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Electric Curiosities: Stereoscopic 3D Gaming

As you may be aware, I am a video game collector.  I’m also a bit of a 3D nerd, having custom built my own stereoscopic camera.  But until now, I’ve never really combined the two.  That’s gotta change.

Last year, the Nintendo 3DS was released.  The handheld is far from the first time someone has tried 3D gaming.  Many people remember (and most have tried to forget) the Virtual Boy, but even that wasn’t the first time stereoscopic games have been released.  The following is a bit of an exploration of stereoscopic gaming over the years.

 

Tomytronic 3D

The earliest example of stereoscopic gaming that I own1 is the TomyTronic 3D handheld from the early 80s.  It’s a cross between a ViewMaster and one of those simple handheld LCD games.  You look into the eyepiece, where you’re treated to a pair of LCD screens in front of a painted backdrop, all backlit by the frosted plastic window on the top of the unit.  You hold the game like a pair of binoculars as you play, and control the game using buttons on the top of the device.  Pictured here is my Thundering Turbo game, which is apparently some sort of cosmic racing game.

Unfortunately, mine is broken.  I can put batteries in, but it won’t turn on.  As such, I’m unable to describe the gameplay or talk about the quality of the 3D effects.  All I can see is the swirling cosmic rainbow backdrop.  Oh well.

 

Vectrex 3D Imager

Around the same time, there was a 3D attachment released for the Vectrex.  In case you haven’t heard of it, the Vectrex is one of the odder systems out there, in that it comes with its own TV.  That’s right, the console has the display built in, or rather, the console is built into the display.  This makes the system somewhat portable, if you don’t mind lugging around a 10 inch CRT TV with you.  At any rate, Vectrex released a set of 3D glasses for use with some of its games.  These glasses preceded LCD shutters.  Instead, they used a spinning disc inside the glasses.  Half of the disc was black, and the other half was evenly divided into several colors.  The effect was two-fold.

First, the black half would completely block one eye.  When the black part blocked the left eye, the system would display the image for the right eye, then, as the disc rotated on, the right eye would get blocked and the left image would be shown.  Since each eye would only see one image, the brain would reconstruct the pair of images from each eye into a 3D image.  The same effect is employed by the active shutter glasses used by some 3DTVs today.

Second, the three colored sections would give the effect of some color to the image, instead of the pale blue lines the Vectrex display was limited to.

I also have to imagine that there was a third effect: Brain splitting headaches.  Having a spinning disc strapped to your head and alternating between blackness and a trio of colors could not possibly have been good for you.  I also have to wonder if a rapidly spinning disc in front of your face would have a gyroscopic effect which would make it difficult to turn your head while it was running…

I don’t have a picture of the Vectrex 3D Imager because I don’t have one, and I don’t have one because those things are crazy expensive and hard to find.

 

SegaScope 3D

Later in the 80s, technology had advanced to the point where 3D gaming no longer meant wearing rotating colored discs in front of your face.  Instead, as Sega showed with its SegaScope 3D accessory for the Sega Master System, 3D gaming meant putting on a pair of oversized sunglasses.  The SegaScope used active shutter technology, where the lenses in the glasses would alternate between black and transparent.  The game would alternate frames in sync with the shutters (So the games will appear to be rapidly jumping left and right to anyone not wearing the glasses).  The result was full color 3D gaming with a high framerate.

And a headache.

The framerate may have been high, but it wasn’t high enough.  The flicker of the shutters is noticeable, and after just a few minutes of play, you’ll start to feel it.

The glasses themselves are also fairly heavy and their weight will tend to be irritating after just a short period.

It’s a shame, though, because the 3D effect is excellent.  For example, Maze Hunter, pictured here, is a top-down multi-level maze crawler.  When you jump, you fly out of the screen, and as you advance, you work your way down, further and further into the screen.  And it’s all done without color distortion or ghosting.

A total of eight games were released with SegaScope support.  Maybe someday I’ll pop a few aspirin and spend an afternoon playing through them. 2  Or, better yet, I’ll find a way to get the frame sequential 3D mode of my 3DTV to work with the SegaScope games, and I’ll be able to play without the clunky shutter glasses.

 

Nintendo Anaglyphic 3D

Nintendo also dove into the 3D market back in the late 80s.  Who could forget pressing Select and playing Rad Racer in 3D?

Well, actually, I never owned Rad Racer back then, but I always wanted it because it was 3D and therefore awesome.

Rad Racer used anaglyphic glasses, the stereotypical color-distorting red and blue glasses that people think of when they think of “3D Glasses”.  I recently played Rad Racer in 3D and the 3D effect didn’t work.  I don’t know if I had the wrong color glasses, or if the NES Clone I was playing on didn’t like the 3D output, or if something else was wrong, but no matter what I tried, I kept seeing two of everything.

Thing is, Rad Racer wasn’t supposed to use those red/blue style glasses.  Neither was 3D World Runner, another game released around the same time (And also developed by Square, of Final Fantasy fame).  Those games were originally developed for the Famicom 3D System which was only released in Japan.  The Famicom 3D System was similar to the  SegaScope 3D, in that it used shutter glasses, although the Famicom ones look more like ridiculous futuristic VR goggles than wrap around sunglasses.

Nintendo never brought the 3D System across the water, which means you’ve never played 3D Hot Rally.

Then again, neither have I…

 

Pulfrich Effect

Several games used the Pulfrich effect for 3D gameplay.  The Pulfrich effect is based on some psychological visual trick that I’m not going to pretend to understand.  It occurs when what one eye sees is slightly darker than what the other eye sees.  Objects will appear to be closer or further away by virtue of the direction and speed in which they’re traveling.  Go to the right really fast, for example, and the object will appear very close, while slowly to the left will make it appear farther away.  While this would work on any TV and provide full color 3D games, using only cheap paper glasses with one slightly darkened lens (And won’t distort the image at all for viewers without glasses), there was one rather significant drawback: The Pulfrich effect requires constant motion to work.

That means that you probably won’t get a headache from Pulfrich games.  You’ll just get nauseous instead.

I have two games which use the Pulfrich effect.  Orb 3D for the NES is a strange bubble popping variant of Pong.  At least that’s what level 1 is.  I don’t know if there’s more to the game or not because I found it far too tedious to keep playing.  Jim Power: The Lost Dimension in 3D is a generic action platformer for the SNES which ends up doubling down on the motion sickness by having multi-layer parallax scrolling backgrounds that move in the wrong direction.  Oh, and it’s really frickin’ hard.

 

Virtual Boy

The first go-big-or-go-home, swing-for-the-fences multi-game dedicated 3D system wasn’t Nintendo’s Virtual Boy.  It was, of course, a complete failure.

It wasn’t because of the 3D effect, which was excellent.

It wasn’t because of the games, most of which were pretty good.

There were two things which contributed to the downfall of the system.  First was the form factor.  It was too big to be portable, but it didn’t connect up to a TV, so no one was quite sure what to make of it.  In order to play, you sat the device on a table and stuck your face into it, much like those eye exam machines at the DMV.  This is not a comfortable way to play a video game.  I’m convinced that most of the headaches people reported from playing this system were not eyestrain related, but instead were caused by holding your neck in an unnatural position for an hour while you played.  The second problem is that it’s red.  Very very very red.  All of the games are red.  For cost and clarity reasons, Nintendo used an array for red LEDs to produce the graphics, instead of a pair full color LCD panels.  After all, they’d had phenomenal success with the monochrome Game Boy.  But red?  Red is not a good color for video games.

By the way, the controller for the system is AWESOME.  I wish Nintendo had kept the basic design for its later systems.

 

Stereograms

It's a dragon, I swear!

Yep, those Magic Eye stereogram SIRDS 3D things that were all the rage in the mid 90s.  At least one game, Magic Carpet, had this mode built in, and I’ve seen people release OpenGL/DirectX drivers to do this to other games.

It is, of course, an entirely ridiculous idea.  I’ve never played Magic Carpet, but I’ve seen Quake in stereogram form, and it was a staticy mess that was terrible to play.  But hey, it’s 3D.

Now, just look through the screen until the dots merge and…  Oh, sorry, took too long.  Game over.

 

Ridiculous Futuristic VR Goggles

Some games, notably Descent, had support for VR headsets.  Unfortunately, users of the VR headsets were often sucked into an alternate reality run by some megalomanical hacker that had taken over the virtual realm, so they didn’t really take off.

I don’t have a VR headset, so I don’t have pictures of any…  Yet.

 

Anaglyphic, Part 2

Anaglyphic has continued to be option that games use for 3D images.  Sly Cooper 3, for instance, had several sections that could be played with raccoon-themed red/blue glasses.  Even more recently, the Game of the Year edition of Batman: Arkham Asylum had a Purple/Green anaglyphic mode, instead of a true 3DTV compatible mode like I was expecting when I bought the game.  Now I’m stuck with a copy of Arkham Asylum that I didn’t really want.

 

3D TV

After years and years of the technology being just on the horizon, 3D TVs are finally making their way into homes.  Of course, there’s nothing to watch on them yet.  There are only a handful of cable channels, and most people don’t get them.  No ordinary TV series is filmed in 3D yet.  There are a limited number of 3D movies out on Blu-Ray (And Avatar isn’t one of them, yet…), but they’re mostly cheap horror movies or cartoons.  So, what to do if you’ve bought one of these new-fangled 3D TV gadgets?

Buy a PS3.

No, seriously.  Buy a PS3.  Sony is making a big push into the world of 3D (Likely because they want to sell 3D TVs, of course…), so there are a growing number of titles for the PS3 with support for 3D TVs, including most of their AAA releases this year.

The XBox 360 is running a bit behind, but it’s not completely out of the picture.  The recent rerelease of the original Halo had a stereoscopic mode, as did COD: Black Ops.

Of course, some games don’t have true 3D support and simply provide a side-by-side or checkerboard image.   This means you’ll get a half-resolution image and things like system menus and achievements will be severely mangled when they appear.  Games with these problems are fortunately becoming less prevalent.

3D TVs can use a variety of different techniques to produce a 3D image.  Some will use active shutter glasses, pretty much like the SegaScope 3D did.  These glasses will constantly alternate which eye is blacked out, as the screen constantly alternates frames.  The problem with shutter glasses, aside from the potential for flickering, is the fact that the glasses themselves become an electric component, one that requires battery power, one that can break, and one, most importantly, that tends to cost a boatload of cash.  Those that don’t use shutter glasses tend to use passive polarized glasses.  Polarized glasses are not electronic, so there’s no battery to die in the middle of the movie, and they can be had for cheap, so you can throw a party and have enough glasses for everyone.  There’s a third class of 3D TVs that are auto-stereoscopic, which means they don’t require glasses at all.  These are rare and tend to have a very limited viewing angle.  They’re great, if you don’t mind sitting directly in the center of the screen, exactly 8.5 feet away…

 

Nintendo 3DS

The 3DS is currently the only system that supports 3D on all of its games.  It doesn’t require glasses of any kind, nor does it involve sticking your face into the viewfinder, strapping a spinning disc to your head, or even crossing your eyes.  You just look at the screen and it’s in 3D. 3  It also hasn’t given me a headache yet.

Oh yeah, and the games aren’t very very red.  That’s important.

Like I mentioned above, it doesn’t use glasses, putting it in the auto-stereoscopic arena.  It acheives this by using what’s called a “parallax barrier”.  Basically, it’s a high tech version of one of those 3D looking baseball cards or album covers.  The 3DS screen is divided into columns of pixels, and the parallax barrier will block out half of them for each eye.  It’s sort of like looking through the teeth of a comb at an image printed in strips the width of the teeth.  The left eye and right eye will look through the same gap between the teeth, but they’ll see different strips of the image behind.  The result is that each eye will get a full frame that only it can see.  The downside is that it had a very narrow angle where the effect works.  If you’re just off to the side, you see under the barrier and look at the pixels for the wrong eye, which is why the image will get inverted.  If you go even farther (or get really close with a wide angle camera lens, as in the picture above), the angle to the barrier becomes so steep that you’ll start to see multiple images at once.  The technology is still advancing, and it’s easy to imagine that a future screen would have a display that tracks your eye position (using the front facing camera) and constantly adjusts the barrier, so that no matter where you are looking from (or if two people are watching from different angles) the image will look correct.

The system got off to a bit of a rocky start, due to the high price tag and lack of killer games, but now that they’ve dropped the price and released Super Mario 3D Land, it’s got more of a chance.  Then again, it might have more of a chance if Nintendo marketed it more as an upgraded DS with 3D support than a 3D system with upgraded DS support…

 

 

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the anagylphic games that were being developed for the Atari 2600…  Or the fact that Luigi’s Mansion for the Game Cube was built to have stereoscopic 3D support.  Oh well, can’t talk about everything, can I?

Did I mention it’s got Super Mario 3D Land?  It has Super Mario 3D Land, so go get one and play Super Mario 3D Land.  That game will wash the bad aftertaste of Wii waggle-infected Super Mario Galaxy from your mind.

  1. Although, not necessarily the earliest overall.  Finding out what 3D game was the first would involve something called “research” which I can’t be bothered with []
  2. Except for Outrun 3D, which I don’t have.  Yet… []
  3. Although, you have to look at the screen -just right- or you’ll see double, but that’s a minor issue… []

January 16, 2012   2 Comments

Electric Curiosities: The Hidden Dangers of Gaming

If you’ve ever opened an instruction manual for a game, you’ll know that they’re full of warnings and disclaimers.

“You may experience seizures.”

“Do not play on rear projection TV.”

“Tighten the wrist strap and watch your surroundings.”

“This system may cause permanent vision damage to children under 7.”

And so on…

Hell, Nintendo games often have a separate pamphlet that’s several pages long, going into great detail about how the game might injure you, cause you to injure others, or somehow destroy everything in your house.

But this week, I found the very best disclaimer that I’ve ever seen on a game.  It was located on the back of the instruction manual for the 3DO game “Gridders”.

 

 WARNING: This product is composed of 100% matter.  If it comes into contact with an equivalent amount of anti-matter, it will be instantly and completely destroyed.  Manufacturer does not warrant the product against this and accepts no blame should this event occur.

Those three sentences alone are justification and redemption for the existence of the 3DO.

 

August 14, 2011   No Comments

Electric Curiosities: The Situation Is Under Control

In ages past, I went a little crazy and took pictures of cartridges for every cartridge-based game system I had at the time.  You can find the results of that enedavor here.  Since then, I’ve expanded my collection, so that post is in dire need of a sequel.  That brings us to today’s post, wherein I will not be updating that previous post.  In fact, I will not be talking about cartridges at all. 1 

You see, despite the fact that I’ve uploaded pictures of just about every different type of video game cartridge ever made, phrases like “Fairchild Channel F Cartridge” never end up in the search queries section of my stats.  You know what does?  “temporal mechanics“, which is completely unrelated to video game cartridges.  You know what else?  “sega dreamcast controller”.  So that is what I am doing today:  A shameless post to boost my overall search engine ranking by reinforcing the relevancy of the site content for traffic I’m already getting.2 

I mean… 

Today, I’ll be presenting pictures of joysticks, gamepads, controllers and handheld torture devices through the video game age.  From Fairchild through Wii; Atari, Vectrex, Nintendo, Genesis, Playstation and even a little Virtual Boy, it’s all here. 

First, here’s most of the controllers all arranged carefully on the floor according to a sort criteria which I shall not divulge.  How many can you name?3 

All shapes, sizes and button arrangements.

Okay, let’s plug this in and press start!  (Or SL/SR or Run or whatever strikes your fancy.) 

3DO

 

The 3DO’s gamepad is a fairly run-of-the-mill controller, featuring a Genesis-style set of 3 action buttons, yet SNES style L/R shoulder buttons.  The middle buttons, typically called Start and Select, are labeled “X” and “P” here.  Of particular note are the CD controls scattered around the controller, with the “Stop” square on X and “Play/Pause” triangle and bars on the P button, and fast forward, rewind, and skip icons circling the D-Pad. 

Emerson Arcadia 2001

 

“Hey!  The Intellivision is popular.  Let’s rip off their controller!  Then we’ll be popular.” 

“But that’s illegal.” 

“Don’t worry, we’ll only put one button on each side and make them red, then screw a joystick into the disc.” 

“Now you’re talking!” 

The Arcadia 2001 hand controller is a clear and blatant rip-off of the Intellivision hand controller.  The number pad is pretty much identical, even as far as the font used.  The size is the same, the weight is similar.  They both have shiny discs as their main control surface.  They’re even both called  “Hand Controllers”, for crying out loud.  Pretty much the only truly distinguishing feature is the joystick that’s screwed into the disc.  That might have made a difference and been enough to forgive the similarities, provided there were any Emerson Arcadia 2001 games that you’d actually want to play, but there aren’t. 

And you thought I was exaggerating.

Atari 2600

 

The CX-40 Joystick for the Atari 2600.  Classic.  Iconic.  Historic.  And a little uncomfortable these days.  Also, as far as I can tell, this is the only controller that specifically tells you which way is the “Top”. 

Atari 2600 Paddle

 

The paddle consists of a big spinning dial and a single button and provides you with some of the most precise controls you’ll ever find in a video game.  You just can’t play games like Breakout or Kaboom without this level of control.  Of course, that assumes that your paddle isn’t twitchy, like most are these days.  Fortunately, that’s easy to fix, if you’re willing to perform some surgery and clean out all the gunk inside the potentiometer inside.  For all the crazy controls game companies are trying with their systems these days, I’m surprised no one’s tried to bring back the spinner.  It’s also worth noting that paddles came in pairs: Two paddles with a single connector.  This allowed two sets of paddles to be connected at once, and two sets of paddles connected at once allowed the complete and total awesomeness called Warlords to exist.  Unfortunately, there’s no indication which paddle is player 1 and which is player 2, so paddle games often started with a frantic attempt to figure out which paddle you were supposed to be using. 

Atari 2600 Driving Paddle

 

Although outwardly, the driving paddle looks identical to the regular paddle except for the sticker, internally, they are very different animals.  The regular paddle has an analog potentiometer with a 270 degree range of motion.  The driving paddle has an optical sensor inside, which allows it unlimited motion in either direction.  The driving paddle was meant to allow free 360 degree steering, which it did… For exactly one game:  Indy 500.  Unlike the regular paddles, the driving paddles were not paired. 

Atari 5200

 

What do you get when you take the Atari joystick, make it analog, add in the Star Raiders keypad and put some mushy side buttons (two on each side) taken off the Intellivision, then mix it all together and put a shiny Atari Rainbow across the middle? 

A big mess. 

I will give them credit for putting the start and reset buttons on the controller and extra credit for including a “Pause” button.  But it’s still a mess. 

Atari 7800 Proline Joystick

 

Ow.  Ow.  OW.  THIS CONTROLLER HURTS. 

For the 7800, Atari clearly started with the Atari 5200 joystick, then made some changes.  The keypad is gone, which is fine, because only a small handful of games used that.  The Start/Pause/Reset buttons are also gone, which is a huge loss.  They’ve kept the side buttons, but cut their number in half and made them large and decidedly non-mushy.  The failure-prone analog stick is also gone, replaced with a standard 8-way digital stick.  It’s also smaller than the 5200’s stick.  The major problem with the 7800’s stick is that is rapidly becomes very painful to use.  The size is small, so you have to grip it tightly, but the stick is stiff, so when you move it, it tends to move the base, as well, twisting your hand.  Additionally, side buttons are misplaced on any controller, but on this one, they’re especially bad because you have to grip the base so tightly.  Basically, if you enjoy severe wrist pain after about ten minutes of play, this is the controller for you!  Of course, I don’t use the Pro-Line… 

Atari 7800 Gamepad

 

…I use this.  The Atari 7800 gamepad.  This beauty was apparently never released in North America, but was reportedly the default pack-in controller for the UK and Australia.  It’s not the best gamepad ever (The buttons are a tad sticky, and those grooves are just pain weird), but if the alternative is the Pain-Line joystick, you’re not going to complain.  If you have an Atari 7800 and don’t want to get Carpal Tunnel from playing Ninja Golf, then you need to track down one of these gamepads. 

Atari Jaguar

 

This controller is often ridiculed, but I feel that most of the criticism is unfounded.  I actually sort of like this controller.  I find it comfortable.  The keypad with overlay support is a bit retro, but perhaps they just wanted to kick it old school.  It does make games like Alien vs. Predator or Iron Soldier, where there are lots of weapon selections, very convenient to play.  The three action buttons are labeled C, B, and A, and the aux buttons in the middle are marked “Pause” and “Option”.  All in all, it feels somewhat inspired by the Lynx.  Strangely, the connector plug is a VGA Monitor plug.4  The only negative thing I have to say about this controller is that when you play most of the games on the Jaguar, you’ll definitely notice the lack of an analog stick.  I can’t really knock too many points off for that, though, since nothing had analog sticks at the time, it wasn’t until the N64 came out a few years later that people realized you needed analog control for 3D games. 

It is big, I’ll give it that, but it’s actually roughly the same size as the Dreamcast controller or the original XBox monster pad.  It’s also fairly light because it’s mostly empty inside, unlike the lead-lined Duke.  Here’s a comparison of the three, along with a more well known SNES gamepad for reference. 

SNES, Jaguar, XBox, Dreamcast

 Atari XE Lightgun

 

The first lightgun of this post is the Atari XE Lightgun.  While I’m not really planning on getting into the Atari XEGS (There’s enough room there for a post in itself…), I felt that this gun warranted a mention, because it was the light gun intended to be used for Atari 7800 and 2600 light gun games.  Yes, the Atari 2600 had a light gun game, called Sentinel.  The game consists of you shooting flying things to protect a giant blue ball that bounces across the boring surface of an alien planet until either your trigger finger falls off , you fall asleep, or you get killed by the Level 3 boss which is physically impossible to defeat, because absolutely no one can shoot it enough times to kill it before it touches the ball and kills you. 

Bally Astrocade

 

Back in the early days of video gaming, people didn’t know how to make controllers for game consoles.  That’s how things like the controller for the Bally Astrocade (Or Videocade or Professional Arcade or whatever other names this system had.) came about.  Bally took a pistol grip with a trigger button, then stuck a joystick nub on the top.  But wait, there’s more!  The nub could also rotate 270 degrees, letting it double as a paddle control, as well.  This controller is very reminiscent of the Fairchild Channel F’s super-bizarro stick, which I’ll get to in a bit. 

Of course, the only truly notable thing about the Bally Astrocade is its appearance in National Lampoon’s Vacation.  I can’t tell if it was product placement or a joke. 

And you thought I was making that up.

CD-i

The Philips CD-i.  Released in the early 90’s, it was an overpriced CD player that sometimes pretended to be a game console.  As such, it had to have a gamepad, just like all the cool kids did.  Except, for some reason, the only gamepad they looked at seems to be the two button Sega Master System controller.  There’s no Start, there’s no Select, there’s no shoulder buttons, none of that complicated jive.  Instead, there’s just a D-Pad and two buttons.  What’s that, you say?  You count three buttons?  Yeah, well, so did I, until I was playing Wand of Gamelon (Yes, I own Zelda: Wand of Gamelon, and yes, I have played it.  No, it’s not as bad as you’ve heard, yes, the cutscenes are terrible, but if you don’t really look at it as a “Zelda” game, it’s quite passable.  The backgrounds look excellent and appear handpainted.) and couldn’t figure out why the controls for the game went out of their way to use only two buttons on a three button controller.  That’s when I realized that it’s not a three button controller at all, but a two button controller with a third button that acts like you’re pressing the other two buttons simultaneously.  Because, you know, you’re apparently incapable of pressing the other two buttons simultaneously and that’s something that you have to do so often that you want an entire button dedicated to that, instead of, you know, a jump button or a pause button.

Button 1: "." Button 2: ".." Button 3: ".+.."

CD-i Remote

The CD-i also had a normal remote control for doing things like playing CDs or Video CDs.  This controller was also good for games like The 7th Guest, which have a slower pace and were meant to be played with a  mouse.  If you tried using this for action games, you would fail horribly.  If you notice, around the stick there are four action buttons.  This does not mean that the remote gives you more buttons than the gamepad.  Instead, those buttons are simply two copies of button 1 and button 2.  And unlike the gamepad, there is no “Button 1+2”, so good luck with that if you ever find a game that uses that feature.

I don’t understand why it seems as though the designers of the controllers for the CD-i never talked to the designers of the system, and why neither group had ever talked to ANYONE who ever played a video game.  I mean, wasn’t Nintendo involved in the creation of this system, at least on some level?  Couldn’t someone there talk some sense into them?  “Oh, you’re making a Zelda game?  You need more than two buttons for that.”

ColecoVision

The ColecoVision came out in the age of the keypad and vertical configuration.  Similar in design to the Intellivision or Atari 5200, the CV has an advantage over both of them:  The buttons don’t totally suck.  When you press a ColecoVision button, you know that you pressed it, unlike those mushy rubbery things that the other systems have.  Like the 5200, the CV improves over the Intellivision5 by putting the control stick at the top of the controller and making it grippable.  The CV also accepts game-specific overlays, but unlike other systems, the overlay goes underneath a plastic grid, so you’re able to know which number you’re hitting simply by touch.  I’d say this controller is the least carpal tunnel inducing of the vertical keypad set.  And best of all, the CV is compatible with Atari 2600 joysticks, so if the game you’re playing only needs one button, you can simply replace the controller with any number of more comfortable 2600 sticks or even a Genesis gamepad.

Sega Dreamcast

The Dreamcast controller is an obvious evolution of the Saturn 3D controller, with the same “disc with handles” shape.  It only has one analog stick.  It’s massive, but fairly comfortable to hold.  On the top of the controller are two slots for memory cards.  There is a window in the front of the controller which will show the screen of a Visual Memory Unit, if you have one.  The VMU would sometimes show information about the game on a small LCD screen, but the true nature of the VMU only became apparent when you removed it from the controller.  The VMU had a small D-Pad and a couple of action buttons, and would let you play very limited miniature versions of some games on-the-go, sort of like a Tamagotchi.  The only thing that’s really wrong with the Dreamcast controller is the fact that it has the absolute worst wire placement since the original SMS controllers.  Instead of coming out of the top of the controller and pointing at the TV and the console, the wire comes out of the bottom and points at the user.  You lose about six inches of controller wire because of this, not to mention that you’re constantly getting tangled in the wire.

Fairchild Channel F

The Fairchild Channel F controller…  Where to begin…  All of the functions are controlled by the knob on top.  It has standard 8-way movement, then it rotates clockwise and counter-clockwise, then you can push and pull the knob in and out.  (And no, it doesn’t vibrate.)  It’s one of the strangest primary controllers I’ve seen.  Here’s a video of it in action.  If you only have one hand, this is probably an awesome controller.

Gamecube

One part N64, one part Virtual Boy, one part SNES and two parts color wheel, the Gamecube’s controller is a strange one.  The two analog sticks and the D-pad are fairly standard.  The primary button arrangement is probably the most convoluted arrangement I’ve seen, with buttons of different shapes, sizes, and colors.  There are three shoulder buttons.  Not two.  Not four.  Three.  L, R, then Z, which lives in front of R.  Z is an ordinary button, while L and R are these mutant hybrid buttons, with about a half inch of travel space, then a loud click that sounds like you’re breaking the button.  The button is analog until the click, then it registers as a normal button press, so some games will assign slightly different controls based on how you press the button.

Sega Genesis

The Genesis controller has far fewer buttons than the contemporary SNES controller.  There’s only three action buttons and no shoulder buttons and it’s strangely massive (7in x 4in) for having so few features, but the Genesis controller has a secret power that makes up for those shortcomings:  It is compatible with the Atari 2600 and related systems.  They’re cheap and easy to find, so if you can’t stand using the Atari joystick and want something a bit more comfortable for your classic games, try a Genesis controller.

Genesis 6 Button

The SNES had six action buttons.  That means games written for the SNES could use six buttons.  The Genesis controller only had three buttons.  That means that games ported from the SNES to the Genesis typically had convoluted control schemes to activate some of the actions.  For instance, the Lost Vikings required combinations of the Start button and other buttons or directions to use items, change characters, even to pause.  Then along came games like Street Fighter II, which required six buttons.  Sega eventually came out with a six button controller for these situations.  The controller is notably more compact than the monster 3-button controller.  In addition to the additional “X”, “Y”, and “Z” buttons, the 6 button pad featured a turbo switch and a “Mode” button to switch between 3-button and 6-button modes, because apparently just ignoring the extra three buttons wasn’t good enough for some people. 6

Intellivision

The Intellivision Hand Controller is one of the most reviled controllers in the world of video games.  It’s almost as if it was designed by a group of parents who were concerned that their children spent too much time playing games, so they made a controller that would cause physical pain after roughly 30 minutes of play.  There’s a sliding disc at the bottom, two buttons on each side, and a big number pad (With overlay support) in the middle.  The problem is, I’ve never actually found a way to hold this controller that makes any sense.  There’s nowhere to hold it so that you can use the disc comfortably.  The buttons are rubbery and mushy and you never really know when you’ve pressed them, and they force you to hold the controller in an awkward way.  For those who’ve never experienced what it’s like to use an Intellivision controller, imagine trying to use an oversized iPhone as a game controller, with the volume buttons as your main action buttons and the “Home” button as your control pad.  And to top it off, the Intellivision controller is hardwired into the system, so you can’t get a third party controller that doesn’t suck.  The Intellivision inspired a number of other controllers, including the Atari 5200 and the ColecoVision7, but those controllers solved the problem by moving the disc to the top of the controller and replacing it with a joystick that could be gripped, making them far easier to use.

Don’t get me wrong, the Intellivision is an undisputed classic system, but if you want to play any of the games for it, you’re far better off picking up the latest Intellivision Lives! compilation and playing it on something like XBox Live Arcade or the DS.  That way you won’t need wrist surgery next month.

Mattel Aquarius

The Mattel Aquarius Controller is the direct descendant of the Intellivision’s hand controller.  They took out the side buttons and cut the number pad in half and made it pluggable, but left the pain-inducing disc in the same place.  That’s okay, though, because there isn’t actually anything you’d want to play on the Aquarius, so it doesn’t matter how bad the Mattel Aquarius Controller sucks.

Then again, the system does have a version of Tron: Deadly Discs.

Better on the Intellivision or Atari 2600.

NES

I don’t really know much about this one.  There’s pretty much nothing about it on the Internet.  Looks kinda square and weird.

NES Zapper

The NES Zapper came in two styles:  Looks-too-much-like-a-real-gun-so-the-cops-will-shoot-you gray and atomic orange.  You couldn’t shoot that damned dog in Duck Hunt with either one.

Nintendo 64

Odd looking and often ridiculed, the Nintendo 64 controller is the only controller I know of that requires three hands to use.  Players were required to undergo seven hours of surgery to attach a third arm, generally taken from Chinese prison camp inmates (Although later taken from chimpanzees after several tragic incidents where the transplanted arm retained some of the violent tendencies of its original owner).  Unwillingness to submit to body modification is often credited as the primary reason for Nintendo’s lack of commercial success against the Sony Playstation, although many players reported many non-game related benefits to their newly installed third arms.

Actually, I like the N64 controller.  It’s comfortable, and as long as you pretty much ignore the mostly useless D-Pad and L button, there’s nothing really wrong with it.

Odyssey 2

Obviously, the Odyssey 2 joystick is heavily inspired by the Atari 2600 joystick.  Although the base is roughly the same size, the stick is much smaller.  It’s also spring-loaded, so it’ll snap into place when you let go of it.

PlayStation

The original PlayStation controller did not have analog sticks.  Instead, it had one of the worst D-pads I’ve seen, with each direction being a fake button.  Instead of using letters or numbers to indicate the buttons, the PSX gamepad uses Square, Triangle, Circle, and X.  It also brought back the “Select” button, which had been missing since the SNES.  The PlayStation also decided that having just two shoulder buttons wasn’t enough and had a total of four shoulder buttons.

PlayStation DualShock

The DualShock slapped a pair of analog sticks on the original design.  This innovation made it so shooters on consoles no longer had to suck, although initially the two sticks were only used for catching monkeys.

PlayStation 2

The PlayStation 2’s controller represented a radical shift in controller design from the earlier PlayStation controllers.  Clearly, the designers took the saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” to heart, inverted the clauses, and developed a gamepad that stayed completely the same, and therefore must, in fact, be a great change. 

Oh, and it’s black.  And supposedly has “Analog Buttons”, which you probably never really noticed in any game you ever played.

PlayStation 3

Actually, that picture is a PS2 controller, but you probably wouldn’t have even noticed if I hadn’t said anything.  One could say that Sony knows when they have a good thing and don’t want to mess with it, but the truth is, the PS3 controller is almost identical to the PS2 controller because they were relentlessly mocked and ridiculed by Teh InternetZ when they released images of a boomerang that they said would be the PS3’s controller.

Sega Saturn

I’ve never actually played the Saturn.  The controller looks like they took the 6-button Genesis controller and gave it wings and shoulder buttons.  Since I’ve never used it, I can’t speak to it’s long term comfort, but it seems like it would be easy to hold and not likely to cause cramping or pain.  The shoulder buttons seem to sit a bit too far forward, though.

Sega Master System

Rumor has it, Sega revealed this controller design shortly after Nintendo’s lead gamepad designer was reported missing.  The SMS control pad is very similar to the NES controller, with one very glaring drawback:  Start and Select are missing.  When you play SMS games, you will often notice this omission.  Sometimes it means you have to press Up to jump.  Sometimes it means you only have one item at a time.  And nearly always it means that you can’t pause without getting up and hitting a button on the console.

The control pad pictured is one of the later models.  Some of the earlier versions had the wire sticking out of the side of the controller, where it would constantly jab you in the hand.  It should be noted that the original wire placement was also stolen from Nintendo, who has side wires on the original Famicom, before they realized how dumb that was and put the wire on top for the NES.

SMS Light Phaser

The Light Phaser for the SMS is reportedly based on some laser gun in some anime.  I don’t really like anime, so I’m not going to talk about this anymore.

SNES

Classic.  That is all.

Tomy Tutor Joystick

The Tomy Tutor joystick was heavily inspired by the Atari 2600 joystick, right down to the flexible rubber base and circle of lines that don’t correspond to the directions the joystick can be pressed.  Instead of the word “Top”, there’s an arrow that points forward.  There’s also the word “Joystick” in raised plastic, in case you forgot what it was.  The Tomy Tutor had two buttons: SL and SR.  Every game on the system referenced these buttons, presenting the cryptic phrase “Player 1, 2? SL-AMA SR-PRO” to the plaer when the game was started.  It wasn’t until years later that I realized that was a difficulty selection.

Tomy Tutor Joy Controllers

There was only one joystick port on the Tomy Tutor, making multiplayer gaming rather difficult.  Tomy’s answer?  The Joy Controllers.  Obviously inspired by the disc on the Intellivision8, the Joy Controllers came in a pair, with each one clearly labeled as “Player 1” and “Player 2” (Thus solving the “Which controller am I?” problem that the Atari 2600 paddles had.).  The Joy Controllers are much easier to hold than the Intellivision hand controller.  The buttons are located on the face and aren’t mushy and rubbery (The Tomy Tutor’s keyboard had enough of that…), so they’re much easier to press.

TurboGrafx 16

The TurboPad is another controller that’s inspired by the NES.  At least this controller realizes the value in having a Start and Select button (Although Start is called “Run” here.).  It also has built in turbo switches for the primary buttons.

Vectrex

The Vectrex has the earliest horizontal controller orientation that I can think of, however, its 8 inch width precludes its use as a gamepad.  Instead, it’s more like a mini-arcade set up.  It is also notable for having four primary buttons and an analog controller.  Its greatest weakness is the coiled telephone cord, which was inexplicably popular in the day. (See also: Intellivision and ColecoVision)9

Virtual Boy

The Virtual Boy gamepad feels like a prototype N64 or Game Cube controller, minus the analog sticks.  It’s the only symmetrical gamepad I can think of.  It’s also the only controller I can think of with dual D-Pads.  On the reverse side are L and R buttons.  The power switch is also located on the controller, something not found again until the XBox 360.  Unfortunately, the power source is located on the controller, as well, either in the form of a large battery pack or in a plug for a power adapter.  Power issues aside, the controller is one of my favorites.  It’s comfortable, it’s the right size, all of the buttons are in the right place and are easy to press.  I just wish the system weren’t so painful to use.

Wii

I do not like the Wii controller.  The pointer can be useful for some games, and motion sensing has its place, but…  As a controller for most games, this thing sucks.  When playing through Super Mario Galaxy, there was hardly a level I went through where I didn’t think “I wish I was using the N64 controller for this.”  And the waggle motion?  Really?  That has to be in every game?  Of course it does, because when I think of playing video games, I think about spraining my wrist from constantly having to shake the controller side to side to perform some stupid action that should be a button press.  But of course, it can’t be a simple button press because it’s impossible to press any of the buttons on this thing.  I nearly dislocated my thumb while playing Metroid Prime 3.  Sure, it looks nice, but video game controllers should not be created by graphic designers.  They should be created by people with hands.

XBox “Duke”

The original XBox controller was designed by people with hands, unfortunately, those hands were the size of Andre the Giant’s.  This thing is big and heavy.  Easily frustrated people should avoid using this controller, because it is likely to cause severe damage to anything it hits when thrown.

XBox “S”

The S controller for the XBox is a more compact controller that became the standard XBox controller shortly after the console’s release, after Microsoft realized that most of its customers were not mutants with overgrown hands.  It’s still big, as far as controllers go, but it’s no longer freaking huge.  The controller features the now fairly standard arrangement of two analog sticks (With clickable buttons), a D-Pad that’s rarely used, shoulder buttons, and four primary buttons arranged in a diamond shape.  “Start” and “Back” are on the left side, while “White” and “Black” (Despite the fact that “White” is actually clear) are on the right side.  In the top of the controller, stolen from the Dreamcast, are slots for memory cards that no one ever used for anything.

XBox 360

The 360 controller is a streamlined evolution of the XBox S controller.  Gone are White and Black, having morphed into the shoulder buttons “LB” and “RB”.  “Back” and “Start” have moved to the center of the controller, where they belong, the slots for memory cards are thankfully gone, and there is now a system button, which acts as a power button or brings up the system menu.  I also want to point out how much I like the battery handling on the wireless controllers for the 360.  When the battery gets low, the controller lights start to noticeably flash, more and more frequently.  To charge, just connect the cable and keep playing.  If you don’t connect in time and the battery does die, then the game will immediately freeze until you connect the charger or change the batteries, and it will remain frozen until you explicitly resume the game.  Some games will even pause themselves.  This stands in contrast to the Wii, where the batteries just die and so do you, because the game didn’t stop.

This, of course, was not intended to be a complete list of every controller ever made.  Some controllers were intentionally left out (NES Advantage, for instance), because this was meant to be a sampling of primary/pack in controllers.  Other controllers were left out because I don’t have them (Yet).  Some day, I might do a follow up with some of the more interesting secondary controllers, as well as some of the more bizarre third party controllers I have in my possession. 10

  1. Except when I talk about the Mattel Aquarius Controller. []
  2. That, and I think I have a shot for taking the #1 spot on Google for the phrase “mattel aquarius controller”… []
  3. Hint:  The Mattel Aquarius Controller is not in that image. []
  4. DE15, to be technical, unlike the 9-pin DB9 that’s used on the Atari 2600, Genesis, and Mattel Aquarius Controllers. []
  5. And the Mattel Aquarius controller, as well. []
  6. The Mattel Aquarius Controller is always in six button mode. []
  7. And the Mattel Aquarius Controller. []
  8. Just like the Mattel Aquarius Controller. []
  9. And the Mattel Aquarius Controller, of course. []
  10. And the Mattel Aquarius Controller will not be part of that set. []

April 2, 2011   5 Comments

Electric Curiosities: “Le Stick” Joystick Box

I’ve talked about Le Stick before, in a post I wrote about motion controllers from the early days of gaming.  It’s a slightly-phallic looking gravity controller, presumably using mercury switches or something like that to sense orientation.  Tilting it forward is like pushing up on the joystick, tilting it left moves you left and so on.

At least that’s the theory.  In practice, it’s more like you’re trying to play a game while having a seizure.  Up moves up and down moves right, and your character flails wildly in circles until it dies.  It’s a terrible controller.

I, of course, had to buy two of them.

But then, one day, I stumble across one that’s still in its box.  I don’t really need a third, but come on, IT’S GOT THE BOX!  I put in the minimum bid, wait three days, and it’s mine.  I didn’t know what I was in for.

It’s for the Atari 400/800, Atari 2600, and the Commodore Vic-20.  Apparently it once sold for $38.95, and I feel very, very sorry for the guy who shelled out that kind of cash in 1981 for this thing.

It certainly is “remarkable”.  It’s just that the remarks are generally sarcastic and negative.

LE STICK

The ultimate goal in microcomputer hardware.  Add more control and realism to your personal computer or home video game.1

With simple one-handed movements, you can maneuver your sights in any direction you want. 2 The large red push button on top provides a quick and accurate firing mechanism for better response time. 3

LE STICK™ will eliminate all the frustrations you experience with conventional joysticks or keyboards. 4

LE STICK™, the joystick of the future.

It’s gotta be good if it’s FROM THE FUTURE!

Wait…  Scratch that.  If this is the joystick of the future, I don’t want to see the future.  Please stop time so that I can stay here, where joysticks don’t suck.

LE STICK™ Features:

Easy to grip handle

One-handed operation

Motion detectors to sense hand movements

Large push button on top

“Squeeze-switch” to freeze motion

So far, this has all been typical marketing copy.  Nothing really special.  Although, I have to say that I wasn’t aware that there was the squeeze switch feature until I read this, not that it helps at all.

But then I looked at the artwork on that last panel and…  O M G

I say again:  OMG

Wow.  That has to be unintentional.  They couldn’t have actually…  Could they?  No, no…  I mean…  Really?

Really?

The hand even has hooker nails!  OMGLOLWTF.

It’s like the prototype was sent to the artist who had no idea what it could possibly be, so they assumed that it was some sort of high-tech marital aid and illustrated accordingly.  I mean, yeah, the thing is vaguely phallic in appearance, but I never thought they’d take it that far.

Of course, you really have to see the picture and the text together to get the full experience…

Well, I guess if the joystick is that bad, you gotta do something to get people to buy it…

  1. More control?  No.  And realism?  It’s still an Atari 2600.  It doesn’t change the fact that you’re playing a medium-sized square that shoots small squares at big squares. []
  2. I want to manuever my sights down.  Not right.  DOWN.  And you won’t let me do that. []
  3. You’re bragging that your joystick has a button?  Okay… []
  4. …while simultaneously introducing you to exciting new frustrations never found with conventional joysticks or keyboards. []

December 5, 2010   4 Comments

Games #58-73

#58: Parlour Games – Sega Master System.  The pool game is okay.  I couldn’t even hit the board in the darts game.  And a bingo video game?  Seriously?

#59: World Grand Prix – Sega Master System.  Have you played Pole Position?  Because this game is Pole Position.  Even the first track is the one from Pole Position1.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Pole Position, and this is a great imitator.  If you like Pole Position and want the same gameplay with different tracks, give this one a shot.

#60: Enduro Racer – Sega Master System.  This is like a cross-country Excitebike.  Just avoid the ramps or they’ll slow you down.  Unless they’re a ramp over a swamp.  Of course, you can’t see whether it’s a ramp over a swamp until you pass the ramp, so good luck.

#61: Double Dragon – Sega Master System.  Double Dragon is a lot like Double Dragon.  I’m forced to describe the game recursively because Double Dragon is the prime example of a button mashing street brawler.  I can’t say “It’s a lot like TMNT: The Arcade Game or Golden Axe”, because I’d say they’re a lot like Double Dragon if I were explaining them.  Anyway, I don’t like Double Dragon or the whole button mashing street brawler genre.  Punch punch punch punch kick punch throw punch kick pick-up-weapon accidentally-throw-weapon-in-the-wrong-direction punch punch kick jump-kick punch…  And that’s still fighting the first enemy on the first screen.

#62: Zillion II: The Tri-Formation – Sega Master System.  When the blurb on the box talks about “Bottomless Pits” as being one of the many dangers you’ll face, that should tell you something.  Oh, and what’s even better is that they’ve reversed the “Jump” and “Shoot” buttons, so they’re the opposite of EVERY OTHER GAME EVER MADE.  Which means attempting to jump over one of those bottomless pits usually means you end up shooting the opposite wall of the pit as you fall in.

#63: Paperboy – Sega Master System.  It’s Paperboy.  So why is it playing the music from Moon Patrol?  Actually, it’s only half of the music from Moon Patrol.  WTF?

#64: Columns  – Sega Master System.  Columns is sort of like Tetris, but not.  You’ve probably played it in some form or other.  Instead of having blocks you can rotate, you have a column of three colored crystals you can cycle.  The object is to get three or more of the same color in a row.  I think this game was the source for most of the “Jewel Drop” type games out there today.

#65: Thunder Blade – Sega Master System.  This game is half vertical shooter, half 3D Death Star Trench Run.  The 3D effect isn’t all that bad for the SMS, but sometimes your helicopter gets in the way.

#66: Ghostbusters – Sega Master System.  The C64 had speech synthesis.  Where’s my speech synthesis?  Sure, this one has better graphics and multiple ghost types, I still want to hear “He slimed me!”  Strangely, the main baddie in this game is “Gorza”.  I guess Gozer was taking a personal day or something.

#67: Time Soldiers – Sega Master System.  This game is what happens when Ikari Warriors becomes unstuck from time.  I remember liking this game in the arcade, because the arcade had  one of those rotational sticks for controlling the direction of firing, and it also had horizontal and vertical paths.  The SMS version doesn’t have either.  Instead, you end up jumping randomly between timezones.  I was told that I was going to the Primitive Age, yet I ended up in WWII.  Then, when I ended up in the Primitive Age (Complete with cavemen and fire spitting dinosaurs), I went about ten feet and was transported to the Roman era.  Weird.  There’s probably a pattern to it, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out.

#68: Shadow Dancer – Sega Genesis.  A Shinobi game.  With a dog.  I kept getting killed on the first level.

#69: Dragon’s Fury – Sega Genesis.  A bit of a cross between a pinball game and a fantasy themed vertical shooter.  Orcs and wizards and things come out of some of the holes scattered around the pinball table, and you can kill them with the pinball.  The table has multiple levels, and I saw two separate bonus tables in the short amount of time I played.

#70: Last Battle – Sega Genesis.  This game is as generic as the cover art indicates.  The first level had spear-bearing ninjas randomly appearing and falling out of the sky or rising out of the ground like the undead.  A single punch or kick sends them flying off screen.  At some point, the main character’s bulging pecs caused his shirt to rip off, just like the Incredible Hulk.  Then I met up with some green thing in a Roman Colosseum which beat me down and I died.  Game over.  One life, no continues.

#71: Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? – Sega Genesis.  She sneaks around the world from Kiev to Carolina, she’s a sticky-fingered filcher from Berlin down to Belize.  She’ll take you for a ride on a slow boat to China.  Tell me, where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?  This game is a pure classic.  And now I have that song stuck in your head and you’re welcome.

#72: Super Thunder Blade – Sega Genesis.  The 3D sections of this game are a disgrace to the word “Super”.  I think they looked better on the C64 version of Thunder Blade.

#73: Beyond Oasis – Sega Genesis.  I was having fun with this Zelda-style adventure RPG until I got killed by some lobster-spider hybrid boss.  I don’t think I even scratched it before it stomped all over me.  Still, I might give it a second chance.  I just wish the character moved a little bit faster and more fluidly.

And so ends this video game bender weekend…

  1. Apparently it’s the Fuji Speedway in Japan, but still.  If you’re going to make a Pole Position clone, try to be a touch less obvious. []

November 7, 2010   No Comments

Games #44-57 and Another System

#44: Lord of the Sword – Sega Master System.  This game reminded me a bit of Simon’s Quest.  It’s a side-scrolling adventure game, where you’re free to find your own way, and where townspeople give you various quests.  Unfortunately, it has limited continues and no save game/password ability.  I played this one for a decent bit of time, exhausting all of the continues and actually feeling that I made some progress in the game.  Unfortunately, the movement is slow and sometimes awkward1, combat isn’t very responsive2, and there were a ton of cheap hits from hard to see or avoid enemies.  Three pixels of a caterpillar sticking up above the grass just isn’t fair.  Wolves that lunge at you the moment they appear on screen so fast that you can’t even swing your sword to hit them just isn’t fair.

#45: Choplifter – Sega Master System.  This game was one of my favorite arcade games, and the SMS version is one of the most faithful to the arcade version.  (Choplifter on the 7800 and 5200 are both faithful to the original home computer version.)  So many quarters spent in the Silver City Mall…

#46: Kenseiden – Sega Master System.  This game plays like a samurai Castlevania.  With pot-bellied monkeys that are foaming at the mouth.  I gave up at the first boss, because it seemed like there was no way to avoid being hit by it, since it was too tall to jump over and flying too low to duck under.  I think if you hit it at just the right moment, you’d be safe as it passed through you, but I never quite got the hang of it.

#47: Rambo First Blood Part II – Sega Master System.  It’s like Ikari Warriors.  But with Rambo.  And without enemies that dance when they’re killed.

#48: B.O.B. – Sega Genesis.  “Robots are cool.”  “But gamers want edgy characters with attitude these days!”  “We can make a robot with an edgy attitude.”  “Do it!”  It’s got a well-animated robotic ant for the main character, and the selection of weapons and sub-powers is interesting, but that doesn’t really matter, since the game takes place in generic sci-fi industrial zone or generic sci-fi cave zone.  If there’s anything beyond that, I didn’t see it.

#49: Bubble and Squeak – Sega Genesis.  Colorful, charming, and bizarre.  This is a platform game with a few puzzle elements to it.  You have to get the kid Bubble and his giant blue cat friend Squeak to the barber pole in each level.  To do that, you’ll have to have the cat throw the kid into the air, have the kid kick the cat into a whirling ball of doom, and shoot stars at penguins with baseball bats or flying one-eyed piggy banks.

#50: Decap Attack – Sega Genesis.  You’re a mummy that can punch things with a face in its chest, and throw its head at enemies.  I think that’s about all there is to say on this one.

#51: Atomic Runner – Sega Genesis.  “The Deathtarians just killed my father and kidnapped my sister, so it’s time to get all Terry Fox on their asses and RUN RUN RUN!”  Might have been better if the game had a sense of speed or momentum.  But nope.  It’s more like a slowly scrolling horizontal shooter where you’re stuck on the ground.  You don’t even turn around when you press backwards, instead, you moonwalk.  To turn around, you have to press a different button, which leads to lamost instant death.  Who knew the Deathtarians would be so evil?

#52: Target Earth – Sega Genesis.  Mecha suits?  No.  Just…  No.  Oh yeah, one life and no continues.  Thankfully, I didn’t intentionally buy this game, it was sent to me by mistake when I ordered Trampoline Terror.

#53: Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – Sega Genesis.  If “Generic Platformer Game” were in the dictionary, this would be the example they’d use.  And to think, Alex Kidd was Sega’s mascot before Sonic.

#54: Puggsy – Sega Genesis.  Raccoons steal a giant slug’s space ship and he’s out for revenge.  Revenge entails picking up barrels and seashells and kicking fish at parrots.

#55: Wonder Boy in Monster World – Sega Genesis.  A side scrolling action RPG adventure game, in the vein of Zelda II or Ys, but brighter and more colorful.  It’s a bit strange that the game starts off by telling you that monsters have invaded Monster World.  I’d have thought that monsters were already there…  Anyway, it’s a definite uphill from there, and I think I’m going to continue playing this game at some point.

I also hooked up my Philips CD-i.  The CD-i came out in the early 90’s, and was one of the first CD based systems.  Since it was one of the first CD-based systems, you get a lot of “CD-ROM” games for it, and I mean that in the worst sense.  Remember the days when games were pre-rendered CGI sequences or FMV scenes with short bits of “Photorealistic” nonsense in between?  The CD-i was full of that sort of thing.  It also had unresponsive controls, a high price tag, and an uncertain identity that left consumers unsure whether the system was meant to be an educational device or a game machine.  An interesting side note is that the CD-i grew out of a collaboration between Nintendo and Philips, for a CD-ROM extension for the Super Nintendo.  The add-on fell through, but Philips somehow ended up with the rights to produce a Mario game and several Zelda games.

#56: The 7th Guest – Philips CD-i.  Ooh, spooky.  This is what happens if you mix a ghost story with a copy of Games magazine.  This game is undeniably important in the history of gaming, but the gameplay itself did not survive the test of time.  I have to wonder how long it took them to render all of the 3D graphics in the game, given that an iPhone can probably do it in real-time today.

#57: Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon – Philips CD-i.  Zelda for the CD-i.  The legendary Zelda for the CD-i.  I have now played it.  It’s a lot like Waterworld.  Many people have said very bad things about it, but when you finally see it, your expectations are so low that you’re surprised that it’s really not that bad.  Okay, there’s plenty about it that is bad.  The cut scenes are just painful, the animation is bad, the voice acting is bad, the script is bad.  Character animation is choppy.  The control is a nightmare3 and its often difficult to see what surfaces are walkable or not.  You have to hit money with your sword to pick it up.    The difficulty is annoying, with lots of cheap hits that steal tons of hearts.  But, having said that…  The levels are beautiful.  The backdrops all look like they’re hand-painted, no tiles here.  The core gameplay idea is good, where there are limited areas available to you from the world map, and more areas open to you as you explore or get more items.  Each zone has several rooms, some of which have items or people to talk to or exits that open up other zones on the world map.  The zones are typically about five or so screens wide.  The enemies are well-drawn and detailed.  Even without the flaws, though, I have a hard time believing that this would have been accepted as a Zelda game.  It doesn’t look or feel like a Zelda game, not even Zelda 2.  But with a different princess, this could have had a chance.

  1. Just like Simon’s Quest… []
  2. Just like Simon’s Quest… []
  3. Up to jump, button 1 to attack, button 2 to use special weapons, enter doors, and enter the item select menu, and a third button on my controller is unused… []

November 7, 2010   No Comments

Games #25-43 and Another System

I hooked up the Atari 7800.  The 7800 was originally to be released in 1984, but the Great Crash caused Atari to shelve the release plans until 1986, when the NES had revived the home console market.  The 7800 was backward compatible with the 2600, so it has a huge library of games that can be played on it.  Unfortunately, it also has some of the most uncomfortable joysticks ever made.  Fortunately, I have a pair of European Atari gamepads designed for the 7800.

Anyway, I had a couple of technical difficulties yesterday, one of them involving the screenshot program.  I decided it would be faster to play a bunch of games, then come back later and deal with the screenshots and writing about the games.  Unfortunately, the screenshot program took a picture of part of the title screen of the first game, then quit.  So, almost 20 games later, no screenshots.  Yay.  Instead, here’s the carts or boxes and a quick rundown of each:

#25: Snafu – Intellivision.  Snafu is like Surround on the 2600, or like the Light Cycles from Tron.  It has a few variations, including a mode with four opponents.  It also has some of the best music on the system. 1

#26:  Tron Deadly Discs – Atari 2600.  This version is easier to control than the Intellivision version, and it seems to be clearer about how much health is remaining.  Unfortunately, it loses out on the ability to fire in any direction at any time, and I think this one is missing the Recognizer boss.

#27:  Deadly Discs of Tron – Intellivision.  This version is harder to control than the Intellivision verison, and it seems to be less clear about how much health is remaining.  Fortunately, it has the ability to fire in any direction at any time, and this one has a Recognizer boss.

#28: Midnight Mutants – Atari 7800.  This game is one of the most complex games on the system.  It really shows that the 7800 was capable of competing with the NES, had Atari gotten its act together earlier.  If it had come out in 1986, it could have been a game changer.  Instead, it came out in 1990, so it was game over.  This game is the closest the 7800 has to a Zelda style game, with exploration and items, plus, it’s got Grampa Munster.  How can you go wrong with Grampa Munster?

#29: Tower Toppler – Atari 7800.  Tower Toppler is known by many names.  Tower Toppler, Castelian, Nebulus…  All involve a space frog trying to climb and destroy a series of towers.  Most of the enemies in the game don’t kill you, they just knock you down to a lower level on the tower.  You only die if you fall off the bottom of the tower or if you run out of time.  And you will run out of time often.  This game also features a convincing 3D effect as the tower rotates behind your space frog.

#30: Scrapyard Dog – Atari 7800.  Scrapyard Dog is the only side-scrolling platformer on the system.  The only one.  Think about how many there were on the NES at the same time.  The game itself is pretty decent, with lots of jumping and secrets to find.  I keep meaning to dedicate some time to playing this game.  Now that I have the game room all set up, I might just have to do that.

#31: Donkey Kong – Atari 7800.  The game is Donkey Kong.  The music is a horrifying mess.  This game is an indication of why the Atari 7800 failed.  Most of the launch games for the system were the same old games that people had on the 2600.  They were five year old arcade games that no one was playing anymore.  No one wanted to spend $200 for the ability to play games that they didn’t actually want to play, when there was this other system that had a completely new style of game, where getting a high score was no longer the main objective.

#32: Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine – Sega Genesis.  Ever play Kirby’s Avalanche?  Same game, but set in the Sonic universe.  And by same game, I mean that the gameplay is IDENTICAL.  Even the graphics for the blobs that drop down is the same.  If you haven’t played it, this game is sort of like Dr. Mario, where groups of two colored blocks fall from the top and you try to set up blocks of the same color.  Four or more of the same color touching each other will cause the group to disappear, and you get bonuses for setting up large cascades.

#33: Dashin’ Desperadoes – Sega Genesis.  This game is a split-screen footrace between two cowboys who want to get the girl.  That sadistic, mean-spirited tease has these two cowboys running across half the world, watching them kick, punch, sabotage, and throw bombs at each other, just on the promise of a kiss.  This game, like OutRunners, seems like it requires two players to be any fun.  The CPU character in the single player game visibly cheats:  If you get too far ahead, he snaps to within two feet of you and immediately throws a bomb to knock you off your feet.

#34: Space Spartans – Intellivision.  Star Raiders with speech synthesis.  If you like Star Raiders, you’ll like this.  If you like speech synthesis, you’ll be impressed, but you probably won’t have any idea how to play, so the only speech synthesis you hear will be the computer telling you that all systems have been completly destroyed and that you’re about to be killed by the alien horde.

#35: Pinball – Intellivision.  Whoa.  This looks like a real pinball table.  This acts like a real pinball table.  Multiple flippers, bonus tunnels, bumpers, curved surfaces, it’s all there.  It’s like the people who wrote this game actually played pinball at some point in their lives, unlike the people who wrote Video Pinball for the 2600.  Plus, this game has cute puppies.  Any game with cute puppies gets bonus points.

#36: Hero – Atari 2600.  A very complex multi-level adventure for the 2600.  Your goal is to take your copter-pack into dangerous mines and rescue trapped miners, while avoiding spiders and bats and exploding TNT.  I feel should like this game more than I do.   Some of the deaths felt very cheap, like dropping into a new room directly on top of a spider that kills you instantly.

#37: Astroblast – Atari 2600.  This is the 2600 version of Astrosmash.  Since you use a joystick instead of the thumb-mangling Inty controller, I should like this game more, but I don’t.  The speed’s all wrong and the game just doesn’t feel right.

#38: Sentinel – Atari 2600.  I believe this is the only light-gun game on the 2600.  It came out in the late 80’s, so the sound and graphics are top notch for the system.  It’s a multi-stage horizontally scrolling shooter, where it’s your goal to defend the planet Neptune2 from attacking alien forces.  At the end of each stage, there’s a boss robot to defeat.  I can easily say that it’s the best light gun game on the 2600.  Don’t confuse this with The Sentinel, the 3D game about robots that eat trees.

#39: Shove It! – Sega Genesis.  Sokoban.  A testament to stupid warehouse design.  Anyone who’s tried to clean their garage or pack things up for a move has played this game in real life.  It is a good version of Sokoban, but still, you’re just pushing boxes around.  Some day, I’m going to force myself to finish this game… 3

#40: Barnyard Blaster – Atari 7800.  This game forces you to shoot chickens and cute fluffy bunnies.  What kind of horrifying game is this?  The game is a light gun game with several screens of farm themed shooting.  Bottles on the fence, watermelons in the yard, owls in the barn, etc.  Somehow, this game is more morally abhorrent to me than GTA is.  “You shot Gramps!  No bonus!”

#41: SubTerrania – Sega Genesis.  This game is similar to Thrust, Gravitar, or Solar Jetman, only with a greater emphasis on combat and higher gravity.  I died within about 20 second when a giant robot punched me.

#42: Trouble Shooter – Sega Genesis.  Horizontally scrolling SHMUP featuring two teenage girls in with jet packs who are excited about going to the mall to fight evil, because the cute shoes might still be on sale.

#43: Rocket Knight Adventures – Sega Genesis.  Back in the nineties, pretty much every animal had a platformer.  There were hedgehogs and geckos and bats and bandicoots.  Rocket Knight Adventures has a possum.  A possum in a rocket-powered suit of armor with a boomerang.  The graphics are bright and detailed, but the controls will often have you rocketing around out of control in a direction you didn’t want to go.

  1. Well, okay, some of the only music on the system… []
  2. Or it’s a giant beach ball…  I’m not sure… []
  3. BTW, the password for level 2 is MARINA []

November 6, 2010   No Comments

Game #24: Penguin Land – Sega Master System

Penguin Land is cute.

Penguin Land is colorful.

Penguin Land has cheerful music.

Penguin Land is evil.

The goal of Penguin Land is to help a space penguin roll its eggs into the secret penguin base under the surface of the moon.  You can dig out blocks to open a path to the platforms below, but if the egg falls too far, it cracks.  If it gets crushed, it cracks.  If a underground space polar bear hits it, it cracks.  If you land on it and it has nowhere to roll, it cracks.  If you leave it alone too long, an underground moon bird will drop a brick on it and it cracks.

In other words, the egg cracks.  Often.

Still, it could be fun, if you have the patience.

November 5, 2010   No Comments

Game #23: Vectorman – Sega Genesis

Good graphics, good music.

No continues.

November 5, 2010   No Comments

Game #22: Technoclash – Sega Genesis

Something about wizards and robots and Las Vegas.  Whatever.  Next!

November 5, 2010   No Comments