Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Super! Bitcon THIS WEEKEND in Oklahoma City

I'll be at Super! Bitcon in Oklahoma City this weekend, displaying my wares. If you live within driving distance, come check it out. Last year's show was fantastic, and this year promises to be even bigger and better!







Monday, March 23, 2015

Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness - PlayStation - Nintendo 64 - Dreamcast - Review

Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness
PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast
Publisher/Developer: Namco Hometek
Genre: Maze/Adventure
Sept. 14, 2000

Description: 

Ms. Pac-Man gets a facelift and a fresh series of adventures with Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness. Pac-Land is under attack by Mesmeralda, a horrible witch who has turned the Enchanted Castle into a ghost-ridden haunted house. Adding to the misery is the disappearance of the Princess.

Thanks to Professor Pac and his nifty Pactrometer, Ms. Pac-Man can pass through the force fields separating the four Wonders of Pac-Land: CleoPactra, Pac Ping Harbor, Crystal Caves and Haunted Halloween. To save the day and prevent darkness and chaos from spreading, Ms. Pac-Man must find retrieve one Gem of Virtue (Truth, Wisdom, Generosity and Courage) from each of the four lands.
Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness gives you a three-quarter perspective, top down view of each of the game's 180 scrolling mazes. There is much to do in each land. As you guide this female version of Pac-Man around the pathways, you must eat all the Pac-Dots, search for hidden areas and collect cherries, strawberries, peaches and other fruits. You must also contend with Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Sue, ghosts who follow you around and make your journey difficult. To temporarily turn the tables on your foes, you can eat one of several Power Pellets, which make you invincible and give you a hankering for ghosts.

In addition to ghosts, you must also contend with other maze-roaming enemies and a number of obstacles new to the Ms. Pac-Man universe. These include sphinxs, alligators, centipedes, hellhounds, falling boulders, ice corridors, bolts of lightning, nitro boxes and more. A number of puzzle elements have also been introduced, such as opening and closing switches and gates, pushing buttons, finding keys to unlock doors and pushing moveable blocks to access areas. Other elements of gameplay include moving platforms, warp portals and popper pads (for jumping). Despite all the activity, no buttons are used in regular play, only the control pad or stick.

Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness also features a number of multi-player games. Dot Mania is a race to see who can be first to eat 80 Pac-Dots. If you get hit by a ghost, you lose ten dots. You can grab moneybags to make other players lose dots, don sneakers to run faster, dash chili pepper to burn other players and gobble cake to become big and indestructible. You can even generate lightning to shock other players.

In Ghost Tag, players begin the game as ghosts! When you see the Ms. Pac-Man icon, try to get to it so you can become Ms. Pac-Man. Once you assume the role of the feminist dot-gobbler, begin munching Pac-Dots as fast as you can. If you are a ghost, try to catch Ms. Pac-Man so you can turn into her. The first player to eat 50 Pac-Dots is the winner.

Dr. Bomb randomly chooses a player to hold a bomb that counts down from 30 seconds. To get rid of the bomb by passing it to another player, simply tag that player. When the timer reaches zero, whoever has the bomb gets blown up; bombed players turn into ghosts. When you're a ghost, you can maneuver around the maze and block other players. The winner is the last non-ghost player.

Classic Ms. Pac-Man is also included in the package. There are four different non-scrolling, 2D mazes, each of them filled with Pac-Dots that you must eat. For bonus points you can gobble one of four Power Pellets in order become invincible and turn the tables on your enemies, those four pesky ghosts. You can also munch fruit treats that bounce around the mazes. When you clear a maze, you move on to the next.

Review:

I'm always a little apprehensive when trying out newer titles based on legendary arcade games (I've yet to recover from the awful Galaga--Destination: Earth for the PlayStation), but sheer curiosity combined with a longing to keep the oldies alive and well keeps me clamoring for more. With Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness, I was pleased to discover that it's one of the better classic makeovers on the market.

Even more fun than Pac-Man World, this game has smooth, simplistic controls, colorfully cute 3D graphics, and tons of levels. The levels are short and there are save points galore, so you can play the game for a few minutes at a time or for a couple of hours or more.

Obviously, the differences between Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness and the original Ms. Pac-Man are large in number and vast in scope. However, the most important difference revolves around the newer game's heavy reliance on puzzles, most of which involve finding keys to open doors and pushing blocks in the proper sequence or into their proper positions (such as filling gaps in the maze pathways). No longer is it simply a matter of munching dots and avoiding (or munching) enemies.
The many puzzles in the quest mode (the primary portion of the game) are fun, but they are very easy to figure out. Unless you are a younger or less experienced gamer, you will rarely get stuck in a level. Also, the dot-munching, enemy-avoiding action is easy and lacking in intensity; you are rarely overwhelmed, and once you eat a monster, it won't come back (unlike the original game in which enemies return after a few seconds). The quest mode is fun, but lighthearted and not quite as challenging as some veteran gamers will require.

The original Ms. Pac-Man, which, thankfully, is included in the package, is more challenging and much better in terms of reflexive gameplay. It doesn't have any puzzles to speak of, but it's a blast to play and gets faster and more furious as you go. Trying to outwit the ghosts and gobble all four of them while revved up on a single energizer is timelessly entertaining.

Where Maze Madness truly shines is in its multi-player games. Ghost Tag is a fun and crazy game that will keep you and your friends laughing. It's a hoot when a group of ghosts are together and different players keep turning into Ms. Pac-Man. Dot Mania and DA Bomb are fun as well. All three games will rev up your competitive spirit while greasing up your funny bone.

Old-school gamers won't necessarily take to the quest mode of Ms. Pac-Man: Maze Madness because it's more about puzzle solving than dot munching, but it's a fun game nevertheless. All gamers should enjoy the classic game and multi-player modes.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Free Sample Pages -- Retro Video Game Books

Thousands of readers have discovered my books on classic video games, and I appreciate everyone who has bought a copy online, at bookstores, or directly from me. I am truly honored. However, no author can have too many readers, so I'm posting links to free sample chapters of several of my books. Click on the SAMPLE links below to access the pages.

As always, thanks for reading!

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Classic Home Video Games, 1972-1984:
SAMPLE 1




Monday, March 16, 2015

Basketball Movies -- Get Ready for March Madness


Are you ravenous for roundball? Bonkers for brackets? March Madness is upon us, and if you have a hankering for hoops like I do, you’ll want to gear up for the big tournament by watching one or more of the following films.

One on One (1977)
Rated PG

You can’t help feeling sorry for Henry Steele, a high school basketball star who gets a college scholarship, only to find himself bullied by his bigger, better teammates and belittled by his overbearing coach. Robby Benson plays the role with a great deal of sincerity, drawing the viewer in with his na├»ve charm, unwavering persistence and warm, trusting eyes. Annette O'Toole plays Janet Hays, a tutor assigned to help Steele, but the pair become much more than teacher and pupil.

Unlike many roundball movies, the basketball scenes in One on One have an authentic look and feel. Some of the dialogue has aged a bit, but the film as a whole holds up nicely as viewers root for Steele to get the girl and win the game.

Fast Break (1979)
Rated PG

Released during the last season of Welcome Back Kotter, Fast Break was Gabe Kaplan’s silver screen debut. Instead of Sweathogs, Kaplan, in the Mr. Kotter-like role of coach David Greene, rides herd on a band of misfit basketball players, including numbers-runner D.C. (Harold Sylvester), androgynous female Swish (Mavis Washington) and former high school star Preacher (Michael Warren), who has impregnated the underage daughter of a cult leader. Then-current NBA star Bernard King is Greene’s pal Hustler, who’s as good at pool as he is at hoops.

A popcorn comedy dotted with dramatic moments, Fast Break sticks to the tried and true formula of so many sports movies—oddball team overcomes great odds to beat superior squad—but it’s good for some guilty laughs.

The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh (1979)
Rated PG

The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh stars NBA legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving as Moses Guthrie, a member of the fictional Pittsburgh Pythons, an awful team in the midst of an embarrassing losing streak. As such, astrologer Mona Mondieu (Stockard Channing) suggests they populate the team with people, like Guthrie, who were born under the astrological sign of Pisces. One of these players is the Reverend Grady Jackson, played by noted Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon.

With its cult following and so-bad-it’s-good reputation, Fish is essentially the Plan 9 from Outer Space of basketball movies. However, thanks to on-court artistry from Erving and Lemon, and to soulful sounds from such acts as the Spinners and the Four Tops, it has more flash and substance than Ed Wood’s anti-masterpiece.

Teen Wolf (1985)
Rated PG

In 1985, Michael J. Fox starred in two hit comedies: a great sci-fi fantasy, Back to the Future, and an entertaining (if slight) horror spoof, Teen Wolf, in which he portrayed Scott Howard, a decent athlete on a terrible basketball team. Like Back to the Future’s Marty McFly, Howard is a likable fellow. However, turning into a werewolf makes him cocky and resented by his teammates.

Inspired by I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), Teen Wolf doesn’t quite work as metaphor, at least not in any meaningful way, but it did put a fun new twist on the werewolf genre. Followed by a dreadful sequel, a Saturday morning cartoon and a current MTV television series.

Hoosiers (1986)
Rated R

Well-written, well-acted and oozing with heart, Hoosiers stars Gene Hackman as the beleaguered, recently fired (for hitting a player) Norman Dale, who gets a job as a teacher and coach at a small high school in Indiana, a state that is crazy about basketball. Dale takes on recovering alcoholic Shooter (Dennis Hopper in a rare turn as a sympathetic character) as his assistant, much to the chagrin of the townsfolk, who finally come around when Dale’s overachieving teams makes it to the state championship.

Weighing in at #13 on AFI's 100 Years . . . 100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies (2006), Hoosiers is widely considered the greatest basketball film of all time—a reputation it truly deserves.

White Men Can’t Jump (1992)
Rated R

Written and directed by Ron Shelton, who directed another quality sports movie in Bull Durham (1988), White Men Can’t Jump initially skirted some controversy with its title—what if there were a movie called “Black Men Can’t Throw?,” some asked—but that is largely forgotten today. What remains is a funny film in which former college standout Bill Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) hustles black street ballers who assume he doesn’t have game because of the pale shade of his skin. One of Hoyle’s victims, Sidney Deane (Wesley Snipes), seizes on the situation and becomes his partner in crime.

Tasty trash-talking makes White Men Can’t Jump a hoot of a hoops movie, as do comedic performances by Rosie Perez (Hoyle’s girlfriend) and Tyra Ferrell (Deane’s wife).

Space Jam (1996)
Rated PG

While no one will confuse Space Jam with Citizen Kane (or Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, for that matter), it is a likable romp through a Looney world where Saturday morning cartoon characters meet NBA superstars. Michael Jordan helps Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and the rest of the gang fend off a group of alien slavers by playing them in a game of high stakes basketball—if the good guys win, they go free.

In addition to featuring such NBA icons as Charles Barkley, Larry Bird and Patrick Ewing (underachieving former Maverick Shawn Bradley is here, too, but we won’t mention that), the film pays homage to an assortment of memorable Looney Tunes moments, such as the Patton parody with Bugs Bunny standing before a giant flag.

Finding Forrester (2000)
Rated PG-13

Sean Connery is William Forrester, a novelist so reclusive he makes J. D. Salinger look like F. Scott Fitzgerald. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author hasn’t written anything in decades, and he’s as grumpy as a shark getting a root canal. Enter Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a 16-year-old basketball standout with a secret ambition to be a writer—he hides his prodigious intellect from his classmates because "basketball is where he gets his acceptance.”

The unlikely duo bond over the written word, and over a common enemy: Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), a professor who doesn’t believe that a young African-American athlete from the Bronx could possibly write with such skill. Finding Forrester was directed by Gus Van Sant, and fans of Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting should enjoy it.

Coach Carter (2005)
Rated PG-13

Based on the true story of California high school basketball coach Ken Carter, who made news in 1999 by benching the players on his undefeated team for making bad grades, Coach Carter stars Samuel L. Jackson as the titular task master. He knows that the odds of making the NBA are extremely slim and that a good education and self-respect are more important than athletic prowess. Jackson relays this wisdom with a commanding performance that earned him Outstanding Actor in a Motion Picture at the 2005 ESPY Awards.

Coach Carter also showcases sports movie veterans Rob Brown (Finding Forrester) and Rick Gonzalez (The Rookie), along with R&B singer Ashanti (John Tucker Must Die, Resident Evil: Extinction).

Glory Road (2006)
Rated PG

In 1966, Texas Western College, coached by Don Haskins, won the NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament, beating the Kentucky Wildcats, who were coached by the legendary Adolph Rupp. The Wildcats had an all-white roster while Haskins fielded five black starters, an NCAA Championship first.


Glory Road is based on this racial breakthrough. In an interview during the film’s end credits, Pat Riley, who starred on that Wildcats team, says Haskins and his squad wrote the “emancipation proclamation of 1966,” which is less hyperbolic than it sounds. Glory Road has a the same plot as a thousand other sports movies—rookie coach leads a reluctant, underdog team to greatness—but it transcends the genre by capably spotlighting an important historical event.

Adventure -- Warren Robinett -- The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987

There's a new article about Adventure creator Warren Robinett on the Wired website. My favorite part reads:

A computer engineer and professor from Brazil asked Robinett to autograph his copy of the book The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987, in which Adventure is the first entry.

The fan thanked Robinett profusely as he clutched the book to his chest.

“Your game,” he said, “Is … everything to me.”

“This is really gratifying,” says Robinett. “I’m so glad it’s not forgotten.”

You can check out the entire article here.






Friday, March 13, 2015

The Video Game Reading List

I got the new Game Informer in the mail and was disappointed to discover that my new book wasn't featured in "The Video Game Reading List." Some of my friends' books missed the cut as well.

However, I am pleased that G.I.'s Matt Helgeson spotlighted some worthwhile titles that deserve a large readership. True, these are already some of the best-selling video game books on the market, but kudos to these authors for getting recognition for their hard work.
Click on the magazine pages for a closer look, and click on the links below to order these fine titles. Below that, you'll find links to books by some of my pals.





Sunday, March 8, 2015

Spring 2015 - Video Game Guide

The weather has been crazy in North Texas the past few weeks: sunny skies and warm one day, freezing rain and icy streets the next. Spring will likely bring more unpredictable weather, from unseasonably warm days to high winds to unexpected thunderstorms.

Fortunately, there’s one place where the climate is always predictable: the family living room, where you can expect to have a ton of comfortable fun with the latest video game releases, along with titles in your near future.

Here are 10 such games, ranging from racers to platformers to first-person shooters, from kid-friendly to mature and everything in between.

AVAILABLE NOW

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$39.99

It’s hard to believe that the pink puffball known as Kirby is more than 20 years old, debuting in Kirby’s Dream Land for Nintendo’s original Game Boy way back in 1992. The game has enjoyed a number of spinoffs and sequels, including the latest, Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, which takes a new approach: Kirby, as a claymation character of sorts, rolls, blasts and dashes his way through candy-colored worlds along rainbow rope tracks that the player must draw. The action is controlled with the touch screen on the Wii U GamePad, but three other players can join in via Wii Remotes to control Waddle Dees and help Kirby complete his adventure. As such, this is a terrific title for the entire family.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars
Wii U, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$19.99

In Tipping Stars, the sixth game in the “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” series, players guide toy versions of Nintendo characters through a series of traps, obstacles, conveyor belts, warp pipes and the like to reach the exit in each stage. The control is indirect as Mario and company move automatically while the player uses the stylus to change the level layout by repositioning springs and creating bridges and ramps.

There are more than 80 puzzling stages to solve, and players can create their own levels and share them online through the Miiverse, a first for the series. Tipping Stars is only available through the Nintendo eShop; if you purchase the Wii U version, you get a free download code for the 3DS game (and vice versa).
Q*bert Rebooted
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Publisher: LOOT Entertainment.
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$9.99

This downloadable title reimagines the quirky Q*bert franchise of the early 1980s for a new generation. In addition to letting players guide the orange, hose-nosed oddball as he hopes on a pyramid of cubes to change them to a unified color (Classic mode), Q*bert Rebooted introduces the concept of hopping on different formations of hexagons, making for more complex level designs. Plus, there are power-ups, traps, new enemies and gem collecting. New characters to control factor in as well, but they behave the same as Q*bert himself, making this feature something of a disappointment. It’s still a fun game, though, especially considering the budget-friendly price.
ScreamRide
Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+
$29.99 (Xbox 360), $39.99 (Xbox One)

If you can’t make it out to Six Flags for spring break, pick up a copy of ScreamRide, a racer that lets you commandeer various roller coasters, accelerating and braking in timely fashion in order to finish the tracks quickly, but without falling off. Going fast rewards players with points, as does performing stunts, such as careening around corners so fast that your coaster pops up on two wheels.

Using ride pieces, props and modular scenery, gamers can also build and customize their own coasters and thrill rides, a feature that will please fans of the PC and Xbox classic, RollerCoaster Tycoon. Best of all, in Demolition Mode, gamers can hurl detachable ride cars at buildings to bring them crashing to the ground.

COMING SOON

Battlefield: Hardline
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Electronic Arts
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$59.99
Release Date: March 17

The “Battlefield” series gets a change of scenery with Battlefield: Hardline, a first-person shooter that eschews the military wartime action of previous games in favor of cops ’n’ criminals, complete with a TV crime drama-style presentation. In addition to changing the setting, the game introduces a variety of new multi-player modes, including: Heist, in which criminals break into a vault while the police try to stop them; Blood Money, which finds both factions trying to transport cash to their armored truck; Hotwire, a high stakes game of capture the flag; Crosshair, a team-based competition where the good guys try to protect an informant; and Rescue, a crisis situation where the cops win by rescuing all the hostages or killing all the bad guys.

Mario Party 10
Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$49.99
Release Date: March 20

Ever since its debut on the Nintendo 64 in 1999, the Mario Party franchise has been a perennial favorite among those who enjoy lighthearted fun with family and friends. As in previous games in the series, up to four players (human or computer-controlled) compete against one another in mini-games, moving around a game board in the process. At least 26 new mini-games are introduced, including cartoonish takes on hurdles, soccer, basketball, volleyball, platforming, shape stacking and maze chasing.

There are two new modes of play: Amiibo Party, which makes use of the popular new Nintendo figurines that you’ve probably seen in stores, and Bowser Party, which lets a fifth player use the Wii U GamePad to control Bowser as he chases the other gamers around the board.

Bloodborne
PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$59.99
Release Date: March 24

A strange endemic illness has swept through the ancient city of Yharnam, transforming most of its denizens into beastly, nightmarish creatures. As a traveler to this gothic village, where deranged mobs run wild in a vast, trap-ridden network of underground ruins, you must rely on your agility, wits and weaponry—including guns and extendable saw cleavers—in order to survive.

Developed by Hidetaka Miyazaki and FromSoftware, the brains and company (respectively) behind Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, Bloodborne should appeal to the action/RPG fan looking for intense, fast-paced, two-fisted (gamers can wield a firearm in one hand a melee weapon in the other), hack-and-slash mayhem.

MLB 15: The Show
PlayStation Vita, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$19.99 (PSVita), $39.99 (PS3), $59.99 (PS4)
Release Date: March 31

You’d think that after 35 years of baseball games licensed by the big leagues (Major League Baseball hit the Intellivision in 1980), game makers would run out of ideas for making money on America’s pastime. You’d be wrong. MLB 15: The Show introduces product placement (ahem, “licensed equipment”), meaning players will sport Nike gloves, wear Under Armor clothing and use Louisville Slugger bats.

Other fresh features include: Universal Rewards (earn useable items by simply playing the game), a revamped Diamond Dynasty mode, and 30 Legends, in which gamers can unlock such icons as Johnny Bench and former Texas Ranger Nolan Ryan. Gameplay remains largely the same, and players can even continue their Franchise and Road to the Show progress from last year’s MLB 14: The Show.

Project CARS
PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U
Publisher: Slightly Mad Studios
ESRB Rating: Everyone
$59.99
Release Date: April 7 (PS4, Xbox One), TBA (Wii U)

Gearheads and others with a need for speed anxiously anticipate Project CARS, an ambitiously realistic racing sim with enough variety to make Speed Racer blush. Gamers, behind the wheel of a road car, a muscle car, a Le Mans Prototype, or any number of other vehicles, can challenge their friends and the worldwide community at large on more than 60 different tracks, including California Highway 1, Mount Panorama in Australia, and the Azure Coast in Southern France. You can even drive go karts on the Glencairn raceway in Scotland.

Pit stops and weather conditions play strategic roles, and there are four game modes from which to choose: Solo, Online, Community, and Career, where you can create a driver, sign your first contract, and hit the road in hopes of earning endorsements, offers from other teams and special invitations.

Mortal Kombat X
PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: Mature 17+
$59.99
Release Date: April 14

The first primary installment in the long-running fighting series since 2011’s Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat X keeps the one-on-one action intact (complete with Fatalities, Brutalities and X-Ray special movies), but introduces a variety of new characters, including Cassie Cage, the daughter of fan favorites Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage.

There are three different versions of every playable fighter (including such veterans as Scorpion and Sub-Zero), each characterized by his or her own abilities, fighting style, special moves and strategies. Modes of play include Story, 1 vs. 1 Ranked, King of the Hill, Survivor, Test Your Luck, Living Towers (adapted from Mortal Kombat’s Challenge Tower) and Faction Wars, which is an online competition where play contributes points to your selected faction: Black Dragon, Brotherhood of Shadow, Lin Kuei, Special Forces or White Lotus.