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Monday, December 16, 2013

Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films

I'm excited to announce the debut of my new ebook, Retro Pop Culture A to Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films. It's available on Amazon Kindle, meaning you can read it on your computer, iPhone, tablet, laptop, Droid, or other electronic device. All you need to do is download the FREE Kindle app.--You don't have to have an actual Kindle.

Here's the Amazon description of the book:

Retro Pop Culture A-Z: From Atari 2600 to Zombie Films is a window to the past—a time of 8-bit video games, Silver Age super-heroes, Saturday morning cartoons, rock ’n’ roll music, and scary movies at the drive-in.

The book includes 60 fun-filled, feature-length chapters on such icons of popular culture as Alien, the Batman TV show, the Beatles, Dynamite Magazine, Famous Monsters of Filmland, The Flash, Forbidden Planet, Golden Age arcade games, He-Man, the Intellivision, Jaws, MAD magazine, the Nintendo NES, Ray Bradbury, The Wizard of Oz, and the X-Men.

If you’ve ever stayed up all night trying to beat Super Mario Bros., dressed up as a member of KISS on Halloween, watched Thundarr the Barbarian while eating a bowl of sugary cereal, set a VCR to record your favorite show, or listened to Elvis or the Rolling Stones on a turntable or 8-track tape player, Retro Pop Culture A-Z is for you.

If you haven’t done any of these things, no problem—feel free to dive right in and find out why your parents (or grandparents) are always talking about “the good old days.”

Includes:

*60 essays/articles on nostalgic pop culture favorites
*More than 250 full-color photos
*More than 110,000 words
*Quotes from the experts
*Production histories
*Collectibles pricing
*Author anecdotes
*And much more!

You can read a sample of the book on Amazon HERE.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Video Game Collector Syd Bolton

Like many of my articles, this one recently appeared in AntiqueWeek:
Canadian Syd Bolton has “just under” 15,000 video games, one of the largest private video game collections in the world. His electronic obsession ranges from old Pong units to Intellivision cartridges to computer discs to Xbox 360 games, and just about everything in between.
Bolton, who owns the Personal Computer Museum in Branford, Ontario, was recently featured on an episode of Extreme Collectors, where host Andrew Zegers visited his home, marveling over the amazing amassment of interactive media.

“I love this!,” Zegers exclaimed upon entering the first of several of Bolton’s game rooms. “Are you kidding me?”

A 30-year veteran of the antique/appraising industry, Zegers travels the country in search of collectors and their vast collections, which range from yoyos to vintage automobiles to Barbie dolls and G.I. Joes. He’s even profiled celebrities, such as Penny Marshall, who collects sports memorabilia, and Corbin Bernsen, who collects snow globes.

While checking out Bolton’s collection, Zegers was obviously having a blast, playing such favorites as The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker for the GameCube and the original arcade version of Pac-Man, and exclaiming excitedly about such obscurities as the Virtual Boy 3D console and Extra Terrestrials (not to be confused with the infamously bad E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial game), which is a recently discovered, under-produced Atari 2600 cartridge worth $10,000.
Zegers always appraises the collections he investigates. Bolton was hoping his video games were worth at least $500,000 and was pleasantly surprised when Zegers quoted a figure of $650,000.

There’s no doubting that Bolton’s video games are valuable, but Zegers may have overshot the mark by a sizable margin. While examining a used Virtual Boy, for example, he told Bolton it was worth $500. A quick eBay search, however, showed several of those systems selling for around $100 (with shipping). Further, a new-in-box Virtual Boy with nine complete games recently sold for $749.99 (free shipping).

Regardless, Bolton isn’t in it for the money. He simply loves video games and the nostalgic pleasures they bring, pointing to Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 as the title that turned his hobby into an obsession. “Pitfall! got me into video game collecting,” he said. “Pitfall! for me isn’t just a video game—it’s like a time machine.”

A software developer, technology broadcaster, museum curator, and author, Bolton enjoys a full, well-rounded existence, with plenty of time spent away from the small screen.

“(My video game collection) hasn’t taken over my life, not yet anyway,” he said. I have a job; I have friends; I have other interests. A lot of people have accused me of being a hoarder, but everything is extremely organized and in alphabetical order.” 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

SCARS Magazine Interview

I was interviewed by Jonathan Plombon for the Winter 2012/2013installment of SCARS magazine, a special “Big 80s Issue.” The brief interview, which was done for a feature on classic video game movies, wasn’t published per se, but the author did give me credit at the end of the article: “Thanks to Brett Weiss, author of the “Classic Home Video Games” series of books for his insight on the topic.”

Here’s the complete interview:

SCARS: What originally attracted players to video games? What attracted you?

WEISS: As a kid, the ability to manipulate images on the television screen—to control the action—was awesome. No longer was TV a strictly passive recreational vehicle.

SCARS: What do you think players are trying to accomplish and hoping to find in video games?

WEISS: I hate to read too much into it, but I suppose for some it’s the feeling of control and power that they don’t have in real life. Also, beating a game (or a friend) or improving upon your high score gives you a sense of accomplishment.

SCARS: What were most video games about in the early 1980s?

WEISS: Good, simple, challenging fun.

SCARS: How was the video game industry in the years 1982, 1983, and 1984?

WEISS: 1982 and '83, exciting. 1984, depressing—I was bummed when the ColecoVision and Atari 5200 ceased production.

SCARS: How would you describe the social atmosphere of early ’80s arcades?

WEISS: They were at once competitive, welcoming, loud, frenetic, flashy, and fun. The games were simple to learn, yet tough to master, creating a diverse, highly charged environment.

SCARS: Joysticks was obviously done for laughs, but does the film capture the time accurately?

WEISS: Joysticks has some entertainment value as a so-bad-it’s-good film, but it doesn’t resemble reality in any form or fashion. It’s silly, sophomoric, poorly acted, poorly plotted, and just plain dumb. Having said that, the girls in the film are cute, and it’s cool to see games like Satan’s Hollow, Gorf, and Super Pac-Man in action. For a film that better captures the era, stick with Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

SCARS: What's your opinion of Cloak and Dagger?

WEISS: For an adventure/spy/video game film aimed at younger viewers, it’s not bad. It’s very watchable, actually. The performances are sincere, and I’ve always wished I could go to that game store depicted in the film.

SCARS: Cloak and Dagger features the Atari 5200. What's the legacy of the 5200?

WEISS: The Atari 5200 is a great system with lousy, non-centering controllers. I have a Wico replacement joystick, and it works great. I still play Pengo, Space Invaders, Robotron, and several other games for the system on a semi-regular basis.

SCARS: What caused the industry to bounce back after The Great Video Game Crash?

WEISS: The release of the NES in 1985 was a major factor in resurrecting the console industry. In particular, Super Mario Bros. was such a revelation and so much fun to play. It gave gamers unprecedented control over the protagonist, tons of secrets to uncover, cartoon-like graphics, and a sense of movement and progression seen in few previous games.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Flash TV Show


The fastest man in the DC Universe will soon be the fastest man on television, the CW’s Mark Pedowitz has announced. Beginning next year, in season two of the hit show Arrow, the Scarlet Speedster’s origin story will be retold, giving viewers the rundown (so to speak) on Barry Allen, the Silver Age Flash.

The Flash will appear in episodes 8, 9 and 20 of Arrow, each of which will be written by Arrow co-creators Greg Berlanti and Andrew Kreisberg and comic book writer Geoff Johns. David Nutter will direct the episodes, with #20 acting as a “back-door pilot” for a potential Flash television series.

This won’t be the Crimson Comet’s first live action foray onto the small screen. In addition to appearing on NBC’s campy Legends of the Superheroes specials (The Challenge and The Roast) in 1979, the character starred in The Flash, which ran on CBS for one season (22 episodes), from 1990-1991. Produced by Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, with story editing by Howard Chaykin, The Flash featured soap opera veteran and future Dawson’s Creek dad John Wesley Shipp in the title role.
According to an interview with Bilson published in Comics Interview #88 (1990), the inspiration for the show came from such darkly intelligent, cutting edge works of graphic fiction as Chaykin’s American Flagg (1983-89), Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986),  and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ The Watchmen (1986).

Bilson, assuring Comics Interview readers that The Flash would not be campy, said, “If you ever read comic books, you read them to believe them, not to make fun of them. So those books that I was talking about made them believable for adults. And that’s the kind of tone we use. You absolutely believe it. We don’t make fun of it at all. And it does have humor, but it’s all humor that comes out of the character, and not laughing at itself.”

Shipp took the show seriously as well. In an appearance at the 2011 Dallas Comic-Con, he said, “They wanted us to play the show for real. The comedy was there if it needed to be as a result of the characters. The humor was character-based, such as Paula Marshall [as Barry’s gal pal, Iris West] saying, ‘I can’t believe it was over so quickly,’ and it turns out we were watching a boxing match. Obviously, the viewer thought she was talking about sex.”

Despite being cancelled after only one season, The Flash, which was part police procedural, part super-hero hijinks, did spawn some merchandise, including a DVD boxed set ($20), a Flash TV Special comic book ($8), a Tiger Electronics LCD Video Game ($60 unopened), a Game Boy video game ($50 complete in box), a CD soundtrack ($40), and several T-Shirt designs ($25 each).

One of the hardest-to-find collectibles from the show is a life-size cardboard cutout depicting a costumed John Wesley Ship in action with a promotional speech balloon saying, “Watch me on CBS and you could win $100,000.” This item was displayed at various 7-11 stores during the show’s run and today is worth more than $100 in nice condition.  
 If The Flash had been renewed for a second season, a toy line would have been introduced, including action figures from Toy Biz. In 2007, Hake's Americana & Collectibles, which is a division of Geppi’s Entertainment Auctions, auctioned off an unpainted Flash TV show prototype action figure for $335.22. In 2011, a fully painted prototype figure was offered on eBay for $1,999.99, but, despite the toy never being mass produced, failed to receive any bids.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Tom Clancy R.I.P.


*As with many of my articles, this one first appeared in AntiqueWeek:
“The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”
~Tom Clancy

Best-selling author Tom Clancy, who died October 1 at the age of 66, wrote military novels that made a whole lot of sense. So much sense, in fact, that he was viewed suspiciously by certain members of the military.

According to Hillel Italie of The Associated Press, “In 1985, a year after the Cold War thriller The Hunt for Red October came out, author Tom Clancy was invited to lunch at the Reagan White House, where he was questioned by Navy Secretary John Lehman. Who, the secretary wanted to know, gave him access to all that secret material?”

Clancy, a meticulous researcher, insisted that he gathered all his information from unclassified, easily obtainable books, interviews, and technical manuals, a practice he continued until his death.

Like Ian Fleming, whose James Bond novels were touted by John F. Kennedy, Clancy’s work was given the unofficial presidential seal of approval by President Ronald Reagan, ironically enough. Reagan called The Hunt for Red October “the perfect yarn” when a reporter asked what he was reading as he stepped off Marine One, the book tucked under his arm.

Originally published by the U.S. Naval Institute Press, The Hunt for Red October had a first run of 15,000 copies, according to The Making of a Bestseller: From Author to Reader (1999, McFarland Publishers). However, shortly after the remarks by Reagan, the novel was picked up by Berkley Books and became a New York Times Best Seller.
According to some sources, including abebooks.com and veryfinebooks.com, first print, first edition copies of The Hunt for Red October are worth $400-$800 in Fine condition or better. However, other sources, such as nudelmanbooks.com, list the book at more than $3,000. Uncorrected proofs of the first edition, which, of course, are scarcer, typically command $2,000-$4,000.

The Hunt for Red October, which kick-started the techno-thriller subgenre, tells the tale of the pursuit of a runaway top secret Russian missile submarine. The hero is Jack Ryan, who was played by Alec Baldwin in the 1990 feature film based on the book. Other popular actors would portray Ryan in movies based on Clancy works as well, including Ben Affleck (The Sum of All Fears) and Harrison Ford (Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger).

Comic book scripter and science fiction novelist John Jackson Miller (Star Wars: Kenobi) credits Clancy as an influence on his personal and professional life. “There was a time when I was first in line for the new book and movie,” he said. “I saw The Hunt for Red October three times opening weekend, and Clancy’s work partially inspired me to pursue my foreign policy studies.”

Despite his keen interest in the armed forces, Clancy, who suffered from poor eyesight, never served in the military, a point Miller acknowledges: “My year on (Marvel Comics’) Iron Man was very much a Clancy homage, mimicking his drive for technical accuracy. He showed that you didn't have to spend a career in the military to write about it if you did your homework.”

Seventeen of Clancy’s novels have reached number one on the New York Times Best Seller list, and his books have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.  His final book, Command Authority, co-authored with Mark Greaney and starring Jack Ryan, is scheduled for release December 3.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Jurassic Park

Universal Pictures has announced the title and release date of the fourth movie in the Jurassic Park series. Jurassic World, filmed in 3D and directed by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), will stomp into theaters June 12, 2015.


 As with the first three films—Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park IIIJurassic World will be based on characters and situations created by Michael Crichton, who kick-started the popular dinosaur franchise in 1990 with his best-selling novel, Jurassic Park, in which genetically created dinosaurs run amok in an amusement park.

The Jurassic World announcement coincides (roughly) with the 20th anniversary of the original Jurassic Park movie, which came out in June of 1993, a busy summer that also saw the debut of such films as The Firm, The Fugitive, Sleepless in Seattle, Cliffhanger, and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Backed by a $65 million marketing campaign, Jurassic Park earned more than $900 million worldwide, making it the highest grossing film of all time up until that point (Titanic passed it in 1997, followed by others). In April of this year, Jurassic Park was re-released in theaters in 3D to celebrate the film’s 20 years of enduring popularity, pushing it past the $1 billion mark and making it the 13th highest grossing film of all time.
The initial release of Jurassic Park, which wowed theater goers with its cutting edge special effects, was accompanied by a slew of merchandise (there were more than 100 licensees in all), much of which has skyrocketed in price. An unopened box of Topps trading cards will only set you back $15-$20 or so, same with an unopened paint-by-numbers kit and various small action figures, but the more desirable toys—the larger dinosaurs, vehicles, and playsets—are another story, as evidenced by the following recently completed eBay sales:

*Boxed “Demon” Carnotaurus with Attacking Jaws: $505 (plus $16.85)
*Mint-in-box Electronic Command Compound 339.99 (plus $85.85 shipping).
*Mint-in-box Jungle Explorer: $199 (plus $18.39 shipping).
*Mint-in-box Capture Copter: $139.99 (plus $38.24 shipping).
*Mint-in-box Stegosaurus with Whip-Action Spiked Tail: $110 (free shipping).

The Carnotaurus mentioned above has a Wal-Mart sticker price of $13.96, so anyone who had the foresight to buy an extra (or two) to keep in the package made a wise investment.

Brook Andrews, the administrator of the YouTube channel, JurassicCollectables, is a big fan of the premium Jurassic Park items, especially the Tyrannosaurus Rex with Electronic Roar & Stomping Sound, which was in the first series of toys and is worth around $250 unopened. “It was the icon of the Jurassic Park toy world,” he said. “It’s just a fantastic toy. It’s giant—it represented the big brown Rex in the film. This was the toy everyone wanted when Jurassic Park came out. This was the daddy of the Jurassic Park toys.”

Andrews likes the look of the toy sitting on his shelf, but also the play action. “If you squeeze his chest around his ribs, he opens his jaws and makes an electronic roaring sound,” he said. “And if you slam him down on the ground, he makes a big foot-stomping sound, just like he did in the film…just brilliant.”

There’s no doubting that Jurassic World will spawn a merchandising blitz of its own. Only time will tell exactly what those products will be and if they’ll go up in price over time.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Peter Criss of KISS

I wrote this article for AntiqueWeek last year, but I thought it would be a good fit for my blog, so here ya go:

Pop metal rockers KISS played their first gig at the Popcorn Club (renamed Coventry shortly thereafter) Jan. 30, 1973, in Queens, New York. To celebrate their 40th anniversary, the band has released a mammoth book called Monster, which is as tall as a guitar and costs a whopping $4,250. Limited to 1,000 handmade copies, the titanic tome is loaded with rare photos and is signed by all four current members: Gene“the Demon” Simmons, Paul “Starchild” Stanley, Tommy “Spaceman” Thayer, and Eric “Catman” Singer.
For those of you who haven’t followed KISS during the last couple of decades, original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss left the band years ago, embarking on iffy solo careers, plus projects with other bands. Of the two, Criss has had a higher profile post-KISS (though Frehley has sold more records), thanks largely to a very public bout with breast cancer in 2008, which included several nationally televised interviews.


Born George Peter John Criscuola, Peter Criss was the drummer for KISS from 1972 to 1980. Gene, Paul, and Ace maintain that he was fired from the band while Peter claims in his autobiography, Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of Kiss (2012, Scribner), that he quit. The book also chronicles Criss’s hedonistic lifestyle during the band’s heyday (and after), which included copious amounts of sex, drugs, car crashes, and trashed hotel rooms.
“Like all coke addicts, I could never have enough,” Criss wrote. “I would stay up for days on end. One time I stayed up for seven straight days.”

Criss, along with Frehley, rejoined KISS during the mid-1990s and early 2000s, engaging in a series of reunion tours (including an “Unplugged” performance on MTV), but Makeup to Breakup paints Simmons and Stanley in a decidedly negative light, saying they treated him as an employee, not a partner. The book also states that the KISS reunion paid Criss $40,000 per show while Frehley got $50,000, a painful blow to the drummer’s fragile ego.

Peter Criss’s biggest claim to fame is composing and writing KISS’s biggest hit single, “Beth” (1976), a ballad he devoted to his first wife, Lydia. Ironically, the song was also his greatest downfall as it inflated his ego and gave him an overstated impression of his importance to the band, and of his potential as a solo act.
Despite his tumultuous life during and after KISS (he resents Eric Singer wearing his Catman makeup), Criss remains a popular figure with KISS fans and is a valuable commodity in the field of pop culture collectibles. A recent search of completed eBay auctions turned up the following Peter Criss items:

Signed “Beth” stool from Love Gun tour with accompanying poster: $2,584.98
Lizard necklace worn by Criss during 1978 concert: $799.00
Tiger portable KISS record player signed by Criss: $599.99
Concert-used drumstick from 1977/78 tour: $500
Sideshow figure (#8 of 1,000) with autographed base: $405
1977 Pearl Drums promo poster: $389.00
1980 reel-to-reel tape cut from his second solo album: $372
1978 Halloween costume in box: $316.11
1977 Mego doll in box: $265
Factory sealed 1978 Aucoin T-shirt: $150
1978 Aucoin Pacifica belt buckle: $148.50
1978 Majic Market cup: $80




   

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Sega Master System

The following article on the Sega Master System, written by yours truly, recently appeared in AntiqueWeek. I've reprinted it here for your perusal:

Even the most casual of gamers has heard of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), the popular console that resurrected the video game industry in the U.S. from the ashes of The Great Video Game Crash of 1983 and introduced the country to such iconic Nintendo properties as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

Far fewer people are familiar with the Sega Master System, the closest thing Nintendo had to a competitor at the time. Originally released in Japan in 1985 as the Sega Mark III, the Sega Master System hit U.S. shores in June of 1986, which was less than a year after the NES made its debut.

Unfortunately for Sega, Nintendo, despite the short lead time, had already signed exclusive deals with most of the major third-party game publishers, meaning the Master System missed out on many popular series, including Castlevania, Contra, and Mega Man. Titles such as those, along with Nintendo’s popular first-party games, helped propel Nintendo to an 83% share of the entire video game market by 1988.

Derek Slaton, author of the newly released The Sega Master System Encyclopedia, believes the Master System hardware is better than the NES console, but for one admittedly large component: the size of the game library.
“For a variety of reasons the NES had a ton of third party releases, which is why there are over 700 games for the NES,” he said. “The SMS, on the other hand, barely had any, which is why there are barely over a hundred games on the system (well, in the USA that is).”

Slaton, who says that “video games were pretty much my entire childhood,” has fond memories of hanging out with his best friend, “staying up to 3:00 a.m. drawing maps on graph paper so we could figure out how to get through the later dungeons in Phantasy Star,” a great role-playing game that is a cornerstone of the Master System library.

Slaton also enjoys Wonder Boy III:  The Dragons Trap, another terrific RPG. “The graphics and the music are amazing and still hold up very well today,” he said. “The gameplay is a nearly perfect mix of action, platforming, and Metroid-style exploration. The boss battles are epic, there are tons of secrets to uncover, and, most importantly, it's just a heck of a lot of fun to play.”

In the video game collectibles market, role-playing games tend to be among the more sought-after titles, but a near mint-in-box copy of Wonder Boy III:  The Dragons Trap will only set you back around $35 or so. A copy of Phantasy Star in similar condition is worth $60.

According to Slaton, the most valuable U.S. release for the Master System is James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing, but only because it was released in small quantities, not because of the quality of the game. “There are only a handful of the games floating around, and even loose copies go for $150,” he said. “Which in my opinion is about $149.50 too much.”
In an article entitled “The Rarest and Most Valuable Sega Master System Games” published on www.racketboy.com, the top spot goes to the U.S. version of Sonic the Hedgehog (not to be confused with the common Sega Genesis cart), which is worth $500 complete in the box. However, the article warns that buyers should beware that the valuable U.S. release is hard to discern from the European game: “The only way to tell the European versions from their North American counterparts is that U.S. releases have a sticker barcode on the back (of the box).”

The rest of the list is as follows:

*James “Buster” Douglas Knockout Boxing: $150 – $400.
*Golden Axe Warrior: $65 – $200.
*Out Run (Blue Label) 1990 Re-Release: $50 – $100.
* Power Strike II: $60 – $85.
*Phantasy Star: $23 – $60.
* Out Run 3D: $40 – $80.
*Spiderman: $45 – $70.
* Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker: $30 – $50.
*Alex Kidd in Shinobi World: $30 – $50.

Friday, September 27, 2013

C-3PO at Dallas Comic Con: Fan Days

Like many of my articles these days, this one about C-3PO/Anthony Daniels first appeared in AntiqueWeek.

IRVING, TX—Anthony Daniels may not be a household name, but the character he played in all six Star Wars films—the golden droid C-3PO—most certainly is. If you want to get the autograph of the “man inside the metal” and even have your picture made with him, you can do so at Dallas Comic Con: Fan Days, a geek fest being held October 4-6 at the Irving Convention Center, which is located between Dallas and Fort Worth.
With Daniels in attendance at Fan Days, you can bet there will be numerous Star Wars items for sale, including C-3PO action figures. Many have been produced for the various films over the years, but the Holy Grail of C-3PO action figures remains the original, which was produced by Kenner in 1978, the year after Star Wars debuted in theaters. Today it is worth more than $2,000 when graded 90 or better by the Action Figure Authority (AFA).
Daniels collects C-3PO merchandise, but only in the casual sense. He recently told geek-news.mtv.com he has “quite a few” C-3PO collectibles that “you wouldn’t see on display, but tucked away in a cupboard somewhere.”

Daniels also revealed that his favorite C-3PO item is as soft and as furry as an Ewok.

“The one I like very much is a Beanie Baby C-3PO, because it’s so charming,” he said. “He’s a cartoony type figure, he’s floppy, he’s cute and you can throw him at people and whatever. But I have other things and some quite expensive one-off things. I don’t know what to do with them, and one day I’ll wake up and do it.”

In Daniels’ opinion, the goofiest C-3PO collectible is a ceramic tape dispenser made by a company called Tastesetter. “It features C-3PO in the semi prone position with his knees in the air and his feet on the ground with the roll of tape between his knees and thighs,” he said. “It’s like the position of giving birth. It makes me laugh, because it’s so repellent and so dreadful.”
 In an article called “12 Craziest Pieces Of Star Wars Merchandise” published on www.smosh.com, the C-3PO Tape Dispenser earned the dubious top spot. Despite (or because) of its crazily awkward design, the dispenser is worth more than $100 in near mint condition.

Ever since Disney announced the purchase of LucasFilm in October of 2012, speculation has run rampant on whether or not actors from the original Star Wars trilogy would appear in the next film, which is scheduled for release in 2015. If you make it out to Dallas Comic Con: Fan Days, you can ask Anthony Daniels if he will be reprising his famous role.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Sega Master System Encylopedia

My review of The Sega Master System Encyclopedia is in the latest issue of the Digital Press fanzine. I've reprinted it here for your perusal. Enjoy! 

The Sega Master System Encyclopedia
Author: Derek Slaton
Self-Published through Amazon’s CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
435-page trade paperback
Available in color, black-and-white, and as a digital download and PDF File.
Self-published books about classic video games are an increasingly common sight these days. Some are indispensable, such as Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel’s Atari Inc.—Business is Fun (2012, Syzygy Company Press), while others, such as Derek Slaton’s newly released The Sega Master System Encyclopedia, are merely entertaining.

According to Merriam-Webster, an encyclopedia is “a work that contains information on all branches of knowledge or treats comprehensively a particular branch of knowledge usually in articles arranged alphabetically often by subject.”

The Sega Master System Encyclopedia is indeed categorized alphabetically—by game title—and it is comprehensive in terms of featuring every U.S. release for the system (more than 100 games in all). However, with words like “comprehensive” and “encyclopedia” thrown around, it should be more than a mere book of reviews.

Approximately four pages are devoted to each game, which should leave plenty of room for more detailed production history. For example, in the After Burner chapter, the book says that the cartridge is a “passable port of the popular arcade game,” but fails to mention that the coin-op version came out in 1987 and that it was available as a standard upright cabinet and as a sit-down model with a rotating seat and cockpit.

Slaton rightly complains that SMS After Burner is “incredibly choppy” and that the Sega Genesis version is “far superior,” but he doesn’t explain that the Genesis cartridge is actually called After Burner II and that After Burner itself was released for the Genesis add-on, the 32X.

As a book of reviews, The Sega Master System Encyclopedia works pretty well (despite some grammatical problems, such as missing commas). Slaton does a thorough job describing gameplay while pointing out positives and negatives. He’s obviously a fan, but he clearly knows a bad game when he plays one. He even gives reasons to fire up certain undesirable titles, such as to experience just how bad an aspect of a particular game can be.

Slaton’s stated objectives are to entertain, inform, and “make sure that the memory of these games live on for future gaming generations” all of which are fine goals. In the book’s introduction he states, “While the purpose of encyclopedias isn’t to be entertaining, the purpose of gaming is. Given that playing games is incredibly fun, I believe that reading about them also should be.” As such, he infuses his reviews with humor, some of which might give you a chuckle or two.


A contributor to Retro Gaming Times (www.retrogamingtimes.com), Slaton has more book ideas in the works, including a TurboGrafx-16 encyclopedia. Assuming he follows through with this project (which I believe he will), here’s hoping he infuses it with more encyclopedia-style information than can be found in his freshman work, The Sega Master System Encyclopedia, while maintaining that book’s fun style and tone.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Collecting for Dragon's Lair and Space Ace

My article on Dragon's Lair and the new book, Collecting for Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, is in the new issue of AntiqueWeek. I've reprinted it here for your perusal. Enjoy! 
Released during the summer of 1983, Dragon’s Lair was the world’s first fully animated laser disc video game, breathing new life into the arcade industry, which was starting to lag and needed a big hit.

Unlike most other games of the time, which employed sprite-based graphics, Dragon’s Lair was essentially an interactive cartoon. Gamers, cast in the role of Dirk the Daring, set out on a journey to rescue the beautiful (and scantily clad) Princess Daphne, who was held captive in the wizard Mordroc’s castle by an evil, fire-breathing dragon named Singe.

Instead of directly controlling the action, players would watch animated sequences and intermittently press the joystick for directional movement or the button to swing Dirk’s sword at just the right moments. If the player’s timing was off, a humorous death sequence would follow.

Produced by Cinematronics, Dragon’s Lair was conceived by Rick Dyer and animated by Disney alumnus Don Bluth, director of such classic cartoon features as The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), and The Land Before Time (1988).

When it was new in the arcades, Dragon’s Lair cost 50 cents to play, which was double the price of other coin-op video games. In addition, its non-traditional, quick-time gameplay was befuddling to some. However, that didn’t stop many, many people from lining up to play it. By February of 1984, the game had grossed $32 million.

Dragon’s Lair inspired such arcade offshoots and sequels as Space Ace (1984) and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp (1991), and it spawned a surprising amount of merchandise, including action figures, comic books, magazines, and T-shirts. It’s also one of only three arcade video games housed at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (the other two are Pong and Pac-Man).

Syd Bolton, author of the newly released Collecting for Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, which was published by the Personal Computer Museum to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the franchise, compared the success of the game to other pop culture icons.
“The loyalty and nostalgia created by Dragon’s Lair is not unlike the fandom created by science fiction hits like Star Wars and Star Trek,” he said. “Virtually every year since Dragon’s Lair’s initial release, new ways to purchase the game have emerged,” including releases for such home consoles as the NES, Wii, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD.  You can even play Dragon’s Lair’s on your iPhone.
Bolton acknowledges that better, more beautifully animated games have come along since Dragon’s Lair, but there’s no denying the popularity and longevity of the adventures of Dirk the Daring and his cartoon cohorts.

“The combination of gameplay, animation, sound, and the time in it was introduced to the world is what makes the game memorable,” he said. “Certain players feel personal pride being able to complete the game, which is considered far too difficult and frustrating by some. Others just like being transported to a world with monsters and knights and treasures where anything can happen.”

According to Bolton, the Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet is, of course, the most highly sought after Dragon’s Lair collectible, but there are two versions in particular that are especially desirable to collectors. “Dragon’s Lair serial number one, which was once owned by Don Bluth, sold at auction for $8,000 several years ago,” he said. “We can only guess at its value today.”

Bolton also referenced the Australian release of the game, which is worth $5,000 or more in working condition. “Only two are known to still exist today,” he said.

Other Dragon’s Lair collectibles of note include: original animation cels ($50-$5,000 each, depending on the scene, and whether or not the cel is autographed); the Korean version of the Panasonic 3DO game ($150); a counting target toy set ($200); the Tele-Story Presents Dragon’s Lair storybook ($150 with cassette tape); the Sega CD demo disc of the game ($100); the 2008 Blu-ray release autographed by creators Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, John Pomeroy, and Gary Goldman ($100); and How to Win at Dragon’s Lair by Laren Ferguson ($25 in good condition, $150 or more in very fine or better condition).