my wife made me breakfast and when I looked at the plate this is what I saw.
The Bacon Marker

She doesn't know anything about the game at all but that piece of bacon fried up like that and for some reason she decided to stand it upright on the eggs. Eggs... THE MARKER IS IN THE EGG. I can feel the old me slipping away as I am bathed in the warm unifying glow of the Marker. But why the look of concern oh non-believer?  Just open yourself up to the Marker and you too will see.

If you would like to learn more about our wonderful religion and the eye-opening teachings of our founder Michael Altman, please find a comprehensive collection of information about Unitology HERE. Come and join us.  We're waiting for you.

Altman be praised!

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

1541 Floppy Drive Music

[Updated October 3, 2011]
I FINALLY got my Commodore 64 up and running this weekend and although I didn't have a chance to play any of my games yet (damn work and Superbowl parties!) I did format a new 5 1/4" floppy disk on my 1541 disk drive (ah for the days when "floppy" disks were truly floppy!).

The noise that the drive heads made reminded me of a couple of little homegrown programs that somebody wrote way back in the day (I think I downloaded mine from a local BBS) that vibrated the floppy drive heads at various speeds to actually play songs from the vibration itself - sans speakers! Does anyone else remember this?

I didn't really want to subject my "new" 1541 to that sort of punishment right off the bat, but I thought someone out there might have a video of it on YouTube and of course, they do. Check out "Bicycle Built for Two" on the Commodore 1541 drive - it's pretty low so you might need to turn up your volume.

And as I was searching for that video on YouTube I was pleasently surprised to discover that someone did the same thing for a 3.5" floppy drive. And this one gets a little extra nerd cred since it is playing a lot cooler song - Darth Vader's Imperial March from Star Wars.

...and finally, I would be remiss in my overview of the data storage hardware music scene if I failed to mention that someone has apparently brought Anakin's dark tune to the current generation by hacking a hard drive to play it.

[10/3/2011 Update - I came across this new video by a gent (er - I assume a gent) named SileNT.  SileNT gives us yet another Imperial March played on floppies but the new twist is that he has two floppies wired together to play two separate parts simultaneously so you get a full melody. Pretty neat stuff.

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