Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Video Game Trading Cards & Posters of Twin Galaxies

FAIRFIELD, IOWA—For the second straight year, the Iowa Contemporary Art (ICON) gallery in Fairfield, Iowa will host The Video Game Trading Cards and Posters of Twin Galaxies, an exhibit designed to celebrate the “Global Video Game Culture.”
 According to Twin Galaxies founder Walter Day, who can be seen in such video game documentaries as Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade (2007) and The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007), the museum will display artfully designed cards and posters “honoring the iconic industry pioneers, video game personalities, contest winners, landmark events, historic milestones, and world champions.”

One such champion is Carrie Swidecki, who danced her way to a Guinness World Record by playing Just Dance 4 for the Xbox 360 for 49 hours straight, all in the name of fighting childhood obesity. A fitness buff and dedicated video game fan, Swidecki is passionate about “exergaming” and calls getting her own Twin Galaxies trading card “an honor and a dream come true.”
Longtime scorekeeper Walter Day, co-author of The Official Video Game & Pinball Book of World Records, began creating the Twin Galaxies trading cards in 2011 as a way to educate, edify, and entertain. The cards, which are named after Day’s legendary arcade from the early 1980s, made their public hobby debut at the Philly Non-Sports Card Show on April 21, 2012 in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

As of this writing, there are more than 1,400 cards in the Twin Galaxies set, including issues featuring such prominent figures as Odyssey and Simon creator Ralph Baer, Atari founder and Pong co-creator Nolan Bushnell, and Donkey Kong and Pac-Man champion Billy Mitchell.

The Video Game Trading Cards & Posters of Twin Galaxies exhibit runs Aug. 1-16, but hardcore gamers will want to be there for the opening night festivities, when various video game “celebrities” will be on hand to sign copies of their card, including Leo Daniels, who USA Today once called “the most successful video game player in the United States,” and Michael Thomasson, who owns the world’s largest officially recognized video game collection at more than 10,000 different cartridges and discs.

The next night, Sat., Aug. 2, is noteworthy as well. This is when the Grand Reception will be held, followed by a film festival and awards ceremony at the nearby Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts.


As the author of several books on video games, I've been honored with an assortment of cards by Mr. Day:


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Summer 2014 Video Game Guide

My Summer 2014 Video Game Guide appeared in a recent issue of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Here it is reprinted for your reading pleasure:

Summer is the time for baseball, backyard barbeques and trips to the beach. But when it’s time to come inside and cool off, you may find yourself wanting something to do other than watch TV, read a book or—gasp!—do chores.

So here are 10 hot new video games you can play in the cozy comfort of your living room or man cave. Certain titles are available now while you’ll have to wait a bit for the others. As always, release dates are subject to change.

BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma
PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita
Publisher: Aksys Games
ESRB Rating: Teen
Available Now for PlayStation 3
Release Date: June 24 for PlayStation Vita
$59.99 for PlayStation 3
$39.99 for PlayStation Vita
The fifth title in the “BlazBlue” 2D fighting game series, BlazBlue: Chrono Phantasma adds five new characters—Amane, Azrael, Bullet, Izayoi, and Kagura—bringing the total number of combatants to 24. Each of the returning characters has new moves and abilities, meaning that even veterans of the BlazBlue wars will have new techniques to learn.

The action, which has been sped up for “faster, more enjoyable gameplay,” is set after the events of BlazBlue: Continuum Shift. The disc boasts 11 different modes, including Arcade, Survival, Networking (online) and Story, the latter of which features multiple endings and more than 30 hours of gameplay.

Bound by Flame
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Available Now
$39.99 for PlayStation 3
$49.99 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox 360
 Bound by Flame is a fantasy role-playing game in the truest sense of the genre. As a mercenary possessed by a fire demon, players, after creating and customizing their male or female character, must decide throughout the game to perform heroically or succumb to the dark side. As the action intensifies and the enemies and obstacles get more difficult to overcome, players will be tempted to forfeit part of their soul in order to access powerful demonic traits. By acquiring or rejecting the demonic properties, the player’s character will change in appearance.

Battles are fought in real time, and players can create new items, improve their weapons and armor and upgrade their skills in terms of combat, assassination and fire magic.

Kirby Triple Deluxe
Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Available Now
The adventures of Kirby, Nintendo’s pink, animated puffball, date back more than 20 years to Kirby’s Dream Land (1992) for the Game Boy and the fittingly titled Kirby’s Adventure (1993) for the NES. The latest iteration, Kirby Triple Deluxe, finds our ravenous hero on a quest to rescue the kidnapped King Dedede.

The classic, side-scrolling platform action remains intact, but Kirby can now jump from the foreground to the background, and he can eat a Miracle Fruit seed to transform into Hypernova Kirby, who can gobble giant objects. New mimicking abilities include beetle (impale enemies), archer (fire arrows in all directions) and circus performer (roll over enemies, juggle flaming bowling pins and wield exploding balloon animals). “Kirby Fighters,” which is similar to Super Smash Bros., and a rhythm game called “Dedede’s Drum Dash” supplement the main story mode.

Wolfenstein: The New Order
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks   
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Release Date: Available Now
 Similar in theme to Philip K. Dick’s 1962 masterpiece, Man in the High Castle, in which the Allied Powers lost World War II, Wolfenstein: The New Order takes place during the 1960s in a version of Europe in which the Nazis maintain a stronghold over the entire world. What this setup amounts to is a single-player, first-person shooter in which the gamer must battle robots, destroy giant super soldiers and infiltrate Nazi strongholds, with the ultimate goal of defeating General Wilhelm Strasse.

Wolfenstein: The New Order is the ninth game in the series, which dates back to the 1981 computer classic, Castle Wolfenstein.

Watch Dogs
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U
Publisher: Ubisoft Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Release Date: Available Now (Wii U version in the fall)
An epic, open-ended “sandbox” game, Watch Dogs puts users in the role of Aiden Pearce (voiced by Noam Jenkins), a hacker who can perform such dubious feats as control traffic lights (to create accidents), tap into surveillance cameras, disrupt police radio networks and access the cell phones and personal computers of private citizens. Armed with a baton and more than 30 different firearms, Pearce can also unleash vigilante justice on an assortment of bad guys.

The action plays out in a near-future Chicago that is controlled by a vast network of computers known as the Central Operating System (CtOS). In addition to the seemingly endless one-player option, which lets Pearce commander more than 65 vehicles, the game includes an assortment of multiplayer modes.

Murdered: Soul Suspect
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Square Enix
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Release Date: Available Now
$49.99 for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
$59.99 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
In Murdered: Soul Suspect, you are Ray O’Connor, a Salem, Massachusetts police detective who must solve a murder. There’s only one catch: you are the one who was killed (the basic scenario evokes Ghost, the 1990 film starring Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore). Luckily, as a denizen of the afterlife limbo world called Dusk, you have supernatural powers, including the ability to walk through walls, teleport and possess people to read their minds. You’ll also battle demonic spirits, search for clues, solve puzzles, interrogate ghosts, collect items and participate in various side quests.

Fans of Beyond: Two Souls may enjoy this third-person adventure thriller.  

Enemy Front
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: City Interactive Games
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Release Date: Available Now
 Billed as “the first truly modern World War II first-person shooter,” Enemy Front promises to be far less linear than most games in the genre, letting players explore open-ended levels with an unusual degree of freedom. The protagonist is American war correspondent Robert Hawkins, who can equip more than 25 weapons as he battles alongside Resistance Fighters against the Nazi scourge. Various fighting styles are featured, including intense combat, sniping, stealth and sabotage.

War isn’t pretty, as they say, but the makers of Enemy Front beg to differ, citing their game’s “stunning visuals” and “breathtaking European locales,” including France, Greece, Norway, Poland and Germany.  

EA Sports UFC
PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Publisher: EA Sports
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
Release Date: June 17
UFC, which stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship, is the violent, mixed martial arts competition that was controversial during the 1990s (it officially began in 1993) and has since become a mainstream sport. Developed by the team responsible for the Fight Night franchise, EA Sports UFC aims to capture the excitement of the real deal without harming a hair on anyone’s head.

Along with boasting such UFC fighters as Chuck Liddell and Ronda Rousey, the game features the late, great Bruce Lee, who never fought competitively, but is widely regarded as one of the greatest martial arts practitioners of all time. To capture Lee’s image, the developers used a life mask from the 1960s Green Hornet television series, in which Lee played Kato. 

Grid: Autosport
PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Publisher: Codemasters
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Release Date: June 24
Developed by Codemasters, a British company that’s been making racing games for more than a quarter of a century, Grid: Autosport lets gearheads race more than 100 routes across 22 diverse locations, ranging from Sepang to San Francisco. There are five different types of events: Endurance (lengthy road racing), Open-wheel (similar to formula-1), Street Racing (turning sharp corners while driving modified cars), Touring (racing on various professional tracks) and Tuner Competitions (featuring drifting, time attack and traditional racing).

According to Codemasters, Grid: Autosport will be an improvement over Grid 2 by featuring “a more authentic handling style” and by “returning to an in-car view.” Modes of play include Career, Time Trial, split-screen two-player, multiplayer online and more.

The Evil Within
PlayStation 3, PlayStation4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
Release Date: Aug. 26
Terror specialist Shinji Mikami is the brains behind The Evil Within, a survival horror title that the developer says will be even scarier than the games in his groundbreaking Resident Evil series, which debuted in 1996 for the original PlayStation. As detective Sebastian Castellanos, players use traps, guns and other weapons to battle undead creatures in a nightmarish world that “warps and twists around you” (the environments change in real time).

To help keep things claustrophobic, desperate and downright frightening, ammo is scarce, enemies are tough and there are numerous instances where the player’s best option is to run away and hide, oftentimes in a cramped, uncomfortable space.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Giant Monster Movie Quiz

I recently wrote a Giant Monster Movie Quiz for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, set to coincide with the new Godzilla film. The editor of the "Life & Arts" section asked me to revise it to make it easier and more accessible for the general public. I have to say I agree with her. For those of you who are film buffs and monster maniacs, here's the original quiz. Enjoy!

Giant Monster Movie Quiz

The latest incarnation of Godzilla is stomping into theaters tomorrow. Directed by Gareth Edwards, the film stars Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston as an outcast scientist who is dismissed as a lunatic for believing in Godzilla, at least until the less-than-jolly green giant rears his ugly head (and claws and tail).

Debuting in Japan in 1954 (Gojira) and introduced to American audiences in 1956 (Godzilla, King of the Monsters), Godzilla is more than a mindless destructive force. In this rejuvenation of the famous franchise, he “rises to restore [the] balance” [of nature] as “humanity stands defenseless.” In other words, he’s a monster on a mission.

To help prepare for the ensuing carnage, take this giant monster movie quiz and see how you scored at the end.


A classic of silent cinema, The Lost World (1925) featured stop-motion dinosaur effects by Willis O’Brien (King Kong). The film is based on a story by what famous author?

a) Mary Shelley
b) H. G. Wells
c) Jules Verne
d) Arthur Conan Doyle


Everyone loves the original King Kong, which thrilled moviegoers in 1933 and is still entertaining audiences (via Blu-ray) today. What scream queen played Kong’s beautiful captive?

a) Fay Wray
b) Clara Bow
c) Jean Harlow
d) Evelyn Ankers


What director, famous for such Westerns as Stagecoach (1939) and The Searchers (1956), served as executive producer on the original Mighty Joe Young (1949)?

a) Anthony Mann
b) John Ford
c) Budd Boetticher
d) Sam Peckinpah


In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), a “Rhedosaurus” is awakened by atomic bomb testing, spurring it to rampage through New York City. What stop-motion master animated this beastly behemoth?

a) George Pal
b) Ray Harryhausen
c) Willis O’Brien
d) Phil Tippett


In 1956, Godzilla, King of the Monsters, a recut of Japan’s original Gojira (1954), was released in the United States. Shoehorned into the film was a subplot about an American reporter in Tokyo. What actor—a future TV lawyer—played that reporter?

a) Andy Griffith
b) William Shatner
c) Sam Waterston
d) Raymond Burr


What year was the original Attack of the 50 Ft. Woman released?

a) 1957
b) 1958
c) 1959
d) 1960


Godzilla fought what famous monster in 1962?

a) King Kong
b) Mothra
c) Frankenstein
d) Mechagodzilla


The Valley of Gwangi, released in 1969, is a dinosaur film crossed with what genre?

a) Horror
b) Mystery
c) Science Fiction
d) Western


In what movie could Godzilla fly?

a) Godzilla vs. Hedorah (1971)
b) Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972)
c) Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974)
d) Terror of Mechagodzilla (1975)


What noted makeup artist wore the ape suit in the 1976 King Kong remake?

a) Jack Pierce
b) Dick Smith
c) Rick Baker
d) Bud Westmore


What does general store owner Walter Chang (Victor Wong) name the giant sandworms in Tremors (1990)?

a) Mutants
b) Graboids
c) Sand Creatures
d) Dirt Demons


The 1993 feature film Jurassic Park is based on the book of the same name by what novelist? Hint: He created the hit TV show, ER.

a) Robin Cook
b) John Saul
c) Dean Koontz
d) Michael Crichton


What RoboCop (1987) alumnus directed the giant-bugs-in-space military movie, Starship Troopers (1997)?

a) Ridley Scott
b) James Cameron
c) Paul Verhoeven
d) Roland Emmerich


What actor played the chief protagonist in 1998’s widely panned Godzilla, which was a big-budget reimagining of the franchise?

a) Steve Gutenberg
b) Jon Cryer
c) Michael J. Fox
d) Mathew Broderick


Disney’s John Carter (2012), which starred Taylor Kitsch (Friday Night Lights) in the title role, is set on what planet?

a) Venus
b) Earth
c) Mars
d) Planet X



D, Arthur Conan Doyle. Doyle’s story was filmed again in 1960, but to much less critical acclaim.


A, Fay Wray. She was told by director Merian C. Cooper that she would have “the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood.”


B, John Ford. Although Ford is primarily known for working with the likes of John Wayne, James Stewart and Lee Marvin, he did indeed fund the exploits of a big, hairy ape in Mighty Joe Young.


B, Ray Harryhausen. Mr. Harryhausen also worked on such nostalgic favorites as The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958) and Jason and the Argonauts (1963).


D, Raymond Burr. No stranger to B-movies, Raymond “Perry Mason” Burr also appeared in Bride of the Gorilla (1951) and Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953).


B, 1958. The film, which starred Allison Hayes as the title character, was remade for TV in 1993 with Darryl Hannah assuming the lead role.


A, King Kong. The duo battled in King Kong vs. Godzilla, which was released in Japan in1962 and the U.S. in 1963.


D, Western. The movie stars James Franciscus as a cowboy trying to capture a Tyrannosaurus Rex for use in a Mexican circus.


A, Godzilla vs. Hedorah. The film, which had an overt anti-pollution message, was released in the U.S. in 1972 as Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster.


C, Rick Baker. Mr. Baker, who also did makeup effects for King Kong, has worked on numerous Hollywood blockbusters, including Star Wars (1977), Men in Black (1997) and Tropic Thunder (2008).


B, Graboids. The burrowing behemoths terrorize the fictional desert town of Perfection, Nevada.


D, Michael Crichton. Dr. Crichton also wrote such filmable thrillers as The Andromeda Strain (1969) and Congo (1980).


C, Paul Verhoeven. A director who seems to specialize in explicit violence, Verhoeven also helmed the sci-fi mind-bender, Total Recall (1990), and the controversial thriller, Basic Instinct (1992).


D, Mathew Broderick. Better known as the title character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), Broderick portrayed nerdy scientist Dr. Niko “Nick” Tatopoulos.


C, Mars. The film is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 1917 novel, A Princess of Mars.

How did you score?

0-5 Points: Stop what you’re doing at once and enroll in Monsters University. Or at least get a job at Monsters, Inc.

6-10 Points: It was big of you to take this quiz, but this is nonetheless a rather monstrous score.

11-14 Points: You know your giant monster movies, don’t you? Consider yourself the King of Kong.

15 Points: Congratulations, a perfect score—praise Godzilla!