Monday, June 30, 2014

Generations: Jet Fighters and Home Consoles Part 3

Gen 5 Gaming and Gen 3 Fighters

Gen 5 is the era of 64-bits, and a great time of change in the world of home consoles. Some would argue that this is the generation retro gaming died in, while others will tell you this is the era modern gaming started in. Both sides have a convincing argument, since gen 5 would see the last cartridge based big name system, but would also see the first Playstation. The gap between gen 4 and gen 5 left a lot of bodies in its wake, like the Sega CD, Sega 32x, and Atari Jaguar, but the ultimate battle was of the CD over the cartridge.

For jet fighters in gen 3 like consoles in gen 5 there is an argument that gen 3 started the era of the first modern fighters. Super-sonic afterburning twin engines and sleek designs, coupled with advanced radar, avionics, and weapons systems certainly backed that argument.


Pic F-4 Phantom II and PlayStation

The McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II defined gen 3. It was the primary air superiority fighter and multi-role aircraft for both the USAF and US Navy and saw a ton of action in Vietnam. It achieved worldwide acclaim, and still serves in the air forces of many other countries worldwide. With advanced avionics, radar, multi-weather capability, and Mach-2 afterburners it was jet fighter for the modern world. However, time tells us a different story about the Phantom II. Its early models where gun less relying only on missiles, which were terrible in that era for air combat encounters, on top of that it was a gas guzzler, using most of its fuel just getting off the ground, and was a nightmare for her maintenance crews.


The PlayStation (1), like the F-4, was the epitome of its generation. It had great graphics, smooth CD visuals and music, awesome controllers, and a huge library. It was an international and almost instant success. It was the start of something new for both Sony and gamers, that would leave a legacy. But, our beloved PlayStation had its issues too, like slow disc loading times, and somewhat janky control.


Pic F-105 and N64

The Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the “Thud” had its roots in Gen 2’s Century Series, but was much more of aGen 3 fighter. Afterburner, Vulcan 20, missiles and all the F-105 like the F-4 was a Vietnam workhorse, but sadly was often relegated to being a fighter/bomber with heavy emphasis on the “bomber” part. The F-105 served long and venerably into the conflict eventually becoming the first aircraft to work as “Wild Weasels”.

The N64 like the F-105 was its generations workhorse. Clearly it belonged in Gen 5’s 64-bit world but its cartridge was a reminder of its Gen 4 roots. The N64 is still a crowd pleaser, and has even become the system to own amongst those who weren’t even born or still in infancy when it arrived on the scene.


Pic Mig-25 and Sega Saturn

The Mig-25 was on paper a visionary concept. Mach 3 speeds, and high altitude capability should have made it a nightmare for the Mach 3 Bombers the USAF had imagined with the XB-70 Valkyrie. Sadly, the ultra-cool XB-70 program fall apart on the USAF, leaving the Soviets holding the bag with the limited roll Mig-25.  The USAF went to the still supersonic B-58 Hustler, a bomber that with advanced avionics hugged the ground mitigating the Mig-25 capabilities even more. The Mig-25 which is still in service around the world, will be remembered for being innovative, but still somewhat useless. 
Like the Mig-25 the Sega Saturn was impressive on paper, and its capabilities top notch. But, with the Sega 32x, being very quickly followed on the scene by the Sega Saturn, many consumers and retailers felt their heads spinning. Even Sega seemed to have their heads spinning as the Saturn arrived with virtually no fan fair or announcement. The Saturn fall flat on its face, and Sega now felt the burden of the PlayStation on their backs. Today the Saturn is still not very well known, but collectors love it.

 Gen 6 Gaming and Gen 4 Fighters

Generation 6 consoles are a sensitive topic amongst retro gamers. Most retro gamers will staunchly fight any idea of Gen 6 being retro, stating the PS2 and Xbox make this the modern era. Others point out that  Gen 6’s corded controllers and offline gaming, make it the last generation of retro consoles, but sadly they are a minority.

Gen 4 is the era of the greatest jet fighters of all time at least in my opinion. This is the generation when everything comes together. After gen 4 though much like after gen 6 in gaming it becomes a slightly different world, as drones take there place.


Pic F-14 and PS2

The F-14 Tomcat is an icon! The star of Top Gun, the fleet defender, and the awesome swing wing Mach-2+ carrier fighter of the US Navy. The F-14 is no longer in service but when anyone says Top Gun or carrier fighter to you try not imagining this bad boy. The F-14 was built to intercept enemy bombers and missiles inbound for the carrier task force. The F-14 was almost purely used as a fighter, armed with its medium range Phoenix missiles, Vulcan 20, and Sidewinders, but saw some action in the Gulf War as a fighter bomber.

The PS2 defined gen 6! I don’t care if you’re a Nintendo, XBOX, or Sega fanboy, you have to admit Gen 6 was PS2’s bitch. It was the first ever entertainment platform console, it was a video game console, a DVD player, and could go online to game. It was and is still one of the best-selling, and longest living video game consoles to have ever been made. Great graphics and excellent control seemed to define it.

 Pic F-117 and XBOX

The F-117 Stealth Fighter is technically not a fighter even though it is designated as one. Its fighter designation actually comes from its predecessor program the F-19 which was an experimental flirtation with a stealth fighter. The F-117 had no guns (those are IR sensors on the front not guns), and although it could carry air-to-air missiles in its bomb bay never did. The F-117 would actually be an attack aircraft or A-117 but “a rose by any other name” right? The F-117 was filled to the brim with cool stuff, and would show up at airshows with armed guards around. We loved it because it looked cool, and like it was from the future.

 The Xbox like the F-117 seemed to just kind of appear. When we were told Microsoft was working on a console we just kind of shrugged it off, “Microsoft made PC stuff, and games for PC they wouldn’t enter the console market!”.  Well they did! Boy did they! The Xbox was a huge success and took the number 2 spot after the PS2 in Gen 6 for sales and popularity. The Xbox like the PS2 was a multimedia platform, and performed comparably to the PS2.


Pic Tornado and Gamecube

The Tornado was a multirole, multinational aircraft developed in Europe, but its primary user was Great Brittan’s RAF.  The Tornado had swing wings, and some truly awesome radar and avionics that allowed it to fly its missions only feet (we are talking double digits) off the ground. As cool and as awesome of a warhawk the Tornado is, its looks gave it more of a generation 3 look, harkening back to the Mig-23, or F-111 Aardvark.

 The Gamecube like the Tornado was cool and had some great capabilities, ranging from its mini-discs, to its GBA support, to its portability. But, in a generation of multimedia platforms the Gamecube looked like it was a generation behind, having been Nintendo’s true entry into Gen 5 gaming.


Pic Mig-29 and Sega Dreamcast

The Mig-29 was the USSR’s first true entrant into Generation 4. This thing was built to go head to head with the likes of the F-16 and F-15. For the USSR though the entry was a little late in the game. The Mig-29 is still a world class air superiority fighter that can go toe to toe with its American counterparts.
The Dreamcast came to Gen 6 ready to compete with great graphics on par with the PS2 and Xbox, online gaming capability, low profile design, and unique controllers. The Dreamcast was a true competitor had the potential to be a force to be reckoned with in Gen 6. The only problem was that Dreamcast still lacked the kind of multimedia capability that PS2 and Xbox possessed losing its bang for the buck factor right away. The Dreamcast would be Sega’s swan song and it’s exit (most liely) from the console market.





Friday, June 27, 2014

PC Gaming's Golden Era - It Wasn't Just About the Games

Amongst retro gamers there are many points of contention, for the most part these points are met with a great deal of fun and humor. For instance there has always been a great deal of back and forth about the PC gaming schism of the early to mid-90's in which console gamers left behind SNES's and Sega Genesis's and enter into the world of DOS and early versions of the Windows Operating System. This was an era that many retro gamers consider to be the golden age of PC gaming. This was the era of Sim City, Doom, Wing Commander, Command & Conquer, and realistic feeling flight sims like Microsoft Flight Simulator

Back in those days PC gamers carried thier heads a little higher than console gamers, and even felt a little superior. We had left behind the world of simple games like Super Mario Brothers and homogenous fighting games like Mortal Combat, and entered a world of first person shooters, and both turn based and real time strategy games. Gaming went beyond the few simply buttons a console controller could offer and exploded into a world of flight joysticks, mice, and keyboards, and more ways of playing games then ever. 

But let's be honest PC gaming back then was an entirely different experience then it is now. It wasn't just all about how the game was played it also how they where presented to us, and the community behind it. 

Look at Strike Commander (above) as an example. Look at the packaging, with its highly decorated board game style thick cardboard box. Look at the care that went into making the experience of the game all that much more special. A book like manual filled with backstory and gameplay, a booklet covering the list of keyboard and joystick commands, a disk exchange post card, and a lot of extras, even the 3.5" disks where decorated. 

The game developers went above and beyond to bring the PC gamer into their   world. Even the manuals where filled with imagination and extraordinary artwork, like the manual and play-guide from Subwar 2050 pictured above. 


Let's not also forget all the extras. Above are blue prints of the star fighters from the first Wing Commander game. 

To the PC gamer in that golden era of the console "Bit Wars" we felt a cut above the rest. A console gamer got a small thin cardboard box, a cartridge, a tiny booklet type manual, and maybe extras. Look at what PC gamers got though, usually for a game costing the same price as a console game. 

Of course there where the downsides, like fussing with memory, not having the right hardware, and of course the cost of a PC back then. But, if you lived back then you no how it felt to be a PC gamer. A game wasn't just a game it was an adventure waiting to happen. 

Looking back nowadays as a "retro gamer" I see PC games and consoles games as part of a bigger picture of what games where like in an almost historical context. PC gamers and console gamers experienced completely different things in that era. Console gamers experienced classics that went on to become iconic in pop culture. Console gaming was much more inclusive, all it took was the console and a TV. For PC gamers the games where deeper and more epic, and although some have gone on to pop culture, many remain somewhat unknown but well loved by a small intimate group of fans. 

Unlike console games, PC games meant having a PC, a monitor, speakers, and ever changing hardware. There was an exclusivity to PC gaming that was not only created in price but in the way in which PC gaming was almost an art. The ever changing hardware and environment of constant change in the PC world of the time bought us together. We gathered into computer stores and talked about our computers and our games as we drooled over ever more powerful and bigger graphics cards, RAM, hard drives and microprocessors. Behind the games there was a community of gamers who learned about their machines inner workings, by figuring out the mechanics and changing parts out frequently. It was a totally different era and a world apart from console gaming.

As time wore on PCs became more and more powerful by default. The days of ripping your computer apart to upgrade this or that are almost forgotten since computers now have hard drives, microprocessors and RAM so large and powerful it will take a decade for games to catch up to them. On top of that it's not uncommon to find PC's and consoles sharing games nowadays either. Look at Grand Theft Auto 5, or Assassins Creed IV for proof of that.  

In many ways the feeling of community I had swapping stories with clerks and customers at an old school computer store, is similar to what I feel now in a retro game store. At the same time though I do miss that era, and I miss the time when PC gaming was something really special. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

Off on a Tengen(t)

As many of you may know from reading some my previous articles I have voice been somewhat of a big flights sim nut. This is part of the reason why my initial NES collection was filled with aviation-based games many of them not all that awesome. This is also the reason why I would eventually leave behind console gaming to go to PC gaming since PCs do in fact have more realistic flight sims.

Going back to my NES though there were two games I wanted very badly after I first got my NES. One was Top Gun, the other After Burner. I remember being in the electronics section of a Venture store (Remember those) and coming accross Tengen games for $19.99 on sale. With great titles such as RBI, After Burner, and Gauntlet it was hard for me to decide on with $20 burning a whole in my 12 year old pocket. My first choice was After Burner but I came back a few minutes latet for RBI. Now I know what your thinking "wait didn't he just say he was a huge flight sim nut?". Well yes, but I didn't have any sports games and RBI had a pretty good rep, plus it was spring and baseball season. 

I was and still am glad I bought RBI that day. My brother-in-law and I must have spent hours playing it in two player mode, and I even more hours playing it in one player mode while the AI cheated. To this day I can even sometimes hear the in game music play as I watch my son play real life baseball. 

A couple years later I would finally pick up After Burner as well as Top Gun at a Funcoland. After Burner really impressed me and was a lot of fun to play. I remember looking at RBI, and After Burner on my NES gamestand and thinking how much I loved those odd shaped cartridges and the black and gold color scheme. As a kid I remember thinking that the odd shape of the cartidge was so that Tengen could differentiate their products. 

Flash forward 22 years and I find myself playing Realsports Baseball on the Atari 2600. This was one of the last Baseball games made for the 2600 in the late 80's as the 2600 Jr and Atari 7800 shared Ataris dwindling market. As I played though I couldn't help thinking that something was so familiar about it, and as I thought about it there was even something familiar about all of the Atari baseball games to proceed it.  I stopped playing and didn't give it any more thought. 

Then about a month or so ago I was writing my article on Alamogordo, and found some interesting things out about Tengen. Atari lost control of the video game market leading up to the crash becuase of all the pirating and reverse engineered, that lead up to market over-saturation. In order to prevent this in its time Nintendo created a lockout chip that third party developers had to get permission ($) to get around. It turns out however that my favorite NES developer Tengen through some legal maneuvering managed to get it self around the lockout chip. In the course of Tengens legal maneuvering they also designed their cartridges to look different from Nintendo's to get around any kind of patent infringement as well. So the odd black cartidge wasn't just product differentiation but a legal requirement.

If all that isn't interesting enough prepare yourself for the irony. It turns out that Tengen was a subsidiary Atari. Yes, the very company that almost lost its ass in gen 2 due to the lack of a lockout chip was now trying to do the same to others. So when I knew Realsports Baseball felt so familiar it was becuase it was a slightly simpler version if RBI.  

At first this is all a bit shocking, but as you think about it you begin to see the genius of it all. It's like the old saying "if you can't beat em' join em'!". Atari executives where wise enough to know the Atari 7800 just wasn't enough to take on the NES. So skillfully and very thoughtfully they found a way to enter the NES market under a different name, and use an old trick once used against them on a new competitor. The Tengen label would have no shortage of legal issues though and even more controversy would surround thier release of Tetris on the NES, which would eventually lead to the game being published on a Nintendo label. 

Tengen's legacy would last until Gen 4, when they would release titles for various 16-bit systems, including the Sega Genesis, and TurboGrafx-16. But the company itself would close in 1994 after Atari's new parent company Time-Warner decided the division had run its course. 

Tengen would leave a lasting legacy on retro gaming though especially with regards to the NES. The afore mentioned RBI, After Burner, and Gauntlet are just a few of the many titles to don the gold label and red diamonds, on the angled black cart. Perhaps it's just my love and fond memories for these old titles or perhaps it's the connection to Atari I now know about, but for me Tengen and it's games will always be one of the things I love best about the old NES era.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Return of the 5200: Part 2 - 5200 The Connection

I ended up picking up this 5200 for a heck of a price on eBay. It was one of those instances where the seller "couldn't test the system, but it worked the last time he played it". So with the great price I was taking the chance it might not work, but the 5200 is a resilient system.

When the box with the 5200 arrived I wasn't very sure what it was. Frankly, the box looked too small and felt too light for the 5200, controllers, the few games, and power box I had bid on. The 5200 was in there though as was everything else listed in the auction. 

Seeing as to how the seller was "unsure" of the system I decided to test it out on my small TV first, so I wouldn't have to fight my way in and out of the back end of the entertainment center if it didn't work. I hooked the 5200's unique power box/RF box up to the small TV and put the first 5200 cart I could grab Space Invaders in. The "Fuji" symbol popped up in all its rainbow color changing glory with Space Invaders in bold letters beneath it. 

Here is where a problem occurred both controllers wouldn't work. The one had a hole in the rubber joystick boot and wouldn't work at all, and neither would the second that looked good superficially. It looked as if I wasn't getting a chance to play my 5200 right off. So I had a choice, buy a refurbished 5200 controller from TNT Games for $25, which was a better price then I could get on eBay, or try to repair these two controllers. 

Off to YouTube I went, where there where a few instructionals on repairing a 5200 controller. Here is a great one the 5200 controller can be fixed with nothing more then a Phillips and flathead screw drive, and a pencil eraser. Choosing the controller that looked superficially better first I had the repair done in about 5 minutes. I plugged it in and the start and reset buttons worked great, but the joystick was sticking to the right in gameplay. Turns out (just as the video tells you) that the white dials play a huge role on joystick calibration. I had to reopen the controller make sure they where in the right spot, and putting the controller back together I had the make sure the joystick stayed center so it would remain calibrated. Keep that detail in mind its very important. The other controller however couldn't be saved with these repairs, but at least one works. 

Now, I'm going to take some time to talk about the RF/Power Box. Many don't like this setup and the AVGN even made a huge deal out of it in his 5200 review (watch that here

Ok, so here's how this works the power and video from the 5200 come in through an RCA type jack (top right of photo), basically a long cable comes out of the 5200 for this. The power box (transformer) sits on the floor with one end entering the center of this box and the other being a regular electric cord that can plug into any socket and doesn't  take up a bunch of space. I don't need to explain the co-axials to you I imagine. The only issue is that the all in one power video cable will spark on this box as you hook it up, the AVGN cuaght this in his video and that does indeed happen upon hookup. 

Say what you want but Atari was trying to do some forward thinking here. One (long) cable out of the console, and the wall plug friendly power box where designed to make life a little easier for consumers. Even as a modern gamer with video out, and power out of a console I have to admit an all in one cable out would be nice. 

My 5200 is now comfortably set up in the "Atari" cabinet of my entertainment center. It takes up a whole shelf on its own, with my 2600 and 7800 directly below it. 

All I can say is even though I only have one working controller it's nice to have this system again. The 5200 hasn't disappointed and has been just as fun to play as I remembered it. My collection is up to 25 games many if which are titles I remember having as a kid, but my collection also goes a little beyond that now. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Choplifter: Rescue From the Edge of Obscurity

There are video games out there that define a platform. Like Super Mario Brothers on the NES, Sonic on Genesis, or Asteroids on the Atari 2600. But then there are those video games out there that define video gaming as a whole. These are games that are memorable, fun, intuitive, and easy to operate, but challenging enough to keep you coming back for more. I'm sure anyone who has been around gaming long enough can name one that just epitomizes video gaming for them as a whole.

I have two that for me define video games for me, one is Moon Patrol, and the other is Choplifter which I will be talking about right now. 

My earliest memory of Choplifter is from when I was about 6 or so and my sister took me with her to go to a friends house. Being 6 I was bored easily by the chatter of two teenage girls, so my sisters friends mom, guided me into another room with what I believe was a Commodore 64. She put Choplifter on showed me how to play it, and I was hooked. As much as I loved it and played it for what must have been an hour straight, I never got the name of the game. So when I got home to tell my parents about it all they got was the incoherent ramblings of a 6 year old talking about a helicopter video game. 

Fast forward three years and I'm at my friend Ryan's house after school. Ryan had a Commodore 64 before I did and also an NES before I did. In those pre-NES days though we exchanged Commodore 64 games with each other or just went to each other's houses to play. There was this one day he asked "Hey, wanna play Choplifter?". "Chop a what now?" I asked thinking it was a game either about motorcycles, or shoplifting, or both. Then we began to play and it all came back to me, and now three years later I had the games name. One issue though, this was a pre-internet era with computer stores few and far between and Choplifter was no where to be found. 

So Choplifter would remain elusive for a few more years to come. Then came my Nintendo Gameboy in 1991, and in Christmas of 1991 Choplifter would finally be mine.

Choplifter II that is. This slightly more advanced version of the original not only has you saving POW's from barracks at ground level, but in caves and tunnels. You find yourself fight tanks, fighter jets, and other helicopters, as well as geysers, and stalactites. The game not only gave me the Choplifter fix I needed but presented me with challenging and fun sequel. 

Flash forward to March of 2014. I have just added an Atari 5200 and 7800 to my collection, and I'm looking to bring in a  small collection of games for both. One of the first games to cross my path is the original Choplifter on the Atari 7800 which I bought off eBay for less then $5. Also I see a version on the Atari 5200 as well but it's a little rarer, anf I finally manage to get it into my collection in May. 

The packaging and cover art are the same, but are they the same game?

The 7800 version is really nice looking. It's another great example of Atari showing us the 7800 was generation 3 worthy by giving us some really detailed sprites and backgrounds. It's a nice playing and a really good looking game that's a joy to play. Although it is definitely Choplifter it's not the one I recall playing as a 6 year old, but it's a great version anyway.

I put the 5200 version in and boom I'm six years old again. This is a much closer version of the Choplifter I first played. Blocky 8-bit, night background and all. It's nice to compare and contrast the 5200 and 7800 with this game, and see how far "8-bit" came. The 5200 could produce 8-bit better then the Atari 2600, and gave us something comparible to early NES games, bit lacked the 7800's detail indicative of late 8-bit. To say the least though this version is pure Choplifter joy. It looks great, it's extremely fun to play, and it is Choplifter at its most basic and best. 

Choplifter's legacy doesn't end with Choplifter II though. Choplifter would actually live on into Gen 4 with Choplifter III on SNES. 

Sadly, I don't have this one yet. But it is definitely on my SNES wish list. 

Above is a great review and play through from YouTube. The game looks awesome with its 16-bit detail, and reminds me of Choplifter meets Contra. This is probably the most obscure of all the Choplifter versions.

I guess that's the one thing that bothers me about Choplifter is its relative obscurity. It was a really phenomenal game with a original concept that was able to take it to a variety of platforms. At the same time though we as retro gamers never seem to hear it mentioned, even though it was one of the better games to have been out there in gen's 2-4. 

I'm writing this article to make everyone aware that Choplifter deserves to be remembered, and to make an effort to keep it from slipping into obscurity. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Stop Collecting, Start Playing

"It's a really great game, do you have it in your collection?"

"Yes I do" he says with hesitation, "And from the 60 seconds of it I played it does seem like a really great game!"

"60 seconds?", his friend said quizzically with eyebrows raised,"Only 60 seconds did something happen to your machine did it break? Did the game go bad?"

"No! ", he settled in for the long explanation,"It's just that....well... you see it came to me in the mail with a bunch of other games I got off eBay and I was in such a rush to try them all to make sure they work and get that guy back his feedback that I only had a minute or so to play and then it went right into my cabinet".

Be honest with me my retrogaming companions does this sound like you?

Well it's certainly me! After collecting for multiple systems for the past eight months I realized there are some pretty great games in my collection that I have only played once and briefly since buying them. To be honest as I bring new games in it some times takes a few weeks before I can even get to play them, which has been a minor erritation to some eBays sellers who e-mail me as to whether I got the game, and/or why I haven't left feedback. 

So I have begun to realize that at the moment I am more of a collector then a player, which for me is uncomfortable territory. You see I have a strong background in another hobby, model railroading specifically O-gauge. Here there is a great deal of animosity between collectors and those who are operator collectors. Buying a model train just to put on a shelf is almost considered blasphemy by an operator collector, while a collector is shocked that an operator collector would dare even run a $2500 precision scale steam locomotive (even though that what your suppose to do with them). So with games piling up on a shelf being more displayed then played I have a level of operating collector guilt from my background. 

But as a video game collector operating multiple platforms it's hard not to be intrigued by a game you here about then track it down and buy it, especially when it's $10 or less (usually $5 or less) on eBay, or at a gaming store or thrift shop. So it's hard not to stack games up do to the relatively inexpensive nature of the hobby. At the same time though you know your going to be to busy making sure those new games work and not revisiting and possibly playing through some of your older ones becuase of it. Yikes, what a catch 22.

So it all comes down to the title of this article "Stop Collecting, and Start Playing", since it's the only way to really dig into and get to know some of the games you have in you collection. Will I actually do that though? Well I guess time will tell. 

What about you? Is this a issue for you as well?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Collector, Hipster, or Legit?

This week on the No Quarter podcast ( episode 87: Combat School) the hosts Mike and Carrington got into an argument about whether or not someone who buys their games on eBay is an actual collector. I was inclined to agree with Carrington that collecting off eBay can still make someone a legitimate collector since the markets for old games are not readily available. Yet, the co-host Mike mentioned that being a true collector needed to involve some social aspects that you don't get from eBay. I guess I could see where he is coming from too.

The fact of the matter is though that there are a lot of aspects to collecting, especially in retro gaming, that need some defining. What makes a true collector? What make a legitimate retro gamer? What just makes someone a hipster doing this on a lark? The fact of the matter is no one can really seem to say.

I don't know if I ever mentioned this or not but I actually come from the hobby of model railroading, specifically O-gauge. In the hobby of model railroading for O-gauge there are two different types of collectors. One are operator collectors, those who buy these trains and operate them either on a private layout, or through a club. Then there are straight up collectors, guys who just buy trains and stick them on a shelf. These two different methods of collecting lead to some animosity between the two types of collectors. Operating-collectors will point out the folly of buying something made to run just to place on a shelf where is can be wasted and rust away. Collectors on the other hand cover their eyes in fear as operator-collectors race these sometimes as much as $2500 scale detailed replicas down the tracks. The argument then breaks out as to who the legitimate collector is, but for the most part I side with the operating-collectors who like me have often been operating and collecting since being small boys and who know this equipment is made to be used. 

So what do electric trains have to do with retro video games? Well I think we are reaching a point when retro gaming like electric trains, is beginning to enter into an era of having to define who the collectors are, who the hipsters are, and who is the most legitimate. The hobby of course has always been very inclusive and welcoming, and with these definitions I imagine it will remain the same, but that doesn't mean there won't be some division as time wears on. 

The eBay Dilemma

As I said above both hosts on the podcast had fairly good arguments. Of course having built the bulk of my collection off eBay I tend to agree with Carrington. At the same time though collecting should come with some social aspects to increase the sense of community and build a network of collective consciences to propel the hobby forward and make more folks readily available to help others. 

My way of thinking about it all is like this, before eBay there use to be a lot more places to physically go out to and look for items. A town a few miles from me actually made a huge amount of money during the summer by dragging tourist bound for Wisconsin Dells into its many antique stores. As of about 10 years ago most of those antique stores went out of business. Now of the 20+ that town once had only 2 remain. Sure things like flee markets, garage sales, rummage sales and thrift shops still remain but they aren't always readily available especially when the winter puts a kibosh on 3 of those 4 events. So eBay is the place to look, and with games being sold tested and cleaned with a Paypal guarantee it seems like the best place to look and find what you want. 

With all that said I do agree a true collector should exercise some social interaction with members of his respective community. For me I often gravitate to TNT Games a retro video games store near me. Sure I may not always find the games I'm looking for, and the ones I do find may be a little bit higher in price then what I can find on eBay, but I go to be part of the crowd. To swap stories with the store clerks, and talk to other gamers like myself. To me the little extra I pay on some of the games (yes, I have gotten better deals there then on eBay for many items) is worth the interaction, as is the ability to touch the products and even be playing them a few hours later. 

To me in our current world there is nothing wrong with a collector building his collection off eBay, as long as he can make himself part of the community elsewhere and actively feel that sense of community by doing so. 

Hipster or Legit?

I think one of the biggest issues irking some members of the retro gaming community is people they call "hipsters". To me whenever I hear the term "hipster" I think of an old episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine accuses Kramer of being a "Hipster Doofus", but that's just me. 

In actuality though a "Hipster" is someone who is into collecting vintage items, wearing vintage styles and who see's the humorous irony in things. Reading through a few different definitions of "Hipster" I had to ask myself if I was one, especially since I collect retro games, and vintage records, and I tend to find humor in the irony of things. However, I found out differently when it was mentioned to me that hipsters are generally into things that came before there time. To a 20 year old hipster for instance an NES is just an old curiosity of early video gaming worth having in his collection, even though the NES is far older then he is.

So I found out that I am more what some circles have called a legitimate retro gamer. Since the Atari 2600, and NES and everything else are systems I played as a kid while those systems where still new I fit this category. The legitimacy is based on the nostalgia, and the retrospective (look for the retro) of returning to a place and time in your memories, and connecting to them via these old systems. 

In a way this division is almost reminiscent of the above mention hobby of O-gauge model train collecting in which there are operator-collectors (legitimate) and collectors (hipsters). Those of us who collect and play to remember and those of us who have the system on a shelf to show off as an antique of sorts. As I understand it a good example right now are systems such as the TurboGrafx-16, and Atari Jaguar which are slowly becoming battlegrounds between legitimate collectors reconnecting with their past, and hipsters collecting these systems due to there ironic nature and percieved rarity. 

So the question is will I someday have someone 10 to 15 years younger than me walk into my house and be horrified that I have all my old game systems hooked up to my TV and ready to play? Or will I walk into their home to find and NES or a Genesis sitting on shelf surrounded my other antiques? Time will tell of course. 

For now though we remain a somewhat welcoming and open community bringing in eBay buyers, hunters, hipsters and legitimate players alike. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Generations: A Fun Look at Jet Fighters and Consoles-Part 2

Gen 3 and the end of Gen 1 Fighters
In consoles gen 3 is when real 8-bit finally “arrived”, the hardware and software had finally reached it’s height and the games became ever more complicated in graphics, and/or game play. For any retro gamer in the know Gen 3 equals 8-bit with no if, ands, or buts.

The end of the first generation of jet fighters was extremely similar this earliest generation finally saw air to air combat between jets, and ever increasing speeds. The designs now reflected aircraft to come, with swept back or narrow wings, and increases emphasis on building the plane around the engine.


Pic F-86 and NES

The crowned king of this late generation is the F-86 Sabre. The F-86 had a 10 to 1 confirmed kill ratio in the skies above Korea, in spite of the fact that its arch rival the Mig-15 was almost the same aircraft. Essentially the USAF didn’t want to deploy the Sabre in Korea, but when the Mig-15 arrived on the scene claiming P-80’s, and B-29’s by the handful the problem had to be dealt with. The F-86 was a well-armed jet warrior capable of sonic speed at straight and level flight, and of performing multiple tasks.

Talking 10 to 1 confirmed kill ratio lets talk about the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System), which at it’s peak supposedly had 86% market saturation in the United States. The NES like the F-86 was the crowned king of its era, and bought its generation as far as it could go in 8-bit.


Pic Mig-15 and Master System

The Mig-15 almost looked like a carbon copy of the F-86, but that wasn’t entirely the case. Yes, there is some indication that Soviet designer Mig had a heads up about the F-86’s design but many historians argue that the similarity in looks stems more from the use of German jet research in the development of both fighters. The Mig-15 performed just as well as its arch nemesis if not better at times, but always seemed to be outmatched in the skies of Korea. Aviation historians point to the fact that many F-86 pilots where veteran fighter pilots from World War II, but the also do mention that USAF pilots received a higher level of training then their Soviet counterparts. In this rare historical showdown between two planes that where practically twins we saw how the pilot really made the difference.

The Master system had a lot of similarities to the NES but hardly looked as if they could be twins as the F-86 and Mig-15 did. True the NES and Master system controller did look a lot alike, and so did the games and gameplay. But in this case with the NES and Master system its more about the beginning of rivalries that like the Soviets and USAF would last for a few generations.  For the most part Sega’s Master System bombed in the U.S. never getting any hold on the market in Gen 3, but it did sell slightly better internationally especially in the UK.

Pic F9F Cougar and Atari 7800

The F-86 gained the most press in Korea and the USAF with it. The United States Navy was there though too and doing its job, with the F9F a sonic air superiority carrier based fighter. The aircraft would be a major star in the film The Bridges of Toko-Ri but for the most part it and its role in the Korean conflict would almost and very sadly go forgotten.

 The Atari 7800 isn’t exactly an equal of the F9F, other than the fact that it was there in Gen 3 but nobody seemed to notice. The 7800 was the early contender who arrived too late, and lost its golden chances.


Gen 4 Gaming and Gen 2 Jets

In aviation the 2nd generation of jet fighters always has trouble being defined. I suspect this is because the real gen 2 should be the aircraft of the late generation 1. However, a good definition of gen 2 in my book is the generation of aircraft following the Korean War, that where the first to arrive on the scene in the Vietnam War. In USAF terms these would be the “Century Series” aircraft that where numbered from the F-100 to the F-106, with a few prototype aircraft beyond. Many of the aircraft of gen 2 where now supersonic meaning they could easily go above the speed of sound and then some to speeds at or above Mach 2, on most of these aircraft this was thanks to turbofan jet engines, and afterburners that allowed higher performance out of jet engines. Aircraft of this generation also had technological boosts as well, with things like onboard radar and targeting systems, countermeasures, and the first true air to air missiles.

In Gen 4 of gaming consoles things had gone super-sonic too. Consoles where achieving a Mach 2 of their own at 16-bits instead of 8. Not only that but the controllers had gotten more complicated with 3 or more firing buttons, and even top mounted triggers. 

Pic F-100 and SNES

The F-100 was known as the Super Sabre so I think you can see where I’m going with this. It was super-sonic, had radar, and could fire air to air missiles. On top of that it looked how a “Super Sabre” should, like a sleeker and faster version of its predecessor the F-86. By Vietnam though it became clear that the F-100 wouldn’t have the same rep as its Korean War predecessor, and the plane quickly took on the role of fighter bomber over air superiority fighter.

The SNES or Super Nintendo Entertainment System was a 16-bit version of the NES’s late “Top Loader” model. Much like the F-100 compared to the F-86 it looked sleeker and performed better than its predecessor. Even the controller had four buttons over two, and top mounted triggers to boot. Unlike the F-100 though the SNES could hold its own and fought well for superiority in gen 4.

Pic Mig-21 and Sega Genesis (Mega-Drive)

The Mig-21 didn’t look like much but it was a heck of a scrapper, and an aggressive fighter. Most of its design was a result of lessons learned in the Korean War, coupled with advances in design and air combat avionics and technology. The Mig-21 although not the most fearsome fighter in Vietnam would still be a problem to the USAF and US Navy throughout the war claiming many victims in air to air combat. The Mig-21 is still in service with some air forces around the world, and has been known for its adaptability.

Using the Genesis, Sega would start the “Bit Wars” in which Sega and Nintendo would duke it out throughout Gen 4 for market dominance. The Genesis or Mega-Drive was a vast improvement over the Master System and had super charged 16-bit graphics, a three button controller, and an aptitude for sports and fighting games. The Genesis also had Sonic the Hedgehog a game legend and mascot not afraid to stand up to Nintendo and go toe to toe with Mario. Like the Mig-21 the Genesis was scrapper and a thorn in the side of Nintendo. Despite being outclassed eventually the Genesis would try to stay relevant by adapting 32-bit, and CD-Rom technology to the system for a small but short lived technological advantage.

Pic F-104 and NeoGeo

The F-104 Starfighter was dubbed “The Missile with the Man in It”. It was designed to be a very fast interceptor with a short takeoff range perfect for shooting down inbound enemy bombers. Let’s be honest it’s a cool looking plane. The plane was all about performance, and did what it did well and went on to set many speed and altitude record in its time. This was also one of the first aircraft to feature a Vulcan Canon (20mm Gatling) on board. The problem was that the F-104 had limited uses, its performance airframe and stubby wings limited its roles in combat, and the aircraft was eventually committed to research roles where its performance could be useful. NASA still uses the F-104 to this day for research work. 

The NeoGeo was also all about performance, it was meant to be the arcade machine in your home. The only issue was that the console was $699 in 1990, with games going for $100 to $150 on top of that. Although the system lived up to the hype and those who owned it loved it, very few could afford it and it performed itself out of the market.

Pic Saab Draken and Atari Jaguar

When we think Sweden we don't exactly think military might. But, in the height of the Cold War Sweden, Norway, and Finland all sat dangerously close to the USSR. Not wanting to hope the USAF, or RAF could respond fast enough to a Soviet threat Sweden's Saab, yes like the make of car, developed the Draken (Dragon). The Draken was a high performance fighter somewhat ahead of its time, with Mach 2 performance and a lot of capability. As inpressive as the Draken is though, Sweden's lack of street cred as a military power has this very cool fighter living in near obscurity. 
By Gen 4 most of us had felt Atari had been dealt out and handed its hat. Yet, out out of no where in late Gen 4 they suddenly gave us the Jaguar. The Jaguar was ahead of its time and performed well in 32-bit, however Atari claimed it was 64-bit a somewhat dubious claim backed up by a technicality. To say the least with Atari considered out of the console gaming market, the Jaguar like the Draken went on to relative obscurity even in its own time.