Tag Archives: atari

FGC #624 Food Fight

There's gonna be a fightLet us examine our relationship with food.

Food is a difficult subject for many people. We all like food, but between corollaries like cholesterol, blood pressure, and general weight, there is a lot to consider before you stick something down your mouth hole. You can’t quit food, and, given how often you have to interact with the stuff, it would be a shame to spend the rest of your life eating something you hate. But some people are forced into this situation by genetic predispositions, poor eating habits, or just the fact that someone thought it was okay to eat nothing but cheese sandwiches for a solid 25 years (it’s on the food pyramid! It should have been fine!). Regardless of how it happens for someone, it can mean that a simple meal will no longer be simple for the rest of their days, and something as simple as “gimme a burger” can transform into a gauntlet of questions and substitutions that reinforces how you should have just gotten a salad in the first place. And you hate salads!

But you know who doesn’t hate salads? Alucard. Solid Snake. All the protagonists of all the videogames that can and will eat anything, because food is life. Going straight back to Pac-Man, eating whatever you can find and gobbling down as much of it as possible has always been the way of games. Give or take the odd Metal Slug or Fat Princess out, food is a universal good, and the challenge is often not that you are getting too much, but that you must ration that wall meat in preparation for dangers ahead. Rogue-likes often make food one of the most valuable resources you can ever measure, and even Mike Haggar has to search barrels across the land to stay fueled for those piledrivers. Even when food is not literally life in a videogame, it is still an unquestionable good for your hero.

So can food ever be a bad thing in a videogame? Well, here are a few examples from the early days of gaming that posit food is not always as pleasant as it appears…

Food Fight
Arcade, Atari 7800
1983

YummyLet’s get this out of the way first: Charley Chuck has a perilous relationship with food. Charley lives only to consume ice cream, and his singular goal is to eat as much ice cream as possible. This is not something that any child should aspire to, and, if any young’uns are reading this article, please, put the cone down. Like so many old school games, food is the goal of Food Fight, but do not try this at home.

But food is not only for consumption in the world of Food Fight. Everything that is not ice cream is fair game in this eating contest, and it has all been transformed into a bevy of projectiles. Charley Chuck lives up to his name, and chucking food at all comers is the only way he can get to his goal unmolested. And who is trying to stop Charley? Why, four chefs who are responsible for this feast, of course. Oscar, Angelo, Jacques, and Zorba are the four antagonists that want Charley to slow his eating roll, and if Charley doesn’t utilize the food stores to defeat these chefs, they’ll never die and become Pac-Man’s quartet of antagonists (possibly headcanon).

So, in this case, whether you are consuming or throwing it, food is good. Food is your goal, and food is going to keep you alive. But the people that make the food? They are the enemy. In the world of Food Fight, chefs are apparently greedy, violent monsters that want to protect their precious ice cream at all costs. If they are beaten by food, they will rise again, damned forever to protect their sweet bounties. In short, the lesson of Food Fight seems to be that food and gluttony is good, but those that make the food are bad. A strange moral to be sure, but by about the 80th time a chef comes out of nowhere and blasts you with a banana, you better believe you’re going to be hating these nutrition gatekeepers.

But if you want to see the other side of the coin, look no further than…

Burger Time
Arcade, Atari, NES
1982

I'm getting hungryChefs are not our enemies, they are our heroes. Intrepid Peter Pepper has to assemble a series of giant burgers to prepare for some manner of titan-based lunch rush, but there is a bit of a problem. Some of the ingredients are not going to just lie there and be walked all over, so they have gone on the offensive. Buns, beef, lettuce, and tomatoes are cool with being enormous and docile, but Mr. Pickle, Mr. Egg, and the sandwich-ambiguous Mr. Hot Dog all would rather commit murder than wind up as common components. Peter Pepper only has two options: toss some pepper in their (lack of) eyes for a stunning escape, or carefully manipulate his foes between buns for an added taste of flavor. And if neither of those opportunities are available, well, looks like lunch is going to be late.

In Burger Time, we are finally seeing a situation wherein food is not your friend. Peter Pepper is preparing delicious burgers, but every “undesirable” ingredient has it out for him. Is this meant to be a metaphor? Eggs and hot dogs can certainly smash a cautious cholesterol diet, but what is the problem with pickles? They don’t have the same nutrients as a slab of lettuce? Too much sodium? Too… ethnic? Maybe the designers just had a bad Big Mac? Whatever the reason, at least now we have a situation wherein food can be both good and bad, which is much closer to how a “real” Peter Pepper would have to live his life. The brave men and women that make your massive cheeseburgers have to worry about their health, too, ya know!

And speaking of chefs that are in mortal danger…

Panic Restaurant
Nintendo Entertainment System
1992

I am super hungry nowLike in Burger Time, Panic Restaurant features a heroic chef. But there is also a Food Fight-esque antagonist chef, and this nefarious Chef Ohdove (it was a mistranslated hors d’oeuvre pun, if you’re curious) has conquered valiant Chef Cookie’s dream restaurant! Now Cookie must fight through a full course meal’s worth of levels to defeat Ohdove and reclaim his livelihood. But it won’t be easy, because Ohdove has been cooking up evil, and now everything in the restaurant is trying to kill Cookie.

Seriously. Like…. Everything. The first boss is a friggen’ popcorn maker, and it is extremely fatal.

Cookie may be a chef, but this is a game where food is consistently the enemy. Cookie doesn’t even cook a single thing! There is the occasional minigame that involves gathering simple ingredients (eggs, fish, bombs), but beyond that, Cookie must constantly be on the defensive around food. Pizzas are rolling boulders of death, egg whites blob along to attack, and french fries become machine guns of salty death. Aside from some inexplicable lawn chairs, literally every adversary (before finding humanish Ohdove) is a food item of some kind, and it is all living for revenge. No one is certain why an onion wants to make Cookie cry, but here we are.

And, if you are curious, the bosses are a mix of appliances & food, sometimes simultaneously. A killer ice cream cone or burger is unpleasant, but the wok that blasts shrimp all over the arena is its own level of Hell. And the obstinate oven that absorbs chickens only to eject roasted runners? There is something metaphysically wrong there tinged with a unique flavor of evil. And speaking of which, it is difficult to parse Chef Ohdove. He is purple! What has he been eating? Why does he remind me so much of Waluigi? What happened here?!

Get forkedAnd just in case this situation isn’t obvious: Cookie might be all smiles and joy with his dream of having a restaurant that isn’t murderous, but his weapons are exclusively built for taming food. A collection of pots, pans, spoons, and forks is his armory. This means one thing: food is the enemy, and man has created tools to conquer this hated adversary. All food must be stopped, and, as the final master of monsters, their maker must be punished, too. Ohdove needs to get forked.

So what does it all mean? It appears that there are some games out there where food is not your friend. And when food is the enemy, it looks like bad things happen. So remember, kiddies, eat your greens, lay off the fats, and be good to food. Because otherwise, you might wind up on the wrong end of a malevolent hot dog.

FGC #624 Food Fight

  • System: Originally released in the arcades, but then appearing on the 8-bit Atari 7800 three years later. It is available on a number of Atari collections, including one for the Evercade.
  • Number of players: It is two player alternating, but the way that all the chefs and Charley have the exact same capabilities and goals makes me think that this could have been an early, successful battle royale four-player title. Or at least something interesting wherein one player tries to grab the ice cream, and other controllers aim for keep away. There are options here!
  • PIE FIGHT!Favorite Food: The different foods actually seem to have different properties, further cementing how Food Fight feels like a game out of time. This was so close to being NES quality! Anywho, I’m never going to say no to a pie to the face, so that is the first item I go for.
  • Legal Eagle: Food Fight comes compliments of General Computer Corporation, the very same company that produced Ms. Pac-Man. They were also responsible for creating that “hack” kit that would speed up Atari Missile Command cabinets. Atari sued GCC as a result, and, after a settlement, GCC started making games for Atari. So, basically, there are good odds Food Fight was created by people being whipped into submission by Atari’s lawyers (legal disclaimer: this is a joke).
  • Burger Time Fact: I always think I’m going to enjoy Burger Time more than I ever do. It looks like a fun Donkey Kong-alike… but then I’m reminded it is just walking around and hating how a burger bun doesn’t fall any further than you’d like because a pickle moved too quickly. I realize that sentence sounds like the ramblings of a mad man, and I am holding that against Burger Time, too.
  • Damn friesPanic Restaurant Fact: Yes, this is one of the most expensive NES carts out there. Yes, it is drastically changed from the Japanese version, and you’re looking at a totally different protagonist that is much more averse to headbutts in America. But is it any good? Meh, it’s an action platformer from the late NES days. It ain’t bad, but it really isn’t all that special, either.
  • Did you know (back to Food Fight): Food Fight was revolutionary for including a replay feature that triggers when you “just made it” to that ice cream cone. Unfortunately, the “replay” was technically a literal, automated replay of the game, and random factors could lead to accidental death during the uncontrollable replay. Later versions at least corrected the fact that this could mean a lost life, but can you imagine blowing a quarter on simply watching an AI incorrectly ape your moves?
  • Would I play again: This is a surprisingly fun Atari game. It’s also an Atari game. Maybe I will hit it if I am locked in a room with an Atari 7800, and the only option is to eat ice cream until my inevitable escape. It could happen!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Double Dragon 3! Let’s go, Bimmy! Time to grab those Rosetta Stones! Please look forward to it!

He's so cute
Okay, Panic Restaurant has some expressive sprites

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

Bubs n BobsThe release of the TurboGrafx-16 Mini offered me my first opportunity to play Castlevania: Rondo of Blood on something approaching “original” hardware. I had conquered Richter’s Big Adventure through emulation before (on the Wii and PSP), but I never completed the quest holding an actual approximation of a TG16 controller. And you know what confused me?

Take control

Damn, this thing got no buttons. That is practically a Nintendo Entertainment System Funpad for Babies™! This was the controller meant to steer Rondo of Blood? The game that is the direct prequel to one of the greatest games of all time? Which appeared on a system with a controller that contained, like, so many buttons and an eventual analogue stick or two? And all Richter had to beat back the forces of evil was little more than A & B? No, that cannot be right. A game that was a contemporary of Mortal Kombat 2, Mega Man X, and Secret of Mana surely could not be so limited by a controller and remain fun.

And then I used that same TurboGrafx-16 Mini to play Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. And now two buttons being loads of fun makes perfect sense.

Bubble Bobble has always been one of the most low-key best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. It is one of those unique-to-the-era experiences wherein game designers were not quite sure how to bridge the gap from arcade to home console parameters, and, what the hey, let’s just have a fun game with mostly contained levels and an overarching plot/theme that does eventually see a finish line. Bubble Bobble may have been experienced one non-scrolling screen at a time, but it had a variety of level configurations (hundo or so), interesting monsters, and a two-player simultaneous mode that could make enemies into friends and friends into enemies. Complete with a built-in hard mode and an excuse to call your neighbor over for bubbling times, Bubble Bobble had everything you could ever ask for in 1988 (or so).

Umbrella power!Unfortunately, not everything about Bubble Bobble was perfect. Bubble Bobble technically has precise controls, but sometimes getting your chosen dinosaur to do exactly what you want is a bit finicky. Who among us has not been trapped behind a wall, and forced to suss out the exact button combination to get Bub to properly bounce on a series of bubbles? Or been surprised at the relative difficulty of finding the correct way to pop a trapped opponent? Or finally reached the final boss, and then been downright confused at what you were supposed to do with that potion? Bubble Bobble is a great game, but we take for granted how much of its gameplay was predicated on knowing exactly what to do in any given situation. Granted, the same could be said for many games, but Bubble Bobble was one that could have used a little more tweaking to be immediately understandable.

And tweaks did occur in time for Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III. Rainbow Islands (effectively Bubble Bobble 2) had a variety of… let’s call them… “innovative” gameplay elements that… may or may not have worked. Parasol Stars wisely decided to drop the meteorological-based play of Rainbow Islands and give the (now human) Bub and Bob a pair of parasols to better simulate classic Bubble Bobble gameplay. In much the same way a monster was once stunned by a bubble, now an umbrella can paralyze an opponent on contact, and then they can be pushed, thrown, or just eliminated at will. And you are going to want to use that push command plenty, because there are other monsters that are about “4 times your mass” size, and they can only be conquered by using smaller monsters as projectiles. Or maybe you could use those actual projectiles laying around…

Stay dampAs much as any other part of its progenitor title, Parasol Stars seems to distinctly build on the finale of Bubble Bobble. Now every “world” has a boss, and every boss is encountered in the same room as a potion that will grant magical powers to your parasol. No mere umbrella is going to vanquish Super Tom-kun, so the elements of water, fire, lightning, and star (it’s an element!) are going to have to help out. And, while you can simply launch little “bubbles” of these elements at your foes, you do have the option of “charging” and multiplying their power into a massive, unique attack. Fire lights the floor ablaze! Water creates a flood! Star makes stars (but, like, more stars)! And, considering these elemental potions create gameplay that is closer to Mega Man than anything involving bubbles popping, you can more easily focus on the task at hand. No need to figure out a boss pattern and how the hell your offense is going to work! These may be familiar elemental attacks at work, but the upgrade from Bubble Bobble to Parasol Stars has never been so obvious.

But that’s not all, folks! Despite Bub & Bob seemingly only requiring the limited general offensiveness of OG Bubble Bobble, there is a lot more to these magical parasols than meets the eye. You can find elemental bubbles in normal stages, for instance, and effortlessly balance these balls to charge up floods ‘n fires. And you can fire the bolts in multiple directions, just like launching monsters all over the place. And navigating these stages is a breeze, too, as you can ride the breeze with those umbrellas. Float leisurely down for an enemy ambush. And all you have to do is hold a button a little longer! Bub and/or Bob have got a myriad of options, and you can control it all with two buttons!

Only two buttons. Because that is all you’ve got.

Not the stars you need1991 was a fun year for buttons. This was a few months after the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. This was the very same year that Link needed every last tool in his arsenal to go back to the past. Battletoads proved amphibians needed a lot more than two buttons for eclectic gameplay. And, dang, this was the year that Street Fighter 2 premiered in arcades. Remember Street Fighter 2? Six “action buttons” and to do anything fun, you still had to memorize special motions? Or at least hammer that jab button? And it’s not like the same year’s Fatal Fury was any better!

And amidst all this, here is Parasol Stars, just quietly featuring two infinitely controllable characters bopping around thanks to two buttons.

Not every game needs every button. Mario has proven for years that he seems to steer best in 2-D with 2-buttons. Sonic has only ever needed one button. Your average JRPG or strategy game needs little more than what you would find on a mouse. Whether you are venturing into the Cave of Monsters or traipsing across the Castlevania countryside, you do not need that many buttons. A few easy to remember, intuitive button combinations (Hold A to float, press Forward+B to throw, etc), and you will be set for an entire adventure. The TurboGrafx-16 proved this time and time again, and Parasol Stars is a shining example of two buttons being absolutely all you need.

I, II, and an umbrella? That is the perfect equation for the finale of a fantastic story.

FGC #598 Parasol Stars: The Story of Bubble Bobble III

  • ToothySystem: This game saw more systems than you think… just mostly in other countries. But there was no arcade version! TurboGrafx-16, though, definitely. It seems other releases, like the NES version, stuck to Europe. Did we see the Atari ST or Gameboy ports?
  • Number of players: Two player simultaneous, because this game is great.
  • Port-O-Call: Working Designs was responsible for the TG-16 American localization. This is good, as the game does not contain much text, and I am moderately certain they did not pump up all boss health to unhealthy levels. There was also supposed to be a Commodore 64 version, but an irate spouse destroyed the production files during a bitter divorce. No, I am not kidding.
  • Story Time: The canon explanation of what is happening here is that some nefarious force is sucking the color out of various planets, and visiting these spots and beating their bosses is restoring the universe to its former glory. … Except you only ever see the black and white worlds on the map screen, and color is instantly restored the minute you stop by any given planet. So it seems more like this monochromatic curse is just, ya know, a level select graphic flourish.
  • An end: You must collect three precious star cards (or whatever) to gain a key that unlocks the final two “worlds”. There is nothing over the course of the game that indicates that those collectible “miracles” will do anything but clear out some enemies, so I want to say I would be pretty damn pissed if I went through the whole game in 1991 and was granted some ambiguous “try again” message. That said, the infamous “bad end” is kind of an expected thing in this franchise…
  • ToastySnack Time: Bub and Bob can collect piles of food just in their first level, and much, much more over the course of their whole adventure. Is a residual side effect of the Bubble Bobble curse a bottomless stomach, or are they hoarding provisions for their entire planet? Whatever the case, score a fridge somewhere, kiddies, all of those watermelon slices are going to spoil.
  • Horse Puncher: This is another game wherein you routinely fight unicorns. I need to keep track of how often this happens.
  • Did you know? The boss fight theme for this game is straight up Kaoma’s Lambada. This was something of a copyright issue then and now, but nothing compared to how the previous Bubble Bobble game, Rainbow Islands, heisted (Somewhere) Over the Rainbow. Such a thing was possible back in the early 90s! Nowadays, we can’t even preserve the Neon Genesis Evangelion end credits…
  • Would I play again: I bought the TG-16 Mini for Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, but Parasol Stars is easily the best “hidden gem” on the system. I will play this game again, if only because I will need something to test a second controller. Does that add up to four buttons?

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… SaGa Frontier for the Playstation! Or maybe SaGa Frontier Remastered for the Playstation 4! Whatever works! We’re gonna spark some skills either way! Please look forward to it!

END?

FGC #572 Night Trap

It's a trapThe sooner you internalize this simple fact, the happier you will be: Nobody knows what they are doing.

Let’s talk about the game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything. Let’s talk about Night Trap.

It is reasonable to assume you have heard of Night Trap. But do you know what the game actually is? It is interactive fiction! It is a playable movie! It is a game that ostensibly tries to be a “videogame” (as opposed to, like, one of those “games” you can play with a DVD remote), but features real, human actors. Night Trap has “graphics” on par with your average Marvel movie, which was practically unheard of at the time. In fact, “practically” nothing, Night Trap was approved for production in 1986, and filmed (with the intention of being released shortly) in 1987.

1987! That was the same year as Castlevania: Simon’s Quest, R-Type (1), and Final Fantasy (1)! Can you imagine a videogame having such amazing fidelity in 1987! And it isn’t Dragon’s Lair! This could have revolutionized gaming as we know it!

Heavy emphasis on the “could have” there, though. Years before the release of Night Trap, a murderer’s row of people that were ostensibly successful in the western videogame development world of the 80’s (Nolan Bushnell! Even my beloved videogame-shunning wife knows that name!), gathered together to create what would be this infamous title. Within this group, Tom Zito produced a device by the name of the NEMO. NEMO (considered so valuable, its acronym literally stood for Never Ever Mention Outside) could use VHS technology to create “movie-based” gaming through playing four video tracks. This technology was used to sculpt a proof-of-concept prototype, Scene of the Crime, which clearly displayed how one could enjoy a “murder mystery” type game. Clue was a fruitful property, right? Well, someone at Hasbro agreed, and NEMO was on its way to powering Night Trap.

What else is on?It is probably worth noting at this point that the brilliant minds that had previously been responsible for videogames as we know them maybe did not have a great idea of what people wanted from videogames. I have written about this phenomenon before, but the first twenty years of gaming were practically defined by people realizing that something would be a cool idea for a videogame (detective work!) and then just completely blowing it with an execution that was about as fun as watching an adorable puppy choking on your math homework (passively watching monitors for maybe something to happen!). The same generation of genius programmers that brought us the likes of Asteroids and Pitfall settled on the “gameplay” of Scene of the Crime being little more than meticulously watching a movie. Nobody wants to hold a controller in their hands and quietly wait for something to maybe happen. But Scene of the Crime, excellent tech demo or not, is just that, and Night Trap would not be much better. You may have been responsible for the whole of gaming in the 80’s, guys, but that didn’t mean you had a damn clue what would make a fun videogame.

And speaking of people that did not know what would work, let’s get back to Hasbro. Hasbro was ready to fund the production of Night Trap (one of the first videogames to include live actors, “movie” directors, and a director of photography that would go on to shoot Forrest Gump), but there were a few notes. Unfortunately, Hasbro was a toy company, so they were downright afraid of any lawsuits that may arise from violence that could be copied by an impressionable child. So the “vampires” intended to be Night Trap’s antagonists weren’t allowed to actually draw blood, and they had to use some manner of grabby-arm trash collector to ensnare their victims. This meant everything slid precipitously into the “goofy” category. Additionally, Hasbro eventually learned of the cost of producing the NEMO system game console that would actually play Night Trap (MSRP in 2021 dollars? About $630), and decided that, grabby vampires or not, Night Trap was literally not worth it. Hasbro purchased and funded the NEMO and its attendant games, but dropped ‘em like a hot potato(head).

Kind of a small dungeonAnd Hasbro in the 80’s really did know toys! They produced Jem (of the Holograms, natch) who once outsold Barbie. They won a lawsuit that allowed them to sell Transformers, or Go-Bots, or something that was a robot that could turn into probably not a robot. They purchased a children’s furniture company, and improved its profitability from millions to billions. And Hasbro was right on the cusp of being responsible for Barney the Dinosaur of Infinite Love/Money. This was a Hasbro that was hugely successful and poised to become the number one toy company in the known universe.

Yet, they could not foresee that new technology would be costly. Nor could they foresee that vampires using zoo-equipment might have unanticipated legal consequence. Brilliant toy company, stupid videogame producer.

But, like a vampire hobbling through the suburbs, Night Trap would not die. Rob Fulop, one of Night Trap’s designers, would call it a day at this point, and go on to be responsible for Petz. But Tom Zito purchased the rights to the NEMO games, and eventually founded his own company in an effort to make an appeal to Sony and its forthcoming Super NES CD-ROM system. That was a dead end and a half, so Zito migrated over to the only decent CD-based platform in town, Sega and its Sega CD.

So, six years after being conceived and five years after being filmed, Night Trap was finally released for the Sega CD in 1992. And, at this point in time, it was only a spectacular failure.

Get 'emHasbro may have been divorced from the project, but their changes remained. A game that was once supposed to feature ninja gradually morphed into something that included vampires, and now neutered vampires were scampering about. But it would be disingenuous to simply blame Hasbro for this debacle. Those ninja were replaced with vampires in the first place because it was determined that too much darkness would play poorly on modern television screens. So a game that was initially designed to be cloaked in shadow had to step out into the harsh light of poor illumination. What’s more, the one interactive bit of Night Trap, that the player could activate traps that would eject or otherwise harm the villains of the piece, necessitated some extremely awkward behavior from the stuntmen playing these malcontents. So our Draculas had to be reduced to “henchmen” that skulked along like Renfields that had been forsaking the blood for far too much hooch. And, as one might expect, those “real live actors” involved in the filming of Night Trap had no real idea what they were doing. To be clear, they were likely consummate professionals, but this was a new medium, and its not like a director can direct when they do not even have a full picture of what the final product is going to be. In short, Night Trap was a mess, and practically every corner of it exuded b-movie shlock.

And, oh yeah, the gameplay was frustrating, obtuse, and demanded a lot more dedication than Night Trap should have ever required. Do you know what color code is required at Minute 4 in the bedroom? No? Well get ready to watch someone die, stupid!

Actually, watching someone die repeatedly might make an impact on an impressionable player… Huh, I wonder if anyone else noticed that? Anyone like, you know, the entire United States Senate.

NERDS!Night Trap saw release in 1992, and it is cited as one of the chief reasons we had the 1993 Congressional Hearings on Videogames. Night Trap and its tremendously more popular cousin, Mortal Kombat, were cited as the primary motivating factors in this series of hearings, but, make no mistake, videogames had been a popular scapegoat for years. In 1982, Surgeon General Koop claimed that videogames could be affecting children’s health, as apparently Pac-Mania had infected the general populace. And, as Hasbro was well aware, this was the era when “won’t someone please think of the children” escalated to the point that you could barely have a dude in furry underwear bully a skeleton without someone shouting about kids hitting each other with homemade nunchucks. And, as we all know, once you involve the welfare of children, you know there are predators that are perfectly happy to profit off that fear, whether that be through actual profits or an eternal campaign bullet point.

In the fullness of time? These congressional hearings did have a good outcome: the creation of a ratings system for videogames. Considering the same had existed for movies for years, this was an excellent innovation for a medium that was still in its fledgling stages. But beyond that? This whole hearing was nonsense from top to bottom. The likes of Joe Lieberman and Herb Kohl were obviously punching down on a medium that did not yet have the clout to resist such a slanderous public hearing, and certain companies took the occasion to hurl accusations at their most prominent competitors. Howard Lincoln says Sega hurts kids that Nintendon’t. Yes, there were probably some genuinely concerned people involved in these hearings that frequently showcased clips of “videogame violence”, but it seems like the biggest names in gaming and politics were mostly just there to advance their own agendas (and Captain Kangaroo, too, who had reasons known only to him).

She's basically dancingAnd this was and continues to be terrible. Ever hear about Seduction of the Innocent? It was a book published by a psychologist in 1954, and it eventually led to Congress launching an inquiry that neutered the comics industry for decades. In short, Fredric Wertham called Batman gay (not an exaggeration, true believers), and that snowballed into the giants of the comics industry corralling guidelines into a path that incidentally promoted the very comics that those industry giants were selling. And if you weren’t one of those giants? If you were publishing horror and/or horny material? Sorry, you are out of business. Literally! And this meant that the Western comic book medium became regarded as the domain of children for (apparently) the rest of time. Want to see what an American “manga market” could look like? Too bad! We had Seduction of the Innocent and a bunch of gold-diggers pushing their own superheroes forward, and now all we get is Iron Man, Iron Man: Civil War, and Iron Man: First Sip.

And it could have happened to videogames, too! Actually, it absolutely did. Thanks to ESRB regulations and conservative retailers, videogames were not sold in many brick and mortar stores if they ranked as an “Adults Only” title. And considering that physical stores were all that existed for a long time, we didn’t see anything that could even prod at that AO rating until three console generations later. And while no one is exactly lamenting a lack of Senran Kagura on the Super Nintendo, it is hard to say if something like the entire Suda51 or Yoko Taro oeuvre would have been allowed in the wake of 1990s videogame panic. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, gaming needs more voices in its chorus, and we would be missing out on some very distinct tones if we universally outlawed android butts.

But that was the sad reality of videogames for decades. All thanks to a pack of opportunistic senators. All thanks to some very imprudent videogame directing. All thanks to very fearful toy manufacturers. All thanks to some ill-advised hardware consideration. Going back years, damage was done to the videogame medium for decades, all thanks to a series of ostensible pillars in their respective fields making the wrong choices.

Love this guyAnd what can we learn from this? Well, at every step in the process no one really did anything objectively wrong. Wanting to drop brutal ninja for fantastic vampires is not wrong. Wanting to protect children from the horrors of violence is not wrong. Wanting to revolutionize gaming in new and exciting ways is not wrong. But the end result? Night Trap scarred gaming for decades, but it was the men (I’m going to go ahead and assume it was mostly men here) in charge that made the repeated decisions to somehow make this product and its legacy worse and worse. No one did anything wrong, but they made the wrongest decisions possible. And, as a result, Night Trap became a game so bad, it nearly destroyed everything in its wake.

Kind of makes you wonder what would happen if these people were in charge of something actually important

FGC #572 Night Trap

  • System: Despite objections from 1990s Nintendo, Night Trap is now available for the Nintendo Switch. Amazing! It is also available for the Sega CD, Sega CD/32X (long story), 3DO (such a cursed system), and, eventually, the Playstation 4/Vita (also significantly cursed).
  • Number of players: No way you could play this with anyone else. Ever.
  • Port-o-Call: The Sega CD is a bit of a… let’s say the graphics took a hit. Not all recordings are created equal. Or at a resolution above 10 x 10 pixels. But the 32X version is a significant improvement. And the modern versions actually look like the game is supposed to look. That said, it’s all the same terrible game, so don’t get too excited.
  • What us even happening?Let’s talk about the plot: A lot can be said for how the gameplay is terrible, and the acting is horrendous. But one thing that is often overlooked is that, whether it’s because the writing has to account for multiple characters that may or may not be kidnapped, or simply because no one knew what they were doing, the ostensible protagonists are wholly forgettable. You are supposed to be saving lives here! And the only character that even seems worthy of having a name is the secret vampire ham-man! Everybody else is just horrible, and that is likely a contributing factor in Night Trap being about as fondly remembered as polio.
  • So, did you beat it? Naw. Went ahead and watched a “full” run through on youtube, but there is no way I am going to take the time to carefully map out exactly where “I” have to be when. The whole thing is just exhausting for the payoff of having watched a complete movie.
  • For the Sequel: Everything about Night Trap/Scene of the Crime would eventually “work” in other games. Scene of the Crime’s concept of detective work would eventually be adapted into the hugely entertaining Phoenix Wright franchise by finding the right level of interface for solving a murder, and the basic gameplay of Night Trap would later work as the Five Nights at Freddy’s series. So, in other words, what the NEMO needed was more whacky lawyers/animatronics.
  • Did you know? The other game that was supposed to launch with the Hasbro NEMO? Sewer Shark. Now there’s a system seller for the ages!
  • Would I play again: Not for all the wannabe vampires in Castlevania. This game is a bear in every conceivable way. And not a cuddly bear! One of those bears that leaves you generally dissatisfied with your current organ count.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bowser’s Fury! Or Furry! It’s one of those! Please look forward to it!

It's out of control
Any version that doesn’t include a Genesis controller is not real.

FGC #544 Combat

Let's combatLet’s talk about the war we were promised, and the combat we actually got.

This information seems to be lost to the general consciousness, but Combat was the game that was packaged with every Atari 2600 from 1977-1982. Considering that some consoles don’t even last a whole five years, this makes Combat one of the most “packed-in” titles in gaming history. If you had an Atari, the uncontested winner of its console generation(citation needed), you had a copy of Combat. This means that, since my grandfather owned an Atari, he had a copy of Combat. And this also means that my grandfather and his most persistent player 2, a Wee Goggle Bob, played Combat. We played Combat a lot.

Don’t worry, we didn’t just play Combat because it was there, we played Combat because it was fun. For anyone that missed out on gaming prior to the NES (or an NES emulator), Combat is an exclusively two-player experience. It is fundamentally a sequel to Pong, but, rather than a pair of paddles bouncing a ball around, you are presented with a duo of combat-ready vehicles. Your options are tanks, biplanes, or jets, but the goal of every match is the same: obliterate your opponent. Each of the vehicles control slightly differently, so there are techniques that will work with a tank but not a plane, however it all still comes back to the simple aim of putting as many bullets in your rival as possible. There are also variations available, so you can play with such modifiers as intermittently invisible tanks, or bouncing bullets. In a weird way, it seems like some of these modes are precursors to the “mods” and “cheats” that would eventually bleed into all sorts of competitive games. Or maybe it was the precursor to DLC that would offer additional “silly” options for gameplay? Or was it all little more than an excuse to claim that Combat was a lot more complicated than it ever could be? Whatever! What’s important is that it all worked, and Combat was beloved by players far and wide.

Pew pewAnd, to venture back into the autobiographical realm, Combat was probably my first videogame, and definitely the first game I remember playing with someone else. My grandfather and I combatted often on the Atari, and I distinctly recall being downright disappointed with the rest of my family and their complete lack of combat skills. My grandfather was marginally retired, but still running a guest house at the time, so he wasn’t available as a second player continuously (though it was his Atari, so that generally helped his attendance). So could I play Combat against my mother? Father? Grandmother(s)? Nope! Simply playing with them was frustrating, as they all acted as if the control paddle was some manner of foreign object, and so much as aiming that tank was a herculean task. Were they feigning their own ignorance so as to accommodate for the fact that they were entering combat with a toddler? Maybe. But, as someone who has played videogames with my elders as recently as last year, it is entirely possible they were not in any way faking their ineptitude. But my grandfather! Now there was a guy who could provide some good combat. Sometimes I would win, sometimes he would win, but, even when I lost, I felt like I learned something. I am moderately certain I learned basic geometric principles from him banking ricochet shots (credit where it is due: my father may have done the same with pool around this time period, too), and I may have learned basic spatial relations by playing with invisible tanks. While the rest of my family would always languish in their maladroitness, my grandfather was a Combat master.

And, in my wee toddler brain, I calculated the reason for this: my grandfather had been to war. My grandfather was a veteran of World War 2. So, naturally he knows how to steer a tank or fly a plane. Logically, he knows how to win at Combat. My grandfather, unlike the rest of my family, was a warrior. And, since I was good at Combat at such a young age, I knew that, one day, I would fight in some upcoming global war, too.

Spoilers: that didn’t happen.

What am I looking atAnd, in fact, it didn’t happen for my grandfather, either. My grandfather is a veteran of World War 2, and he served in the Navy on an aircraft carrier. My child mind latched onto “aircraft”, and I imagined him flying through the skies, having dogfights with the Red Baron (yes, I imagined my grandfather was Snoopy). However, as I grew older, I learned my grandfather’s real job in World War 2 was the maintenance of those flying fighters. Does this mean my grandfather was some kind of coward in the midst of a gigantic war? Hell no, as he was floating around the Pacific with full knowledge that he could be obliterated at any moment. My grandfather was the veteran of a combat zone, and his life was in danger at all times (well, maybe he had a few days off), but he was not someone that was steering a tank or biplane. He wasn’t Rambo, James Bond, or some other murderous hero, but he was a veteran of war all the same. He fought in World War 2, and he more precisely fought with a wrench.

In later years, the irony of the situation occurred to me: my grandfather didn’t have a leg up on the rest of the family when it came to Combat because he had experience in combat, he was proficient at Combat because he was an engineer.

And it is a small surprise to me that I did wind up following in my grandfather’s “warrior” footsteps. I have never participated in a war, World or otherwise. For years, my grandmother fretted over a potential draft that never came (because she knew I was a simpering nerd). Despite being the exact right age opposite September 11 and the start of the Forever War, I never enlisted, was never drafted, and lived my life generally objecting to war in all forms (the only war I ever genuinely approved of was Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelists of the Roses, because Seto Kaiba had to be stopped). But have I seen combat? Yes. I have fought viruses, hacking attempts, and terrible Windows UIs for the last few decades. I’ve been solving problems for people in the cyber world since I was in sixth grade, and, where my grandfather once wielded a wrench, I hold a keyboard. Am I comparing myself to a war veteran for such? Well, only technically, but I know there’s Weeeeea huge gulf between keeping a plane running and seeing that a computer can boot into safe mode. However, my ultimate goal is the same: I am making people’s lives better. Every time I help someone access their important files again, or revive a child’s laptop so their parents don’t have to drop a mint just because Little Timmy discovered porn (and its attendant malware), I am making the world a better place. I might not be fighting the good fight for peace, love, and the American way, but I am at least improving the peace of mind of people, one glorified abacus at a time.

And, in a way, that all started with Combat, too.

In his later years, I more or less interviewed my grandfather on the subject of his participation in World War 2. He, ultimately, felt bad for a lot of his involvement in WW2, particularly his youthful racism toward the Japanese forces and their people. He was saddened that he spent so long holding on to a hatred that was drilled into him by propaganda and a general fear of the unknown. But one thing he was happy about was that he never saw actual mano a mano (or at least pistola a pistola) fighting. He had a clear conscious that, at the very least, he was not personally, 100% responsible for the death of another human being. He was a veteran, and he knew others that had been down that road, but he could only be happy that, thanks to his engineering knowledge and (ultimately) random chance, he wasn’t relegated to the same fate. My grandfather was good at Combat because of things he learned while “in combat”, but not the Combat that was portrayed by Atari.

PricklyAnd, perhaps inspired by his grandfather and his combat expertise, someone else in the family followed in his footsteps. This descendant never saw real combat, but did carry on the tradition of engineering, of solving problems and helping people with a tool, and not a gun. And who knows how many people have been helped? Who knows how many people lead happier lives now simply because of one man’s grandson being inspired to follow the path of engineering? Not to get too sentimental (too late), but the simple choice of playing the same videogame over and over again with a child had some far-reaching ramifications.

It may not have led to the combat that child expected, but this simulated Combat did lead to some good entering this world.

FGC #544 Combat

  • System: Atari 2600, and then every blessed Atari thing that ever existed. Well, actually, I don’t think this was on the Jaguar. But it probably tried!
  • Number of players: Two. And absolutely two, for the record, as there are no AI opponents available.
  • Well defined players: Since this game requires two players, all combat seen in this article comes from footage of my fiancée and me battling. She would like to publicly note that she was capable of winning despite the obvious handicap of playing against someone who first played the game when they were a toddler. Or is that an advantage?
  • Favorite Vehicle: The tanks are classic, but your average biplane makes you feel like a flying ace, so that’s the winner. There is no world where a simple jet feels quite as cool.
  • Look out?Worst Vehicle: Whoever designed “one giant plane versus three little planes” was a damned masochist. Or is that supposed to be easy mode for whoever gets to control the little planes? Regardless, it is no fun attempting to steer a gigantic, terrible zeppelin while gnats continually tear you to shreds.
  • Did you know? I’ve always been disappointed that submarines weren’t involved in Combat, but there has only ever actually been one underwater submarine battle in history, and it was during World War 2. So I guess it makes sense that subs weren’t included.
  • Would I play again: I feel like Combat is an often overlooked important part of videogame history… but it’s a pain to control in modern times. If I want tank controls, I’ll make myself a Jill Sandwich, and stay away from the combat.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… BANGAI-O! SPIRITS! LET’S WATCH A DS EXPLODE! PLEASE LOOK FORWARD TO IT!