Tag: Nostalgia

The Zappas on Video Games

The benefits of being a pack rat:

Sharkey posted this on his blog in...according to the date stamp, November of 2002.

I remembered it a couple days ago and I thought, you know what? I bet I don't even have to dig through old hard drives to find it. I bet my obsessive process of backing up data and copying it over from old computer to new has survived two new computers, four different Linux distributions, and I don't even know how the hell many hard drives. (I am, after all, the guy who corrupted his hard drive when he installed Windows 98 and recovered the data in 2008.)

Anyhow, I was right. Sitting right here on my current computer, after all those moves.

(And then I get to thinking, "Wait...I've only gotten two new computers in the last decade?" But then I remember no, there's also the Mac Mini I used to have hooked up to my TV and now use as a backup server, the Win7 desktop I currently have hooked up to my TV, my laptop, my phone, my tablet, and assorted old towers that have managed to pile up in my office and get used occasionally for various purposes. Plus my wife's desktop and two laptops.)

You know, just the other day my coworkers were talking about Hoarders, and I commented that the nice thing about being a digital packrat is that the data I've been holding on to for decades doesn't take up a hell of a lot of space. My comic collection, on the other hand...

Anyhow, not the point. The point is, here's Innerview: The Zappas on Video Games, by Merl H Reagle, JoyStik, January 1983. Scanned by, and from the personal collection of, Scott Sharkey, and preserved through over a decade's worth of computer migrations by packrat Thaddeus R R Boyd.

Innerview, Page 1Innerview, Page 2

Interesting, but not altogether surprising, that games were already being scapegoated by politicians and the media for juvenile delinquency as far back as 1983.

I also love the story of Frank recording the noise in an airport arcade and then listening to it on the plane. I think he also tells the story in The Real Frank Zappa Book -- that or I've been misremembering where I read it for the past decade.

(Christ. An interview from 30 years ago which I've been copying from hard drive to hard drive for one-third of that time...)

Hyrule: Just Visiting

As I've said before, the upcoming Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds has me torn between excitement and cynicism. I see stuff like this

and there's a part of me that's giddy in spite of myself -- I feel excitement at how good this game could be, and trepidation at how mediocre it will probably be.

Jeremy Parish, who played the demo at E3, wrote a piece called Yoshi and Zelda Demonstrate the Trouble With Playing It Safe which articulates my concerns about the game perfectly: so far it seems to be running on nostalgia, a glitzy cover tune lacking in the genius of the original.

Could be it's just a professionally-created fangame.

So what happens when you do get a professionally-created fangame based on A Link to the Past?

As it happens, there is one: The Legend of Zelda: Ancient Stone Tablets, a game for the Japanese Satellaview add-on.

It's about what you'd expect from a modestly-talented developer playing with the LttP engine: the pieces are there but they just don't fit together as well.

First of all, there's the exploration. Good big chunks of the world are covered by Fog of War as the game begins, and it doesn't feel like the world opens up naturally to you as you go so much as that you're ushered through it region by region. Part of this is simply the nature of its design -- it was designed to be played across four days, with each day revealing a different portion of the world map -- but, well, just because there's a design constraint giving it a good reason to feel confined doesn't make it feel any less confined.

Indeed, from pretty early on you're encouraged to make use of instantaneous travel rather than encouraged to hoof it across Hyrule before being given the keys to the ocarina.

But if the overworld doesn't seem to offer much that's new, the dungeons just seem perfunctory.

They're shorter, they're smaller, and they're a lot more straightforward. The puzzles are simple (though in at least one case the "push a block down a hole" bit is implemented much better than its original use in LttP's Ice Palace, one of the weakest, most convoluted puzzles in the game -- though it at least rewarded players for taking the levels out of sequence), and the thematic elements of the dungeons are gone, replaced with a weird sort of mishmash of different tilesets and bosses. Why the fuck does the Water Temple look like the East Palace inside, and have the sandworms from the desert level as its boss? Who the fuck knows?

It's not that I haven't had a bit of fun playing Ancient Stone Tablets. It's like a cover tune on open mic night -- it's fun to hear somebody new try out your favorite song, even if they're not as good as the original band.

But I haven't had any great urge to finish it, either.

Guess we'll see how the new game goes. Maybe it'll be a lot more ambitious than it looks.

Or maybe it'll be pretty much a remake with less-inspired level design. That would be a shame -- but it'd still probably be worth playing through once or twice.

How I Became a Corporate Sellout

I don't think I've ever told the story of how this site got its name. Bits and pieces, maybe.

I think it must have been my freshman year of college. I was chatting online with a friend from high school -- she'd graduated a year before I did, we'd gone to different schools and pursued different majors.

I was studying computer science and engineering; I wanted to be a programmer. She was studying English; she wanted to be a writer. And I was telling her why I thought that was a mistake.

It's not that I don't like English or writing -- you read this blog, you know I like them quite a lot. But it's tough as hell to make a living at them. I loved college but I also saw it as a means to an end -- and I thought she was wasting her time and money on something that wasn't going to get her any kind of work.

I explained that, rather more rudely than was necessary. I had it all figured out, as only a college freshman can. She called me an asshole. I retorted that I was going to be doing work I loved and earning six figures at it.

She said, "It sounds to me like I'm studying to be an artist and you're studying to be a corporate sellout."

It's been a dozen years. We're older, mellower, wiser, and things haven't turned out quite as either of us expected.

So was either of us right? Did my degree open up opportunities that hers closed off to her?

I don't know. Maybe I'll ask her if I see her at work on Monday.

Messiah Controllers

So what am I playing Zelda 2 with?

I'm using a Messiah wireless NES controller.

Remember Messiah? They put out the Generation NEX NES clone a few years back. It was a much-hyped, slick-looking system back in 2005, and promised built-in wireless, dual-mono audio output, and full compatibility with both NES and Famicom games and accessories.

And then it came out and turned out to be running the same damn crummy third-rate NES-on-a-chip as every other Chinese clone.

And so Messiah faded into obscurity.

Which is a pity, because despite the disappointing guts of the NEX, Messiah made some damn solid controllers. And while the NEX had a built-in wireless receiver, you can also use them on a legit NES with a dongle. (The gamepads, anyway; from what I understand the joystick doesn't work with a real NES. Don't know, never got one.)

The controller works well. It's solid and has a good weight to it; the buttons have a good response even if they're a little clicky.

The disc-shaped D-pad is a little weird but I haven't had any real trouble using it to play Zelda 2 -- I have a bitch of a time fighting Ironknuckles, but I don't think that's the controller's fault. I can see it being a problem on something that requires more four-direction precision, though.

It really is a pretty neat device and well worth the $50 Amazon's charging for a pair. (I got the Limited Edition set, which I see is now going for $175 used. I'm tempted to snatch up that $50 set and sell my limited set, but I do like the metal lunchbox.)

I'm kinda disappointed I never got the SNES set, because you can't get those anymore, but I'm seeing good reviews on the SuperRetro wireless SNES controllers. And they have good old-fashioned plus-sign D-pads, too, not discs.

Kind of a moot point, really; the state of SNES emulation and the now-standard design of its controller have meant I haven't hooked mine up in years.

Zelda 2: The One That Fucks Up Alphabetized Lists

Yep, got the bug from Jeremy Parish's excellent Anatomy of Zelda 2 series. I've started replaying Zelda 2.

Jeremy commented on the general unfairness of the game and said that he's using savestates. I'm using authentic NES hardware, but I do have a Game Genie.

When I played through the game as a kid, I only used one Game Genie cheat code: infinite lives. It's amazing how much it does for the game's balance to eliminate the outmoded concept of a limited number of lives (a holdover from the arcade age, of course). Frankly it's odd, in hindsight, that Zelda 2 played the old "3 lives and then Game Over" meme, given that the original game didn't. I mean, sure, 2's a side-scrolling platformer, but Metroid was too, and it didn't bother with giving you a limited number of lives either.

So I resolved to take a crack at Zelda 2 on my NES, once again cheating a bit against its unfair difficulty with the use of the infinite lives code.

And when I went to look it up, I found, via Game Winners, two more codes that weren't in the official Game Genie book and which serve to mitigate the game's lopsided leveling system. So here are the three codes I'm using:

Link has unlimited lives SZKGKXVK
Do not lose all experience when leveling SZVOUNSE
Do not lose experience when hit by enemies SXESIKSE

I think that, on the whole, those three codes go a long way to balancing out the difficulty of Zelda 2 and allowing its strengths to shine. It is a solid game.

Jerry Nelson, RIP

Image: Jerry Nelson with the Count
Image via Mark Evanier, who always writes a good obituary.

Going to forego Zappa tonight and wish a fond farewell to the Count, Jerry Nelson.

And old favorite:

CNN has a nice roundup of videos -- the one with Jim Henson as Kermit made me laugh, and, under the circumstances, it's poignant.

Bleeding Cool has a good selection too, spotlighting several of Nelson's other Muppet and Fraggle roles, and MightyGodKing adds Tomorrow, one of my favorite Muppet Show numbers (again featuring both Nelson and Henson).

Thanks for the memories.

Shooting Yourself in the Hoof

You know how a single ill-considered comment can overshadow absolutely everything else you say in an interview?

Well, if you've read the news today you can probably think of a pretty good case-in-point, but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Last Thursday I went to a Rifftrax presentation of Manos: The Hands of Fate, which ended with a fan video entitled Take It Easy, Torgo Style which I duly posted here.

The fellow in the video is Rupert Talbot Munch, who runs the site torgolives.com and who is working on an honest-to-God sequel to Manos, featuring as much of the original cast, and their families, as he could find.

The other night I poked around his (turn-of-the-century throwback red-on-black Flash) site and, after a series of dead-end "Coming Soon" links that directed me back to the main page with its autoplay music, eventually ran across a link to a Fangoria interview with Munch.

Now, Munch seems like a neat dude. Clearly he's an über fan; he's got a good costume, a sense of humor, and has shown legitimate dedication in getting the band back together and getting this sequel made. Plus a documentary. Plus...well, this is where everything goes wrong.

And if that wasn't enough, Munch and co. have been busy spiffing up MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE for high definition. "We, the people who represent the original cast and all things MANOS, have been working on the HD restoration for over 14 months," he says. "Recently, some kid who found a print of MANOS at an auction is trying to cash in with the same idea. Myself and Joe Warren do not acknowledge, recognize, or approve of what this kid is doing. In the end, we just ask that the fans hold onto their money and wait for our version. It will include tons of never-before-seen footage, plenty of extras, cast and crew commentary, interviews...plus surprises. And the proceeds will go back to Joe Warren and the MANOS faithful."

Now -- possibly due to how legitimately difficult it is to find the link to this article from the torgolives site -- there are only 5 comments at the bottom of the article. And four of them are eight months old and the fifth is from me. But I do think it's telling that four of them (including mine) are negative responses to that one little paragraph out of the entire article.

Let's back up a bit. The "kid" he's talking about is Ben Solovey, and the restoration project he's talking about is Manos in HD.

Solovey, as Munch notes, got his hands on a work print of Manos and decided to restore it; he wrote about the experience.

Here is a truly independent horror film from the 60′s, a contemporary of 1962′s Carnival of Souls and 1968′s Night of the Living Dead. The main difference being, of course, that those movies came from career filmmakers Herk Harvey and George Romero, who had already made commercials and industrials and knew how a set should be run. Hal Warren, director of Manos, did not have that sort of experience and the deck was truly stacked against him.

[...]

If you yourself have ever been involved in an independent movie, Manos becomes somewhat poignant as you see evidence of the problems that have arisen and have been worked around or willfully ignored. [...] It's all very relatable stuff. And because this is a movie where the artifices of filmmaking are constantly crumbling and being rebuilt, a little shakier every time, it holds a certain fascination to film buffs that places it above worse and more boring films (which there are no shortage of, then or now). Simply put, it's memorable.

[...]

So rather than have Manos fade away as a footnote with only a cruddy video transfer to remember it by, I've resolved to make it a personal project to restore it.

[...]

In addition to making a digital restoration of Manos of sufficient quality to produce a new print or digital projection files, I will be creating a limited run Blu-ray and making the restoration available for repertory screenings. While it remains to be seen if this film is for anything but a niche market, I also feel that if I don't restore it no one else will.

Film restoration is something that too often falls by the wayside in troubled economic times. Though it's doubtful I will change anyone's minds about Manos, I would like to send a message that every film, regardless of the place it holds in movie history, deserves a fair shot to be maintained and presented in the best way possible.

Now does that sound to you like "some kid trying to cash in"?

Because, okay, first of all? If a guy were looking for a get-rich-quick scheme, and he told you he had a plan to release Manos: The Hands of Fate on Blu-Ray...well, look, that's a pretty fucking terrible get-rich-quick scheme, is what I'm getting at.

Yes, Solovey wound up exceeding his Kickstarter goal by some $38,000 -- but he had no idea that was going to happen when he bought the print. Even with the extra money, it's not clear if he's turned a profit or simply put that money back into making the project better than he had originally planned.

Point is, this sounds a lot more like a labor of love, born of a genuine desire to preserve a historical curiosity. And Munch kinda just pissed all over it.

And here's the thing: Manos has a pretty fucking small fanbase. If "fanbase" is even the right word. There is a whole hell of a lot of overlap between Munch's audience and Solovey's audience.

And I can relate to Munch realizing this and being upset -- to him, Solovey is unwelcome, unexpected competition, and threatens not just his bottom line but the exposure of a project that, to him, Joe Warren, and the rest, is also a labor of love.

But dude, one fan dumping on another fan? Very bad form. And incredibly off-putting to the fellow fans who you are trying to convince to buy your product instead of his.

So Mr. Munch, if you're reading this? (Not implausible, really; I'm often surprised by what kind of searches pull this site up.) Here's how I think you should handle it:

"We are aware of Ben Solovey's unofficial restoration project; he is not affiliated with myself, Joe Warren, or the Search for Valley Lodge team. We wish him the best but believe our restored version will be the superior product, as we have access to a higher-quality print, a larger restoration team, and many of the original cast and crew members."

Something like that. Make your case, explain why you think people should buy your version instead of his -- by all means! Nothing wrong with some friendly competition! But don't insult the guy. Don't mock his skill or his motives.

And I also get that Joe Warren may have a sense of ownership over his father's film. That's totally understandable! But the thing is, he doesn't own Manos. Manos belongs to all of us -- and that's not in some fanboy "Star Wars belongs to all of us" sense; Manos is public domain and legally belongs to all of us.

Somebody besides you and Warren wants to restore Manos? He has every right to. Somebody else wants to adapt it as a Zelda 2-style iPhone game? Totally acceptable too. And -- not to put too fine a point on it -- some guys from Minnesota want to put it on a show where a couple of puppets make sarcastic remarks about it? Yeah, that's legal too.

And so while, again, it's totally understandable if Warren has a sense of ownership toward the property, and is miffed when somebody else exploits its public-domain status without his family's blessing -- well, if somebody hadn't exploited its public-domain status without his family's blessing, we wouldn't be having this conversation. If Manos hadn't entered into the public domain and wound up in a box of movies that eventually made their way to Frank Conniff and MST3K, there would be no Manos sequel, no Manos restoration, no Manos documentary -- because nobody would know what the fuck Manos was.

All of this may seem a little harsh, but really, if you ever read this, Mr. Munch, I'd like to repeat that you seem like a cool guy, I love what you're doing, and I look forward to seeing your finished work. I just think you've made a pretty unfortunate misstep on this -- unfortunate enough that it overshadows all the cool stuff you talk about in that interview -- and in the future I'd advise a couple of things:

  1. Remember that Ben Solovey is a fan just like you and me, and just like you and unlike me he has put a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears into making something lasting out of this silly-ass movie.
  2. And dude, seriously, do something about that website.

Adjust That Score and Play Some More

Xeni Jardin posted this video on BoingBoing. It's a jest.com montage of Phil Moore singing along to the theme music on Nick Arcade.

In the comments section, someone going by Seg links to a Splitsider interview with Moore and the creators of the show, James Bethea and Karim.

On the so-famous-somebody-made-a-montage-of-it song-and-dance silliness, the piece has this to say:

And there’s his rather — at times — goofy antics (which he also told me he can now look back on and laugh about, wondering "what kind of crack was I smoking," explaining to me that he only would so indulge when he felt the kids were freaking out so bad about being on a nationally televised show that if he was weird enough, nothing they could do would embarrass them).

There's some fascinating stuff in there -- I never thought about the logistical challenge of the simple four-directional decision tree for Mikey's movements on the game board. Dragon's Lair was out nearly a decade before Nick Arcade aired, but of course there's a difference between burning LaserDiscs for mass distribution and having one put together especially for an episode of a game show. Or at least there was 20 years ago; you can do all that shit on a phone now.

Other interesting subjects: making sure the girls on the show were comfortable; not realizing Moore was the only African-American game show host on TV at the time; the surprising ease with which they convinced the major publishers to send them games, even betas.

Those betas, of course, have become important to the collector community; most notably, the Sonic 2 prototype, which made its way into the wild some 14 years later. It includes the Hidden Palace Zone, which was teased in magazine previews but didn't make it into the final version of the game (causing, as you might expect, all manner of proto-Internet rumors in its day), and contains a whole lot of leftover material from the original Sonic, proving that Sonic 2 was built on top of the Sonic 1 code.

A silly little show, probably mostly forgotten -- funny how cutting-edge the thing actually was.

(And I don't know about you, but I was singing "Adjust that score and play some more, adjust that score and play some more..." before I pressed Play.)

(Also funny: "Fillmore", by coincidence, is the name of the first area on Act Raiser -- which was featured on Nick Arcade.)

Might Have Beens

It's a little weird to see things like, say, Ian Flynn doing a Sonic/Mega Man crossover for Archie Comics.

Because I wrote that story when I was 11.

(Okay, co-wrote it -- though I expect my collaborative partner would be happy for me to take all the "credit" for myself -- and it was Mega Man X, not the original Mega Man. But still and all...)

Ian Flynn and I were involved in Sonic fandom around the same time -- he went by Ian Potto in those days. I didn't really know him; we posted on different forums, but I remember seeing his name around. But, y'know, now and again it makes me wonder what would have happened if I'd stuck with it.

Per Wikipedia, Ian's about my age, give or take a few months -- but I skipped a grade. I expect I was starting college and Putting Aside Childish Things around the time he was submitting samples to Archie. Now I image laptops and he gets paid to do the shit I used to do for fun.

Which isn't to say I'd really consider writing Sonic comics for Archie to fit my personal definition of "livin' the dream", mind. You know the shit I go on about here, the way DC and Marvel treat their freelancers? Well, they're generous compared to Archie. Archie is like DC and Marvel used to be, before royalties, before creator credits, even, in most cases, before "house style" gave way to letting artists develop their own styles. Archie finally got around to crediting its writers and artists a couple of decades ago -- but if you piss 'em off they still might take your name out of the reprints.

And then there's Sega.

Ken Penders, one of Flynn's predecessors in the Sonic writer's chair, and an artist besides, was always pretty candid with the fans on the restrictions he had to work under. The book was marketed to 8-to-12-year-old boys (as he would constantly remind us), and so its content was inline with some dumb-ass Sega marketing guy's idea of a dopey eight-year-old's idea of a cool fifteen-year-old. Penders drew Sonic looking too depressed? Sega would send Pat Spaziante in to redraw his face to look more generally bored. Penders wrote a bit where Sonic, finding out that Sally wasn't dead after all, kissed her on the mouth? Sega made him change it to a peck on the cheek. Sonic was barely allowed to show an emotion north or south of 'Tude, barely allowed to like girls, and slept in a fucking race car bed.

(Let me stress that these are all real examples.)

So, y'know, it ain't exactly The Prince and the Pauper. I'm not crazy about my "career", and I grant that getting paid to write fan fiction about my favorite video game characters sounds like a pretty sweet deal. But in practice? Well, I wish Potto the best and I'm glad he seems a lot happier doing it than I probably would.

What I Did This Weekend

  • Drove to Tucson
  • Saw Brave
  • Went to Bookman's. Bought a used copy of Perdido Street Station and the first Cerebus trade.
  • Watched MST3K (Night of the Blood Beast). Slept through the middle.
  • Had some barbecue -- David grilled up some turkey burgers and chicken dogs
  • Watched Godzilla: Final Wars
  • Caught Vertigo at an independent theater
  • Hit up an Irish pub. (Tip: 20%, plus an extra dollar for live music, plus one more dollar for not charging me for my pint of Guinness. Considered one more dollar for overflowing the urinal; decided that wasn't really my fault, and hey, I let the waiter know.)
  • Walked out into a monsoon; got good and wet.
  • Dealt with the joy of Arizona drivers in heavy rain.
  • Came home.

Good times.

And my good friend Jim is off to New Mexico for grad school. Good on ya, Jim.