Results tagged “nostalgia”


Washington Post columnist Gene Weingarten has announced a new book project with the working title 12.28.86: One Day. For the next two years, he’ll research stories about what happened all around the United States on that date, whose numbers he drew from a hat.

Gene is currently collecting stories and research leads on the project’s Facebook page; one can also email stories privately to an address found in that page’s description. He states openness to anything from headline-making news down to personal narratives.

The date held immediate resonance with me, and so last night I wrote up a little remembrance. It crosses over with games (and the roots of my lasting interest in games) enough that I feel like sharing it here as well.

Matt Weise on Zelda's succumbing to nostalgia

Matt Weise writes provocatively on the arc of Legend of Zelda games since 1998, which he sees as creative triumphs of daring disruption crashing down into a shameful regression to mainstream pablum:

I was at Aonuma’s talk at GDC 2007, which was a double apology. First he apologized for making Wind Waker. Then he apologized for making Twilight Princess, the game that was an apology for Wind Waker. After the Western gaming press responded badly to Wind Waker, he tried to guess what this mysterious audience wanted. He did his best. He threw in a werewolf because he didn’t have any better ideas (yes, he said that). But he still wasn’t personally thrilled with it. The game was still a polished piece of craft, but the spark was gone, the bravery that made Majora’s Mask and Wind Waker such stand out experiments, almost arthouse games.

I haven’t played through any of the console Zelda games since Ocarina. Like many of my friends in the Bostonian game-smartypants circle, I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Matt hold forth in person about Majora’s Mask, to the point where I’ve promised him that I’ll make the time for it via WiiWare. Embarrassingly, I still haven’t placed it on my queue, though I seem to have plenty of time to roll glass balls through caves or pretend-wander around New Vegas and whatnot for hours on end. Reading this post of his inspires me to amend this. Watch this space.

Somewhere in the heavens, they are googling


Chronogamer on Space Invaders

My pal Joe points us at this entry in Chronogamer, regarding the 1980 Atari VCS port of Space Invaders. It caught Joe’s eye because of its explanation in the comments (by “supercat”) of the game’s “double-shot” exploit — a very early example of an undocumented game-console cheat, and a possible side-effect of Space Invaders’ pioneering two-player co-op mode.

This post also serves as my discovery of Chronogamer. This weblog documents the quest of user “Mezrabad” to play every single home console game commercially released in the United States, in chronological order, starting in 1972 with the Odyssey. The blog appears to have entered hiatus in 2010, but only after five years of writing and eight years’ worth of retrospective, so that’s quite a lot of cartridge-cobbled ground covered.

Chronogamer’s writing style can get rather breezy at times, but if that helps the author keep pushing through the games, I approve. I’m very happy someone is doing this, really, since it reminds me of the original concept behind Jmac’s Arcade, before that ended up sailing off its own thematic direction. It’s not impossible that I’ll return to Arcade with a more general goal of historical documentation, rather than personal memoirs (a much shallower well). But if some other halfway decent writer wanted to pick up that flag for coin-operated arcade games in the meantime, I’d applaud it.

The day I skunked MacCribbage

If you’ll permit me a bit of silly personal nostalgia:


I came across this screencap, dating from the summer of 1994, while pawing through some old files. Apparently I managed to skunk my Mac at Cribbage — that is, I crossed the 121-point finish line before it hit 91 points, which my dad taught me counts as a double-win, especially if you’re playing for stakes — and was so thrilled with my achievement (and perhaps chagrined that the final scoreboard didn’t acknowledge the mustelid nature of my victory) that I took a screenshot and filed it away.

Please note that the size of this image was the size of my entire monitor at the time, at least in terms of resolution — when projected upon my screen via jet-age electron-gun technology, it measured 12 inches along the diagonal.

Incredibly, MacCribbage’s homepage still exists. Despite the page’s year-one webdesign (and, indeed, an on-page timestamp reading 3/14/95), you can still download the game there, though it’s been many years since any Macintosh computer has shipped with the means to run it.

Meanwhile, the game’s author, Mike Houser, has carried his work into the future with an iPhone version. My heart aches to see the stylistic differences in those two pages’ screenshots, comparing the pixel-perfect artwork of his 1990s work with the flat, anti-aliased color fills of the 21st century adaptation. Fortunately, he still sells a handful of Mac OS X-friendly solitaire games that make use of his charming original deck art, including those smileymac-visaged court cards.

For a neglected console, back to school at last

8x4t.jpgA personal note: After lugging them around for many years, I finally found a better home for my Atari VCS, its many controllers, and the sixty-odd game cartridges I had collected for it while I played it throughout the mid-to-late 1980s. Last Friday, I donated the whole lot to the GAMBIT Game Lab in Cambridge. At right is the one last family portrait I snapped on my phone before packing them all away one last time and heading to the subway.

I’d been considering doing something like this for long time, but what finally tipped me over the edge was seeing Toy Story 3. I found myself unable to avoid humanizing my poor Atari system, stashed away in the dark for so long, holding out hope after all these years that someone, anyone would set it up once again play with it.

For years, I could dismiss such thoughts by telling myself that I’d get around to it myself, someday. But it occurred to me only this year that I’ve irrevocably lost this ability. The Atari VCS cannot, by definition, work with flat-screen LCD televisions. Like other early home videogame systems, it displays video by, essentially, hacking the television it’s connected to. Lacking any modern notion of video memory, the VCS uses a variety of tricks that all assume the presence of an electron beam sweeping across the screen, painting pixels row by row. VCS games must carefully time their internal operations to the relentless march of that beam.

I bid farewell to my last such television in 2008, giving it to a friend the same day I bought my Xbox 360 and my first LCD HDTV. I didn’t think at the time about what else I gave up along with it.

I could have responded to this belated realization by trashpicking an old CRT TV, setting it up in the corner of my apartment somewhere, and finally building my own little Atari shrine. But, faced with it, I found myself thinking: why emulate Al’s Toy Barn when I could instead pass it along, where it could do some good?

I’m pleased with its new home, and have great faith that the faux-woodgrained little box and its dozens of boxlets have a bright future ahead of them as an object of study for today’s game students. Most of them wouldn’t even have been born yet when I received the system from my older brother’s friend in a big paper Stop ‘N Shop bag; he had loved it for years before that, but gave it away to a game-loving kid he knew when it was time to move away. Maybe I should have done something like that myself, perhaps when I myself went away to college. But I’m happy I finally did it now. (And I used a canvas Stop ‘N Shop bag, this time around.)

Confidential to Clara: I meant what I said about being willing to take on all comers at Indy 500. I still have my one-button driving-controller chops, even after 20 years. I just know it.

The New Cocktails

110157805_18f3ad9067_o.jpgThough I myself have yet to buy into tablet technology, I have had the pleasure playing Days of Wonder’s Small World on Zarf’s iPad a couple of times. I can objectively tell you that I like it a lot, based on the fact that he’s clobbered me at it both times and I still want to play it again. Since then, I’ve watched my Twitter circle get really excited about The Coding Monkeys’ excellent iPhone adaptation of Carcassone — due for an iPad update this summer — and I’ve also been turned onto Luigi Castiglione’s loving iPhone/iPad implementation of the Italian folk game Scopa, worth seeing just for the beautiful Neapolitan card deck it uses. I see more than mere coincidence in my discovering all these at once.

The iPhone is no stranger to board and card game adaptations, but something new seems to be afoot, driven by the little phone’s newer, corpulent cousin. Even with relatively few datapoints, I feel confident that tablet computing (and do note my careful non-namebrand specificity here) is destined to significantly boost public exposure to good, modern board games. Tablet-based games aren’t simply a digital adaptation of tabletop games; they are tabletop games, though of an entirely new sort.

Jmac's Arcade #6 - Pac-Man

This is the first Episode of my show Jmac's Arcade that I've made since 2007, which means it's also the first one I've made since the launch of this blog. I hope you enjoy it. If you do, you will probably like the previous five videos as well.

Making this also gave me a chance to stretch my video-editing muscles as I head into a fairly ambitious Gameshelf-related project. More news on that as it happens.

Anyway: The background music is "The Annual New England Xylophone Symposium" by Do Kashiteru, and I've written about Jamey Pittman's The Pac-Man Dossier on this blog already.

The Nephilim notebooks

I have been an on-again, off-again role-playing game player since I first discovered the hobby in high school. Since moving back to Boston at the start of this decade, I've had the pleasure of playing with some remarkably creative game masters. The first of these was Joshua Wright, an archaeologist and world traveler who expertly applied his first-hand knowledge and experience of cultures past and present to help guide and shape the stories that our group would tell together.

Josh recently departed for greener scholarly pastures on the left coast. After settling in there, he put back up online some web pages, PDFs, and other digital goodies that he'd made as supplementary material for the many games he's run over the last couple of decades. The campaign I played in is under the red "Nephilim" link; it was an instance of Nephilim, an RPG of supernatural secret histories.

I link to them here with Josh's permission, and present them without further context, both because they are more delightfully mysterious that way, and because I am lazy. I invite players and GMs of all role-playing game types to poke around; among the character sketches, plot outlines and historical-fact (and "historical"-"fact") compilations, you may find some unexpected inspiration.

Finding Legendary Wings

Every so often, I would think about this game I played as a kid. It was one of the first games I ever beat (or at least the most memorable early one), and I really liked the powerups. However, I didn't remember its name. I remembered that it was a vertical scrolling shooter for two players. The characters were angels or something, and the highest level powerup would turn your character into some kind of phoenix or something. I felt sure that if I saw the name I would remember it.

So, after thinking about it several times over a period of months, I finally decided to try to find it. I tried searching for various terms, but I didn't have any success. There was one particular friend I associated with this game, and I thought I remembered that this friend had a Sega Genesis, so I carefully combed through Wikipedia's list of Genesis games. I didn't find it. Just to be on the safe side, I also carefully combed through the list of Dreamcast games. No joy there, either. In desperation, I decided to check out the list of NES games, and there it was. Legendary Wings.

I read through the description, and it brought back many memories. I had one detail wrong, though. Apparently the characters were people with mechanical wings, not angels (although I don't think there's any mention of this in the game itself). So, thinks I, I guess I'll have to find out what's going on with NES emulators and try to hunt down the ROM to play. And then I notice that the first page of search results lists a place you can play Legendary Wings online. And lo, I did play Legendary Wings. And I discovered that it's a lot harder with one person, and it's a lot harder without a Nintendo controller. I've so far only managed to get the second powerup, and I got to the first boss but didn't beat him. I think maybe the little bullets from the ground guns are harder to see, too, but that could just be rationalization.

I explored the site a little more. It's a Java Nintendo emulator, and it reads ROMs from other sites, presumably for copyright reasons (although their copyright notice states that they've tried to contact copyright holders before even linking to the ROMs on other sites).

And exploring further, I saw that they have games for several other systems, including Nintendo Gameboy, Sega Master System, DOS, and, the love of my childhood, Commodore 64. Unfortunately, the controls on some of the Commodore games I tried out (Bruce Lee and Archon) were a bit wonky, so I may have to resort to downloading an emulator to try these out. And quickly browsing the site again to write this entry, I saw that they have Pirates! as one of their DOS games. I know their have been remakes, but I doubt they would hold up to my experience playing Pirates! way back when.

Noteworthy games I have not played

I have not played Agricola due to its length - it takes at least a couple of hours, and I haven't been able to spare that for games lately. (Please don't ask how many half-hour games of Race for the Galaxy I've burned through lately.) During the time I have been not playing it, though, it's managed to knock Puerto Rico from the number-one spot on Board Game Geek's rankings. I discovered this today, and it's a real shocker; "PR" has been the top game for the several years I've known about that website.

As I understand it, the main conceit of Agricola is that it ships with around 300 cards, each of which alter the game rules in some way - but only a handful of these cards appear during any single game. By itself, it sounds like a gimmicky way to tap up replay value (I mean, that's how CCGs work, right?) but I'm informed that it's actually pretty cool. I look forward to trying it myself, sometime.

I have not played Dwarf Fortress because I get to the first screen where I can actually make something happen, and then I sit there going duhhhr. I think that fully reading through the documentation and figuring out all the keystroke commands would take at least as long as a game of Agricola. Its UI is of the Nethack / Angband lineage, complete with graphics built entirely out of animated text characters, and learning to play one of those properly is practically like learning a new programming language.

But I really want to play it someday, because its two game modes include a Rockstar-style sandbox game and a Maxis-style simulation game, both set in ye olde Tolkeinesque fantasy world. The simulation game has you commanding a gaggle of dwarves to construct and maintain the titular fortress, and has a reputation for usually ending in not just total disaster, but hilarious disaster. Indeed, I heard of the game by reading friends' oh-my-god-you-guys blog posts telling the story about how their fortress ran out of alcohol and then burned down and now their last starving dwarf has gone insane and is wandering the woods attacking elk with his fists or whatnot.

For now, though, I can only describe it as a vast piece of work that's crying out for a tutorial mode.

I have not played Freeway Warrior: Highway Holocaust because... well, it's a bit silly, isn't it. Here's another digitized version of a Joe Dever-authored solitaire RPG book from the 1980s; we've linked to a digital version of his "Lone Wolf" series before. This book was the start of Dever's attempt to turn the game mechanics he developed for that series towards a Mad Max theme.

To play properly, you're meant to do up a full-on character sheet for your dude. In its original format, this was printed on one of the back pages, and you could pencil it up all you wanted. Now you can print it out in order to carefully manage your character's inventory, hit points, and food rations. You can even print out the random-number page that you're supposed to close your eyes and poke at, in lieu of die-rolling, in order to resolve combat and other chancy situations that pop up during the story. But I find it just as satisfying to click through the pages and enjoy the perfectly nostalgic text, which contain both Dever's writing style (which I enjoyed as a tyke) and the undiluted 1980s imminent-nuclear-holocaust gloom.

I was impressed to find a simple number puzzle in the story, whose solution was the page to which you were to turn - that's something I don't remember encountering during any other period work. So, yes, despite the title of this post I must admit to kinda-sorta playing this game. So that's as fine a note as any to go out on.

Review: ClayFighter 63 1/3 (N64)

I don't have Super Smash Bros. Brawl, but I do have ClayFighter 63 1/3 for the Nintendo 64, a game that feels like Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Killer Instinct mixed with clay and Ren & Stimpy.

There's some interesting speculation behind why they used the suffix of 63 1/3 instead of the number 64. The obvious guess being that it is making fun of the clich├ęd 64 slapped on the end of many game titles. The other is a rumor that Interplay was running out of time and that Nintendo kept rushing them without giving any extra time, so the 63 1/3 would seem to be a message this game could have been much bigger and better if it had spent more time in development.Kung Pow vs Taffy

There is no story whatsoever. The player simply chooses a character and fights to the top. It's simple, straightforward and doesn't force anyone to remember any character backgrounds such as "this guy killed my father" or "I want to be the best of the best to prove that my family is the greatest!"

All the character sprites and animation were made using photographs of clay models. It went for that funny cartoony, surrealist style for the characters and made the characters look very unique. Even though the sprites are two-dimensional, the levels which the fights would take place were completely 3D. This is one of the many things that madeClayFighter stand out in the first place. Other games did not even dare to try this approach.

As the fighters move closer or further away from each other, the camera would rotate around to show that this isn't just a sidescrolling level. Both characters can move around in a circle if they keep moving left or right. This is only the point in the level where neither character can pass. It is at this point, an opponent can smash the opponent with a strong attack then end up at another section of the level that isn't normally seen. This would usually be the roof of the level, inside a castle, or inside a sewer. The player can even knock the opponent back to the previous part of the level if they get cornered again.

There are 12 playable characters, with 3 of them being unlockable. Interesting enough, there are 2 characters that people may be familiar with who aren't ClayFighter-exclusive characters: Boogerman and Earthworm Jim who both had their own games on the Sega Genesis, which the previous ClayFighter games were initially made for. Even though there are no character stats that show which ones are stonger, faster or jump higher, the character that is chosen is pretty much a matter of preference. I always let the game choose randomly for me by holding the L+R triggers together. The 3 hidden characters can be chosen after pressing the right key combination at the character selection screen. Each character has unique animations and sound effects for every attack and damage taken. You will hear things suck as "cluck you", "quit it", "I will destroy you", "I told you I'd win" and even "you suck". It never gets annoying.

In addition to the quirky characters, there is also a combo and fatality system reminiscent of serious games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Killer Instinct. At the beginning of every match, the narrator would shout "Let's get ready to crumble", which is aspinoff of Michael Buffer's catchphrase "Let's get ready to rumble". When the blue power meter is full, the player can pull off a combo that will set off into crazy combos causing the announcer to shout things such as "itty bitty combo", "tripple brown betty combo", "insane combo" and even "little girly combo". These combos can consist of landing 3 to even 400 hits (that's right, 400) and up depending on how high the meter is and how close you are to the opponent. When either player loses their health completely, they kneel to the ground waiting to be taken down with one hit or with a fatality, whichClayFighter refers to as a claytality. These claytalaties can range from throwing them in the air flying up from the island they're on hitting the camera as if they were going to fly out of the TV, being blasted in a cannon and even being chopped in half! The word "CLAYTALITY" would appear in big bloody letters.

The controls were great. It utilized the obvious A and B buttons, and the C buttons were each used for attacking as well. The L+R triggers would be used to step sideways, which is useful to dodge projectiles, but I barely used it since I can jump over most attacks and I fought just fine without them. At low difficulties,ClayFighter 63 1/3 is a crazy button mashers, and at the "PSYCHO" difficulty, the computer will grab you and unleash 10-hit combos of their own. There are 5 difficulties altogether: Cookie, normal, whoa, dude and psycho.

It also allows two players to fight against each other. It is a simple one-on-one versus mode. It's been years since I've actually played against another person, so I can't say too much about this.

With all the jokes, funny characters, and slapstick sound effects, ClayFighter 63 1/3 still feels like an unfinished game. There is no save option anywhere, so any unlocked characters and victories will never be recorded. Once the N64 is turned off, the player is forced to start all over every time. The character movements are slower compared to other fighters such as Super Smash Bros. and Killer Instinct. A sequel was made as a blockbuster-exclusive rental,ClayFighter Sculptor's Cut and it suffered the same problems as 63 1/3. The fact that Sculptor's Cut could only be rented from blockbuster and not purchased made it appeal to an even smaller audience. To make matters worse, the developers of ClayFighter 63 1/3, Interplay shut down in 2004 due to financial problems, making it seem highly unlikely that a new ClayFighter will ever emerge. Since Interplay owns the rights to the game, it will may never appear on Nintendo's beloved Virtual Console or even as a Nintendo DS remake. When ClayFighter first came out for the Sega Genesis, it was a childish fighter that took place in a carnival after a radioactive comet crashed. On the N64, it evolved into a funny game that paid homage to the fighting giants Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter and Killer Instinct through parodies in gameplay mechanics. It appealed to an older audience and toned the violence down enough to make it youth-friendly at the same time. It is a real shame that it never skyrocketed into popularity with its visual style and the strangeness of the characters themselves.

The button-mashing style of play at the lowest difficulty was always my favorite and I loved pushing the opponent to different parts of the level and then finishing them off. The crazy clay characters and the parodies of other fighting games appealed to me and is a nice between a combo-crunching fistfight and being just plain weird. The lack of a story took nothing away from the game quality. The camera is always smooth and never obstructed my view. If Interplay ever gets back on their feet and starts making games again, I would beg them to work on ClayFighter somehow. It's been 11 years, and I can't think of anyone else who's made a decent fighter game that has a crazy style of humor that feels similar to other games mixed with clay and insanity. With the cartoon visuals of Team Fortress 2, Battlefield Heroes and Zack & Wiki, I can't see a reason why they can't make their own in-house visual rendering technology that can make 3D models look like clay. ClayFighter is one of those games that died too early in its infancy and needed more time to grow. It dared to go in the opposite direction while other fighting games became more complicated with higher-quality graphics and near-clunky controls.

Music break

Time for a musical interlude!

  • My pal Jared recently shared the 1977 David Bowie song "What in the World" with me. Everyone (or at least everyone of a certain age) listening to it today can't not think of Pac-Man and its arcade contemporaries, even though these games wouldn't debut for several more years. That Bowie; such a visionary!
  • I fixed the link to the Black Knight 2000 soundtrack that was featured way back in episode 1. That's the circa-1989 pinball game we're playing beneath the closing credits. Are you able to listen to this and not be overcome with the desire to go into multiball mode right now? No, you are not.
  • If you've ever wanted to listen to the whole thing without my yapping all over it, here's the full version of the Gameshelf theme song that my co-host Joe Johnston composed. It's over at Joe's music page.

Kind bud for old hacks

Unix turns precisely 1.2 billion seconds old this afternoon at precisely 4:20pm Eastern time.

$ unix2local
Please enter the UTC time: 1200000000
Thu Jan 10 16:20:00 2008 (Boston)

(Jennie and Marc discovered this.)

Mmm, soup

An Internet-borne meme from well over a decade ago was this image, reproducing an ad in a scientific journal. Dave Barry made fun of it in a 1993 newspaper column, and I would occasionally run into references to it on the pre-WWW Internet. I was never sure whether or not it was a joke - "Polytron" is a pretty generic name, and that poorly reproduced image didn't look like anything particularly effective.

I was reminded of it today - don't ask why - and realized that Google exists now. And, yes, there really is a Polytron. You can see the very latest models in full color, and they now have web pages proudly describing the machines' bone-and-organ-liquifying prowess.

Gone, though, is the specific word soup-like, which by itself carried the orginal ad from mildly grotesque to completely ridiculous.

What I'm watching on TV.

Pushing Daisies joins Battlestar Galactica as an SF show (though we're talking very different flavors of SF) that I avoided because the premise sounded lame, but eventually peeked at from the insistence of friends, and then discovered I loved. I love this show! Amy and I have been watching it via the intertubes and we laugh and cry, it's so good.

It's fun to think of it as another story taking place in the same universe as the film Edward Scissorhands, everything hypercolorful with a macabre sheen. (And there's the same leitmotif of romantic frustration in both stories, stemming from two lovers being unable to touch.)

I'm eagerly awaiting BSG's fourth and final season, accepting whatever delays the WGA strike must add to my wait. Thankful that Razor was able to get done before the picket lines went up, at least.

Finally, Amy's drawn me into watching Jeopardy! again. I used to watch it every day after school in the 1980s, and I can't say I've seen in much since. The dollar values have all doubled but otherwise it's the same show, and even Trebek looks and sounds the same, though he's lost the 'stache. (Which is just as well.) He's also gotten a bit goofier, in a good way. In one recent example, when nobody guessed What is a ferret?, he illustrated it by pantomiming a little animal running up his forearm, saying "meep meep meep!" I had to hit the TiVo's instant-replay button a couple of times to fully appreciate this.

I was shocked to learn that Alex had a heart attack yesterday, but apparently he is OK. And he looks so healthy on TV! There is a lesson in this.

Maxing out Brie.

I have started a task for a new client whose development paradigm involves distributing a VMware file representing a complete FreeBSD system running the client's software. This is interesting, if slightly insane, and I'm willing to roll with it.

Sadly, my MacBook does not feel the same way. It still possesses the mere one gigabyte of RAM that held when it showed up on my doorstep last April, and it's being crushed under the weight of all the stuff happening on the virtual box.

So it came to pass that I placed an order for four phat new gigabytes from my friends at, which despite its cheesy name has been a fine RAM vendor to me in the past. I had a nice phone chat about compatibility with a clueful CSR named Mike just now, so I'm feeling extra-warm about them. Went ahead and requested priority overnight. Three cheers for business-expense tax write-offs!

Fun fact: a major selling point of the Mac Plus when it launched in 1986 was its inclusion of one full megabyte of RAM. And I remember chuckling when I first read that ten years ago, as I had just upgraded my PowerMac to 16 MB. Sixteen times as much memory capacity, little more than a decade later! O RLY.

I get to learn interesting new Perl stuff for this job, including Catalyst, Moose, and DBIx::Class. I enter the latter with an open if skeptical mind. Looking forward to seeing what happens.

(The title of this post references the name of my creamy white MacBook. I don't know first-hand of anyone else who uses cheese varieties as a machine naming scheme, which surprises me, in retrospect.)



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