Sunday, March 21, 2021

EPIC Swamp Thing Story – Preview From The NES Omnibus Volume 2!

 EPIC Swamp Thing Story – Nintendo NES

There were only five games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System based on DC comic book heroes: Batman: The Video Game, Batman: Return of the Joker, Batman Returns, Superman, and Swamp Thing. In a new video, I rank and review each one. With this in mind, I decided to share a nostalgic Swamp Thing story from my forthcoming book, The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z), which is now available for pre-order. It was written by Krystle Tiedeman, the Producer of The King of Arcades.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

My Swamp Thing with the retractable hand was quite possibly the coolest action figure of all time. I enjoyed making him hold things like straws and pretzels and then have him pull them toward me. While using Swampy actually took much longer and I broke a lot of snacks in the process, I thought of it as my favorite mutated vegetation monster lending a helping hand. My best friend discovered that the cord for the NES controller fit between Swampy’s solid plastic fingers, and she would squeeze his green legs together to reel it in with his super swamp grip and say in her best Swamp Thing voice, “Plaaaay wiiiiith meeee.”

I took that little guy everywhere, including the tiny shop uptown where I bought my baseball cards, comic books, and Pogs. John’s Card Shop wasn’t much bigger than a closet, but on a summer day with an extra-large Slush Puppie, I could spend hours in there searching for treasure. Swamp Thing was peeking out of my messenger bag while my friend and I dug through bins of comics, searching for anything with Venom on the cover. The guy working the shop may have been irritated by our fruitless attempts to slurp up the last of our frozen cherry coke when he said, “I got a Swamp Thing comic, ya know.”

He proceeded behind the counter and pulled the issue from some magical secret storage. Then he narrowed his eyes at me and pointed to Swampy. He had a New York accent that sounded especially foreign in our small, coal-cracker town. “You got Nintendo?” Then he slid the NES Swamp Thing—brand new in the box—next to the comic. I wish this was the story of how I got the game, and my best friend and I sat with Swampy between us playing it until we defeated the weird pistachio thing and restored peace to the swamp. Unfortunately, we had spent most of our money on snacks, and there was no way we could afford the game. We could barely afford the comic. Not to mention, the shop didn’t normally sell games, so I’m pretty sure this dude was trying to sell it on the side and wouldn’t hold it for us until we had the cash. No, this is the story of how my best friend and I sat on my front steps with Swampy between us and lamented our poor financial choices.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually got the game. The well-worn cartridge was missing most of the stick-on label, and I had no way of knowing if it would even work, but I pulled it out of the used game bin at the farmers market and promised to love it no matter what. By then, my aunt had accidentally snapped the string for Swampy’s retractable hand. It seems even super-mutants can overextend themselves, and he would serve as pretzel butler no more. When I told my best friend I finally had the Swamp Thing game in my possession and was borrowing my uncle’s Nintendo to play it, she was just as excited as I was. In fact, she illegally printed a color Swamp Thing in the school computer lab so Swampy could join us in spirit.

Blowing into the cartridge, waiting for the white text on the license screen to turn into the start screen—these are memories that could fit any game. But the anticipation in this case was much more intense. We were nose-to-the-screen close when the opening animation started. The music was full of suspense, and we were eager for Swamp Thing to make his entrance, but a weird California Raisin without sunglasses appeared first. The Grape Face was supposed to be Dr. Arcane, and his arrival brought the first fears that this game might not live up to the hype built by years of yearning. The flaming Holland fleeing to the swamp refueled our hopes, and the title screen was so perfect, we cheered. If only ol’ Swampy could see himself on the screen this way. Except, Grape Face was back seconds later to remind us that nothing ever translates perfectly to video games.

We died. Repeatedly. In the first few minutes. Video game instinct taught us to avoid water so we jumped onto the floating can and couldn’t figure out why we were taking damage. There was a lot of frantic yelling at the stupid game. It took a long time to realize we were one with the water, and it would welcome our swampiness, but the trash was painful. We were already halfway through the first level—thanks to dodging and quick reflexes alone—when we realized we could actually hurt the evil creatures attacking us by doing a weird swamp-fart jump-punch-shoot. After that, the game redeemed itself with some of the most bizarre things we’d ever seen, such as floating knives appearing from nowhere, eyeballs and Cthulhu heads attempting to kill us, swamp-fart sound effects interrupted by mosquito-fart noises, monkeys carrying spears, and ghosts of a Xenomorph wearing a smiley face mask above its mouth. We beat the first boss, who I now realize must be a relative of Trogdor the Burninator.  Dr. Arcane, who looked like chewed grape Bubble-Yum, prepared to send more foes our way. He specifically said he wanted Swamp Thing ALIVE, so the fact they keep trying to kill us was a little confusing.

Level two greeted us with bouncing Phantasm balls, flying Evolver robots, and a layout that took seemingly forever to play by jumping around aimlessly. Turns out, once you’ve got the hang of the game—which is just a lot of jumping, really—it’s pretty straightforward play. Not exactly easy, but doable if you manage to build up enough life to take the unavoidable hits. It was really cool to stand Swamp Thing in a safe spot and check out the details of the background, because the programmers did a great job with texture and shading. The graphics really capture the feel of the comics in an immersive way.

In the third level, we finally got to check out the swamp. There was an unintentional guest appearance by Pterri the pterodactyl from Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, or so it seemed. Then we became one with the trees and climbed them as a pair of green gooey eyes. And—the best part—we squished our big Swampy self into a tiny apple and traveled through a sewer pipe like a Killer Tomato. By this point in the game, the music we thought was so cool in the beginning was now driving us insane, and we were hoping this really was the last level so we could get on with our lives. Yes, we love Swamp Thing. Yes, we had dreamed about this game since that day in the comic shop. Yes, we were thrilled to finally be playing it.

But really, aside from the graphics, the strange creatures, and the obvious awesomeness of being Swamp Thing, there was nothing remarkable about it. It actually got boring during that second level, and we’d already finished most of our snacks during the trial and error it took to figure out the controls. My best friend had her feet on the back of the couch and her head on the floor and was having a conversation with paper Swampy about how lame the game was. I was almost ready to give up around the deforestation and planted cars section, but I felt I owed it to Swampy to ride it out. I’m glad I did. Being able to hide in the trees while fighting the bat that was poorly named Skin Man was actually pretty cool.

Unlike other games, which might amp your adrenaline with the last level leading up to the final fight, this final level in Swamp Thing felt pretty much the same as the previous levels. However, it was surprisingly hard as figuring out where to jump next was not always intuitive. When I finally hit the last battle with the mutated Dr. Arcane, my best friend regained interest. The pistachio zapped out the ultimate villain: Dr. Arcane had transformed from a Grape Face into a Spider-Blueberry Head. It was almost impossible to dodge the flames, the pistachio, and the final boss. Miraculously, I did it, and we earned ourselves a beautiful tribute to Swamp Thing, may he rest in pieces. - Krystle Tiedeman, Librarian, Producer of The King of Arcades

US residents can order signed copies of my retro gaming books direct from me HERE.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Best Word-Based Video Games


Best Word-Based Video Games

Whether you are a real logophile or if you just want to expand your vocabulary, playing word-based video games can be a great way to pass the time. Not only do many word-based video games enable you to enjoy some competitive gameplay, but they also help you to expand your language skills in the process. The list below outlines some of the most entertaining word-based video games currently on the market.

1. Torn City

 Torn City is an online role-playing game that currently has over 1.5 million players. It is a text-based game that is set in the endless murky underworld of Torn. One of the reasons that the game is so popular is due to its text-based design. The design allows players to have completely free reign and to do anything they want in the game. With a guarantee of meeting thousands of other players, Torn players are always able to interact with each other. The endless possibilities and the potential to create and develop any type of character mean that Torn quite literally can provide players with years of entertainment.

 2. Words With Friends

 Words with Friends is a fun multiplayer word game that you can play with friends or family on your mobile phone or computer. Players take turns building words in the cross-word inspired game. In a similar style to the board game Scrabble, the players have to make words from a limited selection of letters. However, unlike Scrabble, both players receive the same letters. Players can connect with their friends by looking up their user name or connecting through Facebook. Alternatively, the ‘smart match’ feature will pair you with an opponent of the same skill level. Just like Scrabble or a crossword, players that become obsessed with this game find it useful to have a WordfinderX unscrambling tool on hand.

 3. Crosswords

 Crosswords have been around for centuries and are still one of the most popular games played around the world. Crosswords are another example of a fun word-based game that you can quickly play on your phone. There are so many different crossword games to choose from. For example, mini crosswords are designed to be played quickly in about 20 minutes. Whereas themed crosswords usually take longer to complete and have a different focus for every puzzle, so they are a great way to learn more topic-specific language.

 4. Spider and Web

 Released in 1998 to rave reviews, Spider and Web is still considered one of the best text-based video games of all time. The old-school style game is completely text-based; the atmospheric and mysterious style make it hugely addictive. The game will draw you in from the very first seek, while the linear narrative progression promises to keep you gripped.

 5. Wordscapes

This is another word-based game to play on your phone when you have a moment to spare. The rounds start off easy and quickly progress to a challenging level. Each round only takes a couple of minutes to play, making it an easy and convenient little game. It has a mixture of crossword-style, word search games to choose from.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Superstar Programmer David Warhol Discusses Working on Maniac Mansion for the NES!


With The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z) now available for pre-order, I thought it would be fun to post some essays from Volume 1. It was a huge honor for me when legendary programmer David Warhol agreed to write nostalgic stories for my Omnibus books. In addition to designing games for the Intellivision, he programmed several NES games, including Maniac Mansion. Here’s his recollection of working on the game, reprinted from The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 1 (A–L):

It was as big a technical challenge as it was an honor to port Maniac Mansion from the Commodore 64 to the NES. Early on in development, we decided to use as much of the original engine and scripts as possible as opposed to re-coding it from scratch. It required fitting the entire game from 360k floppy into 128k ROM, splitting the screen between scrolling and static sections which I’m pretty sure the NES can’t do (we covered it up as well we could but there is still a visible tear), and porting the entire SCUMM tool chain to NES.

The original game doesn’t have wall-to-wall music, but NES games almost always did. As we approached the end of the project the publisher asked, “Where’s the music?”, to which we scrambled and added nearly a dozen custom songs (my favorite of the NES music I’ve produced). During approval, Nintendo flagged some content as inappropriate, including the infamous “put hamster in microwave,” which was removed. Also, at the last minute at their request, we removed a “nude” statue, not realizing a game scripter placed the “blow up mansion” button invisibly behind the statue to remove it from the game. The invisible button is still there, and it works!

Embarrassingly, some code to initialize the ROM bank switching chip was left out and undiscovered until after the first manufacturing run of a few hundred thousand units (it worked in test cartridges fine but not in the manufactured version). Fortunately, by clearing the RAM during manufacturing, the mechanism worked.

~ David Warhol, former programmer for Mattel Electronics (on the Intellivision), founder of Realtime Associates, Inc.

US residents can order signed copies of my books HERE.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Recent Video Game and Comic Book Pickups! Batman! Mario! Archie! Doctor Who! Buffy the Vampire Slayer!


Over the past month or so, I’ve picked up a bunch of really cool pop culture items, including various Batman, Doctor Who, Archie, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic books. I scored these at a couple of different Half-Price Books stores, and I got a bunch of random items as well, such as a vintage Looney Tunes puzzle.

Last Saturday, I set up as a vendor at the DFW Toy Expo, and I had a good time selling a wide variety of odds and ends, including movie and TV tie-in paperbacks, retro video games (duh), Barbie catalogs, pop culture figurines, and some random collectables.

Trades are always fun, and I swapped a Star Wars vinyl art print I didn’t want for $50 worth of video games (including Batman Returns, an excellent Super Nintendo game) to another vendor who was very happy to add the print to his collection. It had been sitting in my antique booth unsold for more than two years, so I’m glad it went to a good home. The vendor next to me had a Pac-Man plug-and-play new in the box for just $10. I would have gladly paid that, but I asked if he saw anything on my table he’d like to trade for, and he grabbed a couple of common PlayStation Portable UMD movies he needed for his collection. Win-win!

I did a pickups video for all these items and more, which you can watch HERE.

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Thanks to every single one of you who has supported me and my writing career over the years. Thanks also to everyone who has subbed to my YouTube channel. I couldn’t do it without you guys and gals!

Monday, March 8, 2021

Grading And Reviewing All 4 Donkey Kong Games for the Nintendo NES!

There were four Donkey Kong games for the Nintendo Entertainment System, aka the NES: Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong 3, and Donkey Kong Jr. Math. In the years since, there have been homebrews and repros, but these were the four titles available when the console was new in stores. In a new video, I grade and review each game. You can watch it HERE.

On a related note, back in the late 1990s, I began writing for the late, lamented All Game Guide, a website whose mission was to write synopses and reviews for EVERY game ever published for every system. (Wow!) I was going through my archives and found this synopsis I wrote for the original arcade version of Donkey Kong:

Mario, the Italian carpenter who would go on to become a plumber and Nintendo's mascot, makes his debut in Donkey Kong, a game of daring chivalry. Clad in red overalls and a matching cap, you as Mario (actually, he was Jumpman here, but he became Mario in subsequent games) must scale a building and rescue a blond damsel in distress.

As the game begins, a mean gorilla named Donkey Kong, also making his videogame debut, grabs the unnamed girl and takes her to the top of a structure consisting of six horizontal girders connected by ladders. He then jumps six times, damaging the girders until none are parallel to ground. Your job is to walk along the girders, climb the ladders, and make it to the top of the screen unscathed.

Donkey Kong will roll barrels down at you as you walk and climb. Some of the barrels will roll into an oil barrel that is positioned at the bottom of the playfield. This causes a fireball to appear. To avoid the fireballs and barrels, you can jump over them or hit them with one of the two hammers that are located within the structure.

After you reach your goal in what is oftentimes called the "Girders" screen, Donkey Kong will thwart your rescue attempt by simply taking the girl to a higher level, which is informally known as "Rivets."

The Rivets stage is comprised of six horizontal girders that are connected by ladders, but instead of striving to reach the top, you must pluck eight rivets out of the girders. There are two rivets located in each of the middle four girders. The barrels are absent, but fireballs appear from nowhere; once again there are two hammers you can use to ward off the enemies. To score extra points, you can pick up the girl's umbrella, hat and purse. After you have removed all the rivets, Kong will beat his chest and plummet to his seeming demise.

After you complete the Rivets screen, you must once again try your hand at the Girders stage. Then comes what some call "Elevators," a Girders-like stage that incorporates elevators and I-beams into the action. While barrels and fireballs are absent from this stage, the bouncing I-beams are invulnerable and just as deadly. Also, you can pick up the girl's scattered accessories for bonus points. After you reach the top, where the girl stands helpless, you must repeat the Girders screen and the Rivets Screen.

The seventh level introduces the fourth and final type of playfield, the Conveyor Belts (or Pie Factory, or Cement Factory). This five-platform screen once again has you running and climbing, trying to make it to the top of the playfield to rescue the object of your affection. The bottom platform is a girder, above which is a conveyor belt with pans of concrete which you must smash with a hammer or jump over.

The third platform from the bottom is a girder divided into three sections while the fourth is two pan-carrying conveyor belts separated by a barrel of burning oil. Once you reach the top girder, you still cannot claim the girl as your own; the various stages simply repeat themselves again and again until you lose all your lives (the myth of Sisyphus comes to mind).

Each screen in Donkey Kong has a bonus timer that counts down as you play. You must achieve your goal within the set amount of time or you will die. Other ways to die include making contact with a barrel, pan of concrete, or other lethal object (including the big gorilla himself), jumping off beams into a gap or open space, and hitting your head on the girder at the top of the elevator. You begin the game with three Marios and can gain one extra by achieving a certain number of points.

Friday, March 5, 2021

COVER REVEAL AND PRE-ORDER - The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z)

BOOM - For all you Nintendo fans!

The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z)

Cover reveal and release date: October 28.

And I'm taking pre-orders NOW.

There will be a Kickstarter at some point, but if you'd rather do a standard pre-order for a SIGNED book, simply PayPal $65 to (this includes shipping). US shipping only. Please include a note with payment that this is for NES Omnibus Volume 2 and how you would like the book signed. 

This will reserve a spot for your name printed as an early backer in the book, and I'll include extras in your book shipment, such as signed bookmarks and trading cards. Maybe even a retro gaming poster! Direct book orders and pre-orders are a HUGE help in facilitating what I do. THANK YOU!

This book, like all my gaming books, has been a true labor of love. Video games have been a HUGE part of my life since I discovered them in 1975.

Volume 2 of the NES Omnibus is a fun and informative look at ALL the original Nintendo Entertainment System games released in the US starting with the letters M-Z. More than 360 games are featured, including such iconic titles as Metroid, Super Mario Bros., and Tetris, as well as such hidden gems and cult classics as Mighty Final Fight, Trog!, and River City Ransom. In addition to thorough gameplay descriptions, the book includes box art, screenshots, reviews, fun facts, historical data, memories from the author, vintage magazine ads and quotes, and, best of all, nostalgic stories about many of the games from programmers, authors, YouTube celebs, filmmakers, and other industry insiders. Contributing authors include "8-Bit" Eric, Chris "The Irate Gamer" Bores, and John "Gamester81" Lester, among many other noteworthy gamers. Includes a foreword by filmmaker Rob McCallum. Each game gets at least one full page of coverage in this gorgeous, massive, hardcover coffee table book. 424 pgs. 12x1x9.

U.S. residents can also click HERE to purchase the first book--The NES Omnibus Vol. 1--direct from me, and I'll send it right away. Thanks!