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

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Kickstarter Update - The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L)

Hi, everyone! Most of my Kickstarter updates go to everyone who has backed the project, but I wanted to reach out to my blog readers this time around so my campaign can do as well as it possibly can. Plus, I thought you guys and gals might be interested!

We passed $15,000 some time ago with more than 160 backers--thanks for your support! I'm really hoping we can pass $20,000 so I can dedicate more of my time to writing books and less to various side hustles. I'd REALLY like to do more Omnibus books, a sequel to my 100 Greatest book, and updating of my KISS Encyclopedia, and more. If you'd like to share the Kickstarter on social media to help make this happen, I would greatly appreciate it! I have plenty of ideas for more books--I just need the time to write them!

Now for my question. The Kickstarter for The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L) has four days to go before the campaign ends. This was my first time to do Kickstarter, so it was definitely a learning process. I'd love your feedback. When it's time for me to Kickstart Volume 2 and other projects, what would you like to see different? What worked and what didn't work about this campaign? Feel free to share your opinions, both positive and negative. Constructive criticism is great for helping me improve, and I can always use a boost to keep doing what I do. If you haven’t seen my Kickstarter, you can check it out HERE.

Again, thank you so much for backing this project, subscribing to my YouTube channel (click HERE for 5 Secrets of The NES Omnibus), supporting me on Patreon, commenting on my Facebook posts, reading my books and just being awesome!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

I was on The Stone Age Gamer Podcast! -- Talking Kickstarter, The NES Omnibus, TikTok, and much more!

I had a blast on the Stone Age Gamer podcast the other night, talking Kickstarter, The NES Omnibus, content creation, TikTok, and a bunch of other stuff. The show is hosted by Kris Randazzo and Danny Ryan, both of whom contributed stories to my NES and SNES Omnibus books. Below is a sneak peek at a story by Kris that will appear in The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L), which is now available for pre-order on Kickstarter. You can listen to the podcast by clicking HERE.

Insider Insight: Blaser Master is one of the best games I’ve ever played. Not just because it’s super fun, or it’s still one of the best-looking games on the system, or even because of its truly amazing soundtrack. What makes it personally amazing was how it introduced me to the concept of being rewarded for curiosity, and paying attention to details. At the start of the game, there’s a ledge you can’t get to. It’s completely unassuming, and I honestly figured it was just there for decoration. But having read the instruction manual, I knew that at some point I was going to get the hover ability and when I did, I was going to go back to that first screen in the game and see what was on top of that ledge. I expected it to be nothing, but I wanted to see that “nothing” for myself. It took me a long time to finally defeat the Area 3 boss and get the hover ability, but as planned, the first thing I did wasn’t search for Area 4, it was head straight back to the beginning of the game. To my sheer bewilderment there WAS something up there! It was more hover fuel and a robot. And another ledge. And another. And a door. And that door lead to the entrance to Area 4! To this day, it’s one of my fondest video game memories, and a fantastic example of excellent game design. A true classic through and through. - Kris Randazzo, host of the Stone Age Gamer Podcast, content supervisor for Geekade

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

I Was on a WarGames Podcast! Shall We Play a Game?

Below is the late, great Roger Ebert’s review of WarGames, one of the best movies of the 1980s. I posed it because I recently was on a podcast called Staff Picks, talking about the film. It was a blast to revisit and discuss the movie, and the host, Mario Lanza, did a great job. You can listen to it HERE.

I am writing this review on a word processor that is connected to a computer that sets the type for the Sun-Times. If I make an error, the computer will tell me. Observe. I instruct it to set this review at a width of 90 characters. It flashes back: Margin too wide. Now things get interesting. I ask it to set the width at 100 characters. It flashes back: Margin too narrow. That's because it's reading only the first two digits of my three-digit number. It thinks I said 10, because 100, of course, is ridiculous.

Computers only do what they are programmed to do, and they will follow their programs to illogical conclusions. Example. This time I tell the computer to set my review at a width of 10 characters. It does! Having read 100 as 10 and found 10 too narrow, it reads 10 as 10, and lets me have my way. I've outsmarted the S.O.B.

Sooner or later, one of these self-satisfied, sublimely confident thinking machines is going to blow us all off the face of the planet. That is the message of "WarGames," a scary and intelligent new thriller that is one of the best films so far this year. The movie stars Matthew Broderick (the kid from "Max Dugan Returns") as a bright high school senior who spends a lot of time locked in his bedroom with his home computer. He speaks computerese well enough to dial by telephone into the computer at his school and change grades. But he's ready for bigger game.

He reads about a toy company that's introducing a new computer game. He programs his computer for a random search of telephone numbers in the company's area code, looking for a number that answers with a computer tone. Eventually, he connects with a computer. Unfortunately, the computer he connects with does not belong to a toy company. It belongs to the Defense Department, and its mission is to coordinate early warning systems and nuclear deterrents in the case of World War III. The kid challenges the computer to play a game called "Global Thermonuclear Warfare," and it cheerfully agrees.

As a premise for a thriller, this is a masterstroke. The movie, however, could easily go wrong by bogging us down in impenetrable computerese, or by ignoring the technical details altogether and giving us a "Fail Safe" retread. "WarGames" makes neither mistake. It convinces us that it knows computers, and it makes its knowledge into an amazingly entertaining thriller. (Note I do not claim the movie is accurate about computers -- only convincing.)

I've described only the opening gambits of the plot, and I will reveal no more. It's too much fun watching the story unwind. Another one of the pleasures of the movie is the way it takes cardboard characters and fleshes them out. Two in particular: the civilian chief of the US computer operation, played by Dabney Coleman as a man who has his own little weakness for simple logic, and the Air Force general in charge of the war room, played by Barry Corbin as a military man who argues that men, not computers, should make the final nuclear decisions.

"WarGames" was directed by John Badham, best known for "Saturday Night Fever" and the current "Blue Thunder," a thriller that I found considerably less convincing on the technical level. There's not a scene here where Badham doesn't seem to know what he's doing, weaving a complex web of computerese, personalities and puzzles; the movie absorbs us on emotional and intellectual levels at the same time. And the ending, a moment of blinding and yet utterly elementary insight, is wonderful.

- RogerEbert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.