Tuesday, May 30, 2017

YouTube Channel Previews

With the new website on the way I'm also slowly but surely coming out with YouTube content as well. Be sure to check out my quick look at Elgato Video Capture being used for GameCubes Super Mario Sunshine.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

System Saturday's: Vintage Computing - A Collectors Overview

When I was about 6 or 7 years old my Mom decided to go back to school. I was in school Monday thru Friday all day by this point, so she had time to attend classes and study during the day. Her main goal was updating her late 1950’s early 60’s education of typewriters and tediously done paperwork, and enter the modern age of computerization. The end objective of course being to take on a part-time office job while I was in school. My mother learned quickly and soon became our resident computer expert, bringing home cool text books, library books, and magazines on computers and the future of technology. I can remember this one Time-Life book she bought home from the library filled with robots and computers, and with future depictions of robot tractors farming fields, and rescue drone helicopters sent out by the dozens to help flood victims stranded on their roofs.

This was between about 1983 and 1985, when the world of computers and their possibilities, provided us all with a lot of anticipation. It was an exciting era, and one that has since inspired movies like The Pirates of Silicon Valley, and TV shows like Halt and Catch Fire, as well as being the home era of one of the ultimate computer movies, Wargames. My mom would talk about getting us a computer often, and she would show us magazines with the likes of C64’s, IBM compat’s, Apple II’s, and Atari 800’s. I can remember this one ad that showed an Atari 800XL and it's writing pad accessory, and marveling when she told me I could write or draw directly into the computer. It was an exciting time for my young mind, and filled me with hopes for a brighter future.

It wouldn't be till the summer of 1987, that my Mom and Dad decided to buy a Commodore SX-64. Commodores so called portable system, the SX-64 weighed about 40 lbs, and nearly measured 2’ x 2’ x 12”, but I loved it. I’ve since spoken of some of my fondest memories of that old computer on this blog before. By 1992 the old SX-64 would be taken out in a bad lightning storm, and in that era it wasn’t something that could be fixed without great cost. It would be about two years more till I got another computer, my Packard-Bell Legend 126, which I've also discussed on this blog before too. I consider my Packard-Bell my entry into modern computing though, a lineage leading me up to the computer I’m typing on at this very second. Although, it was in the heart of PC gaming’s golden age of DOS and early Windows, it wasn’t quite like what we experienced in the early to mid-80’s.

Watching AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire I'm often taken back to that era. The engenuity, the excitement of change, the limitless opportunities, and the reality that the world we exist in now is built on those foundations is easy to get swept up in as I watch fictionalized versions of real life computing pioneers change the world with out of the box thinking. There was this point at the end of the second season when the character of Joe McMillan (Lee Pace) looks out of the windows of his dark newly rented office space towards the lights of San Francisco's  skyscrapers, and the keys it held to Silicon Valley beyond. It was enough to make me remember the 1980’s and those promises of a computerized future it held, making me almost wish I was old enough to have been able to participate in that era.

Of course I wasn’t and I was born into a different era, one in which Microsoft’s DOS and later Windows variants dictated what systems are built around, and not what individual manufacturers decide anymore. It’s an era of Windows 10 or Apple iOS, where they later just barely escaped joining the ranks of Commodore, and Atari’s final fate of extinction. If I want to now experience what the mid to late-80’s was like for a computer enthusiast I essentially do it the way they did by playing on the actual systems, especially considering I can own all the original systems for a mere fraction of how much they originally cost even in 1980’s money. So here is a brief overview of my collection without getting into each system in-depth.

Commodore 64 - The Commodore 64 or C64 is probably one of the most legendary of all the non-IBM compatible computers. It was known as a gaming PC, long before the modern era of gaming PCs. It’s very architecture would share much in common with the NES meaning it was a true game changer in 8-bit gaming and computing. Although the C64 arrived on the scene in 1982 as a replacement to its already successful VIC-20, it would only achieve minor success until about 1984 when it would step into the realm of being highly successful. This success would not only be partly due to a price drop, but also a result 1983’s epic gaming market crash which had consumers walking away from the eras gaming systems in search of the next big thing. It would be between 1984 and 87 that the C64 would become a dominant player in computers and gaming. At $200 to $300 the C64 was also the best bang for the buck being significantly cheaper than Apple, Atari, and the IBM “compat” entries, but proving to be of far better quality and power than cheaper options like the TI-99, and Timex-Sinclair 1000.

This system itself is a fairly simple computer-keyboard combo, that can be connected into a TV, or even to a Commodore monitor. Other inputs such as 5 ¼’ disk, and tape drives where external, with the former being nearly the size of the system itself. I can’t remember how much my system cost me but I think I picked it up on eBay for less than $100, and bought the 5 ¼’ separately. Mine required a bit of maintenance though since the keyboard diaphragm was a bit dried out, however the repair was cheap to have done even with part having to come from the UK. I currently have 15 games on the system some in 5 ¼’ format and others in cartridge, plus three games waiting to be tested.

Apple IIe - The Apple II is the computer most Gen Xer’s associate with their grade school days. Like the C64 it was a computer/keyboard combo although a bit larger. It’s top mesa was nearly a foot long, and featured a tray like area in which to rest dual tandem 5 ¼’ disk drives, or the Apples “adjustable” and iconic green monotone monitor. Let’s just say a lot of us experienced hours of Oregon Trail in those fantastic green colors. A personal memory for me is playing hours of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego towards the end of my eighth grad year of school after the curriculum was long over. This system sold for $1200+ new and was aimed at the high end home audience wanting a useful system with educational qualities, but it was also aimed at the academic market being discounted for the elementary through high school market, and affordable to public and private schools alike.

My Apple IIe cost me about $150, and included the single 5 ¼’ disk drive. After getting it I bought it in for servicing hearing something loose inside, and not getting any monitor out, but everything checked out. It took me about a year of on/off messing with this system and finally logging on to an Apple II Facebook page, to find out that in order to get monitor out of my Apple II I needed to connect my cable from the back of the Apple II to the green composite input on the back of my HDTV, and not the yellow as is more common. The system worked well after that, and I have a total of three games for it with an additional four waiting in the testing que. My biggest complaint
about the Apple II is finding good and decently priced classic games to play on it.    

Atari 800XL (and XEGS) - The XEGS has a blown motherboard and is in that “I'll get around to it” pile. The XEGS and my Atari 800XL can play the exact same games though, so don't let the XEGS cartridge fool you it’s an Atari 800 game the same as any other. The Atari 800XL as you can guess by the name is a bigger version the Atari 800 and basically shared architecture with the Atari 5200, part of the reason why Atari 5200 games look light years beyond 2600 games. Seeing as to how the 800 was a “computer” though and the 5200 just a dedicated gaming system, the 800 came with a significant higher price tag and longer life span.  However, just as Atari’s gaming systems fell prey to the 1983 crash so too did their computers and the formally $1000+ systems dropped to less than $200. Of course Atari trying to identify themselves as an all around computer company would consistently add and drop other systems from their lineup with characteristics close to the 400/800 base models. In 1987 the XEGS would be introduced as kind of a hybrid Atari computer/console in a kind of “take that Nintendo!” maneuver. It would never catch on, but amongst vintage computer collectors, and Atari fans XEGS are collectors items.

My 800XL is probably one of my favorite vintage systems. Of course I can only play carts on it since I haven't gotten a 5 ¼’ for it, but even in carts only I don't mind. There are actually a lot of games readily available for the 400/800’s that weren’t for the 2600, 5200, or 7800 due to various reasons. Plus considering the 800XL uses a 2600 joystick for gameplay, it’s a similar gaming experience. I bought the 800XL within a timeframe close to when I bought my C64 so again I can’t remember price but probably under $100, with very limited maintenance.

As for the XEGS it cost me a little over a $100, but at least it came totally complete and in the original styrofoam. The games, lightgun, joystick, and just about everything else in the box worked, but support groups on the Atariage forums are telling me it’s motherboard is probably shot on the computer itself but I know where I can get a new one for $65. To be honest though knowing the XEGS is nothing more than a pimped out 800 I’m considering selling it, either as-is or after I get a new motherboard in.

Between the 800 and XEGS I have 5 total games, and no others waiting as of yet.

TI-99 - The TI-99 is a system that basically wormed it’s way into my heart. Like the Atari 800 the TI-99 was another highly priced computer that took a header in 1983, going from a price well above $1000 in 1982 to near $50 by 1984. I have no doubts systems like the Atari 800 and the TI-99 weren’t just victims of the 1983 game crash, but of the C64 hitting the market as well coming in with more power and at a lower price. Of course the TI-99 also found itself at another unique disadvantage too, since Texas Instruments aimed the TI-99 more at the educational market than the consumer market. This left it under-powered for competing with the likes of the C64, and at a market disadvantage competing with the Apple II for a place in schools.

My TI-99 cost me about $35, and came in it's original box, all items included and with two games, plus a copy of Star Trek I picked up after buying it. The TI-99 despite not being a true gaming platform is a delight to game on, the graphics are simple and remind me of the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and the games are still pretty fun. My favorite in Parsec a somewhat kiddie-fied version of Defender that is a true blast to play, and equally challenging. I have two additional games in my testing que, but they are also still being shipped.

TRS-80 CoCo - The Tandy-Radio Shack 80, was a line of computers sold by Tandy, before the computer manufacturer would just skip the TRS part and just head right to Tandy. The line included 4 different pre-color versions, the I and II where separate component type (monitor, CPU, keyboard, etc) systems, while the III and IV were all-in-ones. Later the various CoCo’s (Color Computers)  would be introduced, simple color systems capable of gaming, that could be part of component sets or directly hooked up to a TV. The CoCo’s featured cartridge slots for games, and other applications but it’s the former that endeared them to a lot of gamers.

Looking for the TRS-80 experience I bought TRS-80 Model III early last year, just to find out it didn’t take carts. So I bought my CoCo shortly after, and in October of last year sold the massive Model III at a nice profit. It would take until January of this year before I could get the CoCo hooked up, and when I did I was knocked off my feet. Although I only had, and still only have one game Canyon Climber I was impressed with what I saw and played. The TRS-80 is one of those systems I will have to put some time into hunting games on, although I may have a few more on the way before the end of the weekend.

The thing about vintage computers is that when playing them you realize there is so much more they can do than just play games. These very same computers might have been involved in doing a family's taxes, helping write papers for college courses, or they may have even been part of some small business. You also realize with the various programming languages on them, you could in fact design your own games. In a way there is a feeling of lost potential here, which is sad at times, but then you realize that the moment these computers arrived home for the first time someone was saying, “Gee I wonder what games I could play on that!”. Vintage computer collecting isn’t for everyone though and that's understandable. After all, to really get these systems and their various idiosyncrasies you had to live back then, and to have operated one of these things in their prime. It’s all about knowing the flashing cursor, the 5 ¼’ and tape drives, and when to insert the cartridge, and the knowledge that any and every program that computer would run had to be fed into it via an external disk, or some other source. Relating these machines to someone purely of the Windows 95 and era after, would be like telling them they had to load Windows off a flash drive every time the wanted to do some work, since internal hard drives didn’t exist as of yet.
Of course the progression of collecting vintage consoles, leading to collecting vintage computers can be somewhat natural. Vintage computers help tell the story of videogames as we know them, and if you're of a certain age there's no doubt your personal history is part of this. Like vintage consoles, computers also demand some TLC as well as operating knowledge in order to understand the various idiosyncrasies of each system. For me personally I find all of it nostalgic, since my childhood experiences often allowed me to work with some of these systems in their prime, leading me to a general understanding as to how other systems of the era operated as well.      



Thursday, May 25, 2017

Return of the Speccy - The ZX Spectrum Next

So here we are May 24th, 2017 and the ZX Spectrum Next program has been fully funded on Kickstarter. That may not sound like much to an outsider, but it’s actually kind of a big deal to ZX Spectrum fans and/or vintage computing lovers alike. Over the past few years Kickstarter and other crowdfunding sites have seen numerous ZX Spectrum projects come and go. Some of these have failed to get funded, some got funded and fell apart immediately after, while still others are marred in controversy with no final product delivered to backers as of yet. So when the ZX Spectrum Next project appeared on Kickstarter last month many of us were a bit skeptical, till we watched the video and did our homework. Instead of getting a flight of fancy with pretty 3D rendered drawings, we instead got a well thought out and feasible sales pitch, put together by folks who actually knew a thing or two and had the experience to make it happen. So after considering it carefully for about a week I decided to back the project myself to see where it went. To say the least where it went was extremely surprising, and has even left it’s creators somewhat speechless. With less than 48 hours to the ZX Spectrum Next program began ripping through its stretch goals, and raised nearly 3 times as much as the project's main goal.

As both a gamer and someone with an interest in vintage computing  the ZX Spectrum series of computers has always had a somewhat legendary status. The problem is as an American gamer and vintage computer enthusiast the ZX Spectrum family has always been somewhat unattainable, since the Spectrums were a British made computer, and being so only worked on PAL televisions and monitors. This meant that a working system would have to not only be imported, but one would have to find a PAL monitor, or some conversion device. All this added up quickly, and in the end one was taking a chance buying a vintage computer, and investing a lot extra to get it to work. Of the Spectrum did make a domestic appearance for us in the US in the 1980’s in the form of the Timex Sinclair. But, many of the Spectrums classic programs and features didn’t directly port over, meaning American users of the system didn’t get the legendary system at its best. Instead the North American Timex version was basically a bare boned version of its UK counterpart, underpowered as a gaming platform, and mainly meant to be a cheap entry level computer for home business and student means, i.e. a cheap family computer.

When the new ZX Spectrum Next project appeared on Kickstarter, what peaked my interest was that it was optimized and modernized version of the old Spectrums. What really sold me though, was that the ZX Spectrum Next was able to be easily switched between PAL and NTSC formats, all while outputting on HDMI. That means someone in the US (like me) could could output the ZX Spectrum in all it’s glory to NTSC, and in HD. Of course I also failed to mention that the Next is not only enabled to play Spectrom ROM’s via SD card, but can connect to original Spectrum hardware such as tape drives. This means all those classic Spectrum tape games that were formerly off limits to us in North America, are now playable for many of us if we care to experience them in their original formats. The system is also being given a nice mix of original and modern features, like the above mentioned SD card slot, and HDMI output, as well as Wifi capabilities, and USB access.

As of the end of the auction the expected delivery date isn’t until January of 2018, but I have my fingers crossed for an earlier delivery. One I receive the system I’ll be sure to put video up on my YouTube channel of the system in action.        


Monday, May 22, 2017

The Website

So after some careful consideration, and just a complete lack of time to work on the website I made a few decisions about where I want to go on things.

First I have determined that the new website will not be called 8bitFridays.com, since I felt the term 8-bit pigeonholed me into video games only, and there was a lot more than video games I wanted to bring to the site. The name I've decided to go with for the website is noisefromthebasement.com, which has a nice basement rec-room kind of feel, and opening my website to not only video games, but music (vinyl records), vintage toys, electric trains, and other man cave type pursuits.

I'm also slowly but surely bringing in audio and video recording equipment and software, which may give me the ability to podcast and/or vlog in the near future as well.

8-bit Friday's: The Diaries - May 19th, 2017

Well, it’s been one of the weeks where it’s been hard to get out of bed in the mornings for work, and even harder to stay awake through the morning hours. To say the least this weekend has been a fight against wanting to just veg, and actually getting up and getting stuff accomplished. Luckily the latter managed to win a bit, and with it some games managed to get played as well. This weekend became an unofficial NES weekend, something I’ve needed in a long time, since sometimes you just need comfort gaming and the simplicity of 8-bit.

This Weeks Buys:.

Deserts of Kharak (PC-Steam) - Yes, finally the PC game I’ve been waiting to get on sale through Humble Bundle at more than 60% off. I haven’t had the chance to install it yet, but I can’t wait to play it.

Desert Falcon (Atari 7800) - I have a minor desert theme going, sorry. So, yes on my way to wearing down my Atari 7800 wishlist and finishing off my collection.

Tutankham (Atari 2600) - Um, I guess I’m continuing the desert theme. So yes adding to the Atari 2600 collection.

Dark Chambers (Atari 7800) - Got a great deal on this one so one more towards completing the 7800 collection.  

This Weeks Plays:

Cobra Command (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 - If you didn't know, Choplifter was never actually released on the NES although it did see a Famicom port. So Cobra Command is the closest thing to Choplifter we got on the NES, which is ironic since Cobra Command is so much like Choplifter II on the Game Boy. Anyway, in case you haven't picked up on it Cobra Command is basically a Choplifter clone, where you fly a combat helicopter and pick up prisoners, but with a few differences. One of the main differences is that unlike Choplifter, where you blast your way into P.O.W. camps and rescue many prisoners at once, in Cobra Command they are scattered throughout stages individually. Once found, unlike Choplifter where you must land to get prisoners, in Cobra Command your helicopter can extend a rope to your escapees. Cobra Command also features some unique stages and substages as well, much like it’s subterranean levels which are also part of the above mentioned Choplifter II’s gameplay as well. Lastly, unlike Choplifter you can’t turn your helicopter around, meaning returning your escapees to homebase is an impossibility.

As I understand it Cobra Command is actually based on a 1984 laserdisc arcade game which has a Blue Thunder feel plot wise, and looks a bit more like Sega’s Thunder Blade. So in all actuality it’s nothing like its NES port, and the only thing in common is Data East. Of course why Data East went with more of a Choplifter vibe than with their actual arcade property I’ll never know, especially when Lucasarts was able to pull something similar off with Rescue On Fractalus for the Atari 5200 and 800. Perhaps, I’ll send that question off to the 2 Dudes and a NES Podcast for an answer. Maybe I should also ask why Broderbund never decided to directly port Choplifter to the NES as well. So graphics wise this one is Ok, but I found the colors to be a bit dark, and at times it makes things a bit hard to see and contrast. Control wise it works pretty well and is very responsive and intuitive, but it’s hard to get Choplifter out of your head when playing this, and it took me awhile to get past wanting to turn my chopper around, that’s just me of course. Originality wise as mentioned it is a bit of a Choplifter clone, but it takes the concept in a unique direction that almost feels as if it inspired some of the levels in Choplifter II. It also reminds me a bit of Activisions similarly named Chopper Command on the Atari 2600 too, since both the gameplay and name are somewhat comparable, as is another Atari 2600 game Super Cobra. It’s not a supremely awesome game, but does have a true NES adventure vibe which is always worth experiencing, especially when one of 8-bits most legendary games, Choplifter, isn’t available on the platform.

Joust (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Having ports of Joust on several systems there's not much for me to say. It's a resident of my Atari 5200, 7800, PS2, and my X-Arcade MAME cabinet, and now on my NES. I will make the highly controversial statement of saying I liked the Atari 7800 version a little better than the NES version though, but the NES has the better sound (obviously). Graphically this one looks extremely good and on par if not better than the real deal on arcade. Control wise it's good but the 7800 version was a little tighter. Originality wise it's a classic arcade Apples to Apples port, so not much to say there. If you're an NES collector you probably want this one.

Wizards & Warriors III (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 - A longtime resident of my wishlist and completing the franchise for me. Despite the serious looking labels and box art, these games are always kind of cartoony and a bit humorous. Graphics wise it's not bad, and its clear whats going on. Control wise it's also very good, and reacts and fights well. As far as originality it doesn't stray too far from this first two games, but there are also many other games on the NES like this. With that said though I'm a fan of the franchises super serious fantasy labels, juxtaposed against its overall goofy nature. I would only suggest buying this if you're a fan of the series or NES fantasy games.

Marble Madness (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️ - I picked this one up at Reckless Records, at the same time I bought U2’s Joshua Tree (as mentioned in Weekend Spins). The game section is hidden in a small glass case in a corner somewhat obscured by the Jazz record bins. For $5 I couldn't  pass it by, although it was just a supporting actor in my record store bag that afternoon. Anyway Marble Madness is known for being hard, and the Madness part of the title is often joked at as being a warning, but I have to agree. As I understand it this one was an arcade game that had a trackball to control the marble. Many say the lack of a trackball in porting it to the NES, means the game lost a lot in translation. Of course I can't speak for that since I've never run into a Marble Madness cabinet in the wild. Graphics wise this one is ok and somewhat simple, and it reminded me of Captain Skyhawk also on the NES. The graphics do have an Atari 2600 meets ZX Spectrum feel to it though, being a bit basic feeling. Control wise, it's not easy but I think the hard control is stylized to the game itself. Originality wise this game has it in spades, and truly is different but its easy to see why it hasn't spawned any successors. As an NES collector you may want to pick this one up.

Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - Bonus points for being an 8-bit Star Wars game. This is another game long stranded on my wishlist, finally taken off after getting a fairly good deal this week. Just like its infamous younger SNES siblings the Star Wars games of the NES aren't easy either and take a lot of liberty with the story lines and Empire Strikes Back here is no different. Graphics wise it's great, clear, fun and downright lovable. Control wise it can be kind of stiff, especially in jumping, that just really sucks, especially when timing is a key issue. Originality, wise I love it, it follows Empires story, but adds it's own odd twists to it. As an NES collector you need this one, as a Star Wars fan you can't live without it especially just to hear the Star Wars theme in 8-bit.

If all goes well this week I may be having another vintage computer gaming weekend next week, fingers crossed on that. Until then have a good weekend everyone!!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Gamer Reads: Player One Ready

Sometimes you hear so much about a book, you realize that you have to read it. The only problem for me is that there isn't always time to sit down and read. Getting through my earlier Gamer Reads: Starship Troopers was tough last summer and took a lot of time to get through, being mainly confined to spare moments on Sunday afternoons. So after being hit on the head over and over again with Audible ads I decided to get a few free trial books, one of which was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

The book came on my radar through a lot of podcasts I listen to and for the most part it was in one ear and out the other. Then someone on one particular podcast who I know has tastes similar to mine suggested it, making me a little more willing to read it. So after catching up on my back podcasts, I decided to give my Audible app a spin with the few free books I had on it for a few months now. Putting Dune aside for a longer week I decided to listen to Ready Player One first.

Note: I am not sponsored by Audible

The version I listened to was the unabridged version narrated by Wil Wheaton. All told the narrated book took about 15 ½ hours to listen to, which was a big chunk of two work days plus commute times for me. To be honest I wasn't sure how much I'd like Wheatons narration but I have to admit he did a pretty good job with it, but the voice didn't seem to totally match the character which at times did take me out of the story.

I'm just going to start off by saying the book wasn't what I thought it would be. To be honest a lot of the descriptions people gave of the book made it sound semi-lighthearted, and even a “thrill ride!”. Instead what I heard was kind of depressing, and even dark.

The Book:

So spoiler alert, here's a quick synapses of the book:

The books main character is Wade Watts, a teenage orphan of about 16 who lives with his druggy aunt in a highrise trailer park outside of Oklahoma City, known as “The Stacks”. It's also 2044, and an energy crisis has occurred bringing the country and world to its knees, and poverty, joblessness, crime, and substance abuse are rampant. Wade is a computer genius who manages to feed himself by repairing and selling old computer equipment, and to escape his as aunt spends most of his days in his hideout, the remainder of a panel van in a junk heap. Following the energy crisis and advances in technology the world is addicted to (it seems like addiction to me) a virtual reality world known as the “OASIS”, where anything is possible and most of the world goes there to escape the new harsh reality. It's here that Wade attends high school, as well as pursues his ambition to become a “Gunter”.

The main jist of the story is that the creator of the OASIS, released a video upon his death revealing that if anyone can unlock the “Easter Eggs” inside the vast OASIS they would be entitled to billions of dollars, and control of the OASIS. In the death video the OASIS creator James Halliday leaves multiple clues behind in the form of various 1980’s pop culture, gaming, music and movie references. In order to get a crack at the money and power, a new sub-culture of egg hunters, known as the aforementioned Gunters has developed. Some like Wade hunt individually, while others hunt in clans. The villain of the story is Nolan Sorrento the head of a nearly militarized group of Gunters known as “The Sixers”, who are heavily funded, and part of a evil corporation called Innovative Online Solutions, IOI, that rules both in the real world and on the OASIS.

Five years after the video is released no one has so much as a clue as to where the first of the three keys leading to the Easter Egg are. Then one day, while sitting in class, Wade gets an idea the clue is related to an old D&D game, and may be hidden on the same virtual planet his school’s on. So he sets off to find it, entering a dungeon and playing Joust on arcade with a skeleton king to win the first key, a copper one. On his way out he meets his long time online crush the mysterious Art3mis, who he discovers cracked the clue before him but has failed to win the Joust challenge. Thanks to a tip from Wade, going by Parzival in the OASIS, Art3mis wins the challenge shortly after him. In the meantime Wade figures out the clue to the copper gate, and visits a planet of replicas of Hallidays hometown finding the gate within a video game in Hallidays boyhood home. The gate itself is the movie Wargames, in which a player must repeat all the words and actions of the film to win the game. Wade does this and gains the clue to next key, a jade key, with Art3mis following him shortly after.

The big break makes Wade, Parzival, famous worldwide and as well as Art3mis, Wade’s friend Aech, and two Japanese brothers when their OASIS names are posted on a worldwide scoreboard. But shortly after The Sixers invade the copper key site, and gate site. With his new found fame Wade, makes a grab for some sponsorship cash, and catches the attention of Sorrento who asks to meet with Wade. Wade does so, and after declining an offer to work with the Sixers, Sorrento threatens to blow up “The Stacks” thinking Wade is there, Wade still refuses thinking Sorrento is bluffing, but later “The Stacks” explode killing Wades aunt and neighbors. Wade escapes to Cleveland after, taking on a fake name and renting an apartment. After warning Art3mis, Aech, and the Japanese brothers of the attempt on his life, Wade starts a relationship with Art3mis, and his relationship the Aech Suffers. The relationship with Art3mis only last a few months and falls apart leading Wade into a year long depressive state, in which he all but gives up his hunt for the jade key. Eventually, Art3mis and Aech make a break and find the Jade key, and gate, leaving Wade in the dust if not for a clue from Aech. Shortly after Wade finds out one of the Japanese brothers has been killed in real life while attempting to gain the jade key. Shortly after the last crystal key is found by “The Sixers”, but they have yet to crack the final gate.

Wade considers committing suicide until he has an impromptu meeting with Shoto, the surviving Japanese brother. Shoto, shares his real identity with Wade as well as revealing he was not really Daito’s brother in real life. The meeting with Shoto stiffins Wades resolve, cuasing him to take a calculated risk to crack “The Sixers” secrets on the crystal key. So Wade hacks IOI indicating his bills are past due, and causing IOI to capture him in the real world for indentured servitude. The risk allows Wade access to IOI’s computer systems, which he is able to hack with an illegal code he got online. Wade uncovers video footage showing IOI killing Daito, as well as a plot to kidnap, use, and kill Art3mis and Shoto. He also uncovers the clues of the crystal key, and the clues to the final gate. Wade, hacks IOI and escapes shortly after, changing his identity back to his real one so as to not get cuaght. Shortly after he reveals the video, plot, and clues to Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto. It's at this point that Ogden Morrow (who I imagined looking like Woz for some reason), Hallidays former friend and business partner offers to help them bringing the four together in Oregon. This marks the first time Wade, Art3mis, Aech, and Shoto all meet in real life. The first meeting between Aech and Wade is somewhat poignant, since Aech turns out to be a young African American women, and not a teenage white boy. Wade and Aech quickly connect when he realizes despite her appearance she is still his best friend. Upon landing in Oregon, Wade and Aech, meet Ogden, and Shoto, but Art3mis refuses to meet anyone until the crisis of the Crystal key is over.

In the meantime it turns out “The Sixers” know where the final gate is but not how to access it. Until they do they have blocked off the site of the gate with military force and heavy shields. The site known as Castle Anorak, was the former online home of the OASIS founder Halliday and his online persona the wise wizard Anorak. In reviewing videos taken from IOI headquarters the 4 protagonist reveal that the gate must be unlocked by three people at once, but can no longer reach the castle due to “The Sixers”. Following the leaking of Daito’s death video, and the kidnapping plot documents, Wade uses the momentum to call upon the huge Gunter clans to combat and defeat “The Sixers”. Also in his hacking Wade finds out a wizard (ugh, yes I know) is controlling the shield spell from inside the castle.  While he was imprisoned in IOI headquarters, Wade hacked a ordinance robot in the castle to activate at a particular time and detonate a bomb within the castle? killing the wizard and troops. With shield down a huge battle begins between the 4 and the remaining Sixers including a boss battle with Serrento involving giant Japanese mechs. Serrento kills Shoto in the battle, but is then killed himself by Wade. Upon entering the castle with Aech and Art3mis and unlocking the gate, “The Sixers” detonate a super bomb known as the Cataclyst killing everyone but Wade. As it turns out in an earlier side adventure Wade got a magic quarter giving him a spare life. To say the least Wade faces the challenges of the final gate including the arcade game and Tempest, more first person role playing this time in the movie Monty Pythons and the Holy Grail, and finally decrypting the final challenge in Halliday's office unlocked with the name of Hallidays one that got away, Ogdens wife.

To say the least Wade wins it all, and even gets the girl in real life.

The Review: Likes

What I liked about Ready Player One is that it's very imaginative. Although there is a heavy weight on the whole story from the gloomy outlook on the future of our real world, the imaginings of what happens in the limitless OASIS are rather fun. The authors use of 80’s references is also rather unique and at times can get into some rather obscure details like the plots of special D&D games, and text adventures.

I also enjoyed the relationship between Wade (Parzival), and Art3mis since there is an element of a first true and innocent love between them. It was one part of the story I honestly became invested in caring more about them ending up together than finding the Easter Egg. Admittedly though there are times I feel Art3mis is a bit too good for Wade, but I still wanted to see them together. I guess that also puts me on to the friendship elements of the story as well, especially the aforementioned relationship between Wade and Aech, which in the end transcends race and gender and keeps two people close, in what I felt was one of the books most touching moments. The relationships between Wade, Daito and Shoto is also interesting and something I found myself liking and even being touched by especially when Shoto reaches out it Wade following Daito's death.

The Review: Dislikes

I have a really hard time respecting Wade as the “hero” of this book. To be honest after he let everyone in “The Stacks” die to basically save himself, it was hard to see him positively. One top of that outside of being scared for his own life, he shows very little remorse for everyone who just died. This also goes to show that Wade is not the most moral of protagonist as well. This probably isn't helped by his upbringing, nor his quick adoption of an atheistic self serving ideology he talks about in the first few chapters of the book. This general ideology, and me first attitude seems to be perpetuated throughout most of the book and we don't really see Wade redeem himself till he sacrifices his freedom to infiltrate the IOI facility risking potentially not escaping, or being caught quickly. Whether that constitutes character growth, and the concepts of honor he learns from Daito and Shoto, and charity he learns from Art3mis changing his moral being is hard to say. In the end though I just didn't feel like Wade deserved to find the egg.

The other thing I find ironic is that although Wade claims to be an atheist, he seems to almost worship Halliday, memorizing his diaries and philosophies better then some remember the Bible. I might also include that these diaries are themselves filled with a lot of self serving platitudes, only reinforcing Wades self-centric attitudes and beliefs. This becomes even more ironic when Hallidays image tells Wade to “be kind” later in the book, almost laughable advice considering Halliday and Wades attitudes.

Another thing that frankly kind of annoyed me was the characters all too convenient knowledge of some of what he encounters. I could see him winning the Joust game since he had a lot of experience playing with Aech, but the winning Pac-Man all the way through to level 256 in only a few hours, the memorized movie lines, and a lot of other things the characters could say and do all felt a bit to unrealistic. Supposedly, Wade had been studying all these things for five years, and memorizing Hallidays bible like diary but to have played through all these games enough to win and end them, memorized movie dialogues, song lyrics and information seems highly implausible and overly convenient writing. I mean I will openly admit one of my guilty pleasures is reading Clive Cussler novels especially the Issac Bell ones, and at times it's amazing how the character has certain knowledge of abilities but he’s also a well educated adult, and part of a Pinkerton like group of super-detectives. Wade on the other hand is just a 17 year old know it all, with nothing more than a high school diploma. Sorry, it provided for a lot of eye rolling on my part and even took me out of the story at times.

Lastly, I think the one other thing that got to me was the continued geek culture references. To be honest it's non-stop throughout the book, and although it can be fun at times, it does get annoying. The 80’s references fall into this as well, being fun at times, but eventually getting annoying.

Overall, I can appreciate the book's originality and imagination and I can see why a film is on the way. With that said though a character like Wade's almost seems to typify everything wrong in our society, and as I said before it's hard to paint him as a hero in this book let alone believe he deserved to have a good ending in this book. I think most readers of this book come for the nostalgia and imaginative nature of this book, and not lessons in philosophy and morality and I think that's why most cut the protagonist slack based on that. I also try to keep in mind that the protagonist is just a teenage kid between 16 and 18, who of course thinks he knows better, and is somewhat self absorbed.