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Wednesday, December 8, 2021

KISS: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child PC Game - - INTERVIEW WITH DEVELOPER SVERRE KVERNMO

 

Confession time: when it comes to the 1990s to the present, my history with computer games is spotty at best. Sure, I’ve played DOOM and some of the other major releases, and I even taught myself to type with Mario Teaches Typing (it was much more effective than my high school typing class), but I’m definitely a console gamer through-and-through. By and large, I prefer the simplicity, immediacy, and “plug-and-play” vibe of the console experience over computer games.

In addition to console gaming, one of my other big hobbies is following the rock band KISS. Not only did I grow up loving their music and plastering their photos all over my walls, I wrote a book about the band called Encyclopedia of KISS: Music,Personnel, Events and Related Subjects (2016, McFarland Publishers). Unfortunately, there aren’t many KISS video games. Almost none, in fact. There was the dreadful, unlicensed pinball sim for the PlayStation called KISS Pinball, and you can play various KISS songs on Guitar Hero and Rock Band.

But that’s about it. Or it would be if it weren’t for KISS: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child, released for the PC in 2000 (and ported to the Sega Dreamcast the same year). The game was published by Gathering of Developers, developed by Third Law Interactive, and is based on characters from KISS Psycho Circus, a comic book series published by Image Comics and Todd McFarlane Productions that ran from 1997 to 2000.


The DOOM-like first-person-shooter, which was a welcome release as far as this KISS fan is concerned, puts the four members of a band called Wicked Jester (a riff on Paul and Gene’s pre-KISS group, Wicked Lester) in a hellish world of hideous creatures, demons, and circus mutants, including bosses. Beginning as a mere mortal, the player must battle said baddies to progressively acquire the powers of The Elder, the supernatural alter-egos of KISS: Demon, Starbearer, Beast King, and Celestial.

There are three types of weapons you can wield in the game: melee (beast claws, thornblade, twister and punisher), common (zero cannon, magma cannon, windblade and scourge), and ultimate (stargaze, galaxion, spirit lance and draco). You can also grab temporary power-ups and other items, including health and attack and defense powers. In addition, players should assemble Elder armor comprised of gauntlets, boots, a belt, a vest, a plate, and a mask. There are four realms to explore: Water, Fire, Air, and Earth.

A special Collector’s Edition was released for the PC in a lenticular box, with cover art from the four 1978 KISS solo albums. The package also included an official VIP backstage pass and neck chain from the Psycho Circus Tour, a KISS poster signed by all four band members, a limited version of the game’s official strategy guide, and a game disc that is signed by each member of the development team.

I recently had the distinct privilege of catching up with Sverre Kvernmo, the lead designer on KISS: Psycho Circus—The Nightmare Child. He discussed the development history of the game, why they made a game based on the comic book instead of the band itself, his interactions with KISS co-founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons, and much more.

BRETT WEISS: How did this project come about, and how did you get involved? Were you working for Third Law Interactive?

SVERRE KVERNMO: Not at the time, no—we founded Third Law as a result of the opportunity to make Psycho Circus. KISS wanted a video game for their reunion tour, basically. Who were we to deny them that?

WEISS: Did you meet and confer with members of KISS during this project? If so, please explain what that was like.

KVERNMO: Yeah, Gene Simmons was directly involved, so it was great the few times we met him. Paul and Gene both showed up during the release party in full battle gear. It was a bit of a childhood dream seeing them up close like that—they really are larger than life people!

WEISS: I’ve heard that Gene Simmons hates video games, that he considers them a waste of time, and that this is why there are hardly any KISS video games. Do you know if this is true?

KVERNMO: [Laughs] First I’ve heard of it! In his defense, he instantly took to Nightmare Child—seeing the player first-person, wielding a giant battle axe, wading through hordes of hellions. He’s either very good at faking enthusiasm, or he absolutely loved it at the time!

At the end of the day, I’m sure it might have been just a matter of generating more money off the brand for him, but at the very least, he doesn’t hate them so much that he’d miss out on a good business opportunity. It was only ever intended as a light hearted action romp, after all. Not a full-fledged metaverse, as we know some games today.

WEISS: Why was the game based on the comic book instead of the band members themselves? I could see a pretty cool KISS game starring Ace, Gene, Peter and Paul.

KVERNMO: By the time we decided to make a game, the comics were already part of the media package tied to the album that reunited the original band members. Also, Todd McFarlane was an absolute titan at the time, recently having revitalized the Spider-Man brand, etc.

Cool as KISS is on their own and in concert, without the adjoined comic books I honestly doubt we would’ve taken the project, for fear of not being able to bridge the gap between the two mediums. They just don’t have any natural enemies within their own well-defined universe.

The comics basically provided the much-needed art direction, setting, theme, and leeway for much of the game’s “off stage” content. Just KISS on its own would have required a much more thorough from-scratch design, which in turn would likely have had to be green lit every step of the way by the KISS machinery. You kind of need something with the gravity of, say Iron Maiden’s Eddie, to believably challenge them to full effect in a prolonged action game.

Expecting a massive synergic overlap between The KISS Army and gamers in general was perhaps a big ask in the first place, so yeah—tying the comic book audience into that equation might have further complicated things, but there just isn’t an easily available established equal opposite force that the four of them might tackle, without such a vehicle.

Certainly not KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park! Perhaps Vinnie Vincent? But then, what army does he lead—ancient Egyptians? [Laughs] This is all unproblematic for the abstract playing field of something like a pinball machine, but not so much for a first-person shooter, where you’re largely assumed to need some manner of motivation to get into it. At least, that’s how we felt at the time we were considering it.

WEISS: Why did you decide on creating a first-person shooter as opposed to a beat-’em-up game or some other genre?

KVERNMO: The first-person genre was basically still in plasticity, taking shape around those years. The only common experience the Third Law Interactive team had at the time was trying to make a contending product—John Romero’s Daikatana.

For whatever reasons we weren’t able to make that game, we felt pretty strong from years of work-hours together, that we had a good first-person shooter in us, if we weren’t, say, trying to keep a linear curve of world-altering progression going, like that happening off an unbelievable hat-trick like first Wolfenstein 3D, then DOOM, then Quake.

First-person level designers weren’t easy to come by back then, and we had four that were tried and tested—if not quite up to Romero’s wet dream of again doubling down on his latest project. (I mean, you have to at least try right?)

We had very gifted programmers, one of which had been coding the genre since id made Wolfenstein.

Also, really solid artists that already knew the FPS production pipeline by heart and had flair to boot—so the genre for the game was never in question. The FPS iron was still hot (though in retrospect, cooling), so that’s where we struck.

KISS would be neat in Mortal Kombat, I suppose, or maybe as outer quadrant gods in some mystic space-sim.

WEISS: Please discuss any special challenges you had while creating the game.

KVERNMO: Hmmm...choice of engine, perhaps. Lithtech ticked all the important boxes for us—it performed the best during critical game features tests, plus was the most affordable out of those times’ “big three” license engines. Applying the benefit of hindsight, it’s hard to argue that the Unreal Engine wouldn’t have been a better engine to get comfortable with, seeing as that was heading for world domination, but that’s perhaps more of a personal perspective.

I also regret agreeing to shut down an unofficial KISS mod that was taking shape at the time. We should have just left them to it; might even have helped our own game do better if the mod turned out well. I don’t know what I was thinking—I only got to where I was due to similar work, so shame on me for not protesting to that one.

The actual production of the game happened with few hitches and on time. It was more challenging to let go of all the nice bells and whistles we might have added if we spent three-to-six more months on it to really make it shine, than any real trouble along the way of the game that actually got made. A one-off comic book leading up to the game’s beginning was an early wish-list item we had to drop.

WEISS: Do you remember what KISS songs were used during the game and how they were used

KVERNMO: Of course! But bar one stroke of inspiration for how “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” was used, the band’s music really didn’t add as much as it might have and felt a bit tacked on with bad glue. The KISS machinery feared the game would be considered/hacked-into an “unofficial KISS compilation album” (which would’ve cost a LOT more than the game budget) if we were given full-length songs to distribute, so instead we were basically given 10 second snippets from 10 songs the team picked together. I mean, the snippets are great, and it does add to the experience, but yeah, more could have been done there. In a way it was good, though, since it gave our inhouse “synthwave” composer more creative freedom, without having to worry about butting heads with KISS all day.

Personally, I picked “Unholy” as my only must-have, was happy to see “Black Diamond” also go in but was a little skeptical of the “Love Gun” pick, thinking it might be too cringy and fourth-wall breaching (considering it’s in a run-and-gun game), but it worked out fine.

WEISS: Anything else you care to share about working on KISS: Psycho Circus?

KVERNMO: I really wanted the Spaceman character to do a full five-minute guitar solo in airborne ecstasy after picking up his ultimate weapon toward the end of his episode. I never told anyone on the team about it, but that’s what I secretly wanted. Smoke machines, lightning balls, laser spotlights, and glowing cosmic vistas. The full Ace Frehley experience!

Monday, November 15, 2021

William Shatner Called Me a Liar! And Then Blasted Off into Space!

William Shatner, a.k.a. Captain Kirk, has gone where no Star Trek actor has gone before: outer space. Real outer space, where no one can hear you scream (oops, wrong franchise). At 90 years old, Shatner is the oldest person to travel above the Kármán Line, which is the boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space.

Shatner’s trip aboard the Blue Origin rocket only lasted a few minutes (yeah, I wish he were in orbit around Earth, too), but it profoundly moved the nonagenarian. Upon landing back on terra firma, he tearfully said, “Everybody in the world needs to see it. This comforter of blue that we have around us. We think, ‘Oh, that’s blue sky.’ And then suddenly you shoot through it, all of a sudden, like you whip off a sheet when you’ve been asleep, and you’re looking into blackness. Into black ugliness…Is that the way death is?...I hope I never recover from this.”

Mere few weeks before Mr. Shatner’s epiphanic space flight, I encountered him at Fan Expo Dallas, the biggest comic book convention in North Texas. And it didn’t go well. Prior to meeting Shatner, who was one of my childhood heroes, I had a blast at the show. I love going to conventions, and this one was no different.

I had fun watching the many cosplayers roaming the convention halls and vendor’s room. I had my picture taken with a guy who, thanks to an impeccable costume, had an uncanny resemblance to Baron Boris von Frankenstein, as voiced by Boris Karloff in the 1967 stop-motion animation classic, Mad Monster Party. As you might expect, it’s the first time I’ve ever seen anyone cosplaying as a character from that film. Pretty darned cool!

I caught up with friends, some of whom I only see at conventions, grabbed some cool comics (including a mint copy of The Super Friends—my favorite cartoon when I was little), ogled some licensed meal lunch boxes from the ’70s and ’80s that were in drop-dead gorgeous condition (with prices to match--$250 to $350 each), and had a quick chat with Dan Parent, one of the better Archie Comics artists. He was set up at a table covered with comics he had drawn, and I knew I wanted to buy something and get it autographed. I quickly decided on a nifty mashup graphic novel: Archie Meets Batman ’66, which is just as much fun as it sounds.

Perhaps the highlight of Fan Expo Dallas 2021 was meeting Charles Martinet, who voices Mario in various Nintendo video games. My adult children Ryan and Katie were with me, and Ryan wanted to buy a poster and get it signed by Mr. Martinet so he could hang it up in his classroom (he teaches middle school). A selfie with the voice actor came with the purchase of the poster, so Martinet posed with Ryan for a pic. Instead of just mailing it in and collecting a paycheck, he spoke comically like Mario, took several poses with Ryan, joked around with us a bit, and insisted that Katie and I join him and Ryan for an additional photo. He was super nice, and I can definitely see why my gamer friends have told me that he is one of the nicest celebrities they’ve ever met.


Was William Shatner just as nice? Not even a little bit. Sure, he’s much more famous than Charles Martinet, but that’s really no excuse to treat your fans and the press poorly. I did indeed cover the show for the press, and as we were leaving late that afternoon, I told my kids I wanted to say hello to Shatner and perhaps get a photo of him sitting at his table for the inevitable article(s) that would follow. I had heard that he could be difficult, but I wanted to find out for myself. And I wanted to get a glimpse of the legend, to be perfectly honest.

As I approached his booth, there were just a few fans in line, so I only had to wait a few minutes. When it was my turn, I flashed my press badge and directed my question toward Shatner’s handler, asking if I could take a photo for an article. The handler looked at Shatner, and good ole Captain Kirk said, “Write the article first, and then we’ll send you a photo.”

I must have looked a little puzzled because he basically repeated what he said. “We’ll send you a photo after you write the article.”

I just smiled, thanked him for his time, and told him something to the effect that it doesn’t really work that way. As I turned and started walking way, Shatner leaned over, chuckled, and told his handler, “Press photo. Oldest gag in the book.”

He thought I was out of earshot, but I heard his remark, as did my kids. I turned back—yes, I turned back to Captain Kirk to confront him about what he said—and told him, “It’s not a gag, it’s my job.” He just smiled and said something that I don’t recall because I was a bit flustered at this point. He didn’t say “got lost” or anything like that, he just brushed us off.

For his part, Shatner looks really young and vital for a man his age. He’s also still busy working on an assortment of projects, including a new movie and TV show. I admire him for that, not to mention his esteemed place in pop culture history And I’m sure people ask him for favors all the time, including free pics and free autographs. But I wasn’t wanting a selfie or anything like that. Just a simple photo of him doing his thing at the show. For my job. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be, because he thought I was running a scam. Okay, whatever, I’m still a fan—just try to keep me from watching the original Star Trek series for the umpteenth time.

All in all, Fan Expo Dallas was great fun, the Shatner incident notwithstanding. The show returns July 17-19, 2022, and I plan on attending. Tickets go on sale online this month. For more info, click HERE.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from the Nintendo NES - By Shane Stein


The NES OmnibusVol. 2 (M-Z) will be out in November, but I wanted to share this excellent supplemental essay from the book with everyone ahead of the shipping date. I hope you have as much fun reading it as I did! Enjoy!

Everything I Needed to Know, I Learned from the NES

 By Shane Stein

Everything I needed to know, I learned from the NES. An exaggeration? Well, yes, of course. But surprisingly enough, and perhaps to the chagrin of 1980s parents everywhere, Nintendo games genuinely did teach us far more about the broader world than we probably ever realized. We just simply needed to pay attention.

Today, we take for granted that the world’s information is readily available at our fingertips. Prior to the internet, however, the average American kid had dramatically less access and exposure to most of the globe’s peoples, history, news, entertainment, and far more. Sure, we learned a decent amount in school, through parents and friends, and from books, movies, and magazines. But widespread accessible information on any given topic was virtually nil compared to the present. Need, for example, to research Japanese history for that term paper? These days, of course, we Google it. Back then—head to the library and spend hours finding that one book you need amongst a stack of thousands. Hope you know your Dewey Decimal system and hush your voice around the librarian.

Fascinatingly, though, significant knowledge of the world outside our immediate childhood surroundings could be gleaned from, of all sources, the Nintendo Entertainment System and its games. How can this be, you might ask? Obviously, it wasn’t remotely comparable to today’s internet. But the vast NES oeuvre, encompassing a substantial array of game genres and categories, truly provided a slice of worldly education.

Want to learn about a new sport, for instance? Growing up in Texas, I played endless amounts of baseball, basketball, football, and soccer. But never ice hockey—indeed, I never even learned to properly skate, much less chase a puck. Hockey was little more than an abstract notion to most of us raised south of the Mason-Dixon line. And yet, thanks to Ice Hockey on the NES, I learned the game’s rules so well I could even describe “icing” from the referee’s perspective. (I also learned that video hockey players came in three categories – big/slow, medium, and fast/skinny—but that’s a whole other story!)

How about golf and skateboarding, two other pastimes I rarely experienced in person? Golf on the NES taught me not only that Mario favors the links, but also the fundamentals of club selection and calculating windspeed’s effect on the ball. Skate or Die, meanwhile, imparted an entire skating culture’s milieu and lingo, from freestyle to downhill jams to ollies and rail slides. Eventually I did pick up golf as a teenager, and the NES experience most certainly assisted with my development. I never ultimately pursued skateboarding, but at least I was no longer clueless when it came up in conversation.

Okay, so those are just fun and games. How about more serious topics, like politics and history? For contemporary lessons on the Cold War, try Rush’n Attack and Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode. The thinly veiled title of the former was a genuine concern until the 1989 Berlin Wall collapse, and the player starred as a singular U.S. soldier, armed initially with only a knife, and yet aiming to infiltrate and bring down the Soviet superpower. (Echoes of Schwarzenegger and Stallone movies, anyone?) The latter game, meanwhile, whisked players all around the world in an espionage battle between the CIA, KGB, and other intelligence agencies. Exotic locales included Berlin, Athens, Rio de Janeiro, and even Antarctica. How many American kids learned in school about Berlin’s Tegel Airport, Potsdam Station, and Spree River, or about Athens’ Parthenon, Theater of Dionysius, and Herodes Concert Hall? Those of us who played Golgo 13 were in the know.

What about East Asian culture, you might ask, of which Americans regularly encounter today but back then hardly experienced? Years before ever hearing of sushi or watching Ichiro play baseball, I ascertained plenty from the games Kid Niki, Flying Dragon: The Secret Scroll, and The Legend of Kage. Broader America first learned of Jackie Chan upon his first U.S.-marketed film, 1996’s Rumble in the Bronx. But NES gamers had known his exploits for years thanks to Jackie Chan’s Action Kung Fu. Obviously, these brushes with East Asia were mere bucket drops compared to actually living there, but for many kids here in the States, the NES is truly the closest we got.

And how about reading comprehension, something the NES certainly was accused of pushing kids away from? Besides Nintendo Power, which millions of us consumed, try some of the games’ instruction booklets. The stories behind Dragon Warrior, Faxanadu, and Final Fantasy come across as thrilling as any young adult fantasy novel. Indeed, Nintendo even seemed to recognize this, licensing their name to the “Worlds of Power” novelization series for Metal Gear, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Ninja Gaiden, and others.

Interested in robotics? Mega Man and its sequels may have been light years ahead of reality, but the titular robot hero and his exploits surely inspired plenty of budding scientists. And how many kids, fascinated by the stealth military strategy of Metal Gear, Jackal, Commando, and others, perhaps received their initial inspiration to join the U.S. Armed Forces and defend America? (If you think this is a reach, look no further than Star Trek, which inspired countless young people to pursue careers in science, engineering, and astronautics.)

Even games without ostensibly thematic connections to certain topics could still impart their wisdom. The Legend of Zelda is by no means about animals per se, but I first heard of sea urchins thanks to its enemy character Digdogger. Nor did I realize a boxing match could end without a knockdown, until encountering the Win by TKO in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! And who could have imagined learning about celebrities—Iggy Pop, Morton Downey Jr., Lemmy from Motorhead, and Beethoven amongst them—through Super Mario Bros. 3’s Koopaling characters? (Seeing SMB 3’s Beethoven knock-off was almost as cool as watching him rock out in the movie Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure!)

And the list goes on. We’re really just scratching the surface of what the NES exposed us to, and it’s almost impossible not to learn something new simply by firing up the controller. With such an expansive variety of games, both American-made and globally-produced, in-house as well as third-party, from individual and team sports, to action and adventure, to puzzles and strategy, science and military, fantasy and RPG, arcade and crime fighting, light gun and power pad, and so much more, Nintendo truly had it covered.

Today, we of course live in a far more advanced digital world. The phones in our hands literally carry more processing power than the supercomputers of the 1980s. We are effectively one click (or voice command) away from most any information, and we are far advantaged for it. But a modicum of interesting and practical knowledge nonetheless remains available through the NES, if only we choose to explore it. In the spirit of education along with entertainment, here’s to retro NES gaming far into the future!

- Shane Stein, executive producer of The Game Chasers Movie

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Time Machine: Comics & More Store - Fort Worth, Texas


Ever since I was a kid during the 1970s, reading the four-color adventures of Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, The Flash, Green Lantern, and the like, I wanted to own my own comic book store. In 1991, I did just that, opening Fantastic Comics & Cards in the Fort Worth area with my brother-in-law, Mike. We even opened a second location. Prior to that, I worked for Lone Star Comics, first in the backroom, then as store manager.

Nowadays, I’m a writer (including a 14-year stint freelancing for The Comics Buyer’s Guide), but I’m still a comic book retailer, selling comics and other pop culture items via my antique mall booth, The Time Machine: Comics & More Store. It is booth #1320 in LoneStar Antiques—when you go, just ask one of the employees at the front desk to show you where the comic book booth is. In addition to old and recent comics, I carry action figures, video games, books (including vintage paperbacks), Hot Wheels, trading cards, records, laser discs, DVDS, toys, VHS tapes, CDs, and other cool stuff. If you’re ever in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, stop by and check it out. Thanks for your business!

The Time Machine: Comics & More Store

Located in LoneStar Antiques (817-503-0441)

5605 Denton Hwy.

Haltom City, TX  76148

Booth #1320


Monday, July 5, 2021

New Nintendo Documentary Coming to The History Channel!

If you’re not super into video games, you may not know that Nintendo began as a playing card company way back in 1889. Or that the NES, home to Super Mario Bros., was NOT the company’s first gaming console—It was the Color TV-Game (of which there were five iterations), introduced in Japan in 1977.

You can learn these arcane facts and much more by watching Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story (2021), a five-part series currently available on Crackle, a streaming service that is similar to Netflix, but is free of charge (unless you consider having to watch commercials a form of payment).

Why am I mentioning this? Because I’m actually in the documentary. That’s right, little ol' me appears periodically throughout all five episodes, talking Nintendo history amongst such luminaries as Wil Wheaton (“Wesley Crusher” in Star Trek the Next Generation), Tommy Tallarico (legendary video game music composer), Howard Phillips (former Nintendo spokesperson), Nolan Bushnell (Atari co-founder), and Tom Kalinske (former president and CEO of Sega of America). Sean Astin, famous for such films as The Goonies (1985), Rudy (1993), and The Lord of the Rings trilogy (2001-2003), is the narrator.

I was in Playing With Power because I’ve written several books about Nintendo, and it probably doesn’t hurt that I know the director, Jeremy Snead, and that I live about 30 minutes from Dallas-based Mediajuice Studios, the company that produced the documentary. Regardless, I was extremely flattered to be asked, and it was a fantastic and rewarding experience, especially after being interviewed for two other video game documentaries—Video Games: The Movie (2014) and The Bits of Yesterday (2018)—and not appearing in either. (My appearance in the former was cut due to time constraints and the latter because the sound quality for my interview was poor.)

Well, I’m going to be in another Nintendo documentary, but this one was filmed in a place far, far away.

Earlier this year, I received the following email from Lucky 8 TV and The History Channel:

“I'm producing expert interviews for a new show that's unpacking the histories and business dealings of iconic companies. I'm in search of experts, historians, and journalists that could speak to the history and product line of Nintendo, and I'd love to connect with you for a potential on-camera interview. Might this be something you'd be into?

If so, we could schedule an introductory call this week and dive into some details. Thank you in advance and please don't hesitate to reach out at your convenience.” 

After considering the proposition for about half a nanosecond, I said that yes, I would love to take part. A few weeks later, they flew me out to New York City to interview for a "snack-sized" episode of The Machines that Built America, a series debuting on The History Channel this summer. I’m not exactly sure when the Nintendo episode will premiere, but you can bet that I’ll be too nervous to eat popcorn while I watch myself on the small screen, trying to sound like I know what I’m talking about. In all seriousness, it was a wonderful trip and a great interview, and they treated me very well.

Lucky 8 TV hosted me for two nights at a hotel in Manhattan, but I decided to stay an extra night because I LOVE exploring New York City. My favorite way to do so is on foot, because you miss a lot if you travel by subway. Two of the four days I was there I walked nearly 20 miles, exploring the sights and sounds of a robust, multi-borough town that appears to be recovering very nicely with Covid restrictions finally being lifted.

I trekked across the Brooklyn Bridge, got a slice at Joe’s Pizza (twice), ate some amazing falafel from a food truck, rode a bike through Central Park, caught a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, hung out with the crazies in Times Square, saw a cool grunge band at the historical Café Wha?, checked out the new releases at Midtown Comics, and even did a little thrifting, antiquing, and used bookstore shopping. One thing is clear: vintage collectibles cost a lot more in New York City than they do in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, likely because real estate is much more expensive in The Big Apple than in Big D.

I also visited Nintendo New York, a two-story retail extravaganza in Manhattan loaded with memorabilia and swag, much of which you won’t find at Target or Walmart. The store even has a little museum featuring such items as a Famicom (the Japanese equivalent of the NES), some Game & Watch handhelds, a Virtual Boy (a failed 3D console), and a Color TV-Game console. You can watch my walkthrough of the store HERE.

So, while the interview was only an hour-and-a-half or so, I got the full New York experience, at least as much as you can in four days.

Now that I’ve appeared in Playing With Power: The Nintendo Story and will soon be seen on The History Channel, I’m ready to quit my writing job, move to Hollywood, get an agent, and lobby for a star on The Walk of Fame. Well, maybe not, but both experiences were fantastic, and I’m already looking forward to doing something similar in the future. After all, I love talking about video games, and if there happens to be a camera on me when I’m doing so, that’s a bonus.

If you haven’t already downloaded Crackle—which is, as I mentioned, a FREE app—you should do so. Not only does it feature my TV debut, it hosts a variety of movies and television programs, including the first two seasons of The Partridge Family. Groovy!

Monday, June 21, 2021

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns - 35th Anniversary

In 1989, I quit my job driving a bob-tail truck around the Dallas/Fort Worth area, delivering photo copier machines (someone had to do it), and got my lifelong dream gig of working at a comic book store, Lone Star Comics in particular. Ironically, they hired me because I had experience in delivery, not because of my prodigious comic book knowledge. They needed someone to drive the company van, pick up comics at the local Diamond distributor, and take the comics to the various locations of the eight-store chain.

The new job was a cut in pay, but I loved it. I sorted and bagged comic books, cleaned and swept the “Batcave” (which is what they called the backroom), and, of course, delivered boxes and boxes of the new releases each week. After a short time, I began working out front in the store area, waiting on customers and ringing up sales, and within a few months I worked my way up to store manager. (A year or so later, I partnered up with my brother-in-law, and we opened up two stores of our own—Fantastic Comics & Cards—in the Fort Worth area, but I digress…)

One day, while I was manning the register at the main Lone Star location in Arlington (home of the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers), a customer came in who I knew from working at Luther’s Barbeque when I was in high school (I graduated in 1985). He was eight years older than me, but we had been good friends as we shared a lot of common interests, including rock music and old horror and science fiction movies. I had absolutely no idea he cared anything about comic books, as I rarely discussed my interest in them with “civilians” (admitting you liked comics during the 1980s was basically like saying you were a child or hopelessly brain damaged), but there he was, checking out the new issues—it was great catching up with him, and we had a lot of laughs over the old days at Luther’s. Better yet, we struck up a (now lifelong) friendship and discovered we had something else in common: “funny books.”

Glenn had grown up reading The Amazing Spider-Man, The Avengers, Iron Man, and other Marvel staples, but, like many fans who reached adulthood and became distracted by cars, girls, bills, and the like, he abandoned them. However, in 1986 he read a review of DC Comics’ mature-themed The Dark Knight Returns in Rolling Stone magazine, and it drew him back in. Not only did Glenn purchase each issue of the groundbreaking, four-part series, he began collecting again in earnest, purchasing Marvels he had grown up reading and even buying new issues of such DC titles as Justice League and Superman.

Glenn’s story is hardly unique. Not only did The Dark Knight Returns, a grim, gritty alternate future story of a grizzled, almost fascistic Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to be Batman again and battle a gang called the Mutants, attract many people to comics books who had never read them before, it also brought many lapsed readers back into the fold.

Written and drawn by Frank Miller, with pencils by Miller, inks by Klaus Jason, and colors by Lynn Varley, The Dark Knight Returns took an aging Caped Crusader back to his 1939 roots (more or less) as a grim avenger of the night, as opposed to the sci-fi stuff published in the ’50s or the campy Batman inspired by the Adam West TV show of the late 1960s. Miller was clearly influenced by manga (Japanese comic books), especially in terms of panel flow and dynamic page layouts. Other creators, such as writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams, had treated Batman seriously, but The Dark Knight Returns garnered much more mainstream attention. Plus, it was published in a prestige format, with each issue costing $2.95, which was about four times as much as a standard comic book.

DC Comics printed 125,000 copies of that first issue. According to then-DC Comics Executive Vice President Paul Levitz (writing for 13thdimension.com), this was a huge gamble as Ronin, Frank Miller’s prestige format project from three years before, had a first-issue print run of around 87,000.

“If we were wrong, we could actually lose money on the project,” he relates.

It turns out that DC was indeed wrong, but in the other direction. They had printed far too few copies as the issue quickly sold out and stores were putting in heavy re-orders.

“It was good news,” Levitz writes, “EXCEPT we hadn’t done a second printing of a comic for decades. I think the last may have been the Batman 3-D comic magazine in the ’60s fad, or it may even have been one of the earliest Superman titles in the Golden Age. All long before comic shops and serious collectors. So, there was a real debate around the room about whether we should print more. Were we going to be unfair to collectors who had bought second, or multiple, copies in hope of appreciation? They were an appreciable portion of our audience at the time, we thought. If we didn’t, were we going to lose out on the biggest opportunity DC had since the comic shop market began? Sounds silly now, but then it was a serious conversation.”

Of course, DC printed more. In fact, they did four printings of that first issue for a total of approximately 400,000 copies. To appease collectors, they labeled subsequent printings as such in the indicia, making first printings more desirable and ultimately worth more in the collector’s market.

Levitz recalls, “[This was] a massive number for an expensive book (our regular titles were 75 cents), an emerging market (that was around the time comic shops would pass the newsstand in sales), and a publisher that was a distant No. 2.”

Calling the phenomenon “unforgettable,” Levitz further explains that strong sales were just one aspect of the wide-ranging influence of The Dark Knight Returns: “It was just the beginning. The trade editions would really change the field, establishing the graphic novel format in America (along with Watchmen and Maus).”

The series influenced future Batman (and other superhero) comics and movies as well.

The trade edition of all four issues of The Dark Knight Returns collected into one book that Levitz refers to has gone through numerous reprintings itself and has also sold a ton of copies. To read the story today, this is the easiest and cheapest way to go as you can hop on Amazon or eBay and grab a dog-eared copy for just a few bucks, or you can get a new edition for about $20. If you want a complete set of the four individual issues, all first printings, and all in nice condition, it will set you back around $200 to $250.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Brett Weiss Video Game Book Update & GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

I'm super excited to announce that I completed the manuscript for book #13! The book will release next year. To celebrate, I'm giving away a signed hardcover copy of The 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987. To enter the random drawing, all you have to do is comment on THIS VIDEO. US residents only. Thanks for playing! I will announce the winner July 1.

 **Here's the Amazon description of the book I'm giving away:

There have been many top 100 books before, but rarely one like this. Here are the best of the early video games, shown in over 400 color photos and described in incredible detail in the entertaining and informative text. Each game’s entry features production history, critical commentary, quotes from industry professionals, gameplay details, comparisons to other games, and more. This book celebrates the very best of the interactive entertainment industry’s games from this highly crucial, fondly remembered decade. This pivotal period was marked by the introduction of the indispensable Atari 2600, Odyssey2, and Intellivision, the unleashing of the underrated Vectrex, the mind-blowing debut of the next-gen ColecoVision and Atari 5200, plus the rebirth of the industry through Nintendo’s legendary juggernaut, the NES. Whether you’re young or old, new to the hobby or a hardcore collector, this book will introduce you to or remind you of some of the greatest, most historically important games ever made.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING:

*You can always depend on Brett Weiss for the world's most thorough deep-dive on vintage 80s and 90s gaming. There's no one I know that's more knowledgeable on the game systems we all fell in love with years ago. His books are a must-have for any modern-day gamer wanting to get an old school fix. His books won't just prove a dose of nostalgia, you'll also discover games you never even knew existed! - Adam F. Goldberg, creator of "The Goldbergs" hit TV show

*This is an amazing book...detailed information...very high quality all around. - 8-Bit Eric

*Truly beautiful from cover to cover...It should be a fixture on every coffee table in a video gaming household...Each section of the book is well-written and accompanied by high quality artwork and photos. - Patrick Scott Patterson

*Author Brett Weiss knows his stuff...a respected name in the classic gaming community...he provides insightful behind-the-scenes information...the book is suitable for just about any type of video game fan. - The Video Game Critic

*If you love video games and have a fondness for the Golden Age of gaming, 100 Greatest Console Video Games: 1977-1987 by Brett Weiss will bring you back to those simpler days when games were just plain fun. Even if you owned an Atari, Coleco, Mattel, or Nintendo game console, Weiss' book adds additional context and info that will interest any gamer who loved this era. - 8-Bit Central

*Whether you're an avid collector, or even just casually interested in gaming history, 100 Greatest Consoles Video Games is a must-own. Weiss has written exactly the kind of guide knowledgeable enthusiasts will savor as a handy reference, while those with a budding passion for console gaming will find it a revelatory guide for navigating through the format's incipient offerings. If he has any intention of doing so, I certainly hope he takes on subsequent eras of consoles leading up to the present day. - Marshall Garvey (Last Token Gaming)

*I was really impressed with this book...high quality...I really like it...a nice item to have - John "Gamester81" Lester

*Ever crack open a book and instantly know you're going to love it? This one's kind of like that...One of the best things about these write-ups is that Weiss doesn't try and hide his enthusiasm in the least. Not sounding like a dull history lesson, he actually gets excited just talking (well, writing) about his favorites, and that makes him come across like the game fan that he is. As a fan myself, that's refreshing and makes for a much more interesting read...a joy to read...beautifully illustrated and put together, with fantastic box art, screenshots, and even occasional cartridge pictures...Its colorful presentation is printed on some excellently heavy stock as well, with big and glossy pages that are easy to thumb through and just plain fun to read. - Brutal Gamer

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Help Me Open and Unbox These FACTORY SEALED Atari 2600 & Intellivision Games!

Help Me Open and Unbox These FACTORY SEALED Atari 2600 & Intellivision Games!

I've got eight vintage factory sealed video games I'd love to open in a (near) future video: Ms. Pac-Man, Dig Dug, Space Attack, Venture, and Jungle Hunt for the Atari 2600, and Space Armada, Space Spartans, and Triple Attack for the Intellivision.

YOU CAN HELP ME OPEN THESE FACTORY SEALED GAMES!

Here's how it works:

If you--US residents only--place a $25 (or more) order for any of my gaming or pop culture books via https://brettweiss.square.site/ by June 7, and then mention your order in the comments of THIS VIDEO, I will open/unbox the game you mention in a subsequent video. I will also plug your website, YouTube channel, business, or anything else in that unboxing video. So, with your book(s) purchase, you are also getting a free plug on my channel, as well as the fun of watching me open a factory sealed game(s) in a video. And I will be happy to sign the book or books that you order. :)

Keep in mind that you are NOT buying the game or paying me to open the game--you are buying a book (or books), getting a free sponsorship on my channel, and helping me open a factory sealed game (your order offsets the fact that opening factory sealed games devalues them). There can be more than one sponsor for each game. For example, if three people purchase $25 or more worth of books for me to open Dig Dug, I will mention all three people and plug their channel/website/business in the subsequent Dig Dug unboxing video.

The one exception to the $25 price is Ms. Pac-Man, which will require a $50 (or more) order since it is a more expensive factory sealed game, and opening it will devalue it more than the others. (BTW, if you order $100 or more of books direct from me, shipping is free.)

So, US residents, get your book orders in by June 7, comment on the video which game or games you'd like for me to open, and I will do so in a subsequent video. And I will plug your gig! Thanks!

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) - One of the Greatest Consoles of All Time & One of My Favorites!


The NES is one of the greatest game consoles of all time, home to such legendary titles as Contra, Castlevania, the original Super Mario Bros. trilogy, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda, and the classic Donkey Kong trilogy (Donkey Kong 3 is so underrated!), as well as such hidden gems as Trog!, Cowboy Kid, and Felix the Cat. I could go on all day about the excellent library of games, which I in fact do in The NES Omnibus volumes 1 and 2.

The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z) is currently on Kickstarter, and you can back it HERE. There are only a couple of days left, so if you miss it, you can still do a standard pre-order for the book HERE. And you can read sample pages from the book HERE.

You may be surprised to know that I didn’t actually play the NES until I got my console for Christmas in 1987. I was 20 years old at the time and was no longer going over to friends’ houses to play video games. I was still gaming on my Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Intellivision, and Odyssey2, but my social life consisting primarily of working, dating, shooting hoops, and hanging out with friends in bars, restaurants, and the like. In addition, I never saw the VS. System version of Super Mario Bros. in the arcades until later. I had heard of the game, though, and was absolutely floored by it when I first booted it up. I was especially impressed with the cartoonish nature of the game, the secrets and surprises, and the near-perfect controls, at least when compared to what came before.

I went on to amass an awesome collection of games, and I’ve written about the NES for the late, lamented All Game Guide, Old School Gamer Magazine, AntiqueWeek, and various other publications. I even wrote the WORLD’S FIRST book featuring write-ups for EVERY U.S. release for the console.

In short, I’m a huge NES fan, and I love playing the games and writing about them and the system.

Long live the NES!

Monday, May 10, 2021

NES Memories from The NES Omnibus: The Nintendo Entertainment System and Its Games, Volume 2 (M-Z) - NOW ON KICKSTARTER!

In addition to reviews for 350+ games and all that goes along with that, such as history, box art, screenshots, developer info, and the like, The NES Omnibus Vol. 2 (M-Z), which is NOW ON KICKSTARTER, is loaded down with essays on and nostalgic stories about many of the games featured. This book was a labor of love for myself and all the contributing writers involved, including such noteworthy talents as 8-Bit Eric, Chris “The Irate Gamer” Bores, John “Gamester81” Lester, David Warhol (former Intellivision and NES programmer), Greg Sewart (former Electronic Gaming Monthly editor and reviewer), and many other content creators and personalities. The NES Omnibus Vol. 2 (M-Z) will ship Oct. 28. Enjoy an advance look at this terrific Metroid essay by artist and developer Kale Menges:

Few games have had an impact in my life like Metroid. Without a doubt, it is my favorite video game of all time. In fact, it is the game that most inspired me to become a developer. I first played Metroid in the autumn of 1989 at a cousin's house and was immediately entranced. Being a somewhat introverted kid growing up, and at the time coping with my family's recent cross-country relocation, I found myself easily relating to protagonist Samus Aran's isolation and loneliness in her quest to eradicate the devastating bio-weapons being harvested by space pirates on the planet Zebes. There was something so incredibly surreal about the way Metroid seemed to defy the 2D platforming conventions of the time. The game was just so amazingly innovative from both a creative and a design perspective.

After playing so many other platform games on the NES back in the day, merely being able to scroll left was mind-blowing. The morph ball power-up was a stroke of genius, a design decision the team arrived at when they simply couldn't figure out how to effectively animate Samus crawling (the technical limitations of the NES hardware were what made so many of these 8-bit games so great). Samus' screw attack, a special ability that allowed her to somersault right through enemies like an energized saw blade, remains famous as one of the greatest power-ups in the history of gaming.

The game's password system (the cartridge version's replacement for the original Famicom Disk game's writable save feature) provided players with what basically amounted to a primitive hacking tool that opened up a unique dimension of experimentation and exploration rarely found in console games. Metroid's non-linear gameplay, set in an exotic and hostile ecosystem where the player is the alien exploring a vast subterranean landscape of labyrinthine caverns and ancient ruins of a forgotten alien civilization, creates a fantastic gaming experience that crafts a wonderfully unique experiential narrative that somehow always feels personal. Even the soundtrack is perfectly attuned to the game's atmosphere and ambiance. There is something almost romantic about it all, in a classic pulp sci-fi sort of way.

I have no idea how much of my life I've spent navigating that hostile planet's dark interior, desperately searching every nook and cranny for hidden power-ups and secret passages. Metroid remains one of the gold standards for how to do hidden secrets in game worlds, and it succeeds so well at teaching players to explore and experiment (rather than just holding their hand and spelling everything out for them all the time), and to view roadblocks as signs that they're on the right path. Even the game's protagonist, Samus Aran, represented a veritable ace up the sleeve as the game's ultimate secret, her true identity only being revealed if the player finished the game within a certain time limit. Nowadays, Metroid's design philosophies are central tenets of the genre it helped create, taking 2D platform games to a whole new level of depth and challenge well beyond mere running and jumping.

I don't know how many times I've defeated that mechanical life vein known as the Mother Brain, but I can draw out the entirety of the game's immense map from memory. I still do a play-through of the game at least once a year, even three full decades since the first time I played it. And yet, despite the game's technical shortcomings (pervasive slowdown in enemy-crowded areas and quite a few exploitable glitches), and even though I've thoroughly relished and enjoyed all of the games in the Metroid series over the years, the original NES game still stands out to me as more of a pure, focused experience whose simple narrative perfectly complements its wonderfully organic game design. - Kale Menges, artist and game developer