Tag Archives: atari

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!

FGC #528 Adventure

Let's go on an adventure!Adventure was released in 1980, and many claim it was the origin of what is considered to be gaming today. Without Adventure, we wouldn’t have a template for games that feature inventory juggling, dragon-slaying, or the entire Legend of Zelda franchise. But, while even major motion pictures pay tribute to the influence Adventure had on gaming and pop culture at large, no one ever asks what happened to the venerable cast of Adventure. As the VH-1 frequently asked when I had cable: Where are they now? Let’s look into it!

The Bat

Flap flapAdventure’s most hated foe was no dragon or daunting maze, it was the aggravating bat. Just when you thought you had acquired that valuable key or chalice, the bat would come swooping in, pinch it right from your paws, and leave for parts unknown. Would you ever reclaim your lost item? Only that winged terror knows for sure.

Where is it now?

Bats have had a long, illustrious career in videogames. Did you know that bats are responsible for 90% of all deaths in the territory of Wallachia? Or that Batman finds a new and exciting excuse to utilize actual bats in nearly every game he ever visits? But these fun facts don’t get to the heart of the real question: what happened to Adventure’s kleptomaniac bat? Thievery is a very particular skill for a winged mammal, so where did that individual bat wind up? Well, if you think about it for a minute, you’ll realize the answer is obvious:

THE BAT

Aero the Acro-Bat is the most well-known thief-bat in gaming. He stole all of our hearts in 1993, and then retired a happy, prosperous bat after a reappearance on the Gameboy Advance. A true success story for the ages, and everybody knows there are no other thief-bats in gaming. None. Now be quiet, and stop eying that chaos emerald.

The Sword

Stabbin'The hero of Adventure is no swordsman (and possibly not even a man), but they don’t need to be. Sometimes a sword is all you need, and waddling over to a dragon and giving ‘em a good poke is all that’s obligatory to clear the threats out of this dungeon. The sword makes it all happen, and, while you can’t wield the sword while carrying literally anything else (you’d think a key could fit in your pocket), it is the one-size-fits-all murder weapon of choice for any and all adventurers.

Where is it now?

Sword is second only to Gun in the world of videogame weapons. Adventure may not have invented the idea of a sword-wielding adventurer, but it certainly cemented the sword’s usefulness, and the general relationship between swords and dragons (they’re not fond of each other). As a result, swords have been synonymous with adventure games ever since, practically to the point that if you see a hero with a sword, you’re already expecting to look around every corner for a hidden Triforce. Whether it is because of Adventure or not, the sword has experienced an unquestionably successful existence.

The Keys

Unlock conditionsSure, other games may have had keys, but did they have color-coded keys dedicated to color-coded gates? Nope! That was all Adventure! It wasn’t enough just to find a key, you had to find the right key, and you’d never get anywhere without it. That bridge can’t save you now, you need a golden key for a golden gate, mister. No entry allowed!

Where are they now?

Keys are synonymous with adventures, so a better question may be where aren’t they now (the answer is “your inventory”, because you used them all). One might claim that the height of “key mania” occurred back in the Playstation/N64 era, when the 1-2 punch of the Resident Evil franchise and Ocarina of Time sent those 90’s kids into a bout of key-mania. Who didn’t have a set of key-themed pogs? However, while keys don’t get the headlines as much now, they’re still out and proud, and even in ways you would never expect. Want to “unlock” that swimsuit DLC? Then you’re going to need a special key called “your credit card”. Keys are just as popular as ever!

The Mobile Bridge

A bridge too far to carryAdventure was the first game to feature a full inventory of items for your adventure (oh, I just got that), and the very biggest of them all was the mobile bridge. Sure, you may need a key or sword to conquer doors or enemies, but the mobile bridge is a goddamn freakin’ bridge. You want to get across something? Anything? It doesn’t matter, you’ve got a bridge that is four times your size, so you’re going to make it. Way to save the day, bridge!

Where is it now?

The bridge itself hasn’t seen much use in its original form since The Legend of Zelda saw a Link that occasionally had to ford rivers. But the spirit of that mobile and completely inexplicable structure is now more popular than ever. Want to play Minecraft? Fortnight? The most popular, universal titles in gaming right now all have a root in the simple joy of carrying an enormous bridge around the world, and we wouldn’t have people programming supercomputers in Mincecraft without it. The humble contribution of the mobile bridge has defined gaming in the past as much as in the modern era of lugging around an entire Home Depot in your virtual pocket.

The Magnet

It's magneticWhile there are other important items in Adventure, the magnet might be the absolute most useful. The other items are generally all “keys” (see!) that “unlock” specific conditions, like how a “sword” unlocks “a dead dragon”. The magnet, meanwhile, has unlimited utility. It, as one might expect, magnetizes any other item to your person. This makes the magnet simultaneously unnecessary and absolutely the most important thing in the maze. You can carry any item, sure, but you can’t carry any more than one item at a time. But if you’ve got a magnet, then the world is your oyster, and you can drag a parade of bridges and swords along for the ride. Bless you, magnet, you make a pause inventory completely superfluous.

Where is it now?

You hate to see it happen: the Magnet’s meteoric rise to fame happened fast and furious, as it seemed like every game after Adventure included a magnet. The peak of magnet-mania was likely Magnet’s appearance as a sentient robot in Dr. Wily’s Robot Master army in 1990. However, shortly thereafter, magnets severely dropped in popularity. Whether it was because “real” inventories gradually dropped the need for a “magnet-style” item, or because a posse of insane clowns claimed magnets couldn’t logically work was immaterial, the end result is that the once-ubiquitous magnet is now little more than a has been. Sure, magnetism sometimes appears as an innate or equippable “ability” nowadays, but being an abstract concept doesn’t pay the bills on that “Magnet Mansion” it bought with the advance from the Yu-Gi-Oh money…

Dark Areas

It's dark in hereIs there anything more important in a videogame than your field of vision? From the time Man progressed past the text adventure, Man was also encumbered by the need to see everything at all times. In Adventure, if you could see the whole of the maze from some glorious, mountaintop view, you would have no issue at all navigating its every twist and turn. But, no, you are damned to walk on the Earth, and finding your way to the sacred chalice is always a challenge. What’s more, some areas are dark, thus hampering progress with an inability to see even inches in front of your dot’s face. Oh, Dark Areas, you make simple walking a challenge.

Where are they now?

Bitch is everywhere! The darkness has crept into all of our lives, and now you can’t skulk around the labyrinths of Mars without bringing a danged flashlight. The Dark Areas of Adventure might be the single most enduring thing in gaming, as even Mario has to deal with a dark planet full of Boos every once in a blue (power) moon. Now, an attentive reader may notice that encroaching, unstoppable darkness being the greatest success story in Adventure is a bit… dark. And to that witty observation, I’d like to ask you a simple question: have you been alive this year? No further questions at this time, thank you.

The Dragons

Maybe it's not a duckThree dragons will stalk your hero, and, like Pac’s pals before them, they all have their own personalities. Or maybe they don’t! I’m not really going to test which dragon is the most angry when the end result of their collective tantrums is being devoured. I don’t want my little dot to live the rest of their days being digested, so I’m going to go ahead and hold off on the scientific studies until after this sacred chalice is retrieved. You’ll thank me later.

Where are they now?

One member of this trio was already established before Adventure. Eagle-eyed players noticed that Yellow Dragon was tucking a few extra heads behind his neck during filming, and, yes, Yellow Dragon was King Ghidorah slumming it in some videogames all along. The Godzilla money was running kind of dry in the early 80’s, and this “King” wanted to see if he could conquer a foreign market. It didn’t exactly set his career on (atomic) fire, but dude does have three mouths to feed, and a gig is a gig.

Red Dragon has similarly had a hard time establishing himself, but he has been “that dragon” in multiple projects over the years. The logo for Dragon’s Age? That’s Red Dragon. Dragon’s Crown resting on a dragon’s head? You know the dragon with that headwear. The fire dragon in any given Final Fantasy? Almost always Red Dragon (he was briefly in rehab opposite Final Fantasy 6, but it’s considered impolite to point that out). Red Dragon is well aware that red is second only to green in general dragon popularity, and all humans seem to think dragons look alike, so he’s always going to have a part. You might not always know it is him, but his IMDB page is longer than some wyrms.

And as for Green Dragon? Well, she recently got a gig with Nintendo…

THE BOTTOM

… Which makes her current popularity a real come from behind victory.

The Sacred Chalice

You can be a winnerIt’s not enough to simply find your prize in Adventure, you have to actually shlep it home. The goal of Adventure is to uncover a magical, strobing chalice, and then take it to a specific castle that may or may not be protected by cantankerous dragons. It’s a difficult quest, as you can only really carry one thing at a time, and apparently the concept of hanging onto a sword and a cup at the same time is the sort of fiction reserved for playing cards. But make it through the danger with your charmed sippy cup, and you’ll win this Adventure soundly.

Where is it now?

After decades of being replaced by every stupid glowing bauble that instantly ends your protagonist’s adventure (in a good way), we finally saw the return of the sacred, difficult-to-carry chalice in Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. It was everything Adventure had promised! Carrying a chalice was boring and unrewarding! And it made for a pretty fun game! It was confusing! And now there’s a remastered edition that can actually be played without the dreaded Gameboy Advance cable? Everything is coming up chalice!

Warren Robinett

There is a mysterious room/wall in Adventure that, should you pay attention to some very particular pixels, reads “Created by Warren Robinett”. What does that mean? Nobody knows.

Where is he now?

He’s not in the local phone book, so there’s really no way of knowing. I’m not certain who this Warren Robinett character is supposed to be, but he can’t be that important. His name doesn’t even appear in the game’s end credits (of which there are none)!

But every other thing in Adventure seems to have gone on to have illustrious careers, so most of Adventure is remembered fondly.

FGC #528 Adventure

  • I like purple, tooSystem: Originally for the Atari 2600, but also available at your local mall kiosk on one of those Chinese bootleg devices. It’s also on modern consoles in the Atari Collection, and that’s a pretty fine way to play.
  • Number of players: This is a solo adventure.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: This is the granddaddy of the Zelda-esque adventure genre, and it is downright amazing how much of this was repurposed for the genre we all know, love, and endlessly debate. That said, if you’re playing this in anything but random mode, you can probably finish easy or hard mode in all of three seconds. Were people not capable of making maps back in the day? Adventure is an amazing time capsule, but, as one of the first games with a true ending, I find it hard to believe it had to compete directly with Space Invaders.
  • Favorite Item: If you can’t figure it out from the article, the magnet is the best thing ever. I didn’t even know “magnet physics” were possible on the Atari!
  • Did you know? It never ceases to amaze me that Steven Spielberg directed Ready Player One, a film that hinges on uncovering the “credits” easter egg of Warren Robinett, and the damn overarching story or its themes don’t take a goddamn minute to consider why that easter egg exists at all. It was because Atari was trying to hide the names of the people making their games! It was a huge blow for the idea of games as art! And the people that create them being identified as artists! Switch itThis is still a huge problem thirty years after the release of Adventure, left alone in a bad future that is ruled by corporations that are clearly not crediting the creators of an army of virtual mods. But, no, it all has to be attached to a movie that is so rock stupid, it posits that no one could ever accidentally hit reverse at the start of a racing game. Bah!
  • Would I play again: Adventure is important to gaming as a whole. Will I bother to boot it up again? Nah. I can spend that whole two minutes elsewhere.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Banjo-Kazooie! Bear and bird are at it again for the first time! Please look forward to it!