Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Bit of an Issue

My son asks, “Hey Dad, why is it called the Nintendo 64?”

To which I reply, “Because it came out in 1964!” being a smart ass.

At first he accepts this answer but about 5 seconds later he bounces back with, “No it didn’t, what’s the real reason?”

Essentially, this line of questioning opened a door on computer and video game history that would take a great deal of explainingTo be honest unless you lived back then the whole 64-bit thing is lost on you,  after all we live in a world of where consoles bits no longer matter This is the era of the PS4, andXBOX One, not the XBOX 512 or the PlayStation 512. Now days it’s more about what the console can do besides playing video games, rather they how they play or look.


So how do you explain the relevance of the 64 in Nintendo 64 to someone whose favorite console is an XBOX 360? 

Of course I sat him down and talked to him about the various systems dating back to the Atari 2600, and the generations of consoles. He found it hard to believe that both the Atari 2600 and NES are 8-bit, (sometimes I find it a little hard to believe that myself) but they are. Having played games on the Atari 2600, NES, SNES, N64, GameCube, and the Wii (a system of the same generation as his XBOX 360) he was familiar with how the games looked and played. This made it easy for me to explain how each system got better as processing speeds doubled, except for the odd 32-bit thing. He seemed to understand, but in a way it was somewhat irrelevant to someone of his generation. But, then he asked a question to something we as retro gamers often overlook, and that I would like to talk about now, “Why and how did each generation double in speed?”.

We as retro gamers look back and laugh at things like the “Bit Wars”, or how Intellivison claimed it was 16-bits, and the Atari Jaguar claimed it was 64. We love our 8-bit, and our 16-bit systems, but we never really give much thought to the engineering and science behind it. What we as gamers have overlooked is a little something called “Moore’s Law”. The law developed by computer scientist Gordon Moore states that every 18-24 months, the size of transistors decreases by 50%, and processing speeds double. So what does that mean? Well computers, and even video game consoles, are made up of thebasic parts that every computer system has, these parts consist of microprocessors (the computers brain), RAM (the computer systems short term and first line of memory) and the GUI subsystems such as the graphics cards (how the computer graphically shows things). The basic concept behind Moore’s Law is that every 2 years or less the basic parts of these partsthe transistors, get smaller meaning more of them can fit on a tiny chip, making that chip more powerfulThis means twice as much processing power and memory, in the same small space

If we take ourselves back to the PC’s of the mid to late 1990’s, most of us can remember this law being in motion. Intel seemed to make leaps and bounds from the 33MHz 386’s they had in 1990 to the 1+GHz Pentiums in would have by 2000. At times it seemed as if buying a computer back then was almost futile,since the computer would be virtually obsolete by the time you got it home from the store. These same obvious advances in 1990’s PC’s, have been paralleled in video game consoles over the years. Yes, the Atari 2600 and NES both processed at 8-Bit speeds, but late Atari 2600 cartridges topped out at 16kB of memory, with the average being about 4kB, the NES on the other hand averaged about 4MB of memory, meaning more complex programs could be written stored and executed on the cart. Not to mention that the NES’s system RAM was far higher at 256 bytes compared to than that of the Atari 2600 at 128 bytes. Here we saw what 6 to 8 years could do between these two systems, with regards to Moore’s Law. Lest we not forget of course, that the NES spawned a video game crazy and we quickly went from 8 to 16, to 32 to 64-bit and so on, as every few years systems doubled in processing speeds. Here we see Moore’s Law taking place as console manufactures found ways of integrating the faster processors in a constant battle of one-upmanship.


So my sons initial question gets answered “Why is it called the Nintendo 64?”, because processing speeds for video games had reached 64-bits and Nintendo wanted the world to know they had 64-bit system with the simple moniker “Nintendo64”. Moore’s law had led to doubling and re-doubling of processor speeds until 64-bits was achievable and marketable. 

Wait did I just say marketable?

Well here’s the thing about Moore’s law, if everything is getting smaller and doubling in speed then why is it I can only get a 4GHz Intel i7 processor, and 512-bit Gen 8 console? Shouldn’t things be way faster? 

Here is one way of thinking about the implications of Moore’s Law. If you have enough money you can go out today and by yourself a car capable of doing 200+ miles an hour. Of coursethen you have to ask the question does this car get you to work any faster? I mean sure you look cool, but…..? When you get down to it whether it’s a Ferrari, or a Dodge Caravan there is only so fast you can go to get to work, since you have to consider that there are speed laws, and traffic lights, and other cars on the road. So 200+ miles an hour means nothing in a real world where things move at a maximum speed of 55 MPH, and average about 35 MPH. 

In the world of computer programming and video game development it’s basically the same issue since programs are only designed to work at particular speeds, as is the integrated circuitry that the processors, RAM, and graphics cards will hook into. In a computer science lab a 10GHz processor can exist, but it will take circuit board designers and computer programmer’s years to deliver on the promises such a microprocessor can make, and by that time a 20 or 40GHz processor will be out. In some ways this is why I believe 32-bit was almost a non-factor in video game console development. The technology must have fallen hot on the heels of 16-bit system releases, however trying to give it some time manufacturers choose to let 16-bit live a little bit, and opted to wait for 64-bit technology so that a marketable period of time existed before pushing another system on the general public. In a way this is where Sega messed up pushing the 32x out the door shy of the 64-bit Saturn release. 

Of course when it comes to PC’s and video game consoles Moore’s Law is almost immaterial now days as we wait for the programs and hardware to catch up. But, Moore’s Law is extremely evident in our mobile technology, for instance the maximum 64GB of the iPhone 5 released in late 2012 is going to be surpassed by the 128GB of the iPhone 6 released this year only two years later. In a way this is a clear and current example of Moore’s Law being in effect as the phone doubles in memory capability within a two year period.   Of course the shift from standard PC’s and laptops, to phones and tablets has changed the emphases of micro-component development, as the smaller technologies call for an even smaller and more powerful data infrastructure. 

So as you take a look at your collection of consoles today, and even the cell phone in your pocket be sure to remember the meaning of Moore’s Law behind all of it. 


Friday, September 5, 2014

Time to Get Out the Old…VHS Games???

Here in 2014 with nearly 40+ years of home console and other consumer based video games behind us, we have seen a lot of really odd things. Some made sense, some didn’t, and still some leave us saying “WTF!”. For instance here in 2014 the thought of someone playing a video game on their telephone is both common place and common sense, but could you imagine the thought of playing a video game on your telephone in 1987? It would have not only been odd, but nearly unimaginable. Yet 1987 yielded one of the oddest ways to play home video games we had ever seen.

In a world of DVD and Blu-Ray players having movies that are interactive at home is a norm. In-movie commentary, supplementary camera angles, trivia, and mini-games are all common. But in the world of VHS tapes your only options where play, fast forward, rewind, stop, and pause, no games or bonus material here. Yet in 1987 the toy industry gave us VHS video gaming. Yes 1987, in the height of Nintendo (NES) fever, and with other classics such as the Atari 7800, and Sega Master System available they suddenly gave us VHS gaming.

Being a kid in 1987 and watching these toys/video game systems come out I can say I was interested in how they were supposed to work, but really had no interest in actually getting one. Even two years later in 1989 when I saw a Captain Power set on clearance at a Kaybees for a few bucks, I still had no interest. For the most part I forgot all about these games over the past few decades until I tripped over a Captain Power fighter mixed in with a group of other toys on eBay last year. Actually I didn’t know the name of the toy or game system but the flood of memories and curiosity as to how a VHS video games worked made me look it up.

When this fad in gaming hit in 1987 it produced a lot of imitators hoping to get onboard the interactive TV (as it was seen at the time) craze. But of all the systems to have been developed in this time two are more well known then all the others Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future, and the Action Max system. The Captain Power system was probably the more interesting of the two, in that it involved toys, VHS tapes, and even a television program, as to where the Action Max involved VHS tapes, and a somewhat strange console system. Ultimately though both systems worked the same and had equal results for players.

Now if you’re like me your modern adult self probably has the same curiosity about VHS games as you did as a kid, trying to figure out how it works and how it was supposed to be fun. Keep in mind whatever is on a VHS tape isn’t going anywhere unless you tape over it or splice edit it, and putting a game tape in and trying to interact with it to make changes is about the same as trying to interact and change old vacation tapes, like trying to tell your old self not to wear a particular shirt, or buy some stupid item and hoping your old self listens. Basically as the game tape is played nothing changes, enemy fighters don’t explode, bad guys don’t fall down dead, and the outcome of the story never changes based on your level of interaction. So whether you sit on the couch and watch, and pick your space ship or gun up and fire away like a mad man nothings changes the final outcome. With that said this doesn’t necessarily mean that VHS gaming isn’t fun, it’s just not going to be as fun as traditional video games especially when you had the third generation Nintendo, Atari, and Sega trifecta on the play field.

Captain Power and The Soldiers of the Future as I said previously is probably the most interesting of all the VHS gaming systems to have come out of this fad. It was unique in a few different ways, first of all it had a line of toys that both acted as the interaction tool (the controller/light gun) and as a good old fashion space toy that could have put action figures into and felt as at home in the play room as they did the living room. Considering that a Starfighter with a tape went for $30 - $40 new, and that add on tapes were $20, parents probably liked the duality the toy/controller combination. But, what also added to the short lived lore of Captain Power was the TV show, that gave users the additional opportunity to use there controller/toys on the 22 episodes of the program that would air.

The Captain Power toy/controllers worked very simply in the fact that they were all space ship shaped light guns, not to different from the light guns we saw on systems such as the NES. As  target images would pop up on the screen they would all have targeting circles in them that if hit correctly with a light gun signal, would cause the light gun to register a hit on its digital score keeper. This in a nut shell was how the game was played, with the challenge not being to win the game, or change the outcome but rather to try to beat your score or the score of someone playing with you every time.  In a way it’s similar to the concept of a shooting gallery where all you have to show for it in the end is your score.

The Captain Power series lasted only one season from 1987-1988, and although the toys and series where short lived, the series itself did receive some critical acclaim when it was on. Despite being somewhat hooky in nature each episode had a pretty high production cost estimated at $1 Million an episode, and many considered the acting and plot lines to be pretty well done considering the nature and core audience of the show. The show was even known to keep some adults entertained, with plot twist and subtly presented adult themes. Despite being fairly obscure hard core fans of the show have managed to get some interest from video game developers in a revival, although most of that is still speculative.   

Then there's the Action Max.....
Now, I don't know if you saw this or not but around Christmas time there was a comical little internet mame floating around about a kid asking for a XBOX ONE, or PS4 and receiving and Ouya instead from a well meaning but clueless parent or grand parent. 
If this mame were to be applied to the Christmas of 1987 instead of 2013, the child rather than receiving an NES, Atari 7800, or Sega would find that they had an Action Max under the tree instead. You know because it's a video game "console". 
Yes, the Action Max was set up to look like a video game console. Now traditionally a video game console takes a cartridge, or a CD, or even a card, and I've even heard about a few that take 3.5 inch disks, but the Action Max didn't take anything at all. That's right even though the Action Max is set up to look like a console is still required the use of a VCR. All the Action Max really did was control the light gun and keep score. 

Now considering that the Captain Power toys were individual units and could keep scores right on light guns themselves, it seems rather odd that the Action Max required a console to do the same thing. Why they just couldn't create a light gun that had a way of keeping score right on it I have no idea. My best guess is that they were hoping to achieve some success with the scenario I presented above with regards to looking more like a traditional console so that parents would be more likely to buy them to satisfy kids eager to get an NES or one of the other 8-bit systems of generation 3. 
With that said though the Action Max, did achieve some level of success in 1987. Unlike Captain Power the Action Max gave players the ability to participate in a variety of scenarios, these included a haunted house, air-to-air combat, submarine warfare, a Hogans Alley, and one based on the movie Blue Thunder. More videos had been planned but due to the Action Max's limited success as with the rest of the VHS video gaming genre, the "console" and any future plans for it were discontinued.
But the Action Max was part of, and did leave behind an interesting legacy. Many believe that the Action Max, was a descendent of the failed NEMO System developed a few years before. The NEMO System became infamous in the early 90s as system that the video game Night Trap had been developed for. This occurred after Sega had been grilled by a US Senate subcommittee about Night Trap and the violence it and other video games had in them. To say the least many who have played the game Night Trap believe that had the Action Max survived past 1987 Night Trap may have been released on it instead, due to the games VHS type quality of gameplay. 
Obviously the lifespan of VHS based videogames didn't survive much past 1988, the fact that they even survive that long is pretty surprising to me. Especially when these products shared the marketplace with video game systems like the NES, the Atari 7800, and the Sega Master System all of which had light gun based video games on them. Yet the manufactures of these VHS-based products must have speculated that there was a market for them. A telltale sign of this is the fact Mattel would pour nearly $1 million into each episode of Captain Power, and that the marketplace began to see several imitators trying to get in on the business as well. 
Ultimately the big issue with VCR based gaming is that it was an interim technology that was really never able to find its place or niche. Today such things as full-motion video and animation between videogame levels, and DVDs with interactive games and features almost seem to take on the same exact job that these early VCR games were attempting to fill. In many ways I can't help but feel that developers of these VCR-based games were looking to fill a hole that video games and entertainment had in them at the time. By the time VCR based gaming systems would come into fruition though, those holes we're slowly but surely starting to be filled in and VCR based gaming technology suddenly found itself looking at obsolescence before it had even gotten off the ground. This would become evident in 1988 when the first CD-ROM drives where being developed, and Sega was only a year away from releasing the first 16-bit console, that by 1991 would release a CD based add on system that would perform better then a VCR based system could with better effects and more enjoyable game play. 
If you had either a Captain Power or Action Max system please feel free to let me know what you thought about the systems, also if you have any Captain Power items you want me to try out please feel free to send them my way.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Thank You August

I have to admit August has been a tough month for me in my personal life, there’s just a lot going on and my stress level has been at 11 most of the month. The worst part is there is no end in sight for a few more months.


This month has had its up sides with regards to gaming. I have had a very lucky month thanks to a few podcasts I have mentioned previously, as well as my favorite retro gaming store.

 Lucky Break Number 1

I have been listening to The Retro League podcast for a while now, and I am a huge fan of the show, and I even wrote a blog about the show some months back. Now, if you are unfamiliar with the show, let me first of all say you’re missing a lot so start listening but I digress.  Every week the hosts Rob and Hugues pick a question of the week at the end of each podcast that is put on Facebook, Twitter, The Retro League Forums, and that can answered via e-mail. The questions are always really fun and usually create some great conversations between gamers that involve a lot of reminiscing and story swapping. As much fun as it is to answer the questions on social media, answering by e-mail instead has the special benefit of putting gamers e-mail address into a fan of the month contest. The contest draws a random e-mail address monthly, and whoever is chosen wins a game(s).


Pic Cyborg Justice and Medal of Honor

 When I found out I was chosen as listener of the month I was extremely happy, since it was an honor to finally be chosen. I have to admit that I am actually listener of the month for July, and the drawing took place on the last weekend of July, but considering how close it all came to taking place in August though I’m chalking this one up to being an August lucky break.

 Lucky Break Number 2

Putting in 40 hours a week in a job that has you bound to your desk and spreadsheets all day its easy to run through a backlog of podcasts, and find yourself looking for new ones. With that I have added a few new favorites in the past two or three months including the Upper Memory Block podcast. The UMB is retro-video gaming about old PC games from the era before Windows XP, often thought of as being the golden age of PC gaming. In early July Joe the shows host held a giveaway to win a set of Sam & Max games from GOG. Much like The Retro League contest this one was done via e-mail as well, and also like The Retro League contest this one started in July, but was ultimately chosen in August.

Sam & Max Pic

I’m glad to say I one this one this one too

Lucky Break Number 3

Running on the same theme of something in July yielding dividends in August, there is the monthly drawing at my local retro video game store TNT Games. Basically if you purchase a certain dollar amount in merchandise from these stores they will give you a drawing ticket, with the mate for the ticket(s) placed in a fishbowl from which the winning tickets will be pulled on the 1st day of the following month (August). The four winning tickets are pulled and the winners receive a $50, $30, $20, or $10 gift card.  I stopped by TNT round about July 4th, got my tickets and then with the receipt put them on my dresser nearly forgetting about them till last week. I made a quick call over to the store and found out that one of my tickets was drawn, yielding me a $30 gift card.


Pic Tickets

I couldn’t wait to use them and bought Jr Pac-Man for the Atari 2600, Pac-man for the NES, and Pac-man 2 for the SNES, and one non Pac title Wrecking Crew for the NES (Pac-Man, Mario all front men right?). To say the least it was a good weekend for my son who is currently obsessed with Pac-Man, thanks to the Disney XD show Pac-Man: And the Ghostly Adventures.


Pic Games

 Overall, it’s been a good month for video game contests….now if I can only get the rest of the month to end well.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Atari at 200

I’m always amazed at how quickly I have grown my Atari 2600 collection. A year ago I didn’t even own a 2600, by New Years I had 90 games, and now 6 months later I have +/- 200. Of course the rest of my video gaming collection has grown by leaps and bounds as well, but the Atari 2600 has a special place in my heart. When I wrote my first article about my Atari collection after the first of the year I had to ask what it was that separated a casual collector from a serious one. What was it that would take me from someone simply dabbling in an old tech to someone who knows the system and its games with some authority?

I was actually somewhat surprised by the reaction I got when collectors operating in the 300+ range told me that 90 games meant I was pretty much already there as a serious collector. This let me know I was going in the right direction andat this point the serious or casual collector question no longer concerned me, but the future of my collecting did.


Although the climb up to 200 games has come very quickly (less than a year of collecting) that doesn’t mean it hasn’t come with its challenges, and costs. It has required a lot of research, and lot of searching hitting eBay, video games stores, thrift shops, and garage sales looking for any kind of finds. In almost a year the latter two places have only yielded one game to me, Solaris by Atari which I found a few months ago at Savers for $1.99. The rest of my collection has been from eBay or my local video game store TNT Games.

Another challenge with collecting something like this is always picking a place to start, and deciding how you are going to collect. In another one of my hobbies Record Collecting I find myself wandering around a bit collecting somewhat aimlessly, adding music I like but without any key goals. It’s nice to do things that way, but you really never know what to collect next. Luckily, having been a 2600 owner once before I knew what games to get, but at the same time once I re-bought all the games I owned years ago there was no direction following, but that didn’t last for long. Being a fan of the Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast, and a user of Atariage’s website it didn’t take long for me to find direction. Thanks to Ferg and his amazing podcast I was inspired to begin collecting based on game publisher/developer, something that has worked out well and allowed me to navigatethrough the 700+ games of the Atari 2600 world with a little more ease.

Collecting by publisher/developer provides you with a challenge, as you try to figure out what games the publisher/developer made for the platform and then try finding them. So far I have collected iMagic, CBS Games, Mythicon (yuk), and the Xonox complete libraries, with the goal of polishing off Activision, Parker Brothers, and Absolute this year. Of course collecting via this method can come with some costs since some titles can be far rarer than others, part of why the latter three are still in progress.

Crossing the 200 barrier does come with some caveats though or so I have been warned by other collectors. Once you reach the 200 mark the climb to 300 isn’t so easy as games become rarer and rarer, since the first 200 games tend to consist of the more popular, and readily available titles. I have no doubts this is true as every tier (as one collector told me) of a 100 games brings you deeper and deeper into the rare. You go from $.99 copies of Space Invaders to $150.00 copies of Swordquest: Waterworld, and Chase the Chuckwagon.

So to all my Atari 2600 collectors out there, where do you stand on all this? What is collecting to you? How have you built your collection? I look forward to hearing from you all.

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Podcast of Retro Gaming: 2 Dudes and a NES

Tom Arnold would be impressed!

I always find podcast after they have been on for 6 months or more, with 2 years somehow being a magic number. Not, this time though not with 2 Dudes and a NES I managed to find them a month after they started the podcast which made catching up on past episodes really easy.

But, I’m getting ahead of myself aren’t I? After spending the first few months of this year building up my Atari 2600 collection, and I got my NES fixed and decided it was time to start building up my NES collection a little more.  Having a gotten a lot of guidance on Atari 2600 game collecting  from the Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast I decided to poke around the Throwback Network a little more to see if they had any podcast on NES collecting, and they did the 2 Dudes and a NES. Seeing how the podcast was only about a month old I decided the first episode I would listen to would be the podcasts first episode as well Super Mario Bros. The first episode was good but not what I would call awesome, but I decided to listen a little more. I was glad I did because the third episode Double Dragon had me laughing almost from beginning to end. After that the shows just got better, including a the “Tom Arnold would be impressed!”, remark that was made in one of the early episodes and continues to be used as a running gag.

What I like the most about the show is its energy. The “2 Dudes” Justin and Michael pretty much talk very quickly and with a great deal of excitement through the whole episode, which makes it a lot of fun. In addition to that the shows format is just a little different than the norm. Sure they discuss the games development, music, and gameplay like other gaming podcast do on their respective games, but the “2 Dudes”, cover these topics very quickly not getting in-depthpersay but providing you with enough information to understand the how and why behind the game, which is actually kind of refreshing.

There are also two original segments that I like as well, “Where did Justin Find the Game”, and “Retro-Fitted Trophy’s”. The “Where” segment gives you some idea as to how easy it is to find the game, the host Justin will let you know if the game is easily found in retro video game stores, if it’s an online find, or if your best off emulating it due to rareness and price. The “Retro-Fitted Trophy’s” segment is a really great one as well since it takes the rating segment of a lot of other podcast to a different and more creative level. The hostsassign each game a trophy, that wasn’t part of the original game. In the Anticipation episode for instance the trophy’s where: These heels are going to walk all over you -   beat the game as the high heels (icon), or Skynet take over – Beat the game over the three AI opponents on very hard setting. These make challenges for the game that weren’t originally part of it, but that you might see in modern games. Then there are the ratings themselves, for the Anticipation episode the theme of board games was chosen since Anticipationis a board game of sorts, Justin chose Candyland, and Mike Life these unique ratings are not only fun but give you an interesting comparison as to the game of the week may be like.

Now, if you have read my past reviews of podcasts you will know that music playing in the background the whole time is a pet peeve of mine in podcast, and sadly it is done during 2 Dudes and a NES. The good news is that the shows energy and format is such that annoying music in the background can be pretty easily overcome as the host keep your attention, by keeping the podcast very fun and fast moving.

Be sure to check this one out. You can find the on iTunes at 2 Dudes and a NES part of the Throwback Network, as well as on Facebook, and Twitter, you can also check out their website at Nesdudes.com

Monday, July 28, 2014

“Nuts for Nintendo”, Not All That Bad

The year was 1988 and “Nintendo Fever” was kicking into high gear. I guess I was slightly oblivious to this since in my school we were arguing about Commodore 64 vs PC, and the joys of Micro Machines. Some of my classmates had NES’s, and some didn’t, but no one care. Yet, history seems to tell us that the country was ablaze with Nintendo, and kids seem to obsess about it.

In November of 1988, ABC’s longtime news program 20/20 ran a story called “Nuts for Nintendo” by John Stossel. For retro gaming enthusiasts and NES devotees alike, the “Nuts for Nintendo” piece has become somewhat immortalized, and a point of contention ever since. Love it, or hate it, it exist but I say it’s not all that bad. Now, to be honest unless I was reminded about the piece I never would have known about it, I mean heck there is a chance I even watched it live and just forgot about it over the years so to say the least I was oblivious to it either way. So when various podcast and internet articles seem to focus on the piece with some animosity I decided it was something I wanted to take a second look at by myself, and see what I really thought about it on my own.

Some, especially those who were NES crazy themselves at the time, seem to look at the story as an attack on the NES. In a way I can see that since the last 90 seconds or so of the story seem to focus on the down sides of having an NES (or video game consoles in general). One argument bought up in the story about the NES, and have been hearing for years  ever since is that, ”video games desensitize kids to violence” an argument Stossel seems to blow off in the piece by saying “Well, I don’t’ know about that!” with a noted tone of incredulity.  But, another argument is that kids seem to “be obsessive” about the games and play games instead of doing their homework. This seems to be the bigger concern for Stossel then anything else, but even his argument here is somewhat more of a warning for parents to use common sense in how much time there kids play. Even nowadays I have to use common sense on when and for how long my son plays Minecraft, keeping him balanced between homework, chores, and game time.

In my opinion though, the rest of the story isn’t too bad, to me Stossel just seems to be walking outsiders (i.e. parents) through what the whole NES craze was all about, and coincidentally just in time for Christmas. He talks about its history, its quick rise into pop culture, and the economics behind Nintendo’s success, with just the right amount of time and information dedicated to those points. I will agree however, that Stossel has some concerns that could at time be construed as negative such as Nintendo’s Japanese origin, intentional games shortages, and waiting in line for hours to get new games, but these points seem to be outshined by Stossel’s constant alluding to the imagination that goes behind both creating and playing the games. In a way there is almost a love letter quality to the whole story that I think goes without notice.

Of course I think part of the reason why the report has come under fire over the years is because of Stossel himself. Stossel was bought onto 20/20, after one of their more famous reporters Geraldo Rivera left the show to pursue his carrier as a serious investigative journalist (we know how that went). In a way Stossel in his 1980’s form is almost a Geraldo clone mustache and all. But, as time went on we found out that Stossel was far more Andy Rooney, than Geraldo Rivera. His approaches to stories could at times be serious, but for the most part he would go with the cynical questioning “really?” tone, similar to what we see and hear in “Nuts for Nintendo”.

Here is the story ala YouTube provided to the world by Screwattack aka The AVGN:
After watching it I’m sure you can agree that Stossel can at times come across as a bit annoying, and even slightly negative, but I still don’t think this the story is positive towards the NES.

 Say what you want about the story or Stossel, but I think the end cap for the story tells it all. After the story ends we cut back to Stossel and Barbara Walters. Its at this point Stossel tells us that he got an NES for the story and he says “I’m keeping it”, and that he and his wife “stay up till midnight” playing it. This to me is the point that says Stossel was sent out a hard core investigator and came back a huge fan instead.

Now, as I said you can think and say what you want about this story, and maybe my attitude to the story comes with 28 years of insight, and/or the fact that I didn’t have “Nintendo Fever” in 1988 so I’m not angry about it,  but to me though it’s a nice piece about the NES from the era. So I guess no matter what your opinion is, its a wonderful piece of history, from a simpler time in video gaming.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Podcast of Retro Gaming: The Upper Memory Block

I will openly admit that I have a lot of interests, as many other American men do. So with that said as long as I am going to spend 8 hours a day behind a desk unable to partake in those interests I would at least like to listen to podcasts on them so I can be informed and have fun that way. For some of my hobbies there aren’t any really good podcast, or in some cases any podcasts at all. But, when it comes to retro gaming there are a lot of really good ones, some of which I have covered in previous blog entries.

About two months ago I began to learn a lot more about DOSBox, the DOS emulation program that can be used to access DOS based programs on Windows XP and later computers. I decided to do this after I picked up a bunch of DOS based games at a local thrift shop. It was at that point I began to wonder if there were any podcast out there that concentrated on old PC games. I searched iTunes and found nothing, using PC games, DOS, and a number of other search terms, so I throw my hands up and just admitted to myself that no such podcast existed. Then one day I was listening to the Retro Rewind Podcast, a podcast I wrote about on my blog once before, when they piped in a commercial for another podcast. The man on the commercial asked if “you remembered pre-XP pc games, and running config files, etc….”, as well as a few other questions all of which I answered yes to. The ad was by Joe Mastroianni host of the Upper Memory Block podcast, a podcast on retro PC gaming, and exactly the type of podcast I had been searching for. With only a few minutes of the Retro Rewind Podcastleft to go, I plugged the Upper Memory Blockinto an iTunes search and in a few seconds I had found a podcast that seemed to sum up all of my recollections of my PC gaming days.

The backlog of episodes covered games like, Wing Commander, Command & Conquer, Mechwarrior, Strike Commander, Railroad Tycoon, andmany other classics. The first episode I listened to was Emulation which was fantastic episode that introduced me to many of the great emulation methods out there for old pc games like ScummVM, and the DOSBox front end application D-Fend. The episode provided me with a huge amount of insight into how to use DOSBox’s somewhat confusing set ups, and how to make it all easier.

I went on to enjoy a lot of other episodeson some of the great games I remembered, afterthat the podcast became a staple in my IPhones podcast library.

I would like to compare the Upper Memory Blockto the Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast, due to the fact that they both podcast have similar formats. Joe much like Ferg is incredibly likable, and really makes the show worth listening to because of his love for the subject. Joe, much like Ferg also gets very in-depth with the games, he talks about game play, control methods, his memories of playing, and of course he talks about the games development. In comparison to Atari 2600 games PC games have a lot more back story that goes into development, and Joe has some really great stories about them.

Joe also rates the games too at the end of each episode, based on whether he believes the games stand up against the test of timeor not. I like this segment because it really puts the games into perspective, as to whether or not they were truly something special or just a stepping stone in a long line of games to come. He also ends the show by telling you where to find these games if you want to try them yourself, letting you know if they are on Steam, GoG, or some other site, or if eBay is your only option. Thanks to this segment I have become an avid GoG, and Steam user.

As for the show itself you have to keep in mind that it’s a single host program, so you not going to get the banter and conversation between friends effect that you do on two or more host programs. With that said Joe is pretty engaging on the subject of PC games, and he knows how to keep the show moving, and keep it lively. The shows average about an hour long each, and for the most part cover one game, but he will sometimes cover a series of games much like he did in the Descent, and Doom episodse. The subject matter is always presented in an interesting way though, and not hectically paced even for the series episodes I just discussed. The only time music is played in the background is when Joe is discussing the music for the game so there’s no music playing distractingly through the whole podcast, which allows you to focus on the subject matter a little more.

Joe, also makes himself really accessible to his listeners which is really great when you have a question about a game or emulator. This is another reason why his program is so great.

This podcast is a must for anyone who has an interest in old PC games of the pre-Windows XP, or just wants to share in a bit of nostalgia about that era.  

You can find of the Upper Memory Blockon iTunes, on Facebook, and also on Twitter. Also be sure to check Joe’s website for the podcast out at UMBcast.com

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Revisiting Retro Gaming New Years Resolutions:

Perhaps this would have been more appropriate to do on June 1, or June 30th, but now is as good of a time as any to make sure I am on track with my New Years resolutions. Well at least the gaming resolutions, I didn’t right the rest of them down so the heck with them right?


#1 Play a Final Fantasy game:


I haven’t done this one yet, but I decided of all the Final Fantasygames, I’m going to buy and play the first one. That’s right the original NES version. Now, I know what you’re saying “what there are so many new and better versions, so why?”. Well, you have to think I’m coming into a series that has been going on for a while, and let’s be honest even though the parts don’t link up you still lose something not starting from the beginning.


#2 Finally Finish Super Mario Bros. 3


I bought in a lot of new games and systems this year and sitting down to tackle this classic just hasn’t been possible, maybe in the fall.


#3 Finish Halo: ODST


No to this as well for a reason see #2


#4 Get an Atari 5200 & 7800


Thank you tax money for helping me add these bad boys to my collection! I wrote articles on both this year as well make sure to check them out.


#5 Play StarFoxall the way through


See #2 and #3 for the reason


#6 Leave my comfort zone and learn how to play both Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter 2.


I have both for the Sega Genesis, plus a copy of MK for the SNES. I have played all three and I can say I am slightly better at Street Fighter 2. Overall I think this one is done but don’t count on me to enter any competitions for either.


#7 Find my PS1 and game, and if I can’t buy a new one


I couldn’t find my PS1 or its games and I am thinking I dumped them about six years ago, but my memory fails me on that. However I do have another PS1, and several games.


#8 Attend a retro video gaming convention


I was committed elsewhere the weekend of Midwest Gaming Classics, and as far as I know I missed a few other as well.


#9 Make my wife learn and enjoy retro video games


My son and I have gotten her to join us a few times but I am nowhere completing this one.


#10 Keep writing this blog


After a brief hiatus in February and March I’ve been pretty consistent getting articles up.

Overall, that makes 3 completed items, 2 sort of’s, and 5 uncompleted items. Not bad I guess let’s hope I can get the rest up and running before the end of the year.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Podcast of Retro Gaming: The Retro Rewind Podcast

If you follow my blog you know I am always hunting for new podcasts on retro gaming to help occupy my days. After you have listened to, and are fully caught up on all your favorites you end up have a lot of time to fill. So I end up hunting again.

About a month ago I was looking for something new to listen too, and I was in the mood to play F-Zero on the SNES, but it was 10AM on a weekday and I was at my desk working. So I decided to put F-Zero in as a search topic in iTunes hoping to find an SNES podcast, or hear a podcast about F-Zero’s development. My search bought back a few results some of which I already knew about, and some others that where irrelevant, but I did find this one that sounded really interesting. The podcast was named the Retro Rewind Podcast and as I looked into what the podcast was about I found that it was something that I might actually like to listen to. So I decided to give the podcast a try with the F-Zero episode, and very quickly found that I liked the podcast, its format, and it hosts.

Now, I have to warn you that the podcast doesn’t only cover retro games, they also talk about movies as well. So if you’re looking for a pure gaming podcast you may not be into this one, but if you like getting a little nostalgic over games and movies from the 80’s and 90’s I think you’re going to really like this one.

The podcast is hosted by Francisco Ruiz, and Paul Powers, as well as a guest host (my favorite of which is Francisco’s wife Kristy). The hosts have a great chemistry with Francisco anchoring the podcast, and Paul bringing a comedic side to it, keeping conversations lively andengrossing. Yet, with that said they keep the podcast on a low key that is funny and engaging, and makes you feel like you having a conversation with friends. I love this format for nostalgic topics, because it allows you form your own memories and thoughts on a subject during the podcast, making you feel more like a participant then a listener. Other podcasts on similar subjects with blaring background music and interruptions could take a lesson from the guys at the Retro Rewind Podcast as to how a nostalgia based podcast should sound.

Another thing I like about this podcast is that each episode focuses on one topic. So you aren’t hit hard with nostalgia on a bunch of things, but rather you get a really well thought out show that concentrates on one subject beginning to end, which as previously stated it allows you form your own memories and thoughts on the movie or game they may be talking about.

They usually end the show by rating the movie or game: Classic or Tragic (2nd Class in older episodes). I have found that when it comes down to doing these ratings the host and guest hosts usually put a lot of thought into it, coming up with some pretty strong arguments as to whether or not they believe the movie or game stands up over time or is just kind of a relic of its era. Its actually a really fun and though provoking segment. 

Overall, it has become a fast favorite of mine, and if you like movies and games from an era most Gen X-r’s remember fondly, this may be one you want to look into.

Be sure to look for the Retro Rewind Podcast on iTunes, on Facebook at  Retro Rewind Podcast, or on their website retrorewindpodcast.com, where you can also find some of their older podcasts.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Generations: Jet Fighters and Home Consoles - Part 4

Gen 7 & 8 Gaming and Gen 4.5 & 5 Fighters

We live in interesting times both for home consoles and jet fighters, due to the fact that generations of both are overlapping and the replacement of one over the other is coming slowly.

For Gen 7 in gaming the only loss so far is the generation’s best known platform the Nintendo Wii, replaced by the somewhat tenuous WiiU. Meanwhile the Xbox 360 and Xbox One as well as the PS3 and PS4 stand toe to toe with only limited replacement of one over the other. The recent release of Watch Dogs for instance is proof that all four systems are still very much alive.

In the world of jet fighters we are beginning to see Gen 4 lingering on as Gen 4 staples see upgrades that make them as high tech as the Gen 5 fighters set to replace them. Advances in CAD engineering, radar, communications, weapon systems, and avionics have developed faster than aerospace engineers can design aircraft to embody them all. With that said the high price of developing new aircraft from scratch has dissuaded the US Military from development,and forcedthe upgrading of existing airframes, and retrofitting new tech to them, while leaving new aircraft development to drones. In a way the need to make drones ever smaller and on the edge of technology has been baring gifts to piloted aircraft as well. Retrofitted and upgraded versions of the F/A-18, F-15, and F-16 rule the skies, and although they look like gen 4 aircraft, they are a generation more advanced than the “A” variantsof each that first entered service three or more decades before. With that said they are still the deadliest aircraft in the skies, and will be for some time to come.
Pic Wii and F-16

The F-16 entered the service 36 years ago and was developed 40 years ago. But don’t let its age fool you, it’s considered to be one of the world’s premier fighter aircraft, and in its time has proven itself again, and again in battle. The F-16 has scored countless air-to-air kills, and has run thousands of strike sorties in a fighter/bomber role. The F-16 also serves as the USAF’s current world ambassador in its role with their famed flight team “The Thunderbirds” where these red, white and blue beauties, adorned with a large Eagle painting on the bottom show off both the F-16, and USAF’s pilot capability. Although the USAF is the world’s number one user of the F-16, the plane has prime place in many other air forces around the world as a top of the line air superiority fighter. The F-16 promises to live a long life, as new technology constantly upgrades the aircraft, giving even greater capability then its designers first imagined.
Of all of Gen 7’s consoles the Wii is by far the best well known and the one you are most likely to see in a home with kids. The Wii was designed to be a family friendly wireless system, that finally fulfilled Nintendo’s dream of having a system that required users to be fully interactive and up and moving, something they strove for since Gen 3 with the NES’s Power Pad. The Wii was not just a great success as a video game platform, but also as an entertainment console as well. With its app’s and internet capability the Wii became the primary way many of us first got to experience streaming movies services such as Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Although the Wii has been discontinued it still lives a very vigorous life, and seems to be outshining its successor the WiiU.


Pic F-15 and XBOX 360

Do you like those stories that go: this lead to that, which lead to this, which lead to that? The F-15 is kind of like that. The USAF made the XB-70, so the Soviets made the Mig-15 to counter that, so the F-15 was made to counter that. The F-15 is a monster that was built to succeed the F-4 Phantom II, and was designed to overcome all of the F-4’s shortcomings. The F-15 has done that in spades and like its USAF brother the F-16, the F-15 has been proven in battle and has scored countless air-to-air kills, and has run thousands of strike sorties in a fighter/bomber roll. The F-15 also like the F-16 is considered to be a top of the line air superiority fighter both within the USAF’s ranks as well as international air forces. The F-15 like the F-16 is under constant upgrades, and will prove to have a long life. In addition to this the F-15 has had  one additional role added to it that is super-awesome, Satellite Killer. The F-15 can climb to high altitude at nearly a 90 degree angle and launch a missile that can shoot down enemy satellites, something successfully tested a few years ago on an obsolete communications satellite. Let’s just say that the “air” in air superiority fighter means a lot more than normal for the F-15.

The XBOX 360 started as the first Gen 7 system on the market beating the PS3 and Wii into the market by nearly a year. With its wireless ergonomic controller the XBOX 360 finally unchained gamers from their consoles. Nintendo and Sony would follow suit and the Gen 7 market would be a true slugfest between the 360 and PS3 for serious gamers. But the 360 had a surprise up its sleeve the Kinect, a totally wireless, controller-less interactive gaming system. The Kinect wouldn’t exactly appeal to hard core gamers but made the XBOX 360 more family friendly as a gaming device, and with its voice activated tech gave an added level of integrated entertainment to the XBOX 360’s multimedia capability. Overall, the XBOX 360 like the F-15 ended up becoming the technological winner of its generation thanks to its surprise capability with the Kinect leaving the PS3 to itself play catch up.


Pic PS3 and F-18

 The F/-18 Hornet is the current darling of the US Navy, and with a coat of Navy Blue and Yellow it takes to the skies as the current aircraft used by the world famous Blue Angels.  Of all the aircraft ever used by the Navy the F-18 has to be the best looking and most graceful in the role of a Blue Angel.  The F-18 is sleek, fast, and the one of the finest specimens of a jet fighter to have ever graced the skies.  Outside of the famous exhibition team the F/A-18 has an important role with the US Navy as their primary fighter bomber, replacing such venerable aircraft as F-14, A-4, and A-6, on the flight deck. The F-18 has an interesting history as well, actually starting out as the YF-17 a competitor of the F-16 in a competition for the USAF’s next light interceptor. The Air Force passed on the YF-17 but the Navy showed interest, and the design changed hands from Northrup to McDonnell-Douglas and became known as the YF-18 with MD modifications to the design. The Navy initially bought the F-18 on to replace the aging A-7, but as time passed on the Hornet was modified, upgraded, and upsized into the Super Hornet which is where it is now. The F/A-18 has served in many combat roles, and proven itself as a highly capable fighter/bomber.

 The PS3 held its own against the 360 and Wii in Gen 7 but like the F/A-18 with the Navy, had some big shoes to fill walking behind its predecessor the PS2. The Playstation name garners a lot of loyalty with players that dates back as far as original Playstation in the late 90’s, and the PS3 didn’t fail to disappoint these fans. The PS3 became known for its fantastic controllers, its online capability, and it’s built in Blue Ray player, as well as its fantastic library of games including new installments to the Gran Turismo, and Ratchet & Clank series, as well as exclusives like The Last of Us. However, the PS3 did find itself following behind in Gen 7 after the Kinect came out for the 360, and all Sony could muster was an odd looking Wii-esque controller with a blue ball on top.  


Pic WiiU and F-22

 The F-22 Raptor is destined to be the replacement for the F-15, F-16, and F-117 with the USAF. The aircraft is impressive, and is one of the most advanced jet fighters in the world with unprecedented capability. But the F-22 has arrived in an era  of government cutbacks, and of  drones are taking on a more dominate role with the USAF. This means the production is continually started and stopped on the F-22, as money is poured into upgrading existing aircraft, and into new drones.  Many believe that the F-22 may be one of the last manned jet fighters to enter the world’s air forces.

 The WiiU like the F-22 arrived to faded fanfare.  The Wii created a big splash for Nintendo when it came out and was the “must own” system for families. This created a lot of hype for what was to follow with the WiiU, but when the WiiU came out it left many feeling underwhelmed. The system seemed like more of a half step back than it did the way forward. On top of that the big screen display controller for the WiiU, has been plagued with a lot of reliability issues due to lost connectivity with the main console over time. Although the WiiU has found its way into the homes of many long time Nintendo fans, many fear for Nintendo’s future and wonder if the WiiU may be the end of the line for the video gaming powerhouse.


Pic F-35 and PS4

Southwest Airlines manages to help keep its costs down by using one type of aircraft the Boeing 737. This means you aren’t buying a bunch of different parts for a bunch of different planes, but a bunch of parts for one type of plane that can be used on all of your aircraft at any time. I guess the Department of Defense caught on to this idea and asked Boeing and Lockheed to give them a plane that could work for the USAF, NAVY, and Marines. Lockheed came up with the winning design, presenting a fast, carrier capable, VTOL aircraft that could serve all three branches well. The F-35 is not in service yet and is still getting the kinks worked out, but it does promise to be revolutionary even inspiring the Royal Navy to build a whole new class of Aircraft Carriers around them.

 The PS4 started off as nothing more than a slightly supped up PS3. But now Sony is talking VR headsets in an amazing attempt at one-upmanship over Microsoft’s Kinect systems. The new VR systems known as Project Morpheus have made big impressions, with Sony even choosing to show the systems off in a recent episode of The Tonight Show. Having seen the episode I can tell you it was impressive, but with that said the headsets are reminiscent of the big VR headset craze of the mid-90’s that spawned Nintendo’s failed VirtualBoy, as well as short lived VR sessions at amusement parks and larger arcades. Will the PS4 be the technological innovator of Gen 8 giving us something truly awesome, or will it fall flat on its face? Time will tell.


Pic T-50 and XBOX One

Think what you want about Russia, and the old Soviet designers, but Sukhoi has been rocking it for years. The SU-27 Flanker for instance was a dreaded maritime fighter used on Soviet carriers, and featured Thrust Vectoring a technology untapped by western aeronautical engineers. Thrust vectoring allows pilots to uses engine exhaust as an additional way to control the aircraft, outside of the standard operations that rudders, elevators, and ailerons can give them. At a demonstration at the Paris Air Show an SU-27 was able to travel horizontally while the aircraft itself was at a 45 degree angle, looking to similar to a Cobra about ready to strike. The SU-27’s thrust nozzles (afterburner area) where vectored horizontally at a 0 degree angle, while the aircrafts control surfaces gave the plane its odd attitude. At the same airshow the SU-27 also demonstrated twists and turns only possible via its thrust vectoring. Looking to build upon that Sukhoi developed the T-50 a replacement for both the SU-27 and Mig-29 in the Russian military. The aircraft looks similar to its western counterparts the F-22 and F-35, but with the added element of thrust vectoring.

 The XBOX One is an entertainment platform unlike any other. It is “set top box” entertainment technology that we had pounded into our heads over and over again in the 90’s, as we were told about the future of TV and home entertainment. It’s a platform that allows you to play games, watch TV, or entertain yourself in a myriad of other ways simultaneously. So far though the ONE hasn’t been a big hit, and it’s looking like nothing more than another XBOX 360. But, with HALO 5 set to come out next year many are asking if Microsoft has a few surprises up its sleeve before it releases this next of their huge flagship titles. Will the ONE be like the T-50, using its Kinect the same way the T-50 uses thrust vectoring? Time will tell for this one as well, but Gen 8 may turn out to be far more interesting than it is looking right now.

 I hope you have enjoyed this series since it has allowed me to explore two of my passions, aviation, and video gaming. It was fun to do this since both fighters and consoles are categorized by generations, by those “in the know” of their respective communities.