Sunday, July 31, 2011

Portable Arcade Cabinet for Enduro Racing

Wanted to share this video I found tonight on Game Set Watch in case you guys hadn't seen it yet.

Brazilian artist Rafael MSP made a very nice sit-down arcade-style driving cabinet built around the Atari 2600 game Enduro. Enduro!  I thought that was pretty wild. And as if that isn't impressive enough - he built it so that it would be portable. So now if he's ever in the mood for some Enduro on the go he just opens up the swanky custom Atari Enduro briefcase and pulls out the pieces like an old-school Iron Man unpacking his armor.

I thought it was pretty darn impressive and cool. Of course it makes me feel kind of bad about myself since he built all that to play Enduro racing and I don't even really want to get off my ass to go to the kitchen and get a Dr. Pepper.  And I'm thirsty.

Check it out:

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Barcadia in Houston, Texas

Well, this post probably won't be of much interest to anyone living outside the Houston area but my gaming pursuits lately keep leaving me with thoughts of "meh - that's not really post-worthy" and as a result I go a month or so at a time without posting anything. Well I'm not goin out like that!  Post or die!

Mrs. MP and I were eating lunch at the 59 Diner last weekend before heading out on a little birthday road trip to Austin to play some vids and pins at Pinballz when it occurred to me that it was a perfect time to check out Barcadia, the still relatively new bar in midtown that serves up not only alkeehawlic beverages but some classic arcade games and giant-sized Jenga as well. I had my usual hesitation about checking out a downtown bar and the associated risk of potentially being surrounded by a douchey/hipster crowd, but trepidation be damned I was ready for some games and some afternoon beer - after all I was on vacation!

Parking was limited along the curb but there was a big dirt lot across the street with plenty of space, although strangely there was some loose barb wire on the ground in the lot. Not sure what that was about but we didn't run over it so OK.

First thing I noticed when I walked in was that the place was pretty small. It was fairly early in the afternoon so there weren't many people and only a couple of people were playing the games, but it didn't seem like it would take too many people to get unbearably crowded in there. Anyway, I moseyed on up to the bar and ordered a brewski to kick things off.

I saw a few guys commenting online that the bartenders were jerks but the guy that was there when I went was quite friendly. Everyone was pierced and tatted but cool. I think some people just like to bitch on sites like Yelp and Tripadvisor.

So now - the games!  The good news is that they had a pretty good collection of 15 old classics and 2 different multicade machines, the bad news is almost half of them had significant mechanical problems that interfered with their play  The games included:
  Asteroids Deluxe (I didn't play this one because people were on it but appeared to work fine)
  Defender (the Reverse button was broken - ever tried Defender without being able to turn around?  It's aggravating)
  Dig Dug (the up direction on the joystick worked about 10% of the time - also aggravating)
  Frogger (out of order)
  Galaga (graphics were messed up and everything was in red - weird)
  Ghosts n' Goblins (Worked great!  Still hard as hell but that's normal for G&G)
  Mario Brothers (I didn't play this one)
  Mortal Kombat (I didn't play this one)
  Ms. Pac-Man (I didn't play it but looked to work OK)
  Multicade (I assume this worked but multicades have lost some of their appeal for me since I have one at home)
  Paperboy (Am I the only person in the world that hates this game?  I think I am. I didn't play it)
  Phoenix (Worked fine and is still a fun classic. Spent most of my playtime on this one.)
  Popeye (Never cared much for Popeye so I didn't play this one)
  Star Wars (Worked part of the time but sometimes the tie fighters would distort and flatten out which made them a lot harder to shoot)
  Street Fighter II (didn't play SFII - although it is one of my all-time favorites)
  Track & Field (worked but one of the run buttons on the P1 side was broken so it was a little shaky)
  Williams Retrocade (meh another retrocade - would be fun to play with friends over beer though)
  Skee-Ball (not a vid but classic fun anyway - 1 of the 3 machines worked fine).

So I was a little disappointed that several of the machines were buggy, but they were all in pretty good shape cosmetically and if they would just put a little more work into them it would be a nice mix of old games with the multicades for flavor. Also, I heard that you had to pay for the games but when I went everything was on free play - they had outfitted the machines with buttons on the front that you pushed to insert credits. So I didn't feel cheated since the games were free anyway and the beer selection was pretty decent for a small joint.

The only problem with the whole 'drink beer while you play games' deal is the same exact issue I have with it at Joystix - there's just nowhere to put your beer while you play!  You have to leave it on a table or the bar which isn't exactly nearby.

So, in a nutshell, I thought it was a decent little joint and I definitely like the idea of a bar with retro arcade games, but they really need to work on their games to get them all working right for me to consider returning. Even then I don't really see myself making the drive downtown with Barcadia as the target destination, but if I was already downtown with friends I wouldn't mind stopping in sometime so I'm officially adding it to the Arcade Journal.

[Updated 4/12/2012]
A while back I heard through the arcade grapevine that the reason Barcadia's arcade games weren't working is that the owner stiffed the arcade repairman who was working on them and so word spread and so no one in the Houston area would work on his games. I don't know for sure if that is true, but now I heard through the ol' grapevine again that Barcadia has officially CLOSED. And word is that the owner skipped out on the landlord and didn't even tell his employees that he was shutting down. They just showed up for work and found the place cleaned out. Class act - this Barcadia. Headquartered in Dallas. Ah. 

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Lone Man Who Gave His Soul to Gaming - or - I Love Japanese Video Game Commercials

A recent post on Gnome's Retro Treasures featured Chu Chu Rocket - a neat little game for one of my favorite consoles - the Sega Dreamcast. More than the game itself, the post reminded me of the Japanese TV commercial I saw for it on YouTube whose song (the melody anyway) stuck in my head despite the fact that I didn't have any idea what the heck the guys were saying at the time:

My Japanese friend Hiroshi translated the commercial for me today - thanks Hiroshi!:
Chu chu rocket, save the mice
Chu chu rocket, cats are scary
Chu chu rocket, rocket is great
xyz puzzle chu chu rocket 2,800 yen, cheap! Dreamcast. (He said he couldn't quite catch the xyz part. He also informed me that in Japan "chu chu" is considered to be the sound that mice make - like "squeak squeak" is in the US).

And that sent me back to YouTube to watch another few old Japanese video game commercials I recalled seeing. I've always enjoyed those commercials - so exuberant and over the top. I never saw any of them back in the day of course but only discovered them much later after the birth of the internet and when the internet begat YouTube.

Most of my favorites were, as one might guess, developed by Sega and I was going to embed a bunch of them here from the SG-1000, to the Mega Drive, to the Dreamcast but then I rediscovered one of my absolute favorite Japanese commercial advertising campaigns - Sega's Segata Sanshiro - and immediately deleted all the other embeds out of respect to the one true master.

Segata Sanshiro was a martial arts master who cherished his Sega Saturn so much that he made it his mission to travel the world - or at least Japan - and beat into submission all those who did not play the Sega Saturn often enough or with sufficient respect.  I like Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World" - but if I was starting a super hero team of advertising icons Segata would be my first draft pick. Sega did it first and did it better.

I had seen a couple of the Segata Sanshiro commercials before, but last night I stumbled across this one awesome video that chronicles Segata's birth, rise to power, and tragic end as he gives his life to protect the very board members of Sega who are ushering in the Dreamcast and thus ending the life cycle of his beloved Saturn. I defy you to watch his tragic death and not shed a tear. It is an opera-worthy climax. And in the usual random full-circle meaningless coincidence style that I love, Segata (whose real first name is Hiroshi) is killed by a missile that looks quite similar to the rocket in Chu Chu Rocket - well I guess they all do really... His last words as he clings to the missile in deep space - "You must play Sega Saturn... You must play Sega Saturn... You must play Sega Saturn!". And then the end - oops, guess that was a spoiler.

This stuff is pure gold. If I saw these commercials back in the day I probably would have bought a Saturn and gotten back into console gaming a decade before I bought my PS3.  I even put the mp3 of his theme song on my iphone (thanks SegaShiro!) - hell it kept reverberating inside my head anyway - Segata Sanshiro! Segata Sanshiro! Sega Saturn Shiroooooo!!  Rest in peace Segata Sanshiro.

and if you didn't get enough Segata Sanshiro from the official music video - here is a little clip of a cover of the theme song by Segarocks - a Japanese Sega tribute band.

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Meteor - My Favorite Asteroids Clone

I was going through some older games on the MAME cab to see which arcade game from the 70's I felt like writing about and given that one of the all-time great arcade games was from the 70's AND starts with the letter A it didn't take long at all to come across Asteroids.

Well, I'm pretty sure everyone currently reading this is quite familiar with the arcade classic Asteroids so I won't bore you with my thoughts on that game other than to say that I am a fan and unlike some I've spoken to I prefer the sequel Asteroids Deluxe to the original.  But no - this post is to give a shout out to an Asteroids clone called Meteor.  There were a few clones and bootlegs of Asteroids when it became popular and they all play pretty much identically to the original, but it was the go-get-'em attitude of the sales staff at HOEI International that really turned me on to Meteor. I envision the brainstorming session to produce the flyer for Meteor went a little something like this:

Manager of Flyer Production: "OK Marvin. We've got this game Meteor that we ripped off from that new game Asteroids and I've never seen either one because that ain't my job.  What is my job is getting these flyers out the door to move these units. So what have you got so far?  What's the point of the game?"

Flyer Engineer:  "To destroy salling meteors"

MOFP:  "To destroy what?"

FE:  "Meteors. As they sall by.  And destroy salling UFO too."

MOFP:  "You mean SAILING meteors? I mean sailing is an odd fucking choice of words to describe a meteor, but it makes more sense than SALLING. Pretty sure salling isn't a real word. Let's just make it 'Destroy deadly meteors'."

FE:  "Yes sir, we'll make that change."

MOFP:  "OK what else? How do you destroy the meteors? Are you firing up at them like Space Invaders or what?"

FE:  "No sir. You fire in all directions."

MOFP:  "All directions? Are you sure about that? I've seen video games and you're usually at the bottom shooting up at things."

FE:  "Yes sir. In this game the space ship rotates 360 degrees so you fire in all directions."

MOFP:  "OK well confirm that with the guys downstairs.  Make sure it is OUR spaceship that rotates and not the enemy UFO and then make that point clear on the flyer because that is gonna to throw a lot of people off. And spice it up with some impact buzzwords like NEW! EXCITING! EMERGENCY! ESCAPE! and use lots of exclamation points - that kind of stuff. That it?"

FE:  "We also want to include a picture of the evil galactic emperor that sent the UFO and meteors to destroy us. As you can see from the sketch he is a reptilian being from..."

MOFP:  "WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Goddammit Marvin, you may be a hell of a programmer but you don't know shit about making a sale. You think guys want to see lizard aliens?  No! Listen. Change the lizard to a hot lookin' broad - and make sure her tits are showing and BAM we're done!  What other new games we got?  I'm on a roll!"

FE:  "Um - her... tits sir? You mean you want us to have her wearing a tight uniform that accentuates..."

MOFP:  "Who cares about the uniform?  A couple of leather straps and a choke collar and the uniform is good to go man.  Marvin. Let me be clear.  When you come back in here this afternoon with the mockup of the flyer in your hand, it better have a hot blonde... no... make that brunette... It better have a hot brunette on it with both her tits out or you can start looking for a new fucking job. Now get out of my office."

And the rest was history.

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Friday, July 1, 2011

Arcade Games of the 70's: Clowns

No 'on-this-day' segue here - just thought I'd ramble a bit about a really old favorite of mine that I used to play on my Commodore 64 - or maybe even on my VIC-20, I can't remember - and I never actually realized it was a port of an arcade game until I accidentally rediscovered it one day on MAME a few years ago.  That game is Clowns. If you are one of those people with a fear of clowns (coulrophobia - gotta love Google) then the C64 game box is gonna scare the livin shit out of you because they managed to squeeze a half-dozen of the grinning maniacs on the front.

Clowns was released by Midway in January 1978 and was apparently a ripoff of Exidy's arcade game Circus which was released the previous year (and subsequently ported to the Atari VCS), but in the bitter Clowns versus Circus rivalry I'm down with the Clowns baby.

Clowns is a simple 2-D single-screen black and white game, but uses blue, green, and yellow horizontal overlays for color. It is sort of like Breakout with gravity and slightly better graphics - and I do mean slightly.

In the game there are 3 rows of balloons floating horizontally along the top of the screen and you control a see-saw at the bottom of the screen that can go left or right. There is one clown standing on the see-saw and soon a second clown comes barreling his crazy ass off an elevated platform and you have to position the see-saw correctly to catch him and launch the other clown into the air to collide with and pop the balloons. Each balloon nets you points with the balloons at the top level being worth more than the ones at the bottom. When the clown comes falling back to earth you move the see-saw under him and launch the other crazy bastard into the balloon-filled sky to bounce around and burst some more. These clowns really hate balloons. Once you burst all the balloons of a particular row/color you get bonus points and then a new row appears to replace it. The clowns hurtle through the air faster and faster and if you don't get the see-saw under the flying clown in time to catch him - well, that's a dead clown. And the circus only has so many before it's game over.

As you would expect from such an old game, the sound effects and the graphics are both very simple but surprisingly satisfying (except for the jarring noise to alert a player when he gets a bonus jump - not a fan of that). The game is pretty addictive so the replay value is good (if you're me anyway) and although the 1-player play is OK, like most old games it really shines when you have 2 players competing (turn-based play rather than simultaneous).

I finally got a chance to see a real Clowns machine in person when I made the pilgrimage to the American Classic Arcade Museum in New Hampshire last fall.  I managed to snap a picture of this young man as he sidled up the game to start clowning around.  Look at how joyful he is to find a real Clowns!

But that joy quickly turned to rage when he discovered the game was broken!  The poor sap wanted to play it so badly he even inserted a second token which the machine politely swallowed as it had the first without any sort of compensatory entertainment return whatsoever.  It even went so far as to taunt him with the screen in play, but the see-saw was frozen in place so the suicidal clowns just jumped blindly off the ramps to their doom.

The gentleman was escorted from the premises by arcade security and forced to cool down over a turkey dinner at Hart's Turkey Farm Restaurant down the street.  I never knew there were so many different meals made out of turkey. But I digest.

David Nelson holds the official record for Clowns with 61,390 points on June 1, 2004. So far my best effort has only netted 19,320.

Assuming you're playing it on MAME (and not the real thing) be sure to play it with a trackball, spinner, or mouse. If you try to play it with a joystick you are going to completely hate it. I booted up Clowns on the MAME cab before writing this and discovered to my dismay that the colors were gone. I guess the devs got rid of the workaround code that added the color. Now I have to wait for someone to add it back in as an artwork file.  You'd be surprised how much 3 little plastic strips of color adds to a black and white game. 
I give it 7.4 insane clown posses out of 10.

Oh, and in addition to my VIC-20/C64 version, Clowns was also ported to the Bally Astrocade in 1981 as the combo-pack Clowns and Brickyard. There were several other ports/clones in the Circus/Clowns "genre" as well.

Circus by Exidy in 1977
T.T. Acrobat by Taito in 1978
Acrobat TV by Taito in 1978
See Saw Jump by Sega in 1978
See Saw Jump II by Sega in 1978
Circus Atari for Atari 2600 in 1978
Clowns & Balloons for Atari 400/800 and TRS-80 Color Computer in 1982
Stunt Clown (public domain) for Atari 400/800 in 1983
Monkeys and Balloons for Atari ST in 1988

There have even been a couple of modern-day remakes of the game based on the Atari 2600 Circus Atari that you can download for free - Circus Irata and Circus Linux.

And that's all I have to say about that.

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