Tag Archives: atari

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!

FGC #512 Crystal Castles

Draw that mazeCrystal Castles is a 1983 arcade title that invented videogames. Doesn’t that seem important? Doesn’t that seem like a reason Crystal Castles should be remembered as more than a Wikipedia article titled “Crystal Castles (video game)”? Crystal Castles defined gaming, and you’ve got to sort through a disambiguation page to even find it? Bah!

Don’t believe me? Here’s a partial list of how Crystal Castles was a might more important than some yellow hockey puck that clearly had a better publicist.

There are 37 levels, and that’s it!

What is even happeningRemember playing Donkey Kong? Pac-Man? Space Invaders? Remember beating those games? Yes? Liar! You may have dropped DK from the highest tower, or witnessed the birth of Pac Jr. in Ms. Pac-Man, but you can’t beat those early arcade hits. Why? Because they literally never end. They’re programmed to loop forever and ever. This was a deliberate move, as this was back in the day that the longer a game went on, the more quarters it could suck from unsuspecting pockets. Who would ever want to play a videogame they had already finished?

Well, the designers for Crystal Castles decided that maybe a videogame should, ya know, end. Crystal Castles has a level structure that should be very familiar to modern audiences: there are nine “worlds”, and each “world” contains four “stages”. Difficulty progresses as you climb higher in the worlds, and every fourth stage features a sort of quasi-boss when Berthilda the Witch stalks the land.

And if that sounds like the exact structure of Super Mario Bros, congratulations, you understand why Bentley Bear should be just as popular as Mario. … Okay, that might be a stretch, but Berthilda should at least be allowed to come to Bowser’s kart races.

There’s an actual ending!

This is the endIf there are a limited number of stages, there has to be a finale, right? Something to find at the end of the rainbow to confirm you’re worthy of that pot of gold? Well, after clearing 36 stages, there’s the END level, a simple stage that seems to be an outright reward for making it to the furthest possible point in Bentley Bear’s world. Clear this (surprisingly) easy denouement and you’ll be rewarded with a special message broadcast directly from the black void of the arcade cabinet.

I give up : you win
You must be a video whiz

Oh man. I’m a video whiz? Screw modern day achievements and trophies, I just want to be a video whiz! It’s not enough that the other guys at the arcade know I’m on the high score table, now the fourth wall is broken, and Crystal Castles itself knows that I’m the goddamn best there is. This simple message makes it all worth it!

There are secrets to find!

Enjoy your eggsBut if the game ends with the declaration that the player is a whiz, then why would said player ever play the game again? Points? Bragging Rights? No, of course not, the greatest design secret is secrets. There are secrets to find in Crystal Castles, and you have no way of knowing how many there are. Some are straightforward, like jumping in secret locations to find extra lives or a warp between stages. And those might be ideal for speed runners and alike, but they’re not on the same level as secrets that are completely meaningless. And bonus points if the secrets are meaningless and sound like playground rumors. Jump in one particular spot in the first level a hundred times (!), and you’ll see the words ATARI appear over and over in the following stage. Mysterious letters will appear if you jump in a precise location on level 5-4. Why would Franz X. Lanzinger, creator of Crystal Castles, flash the initials FXL across the screen? It’s a secret to everybody. But you’re going to keep playing Crystal Castles to discover all those secrets! Hey, is that castle shaped like the initials at the top of the high score table? Is there anything else like that? Maybe you should try jumping around that nondescript corner over there. You might find something cool!

There are Unique Monsters (with unique weaknesses)!

The monsters!But then again, assuming you’re going to see the finale of Crystal Castles at all is a bit of a stretch. Crystal Castles takes a lot of practice, as, like many modern games, you need to “learn” the game before you can make any headway. Sure, you might be able to conquer a level or two with your first few quarters, but you’re going to hit a brick wall about as soon as the later stages ramp up the difficulty. You might not have to face the Bed of Chaos, but attempting to round up all the gems (yes, Bentley Bear collects gems, not edible dots like his gluttonous contemporaries) quickly becomes perilous when nefarious crystal balls are rolling around at Mach speed. This world gets more and more dangerous as the castles grow in complexity, so seeing one of gaming’s first endings is unlikely for a novice player.

But Bentley Bear is not without options for defending himself. Bentley doesn’t have a punch, fireballs, or some catch-all “power pellet”, but every one of his opponents has a weakness, and knowing what’s super effective is what is going to take you to the top of the league. Evil Trees are vile pursuers, but they will pause if they’re leapt over (which, yeah, if I was a mobile tree, I’d be stunned by someone vaulting over my branches). The Gem Eaters are monstrous beasts that devour your beloved gems, but they can be taken off the board entirely if Bentley tackles them while they’re eating. And even Berthilda the Witch, Bentley’s greatest rival (… that mostly just putters around in a square and doesn’t bother anybody but please don’t think too hard about that), is weak to Bentley if he grabs a magical hat, thus proving the dichotomy of prey becoming predator when a proper weapon changes hands. Bentley is going to get every last gem, and he’s going to do it because he lives in a world where every rock can meet some paper.

There’s inherent Tension!

THE BEES!But not all of Bentley’s obstacles are surmountable. Bentley is a bear, so, of course, his ultimate rival is a swarm of bees. Apparently the bees have been pursuing Bentley his entire life(citation needed), and they are always a step or two behind him. Thus, if Bentley spends more than approximately twenty seconds in any one place, the swarm will descend upon him, and it’s bye bye bear boy. What can Bentley do? He doesn’t have many options other than to collect all of the gems as quickly as possible, and move on to the next wing of the castle as soon as that familiar buzzing starts. Was Crystal Castles the inspiration for later titles that feature continually hunting monsters like Resident Evil 3 or Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within? We have no way of knowing, but I am currently accepting any and all art of Bentley Bear hanging out with Jill Valentine. I think they would be friends.

There’s this Dancing Skeleton!

Dance, my pretty

Skeletons are as videogames as health-restoring apple pie. It is good Crystal Castles identified this fact before Simon Belmont started his eternal quest of skele-cide.

But does Crystal Castles get remembered for anything?

The short answer is no. Crystal Castles was an Atari game, and, much like many of the pre-Mario mascots out there, Bentley was forgotten by the time the likes of Mega Man and Vic Viper flew into town. Like Pitfall Harry or that duck from Adventure, Bentley defined gaming for the future, but was completely forsaken for more marketable heroes. Now he’s doomed to fill out the background of parties and let other stars shine in the foreground.

Also dance

Bless you, Crystal Castles, and thank you for establishing the standards of gaming.

FGC #512 Crystal Castles

  • System: All sorts of ancient systems, like various Ataris, BBC Micro, and the Apple II, but then nothing else for a long time. It often pops up on modern Atari compilations, though, so the Atari 2600 version is on the Playstation 4 with its arcade counterpart, and the 2600 version is available on the Evercade.
  • Number of players: Two, but alternating. You have to share this bear.
  • So pleasantWhich Version: The home, Atari version of Crystal Castles isn’t as faithful as Dig Dug. The good news is that all the nuance of the arcade version is there (with interesting mazes and unique enemies and all that), but there is a dearth of gems about the titular castles, and that changes the whole game. The arcade version basically asks you to walk everywhere to obtain every gem, whereas the Atari version is more about aiming for those distinct gems that are randomly scattered about. It leads to a lot more precise steering of your favorite bear, and feels extremely separate from the OG version. That said, it’s still a fun time, so give it a shot.
  • So is Bentley Bear the most important bear in all of gaming? No. That would be Kuma from Tekken, but thank you for asking. Freddy Fazbear would be right up there if he were an actual bear.
  • One Dirty Trick: In the later levels, Bentley’s favorite powerup, the wizard’s hat, bounces all over the stage. Now, I’m not going to claim that Nintendo stole this concept for the eventual, similarly invincibility-inducing Starman, but Bentley’s headwear does bounce around in a pretty familiar manner.
  • Further Monsters: The warp zone areas seem to be mostly populated by ghost creatures. This is some fun narrative framing for “you’re somewhere you’re not supposed to be” when cutting across the castle’s shortcuts. Environmental storytelling!
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I really thought this was Mr. Do. When Random ROB chose Mr. Do some time back, I legitimately thought to myself “Oh, that arcade game with the trackball and the castles.” I was mistaken. Sorry, pre-Nintendo mascot creatures.
  • Did you know? The band Crystal Castles nabbed their name from a line from the old She-Ra cartoon, so they have absolutely nothing to do with this videogame. Forget I brought it up.
  • Would I play again: This game is history! Ancient history! And I’m no time traveler, so I don’t think I’ll be revisiting this Age of Atari any time soon.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Willow for the Nintendo Entertainment System! You are drunk, ROB, and when you are drunk, you forget that I am in charge! So let’s go steal a baby! Please look forward to it!