Saturday, January 22, 2022

Top Celebrity Deaths in 2021

This past year, like pretty much all years, was tough on celebrities. After all, despite their larger-than-life personas, they’re mortal just like the rest of us, and the Grim Reaper does come a calling eventually. Among the most famous celebrities who passed away in 2021 were the ageless Betty White, super comedian Norm McDonald, longtime talk show host Larry King, and baseball legend Hank Aaron.

Every time I hear about the death of a celebrity whose work I enjoyed, such as the ones mentioned above, I get a little sad. Some will say this is foolish, that you should only mourn people you actually know, but celebrities play important roles in people’s lives, including mine. Not only do they entertain us, they can enliven and even enlighten us as we go through our oftentimes ordinary lives, and that is certainly nothing to take lightly.

After much thought, I produced this (alphabetical) list of celebrities whose passing last year affected me the most on a personal level. Call it a tribute of sorts to eight people I didn’t know, but who impacted me significantly nevertheless.

Johnny Crawford

When I was little, my dad watched a lot of westerns on television. I wasn’t really into western movies, and I didn’t care a thing about Bonanza or Gunsmoke. However, I did thoroughly enjoy The Lone Ranger and The Rifleman as their pacing and story structure had more in common with a superhero or adventure yarn than they did a typical western. Johnny Crawford played the title character’s son in The Rifleman, and he was about my age on the show when I watched it on Saturday afternoons with my dad. Great memories, for sure.

Richard Donner

My parents didn’t take us kids to the movies very often (we usually just watched them on TV), but we saw some of the biggies on the big screen, including Superman: The Movie, released in theaters in 1978 when I was 12-years-old. Director Richard Donner treated the source material with respect, which is something I appreciated since I was (and am) a big comic book fan, and he made a star out of Christopher Reeve. He also made me believe a man could fly—an experience I’ll never forget.

Willie Garson

A year or so ago, I decided to watch the first episode of Sex and the City (1998-2004). It had been a cultural phenomenon when it originally aired, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I quickly got hooked and binged the entire series over the next few weeks. One of my favorite characters was Stanford Blatch, Carrie Bradshaw’s gay bestie played with charm and humor by Willie Garson. It’s a shame he passed during the filming of And Just Like That..., the Sex and the City follow-up series currently airing on HBO Max, because I could see him filling in for Samantha Jones as the fourth friend at the lunch/dinner table.

Cloris Leachman

What’s my favorite Mel Brooks film? My favorite horror comedy? My favorite Gene Wilder movie? That would be the brilliant Young Frankenstein (1974), a pitch-perfect send-up of the old Universal Monster movies of the 1930s. Cloris Leachman played Frankenstein estate caretaker Frau Blücher, and she was so funny in the film that she cracked up not only the audience but also Wilder—to the point that they had to do numerous reshoots of certain scenes. I also loved her in The Last Picture Show (1971), where she played the adulterous high-school gym teacher's neglected wife.

John Madden

My dad and I didn’t have a ton in common—he was mystified by my interest in art, comic books, science fiction, heavy metal music, and the like—but we bonded over sports, including NFL football. John Madden was the best color commentator in the history of the league, and we certainly enjoyed his humor, his honesty, his excellent analysis of the game, and his picks for the All-Madden team. Personally, as a gaming writer, I especially like what he did to elevate video game football, most notably demanding that each team field 11 onscreen players (a big deal back in the day) or he wouldn’t attach his name to the game.

Peter Scolari

The sitcom Bosom Buddies (1980-1982) may have had a silly premise—a couple of guys who dress like women so they can live in a cheap hotel—but the friendship between Kip Wilson, played by Tom Hanks, and Henry Desmond, played by Peter Scolari, seemed genuine and was often touching. Hanks essentially became our generation’s Jimmy Stewart, but Scolari had a nice (if far less fame-filled) career in his own right. It was especially cool seeing him star in the excellent sitcom Girls (2012-2017) as Hannah’s dad.

George Segal

My wife and I enjoy watching The Goldbergs, even though it can be corny and over-the-top. It’s very funny at times, and of course we love all the ‘80s references, even though (there’s that phrase again) there are anachronisms galore (there’s a reason the intro to each episode says it was “1980-something”). George Segal played Albert “Pops” Solomon on the show, and he was a hoot. Pops was quite the ladies’ man, but the character’s most endearing quality was his close relationship with his grandson, Adam Goldberg—they were the best of friends.

Charlie Watts

If you’re not sure why Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts was considered great, listen to the original version of “Ruby Tuesday” and the machine gun fire of Watts’ perfectly timed drumming. Then, listen to the lifeless drumming in The Scorpions’ cover of the tune. See what I mean? Watts was known not only for his steady beat, but also the steady nature of his personality and his dapper appearance. Many fans didn’t realize he was also in many ways the brains behind the band. I’m glad I finally got to see the Stones live in 2015—so brilliant!

Monday, January 17, 2022

How to Make More Time to Play Video Games


How to Make More Time to Play Video Games

Being involved and interested in video games is something that many people can enjoy and relate to. The growth in gaming’s popularity has been nothing but rapid. However, this is for a good reason. The improvements in consoles and games have been extremely impressive. Now, it can even be hard to tell the difference between gaming graphics and real life, not to mention that the gameplay and creativity of some of these releases are extremely captivating.


If you really love playing games, then there is a good chance that you don’t even have enough time to play to your heart’s content. Sometimes, it feels like there just aren’t enough hours in the day. For people who truly love gaming, this can be frustrating. Only being able to play for an hour after work will always leave you wanting more. So how do you change this? Although you can’t add more hours to the day, you can find more free time to play video games. If you need some tips on doing so, you might want to consider some of the following advice.

Wake up Earlier

Of course, one of the best ways to give yourself more time is to wake up earlier. You would be surprised with how much more you can get done by waking up an extra hour or so before your current alarm. Of course, there are many people who don’t like the idea of gaming in the morning or before work. However, that isn’t what you have to use your morning time for. Use these extra early hours to do chores that you would usually do later on in the day. This could be doing the cleaning, meal preparation, or exercise. Doing this can free up more time for later in the day, meaning you have more opportunities to game.

Have Good Transportation

If it currently takes you a long time to get around, you might want to look at better alternatives. Sometimes public transport can take a long time to bring you to your destination. If this is the case for you, then you might need to check out some alternatives. This could mean potentially taking an alternative route or heading off earlier to beat traffic. If you want to remove public transportation altogether, then investing in your own vehicle is a good idea. Looking at used vans Liverpool can provide you with an option to shave some minutes off that travel time throughout the day.

Be More Time Efficient

Procrastination is something that a lot of people struggle with. After all, it is far too easy to get distracted by thoughts and people when you should be focusing on something else. However, if you can buckle down and be more time-efficient, you will be amazed at how much time you can save. Even just being more organized can help you with this. Outline a schedule of what you need to do in the day and when to do it. This way, you will be more encouraged to do things in a more focused and efficient manner.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021



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!