Friday, October 23, 2020

NES Omnibus Spotlight #3 - Matt Miller (Nintendo Book)

I met Matt Miller at the 2013 Texas State Trading Card Premiere in Austin. We were awarded cards and certificates by Walter Day for our accomplishments in the video game field. The next year we met up again at a similar event in Fairfield, Iowa. Matt and I became fast friends and have kept in touch ever since. Matt is a fierce gaming competitor as part of Team Mayh3m (with Michelle Ireland), earning several Guinness World Record for the Gamer’s Edition series. He appeared in the Nintendo Quest documentary, among other accomplishments. He’s also a very talented writer. His stories in my SNES Omnibus books are excellent, as are the ones in my forthcoming NES Omnibus Vol. 1, which is shipping in December. More importantly, Matt is one of the nicest, most sincere guys you’ll ever meet. Matt is super supportive of my work, and I’m honored to call him a friend.

Here’s a nostalgic story Matt wrote for The SNES Omnibus Vol. 1. It’s about Super Mario World.

It’s embarrassing to admit, but I was very much a latecomer to this title. In late 1992, I finally convinced my parents to purchase a Super Nintendo for me as a Christmas gift. At the time, the fighting game craze was kicking into high gear, and I had spent much of the fall dumping a small mint’s worth of quarters into the local Street Fighter II: Champion Edition arcade machine. Thus, when it came time to provide the specifics for my SNES, I asked for the basic SNES Control Set and Street Fighter II: The World Warrior. The rationale for opting for the version of the SNES without the Super Mario World pack-in was twofold. First, it was a time when the holiday budget was particularly tight, so a scenario involving two games was not going pass muster.  Second, in my jaded 13-year old-gamer’s mind, the Super Mario Bros. franchise had obviously peaked with Super Mario Bros. 3, and the thought of a new adventure in “Dinoland” elicited a roll of the eyes and a quite vocal “Pfft!”  My mind was set on besting Bison, not Bowser again.

Flash forward nearly nine years. My father was on the verge of getting remarried, and I had an expanded family as a result. I was now an older brother, and as a self-appointed duty, I felt it only proper to give my new younger brother Dan a thorough education in the classics of the NES and SNES eras. To my surprise, I found out that he had once owned a SNES but had long since traded it in for another console. The only remnant from that collection was his Super Mario World cart, which he insisted that I try. At first, those ghosts of my early teenage years resurfaced, and with them, the urge to dismiss it yet again. However, in an effort to be more open-minded, I gave the game a whirl, and almost immediately I wanted to kick myself for my apathy towards it years earlier. 

Over the course of the weeks that followed, he and I spent countless hours playing through and uncovering all of the game’s multiple level exits and secret areas. To this day, that time period is still one of my fondest with respect to gaming memories. It may have taken me the better part of a decade to catch on, but with the aid of a wise sibling, I eventually saw the brilliant light of the masterpiece that is Super Mario World. - Matt Miller

Thursday, October 22, 2020

NES Omnibus Contributing Writer Spotlight #2 - "The Immortal" John Hancock (Nintendo Book)

Major props to NES Omnibus contributing writer and popular YouTuber "The Immortal" John Hancock, who is closing in on 100,000 subscribers. John has been at it for many years and has an amazing video game collection (so many complete sets!) that will one day form the basis of a video game museum (it took decades for The National Video Game Museum in Texas to come together), most likely somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. Speaking of, it’s always great seeing John at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo, where he has showed off complete collections of the NES and Sega Genesis. A nice guy all around, John was a good sport and spoke with enthusiasm as I interviewed him about his Genesis collection. At that same show, he did me a huge favor, helping make the trip possible.

John is a good friend, works hard as a teacher, and is a devoted family man. His NES Omnibus stories reveal a happy childhood with a loving family who would rent games together on the weekends. Recently, John invited me onto his YouTube channel to talk about the NES—it was great fun!

Here’s a sneak peak at one of John’s stories in The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L). It’s about Ice Hockey.

It was the summer of 1988, and our family was taking our weekly drive into town to rent a movie and a game. Our local selection was limited, but there were always a few new NES titles available. As I walked into the rental store, I was disappointed to notice that most of the NES games had already been rented. My family selected a movie and were waiting on me to decide what to get.  The rule in my house was that if I took too long to decide, then I couldn’t rent a game. It came down to Operation Wolf and Ice Hockey. I took a gamble on Ice Hockey, and it turned out to be a great choice. I spent that afternoon playing it against my older brother. The gameplay was fast and furious and easy to get into. The hours melted away as we played countless games against each other into the night. We played so much Ice Hockey that my parents, later that year, surprised us with it as a “brother’s gift,” one I will never forget. - “The Immortal” John Hancock, YouTube personality

NES Omnibus Contributing Writer Spotlight #1 - Patrick Hickey Jr. (Nintendo Book)

In the time between I wrote the foreword to his first book, The Minds Behind the Games, and now, Patrick Hickey Jr’s career has blossomed in ways that perhaps even he thought was impossible. While he’s been a journalist and college professor for many years, he’s now a video game story editor, writer, and voice actor. And his book series, which is at four volumes and counting, has received much critical acclaim. Hickey puts his heart and soul into his work, and it shows. He’s a machine among men and truly gets the sacrifices and devotion it takes to write in depth about a relatively niche subject like retro gaming history.

Patrick has been super supportive of my books and YouTube channel, sharing them often on social media, and we’ve developed a great friendship. Unlike some of my gaming friends, whom I've only interacted with online, I’ve met Pat in person. We spent a day bumming around New York City and had a blast. Pat always has my back and is also a devoted family man. Patrick’s nostalgic stories in my SNES Omnibus books and my forthcoming NES Omnibus books have a distinct Brooklyn flavor and are fun, illuminating, and interesting to read. Thanks, my friend!

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Pac-Man Quarter Arcade Review - Produced by Numskull

Back in the fall of 1980, I was in junior high school, and I liked four things: girls, basketball, rock music, and, of course, video games. At the Quick Way convenience store near my school, they had three arcade games set up in a small corner at the back: Asteroids, Phoenix, and the cool (if cutesy) new kid on the block, Pac-Man.

Pac-Man Fever would soon overtake the country, me included. The now-iconic game was everywhere and spawned a hit song, a cartoon, and a truck-ton of merchandise, such as puzzles, boardgames, shoelaces, TV trays, watches, keychains, a lunch box with thermos, and far too many other items to mention. I loved gobbling the dots, avoiding and chasing the ghosts, and navigating the maze, and I played the game again and again, before, after, and sometimes during (don’t tell my mom) school.

Now, Numskull has created a highly authentic replica of the coin-op classic for its new Quarter Arcade line of games, which also includes Galaga, Galaxian, Dig Dug, Track & Field, Bubble Bobble, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man’s gal pal game, Ms. Pac-Man. The company sent me a Pac-Man unit for review, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the maxi-sized mini arcade. The name “Quarter Arcade” refers to the games being a quarter scale of their arcade counterparts, while also providing a knowing wink that these games cost a quarter to play back in the day.

I was immediately struck by the colorful Collectors Edition box the game came packaged in—it’s definitely a keeper, as are the inserts that came in the box: a slick, multilingual instruction manual, a Certificate of Authenticity (denoting that Pac-Man is limited to ten thousand copies), and, best of all, an engraved collector's coin with Numskull's logo on one side and the Pac-Man “Ready!” screen on the other.

But it’s really all about the game, so let’s get to that. At 1:4 scale, it’s much bigger than most mini arcades, and, from the cabinet art to the buttons and joystick to the marquee that actually lights up, it’s about as realistic as you could get without actually renting a refrigerator dolly and lugging an original Pac-Man arcade machine into your house. It’s super detailed and includes screws on top, air vents in the back, and a pair of buttons below the faux coin slots that, when pushed, add credits to the machine.

The joystick is small and stubby, but gameplay is largely spot-on as the cabinet uses the original arcade ROM on a bespoke emulator, meaning you can indeed use the old patterns that many people memorized to get high scores on the game back in the day. Sound effects and music are faithful as well, though with the smaller speaker the audio is obviously not quite as robust—small complaint because the game looks, sounds, and plays about as well as anyone could expect. It’s durable as well, with the cabinet formed mostly from wood. It charges on the back via USB, and there is a dial for controlling the volume, situated near the on/off button.

If you want to create a game room in your house that features more than just consoles, but you don’t have the room (or perhaps the cash) for a bunch of full-sized arcade machines, you could certainly do worse than grabbing up some Quarter Arcades. For more information, including pricing and ordering (pre-ordering for some of the games), click HERE. To see my unboxing of the game, click HERE.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Showtime Series Dexter Set to Return in 2021

I never thought I’d root for a serial killer, but that’s just what I did with "Dexter" (2006-2013), the dramatic, bingeable Showtime series starring Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan. The seemingly emotionless murderer targeted other serial killers while also keeping a job as a blood spatter expert for the Miami Police Department. I found the first two seasons to be especially riveting.

Now, the show is set for return as Showtime has ordered a limited series revival. The premium cable company has ordered 10 episodes. Production is set to begin in 2021 for a fall debut, with Morgan reprising his role. Former series showrunner Clyde Phillips is also set to return. Plot details have yet to surface, but Gary Levine, co-president of entertainment for Showtime, has released this statement:

“Dexter is such a special series, both for its millions of fans and for Showtime, as this breakthrough show helped put our network on the map many years ago. We would only revisit this unique character if we could find a creative take that was truly worthy of the brilliant, original series. Well, I am happy to report that Clyde Phillips and Michael C. Hall have found it, and we can’t wait to shoot it and show it to the world!”

Dexter received plenty of accolades during its run, including multiple Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for best drama series. Hall was nominated five consecutive times for both an Emmy and Golden Globe for best actor in a drama for his work on the show. He won the Golden Globe in 2010. John Lithgow earned an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his creepy guest starring role in season four. In 2008, Dexter won a Peabody Award.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Houston Arcade Expo: The Last Gaming Convention Standing

Houston Arcade Expo: The Last Gaming Convention Standing

I travel all over the country doing video game conventions, and I always have a blast. Unfortunately, most have been cancelled for 2020 because of…well, you know. I did RetroFest in Fort Worth in March, but the Midwest Gaming Classic, ClassicGame Fest, Portland Retro Gaming Expo, Video Game Summit, Long Island Retro Gaming Expo, and others I had plans on attending were preemptively shut down.

Only one remains, as far as I know: the Houston Arcade Expo (November 13-14), which will feature a vendor’s room, panels, cosplay, arcades and consoles set on free play, and more. I recently caught up with founder and organizer Keith Christensen and asked him about his gaming history and the plans for the show this year, including the chances of it being cancelled.

BRETT WEISS: Did you grow up around video games and arcades?

KEITH CHRISTENSEN: As with most any child of the ’70s and ’80s, I grew up with video games and pinball. It started with the home Pong TV games, moved to the Atari 2600, and then finally with my TRS 80 color computer (which I STILL have with all the stuff).

Playing at the local arcades was a rite of passage. I remember playing Lunar Lander at the Hobby Airport arcade when we picked up my dad, Flash Gordon pinball at the local 7-11, and Joker Poker at a church game room. A few of my favorite places were Goodtime Charlie’s (Sharpstown Mall), Gold Mine (Westwood Mall), Games People Play, and Panjo’s Pizza.

I remember taking glass bottle returns to the Lewis and Coker Grocery store so I would have enough money to play Phoenix with my best bud. Later, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when I was in college, I played pinball at the local rock bars where I worked and hung out. I played all the classic ’90s machines in the wild as they came out. I still find it hard to believe that I’ve collected many of the games I played during my youth. The first arcade I actually owned was a Centipede that I got in 1996. I trade for computer work at a friend’s house in Dallas. That was the first of many arcade games I would own.

WEISS: When was the first Houston Arcade Expo, and how did it come about? Are you the sole owner?

CHRISTENSEN: I was hosting parties at my house and having a blast. I started having kids, so the partying at my house stopped. I got with my buddy Callan Hendricks in 2002 and hosted a party at a club where I used to do sound called Fitzgerald’s. I worked out a deal with the owner and did the first two shows there. After that, we moved to hotels, and the show became a multi-day event. I am the main crazy person in charge, but it takes a team of volunteers to make this happen.

WEISS: What separates the Houston Arcade Expo from similar events?

CHRISTENSEN: It has more of a party atmosphere and is much more laid back. We treat everyone like family!

WEISS: As far as I know, all other gaming shows from April to the present have been cancelled because of Covid-19. How confident are you that Houston will happen as scheduled?

CHRISTENSEN: It’s basically a gamble. I’m going to revisit the situation mid-October to check the numbers and see. We are not going to take any risks and are planning to have a fun yet smaller show. We’ll follow CDC guidelines for social distancing (games and booths at least six feet apart), and masks and hand sanitizer will be available. No entry without a mask. Upon arrival you and your party will have to fill out a short form and sign about your possible exposure to Covid-19. Each time you enter the venue, you will be checked for fever. Traffic from the vendor area to the game room will be in one direction, and there will be a separate entrance and exit.

WEISS: The show is three days this year. Is this a first, and what prompted you to expan
d to three days?

CHRISTENSEN: We moved it back to two days due to Covid-19 to try and manage it better. We will get to three days in 2021. Vendors, attendees, and the staff just cannot get enough—it’s like summer camp is over at the end of each show, so I wanted to delay the sadness by one more day…

WEISS: What would have to happen for the show to get cancelled? I assume it would be a decree from the city, but what specifically would have to happen? Covid numbers not going down? Something from the governor? Are large gatherings of people currently not allowed?

CHRISTENSEN: If things do not look safe for us to have the show, we will not have it regardless of what anyone says. If the numbers go through the roof, it is not worth it. However, on the flip side if the Covid numbers are within CDC specs, and the reproductive rate us below 1, I think with the right precautions we can do it! If we have to move it, we have the dates ready for the weekend of November 12, 2021, and ALL tickets and vendor booths will transfer to the 2021 show.

WEISS: Is there a deadline date for when you can say the show definitely will or will not get cancelled? 

CHRISTENSEN: We will make the decision mid-October based on the Covid-19 numbers in Harris County and how many people actually want to come out.

WEISS: If the show gets cancelled, would you consider a virtual convention?

CHRISTENSEN: Since the Houston show is more about the people who attend and their energy coupled with the games and experience, I think it would not translate that well unless we had everyone wearing a VR rig at home with an adult beverage in their hand [laughs]. Other, more structured shows I think can pull it off.

WEISS: Anything else you care to share about the Houston Arcade Expo?

CHRISTENSEN: This show has been and always will be a labor of love for everyone involved with putting it on. Our goal is not to be the biggest show in the land, but the most fun and engaging show we can have for us and all the attendees. I want to thank all the people who help put it on, especially Tina Christensen (my wife), Erich Stinson, Blake Dumesnil, John and Steph Pennington, Edmond Betz, Jay Welch, Carey Fishman, James Ayres, Robert Layne, and countless other folks we love! Peace and arcades!

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Fan Letter About My Book: The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987

I received an email recently from a reader named Kevin Moon. He wanted to express his appreciation for and enjoyment of my "100 Greatest" book. It's a thoughtful email and very well written, so, with his permission, I figured I would share it with you guys. You can read a portion of the email below.

Hi Brett,

I’ve been wanting to contact you for a while now. I own and have read two of your books (Classic Home Video Games 1972-1984 and The 100 Greatest Console Video Games 1977-1987), both of which are excellent and thoroughly written.

I wanted to comment specifically on The 100 Greatest Console Video Games 1977-1987.  I absolutely love this book.  I feel that it’s just about the most perfect video game book out there, and felt compelled to reach out and to let you know that.  There are two major aspects that I really like.  One thing is the overall look, design, and feel of the book.  The design is very appealing.  I love how each entry has a big bold number with a picture of the game box, and how half of the page is devoted to it.  The fonts are perfect; the big, bold, sans serif fonts that introduce each game and give quick stats, and the wonderful serif font (Garamond?) for the text of each entry.  My undergraduate background was in graphic design (a lifetime ago), so this kind of thing appeals to me.  I love how you included not only screenshots, but also box art and pictures of instruction manuals and the cartridges themselves.  I will say that I do wish every single entry would have included a screenshot (in addition to box, cartridge, and instruction manual art).  For example, I absolutely love how you included the box art and shots of the instruction manual and two different cartridge types for Mr. Do!’s Castle on pages 152-153, but I also would have liked a screenshot as well.

The second appealing feature, and the thing that makes this book so perfect, is the selection of included games itself.  Your choices are inspired and genius.  It’s a great variety of games for a range of systems.  You don’t neglect any system and don’t focus too much on any one system, and even managed to include a game each for the more obscure systems Arcadia 2001 (Cat Trax) and APF-MP1000 (Space Destroyers, in the “Next 100” section).  Your choices are utterly inspired and are precisely the kind of selections I myself would have included in such a book.  I get rather tired of seeing the same old choices for “Top 25” or “Top 50” lists again and again, and your choices resonated with me. - Kevin Moon